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Finding the ‘womb-source’ of the mind
Ramana Maharshi’s benevolent gaze was said to trigger awareness of the higher Self within the earnest seeker, drawing the aspirant into an inner state of reality beyond the mind, and putting him on the path of Self-inquiry. This intense state of awareness of the Self, in which he found himself after a near-death experience at the age of 16 and which prompted his journey to Arunachala in Tiruvannamalai, is at the heart of Ramana’s message to the modern world.
In his seminal work, ‘Who Am I?’, Ramana talks about the path of inquiry which is essential to understand the nature of mind. In a style reminiscent of Shankara, he talks about the ‘i’ which arises in the physical sheath – this is the mind. He then exhorts the seeker to inquire as to where this notion of ‘i’ first arises. This enquiry is critical, Ramana says, because the thought ‘i’ is the first thought that arises in the mind. Without this first personal pronoun, so to say, no other thought can arise. This is real tapas, to stick with the thought, ‘Who am I?’ Thoughts will arise incessantly, but if one focusses on the inquiry, “...as to whom have these thoughts occurred”, the answer would also naturally arise, “...to me”.
Then if one keeps the focus on ‘Who am I?’, the mind will show the way to its source, and the mind will become still and lapse back into the hridayam, the heart, not the physical heart but the heart of Self. Constant practice of this one thought will help the mind abide at its source.
When the mind finds its wombsource, the ‘I’ thought, the root thought of the mind will be erased and with that erasure the state of the Self will emerge. This state of silence will be more eloquent than words, much like Ramana’s own state of being. This taking back of the mind through inquiry into the Self, is the real jnana, true knowledge, for the Maharshi. Everything else – whether knowing the thoughts of others or knowing the past, present and future, and knowing events beforehand – for Ramana, are temporary states, where the mind has not yet subsided permanently in the Self, and is still active at a subtle level.
This path of inquiry, vichara, Ramana stated, alone could destroy the mind as we know it, its restlessness and its continual thoughtprocess. But like Shankara, Ramana Maharshi was aware that a vast majority of people may find this path to liberation arduous, and so in the Upadesha Undiyar/ Saram – Essence of Spiritual Instructions – he talks of selfless, as other valid means of attaining this state of the Self. Ramana believed that on these paths, the Grace of the guru and a nishkama bhava, a selfless approach to life were prerequisites. But all such seekers too will also finally be led on to this path of jnana-vichara.
His silent method of teaching led Ramana to be regarded as a modern-day Dakshinamurti, imparting wisdom, through silence. Ramana himself regarded silence as the perfect upadesha, where no words are required to explain the truth.
A luminous shooting star was seen across the sky from Arunachala at the moment of Ramana’s passing away. As Ramana would say, “Who is the seer? I saw the seer also disappears. Leaving That alone which stands forever, the Self.”
The World has no independent existence
According to Ramana Maharshi, an exponent of the path of Self enquiry, the thought, `The body is i', is the fundamental error. The body does not say `i am'; it is the individual who says `i am the body'. Similarly , the world never proclaims its existence by saying `Here i am, the world'; if it did so, it would be constantly experienced in the three states of consciousness waking, dream and deep sleep.
Since the world is not cognized in deep sleep, the continuity of its existence is broken which effectually means that the world has no absolute or independent existence. The world has only relative existence because it only exists in relation to the ego or i-thought, the `perceiver'.
For the world to exist, there has to be the perceiver or the ego to experience the world and talk about it. The world is perceived both in the waking and dream states, though at different levels. While in the former, the physical world is experienced through the physical body , in the latter, the subtle dream world is experienced through the astral body . In the deep sleep state, the perceiver is missing; therefore the world does not appear in this state.
What differentiates the waking state from the deep sleep state is the emergence of bodyconsciousness. While the body is experienced in the waking state, the deep sleep state is devoid of body-consciousness. It is only because `i-am-the-body' thought is predominant in the waking state, that the external world of myriad diversities is perceived. Since the body is experienced in one state waking and not in the other, that is, deep sleep, one can say that the body arose at a particular time with both an origin and an end.
Both body and body-consciousness emerge and sink simultaneously . While no limitations are experienced in deep sleep, the waking state is the state of bondage characterised by limitations. It becomes clear that the physical body was not in existence before it was born; is made up of five ele ments; does not appear in the deep sleep state; has both a beginning and an end; and is reduced to a corpse when pra na, life-force, departs from it.
So the inert, perishable body cannot shine as the eternal `I-Consciousness' that both pre-exists and survives the body . There is continuity of the Being, the eternal Self, in all three states, while the body and the worlds that appear in the waking and dream states are ephemeral.
The question is: How to realise or get connected with eternal `I-consciousness'? Ramana Maharshi emphasised that realisation consists in eradicating the idea that one is not realised; it is not something that is to be attained anew; it is only the elimination of ego, the false `i', through constant Self-enquiry . When an earnest inquiry is made into the ego's identity and source, it vanishes, making the eternal Self shine forth by itself.
The jnani who succeeds in eliminating the `i-am-the-body thought' through sustained inquiry , remains firmly and continually entrenched in the lofty state of natural samadhi wherein he perceives the ephemeral world as a blissful play of the eternal Self which derives its reality from pure awareness, the sole ground of Being. Therefore the world has no independent existence apart from the Self.