What does Ramana Maharshi's "I-I" stand for?

solomon's picture

Average: 4.8 (6 votes)

I encounter the notion "I-I" quite often in Ramana Maharshi's texts while I haven't seen it elsewhere, not in the words of other Advaita teachers (e.g. Nisargadatta Maharaj) nor in scriptures.

Here is a sample text in which Ramana Maharshi uses this notion:

Meditating on Him or on the seer, the Self, there is a mental vibration ‘I’ to which all are reduced. Tracing the source of ‘I’, the primal ‘I-I’ alone remains over, and it is inexpressible. The seat of Realisation is within and the seeker cannot find it as an object outside him. That seat is bliss and is the core of all beings. Hence it is called the Heart. The only useful purpose of the present birth is to turn within and realise it. There is nothing else to do.

I can make an assumption based on common sense about the meaning from the context but I prefer in such matters to rely on facts. It is so easy to lose track and fall into a pitfall because of such misunderstanding.

Anybody knows for certain the meaning that hides behind this term? No speculations please.

Has anyone encountered this term in the words of other teachers and scriptures? If so, please share quotes.

joejo's picture

I mixture of Conscious & Insentient

In my understanding, Maharshi’s approach is indeed different. He says that I is the root of ego principal and is a mixture of conscious and insentient. This is the knot and the highest principal. We need to trace back to this point. This is a part of mind but a radical one and staying with it makes it more and more conscious thereby immediately setting in motion real transformation.

joejo | Wed, 04/27/2011 - 05:22
solomon's picture

Finally a coherent explenation

joejo - this is a refreshing and excellent explanation, I must say, that finally makes sense!

Do you know if the notion 'I-I' can be traced back before Ramana (e.g. in Advaita texts) or was originally devised by Ramana?

Where did you find this understanding? I was searching the book "The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi" for that to no avail...

solomon | Wed, 04/27/2011 - 06:02
joejo's picture

Quotations from Words of Grace

I am appending below two quotations from Words of Grace, which is also a part of Collected works. Shankara ia a great exponent of Advaita and Vivekchudamani is considered important part of his writings.

Maharshi gave the teachings from his direct experience but if something corresponded to his experience in Veadatic tradition he pointed to it. He also quoted Puranas, which are part of smriti. All this he had read later ( Virupaksha cave?)

The Vivekachudamani of Sankaracharya
describes this Eternal State as follows: ‘In the sheath of
intelligence shines eternally Atman, the self-effulgent witness of all. Making that thy Goal, which is quite different from the unreal, enjoy it by experience, through unbroken thoughtcurrent as thy own Self.’

12. What is the mark of the ego?
The individual soul of the form of ‘I’ is the ego. The Self
which is of the nature of intelligence (chit) has no sense of ‘I’. Nor does the insentient body possess a sense of ‘I’. The mysterious appearance of a delusive ego between the intelligent and the insentient being the root cause of all these troubles, upon its destruction by whatever means, that which really exists will be seen as it is. This is called liberation (moksha).

joejo | Wed, 04/27/2011 - 14:31
solomon's picture

joejo - this excerpt does

joejo - this excerpt does not refer to the 'I-I' explicitly or to the meaning you described before...

solomon | Thu, 04/28/2011 - 03:53
joejo's picture

Two Quotations

I am appending two more quotations taken from collected works page 119,120 (Reality in Forty Verses). Hope it will be closer to what I stated earlier. You could raise objections and then I would be in a better position to clarify.

24. The body which is matter says not ‘I’. Eternal
Awareness rises not nor sets. Betwixt the two, bound by the
body, rises the thought of ‘I’. This is the knot of matter and Awareness. This is bondage, jiva, subtle body, ego. This is samsara, this is the mind.

30. When the mind turns inward seeking ‘Who am I?’
and merges in the Heart, then the ‘I’ hangs down his head in
shame and the One ‘I’ appears as Itself. Though it appears as ‘I-I’, it is not the ego. It is Reality, Perfection, the Substance of the Self.

joejo | Thu, 04/28/2011 - 05:47
kulchnaui's picture

'I-I' and 'I Am'

This is a good description that makes everything fall in place.

It sounds as the same as the sense of "I Am" which is also depicted as the "last stop" of consciousness, the farest it can reach. Are they considered the same?

kulchnaui | Wed, 04/27/2011 - 11:29
joejo's picture

I do not know

Probably, though I am not that well acquainted with Nisargdutta's sense of "I Am" to say anything for sure. I feel Maharshi approves of a tradition that has the whole cosmology and its relation to the individual. Though he feels that sticking to the sense of I arising within is the best method. Yet he said very clearly that long practice is required due to our strong Identifications and it’s not as effortless as the neo- advaitists will have us believe.

joejo | Wed, 04/27/2011 - 14:39
solomon | Wed, 04/27/2011 - 06:06
B-friend's picture

More on the "I-I"

If anyone has adobe acrobat reader,(it's what i use anyway..don't know what the other software types are) you can download and read works of and by Ramana at:


..and then use the search field to skip to all the dialogue that speaks of "I-I". Just type I-I in the search box. This way you don't have to read the entire work and give yourself information overload. "Talks with Sri Ramana" is a huge collection with many conversations about "I-I".....Just a tip anyway.

Again, "I-I" is only a term among many to denote Self. That's all. It can be turned into an elusive mystery quite easily as we try to imagine what it could mean. That's what the mind loves to play with anyway, doesn't it? And then for some odd reason we find ourselves confused. But it's truly a simple, basic, and direct term. It's a very beautiful term in my opinion.

Great topic by the way. I love finding excuses to read Ramana. His words center me so well.

M.: After the rise of the ‘I-thought’ there is the false identification of the ‘I’ with the body, the senses, the mind, etc. ‘I’ is wrongly associated with them and the true ‘I’ is lost sight of. In order to shift the pure ‘I’ from the contaminated ‘I’ this discarding is mentioned.
But it does not mean exactly discarding of the non-self, but it means the finding of the real Self. The real Self is the Infinite ‘I-I’, i.e., ‘I’ is perfection. It is eternal. It has no origin and no end. The other ‘I’ is born and also dies. It is impermanent. See to whom are the changing thoughts. They will be found to arise after the ‘I-thought’. Hold the ‘I-thought’. They subside. Trace back the source of the ‘I-thought’. The Self alone will remain.

D.: It is difficult to follow. I understand the theory. But what is the practice?

M.: The other methods are meant for those who cannot take to the investigation of the Self. Even to repeat Aham Brahmasmi or think of it, a doer is necessary. Who is it? It is ‘I’. Be that ‘I’. It is the direct method. The other methods also will ultimately lead everyone to this method of the investigation of the Self.

D.: I am aware of the ‘I’. Yet my troubles are not ended.

M.: This ‘I-thought’ is not pure. It is contaminated with the association of the body and senses. See to whom the trouble is. It is to the ‘I-thought’. Hold it. Then the other thoughts vanish.

D.: Yes. How to do it? That is the whole trouble.

M.: Think ‘I’ ‘I’ ‘I’ and hold to that one thought to the exclusion of all others.

The only enquiry leading to Self-realization is seeking the Source of the 'I' with in-turned mind and without uttering the word 'I'. Meditation on 'I am not this; I am That' may be an aid to the enquiry but it cannot be the enquiry.

If one enquires 'Who am I?' within the mind, the individual 'I' falls down abashed as soon as one reaches the Heart and immediately Reality manifests itself spontaneously as 'I-I'. Although it reveals itself as 'I', it is not the ego but the Perfect Being, the Absolute Self.

~ Ramana Maharshi "Sad Vidya" V:29 & 30

B-friend | Fri, 04/29/2011 - 10:01
alon's picture

I-I is consciousness, not the Self

Thanks b-friend for the link.

I-I doesn't denote the Self, the closest thing it denotes is consciousness and still it is even not exactly consciousness. I-I is still a mental object that can be perceived, it is the point in which consciousness meets itself (The self cannot perceive itself, that is according to many of the sages the reason for the emergence of consciousness). This point is the last frontier and it can be experienced.

The selections of this certain symbol (i.e. I-I and not X-X or anything else) is not arbitrary as you imply (Ramana was not known for inventing pointless synonyms for Self or Consciousness, if he wanted to refer to Self, he would have said "Self") and this is key to the correct understanding of the meaning of this term. We do not need to imagine the meaning but just to give it the whole importance and research it, otherwise we miss the whole point.

alon | Fri, 04/29/2011 - 18:42
B-friend's picture


Thanks Alon..But we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. Anyone can read Ramana to see Ramana himself tell the questioners that I-I is the Self, the Heart, Consciousness, Reality, Sat-chit-ananda, Jnana, Turiya Avastha, Turiyatita, Sahaja Sthithi, Swarupa, Mouna, Guru, God. Ramana uses several terms for Self. All of them being only terms and none of them encapsulating Self. That's the problem here. We're trying to understand the truth of the matter with analyzing what the terms mean themselves because in our minds each word denotes AND INVOKES specific meanings...and round and round we go.

All is Consciousness
All is Self

:) <---Slap here

B-friend | Sat, 04/30/2011 - 06:12
B-friend's picture

Here is the....

Here is the meaning of the term "I-I" that was shared in another blog post. Take it for what you will but it is as exact as I can muster. Anyways, I think we share some similar understandings btw...

>>>"I-I" is a term Ramana used for Self. Used because when the false "I", i.e., what one has thought or thinks themselves to be such as a body, mind, or soul, stops or vanishes, your real nature stands ever present and presents itself as "I".<<<

I'm not saying it says "I" but all that remains is ???

B-friend | Sat, 04/30/2011 - 06:53
Jasmin's picture

Here is the explenation from David Godman

This is a very good question. It is important to dive into the exact meaning of 'I-I' and not try to shrug it off or put on it some simplistic generic idea as some tend to do because in the correct and exact understanding of such a term lies the true understanding of the teachings of Ramana.

And who is better to answer this question other than the number one exponent of Ramana's teachings, David Godman?

You've got a learned detailed answer to this question in http://www.davidgodman.org/rteach/iandii1.shtml

Jasmin | Sun, 05/01/2011 - 07:43
Jasmin's picture

Another from Realization.org

And another good one in Realization.org:


Jasmin | Sun, 05/01/2011 - 07:44
B-friend's picture


Very excellent link to share concerning this topic. But in the end there seems to be no definitive conclusion so the best advice would be that if one ever comes to the "I-I" or "I am that I am", then remain there. The tendencies of mind or vasanas may not totally be destroyed, which would leave the realisation to be a "sphurana" and not permanent abidance. Ramana speaks of this a few times, that I've come across.
thanks for sharing

B-friend | Mon, 05/02/2011 - 07:14
agapuram's picture

Ramana Maharishi's actual

Ramana Maharishi's actual quote in Tamil is 'Naanaar?' This means 'Who am I?' I am not this body, not this mind, not this intellect, not this will, not this inflated ego...But pure awareness, this watchful witness...That is the deepest core of our being!

agapuram | Sun, 05/01/2011 - 18:58