Hinduism Simplified

Who Am I?


This was the question put to Bhagawan Ramana Maharshi by Sri M. Sivaprakasam Pillai, about the year 1902. In fact it was a collection of questions on Self Inquiry that he asked during his visit to the Maharshi when he went to the Virupaksha cave on Arunachala Hill, during his visit to Tiruvannamalai in 1902 on official work as he was working for the Revenue Department. Maharshi answered his questions in writing since he was not inclined to talk. Later in 1923, Sri Pillai compiled these questions and answers relating how Bhagawan’s grace worked on him dispelling many doubts and saving him from a crisis in life along with some poems composed by himself and published as Naan Yar? (which means Who am I?) in Tamil. Some editions have 13 questions and some twenty eight.

It is interesting that the famous Nirvaana Shatakam by Adi Shankaracharya, an early writing at the age of 12 years was his reply to a question, ‘Who are You?’,  from a saint who eventually became his Guru. Eleven hundred years later, Bhagawan Ramana Maharshi, with lot of similarities to Adi Shankaracharya spending lot of time of his life expounding the principle of Non-Duality (Adwaita), answers a question from a disciple with a similar answer.

Who am I?

 I am not the gross body which is composed of the seven humours (dhatus); I am not the five cognitive sense organs (Jnanendriyas: ears, eyes, tongue, skin, and nose), I am not the five cognitive expressive organs (Karmendriyas: organs of speech, locomotion, grasping, excretion and procreation; I am not the five vital airs, prana, etc, which perform respectively the five functions of in-breathing, etc; I am not even the mind which thinks (Buddhi); I am not even the nescience, the part of the mind which stores impressions/memories (Chitta).

If I am none of these, then who am I?

After negating all of the above mentioned as ‘not this’, ‘not this’, that awareness alone remains –that I am.

What is the nature of Awareness?

Sat Chit Ananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss)

(from now on I have changed some of the questions, but all the explanations are from ‘Who am I?)

Means for Self Realization:

Self Inquiry, ‘Who amI?’, is the most adequate means. Other means are more temporary means. Breath control is one such means. When mind becomes quiescent, the breath is controlled, and when the breath is controlled the mind becomes quiescent. The source of mind and breath are the same. In Samadhi state, an individual is awake, but the mind is quiescent and breath is controlled. Other means are Prayer (meditation on names of God), Repetition of Mantras, restriction of food (to Sattvic diet), etc.

By repetitive inquiry ‘Who am I’, all the thoughts of the mind will be destroyed. Just like how the stick used to stir a burning pyre will eventually get burnt, mind itself will eventually get destroyed by constant inquiry culminating in self realization. Inquiry is the best means of self realization. Other tools such as the exercise of breath control, meditation on the forms of God, repetition of Mantras, restriction of food, etc are aids for rendering the mind quiescent.

Sadhanas lead to Manonigraha (Quiescent mind), which leads to more self inquiry leading to manonasha (destruction of the mind). Manonaasha leads to self realization.

SADHANA (Self Inquiry, Breath Control (Pranayama), Repetition of Mantras, Meditation of forms of God (prayer), Restriction of food ( Eating Sattvic food in moderation)




MANONIGRAHA (Quiescent Mind)

More Sadhana




MANONAASHA (Destruction of the Mind)


When will the thoughts of objects and ‘I’ disappear?

As the meditation on the self rises higher and higher, the thoughts will get destroyed.

How to make the residual thoughts to be resolved and remain as the pure Self?

There is one mind (not a good mind and a bad mind). But the residual thoughts can be bad and good. One should completely renounce the thought ‘I am a sinner’ and concentrate keenly on auspicious impressions. All people should be loved without any hatred. One should behave with humility. All that one gives to others, one gives to one’s Self.

How long should Self Inquiry continue?

As long as there are impressions of objects in the mind.

What is the nature of the Self?

What exists in truth is Self alone. The world, the individual soul and God are appearances in it. The Self is that where there is absolutely no ‘I’ thought. Self is the world, Self is God, all is Siva, the Self.

Who is the greatest devotee?

He who gives himself up the Self that is God.

How to deal with problems? (I made up this question from the answers)

Whenever burdens are thrown on God, He bears them. One should submit to God and not think of what should or should not be done. E. g. When we get into a train, there is no need to carry the bags on our head. Since the train will carry all the loads, one should put down the load on the train and enjoy the ride.

What is non-attachment?

Destroying the thoughts as they arise.

Can God and the Guru cause liberation of a soul?

Not by themselves, but they always show the way. Yet, one should by his/her own Sadhanas persue the path shown by the God or Guru and attain liberation. One should experience the Self/God with his/her own eye of knowledge/experience. One who is Rama does not need a mirror to know that he is Rama.

Does one have to inquire into the categories of liberation?

No. Just like how one does not inquire into the category of waste, once he decides to throw away garbage. But he has to reject altogether the categories that hide the Self (Mayas or five sheaths/PanchaKoshas).

What is Happiness?

Happiness is the default nature of the Self. Happiness and Self are not different. Having or not having objects don’t give happiness. Not experiencing their presence or absence does. In fact this world is only a thought. When the thought of the world disappears, the mind experiences happiness and when the world appears, mind goes through misery.

What is wisdom-insight (Jnana Drishti)?

Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight. To remain quiet is to resolve the mind in the Self.

What is the relationship between desirelessness, detachment and wisdom?

They are not different. Desirelessness is refraining from turning the mind towards any object. Not seeking what is other than the Self is attachment or desirelessness; not leaving the Self is wisdom.

What is the difference between Inquiry and meditation?

Inquiry consists of retaining the mind in the Self. Meditation consists of thinking that one’s self is Brahman. (I think Inquiry can lead to meditation and meditation leads to experiencing Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. Ask somebody if this is correct. May be Raju or Venkat)

What is liberation?

Inquiring into the nature of one’s Self that is in bondage, and realizing one’s true nature is liberation.