This is Part 2 of a 5-part series devoted to Sri Ramana Maharshi’s method of Self-inquiry (atma vichara).
In this Dharma Talk, I spell out some of the differences between repeating a mantra and doing Self-inquiry. The latter, most surely, is an inquiry into what I do not know but seek to know: I seek to know my Self.
It could be said that Self-inquiry is the purest and most direct*articulation of the path of knowledge (jnana).
This is Part 1 of a 5-part series devoted to Sri Ramana Maharshi’s method of Self-inquiry (atma vichara).
In this Dharma Talk, I discuss how Self-inquiry facilitates dropping the “many thoughts” (in Ramana Maharshi’s words) so that there can be holding onto the “one thought.” That one thought is: “Who am I?”
In brief, one-pointedness is the first key to understanding, and deepening, the practice of Self-inquiry.
Let us philosophically contemplate the following passage with reverence, awe, and assiduousness:
Another visitor asked Bhagavan, “What is the difference between the mind and the Self?”
Bhagavan: There is no difference [essentially]. The mind turned inwards is the Self; turned outwards, it becomes the ego and the world.
Day by Day with Bhagavan, p. 106
There is only ever the Self. The latter is the ontological reduction base.
Therefore, everything, including the mind, must be the Self. Hence Bhagavan’s wise reply: “There is no [essential] difference [between the mind and the Self].
How, then, do we account for the appearance of a difference? In a word, through avidya (or ignorance).
Meaning? When the mind turns inward, it is ‘resolved into’ the Self. (This is a manner of speaking, of course, since the mind is the Self. And yet, it’s a very helpful manner of speaking for spiritual seekers engaged in sadhana. About which more in a moment.)
When the mind is turned outward, then it is ‘split’ into the ego and the world. More specifically, Ramana Maharshi states often that there is no world apart from the ego. That is to say, the world is only ever that which appears to the ego. There is thus no such thing as a world an sich.
Avidya is owing, in my lingo, to samskaras (a subject I won’t discuss today). And what it is that accounts for the outward-going tendency? That is, why is it the case that the mind tends to arise as ego and thus to perceive an apparent world? What is it, to ask the question another way, that explains thegrip that the apparent reality of the ego and world have on us (i.e., jivas)? Well, vasanas are the propulsive energies that ‘force’ the mind outward.
Now we see the essential point of practice: it is to, so to speak, turn the mind inward and thus against the grain of vasanas. Indeed, spiritual practice must be constant, rigorous, quite effortful for a time owing to the preponderance of vasanas.
Let me, in closing, pull on one more thread: Bhagavan implies, on my interpretation, that the mind–the ego that says “I”–is the pivot point in the inquiry. This is why, as will be discussed in the future, “Who am I?” (atma vichara) is so very elegant: “Who” refers to the Self, “am” refers to identity, and “I” refers to the (apparently existing) ego. Hence, when the apparently existing ego asks, “Who am I?,” it’s asking ‘as’ itself, ‘from’ itself while pointing (“Who?”) to the Self. The ego ‘I’ is yearning for identity with Itself. In practice, there is thus a potent “torsion” or “flexion” between the unstable position of the inquirer and the firm reality of the Self. In Self-inquiry, all of this torsion or flexion must ultimatelyimplode as the apparent ego-self is resolved into the Self, the only reality. That implosion is none other than divine grace.