The Teachings of
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
in His Own Words

Edited by Arthur Osborne

6th Edition 1993


The purpose of the present book is to build up a general exposition of the Maharshi's teachings by selecting and fitting together passages from these dialogues and from his writings (published as The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi published by Messrs. Rider and Co., in England and by Sri Ramanasramam in India). The editor's comments have been kept to a minimum and are printed in smaller type to distinguish them clearly from the Maharshi's own words.

So far as is possible, Sanskrit words have been avoided, and it usually has been possible. The purpose of this is to make the book easier to read and also to avoid giving the false impression that the quest of Self-Realisation is some intricate science which can be understood only with a knowledge of Sanskrit terminology. It is true that there are spiritual sciences which have a necessary technical terminology, but they are more indirect. The clear and simple truth of non-duality which Bhagavan taught and the direct path of Self-enquiry which he enjoined can be expounded in simple language; and indeed, he himself expounded them so to Western visitors, without having recourse to Sanskrit terminology. In the rare cases where a Sanskrit term has seemed necessary or useful in this book its approximate meaning has been indicated in brackets, so that no glossary is necessary. It may also be remarked that the English words - Enlightenment, Liberation, and Self-Realisation have all been used with the same meaning, to correspond with the Sanskrit words Jnana, Moksha and Mukti.

In places where the English of the source quoted seemed infelicitous, it has been altered. This implies no infidelity to the texts since the replies were mostly given in Tamil or other South Indian languages and later rendered into English. The meaning has not been changed.

Arthur Osborne



Chapter 1

The Basic Theory

Heart and Head

This seems a suitable place to set forth the Maharshi's teaching about heart and head. He taught that the heart, not the head, is the true seat of Consciousness; but by this he did not mean the physical organ at the left side of the chest but the heart at the right, and by 'consciousness' he did not mean thought but pure awareness or sense of being. He had found this from his own experience to be the centre of spiritual awareness and then found his experience confirmed in some ancient texts. When his devotees were instructed to concentrate on the heart, it was this spiritual heart upon the right that was referred to; and they also found it the centre of an actual, almost physical vibration of awareness. However, he would also speak of the Heart as equivalent to the Self and remind them that in truth it is not in the body at all, but is spaceless.

D: Why do you say that the heart is on the right when biologists have found it to be on the left? What authority have you?

B: No one denies that the physical organ is on the left; but the heart which I speak is on the right. That is my experience and I require no authority for it; still you can find confirmation of it in a Malayali book on Ayurveda and in the Sita Upanishad.

Saying this, Bhagavan showed the quotation from the latter and quoted the text from the former. Sometimes, when asked, he referred also to the Biblical text from Ecclesiastes: "The wise man's heart is at the right and a fool's heart is at the left.''

D: Why do we have a place such as the heart to concentrate on for meditation?

B: Because you seek true Consciousness. Where can you find it? Can you attain it outside yourself? You have to find it internally. Therefore you are directed inward. The Heart is the seat of Consciousness or Consciousness itself.

I ask you to observe where the 'I' arises in your body, but it is not really quite correct to say that the 'I' arises from and merges in the chest at the right side. The Heart is another name for Reality and this is neither inside nor outside the body. There can be no in or out for it, since it alone is. I do not mean by 'heart' any physiological organ or any plexus or nerves or anything like that; but so long as a man identifies himself with the body or thinks he is in the body, he is advised to see where in the body the 'I' - thought arises and merges again. It must be the heart at the right side of the chest since every man of whatever race and religion and in whatever language he may be speaking, points to the right side of the chest to indicate himself when he says 'I'. This is so all over the world, so that must be the place. And by keenly watching the emergence of the 'I' - thought on waking and its subsidence on going to sleep, one can see that it is in the heart on the right side.

When a room is dark you need a lamp to light it, but when the sun rises there is no need for a lamp; objects are seen without one. And to see the sun itself no lamp is needed because it is self-luminous. Similarly with the mind. The reflected light of the mind is necessary to perceive objects, but to see the heart it is enough for the mind to be turned towards it. Then the mind loses itself and the Heart shines forth.

Chapter II

From Theory to Practice

As was shown in the previous chapter, the theory that the Maharshi taught was intended only to serve as a basis for practice. However, the demand for practice brought in another branch of theory, that of free-will or predestination, since people were not lacking who asked why they should make any effort if everything was predestined, or if all men returned to their Source in any case.

A visitor from Bengal saiD: Shankara says that we are all free, not bound, and that we shall all return to God from whom we came, like sparks from a fire. If that is so, why should we not commit all sorts of sins?

Bhagavan's reply showed him that that cannot be the point of view of the ego.

B: It is true that we are not bound. That is to say, the real Self has no bondage. And it is true that you will eventually return to your Source. But meanwhile, if you commit sins as you call them, you have to face the consequences. You cannot escape them. If a man beats you, can you say: 'I am free. I am not affected by the beating and feel no pain. Let him continue beating'? If you can really feel that, then you can do what you like, but what is the use of just saying in words that you are free?

Bhagavan did sometimes make pronouncements which seemed superficially like affirmations of complete predestination. When he left home in his youth, already established in Self-realisation, his mother sought and at last found him. He was maintaining silence at that time; therefore, on her request to return home with her, he wrote out his reply instead of replying verbally:

The Ordainer controls the fate of souls in accordance with their prarabdha karma (destiny to be worked out in this life, resulting from the balance sheet of actions in past lives). Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try as you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.

He sometimes also made such statements to devotees.

All the activities that the body is to go through are determined when it first comes into existence. It does not rest with you to accept or reject them. The only freedom you have is to turn your mind inward and renounces activities there.

With reference to Bhagavan's reply to Mrs. Desai on the evening of January 3, 1946, I asked him: Are only the important events in a man's life, such as his main occupation or profession, predetermined, or are trifling acts also, such as taking a cup of water or moving from one part of the room to another?

B: Everything is predetermined.

I: Then what responsibility, what free will has man?

B: Why does the body come into existence? It is designed for the various things that are marked out for it in this life.... As for freedom, a man is always free not to identify himself with the body and not to be affected by the pleasures and pains consequent on its activities.

Actually, however, the question of free will or predestination does not arise at all from the point of view of non-duality. It is as though a group of people who had never heard of radio were to stand round a wireless set arguing whether the man in the box has to sing what the transmitting station tells him to or whether he can change parts of the songs. The answer is that there is no man in the box and therefore the question does not arise. Similarly, the answer to the question of whether the ego has free will or not is that there is no ego and therefore the question does not arise. Therefore Bhagavan's usual response to the question would be to bid the questioner find out who it is that has free will or predestination.

D: Has man any free will or is everything in his life predetermined?

The same question as above, but the answer differs according to the needs of the questioner. In fact, if one does not bear in mind what has just been said about the unreality of the ego it seems to be quite contradictory.

B: Free will exists together with the individuality. As long as the individuality lasts, so long is there free will. All the scriptures are based on this fact and advise directing the free will in the right channel.

Is this really a contradiction of the reply given earlier? No, because, according to Bhagavan's teaching, individuality has only an illusory existence. So long as one imagines that one has a separate individuality, so long does one also imagine its free will. The two exist together inevitably. The problem of predestination and free will has always plagued philosophers and theologians and will always continue to do so, because it is insoluble on the plane of duality, that is on the supposition of one being who is the Creator and a lot of other, separate omnipotent and omniscient - he does not know what will happen, because it depends on what they decide; and he cannot control all happenings because they have the power to change them. On the other hand, if he is omniscient and omnipotent he has the fore-knowledge of all that will happen and controls everything, and therefore they can have no power of decision, that is to say no free will. But on the level of advaita or non-duality the problem fades out and ceases to exist. In truth the ego has no free will, because there is no ego; but on the level of apparent reality the ego consists of free will - it is the illusion of free will that creates the illusion of the ego. That is what Bhagavan meant by saying that "as long as the individuality lasts, so long is there free will.'' The next sentence in his answer turns the questioner away from the theory of practice.

Find out who it is who has free will or predestination and abide in that state. Then both are transcended. That is the only purpose in discussing these questions. To whom do such questions present themselves? Discover that and be at peace.

Chapter IV

The Guru

He did not encourage curiosity and seldom answered questions about the state of the Jnani or the Realised Man, but when asked whether the Jnani continues to perform a function after the death of the body, I have heard him reply briefly that in some cases he may. Also he himself confirmed what his disciples know now from experience, that the Guru may continue to give guidance after the death of the body, when no longer in human form.

Dr. Masalavala, retired Chief Medical Officer of Bhopal, who has been here for over a month and is in temporary charge of the Asramam hospital in the absence of Dr. K. Shiva Rao, put the following questions to Bhagavan and received the following answers:

D: Bhagavan says: 'The influence of the Jnani steals into the devotee in silence'. Bhagavan also says: 'Contact with great men, exalted souls, is one efficacious means of realising one's true being.'

B: Yes. What is the contradiction? Jnani, great men, exalted souls - does he differentiate between them?

Thereupon I said 'no'.

B: Contact with them is good. They will work through silence. By speaking, their power is reduced. Speech is always less powerful than silence. So silent contact is the best.

D: Does the contact continue even after the dissolution of the physical body of the Jnani or only so long as he is in flesh and blood?

B: The Guru is not in the physical form. So contact will remain even after his physical form vanishes.

He declared that one who has obtained the grace of the Guru would never be abandoned.

He who has earned the grace of the Guru will undoubtedly be saved and never forsaken, just as the prey that has fallen into the tiger's jaw will never be allowed to escape.

Remembering this, perhaps, some devotees complained, when the death of his body was imminent, that he was abandoning them and asked what they could do without his continued guidance. He answered briefly:

You attach too much importance to the body.

The implication was clear. The Guru is the same whether he wears a body or not. And his devotees have since found it to be so.

Having dealt with the need to pass from theory to practice, the possibility of practising in the conditions of the modern world without any outward observances, and the necessity for a Guru, the next two chapters will deal with the forms of practice that Bhagavan prescribed. His prescribing them openly is in itself remarkable. In their public writings and utterances the spiritual masters of all religions have dealt mainly with theory and said little or nothing about the practical discipline they enjoined. The reason for this is obvious. It is that, as Bhagavan explains in the story of the king and his minister quoted earlier in this chapter, a technique of spiritual training can be legitimately used and be effective for good only when the use of it has been authorised by one duly qualified. And yet Bhagavan himself openly expounded the methods he enjoined, both in speech and writing. Most of the books on which the present exposition is based were written and published during his lifetime, and he always showed interest in them and often recommended a questioner to turn to one of them of his answer. Even when it became clear that the life of his body was approaching its end, he continued to show interest, in their editing and publication. Why did he permit this, when he was insistent that no technique is valid without the authorisation of the Guru? The only answer is the one given above. Physical death made no difference. If the Mukta can be a Guru before death, so can he also after death. He becomes no more a Mukta by dying. The path that had been made open by his Grace to those who turn to him was not for his lifetime only or for those few only who could approach him physically. He said:

They say that I am dying, but I am not going away. Where could I go? I am here.