A Quick Look at the Story of Ramana Maharshi

picture of Ramana Marharshi


Ramana Maharshi was born in 1879 as Venkataraman Iyer, in what is now Tiruchuli, Tamil Nadu, India.  After a near death experience and spiritual awakening in 1896, he had to sneak away from his family because they would not approve of him becoming a sannyasin – one whose life is marked by renunciation of material desires and who detaches from material life. He took a train to Tiruvannamalai and stayed in that area till the end of his life.

[See map below – The lower star is Tiruchuli. the upper star is Tiruvannamalai.]

Early Spiritual Life

Three years later in February 1899, Ramana left the foothills to live on the Arunachala Hill (actually a mountain) eventually taking up residence at Virupaksha Cave for the next 17 years.

One of Ramana Maharshi’s first teachings of note was his reply to a series of questions asked by Sri M. Sivaprakasam Pillai about the year 1902.  Pillai was visiting the area representing the Revenue Department of the South Arcot Collectorate.  While there, he went to Virupaksha Cave on Arunachala Hill and met Ramana Maharshi This record of this was first published by Sri Pillai in 1923 and titled Who Am I (Nan Yar?). [ There is a link to free copy at end of article.]

Another slightly longer work, titled Self-Enquiry, was published by Gambhiram Seshayya during the same time period.  Seshayya was the Municipal Overseer at Tiruvannamalai circa 1900. This work, titled Self-Enquiry, came from notes taken between 1900 -1902. Both this work and ‘Who Am I?’ are available for free on the internet.

Lower star is Tiruchuli. Upper star is Tiruvannamalai.

Introduction to the west

Other works included a biography of Ramana Maharshi, Self Realisation: The Life and Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, written by B. V. Narasimha, published in 1931, and A Search in Secret India, by Paul Brunton. Brunton’s book became a best-seller and it was then that Ramana Maharshi became well-known outside of India.

His Passing

In November 1948, a tiny cancerous lump was found on Ramana’s arm. The story is that since he was so beloved, he had access to the best medal treatment available but did not take much interest. Ramana gave his medical patch to another suffering man to see if perhaps it would help him. The other man lived, but Ramana Maharshi died on April 14, 1950 at 8:47 P.M. At the same time of his death, a shooting star was seen.


Ramana Maharshi’s teachings recommended self-enquiry as the principal means to remove ignorance and gain self-awareness when combined with bhakti (devotion). Keep in mind that his not the same self-enquiry of modern psychology.  Ramana Maharshi ‘s method of Self-Enquiry consists of the question ‘Who am I?’. Ramana Maharshi taught it is the primary means of gaining happiness and knowing one’s self or true nature.

The answer to “Who Am I’ is not what is commonly given – “I am so-and-so. I have a wife and two kids and work at such-and-such.” Instead, it consists of the stripping away of what you are not. You are not the body. You are not the senses, you are not the organs of speech, movement, etc. You are not the breath. Neither are you nescience.  Neither are you the mind, thoughts or emotions.

What he uncovers is that what remains after all these things or ideas are stripped away is who you are.  You are the awareness that remains, the observer, the one who sees, or the one who watches what the mind thinks.  You are the force that allows all these things to happen. Once who you are departs, they stop.

You will note this runs contrary to some popular western ideas such as, “You are the sum total of all your thoughts,” or that all the above is the compilation of who you are. Which is right? That is for you to decide.

Ramana Maharshi’s teachings say you are that force, spirit, or observer period. You are not a combination of body, mind, and a spirit – you are the spirit. The spirit is a separate entity and all those other things are merely instruments of it. You are the observer and once you realize this and stay in that knowledge your problems begin to crumble.

The method is simple, but carrying it out is difficult.

Article by The Old Dirt Road – Paul Nieto

Free Links for his works:
Self-Enquiry http://selfdefinition.org/ramana/Self-Enquiry.pdf
Who Am I? (Nan Yar?) http://www.sriramanamaharshi.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/who_am_I.pdf

Article by The Old Dirt Road – Paul Nieto

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