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Ramana Maharshi’s Self Realisation – A Possible Explanation

When Ramana Maharshi was a school boy, one day, suddenly fear of death occurred to him for no reason. Thoughts like dying means the legs become stiff; lips become taut; eyes get closed, breath stops etc. came to him and due to the intensity of the feeling, the legs became stiff, lips became taut, eyes got closed and breath stopped*. But, still he could sense the vigour of the I-thought. The strong presence of individual consciousness was clear. So, while the body was dead – insentient – I sense still had a strong presence. Therefore, I sense was independent of the body. So, he was separate from the body, he thought. At that time Ramana Maharshi thought that he was under the control of some spirit, but this experience probably gave rise to Akhandakara Vritti (unbroken thought wave) as mind became focused towards the source for prolonged period and the Self Inquiry continued. In due course of time he was able to see# that the I sense was originating from pure awareness. So, this meant that he was pure awareness from where I thought was arising. In other words, he realised that he was non-individual pure awareness from where individual consciousness was coming.

*There is no mention of heart-beat here. However, since it was a real experience, it happened spontaneously rather than forming a logical sequential chain. It comes close to NDE + Self Inquiry. It is just that the description looks like a logical sequential chain.

#I sense cannot be the absolute truth because I sense is not there in deep sleep but there is existence of the person in deep sleep. Here is a quote from Upadesha Saram:

It is this existence which is the permanent reality
For even in deep sleep
Where we have no present sense of I
We do not cease to be

The above reasoning helps, but one can know this by direct experience also (when mind is Sattvic, that is when it has very less thoughts) that I sense is originating from the field of awareness. In Arunachala Ashtakam verse two Ramana Maharshi writes, “Enquiring within ‘Who is the seer?’ I saw the seer disappear, leaving that alone which stands forever”. Thanks to Sri David Godman for mentioning the point about Arunachala Ashtakam.

16 Enlightenment Myths

Enlightenment is the non identification with body-mind that comes with the knowledge that you are pure awareness. This awareness is non-dual, non-doer, non-judgemental, infinite, permanent, detached and is the cause of existence and everything. It has the built in power of projection. It can be summed up as Sat-Chit-Anant/Anand-Maya. Since, enlightenment is about the understanding that comes with the knowledge, enlightenment is for the mind. The points below are addressed in this context.

Myth 1: Enlightenment is about experiencing something new.

The real You is always there or the real You is already enlightened so to say. It is the false you (false identification) that has to be recognised so that the real You can be known. Enlightenment is about recognising the real You.

Myth 2: There are 4 paths to get enlightened: Karmayoga, Jnanayoga, Bhaktiyoga & Rajayoga.

There are two types of people, people that have worldly obligations and those that are renunciates. There are 2 paths only – Karmayoga & Jnanayoga – to cater to these two types of people [Bhagavad Gita 3.3]. Bhaktiyoga & Rajayoga are for purification of mind. Once the mind is pure, it is ready to see the truth.

Myth 3: Enlightenment is some sort of out of the world experience.

Enlightenment is the removal of ignorance. After the experience of Samadhi or any other out of the world experience (epiphany), mind comes back to the default mode. One can get enlightened without such experience and enlightenment has nothing to do with such experience except for the fact that it is easy to recognise the truth when the mind is quite and the inquiry is made. In fact often one gets immersed in the bliss associated with such experiences and stops inquiring, making such experiences useless as far as realising Self is concerned.

Myth 4: Enlightenment can be transmitted from guru to the disciple.

Guru can help in the removal of ignorance but cannot transmit enlightenment. If enlightenment could be transmitted from one person to the other, everybody would have got enlightened.

Myth 5: Physical presence of guru is required to get enlightened.

Teaching of any form as long as it removes ignorance can enlighten somebody. Physical presence is not necessary. However, it does make a difference when you see an enlightened being walk and talk in front of you. However, this is possible via video also in this digital era.

Myth 6: Soul is within the body.

If soul is defined as the real You, i.e. consciousness then it is not within the body, but the body is inside it.

Myth 7: Only poor people talk about enlightenment/moksha.

Enlightenment introduces you to yourself. The material status has nothing to do with it. A rich man after getting enlightened will not be that much stressed due to the typical stresses that money brings in.

Myth 8: After enlightenment one always smiles.

The latent tendencies do not change immediately after enlightenment. So, the facial expression and other day to day acts should not change much. But, gradual change should take place as unconscious mind gradually changes.

Myth 9: After enlightenment all my wishes will be fulfilled.

Enlightenment is the removal of ignorance. After enlightenment your mind’s expectations will decrease. But, enlightenment is not something magical that will fulfil wishes.

Myth 10: Enlightenment means death of ego/mind.

After enlightenment one watches mind in a detached manner better. One of the traits of the mind is ego. So, one can watch ego but that does not mean that ego will go away. Same applies to other traits of the mind. Mind also does not die literally otherwise no enlightened person can speak or do any intellectual work.

Myth 11: Realising Self is a very long process.

Self inquiry is the quick way and Vedanta is very useful in that. If you are qualified for Vedanta, study of Vedanta under a qualified teacher can enlighten you in a short span of time. If you are not qualified for Vedanta, it may take longer time to purify the mind to make it suitable for self inquiry.

Myth 12: Enlightened people never get angry and do not have other negative traits.

Behavioural patterns take time to go as they come from unconscious mind. Hence, it is very much possible that an enlightened being would get angry at times. Some deeply embedded vasanas also can remain unless there is a conscious effort to remove them. Some enlightened beings may not care to remove vasanas so much realising very well that vasanas are originating from causal body and they are not the causal body.

Myth 13: Enlightened people have higher vibrations and have extraordinary powers.

Science is capable of doing so much that it would look like magic but that does not mean that a scientist is enlightened. Any capability associated with material world is not what enlightenment is about. Enlightenment is about going beyond the physical world. It is the understanding that you are immortal and are beyond physical world. Some people may arguably have some siddhi but that is related to the material world, not beyond and hence has nothing to do with enlightenment. Also, sometimes what is thought of as a result of extraordinary power is actually a result of faith.

Myth 14: Enlightened people never suffer physically/mentally.

There are many examples from the past years where enlightened people have appeared to suffer a lot. Enlightenment is about the removal of ignorance. It does not make one a superhuman. The body-mind continue to live in the world and face the consequences of living there. It is just that the way of looking at the suffering associated with the body-mind changes.

Myth 15: To attain enlightenment, one has to go to Himalaya and meditate sitting in Padmasana controlling breath.

Enlightenment is about the removal of ignorance and that can be done right where you are. Breath meditation helps to quieten the mind and only when the mind is quite, it can do Self inquiry effectively. But, if your mind is ready for Self inquiry, no form of kriya/asana is required though it can still help. If your mind is not ready for Self inquiry, Rajayoga/Bhaktiyoga will help. Karmayoga can also be practiced side by side. Also, meditation does not necessarily mean doing something physically, it happens when mind quietens.

Myth 16: Enlightenment is a state of superconsciousness.

In ordinary language, the word consciousness is used in individual sense. But, in Vedanta consciousness is not an individual thing. The individual sense of consciousness is called reflected consciousness in Vedanta. After enlightenment, one starts looking at things from a different point of reference. This relaxes the person and his/her attention is less diverted. From outside world it appears as if the person is living in present and can be called superconscious from outside. But, the truth is that the point of reference alone has changed, absolute consciousness never becomes more or less, it always remains constant and indifferent. Also, this appearance from outside may not be same for all enlightened beings as some may not feel that relaxed due to the vasanas/samskaras of the unconscious mind.

I am not body-mind proof

While a spiritual guru would often say that certain knowledge is beyond intellect, I will still try an approach in two parts to prove logically that a being is beyond a body-mind complex.


Let us consider the following statements:

  • If I can witness a book lying on the table, I am not that book. The book is separate from me.
  • If I can witness my pen, I am not that pen. My pen is separate from me.
  • If I am a witness to myself listening to music, I am not music. The music is separate from me.

This can go on and on…….

Based on the above, we have the following axiom:

Axiom: If I can witness something or if I am a witness to something, I am not that something. I am separate from that. Now, consider the following deductions:

  • I can witness my hands, legs etc. or my body, so I am not my body.
  • I am a witness to the reflex action that happens due to electric shock, sudden pain etc., so I am not my nervous system.
  • I am a witness to my drowsy state at the time of sleeping. So, I am not my subconscious mind.
  • I am a witness to the emotions of being happy, sad etc. and am a witness to the sensations of taste, smell etc. So, I am not my conscious mind.
  • I am a witness to my intellect making choices, so I am not my intellect.


During deep sleep, while my mind is unconscious or it does not seem to exist, I do find myself when I am awake. This means that I did exist even when the mind did not seem to exist. So, I cannot be my unconscious mind.