This Book is written by Arthur Osborne
The parts of this chapter about Bhagavan’s teachings are largely based on The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi in His Own Words. There are also quotations from Ramana Arunachala.
I found my wife changed when I met her at Tiruvannamalai after four years. She had been mature in character before but now she was mature in understanding also. She no longer asked for explanations but gave them. And as she was explaining the same truths in a different idiom, that of Bhagavan instead of that of Guenon, it took me some time to adjust myself.
Bhagavan did not immediately reveal himself to me. I felt far less from his bodily presence than I had from his invisible support in camp. His photograph had been more real and vivid to me than any person, and yet now that I saw him face-to-face I felt his presence much less. This did not unduly worry me; it seemed merely a confirmation of what I had been told, that he was not a guru. I will give my impressions as I wrote them down at a time when they were fresher in my mind. “I entered the ashram hall on the morning of my arrival, before Bhagavan had returned from his daily walk on the hill. I was a little awed to find how small it was and how close to him I should be sitting; I had expected something grander and less intimate. And then he entered and, to my surprise, there was no great impression. Certainly far less than his photograph had made. Just a white-haired, very gracious man, walking a little stiffly from rheumatism and with a slight stoop. As soon as he had eased himself on to the couch he smiled at me and then turned to those around and to my young son and said: ‘So Adam’s prayer has been answered; his Daddy has come back safely.’ I felt his kindness but no more. I appreciated that it was for my sake that he had spoken English, since Adam knew Tamil.”
The change came a few weeks later at one of the big festivals of the ashram year. “There were huge crowds for the festival and we were sitting in the courtyard outside the hall. Bhagavan was reclining on his couch and I was sitting in the front row before it. He sat up, facing me, and his narrowed eyes pierced into me, penetrating, intimate, with an intensity I cannot describe. It was as though they said: ‘You have been told; why have you not realized?’ And then quietness, a depth of peace, an indescribable lightness and happiness.
“Thereafter love for Bhagavan began to grow in my heart and I felt his power and beauty. Next morning, for the first time, sitting before him in the hall, I tried to follow his teaching by using the vichara, ‘Who am I?’. I thought it was I who had decided. I did not at first realize that it was the initiation by look that had vitalized me and changed my attitude of mind. Indeed, I had only heard vaguely of this initiation and paid little heed to what I had heard. Only later did I learn that other devotees also had had such an experience, and that with them also it had marked the beginning of active sadhana (quest) under Bhagavan’s guidance.”
Then, for the first time in my life, I began to understand what the grace and blessing of the guru could mean. “My love and devotion to Bhagavan deepened. I went about with a lilt of happiness in my heart, feeling the blessing and mystery of the guru, repeating, like a song of love, that he was the Guru, the link between heaven and earth, between God and me, between the Formless Being and my heart. I became aware of the enormous grace of his presence. Even outwardly he was gracious to me, smiling when I entered the hall, signing to me to sit where he could watch me in meditation.”
However, with the Sadguru, the Divine Guru, this simple, idyllic state could not long continue. Although the devotion never diminished, it had merged with understanding. “And then one day a vivid reminder awoke in me: ‘The link with Formless Being? But he is the Formless Being.’ And I began to apprehend the meaning of his Jnana and to understand why devotees addressed him simply as ‘Bhagavan’, which is a name for God. (I should have said: ‘A word meaning God’). So he began to prove in me what he declared in his teaching: that the outer guru serves to awaken the guru in the heart. The vichara, the constant ‘Who am I?’ began to awaken an awareness of the Self as Bhagavan outwardly and also simultaneously of the Self within.
The specious theory that Bhagavan was not a Guru had simply evaporated in the radiance of his Grace. Moreover, I now perceived that, far from his teaching not being practical guidance, it was exclusively that. I observed that he shunned theoretical explanations and kept turning the questioner to practical considerations of sadhana, of the path to be followed. It was that and only that he was here to teach!
Before going any further I will try briefly to elucidate the differences of meaning in the terms ‘saint’, ‘mystic’, ‘initiate’, ‘yogi’, and ‘sage’. It will help to show what we implied by using the term ‘Bhagavan’ and what Bhagavan prescribed and therefore will not really be a digression. These terms, of course, are not rigorously precise definitions; neither are they mutually exclusive; nevertheless they do indicate real differences, even though there may be overlapping.
Imagine people living in a miasma at the foot of a mountain, stunted, undernourished, wasted by disease. They have been told that there is a wonderful plateau on the mountaintop, with fruit and flowers, invigorating air and cool, fresh water. But the ascent is arduous and they would have to leave their hovels and their few miserable possessions behind, so they stay where they are. Only a few of the more enterprising, either seeking the mountain summit or simply striving to rise above the heat, miasma and mosquitoes of the plain, have climbed up some distance and made themselves dwellings on the hillside. The plain-dwellers would refer to them all alike as ‘people of the hill’ and yet there would be endless differences among them. Some might have developed a farmstead and have fruit, milk and grain to give away to the sick and needy below, while others might be resting in a cave with a little more than their immediate needs. Some might have set forth on a deliberate enterprise to attain the summit, while others were driven merely by the urge to get up higher into cooler air and more beautiful, health-giving surroundings, not even knowing that there was a summit to attain. Even among those who started out with a plan of ascent, some might have put it aside till a later, indefinite date, once they had made a home somewhere along the path, while others might regard each pleasure-grove they came to as no more than a resting place from which to plan the next stage of the ascent.
No less varied are the people known as ‘saints’. Not only in their level of attainment do they vary but in their understanding of the goal and their dedication to further striving towards it. Also in the powers they manifest and the benefits they bestow. Only the Roman Catholic Church officially canonises saints; in other religions they are simply recognized. One criterion the Church demands is the performance of miracles. Power may flow through a saint, but it is by no means necessary that he should be interested to manifest powers. Also, the possession of powers is no proof of sainthood. This the Church recognizes. Not only that, but Christ himself warned against false prophets who would perform signs and wonders.
The mention of powers invites consideration of a slightly different category, that of the yogi or initiate (for the yogi is simply an initiate of one particular type of Hindu path). There is no clear demarcation; indeed, a saint may be a member of an initiatic order, while an initiate who has attained to a higher state will be a saint. Nevertheless, the accent here is rather more on powers and faculties and less on sanctity. The initiate is following a definite technique intended to cause changes and development of mind and character and ultimately to lead to beatitude; the saint also may be, but he may have been swept up by the sheer force of his aspiration and devotion, not knowing in theory whither he is being borne or by what means. There were initiatic sciences (hermetic or alchemical) in mediaeval Christendom and still are in India (yogic and tantric sciences) which develop powers and faculties in a man such as would be generally termed supernatural. Purity of character and motive are supposed to be essential in these sciences, but unfortunately there are people who practise them without and become rather occultists than saints. I myself have seen people in India who could perform wonders, and there was nothing spiritual about them. The great Tibetan Buddhist saint Milarepa (whose life has been translated into English by Evans-Wentz) first attained occult powers for the egoistic purpose of revenge on relatives who had dispossessed his mother and himself; when he turned to a genuine spiritual path he had to undergo terrible austerities to purify himself from this aberration. The meaning of ‘initiate’, therefore, ranges all the way from ‘saint’ on the one hand to ‘occultist’ on the other, apart from the many initiates, indeed the great majority, who achieve no recognizable development at all as a result of their initiation.
The term ‘mystic’ also is vaguely used. Both a saint and the initiate may be a mystic — in fact it might be held that the genuine saint and the successful initiate must be. However, there can be mystics who are neither saints nor initiates. The emphasis here is rather on intuitive knowledge, vision or ecstasy than on either sanctity or powers. Moreover, it may be a passive state without either the theoretical understanding or the practical disciplines of the initiate and without the saint’s striving for purity. What is held to characterise it is the occasional largesse of vision or beatitude, descending unearned. Even here there is a very wide range of what the mystic glimpses, from pure Self-realization to sensual visions and divine visitations.
There is one flank of the mountain where the ascent is sheer, with no pleasant groves to rest in on the way, where, to compensate for this, the path is direct and the crest already visible from the plains below and throughout the ascent. This is the direct path taught by Bhagavan. There are no stages on this path. Indeed, followers of Bhagavan are apt to be impatient when they hear of stages or degrees of realization upon some indirect path and to say: ‘What does all this mean? Either a man has realized the Self or he has not.’ This attitude is right as regards their own path but not necessarily as regards others, for there are paths on which the wayfarer does not aim at realization of the Self, the ultimate end of Supreme Truth, or at any rate not directly, and the term ‘realization’ is used with a different meaning, to signify merely the attainment of some higher state which, however, is equally transient and illusory within the ultimate reality of the Self. However, although the wayfarer on the direct path does not attain to any higher states along the way, he may be blessed with glimpses of pure Self-realization, beyond all states, which will suffuse and irradiate his whole life. Speaking of pure Self-
realization and the direct path to it, Bhagavan affirmed quite definitely both, that there are no stages in Realization and that Realization is not normally permanent when first attained. It may come in occasional flashes but cannot be permanent until the vasanas (inherent tendencies impelling one to desire one thing and shun another) have been eradicated. Two modes of conscious planned ascent have now been indicated, whatever name one may give them (apart from the occasional transportation of the mystic and the uncharted elevation of certain saints): that of the man who ascends in stages, becoming stabilized in this lifetime in some higher state, possibly with higher powers, but with no direct, and often even no theoretical knowledge of the supreme state of Self-realization, and that of the man who envisages the supreme truth of Identity, strives towards it, perhaps has occasional glimpses of its Realization but, until attaining it, is not established in any higher state. Which is preferable? The question is unrealistic, since each aspirant will follow the path that accords with his temperament and that his destiny makes available.
Another question that may be raised at this point is that of the benefit to those below. Reverting to the symbol of the mountain: should the hill-dweller who is facing downwards, having established a homestead not too high up from which he can supply the sufferers in the plains below, not be considered preferable to one who has turned his back on them and struggled up on his lone path to the summit? He might be if the symbol held good, but it does not. It is cancelled out by Christ’s saying that to him who attains the kingdom of heaven all else is added. It is therefore he who has greatest power to help others. One’s own Self-realization is the greatest boon that one can bestow on others, while at the same time, paradoxically, it reveals that there are no others to whom to bestow boons. It is like waking up from a dream; and to ask what can be done for others is as senseless as worrying what happened to the people one saw in last night’s dream. And yet waking is the best way to help them. Both are true.
Plontinus is usually spoken of as a sage and Eckhart as a mystic, and yet they would both appear to fall into the same category of wayfarers on the direct path. In theory they both showed complete understanding of the absolute Oneness of Self-
realization, of what Guenon called the ‘Supreme Identity’; in practise also they both seem to have had glimpses of realization such as Bhagavan refers to, although it is clear from what they themselves wrote that they were not permanently and irrevocably in the state.
To be thus established is possible although very rare. Again, “Among thousands, perhaps one strives for realization; among thousands who strive for Realization, perhaps one knows Me as I am.” (Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 7, verse 3). This does not imply knowing as one does another but knowing by being. It means simply to realize the Self that you always were by complete dissolution of any other-than-Self in you, or, more correctly still, by complete dissolution of the mistaken belief that there ever was any other-than-Self in you.
This is the supreme state. It is beyond revelation, for who is to reveal to whom? Beyond prayer, for who is to pray to whom? However, the realized man may consciously act a part on the stage of life where prayer, like any other activity, is to be performed. He may act any part in life — that of king or hermit, married or celibate, famous or obscure, according to his apparent nature and destiny. I say ‘apparent’ because in fact he has transcended nature and destiny.
Such a one was the Bhagavan I knew. He was the most simple, natural, unassuming of men; he was what a man should be, quite without affectation, like a child; and at the same time with an indescribable beauty and wisdom and with such power that many trembled in his presence and feared to speak to him. To address him in the third person, as ‘Bhagavan’, seemed less inappropriate than saying ‘you’ to one who was leading us beyond the duality of ‘you’ and ‘I’. When the meaning was general and warranted it, he would also say ‘Bhagavan’ — “even if you let go of Bhagavan, Bhagavan will never let go of you”. In simple daily affairs he would play the part of an individual, just as an actor could play Lear’s frenzy without himself being frenzied, without supposing that he was Lear.
Unfortunately, few in the West understand the possibility of this supreme state. To make matters worse, the philosophers and theologians, who should be the ones to explain it, introduce confusion by misunderstanding and therefore denying or misrepresenting it. In the East there is the opposite trouble— that this possibility is widely understood and is therefore claimed indiscriminately for every one who can gather disciples. Bhagavan was also commonly referred to as ‘the Maharshi’ or ‘Ramana Maharshi’. A pundit once explained to me that this title, condensed from ‘Maha-Rishi’, ‘Great Sage’, is applied to one who does not merely continue a tradition but inaugurates a new spiritual path. Certainly that would justify its application to Ramana Maharshi.
In speaking of spiritual men, the question also arises of their recognition. It is not uncommon to hear some one express confidence that he would recognise a spiritual man if he met one. This, however, is not always possible. High spiritual attainment, even complete liberation, is not always recognisable. Naturally, it is not easy to give examples of this, for this very reason that they are not recognised, but one very striking one is that of Christ before he set forth on his mission. According to Christian doctrine, he was born without original sin (which means Self-realization from birth) and attained no new state when he went forth on his ‘Father’s business’; and yet he exerted no influence on others before that but went completely unrecognised. Not only is there no record of crowds flocking to Nazareth, as they would have in any country or age to the seat of one recognized as a holy man, but, on the contrary, when he returned there with his disciples his fellow-townsmen expressed surprise, if not incredulity that the local carpenter should have turned out a prophet. The Maharshi also was not recognized when he first attained Realization but only later when he began to shed Grace on others and act as a Guru.
The reason for this is that it is not a man’s inner state which is felt by others but the Grace flowing through him towards them. Perceptible Grace may thus flow through one who has not attained the Supreme Identity (as has been the case with many saints) or even through one who has not attained any spiritual state at all; and again it may not through one who has. There may be other spiritual functions besides the guidance of disciples, for some of which anonymity is desirable. If so it will be maintained.
With a guru, of course, the question of recognition ought not to arise, since it is, so to speak, his function to be recognized. It is important that he should be, because my saying that perceptible grace can flow through one who has not attained does not mean that he can guide others farther than he has gone himself. There may be other and more exoteric purposes for which the Grace is channelled through him, but as a guru he can only guide as far as he has gone. (And that was why Martin Lings warned me off my first murshid). That was the real ground for the Buddha’s dissatisfaction with the gurus he went to before attaining Enlightenment. Finally (as may happen with the opener of a new path — as happened also with the Maharshi) he attained Enlightenment with no outer guru. The disciple who sets no limits to his aspiration needs a guru to whose achievement there are none.
Actually, recognition of a guru is complicated by impurities in the disciple which make him imagine perfection where it does not exist and overlook it where it does. There were many who did not recognize the Maharshi as a Guru and there are many who ascribe a high or the highest state to gurus who have only a formal legitimacy, if that.
The twofold possibility of finding a realized Guru and observing the orthodoxy of whatever religion he professed must have seemed pretty remote to many of Guenon’s readers at the time when he wrote; it is vastly more so today, in view of the rapid breakdown of tradition, drying up of spiritual streams and acceptance of modernism not only in the West but throughout the world and in all religions. To prevent despondency, Guenon gave the assurance that Christ’s saying that whoever seeks shall find is a divine law of universal application. This implies, however, that there must be some technique by which it can still apply even in this present age, when a genuine guru has become so rare to find and orthodoxy, for most people, impracticable. Guenon never suggested what this technique might be or even seemed aware of the need for one. The adaptation necessary to meet the conditions of the new age was, of course, formless guidance, to which I referred briefly in ‘Adventures on the Path’, such as could reach the heart of whoever seeks, independent alike of religious orthodoxy and formal initiation. There may be various such currents of guidance in the world today; certainly one was instituted by the Maharshi.
In accordance with the needs of this path, he restored the term ‘Guru’ to its true and highest meaning, which is essentially the same as the Christian doctrine of ‘the Christ in you’. This introduced a certain mystery into his use of the term. The following dialogue illustrates how it made the laying on of hands or transmission of a mantram by a human agent unnecessary:
Devotee: “Bhagavan has said that without the grace of the Guru one cannot attain to the Self. What precisely does he mean by this? What is this Guru?”
Bhagavan: “From the standpoint of the path of Knowledge, it is the supreme state of the Self. It is different from the ego, which you call your self.”
Devotee: “Then if it is the supreme state of my own Self, in what sense does Bhagavan mean that I cannot reach it without the grace of the Guru?” Bhagavan: “The ego is the individuality and is not the same as the Lord of all. When it approaches the Lord with sincere devotion, he graciously assumes name and form and takes it to Himself. Therefore they say that the Guru is none other than the Lord. He is a human incarnation of Divine Grace.”
A human incarnation, yes; but he also said that the Guru need not necessarily take human form; and since he shed the body the meaning of this saying has become clear.
It is obvious that this supreme definition of the Guru can apply only in a very limited way to one whose legitimacy depends on human appointment; in its fullness it can apply only to Bhagavan, to the Jivan-Mukta (emancipated while yet in the physical body). Bhagavan is indeed the universal divine Guru.
In another sense also he is universal. One who has attained the supreme state is above all the forms of religion. They are the paths leading up to the peak, but he is the peak itself, and everything else. A guru normally guides his followers along the path which he himself trod, and Bhagavan’s approach to Realization was through an act of self-enquiry unconnected with the forms of the Hindu or any other religion. This also was what he taught. He came as an answer to the needs of our age, proclaiming a path which, with his grace and support can be followed by aspirants in any religion, and indeed whether they observed any formal religion or not.
It might be thought to follow from this that Bhagavan’s initiation would be freely and openly given; on the contrary, it was concealed. Had it been open, the constant stream of visitors from India and abroad would have demanded it, putting Bhagavan under the necessity of accepting one and rejecting another; for ordinarily many seek initiation without pledging themselves to the quest, merely as a sort of spiritual tonic. As it was, the aspirants’ own understanding or lack of it performed the selection which in a secret order would be performed by the guru. Preparedness for initiation was the first hurdle, those who were not prepared never knowing that they had missed anything, and therefore not being subjected to jealousy, resentment or despondency, as they might otherwise have been. If asked, Bhagavan would never deny that he gave initiation, but he would also not openly affirm it. The only time I have heard him do so was with Hartz. Sometimes he would answer that the Guru-disciple relationship is a reality from the point of view of the disciple and is necessary to him, although the Guru cannot affirm it, since for him there are no others and therefore there can be no relationship. It will be noted that Hartz’s question was phrased in a form which made it possible to give an affirmative answer without any statement of relationship. This, of course, applies only to the perfect Guru who abides at all times in the state of Supreme Identity. Nor was the initiation and guidance for Bhagavan’s lifetime only. If it had been, it would have brought only a very temporary solution to the problem of modern world conditions. When asked: “Does the contact continue even after the dissolution of the physical body of the Guru or only so long as he is in the flesh and blood?” he answered: “The Guru is not the physical form; so contact will remain even after his physical form vanishes.” When his body’s death seemed imminent and some devotees asked how they could pursue their sadhana without his continued guidance, he replied with the cryptic rebuke: “You attach too much importance to the body.” Indeed, one who has understood what is meant by the Jivan-Mukta, in constant, unwavering, conscious identity with the Self, does not need assurance; he understands that the presence or absence of a body can make no difference. “There are no stages in Self-realization. There are no degrees of liberation. So there cannot be one stage of liberation with the body and another when the body has been shed. The realized man knows that he is the Self and that nothing, neither his body nor anything else, exists but for the Self. To such a one what difference could the presence or absence of a body make?”
And in practise his devotees have found it so. Not only that, but new devotees continue to be drawn to him and experience his guidance as before. Many of those who come to Tiruvannamalai never saw him in his lifetime; many also follow his guidance from a distance, being unable to come. There are not the crowds that there were before, but many of these were sightseers who craved some limited blessing; the proportion of true devotees is higher now. The support and guidance is no less.
Being the universal Guru, Bhagavan proclaimed his teaching openly. It has been usual for a guru to maintain secrecy about methods of training, even though he might write openly on theory; indeed this precaution was necessary, since it was illegitimate and might be dangerous to practise any technique without personal authorisation. Under Bhagavan’s guidance, however, understanding and aspiration are the only qualifications and their absence the only barriers.
A visitor once asked him: “May I be assured that there is nothing further to be learnt, so far as the technique of spiritual practise is concerned, than what was written in Bhagavan’s books?” He further explained, “I ask because in all other systems the guru holds back some secret technique to reveal to his disciples at the time of initiation.” And Bhagavan replied: “There is nothing more to be known than what you find in the books. No secret technique. It is all an open secret in this system.”
Open and yet secret, because, although expressed openly, few seem to understand all the implications.
The method is Self-enquiry: Who am I?
Sometimes he would say: “Whether or not you believe in the reality of the world or of God, you know that you exist, so start with yourself and find out first who you are.”
Who am I? What is the reality of me? Not my body, because it changes constantly from youth to age, from sickness to health, but I still am. Besides, I say that I have a body, not that I am one, and what I have is not what I am. Who is it that says ‘my head’, ‘my hands’, ‘my body’? Also not my thoughts and feelings, ambitions and desires, likes and dislikes, hopes and fears: all these stay with me for a while and then pass away; those I have now are quite different from what I had ten years ago; but I still am. Besides, I have none of them when in a deep, dreamless sleep, and yet I still exist. And of them also I say ‘I have’, not ‘I am’. What, then, am I? What remains when all that is adventitious has been taken away?
All this is not what Bhagavan meant by Self-enquiry. It is a useful mental introduction to it, but Self-enquiry, as he taught it, is not a mental but a spiritual exercise. Therefore any mental or verbal answer must be wrong. ‘Any answer the mind can give is wrong.’ To give an answer means mistaking for a philosophical conundrum what is in fact a spiritual exercise.
“The enquiry ‘Who am I?’ really means trying to find the source of the ego or ‘I’-thought. You are not to occupy the mind with other thoughts such as ‘I am not the body’. Seeking the source of the ‘I’ serves as a means of getting rid of all other thoughts.” It is also not a psychological study or a technique for getting to know one’s qualities or aptitudes or uncovering one’s subconscious urges, but for realizing the Self behind the ego that has these qualities and urges. “Just as it is futile to examine the rubbish that has to be swept up only to be thrown away, so it is futile for him who seeks to know the Self to set to work enumerating the tattvas that envelop the Self and examining them instead of throwing them away.”
Nor is it one ‘I’ seeking for another. There is only one Self in you, not two.
A visitor once asked: “Isn’t it funny that I should be searching for the ‘I’? Doesn’t the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ turn out in the end to be an empty formula? Or am I to put the question to myself endlessly, repeating it like an incantation?”
And he was told: “Self-enquiry is certainly not an empty formula; it is more than the repetition of an incantation. If it were mere mental questioning it would not be of much value. Its very purpose is to focus the entire mind at its source. It is not therefore a case of one ‘I’ searching for another. Still less is it an empty formula, for it involves intense activity of the entire mind to keep it steadily poised in pure Self-awareness. Self-
enquiry is the one infallible means, the only direct one, to realize the unconditioned, absolute Being that you really are.”
Just as aspirants were warned not to make a mental investigation out of Self-enquiry, so also they are warned not to make an incantation out of it and not to confuse it with the meditation ‘I am He’. “Self-enquiry is a different method from the meditation ‘I am Shiva’ or ‘I am He’. It rather lays stress on Self-knowledge, because you are first concerned with yourself before you proceed to know the world and its Lord. The ‘I am He’ or ‘I am Brahman’ meditation is more or less mental, but the quest of the Self is a direct method and is superior to it.”
Usually a man’s mind is turned outwards, creating or following a course of action or of thought. Instead of that it is to be turned inwards upon itself, asking ‘Who am I?’, not seeking an answer to the question but simply experiencing the sense of awareness, of I-am-ness, letting that alone remain in the consciousness.
Man has three functions: action, thought and being. Being underlies the other two and is the necessary substratum for them, and yet is almost completely overshadowed by them, so that it is very rarely that a man is aware of actual being, of his pure I-am-ness. To use a simile that Bhagavan often made use of: it is like a cinema screen on which a film is shown. The spectators are not aware of it but only of the pictures passing across it; and yet it is real and they are shadows on it; it exists unchanged before the showing of the film and while the pictures are moving across it and after they have come to an end. And it is quite unaffected by them: a fire in the picture does not burn it nor a flood make it wet.
It is this awareness of being that is to be cultivated. It is developed by Self-enquiry; indeed, the quest for it is itself a mode of Self-enquiry. Sometimes Bhagavan would say: “Your duty is simply to be; not to be this or that.” And therefore he would quote as the perfect name of God ‘I am that I am’. He also often quoted the sentence from the Psalms: ‘Be still and know that I am God’. Keep the mind still, free from thoughts, and know that the ‘I am’, the pure Being, is God.
Bhagavan used the term ‘meditation’ for the practise of Self-enquiry, and that term is used in this book also, but it does not mean meditation as a dictionary would define it. It is not meditating on anything or concentrating on any one thought. It is different in kind from the Sufi meditation I described in an earlier chapter, since it is not thinking but suspending or stilling thoughts while holding the mind alert in quest of itself, or in pure awareness of being, of I-am-ness.
So far is Self-enquiry from being a mental exercise that Bhagavan enjoined those who used it to concentrate not on the head but the heart during meditation. This does not mean thinking of the heart or trying to visualize or imagine it, for that would be a mental exercise. You do not think of the eyes or visualize them in order to see; you simply look with them. And in the same way the sense of awareness starts simply by concentrating on the heart which is all pervading. Simply to sit concentrating one’s sense of ‘I’-ness, of being, in the heart and at the same time asking, ‘Who am I?’ — not constantly but just once, in order to hold the mind in that direction, repeating the thought only as a weapon to drive out other thoughts when they arise.
Moreover, when Bhagavan spoke of concentration on the heart he did not mean the physical heart on the left side but the centre of spiritual awareness at the right side of the chest. Some of the ashram publications refer in this connection to the verse from Ecclesiastes: ‘The wise man’s heart is at the right hand and the fool’s heart is at the left.’ (Ch.X, v.2, authorized version). This centre is not one of the yogic chakras. The direct method is not concerned with them or with the kundalini technique. The following dialogue explains this:
Devotee: “Bhagavan was saying that the heart is the seat or centre of the Self?”
Bhagavan: “Yes, it is the one supreme centre of the Self. You need have no doubts about that. The real Self is there in the heart behind the ego-self.” Devotee: “Will Bhagavan please tell me where in the body it is?”
Bhagavan: “You cannot know with your mind or picture it with your imagination, although I tell you that it is here (pointing to the right side of the chest). The only direct way to realize it is to stop imagining and try to be yourself. Then you automatically feel that the centre is there. It is the centre spoken of in the scriptures as the heart-cavity.”
Devotee: “Can I be sure that the ancients meant this centre by the term ‘heart’?”
Bhagavan: “Yes, you can; but you should try to have the experience rather than locate it. A man does not have to go and find where his eyes are in order to see. The heart is there, always open to you, if you care to enter it, always supporting your movements, although you may be unaware of it. It is perhaps more correct to say that the Self is the heart. Really the Self is the centre and is everywhere aware of itself as the Heart or Self-awareness.”
Devotee: “When Bhagavan says that the heart is the supreme centre of the Spirit or Self, does that imply that it is not one of the six chakras (yogic centres)?”
Bhagavan: “The chakras, counting from the bottom upwards, are a series of centres in the (subtle) nervous system. They represent various stages, each having its own kind of power or knowledge, leading to the sahasrara, the thousand-petalled lotus in the brain, where is seated the supreme Shakti (Divine Energy). But the Self that supports the whole movement of the Shakti is not located there but supports it from the heart-centre.”
Devotee: “Then it is different from the manifestation of Shakti?”
Bhagavan: “Really there is no manifestation of Shakti apart from the Self. It is the Self that becomes all these shaktis. When the yogi attains the highest state of spiritual awareness (samadhi) it is the Self in the heart that supports him in that state, whether he is aware of it or not. But if his awareness is centred in the heart he realizes that, whatever centres or states he may be in, he is always the same Truth, the same Heart, the one Self, the Spirit that is present throughout, eternal and immutable.”
More specifically, he explained on another occasion: “The sushumna is thus a curve. It starts from the solar plexus, rises through the spinal cord to the brain, and from there bends down and ends in the heart. When the yogi has reached the heart the samadhi becomes permanent. Thus we see that the heart is the final centre.” (It is interesting to note that Lama Govinda explains similarly in his Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism that on the Tibetan path epitomised by the incantation ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ the initiate, after attaining the highest centre, which is in the brain, comes down to the heart for final stabilisation. Unfortunately he presents this knowledge as exclusive to Tantric Buddhism. Obviously, no truth of general application can be confined to any one religion or path).
The above dialogue indicates a technical explanation why there are no stages on the direct path. There is no successive development of the various subtle centres, each of which has its own types of power and perception; instead there is concentration from the beginning on the Self to which all powers belong and the Heart from which all centres radiate and by which they are supported.
Self-enquiry is, of course, not a new method. Being the most direct method, it must be the oldest. In ancient times, however, it was a path for the recluse striving in silence and solitude; but in more recent ages diminishing spirituality has 110 caused it to be little used. What Bhagavan did was to restore it as a method that can be used in the conditions of the modern world. Its independence of doctrine and ritual, in fact its primordiality, already made it potentially universal; and Bhagavan further adapted it by combining it with karma-marga, that is with progress through activity. Not only did he not expect his followers to renounce the world, but also when they asked his sanction to do so, he refused.
“Why do you think you are a householder? The similar thought that you are a hermit will haunt you if you go forth as one. Whether you continue in the household or renounce it and go to live in the forest, your mind haunts you. The ego is the source of thought. It creates the body and the world and makes you think you are a householder. If you renounce, it will only substitute the thought of renunciation for that of family, and the environment of the forest for that of the household. The mental obstacles are always there for you. They even increase greatly in the new surroundings. Change of environment is no help. The one obstacle is the mind, and this must be overcome whether in the home or in the forest. If you can do it in the forest, why not in the home? So why change the environment? Your efforts can be made even now, whatever the environment.”
And when asked whether it is possible to experience samadhi or spiritual awareness while working he replied: “It is the feeling ‘I work’ that is the hindrance. Ask yourself ‘Who works?’ Remember who you are. Then the work will not bind you; it will go on automatically.”
Similarly, he did not insist on celibacy. Indeed, in traditional Hindu society all householders are married; only the sadhu, the world-renouncer, is a celibate; and it was this 111 outer renunciation which he discouraged. Inner detachment is the real renunciation.
Sometimes he gave the example of the actor on the stage, playing a certain part as the author has written it, although knowing that he is not really that person; sometimes of a bank cashier who pays out thousands coolly and efficiently, knowing that it is not his money that he is paying.
The usual way is to devote a certain time to meditation daily, for instance in the early morning and the evening, and for the rest of the time to try and remember during the activities of the day. At first this remembering is mainly a mental and moral discipline — ‘who is flattered by this attention, pleased by this letter, slighted by so-and-so’s action? Who am I?’ After some practise, however, it takes a deeper tone, becoming an extension of the more potent meditation.
Few of Bhagavan’s devotees lived permanently at Tiruvannamalai. It was (and still is) more usual to live in the world, engaged in some business or profession, and pay only occasional visits, to re-charge the batteries, so to speak.
Although Bhagavan spoke and wrote mostly of Self-
enquiry, that is, of the ‘Path of Knowledge’, he recognised also the path of love and devotion among his followers. To some who took this path he has made the tremendous statement: “Submit to me and I will strike down the mind,” or: “Only keep quiet and I will do the rest.” But it is not easy to submit or to keep the mind quiet.
These different paths are not mutually exclusive in practise, although they might theoretically appear to be.
To return to my story.
Throughout the years of our separation my wife never doubted Bhagavan’s guidance. She had complete faith in him. 112 When I joined her after the war and suggested showing him a photo of Martin’s guru and telling him that this was our guru, she was horrified. “But you can’t possibly do that!” she exclaimed. “How could you tell Bhagavan that somebody else is our guru?”
“But he himself is not a guru,” I protested with crude logic, repeating what I had been told.
“But you can’t possibly do that!” she repeated. “It would be a terrible thing to do.”
And I didn’t.
Nevertheless, despite her complete reliance on Bhagavan, she continued the exercises into which we had been initiated and never found it necessary to write to Martin about the change of allegiance. For someone as indifferent as she was to the theory of initiation and guru, and who, moreover, until coming to Bhagavan, and been so half-hearted about the whole matter, such behaviour was quite natural; but could I do the same?
I soon found that I could not continue the practises into which I had been initiated and which represented a different and less direct path. They became a terrible drag and burden on me. I forced myself to continue them for some time out of a sense of duty and then asked Bhagavan’s permission to drop them. He gave it, saying: “Yes, all other methods lead up to Self-enquiry.”
There was never any question of becoming a Hindu, which (even supposing it were possible) would have meant taking on myself a new burden of formalities.
I felt therefore an obligation to inform the guru through whom, even though indirectly, the exercises had been prescribed, since it was in effect a change of allegiance. There was also the question of correcting Guenon’s mistake. Not only did I owe that to him, since it was he who had brought me forth from a life of 113 ignorance to quest for the Goal, and thereby indirectly to Bhagavan, but there was the consideration of all the others who were inspired by him to seek a path and yet, by this mistake of his, might find the path blocked by his ‘no road’ sign, as I had so nearly done.
It must be remembered that Guenon was strongly opposed to modern empirical methods of thinking, instead of which he advocated the traditional method of understanding the basic principles and applying them to actual circumstances. He usually did this successfully, but I have already mentioned instances in which this was not the case, by applying principles in too doctrinaire a manner. It now transpired that his mistaken denial of Bhagavan as a Guru had more serious implications because it was likely to have graver practical repercussions on those seeking guidance. Initiation had always been transmitted through strictly orthodox channels and in a formal manner; Bhagavan’s initiation and guidance was not formal and did not follow the orthodoxy of any religion; therefore, he argued, it did not exist. It did not occur to him that since most of the orthodox channels had dried up, and the waters of life which they formerly conveyed had become inaccessible to almost all mankind, the Divine Grace might have opened a new path in accordance with the needs of the age. He often referred to such a phenomenon, to the outpouring of Grace being channelled in a new way to suit the conditions of a different age or community, but he did not admit or perceive that this had happened in his own age also. Of course, what he ought to have done before issuing such a grave denial was to come and verify for himself, but, as with his rejection of Buddhism, this was just what he would not do, as it smacked of empiricism.
I decided that I should write a letter to Martin to be shown to his guru and Guenon, explaining that Bhagavan was a Guru and did give initiation and guidance.
114 However, there was one great impediment to this. As I have already stated, one of Guenon’s enthusiasts had been to Tiruvannamalai and, failing to understand the silent initiation and guidance, had reported back that there was none and that Bhagavan was not a Guru.
Could I expect Guenon to take my word against his, especially when his confirmed Guenon’s theory and mine refuted it? It seemed most unlikely. I therefore wrote a letter containing the definite statement that Bhagavan was a Guru and did give initiation and guidance and showed it to Bhagavan, asking his permission to send it. Although he did not normally give any affirmation in this matter, I hoped that, in view of the importance of the case, he would make an exception, He did. He read the letter through carefully, handed it back and said: “Yes, send it.” I sent the letter to Martin with a postscript explaining this.
Bhagavan himself never wrote letters; therefore a letter sent with his express authorisation could be taken as a message from him. The last chapter of Guenon’s Man and His Becoming According to Vedanta showed that he understood what was meant by the Jivan-Mukta, the Divine Man fully Self-realized. Now he would be receiving a personal message from one. I hoped that he would accept it and not make himself like those who had denied Christ because he did not come in the form they had expected.