The Single Best Advaita Book: Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge by Arthur Osborne

Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge by Arthur Osborne is in a different format than most Advaita books. It is a biography, and it was my introduction to Advaita. I thank my lucky stars that this Ramana book was the only one in stock at Borders Books when I wentyoung ramana maharshi looking a few years ago.

"Ramana Maharshi is the greatest sage of the 20th century," so says Ken Wilber. And reading that quote in Wilber's One Taste journals is what alerted me that maybe I should investigate this great Indian sage.

The Best Advaita Book There Is

Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge is the best book on Advaita for several reasons:
  • It focuses on the "guru of the gurus".
  • It is a biography and thus does not suffer from the dryness and repetition of so many other Advaita books.
  • It shows what Wayne Liquorman calls "living the Teaching" in action.
  • When I read it, I intuitively realized I had found, finally, my outer guru: Advaita itself. I have had little impulse to seek other teachings (previously a regular occurence) since I read Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge.
older ramana maharshi the advaita guruArthur Osborne was a Western devotee of Sri Ramana Maharshi who founded and edited the well-known Mountain Path journal of Ramanashram, "Bhagavan's" ashram in Tiruvannamalai, India. Through his death in 1970 and beyond he was largely responsible for bringing awareness of Ramana to the Western world -- thank God for him!

Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge is truly the best Advaita book there is, and it works on you on many different level, all coming through the amazing story of this modern Indian sage who spontaneously awoke at the age of sixteen. The book details like nowhere else I am aware of the Maharshi's silent years immediately after he realized what he called the Self. For instance, he sat unmoving and uneating in the basement of a temple for months, with rats crawling on him, biting him everywhere, utterly oblivious, absorbed in the Self.

Thank God that over time Ramana decided to speak and write a bit, and that he lived on until 1950.

This book changed my life and revealed my own innate knowledge of the truth to me. I hope it has the same effect on you. It will always remain the best Advaita book.


Acceptance of What Is by Wayne Liquorman

Advaita guru Wayne Liquorman has written a great primer on nonduality with Acceptance of What Is. I believe that Wayne wrote this book after writing No Way, his book of poems penned under the name Ram Tzu, but I may be wrong. Anyway, it is regarded as the best introduction to Liquorman's brand of Advaita Teaching.

One of the most memorable passages is when Wayne likens the belief in egoic autonomy to being on a boat ride at Disneyland. You're floating along, the fake animals on either shore or doing their own automated thing, and you turn the wheel to the left -- and the boat turns left. Amazing! You turn the wheel right -- and the boat turns right with you. You think, "I can turn this boat wherever I want." So you turn the wheel to the left again, but this time the boat turns right. The robotic monkeys laugh at you, you think, and you're forced to start to question the belief that you're actually controlling this boat.

This example highlights the theme that is overarchingly pounded out throughout much of the book: Your belief that you are the source of anything, including your own actions, is not true. And furthermore, the belief (which like everything else is not your fault) is the cause of your suffering.

Wayne's message can actually be aggravating. He refuses to advocate any practice whatsoever. And he just refuses to give the ego anything whatsoever to hold on to, which is I believe a sign that the Teaching is true. Paraphrasing from No Way: "Ram Tzu loves you too much to feed your ego."

I highly recommend Acceptance of What Is to both the Advaita newcomer and the Advaita old-timer. I was fairly well-versed in the nondual message by the time I bought Acceptance but it hit me in much the same way Ramesh Balsekar's Who Cares? hit me, in a slightly conceptual but mostly intuitive way. If it is your time to resonate with this book then it is just your time.


Who Cares? by Ramesh Balsekar

Who Cares? by Ramesh Balsekar is my second favorite Advaita book of all-time. It is essentially a collection of various dialogues between Ramesh and seekers at his home in Mumbai, India. In fact, most if not all of the book is collected from his previous works, such as Consciousness Speaks, Your Head in the Tiger's Mouth, and others.

The only other Ramesh book I have read is The Wisdom of Balsekar which had no "resonance" with me; at least at that time. It seemed too intellectual or conceptual, like it was trying to make me think. You know that feeling you used to have trying to do your physics homework?

That's why I was all the more surprised to find such an easy-to-grasp flow in Who Cares? I suspect that when Ramesh sits down to write, he uses bigger words, but when he is interfacing with us seekers, the everyday language comes out of him, and he naturally speaks about Reality in everyman terms:

The resistance is the ego, and the ego, I'm not joking, will not easily give up... Everybody says the ego is the problem. All you have to do is simply give up "your" ego. But nobody tells you how to give up "your" ego. "You" are the ego! The "me" is the ego, and the ego is not going to commit suicide.
[from Who Cares? by Ramesh Balsekar; page 9]

Who Cares? along with Acceptance of What Is by Balsekar's "spiritual son" Wayne Liquorman, is just about as good as it gets for those of us who want to be bathed in the nonconceptual light of Advaita and nonduality as they come through the written word. The book does not ask us to use our brains too much, and instead just gently and powerfully uses its 200 pages to hold a mirror up to the ego and its spiritual games (see: "I, the ego, will now attempt to kill myself once and for all!...") from all different angles. When I read this Advaita primer I just had to keep giving up my silly notions of autonomy, because the points Ramesh was making made sense to me, like Oh yeah duh.

In fact, for me, the way Ramesh talked to the seekers gathered in his apartment, served as sort of a buffer on my mental tendencies. What he's saying about the falseness of the ego's claims of independence were recognized as true, and this recognition puts a damper on much of the effects of the belief in separateness. (At least, that's what it was like while I was reading the book! A nice, increased peace for a time.)

The effects of the belief in separateness, if you believe in the Advaita worldview, is suffering, plain and simple. It was nice to have less of that while I resonated with Who Cares? by Ramesh Balsekar and it is one of the few Advaita books that I recommend as a must-read for any seeker still caught in the tiger's mouth.



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Updated April 2, 2009

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