Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ramana Maharshi - K Swaminathan

Spiritualism, mythology, religion, culture and philosophy run in my family. I have grown up in the midst of these.

But I don’t know if I am religious or spiritual. When people ask me, I say “I don’t know”.

I read this book – or rather – I would read such books not because I am in pursuit of spiritual success, not because I am perturbed by questions like “Who Am I”, “What is my purpose in this world” etc, to which I seek answers but because I am curious to learn of the implications of spiritual inclination. And then, I also feel the need to restore my faith in such matters and pride in my heritage, my ancestors and my India.

These days I am meeting too many young men and women having too much faith in modern science and who take great pride in proclaiming aloud that they have no caste, no religion… as if religion is something wrong/negative.
It’s cool to say these things you see... but it’s not cool to be religious.

There is another reason why I read this book. In the present times, there is the clutter of modern gurus, pop Spiritualism, pop philosophy, mystics who claim to perform miracles, self proclaimed God men with a million followers, Gurus with political clout …sometimes you need to push aside all the clutter and seek that which is pure – above and beyond questioning and verification – the untainted truth stripped of all motive and pretence.

What I have understood each time I have read a book, or heard a Harikatha, a discourse, has been different from the previous time – depending on my maturity and my circumstance at that time.

This time, it was very very different – I feel that way, perhaps because I am reading a book on ‘the subject’ after a long long time.

I was a theist in my childhood and then somewhere along the journey, I turned an atheist – this was during my teenage. After sometime, I found myself turning an agnostic. In the recent past, when I was returning to theism, I read this book and now I am confused! For it says – “That which is the goal of Bhakti, Karma and Yoga is the whole sum and substance of Jnana” Though the books says it is incorrect, I am inclined to believe “Duality during the search and non – duality on attainment”. That is, you tread the path of Bhakti towards God, and at the end of that path you will realize (and this is Jnana) that there is no God, only the Supreme Self!

Confusion apart, I gained a fresh understanding and perspective of the concepts of Dvaita and Advaita.

A comparison of different spiritual people gave me a perspective of who stands where in the big picture full of saints, seers, swamis, yogis and their many different schools of thought.

This is lengthy… so only if the subject interests you, read on… Here, I am trying to record those facts, insightful lines from the book that I would like to return to… the lines in maroon are a result of my thinking aloud…

A perspective…

Sankara – 788 –820 AD – advocated the Jnana Marga… and after him, it was Ramana Mahrashi – 1879- 1950 who advocated the same Jnana Marga. In the thousand years that separated the two, it was the Bhakti marga that all of them advocated…

The 4 main paths of Bhakti, Karma, Yoga and Jnana chalked out by the ancients were vividly and effectively represented by the four recent spiritual giants of this country : Sri Ramakrishna, Gandhiji, Sri Aurbindo and Ramana Maharshi…

Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) and Darwin were contemporaries and so were Ramana and Einstein…

About the Maharshi

As a child, he used to win in wrestling and swimming matches and when he fell into deep sleep, it was difficult to wake him.

A vivid dramatization of death transformed a schoolboy into a sage. He discovered his innermost being as pure awareness. This single experience subsumed Buddha’s prolonged contemplation of human suffering and death.
In Shakespeare’s words, he fed on death that feeds on men and death being dead, there is no more dying then.

In August 1896, he decided to leave home and go to Arunachala.

His hair remained uncut and face unshaven for 18 months. His hair had got matted and woven like a basket. Says the Maharshi, “Small stones and dust had settled in it and the head used to feel heavy. I had long nails and a frightful appearance”.

How many such people I saw during my month long journey in the Himalayas! And even once it did not occur to me that one of these hundreds could be a highly spiritually enlightened person!
I don’t know even now whether anyone was a genuine Sanyasi. I know for sure many weren’t – the ones who harassed me repeatedly to buy them a blanket, the ones who smoked beedi, the ones who posed for photographs, the ones who cursed you for not favouring them…

But for all my skepticism there might have been one – just one among them who was above us all and the rest of the world…a great saint, a gem unrecognized by the multitude of us.

Early in 1899, the Maharshi took up his residence in Virupaksha cave and stayed there for about 17 years. The Virupaksha period saw a gradual return of the young ascetic from self – absorption and silence to outward normality.

After the 2nd death experience in the presence of others at Tortoise Rock in 1912, the Maharshi seems to have felt equally and perfectly at home in the world of Being and the world of becoming…

As a Jnani, he drew learned seekers, many of whom felt their intellectual doubts and questions vanish as they absorbed the serenity radiating from him. He moved in like manner with the shepherds and grass cutters he would come across during his wanderings on the hill.

“The Jnani weeps with the weeping, laughs with the laughing, plays with the playful and sings with those who sing, keeping time to the song. His presence is like a pure mirror. It reflects our image exactly as we are”. - Contrary to the popular belief that the Jnani does not react, that he is unmoved etc…

Though the Maharshi had renounced the ego and thus become a true Sanyasi, he declined to undergo formal initiation into any order of Sanyasa.

It was Kavyakantha Ganapathi Shastri who renamed the Swami(Venkataraman) as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi

T V Kapali Sastri says, “To have lived for full 54 years after realization, to have influenced so many from his seat in one place, to have been accessible to all at all hours, to have stemmed the tide of skepticism as he did is truly unprecedented”.

To F H Humphreys, of the Indian Police Service, a man of 21, who visited the hermit on the hill in 1911, and who was curious to learn about Siddhis, the Maharshi discouraged this curiosity “Clairvoyance, clairaudience are not worth having…when far greater illumination and peace are possible without them than with them… no master needs occult powers...”

When Humphreys asked whether he could help the world, he said “Help yourself and you will help the world.” He was advised, as were many seekers who were troubled by a seeming conflict between their worldly commitments and their religious life, to attend to his official duties and to meditation at the same time.

He played marbles with children at the Virupaksha cave…

He taught the ashram inmates more by example than precept how to simplify life, effect economies and avoid waste and extravagance. The wrapping paper or envelopes in which the mail came would be preserved by him for writing or other uses. He would make cups and spoons of coconut shells, polish them like ebony and tell the attendants to keep and handle them with care, saying “These are our silver cups and golden spoons”. Orange peels would be saved for making pickles and faded rose petals for adding flavour to Payasam. He would diligently correct manuscripts and proofs, copy out poems accurately in a neat hand, bind books with professional dexterity, cut vegetables, stitch leaf plates and assist in cooking, thus exemplifying the dignity of labour and the charm of simplicity. Karma was for him, not some special ritualistic action but the daily tasks that are our common lot.

At mealtime, he would sit in front of a partition dividing the dining hall, thus facing both orthodox Brahmins and the larger company of others. He would not offend the sentiment of the Sanatanists or encourage social reform which would enforce external change without inner ripeness.(though he himself mingled freely with untouchables and people of low caste).

Half of the attempts to reform the world bring only external transformation. I hope all those shouting rhetoric slogans about women’s liberation, equality of castes/religions/sexes/nations/culture, reservation, blah blah do some serious contemplation. Why? The Brahmo Samaj founded by no less than Ram Mohan Roy failed to bring about real transformation… more on this later…

A visitor to the ashram who did much to spread the Maharshi’s fame and message in the west was Paul Brunton. It is significant that he was directed to the Maharshi by no less a spiritual authority than His Holiless Sri Chandrasekhara saraswati, the Sankaracharya of Kanchi.

Men and women of divided mind and agitated heart felt at peace in the presence of the Maharshi, birds and animals were completely at home with him. When he lived in various caves on the hill, snakes and scorpions would on occasion crawl harmlessly over his body, without causing or experiencing fear. At Ramanashramam, besides Lakshmi the cow, a number of squirrels, sparrows, peacocks, dogs and monkeys made themselves at home and enjoyed the Maharshi’s attention.

There is reason to believe that the Maharshi understood the language of birds and animals. The former chief justice of Madras Anantanarayanan writes “Bhagavan, who was busy writing puts away his spectacles, calls an attendant and says, “The pair of sparrows just came here and complained to me that their nest had been removed. I look up and find their nest missing”!

He listened with interest and appreciation to the English Bible, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats. He commended the very name and central teaching of Islam as total self surrender and submission to the Higher power.


In order to know our real nature, the strenuous effort needed is withdrawing of thoughts from sense objects and remaining fixed in steady non-objective enquiry.

Between duty to one self, duty tom one’s circle, duty to the country and duty to humanity there need be no conflict.

A woman is eligible for Sanyasa as much as a man because in Mukti and Jnana, there is no difference between man and woman.

Something about the primacy of living personality over doctrine…
Kanchi Acharya says “No religion spreads because of its doctrines. People do not care much for doctrine. When there appears a man of outstanding goodness in life and conduct, filled with compassion and tranquility, people trust him the moment they set eyes on him, they accept his teaching because they are convinced that the doctrines upheld by such a man must be sound. On the other hand, a doctrine, however sound and true, has no appeal to common people if it advocators fail in conduct.” The sage spread his doctrine by living it, by embodying it in every word and deed of his.

The goal of Bhakti is the same as that of Jnana. Whatever the means, the destruction of “I” and “Mine” is the goal. In order to reach that state of silence which is beyond thought and word, one may follow the path of knowledge which removes the sense of I or the path of devotion which removes the sense of “mine”.

How can peace be attained in the midst of activities? – “Action and knowledge are not obstacles to each other. The activities of a wise man exist only in the eyes of others and not in his own. Although he may be accomplishing immense tasks, he really does nothing. Therefore his activities do not stand in the way of inaction and peace of mind. He knows that he is not the doer. He remains the silent witness of all the activities taking place”.

That which is the goal of Bhakti, Karma and Yoga is the whole sum and substance of Jnana.

The Sadhana of the aspirant is the Lakshana of the Jnani (realized person).

The doctrine that declares “Duality during the search and Non – Duality on attainment” is not correct.

In the Indian tradition, progress is not linear but spiral … people and events should not be seen as repetitions.
I think I found a parallel in EF Schumacher’s work when he explains convergent and divergent problems of life.

“You don’t bring space or sunshine into the room. You only remove the lumber or open the window” – Implying that light is natural, darkness isn’t. Happiness is natural sorrow isn’t and so on…

The intellectual approach of Jnana and the emotional approach of Bhakti have the same goal. In both cases, “I” ceases to exist as a separate entity.” Mine” disappears first in Bhakti and “I” disappears first in Jnana. In the path of Jnana, however, initial intellectual effort is a sine qua non and one must be prepared to make it and keep it up. Here, the young monkey rather than the kitten is the model to follow. One must learn to cling and not expect to be carried.

Samadhi is one’s natural state, the undercurrent beneath the waking, sleeping and dream states. It is an effortless state reached through effort, the egolessness of sleep enjoyed while awake. It is marked by contentless awareness and absence of thought.

The perceiving in which, the perceiver and the object perceived are both lost is a common enough experience known to lovers, mothers children, ecstatic devotees, heroes in action and lovers of poetry and music.
(I am happy to know this…Though not spiritually realized, I too have experienced this bliss in some way!)

The spiritual and the secular are not 2 different spheres. Imagining them to be different is a great mistake …

The Sadhaka should be a Satyayugakari one who acts as if the Satyayuga is already within us, not a Satyayugavadi, one who argues that the Satyayuga is possible someday. Reform like charity begins at home, with oneself….
Reminds me of The Law of attraction – if you seek something, live as though you already have it, not as if it were a goal to be attained in future.

Jnana is not perceiving something. It is the experience of enjoyment and exercise of oneness, of one’s whole being as awareness. One cannot see one’s eyes. One can only use them. One cannot know Being. One can only BE. And to Be is to be awareness.

In this book, the Maharshi is compared with the Mahatma quite often…

The effort is self enquiry according to the Maharshi and service according to the Mahatma. The difference is only in approach and emphasis.

One tread the path of Jnana, other, the path of Karma. Both summarized the Gita into a collection of 42 Shlokas.

The Indian life-plan for a dynamic self reliant dharma, whose root and fruit alike are moksha or an awareness of unity, was preserved for future generations by Shankara and Ramanuja in the glass jar of an elite society. In our own time, Gandhiji and Ramana Maharshi have smashed the jar and scattered the seeds. They have broken down the barrier between intellectual and popular Hinduism, between Jnana and Karma, between the classes and the masses…

Whenever someone in his circle felt depressed or confused, Gandhiji would ask them to go to Ramanashramam and come back after a month’s stay.

According to Sarojini Naidu, “the two Mahans, the Maharshi who gave us peace and the Mahatma who would not let us rest one moment in peace - were both working for the spiritual regeneration of India.


The devotional hymns translated do not of course convey the import. All nuances have been lost – as expected. Too bad I can’t read Tamil.

Such interesting analogies…

In all this varied universe
Of multitudinous appearances
The inner substance is but one,
As in the millions of Til seeds
Poured into the miller’s press
The one true essence is the oil

As fire when it is fed with ghee
Leaps up erect, unquenched
Desire too when gratified
Rejoices and revives in strength

The truth they know not who assert
That power and peace are different things
What abides as peace within
Appears to outward sight as power

Birds in the air and fish in water
Dart and leave no track behind.
And none can see the path pursued
By those that sought and reached the self.

For removing from one’s heel
A painful thorn, one takes and uses
A second thorn, and then throws both away.
Cast away the thoughts of Moksha
After it has served to push
The thought of bondage out

The boat moves in the water, but
Water should not enter it.
Though we live in the world, the world
Should not occupy our mind

Those who have made the hardest sacrifice,
That of the ego,
Have nothing more to renounce

The Self is the true, unmoving central axle,
The ego is the restless carriage wheel
Whose function is to rise and fall
And suffer all the time


n I t I n said...

interesting posting on yr blog :-)


Satish said...

Phew!!!!! That was a long post... how long did it take to compose this one.... reading it takes time... but comprehending it takes days.....

Dwaita, Adwaita, Vishishtadvaita are all different paths of attaining the eternal truth..... Once example that i heard to distinguish dwaita and adwaita.... Adwaita.... God and human are like dough.... GOD is a giant dough and humans are just small parts of it and chapatis are made out the small doughs in this world

Dwaita - Human is like clay and GOD is the pot maker... he decided how the human shape up.....

There is a charitbale trust called Ramanamaharshi Trust which is doing Yeoman service.Guess, it is part of the asharam that ramanamaharshi set up...

Sowmya said...

Welcome to this space Nitin :)


Comprehending did not take much time. Composing it took a few hours...
I always make notes as I read and make pencil markings in the book... So typing them out is all that remains.. but that can be painful sometimes when the post is long...
I have to visit Ramanashramam sometime... we can do it together if have plans too :)

Thank you both for your patience :)