Sharing The Teaching of Self-Inquiry

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Arunachala Ramana
How AHAM Came Into Being . . .

A. Ramana’s Life before AHAM

Arunachala Ramana as a young man

During the period just preceding Ramana's enlightenment, he was presenting early morning breakfast seminars on personal self-improvement. These were a combination of inspirational and motivational talks presented to interested participants on how to live successfully in the world. The talks were based on his extensive background of training thousands of business clients and individual students in easy to understand principles and practical processes of personal and company effectiveness, based on the many years he had spent serving clients in this field.

But, it is very interesting to note, how immediately following his conscious transformation the attendance at these morning gatherings plummeted. It dropped from an average of over a hundred people, who had been regularly and enthusiastically attending three mornings a week, to only five people attending! As it turned out, very few people were interested in Ramana’s enlightenment, or in the subject matter of his message, which then became: the higher meaning and purpose of life, and ways of living in the world, but not of the world.

For a few years after this, he spoke on special occasions to various groups when invited. In the evenings he held meditation in his home for interested participants. During the day, he drove a school bus and taught his more interested young passengers how to meditate, and how to stay happy within themselves, and to be free from the pain of the outer world, and from the peer pressure in which they were being daily tormented or pulled.

In early 1978, the owner of a chain of physical fitness centers invited Ramana to Greensboro, North Carolina, to conduct a transformational seminar to his managers. The owner then made Ramana an offer to permanently move to Greensboro and present these trainings to his clients that numbered around five thousand members. He enthusiastically believed that it would be “a good business venture”. Ramana was himself dubious, but nevertheless he agreed. For various reasons, the venture was not successful. Primarily, as was already Ramana's earlier discovery in Houston, it was due to the fact that the majority of worldly-minded people are not ready or interested in hearing or learning the transcendental Truth.

Greensboro, being a much smaller city than Houston, Texas, was more to Ramana's liking; so he chose to remain there.

That June, the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship, a respected and longstanding spiritual organization held its annual regional convention at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. This is a time-honored Quaker school founded in the 1700s. A friend of Ramana’s in Houston had called him saying he had learned about this, and that a friend of his was to be a featured speaker at the conference.  He wanted Ramana to call on his friend and the two of them get acquainted.

On what he thought was the scheduled day, Ramana went by the college but be had gotten the days mixed and missed the person.

Ramana Meets Elizabeth MacDonald

He did meet and have a very meaningful conversation with a young woman who was newly attending the weeklong conference. She was very excited about it, but was not actually that familiar with the programs being presented, or where they might take her spiritually.

Elizabeth had registered for the entire weeklong convention, and was attending a few programs that appealed to her. She like most was there in an attempt to find answers to certain spiritual questions. She was hoping to find a significant new direction for her life, and gain a new spiritual understanding that would take her much farther than where she was in her spiritual quest. She was hoping that she had made the right choices.

But, she was somewhat still in a quandary as to what is really essential in one’s spiritual journey. She was trying to decide just what should be the next step in her spiritual quest - what she should choose and what to discard. The conference offered a “smorgasbord” of programs (i.e., a variety of seemingly interesting subjects and topics, all having a special appeal) and it was very difficult for her to decide what to choose next, or where to go from here. She had many questions that Ramana kindly answered, and he soon set her mind at rest regarding what is actually important in one’s spiritual search for the Highest Truth.


Ramana and Elizaveth

The Story Given From Elizabeth’s Perspective

Ramana just happened to visit the college campus the second day of the convention to call upon one of the guest speakers of the convention, who was a friend of one of his Houston friends.

I was sitting alone on a bench in the shade of one of the ancient oaks, taking a break from my schedule of classes that day. Ramana was walking along the path that makes its way between huge oak trees and casually approached me. We struck up a conversation that more or less centered on the purpose of my attending the convention, and my own personal spiritual quest, etc. I quickly sensed something different about Ramana, a different quality of consciousness radiating from him. I recognized that he was not there to take any of the courses, but was himself capable of answering my own spiritual questions, most of which I had had all my life or since I was a small girl. I had many questions Ramana was able to answer, and he quickly and easily set my mind at rest regarding my search for the Truth.

Early in the conversation Ramana spoke about his own teacher, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi and showed me his wallet-sized picture of the sage, which he had with him. I was moved by the compassion and the wisdom I saw and felt emanating from Sri Bhagavan’s photograph, especially his eyes. It was as if I was connecting again with something very familiar deep inside…a warmth…a glow…came up in my chest.

This warm, familiar feeling created a safe space to share with Ramana where I was in my life and how a whole new world was opening up to see more deeply into life and what is actually true and real.  I told him that I had a lot to learn.   Ramana listened and waited patiently, then, asked me a question. (I later learned it was from Ramana Maharshi and was designed to gently end all my questions.)  It was, “If you were to know all there was to know about anything, but you didn’t know ‘Who knows’ then, what would you know?”

I was stirred deeply while pondered this question,  ‘Who knows?” until my mind came to a full stop. In that moment, for the first time, I felt complete peace.  Later, I came to realize that this was the Heart – the inner Source of Being – realizing it as who-I-really-am .

Ramana then said he had to go. He left me with this question and promised he would see or talk with me again later and that he would possibly be returning the next day to see the man he was there to visit; and, if so, he would come for lunch and look for me in the cafeteria.

I waited anxiously until the next time I could again talk with him. If he was not there for lunch, we had exchanged phone numbers and at least I knew how to call him.

Ramana did return the following day. When I saw him in the cafeteria line I was very pleased and approached him immediately. I invited him to sit with me and a group of my new friends that wanted to meet him.  He quietly acquiesced and willingly answered the questions that my friends had.

Before meeting Ramana, I had been very much interested in all the courses I was then attending. I enthusiastically looked forward to each day's classes. But now I was pondering the deeper issues revealed to me by the questions Ramana had asked me, key issues which were awakened in my awareness. I was more fascinated by this than attending my scheduled classes, but Ramana insisted that I complete my classes since I had made a commitment to do so.

Elizabeth Becomes Ramana’s Student

These questions deeply moved Elizabeth and powerfully stirred her in the Heart, or core of her being, and very soon she asked Ramana to be her teacher. It was not only his questions, but also his aura or his very presence. Even though there was an unusual intensity about him, she felt very comfortable with him, and very relaxed just being in his presence.

It was obvious to Ramana that she was sincere and quite enthusiastic in her spiritual quest. She showed definite interest in going deeper than the mere surface level of “knowing about” spiritual Truth, or just talking intelligently about it. She seemed to be genuinely concerned in a deeper understanding and realizing the true meaning and purpose of life. But Ramana wanted to actually determine for sure the degree of her commitment; that is, the firmness and steadfastness of her resolve, her reliability, consistency and perseverance in staying with the Quest all the way to completion. This was necessary before he was willing to accept her as his student.

After full consideration, and giving her a few simple yet significant “tests” to determine her sincerity and definiteness of purpose, he agreed to take her as a student.

She came to his home on special occasions to meditate with him, and would call him frequently when she had a problem using the process of Self-Inquiry. With Ramana’s permission, she started bringing a few of her friends who were also interested in meditation and who had sincere questions on spiritual matters.

Soon a weekly meditation group was started on Wednesday evenings. But in a short time Ramana intentionally changed it to Friday evenings.

Elizabeth wanted to share what she was receiving from Ramana, so she asked him if he would give a program and she would assist him.  The first program was at Guilford College in Greensboro, where they met originally. 

On August 24, 1978, Ramana had the spiritual vision of AHAM and its mission and purpose, explained below, from Ramana’s experience:

While in deep meditation I was “visited” and drawn more deeply into the presence in subtle form of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. The Maharshi’s presence was most profound and left a strong aura of peace in the room that lasted for a few hours. In this subtle “meeting” I was “telepathically” or mystically given the idea and vision of AHAM – even its name and the unmistakable communication that I was to “take this teaching to all the world.”

In the vision, it was like the future was revealed, showing me that one day AHAM and its presentation of Sri Bhagavan Ramana and His direct Teaching, particularly Self-Inquiry, would play a most significant role in the spiritual awakening of countless thousands of people around the world.  These are people of all religions and cultures who are open, willing and ready to receive the Truth, i.e., to directly awaken to their own natural and true state of inner Peace, Freedom, Love and Happiness always, already available to them in the Heart or core of their own being. This was shown to me like “a wave of Enlightenment” moving across the face of the earth.

With the process of Self-Inquiry, any apparently separate “person” may move into the Heart or Core of being and realize an immediate and direct connection with the Source, Real God, the true Self, or the One Reality.

Arunachala Ramana in India 1977It doesn't matter what this is called, whether Buddha Consciousness, Christ Consciousness, Krishna Consciousness, Jehovah Consciousness, Allah the Merciful or the promise of the coming of the Messiah taught in the Torah and by the Old Testament prophets. Whatever you wish to call it, it is the same. It is the very Source of Being and is the only real, lasting or dependable Happiness.  Therefore, it is the very basis, purpose, mission and meaning of AHAM - “Happiness for All Mankind.”



This was not only Ramana’s vision, but from that day onward it is that to which he has dedicated his entire life - i.e., making AHAM's mission and purpose available and seeing it as complete in the lives of as many sincere aspirants or spiritual seekers as are ready and willing to receive it.

Elizabeth MacDonald becomes AHAM’s Co-founder, and Eventually its Executive Director, Senior Trainer, and Spiritual Director

Elizabeth came to see Ramana later that same morning, following the above-mentioned vision, and noticed a special radiance about him and the strong almost physical presence of Sri Ramana Maharshi that still lingered in the room where Ramana was meditating at the time. It had a very noticeable effect on her as well, and she asked him about it. He was surprised to realize that she could herself sense this lingering presence, as the experience had happened well over an hour earlier, and he believed it to be known and felt only to him.

Ramana told her briefly about the incredible vision he had of Sri Bhagavan Ramana, giving her a few details. He shared how Sri Bhagavan Ramana presence was what revealed to him the name AHAM, and as being an acronym for the name, “Association of Happiness for All Mankind.” And that he clearly saw it one day being a worldwide movement sharing the Highest Truth based on the Teaching of Sri Bhagavan Ramana. He also shared with her that he did not originally know the full meaning of the word “aham” but had looked it up and found it means “I” or “self” in Sanskrit.  It is the life-principle in everyone that you trace within during the process of Self-Inquiry to reach the true Self, or One Reality, in order to abide therein. This further inculcates and validates AHAM's pure Teaching as being in itself a consciousness transforming process.

Elizabeth immediately “tuned in” to the far-reaching idea, and could herself envision a world with everyone happily living in the Heart, the true Self, while engaged in their ordinary worldly activities and daily responsibilities.

Ramana asked her if she was interested in joining him in forming AHAM and its development. Without the slightest hesitation she quickly agreed and the next day, with $50 of her own money, opened a bank account in the name of the “Association of Happiness for All Mankind”. Thus, that day, Elizabeth became AHAM’s co-founder. In unison with Ramana, AHAM that day became her life’s mission, and her way of performing God’s work.  She has remained both loyal and dedicated to AHAM's mission and purpose.

A short time before this Ramana, had taken a vow of non-attachment and non-ownership of material possessions, when for many years he had been involved in achieving and maintaining worldly success, and even instructing others in effective ways and means of such worldly pursuits and endeavors,  So, at this time he had no personal money or other worldly assets other than minimal belongings and the few clothes he wore. His only material contribution to the assets of AHAM was an old but good working IBM typewriter loaned to him by the friend who invited him to come to Greensboro, then later given to him.

As mentioned, even though Ramana throughout his adult life was not only very active in the world and engaged in a typical materially oriented lifestyle, regularly participating in daily work in his various businesses and other endeavors, he was now living entirely by the grace of God; that is, living as a Sadhu (ascetic) or “renunciant,” and dependent entirely on God for all his needs.

This meant it would be primarily Elizabeth’s responsibility to engage in the outreach activities, outside communications, and external affairs or functions in the development of AHAM.  Ramana knew very few people in Greensboro, he had only recently moved there.  He made this very clear to Elizabeth from the beginning, and she was in full agreement with it. And, she never once balked or hesitated from the duty of this tremendous task to which at that time she agreed.

Ramana has basically only assisted by keeping his “finger on the pulse” of what was happening, as it happened.  He has often made suggestions, given guidance and instructions and encouragement to Elizabeth and those assisting her.  He has even himself on many occasions been involved when needed in making major decisions when things got beyond Elizabeth’s reach, or outside her range of abilities in the administrative or business arena.  But his main contribution, all along, has been primarily spiritual. 

From the outset, as AHAM started to develop, Ramana agreed to give seminars at Guilford College, with Elizabeth gathering the people to attend.  Ramana said he would gladly teach anyone who came and showed a genuine interest in the Teaching; but he was not himself interested in gathering the people together.  This was to be Elizabeth’s task, or they were attracted by word of mouth.  

Elizabeth remained loyal to the task, even when many of her closest friends dropped by the wayside.  She has continued to always remain loyal to the mission and purpose of AHAM, and over time incorporated the spiritual Truth Ramana was teaching her, and presenting in the seminars, into her own life. Today, her life is a living example of how this spiritual Teaching works - you can be happy living in the world, and not have to be at the effect of the world.  Suffering is not necessary!

Over the years, Ramana closely worked with Elizabeth to the point where he felt she was ready and able to conduct AHAM’s Training and its seminars.  She starting giving training herself in August, 1986, eight years after AHAM was created.

After ten more years of training others in AHAM’s Teaching, Elizabeth was given the extra task of herself developing other AHAM programs, based on her own experience of using the teaching given by Ramana, Bhagavan Ramana and Jesus. This occurred only after Ramana recognized that she was truly capable and ready.  She has contributed much of the material for the courses in the AHAM programs in our present conscious curriculum.

Ramana has often said, “Without Elizabeth, there would be no AHAM, or Association of Happiness for All Mankind for anyone.   Everyone in AHAM, who is recognizing what it offers and is benefiting from it, owes her a tremendous debt of gratitude!”


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