Sri Ramana Maharshi (December 30, 1879 – April 14, 1950) was an Indian mystic. He primarily advocated Self-Enquiry (Atma-Vichara) to attain spiritual realization.
Sri Ramana was the second of four children of Sundaram Iyer and Azhahammal, and was named Venkataraman at birth. He was born in a village called Tiruchuzhi near Madurai in Tamil Nadu, South India. Venkataraman's father died when he was twelve, so he moved to his uncle's house in Madurai.
It was in Madurai that Venkataraman had the life-changing experience in mid-July, 1896 (he was 16 then): while sitting alone in a small room upstairs, a great fear arose in him that he was going to die and he ventured to scrutinize it (apparently, there was no sickness in the body): in Sri Ramana's words "Yes, death has come; let it come. What is death? To whom does it come? To me. Who am I? What is it that is dying? Yes, it is this body that is dying; let it die ". Deciding thus, he lay down stretching his arms and legs. Closing his lips tightly and remaining without speech or breath, he turned his attention very keenly towards himself.
In this state of rigor mortis, he realized: "All right, this body is dead. Now it will be taken to the cremation ground and burnt. It will become ashes. But with the destruction of this body, am I also destroyed? Am I really this body? Untouched by this death which has turned the body into a corpse, here and now I am still existing and shining. Then I am not this perishable body. I and it the body are different. I am the indestructible I..."
Venkataraman stayed in Madurai at his uncle's house for two months after his experience. When naggingly prompted by his elder brother about his intense introspection he secretly left and traveled to the town of Tiruvannamalai and lived there for the rest of his life (he never left the town).
Several visitors came to him and many became his disciples. Sri Ganapathi Sastri, a Vedic scholar of repute in his age, came to visit Sri Ramana in 1907; after receiving instructions from him, he proclaimed him as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Sri Ramana was known henceforth by this name for the rest of his life.
Sri Ramana was distinguished for silence and sparse use of speech. He led a modest life and depended on visitors and devotees for the barest necessities. His disciples established an Ashram (Sri Ramanashramam) in Tiruvannamalai to propogate his message; the Ashram now has several branches throughout India and abroad.
Sri Ramana's teachings about Self-Enquiry can be classified as the Path of Knowledge (Jnana marga) among the Indian schools of thought. The teachings are non-dualistic (Advaitic) (please see below the comparison of Sri Ramana's teachings and traditional non-dualistic schools).
His primary teachings are documented in the book Nan Yar (Who am I), originally written in Tamil (see note at the end of this section about Nan Yar). Given below are selections from the book:
* Since all the living beings desire to be happy always, without any misery..., it is necessary to know oneself. For that, enquiry in the form 'Who am I' alone is the principal means.
* Knowledge itself is 'I'. The nature of (this) knowledge is existence-consciousness-bliss
* What is called mind is a wondrous power existing in Self. It projects all thoughts. If we set aside all thoughts and see, there will be no such thing as mind remaining separate; therefore, thought itself is the form of the mind. Other than thoughts, there is no such thing as the world.
* Of all the thoughts that rise in the mind, the thought 'I' is the first thought.
* That which rises in this body as 'I' is the mind. If one enquires 'In which place in the body does the thought 'I' rise first?', it will be known to be in the heart [spiritual heart is 'two digits to the right from the centre of the chest']. Even if one incessantly thinks 'I', 'I', it will lead to that place (Self)'
* The mind will subside only by means of the enquiry 'Who am I?'. The thought 'Who am I?', destroying all other thoughts, will itself finally be destroyed like the stick used for stirring the funeral pyre.
* If other thoughts rise, one should, without attempting to complete them, enquire, 'To whom did they arise?', it will be known 'To me'. If one then enquires 'Who am I?', the mind (power of attention) will turn back to its source. By repeatedly practising thus, the power of the mind to abide in its source increases.
* The place where even the slightest trace of the 'I' does not exist, alone is Self.
* Self itself is the world; Self itself is 'I'; Self itself is God; all is the Supreme Self (siva swarupam)
Although his primary teaching was Self-Enquiry, he was also known to have advised the use of Self Surrender (to one's Deity or Guru) as an alternative means, which would ultimately converge in to the path of Self-Enquiry.
Note about the book Nan Yar (Who am I):
There are several versions of this book (originally compiled by Sri M. Sivaprakasam Pillai and published in 1923). However, the essay version of the book prepared by Sri Ramana should be considered definitive as it had the benefit of his revision and review. It is available in the book Sri Ramana Nutrirattu(the Tamil language collected works of Sri Ramana). A careful translation with notes is also available in English in the book, 'The Path of Sri Ramana, Part One' by Sri Sadhu Om (one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramana). The quotes above were culled from the essay version. The version available on the Sri Ramanashramam's Website is the original book by Sri Pillai (it is not the essay version).
Sri Ramana's teachings and the traditional Advaitic school of thought pioneered by Sri Sankaracharya have many things in common. However, there are some differences: the traditional Advaitic school recommends a negationist neti, neti(Sanskrit, "not this", "not this") path, or mental affirmations that the Self was the only reality, such as ‘I am Brahman’ or ‘I am He’, while Sri Ramana advocates affirmative enquiry "Nan Yar" (Tamil, "Who am I").
* The traditional Advaitic(non-dualistic) school advocates "elimination of all that is non-self (the five sheaths) until only the Self remains". The five sheaths that hide the true Self are: Material, Vital, Mental, Knowledge, and Blissful (Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya, and Anandamaya kosas(sheaths)
* Sri Ramana says "enquiry in the form 'Who am I' alone is the principal means. To make the mind subside, there is no adequate means other than Enquiry. If controlled by other means, mind will remain as if subsided, but will rise again"
Several followers of Sri Ramana became teachers in their own right, and have subsequently spawned their own successors as well, including H. W. L. Poonja, Lakshmana Swami, Annamalai Swami, Sri Nannagaru, V. Ganeshan, and Souris Mataji. Western followers of Sri Ramana include Robert Adams, Paul Brunton, David Godman, Arunachala Ramana, Neelam, Amber Terrell, Gangaji, John Sherman, Isaac Shapiro, and Mooj. One of the most famous Western followers is Arthur Osbourne who wrote many books on Bhagavan Ramana and was the first editor of the ashram journal, The Mountain Path.
* The Spiritual Teaching of Ramana Maharshi (ISBN 1-59030-139-0)
* Be as You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (ISBN 0-14-019062-7)
* The Collected Works Of Sri Ramana Maharshi (ISBN 81-88018-06-6)
* The Essential Teachings of Ramana Maharshi: A Visual Journey (ISBN 1-878019-18-X)
* Talks With Ramana Maharshi: On Realizing Abiding Peace and Happiness (ISBN 1-878019-00-7)
* Timeless in Time: Sri Ramana Maharshi (ISBN 1-933316-15-2)
* Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (ISBN 81-88018-07-4)
* A Practical Guide to Know Yourself: Conversations with Sri Ramana Maharshi (ISBN 81-85378-09-6)
* Reflections: On Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (ISBN 81-88018-38-4)
* Timeless in Time: Sri Ramana Maharshi, A Biography (ISBN 81-85378-82-7)
* Sri Ramana Gita (ISBN 81-88018-17-1)
* Ramana Maharshi: The Sage of Arunacala (ISBN 0-04-149040-1)
* A Sadhu's Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi