This chapter is taken from The Silent Power – Selections from The Mountain Path and The Call Divine
(Excerpts from a speech delivered on a Jayanti day)
It is difficult to speak on Advaita. It is more difficult to speak about Bhagavan. I am not going to speak as an intellectual, nor as a professor of philosophy, I am going to speak to you as one would to his brothers and sisters. I think I will succeed in expressing at least a little of what I feel about Bhagavan only when you forget my personality totally. It is only when the speaker’s individuality completely recedes into the background that the Advaita can be understood at all; and Bhagavan Ramana, as I am fond of saying, is pre-eminently an Advaita avatara.
Today is the most blessed day for us, who by a stroke of good fortune, have come under the protective wings of our Bhagavan. The ardra day has been an auspicious day in the Hindu calendar. But it has been made more auspicious because Bhagavan chose to be born on that day, and this year his birthday has come on the eve of another holy day, Makarasankranti. We will be able to appreciate the greatness and grandeur of the life and teachings of Bhagavan if we ponder for a moment over the significance of these two great festivals—Ardra and Makarasankranti. Ardra marks the victory of Lord Siva over the demon Andhaka. The very name ‘Andhaka’ means the ‘dark’ and the ‘blind’, and ‘Andhaka’ is an allegory for ajnana, avidya, ignorance or maya. It was on the Ardra day that the Lord vanquished Andhaka in order that the world may be saved, in order that humanity may see the face of goodness. The myth of the conquest of Andhaka signifies the victory of the forces of light over those of darkness, of vidya over avidya, of the supreme good over all that is evil.
After killing the demon Andhaka the Lord danced his cosmic dance, the expression of supreme joy, which alone sustains the Universe. It is in commemoration of this great event that the image of Nataraja is taken out of the temples in procession on the Ardra day. In the year 1879, on this auspicious day the Nataraja image of the temple at Tiruchuli was being taken into the temple at the conclusion of the procession. It was at this moment that Bhagavan Ramana was born. So, it is significant that our Lord chose the auspicious day of Ardra for making His advent into this world.
Makarasankranti, again, marks the dawn of the day of the gods — the beginning of Uttarayana. Students of the Mahabharata will remember that the great Bhishma lay on a bed of arrows awaiting the dawn of Uttarayana. Today the gods are awake. They have begun to have another bright day. The month proceeding Makarasankranti is also a holy month for us Hindus. The month of Mirgasirsha is to the gods what the Brahmamuhurtam is to humans. Therefore we prepare ourselves during this month for the dawn of the divine day by rising early in the morning and singing the praise of the Lord. In the south, especially in the Tamil area, even today we find groups of devotees rising early in the morning and singing the praise of God in the villages and towns, singing and awakening those who slumber and who will not otherwise hear the call of the divine.
The drama of bridal mysticism as portrayed in the Tiruppavai of Andal and the Tiruvembavai of Manikavachakar is the great drama of the communion of the soul with God. And it is this consummation that is sought to be achieved by observing the vrata (penanace) in the month of Mirgasirsha. This year after that preparatory penance we have today entered the path of light, the path of divine light. It is supremely significant that we should be thinking of Bhagavan ‘the light divine’. Bhagavan Ramana is the supreme and eternal light, which alone can save us from degradation and spiritual death. I am reminded of a mantra of the Isavasya Upanishad which describes in graphic terms the lot of those who are killers of the soul.
Those who are slayers of the Self go to demoniac worlds of blinding darkness enveloped in ajnana. If we do not want to share the fate of the soul-killers, we must turn our eyes away from those regions of blinding darkness and take to the straight path of spiritual light emblazoned before us by Bhagavan Sri Ramana. So on this auspicious occasion may we meditate on Bhagavan as the light divine.
The symbol of light as representing spiritual illumination is as universal as religion is. In mysticism and in spirituality there is no better symbol of the spirit than light. In Christianity the symbol of light is employed to denote the heavenly Father and the heavenly Son equally. One of the pictures that impressed me when I was young and continues to fascinate me is that of Jesus Christ holding a lighted lantern in one hand and knocking at the door of a house with the other, bearing the inscription, “Behold the light of the world.”
The Buddha has been described as the light of Asia. Zoroastrianism thinks of God as the luminous Fire. The Konarak Temple, which I visited recently, is a great monument of the devotion of the Hindu for the symbol of the sun. One finds there various aspects of the solar principle expressed in beautiful sculpture. Sun-worship is not foreign to India. The sun cult (Saura-mata) is one of the oldest forms of Hinduism. In the mantras of Rig Veda we have different aspects of the solar principle adored and we come across names of various solar deities. The Gayatri mantra signifies a grand mode of meditating on the principle that is behind the sun. The adored principle is the worshipful splendour of the solar deity.
The supreme splendour of the solar deity we invoke and meditate on every day so that our intellects may be purified thereby. To characterise the Vedic deities as the personification of natural phenomena is not to understand what the ancient seers and saints saw in their inward turned vision. It was not the physical phenomena that they worshipped, but the spiritual principle behind nature. They also discovered that the same principle pervades everything, objective as well as subjective. Between the external and the internal there is correspondence in principle. For instance, all Upanishadic text identifies the god that is in the sun with the principle that is in the right eye. What is in the macrocosm is identical with what is in the microcosm. We find this truth expressed exquisitely in the form of a prayer in the Isavasya Upanishad.
No poet of mean order, no worshipper of the natural phenomena could have composed this grand verse. The spiritual principle behind the solar phenomena is recognised here, and it is this spiritual principle that is prayed to in this verse. Consider the grand closing of this mantra, where there is a Mahavakya uttered: yosavasan purusah soham asmi. The principle that is yonder, miles and miles away, in the sun is the same principle that is within me. I am He. Thus in Hinduism we find the true significance of sun-worship expressed. Then we are told that the consummation of such worship is the realisation of non-duality, the realisation of abedha, non-difference. The symbol of light is not an empty symbol. It is sublime in its significance. Sri Ramana represents the supreme light of spirituality which knows no distinction and which knows no difference.
The birth of Bhagavan is itself a manifestation of that spiritual illumination. In order to lift us to the spiritual heights, in order to attract us to the supreme goal, he incarnated himself as a human being, and lived and moved in our midst. We know that Bhagavan as a student did not belong to the extraordinary type. He was not brilliant, nor even studious. But how this ordinary lad received illumination all of a sudden cannot be explained. How this could happen passes our understanding. The little candle of our intellect cannot illumine the self-effulgent sun. To attempt to understand the secret of Bhagavan’s life is bound to end in failure. All that we can do is to meditate on him as the light eternal, the light supreme.
Look at another marvel. Some relative of his who came to his uncle’s house in Madurai one day said that he was coming from Arunachala. But what Arurnachala was, what it meant, our Bhagavan did not know. Yet this word acted like a magic spell and drew him out of his uncle’s house to that Hill which is no ordinary Hill, but which is the Hill of spiritual light.The Hill which represents spiritual light drew unto itself the light that was born in Tiruchuli. This light travelled to ‘The Hill of the Holy Beacon’, and what appeared as two lights were recognised to be one.
The story about Tiruvannamalai (Arunachala) is itself significant, as are the festivals connected with Bhagavan’s birth. The Creator Brahma and the Protector Vishnu are said to have quarrelled between themselves as to who was superior. In order to teach them a lesson Lord Siva appeared as a column of light without top or bottom. Brahma and Vishnu could not discover the limits of the light-column. It is this limitless light that Arunachala represents. Bhagavan found in Arunachala the light supreme, which he himself is.
Bhagavan did not leave the precincts of Arunachala after his arrival there. Why should he go anywhere? When the world was ready to go to him, why should he go to the world? The world should go to the guru. There is no use of the guru going to the world. Because if he goes to the world he would only be misunderstood. Even Sri Krishna had to confess that he was not being understood by the people.
“Because I have taken birth as a human being people do not understand me. On the contrary, they scold me, they abuse me, they revile me.”
The world knows only to revile things! Even Arjuna, Krishna’s own cousin and dear disciple, could not understand the magnificence of the supreme Master. The Lord had to reveal his cosmic form in order to drive sense into Arjuna’s head. Arjuna repents for his past behaviour and says, “Out of familiarity and not knowing your greatness, I have called you, ‘ O Krishna, O Yadava, O friend.’ Please forgive me for whatever disrespect I have shown towards you.” Because of his easy accessibility Sri Krishna was not understood by the world. The world seldom understands the guru who goes to it.
It is only when the world has learned to go to the guru that the world will feel inclined to listen to him. Sri Ramana had no need of going to the world whilst he lived in Arunachala. The world, even the western world went to him. Why did this happen? Bhagavan was the light transcendent which cannot be resisted. If you try to resist it today, by a greater force you will be attracted to it tomorrow. Light does not require darkness for making it acceptable. Only darkness does. You need not paint light because it is all luminous. Without advertisement, without any drum beating, without any concerted propaganda, the light that was at Arunachala spread far and wide, and it is on that light that we should meditate. We saw before our eyes the grand manifestation of that majestic light. We saw the grandeur of that spiritual light before us. If we could not see it, it was our fault, and not that of the light. In order that you may understand light, the light need not speak to us. It is only when there is darkness that you require the help of speech in order to identify the things around, but when there is light and when your eyes are all right you need not be told what is around you.
And so, for the most part, Bhagavan Ramana kept silent. Silence was his mode of communication. Today people all over the world are striving hard to find out new means of communication. But in spite of the many devices, communication becomes more and more difficult. Here, without any verbal communication for the most part, the blessed Lord, seated or reclining on his couch in the corner of the old hall in the Ashram, was communicating not only with those who sat before him, but with devotees who were even far away. Though most of us may not understand for the moment the language of silence, we are sure to understand it eventually. Our Bhagavan did not move out of Arunachala and seldom did he speak. Even his speech was of a quality that is far different from the speech that we are accustomed to. His speech was scarcely distinguishable from silence. Some of us had opportunities of watching the grand silent drama that was being enacted constantly in that auspicious hall. People came, strangers came with long lists of questions to test the Maharshi, but often it so happened that those who came with doubts forgot all about them. They forgot to question because there was no need to ask. What they had come for had already been fulfilled.
The most remarkable feature about Bhagavan’s form was his eyes, extremely penetrating and profoundly fascinating. Once you had come within the range of those beaming eyes, there was no need for any other sadhana. Once those eyes had rested upon you there was no more fear or worry for you. The very first European to see our Master, Humphrys, who sent reports to a magazine in England, has made this statement: ‘For half an hour I looked into the Maharshi’s eyes, which never changed their expression of deep contemplation.’ This was written as early as in 1911. Those of us who met the Master much later could testify that the brightness of those eyes did not diminish at all, not even on the last day of the his earthly existence.
Last summer in Honolulu some American professors of philosophy happened to look at the picture of the Master that appears as frontispiece in the book Ramana Maharshi and His Philosophy of Existence. Many of them wanted to have copies of this book even before reading what was written there, just because the face of the Master fascinated them, enraptured them. All of them, without exception remarked about the remarkable eyes. From those eyes, light shone forth from which no one could escape. Bhagavan out of compassion for us, who cannot understand the language of silence, did sometimes speak, but not for the sake of speaking as most of us do. He wrote not for the sake of writing, because he was no writer at all. He spoke and wrote because he wanted to save us.
There is a fine sloka in the Aankaradigvijaya where Vidyaranya offers obeisance to Dakshinamuthi and Sankara: “Rising from his seat beneath the banyan tree, and breaking His silence, Dakshinamurti, out of compassion for humanity which is being burnt in the forest-fire of samsara, took form as Sankara who moved about constantly and spoke profusely. The silent Dakshinamurti became the speaking Sankara. The unmoving began to move.”
Bhagavan Ramana struck a compromise between the silence and stasis of Dakshinmurti and the speech and movement of Sankara, because today we require the message of both atchara and chara, mauna and vak. Bhagavan Ramana spoke and wrote in order that we may understand him. The path of light that he has expounded in what he has written and spoken is the same path of light which has come from the ancient sages and seers of the Upanishads. The light of jnana is what we ought to strive for and gain. It is this which can save us. And this is the central message of Bhagavan, the light divine. What is this light? It is the light of Atma vichara, the light of Self-enquiry. This light can be gained by anyone, any human being, no matter what his beliefs are, or where he is born. The Upanishads set forth various modes of Self-enquiry. Only our Bhagavan has made Self-enquiry easy for us, and has simplified it so that all of us can adopt it and follow it and gain what it alone can give us. And also he has given us a technique by which we can register quick results. He rediscovered for us the heart that is on the right side of the chest. By fixing the attention on this heart, the spiritual heart, the path of enquiry, a discovery made in Vedanta, our Bhagavan has given to us out of compassion.
It will be interesting to note that the great Upanishadic sage Yagnavalkya in one of his teachings to King Janaka employs the significant phrase, ‘hrdyantar-jyotih’, in describing the self– the Atma, the light which is within the heart.
One day when the Sage walked into the king’s court, the king put to him a question. It was: “What serves as the light for man?”
The Master began by saying that “the sun is light for man.” “During daytime it is by the light of the sun that we work”.
Then the king asked, ‘When the sun has set, what is man’s light?” “The moon”, came the answer. “We do work with the help of the light of the moon; when the sun has set, the moon acts as the light for us.”
“But what happens during the absence of moonlight?” asked the king. “What serves as the light then?” “Fire!” said the master. “You may light a fire, you may burn a lamp and work with the help of the light it gives.”
“And when fire goes out, what has one to do? There is no sun, moon. or fire!”
“In such a situation speech can serve as the principle of illumination. For instance, when we go through a dark region where no light is there, we clap our hands or we speak in order to hearten those who may follow us”, continued the master.
“When speech, sir, is also not there, what serves as light for man?”
The final reply of the Master came, “The Self. The Self, Self luminous light.”
What happens to us when we dream? There is not the external sun, nor the moon, nor fire, nor even speech, and yet there is experience. The Self of the dream state is therefore called taijasa (made of light). In the absence of any light there is experience, there is luminosity. The Self is of the nature of consciousness. It is that which shines in the recesses of one’s heart. This is the great teaching of Vedanta and Bhagavan. So long as we trust the light of the mind, we are sure to be misguided.
It is only when we turn to the light of the heart that we shall be saved. The great danger that confronts the modern man is that he believes in the omnipotence of the light of the mind. He scans space. He wants to travel through it. He wants to know what is on the other side of the moon. He wants to colonise the planets and the stars if he can, all with the help of this light of the mind. He has not opened the door of his heart, and so he is threatened by what he has created by the light of his mind. What man has created now dominates him like a Frankenstein and threatens him with utter destruction.
What does Bhagavan teach us? He does not want us to shut out the light of the mind. “With the help of the mind, he says, “let us enter the region of the heart.” When you turn to the light of the heart, you will know that the mind shines only by borrowed light. The original light is there. It is that resplendent light which is the supreme Self. It is this which is called Hrdyantar-jyotih (light within the heart).
Bhagavan found its location on the right side of the chest. It is not the physical heart which is on the left side, it is the spiritual heart. Not that it is there physically. The surgeon’s knife cannot exhibit it. It is the spiritual heart which Bhagavan Ramana located on the right side of the chest, so that we may meditate on it and gain progress in the path of jnana. How should one enquire? Bhagavan has given us a wondrous method. It is the simple enquiry of ‘Who am I?’ Bhagavan Ramana held that the word ‘Aham’, is the most sacred of all mantras, more sacred even than the Pranava itself. It is more efficacious than all the mantras. This again is a true discovery of Bhagavan. It is true that the Pranava is the sound-symbol of Brahman. But what is easier to understand is ‘Aham’ (I). You may deny everything else but you cannot deny the Self.
Aham is often meant to signify the non-Self. Even the ‘I’ thought is not the real ‘I’. It is the pseudo ‘I’. In order to overcome this, it has to be used in a judicious way. One must trace the ‘I’ thought to its source. When this is done, with constant and persistent inquiry, the distinction between the thinker and thought is found to vanish and then the Self which is pure experience will be realised. This path is the same as the asparsa-yoga taught by Gaudapada. It is the path that leads to non-duality, the path which takes us away from the non-Self. Ordinarily, man runs along the mental current, goes out through the sense-channels and gets lost in the external world. But one in a million, the hero, dhira as the Upanishads call him, has the strength to go against the current, swim in the reverse direction, and reach the source of the mental current. This is the path of vichara which is easy and yet difficult. Seemingly easy, even a child can pursue this course at the beginning, but he cannot gain its end if he chooses to remain childish all the time. It is true that anyone can take to it but he must pay the price for it. The price is dispassion. This does not mean that one must neglect one’s duties. When sadhakas asked Bbagavan,”Is it necessary that one should leave one’s house, change the colour of one’s clothes and go to the forest,” Bhagavan used to say, “No, it is wrong to think that you will become a new man by simply leaving home. If you go to the forest your home will haunt you, it will follow you. Can you leave your mind behind, your sense organs or your body? What binds you is not your family, or home, but your mind. How to renounce the mind? To renounce does not mean sitting in a place closing the eyes and thinking ‘I have renounced.’ That is not true renunciation. True renunciation is to become mindless. How is this to be accomplished? Through inquiry. Trace the mind to its source with the help of the mind itself. Catch the thief with the help of the thief. Through Atma vichara, we get to the end where there is no mind at all. If you cannot do this, if you do not have the strength to follow this method,” says Bhagavan, “surrender yourself to God. Absolute self-surrender is bhakti.” In Bhagavan’s hymns on Arunachala we have a glorious philosophy of devotion. The quintessence of this philosophy is to negate yourself in the Lord and you will find fulfilment. Let God pervade your being then you will be saved. Even this is difficult for many of us. We worship God with commercial spirit. We seek earthly benefits from Him.
A sanyasin went to the palace of a king in the hope of receiving alms. The king was engaged at the time in worshipping his chosen deity. His prayer was, “Give me this, give me that.” The sanyasin was listening to this prayer; and after a while he rose to leave the palace. The king came out and asked him why he was leaving. The sanyasin said, “I came to beg but I now find that you are a greater beggar. How can I beg of you when you yourself beg for this and that in your private shrine?”
We go to God for gaining selfish ends. There are phalasrutis which say ‘If you recite this prayer, you will get your desires fulfilled’. I am not condemning or criticising this, but I want you to understand the significance of the phalasrutis. When a phalasruti says, ‘If you recite the Vishnu-sahasra nama your desires will be fulfilled’, this is only with a view to making people turn God-ward and recite His name. But when once you have tasted the sweetness of the name you will not care for the earthly benefits.
When you go to God therefore, what you should do is to surrender yourself to Him completely. But this too is difficult. And so what should one do? We must resign ourselves into the hands of the guru, Bhagavan Ramana. This is the purpose of a celebration like this. If we can surrender ourselves, especially
those of us who have seen him and have heard him speak, we shall be saved. Even others can follow this course because he has not gone away from us. It is not that he is no longer with us. Even now he guides those who go to him. The reality which is the Self shines within those who go to him. Even today he will guide us provided that we seek his guidance.
Bhagavan has declared in two short lines the entire teaching of Vedanta: Ekam aksharam hrdi nirantaram, bhasate svayam likhyate katham.
The Reality which is the Self shines within the heart always. How can one write about it?
If we can realise within the heart the supreme Spirit, if we can feel its presence, if we allow ourselves to be illumined by it, we shall have no fear at all. At the commencement of the fourth chapter of the Mandukya-kharika Gaudapada offers obeisance to Lord Narayana, the first guru. We may offer the same obeisance to our Bhagavan. Jnana is like akasa, the supreme Self which is to be known through jnana is also like ether. The various objects we see in the world as well as the souls are like ether. Therefore, who is to know which? What is to be known by what? The supreme realization is that there is no plurality. True knowledge is distinctionless. That knowledge is the Self, the Light Divine. That knowledge is Bhagavan Ramana.
May we offer our obeisance to this supreme Lord who came to save the world and who still abides and will ever abide with us in order to make us perfect!
May we, on this auspicious occasion, renew our faith in our Bhagavan and pay homage to Him so that not only we, but the entire world may be saved!