The Nature of the Self
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
Sri Ramana Maharshi's Life
Sri Ramana Maharshi's Teaching
Devotees of Sri Ramana Maharshi
Books by and about Sri Ramana Maharshi
from Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi
edited by David Godman
The essence of Sri Ramana's teachings is conveyed in his frequent
assertions that there is a single immanent reality, directly experienced
by everyone, which is simultaneously the source, the substance and
the real nature of everything that exists. He gave it a number of
different names, each one signifying a different aspect of the same
indivisible reality. The following classification includes all of his
more common synonyms and explains the implications of the various
1. The Self This is the term that he used the most frequently. He
defined it by saying that the real Self or real `I' is, contrary to
perceptible experience, not an experience of individuality but a non-
personal, all-inclusive awareness. It is not to be confused with the
individual self which he said was essentially non-existent, being a
fabrication of the mind which obscures the true experience of the real
Self. He maintained that the real Self is always present and always
experienced but he emphasized that one is only consciously aware of
it as it really is when the self-limiting tendencies of the mind have
ceased. Permanent and continuous Self-awareness is known as Self-
2. Sat-chit-ananda This is a Sanskrit term which translates as
being-consciousness-bliss. Sri Ramana taught that the Self is pure
being, a subjective awareness of `I am' which is completely devoid of
the feeling `I am this' or `I am that'. There are no subjects or objects in
the Self, there is only an awareness of being. Because this awareness
is conscious it is also known as consciousness. The direct experience
of this consciousness is, according to Sri Ramana, a state of unbroken
happiness and so the term ananda or bliss is also used to describe it.
These three aspects, being, consciousness and bliss, are experienced
as a unitary whole and not as separate attributes of the Self. They are
inseparable in the same way that wetness, transparency and liquidity
are inseparable properties of water.
3. God Sri Ramana maintained that the universe is sustained by the power of the Self. Since theists normally attribute this power to God he often used the word God as a synonym for the Self. He also used the words Brahman, the supreme being of Hinduism, and Siva, a Hindu name for God, in the same way. Sri Ramana's God is not a personal God, he is the formless being which sustains the universe. He is not the creator of the universe, the universe is merely a manifestation of his inherent power; he is inseparable from it, but he is not affected by its appearance or its disappearance.
4. The Heart Sri Ramana frequently used the Sanskrit word hridayam when he was talking about the Self. It is usually translated as `the Heart' but a more literal translation would be `this is the centre'. In using this particular term he was not implying that there was a particular location or centre for the Self, he was merely indicating that the Self was the source from which all appearances manifested.
5. Jnana The experience of the Self is sometimes called jnana or knowledge. This term should not be taken to mean that there is a person who has knowledge of the Self, because in the state of Self-awareness there is no localized knower and there is nothing that is separate from the Self that can be known. True knowledge, or jnana, is not an object of experience, nor is it an understanding of a state which is different and apart from the subject knower; it is a direct and knowing awareness of the one reality in which subjects and objects have ceased to exist. One who is established in this state is known as a jnani.
6.Turiya and turyatita Hindu philosophy postulates three alternating levels of relative consciousness - waking, dream and deep sleep. Sri Ramana stated that the Self was the underlying reality which supported the appearance of the other three temporary states. Because of this he sometimes called the Self turiya avastha or the fourth state. He also occasionally used the word turiyatita, meaning `transcending the fourth', to indicate that there are not really four states but only one real transcendental state.
7. Other terms Three other terms for the Self are worth noting. Sri Ramana often emphasized that the Self was one's real and natural state of being, and for this reason, he occasionally employed the terms sahaja sthiti, meaning the natural state, and swarupa, meaning real form or real nature. He also used the word `silence' to indicate that the Self was a silent thought-free state of undisturbed peace and total stillness.
Q: What is reality?
A: Reality must be always real. It is not with forms and names. That which underlies these is the reality. It underlies limitations,
being itself limitless. It is not bound. It underlies unrealities, itself
being real. Reality is that which is. It is as it is. It transcends speech.
It is beyond the expressions `existence, non-existence', etc.
The reality which is the mere consciousness that remains when
ignorance is destroyed along with knowledge of objects, alone is the
Self [atma]. In that Brahma-swarupa [real form of Brahman],
which is abundant Self-awareness, there is not the least ignorance.
The reality which shines fully, without misery and without a body,
not only when the world is known but also when the world is not
known, is your real form [nija-swarupa].
The radiance of consciousness-bliss, in the form of one awareness
shining equally within and without, is the supreme and blissful
primal reality. Its form is silence and it is declared by jnanis to be
the final and unobstructable state of true knowledge [jnana].
Know that jnana alone is non-attachment; jnana alone is purity;
jnana is the attainment of God; jnana which is devoid of
forgetfulness of Self alone is immortality; jnana alone is everything.
Q: What is this awareness and how can one obtain and cultivate
A: You are awareness. Awareness is another name for you.
Since you are awareness there is no need to attain or cultivate it. All
that you have to do is to give up being aware of other things, that is
of the not-Self. If one gives up being aware of them then pure
awareness alone remains, and that is the Self.
Q: If the Self is itself aware, why am I not aware of it even now?
A: There is no duality. Your present knowledge is due to the ego
and is only relative. Relative knowledge requires a subject and an
object, whereas the awareness of the Self is absolute and requires
Remembrance also is similarly relative, requiring an object to be
remembered and a subject to remember. When there is no duality,
who is to remember whom?
The Self is ever-present. Each one wants to know the Self. What
kind of help does one require to know oneself ? People want to see
the Self as something new. But it is eternal and remains the same all
along. They desire to see it as a blazing light etc. How can it be so?
It is not light, not darkness. It is only as it is. It cannot be defined.
The best definition is `I am that I am'. The srutis [scriptures] speak
of the Self as being the size of one's thumb, the tip of the hair, an
electric spark, vast, subtler than the subtlest, etc. They have no
foundation in fact. It is only being, but different from the real and
the unreal; it is knowledge, but different from knowledge and
ignorance. How can it be defined at all? It is simply being.
Q: When a man realizes the Self, what will he see?
A: There is no seeing. Seeing is only being. The state of Self-
realization, as we call it, is not attaining something new or reaching
some goal which is far away, but simply being that which you
always are and which you always have been. All that is needed is
that you give up your realization of the not-true as true. All of us
are regarding as real that which is not real. We have only to give up
this practice on our part. Then we shall realize the Self as the Self;
in other words, `Be the Self'. At one stage you will laugh at yourself
for trying to discover the Self which is so self-evident. So, what can
we say to this question?
That stage transcends the seer and the seen. There is no seer there to
see anything. The seer who is seeing all this now ceases to exist and
the Self alone remains.
Q: How to know this by direct experience?
A: If We talk of knowing the Self, there must be two selves,
one a knowing self, another the self which is known, and the
process of knowing. The state we call realization is simply being
oneself, not knowing anything or becoming anything. If one has
realized, one is that which alone is and which alone has always
been. One cannot describe that state. One can only be that. Of
course, we loosely talk of Self-realization, for want of a better term.
How to `real-ize' or make real that which alone is real ?
Q: You sometimes say the Self is silence. Why is this?
A: For those who live in Self as the beauty devoid of thought,
there is nothing which should be thought of. That which should be
adhered to is only the experience of silence, because in that
supreme state nothing exists to be attained other than oneself.
Q: What is mouna [silence]?
A: That state which transcends speech and thought is mouna. That
which is, is mouna. How can mouna be explained in words?
Sages say that the state in which the thought `I' [the ego] does not
rise even in the least, alone is Self [swarupa] which is silence
[mouna]. That silent Self alone is God; Self alone is the jiva
[individual soul]. Self alone is this ancient world.
All other knowledge are only petty and trivial knowledge; the
experience of silence alone is the real and perfect knowledge. Know
that the many objective differences are not real but are mere
superimpositions on Self, which is the form of true knowledge.
Q: As the bodies and the selves animating them are everywhere
actually observed to be innumerable how can it be said that the Self is
A: If the idea `I am the body' is accepted, the selves are multiple.
The state in which this idea vanishes is the Self since in that state
there are no other objects. It is for this reason that the Self is
regarded as one only.
Since the body itself does not exist in the natural outlook of the real
Self, but only in the extroverted outlook of the mind which is
deluded by the power of illusion, to call Self, the space of
consciousness, dehi [the possessor of the body] is wrong.
The world does not exist without the body, the body never exists
without the mind, the mind never exists without consciousness and
consciousness never exists without the reality.
For the wise one who has known Self by divining within himself,
there is nothing other than Self to be known. Why?
Because since the ego which identifies the form of a body as `I' has
perished, he [the wise one] is the formless existence-consciousness.
The jnani [one who has realized the Self] knows he is the Self and
that nothing, neither his body nor anything else, exists but the Self.
To such a one what difference could the presence or absence of a
It is false to speak of realization. What is there to realize? The real is
as it is always. We are not creating anything new or achieving
something which we did not have before. The illustration given in
books is this. We dig a well and create a huge pit. The space in the
pit or well has not been created by us. We have just removed the
earth which was filling the space there. The space was there then and
is also there now. Similarly we have simply to throw out all the age-
long samskaras [innate tendencies] which are inside us. When all of
them have been given up, the Self will shine alone.
Q: But how to do this and attain liberation?
A: Liberation is our very nature. We are that. The very fact that we
wish for liberation shows that freedom from all bondage is our real
nature. It is not to be freshly acquired. All that is necessary is to get
rid of the false notion that we are bound. When we achieve that,
there will be no desire or thought of any sort. So long as one desires
liberation, so long, you may take it, one is in bondage.
Q: For one who has realized his Self, it is said that he will not have
the three states of wakefulness, dream and deep sleep. Is that a fact?
A: What makes you say that they do not have the three states? In
saying `I had a dream; I was in deep sleep; I am awake', you must
admit that you were there in all the three states. That makes it dear
that you were there all the time. If you remain as you are now, you
are in the wakeful state; this becomes hidden in the dream state; and
the dream state disappears when you are in deep sleep. You were
there then, you are there now, and you are there at all times. The
three states come and go, but you are always there. It is like a
cinema. The screen is always there but several types of pictures
appear on the screen and then disappear. Nothing sticks to the
screen, it remains a screen. Similarly, you remain your own Self in
all the three states. If you know that, the three states will not trouble
you, just as the pictures which appear on the screen do not stick to it.
On the screen, you sometimes see a huge ocean with endless waves;
that disappears. Another time, you see fire spreading all around; that
too disappears. The screen is there on both occasions. Did the screen
get wet with the water or did it get burned by the fire? Nothing
affected the screen. In the same way, the things that happen during
the wakeful, dream and sleep states do not affect you at all; you
remain your own Self.
Q: Does that mean that, although people have all three states,
wakefulness, dream and deep sleep, these do not affect them?
A: Yes, that is it. All these states come and go. The Self is not
bothered; it has only one state.
Q: Does that mean that such a person will be in this world merely
as a witness?
A: That is so; for this very thing, Vidyaranya, in the tenth chapter
of the Panchadasi, gives as example the light that is kept on the stage
of a theatre. When a drama is being played, the light is there, which
illuminates, without any distinction, all the actors, whether they be
kings or servants or dancers, and also all the audience. That light will
be there before the drama begins, during the performance and also
after the performance is over. Similarly, the light within, that is, the
Self, gives light to the ego, the intellect, the memory and the mind
without itself being subject to processes of growth and decay.
Although during deep sleep and other states there is no feeling of the
ego that Self remains attribute less, and continues to shine of itself.
Actually, the idea of the Self being the witness is only in the mind; it
is not the absolute truth of the Self. Witnessing is relative to objects
witnessed. Both the witness and his object are mental creations.
Q: How are the three states of consciousness inferior in degree of
reality to the fourth [turiya]? What is the actual relation between
these three states and the fourth?
A: There is only one state, that of consciousness or awareness or
existence. The three states of waking, dream and sleep cannot be
real. They simply come and go. The real will always exist. The `I'
or existence that alone persists in all the three states is real. The
other three are not real and so it is not possible to say they have
such and such a degree of reality. We may roughly put it like this.
Existence or consciousness is the only reality. Consciousness plus
waking, we call waking. Consciousness plus sleep, we call sleep.
Consciousness plus dream, we call dream. Consciousness is the
screen on which all the pictures come and go. The screen is real,
the pictures are mere shadows on it. Because by long habit we have
been regarding these three states as real, we call the state of mere
awareness or consciousness the fourth. There is however no fourth
state, but only one state.
There is no difference between dream and the waking state except
that the dream is short and the waking long. Both are the result of the
mind. Because the waking state is long, we imagine that it is our real
state. But, as a matter of fact, our real state is turiya or the fourth
state which is always as it is and knows nothing of the three states of
waking, dream or sleep. Because we call these three avasthas [states]
we call the fourth state also turiya avastha. But is it not an avastha,
but the real and natural state of the Self. When this is realized, we
know it is not a turiya or fourth state, for a fourth state is only
relative, but turiyatita, the transcendent state.
Q: But why should these three states come and go on the real state
or the screen of the Self?
A: Who puts this question? Does the Self say these states come and
go? It is the seer who says these come and go. The seer and the seen
together constitute the mind. See if there is such a thing as the mind.
Then, the mind merges in the Self, and there is neither the seer nor
the seen. So the real answer to your question is, `They neither come
nor go.' The Self alone remains as it ever is. The three states owe
their existence to non-enquiry and enquiry puts an end to them.
However much one may explain, the fact will not become clear till
one attains Self-realization and wonders how one was blind to the
self-evident and only existence so long.
Q: What is the difference between the mind and the Self ?
A: There is no difference. The mind turned inwards is the Self;
turned outwards, it becomes the ego and all the world. Cotton made
into various clothes we call by various names. Gold made into
various ornaments, we call by various names. But all the clothes are
cotton and all the ornaments gold. The one is real, the many are mere
names and forms.
But the mind does not exist apart from the Self, that is, it has no
independent existence. The Self exists without the mind, never the
mind without the Self.
Q: Brahman is said to be sat-chit-ananda. What does that mean?
A: Yes. That is so. That which is, is only sat. That is called
Brahman. The luster of sat is chit and its nature is ananda. These
are not different from sat. All the three together are known as satchit-
Q: As the Self is existence (sat) and consciousness (chit) what is the
reason for describing it as different from the existent and the non-
existent, the sentient and the insentient?
A: Although the Self is real, as it comprises everything, it does not
give room for questions involving duality about its reality or
unreality. Therefore it is said to be different from the real and the
unreal. Similarly, even though it is consciousness, since there is
nothing for it to know or to make itself known to, it is said to be
different from the sentient and the insentient.
Sat-chit-ananda is said to indicate that the supreme is not asat
(different from being), not achit (different from consciousness) and
not an anananda (different from happiness). Because we are in the
phenomenal world we speak of the Self as sat-chitananda.
Q: In what sense is happiness or bliss (ananda) our real nature?
A: Perfect bliss is Brahman. Perfect peace is of the Self. That
alone exists and is consciousness. That which is called happiness is
only the nature of Self; Self is not other than perfect happiness. That
which is called happiness alone exists. Knowing that fact and
abiding in the state of Self, enjoy bliss eternally.
If a man thinks that his happiness is due to external causes and his
possessions, it is reasonable to conclude that his happiness must
increase with the increase of possessions and diminish in proportion
to their diminution. Therefore if he is devoid of possessions, his
happiness should be nil. What is the real experience of man? Does it
conform to this view?
In deep sleep man is devoid of possessions, including his own body.
Instead of being unhappy he is quite happy. Everyone desires to
sleep soundly. The conclusion is that happiness is inherent in man
and is not due to external causes. One must realize the Self in order
to open the store of unalloyed happiness.
Q: Sri Bhagavan speaks of the Heart as the seat of consciousness
and as identical with the Self. What does the Heart exactly signify ?
A: Call it by any name, God, Self, the Heart or the seat of
consciousness, it is all the same. The point to be grasped is this, that
Heart means the very core of one's being, the centre, without which
there is nothing whatever.
The Heart is not physical, it is spiritual. Hridayam equals hrit plus
ayam; it means `this is the centre'. It is that from which thoughts
arise, on which they subsist and where they are resolved. The
thoughts are the content of the mind and they shape the universe.
The Heart is the centre of all. That from which beings come into
existence is said to be Brahman in the Upanishads. That is the
Heart. Brahman is the Heart.
Q: How to realize the Heart?
A: There is no one who even for a moment fails to experience the
Self. For no one admits that he ever stands apart from the Self. He
is the Self. The Self is the Heart.
The Heart is the centre from which everything springs. Because you
see the world, the body and so on, it is said that there is a centre for
these, which is called the Heart. When you are in the Heart, the
Heart is known to be neither the centre nor the circumference.
There is nothing else apart from it.
The consciousness which is the real existence and which does not
go out to know those things which are other than Self, alone is the
Heart. Since the truth of Self is known only to that consciousness,
which is devoid of activity, that consciousness which always
remains attending to Self alone is the shining of clear knowledge.