Know Thy Self: an owner's manual

by Robert Wolfe on September 21st, 2009

The teachings of nonduality (“advaita”: not two), written in the Vedas, are evidently the world’s oldest spiritual pronouncements. They were given freshened interest several centuries ago by the historic Indian sage Shankara.

Within our era, these teachings gained world-wide attention in the presence of Ramana Maharshi, who experienced spontaneous Self-realization while still in his teens—not having read the Vedas or Shankara. (“When I left home in my seventeenth year [already Self-realized]…it was only years later that I came across the term ‘Brahman’, when I happened to look into some books on Vedanta which had been brought to me. I was amused, and said to myself: ‘Is this [condition] known as ‘Brahman’?”)

Ramana, at seventeen, immersed himself in several years of the deepest meditation imaginable—death-like—as he sat silent and desireless in a mountain cave. For the balance of his life, while engaged in the role of a (reluctant) guru, he owned no personal property, had no romantic life and never traveled.

Basically, he had nothing to gain from anything he said. Yet, because he personally experienced the sweeping range of human religious discovery, his teachings make it unnecessary for spiritual seekers to reinvent the wheel. Like Buddha and Jesus before him, he speaks from the authority of first-hand realization. Unlike Buddha and Jesus, his teachings come to us unfiltered by historic doctrinal censors.

And thankfully, for the present-day seeker, his advice is brief and direct. Ramana is deservedly the fountainhead of nondual teachings in our time. From the standpoint of Self-realization, all that one needs to know can be found in a distilled form in such transcriptions as Be as You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (edited topically by David Godman, who lived in Ramana’s ashram for years and edited its magazine, Mountain Path).

It is the Absolute (our “true nature”) which gives rise to the ego (or sense of personal selfhood); it is this ego which identifies itself (I) with the body which it animates. “You” are not this impermanent body; you are not this transient ego; you are that which is the very ground of being, the eternal presence in which ephemeral occurrences appear.

Ramana refers to this essence as Self; that which is not the creation of (or affected by) thought: thought, like ego, is a creation of the Self. Anything which (separative) thought can identify, he refers to as non-Self. Also, the “I” which is the real I is the Absolute (or Self)—which he sometimes refers to as “I-I” (subject and object as one unit).

Aside from these conventions, one need only to discern when Ramana’s teachings are given from the standpoint of the relative, and when instead they are given from the standpoint of the Absolute, in references in the monographs which follow.


Posted in Living Nonduality, Monograph, Nondual Teachers, Books    Tagged with Ramana Maharshi, Buddha, Jesus, Absolute, Subject-Object


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