Yesterday I re-read Ramana Maharshi’s brilliant and clear “Who Am I?” It’s really an astonishingly limpid dialogue about self-inquiry, or self-abiding. The excerpt is quite short; you should read it in its entirety.
Here, I comment on a very brief section:
5. Will [the questioner asks] there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there (taken as real)?
There will not be [, states Ramana Maharshi].
The seer and the object seen are like the rope and the snake. Just as the knowledge of the rope which is the substrate will not arise unless the false knowledge of the illusory serpent goes, so the realization of the Self which is the substrate will not be gained unless the belief that the world is real is removed.
While the subject-object (or mind-world) duality remains, the Self will not be realized. This is because the mind-world seems to veil the Self by draping thoughts and perceptions in color. The mind-world purport to be reality when they are but mere appearances of the Self. Buddhists pointedly call this veiling, this forgetting the third poison: ignorance of the Unborn.
And so, while the Self is the substrate of everything manifest, it shall remain veiled just so long as it is forgotten. And while the Self is, in actuality, closer than the face (the “original face” in Zen speak), more immediate than the beating heart, more intimate than breathing, it shall remain unrealized until the “I-thought” subsides, revealing simply, purely Awareness (answer to question 2).
Self-inquiry, then, is Maharshi’s lovingly kind offering to us. A maxim: use the mind to go beyond the mind. Inquire deeply, earnestly, rigorously, and without fail into who you are, using thought to go beyond though, along the way discarding everything that is inessential (anicca in Buddhism). Then, as we say in Zen, just see what remains.
What remains is the Eternal, Infinite, Pure Light of Awareness.