Meditation and Concentration

Ramana Maharshi
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

Sri Ramana Maharshi's insistence that awareness of the "I" thought was a pre-requisite for Self-realisation led him to the conclusion that all spiritual practices which did not incorporate this feature were indirect and inefficient:

Sri Ramana Maharshi said "This path [attention to the ' I '] is the direct path; all others are indirect ways. The first leads to the Self, the others elsewhere. And even if the others do arrive at the Self it is only because they lead at the end to the first path which ultimately carries them to the goal. So, in the end, the aspirants must adopt the first path. Why not do so now? Why waste time?"

That is to say, other techniques may sometimes bring one to an inner state of stillness in which self-attention or self-awareness inadvertently takes place, but it is a very roundabout way of reaching the Self. Sri Ramana maintained that other techniques could only take one to the place where self-enquiry starts and so he never endorsed them unless he felt that particular questioners were unable or unwilling to adopt self-enquiry. This is illustrated by a conversation in Sri Ramana Gita (an earlier collection of his questions and answers) in which Sri Ramana explained in detail why self-enquiry was the only way to realise the Self. After listening carefully to Sri Ramana's explanation the questioner was still unwilling to accept that self-enquiry was the only route to the Self and so he asked if there were any other methods by which the Self could be realised. Sri Ramana relied:

The goal is the same for the one who meditates [on an object] and the one who practises self-enquiry. One attains stillness through meditation, the other through knowledge. One strives to attain something; the other seeks the one who strives to attain. The former takes a longer time, but in the end attains the Self.

Not wanting to shake the faith of a man who had a known predilection for subject-object  meditation, and, having already  ascertained that he was unwilling to take up self-enquiry Sri Ramana encouraged  him to follow his own chosen method  by telling him that it would enable him to reach the Self. In Sri Ramana's view any method is better than no method since there is always the possibility that it will lead to self-enquiry.

He gave many other similar replies to other people for similar reasons. These replies, which indicate that methods other than self-enquiry  or surrender could result in Self-realisation, should not be taken at face value since they were only given to people who were not attached to what he called 'indirect methods', he would usually reaffirm that self-attention wasw ultimately indispensable.

Although Sri Ramana vigorously defended his views on self-enquiry he never insisted that anyone change their beliefs or practices and, if he was unable to convince his followers to take up self-enquiry, he would happily give advice on other methods. In the conversations in this chapter he is mostly answering questions from devotees who wanted advice on conventional forms of meditation (dhyana). In giving this advice he usually defined meditation as concentration on one thought to the exclusion of all others, but he sometimes gave it a higher definition by saying that keeping the mind fixed in the Self was true meditation. This latter practice is really another name for self-enquiry, for, as he explained in one of his early written works, 'Always keeping the mind fixed in Self alone is called self-enquiry, whereas meditation is thinking oneself to be Brahman.'

Q: What is the difference between meditation [dhyana] and investigation [vichara]?

Sri Ramana: Both amount to the same. Those unfit  for investigation must practice meditation. In meditation the aspirant forgetting himself meditates 'I am Brahman' or 'I am Siva' and by this method holds on to Brahman or Siva. This will ultimately end with the residual awareness of Brahman or Siva as being. He will then realise that this is pure being, that is, the Self.

He who engages in investigation starts by holding on to himself, and by asking himself 'Who am I?' the Self becomes clear to him.

Mentally imagining oneself to be the supreme reality, which shines as existence-consciousness-bliss, is meditation. Fixing the mind in the Self so that the unreal seed of delusion will die is enquiry.

Whoever meditates upon the Self is whatever bhava [metal image] attains it only in that image. Those peaceful ones who remain quiet without any such bhava attain the noble and unqualified state of kaivalya, the formless state of the Self.

Q: Meditation is more direct than investigation because the former holds on to the truth whereas the latter sifts the truth from the untruth.

Sri Ramana: For the beginner meditation on a form is more easy and agreeable. Practice of it leads to self-enquiry which consists in sifting the reality from unreality.

What is the use of holding on to truth when you are filled with antagonistic factors?

Self-enquiry directly leads to realisation by removing the obstacles which make you think that the Self is not already realised.

Meditation differs according to the degree of advancement of the seeker. If one is fit for it one might directly hold on to the thinker, and the thinker will then automatically sink into his source, pure consciousness.

If one cannot directly hold on to the thinker one must meditate on God and in due course the same individual will have become sufficiently pure to hold on the the thinker and to sink into absolute being.

Meditation is possible only if the ego is kept up. There is the ego and the object meditated upon. The method is therefore indirect because the Self is only one. Seeking the ego, that is its source, the ego disappears. What is left over is the Self. This method is the direct one.

Q: There is no way found to go inward by means of meditation.

Sri Ramana: Where else are we now? Our very being is that.

Q: Being so, we are ignorant of it.

Sri Ramana: Ignorant of what, and whose is the ignorance? If ignorant of the Self are there two selves?

Q: There are not two selves. The feeling of limitation cannot be denied. Due to limitations ....

Sri Ramana: Limitation is only in the mind. Did you feel it in deep sleep? You exist in sleep. You do not deny your existence then. The same Self is here and now in the wakeful state. You are now saying that there are limitations. What has now happened is that there are differences between the two states. The differences are due to the mind. There was no mind in sleep whereas it is now active. The Self exists in the absence of the mind also.

Q: Although it is understood, it is not realised.

Sri Ramana: It will be by and by, with meditation.

Q: There is more pleasure in dhyana than in sensual enjoyments. Yet the mind runs after the sensual enjoyments and does not seek the former. Why is it so?

Sri Ramana: Pleasure or pain are aspects of the mind only. Our essential nature is happiness. But we have forgotten the Self and imagine that the body or the mind is the Self. It is that wrong identity that gives rise to misery. What is to be done? This mental tendency is very ancient and has continued for innumerable past births. Hence it has grown strong. That must go before the essential nature, happiness, asserts itself.

Q: It is said that the Self is beyond the mind and yet the realisation is with the mind. The mind cannot think it. It cannot be thought of by the mind and the mind alone can realise it. How are these contradictions to be reconciled?"

Sri Ramana Maharshi: "Atman (Self) is realised with mrita manas (dead mind), that is, mind devoid of thoughts and turned inward. Then the mind sees its own source and becomes that (the Self). It is not as the subject perceiving an object.

When the room is dark, a lamp is necessary to illumine, and eyes are necessary to
recognise objects. But when the sun has risen there is no need of a lamp to see objects. To see the sun no lamp is necessary, it is enough that you turn your eyes towards the self-luminous sun.

Similarly with the mind. To see objects the reflected light of the mind is necessary. To see the Heart it is enough that the mind is turned towards it. Then mind loses itself and Heart shines forth.

The essence of mind is only awareness or consciousness. When the ego, however, dominates it, it functions as the reasoning, thinking or sensing faculty. The cosmic mind, being not limited by the ego, has nothing separate from itself and is therefore only aware.

Again people often ask how the mind is controlled. I say to them, 'Show me the mind and then you will know what to do'. The fact is that the mind is only a bundle of thoughts. How can you extinguish it by the thought of doing so or by a desire? Your thoughts and desires are part and parcel of the mind. The mind is simply fattened by new thoughts rising up. Therefore it is foolish to attempt to kill the mind by means of the mind. The only way of doing it to find its source and hold on to it. The mind will then fade away of its own accord.

Yoga teaches CHITTA VRITTI NIRODHA (control of the activities of the mind). But I say ATMA VICHARA (self-investigation). This is the practical way. Chitta Vritti Nirodha is brought about in sleep, swoon, or by starvation. As soon as the cause is withdrawn there is a recrudescence of thoughts. Of what use is it then? In the state of stupor there is peace and no misery.But misery recurs when the stupor is removed. So Nirodha (control) is useless and cannot be of lasting benefit.

How then can the benefit be made lasting? It is by finding the cause of misery. Misery is due to the perception of objects. If they are not there, there will be no contingent thoughts and so misery is wiped off.

'How will objects cease to be'? is the next question. The sruti (scriptures) and the sages say that the objects are only mental creations. They have no substantive being. Investigate the matter and ascertain the truth of the statement. The result will be the conclusion that the objective world is in the subjective consciousness.The Self is thus the only reality which permeates and also envelopes the world. Since there is no duality, no thoughts will arise to disturb your peace. This is realisation of the Self. The Self is eternal and so also is realisation.

Abhyasa (spiritual practice) consists in withdrawal within the Self every time you are disturbed by thought. It is not concentration or destruction of the mind but withdrawal into the Self."

Question: "Why is concentration ineffective?"

Sri Ramana Maharshi: "To ask the mind to kill the mind is like making the thief the
policeman. He will go with you and pretend to catch the thief, but nothing will be gained. So you must turn inward and see from where the mind rises and then it will cease to exist."

Question: "In turning the mind inwards, are we not still employing the mind?'

Sri Ramana Maharshi:"Of course we are employing the mind. It is well known and admitted that only with the help of the mind can the mind be killed. But instead setting about saying there is a mind, and I want to kill it, you begin to seek the source of the mind, and you find the mind does not exist at all. The mind, turned outwards, results in thoughts and objects. Turned inwards, it becomes itself the Self."


Question: "What is samadhi?"

Sri Ramana Maharshi: "The state in which the unbroken
experience of existence-consciousness is attained by the still mind, alone is samadhi. That still mind which is adorned with the attainment of the limitless Supreme Self, alone is the reality of God.

When the mind is in communion with the Self in darkness, it is called nidra (sleep), that is the immersion of the mind in ignorance. Immersion in a conscious or wakeful state is called samadhi. Samadhi is continuous inherence in the Self in a waking state. Nidra or sleep is also inherence in the Self but in an unconscious state. In SAHAJ SAMADHI the communion is continuous.

The immersion of the mind in the Self, but without its destruction, is known as Kevala Nirvikalpa Samadhi. In this state one is not free from vasanas and so one does not therefore attain mukti (liberation). Only after the vasanas have been destroyed can one attain liberation."

Question: "When can one practice Sahaj Samadhi?"

Sri Ramana Maharshi:"Even from the beginning. Even though one practises Kevala
Nirvikalpa Samadhi for years together, if one has not rooted out the vasanas one will not attain liberation.

Question: "Is samadhi, the eighth stage of raja yoga, the same as the samadhi you speak of?"

Sri Ramana Maharshi:"In yoga the term samadhi refers to some kind of trance and there are various kinds of samadhi. But the samadhi I speak of is different. It is SAHAJ SAMADHI. From here you have samadhan (steadiness) and you remain calm and composed even while you are active. You realise that you are moved by the deeper real Self within. You have no worries, no anxieties, no cares, for you come to realise that there is nothing belonging to you. You know that everything is done by something with which you are in conscious union.

Question: "If this sahaj samadhi is the most desirable condition, is there no need for
nirvikalpa samadhi?"

Sri Ramana Maharshi: "The nirvikalpa samadhi of raja yoga may have its use. But in Jnana yoga this sahaj sthiti (natural state) or sahaj nishtha (abidance in the natural state) itself is the nirvikalpa state. In this natural state, the mind is free from doubts. It has no need to swing between alternatives of possibilities and probabilities.It sees no vikalpas (differences) of any kind. It is sure of the truth because it feels the presence of the real. Even when it is active, it knows it is active in the reality, the Self, the Supreme Being."

Question: "How can one function in the world in such a state?"

Sri Ramana Maharshi: "One who accustoms himself naturally to meditation and enjoys the bliss of meditation will not lose his samadhi state whatever external work he does, whatever thoughts may come to him. That is Sahaja Nirvikalpa. Sahaj Nirvikalpa is Nasa Manas (total destruction of the mind). Those who are in the laya samadhi state (a trance like state in which the mind is temporarily in abeyance) will have to bring the mind back under control from time to time. If the mind is destroyed, as it is in sahaj samadhi, it will never slide down from their high state.

Question:"Is samadhi a blissful or ecstatic state?"

Sri Ramana Maharshi: "In samadhi itself there is only perfect peace. Ecstasy comes when the mind revives at the end of samadhi. In devotion the ecstasy comes first.. It is manifested by tears of joy, hair standing on end, and vocal stumbling. When the ego finally dies and the Sahaj is won, these symptoms and the ecstasies cease."

Siddhis (Super natural powers)

Question:"On realising samadhi, does not one obtain siddhis (super natural powers) also?"

Sri Ramana Maharshi:"In order to display siddhis, there must be others to recognise them. That means, there is no jnana in the one who displays them. Therefore, siddhis are not worth a thought. Jnana alone is to be aimed at and gained."

Turiya-the fourth state

Question: "Is samadhi the same as Turiya, the fourth state?"

Sri Ramana Maharshi: "Samadhi, Turiya and nirvikalpa all have the same implication, that is, awareness of the Self.

Turiya literally means the fourth state, the Supreme Consciousness, as distinct from the other three states of consciousness: waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep. The fourth state is eternal and the other three states come and go in it. In Turiya there is the awareness that the mind has merged in its source, the Heart, and is quiescent there, although some thoughts still impinge on it and the senses are still somewhat active. In nirvikalpa, the senses are inactive and thoughts are totally absent. Hence the experience of Pure Consciousness in this state is intense and blissful. Turiya is obtainable in savikalpa samadhi."

Sri Bhagavan's Feet
Sri Ramanarpanamastu