Born Venkataraman Iyer, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi is one of most widely recognised Hindu sages of the modern era.
Born in Tamil Nadu, India, the extraordinary tale of his life traces a journey of self-realization through awareness.
Sri Ramana Maharshi as a guru recommended constant self-inquiry as a means to attain liberation or comprehension of one’s true self.
In this article, we’ll take a look at:
- The life of Sri Ramana Maharshi
- His spiritual teachings of self-enquiry and their religious background
- His legacy and impact on the spiritual world
The life of Sri ramana maharshi
Ramana Maharshi’s early life was marked by a series of profound experiences that would later shape his teachings and spiritual influence.
Ramana Maharshi was considered to have had a normal childhood with nothing out of the ordinary. He enjoyed sports, was fairly lazy at school, and wasn’t particularly interested in religious matters.
It’s reported though that he did have some strange traits – the most commonly cited was his ability for incredibly deep sleep. A story of his youth tells us of how his friends could physically assault him without waking him.
During his formative years, Sri Ramana Maharshi underwent a profound “death-experience” in which he was overcome with an intense and oppressive fear of death.
This experience caused him to perceive the dissolution of his self and physicality and merge with infinite consciousness. In other words, he experienced a form of enlightenment according to Hindu principles.
This experience is often considered a crucial juncture in his spiritual quest, serving as the driving force behind his relentless pursuit of spiritual transcendence.Sri Ramana Maharshi later identified this recognition of a ‘current’ or ‘force’ and the truth of his self (atman) as related to a state of mind of ‘Ishvara‘ or as a ‘jnani‘.
For 6 weeks, Sri Ramana Maharshi processed what had happened, trying to maintain some level of normality in his day-to-day life as a 16-year-old boy.
However the profundity of this experience meant he would end up withdrawing from school, friends and family, totally absorbed in spiritual concentration.
On the 29th of August in 1896, Sri Ramana Maharshi dropped everything and left home, travelling to Tiruvannamalai, the home of a sacred Hindu mountain, where he stayed for the rest of his life.
Arunachala – the holy mountain
Sri Ramana Maharshi, across temples in Tiruvannamalai and in residence of caves on Arunachala mountain, became a sannyasin – a Hindu ascetic who has renounced worldly pursuits and committed themselves to a life of spiritual discipline and contemplation.
Sri Ramana Maharshi stayed for the longest in Virupaksha Cave, which is located on the south-eastern slope where he spent 17 years.
During his initial years on the mountain, Ramana primarily remained silent. It is said that he was not only visited by spiritual seekers but also by ordinary people, children, and even animals.
Young children from the local area would ascend the mountain to Virupaksha Cave, sit near him, play around him and leave feeling peaceful. Squirrels and monkeys also used to visit him and eat from his hand.
He attracted a huge following throughout his life on the mountain, and his devotees set up an ashram around him at the base of the hill called Sri Ramanasramam.
This ashram is still active today and provides accommodation for visitors, and many people come to stay for long periods of time to practice meditation and self-inquiry. The ashram also maintains a museum dedicated to Sri Ramana Maharshi and his teachings.
Sri Ramana Maharshi was raised in a traditional Hindu household and so the template of his spiritual teaching is philosophically Hindu, rooted in Jnana yoga.
However, his spiritual teachings and philosophy transcended any specific religious tradition and were based on the idea of the unity of all consciousness.
Sri Ramana Maharshi’s spiritual teachings were deeply influenced by the Advaita Vedanta tradition of Hindu philosophy, which preaches the non-duality of the self and the ultimate reality of consciousness.
Advaita Vedanta asserts that the ultimate reality (Brahman), is one and indivisible, and that the individual self (Atman) is not separate from this ultimate reality.
Sri Ramana Maharshi’s spiritual teachings and practices were also influenced by the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture that is revered as one of the most important spiritual texts in Hinduism.
The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient piece of literature that stresses the importance of self-realisation and self-study as the deepest form of inquiry to attain spiritual inner peace and clarity.
Despite being embedded in Hindu tradition, Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings transcended any specific religious context or dogma. Prevalent in a lot of enlightenment instruction, he invited a universal and experience-based development.
spiritual teachings: self-Enquiry
Ultimately, Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching was on ‘self-inquiry’.
Self-enquiry is to reflect constantly on the ‘unreality’ of the I-thought. It is to recognize what isn’t ‘I’, or self, which in the Hindu context is a reference to the body and its attributes, the mind, and its thoughts.
The true self is described as timeless ‘current’ or force’ which is also the true ultimate reality, with any earthly impressions of ‘separation’ as illusory.
Here are 9 bullet points on Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings of self-enquiry:
- Self-enquiry is the process of introspection to discover the nature of the self.
- The yardstick of identification of self is the realization of infinite and eternal consciousness.
- The mind or ego is the greatest hurdle to self-inquiry, as it is constantly distracting us with thoughts, impressions, and cravings.
- Sri Ramana Maharshi’s recommended approach to self-inquiry is simply to still the mind (develop samadhi), and then ask the question “Who Am I?“.
- Continuous inquiry of “Who Am I?” will ultimately lead a person to the realization that the true self is not the body or the mind, but rather pure consciousness – or existence-consciousness-bliss.
- Fruits of self-inquiry include happiness, lasting peace, and control of the mind.
- The experience-based or first-hand approach to self-inquiry is inherently secular, and can therefore be practiced by anyone, regardless of any particular background or belief.
- Much like with any spiritual yogic path, self-inquiry requires devotion and diligence and is a lifelong endeavor.
- The realization of the true self through self-inquiry is the ultimate goal of spiritual practice and leads to the end of suffering and the attainment of lasting happiness and peace.
1. Who Am I?
‘Nan Yar?’ or ‘Who Am I?’ is a spiritual text written as a set of questions and answers on self-inquiry, and is considered to be one of his most important works.
The book is a culmination of his teachings of self-inquiry, in relation to the liberation of the cycle of birth and death through recognition of the ultimate reality.
The book is renowned for its simplicity and direct approach, cemented as a classic of spiritual literature, continuing to inspire and guide many seekers around the world on their respective spiritual journeys.
2. Forty Verses on Reality
Another concise summary on self-inquiry, ‘Forty Verses on Reality‘ is a toolkit of spiritual application.
It provides practical instruction on how to critically engage in self-reflection and meditation to attain liberation.
On the goal of self-enquiry
“On diving deep upon the quest “Who am I and from whence?” thoughts disappear And consciousness of Self … flashes forth As the “I-I” within the cavity Of every seeker’s Heart. And this is Heaven, This is that Stillness, the abode of Bliss.”
“When the world which is what-is-seen has been removed, there will be realization of the Self which is the seer.”
“From our perception of the world, there follows acceptance of a unique First Principle possessing various powers. Pictures of name and form, the person who sees, the screen on which he sees, and the light by which he sees: he himself is all of these.”
“What exists in truth is the Self alone. The world, the individual soul, and God are appearances in it, like silver in mother-of-pearl; these three appear at the same time, and disappear at the same time.”
On the nature of the mind
“[The] mind is but an aggregate of thoughts.”
“Thoughts alone constitute the mind; and for all thoughts the base or source is the “I” thought. “I” is the mind.”
On the ego
“Ego is non-existent, otherwise you would be two instead of one – you the ego and you the Self. You are a single, indivisible whole.”
“The ego or separate soul is a concept. God, the world, the mind, desires, action, sorrow and all other things are all concepts.”
1. If you’d like to learn more about Sri Ramana Maharshi, take a look at our other article on his quotes.
2. If you’d like to learn more about the Hindu context of his teachings, take a look at our article What Is Advaita? which dives into the concept of non-duality.
3. If you’d really like to take the plunge and have felt inspired, why not visit Sri Ramanasramam in Tiruvannamalai, where you can experience first-hand the tools of self-inquiry.