As It Happens: Who Am I?

Image of Ramana Maharshi

“The mind will subside only by means of the enquiry ‘Who am I?’

“The thought ‘Who am I?’ – destroying all other thoughts – will itself finally be destroyed like the stick used for stirring the funeral pyre.” ―Ramana Maharshi

As It Happens

There is only what is happening now. As it happens, you and I are happening. And so it is for any being, for all that is – along with any being aware of being: feeling, seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, and thinking. There is only what is happening now.


As it happens, who is it happening to? Who is it occurring to? Who is aware of it? Who is feeling it? Who …

Sometimes there is no way to avoid I, me, my, or mine when answering perfectly reasonable questions. As you answer, it is perfectly reasonable – and good practice – to silently ask, “Who am I?”

The practice of self-inquiry – atma vichara° – goes back a long way. Read on for a short take on it. (E&OE)


The Takeaway

Heaven – nirvana or whatever – is here and now. Always. The mind doesn’t get this, but the heart does. If thoughts are taking you for a ride, come back by silently asking, “Who am I?”

Forty years ago, Ram Dass called for people to “be here now.”° Two thousand years ago, a now more widely known teacher said that “the kingdom of God is within you.”*

Two and a half thousand years ago, Siddhartha Gautama (ca. 563 – ca. 483 BC)° urged “right effort”° on people: they must do the work themselves; the awakened can only show them how.°

Avoid the deadly sin of acedia (sloth).° Do the work and see for yourself. Whenever thoughts hijack you, taking you off on a mental journey, come back with “Who am I?”

Self-inquiry is an open secret: hidden in plain sight, available anywhere at no charge, invisible everywhere because there is no money in it and no upside to it for hierarchy of any kind, religious or secular. And yet it may be the spiritual practice for you to work on.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote that the peace of God “passeth all understanding.” Well, that goes for all that happens as it happens, including what happens with self-inquiry. It can be apprehended but not comprehended.

# A Midsummer Night’s Dream (tweets sent)

See for yourself: do the work – knowing that for at least as far back as anyone knows what has been said, self-inquiry has been said by some to be how to still the mind and so to feel a timeless presence that is beyond understanding.

This presence is indescribable except as delight and awe at the wonder and the mystery of being here now – felt in the awareness of what happens as it happens, and not felt in the nonstop distractions of a mental journey … driven by one thought after another.

The awareness of timeless presence and the apprehending of reality come and go together. They are one, not two. Duality precludes them.

Timeless presence is felt in the apprehending of reality as one being, indivisible, and not in the comprehending of duality – as multiple distinctions in the mind: between you and what is not you, between now and what is not now, between this and what is not this … and so on.

It’s all in the mind. All that concerns you, that is.


The mind will subside only by means of the inquiry ‘Who am I?’ —Ramana Maharshi

So when words like “I” or “me” come up, silently ask, “Who am I?”

And when any unhelpful thought comes up, switch to these:

Who is this occurring to?
To me?
Who am I?

For each such thought as it happens, come back with “Who am I?”

And practice, practice, practice …

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. —Yogi Berra° (unsourced, widely attributed)

See also An Alternative to Meditation: The Direct Approach.

*Tolstoy used these words – attributed to Jesus in Luke 17:21 – as the title for his most important work of nonfiction, an influence on Gandhi and, through him and often directly, an influence on all nonviolent protest.

Quest for the Kingdom (John M. Newman, 2011)° follows up on research on Luke 17:21 since the discovery – and translation in the 1950s – of the Gospel of Thomas.


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