Oct 23 2015

Story: The Lost Tenth Man, by Ramana Maharshi

Published by at 8:03 am under Stories

A number of people seemed to really like last week’s story, so I thought I would share another one today…

The great 20th century sage of nondualism Ramana Maharshi gives us a playful story about ten foolish men who cross a river. These men become convinced that they’ve lost one of their party. This is a delightful illustration of Advaita Vedanta, the Hindu teaching of nondualism that asserts the Eternal is also one’s Self. Since the Goal is also one’s true being, we are never truly separate from That. The effort to acquire the Eternal becomes an endlessly frustrating game of confusion and failure until we finally understand that all that is necessary is to remove our ignorance and see the situation clearly.

Ramana Maharshi, Ramana Maharshi poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Ramana Maharshi

India (1879 – 1950) Timeline

Here is how Ramana Maharshi introduces his story:

“[The Eternal] is not a knowledge to be acquired, so that acquiring it one may obtain happiness. It is one’s ignorant outlook that one should give up. The Self you seek to know is truly yourself. Your supposed ignorance causes you needless grief like that of the ten foolish men who grieved at the loss of the tenth man who was never lost…”


/ Photo by judepics /

The Lost Tenth Man

The ten foolish men… forded a stream and on reaching the other shore wanted to make sure that all of them had in fact safely crossed the stream. One of the ten began to count, but while counting the others left himself out.

“I see only nine; sure enough, we have lost one. Who can it be?” he said.

“Did you count correctly?” asked another, and did the counting himself. But he too counted only nine.

One after the other each of the ten counted only nine, missing himself.

“We are only nine,” they all agreed, “but who is the missing one?” they asked themselves. Every effort they made to discover the “missing” individual failed.

“Whoever he is that is drowned,” said the most sentimental of the ten fools, “we have lost him.” So saying he burst into tears, and the others followed suit.

Seeing them weeping on the river bank, a sympathetic wayfarer enquired about the cause. They related what had happened and said that even after counting themselves several times they could find no more than nine.

On hearing the story, but seeing all the ten before him, the wayfarer guessed what had happened. In order to make them know for themselves they were really ten, that all of them had survived the crossing, he told them, “Let each of you count for himself but one after the other serially, one two, three, and so on, while I shall give you each a blow so that all of you may be sure of having been included in the count, and included only once. The tenth missing man will then be found.”

Hearing this they rejoiced at the prospect of finding their “lost” comrade and accepted the method suggested by the wayfarer.

While the kind wayfarer gave a blow to each of the ten in turn, he that got the blow counted himself aloud. “Ten,” said the last man as he got the last blow in his turn.

Bewildered they looked at one another, “We are ten,” they said with one voice and thanked the wayfarer for having removed their grief.


Ramana Maharshi concludes his story with these words…

“Such is the case with you. Truly there is no cause for you to be miserable and unhappy. You yourself impose limitations on your true nature of infinite being, and then weep that you are but a finite creature. Then you take up this or that spiritual practice to transcend the non-existent limitations.

“Hence I say, know that you are really the infinite pure being, the Self. You are always that Self and nothing but that Self. Therefore, you can never be really ignorant of the Self. Your ignorance is merely an imaginary ignorance, like the ignorance of the ten fools about the lost tenth man.”

Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi
by Ramana Maharshi / Edited by David Godman

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Story: The Lost Tenth Man, by Ramana Maharshi”

  1. ShirleyAnn Gaineson 23 Oct 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Ivan always writes so thoughtfully. He presents a poet or writer, a sage from the past, or a more contemporary poet. This dude is one deep thinker, and a poet himself. Thank you for giving us Poetry Chaikhana, Ivan. The Teahouse of Poems.

  2. Dougon 13 Feb 2018 at 10:07 am


    Thanks for posting this. FYI, this story is originally from the Upanishads. I believe it’s the Taittirīya Upanishad.


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