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Ramana Maharshi on "Who am I" Meditation

Question : Should I go on asking `Who am I?' without answering? Who asks whom? Which bhavana [attitude] should be in the mind at the time of enquiry? What is `I', the Self or the ego?
Ramana Maharshi :  In the enquiry `Who am I?', `I' is the ego. The Question really means, what is the source or origin of this ego? You need not have any bhavana [attitude] in the mind. All that is required is that you must give up the bhavana that you are the body, of such and such a description, with such and such a name, etc. There is no need to have a bhavana about your real nature. It exists as it always does. It is real and no bhavana.

Question : But is it not funny that the `I' should be searching for the `I'? Does not the enquiry `Who am I?' turn out in the end to be an empty formula? Or, am I to put the Question to myself endlessly, repeating it like some mantra?
Ramana Maharshi :  Self-enquiry is certainly not an empty formula and it is more than the repetition of any mantra. If the enquiry `Who am I?' were a mere mental Questioning, it would not be of much value. The very purpose of self-enquiry is to focus the entire mind at its source. It is not, therefore, a case of one `I' searching for another `I'. Much less is self-enquiry an empty formula, for it involves an intense activity of the entire mind to keep it steadily poised in pure Self-awareness. 

Question : When I think `Who am I?', the answer comes `I am not this mortal body but I am chaitanya, atma (consciousness, the Self ).' And suddenly another Question arises, `Why has atma come into maya [illusion]?' or in other words, `Why has God created this world?'
Ramana Maharshi :  To enquire `Who am I ?' really means trying to find out the source of the ego or the `I'-thought. You are not to think of other thoughts, such as `I am not this body'. Seeking the source of `I' serves as a means of getting rid of all other thoughts. We should not give scope to other thoughts, such as you mention, but must keep the attention fixed on finding out the source of the `I' - thought by asking, as each thought arises, to whom the thought arises. If the answer is `I get the thought' continue the enquiry by asking `Who is this "I" and what is its source?` 

Question : Am I to keep on repeating `Who am I?' so as to make a mantra of it?
Ramana Maharshi : No. `Who am I ?' is not a mantra. It means that you must find out where in you arises the `I'-thought which is the source of all other thoughts.

Question : Shall I meditate on `I am Brahman' (aham Brahmasmi]?
Ramana Maharshi :  The text is not meant for thinking `I am Brahman'. Aham [`I'] is known to every one. Brahman abides as aham in every one. Find out the `I'. The `I' is already Brahman. You need not think so. Simply find out the `I'. 

Question : I am aware of the `I'. Yet my troubles are not ended.
Ramana Maharshi :  This `I'-thought is not pure. It is contaminated with the association of the body and senses. See to whom the trouble is. It is to the `I'-thought. Hold it. Then the other thoughts vanish. 

Question : Is soham (the affirmation `I am he') the same as `Who am I?'
Ramana Maharshi :  Aham [`I'] alone is common to them. One is soham. The other is koham [Who am I?]. They are different. Why should we go on saying soham? One must find out the real `I'. In the Question `Who am I?', `I' refers to the ego. Trying to trace it and find its source, we see it has no separate existence but merges in the real `I'.

You see the difficulty. Vichara is different in method from the meditation sivoham or soham [`I am Siva' or `I am he']. I rather lay stress upon Self-knowledge, for you are first concerned with yourself before you proceed to know the world and its Lord. The soham meditation or `I am Brahman' meditation is more or less a mental thought. But the quest for the Self I speak of is a direct method, indeed superior to the other meditation. The moment you start looking for the self and go deeper and deeper, the real Self is waiting there to take you in. Then whatever is done is done by something else and you have no hand in it. In this process, all doubts and discussions are automatically given up just as one who sleeps forgets, for the time being, all his cares. 

Note: this excerpt is  taken from the chapter “Self-enquiry – practice”.  David Godman has given introduction in beginning of every chapter.

Part of introduction for this chapter is: “Self-enquiry should not be regarded as a meditation practice that takes place at certain hours and in certain positions; it should continue throughout one's waking hours, irrespective of what one is doing. Sri Ramana saw no conflict between working and self-enquiry and he maintained that with a little practice it could be done under any circumstances. He did sometimes say that regular periods of formal practice were good for beginners, but he never advocated long periods of sitting meditation and he always showed his disapproval when any of his devotees expressed a desire to give up their mundane activities in favour of a meditative life”.

Related Ramana Maharshi Talks:
Ramana Maharshi Biography
Ramana Maharshi on Meditation Experiences
Why do I never remember that I am the Self
Ramana Maharshi Self Inquiry Meditation method
Ramana Maharshi taught through Silence - Mauna
Ramana Maharshi on Searching the Source of 'I' Thought
Ramana Maharshi on Realization while doing Worldly Duties
Is Self-experience possible for mind, whose nature is constant change?

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Ramana Maharshi on "Who am I" Meditation