by Alan Jacobs
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 practise 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 the 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 26 pages. But on page 26, he 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 seeker's 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 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 Talk 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 Talk 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 the 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 practised 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 the 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 six, 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 seven, 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 find it 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 the association of the Self with the body is called the Granthi (knot). It is my intuitive feeling that 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, Ramanasramam Edition, page 63.
Bhagavan often stated that a moderate vegetarian sattvic 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 sattvic diet is clearly indexed. Finally, there is the question of posture and here, Bhagavan is very clear when he writes 'of the 84 main postures, siddha is the most excellent� in verse 27, Section Three 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, this is the 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 there 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 of the 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 as if our Ramana sat-guru appears and tells us Dive within the Heart and realize the Self!