In the inmost core, the Heart
Shines as Brahman alone
As I – I, the Self aware.
Enter deep into the Heart
By search for Self, or diving deep,
Or with breath under check
Thus abide ever in Atman.
(Ramana Gita, Chapter 2, verse 2)
This metrical verse that Ramana Maharshi himself translated from the Sanskrit original into English, is considered by many devotees to be the quintessence of his teaching.
Self-enquiry does not mean an endless analysis of the non-self or personality, but a direct probing into the nature of Reality. The actions and identifications of the ego are impartially witnessed, observed, noticed, by normal self-awareness, when we are not too carried away by external objects and events.
Unfortunately, the tracing of each mental movement back to its source can only be accomplished in life by those of strong mind and great powers of attention, such as can be developed through exercises in Mouni Sadhu's useful book, Concentration.
For most of us, this committed enquiry is possible only when sitting quietly alone, or perhaps with others in satsang. For those in the great majority – if we are honest with ourselves – who have not the strength of attention to hold the I-thought in its source and investigate its movement, or who are riveted by the cares of the world, the Maharshi has given us a great aid – referred to in the opening quotation – the control of breath, or pranayama.
In Verses 28, 29 and 30 of the Forty Verses, he states:
As in a well of water deep,
Dive deep with Reason cleaving sharp.
With speech, mind and breath restrained,
Exploring thus, mayest thou discover the real source of ego-self.
The mind through calm in deep plunge enquires.
That alone is real quest for the Self.
"This I am'" -- "mine is not this'" --
Ideas such help forward the quest.
Get at the Heart within by search.
The ego bows its head and falls.
Then flashes forth another "I" --
Not the ego that, but the Self, supreme, perfect.
These verses, particularly the first, are of cardinal importance if one lacks the power to concentrate for long periods, or if one's wandering mind needs a strong practicable metaphor to focus it. The effort can, through grace, bring one closer to the point where effort disappears.
General instructions on pranayama or the control of breath are clearly given by Bhagavan himself in his Self Enquiry (chapter on the eightfold path of yoga.) I have extracted a technique based on a practice somewhat similar, which may be found in The Technique of Maha Yoga by N.R.Narayana Aiyar (published by the Ramana Kendra in Madras in 1962).
Firstly, a brief introduction to the science of pranayama may be gained by a yoga textbook or through consultation with a teacher of yoga. It is advisable to "ground" this practice in a working knowledge of its physiology and one's own innate capacity. Sit on the floor, kneeling or in the easy posture. Take in a deep inhalation for four or eight counts (as Bhagavan explains in Self Enquiry) and then on the full retention, take the normal focus of concentration, which is, say, between the eyebrows, and implant it in the Heart centre to the right side of the chest (two fingers to the right of the sternum, as Bhagavan used to indicate) while visualizing him and feeling: WHO AM I?
Try to let it penetrate deeply through the veiling of the mind – which varies in resistance according to the play of the gunas – into the innermost name that shines in the cave of the Heart eternally. It is a matter of allowing the intuition of this source or beingness, to generate itself as "I am". It can also be discovered through letting go, as the receptivity of the stillness itself. We may find that the diver is "I", but the receptivity is "Amness". After the maximum penetration attained, release the breath gently as exhalation. It may be noted how the movement of the breath and the birth of thought are linked. Restraint of the one quietens the other. It might be said that the prana is that essence of the indrawn and outgoing breath, which becomes awareness.
This practice may be repeated, depending on the practitioner, as often and wherever he or she wishes. It will vary in depth and intensity, but no effort is in vain. The power of concentration related to the harnessed breath, will increase, and gradually over a period of time, awaken a subtle vibrancy or sphurana within the chest to the right. Though the spiritual Heart has no physical location, this area, through Bhagavan's own experience, serves as its point of support in the body mind. Continual practice benefits the nervous system overall, acting as an anchor for Self-remembering, and an instrument of change. As a by-product of diving into the Self, there may come about observable changes in one's attitudes and innate tendencies. It is a radical procedure, bypassing the psychological circus.
On exhalation one lets go of the world, of darkness, dualities, samsara, ignorance, like so many old clothes. On inhaling deeply it may be with some sacred image of silence, or any loved symbol of the Self. On the retention one dives inward, by letting the thought world "float away downstream" from here, and immersing for a moment as if underwater, in being. A sense of urgency may be brought to "who am I?" by thinking of one's own death. The retention may also be practised after exhalation and before inhalation, as The Technique of Maha Yoga suggests. In this case, the analogy is with the tide going out: an open strand cleansed of impurities, before the incoming wave of inhalation. In both methods, the root of the breath is simply watched as it swells, from “nowhere”. We may “dive” into fullness, as into emptiness. “The mind through calm in deep plunge enquires.”
What then does it truly mean, to dive into the Self? It is to calmly abide, to be concept-free, to be not drawn forth. Bhagavan told Ganapati Muni, "Find out wherefrom this 'I' springs forth and merge at its source; that is tapas. Find out wherefrom the sound of the mantra in japa rises up, and merge there; that is tapas." Nothing more. Results should not be sought, for these are of the mind's own machination. When the inner and outer guru are ready, some direct understanding may occur, as a descent of force strong enough to control the wandering thought, or as a pull from within, a lessening of interest in external matters, a tendency to bathe in the mystery of the Source.
Our minds are very rajasic, accustomed to straying outwards for many lifetimes. Gradually as the inner guru pulls us from within, an alert dispassion develops. As this is a purifying process, there may appear a mild nervous "churning", and the notion that the vasanas are increasing in strength. This is because, like silt stirred up from the river bed, all must come out to be impartially witnessed in the light of awareness. Grace is given, to observe all the vasanas, the worst along with the best. At this stage, in my experience, to dive into the Self is beneficial and therapeutic. It opens the way to an intenser God-love, or bhakti.
One should never strain in this act. Nor should it become a mechanical chore. Bhagavan's general recommendation was to watch the natural state of the breath without involvement, and to let the diving into the Heart happen of its own accord through detachment. Sattvic or receptive moods encourage us to "dive", remembering the urgency of our death. The maxim then, for this, our tiny effort to reflect the effortless and unimaginable power of the guru within, is: strength and force without strain. It is a non-verbal gesture inward, of enquiry and discrimination. It is paradoxically the strength of the mind, which leads it to turn inward and to surrender its own notions, to ask, "then who is this 'me' I'm so concerned about ... ?". When thoughts stray outward, impelled by preferences and tendencies, the mind is weak because it is unfocussed. We may then need a radical method to pierce the veil of life. In some, whose devotional calling is strong, the breath spontaneously slows and stills on the Enquiry, without pranayama.
We all have different vasanas for inner work and witnessing. The nervous system – the network of nadis – must be gradually and systematically purified before the mind and all its predilections can safely approach its Source. The diving is a preparatory and cleansing sadhana; for the Self in due course takes over, and grips the mind, melting it into the Heart. Bhagavan's grace always guides the earnest seeker. The "inner guru" pulls the outer circumstances of his life in towards the Centre, gradually indicating aids and techniques which are helpful to the quest, and also the time for them to disappear.
I have practised diving and plunging as described, for some years. I can honestly say that it effectively helped my all round understanding. It undermines the verbal or conceptual level towards a fuller Self-surrender and deeper insights into the teaching. It is a merciful Key given by Bhagavan to unlock the door of our prison.