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.

Q.381 – Knowledge, belief and experience

Note: This discussion follows on from the last question on ‘Finding a Teacher’ (apart from the introductory paragraphs).

Many seekers think that the essence of enlightenment is ‘experience’; that they need to actually experience something for themselves before they can be regarded as enlightened. In line with this, they denigrate the notion that a teacher can convey whatever it is that the seeker needs by simply talking to them, answering questions and so on. Even worse, they feel, is the idea that enlightenment can be gained by reading a book!

Maybe the term ‘Self-inquiry’ is largely to blame for this misconception. Seekers attached to this idea think that subjecting their own experiences (perceptions, ideas, theories etc) to close examination is somehow the key.

Whatever is the case, such seekers are seriously confused and need to distinguish carefully between ‘experience’, ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’. Below I provide a question and answer discussion I had early last year with a reader on this general subject. But first I would like to give an example from my own experience, which (for me) provided a very clear distinction between these three. (And I refer to this example in the question and answer session.)

The experience occurred about 30 years ago. You will have to bear with me as it takes a little while (and two diagrams!) to explain. Continue reading

Knowledge, Action and Liberation – AV


title figure 1When Ed Witten, the legendary genius Physicist of Princeton, proposed his theory integrating the four or five disparate string theories during the mid-nineties, he called it the M-theory. He did not specify what exactly M stood for.  So Science Communicators went wild with their own interpretations. Some said M is for Mother to say it is the mother of all theories. Others said M is for Meta. Still others said M is for Membrane or Matrix. Some even suggested M is for Mystery or  Magic.

I leave it to the imagination of the reader what AV stands for in the title of this Post.

It can mean Another View, Advaita Vedanta, Alternate Version, Astonishing Vision, Absolute Veridicality or one can even split the two words and pair them to suit to their taste — like Absolute Vedanta or Another Version etc.


First Kudos to Dennis for a smooth and clear explication of a topic usually considered abstruse and difficult in his recent post titled “Knowledge, Action and Liberation.”  He takes off with an elan and panache that only he can. But en route he hits a patch of misdirecting metaphor. The promised destination, alas is missed! Continue reading

Knowledge, Action and Liberation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost readers will be aware of the Brahmasutras – the third ‘leg’ of the prasthAna traya (the threefold set of scriptures that constitute the authority for Advaita – and some will even have read them! And you may also know that the first, famous sutra is athAto brahma jij~nAsA – Now, therefore, an enquiry into Brahman. It is the claim that Brahman forms the subject matter of Vedanta and has to be enquired into if we are to gain Self-knowledge.

The author of the Brahmasutras is said to be vyAsa, also known as bAdarAyaNa and the purport of the work is to summarize, in an extremely abbreviated form, the philosophy of vedAnta, showing how this naturally derives from the (last portion of) Vedas. (Of course, this does not mean a summary of Advaita. Others have written commentaries on the Brahmasutras and shown how it is commensurate with the philosophies of dvaita and vishiShTAdvaita.)

What fewer readers will know is that there is a similar (much longer) work, called the pUrva mImAMsA sUtra-s, written by the ‘father’ of pUrva mImAMsA philosophy, Jaimini. And, surely not coincidentally, the first sutra in this work is athAto dharma jij~nAsA – Now, therefore, an enquiry into dharma. This makes the claim that dharma forms the subject matter of the Vedas and has to be enquired into if we are to gain liberation from saMsAra. The word ‘dharma’ is often translated as ‘duty’ and the meaning of this word relates to what we ought to be doing with our lives. Their claim is that knowledge is useless, since it cannot produce any benefit. They utilize only the first part of the Vedas – the karma kANDa – believing that only actions can achieve anything and that, consequently, we must assiduously follow the injunctions, rituals and meditations prescribed there in order to attain liberation at some point in the future.

Continue reading

Knowledge and the Fruit of Knowledge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFollowing on from the l-o-n-g discussion we had on this topic under the thread ‘akhaNDAkAra vRRitti – The End of Suffering‘, I have written what was intended to be the commentary on kArikA 3.40 in my next book (OM: Waking Dreams… and Reality), which covers the essence of this discussion. I have decided that I will probably simplify this considerably for the book, because it is intended to be an accessible and readable book, rather than an academic one. But, because of its relevance, I am posting the entire section, as first written, below.

You now know all about adhyAropa and apavAda and acknowledge that all of the teaching is only interim, to be used to lead us to the final understanding and then discarded. The corollary to this is that, in principle at least, any teaching could be used for this purpose. If it works, it is valid. So it is hardly surprising that there are other methodologies altogether, which can have the same ultimate purport, e.g. Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Kabbalah etc. (I don’t have any personal knowledge of these other systems but understand that their essential teaching is non-dual.)

As far as Advaita Vedanta is concerned, the finer details of the teaching differed from one teacher or branch to another, both before and after Shankara. And some modern-day proponents tend to adhere to some elements and some to others that are apparently contradictory. None of this matters in the final analysis but does tend to lead to some quite heated discussions on the Internet! Continue reading

Q. 359 – Some potential practices

sleeperQ: As a long-time Krishnamurti fan, I often “practice” awareness (mindfulness): when a thought arises I watch it live out its life and disappear; when I sip coffee I am aware of the feel of it, the taste, the fact that I am sipping coffee, etc.

 1. Is it okay for me to continue doing this while I am studying Advaita Vedanta? (OK in the sense of not undermining the Advaita learning process.)

 2. Does Advaita hold that is valuable/beneficial to practice this kind of nonjudgmental awareness? Is there a similar practice in Advaita?

A: According to (traditional) Advaita, you are supposed to have gained sAdhana chatuShTaya before you embark upon the formal path of self-enquiry (shravaNa-manana-nididhyAsana). This includes shamAdi shakti sampatti, the sixfold ‘accomplishments’. And the first of these are shama and dama, tranquil mind and sense control. This is obviously a similar sort of idea to mindfulness. So any practice which helps bring the mind under control, so it is not thinking about something else while supposedly giving attention to Advaita, is fine. But very definitely the idea is become disciplined first, so that you can direct the whole of your attention. If you try to do it at the same time, you will end up doing neither well! Continue reading

Thoughts on Seeking and Seekers III (adhikaris)

599101_web_R_by_Günther Dotzler_pixelio.deShravana for Western Students

Shravana is the first phase on the path of knowledge in the tradition. Preparation is all about becoming eligible to do shravaNa – listening to the scriptures.

This is another feature of the traditional teaching that rarely can be transferred to Western students.

Excerpts from the ‘Upanyãsa’ rendered by Brahmashi Mani Dravid Shastriji:

Vedanta shravanãdhikãri’, the requisites of a person that make him eligible for listening to Vedanta (…)

The term ‘Adhikãri’ refers to that person who is capable of attaining the fruit as a result of performance of some action (karma). Possession of some basic prerequisites are laid down by scriptures in order to attain the fruit of ‘Vedanta shravana’ (listening to Vedanta). Continue reading

upadesha sAhasrI – part 15


Part 15 of the serialization of the  presentation (compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures given by Swami Paramarthananda) of upadesha sAhasrI. This is the prakaraNa grantha which is agreed by most experts to have been written by Shankara himself and is an elaborate unfoldment of the essence of Advaita.

Subscribers to Advaita Vision are also offered special rates on the journal and on books published by Tattvaloka. See the full introduction




This is an alternative viewpoint regarding the role of “Repetition” in understanding the core message of advaita.  As it often happens, there is nothing like “the right perspective” in these matters. One may use one’s own discretion in evaluating these different points of view.

1.  There is no doubt that Repetition helps in getting a thing by heart or to memorize a quote, a mantra, a verse etc.

2.  We know ‘Practice maketh perfect’ and  practice necessarily involves repetition.

That means, we are making an operation (mostly those that involve neuromotor skills) into a more mechanically executed action – transferring a routine from being a cerebral activity to cerebellar activity.

3.  The ‘phala‘ (result) of certain ritualistic karma (like offerings made for the appeasement of gods, gaining merit etc.) is expected to increase proportionally with the number of times the ritual is carried out. (Please see Note: 2 at the end). Continue reading

Incomplete Enlightenment – Q.333

Q: As I understand, the sense of “I” (distinguished from the ultimate I/Self)  is the source of “ignorance”. “Ignorance” leads to “the fear”, which inspires us to attempt to find “enlightenment”. The attempt to find “enlightenment” is the delusion that there is something to gain. The teachings tell us that “enlightenment” is the nature of existence. What needs to happen is the destruction/removal of ignorance, rather than the acquisition of anything. I already feel as if I have approached the “screen” upon which phenomenon occurs. By practicing “neti neti”, I attempt to see what always is, which is a temporary attempt to disregard things that can be seen. Once this happens, there is the inference of blankness/darkness/all-inclusiveness/voidness. And once this practice of “neti neti” is over, I begin to see things come of themselves, from little sparks … flakes of concepts … to their blooming as a climax of a concept. The climax wanes and the concept disappears of itself just as it arose.

A short time after this attempt at enquiry, the ease I had with reality fades. The sense that reality is not okay begins to gradually return. It feels as if I missed something from this experience. At other times, I feel as if perhaps this effort is part of the problem. Maybe the enquiry is meant to be a last ditch attempt to notice the fallacy of trying to do something, or even the attempt to try to do nothing.

 Is this the realization? That effort is resistance? That surrender to this fact is the ultimate motion?

 How does it happen that one can know “in the mind” that one is free, and yet continue to fall back into the conundrum of no longer feeling this freedom? Moments of complete freedom … knowing that it’s not my business to “do” life, not even to attempt to not “do” life … and yet slowly fall back into the habit? Continue reading