Who Am I?

July 19, 2007

From the Teachings of
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi

Translation by Dr. T. M. P. MAHADEVAN
from the original in Tamil titled ‘Nan Yar?’

“It was at this point in my imagined psycho-spiritual development that I lost myself. To compound the irony, before going to sleep that night in October 1985, I’d actually done a ‘self-remembering’ exercise for precisely the opposite purpose – to centre my energies in such a firm and clear sense of self that it would continue into the dreaming process instead of getting lost in it, thereby giving me a lucid dream in which I was aware of dreaming. I went off dutifully repeating the words “I am, I am, I am, …”, a la Sri Ramana Maharshi, and was more than a little astonished to awaken some hours later, laughing because the pundits had got it wrong: the truth was much more like “I am not.” I was emerging from a state of consciousness without any I or self at all, a state that can only be described as pure consciousness. I can’t even say I experienced it, because there was no experiencer and nothing to experience.”



What is the path of inquiry for understanding the nature of the mind?
That which rises as ‘I’ in this body is the mind. If one inquires as to where in the body the thought ‘I’ rises first, one would discover that it rises in the heart. That is the place of the mind’s origin. Even if one thinks constantly ‘I’ ‘I’, one will be led to that place. Of all the thoughts that arise in the mind, the ‘I’ thought is the first. It is only after the rise of this that the other thoughts arise. It is after the appearance of the first personal pronoun that the second and third personal pronouns appear; without the first personal pronoun there will not be the second and third.

How will the mind become quiescent?
By the inquiry ‘Who am I?’. The thought ‘who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts, and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre, it will itself in the end get destroyed. Then, there will arise Self-realization.

What is the means for constantly holding on to the thought ‘Who am I?’
When other thoughts arise, one should not pursue them, but should inquire: ‘To whom do they arise?’ It does not matter how many thoughts arise. As each thought arises, one should inquire with diligence, “To whom has this thought arisen?”. The answer that would emerge would be “To me”. Thereupon if one inquires “Who am I?”, the mind will go back to its source; and the thought that arose will become quiescent. With repeated practice in this manner, the mind will develop the skill to stay in its source. When the mind that is subtle goes out through the brain and the sense-organs, the gross names and forms appear; when it stays in the heart, the names and forms disappear. Not letting the mind go out, but retaining it in the Heart is what is called “inwardness” (antar-mukha). Letting the mind go out of the Heart is known as “externalisation” (bahir-mukha). Thus, when the mind stays in the Heart, the ‘I’ which is the source of all thoughts will go, and the Self which ever exists will shine. Whatever one does, one should do without the egoity “I”. If one acts in that way, all will appear as of the nature of Siva (God).

Are there no other means for making the mind quiescent?
Other than inquiry, there are no adequate means. If through other means it is sought to control the mind, the mind will appear to be controlled, but will again go forth. Through the control of breath also, the mind will become quiescent; but it will be quiescent only so long as the breath remains controlled, and when the breath resumes the mind also will again start moving and will wander as impelled by residual impressions. The source is the same for both mind and breath. Thought, indeed, is the nature of the mind. The thought “I” is the first thought of the mind; and that is egoity. It is from that whence egoity originates that breath also originates. Therefore, when the mind becomes quiescent, the breath is controlled, and when the breath is controlled the mind becomes quiescent. But in deep sleep, although the mind becomes quiescent, the breath does not stop. This is because of the will of God, so that the body may be preserved and other people may not be under the impression that it is dead. In the state of waking and in Samadhi, when the mind becomes quiescent the breath is controlled. Breath is the gross form of mind. Till the time of death, the mind keeps breath in the body; and when the body dies the mind takes the breath along with it. Therefore, the exercise of breath-control is only an aid for rendering the mind quiescent (manonigraha); it will not destroy the mind (manonasa).

Like the practice of breath-control, meditation on the forms of God, repetition of Mantras, restriction on food, etc., are but aids for rendering the mind quiescent.

In 1938 Mercedes De Acosta visited the ashrama of Sri Ramana. While there she entered into an on and off discourse with the Maharshi. In her book Here Lies the Heart (1960), she writes the following regarding some of that discourse:

“I asked him how to pray for other people. He answered, ‘If you are abiding within the Self, there are no other people. You and I are the same. When I pray for you I pray for myself and when I pray for myself I pray for you. Real prayer is to abide within the Self. This is the Meaning of Tat Twam Asi — I Am Thou. There can be no separation in the Self. There is no need for prayer for yourself or any person other than to abide within the Self.’

“I said, ‘Bhagavan, you say that I am to take up the Search for the Self by Atman Vichara, asking myself the question Who Am I? I say I ask Who Are You?

“Bhagavan answered, “When you know the Self, the ‘I’ ‘You’ ‘He’ and ‘She’ disappear. They merge together in pure Consciousness.”

Interestingly enough, during her visit De Acosta met a man by the name of Guy Hague who was staying at the Ramana Ashram at the same time. Hague is often mentioned as being the real life role model for Larry Darrell, the main character on a spiritual quest for Enlightenment in the book by famed British author and playwright William Somerset Maugham, titled The Razor’s Edge. In the book Darrell meditates and studies under an Indian holy man Maugham calls Shri Ganesha that closely resembles Sri Ramana.

(From the works of: SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI)


14 Responses to “Who Am I?”

  1. Thanks for posting this RK.

  2. shark Says:

    I have asked this question atleast a million times to myself.
    This “Who am I” question really scares me …. especially when I just can’t get a satisfying answer.

  3. Praveen Says:

    Who is that in you asking Who am I question ? Its a recurrsive problem.

  4. “who am I” is probably one question which has no questioner but only questioned subject!

    when questioner and questioned is both absent then answer is found, it’s hilarious but true; i.e when the answer arrives questioner disappears! In-fact you can find the answer for this question only when question and questioner disappears!

    almost all traditions have used various notations to keep this question alive, Sufism questions Alla Hoo…. Christianity questions Amen …Hindu traditions Om. all this words are nothing but keeping alive the most profound question ever asked!

    It is not accident that the first answer you get in life without any body asking questions is word called “Ma: from child’s mouth.

    Sorry did not want spam with my comments but the article is so lovely I had to write few lines.

    Love you!

  5. praneshachar Says:

    wonderful post
    apt comments by suresh.g. with his rich experience and knowledge.
    who am I is Q everyone will ask at one time or the other.
    in this eternal world we are all tiny particles that what
    thanks for the post bellur

  6. Hi RK,

    The most important question of all – Who Am I? It is the most searching examination of human frailties and honesty.

    Thanks for sharing that with us.


  7. latha vidyaranya Says:

    who am i?

    there is one logic – gata drishtah gataath bahihi – ie, the seer is different from the seen. if i say “this is my pen”, then pen is different from me. i am not the pen.

    i generally identify myself with this body and say i am so and so, i am somebody’s daughter/ wife/mother/sister etc. these are all the roles that i am playing and the role is not me! since i am seeing my body, i can not be the body. i am not the “anna-maya kosha”.

    i am my “praana” – the life breath. but i often see how relaxedly i am breathing or how suffocating i feel. i am watching my praana and hence i can not be the praana. i am not the “praana-maya kosha”.

    i try to identify myself with my mind. but i say “my mind is not happy today or my mind is sad today”. i am able to see how my mind is today. hence i am not my mind. i am not the “mano-maya kosha”.

    then the intellect. i often say “i got a brilliant idea” or “oh, i did such a foolish thing today”. so i am watching my intellect being bright or foolish. hence the seen is not the seer. i am not my intellect. i am not my budhdhi/ i am not the “vignaana-maya kosha”.

    i often experience the bliss or aananda. but i watch the bliss generating within me, experience it and soon i watch my bliss disappearing too. hence i am not that “aananada-maya kosha”.

    there is still an entity that is watching all the five koshas or the layers being peeled one by one saying “this is not me”. when all the layers are dropeed, nothing remains, but that entity is still there to say “there is nothing”!

    That is ME………. but it does not say so. it need not say so for there is no one else for it to address and say so!

  8. Naren Says:



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  9. Naren Says:

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  10. rk Says:

    thanks for letting us know about ‘barcampbangalore’ and the bloggers’ meet.

  11. Rams Says:

    * Naan Yaar was originally the answers given by SRM to Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai, and was unknown to the rest of the world for a very long time. First it was published in the form of question and answers – later on it was cast into an essay by SRM himself with some modifications. The question and answer version does not contain some of the modifications that he made.
    * Since Sri Ramana discovered the vedantic truth by himself without any formal sadhana or prayathanam, his teachings tend to be devoid of lot of theoritical baggage that clouds many other exponents of vedantic sadhana. For instance antarmuka or inward is one term that has done enormous damage – inside/outside are relative to the body. The correct term as used in the tamizh original is “thanmayam” – it’s a beautiful word that also makes it clear that english beyond a certain beyond is not helpful; it becomes more of a hindrance rather. Another point of confusion is the reference to the heart – heart as used by Sri Ramana does not refer to the physical heart. Some writers like Arthur Orsborne have wrongly written in their books and even gone to the extent of advising sadhaks to focus on the heart. How can a sadhana whose whole point is to get rid of the notion “I am the body” be centered around a certain point in the body.
    *I see from one of the comments above that the person considers this sadhana to be recursive -this shows a clear lack of understanding. The question “Who am I” is only asked when there is lapse in your concentration. It is pull back your attention to the source. In Ulladhu Narpadhu Anubandham, Sri Raman compares people who mindlessly ask this question to drunkards who ask meaningless questions. Not concentrating on second and thrid person objects and focussing all your attention on the first person object, and asking “Who am I”whenever your concentration wanders and pulling it back is sadhana. As sadhana progresses, even the need for asking this question slowly goes away.
    *An interesting incident to end this rather long comment – When someone informed Sri Ramana in 1949 that Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai who was responsible for “Naan Yaar” had passed away, the Maharishi remarked “Sivaprakasam, Sivaprakasam Aanar” – i.e. Sivaprakasam merged with the light of Lord Shiva. Small as the book is, it is potent and contains his teachings in a very compact form.

  12. Rams Says:

    Sorry, A Typo in my previous post – “In Ulladhu Narpadhu Anubandham, Sri Raman” – It should actually be Sri Ramana not Sri Raman. Ulladhu Narpadhu anubandham was written by him.

  13. preethi Says:

    nice post…
    Ramana Maharishi “naan yaru”is one of the best ways of finding the truth of our lives

  14. amitabh Says:

    two important qualities one should have while practicising who am I technique is
    Honesty and persistance.

    honesty bcoz after some time it becomes very boring unless one have very sincere longing to know oneself. so one has to honest and see the source of thoughts which distract us from who am i technique

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