Who Am I? The YogaZen of Ramana Maharshi

Until very recently I’ve been in the midst of a meditative fustercluck.

Long story short, what used to be a consistent sadhana practice has become a unsure, experimental and twitchy mental movement that cannot seem to settle on one type of practice.

 

Mantra? Zazen? Open eyed? Close eyed? Chakra? Expansiveness? One-pointedness? Breath? Nothingness? Candle? Flower? Up? Down? In? Out? …Are some of the ideas popping into my mind multiple times every minute after I sit. Perhaps there is lesson in this, dear reader: If you have found a practice that works for you, just stick with it. Don’t bother with all this confusion. All paths lead to the same destination in the end, anyways.

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These have become my favourite types of flowers — psychedelic succulents that love the sunny rocks. Totally unrelated to spiritual philosophy. Or are they? Sacred geometry abounds.

 

Over the last week, I had the pleasure of spending four nights in Satsang, listening to the spiritual teachings of a man named Ramana. His guru, Papaji, was a direct discipline of the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi.

 

I am still in the afterglow of the teachings – this came at the right time for me. Something within the teachings of Ramana Maharshi (as conveyed by Ramana) speaks to me. I have found that when something resonates on a deep level, the messages received don’t even seem profound – we simply remember the place of Truth, right where it’s always been. Since the Satsang evenings, my morning and evening sadhana has been — get this — a consistent process! That is not to say the sensations and experience has been consistent (recall the impermanent and transient in all constructed things), but the process of withdrawing the mind and observing my thoughts has stayed remarkable consistent. 

 

Ramana Maharshi was very spartan in the realm of philosophy. It is said that a disciple, unsure of how to practice, approached Ramana Maharshi asking for direction, advice, and techniques to go deeper in meditation. The response: “Close your eyes… and go within.”

Later on in the same darshan, another pupil spoke up. He wanted to perfect the skill of maintaining mindfulness and awareness of God when moving about in the world, not in meditation. Could he offer any tips, tricks or suggestions? The repines: “Open your eyes… and go within.”

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A bed of Russian Poppies in the flower garden at SSCY.

 

From my very limited perspective, it appears that the teachings of Ramana Maharshi are at the blurry crossroads between Yoga and Zen philosophy. He has a pure, minimalist approach that brings to mind the complete lack of abstraction seen within Zen, but seems to use Yogic terminology in his discourses. I think it would be more correct, though, to say that Ramana Maharshi doesn’t really fit into a “philosophical compartment”. 

 

Here’s another gem, passed along to you from Ramana:

“I have three words, and I have two words, and I have one word.

Make No Effort.

Do Nothing.

Stop.”

 …Just think about that for a minute.

 

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Our lives are perpetual doingness. What if, for just half a second, we discard aversion and desire — even releasing the desire to be calm and slow the mind? A chill dinner under the Maple tree at SSCY.

You might want to know – what exactly is this process of withdrawal I mentioned above? It’s as minimal of a “process” as I’ve ever done. Sit. Close the eyes. Watch the thoughts. Eventually, after a few minutes, the mind will slow down — even if only a tiny bit — due to the lack of external stimulation. After one thought ends, and before the next begins, there is space. It might only be for half a second before being trampled by the mind, but take note of it between thoughts. Try again. Being very soft, very patient. Become that which is perceiving the mind thinking.

Remember –> Make No Effort. Do Nothing. Stop. Striving and pushing to slow the thoughts is an action, a doingness. Abandon doing. Choosing to follow the motions of mind (i.e.; becoming lost in thought) is also action, is also doingness. Strange – to try and focus is to make effort, and to engage in thought is also effort. So, where lies the stopping of effort?

Therein lies the fun, the play of this meditation. It is bringing awareness to the non-thought realm — consciousness/Self — and that’s it.

It is not about stopping thought. Adyashanti’s Zen teacher once said to him, (~)”If you are waiting for your mind to stop thinking, you’re going to wait forever.” The mind creates thought. That’s what it does. Trying to change this reality is a recipe for frustration. By coming to the space the perceives thought, that which perceives the sense of I, we engage in total non-doingness. The perceiver simply… perceives. There is no aversion, no desire here. Just beingness and Truth. This is the Self. 

I imagine this state of non-doingness — which, by the way, underlies every moment of our life — to be a gentle balance. I imagine a razor sharp katana sword, delicately balanced on a finger. The breeze slips over and under the blade without upsetting even the subtle balance on the sword. Within this meditation, space is discovered, not so much held as much as regarded. This fine blade of of awareness is not perturbed by the thoughts created by the mind. Like a river dwelling plant that bends with the strong current to remain steadfast at the root. We regard the current, noticing its pull, but staying steadfast at the root.

 

There’s another method to noticing that which perceives thought. Ramana Maharshi was a master at Self Inquiry. Going within, the practitioner of Self-Inquiry will question the arising thoughts to try and seek any truth within them. (Hint: There is never absolute reality within thought form.) Try it yourself. As thoughts arise, ask:

– Where did this thought arise from?

– Where did that thought dissolve into?

– What is the “I” this thought concerns? Where does the “I” reside?

These questions cannot be answered by mind. Mind cannot understand that which has no concept. The doingness of thought cannot comprehend the state of non-doingness. Thus a silence may be found in the period after a question – in the case of the water plant, this silence is the firm rock to act as our anchor in the strong current of mind. These questions lead into the maha-question, the basis of Self-Inquiry: 

– Who Am I?

 

Who Am I, when asked piercingly and ceaselessly, is said to be the water which erodes the “egoic mountain” of “me, I, and mine”. To go deeper into the power of Who Am I and self-inquiry in general, I highly recommend finding a Ramana Maharshi book to dig into. For me to try and explain any deeper would be a bastardization of a beautiful revelation.

 

So, let us go forth and meditate. May we all achieve clarity and consistency with our practice, and may our efforts be effortless.

 

Peace.

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13 thoughts on “Who Am I? The YogaZen of Ramana Maharshi

  1. jencistory

    Very good blog. Ramana Maharshi’s teachings have helped many people, seems you found exactly what you needed at the time 🙂 It is said that he had an extraordinary presence about him. Very often he would teach in silence if the seeker was ready for that level on transmission of the teaching. If you like this type of self enquiry for your practice you may also like Mooji (his guru was also Papaji too) http://www.mooji.org/ and there are plenty of his satsangs on You tube. David Goodman who has edited Maharshi’s teachings also spent time with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj which he has spoken about online. His method of teaching is also a type of self-enquiry and his book “I Am That” is highly disliked by my ego, lol.

    Reply
    1. sillysadhaka Post author

      So interesting – just yesterday in Satsang we were read an amazing excerpt from “I Am That”. I was totally and completely blown away by Maharaj’s philosophy – similar to that of Maharshi’s, but seemed a bit more eloquently phrased. Thanks for the serendipitous comment! I will check of Mooji as well 🙂

      Reply
  2. jivadas

    You suggest that Papaji is in disciplic succession to Ramana. This is not so.
    Bhagavan did not belong to a tradition. He had no guru. Some Advaita NonDualist lines wanted to make him a Guru (and found a line) but he declined. The closest he came was in his years with the great Sanskritist Ganapati Shastri, who taught him the Yoga Vasishtha. They became close collaborators in the Ramana-Gîtâ. Ramana was the Mind, and Ganapati the hand. But Ganapati surrendered, with his disciples, to the young Ramana. So that might be a disciplic line, but I have not heard anybody claim it in those terms.

    Those who follow Ramana’s teaching–those who enquire, those who surrender, and those who who try to do so–these are the only disciples that my friend Ramana would wish, or whose worship accept.

    Reply
    1. sillysadhaka Post author

      Yes, I was under the impression Ramana Maharshi came into his realization without a Guru. I still feel like using the term “disciple” would be appropriate when referring to those intimate students who now spread his teachings. Perhaps the word “disciple” has a more strict connotation I was unaware of. Regardless, it is awesome that we are able to share in the teachings of a great sage.

      Reply
  3. kidney treatment

    There are some interesting points in time in this article but I dont know if I see all of them center to heart. There is some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well

    Reply
  4. sonagirir

    Good blog. One of Ramana’s words was “Death is a thought”. Cannot think of a more profound expression of how our thoughts create a reality which is actually not known to any living being. A devotee asked what happens after death to which he replied, “let the person who is dead ask, why should it bother you”

    Reply

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