Diving Into The Heart: By Alan Jacobs
(An Article published in the July Issue of The Mountain Path)
“Just as the pearl diver ties a stone to his waist ,
to the bottom of the ocean bed, and there takes the pearls,
so each one of us should be endowed with non-attachment,
dive within himself and obtain the Self-Pearl.
The first clear statement pointing to the practice of Diving Into the Heart appears in Bhagavan’s second written work entitled, Who Am I, composed in 1901. Thus my chosen quotation, from the Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi verse 19, of this seminal work, is quoted at the head of this article.
Ramana used different metaphors and phraseology to describe this practice, which forms one of the key approaches to Self Enquiry, but the metaphor of the Pearl Of Great Price pointing to Liberation is on also used by Jesus Christ and is often found in the poetry of Jaludin Rumi and the Sufi Mystics.
It is however, in the Ramana Gita that the Second Verse in Chapter Two, has become immortalized by the great Tamil Poet and Yogi, Ganapati Muni, who in 1915 was rewarded by Sri Ramana himself, with the answer which is popularly named as the Eka Sloki. Of over three Hundred verses in the Ramana Gita, all the questions and answers were transcribed by the Muni into Sanskrit verse, with the exception of this one, which was composed metrically by Bhagavan himself, in 1915, also in Sanskrit. This was his first composition in that language, rather than Tamil
There are several fine English translations of the famed Eka Sloki of Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, but I have selected the poetic metrical one used in the current edition of Bhagavan’s Collected Works on page 151, under the title The Self in the Heart where in the eighth stanza of the Supplement to the Forty Verses (1928), it was repeated by Ramana exactly as he gave it in the Ramana Gita, but now in Tamil.
IN THE INMOST CORE, THE HEART
SHINES AS BRAHMAN ALONE,
AS I-I, THE SELF AWARE.
ENTER DEEP INTO THE HEART
BY SEARCH FOR SELF, OR DIVING DEEP,
WITH BREATH UNDER CHECK.
THUS ABIDE EVER IN ATMAN.
Later, in Verse three of Chapter two, the Muni writes in 1917 “This verse is the utterance of Bhagavan Maharshi himself and is the essence of the Upanishads and Vedanta! Then in verse 47 of the Marital Garland of Letters Bhagavan himself writes ‘Oh Let me by Thy Grace, dive into Thy Self, wherein merge only those divested of their minds and thus made pure, O Arunachala.’ Further more to add to the pointers in which Sri Bhagavan obviously emphasizes this suggested practice for us, we have in the Upadesa Sarum or Thirty Verses different metaphor, but pointing to the same or similar practice. In verse 11 he writes:
“Holding the breath controls the mind
like a bird caught in a net.
Breath regulation helps absorption
In the heart.”
We shall be discussing the finer distinctions between breath control and breath regulation as I begin to look at approaches to the actual practice, but meanwhile we have the most important 28th and 29th verse in the Ulladu Narpadu or Forty Verses on Reality.
28. Controlling speech and breath, and diving deep within oneself – like one who, to find a thing that has fallen into water, dives deep down – one must seek out the source whence the aspiring ego springs.
29. Cease all talk of I and search with inward diving-mind whence the thought of I springs up. This is the way of wisdom. To think instead, I Am not this, but that Am I, is helpful in the search but it is not the search itself.
There have been numerous translations and commentaries on these two verses. The one I personally found to be most helpful was in the Sat Darshan Bhashya by K (Sri Kapali Sastriar) the respected, brilliant, and erudite, young disciple of Ganapati Muni .The original text was written in Tamil by Bhagavan but the Muni translated it into Sanskrit. He then asked Kapali, who was highly fluent in the use of the English language, Prosody, and Vedantic Philosophy, to write the commentary, and translate the verses metrically into English, thereby preserving much of the original ‘rasa’ or delight of Ramana’s own Metre. According to Kapali Sastriar’s Diaries, in his Collected Works, (published by the Aurobindo Ashram), where Kapali eventually took up residence, this text and commentary was shown to Sri Bhagavan, amended, and where necessary improved. The numeration in this translation differs as the invocatory verses were numbered one andtwo, thus the verses under discussion appear as 30 and 31.
S.S Cohen, for example makes the cogent point, in his commentary on verse 28, he writes “Deep Diving is a metaphor that implies salvaging the ego from the depths of ignorance into which it has fallen, not amateurishly, but very expertly and unremittingly, or else success will be sporadic and even doubtful”. At this point it is worthy of mention that Sri Kapali Sastriar also wrote an exhaustive commentary on the Ramana Gita, published by Ramanasramam. His Diaries vividly recount his meeting with Ramana, which took place, and the text approved after ammendation. This was composed in Sanskrit in 1941. It also includes a comprehensive commentary on the famous second verse of the second chapter, the Eka Sloki, much too long for this Essay, but well worth studying by those interested in pursuing this practice. However K’s commentary on these verse in the earlier Sat Darshan Bhashya is both long and powerful. On these verses. He makes many powerful points, and some of these I have extracted.
For example in (V 30) he writes that ‘just as one forgets all other thoughts and keeps aside all other cares, and holding breath and speech gets into the well and plunges deep to find the lost article’. This method called Plunge is suggested , and this is the real test of earnestness….. the attempt involves gathering up all one’s divided interests and dissipated energy into a concentrated effort of the whole man, of his Being in all its entirety…. V.31, then alone real quest for the Self may be said to begin…..’ It is my own opinion and that of others with whom I have discussed this important practice that Diving and Plunging are synonyms for this approach to Self Enquiry . On page 26 of this Sat Darshan Bhashya (published by Ramanasramam), in one of the introductory chapters, entitled Sadhana and Siddhi K writes “…..it throws the whole being into a consuming fire as it were, takes hold of the life breath which is lost in the bodily feeling , and separating it from the bodily grip enters it into the Heart…such is the real Jijnasa, the genuine earnest desire and search for the Self.
Before moving onto the actual approach and experience of this great practice, it is necessary to point out that there are numerous references on ‘Diving’, in the celebrated Talks with Ramana Maharshi .As these are not separately indexed I note some important ones here. In Talks 252 Page 210 he gives A full answer to the question ‘how is the mind to enter the heart?’, which is much too long to quote here, and anything taken out of context would fail to do justice to the text, and it would be preferable to look up the original. Similarly, In an answer also much too long to quote here is Talks No.616 on page 576, where there is a very long dissertation on the ’Jivanadi’ during which Bhagavan “ says ….. the seekers aim must be to drain away the vasanas from the heart and let not the reflecting medium obstruct the Light of Eternal Consciousness .This is achieved by the search for the origin of the Ego and by Diving into theHeart. This is the direct method for Self Realisation……I feel this is a key quote.
It is, however, in the recently published Padamalai, the Teachings of Ramana Maharshi recorded by Muruganar and edited and annotated by David Godman, that the richest haul for the potential ‘Pearl Fisher or Diver’ may be found. Again these are not separately indexed so I list some here. On Page 92…One’s own reality is Ananda, if you were to dive knowingly into the Atman, with the conviction born of this experience, then the state of Self would be experienced.(From The Power of the Presence Vol. 1 p.263-4.) On Page101 , No’s 50 & 51. “To whatever extent you dive with a one pointed mind within the Heart, to that extent you will experience bliss. In so doing the vexation of the clamorous and exceedingly cruel ego ghost, the mind, will perish leaving not a trace. On Page 146.No.53 ….Q. How to seek the mind? Bhagavan: “Dive within .You are now aware that the mind rises up from within. So sink within and seek. There is further comment on breath control being an aid, and where the breath sinks, the I Thought arises…when the attempt is made, it will itself take you to the goal. In Talks. No 195,Page 160.On Page 234 no.210 David Godman gives all of Muruganar’s Guru Vachaka Kovai verse 46 in which he quotes Ramana as having said “….put aside completely the extremely extensive Vedas and Agamas because their true benefit is getting established in the enquiry of diving within oneself….. On Page 232 No.18 he quotes “to whatever extent that mind-consciousness dives within, to that same extent will the bliss of the Self spring forth and reveal itself…
So we see the extent to which Sri Bhagavan repeatedly points to the importance of this practice over and over again . To cap it all we find The Eka Sloki was mounted during Bhagavan’s lifetime, obviously with his consent, above his ornate marble couch in the New Hall, where the verse is engraved in Gold Sanskrit letters on, a tablet of polished black marble . As Sri C. Sudarsanam writes “the Kavya Kanta was so overjoyed with this Eka Sloki when Bhavagan first gave it , that he proclaimed it as Ramonopanishad, Hardopanishad , and is reported as saying ‘the time for that , (a commentary on the Eka Sloki) has yet to come. I shall compose something like the Bhagavad Gita as a commentary.’ That is how the Ramana Gita with the traditional eighteen chapters, in Sanskrit poetic metre was born.
Before discussing the practice, from my own experience, and all I have read , and discussed with other Devotees, it is necessary to point out that it is only one of the different approaches to Atma Vichara, given by Sri Ramana to suit the dispositions of different seekers, according to their temperaments and maturity. Devotees who earnestly wish to practice some form of Atma Vichara find they are, as it were, ‘Initiated’ , by a strong intimation from the Sat-Guru in the Heart ,pointing to a suitable approach for them, or an approach which is the easiest for them to commence. and in some cases, even setting up the Enquiry in the Heart as a direct experience. This is obviously a great manifestation of Grace, when the Self sees that the earnest seeker is sufficiently mature enough to commence Atma Vichara.
In my own case I found it very difficult, like many western seekers, to maintain the attention needed for the Self Enquiry approach initially prescribed in ‘Who Am I’? but when I came across ‘Diving Into the Heart’ it was a revelation! as here was a radical practice I could pursue, by stopping my restless mind through breath control and regulation. I have been enjoying this form of Self Enquiry for some years and have great faith and personal evidence in its efficacy. In my enthusiasm I even composed a long Narrative Poem , published privately called ‘The Pearl Fishers’, which describes the practice. Of course Ramana’s long essay called Self Enquiry at the beginning of his Collected Works summarizes the different approaches and the necessary, optional preparatory and support practices, including regulation of the breath (verses 21-26), and in Chapter Six of the Ramana Gita, and verse 4 Chapter 2 of Spiritual Instruction. they are expanded as aids for necessary mind control.
Each practitioner of Self Enquiry will be drawn to that approach which he finds the easiest and appeals to him most. Some even have several arrows in their ‘atma vichara quiver’ with Aum as their bow. When however we come to Diving into the Heart, there is a useful treatise called ‘The Technique of Maha Yoga’ by Shri N.R.Narayana Aiyar in which he describes his own practice of Diving Into the Heart, as enjoyed by this earnest Sadhak, and first published by Ramanasramam in 1962. Briefly this short book summarises in general terms, his own experience and understanding of Self Enquiry, preparatory and support practices in the first twenty six pages .But on page 26he leads one into his own personal Sadhana of Diving Into the Heart by the key passage I have already partially quoted from Talks 616 page 576…… ‘the seekers aim should be to drain away the vasanas from the heart and let no reflection obstruct the Light of Consciousness. This is achieved by the search for the source of the ego. This is the direct method. The state free from vasanas is the primal state and eternal state of purity….’. He then quotes in Bhagavan’s description of the Locus of the Self, the famous quotation from the Supplement to the Forty Verses.
‘Two digits to the right of the centre of the chest is the Heart like a lotus bud. Breath, mind and the Light of Consciousness originate from here’.
There are many supporting passages in the Ramana Literature where Bhagavan indubitably affirms this location from his own direct experience. But we also know that Ramana stated elsewhere in Talks 403 page 378 that ‘you are the centre of Dhyana and that is the Heart. Thus a location is given with reference to the body……’even when the limbs are amputated you are there but with defective senses(adjuncts). So a centre must be admitted. That is called the Heart. The Heart is not merely the centre but the Self. Heart is only another name for the Self. Doubts only arise when you identify it with something tangible and physical…..’ However in Talks No.131 page 116 Ramana also states …’of course there is also the practice of meditation on the heart centre. It is only a practice and not investigation. Only the one who meditates on the heart can remain aware when the mind ceases to be active and remains still’ From this statement, as a practitioner of Diving or Plunging I have deduced, along with trusted and advanced Devotees in Ramanasramam and Tiruvannamalai with whom I have discussed the question, that the right side of the chest must not be seen as an object to be focused on, but merely as a doorway or portal in which one can enter to commence the search for the source of the ‘I Thought’. The point of entry may be found as the author of ‘The Technique of Maha Yoga’ writes, and Ramana also suggests , ‘watch the movement of the breath…and observe where breath rises and sinks inside the chest….’ . As in the Upadesa Sarum (and elsewhere) Bhagavan writes ‘the source of breath and mind is the same. Earnest Practitioners invariably find , as I have, that the Locus where a palpitation can sometimes be felt, is on the right side of he chest, where Sri Bhagavan himself affirms it to be.
Now regarding breath control and breath regulation, the Eka Sloki clearly states this as an option. Diving can be practiced with or without restraint of breath. We once had a Yahoo Group Discussion Group called Atma Vichara, with over two hundred subscribing members, world wide .Some reported that as soon as they approached the door-way of the heart with devotion and attention, the sacredness of the inner shrine automatically made the mind go quiet, and breath regulation was therefore unnecessary for them. Many practioners, however, especially those like myself with the usual Western rajasic restless mind, find breath restraint invaluable. Although Breath Control is summarised in ‘Self Enquiry’ from verses 21-25, it is more fully detailed by Bhagavan in his answer to the Muni and his disciples in Chapter Six of the Ramana Gita called ‘Mind Control’.
Ramana’s approach to this practice is very simple, and is not the extensive Pranayama which needs the supervision of a competent Teacher. One clear demonstration of full inhalation, retention and exhalation would be adequate . In verse five he states ‘control of life force means merely watching the course of its movement. By constant watch over its course (flow), Kumbhaka (retention) is achieved. This is an invaluable aid for calming the agitated mind at any time. In verse 6 Bhagavan, does recommend Hatha Yoga as an additional aid for those disposed towards this health giving and purificational practice, which would include some Pranayama. Many, like myself, find it is a valuable support practice for Atma Vichara. Here a competent Teacher is essential. In verse 7 we are asked to breathe out fully (Rechaka) with the necessary time required, and then fully inhale for another unit of the same time (Puraka). Then Kumbhaka or Retention may be held for four counts of the time taken for inhalation. It is during this period of holding the breath , that I finds is the best time to Plunge or Dive into the Heart by entering the portal on the right side of the chest using focussed attention, like a laser beam, from the chakra between the eye brows, to penetrate as deeply as one can, searching for the source of the ‘I Thought’, until one is forced to fully exhale, with Bhastika or diaphramtic exhalation with a guttural or hissing sound, which, more effectively, expels residual thought and vrittis.
This differs from the approach of the author of The Technique of Maha Yoga where he recommends (page 57) ‘to slowly Exhale and watch the exhalation movement in the chest. With the sinking movement in the chest dive into the Heart. Here I assume he is relying on the Pranic Force to enter the heart , with focussed attention . But I find focused attention issuing from the chakra or pineal gland, between the eye brows, far more powerful and would include the Pranic Force on exhalation as well. But obviously as in all matters of Sadhana it is for each Sadhak to find his own most effective way which is most amenable for him, guided by the Sat-Guru within his own Heart.
Another important prerequisite to this practice is given in verse three of the famed Arunachala Pancharatna or Five Gems to Arunachala where Bhagavan writes ‘He who turns inward with untroubled mind to search within where the Consciousness of ‘I’ arises, Realises the Self, and dissolves in Thee O Arunachala!’ .
Chapter Nine of the Ramana Gita in which the great Eka Sloki first appeared, has a whole explanation on the Granthi Bheedam or Knot. In verse three, Ramana states that theassociation of the Self with the Body is called the Granthi (Knot). It is my intuitive feelingthat Bhagavan’s powerful sword of Diving Into the Heart will eventually cut this identification and sever the knot . A full explanation to the Granthi Bheedham can be found in Spiritual Instruction Verse 12, Collected Works Ramanashramam Edition page 63.
Bhagavan often stated that a moderate Vegetarian Satvic Diet with milk products was a great aid in atma vichara, and there are many references to this in his ‘Talks’ where the importance of a Satvic Diet is clearly indexed. Finally there is the question of posture and here Bhagavan is very clear when he writes ‘of the eighty four main postures siddha is the most excellent’ in verse 27 section 3 of Self Enquiry. This is Siddhasana when the left heel is placed over the crotch and the right heel over that.’ Narayana Aiyer warns that this process of dedicated Diving Into the Heart may take a number of years, and this writer fully agrees from my own experience over many years. One assumes it depends on the skill employed in the practice of concentrated probing, with devotion, and the force of attention available, and the strength of the occlusions and vasanas resisting expulsion, as well as the gunas active at the time.
Obviously it will differ with each Sadhak, and no Plunge or Dive, in the search for the source of the I Thought can ever be exactly the same for anyone at any time. I find that each Dive is different in quality depending on the force of attention gathered, like an artist, when he prepares to draw an object, or a mathematician concentrating on a difficult problem, or gazing into the wick of a lit candle. In some cases one feels one strikes a wall , or sheath, and the attention cannot penetrate .But invariably one finds one can penetrate deeper and deeper until one reaches the abyss when one can go no further. Then on the exhalation a great deal of residual thought or vrittis are expelled. The more zeal , and determination one devotedly feels, that this isthe most urgent vital act and necessary effort one can make, the deeper it goes. One is immediately detached from any identification previously agitating the mind.
I find it is quite easy to commence the day with three or four dives, and then the opportunity or energy to proceed may happen another three or four times during the day. There is, however considerable Grace involved , as this practice churns the nadis, and the nervous system would be overstrained if achievement was too sudden .If their is a strain on the Nadis , Bhagavan says that with persistence all will come right in the end. This is expanded in the valuable chapter on ‘Self Enquiry Misconceptions’ in David Godman’s excellent anthology ‘Be As You Are’. Patience must be exercised for ripeness and maturity to fructify, and then Grace mercifully chooses the right moment for appropriate glimpses of the Real Self, in all its magnificence, as a forerunner to Realisation, when no further Sadhana is needed.
There is, however, from my own experience, no doubt that the practice gracefully weakens identification with troublesome thoughts whenever it is applied. Also pulsations are often felt on the right side of the chest , where a niche can be found in which one may rest for sitting in silent meditation. Again, however, every bold adventure into deep sea pearl fishing will be different, for each sadhak, and unique according to his own endeavour.
A baffling question arises, however, insofar as even when reaching the bottom ofthe abyss with concentrated attention, nothing is discovered, and the space probed seems empty. Wise, experienced devotees with whom I have discussed this question inform me that while the practice is still done from the mind, nothing should be expected. But at a certain point, after earnest and regular persistence in the practice the enquiry moves into the Heart, through Grace. Then atma vichara spontaneously arises, and one is drawn into the Heart, when the source of the I Thought may eventually be found with the necessary release. I have found this happens to me more and more, but I have not reached the stage where it becomes frequent or permanent.
Keeping in mind that one is searching for the root of the I Thought with zeal, and holding the breath, one should not expect an answer or result .The purification of latent tendencies are buried deeply in the subconscious, and what is happening can not be known by the reflected, limited, normal consciousness of the empiric mind. I am totally convinced, however, from my own experience, that Grace and effort are firmly interlinked.
This practice may be a great help for some Devotees, as it has for me. Especially for those who find other approaches too difficult because of lack of necessary yogic preparation, concentration practice, or inability to control the mind, even using Mantra Japa. There is no doubt that the implication of the Maharshi’s many repetitions of this practice, in his own writings and Talks, is of major significance. It is if our Ramana Sat-Guru appears and tells us Dive within the Heart and Realize the Self!
Note from Richard: I did a final pass at editing and formatting this article for Alan and am posting it for him. If there are any problems with the work that I did, I am sorry.