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A Breakdown of Self Inquiry and Ramana Maharshi’s I AM Meditation.

The I AM technique of self-inquiry as taught by spiritual teachers such as Ramana Maharshi is profound and accessible if learned properly. The spiritual teachings of Ramana Maharshi abound with spiritual insights for both the beginner and advanced seeker.

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The I AM technique of self-inquiry as taught by spiritual teachers such as Ramana Maharshi is profound and accessible if learned properly. The spiritual teachings of Ramana Maharshi abound with spiritual insights for both the beginner and advanced seeker. Everyone’s practice of meditation and self-inquiry will be benefited from the reading of Ramana Maharshi’s writings.

 

Exploring the I AM Technique

 

Let’s explore the I AM technique for self-inquiry and its roots in the very make up of the human mind.

The technique is rooted in the idea that the essence of each being is the Self and that this awareness of the Self is possible for all. Ramana says that this sense of self is always with us, though the feeling is vague. The I AM technique is the remembrance of the Self. We become lost in thoughts and forget our essence. In Talks with Ramana Maharshi page 164, he writes, “Thoughts rule the life. Freedom from thoughts is one’s true nature—Bliss.”

The basis of the I AM technique is explained by Ramana, on ,  page 160 of Talks,  “The sense of body is a thought; the thought is in the mind, the mind rises after the “I”-thought, the “I”-thought is the root thought, if that thought is held, the other thoughts will disappear.” Holding on to that “I”-thought leads us to the essence of our sense of being: I AM. Read my first blog on Ramana Maharshi for more details on finding that feeling.

I first came across the I AM self-inquiry technique when I moved to San Diego to attend college in 1980. I had moved from San Francisco to fulfill my dream of becoming a surfer—I was heavily influenced in my early teens by the Gidget movies of the time! The other possibility I held out, and another storyline in a movie of the time, was to move to New York and work at the United Nations. I was intrigued by the idea of the nations of the world coming together to solve problems with intelligence and dialogue rather than the caveman mentality of physical violence.  

The mind is a mystery to western sciences, but to Ramana Maharshi it is something understandable, accessible and able to be transformed. The reason the I AM meditation technique is so effective is that it is rooted in the foundational structure of the mind.

In Ramana’s first writing, Self-Inquiry, written in 1901, he notes, “This inquiry into the Self in devotional meditation evolves into the state of absorption of the mind into the Self and leads to Liberation and unqualified Bliss.” I take “devotional meditation” to mean meditation rooted in feeling, sensation and emotion. The Self is rediscovered, for it is never lost, through a profound awareness of our own existence. Self is a feeling.

I traveled to Ramana Maharshi’s spiritual community in 2006. I have read numerous books of his. With insights culled from his writings I posit three primary aspects of mind that develop organically, to a greater or lesser extent, in all human beings.

One of these aspects of mind is the foundation for the I AM technique. Another leads to meditation on images, sounds and the like. The third leads to discrimination, which is the foundation of jnana yoga. Understanding these foundational aspects of mind will help you in observing your own mind and practicing the I AM meditation.

These three aspects of mind develop their basic functioning organically, as they are rooted in the survival instinct. They are developed to their highest potential by conscious effort. Lets start with the creation of mind. Ramana says, on page 20 of The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, “…there exists an entity known as the ‘mind’, which is derived from the subtle essence of the food consumed…” So it matters what we eat!

 

3 Aspects Of The Mind

 

Now to the three aspects of mind. Firstly there is the I AM consciousness, by which we are aware of our own existence. This sense of our own being is always there but most cannot quite put their finger on it. Ramana says on page 156 of Talks with Ramana Maharshi, to a seeker: “You are hazily aware of the Self. Pursue it. When the effort ceases the Self shines forth.” The gateway to the Self is this core I AM aspect of mind. We always have the vague sense that we exist, but most times the pure joy of the feeling of existence is covered by the fabric of mind that creates our sense of reality.

This second ability of mind is to hold a sensation or thought. This holding gives sensations and thoughts a feeling of permanence. We create the world in which we exist through this magical power: the thought of an apple, a memory from the past, a vision of the future or even the idea that you are the physical body.

It enables us to create a sense of the world around us and allows us to create identifications of ourselves as the various roles and activities that we do in the world. This aspect of mind leads to meditation and concentration techniques where one focuses on something such as a sound, mantra, mandala, chakra, quality or other points of focus. Ramana says that through these concentration techniques the mind gains strength, but he also notes that the experience is still rooted in thought and hence impermanent.

The third ability of mind that emerges is the capacity to hold in the mind multiple sensations and thoughts, and compare and contrast them. This last ability is described by Ramana with wonderful simplicity on page 20 of The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, “To think whether a certain thing may be eaten is a thought-form of the mind. ‘It is good. It is not good. It can be eaten. It cannot be eaten’: discriminating notions like these constitutes the discriminative intellect.” Through personal effort this aspect of mind leads to the ability to compare ethical and moral options and ultimately to distinguish the eternal from the transitory. This is the least developed aspect of mind in most individuals.

Through the proper use of the I AM method of self-inquiry we reconnect with our core mind and from there connect into the Self. To learn this technique I advise reading at least 4 books by Ramana Maharshi. His writing will give you a basis for understanding and practicing self-inquiry. Give yourself quiet time each day to concentrate upon his writings, interspersing reading with concentration, breath awareness and mediation.

I AM awareness, which we all have, yet are not fully conscious of, can become a conscious experience. When that occurs it is the state of Samadhi and Liberation.

 

Sujantra McKeever is the founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week, and also helped create Pilgrimage Yoga Online. He is the author of five books on eastern philosophy, success and meditation. Sujantra studied meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy and has lectured on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries.

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A Breakdown of the Teachings of Ramana Maharshi.

Ramana is, in my estimation, the fountainhead of the teachings of self-inquiry that have become quite prevalent today. His basic teaching is interpreted and used by many teachers in our time.

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Ramana Maharshi taught the technique of self-inquiry as a method to reach liberation. His teachings are rooted in an ancient Indian philosophy called Advaita Vedanta. Ramana Maharshi synthesized these voluminous, obscure and often inaccessible teachings into a simple, profound and accessible technique centered on the “I AM” experience.

Ramana, who passed away in 1950 at the age of 71, advised seekers to observe the flow of thoughts cascading endlessly through the mind and to pose to oneself the simple question: “To whom are these thought occurring?” The answer is obviously: To me. The next question the seeker ask is: “Who am I?” This is the essence of how to practice self inquiry.

 

An Introduction to Ramana’s Teachings

I first encountered the teachings of Ramana Maharshi in 1980, at age 18, while attending the University of California at San Diego. I had been practicing various types of mediation for about two years. His writings inspired me and gave me clarity in my spiritual search, yet I found the technique rather difficult. It was not till 30 years later that I would uncover within his teachings a few keys that have made the practice very accessible.

Ramana is, in my estimation, the fountainhead of the teachings of self-inquiry that have become quite prevalent today. His basic teaching is interpreted and used by many teachers in our time. Not all do the same justice to his teachings and some have created questionable hybrids. Best to drink from the source if you want the purest water.

When exploring his teachings it is it is important to remember that his original words and writings were not in English. Others later translated them into English. English does not have a sufficient lexicon of spiritual vocabulary to translate word for word from Sanskrit or other Indian languages. Understanding the intricacies of a practice such as self-inquiry requires an exact understanding of the teachings.

To remedy this I suggest either studying Sanskrit or Tamil or reading at least 4 of Ramana’s books in English (different translators worked on his books) to great the feel for the spirit of his teachings.

Coming back to my college attempts at self-inquiry. After having read just a few passages from Ramana I tried the technique of observing my thoughts, then asking, “To whom have these thoughts arisen?” I would then have the thought, “They have arisen to me.” I would then ask: “Who am I.” The problem was–I felt like I was in a hall of mirrors. Whatever thought or idea would arise in response to “Who am I?” would just lead me to ask again “Who am I?” and I just kept going around and around in the carousel of my mind. It became frustrating and seemed senseless.

As “fate” would have it—I can explore Ramana’s philosophy on free will and destiny at another time!—I moved onto other meditation techniques, disheartened by the hall of mirrors effect.

Many years later I returned to the writings of Ramana in more depth, read 5 different books by Ramana, each translated by a different translator—hence my above suggestion to you—and discovered the solution to my challenge.

 

Talks with Ramana Maharshi

Talks with Ramana Maharshi is the book that unraveled my confusion. The book is a translation of talks that Ramana had with visitors to his ashram and covers a period of four years, 1935-1939. All were recorded and translated by Sri Munagala S. Venkataramiah who spoke both Tamil and English fluently.

In a discussion the visitor says that in the process of enquiry thoughts suddenly cease and then the deeper sense of I—to whom all these thoughts occur—arises as a FEELING! They ask if it is this feeling they are to focus on.

On page 17 of the book Ramana says, “It is certainly right. Thoughts must cease and reason disappear for the “I-I” to rise up and be FELT. FEELING is the prime factor and not reason.” (Emphasis is mine.)

What had happened to me in college was that in the process of asking the question “Who am I?” I was expecting or awaiting an answer in the form of a certain thought. I was posing the question through thought and sought a thought in return. But what becomes clear from the above passage is that although the question is asked with thought, what one is seeking in answer is a feeling. A feeling of Self.

Once I began to FEEL my sense of “I,” of individuality, I knew, both intuitively, and through the writings of Ramana that I was now following the thread of awareness in the direction his teaching were pointing: toward liberation.

Sujantra McKeever is the founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week, and also helped create Pilgrimage Yoga Online. He is the author of five books on eastern philosophy, success and meditation. Sujantra studied meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy and has lectured on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries.

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To Inspire Change: Sharing Meditation with the World

It is easy to get discouraged by the bad news that echoes around us on a daily basis…

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By Sujantra McKeever

It is easy to get discouraged by the bad news that echoes around us on a daily basis. In contrast, the practice of meditation can bring us a deep feeling of peace. As practitioners, we may begin to wonder how to share this peace with others and whether it is possible to use our practice to transform the world around us. It can seem daunting to speak of meditation with people who have never experienced it. They might have preconceived notions about it, and they may have difficulty understanding a meditator’s experiences, or they may simply be resistant to learning about it. So how can we share our enthusiasm about meditation with others?

Creekside

What I’ve learned as I’ve developed my practice is the importance of embodying the peace of meditation. We must discover for ourselves what a peaceful consciousness is so we can enter that state and share it, even in silence. In fact, the majority of my teacher’s teachings were given in silent meditation or while playing music. At that time he wasn’t giving verbal instruction; he was entering into a state of meditation and inspiring us with that energy.

Vastness Sky

To inspire positive change in our world, the very best thing we can do is to enter into a deep, peaceful state of meditation. During World War II, the Indian sage, Ramana Maharshi, was criticized for focusing on spirituality while his country India, an ally of England, was being drawn into the war. People didn’t understand why he didn’t gather the disciples and encourage them to fight; but he noted that the source of all action is thought, and the source of thought is the Self. When one can consciously abide in the Self, that is the greatest offering one can make to the world. Without that awareness and intention, thought and action are pointless for they lack the soul’s power. His response has always stuck with me. Deep awareness and intention may, or may not, lead to external action but it always has a profound effect in the world.

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