If someone is telling you a joke, it is important to know that it's a joke. Otherwise, the situation could get confusing.
Ramana Maharshi's method of self-inquiry, "Who Am I?" is a joke. In fact, Ramana's Self Inquiry is the first practice in spiritual history to be pure comedy. For the seeker is instructed to focus intentionally on an illusion.
The brilliance of this practice dawns only when you understand its purpose, which is not to discover a reality but to penetrate a mirage. Without understanding, you bind yourself to a double illusion.
Most seekers imagine they are looking for an "I." Yet Ramana's whole point is that there is no-thing to find. Bringing our attention to this illusion over and over again does not enlighten our "I," dissolve our "I," or merge our "I" with Brahman. We simply get the joke. There was never an "I" to begin with.
The trickster awakens wonder. At the end of a magic trick, when what seemed real turns out to be no-thing, we are wonderfully bewildered and innocent as children. Life opens up as infinite possibility. This is the original state of divine awareness.
But the I-thought crushes this awareness into a hard point. The tiny "I" feels separate from every other "I," which results in the restless suffering of comparison, competition, fear of the other, and craving for another other. But the other, as a separate entity, does not exist any more than the "I."
The momentum of "aham-vritti," the I-concept, began hundreds of thousands of years ago. Yet this "I" was never anything but a momentary disturbance in the boundless ocean of "Am." "Aham-vritti" literally means "ego-waves." "Vrit" is the Sanskrit root of the English word, vibration. "I" am simply a ripple moving across the sea. But only the sea is moving. And if the ripple ever had a first cause, it is long gone.
The "I" is but a vibration in the unified field of cosmic awareness, than whom there is no other.
Now here is the real joke: one need not get rid of this rippling "I," any more than the sky must get rid of a droplet of water vapor, or the air must get rid of a mirage. "I" am a wave of the unfathomable stillness that is always beneath, around, and within every form that appears. And the base of the wave is the whole ocean. Therefor "I" do not exist as a separate being, yet Am the all, and in all.
"From where does this 'I' arise? Seek for it within: it then vanishes. This is the pursuit of wisdom."
"The real Self is waiting there to take y0u in. Then whatever is done is done by something else and y0u have no hand in it."
~Sri Ramana Maharshi
* Painting by Imre Morocz