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This article, a part of Ramana Maharshi's biography is about His central teaching of self enquiry.
The Maharshi never explicitly stated that he was a Guru but he used the expression to mean a Jnani (man of knowledge) in such a way as to leave no doubt that he was a Guru.
He said: “The Guru or Jnani sees no difference between himself and others. For him all are Jnanis, all are one with himself, so how can a Jnani say that such and such is his disciple. But the unliberated one sees all as multiple ...so to him the Guru-disciple relationship is a reality and he needs the Grace of a Guru to waken him to Reality. For him there are three ways of initiation — by touch, look and silence"
Maharshi's method of initiation was by look and silence. His initiation by look was something very real to the recipient. The disciple could feel his luminous transparent eyes piercing into his mind, breaking down the thought process. The disciple felt as if possessed by sort of vibration, followed by a strong conviction that he had been accepted by the Master. This mauna diksha, silent initiation, of the Maharshi was akin to Lord Dakshinamurti's eloquent silence dispelling the doubts in the minds of the disciples.
The Maharshi revived the Jnana-marga taught in the Upanishads and prescribed atma-vicara, Self-enquiry, as the means to Self-realization. The technique is simple at least in words. His instruction was to sit in meditation concentrating on the heart and ask the question 'Who am I?' Thoughts arising in the mind are not to be identified with and followed, but are to be observed as a witness and the question asked, 'What is this thought? Where does it come from? To whom does it arise? To me? Who am I?' Each thought on such scrutiny and enquiry will disappear leaving only the thought of the"I". Further Self-enquiry will not give any answer to the question 'Who am I?' because the 'I"-thought itself will, on enquiry, dissolve into the Self where thought does not exist. This the Maharshi compared to the stick that kindles a burning corpse and itself gets burnt ultimately along with the corpse.
It is not only as a technique of meditation that the Maharshi taught Self-enquiry, but he prescribed it also as a technique of living. He did not advocate a life of external renunciation as much as a life of Self-enquiry or surrender to God in the midst of one's daily duties. Though Self-enquiry was according to him the direct path to Self-realization, he never deprecated other paths to God realization. He taught Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga as aids to self enquiry. He would say that it was not work that was an obstacle to realization but the thought 'I am doing it'. As for japa, he would encourage the devotee to find out who is doing japa while repeating the name of the Lord. As a true knower of Brahman the Maharshi never made any distinction between Supreme Jnana and Supreme Bhakti: The eternal, unbroken, natural state of abiding in the Self is Jnana. To abide in the Self you must love the Self. Since God is in fact the Self, love of Self is love of God, and that is Bhakti. Jnana and Bhakti are thus one and the same.
About the author
Swami Yuktatmananda of Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya, Coimbatore, is a monk of the Ramakrishna Order. This article is an excerpt from His 'The Holy Beacon of Arunachala,' which is a narration of Ramana Maharshi's biography. In this article he describes about Ramana Maharshi's, central teaching, Self Enquiry or Atma Vichara.