A devotee comes along and asks "why is there no meditation during dreaming?" Ramana's response: "Ask it in the dream."
Most of the answers from Ramana Maharshi in this huge volume of ultimate spiritual Q&A are as disconcerting as this one -- which by the way has a double entendre for those who know the advaita equalization of waking life and dreams (the devotee did not get he WAS INDEED asking "in the dream"...). What strikes the reader first is the brilliance of this humble man, his razor-sharp intelligence. But as we turn the pages and ponder his words in hundreds of dialogues, little by little we realize we are dealing here with the real thing: a man who has crossed over to the other shore, a jivanmukta ("liberated while alive"). I have read quite a lot in the last few years on philosophy and spirituality, and my feeling regarding this book is one of reaching rock bottom: you simply cannot go deeper.
The question "Did you exist in deep sleep?", for example, sounds to me the best argument for the unreality of the ego, which Ramana sometimes call the "small I". Very ingenious. No one denies, while awake, his own existence in deep sleep. But whence comes our certainty, if we where unconscious? It comes from a silent witness. If you understand that the same witness is the indestructible background of the bundle of thoughts we call "mind", it is game over for the ego and the suffering it brings to you.
My limited exposure to advaita vedanta suggests that it may not be suitable for some (perhaps most) spiritual seekers, because it may be misconstrued as nihilistic. If you want to take the risk, this may be one of the best books to read. Overall, a very fine edition, compleat with sanskrit glossary, anotated vedanta bibliography and full thematic index. A work of love.
Ramana Maharshi's technique of Self-realization is simplicity itself. This should already be indication enough that he has discovered the profoundest truth. This book is a bit like a Mozart score. When you look at the pages there doesn't seem to be very much there. It all seems so simple. Yet when you play the Mozart, as when you apply the principle of Self-Inquiry, something very unexpected and altogether miraculous happens.
When one correctly applies the single and singular principle he expounds in these talks, the result is well-nigh infallible. Which is not to say that one sees bright lights or is consumed with ecstasy or anything of the sort--that's not what is supposed to happen anyway. What happens simply is that the mind is stilled, and the true nature of mind, ego, and Self is glimpsed. With practice, this glimpse turns into a gander and then turns into a wide open view.
Alas, as one very wise reviewer below put it, many people "enjoy being lost." What Maharshi makes absolutely crystal clear in these talks is that Realization is right there for taking, and always has been, and always will be. In other words, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within." Those who do not realize do so because, in the final analysis, they either enjoy being lost or they are profoundly afraid of what realization implies--even those who claim to be seeking the way. And so the endless rounds continue: the books, the tapes, the discussion groups and meditation retreats, the trips to India and Tibet, the fumbling attempts at Tantric Yoga, the crystals, the gurus, etc. This is all well and good: the Self is always still there, watching, and will still be there when one has tired of the spiritual circus.
My own words crumble and dissolve in the face of Maharshi's very modest-seeming but singularly pure and profound wisdom. I don't know what else to say except that Maharshi's words show the way, and then provide the guidance and inspiration to abide in the Self that is always already there. I give this book all the stars in the cosmos!