The 1939 prose version of Who Am I? (Nan Yar)

Every living being longs always to be happy untainted by sorrow; and everyone has the greatest love for himself, which is solely due to the fact that happiness is his real nature. Hence, in order to realize that inherent and untainted happiness which indeed he daily experiences when the mind is subdued in deep sleep, it is essential that he should know himself. For obtaining such knowledge, the enquiry, 'Who am I?' in quest of the Self is the means par excellence.

'Who am I?' I am not this physical body, nor am I the five organs of sense-perception1; I am not the five organs of external activity2, nor am I the five vital forces3, nor am I even the thinking mind. Neither am I that unconscious state of nescience which retains merely the subtle vasanas (latencies of the mind), being then free from the functional activity of the sense organs and of the mind, and being unaware of the existence of the objects of sense-perception.

1. The eye, ear, nose, tongue and the skin, with their respective corresponding functions of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

2. The vocal organs that articulate speech and produce sound, hands and feet that govern the movements of the physical body, anus that excretes faecal matter, and the genital organ which yields pleasure.

3. Which control respiration, digestion and assimilation, circulation of blood, perspiration and excretion.


Therefore, summarily rejecting all the above-mentioned physical adjuncts and their functions, saying "I am not this; no, nor am I this, and this," that which then remains separate and alone by itself, that pure Awareness verily am I. This Awareness is by its very nature Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss).

If the mind, which is the instrument of knowledge and is the basis of all activity subsides, the perception of the world as an apparent objective reality ceases. Unless the illusory perception of the serpent in the rope ceases, the rope on which the illusion is formed is not perceived as such. Even so, unless the illusory nature of the perception of the world as an apparent objective reality ceases, the Vision of the true nature of the Self, on which the illusion is formed, is not obtained.

The mind is an unique power (sakti) in the Atman, whereby thoughts occur to oneself. On scrutiny as to what remains after eliminating all thought, it will be found that there is no such thing as mind apart from thought. So then, thoughts themselves constitute the mind.

Nor is there any such thing as the physical world apart from and independent of thought. In deep sleep there are no thoughts; nor is there the world. In the wakeful and dream states thoughts are present, and there is also the world. Just as the spider draws out the thread of the cobweb from within itself and withdraws it again into itself, even so out of itself the mind projects the world and absorbs it back into itself.

The world is perceived as an apparent objective reality when the mind is externalized thereby forsaking its identity with the Self. When the world is thus perceived, the true nature of the Self is not revealed: conversely, when the Self is realized, the world ceases to appear as an objective reality.

By a steady and continuous investigation into the nature of the mind, the mind is transformed into That to which the 'I' refers and that is verily the Self. Mind has necessarily to depend for its existence on something gross: it never subsists by itself. It is this mind that is otherwise called the subtle body, the ego, the jiva or the soul.

That which arises in this physical body as 'I' is the mind. If one enquires whence the 'I-thought' in the body arises in the first instance, it will be found that it is Hrdayam1 or the Heart. That is the source and stay of the mind. Or again, even if one merely but continuously repeats to oneself inwardly 'I—I' with the entire mind fixed thereon, that also leads one to the same source.

1. The word 'Hrdayam' consists of two syllables, 'Hrt' and 'Ayam' which signify "I am the Heart."


The first and foremost of all the thoughts that arise in the mind is the primal 'I'-thought. It is only after the rise or origin of this 'I' thought that innumerable other thoughts arise. In other words, only after the first personal pronoun, 'I', has arisen, do the second and third personal pronouns (you, he, etc.) occur to the mind; and they cannot subsist without the former.

Since every other thought can occur only after the rise of the 'I-thought' and since the mind is nothing but a bundle of thoughts, it is only through the enquiry 'Who am l?' that the mind subsides. Moreover, the integral 'I-thought', implicit in such enquiry, having destroyed all other thoughts, gets itself finally destroyed or consumed, even like the stick used to stir the burning funeral pyre gets consumed.

Even when extraneous thoughts sprout up during such enquiry, do not seek to complete the rising thought, but instead, deeply enquire within: "To whom has this thought occurred?" No matter how many thoughts thus occur to you; for, if you would with acute vigilance enquire immediately as and when each individual thought arises as to whom it has occurred, you would find it is to 'me'. If then, you enquire 'Who am I?' the mind gets introverted and the rising thought also subsides. In this manner as you persevere more and more in the practice of Self enquiry, the mind acquires increasing strength and power to abide in its source.

It is only when the subtle mind is externalized through the activity of the intellect and the sense organs that gross name and form constituting the world appear. When, on the other hand, the mind stays and abides in the Heart, they (name and form) recede and disappear. Restraint of the outgoing mind and its absorption in the Heart is known as introversion (antar-mukha-drshti). The release of the mind and its emergence from the Heart is known as extroversion (bahirmukha-drshti).

If in this manner the mind becomes absorbed in the Heart, the ego or the 'I', which is the centre of the multitude of thoughts, finally vanishes and pure Consciousness or the Self, which subsists during all the states of the mind, alone remains resplendent. It is this state, where there is not the slightest trace of the 'I-thought', that is the true being of oneself. And that is called Quiescence or Mouna.

This state of mere inherence in pure Being is known as the Vision of Wisdom. Such inherence means and implies the entire subsidence of the mind in the Self. Other than this, such psychic powers of the mind as thought-reading, telepathy and clairvoyance, cannot be true Vision.

Atman alone exists and is real. The world, the individual soul and God are, like the illusory appearance of silver in the mother of pearl, imaginary creations in the Atman. They appear and disappear simultaneously. Verily, the Self alone is the world, the 'I' and God. All that exists is but the manifestation of the Supreme.

For the subsidence of mind there is no other means more effective and adequate than the enquiry in quest of the Self. Even though by other means the mind subsides, that is only apparently so; it will rise again.

For instance, the mind subsides by the practice of pranayama (restraint and control of breath and vital forces); yet such subsidence lasts only as long as the control of breath and vital forces continues; and when they are released, the mind also gets released, and immediately becoming externalized it wearily wanders through the force of its subtle tendencies.

The source of the mind on the one hand, and of breath and vital forces on the other, is one and the same. It is really the multitudes of thoughts that constitute the mind; and the 'I-thought' is the primal thought of the mind. This is itself the ego. Now, breath too has its origin at the same place whence the ego rises. Therefore when the mind subsides, breath and vital forces also subside; and conversely, when the latter subside, the former also subsides.

Breath and vital forces are also described as the gross manifestation of the mind. Till the hour of death the mind sustains and supports these forces in the physical body; and when life becomes extinct, the mind envelopes and carries them away. During sleep, although the mind does not manifest, the vital forces are still apparent. This is according to the divine law in order to protect the body and to remove any doubt as to whether it is dead or alive. Without such arrangement by nature, sleeping bodies would often be cremated alive. The vitality apparent in breathing is left behind by the mind as 'watchman'. For this reason (viz., that the mind has the sustaining and controlling power over breath and vital forces and is therefore ulterior to both of them), the practice of pranayama is merely helpful in subduing the mind but does not bring about its final extinction.

Even like pranayama, murty-dhyana (meditation on Form), mantra or nama-japa (repetition of sacred Syllables or of Names of Deities), and the regulation of diet, are only aids to control the mind. Through the practice of dhyana or japa the mind becomes one-pointed. Just as the elephant's trunk, which is otherwise restless, will become steady if it is made to hold an iron chain, so that the elephant goes its way without reaching out for any other object, even so the ever restless mind, which is trained and accustomed to the Name or Form through dhyana or japa, will steadily hold on to that alone.

When the mind is split up and dissipated into countless and varying thoughts, each individual thought becomes extremely weak and inefficient. When, on the contrary, such thoughts subside more and more till they finally get destroyed, the mind becomes one-pointed, and thereby acquiring strength and sustaining power, easily reaches perfection in the method of enquiry in quest of the Self.

Regulation of diet restricting it to satvic food1, taken in moderate quantity is of all the rules of conduct the best, and it is most conducive to the development of the satvic qualities2 of the mind. These, in their turn, assist one in the practice of Atmavichara or enquiry in quest of the Self.

1. i.e., simple and nutritious food which sustains but does not stimulate the physical body.
2. Purity of heart, self-restraint, evenness of temper, tenderness towards all beings, fortitude, and freedom from desire, hatred and arrogance are the outstanding virtues of the satvic mind.


Countless vishaya-vasanas (subtle tendencies of the mind relating to objects of sense-gratification) occurring in quick succession one after the other, like the waves of the ocean, agitate the mind. Nevertheless, they too subside and finally get destroyed with progressive practice of Atmadhyana or meditation on the Self. Without giving room even to the thought, which occurs in the form of doubt, whether it is possible to stay merely as the very Self — all the vasanas having subsided — one should firmly and unceasingly carry on meditation on the Self.

However sinful a person may be, if he would stop wailing inconsolably, "Alas! I am a sinner, how shall I attain Salvation?" and casting away even the thought that he is a sinner, if he would zealously carry on meditation on the Self, he would most assuredly get reformed.

So long as vishaya vasanas continue to inhere in the mind, it is necessary to carry on the enquiry, 'Who am I?' As and when thoughts occur, they should, one and all, be annihilated then and there, at the very place of their origin, by the method of enquiry in quest of the Self.

Not to desire anything extraneous to oneself constitutes Vairagya (dispassion) or nirasa (desirelessness). Not to give up one's hold on the Self constitutes Jnana (Knowledge). But really Vairagya and Jnana are one and the same. Just as the pearl-diver, tying stones to the waist, dives down into the depths and gets the pearl from the seabed, even so every aspirant, pledged to Vairagya, may dive deep into himself and realize the precious Atman. If the earnest seeker would only cultivate the constant and deep contemplative 'remembrance' (smrti) of the true nature of the Self till he has realized it, that alone would suffice. Distracting thoughts are like the enemy in the fortress. As long as they are in possession of it, they will certainly sally forth. But if you would, as and when they come out, put them to the sword, the fortress will finally be captured.

God and the Guru (Master) are not really different: they are identical. He that has earned the Grace of the Guru shall undoubtedly be saved and never forsaken, just as the prey that has fallen into the tiger's jaws will never be allowed to escape. But the disciple, for his part, should unswervingly follow the path shown by the Master.

Firm and disciplined inherence in the Atman (Atma-nishtha), without giving the least scope for the rise of any thought other than the deep contemplative thought of the Self, does verily constitute self-surrender to the Supreme Lord. Let any amount of burden be laid on Him, He doth bear it all. It is, in fact, the indefinable power of the Lord that ordains, moves and controls everything that happens. Why, then, should we languish tormented by vexatious thought, saying "This wise to act; but no, that way....", instead of meekly but happily submitting ourselves to that power? Knowing full well that the train carries all the weight, why indeed should we, the passengers travelling in it, carry the small individual articles of luggage on our laps to our great discomfort, instead of putting them aside and sitting at perfect ease?

That which is Bliss is verily the Self. Bliss and the Self are not distinct and separate but are one and identical. And That alone is real. Not even in one of the countless objects of the mundane world is there anything that can be called happiness. It is through sheer ignorance and unwisdom we fancy that happiness is obtained from them. On the contrary when the mind is externalized, it suffers pain and anguish. The truth is that every time our desires get fulfilled, the mind turning to its source experiences only that happiness which is natural to the Self. Similarly, in deep sleep, in spiritual trance (samadhi) in a state of swoon etc , when the desired object is obtained or when evil befalls an object considered undesirable, the mind turns within and enjoys that Bliss of Atman. In this manner, wandering astray forsaking the Self and returning back again to it within, is the interminable and wearisome lot of the mind.

It is pleasant under the shade of a tree; scorching is the sun-heat without. A person toiling in the sun seeks the cool shade of the tree and is happy under it. Staying there for a while, he moves about, but unable to bear the merciless heat of the sun, he seeks the shade again. In this way he moves, going out from the shade into the sun, and coming into the shade from the sun without.

He that acts in this manner is the unwise one. Whereas the wise one never leaves the shade: even so the mind of the Enlightened Sage (Jnani) never exists apart from Brahman or Absolute. The mind of the ignorant one, on the other hand, often entering the phenomenal world suffers pain and anguish; and then, turning for a short while towards Brahman, it experiences happiness. Such is the mind of the ignorant one.

This phenomenal world, however, is nothing but thought. When the world recedes from one's view — that is when free from thought — the mind enjoys the Bliss of the Self. Conversely, when the world appears — that is when thought occurs — the mind experiences pain and anguish.

Not from any desire, resolve or effort on the part of the rising sun, but merely due to the presence of his rays, the lens emits heat, the lotus blossoms, water evaporates and the individuals in society take up their respective avocations in life. In the proximity of the magnet the needle moves. Even so, the soul or jiva, subjected to the three-fold activity of creation, preservation and destruction, which take place merely due to the unique Presence of the Supreme Lord, performs acts in accordance with its karma1 and subsides to rest after such activity. But the Lord Himself has no resolve; no act or event touches even the fringe of His being. This state of immaculate aloofness is likened unto that of the sun who is untouched by the activities of life, or unto that of the all-pervasive ether, which is not affected by the interaction of the complex qualities of the other four elements.

1. i.e., the fruits of past actions which are being worked out in present life.


All scriptures without any exception proclaim that for attaining Salvation mind should be subdued; and having known that control of mind is their final conclusion, it is futile to make an interminable study of the scriptures. What is required for such control is actual enquiry regarding oneself by self-interrogation, 'Who am I?' How, then, could this enquiry in quest of the Self be made merely by means of a study of the scriptures?

One should realize the Self by the Eye of Wisdom. Does Rama need a mirror that he may recognize himself as Rama? That to which the 'I' refers is within the five sheaths1, whereas the scriptures are outside them. Therefore, to seek by means of the study of scriptures the Self, that has to be realized by summarily rejecting even the five sheaths, would only be futile.

To enquire 'Who am I that is in bondage?' and to know one's real nature is alone Liberation. To keep the mind constantly turned within and to abide thus in the Self is alone Atmavichar, whereas dhyana consists in fervent contemplation of the Self as Sat-Chit-Ananda. Indeed at some time, one may have to forget everything that has been learnt.

1. They are the physical, vital and mental sheaths, and the sheaths of Knowledge— Experience and of Bliss.


Just as it is futile to examine the rubbish that has to be swept up only to be thrown away, even so it is futile for him who seeks to know the Self, if instead of casting away the tattvas1 that envelope the Self, he sets himself to enumerate them or to examine their qualities. He should, on the other hand, consider the phenomenal world with reference to himself as merely a dream.

1. Tattvas are the elements into which phenomenal existence from the subtle mind up to the gross matter is classified.


Except that the wakeful state is long and the dream state is short, there is no other difference between the two. All the activities of the dream state appear, for the time being, just as real as the activities of the wakeful state seem to be while awake. Only, during the dream state the mind assumes another form or a different bodily sheath. For, thoughts on the one hand, and name and form on the other, occur simultaneously during both the wakeful and dream states.

There are not two minds, one good and the other evil. It is only the vasanas or tendencies of the mind that are of two kinds, good and favourable, evil and unfavourable. When the mind is associated with the former, it is called good; and when associated with the latter, it is called evil. However evil-minded other people may appear to you, it is not proper to hate or despise them. Likes and dislikes, love and hatred are equally to be eschewed. It is also not proper to let the mind often rest on objects or affairs of mundane life. As far as possible one should not interfere in the affairs of others. Everything offered to others is really an offering to oneself; and if only this truth is realized, who is there that would refuse anything to others?

If the ego rises, all else will also rise: if it subsides all else will also subside. The deeper the humility with which we conduct ourselves, the better it is for us. If only the mind is kept under control, what matters it where one may happen to be?



Self-knowledge is an easy thing,
The easiest thing there is.



The Self is something that's entirely real
Even for the most ordinary man.
It could be said that the clear gooseberry1
Is an illusion by comparison.

1. The fruit mentioned in the Tamil text is the 'nelli' a common fruit of India. The proverb, "Nelli in the palm of the hand" signifies an object seen clearly and in its entirety.



The Self, which shines as Sun within the Heart,
Is real and all-pervading. 'T will reveal
Itself as soon as false thought is destroyed
And not one speck remains. For this thought is
The cause of the appearance of false forms,
The body and the world, which seem to be
Real things in spite of Self, which steadfast stands
The ever-changeless, firm as Truth itself.
When Self shines forth darkness will be dispersed
Affliction cease and Bliss alone remain.


The thought "I am the body," is the string
On which are threaded diverse thoughts like beads.
Therefore, on diving deep upon the quest
"Who am I and from whence?" thoughts disappear
And consciousness of Self then Rushes forth
As the 'I—I' within the cavity
Of every seeker's Heart. And this is Heaven!
This is that Stillness, the abode of Bliss!


What is the use of knowing everything
Except the Self? What else is there to know
For anyone when Self, itself, is known?
On realizing in oneself the Self,
Which is the only Self-effulgent One
In myriads of selves, the Light of Self
Will clearly shine within. This is indeed
The true display of Grace, the ego's death
And the unfolding of the Bliss Supreme!


In order that the bonds of destiny
And all its kindred may at last be loosed,
And so that one may also be released
From the dread cycle of both birth and death,
This Path than others is far easier.
Therefore be still and keep a silent hold
On tongue and mind and body. That which is
The Self-effulgent will arise within.
This the Supreme Experience! Fear will cease.
This is the boundless sea of perfect Bliss !


Annamalai2, the Transcendental One,
That is the Eye behind the eye of mind,
Which eye and other senses cognizes,
Which in their turn illuminate the Sky
And all the other elements as well,
This is again the Spirit-Sky in which
The Mind-Sky doth appear, That shines within
The Heart which is of every thought quite free
And with gaze fixed within, remains as That.
Annamalai, the Self-Effulgent, shines.
But Grace3 is needed most. So faithful be
Unto the Self and Bliss will then result!

2. This Tamil name is a word meaning 'Unsurmount-able Hill' and is here used to address and signify the Inner Self, which is beyond the reach of thought and speech.
3 i.e., Grace coming from an Adept-Sage is necessary as a prerequisite to obtain such illuminating experience.



"Self-Realization is most easy," wrote a disciple one day, "the reason is that the Self is Being and nothing could be so real as that."
The disciple then laid it before Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi with a request that He should write a song with that beginning.
Sri Bhagavan's original verses in Tamil have been translated into English by Sri Alan Wentworth Chadwick of Ramanasramam.