Ramana (* 30.12.1879 Tiruchuli; † 14.04.1950 Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu) lived all his life in South India, mostly staying around the ancient temple town of Tiruvannamalai at the foot of Arunachala, a sacred mountain symbolizing Shiva. In Who Am I? – The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi we are introduced to Ramana’s style of Advaita (non-dual) teachings:
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 enquiry of the form ‘Who am I?’, is the principal means.
Question: 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.
Ramana Maharshi is often – like Shankara – criticized for discarding the world as illusory and unimportant. Ramana explained in a dialogue with a devotee that this is a common misunderstanding:
Question: Is Bhagavan’s teaching the same as Shankara’s?
Ramana (talking about himself as Bhagavan): Bhagavan’s teaching is an expression of his own experience and realization. Others find that it tallies with Sri Shankara’s.
Q: When the Upanishads say that all is Brahman, how can we agree with Shankara that this world is illusory?
R: Shankara also said that this world is Brahman or the Self. What he objected to is one’s imagining that the Self is limited by the names and forms that constitute the world. He only said that the world has no reality apart from Brahman. Brahman or the Self is like a cinema screen and the world like the pictures on it. You can see the picture only so long as there is a screen. But when the observer himself becomes the screen only the Self remains. Shankara has been criticized for his philosophy of Maya (illusion) without understanding his meaning. He made three statements: that Brahman is real, that the universe is unreal, and that Brahman is the Universe. He did not stop with the second. The third statement explains the first two; it signifies that when the Universe is perceived apart from Brahman, that perception is false and illusory. What it amounts to is that phenomena are real when experienced as the Self and illusory when seen apart from the Self. The Self alone exists and is real. The world, the individual and God are, like the illusory appearance of silver in the mother-of-pearl, imaginary creations in the Self. They appear and disappear simultaneously. Actually, the Self alone is the world, the ‘I’ and God. All that exists is only a manifestation of the Supreme.
Q: What is reality?
B.: Reality must always be real. It has no names or forms but is what underlies them. It underlies all limitations, being itself limitless. It is not bound in any way. It underlies unrealities, being itself Real. It is that which is. It is as it is. It transcends speech and is beyond description such as being or non-being.