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Is soham (the affirmation `I am he') the same as `Who am I

Question : Shall I meditate on `I am Brahman' (aham Brahmasmi]?
Ramana Maharshi: The text is not meant for thinking `I am Brahman'. Aham [`I'] is known to every one. Brahman abides as aham in every one. Find out the `I'. The `I' is already Brahman. You need not think so. Simply find out the `I'.

Question : Is not discarding of the sheaths (neti-neti) mentioned in the sastras?
Ramana Maharshi: 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 sift the pure `I' from the contaminated `I', this discarding is mentioned.

But it does not mean exactly discarding of the non - Self, it means the finding of the real Self. The real Self is the infinite `I'. That `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 the changing thoughts belong. They will be found to arise after the `I'-thought. Hold the `I'-thought and they subside. Trace back the source of the `I'-thought. The Self alone will remain.

Question : It is difficult to follow. I understand the theory. But what is the practice?
Ramana Maharshi: 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.

Question : I am aware of the `I'. Yet my troubles are not ended.
Ramana Maharshi : 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.

Question : Yes. How to do it? That is the whole trouble.
Ramana Maharshi : Think `I, I', and hold to that one thought to the exclusion of all others.

Question : Is not affirmation of God more effective than the quest, `Who am I?' Affirmation is positive, whereas the other is negation. Moreover, it indicates separateness.
Ramana Maharshi : So long as you seek to know how to realize, this advice is given to find your Self. Your seeking the method denotes your separateness.

Question : Is it not better to say `I am the supreme being' than ask `Who am I?'
Ramana Maharshi : Who affirms? There must be one to do it. Find that one.

Question : Is not meditation better than investigation?
Ramana Maharshi : Meditation implies mental imagery, whereas investigation is for the reality. The former is objective, whereas the latter is subjective.

Question : There must be a scientific approach to this subject.
Ramana Maharshi : To eschew unreality and seek the reality is scientific.

Question : I mean there must be a gradual elimination, first of the mind, then of the intellect, then of the ego.
Ramana Maharshi : The Self alone is real. All others are unreal. The mind and intellect do not remain apart from you. The Bible says, `Be still and know that I am God.' Stillness is the sole requisite for the realization of the Self as God.

Question : Is soham (the affirmation `I am he') the same as `Who am I?'
Ramana Maharshi : Aham [`I'] alone is common to them. One is soham. The other is koham [Who am I?]. They are different. Why should we go on saying soham? One must find out the real `I'. In the question `Who am I?', `I' refers to the ego. Trying to trace it and find its source, we see it has no separate existence but merges in the real `I'.

You see the difficulty. Vichara is different in method from the meditation sivoham or soham [`I am Siva' or `I am he']. I rather lay stress upon Self-knowledge, for you are first concerned with yourself before you proceed to know the world and its Lord. The soham meditation or `I am Brahman' meditation is more or less a mental thought.

But the quest for the Self I speak of is a direct method, indeed superior to the other meditation. The moment you start looking for the self and go deeper and deeper, the real Self is waiting there to take you in. Then whatever is done is done by something else and you have no hand in it. In this process, all doubts and discussions are automatically given up just as one who sleeps forgets, for the time being, all his cares.

Source: from David Godman Excellent Book "Be As You are"

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