Meditation, Self-Inquiry, and Self-Realization
By Dr. Harsh K. Luthor
The distinction between Meditation and Self-Inquiry is subtle. However, in one way, understanding this difference is central to grasping the full import of teachings of the Sage of Arunachala, Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Sri Ramana used to say that meditations, affirmations, and other similar techniques presuppose the retention of the mind. To practice a mantra, visualization, pranayama, etc., requires the use and activity of the mind as an independent agent separate from the higher power. One of Sri Ramana’s favorite analogy was that asking the mind to subdue itself is like asking a thief to go ahead and capture itself. The mind will make a game of it, pretend to control itself, but will remain engaged in playing hide and seek.
Certain meditation practices no doubt have a calming and a relaxing effect. However, Sri Ramana states that in all such approaches, the mind remains dormant only temporarily. It rushes forth after sleep or meditation in its individual form when the proper stimulation presents itself. With all practices, conducted with the mind, that have an object as their focus (mantra, breath, image, etc.) the seed of duality is already built in.
Someone once asked Sri Ramana whether Self-Inquiry that he advocated was also not a mental activity. If so, it must be presumed as having the same difficulty and limitation as other meditative techniques.
Sri Ramana acknowledged that Self-Inquiry also made use of the mind in initial stages. However, he held that in asking oneself the question “Who am I?” in a serious, alert, and an intense way, the mind was being concentrated and driven inwards towards its Source. This Source is not a form or a sound but the very origin from which the mind arises.
Therefore, in Self-Inquiry, the full power of attention is brought to bear upon this question, “Who am I”? This question does not have an intellectual answer. Asking it is meant for becoming aware of consciousness as existence that permeates us as our root identity. It is this feeling and sense that everyone has of themselves as “I Am”. From childhood to old age, we are aware of this sense of existence without having to give it a name.
This subtle awareness has no form. It is this self-awareness, independent of thoughts, that one has to abide in and follow to the Source. If grace allows for that, the Supreme Heart that the ancients called Sat-Chit-Ananda, reveals It Self. It is really a Self-Revelation. The Heart is recognized as one’s own identity independent of thoughts, personality, mind, etc.
Sri Ramana maintained that although Self-Inquiry required initial use of the mind, after a certain point a spontaneous power took over. The response to serious Self-Inquiry comes from within. Sri Ramana referred to this Source within as the Heart. Self-Inquiry stirred the inner power of the Heart which then became like a magnet pulling the mind within so that Self-Recognition and Self-Realization of Supreme Bliss as our nature could take place.