Philosophically, Bhagavan’s teachings belong to an Indian school of thought which is known as Advaita Vedanta. (He himself, though, would say that his teachings came from his own experience, rather than from anything he had heard or read.) Bhagavan and other advaita teachers teach that the Self (Atman) or Brahman is the only existing reality and that all phenomena are indivisible manifestations or appearances within it. The ultimate aim of life, according to Bhagavan and other advaita teachers, is to transcend the illusion that one is an individual person who functions through a body and a mind in a world of separate, interacting objects. Once this has been achieved, one becomes aware of what one really is: immanent, formless consciousness. This final state of awareness, which is known as Self-realisation, can be achieved, in Bhagavan’s view, by practising a technique he called self-enquiry.

 

This technique needs to be explained in some detail since it is mentioned several times in Annamalai Swami’s narrative. The following explanation summarises both the practice and theory behind it. It is taken from No Mind – I am the Self, pp. 1-15.

 

It was Sri Ramana’s basic thesis that the individual self is nothing more than a thought or an idea. He said that this thought, which he called the ‘I’-thought, originates from a place called the Heart-centre, which he located on the right side of the chest in the human body. From there the ‘I’-thought rises up to the brain and identifies itself with the body: ‘I am this body.’ It then creates the illusion that there is a mind or an individual self which inhabits the body and which controls all its thoughts and actions. The ‘I’-thought accomplishes this by identifying itself with all the thoughts and perceptions that go on in the body. For example, ‘I’ (that is, the ‘I’-thought) am doing this, ‘I’ am thinking this, ‘I’ am feeling happy, etc. Thus, the idea that one is an individual person is generated and sustained by the ‘I’-thought and by its habit of constantly attaching itself to all the thoughts that arise. Sri Ramana maintained that one could reverse this process by depriving the ‘I’-thought of all the thoughts and perceptions that it normally identifies with. Sri Ramana taught that this ‘I’-thought is actually an unreal entity, and that it only appears to exist when it identifies itself with other thoughts. He said that if one can break the connection between the ‘I’-thought and the thoughts it identifies with, then the ‘I’-thought itself will subside and finally disappear. Sri Ramana suggested that this could be done by holding onto the ‘I’-thought, that is, the inner feeling of ‘I’ or ‘I am’ and excluding all other thoughts. As an aid to keeping one’s attention on this inner feeling of ‘I’, he recommended that one should constantly question oneself ‘Who am I?’ or ‘Where does this “I” come from?’ He said that if one can keep one’s attention on this inner feeling of ‘I’, and if one can exclude all other thoughts, then the ‘I’-thought will start to subside into the Heart-centre.

 

This, according to Sri Ramana, is as much as the devotee can do by himself. When the devotee has freed his mind of all thoughts except the ‘I’-thought, the power of the Self pulls the ‘I’-thought back into the Heart-centre and eventually destroys it so completely that it never rises again. This is the moment of Self-realisation. When this happens, the mind and the individual self (both of which Sri Ramana equated with the ‘I’-thought) are destroyed for ever. Only the Atman or the Self then remains.

 

The following practical advice was written by Bhagavan himself in the 1920s. Taken from Be As You Are (1992 ed., p. 56) it encapsulates his basic teachings on the subject. All new visitors were encouraged to read the essay (entitled Who am I?) that this extract is taken from. It was published as a pamphlet and Bhagavan encouraged the manager of the ashram to sell it cheaply in many languages so that all new people could have an affordable and authoritative summary of his practical teachings.

 

The mind will subside only by means of the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ The thought ‘Who am I?’, destroying all other thoughts, will itself be finally destroyed like the stick used for stirring the funeral pyre. If other thoughts arise one should, without attempting to complete them, enquire, ‘To whom did they rise?’ What does it matter how many thoughts rise? At the very moment that each thought rises, if one vigilantly enquires, ‘To whom did this rise?’, it will be known ‘To me’. If one then enquires ‘Who am I?’, the mind will turn back to its source and the thought which had risen will also subside. By repeatedly practising thus, the power of the mind to abide in its source increases.

 

 

In the years that followed I had many other spiritual talks with Bhagavan but his basic message never changed. It was always, ‘Do self-enquiry, stop identifying with the body and try to be aware of the Self which is your real nature’.

 

Prior to these early conversations I had been spending several hours each day performing elaborate pujas and anushtanas.

 

When I asked Bhagavan if I should continue with them he replied, ‘You need not do any of these pujas any more. If you practise self-enquiry, that alone will be enough.’

 

My duties as an attendant were fairly simple and I soon learned what to do. When devotees brought offerings I had to return some of them as prasad. I also had to ensure that the men sat on one side of the hall and the women on the other. When Bhagavan went out, one attendant would go with him while the other stayed behind to clean the hall. We had to keep the cloths that were on his sofa clean; we had to wash his clothes; in the early morning we had to heat water for his bath; and if he went for any walks during the day, one of us would always accompany him.

 

Bhagavan’s clothes consisted of kaupinas and dhotis. For most of the time he only ever wore a kaupina, a strip of cloth which covers the genitals and the centre of the buttocks. It was held in place by another strip of cloth which was tied around his waist. Occasionally, when it was cold, he would wrap a dhoti around himself. Dhotis are strips of cloth which are usually worn like skirts. Bhagavan preferred to tie his in such a way that it extended from his armpits to his thighs.

 

When he arrived in Tiruvannamalai in 1896, Bhagavan threw away all his personal possessions, including his clothes. He never wore normal clothes again.

Annamalai Swami sitting in Palakottu

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Annamalai Swami sitting in Palakottu

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Annamalai Swami.jpg
Annamalai Swami.jpg

Annamalai Swami sitting on a rock near Palakottu

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Annamalai Swami sitting in Palakottu

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The slide show comprises images of Annamalai Swami taken during the last few years of his life.

David Godman Books

 

Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings