How to meditate: Ramana

Ramana Maharishi

Extracts from the book ‘Life Beyond Death’ by Anil Sharma

The Pure Mind, the immaculate Being, is eternally wrapped in blissful stillness – in Turiya or Samadhi, the state beyond awake, dream and sleep states. There remains nothing more for one to achieve but to consolidate this state into the permanent experience of Sahaja Nirvikalpa, a state of merging in the Self, a state of true liberation.

Sage Ramana reaches spiritual aspirants through his conversations with S S Cohen on oft-raised queries related to spiritual practice, meditation and Self-enquiry.

Disciple: How do I meditate?

Ramana: Meditation is, truly speaking, atmanishtha (to be fixed as the Self). But when thoughts cross the mind and an effort is made to eliminate them the effort is usually termed meditation. Atmanishtba (to abide in the Self) is your real nature. Remain as you are. That is the aim.

Hold on to one thought only. Dhyana (meditation) is the chief practice. Dhyana means fight. As soon as you begin meditation other thoughts will crowd together, gather force and try to sink the single thought to which you try to hold. The good thought must gradually gain strength by repeated practice. After it has grown strong the other thoughts will be put to flight. This is the battle royal always taking place in meditation. One wants to rid oneself of misery. It requires peace of mind, which means absence of perturbation owing to all kinds of thoughts. Peace of mind is brought about by dhyana (meditation) alone.

Disciple: How is dhyana (meditation) practised – with eyes open or closed?

Ramana: It may be done either way. The point is that the mind must be introverted and kept active in its pursuit. Sometimes it happens that when the eyes are closed the latent thoughts rush forth with great vigour. It may also be difficult to introvert the mind with the eyes open. It requires strength of mind to do so. The mind is contaminated when it takes in objects. Otherwise, it is pure. The main factor in dhyana (meditation) is to keep the mind active in its own pursuit without taking in external impressions or thinking of other matters.

Disciple: But thoughts come up. Is our effort meant to eliminate thoughts only?

Ramana: Yes. Meditation being on a single thought, the other thoughts is kept away. Meditation is only negative in effect in as much as thoughts are kept away.

Disciple: If a form is given I can meditate on it and other thoughts are eliminated. But the Self is formless.

Ramana: Meditation on forms or concrete objects is said to be dhyana (meditation), whereas the enquiry into the Self is vichara (Self-enquiry) or nididhyasana (uninterrupted awareness of being).

Disciple:  Is the practice of concentration between the eyebrows advisable?

Ramana: Everyone is aware – `I am’. Leaving aside that awareness one goes about in search of God. What is the use of fixing one’s attention between the eyebrows? It is mere folly to say that God is between the eyebrows. The aim of such advice is to help the mind to concentrate. It is one of the forcible methods to check the mind and prevent its dissipation. It is forcibly directed into one channel. It is a help to concentration. But the best means of realization is the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ The present trouble is to the mind and it must be removed by the mind only. The final result of the practice of any kind of dhyana (meditation) is that the object on which the seeker fixes his mind ceases to exist as distinct and separate from the subject. They, the subject and object, become the one Self, and that is the Heart.

Disciple: I do not always concentrate on the same centre in the body. Sometimes I find it easier to concentrate on one centre and sometimes on another. And sometimes when I concentrate on one centre the thought of its own accord goes and fixes itself in another. Why is that?

Ramana: It may be because of past practices of yours. But in any case it is immaterial on which centre you concentrate since the real Heart is in every centre and even outside the body. On whatever part of the body you may concentrate or on whatever external object, the Heart is there.

Disciple: Can one concentrate at one time on one centre and at another time on another or should one concentrate always consistently on the same centre?

Ramana: As I have just said, there can be no harm wherever you concentrate, because concentration is only a means of giving up thoughts. Whatever the centre or object on which one concentrates, he who concentrates is always the same.

Disciple: Why does not Sri Bhagavan direct us to practise concentration on some particular centre or chakra (subtle centers of energy in the body)?

Ramana: Yoga Sastra (Yoga scriptures) says that the sahasrara (the chakra located in the brain) or the brain is the seat of the Self. Purusha Sukta (a part of Rig Veda which is the oldest Hindu scripture) declares that the Heart is its seat. To enable the sadhaka to steer clear of possible doubt, I tell him to take up the thread or the clue of `I’-ness or `I am’ ness and follow it up to its source. Because, firstly, it is impossible for anybody to entertain any doubt about this `I’ notion. Secondly, whatever be the means adopted, the final goal is the realization of the source of `I am’-ness which is the primary datum of your experience. If you therefore practise Self-enquiry, you will reach the Heart which is the Self.

Disciple: What is dhyana (meditation)?

Ramana:  It is abiding as one’s Self without swerving in any way from one’s real nature and without feeling that one is meditating.

Disciple: What is the difference between dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (the state of absorption in the Self)?

Ramana: Dhyana (meditation) is achieved through deliberate mental effort. In samadhi (the state of absorption in the Self) there is no such effort.

Disciple: What are the factors to be kept in view in dhyana?

Ramana: It is important for one who is established in his Self (atmanishtha) to see that he does not swerve in the least from this absorption. By swerving from his true nature he may see before him bright effulgences, or hear unusual sounds, or regard as real the visions of gods appearing within or outside himself. He should not be deceived by these and forget himself.

Disciple: How do I prevent myself falling asleep in meditation?

Ramana: If you try to prevent sleep it will mean thinking in meditation, which must be avoided. But if you slip into sleep while meditating, the meditation will continue even during and after sleep. Yet, being a thought, sleep must be got rid of, for the final natural state has to be obtained consciously in jagrat (the waking state) without the disturbing thought. Waking and sleeping are mere pictures on the screen of the native, thought-free state. Let them pass unnoticed.

Disciple: What is to be meditated upon?

Ramana: Anything that you prefer.

Disciple: Meditation is more direct than investigation because the former holds on to the truth whereas the latter sifts the truth from the untruth.

Ramana: For the beginner meditation on a form is more easy and agreeable. Practice of it leads to self-enquiry which consists in sifting the reality from unreality. What is the use of holding on to truth when you are filled with antagonistic factors? Self-enquiry directly leads to realization by removing the obstacles which make you think that the Self is not already realized. Meditation differs according to the degree of advancement of the seeker. If one is fit for it one might directly hold on to the thinker, and the thinker will then automatically sink into his source, pure consciousness. If one cannot directly hold on to the thinker one must meditate on God and in due course the same individual will have become sufficiently pure to hold on to the thinker and to sink into absolute being. Meditation is possible only if the ego is kept up. There is the ego and the object meditated upon. The method is therefore indirect because the Self is only one. Seeking the ego, that is its source, the ego disappears. What is left over is the Self. This method is the direct one.

Disciple: Meditation is with mind. How can it kill the mind in order to reveal the Self?

Ramana: Meditation is sticking to one thought. That single thought keeps away other thoughts. Distraction of mind is a sign of its weakness. By constant meditation it gains strength, that is to say, the weakness of fugitive thought gives place to the enduring background free from thought. This expanse devoid of thought is the Self. Mind in purity is the Self.

Disciple:  What is the difference between meditation (dhyana) and investigation (vichara)?

Ramana: Both amount to the same. Those unfit for investigation must practise meditation. In meditation the aspirant forgetting himself meditates `I am Brahman’ or `I am Siva’ and by this method holds on to Brahman (the Absolute) or Siva. This will ultimately end with the residual awareness of Brahman (the Absolute) or Siva as being. He will then realize that this is pure being, that is, the Self. He who engages in investigation starts by holding on to himself, and by asking himself `Who am I?’ the Self becomes clear to him. Mentally imagining oneself to be the supreme reality, which shines as existence-consciousness-bliss, is meditation. Fixing the mind in the Self so that the unreal seed of delusion will die is enquiry. Whoever meditates upon the Self in whatever bhava (mental image) attains it only in that image. Those peaceful ones who remain quiet without any such bhava attain the noble and unqualified state of kaivalya, the formless state of the Self.

Disciple: There is more pleasure in dhyana (meditation) than in sensual enjoyments. Yet the mind runs after the latter and does not seek the former. Why is it so?

Ramana: Pleasure or pain are aspects of the mind only. Our essential nature is happiness. But we have forgotten the Self and imagine that the body or the mind is the Self. It is that wrong identity that gives rise to misery. What is to be done? This mental tendency is very ancient and has continued for innumerable past births. Hence it has grown strong. That must go before the essential nature, happiness, asserts itself.

Disciple: Why should one adopt this self-hypnotism by thinking on the unthinkable point? Why not adopt other methods like gazing into light, holding the breath, hearing music, hearing internal sounds, repetition of the sacred syllable Om or other mantras (sacred syllables repeated in meditation)?

Ramana: Light-gazing stupefies the mind and produces catalepsy of the will for the time being, but it secures no permanent benefit. Breath control temporarily benumbs the will but it is not permanent. It is the same with listening to sounds, unless the mantra (sacred syllables repeated in meditation) is sacred and secures the help of a higher power to purify and raise the thoughts.

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