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Asking 'Who am I' is honesty in face of falseness || Acharya Prashant, on Raman Maharishi (2015)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
21 min
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Question: Sir, Ramana Maharshi has talked about the ‘I’. He has always asked the seekers to observe this ‘I’, and this has always been the basis of his teachings. What exactly does Ramana Maharshi mean, when he asks us to constantly observe this ‘I’? How does one witness this ‘I’? In short, what is the basis of his teachings?

Speaker: See, appearances are deceptive; not only sometimes, but always. You look at these faces here (pointing towards a photo of Ramana Maharshi and other Saints hanging on the wall). Shubhankar, why not point the camera there for a while.

Ramana here would be the last one, with whom you would probably want to attach the word ‘rebel’. But, Ramana is – absolute rebellion. Absolute Rebellion. Do you know what ‘absolute’ means? ‘Absolute’ means pure. All his life, Ramana had only one answer, “What is pure, is One.”

Do you get this?

What is Pure, is One. ‘Purity’ means Oneness. All his life, Ramana had only one answer to anything that you would ask him. He might use many words, but if you look closely at the words, he had just one thing to say, “Find out who is asking the question.” He actually never had any other response to give. Never any other response.

There was a certain Oneness in his response to life. He didn’t have a bag of tricks. Krishna has eighteen chapters and talks of eighteen different kinds of yoga . With Ramana, there are no eighteen, or eighteen hundred types. There is just one – ‘Who is it’, that speaks? ‘Who is it’, that acts? ‘Who is it’, that is enquiring? ‘Who is it’, that is restless? ‘Who is it’, that is going to learn? ‘Who is it’, that forgets? Simple!

Even Kabir is sometimes, classified as a poet in the Bhakti (Devotion) tradition. There are others who say, “No, he can’t really be categorized,” and there are others who say that he belongs to the path of knowledge, Gyaana . So there can be a divergence, because Kabir talked of this and that, and everything. He often said things that are seemingly at odds with each other. They are actually not, but it appears.

Ramana was one-pointed, one track, and that is such a huge rebellion against the apparent diversity that enslaves the mind.

What is the mind, a slave to? The mind is a slave to appearances. And when you say, “Appearances,” you mean diversity. When you say, “Appearances”, you mean a thousand colors, a thousand sounds. You mean shapes and forms, and names. And all of them are different and diverse. For Ramana, there is no diversity. He refuses to acknowledge diversity. For him, the diversity is not real at all. Only the Aatma (Self) is real.

So, like him, his method of asking – ‘Who am I?’ – the Koham technique, is also greatly rebellious. It does not entertain the stupidity of mind at all. And it also does not entertain the stupidity of methods that rest on, a validation, a justification, an acknowledgement, of diversity.

For example, when we say that there are a thousand methods of ‘meditation’, what have we done? You see, meditation is about being there where are no numbers, no diversities. And you are saying, “Thousand methods of meditation!” In Ramana’s world, this statement is stupidity. So for him, there is no ‘method’ of meditation. Or at best, at most, one method.

Are you getting it?

He rebels against tradition. Though we call him, ‘Maharshi’ (A great seer), and we aptly call him ‘Maharshi’ , he does not belong to any tradition. He simply does not acknowledge any ‘rules’ or ‘formulae’ that tradition and scriptures have handed over to us.

In fact, it often would happen that people would ask him, “This point that you are speaking, contradicts something that is mentioned in the scriptures.” Then he would say, “Scriptures are for those who are still learning, scriptures are hence only for those, who are deluded. Scriptures are not for those who have attained Gyaana (Truth).” That would be his reply.

So what do the scriptures say? The scriptures say, “Here is a particular method.” The Bhakti Maargis say, “ Bhakti (Devotion) is the method.” The Karma Yogis would say, “ Nishkam Karma (Desire-less action) is the method.” The Gyaana Maargi would say “Heightening of consciousness, is the method.” And they say, “This is the method!”

Ramana says, “Do you know who is asking the question? And if you do not know who is asking the question, how can I suggest a method? There can be no method, because there will have to be an infinite number of methods, because the mind is capable of taking infinite shapes. Hence, I have to first ask, ‘Who is asking the question?’ And the moment I see who is asking the question, the method emerges from there. In fact, the asking of the question itself, is the method.”

Are you getting it?

There is no rigidity in his approach. He will not say, “Devotion is the way.” Of course, he did not reject devotion, but neither did he say that devotion is the way, Bhakti is the way. He did not say that. He rejects nothing, and he stands for nothing.

Please understand this.

So, when you knock on his door, he asks, “Who is it?” That’s his method.

He says, “Who is it? Introduce yourself.”

Is that a not a sane thing to do? Is that not something that must always be done? So the moment you say, “I am troubled,” he would immediately ask you, “Who is troubled?” Bring him in front of me. Make him sit here.” And the moment you want to find out who is it, ‘the troubled one’, it often happens, that instead of trouble, you find only peace.

When somebody knocks on your door, do you just go and open the door? You first want to know. When somebody comes to your door, do you have the same response and reaction to everybody? Your response and reaction depends on, who is it that you are meeting. It depends on who you are meeting, or does it not?

So when you go to Ramana, he says, “Who are you?” That is the path of Self-enquiry . “Ask yourself – Who are you? Blindly, I will not give you any answer. You must first know ‘ who you are’. And if you do not know ‘ who you are’ , go find out! Turn inwards and figure out ‘who’ is asking the question.”

So there is this great world, where the universe is taken as rigid, predictable and finite. Ramana knew better than that. He understood that a mere hundred techniques would not work, even a thousand would not work, and even ten thousand would not work.

You require a million techniques. You require a million-million techniques. You require an infinite number of techniques, because the mind has an infinite capacity, like a chameleon. Oh, the mind ashames the chameleon. We have Kabir here (indicating towards Kabir’s portrait on the wall) and he said,

“मन के बहुतक रंग हैं

छिन-छिन बदले सोए”

(The colours of the mind are infinite.

It changes moment to moment)

The word ‘*bahutak*’ means many, and it is a very gentle understatement. Kabir said, “ Many,” when he meant – infinite, when he meant – beyond count.

In this realization, Ramana is Buddha-like. Ramana doesn’t take you to be a fixed entity. “How can I ask you to follow the path of Karma (Action) when ‘you’ do not exist?” If I say that Joydeep (pointing towards a listener) here, must follow Karmayoga (The discipline of desire-less action), then there must be somebody called ‘Joydeep’ to follow Karmayoga (The discipline of desire-less action).

Just as the Buddha realized that ‘Joydeep’ is nothing, nobody substantial – that ‘Joydeep’ is just a flow, a movement that is continuously happening, there is nothing permanent or stable in that movement.‘Joydeep’ is changing every moment – so how can he be suggested something permanent, stagnant?

When the patient is changing every moment, how can the disease be constant? And hence, how can the medicine be constant? So, at the moment when you say, “I am a patient,” the doctor needs to ask, “Who exactly are you? What exactly is your disease?” And that answer has to be then and there . It is not an answer that you can borrow from the past, or carry forward to the future.

Listener 1: So you don’t have time to ponder upon it?

Speaker: Actually you don’t have time to ponder. It’s something that works instantaneously. And hence the response of the doctor, to your disease, must constantly vary, because you are never the same.

Do you see how great a rebellion this is? When you go to a Saint, you expect a particular ‘saintly’ treatment from him. Ramana does not give you that. But at the same time you would say, “Sir, his responses, as far as we have read and heard, used to appear to be the same. He would be sitting comfortably, and whosoever would come to him, he would respond in a few words, and that’s all!”

Listener 2: And that’s why after reading him for some time, we feel a little bored?

Speaker: Yes, there are many people who do not see much diversity there. So their mind starts feeling bored.

Listener 1: I personally find Ramana very interesting!

Speaker: Go find out! Go figure out. Go enquire. Go ask, “ Koham (Who am I?).” All these questions only mean now face the Truth. And the moment you face the Truth, the shadows are gone.

That’s Ramana’s method.

Listener 3: Are the shadows really gone?

Speaker: (Smilingly) Yes, and no.

If a man is standing next to you and looking in the same direction as you, he will say, “Yes Sir, the shadows are really gone. Just as you do not see shadows, even I do not see shadows. So, I validate your observation, there are no shadows.”

But, if a man is standing next to you and he is facing in the opposite direction, he will say, “You have been fooled. There were shadows before, and there are shadows even now. No shadows have gone away, your life has not changed.” You will smile and say, “It has totally changed. I see no shadows.” He will say, “The shadows are still there,” and he’s right, but totally wrong.

He’s right, the shadows are still there. (Smilingly) Why are the shadows still there? Because he sees the shadows.

Listener 1: So, when it is said, “Face your gaze at the Truth,” – the Truth cannot be captured in mind, it is beyond mind – so saying, “Truth, Truth, Truth,” is also shadows? So ‘facing’ would be, being present to what is going on?

Speaker: Actually he’s saying, “Be honest.” When he says, “Go find out,” all that he is saying is, “Can you be honest towards yourself for a while?”

Listener 2: Sir, the mind has a lot of concepts about fear, can we actually witness fear? Why do we just get lost in concepts?

Speaker: Because the mind has been told that certain things are ‘good’ and certain things are ‘bad’. When you say, “Fear,” it is not merely a sound. It is an entire world of images. An entire world! It carries so many connotations. Every world is a universe, every world is a total universe. Fear is not just another sound. When it falls on your ears, it changes your being. Or does is it not?

Listener 1: Yes.

Speaker: You are no more the same person. It is not something objective, outside of you. With the result that you can never really be with it, be with fear or be with anything. Why can’t you be with it? Because you have already been told what to make of it. So you have already been told that fear is something…?

Listener 2: Bad.

Speaker: Bad. When it falls on your ears, immediately an automatic system goes off. “Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.” To some extent it is genetic; to some extent it is social. You see something and immediately it sets off a chain of automatic reactions in your mind – good, bad, this and that. And the moment this automatic process begins, it becomes impossible to really come close to the happening. For example, how can I answer your question if automatically there is a rigid judgment here that his questions do not deserve to be answered, that he always asks ‘bad’ questions.

But that’s the whole danger with naming, with having names. You have the same name today that you had yesterday and day before yesterday. Name conserves the past. You have the same face today, almost the same face today, that you had two months back so the moment his face comes in front of me, entire past comes in front of me.

Do you understand this?

So how can I come close to you? The entire past and the experiences and the knowledge is standing between you and me now. I cannot come to you. That’s the thing with name and form. That is the thing with anything with boundaries. It is rigid. Boundaries mean rigidity, now I cannot approach you.

Similarly, fear has a name and form. In fact, you can try it out. You ask kids to draw fear and you will see how easily they are able to put fear in forms and there would quite predictable forms. The colours used would be mostly black and red. Hardly anybody would paint fear in pink or in blue. Nobody would paint fear in these colours. Fear would be painted in?

Listener 1: Black and Red.

Speaker: Black and Red.

Listener 1: So the sense of constancy keeps you away from actually seeing the happening. The face is saying that this person is something constant. When I am in fear I feel that this situation is going cause permanent damage. It’s give a sense of constancy and in the world of mind nothing is constant.

Speaker: But we want that, we want that.

Listener 1: Continuity.

Speaker: Continuity, that permanence. We want that, just that we want it within the stretch of time, which by definition is about coming and going. (Smilingly) So within the field of coming and going, we want something that…?

Listener 2: Remains stable.

Speaker: Which does not come and go. And we want it here, in our world, on this earth, relative to this body, relative to thoughts and ideas, expressible in words. We are using all the means and methods that are applicable to the world in which things are changing and ephemeral.

Change and change and change totally scares the mind, “Nothing is stable here, give me something that remains firm, nothing remains firm.”

Listener 3: Sir, we are trying to actually get something from the mind which is against its nature.

Speaker: Against its habit.

Listener 3: Why did you say ‘habit’?

Speaker: No, the nature of the mind, again, is not restlessness. This restlessness that the mind exhibits, is not really its nature. That’s why it suffers in this restlessness. Going against its nature, it suffers, it is an acquired habit, not nature.

Listener 3: Sir, one thing I would like to ask that when somebody comes in front of me, the whole past too comes. How exactly can this happen that I am talking to somebody, for example, I am talking to you and the past is not hindering in the now, because the past always comes in.

Speaker: Face the Truth all the time. The past will always be there, like that shadow. Let it be here only like that shadow. There, yet not there. Present, but not interfering. The shadow is there, but it is not interfering in my vision. Why? Why it is not interfering in my vision?

Listener 1: Because I am not looking at it.

Speaker: I am not looking at it. It’s there, but I am not looking at it. You have that power, you have that choice, exercise it. You have the choice to look either at the light or at shadows. Keep looking at the light , keep looking at the light. Behind your back there would always be shadows. They are always behind you, remain one step ahead of them. And even if you are one step ahead of them, yet they would be right under your step, right under your feet. But that’s the closest they can get to you.

Listener 3: Is it not also a habit?

Speaker: Facing this way rather than that way?

Listener 3: Yes.

Speaker: It’s an acquired habit.

Listener 1: Sir, this mental churning is nothing but a choice to just to be away from the Truth?

Speaker: Yes, you are fascinated with shadows as sometimes kids are. You cannot really do anything with the light, the light will not cater to your whims. Have you seen how kids play game with shadows?

Listener 1: Yes, yes.

Speaker: They would take their hands and draw something like this and this looks like a deer. There are so many things that you can do with shadows, but you can’t do anything with light.

Listener 3: It’s more like answer of Bhagwan Ramana, he would always be saying the same thing. “Go back to yourself.” So with falsities, you can play around, with the questions you can play around, but the answer remains the same.

Speaker: In front of light you can only surrender. You can just be over-awed and over-joyed. With shadows there are so many possibilities, so many diversities, now, come into the picture. They all are black diversities.

Listener 3: Sir, Maaya has been portrayed in two ways, one of which is that ‘something is there and it makes you see something else’ and the other is ‘something is not there, yet it is seen’. So we have talked of that ‘something is not there, yet it is seen’, but the other one?

Speaker: The other is also fairly simple. There are people who hypnotize themselves into thinking that the Sun is contained somewhere in the shadows. There are people who start thinking that they are looking at the Sun when all they are staring at, is the shadows.

Their life is full of darkness, yet if you approach them, they will put up a fake smile and say “No, no, no, my life is all resplendent with Truth. See how everything is bathed in light”. And you will look at their life and say, “No, I only see darkness, where do you see light?” They will say, “No, no. no, this is not darkness, this is light”.

So this is about seeing something. That is the thing with shadows, nobody who is looking at shadows would say that he is looking at shadows. That’s the ultimate humiliation to shadows, you know, they can’t even declare themselves to be shadows! When you are looking at shadows, what is your self-defence? – “They are not shadows, they are Sun, its light!” You cannot say, “These are shadows,” and yet keep looking at them! How will you then answer the question, “Why are you avoiding the Sun?”

So you will never say, “I am looking at shadows.” So, there are some people who are actually looking at the Sun and there are others who claim that they are looking at the Sun. There is nobody who can claim that he is looking at the shadows.

Ramana Maharshi would catch you in the moment of suffering and say, “Find out where the suffering is?” That is the moment when you will have to acknowledge, that you were looking at shadows. He would expose your lies.

And he would not do it through assertion; he would do it through suggestion. He would suggest that you find out . In a very modest way, he may seemingly in a very innocuous way, would totally dismantle your falseness. You won’t even be alerted, you won’t even know that your ego is under severe attack. You won’t even know. That man had such a gentle demeanour, he gave you no hint that he is going to strangulate your ego.

Listener 1: Very playfully.

Speaker: Very playfully. In a sense, very deceptively. Only later on could you go and complain to him, “Father you really killed me”.

Listener 1: Looking at the Truth, you know, there is no chance for shadows. Whatever the mind generates if not 100% then 99.99% are shadows. So fact is that I am conditioned to seek securities within the shadows and the shadows are the reason why there are insecurities in the first place. So, when I look at the Truth, it would need lots of Faith.

Speaker: Yes.

Listener 1: So, I don’t have to turn back, I don’t have to rely on myself for my protection.

Speaker: Old habits have a certain momentum.

Listener 1: Yes. So…

Speaker: So, it may take a while.

Listener 1: But the suffering is, it’s right now too.

Speaker: You will have to pass through it.

Listener 1: Sleeping. I don’t want to sleep, I want to listen but it is coming back.

Speaker: It is coming back because, you know, the Sun is a threat. It is coming back because the shadows are smarter than you are. They know that they are under attack so at this very moment they must seize you or they would lose you. You are being seized by your own deluded self. Grasping for breath, it is clutching at your neck.

Listener 1: And I can’t do anything about it?

Speaker: You are already doing something about it. You are sitting in front of me.

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