The Nature of the Mind

Excerpt from the Book: 
Be As You Are: 
The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi

Q: What is the nature of the mind?

A: The mind is nothing other than the ‘I’-thought. The mind
and the ego are one and the same. The other mental faculties such
as the intellect and the memory are only this. Mind [manas],
intellect [buddhi], the storehouse of mental tendencies [chittam],
and ego [ahamkara1 ; all these are only the one mind itself. This is
like different names being given to a man according to his
different functions. The individual soul [jiva] is nothing but this
soul or ego.

Q: How shall we discover the nature of the mind, that is, its ultimate
cause, or the noumenon of which it is a manifestation?

A: Arranging thoughts in the order of value, the 'I'-thought is
the all-important thought. Personality-idea or thought is also the
root or the stem of all other thoughts, since each idea or thought
arises only as someone's thought and is not known to exist
independently of the ego. The ego therefore exhibits thought activity.

The second and the third persons [he, you, that, etc.] do
not appear except to the first person [I] . Therefore they arise only
after the first person appears, so all the three persons seem to rise
and sink together. Trace, then, the ultimate cause of 'I' or

From where does this 'I' arise? Seek for it within; it then
vanishes. This is the pursuit of wisdom. When the mind
unceasingly investigates its own nature, it transpires that there is
no such thing as mind. This is the direct path for all. The mind is
merely thoughts . Of all thoughts the thought 'I' is the root.
Therefore the mind is only the thought 'I'.

The birth of the 'I'-thought is one's own birth, its death is the
person's death. After the 'I'-thought has arisen, the wrong identity
with the body arises. Get rid of the 'I, -thought. So long as 'I' is
alive there is grief. When 'I' ceases to exist there is no grief.

Q: Yes, but when I take to the 'I'-thought, other thoughts arise
and disturb me.

A: See whose thoughts they are. They will vanish. They have
their root in the single 'I' -thought. Hold it and they will

Q: How can any enquiry initiated by the ego reveal its own

A: The ego's phenomenal existence is transcended when you
dive into the source from where the 'I' -thought rises.

Q: But is not the aham-vritti only one of the three forms in
which the ego manifests itself. Yoga Vasishtha and other ancient
texts describe the ego as having a threefold form.

A: It is so. The ego is described as having three bodies, the
gross, the subtle and the causal, but that is only for the purpose of
analytical exposition. If the method of enquiry were to depend on
the ego's form, you may take it that any enquiry would become
altogether impossible, because the forms the ego may assume are
legion. Therefore, for the purposes of self-enquiry you have to
proceed on the basis that the ego has but one form, namely that of

Q: But it may prove inadequate for realising jnana.

A: Self-enquiry by following the clue of aham-vritti is just like
the dog tracing his master by his scent. The master may be at
some distant unknown place, but that does not stand in the way
of the dog tracing him. The master's scent is an infallible clue for
the animal, and nothing else, such as the dress he wears, or his
build and stature, etc., counts. To that scent the dog holds on
undistractedly while searching for him, and finally it succeeds in
tracing him.

Q: The question still remains why the quest for the source of
aham-vritti, as distinguished from other vrittis [modifications of
the mind], should be considered the direct means to Self realisation
A: Although the concept of 'I'-ness or 'I am'-ness is by usage
known as aham-vritti it is not really a vritti [modification] like
other vrittis of the mind. Because unlike the other vrittis which
have no essential interrelation, the aham-vritti is equally and
essentially related to each and every vritti of the mind. Without
the aham-vritti there can be no other vritti, but the aham-vritti can
subsist by itself without depending on any other vritti of the mind.
The aham- vritti is therefore fundamentally different from other

So then, the search for the source of the aham-vritti is not
merely the search for the basis of one of the forms of the ego but
for the very source itself from which arises the 'I am' -ness. In
other words, the quest for and the realisation of the source of the
ego in the form of aham-vritti necessarily implies the transcendence of the ego in every one of its possible forms.

Q: Conceding that the aham-vritti essentially comprises all the
forms of the ego, why should that vritti alone be chosen as the
means for self-enquiry?

A: Because it is the one irreducible datum of your experience
and because seeking its source is the only practicable course you
can adopt to realize the Self. The ego is said to have a causal body
[the state of the 'I' during sleep], but how can you make it the
subject of your investigation? When the ego adopts that form, you
are immersed in the darkness of sleep.

Q: But is not the ego in its subtle and causal forms too
intangible to be tackled through the enquiry into the source of
aham-vritti conducted while the mind is awake?

A: No. The enquiry into the source of aham-vritti touches the very existence of the ego. Therefore the subtlety of the ego's form is not a material consideration.

Q: While the one aim is to realize the unconditioned, pure
being of the Self, which is in no way dependent on the ego, how
can enquiry pertaining to the ego in the form of aham-vritti be of
any use?

A: From the functional point of view the ego has one and only
one characteristic. The ego functions as the knot between the Self
which is pure consciousness and the physical body which is inert
and insentient. The ego is therefore called the chit-jada-granthi
[the knot between consciousness and the inert body]. In your
investigation into the source of aham-vritti, you take the essential chit [consciousness] aspect of the ego. For this reason the enquiry
must lead to the realisation of pure consciousness of the Self.

You must distinguish between the 'I', pure in itself, and the 'I' thought. The latter, being merely a thought, sees subject and
object, sleeps, wakes up, eats and thinks, dies and is reborn. But
the pure 'I' is the pure being, eternal existence, free from
ignorance and thought-illusion. If you stay as the 'I', your being
alone, without thought, the 'I' -thought will disappear and the
delusion will vanish forever. In a cinema-show you can see
pictures only in a very dim light or in darkness. But when all the
lights are switched on, the pictures disappear. So also in the
floodlight of the supreme atman all objects disappear.

Q: That is the transcendental state.

A: No. Transcending what, and by whom? You alone exist.

Q: It is said that the Self is beyond the mind and yet the
realisation is with the mind. 'The mind cannot think it. It cannot
be thought of by the mind and the mind alone can realize it.' How
are these contradictions to be reconciled?

A: Atman is realized with mruta manas [dead mind], that is,
mind devoid of thoughts and turned inward. Then the mind sees
its own source and becomes that [the Self]. It is not as the subject
perceiving an object.

When the room is dark a lamp is necessary to illumine and eyes
to cognize objects. But when the sun has risen there is no need of a
lamp to see objects. To see the sun no lamp is necessary, it is
enough that you turn your eyes towards the self-luminous sun.
Similarly with the mind. To see objects the reflected light of the
mind is necessary. To see the Heart it is enough that the mind is
turned towards it. Then mind loses itself and Heart shines forth.

The essence of mind is only awareness or consciousness. When
the ego, however, dominates it, it functions as the reasoning,
thinking or sensing faculty. The cosmic mind, being not limited by
the ego, has nothing separate from itself and is therefore only
aware. This is what the Bible means by “I am that I am.”

When the mind perishes in the supreme consciousness of one's
own Self, know that all the various powers beginning with the
power of liking [and including the power of doing and the power
of knowing] will entirely disappear, being found to be an unreal
imagination appearing in one's own form of consciousness. The
impure mind which functions as thinking and forgetting, alone is
samsara, which is the cycle of birth and death. The real 'I' in
which the activity of thinking and forgetting has perished, alone is
the pure liberation. It is devoid of pramada [forgetfulness of Self]
which is the cause of birth and death.

Book: Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi

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