20 Quotes on the Nature of Reality From One of the Great Masters of Modern Times

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi was arguably one of the most esteemed Indian sages of the 20th Century. Born Venkataraman Iyer in 1879 to a middle-class family in Tiruchuli, Tamil Nadu, South India, he stands as a rarity among enlightened individuals due to his relatively minor interest in spiritual matters prior to his awakening at the age of 16.

Undergoing an episode that he would later refer to as “sudden liberation”, Venkataraman suffered an attack of sorts in his uncle’s home during which he became convinced he was going to die. Laying himself down and awaiting death he endured a terrifying “process of self-inquiry” which resulted in the ultimate and permanent loss of the fear of death as well as the dissolution of the ego in a “flood of self-awareness”.

After earnestly attempting to continue with his regular life of school and family matters for six weeks, Venkataraman finally slipped away, unbeknownst to his family members, travelling to the holy mountain of Arunachala, Tiruvannamalai, where he would remain until his death in 1950.

After his arrival he is said to have lapsed into a period of prolonged silence, often remaining completely inert for days at a time. No thought to food or water was given and his body would soon become emaciated and develop sores due to non use. If not for the attendance given him by others there — he often had to be shaken by the shoulders in order to accept food and water — he very well may have perished. Though he would gradually rise out of this state and be given the name Ramana Maharshi by one of his devotees, it would be another decade before he would begin answering the questions of the throngs of people who flocked to see him. Even after this, it is said that silence remained his greatest teaching.

Here, then, are 20 quotes on the nature of reality from one of the great masters of modern times.

  • Wanting to reform the world without discovering one’s true self is like trying to cover the world with leather to avoid the pain of walking on stones and thorns. It is much simpler to wear shoes.
  • Nobody doubts that he exists, though he may doubt the existence of God. If he finds out the truth about himself and discovers his own source, this is all that is required.
  • There is no greater mystery than this, that we keep seeking reality though in fact we are reality. We think that there is something hiding reality and that this must be destroyed before reality is gained. How ridiculous! A day will dawn when you will laugh at all your past efforts. That which will be the day you laugh is also here and now.
  • There is nothing like ‘within’ or ‘without.’ Both mean either the same thing or nothing.
  • ‘I exist’ is the only permanent self-evident experience of everyone.  Nothing else is so self-evident as ‘I am’. What people call self-evident, that is, the experience they get through the senses, is far from self-evident. The Self alone is that. So to do self-enquiry and be that ‘I am’ is the only thing to do. ‘I am’ is reality. I am this or that is unreal. ‘I am’ is truth, another name for Self.
  • Relative knowledge pertains to the mind and not to the Self. It is therefore illusory and not permanent. Take a scientist, for instance.  He formulates a theory that the Earth is round and goes on to prove it on an incontrovertible basis. When he falls asleep the whole idea vanishes; his mind is left a blank. What does it matter whether the world remains round or flat when he is asleep? So you see the futility of all such relative knowledge. One should go beyond relative knowledge and abide in the Self. Real knowledge is such experience, and not apprehension by the mind.
  • Become conscious of being conscious. Say or think “I am”, and add nothing to it. Be aware of the stillness that follows the “I am”. Sense your presence, the naked, unveiled, unclothed beingness. It is untouched by young or old, rich or poor, good or bad, or any other attributes. It is the spacious womb of all creation, all form.
  • Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try as you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.
  • Why should you trouble yourself about the future? You do not even properly know about the present. Take care of the present, the future will take care of itself.
  • Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.
  • No one succeeds without effort… Those who succeed owe their success to perseverance.
  • Correcting oneself is correcting the whole world. The Sun is simply bright. It does not correct anyone. Because it shines, the whole world is full of light. Transforming yourself is a means of giving light to the whole world.
  • The explorers seek happiness in finding curiosities, discovering new lands and undergoing risks in adventures. They are thrilling. But where is pleasure found? Only within. Pleasure is not to be sought in the external world.
  • When one remains without thinking one understands another by means of the universal language of silence.
  • We loosely talk of Self-realization, for lack of a better term.  But how can one realize or make real that which alone is real? All we need to do is to give up our habit of regarding as real that which is unreal. All religious practices are meant solely to help us do this. When we stop regarding the unreal as real, then reality alone will remain, and we will be that.
  • “Heart” is merely another name for the Supreme Spirit, because He is in all hearts. The entire Universe is condensed in the body, and the entire body in the Heart. Thus the Heart is the nucleus of the whole Universe. 
  • There are no impediments to meditation. The very thought of such obstacles is the greatest impediment.
  • Silence is most powerful. Speech is always less powerful than silence.
  • Your duty is to be and not to be this or that. ‘I am that I am’ sums up the whole truth. The method is summed up in the words ‘Be still’. What does stillness mean? It means destroy yourself. Because any form or shape is the cause for trouble. Give up the notion that ‘I am so and so’. All that is required to realize the Self is to be still. What can be easier than that? 
  • Eventually, all that one has learnt will have to be forgotten.
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Kyle McMillan is the founder and managing editor of Wisdom Pills. He is a freelance writer and maintains a personal website, metanoia, as well.