Q.408 Ramana’s ‘Who am I?’

Q: I would like to ask a question about the practice of Sri Ramana’s teachings and in particular the way of carrying out the self-enquiry ‘who am I?’

According to what I’ve seen so far regarding instructions, when a thought arises one enquires ‘to whom this thought has arisen’. If the answer to that is ‘to me’, the enquiry continues with ‘who am I?’

At this stage, the mind becomes silent. Are we supposed to remain in this silence until another thought arises or should we continue enquiring ‘who am I?’ every few seconds or so?

Would you be kind enough to clarify this for me.

A (Dennis): If you are committed to following those ideas that are frequently claimed as representing the essential teaching/method of Ramana, then I am not the best person of whom to ask these questions.

Ramana was not a traditional teacher; he was not trained in the methodology of any sampradAya. There is no doubt of his status as a j~nAnI and transcriptions of his talks show brilliant insights into many aspects. But I have to say that the ‘enquiry’ as you describe it is most unlikely to lead to Self-knowledge. I prefer to think that such practice can only lead eventually to the realization that one needs a teacher to provide the guidance via the proven succession of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana. It is primarily an intellectual process – the mind is both the problem and the solution. You have to hear the truth, expounded in a convincing manner; ask questions to clear doubts; then repeat in whatever manner is available. Silence will not tell you anything.

I also suggest you read my article on manonAsha.

If we do not experience from within a body, then where oh where do we feel-think-do from?


Image by valemngilda

Think of a whirlpool. There seems to be a definable shape that we can point to and know as a whirlpool, and yet there is nothing separate or fixed about its whirlpool-ness. All the water that constructs the thing we have labelled “whirlpool” is in flow, never the same water in any moment, and yet it appears to hold its shape/from so convincingly that we believe we can point to the moment our whirlpool began, measure it’s lifetime, and record the moment it ceases to be.

But what is it that convinces us that the whirlpool is separate and of its own causal relatedness to “other” forms we have labelled in the single field of All That Is?

For as much as we focus on the ways to practice into a consciousness immune to mithyA, we have the experiences we have as All That Is in constant flow, unfixed and inseparable, no matter how we might label that experience.

It seems prudent to mention at this point that we are prone to use the word experience to separate so-called “personal identity” from “other-ness”, so the concept of experience encompassing all that we have labelled inner, outer, before, present, and so on, is an unnatural leap… until one comprehends the arbitrary lines we have drawn (even in language being the means of defining ideas that can be fixed in objective transfer of meaning), and recognise these too as whirlpools in the ocean of All That Is.


Image by Andrey Alyukhin

Of course, the analogy can only go so far. According to the assumptions of our current cosmology, to know-observe a whirlpool is to be separate from it, and to literally form a whirlpool the ocean must exist within an atmosphere. But in our present physics of a causal universe, we have no means of explaining an alternative conceptual reality with words. Even the term “reality” inspires our perceptual bias dividing existence as dimensional from that which cannot be known/named/defined.

Which also means that while it seems that we can be taught the Vedantic mokSha; that there are those who trust innately, and perceive (for want of a better word) the whirlpool in its ocean state. Those who seek to trust, and devote themselves to practices which might reveal an ocean in all things. And those who examine trust through chemical, experimental, and philosophical means in order to demystify that which defies explanation (which will ultimately allow us to speak of that which language is yet to adequately express)… we do not experience (learn/live/know) from within a body because the “body”, the “self”, and experience as a point of separation, are all whirlpools within an ocean of All That Is.

“There is no dissolution, no origination, none in bondage, none possessed of the means of liberation, none desirous of liberation, and none liberated.” Gaudapada (K2.32)

The aim of Advaita VIsion


If you click on ‘About’ in the menu bar at the top of the page, you will be taken to the page that lists the aims of this blog and the associated website at www.advaita.org.uk. This page was written by Peter Bonnici (with assistance from Ramesam), with whom I initiated Advaita Vision around 4 years ago. (As most readers will know, Peter is unfortunately no longer with us.) Despite its ease of accessibility, one wonders how many visitors actually read it. Certainly it would seem that some have never done so. Accordingly, I reproduce it below, since its content is so important.


This site provides a platform for all who are attracted to the vision of non-duality and like to share their views and their approaches.

Here’s why Advaita Vision will be an open platform for all committed to self-enquiry:

  1. People are at different points on their spiritual journeys.

Therefore different expressions of the fundamental principle of advaita are needed to meet their specific different needs. Continue reading

Q.344 – Death of the small I

Q: While I’m drawn to the apparent peace that sages such as Ramana Maharshi seemed to enjoy, I feel I’m failing to grasp something.

 Advaita seems, sometimes, to be totally nihilistic and bleak (although I accept that this would not constitute an argument against its veracity).

It’s all very well to say that the ‘self’ can’t die but this seems (from my perhaps benighted viewpoint) to be playing with semantics.

 If, with ‘my’ death, comes only oblivion such as in deepest sleep /anaesthesia, where is the comfort or meaning in this knowledge? The end of my small ‘I’ would seem to be, in effect, the end of everything since, without my consciousness to perceive it, how can anything be said to exist?

 Does one take comfort from the fact that other apparent ‘I’s continue to experience within the one reality? It may be that my existence is only apparent and that, whether it is followed by oblivion is irrelevant – but it doesn’t feel like that from where I’m sitting! Continue reading

Moving beyond mithyā

The aim of my previous blog on this topic was to clarify the term mithyā and thereby bridge the apparent gap between everyone’s perception of a diverse and ‘real’ universe and the advaita teaching that says that there is only one single non-dual Reality. Mithyā is that which cannot be dismissed as unreal nor can it be accepted as absolutely real. Due to a mistranslation of the word, many declare the mithyā universe to be an illusion and consequently act as though it can be discounted as if it was absolutely non-existent. Through the analogy of water and wave we are led to understand that, whilst still perceiving the wave, we nevertheless know that what we’re seeing is nothing but water. Similarly when looking out at the mithyā universe the wise person knows that what’s being seen is nothing but Brahman, pure existence-consciousness without limit.

This is not such an easy achievement. Continue reading