Ramana Maharshi

About The First Self-Inquiry

At the young age of sixteen, when He was not even aware of the fact ‘This is the spiritual practice of Self-Inquiry that directly bestows the experience of the Self’, it so happened one day that, without any prior intention, Sri Ramana embarked upon this rare spiritual practice!

On that day as if He were about to die, a great fear of death possessed Him all of a sudden. Because of it, an impulse to scrutinize death also arose in Him spontaneously. He was not perturbed to see the fast-approaching death, nor did He feel inclined to inform others about it! He decided to welcome it calmly and to solve the problem all alone. He lay down, stretching His limbs like a corpse, and began to scrutinize death practically, face to face.

‘All right, death has come! What is death? What is it that is dying? It is this body that is dying; let it die!’ Deciding thus, closing the lips tightly and remaining without breath or speech like a corpse, what came to my knowledge as I looked within was: ‘This body is dead. Now it will be taken to the cremation ground and burnt; it will become ashes. All right, but with the destruction of this body, am I also destroyed? Am I really this body?

Although this body is lying as a speechless and breathless corpse, undoubtedly I am existing, untouched by this death! My existence is shining clearly and unobstructed! So this perishable body is not ‘I’! I am verily the immortal ‘I’ (Self)! Of all things, I alone am the reality! This body is subject to death; but I who transcend the body am eternally living!’ Even the death that came to the body was unable to touch me!

Thus it dawned directly, and along with it the fear of death that had come at first also vanished, never to appear again! All this was experienced in a split second as direct knowledge and not as mere reasoning thoughts. From that time onwards, the consciousness of my existence transcending the body has ever continued to remain the same.” (From ‘The Path of Sri Ramana’, Part One, Chapter 8 – Sadhu Om)

One day I sat up alone on the first floor of my uncle’s house. I was in my usual health. I seldom had any illness. I was a heavy sleeper. … So, on that day as I sat alone there was nothing wrong with my health. But a sudden and unmistakable fear of death seized me. I felt I was going to die.

Why I should have so felt cannot now be explained by anything felt in my body. Nor could I explain it to myself then. I did not however trouble myself to discover if the fear was well grounded. I felt ‘I was going to die,’ and at once set about thinking out what I should do. I did not care to consult doctors or elders or even friends. I felt I had to solve the problem myself then and there.

The shock of fear of death made me at once introspective, or ‘introverted’.
I said to myself mentally, i.e., without uttering the words – ‘Now, death has come. What does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.’

I at once dramatized the scene of death. I extended my limbs and held them rigid as though rigor-mortis had set in. I imitated a corpse to lend an air of reality to my further investigation. I held my breath and kept my mouth closed, pressing the lips tightly together so that no sound might escape. Let not the word ‘I’ or any other word be uttered!

‘Well then,’ said I to myself, ‘this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body, am “I” dead? Is the body “I”? This body is silent and inert. But I feel the full force of my personality and even the sound “I” within myself, – apart from the body. So “I” am a spirit, a thing transcending the body. The material body dies, but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. I am therefore the deathless spirit.’

All this was not a mere intellectual process, but flashed before me vividly as living truth, something which I perceived immediately, without any argument almost. ‘I’ was something very real, the only real thing in that state, and all the conscious activity that was connected with my body was centered on that.

The ‘I’ or my ‘self’ was holding the focus of attention by a powerful fascination from that time forwards.

Fear of death had vanished once and forever. Absorption in the Self has continued from that moment right up to this time.

Other thoughts may come and go like the various notes of a musician, but the ‘I’ continues like the basic or fundamental sruti note which accompanies and blends with all other notes.

Whether the body was engaged in talking, reading or anything else, I was still centred on ‘I’. (Ramana Maharshi: His Life’ – Gabriele Ebert )