Question: Yoga means union. I wonder union of what with what?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Exactly. Yoga implies prior division and it means later union of one thing with another. But who is to be united and with whom? You are the seeker, seeking union with something. If you assume this then that something must be apart from you. But your Self is intimate to you and you are always aware of it. Seek it and be it. Then it will expand as the infinite and there will be no question of Yoga. Whose is the separation (viyoga)?
Questioner: I don’t know. Is there really separation?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Find out to whom is the viyoga. That is yoga. Yoga is common to all paths. Yoga is really nothing but ceasing to think that you are different from the Self or Reality. All the Yogas -Karma, Jnana, Bhakti, and Raja- are just different paths to suit different natures with different modes of evolution. They are all aimed at getting people out of the long-cherished notion that they are different from the Self. There is no question of union or yoga in the sense of going and joining something that is somewhere away from us or different from us, because you never were or could be separate from the Self.
Question: What is the difference between Yoga and enquiry?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yoga enjoins chitta-vrittti-nirodha (repression of thoughts) whereas I prescribe atmaniveshana (quest of oneself). This latter method is more practicable. The mind is repressed in swoon, or as the effect of fasting. But as soon as the cause is withdrawn the mind revives, that is, the thoughts begin to flow as before. There are just two ways of controlling the mind. Either seek its source, or surrender it to be struck down by the Supreme power. Surrender is the recognition of the existence of a higher overruling power. If the mind refuses to help in seeking the source, let it go and wait for its return; then turn it inwards. No one succeeds without patient perseverance.
Question: Is it necessary to control one’s breath?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Breath control is only an aid for diving deep within oneself. One may as well dive down by controlling the mind. When the mind is controlled, the breath is controlled automatically. One need not attempt breath control, mind control is enough. Breath control is only recommended for those who cannot control their minds straightaway.
Question: When should one do Pranayama and why is it effective?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: In the absence of enquiry and devotion, the natural sedative pranayama (breath regulation) may be tried. This is known as Yoga Marga (the path of yoga). If life is imperilled the whole interest centres round one point, the saving of life. If the breath is held the mind cannot afford to (and does not) jump at its pets- external objects. Thus there is rest for the mind so long as the breath is held. All attention being turned on breath or its regulation, other interests are lost.
The source of breath is the same as that of the mind. Therefore the subsidence of either leads effortlessly to the subsidence of the other.
Question: Is the mind control induced by pranayama also temporary?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Quiescence lasts only so long as the breath is controlled. So it is transient. The goal is clearly not pranayama. It extends on to Pratyahara (withdrawal), Dharana (concentration of the mind), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi. Those stages deal with control of the mind. Such mind control becomes easier for a person who has earlier practised pranayama. Pranayama therefore leads one to the higher stages. Because these higher stages involve controlling the mind, one can say that mind control is the ultimate aim of Yoga.
A more advanced man will naturally go direct to control of mind without wasting his time in practising control of breath.
Question: Pranayama has three phases – exhalation, inhalation and retention. How should they be regulated?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Completely giving up identification with the body alone is exhalation (rechaka); merging within through the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ alone is inhalation (puraka); abiding as the one reality ‘I am That’ alone is retention (kumbhaka). This is the real pranayama.
Question: I find it said in Maha Yoga that in the beginning of meditation one may attend to the breath, that is, its inspiration and expiration, and that after a certain amount of stillness of mind is attained, one can dive into the Heart seeking the source of the mind. I have been badly in want of some such practical hint. Can I follow this method? Is it correct?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: The thing is to kill the mind somehow. Those who have not the strength to follow the enquiry method are advised to adopt pranayama as a help to control the mind. This pranayama is of two kinds, controlling and regulating the breath, or simply watching the breath.
Question: For controlling the breath, is not the ratio 1:4:2 for inhaling, retaining the breath and exhaling best?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: All those proportions, sometimes regulated not by counting but by uttering Mantras, are aids to controlling the mind. That is all. Watching the breath is also one form of pranayama. Inhaling, retaining and exhaling is more violent and may be harmful in some cases, for example when there is no proper Guru to guide the seeker at every step and stage. But merely watching the breath is easy and involves no risk.
Question: Hatha Yogic practices are said to banish diseases effectively and are therefore advocated as necessary preliminaries to Jnana Yoga (Yoga of knowledge).
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Let those who advocate them use them. It has not been the experience here. All diseases will be effectively annihilated by continuous self-enquiry. If you proceed on the notion that health of body is necessary for health of mind, there will never be an end to the care of the body.
Question: Is not Hatha Yoga necessary for the enquiry into the Self?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Each one finds some one method suitable to himself, because of latent tendencies (purva sanskara).
Question: Can Hatha Yoga be accomplished at my age?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Why do you think of all this? Because you think the Self is exterior to yourself you desire it and try for it. But do you not exist all along? Why do you leave yourself and go after something external?
Questioner: It is said in Aparoksha Anubhuti (by Sri Sankaracharya) that Hatha Yoga is a necessary aid for enquiry into the Self.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: The Hatha Yogis claim to keep the body fit so that the enquiry may be effected without obstacles. They also say that life must be prolonged so that the enquiry may be carried to a successful end. Furthermore there are those who use some medicines (kayakalpa) with that end in view. Their favourite example is that the screen must be perfect before the painting is begun. Yes, but which is the screen and which the painting? According to them the body is the screen and the enquiry into the Self is the painting. But is not the body itself a picture on the screen, the Self?
Questioner: But Hatha Yoga is so much spoken of as an aid.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes. Even great pandits (pundits) well versed in the Vedanta continue the practice of it. Otherwise their minds will not subside. So you may say it is useful for those who cannot otherwise still the mind.
Question: What are Asanas (postures or seats)? Are they necessary?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Many asanas with their effects are mentioned in the Yoga sastras. The seats are the tiger-skin, grass, etc. The postures are the ‘lotus posture’, the ‘easy posture’, and so on. Why all these only to know oneself? The truth is that from the Self the ego rises up, confuses itself with the body, mistakes the world to be real, and then, covered with egotistic conceit, it thinks wildly and looks for asanas (seats). Such a person does not understand that he himself is the centre of all and thus forms the basis for all.
The asana is meant to make him sit firm. Where and how can he remain firm except in his own real state? This is the real asana.
Attaining the steadiness of not swerving from the knowledge that the base (asana) upon which the whole universe rests is only Self, which is the space of true knowledge, the illustrious ground, alone is the firm and motionless posture (asana) for excellent Samadhi.
Question: In what asana is Bhagavan (Sri Ramana) usually seated?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: In what asana? In the asana of the Heart. Wherever it is pleasant, there is my asana. That is called Sukhasana, the asana of happiness. That asana of the Heart is peaceful, and gives happiness.There is no need for any other asana for those who are seated in that one.
Question: Meditation is with mind. How can it kill the mind in order to reveal the Self?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Meditation is sticking to one thought. That single thought keeps away other thoughts. Distraction of mind is a sign of its weakness. By constant meditation it gains strength, that is to say, the weakness of fugitive thought gives place to the enduring background free from thought. This expanse devoid of thought is the Self. Mind in purity is the Self.
Question: What is Dhyana (meditation)?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: It is abiding as one’s Self without swerving in any way from one’s real nature and without feeling that one is meditating.
Question: What is the difference between Dyana and Samadhi?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Dyana is achieved through deliberate mental effort. In Samadhi there is no such effort.
Question: What are the factors to be kept in view in Dhyana
Sri Ramana Maharshi: It is important for one who is established in his Self (atmanishtha) to see that he does not swerve in the least from this absorption. By swerving from his true nature he may see before him bright effulgences, or hear unusual sounds, or regard as real the visions of gods appearing within or outside himself. He should not be deceived by these and forget himself.
Question: How is meditation to be practised?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Meditation is, truly speaking, atmanishtha (to be fixed as the Self). But when thoughts cross the mind and an effort is made to eliminate them the effort is usually termed meditation. Atmanishtha is your real nature. Remain as you are. That is the aim.
Question: But thoughts come up. Is our effort meant to eliminate thoughts only?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes. Meditation being on a single thought, the other thoughts are kept away. Meditation is only negative in effect in as much as thoughts are kept away.
Questioner: It is said ‘Atma samstham manah krtva’ (fixing the mind in the Self). But the Self is unthinkable.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Why do you wish to meditate at all? Because you wish to do so you are told ‘atma samstham manah krtva’. Why do you not remain as you are without meditating? What is that ‘manah’ (mind)? When all thoughts are eliminated it becomes ‘atma samstha’ (fixed in the Self).
Questioner: If a form is given I can meditate on it and other thoughts are eliminated. But the Self is formless.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Meditation on forms of concrete objects is said to be Dhyana, whereas the enquiry into the Self is Vichara or Nididhyasana (uninterrupted awareness of being).
Question: How is Dhyana practised- with eyes open or closed?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: It may be done either way. The point is that the mind must be introverted and kept active in its pursuit. Sometimes it happens that when the eyes are closed the latent thoughts rush forth with great vigour. It may also be difficult to introvert the mind with the eyes open. It requires strength of mind to do so. The mind is contaminated when it takes in objects. Otherwise, it is pure. The main factors in Dhyana is to keep the mind active in its own pursuit without taking in external impressions or thinking of other matters.
Question: How do I prevent myself falling asleep in meditation?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: If you try to prevent sleep it will mean thinking in meditation, which must be avoided. But if you slip into sleep while meditating, the meditation will continue even during and after sleep. Yet, being a thought, sleep must be got rid of, for the final natural state has to be obtained consciously in jagrat (the waking state) without the disturbing thought. Waking and sleeping are mere pictures on the screen of the native, thought-free state. Let them pass unnoticed.
Question: What is to be meditated upon?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Anything that you prefer.
Question: Siva, Vishnu and Gayatri are said to be equally efficacious. Which should I mediate upon?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Any one you like best. They are all equal in their effect. But you should stick to one.
Question: How do I meditate?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Concentrate on that one whom you like best. If a single thought prevails, all other thoughts are put off and finally eradicated. So long as diversity prevails there are bad thoughts. When the object of love prevails only good thoughts hold the field. Therefore hold on to one thought only. Dhyana is the chief practice.
Dhyana means fight. As soon as you begin meditation other thoughts will crowd together, gather force and try to sink the single thought to which you try to hold. The good thought must gradually gain strength by repeated practice. After it has grown strong the other thoughts will be put to flight. This is the battle royal always taking place in meditation.
One wants to rid oneself of misery. It requires peace of mind, which means absence of perturbation owing to all kinds of thoughts. Peace of mind is brought about by Dhyana alone.
Question: What is the difference between Dhyana (meditation) and Vichara (investigation)?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Both amount to the same. Those unfit for investigation must practise meditation. In meditation the aspirant forgetting himself meditates ‘I am Brahman’ or ‘I am Siva’ and by this method holds on to Brahman or Siva. This will ultimately end with the residual awareness of Brahman or Siva as being. He will then realise that this is pure being, that is, the Self.
He who engages in investigation starts by holding on to himself, and by asking himself ‘Who am I?’ The Self becomes clear to him. Mentally imagining oneself to be the supreme reality, which shines as existence-consciousness-bliss, is meditation. Fixing the mind in the Self so that the unreal seed of delusion will die is enquiry.
Whoever meditates upon the Self in whatever bhava (mental image) attains it only in that image. Those peaceful ones who remain quiet without any such bhava attain the noble and unqualified state of Kaivalya, the formless state of the Self.
Questioner: Meditation is more direct than investigation because the former holds on to the truth whereas the latter sifts the truth from the untruth.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: For the beginner meditation on a form is more easy and agreeable. Practice of it leads to self-enquiry, which consists in sifting the reality from unreality.
What is the use of holding on to truth when you are filled with antagonistic factors?
Self-enquiry directly leads to realisation by removing the obstacles which make you think the self is not already realised.
Meditation differs according to the degree of advancement of the seeker. If one is fit for it one might directly hold on to the thinker, and the thinker will then automatically sink into his source, pure consciousness.
If one cannot directly hold on to the thinker one must meditate on God and in due course the same individual will have become sufficiently pure to hold on to the thinker and to sink into absolute being.
Meditation is possible only if the ego is kept up. There is the ego and the object meditated upon. The method is therefore indirect because the Self is only one. Seeking the ego, that is its source, the ego disappears. What is left over is the Self. This method is the direct one.
Question: Is the practice of concentration between the eyebrows advisable?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: The final result of the practice of any kind of Dhyana is that the object on which the seeker fixes his mind ceases to exist as distinct and separate from the subject. They, the subject and object, become the one Self, and that is the Heart.
Question: Why does not Sri Bhagavan (Sri Ramana) direct us to practise concentration on some particular centre or Chakra?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yoga Sastra says that the sahasrara (the Chakra located in the brain) or the brain is the seat of the Self. Purusha Sukta declares that the Heart is its seat. To enable the sadhaka to steer clear of possible doubt, I tell him to take up the thread or the clue of ‘I’-ness or ‘I am’ ness and follow it up to its source. Because, firstly, it is impossible for anybody to entertain any doubt about this ‘I’ notion. Secondly, whatever be the means adopted, the final goal is the realisation of the source of ‘I am’-ness, which is the primary datum of your experience.
If you therefore practice self-enquiry, you will reach the Heart, which is the Self.
Question: I practise Hatha Yoga and I also meditate ‘I am Brahman’. After a few moments of this meditation, a blank prevails, the brain gets heated and a fear of death arises. What should I do?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: ‘I am Brahman’ is only a thought. Who says it? Brahman itself does not say so. What need is there for it to say it? Nor can the real ‘I’ say so. For ‘I’ always abides as Brahman. To be saying it is only a thought. Whose thought is it? All thoughts are from the unreal ‘I’, that is the ‘I’-thought. Remain without thinking. So long as there is thought there will be fear.
Questioner: As I go on thinking of it there is forgetfulness, the brain becomes heated and I am afraid.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes, the mind is concentrated in the brain and hence you get a hot sensation there. It is because of the ‘I’-thought. When the ‘I’-thought arises fear of death arises simultaneously. With regard to forgetfulness, so long as there is thought there will be forgetfulness. First there is the thought ‘I am Brahman’, then forgetfulness supervenes. Forgetfulness and thought are for the ‘I’-thought only. Hold on to it and it will disappear like a phantom. What remains over is the real ‘I’ and that is the Self.
‘I am Brahman’ is an aid to concentration since it keeps off other thoughts. When that one thought alone persists, see whose thought it is. It will be found to be from ‘I’. From where is the ‘I’-thought? Probe into it, the ‘I’-thought will vanish, and the Supreme Self will shine forth of itself. No further effort is needed.
When the one real ‘I’ remains alone, it will not be saying ‘I am Brahman’. Does a man go on repeating ‘I am a man’? Unless he is challenged, why should he declare himself a man? Does anyone mistake himself for an animal that he should say, .’No, I am not an animal, I am a man’? Similarly, Brahman or ‘I’ being the only existing reality, there is no one there to challenge it and so there is no need to be repeating ‘I am Brahman’.
Question: Why should one adopt this self-hypnotism by thinking on the unthinkable point? Why not adopt other methods like gazing into light, holding the breath, hearing music, hearing internal sounds, repetition of the sacred syllable Om or other Mantras?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Light-gazing stupefies the mind and produces catalepsy of the will for the time being, but it secures no permanent benefit. Breath control temporarily benumbs the will but it is not permanent. It is the same with listening to sounds, unless the Mantra is sacred and secures the help of a higher power to purify and raise the thoughts.
Question: We are advised to concentrate on the spot in the forehead between the eyebrows. Is this right?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Everyone is aware- ‘I am’. Leaving aside that awareness one goes about in search of God. What is the use of fixing one’s attention between the eyebrows? It is mere folly to say that God is between the eyebrows. The aim of such advice is to help the mind to concentrate. It is one of the forcible methods to check the mind and prevent its dissipation. It is forcibly directed into one channel. It is a help to concentration.
But the best means of realisation is the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ The present trouble is to the mind and it must be removed by the mind only.
Question: I do not always concentrate on the same centre in the body. Sometimes I find it easier to concentrate on one centre and sometimes on another. And sometimes when I concentrate on one centre the thought of its own accord goes and fixes itself in another. Why is that?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: It may be because of past practices of yours. But in any case it is immaterial on which centre you concentrate since the real Heart is in every centre and even outside the body. On whatever part of the body you may concentrate or on whatever external object, the Heart is there.
Question: Can one concentrate at one time on one centre and at another time on another or should one concentrate always consistently on the same centres?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: As I have just said, there can be no harm wherever you concentrate, because concentration is only a means of giving up thoughts. Whatever the centre or object on which you concentrate, he who concentrates is always the same.
Questioner: Some say that one should practise meditation on gross objects only. It may be disastrous if one constantly seeks to kill the mind.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: For who is it disastrous? Can there be disaster apart from the Self?
Unbroken ‘I, I’ is the infinite ocean. The ego, the ‘I’-thought, remains only a bubble on it and is called Jiva or individual soul. The bubble too is water for when it bursts it only mixes in the ocean. When it remains a bubble it is still a part of the ocean. Ignorant of this simple truth, innumerable methods under different denominations, such as Yoga, Bhakti, Karma, each again with many modifications, are being taught with great skill and in intricate detail only to entice the seekers and confuse their minds. So also there are religions and sects and dogmas. What are they all for? Only for knowing the Self. They are aids and practices required for knowing the Self.
Objects perceived by the senses are spoken of as immediate knowledge (pratyaksha). Can anything be as direct as the Self- always experienced without the aid of the senses? Sense-perceptions can only be indirect knowledge, and not direct knowledge. Only one’s own awareness is direct knowledge, and that is the common experience of one and all. No aids are needed to know one’s own Self.
For Sri Ramana Maharshi’s views on the other aspects of Raja Yoga (such as morality, meditation and Samadhi) read the following pages: