In Annamalai Swami: Final Talks (ed. David Godman), a questioner asks Annamalai Swami a very important question. He or she wonders why asking, “Who am I?,” has not brought about Self-realization. After all, Sri Ramana Maharshi seems, at the age of 16, to have asked, “Who am I?,” but one time and, in a flash, awakened to the Self.
Many accounts are given that seek to account for the relative “ripeness” of a spiritual seeker. Here, below, Annamalai Swami presents a simple, elegant, and straightforward account: (1) you must be constant in your practice; (2) you must bring great intensity to the inquiry; and (3) you must come to “one-pointed determination” for only in this way can the mind sink back into its Source. Without all three, the question will lack “flavor” (in the language of Chan).
In brief, in your practice: be constant, bring fire, and be one-pointed.
I include the marvelous excerpt from Annamalai Swami: Final Talks, pp. 44-6 below the asterisks.
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Question: Bhagavan wanted to know the answer to the question ‘Who am I?’ He seemed to find the answer straight away. When I ask the question, when I try to find out what the Self is, I can reject thoughts that arise as being ‘not me’, but nothing else happens. I don’t get the answer that Bhagavan did, so I am beginning to wonder why I am asking the question.
Annamalai Swami: You say that you are not getting the right answer. Who is this ‘you’? Who is not getting the right answer?
Question: Why should I ask? Asking has not produced the right answer so far.
Annamalai Swami: You should persist and not give up so easily. When you intensely enquire ‘Who am I?’ the intensity of your enquiry takes you to the real Self. It is not that you are asking the wrong question. You seem to be lacking intensity in your enquiry. You need a one-pointed determination to complete this enquiry properly. Your real Self is not the body or the mind. You will not reach the Self while thoughts are dwelling on anything that is connected with the body or the mind.
Question: So it is the intensity of the enquiry that determines whether I succeed or not.
Annamalai Swami: Yes. If enquiry into the Self is not taking place, thoughts will be on the body and the mind. And while those thoughts are habitually there, there will be an underlying identification: ‘I am the body. I am the mind.’ This identification is something that happened at a particular point in time. It is not something that has always been there. And what comes in time also goes eventually, for nothing that exists in time is permanent. The Self, on the other hand, has always been there. It existed before the ideas about the body and the mind arose, and it will be there when they finally vanish. The Self always remains as it is: as peace, without birth, without death. Through the intensity of your enquiry you can claim that state as your own.
Enquire into the nature of the mind by asking, with one- pointed determination, ‘Who am I?’ Mind is illusory and non-existent, just as the snake that appears on the rope is illusory and non-existent. Dispel the illusion of the mind by intense enquiry and merge in the peace of the Self. That is what you are, and that is what you always have been.