Inquire of the inmost, the one,
of its final secret,
which it holds for you through the ages.
Inquire of yourself.
Ramana Maharshi’s whole system of meditation was based on only this. He used to say, “There is only one form of meditation, and that is to ask yourself, ‘Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?’’’ He would say, “Put all the energy that you possess, put your whole life’s energy at stake in asking just this one question, ‘Who am I?’ Ask this question as if your life depended on it. Let each and every cell of your body cry out for this answer. And go on asking this question, but don’t give any answers, because all the answers you give will be false. Let the answer come by itself, don’t give the answer. You are always in such a hurry to supply the answer, and all your answers born out of your hurry are false – because such answers are already present in your head even before the question has been asked.”
People come to me and they say, “I ask myself, ‘Who am i? Who am I?’ And then the answer comes, ‘I am the soul, I am brahman, the ultimate reality.’”
The answer doesn’t come so fast. You must have read it in some book, you must have learned it from some scriptures. And the funny thing is that you already knew this long before you put the question to yourself! So what is the need to ask? Why are you asking? Who are you asking? You already know that you are a soul, and if you already know that, then what is there to ask?
No, the answers that your memory gives you will not be of any use. The answers given by your mind will be of no use. The real answer will come from your innermost self and that is very different. When that answer comes, it will sound as if someone else’s voice, as if it is not yours. The difference will be very clear. Though you will be asking the question, someone else will be answering. That speech will not be yours, those words will not be yours, that voice will not be yours. It will seem to be totally unknown.
That is why the mystics, the Sufis, the devotees, have said, “We asked and God gave the answer.” There is no God giving the answer, it is your own innermost self speaking to you; and in that place you yourself are God. But the voice is unfamiliar, you have never heard it before. You have never heard such words before. It has nothing to do with your lips, it does not arise from your throat, it has nothing whatsoever to do with your memory system, your mind, your intellect. It seems to be coming from some far-off place, from some place that is far away. That’s why everyone feels that the answer was given by somebody else. It is not someone else who gives you the answer, but you have wandered so far away from it, you have gone so far away, the gap between you and your innermost being has become so big, that your own answer seems to have been given by somebody else.
Ask, “Who am I?” but don’t give any answer. Use all your energy in asking the question, and don’t save any of it for answering – because your answer does not have any value. Your answer will be something which you have heard somewhere or the sayings of some sages or from your social conditioning. It will be like dust which has gathered on you from the outside: it will have no value. Ask as if you do not have any answer left to give. In your process of asking the question, all your answers should have dropped away and only the question should be left. And the day that only your question remains, your question will shoot like an arrow into your innermost self – because then there aren’t any answers on the periphery to stop it. Then, you will travel inwards.
That’s why all previous knowledge has to be dropped before attaining to supreme wisdom – that is, all the knowledge that you have accumulated up until now. Before it becomes possible to realise the supreme wisdom, it is necessary to throw all the scriptures into the river. All forms of burden have to be dropped, all doctrines and theories have to be done away with – because whatever has been acquired from the outside, cannot take you inwards.
And if you become capable of asking just this one pure question, “Who am I?” with all your heart and soul; and if you are in no hurry to get an answer, if you do not feel any expectation whatsoever – rather you feel you cannot possibly answer, because in the first place you do not know the answer – then one day you will suddenly realize that your question is taking you inwards. It will have become a boat on which you can sail inwards. Then, one day a point will also come when after constantly asking the question, the question too will drop – because the periphery, which gives meaningless answers, cannot have a meaningful question. This is a little complicated to understand – but how can the periphery, whose answers are meaningless, have a meaningful question?
First, your answers will drop away, your knowledge will be dropped and you will become ignorant. And in such a state of ignorance, only your question will be left; answers cannot survive. Then, a stage will come when even your ignorance falls away – and your question too. After constantly asking, after all answers have fallen away, a moment comes when you suddenly find that even the question does not arise anymore. Even if you wanted to formulate the question, you would not be able to do so. You have become a void. By constantly asking, “Who am I?, Who am I?” a state of emptiness has been born. And in that emptiness your innermost voice is heard for the first time, and you can hear the answer.
This sounds very paradoxical. As long as you keep on asking, you will not get the answer. When the questioning is dropped, you will get the answer. But now don’t say, “Then why should I ask? Let us just sit down and close our eyes, and we will get the answer.” No, because even though you may say, “I am not questioning at all,” actually you are still in the process of questioning. It is not possible as yet. And questions are helpful in taking you away from the periphery.
It is exactly like when you use a second thorn to remove a thorn from your body. What do you do with that second thorn? Do you keep it safely in the old wound? No, you throw it away too. Right now, your mind is full of questions; that’s why Ramana says to ask. Use this questioning as a thorn to remove the thorn of knowledge.
And then what will you do with this second thorn? After all, it was quite helpful in removing the thorn of knowledge, so because of this will you keep it safely? Now that you have been released from the bondage of knowledge, why worry about hanging on to ignorance? Why should a person who is willing to let go of knowledge still be attached to ignorance? Someone who could drop the answers such as “I am a soul, I am brahman, I am this and I am that,” and all such nonsense – will he hold on to the question “Who am I?” A moment will come when he will let go of that too. Both of the thorns will be thrown away.
Knowledge is a thorn, so is ignorance. And when both knowledge and ignorance are absent, then supreme wisdom is attained, then understanding blossoms. Then you know, “I am brahman.” Then, whatsoever you know will be from your own experience, it will be your very own discovery, you will be seeing it. This seeing will be your own personal experience. Then, what you say will not be something that you have heard from another person. What you say will be from your own experience. And the power of the whole world cannot take that experience away from you.
The knowledge that you had before, for example, “I am the brahman,” was such that, even if a small child questioned you about it, he would put you into all kinds of trouble. All he would have to say would be, “So, sir, you proclaim that you are the brahman? See this small stone? Can you destroy it?” This would be enough to get you into trouble – and all your talk about being the brahman would disappear! Or he could say something like, “Okay, since you call yourself the brahman, the supreme reality, can you make this tree blossom even though it is not the season for it to give flowers? After all, you are the brahman!”
Osho, The Voice of Silence, Ch 16 (excerpt)