"Patiently, little by little, a person must free oneself from all mental distractions, with the aid of the intelligent will. He must fix his mind upon the Atman (the Self), and never think of anything else." Krishna, The Bhagavad Gita
"If you want to find God, hang out in the space between your thoughts." - Alan Cohen
This is the great question we all have. And we try to answer it in so many varied ways. At first, we try to answer it by identifying with our families, our culture, our friends and associations, by our religion or beliefs, by our social status, by the teams we root for or the brands we wear, or by the cars we drive in. Our partners, our education, the movies we watch, the books we read. How we look. The list goes on and on and on.
But there always persists in the back of the mind: Who am I? Few really take up the question with deep self meditation, content they are with trying more external answers. Until each attempt keeps coming up empty, and finally, filled with disillusionment, one is ready for the plunge past all notions and accretions.
Ramana Maharshi, when he was a teenager, had an experience that changed his life. One day an intense wave of fear of dying rushed over him. Instead of pushing that fear aside, a fear that we all have but push away from our consciousness, he surrendered to it. He lay down and his body began to experience dying and simulated the death experience.
In that place of a mock death he looked at his body and realized that he was not his body, for if the body was dead, as it seemed to be, he still existed. If he was not the body, who was he? And he dove into that self inquiry, and began his self meditation.
He traced that question back to the origins of that thought, and there he held firm in a living Silence. He realized that Silence was the origin of all thought, all ideas, all questions, and Silence was where all thoughts disappeared. And he was that Silence. He was free of perishable forms within time, of limited definitions, and cravings and fears of the mind. He was free. Eternal. And he never left that freedom.
He became a sage that seekers all around the world sought after. And found peace at this feet.
Ramana would often teach in Silence. And sitting in his presence one would often experience that understanding of who they were without any words spoken. The mind would shut up its clamorings and rants. And one would just be. No more doubts; no more questions. The searching, ended.
Ramana's body dropped in 1950. But as he said, "where am I to go? I am always here." I have experienced that "here." I had wanted to go to his ashram that was created around him in India, long after his death, upon the slopes of the holy mountain of Arunachala, to experience his presence. But he is not there but here. And in dreams and in the Silence of self meditation, he has proven that to me time and again.
Self Inquiry, or Atma Vichara, was his highest teaching, as he said, for those ripe enough to do it. Why ripe enough? Because the answer to the question is not very exciting to the mind. The mind likes all sorts of bells and whistles. It is much more exciting to have visions, channel, to be an angel, to ruminate over long dissertations, to ponder metaphysical mysteries, or whatever the mind likes to come up with.
This self meditation offers absolutely nothing for the mind to hold onto, and thus it offers freedom from the pursuits of the mind--the mind who has been the master of one's life.
This Self meditation, or Self Inquiry, can be done anywhere, anytime. You may sit with eyes closed or do it while walking, driving, eating, making love, anytime. It is very simple; yet is probably the hardest thing you will ever do.
What you really want to do is listen to the Silence. So it is basically an internal dialog where you are telling the mind to stop interrupting. You want to listen.
You start out with the question, Who am I?
Whenever a thought arises, and it does not matter what kind of thought. I am an idiot. I am a sinner. I am a great actor. I am special. It does not matter. Any thought is an interruption to the Answer.
You immediately say, To whom does this thought arise?
And you answer, me
Who am I?
If a thought arises you repeat, To whom does this thought arise?
Who am I?
At first this may be very difficult and even annoying. But relax and don't get mad at your wayward mind. It is just like a spoiled child who has not been undisciplined all these years. It likes to run the show. Be firm, without judgment, and loving. Accepting peacefully what ever happens.
If you find yourself getting upset ask, Who's upset?
Who am I?
Do this self meditation as long as it is not straining. Once it becomes straining. Stop. Come back to it at the next session.
I recommend doing it for 10-20 minutes in the morning, sitting with eyes closed, and the same for the evening or night.
However, I have found it extremely helpful if I am experiencing some agitation over a situation. I may say something like the following:
Who needs to have that now? Who is angry? Who is depressed? Who is nervous? Who is struggling? Who wants to be enlightened?
And always the answer is, me.
Who am I?
The mind is always seeking answers without wanting to find the Answer. If it found the Answer it would lose its job as being the one in charge of finding solutions. By being vigilant on the shenanigans of the mind, and by drawing it back to its Source, it will behave and will become politely quiet.
Wouldn't that be nice? It is. There is nothing like it in all the world.
Advaita Vedanta and Compassion
Ramana and Other Hindu Quotations--
Distracted as we are by various thoughts, if we would continually contemplate the Self, which is Itself God, this single thought would in due course replace all distraction and would itself ultimately vanish; the pure Consciousness that alone finally remains is God.
--Self Inquiry, Ramana Maharshi
Devotion and Knowledge (Bhakti and Jnana)
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