“Broken Y ~ your exposition of Ramana's teaching on self-inquiry, while interesting as one possible reading of the sage, lacks sourcing.These are all good points and good questions. I'll try to cover the basics with source-quotes.
The reader (or at least this reader) is hungry for quotes that make your case. By quotes I don't mean a few words or a phrase taken out of context -- I mean reasonably lengthy quotations.
For the record, I have never found anything in Ramana's teachings to indicate he meant his practice to differ from Vedanta or Buddhist self-inquiry. My impression is that some have taken the simple directive "who am I?" as the whole of the teaching. And out of this they can say things like "What Ramana criticizes in [Shankara's] approach is the energy and attention it gives to these phenomenal appearances, and thus he says that it ends up feeding and strengthening them, even by opposing them, and this prevents ever truly going beyond them."
But the very purpose (and effect) of both Buddhist and Advaita self-inquiry is NOT to give energy to the rising appearances, but to cause them to vanish by simply noticing them with the eye of the intellect.
Ramana would know this, I am sure, from personal experience, so it wouldn't be something he criticized in that sophomoric way. ...That is, unless he was in fact a mere saint, or one of those incomplete sixth stagers! ;-)”
First, the general issue Elias seems to be bringing up is the relationship between the ego and the world of objects in the case of those practicing self-enquiry, and taking it a step further, the relationship of the Self-Realizer to the ego, and to “the world” as known to us egos. I think we'd profit from looking at the second part of this issue first, so as to better illuminate the first.
Ramana's view of the ego is that it is illusory. But let's go a little deeper than that cursory statement. Here's Ramana explained the complexity of the ego's structure:
“Q. While the one aim is to realize the unconditional, pure being of the Self, which is in no way dependent on the ego, how can enquiry pertaining to the ego in the form of aham-vritti (the 'I'-thought) be of any use?
M. From the functional point of view the ego has one and only one characteristic. The ego functions as the knot between the Self which is pure consciousness and the physical body which is inert and insentient. The ego is therefore called the chit-jada granthi (the knot between consciousness and the inert body). In your investigation into the source of aharm-vritti, you take the essential chit [consciousness] aspect of the ego. For this reason the enquiry must lead to the realization of the pure consciousness of the Self.
You must distinguish between the 'I', pure in itself, and the 'I'-thought. The latter, being merely a thought, sees subject and object, sleeps, wakes up, eats and thinks, dies and is reborn. But the pure 'I' is the pure being, eternal existence, free from ignorance and thought-illusion. If you stay as the 'I', your being alone, without thought, the 'I'-thought will disappear and the delusion will vanish forever. In a cinema show you can see pictures only in a very dim light or in darkness. But when all the lights are switched on, the pictures disappear. So also in the floodlight of the supreme atman all objects disappear.-(Be As You Are, p.49)
I think we can see from this quote that from the point of view of the Self-Realizer (Ramana), the images and objects of the world have no existence at all. They are “outshined” by the inherent Self-Radiance. In this sense, what Ramana is describing here is not a “sixth stage error” as in the Adidam teachings, but what could only correspond to the “Translation” point of view of the “seventh stage”, in which all objects are outshined by the inherent Radiance of the Self. There is no separation implied by this Radiance, for it is the very Radiance of the Self. Objects are not disassociated from, they are merely swept up and dissolved in the overwhelming Radiance of the enlightened condition.
Likewise, the process of self-enquiry described here is not even a way of separating the ego-self from the egoic non-self, the world of objects. What self-enquiry “attacks” is the knot, the illusory distinction, that arises as a barrier between the universal consciousness of the 'I' and the life of the body in the world (on all levels, not just the physical). It is not concerned with the objects of the world, or our relationship to them per se. It is concerned with the very nature of the 'I', the consciousness which feels itself separate from the body. The purpose of self-enquiry, then, is not to separate consciousness from the body or other objects, but to dissolve the fundamental illusion of separation that confuses our own sense of identity. In opening this knot, the Radiance of the Self floods body and world, the mind and all worlds, on every level, outshining them in the Self-Radiance. It should be mentioned here that when the 'I'-thought ceases to exist, the 'I'-consciousness which had been kept back by this knot emerges from its separate status and dominates all. This is Self-Realization. Then the 'I' knows the 'I''s true nature, which is the Self. Then the floodgates open and the whole body and world is overwhelmed by the Radiance of the Self. Until then, however, the method of self-enquiry requires a direct and unflinching examination of the 'I'-thought, not letting it squirm away. It does not examine the objects of the world to see whether or no they are the Self, and then rejecting them, winds up with the Self. That would be a disassociative exercise, what you might call a “sixth stage method”. Self-enquiry doesn't disassociate from the body, mind, or world, it merely leaves them in peace for the moment, recognizing that everything we experience in the world is merely a thought. When we look at beautiful garden, the image appears in our mind as a thought. That thought depends on the 'I', since it is we who see it. Ramana is not suggesting we turn away form the garden, as if it were evil and distracting or not the Self. Instead, he merely says notice who is watching the garden, for the perception of the garden depends on that perceiver. The separation we experience between ourselves and the garden is due to this false assumption of an 'I' who inserts itself between us and the body and world, monitoring every experience, every form of light and delight. The Self-Realizer does not experience that separate monitoring self. He has recognized it as a mere knot of thought, and released the knot, so that the beauty of the Self shines forth as his very being. His very consciousness becomes a garden of delight, within which all forms shine with the same brilliant intensity, such that none stand out as separate from one another.
Ramana explains the basis of self-enquiry further:
“The 'I' in its purity is experienced in intervals between the two states or two thoughts. Ego is like the caterpillar which leaves its hold only after catching another. Its true nature can be found when it is out of contact with objects or thoughts.Further, Ramana describes why self-enquiry is essential to the process of genuine Self-realization:
The ghostly ego which is devoid of form comes into existence by grasping a form; grasping a form it endures; feeding upon forms which it grasps it waxes more; leaving one form it grasps another form, but when sought for it takes to flight.
Only if that first person, the ego, in the form 'I am the body' exists will the second and third persons [you, he, they, etc.] exist. If by one's scrutinizing the truth of the first person the first person is destroyed, the second and third persons will cease to exist and one's own nature, which will then shine forth as one, will truly be the state of Self.
The thought 'I am this body of flesh and blood' is the one thread on which are strung the various other thoughts. Therefore, if we turn inwards enquiring “Where is this 'I'?” all thoughts including the 'I'-thought will come to an end. And Self-knowledge will then spontaneously shine forth.” (BAYA p. 50-51)
“Attention to one's own Self, which is ever shining as 'I', the one undivided and pure reality, is the only raft with which the individual, who is deluded by thinking 'I am the body', can cross the ocean of unending births.Now, as to the actual practice of enquiry, Ramana is very clear that it strictly follows this process of attention to self, without any concern for objects of mind or the senses.
Reality is simply the loss of ego. Destroy the ego by seeking its identity. Because the ego is no entity it will automatically vanish and reality will shine forth by itself. This is the direct method, whereas all other methods are done only by retaining the ego. In those paths, there are so many doubts and the eternal question “Who am I?” remains to be tackled finally. But in this method the final question is the one one and it is raised from the beginning. No sadhanas are necessary for engaging this question.
There is no greater mystery than this – that being the reality we seek to gain reality. We think that there is something hiding our reality and that it must be destroyed before reality is gained. It is ridiculous. A day will dawn when you will yourself laugh at your past efforts. That which will be on the day you laugh is here and now."
“Q. I begin to ask myself 'Who am I?', eliminate the body as not 'I', the breath as not 'I', and I am not able to proceed further.In another case, when directly asked about the practice of neti-neti, Ramana dismissed it:
M. Well, that is as far as the intellect can go. Your process is only intellectual. Indeed, all the scriptures mention the process only to guide the seeker to know the truth. The truth cannot be directly pointed our. Hence this intellectual process.
You see, the one who eliminates all the 'not I' cannot eliminate the 'I'. To say 'I am not this' or 'I am not that' there must be the 'I'. This 'I' is only the ego or the 'I'-thought. After the rising up of this 'I'-thought, all other thoughts arise. The 'I'-thought is therefore the root-thought. If the root thought is pulled out all the others are at the same time uprooted. Therefore, seek the root-'I', question yourself 'Who am I?' Find out its source, and then all these other ideas will vanish and the pure Self will remain.
“Q. I meditate neit-neti [not this, not this]And here Ramana tries to gently re-interpret the scriptural recommendation to practice neti-neti in his own way. Whether his interpretation of the scriptural intention is true or not, it certainly reveals his own attitude about the matter.
M. No, that is not meditation. Find the source. You must reach the source without fail. The false 'I' will disappear and the real 'I' will be realized. The former cannot exist apart from the latter.
There is now wrong identification of the Self with the body, sense, etc. You proceed to discard these, and this is neti. This can done only by holding to the one which cannot be discarded. That is iti [that which is]
Q. Is not discarding of the sheaths [neti-neti] mentioned in the shastras?As for these other paths, Ramana never said that they were not useful, only that in the end, one would still have to practice self-enquiry. They could be quite useful in concentrating the mind or developing a strong capacity for awareness. As he said of neti-neti, it can eliminate objects but it cannot eliminate the self. So his argument was why not use self-enquiry from as early in the process as possible? One will have to do it eventually, why not begin now? Well, he was clear that this wasn't going to be the case for everyone, or even many, but it was still his recommendation. If someone practiced some other path, he would always bless them, but if they asked for a recommendation, he always told them to practice self-enquiry.
M. After the rise of the 'I'-thought, there is the false identification of the 'I' with the body, the senses, the mind, etc. 'I' is wrongly associated with them and the true 'I' is lost sight of. In order to sift the pure 'I' from the contaminated 'I', the discarding is mentioned. But it is does not mean exactly discarding of the non-Self, it means finding of the real Self. The real Self is the infinite 'I'. That 'I' is perfection. It is eternal. It has no origin and no end. The other 'I' is born and also dies. It is impermanent. See to whom the changing thoughts belong. They will be fond to arise after the 'I'-thought. Hold onto the 'I'-thought and they subside. Trace back the source of the 'I'-thought. The Self alone will remain.
I'm reminded of Papaji's story of his realization, of how he practiced an incredibly intense form of devotional practice his whole life, and when he came to Ramana he couldn't understand what he was talking about when Ramana recommended self-enquiry. Not until he reached the end of his rope, and found that he couldn't practice his mantra any more, and came to Ramana out of desperation, did he understand what self-enquiry meant. He practiced it once, and realized the Self immediately. And from that point on, all he ever taught anyone was self-enquiry, and he never recommended his devotional practice, which had brought him to that final moment, to anyone. He said he wished someone had told him about self-enquiry long before, it would have saved him a lot of time. But everything occurs in its proper time, and that's true for all of us. Ramana was not a fundamentalist about self-enquiry. He understood perfectly well that other practices were useful and good. He just felt that it was the pure essence of all true practice, and it appeared to be his role to clarify that principle to everyone who came to him.
In reply to a questioner asking if self-enquiry was like japa, Ramana said:
M. Suppose you who are now in Ramanashram ask “I want to go to Ramanashram. How shall I start and how to reach it?” A man's search for the Self is like that. He is always the Self and nothing else. You say 'Who am I?' becomes a japa, It is not meant that you should go on asking 'Who am I?' In that case, thought will not so easily die. In the direct method, as you call it, in asking yourself 'Who am I?', you are told to concentrate within yourself where the 'I'-thought, the root of all other thoughts, arises. As the Self is not outside but inside you, you are asked to dive within, instead of going without. What can be more easy than going to yourself? But the fact remains that to some this method will seem difficult and will not appeal. That is why so many different methods have been taught. Each of them will appeal to some as the best and easiest. That is according to their pakva or fitness. But to some, nothing except vichara marga [the path of self-enquiry] will appeal. They will ask, 'You want me to know or to see this or that, But who is the knower, the seer?'Whatever other method may be chosen, there will be always a doer. That cannot be escaped. One must find out who the doer is. Till then, the sadhana cannot be ended. So eventually, all must come to find out 'Who am I?'Now, Elias is right that the paths of enquiry into the nature of the world-appearance engaged by some Buddhists and Advaitins aims at examining the world of objects in order to get past them, to make them vanish through the exercise of buddhi, enlightened intellect. This allows the practitioner to notice over and over again that the world is “empty” of ego. However, what Ramana points out is that this very method keeps attention outward bound, rather than examining the place of the Self, which is always within us, at our very core and heart, and never in the realm of objects. Even when this practice is able to vanquish objects, it does not succeed in vanquishing the ego-self which gives rise to objects. SO they tend to appear again and again, and the process of neti-neti becomes endless. In the end, one must still examine the ego directly. Ramana's method is to start by examining the ego, which saves much time and trouble. It makes perfect sense, I think, even if not everyone is so inclined.
As to whether Ramana was trying to differentiate his teachings from Buddhism or traditional Advaita, I sincerely doubt it. I don't think Ramana had any concern for such matters. He was just teaching what he saw to be true. If anything, he tried to praise and build bridges of commonality to Shankara where it was something of a stretch, out of sheer generosity of spirit, I would say. Likewise with Buddhism.
One thing that should be mentioned is that the approach of phenomenal realism, which has been strongly identified with Buddhism for a very long time, particularly in its application of the vipassana approach to meditation, is not, I think, intrinsic or essential to the fullness that the Buddha taught. He certainly did teach something like vipassana to beginners, as a method of merely becoming attention to the mind and its relationship to the world, but the intention was to more and more simply be attentive to the root of mind, to awareness itself, rather than to any objects of awareness, which turns awareness into attention.
In fact, the greatest instruction of the Buddha, I think, was his final instruction, the one that I think summarizes his whole approach to practice. It's often popularly translated as “be a light unto yourself”, or “be a lamp unto yourself”. The general interpretation is that Buddha was recommending that we think for ourselves, but that is only a small part of its meaning. The actual wording of the phrase is best translated as “be a refuge unto yourself”. The meaning I think becomes most clear if we understand this in the context of Ramana's teaching about self-enquiry. What the Buddhas was saying is that we should take refuge in ourselves, by immersing ourselves in ourselves, bringing the “light” of our own consciousness to bear on the fundamental experience of “self”, and by doing so, vanishing its illusory nature. The final and truest meditative practice of vipassana, then, is that of taking refuge in the one's self, of abiding in oneself with the full power of one's buddhi, one's intrinsic awareness, until the truth of annata, no-self, is revealed, and one's true nature is Self-Realized.
So on that level there is no genuine distinction between Buddha and Ramana. There's a difference in the historical Buddhist tradition in how these things have been taught and practiced by many teachers,, however. And the same is probably true of Shankara – that his essential teaching coincides with Ramana's, but is simply not so clear in the traditional mode of practice. In this sense, I think Ramana does an essential service in making clear the essential truth of both traditions, and helps clarify what has become something of a misunderstanding that both have had about the process of liberation. From my point of view, self-enquiry is the unifying principle that brings Buddhism and Advaita together (and not Adi Da's teaching on the self-contraction or the enquiry “Avoiding relationship?”)
I throw that last part in there for sheer laughs.