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Ramana Maharshi

Updated on November 22, 2014

Ramana Maharshi Photos

Ramana Maharshi - aged 21
Ramana Maharshi - aged 21
Ramana Maharshi
Ramana Maharshi
Ramana Maharshi
Ramana Maharshi

Ramana Maharshi - His Life by Gabriele Ebert

Ramana Maharshi - His Life and Teaching

Ramana Maharshi - A Brief Biography

Many people at this point in time are interested in 'enlightenment', 'self-realization', the 'truth', the 'Absolute' etc... The greatest modern example of a person who realized this 'truth' was Ramana Maharshi who lived and died in Southern India from 1879 - 1950.

Up until the age of 16 his life was unremarkable. He lived in a fairly comfortable Hindu family in southern India. He was neither a particularly brilliant scholar nor particularly religious or spiritual.

The great change in his life came when he was 16 years old and he found himself alone in a room in his uncle's house. For no reason he was suddenly overcome by an overwhelming feeling of fear that he was about to die. His reaction to this was not to seek help or to try to get rid of the sensation, but rather to lie down and to discover for himself what happens when you die.

This is how he described his experience:-

“It was about six weeks before I left Madurai for good that the great change in my life took place. It was so sudden. 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 the 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 centred 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’. Previous to that crisis I had no clear perception of myself and was not consciously attracted to it. I had felt no direct perceptible interest in it, much less any permanent disposition to dwell upon it.”

It is important to understand that this was not an intellectual exercise, but an actual experience of death. It is also important that in lying down to die Ramana Maharshi showed evidence of great dispassion towards his own life. He was totally focussed on discovering the truth, come what may.

After this experience he lost all interest in family life or the normal interests of a 16 year old boy and one day after his brother had criticized him for acting like a yogi while living at home and being fed by other people's work and effort, he decided that his brother was right and so left home.

Over the next few days he made his way to the holy mountain of Arunachala, where he lived in great simplicity until his death in 1950.

It is important to note that at no point in his experience as described above does he ask the question 'What is Enlightenment?' His focus was on death and discovering what it is that dies. He decided that the time had come to find out the truth about death and this he did by intense introspection to see what remained when the 'I' dies. "I felt I had to solve the problem myself then and there. "

He lived on Arunachala for around 12 years in silence before uttering a word to anyone. When he did finally break his silence it was in answer to a question from a certain Ganapati Muni about the nature of 'tapas' (self-discipline/meditation).

"It was on the ninth day of the Kartikai festival, 18th November 1907 at about half past one, when, in the mid-day heat, he (Ganapati Muni) climbed up the hill to the Virupaksha cave. He was trembling with emotion. The young Swami was seated alone in front of his cave. Although, because of the festival, there were crowds of people everywhere, there was nobody at all near the Swami. Even Palaniswami was not there. Ganapati Muni fell prostrate on the ground, grasped Sri Ramana’s feet with both hands and uttered trembling: “All that has to be read I have read. Even Vedanta Sastra [the holy scriptures of Vedanta] I have fully understood. I have performed japa to my heart’s content. Yet I have not up to this time understood what tapas (self-discipline/meditation) is. Hence have I sought refuge at thy feet. Pray enlighten me about the nature of tapas.”

For 15 minutes the Swami kept silent and looked at Ganapati Muni, who sat at his feet full of expectation. Then he answered: “If one watches whence this notion of ‘I’ springs, the mind will be absorbed into that. That is tapas. If a mantra is repeated, and attention directed to the source whence the mantra-sound is produced, the mind will be absorbed in that. That is tapas.”

This was the first time that Sri Ramana had spoken or given a verbal answer to a question for 12 years. Until then he had kept silent and had always written any answers down, (often in the dust). It is remarkable how he led the mantra practice of his new disciple back to the method of Self-Enquiry. For Ganapati Muni this was a real revelation. His heart was filled with ecstatic joy and he meditated at the feet of his new master until the evening."

This explanation and the subsequent teachings of Ramana Maharshi have led people to believe that he told people to ask the question 'Who am I?'. It is important to understand, however, that his preferred method of teaching was silence. When people asked him a question, more often than not he would remain silent. It was only if people could not understand this practical teaching, that he would teach verbally.

If you can remain silent then there is nothing to be done and in fact no way of doing anything, there are also no problems. For people who find it difficult to remain silent, Ramana's instruction was to fix their attention on the feeling of 'I' without uttering the word 'I'. Eventually you see that there cannot be two 'I's - one that is looking and one that is being looked at - there is only one 'I'. The notion that there is a 'self' looking at the 'I' is just that, a notion, a concept or an idea. Just remain as I, there is no other I looking at the first I. The I is aware of itself.

"The Self is a self-cognised entity because It is cognised by Itself. Hence the individual soul is itself and directly the Supreme, and nothing else" ~ Vivekachudamani

"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."

"What appears will also disappear and is therefore impermanent. The Self never appears and disappears and is therefore permanent It is the only Reality." ~ Ramana Maharshi

"This entire universe, which is produced from Consciousness, is Consciousness itself and nothing but That. Because there is nothing else whatever but Consciousness, and That is the only self-existent Reality, our very Self, therefore art thou that serene, pure, Supreme Consciousness, the One without a second" - Vivekachudamani

Now is Consciousness. You are not aware of now, you are now. You are the present moment.

Ramana Maharshi's life was quite extraordinary. He never showed any interest in money whatsoever, for a while he lived naked, until local people asked him to wear a loincloth so as not to cause offence. He lived on Arunachala for the rest of his life in poverty, wearing only a loincloth. He never made any attempt to charge people for his 'teachings' and even though an ashram grew up around him, most of the time he was in fact silent.

When he arrived in Tiruvannamalai in 1896 at the age of 16, having left behind him a reasonably comfortable life with his mother and uncle, he threw away the last few pennies he had and, as far as I know, never touched any money again. If somebody hadn't found him meditating in a temple cellar and forced food into his mouth it is quite probable that he would have died. When they found him in the cellar he had been there for about 6 weeks unmoving and his legs had been partially eaten by insects.

When asked about this time he said "People used to put food into my mouth, and it was easier to swallow it than to spit it out." After this and during his early years in Tiruvannamalai he lived by begging. Later on, as a community gathered around him he lived from the donations provided by disciples and visitors.

Ramana Maharshi is now probably the most well-known and well-respected of all the Indian sages of the modern era. Many thousands of people visit the town of Tiruvannamalai and Ramanashram every year - and numerous meditation teachers, both Indian and Western, have been influenced claim some form of 'allegiance' to him and his teachings. He himself never said that he had any disciples and never created any form of lineage.

Recommended books :-

The Ribhu Gita - one of the 6 books actually recommended by Ramana Maharshi himself

The Path of Sri Ramana Part I by Sadhu Om

Anything by David Godman

Gabriele Ebert's Ebook on Ramana Maharshi - see below

For further information about Ramana Maharshi's life and teaching see the links below.

Sri Lakshmana Swami - A Living Enlightened Disciple of Ramana Maharshi


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    • Singular Investor profile imageAUTHOR

      Singular Investor 

      5 years ago from Oxford

      Hi Saisarannaga - thanks for dropping by from Chennai - you are fortunate to live not very far away from the Ashram! Yes, in the West it is surprising how many people now know of Sri Ramana Maharshi and his teachings, quite remarkable, as was Sri Ramana himself, people who are looking for something would do well to take a close look at his teachings and also at Advaita in general.

    • profile image


      5 years ago from Chennai in Tamilnadu, India.

      How beautifully you have penned this great hub? It is really nice to know that there are many enlightened souls in the West who are interested in Ramana and his great but simple philosophy! Thank you once again. Today only i had the opportunity to go thro' your hub.

    • Singular Investor profile imageAUTHOR

      Singular Investor 

      5 years ago from Oxford

      Hi Jonny,

      Glad to hear India is calling you. I hope you get there soon. Take care, people often stay a long time!

    • jonnycomelately profile image


      5 years ago from Tasmania

      India is calling me. Stories such as yours encourage me. The "when?" is not for me to answer. The "when" will be the "now" that is right.

    • Greenheart profile image


      6 years ago from Cambridge

      Hi there.

      A long while back you asked me if things have changed since Adi Da's death.There was initially the sorrow of his physical passing. But for a while now people have acknowldeged that they are feeling him the same way as before,and in many cases, even stronger. He once said, "Cant leave". So , it is an infinte mystery and paradox. All the best. Gavin

    • Singular Investor profile imageAUTHOR

      Singular Investor 

      7 years ago from Oxford

      Hi Shimla - I believe you are right. There are numerous instances of people who have actually been visited by Ramana Maharshi in their homes even though he died in 1950 and never left Tiruvannamalai, unfortunately I am not one of them ! But those with an interest can do a search on Robert Adams and Pamela Wilson. Thanks for dropping by and your comment.

    • shimla profile image


      7 years ago

      I really do believe that the being known as Ramana Maharshi will still enter one's consciousness if an earnest appeal is for made for his help in clearing the illusion of the mind-body complex. Thanks for putting this out there - Namaste

    • Singular Investor profile imageAUTHOR

      Singular Investor 

      8 years ago from Oxford

      Hello Soumyasrajan - thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment and thank you for your generous offer although at this moment in time I have no plans to travel. Bhagavan was indeed very special and lots of Western devotees have now moved to Tiruvannamalai because of him - he has quite a large (in relative terms) following in the West with spiritual seekers.

    • profile image


      8 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

      Hi! Singular Invester

      Enjoyed reading your article very much. I had often read about Ramana Mahirshi. Some people almost adored him like a god (Bhagawan) in their description. But did not know his life story.

      I live in Mumbai, if you or GreenHeart plan to come to India some day, do contact me. I will be happy to help.

    • Singular Investor profile imageAUTHOR

      Singular Investor 

      8 years ago from Oxford

      Hi Gavin - thanks for the link - I have a friend who is a follower of Adi Da? Have things changed at all since his death ?

    • Greenheart profile image


      8 years ago from Cambridge

      Hi there Singular.

      I haven't been to India either.

      I have been a devotee of the teacher,Adi Da.

      Since 88.You can check him out at

    • Greenheart profile image


      8 years ago from Cambridge

      Hi and thanks for the hub!

      Maharishi was a great being.

      Are you a 'follower'?

      Happy new year.


    • Singular Investor profile imageAUTHOR

      Singular Investor 

      9 years ago from Oxford

      Thank you LG

    • LondonGirl profile image


      9 years ago from London

      This is very interesting and well-researched - great hub.


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