Sri Ramana really cuts to the chase: for serious sadhakas, there is no point to engaging in any meditation technique except Self-inquiry. This is because pranayama, counting exercises, chanting, etc.–while they have their modest place in the nondual spiritual life–nonetheless fail to get to the heart of the matter. They leave the central ‘problem’ where they found it.
For after chanting, singing, or breathwork temporarily causes the mind to “take flight,” mind returns, rising again and again and again. Thus, any technique that doesn’t place the an inquiry into the “I” first is part and parcel with samsara–more: accidentally perpetuates samsara.
This is why Sri Ramana was so apparently harsh (though actually extraordinarily compassionate) when he saw a sadhaka go into a trance-like state (“manolaya”). He would immediately call such a one out of it. Why?
Because going into these kinds of states will not end suffering; in fact, it will only–quite tragically–allow suffering to continue. Sri Atmananda, in fact, is just as cutting when he speaks of yogis going into samadhi states. Through experience, he found out that deep samadhi states did not bring him to Truth. Mind kept rising–again and again…
Hence, one cannot “bypass” an inquiry into the “I.” One must start and end the inquiry there.
A Mistake: Deep Sleep
I think Sri Ramana is clearer than Sri Atmananda when it comes to the deep sleep argument. While Atmananda wants to point to deep sleep on the grounds that it shows us Awareness without objectivity, Sri Ramana, without disagreeing with this, would say: “Yes, but we are not in deep sleep knowingly. Alas, each time the mind, dormant in deep sleep, rises again in the waking state. Therefore, the chief place for practice is in the waking state where effort in Self-inquiry will be necessary in order to go beyond the mind’s projections in the waking and dream states, and to go beyond the primal self-forgetfulness of deep sleep. But this is turiya, which is not really a fourth state but is only ‘I am,’ the transcendent, natural state of being consciously what we are.”
From a Zen point of view, there is no point in sleeping in or in sleeping too long. The waking state, while itself unreal, is where much of the practice must take place. And in the waking state, Self-inquiry must be constant until the Great Matter is thoroughly resolved.
These arguments owe much to Michael James’ book Happiness and the Art of Being.