My new way of talking about Ramana’s method

From now on, for a while at least, I’m going to refer to Ramana’s method as Ramana’s method.

I’m going to avoid saying “vichara” or “self-investigation” (Michael James’s favorite way to translate “vichara”) and “self-attention” (Michael’s second-favorite way).

And I’ll avoid the commonest names, “Self-enquiry” and “Who Am I?”, because those names are the most misleading of all. Ramana used the phrase “Who Am I?” to mean at least three different things — the name of the instruction booklet that bears his name, the name of the method, and the goal of the method. The one thing it never meant is the one thing that almost everybody imagines that it means: that the practice consists of asking a question.

All of those names are misleading, some more than others. “Self-attention” is the least bad of the bunch but even that one is misleading because, although it’s the best short description of the practice, it doesn’t describe the aim or motivation, and as I’ll explain in a moment, it’s extremely important to understand the aim. (Moreover, as I’ll explain below, “self-attention” is misleading even as a description of the practice.)

Even if those names weren’t misleading, they have been ruined by the fact that 99% of the spiritual teachers who use them today are using them in a different way from how Ramana used them. Ramana’s method has nothing to do with analysis or with inspection of mental activity or with asking a question and waiting or looking for an answer.

One of the problems with those names, I think, is a failure to distinguish the practice from the goal of the practice. Very often when people asked about the practice, Ramana answered by describing the goal.

  • The practice: put your attention on yourself (but keep in mind that this phrase is misleading in a certain way, as I’ll explain below).
  • The aim or goal: find out what you really are.

Ramana placed tremendous emphasis on the aim. He did this in place of giving precise instructions for the practice. His rationale, I think, was that if people become motivated to discover who or what they really are, they will naturally inspect (put their attention on) themselves to see what they really are. This strategy for giving instructions makes sense because it’s incredibly difficult to explain in words how to put our attention on ourselves. Therefore it’s better to fire people up about the goal and let them figure out through their own effort how to do it. (During Ramana’s lifetime, he showed visitors and ashram residents how to do it by transmission, so the lack of precise instructions for the practice was less significant than it is today.)

The reason why the phrase “put your attention on yourself” is misleading is because you can’t do that in the way that we normally focus attention on objects. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say, “Do something with your mind that allows yourself to become salient, to become wholly evident.” And provide the hint, “To make this happen, you must relinquish the activity of paying attention to objects.”

I’m afraid it’s probably the case that there’s no way to describe this method in words that isn’t misleading in some way.

5 thoughts to “My new way of talking about Ramana’s method”

  1. It’s so subtle, ramana’s method. So easy to understand it wrong and practice it wrong. I tried to write it down in an article myself recently, to get the method clear for myself. Not sure if I got it right.
    “Constantly being a silent observer or witness requires you ‘to be aware that you are aware’. Said in a different way: ‘to be aware that you are not thinking’, or ‘to be aware that you are not lost in thought’, or ‘to be aware that your mind is still’. When you do become aware of a thought, simply observing it will make it go away. According to Langford, it’s really this ‘being aware of your awareness’ that leads to self-realization. Since pure awareness is your true identity. The Soul.”

  2. I’m pretty sure you’ll know when you get it right. 🙂

    I used to think that being aware of awareness is the gateway (I said so in the article that appears on the home page of this site) but I now realize that this is wrong. A of A is present (for a short time at least) when we do what Ramana recommended but we can’t use A of A as the target because it’s present in many other mental states not only the one we’re aiming at.

    I think Ramana discovered how this works, he really did, and his instructions mean exactly what they say. They should be read literally like a child would read them. Focus on “I”, the ordinary I, the thing a child means when the child says “I”. That’s not “awareness of awareness.” It’s “I” in the simplest, plainest, most childlike sense.

    Ramana said, “Investigate that which you mean when you say ‘I'”. This is very difficult to do, at the start, so people like to think it means “be aware of awareness”. Sorry, no, Ramana meant “investigate that which you mean when you say ‘I'”. If he had meant “be aware of awareness” he would have said so. He didn’t say so.

    When we place attention on ourself that action is attended by a sense of intensified awareness, for a time at least, but so are many other mental states, so we can’t use that sense as the goal.

    Constantly being a witness is a mental effort, isn’t it? My advice: Let it go. Forget everything you can witness. Let it all go.

    1. Thanks for the advice! I have to think about it. I must admit that I always was really fascinated by the A of A method, but found it very difficult to implement. I will read you article on Grimes very carefully

      1. When you say hard to implement, do you mean it’s hard to be aware of awareness briefly or it’s hard to stabilize in that state?

        People probably mean many different things when they say “awareness of awareness,” but if they mean the same thing I called “the aware state” in the first article I wrote for this website, the one on the home page, I don’t think it’s possible to stabilize in it unless something more is done in addition.

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