Chapter 2 of the biography “Ramana Maharshi And The Path Of Self-Knowledge” written by Arthur Osborne.
THIS CURRENT of awareness, fostered by continual effort, grows ever stronger and more constant until finally it leads to Self-realization, to sahaja samadhi, the state in which pure blissful awareness is constant and uninterrupted and yet without impeding the normal perceptions and activities of life. It is rare indeed for this communion to be attained during the life on earth. In the case of Sri Bhagavan it occurred only a few months later and with no quest, no striving, no conscious preparation. He himself has described it.
“It was about six weeks before I left Madura for good that the great change in my life took place. It was quite sudden. I was sitting alone in a room on the first floor of my uncle’s house. I seldom had any sickness, and on that day there was nothing wrong with my health, but a sudden violent fear of death overtook me. There was nothing in my state of health to account for it, and I did not try to account for it or to find out whether there was any reason for the fear. I just felt ‘I am going to die’ and began thinking what to do about it. It did not occur to me to consult a doctor or my elders or friends; I felt that I had to solve the problem myself, there and then.
“The shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing the words: ‘Now death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.’ And I at once dramatised the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out stiff as though rigor mortis had set in and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, so that neither the word ‘I’ nor any other word could be uttered. ‘Well then,’ I said to myself, ‘this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body am I dead? Is the body ‘I’? It is silent and inert but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the ‘I’ within me, apart from it. So I am Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit.’ All this was not dull thought; it flashed through me vividly as living truth which I perceived directly, almost without thought-process. ‘I’ was something very real, the only real thing about my present state, and all the conscious activity connected with my body was centred on that ‘I’. From that moment onwards the ‘I’ or Self focused attention on itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death had vanished once and for all. Absorption in the Self continued unbroken from that time on. Other thoughts might come and go like the various notes of music, but the ‘I’ continued like the fundamental sruti note that underlies and blends with all the other notes (The monotone persisting through a Hindu piece of music, like the thread on which beads are strung, represents the Self persisting through all the forms of being.) Whether the body was engaged in talking, reading or anything else, I was still centred on ‘I’. Previous to that crisis I had no clear perception of my Self and was not consciously attracted to it. I felt no perceptible or direct interest in it, much less any inclination to dwell permanently in it.”
Thus simply described, without pretension or verbiage, the state attained might seem no different from egotism, but that is due only to the ambiguity in the words ‘I’ and ‘Self ’. The difference is brought out by the attitude towards death, for one whose interest is centred in the ego, the ‘I’ as a separate individual being, has a dread of death which threatens the dissolution of the ego, whereas here the fear of death had vanished forever in the realization that the ‘I’ was one with the universal deathless Self which is the Spirit and the Self of every man. Even to say that he knew he was One with the Spirit is inadequate, since it suggests a separate ‘I’ who knew this, whereas the ‘I’ in him was itself consciously the Spirit.
Years later the difference was expounded by Sri Bhagavan to Paul Brunton, a Western seeker.(This and the other quotations from Paul Brunton given in this book are based on his A Search in Secret India, published by Rider & Co., London, and reproduced by the Ashram with his permission.)
BRUNTON: What exactly is this Self of which you speak? If what you say is true there must be another self in man.
SRI RAMANA: Can a man be possessed of two identities, two selves? To understand this matter it is first necessary for a man to analyse himself. Because it has long been his habit to think as others think, he has never faced his ‘I’ in the true manner. He has not a correct picture of himself; he has too long identified himself with the body and the brain. Therefore I tell you to pursue this enquiry, ‘Who am I?’
You ask me to describe this true Self to you. What can be said? It is That out of which the sense of the personal ‘I’ arises and into which it will have to disappear.
BRUNTON: Disappear? How can one lose the feeling of one’s personality?
SRI RAMANA: The first and foremost of all thoughts, the primeval thought in the mind of every man, is the thought ‘I’. It is only after the birth of this thought that any other thoughts can arise at all. It is only after the first personal pronoun, ‘I’, has arisen in the mind that the second personal pronoun, ‘you’, can make its appearance. If you could mentally follow the ‘I’ thread until it led you back to its source you would discover that, just as it is the first thought to appear, so it is the last to disappear. This is a matter which can be experienced.
BRUNTON: You mean that it is possible to conduct such a mental investigation into oneself?
SRI RAMANA: Certainly. It is possible to go inwards until the last thought, ‘I’, gradually vanishes.
BRUNTON: What is then left? Will a man then become quite unconscious or will he become an idiot?
SRI RAMANA: No; on the contrary, he will attain that consciousness which is immortal and he will become truly wise when he has awakened to his true Self, which is the real nature of man.
BRUNTON: But surely the sense of ‘I’ must also pertain to that?
SRI RAMANA: The sense of ‘I’ pertains to the person, the body and brain. When a man knows his true Self for the first time something else arises from the depths of his being and takes possession of him. That something is behind the mind; it is infinite, divine, eternal. Some people call it the Kingdom of Heaven, others call it the soul and others again Nirvana, and Hindus call it Liberation; you may give it what name you wish. When this happens a man has not really lost himself; rather he has found himself.
Unless and until a man embarks on this quest of the true Self, doubt and uncertainty will follow his footsteps through life. The greatest kings and statesmen try to rule others when in their heart of hearts they know that they cannot rule themselves. Yet the greatest power is at the command of the man who has penetrated to his inmost depth. . . . What is the use of knowing about everything else when you do not yet know who you are? Men avoid this enquiry into the true Self, but what else is there so worthy to be undertaken?
This whole sadhana took barely half an hour, and yet it is of the utmost importance to us that it was a sadhana, a striving towards light, and not an effortless awakening; for a Guru normally guides his disciples along the path that he himself has trod. That Sri Bhagavan completed within half an hour not merely the sadhana of a lifetime but, for most sadhakas, of many lifetimes, does not alter the fact that it was a striving by Self-enquiry such as he later enjoined on his followers. He warned them that the consummation towards which it leads is not normally attained quickly but only after long striving, but he also said that it is “the one infallible means, the only direct one, to realize the unconditioned, absolute Being that you really are” (Maharshi’s Gospel, Part II). He said that it immediately sets up the process of transmutation, even though it may be long before this is completed. “But the moment the ego-self tries to know itself it begins to partake less and less of the body in which it is immersed and more and more of the consciousness of Self.”
It is also significant that, although knowing nothing of the theory or practice of sadhana, Sri Bhagavan did in fact use pranayama or breath-control as an aid to concentration. So also he did admit of it as a legitimate help towards attaining thought-control, although he discouraged its use except for that purpose and never actually enjoined it.
“Breath-control is also a help. It is one of the various methods that are intended to help us attain one-pointedness. Breath-control can also help to control the wandering mind and attain this one-pointedness and therefore it can be used. But one should not stop there. After obtaining control of the mind through breathing exercises one should not rest content with any experience that may accrue therefrom, but should harness the controlled mind to the question ‘Who am I?’ till the mind merges in the Self.”
This changed mode of consciousness naturally produced a change in Venkataraman’s sense of values and habits of life. Things that had formerly been valued lost all attraction, conventional aims in life became unreal, what had been ignored exercised a strong compulsion. The adaptation of life to this new state of awareness cannot have been easy in one who was still a schoolboy and who lacked all theoretical training in spiritual life. He spoke to no one about it and for the time being remained in the family and continued to go to school; in fact he made as little outer change as possible. Nevertheless, it was inevitable that his family should notice his changed behaviour and resent some features of it. This also he has described.
“The consequences of this new awareness were soon noticed in my life. In the first place, I lost what little interest I had in my outer relationship with friends and relatives and went through my studies mechanically. I would hold an open book in front of me to satisfy my relatives that I was reading, when in reality my attention was far away from any such superficial matter. In my dealings with people I became meek and submissive. Formerly if I was given more work than other boys I might complain, and if any boy annoyed me I would retaliate. None of them would dare make fun of me or take liberties with me. Now all that was changed. Whatever work was given, whatever teasing or annoyance there was, I would put up with it quietly. The former ego that resented and retaliated had disappeared. I stopped going out with friends to play games and preferred solitude. I would often sit alone, especially in a posture suitable for meditation, and become absorbed in the Self, the Spirit, the force or current which constituted me. I would continue in this despite the jeers of my elder brother who would sarcastically call me ‘sage’ or ‘yogi’ and advise me to retire into the jungle like the ancient Rishis.
“Another change was that I no longer had any likes or dislikes with regard to food. Whatever was given to me, tasty or insipid, good or bad, I would swallow with like indifference.
“One of the features of my new state was my changed attitude to the Minakshi Temple. (The great temple at Madura.)
Formerly I used to go there very occasionally with friends to look at the images and put the sacred ash and vermilion on my brow and would return home almost unmoved. But after the Awakening I went there almost every evening. I used to go alone and stand motionless for a long time before an image of Siva or Minakshi or Nataraja and the sixty-three Saints, and as I stood there waves of emotion overwhelmed me. The soul had given up its hold on the body when it renounced the ‘I-amthe-body’ idea and it was seeking some fresh anchorage; hence the frequent visits to the temple and the outpouring of the soul in tears. This was God’s play with the soul. I would stand before Iswara, the Controller of the universe and of the destinies of all, the Omniscient and Omnipresent, and sometimes pray for the descent of His Grace upon me so that my devotion might increase and become perpetual like that of the sixty-three Saints. More often I would not pray at all but silently allow the deep within to flow on and into the deep beyond. The tears that marked this overflow of the soul did not betoken any particular pleasure or pain. I was not a pessimist; I knew nothing of life and had not learnt that it was full of sorrow. I was not actuated by any desire to avoid rebirth or seek Liberation or even to obtain dispassion or salvation. I had read no books except the Periapuranam, the Bible and bits of Thayumanavar and Thevaram. My conception of Iswara( Iswara, the Supreme Being, corresponds to the Western conception of a Personal God.) was similar to that found in the Puranas; I had never heard of Brahman(Brahman is the Impersonal Reality underlying Personal God, universe and man.), samsara (Samsara is the succession of births and deaths terminated only by the Liberation of Self-realization.) and so forth. I did not yet know that there was an Essence or Impersonal Real underlying everything and that Iswara and I were both identical with it. Later, at Tiruvannamalai, as I listened to the Ribhu Gita and other sacred books, I learnt all this and found that the books were analysing and naming what I had felt intuitively without analysis or name. In the language of the books I should describe the state I was in after the awakening as Suddha Manas or Vijnana or the intuition of the Illumined.”
It was quite different from the state of the mystic who is transported into ecstasy for a brief unaccountable while, after which the gloomy walls of the mind close round him again. Sri Bhagavan was already in constant, unbroken awareness of the Self and he has said explicitly that there was no more sadhana, no more spiritual effort, after this. There was no more striving towards abidance in the Self because the ego, whose opposition it is that causes strife, had been dissolved and there was none left with whom to strive. Further progress towards continuous, fully conscious Identity with the Self, established in fully normal outer life and radiating Grace upon those who approached him, was henceforth natural and effortless; and yet that there was such progress is indicated by Sri Bhagavan’s saying that the soul was still seeking a fresh anchorage. Things such as emulation of the Saints and concern as to what his elders would think still show a remnant of practical acceptance of duality which was later to disappear. There was also a physical sign of the continuing process. A constant burning sensation was felt in the body from the time of the Awakening until the moment when he entered the inner shrine of the temple at Tiruvannamalai.