For hundreds of years a widely prevalent belief among those who have studied advaita vēdānta has been that meditating on these mahāvākyas, particularly ahaṁ brahmāsmi (I am brahman), or on words that convey the same meaning, such as sōham (he is I), is the means by which we can experience brahman. However Sri Ramana repudiated this mistaken belief, and explained that when these mahāvākyas assert that ‘I’ is brahman, we should understand that in order to experience brahman we must experience what this ‘I’ actually is, and that in order to experience this we must investigate this ‘I’, attending to it exclusively and thereby ignoring all thoughts or ideas: that is, everything other than it.
A friend wrote to me recently asking why Sri Ramana advised his devotees to meditate on self but not to meditate on any of the mahāvākyas such as ahaṁ brahmāsmi or ‘I am brahman’, and added: ‘Since Brahman is Self, I have not understood the reasons for his disapproval of this form of meditation. Perhaps you could throw light on this point’. The following is adapted from the reply I wrote to him: