Śrī Ramaṇa Maharṣi

Vedāntic Thoughts

Edited by John Grimes

We wish to express our gratitude to the Editor of Indica Books in Benares for allowing us to publish a collection of quotations from the book “Keywords of Vedānta”1. The book, reviewed on this very Site in the “Book Reviews” section, is an important collection of aphorisms, answers and teachings given by Śrī Ramaṇa Maharṣi to his disciples on different occasions and at different times, brought together and commented on by John Grimes over the course of recent years. This is yet another opportunity to reaffirm, on the unquestioned authority of the Great Sage of Aruṇācala, the correctness of the Vedāntic doctrine that we rigorously report here. In this way, we refute any differing ‘interpretations’ circulating in Western circles that call themselves “traditionals”:

1.About intuitive flashes and their integration into the Intuition of the Self:

Seekers wonder if iti s possible to have a glimpse of the Self (Ātman) and then lose it? This question has relevance not only for seekers but also to those individuals who believe themselves to be fully illuminated. Bhagavān Ramaṇa said: “Partial realization? If it is partial, iti s not realization, and if it is realization it is not partial.” The term aham sphuraṇa [dazzling intuition of “I”, i.e. of the Ātman]illumines this query. Bhagavān said, referring to this term: “It is a foretaste of Realization.” (p. 13) […] Imagine a lake with a layer of green scum covering its surface. If the scum is suddenly pushed aside, one has a clear vision of the pure water below. The pure water was always there, but was hidden by the obscuring scum. Bhagavān said:

Although aham sphuraṇa is always and all over, yet it is felt at a particular center and on particular occasions. Iti s associated with antecedent causes and confounded with the body. Whereas, iti s all alone and pure, iti s the Self. To fix the mind on the sphuraṇa and sense it continuously is Realization.

The term aham sphuraṇa, like other terms that Bhagavān employed such as the Self (Ātman), jñāna,or sahaja samādhi, is difficult precisely because the ego lives in the world of subjects and objects. Actually, language is an impediment when dealing with Reality. All languages have a place in the lives of individuals, at the empirical level, but Bhagavān ‘speaks’ the language of the Self: Silence.

Aham: ‘I’ (in certain contexts it refers to the individual ego and in other contexts it refers to the Self; in this context it refers to the Self); sphuraṇa: appear clearly, become visible, flashing forth, to shine. The term aham sphuraṇa raises the questions: What is this ‘I’ (aham) and what is it that flashes forth (sphuraṇa)? Most everyone knows an egotistical ‘I’ (aham vṛtti) or that knot which (mysteriously) arises between Consciousness and the insentient physical body. We are the knowing subject, and objects, different from us, are what are known. On the other hand, the term aham sometimes refers to the Supreme Reality, Consciousness-Itself. When the aham sphuraṇa suddenly, spontaneously, appears clearly, there is no knowing subject and known object. It is best described not as an experience but as experience itself, the Self, shining forth as it has always been and always will be. (pp. 13-14) […] When a person is deep asleep, one knows nothing as there is no ‘I’, no ego, the mind is not functioning. On waking, one’s personal ‘I’ arises and is perceived as associated with the body, the world, the non-self in general. Such an associated ‘I’ is known as the mind moving (aham vṛtti). The egotistical ‘I’ is oscillating. When aham represents only the Self, it is steady (aham sphuraṇa). This is the natural state of the jñãni and is itself called jñāna by jñãnis. Though ever present, even in sleep, it is not clearly perceived. It will not appear to a person where the ego persists. As one’s true nature underlying the waking, dream, and deep sleep states, it is said that it must first be realized in waking state. Thus, the importance and value of the waking condition. Efforts must be mada in the waking state and the Self must be realized, here and now. After the initial flash(es) of the aham sphuraṇa, this will afterwards be realized to be the continuous Self, uninterrupted by the waking, dreaming, deep sleep states. This aham sphuraṇa is described in Vedānta as an unbroken flashing forth. (pp. 15-16) […] ‘I-I’ is the Self; “I am this” or “I and that” is the ego. The Self is there always. The ego is transitory. The flashing of aham sphuraṇa is the correct sign indicating that the Reality is appearing clearly. But since in this state there is still a feeling of attending to the Self, this sphuraṇa iv not the complete, unending manifestation of the Self, the Reality. The Reality is the source to which this sphuraṇa attends. When even this feeling of attending to the Self subsides, the sphuraṇa itself subsides, and only Beings remains. This state, in which even the slightest trace of the ego or individuality has been completely annihilated, is called Liberation, the direct experience of the Reality. Āham sphuraṇa is presented here as descriptive term indicating a genuine vision of the Self clearly flashing forth. Bhagavān said that many (most) individuals have this vision (though of short duration) during certain dramatic moments in their lives, for instance during a moment of great fear. However, generally this state is confused with the mind/body complex and though genuine, is temporary. When an individual is ripe, qualified, this flashing forth will last for a longer period and eventually will become the permanent state of Self-Realization. (pp. 17-18)

2.The methods of the three states, of the five kośas and the aparavidyā methods:

The technique od Self-enquiry first appears in the Upaniṣads. Advaita Vedanta uses an enquiry into the three states of experience (avasthā-traya vicāra) to reveal the real nature of the Self. An analysis of the waking state reveals that the individual self resides in a physical body and employs ita instruments to enjoy of the objects of the external world. But the Self is not the non-self. The former is conscious while the latter is inert. An analysis of the dream state reveals that the Self does not really act and is unattached. In dream the Self appears to interact with a myriad thing. But upon waking, it is realized that there were no dream objects and no interaction. And an analysis of the deep-sleep state shows that the Self is relationless. Here, there are no distinctions whatsoever. There is no within, no without, as all empirical distinctions have vanished. Objective consciousness has disappeared though pure Consciousness remains. (p. 34) […] Likewise, an analysis of the five sheaths (pañca kośa viveka) that cover the Self will reveal that the Self persists in all the five sheaths while they vary and undergo change. This analysis consists in revealing that what is grosser and more external and less pervasive. Thereby the Self will be revealed as the subtlest, inmost being, and therefore the most real. From the physical body, which is the grossest sheath, to the subtlest sheath of enjoyment will be found impermanence and objectification. But the knower of all these is the subtlest, most pervasive of all. The knower cannot be known for then it would become the known ad infinitum. The Self is self-luminous and requires no other source of illumination. It is not an object to be experienced. Thus, when the objective element is removed from the five sheaths, what remains is Pure Consciousness, awareness, the Atman. (pp. 34-35)

Why should Self-enquiry alone be considered the direct path to Self-realization? Ramana replied: “Every kind of path except Self-enquiry presupposes the retention of the mind as instrument for following it and cannot be followed without the mind. The ego may take different and more subtle forms at different stages of one’s practice, but it is never destroyed. The attempt to destroy the ego or the mind by methods other than Self-enquiry is like a thief turning policeman to catch the thief that is himself. Self-enquiry alone can reveal the truth that neither the ego nor the mind really exists and enable one to relize the pure, undifferentiated Being of the Self or the Absolute.” (pp. 39-40)

3. Ajātavāda, dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi vāda e sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi vāda:

Bhagavān Ramaṇa spoke at different times, in different contexts, about three basic standpoints to the metaphysical problem of creation:

The same truth has to be expressed in different ways to suit the capacity of the hearer. The ajāta doctrine says: ‘Nothing exists except the only Reality. There is no birth or death, no projection or drawing in, no seeker, no bondage, no Liberation. The one Unity alone exists.’ To those who find it difficult to grasp this truth and who ask, ‘How can we ignore this solid word we see all around us?’, the dream experience is pointed out and they are told, ‘All that you see depends on the seer. Apart from the seer, there is no seen,’ This is called the dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi vāda or the argument that one first creates out of one’s mind and then sees what one’s mind itself has created. Some people cannot grasp even this, and they continue to argue in the following terms: ‘The dream experience is so short, while the world always exists. The dream experience was limited to me. But the world is felt and seen not only by me, but by so many others. We cannot call such a world non-existent.’ When people argue in this way, they can be given a sṛṣṭi-dṛṣṭi vāda theory, for example, ‘God first created such and such a thing, out of such and such element, and then something else was created, and so on.’ That alone will satisfy this class. Their minds are otherwise not satisfied and they ask themselves, ‘How can all geography, all maps, all sciences, stars, planets, and the rules governing or relating to them and all knowledge be totally untrue?’ To such it is best to say, ‘Yes, God created all this and so you see it.’ All these theories are only to suit the capacity of the learner.

The subtlest standpoint is the theory of non-origination (ajāta\vāda). However, even this perspective is but an approximation to the truth. Gauḍapāda said,

Ajāti (birthless) is meaningful only so long as jāti (birth) carries meaning. The absolute truth is that no word can designate or describe the Self.

From this standpoint there is no creation, no birth, no death, no dissolution, no bondage, no Liberation, and no one striving for Liberation. It is the Sage’s experience that nothing has ever happened, simply because the Self alone exists. (pp. 52-53)

4. Jīvanmukti and videhamukti:

Ramaṇa has been called a Sage, a jñāni, a jīvanmukta, an embodiment of the one non-dual Self. The mystery and the wonder is that a person can seemingly be both beyond and within duality at the same time. A sage is thus in, what appears to others to be, two mutually contradictory state sat the same time. Critics say thet the concept of being-liberated-while-living is a contradiction in terms. How can the individual, who is embodied, coexist with liberation, which, by critic’s definition, is free from embodiment? How can the body, which is due to accumulated past acrions (prārabdha karma), continue after the attainment of knowledge when iti s acknowledged that ignorance and all karma-s are dissolved with the attainment of knowledge? Critics contend, 1) If liberation is the destruction of ignorance, how does the physical body continue to exist and function (since it is the effect of ignorance)? 2) If liberation is an accomplished fact, then why speak of the distruction of bondage and the attainment of liberation? 3) Why is a distinction made between liberation-with-form (jivanmukti), and without-form (videhamukti)? Samkara, as well as Ramana, replied that upon Self-realization all karma-s are destroyed. The liberated individual need not wait until his prārabdha karma is exhausted (through enjoyment or suffering) before freedom occurs. Whether the physical body persists or noti s of no consequence to the liberated individual. One who is free appears, for all outward appearances, to act in terms of agency and purpose. But, such a one is no longer subject to this delusion. Having no desires, such a one does not act in the common sens of the term. Latent impressions may impel actions, but there is ‘no one home’ to whom such actions can be attributed. [pp. 70-71]

Ramaṇa maintained that the Self and Liberation have the same meaning. This implies that the term ‘jīvanmukti’ is both relative and redundant. The qualifier ‘jīvan’ is unnecessary. A mukta is a mukta, with or without a body. It has been said that a knower of the Self with a body is a jīvanmukta and when that person sheds the body, such a one attains videhamukti. But this difference exists only for the onlooker, not the mukta. As Ramaṇa remarked:

Mukti is synonymous with Self. Jīvanmukti and videhamukti are all for ignorant. The jnani is not conscious of mukti or bandha. Bondage, liberation, and others of mukti are all said for an ajñāni in order that ignorance might be shaken off. There is only mukti and nothing else.” (p. 72)

Some people believe that a jivanmukta must live in two states or planes of existence at the same time: the empirical plane and the trans-empirical plane. People observe that a mukta moves about in the world and that he apparently sees the same objects others see, i.e. other individuals, tables, monkeys, etc. It is not as if the mukta does not see them. Thus, people conclude, since the Sage sees both the world and objects therein, as well as the Self, must not he dwell on two planes at once? Ramaṇa replied:

You say that the jnani sees the path, treads it, comes across obstacles, avoids them, etc. In whose eye-sight is all this, in the jnani’s or yours? He sees only the Self and all in the Self. For instance, you see a reflection in the mirror and the mirror. You know the mirror to be the reality and the picture in it a mere reflection. Is it necessary that in order to see the mirror, we should cease to see the reflection in it?

He also said:

Coming here, some people do not ask about themselves. They ask, ‘Does the jivanmukta see the world? Is he affected by (prārabdha) karma? What is Liberation after being disembodied? Is one liberated only after being disembodied or even while alive in the body? Should the body of the Sage resolve itself in light or disappear from view in any other manner? Can he be liberated though the body is left behind as a corpse?’ Their questions are endless. Why worry oneself in so many ways? Does Liberation consist in knowing these things? Therefore, I say to them, ‘Leave Liberation alone. Is there bondage? Know this. See yourself first and foremost.’ (p. 73)

Ramana once remarked to a seeker:

What is your idea of a jnani? Is he the body or something different? If he is something apart from the body, how can he be affected by the body?

[…] Some may contend that there is activity even for the liberated, that is, a jīvanmukta may seem to be engaged in various activities. However, this contention is based on a mistaken view. Since ignorance, which is the cause of bondage, has been destroyed, the embodied state of the liberated one and the so-called activities in which he is supposed to be engaged from the standpoint of others, do not bind him anymore. Since the root cause of activity has been destroyed, the residual karmas that account for the continuance of his body have already been made ineffective. (p. 74)

Ramana said that the enquiry into the source of the ‘I’-thought will render all one’s habitual tendencies (vāsanās) extinct. Thus, arises a question, if all one’s vāsanā’s are destroyed, why is the mind’s dissolution then necessary? In other words, isn’t the mind noting other than the entire collection of its vāsanās? The responses is that the life of the lower self forms one type of bondage, i.e., vāsanās cause misery directly, but another type of bondage, i.e., the mere sense of duality, remains in the mind. Thus, not only vāsanās, butr also the mind must be dissolved. Secondly, when the mind is dissolved, the effects of all accumulated past actions (prārabdha karma) are also dissolved. When the mind is dissolved, the recurrence of any vāsanās whatsoever are also stopped forever. (pp. 80-81)

5. The Witness:

The Self is called the Witness (Sākṣin) when it directly reveals the various internal mental modes. In the case of knowing the mind, there is nothing else to meditate between the Self and the mind. Thus, it is said that the mind is directly revealed by the Witness-Self. However, in whatever way Consciousness is said to function, it is never object to anything. Nothing exists which can know Consciousness. Material objects are inert and can know nothing. The sense organs and the mind are also inert and cannot function without the light of Consciousness. Even Consciousness cannot know itself for it is one and non-dual and cannot split into a knowing subject and a known object. Thus, Consciousness is declared to be Self-luminous in the sense that, while Consciousness reveals everything, it itself is not revealed by anything. If one were to speak about knowing the Self, there would have to be two selves – one knowing self and the opther the self which is known, as well as the process of knowing. As the Self, as Consciousness, is non-dual, who is to know what? A person can only be the Self. One does not attain Consciousness, attain something new or reach some far away goal. Consciousness has been there all along, persisting throughout the three states of experience. All that is required is to give up one’s false notions of what the Reality is. In the words of Ramaṇa:

Who is this Witness? You speak of ‘Witness’. There must be an object and subject to witness. These are creations of the mind. The idea of Witness is in the mind. If there was the Witness of oblivion did he say, “I witness oblivion”? You, with your mind, said just now that there must be a Witness. Who was the Witness? You must reply ‘I’. Who is that ‘I’ again? You are identifying yourself with the ego and say ‘I’. Is this ego ‘I’, the Witness? It is the mind that speaks. It cannot be Witness of yourself. With self-imposed limitations you think that there is a Witness of mind and of oblivion. You also say, “I am the Witness.” That one who witnesses to oblivion must say, “I witness oblivion,” The present mind cannot arrogate to itself that position. The whole position becomes thus untenable. Consciousness is unlimited. On becoming limited it simply arrogates to itself the position. There is really nothing to witness. It is; simple Being. (pp. 132-133)

6. Meaning of awakening:

Ramaṇa advised seekers to look upon everything in the world as possessing the same value. He said that if the world is viewed as a dream containing dream objects, an individual is less likely to foster desires and strive to accumulate possessions. In his words:

A dreamer dreams a dream. He sees the dream world with pleasures, pains, etc. But he wakes up and then loses all interest in the dream world. So, it is with the waking world also. Just as the dream-world, being only a part of yourself and not different from you, ceases to interest you, so also the present world would cease to interest you if you awake from this waking dream (saṃsāra) and realize that it is a part of yourself and not al objective reality. Because you think that you are apart from the objects around you, you desire a thing. But, if you understand that the thing was only a thought-form you would no longer desire it. (pp. 159-160)

The dream state points to the possibility that the waking state may be but a dream. Why? Because while a dream lasts everything appears real enough. But upon waking, one realizes that nothing of the sort really happened even though the dreamer seemingly experienced such. A gift of the dreaming state reveals that the world may quite possibly and logically neither be real nor external to oneself and that it just may be the case that nothing ever really happens. (p. 161) […] Ramana said:

Your thinking that you have to make an effort to get rid of the dream of the waking state and your making efforts to attain or realize awakening are all parts of the dream. When you attain jñāna you will see there was neither the dream during the sleep, nor waking state, but only yourself and your real state. (p. 167)

Oṃ Śāntiḥ Śāntiḥ Śāntiḥ


René Guénon, in his review of the book Études sur Ramana Maharshi, validated the conjectures that Jean Herbert wrote in his preface. Guénon thus stated : “Il est d’ailleurs tout à fait exact que celui-ci [Śrī Ramaṇa] «n’accepte aucun disciple» au vrai sens de ce mot, quoique beaucoup de gens revendiquent trop facilement cette qualité; nous doutons même qu’il y ait lieu d’«espérer qu’un jour viendra où il acceptera d’assumer le rôle de guru», car il semble bien que, s’il n’exerce que ce que nous avons déjà appelé une «action de présence», ce soit en raison même du caractère très exceptionnel de la voie qu’il a suivie” (Études sur l’Hindouisme, Saligny, Les Éditions Traditionnelles, 1989, II éd., p. 180). On the contrary, Śrī Ramaṇa fully exercised both the dīkṣāguru and jñānaguru functions that his complete realisation allowed him (see, in this regard, the article by the Jagadguru Śaṃkarācārya Śrī Śrī Candraśekharendra Sarasvatī entitled “L’educazione nel Gurukula”; https://vedavyasamandala.com/sulleducazione-nel-gurukula/). Bhagavān transmitted regular dīkṣās and held upadeśas to favour śrāvaṇa in his disciples, relying on śaṃkarite texts or on the Yoga Vasiṣṭha. The shoddy human environment that had gathered at Aruṇācala, especially because of the annoying influx of Western onlookers, is certainly not proof that Śrī Ramaṇa did not perform the function of Guru: several saṃnyāsin of deep wisdom who served the Guru are evidence of his masterly effectiveness. We are also aware that Arthur Osborne, with the approval of the Maharṣi, sent a letter to Guénon to correct him. In this message he informed that Śrī Ramaṇa fully exercised the role of Guru, which was not followed by any rectification. What the reviewer called “action de présence”, however, with greater or lesser power, is exercised by any true initiate, or by any object charged with anugraha: this is nothing extraordinary. Therefore, the claim that the “action de présence” can obstruct the practise of gurutva makes a real no-sense. Lastly, Bhagavān‘s exceptionality was certainly not due to the “voie qu’il a suivie”, but rather to the perfection of his human birth that enabled him to attain mokṣa directly and not through a step-by-step path.


  1. John Grimes, Keywords of Vedānta in the light of the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi,Varanasi, Indica Books, 2023.