Who Am I
Who Am I?
The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
Translated by Dr. T. M.
P. Mahadevan from the original Tamil
Published by Sri Ramanashramam, Tiruvannamalai
"Who am I?" is the title given to a set of questions and answers
bearing on Self-enquiry. The questions were put to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
by one Sri M. Sivaprakasam Pillai about the year 1902. Sri Pillai, a graduate in
Philosophy, was at the time employed in the Revenue Department of the South
Arcot Collectorate. During his visit to Tiruvannamalai in 1902 on official work,
he went to Virupaksha Cave on Arunachala Hill and met the Master there. He
sought from him spiritual guidance, and solicited answers to questions relating
to Self-enquiry. As Bhagavan was not talking then, not because of any vow he had
taken, but because he did not have the inclination to talk, he answered the
questions put to him by gestures, and when these were not understood, by
writing. As recollected and recorded by Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai, there were
fourteen questions with answers to them given by Bhagavan. This record was first
published by Sri Pillai in 1923, along with a couple of poems composed by
himself relating how Bhagavan's grace operated in his case by dispelling his
doubts and by saving him from a crisis in life. 'Who am I?' has been published
several times subsequently. We find thirty questions and answers in some
editions and twenty-eight in others. There is also another published version in
which the questions are not given, and the teachings are rearranged in the form
of an essay. The extant English translation is of this essay. The present
rendering is of the text in the form of twenty-eight questions and answers.
Along with Vicharasangraham (Self-Enquiry), Nan Yar (Who am I?) constitutes the
first set of instructions in the Master's own words. These two are the only
prose-pieces among Bhagavan's Works. They clearly set forth the central teaching
that the direct path to liberation is Self-enquiry. The particular mode in which
the enquiry is to be made is lucidly set forth in Nan Yar. The mind consists of
thoughts. The 'I' thought is the first to arise in the mind. When the enquiry '
Who am I?' is persistently pursued, all other thoughts get destroyed, and
finally the 'I' thought itself vanishes leaving the supreme non-dual Self alone.
The false identification of the Self with the phenomena of non-self such as the
body and mind thus ends, and there is illumination, Sakshatkara. The process of
enquiry of course, is not an easy one. As one enquires 'Who am I?', other
thoughts will arise; but as these arise, one should not yield to them by
following them , on the contrary, one should ask 'To whom do they arise ?' In
order to do this, one has to be extremely vigilant. Through constant enquiry one
should make the mind stay in its source, without allowing it to wander away and
get lost in the mazes of thought created by itself. All other disciplines such
as breath-control and meditation on the forms of God should be regarded as
auxiliary practices. They are useful in so far as they help the mind to become
quiescent and one-pointed.
For the mind that has gained skill in concentration, Self-enquiry becomes
comparatively easy. It is by ceaseless enquiry that the thoughts are destroyed
and the Self realized - the plenary Reality in which there is not even the 'I'
thought, the experience which is referred to as "Silence".
This, in substance, is Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi's teaching in Nan Yar (Who
T. M. P. MAHADEVAN
University of Madras
June 30, 1982
Om Namo Bhagavathe Sri Ramanaya
Who Am I? - (Nan Yar?)
As all living beings desire to be happy always, without misery, as in the case
of everyone there is observed supreme love for one's self, and as happiness
alone is the cause for love, in order to gain that happiness which is one's
nature and which is experienced in the state of deep sleep where there is no
mind, one should know one's self. For that, the path of knowledge, the inquiry
of the form "Who am I?", is the principal means.
1 . Who am I ?
The gross body which is composed of the seven humours (dhatus), I am not; the
five cognitive sense organs, viz. the senses of hearing, touch, sight, taste,
and smell, which apprehend their respective objects, viz. sound, touch, colour,
taste, and odour, I am not; the five cognitive sense-organs, viz. the organs of
speech, locomotion, grasping, excretion, and procreation, which have as their
respective functions speaking, moving, grasping, excreting, and enjoying, I am
not; the five vital airs, prana, etc., which perform respectively the five
functions of in-breathing, etc., I am not; even the mind which thinks, I am not;
the nescience too, which is endowed only with the residual impressions of
objects, and in which there are no objects and no functioning's, I am not.
2. If I am none of these, then who am I?
After negating all of the above-mentioned as 'not this', 'not this', that
Awareness which alone remains - that I am.
3. What is the nature of Awareness?
The nature of Awareness is existence-consciousness-bliss
4. When will the realization of the Self be gained?
When the world which is what-is-seen has been removed, there will be realization
of the Self which is the seer.
5. Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there
(taken as real)?
There will not be.
The seer and the object seen are like the rope and the snake. Just as the
knowledge of the rope which is the substrate will not arise unless the false
knowledge of the illusory serpent goes, so the realization of the Self which is
the substrate will not be gained unless the belief that the world is real is
7. When will the world which is the object seen be removed?
When the mind, which is the cause of all cognition's and of all actions, becomes
quiescent, the world will disappear.
8. What is the nature of the mind?
What is called 'mind' is a wondrous power residing in the Self. It causes all
thoughts to arise. Apart from thoughts, there is no such thing as mind.
Therefore, thought is the nature of mind. Apart from thoughts, there is no
independent entity called the world. In deep sleep there are no thoughts, and
there is no world. In the states of waking and dream, there are thoughts, and
there is a world also. Just as the spider emits the thread (of the web) out of
itself and again withdraws it into itself, likewise the mind projects the world
out of itself and again resolves it into itself. When the mind comes out of the
Self, the world appears. Therefore, when the world appears (to be real), the
Self does not appear; and when the Self appears (shines) the world does not
appear. When one persistently inquires into the nature of the mind, the mind
will end leaving the Self (as the residue). What is referred to as the Self is
the Atman. The mind always exists only in dependence on something gross; it
cannot stay alone. It is the mind that is called the subtle body or the soul (jiva).
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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).
12. 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
Through meditation on the forms of God and through repetition of mantras, the
mind becomes one-pointed. The mind will always be wandering. Just as when a
chain is given to an elephant to hold in its trunk it will go along grasping the
chain and nothing else, so also when the mind is occupied with a name or form it
will grasp that alone. When the mind expands in the form of countless thoughts,
each thought becomes weak; but as thoughts get resolved the mind becomes
one-pointed and strong; for such a mind Self-inquiry will become easy. Of all
the restrictive rules, that relating to the taking of sattvic food in moderate
quantities is the best; by observing this rule, the sattvic quality of mind will
increase, and that will be helpful to Self-inquiry.
13. The residual impressions (thoughts) of objects appear wending like the
waves of an ocean. When will all of them get destroyed?
As the meditation on the Self rises higher and higher, the thoughts will get
14. Is it possible for the residual impressions of objects that come from
beginningless time, as it were, to be resolved, and for one to remain as the
Without yielding to the doubt "Is it possible, or not?", one should
persistently hold on to the meditation on the Self. Even if one be a great
sinner, one should not worry and weep "O! I am a sinner, how can I be
saved?"; one should completely renounce the thought "I am a
sinner"; and concentrate keenly on meditation on the Self; then, one would
surely succeed. There are not two minds - one good and the other evil; the mind
is only one. It is the residual impressions that are of two kinds - auspicious
and inauspicious. When the mind is under the influence of auspicious impressions
it is called good; and when it is under the influence of inauspicious
impressions it is regarded as evil.
The mind should not be allowed to wander towards worldly objects and what
concerns other people. However bad other people may be, one should bear no
hatred for them. Both desire and hatred should be eschewed. All that one gives
to others one gives to one's self. If this truth is understood who will not give
to others? When one's self arises all arises; when one's self becomes quiescent
all becomes quiescent. To the extent we behave with humility, to that extent
there will result good. If the mind is rendered quiescent, one may live
15. How long should inquiry be practised?
As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind, so long the inquiry
"Who am I?" is required. As thoughts arise they should be destroyed
then and there in the very place of their origin, through inquiry. If one
resorts to contemplation of the Self unintermittently, until the Self is gained,
that alone would do. As long as there are enemies within the fortress, they will
continue to sally forth; if they are destroyed as they emerge, the fortress will
fall into our hands.
16. What is the nature of the Self?
What exists in truth is the Self alone. The world, the individual soul, and God
are appearances in it. like silver in mother-of-pearl, these three appear at the
same time, and disappear at the same time. The Self is that where there is
absolutely no "I" thought. That is called "Silence". The
Self itself is the world; the Self itself is "I"; the Self itself is
God; all is Siva, the Self.
17. Is not everything the work of God?
Without desire, resolve, or effort, the sun rises; and in its mere presence, the
sun-stone emits fire, the lotus blooms, water evaporates; people perform their
various functions and then rest. Just as in the presence of the magnet the
needle moves, it is by virtue of the mere presence of God that the souls
governed by the three (cosmic) functions or the fivefold divine activity perform
their actions and then rest, in accordance with their respective karmas. God has
no resolve; no karma attaches itself to Him. That is like worldly actions not
affecting the sun, or like the merits and demerits of the other four elements
not affecting all pervading space.
18. Of the devotees, who is the greatest?
He who gives himself up to the Self that is God is the most excellent devotee.
Giving one's self up to God means remaining constantly in the Self without
giving room for the rise of any thoughts other than that of the Self. Whatever
burdens are thrown on God, He bears them. Since the supreme power of God makes
all things move, why should we, without submitting ourselves to it, constantly
worry ourselves with thoughts as to what should be done and how, and what should
not be done and how not? We know that the train carries all loads, so after
getting on it why should we carry our small luggage on our head to our
discomfort, instead of putting it down in the train and feeling at ease?
19. What is non-attachment?
As thoughts arise, destroying them utterly without any residue in the very place
of their origin is non-attachment. Just as the pearl-diver ties a stone to his
waist, sinks to the bottom of the sea and there takes the pearls, so each one of
us should be endowed with non-attachment, dive within oneself and obtain the
20. Is it not possible for God and the Guru to effect the release of a soul?
God and the Guru will only show the way to release; they will not by themselves
take the soul to the state of release. In truth, God and the Guru are not
different. Just as the prey which has fallen into the jaws of a tiger has no
escape, so those who have come within the ambit of the Guru's gracious look will
be saved by the Guru and will not get lost; yet, each one should by his own
effort pursue the path shown by God or Guru and gain release. One can know
oneself only with one's own eye of knowledge, and not with somebody else's. Does
he who is Rama require the help of a mirror to know that he is Rama?
21. Is it necessary for one who longs for release to inquire into the nature
of categories (tattvas)?
Just as one who wants to throw away garbage has no need to analyse it and see
what it is, so one who wants to know the Self has no need to count the number of
categories or inquire into their characteristics; what he has to do is to reject
altogether the categories that hide the Self. The world should be considered
like a dream.
22. Is there no difference between waking and dream?
Waking is long and a dream short; other than this there is no difference. Just
as waking happenings seem real while awake. so do those in a dream while
dreaming. In dream the mind takes on another body. In both waking and dream
states thoughts. names and forms occur simultaneously.
23. Is it any use reading books for those who long for release?
All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind
quiescent; therefore their conclusive teaching is that the mind should be
rendered quiescent; once this has been understood there is no need for endless
reading. In order to quieten the mind one has only to inquire within oneself
what one's Self is; how could this search be done in books? One should know
one's Self with one's own eye of wisdom. The Self is within the five sheaths;
but books are outside them. Since the Self has to be inquired into by discarding
the five sheaths, it is futile to search for it in books. There will come a time
when one will have to forget all that one has learned.
24. What is happiness?
Happiness is the very nature of the Self; happiness and the Self are not
different. There is no happiness in any object of the world. We imagine through
our ignorance that we derive happiness from objects. When the mind goes out, it
experiences misery. In truth, when its desires are fulfilled, it returns to its
own place and enjoys the happiness that is the Self. Similarly, in the states of
sleep, samadhi and fainting, and when the object desired is obtained or the
object disliked is removed, the mind becomes inward-turned, and enjoys pure
Self-Happiness. Thus the mind moves without rest alternately going out of the
Self and returning to it. Under the tree the shade is pleasant; out in the open
the heat is scorching. A person who has been going about in the sun feels cool
when he reaches the shade. Someone who keeps on going from the shade into the
sun and then back into the shade is a fool. A wise man stays permanently in the
shade. Similarly, the mind of the one who knows the truth does not leave
Brahman. The mind of the ignorant, on the contrary, revolves in the world,
feeling miserable, and for a little time returns to Brahman to experience
happiness. In fact, what is called the world is only thought. When the world
disappears, i.e. when there is no thought, the mind experiences happiness; and
when the world appears, it goes through misery.
25. What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?
Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight. To remain quiet is to resolve
the mind in the Self. Telepathy, knowing past, present and future happenings and
clairvoyance do not constitute wisdom-insight.
26. What is the relation between desirelessness and wisdom?
Desirelessness is wisdom. The two are not different; they are the same.
Desirelessness is refraining from turning the mind towards any object. Wisdom
means the appearance of no object. In other words, not seeking what is other
than the Self is detachment or desirelessness; not leaving the Self is wisdom.
27. What is the difference between inquiry and meditation?
Inquiry consists in retaining the mind in the Self. Meditation consists in
thinking that one's self is Brahman, existence-consciousness-bliss.
28. What is release?
Inquiring into the nature of one's self that is in bondage, and realising one's
true nature is release.
SRI RAMANARPANAM ASTU