I have been reading Ramana Maharshi (RM) for the past twenty-five years. However, Upadesa Saram (The essence of the teaching) is special because it is the only text which I am able to read currently in the same language that Ramana Maharshi wrote in – Sanskrit. It was originally composed in Tamil (1927) and RM himself translated it in three other languages – Telugu, Malayalam, and Sanskrit. Ramana Maharshi championed the self-inquiry approach and suggested that “Who am I?” is the most important question in spirituality (and perhaps life itself). Upadesa Saram has 30 verses. In this article, I have selected four that highlight the self-inquiry approach. For each verse, we will see it in the Devanagari script and English, followed by my English translation (hence, all errors are mine). Then I have given some text sourced from “Talks with Ramana Maharshi” which I feel is relevant to the verse. Finally, I have added my comments to each verse based on my limited understanding. There is a beautiful rendering of Upadesa Saram on YouTube (verse 16 starts at 2:50).
दृश्यवारितं चित्तमात्मनः ।
चित्त्वदर्शनं तत्त्वदर्शनं ॥16॥
Translation: By turning attention away from external objects towards the mind, the Self is seen, the essence is seen.
RM comments: “Because your outlook has been outward bent, it has lost sight of the Self and your vision is external. The Self is not found in the external objects. Turn your look within and plunge down; you will be the Self”. (talk 238) “The Self is giving rise to the mind, sustaining it, and resolving it. So the Self is the underlying principle.” (talk 97)
My comments: In self-inquiry, turning the attention inward to watch the mind and associated movements, is arguably the most important and perhaps the most difficult step. For most of us, the story of self (the limited-I) is extremely important and attention-grabbing.
मानसं तु किं मार्गणे कृते ।
नैव मानसं मार्ग आर्जवात् ॥17||
Maanasam tu kim maargaNe krte
Naiva maanasam maarga arjavaat
My translation: When explored, “What is mind?” (One finds) there is no mind; that is the most direct path.
RM comments: “Continuous search for what the mind is results in its disappearance. This is the straight path” (talk 222).
My comments: What does RM mean when he says, “There is no mind”? It is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are seen to be not separate from the Self. “They (the body, the mind, and the world) do not remain apart from the Self.” (talk 97) So, "there is no mind" means, there is no separate mind like a wave is not separate from the ocean.
वृत्तयस्त्वहं वृत्तिमाश्रिताः ।
वृत्तयो मनो विध्द्यहं मनः ॥18||
Vrttayo mano viddhyaham manah
My translation: The self (limited-I) is a bundle of thoughts. These thoughts spring from I-thought as the source.
RM comments: “The sense of body is a thought; the thought is of the mind, the mind rises after the ‘I-thought’, the ‘I-thought’ is the root thought.” (talk 244)
My comments: Here “thought” means both thoughts that are currently active as well as latent predispositions. RM says, “The mind may be latent and it must necessarily rise up again; after it rises up one finds oneself only as ever before. For in this state the mental predispositions are present there in the latent form to remanifest under favourable conditions.” (talk 465)
Is this I-thought a subject or an object? RM says, “Inasmuch as it witnesses all other objects in the waking and dream states, or at any rate we think that it does so, it must be considered to be the subject. On realising the Pure Self, however, it will be an object only.” (talk 323) I feel watching the nature of I-am-the-body disposition spring up and subside just like how other sensations and emotions arise and pass away is an important aspect of self-inquiry.
अहमयं कुतो भवति चिन्वतः ।
अयि पतत्यहं निजविचारणम् ॥19||
Ahamayam kuto bhavati cinvatah
Ayi patatyaham nijavicaranam
Translation: When reflected, “Where does this I-thought come from?” this I-thought vanishes. This is self-inquiry.
RM-comments: “The ego is itself unreal. What is the ego? Enquire. The body is insentient and cannot say ‘I’. The Self is pure consciousness and non-dual. It cannot say ‘I’. No one says, ‘I’ in sleep. What is the ego then? It is something intermediate between the inert body and the Self. It has no locus standi. If sought for it vanishes like a ghost. You see, a man imagines that there is something by his side in darkness; it may be some dark object. If he looks closely the ghost is not to be seen, but some dark object which he could identify as a tree or a post, etc. If he does not look closely the ghost strikes terror in the person. All that is required is only to look closely and the ghost vanishes. The ghost was never there. So also with the ego. It is an intangible link between the body and Pure Consciousness. It is not real. So long as one does not look closely it continues to give trouble. But when one looks for it, it is found not to exist.” (talk 612)
For the limited-I, a typical question is, “How do I know if there is spiritual progress?” RM answers, “The degree of absence of thoughts is the measure of your progress towards Self-realisation. But Self-realisation itself does not admit of progress; it is ever the same. The Self remains always in realisation. The obstacles are thoughts. Progress is measured by the degree of removal of obstacles to understanding that the Self is always realised. So thoughts must be checked by seeking to whom they arise. So you go to their source, where they do not arise.”
My comments: Instead of judging whether the I-thought has vanished, I feel it is important to seek the source of thoughts as RM suggests in the first line of this verse. This requires learning to watch the movement of thought while thinking. If this feels too difficult, it may help to learn to watch the movement of breath and/or body sensations which are subtler than the body movement but not as subtle as the movement of thought.
Interestingly, the Sanskrit word “nija” in “nija-vicaranam” (last words of the verse) means both self and constant or continual. Hence, “nija-vicaranam” can also be interpreted as constant-inquiry in addition to self-inquiry. As RM says, “The sadhak (seeker) must remain as the Self. If he cannot do so, he must ascertain the true meaning of the ‘I’ and constantly revert to it whenever other thoughts arise. That is the practice.” (talk 647)
- “Sri Ramana Maharshi’s way: A translation and commentary on Upadesa Saram”, D. M. Sastri, Sri Ramanasramam, 1999.
- “Upadesa Undiyar of Bhagavan Sri Ramana”, word for word translation by Sadhu Om and Michael James of the original Tamil version, 1980.
- “Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi”, Sri Ramanasramam, 2006.
- A Sanskrit dictionary
- Image source: wikipedia.org