Ribhu was a great Seer (rishi); his name finds mention in a few Upanishads like the Tejobindopanishad, the Narada Parivrajakopanishad, and the Varahopanishad. He is reputed to have obtained Divine Knowledge direct from the Supreme Lord Himself, and then to have taught it to several disciples, such as the Sage Nidagha. His teachings to him are contained in the ‘Ribhu-gita,’ which forms a section of the ‘Siva-rahasya’ but to the best of our knowledge this section has not yet been printed in Sanskrit; we have a rendering into simple and easily understood Tamil verse by Sri Lokanatha Swamigal, also known as Bhikshu Shastri. This Tamil rendering was often read before Sri Bhagavan, and Tena Patti’s recitals were the most inspiring. As Sri Bhagavan often used to refer to or quote from it, the Ribhu-gita finds mention in all works relating to Him.
Long after Ribhu had taught Nidagha, he desired to learn how his old disciple fared. Disguised as an ignorant villager, the Master asked Nidagha what the procession was; and was told that the King was going in procession seated on the elephant. Ribhu next asked, “And which is the elephant, which the King?” The disciple replied, “Why, the one below is the elephant, and the one above is the king!”
Feigning not to understand the terms ‘above’ and ‘below’, the disciple was made to demonstrate so that the disguised Sage might understand them. Chiding the supposed villager as a hopeless ignoramus, Nidagha got on the back of the Master, and said: “Now ‘I’ am above; and ‘you’ are below.”
Next, alas! the poor villager could not understand either ‘I’ or ‘you’, and questioned the disciple about the meaning of these terms also. Light then dawned on the disciple, who discovered that the villager was no other than his illustrious Master, come to bless him and make him realize himself. Nidagha prostrated before the Master Ribhu, who had graciously come to find out his disciples mode of life and progress.
This is story. An anecdote about the translation by Bhikshu Shastri is worth relating. Deeply struck by the pure Advaita of the teachings in this Gita, the translator held so steadfastly to that glorious doctrine that he denied the truth or reality of all phenomena, including the Gods themselves; he said their existence is as true only as that of the barren woman’s son, the hare’s horn and the flowers seen in the sky. Teased too much by his atheism, the manifest Gods put the translator to the test, and he lost his eyesight; only when he wrote verses in praise of the Lord Nataraja was his sight restored to him. To have this punishment for daring to defy the Form-aspect (saguna) of the Formless (nirguna) Divine excused, he had to write a verse in praise of Sri Nataraja at the end of each of the 44 chapters of the Ribhu-gita.
This is the essence of the teaching of this precious Gita, so often referred to by Sri Bhagavan: “The Self is one and whole, Self-awareness. This is the Divine (Brahman) the Indestructible, the Existent, Beginningless and Endless Many. There is nothing apart from the Self (atman), not anything else worthy of meditation. All that is manifest — the ‘I’, the ‘you’, the ‘he’, the Lord, and the all — all is the Divine. There is not even an atom apart from the Self that IS, the Single Unbroken Essence (akhanda eka rasa). Therefore the surety, ‘I am the Divine’ (aham Brahmasmi) is the endless True Knowledge. Know: ‘I am Being-Awareness-Bliss, of the nature of my own Self. I am without any differentiation of caste, clan, birth, and the like I am the Divine Absolute shining eternally in all splendour as the All, the Full, spotless, intelligent, ever unbound, true and still, beyond the body, senses, life-current, thought, intellect mind and ego-sense; unattached to the five sheaths (kosa), unaffected by the incidents of birth and death, void of a world that is lifeless and animate, you are That. This is experienced as ‘I am the Divine’ by negating through stainless enquiry the whole concept of individual, the world and beyond.
“The maya of the world is not for you; you are the bliss of spotlessness, without either purpose or uncertainty. You are the purport of Vedanta. You are the indivisible form beyond the three clouds. You are yourself the One Self, without attributes or changes, which cannot be experienced by mind or speech. Here, there, this, that, I and he — all such thoughts convey is only mind; the elements and their compounds are only mind. The concepts of time, space, objects, the triads and their appearances, celestials and men, Hari and the Creator Brahma, the Guru and the disciple — all are mind alone.
“Here is the true form of worship: ‘I am the ocean of Bliss that is ever full!’ — this beatitude is the true bath in holy water (abhisheka) for the divinity of the Supreme Lord. ‘I am the unbounded Expanse!’ this beatitude is the offering of cloth to the Supreme Lord Siva. ‘I am the Self!’ — this beatitude is the real offering of ornaments to the Supreme Lord Siva. Discarding the thought-form leading to the qualities (gunas) — this is the offering of the boundless to Siva the Supreme Lord. The annihilation of all sense of difference between the Self, the Guru, and the Lord — that is the offering of bel-leaves to Siva, the Supreme Lord. Casting away the tendencies of the past (vasana) — this is the burning of incense to Paramasiva, the Supreme Lord. ‘I am the attributeless Paramasiva. the Supreme Lord!’ — this beatitude is the waving of Light (arati) before the Supreme Lord, Siva. Realising that the Divine and the Self are one — is the burning of fragrant gums before Siva, the Supreme Lord. That alone is the offering of flowers, in which one abides as the Self, the Supreme Bliss. That alone is the singing of the Name in harmony (namasankirtan), wherein one conceives himself as being without names and forms.
“I am the Supreme Knowledge determined by the scriptures on spiritual wisdom (vedanta). I am the solid Bliss abiding as in the universal Great Silence. I am the single impartible Own Form (swarupa). “Abidance in the Void is firmness; that itself is wisdom (jnana), liberation, Siva and the Alone (kaivalya). The forms of thought are impurity, creating time-space and the differentiation of the world and individual, very harmful. Mind takes the form of intention and uncertainty. The egoic self does not really exist; the Truth is ‘I am the Divine (ahambrahmasmi)’. Meditate on this, practise the wisdom yoga, destroy all sense of difference, be freed from the disease of mind, obtain the Stillness of the tangible experience, and come to realize the release from bondage. Abiding in the Self as ‘I am the Divine’ is the real ablution; the determination of the Self as the ever-realized Divine is the real heaven.
“He is freed while alive (jivanmukta) who, motionless like the Hill, is still and immaculate, the Self in Itself, absolute Existence experienced as Bliss. Rid of individuality, rid of all concepts, he who is still, as pure Light, immaculate, peaceful solid Bliss, he who is free without a body (videhamukta). Knowing, feeling, thinking, praying, determining, mingling, abiding all these must be in the Self Itself. Meditate incessantly on ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ until it becomes permanent; later on, be freed from even this thought and be the Self Itself alone.
“Seeing anything apart from the Divine is the cause of the sense of difference and so of fear. The thought- waves that rise in the mind are the cause of bondage. When there is no mind, there is neither world nor individual soul. The conquest of the mind is the greatest of all conquests. It is the Divine Himself who appears as world, individual and the beyond. So abidance as the Divine at all times and in all places will result in conquering the mind. Then will you come to realize ‘All Is the Divine; I am that Self;’ and you will attain the natural state. “The view ‘That am I’ is the surest way to conquer the mind. ‘There is nothing apart from me; the three states, the five sheaths, the three qualities, the separate and the crowd (vyashti, samashti) — all these are not apart from me. All that is seen is the Seer. the Self; be at peace by the feeling ‘That am I’. Cast off the idea ‘I am the body’; be firm in the feeling ‘I am’… the Self.
“The conclusions of the Four Vedas — Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva… are all the same: the ‘well-known Divine,’ the ‘I am the Divine’, the ‘That art thou’, and ‘I am the Self Creative Brahma, you are the Divine Knowledge’. He who teaches you thus is the real Guru. After obtaining this teaching (upadesa), throw off all other books and be firm in meditating on ‘I am the Divine.’
“Let the Pure Existence of the Divine alone be realized; if the sun of this Knowledge arises, how can the darkness of ignorance prevail? The mind of him who is certain that the Divine is one and whole cannot be shaken by the Great Illusion (maya) even if the vast Mount Meru be shaken by tying it to a thread. Practise ‘That am I’ (soham); the experience ‘I am Siva’ (Sivoham) will make you into Siva. Therefore sing ‘Sivoham, Sivoham, Sivoham!’”