There are many books of Ramana’s dialogs; some report his words more faithfully than others. According to David Godman, the great scholar of Ramana’s life and works, Maharshi’s Gospel is among the more reliable ones. In Chapter III of that book we find the following dialog:
Devotee: There are times when persons and things take on a vague, almost a transparent form, as in a dream. One ceases to observe them as outside, but is passively conscious of their existence, while not actively conscious of any kind of selfhood. There is a deep quietness in the mind.
Let’s take a moment to notice the devotee’s description of this intermittent state. I don’t know whether the devotee was a man or a woman but I’ll use the pronoun “she” for convenience.
1. The outside world becomes dreamlike, vague, and almost transparent.
2. She no longer feels like worldly objects are outside.
3. She is passively aware of worldly objects.
4. She is not actively conscious of any kind of selfhood.
5. There is a deep quietness in the mind.
I would like to draw attention to number 4. It means that she isn’t aware of I, at least not “actively.” I’m not sure what she means by “actively” but Self-enquiry is often described as an active (deliberate) focusing of attention on the feeling of I. Number 4 tells us that this woman isn’t practicing Self-enquiry in that way and probably has no sense of I of any kind.
This may remind us of a line from Ramana’s pamphlet Who Am I?
The Self is that where there is absolutely no “I” thought.
The devotee’s question continues:
Is it at such times that one is ready to dive into the Self?
“Dive” is a reference to Self-enquiry as prescribed in Ramana’s famous verse:
In the inmost core, the Heart
Shines as Brahman alone,
As ‘I-I’, the Self aware.
Enter deep into the Heart
By searching for Self, or diving deep,
Or with breath under check.
Thus abide ever in Atman.
Many people regard this verse as the most important words that Ramana ever wrote. It’s sometimes called his “Eka Sloka,” his “one verse.” It was engraved on a marble tablet that hung over his couch in his ashram.
The devotee continues:
Or is this condition unhealthy, the result of self-hypnotism? Should it be encouraged as yielding temporary peace?
This woman has such grave doubts about the value of her state that she asks whether it’s unhealthy. She even wonders whether it should be allowed to continue.
Maharshi: There is Consciousness along with quietness in the mind…
He summarizes the woman’s state as consciousness and lack of thoughts. He thinks those two attributes are the salient ones.
…this is exactly the state to be aimed at.
Whoa! Talk about a turnaround! The woman is afraid that her state is unhealthy and should be stopped, and Ramana tells her: This is the state that people try to attain by diving. You’re already there. You’ve already dived. He continues:
The fact that the question has been framed on this point, without realizing that it is the Self, shows that the state is not steady but casual.
I’ve italicized the middle of the sentence because it’s so important. “It” refers to the woman’s state. The state that she is describing is Atman, the Self. Of course if it’s the Self it’s not really a state, but it seems like a state to her.
“Casual” means here intermittent or not yet permanent. Ramana is saying that when the state becomes permanent, she will recognize that it’s the Self.
We can summarize Ramana’s main point as an equation:
Self = consciousness + quiet mind
The word ‘diving’ is appropriate when there are outgoing tendencies, and when, therefore, the mind has to be directed and turned within, there is a dip below the surface of externalities.
“Outgoing tendencies” means that the attention latches onto thoughts and perceptions. This causes the person to become lost in thought. To prevent this from happening, the person should deliberately turn his or her attention inward. When a person does this there is a “dip.” That’s what Ramana means by “diving.” He is explaining his use of the word, telling us the definition of “dive” as it’s used in the famous Eka Sloka. He continues:
But when quietness prevails without obstructing the Consciousness, where is the need to dive?
Diving is something a seeker does to stop the mind from going outward. But this woman’s mind isn’t outward; it’s quiet. There’s nowhere for her to dive. Moreover she is conscious. Quiet and conscious = the Self. She has already reached the goal. Diving doesn’t apply to her.
If that state has not been realised as the Self, the effort to do so may be called ‘diving’.
Ramana invents a new, different meaning of the word “dive” so the woman can apply it to herself. It’s as if he is thinking: “This woman wanted to apply the word to herself and I just told her she can’t, but I don’t want to disappoint her so I’ll invent a new meaning that applies to her.”
In this sense the state may be said to be suitable for realization or diving. Thus, the last two questions you have put do not arise.
The last two questions expressed her doubts about her state. Obviously they are irrelevant.
This dense, meaty little dialog offers much to digest. The essential point, it seems to me, is this:
Self = consciousness + quiet mind