This Chapter Is Taken From The book Hunting The ‘I’ (According To Sri Ramana Maharshi)- The Lone Star By Lucy Cornelssen
We know quite well, at least those among us who are interested, that sages and saints cannot be understood by a study of their life, because sagehood and sainthood are not related to the person with the name and form or to the family and circumstances. Nevertheless, whether we are aware of it or not, we look with interest for traces in the outer life stories of those rare beings.
The childhood of Ramana Maharshi was as ‘normal’ as possible, as if already here, in the beginning, we should be reminded of the basic truth that the jnani is not the person whom we meet, but the Reality.
Born about a century ago, on the 30th December, 1879, as the second son in a middle-class Brahmin family, the boy, named Venkataraman, did not show the least trace of any extraordinary piety or spirituality, though sometimes there was a hint of this in his extraordinary deep sleep. However, most healthy children can be transported without awakening them. His capacity for learning was more than average, but his interest and application for it was less. He decidedly preferred outdoor games.
When he was 12 years old, he lost his father and was sent away with his elder brother from their birthplace, Tiruchuzhi, to relatives living in Madurai. It was there that it happened, the one event for which he was born, which had nothing to do with his past or his surroundings.
Two incidents which happened as a kind of foreboding were not taken at all as anything unusual:
One day young Venkataraman met an elderly relative who arrived from a journey. Asked from where he had come, he answered:
The boy knew the name, as every Hindu in the South knows it. Still he felt a thrill, because he had from his childhood a feeling that Arunachala was something indescribably great.
With excitement he enquired:
“Where is that?”
The traveller marvelled a bit about the sudden agitation of the boy and answered:
“Why, don’t you know that Arunachala is Tiruvannamalai?” Tiruvannamalai is the town at the foot of the hill.
Of course he did, and to be reminded of the fact cooled down that strange excitement. The small incident was soon forgotten.
Readers who believe in coincidence rather than in karmic network will not be very impressed by that meeting, and may be still less to learn that the boy soon after that came across the Periyapuranam, which he had not seen before. He went through the stories of the 63 Saivite saints of Tamil Nadu, and they awoke a deep devotion in his young heart. Never had he seen anything like that in his round of everyday life: waking up, eating, school, games, sleeping. The life of an average Hindu family is regulated by the performance of certain daily rites and others on certain particular occasions. There are stories of gods and asuras, of heroes and ascetics, but they were old stories, nice to listen to, and quickly forgotten. Suddenly the saints in that Periyapuranam were living beings in a living world quite different from that of his own.
Something within the boy that had been dormant was waking up.
However, even this went soon to sleep again. To a child, and even to an adult, the habitual influence of everyday-life is much stronger, more ‘real’, than the reality of the Beyond.
However, only a few weeks later, one day in July of 1896, the boy was sitting listless before his lessons. All of a sudden his lazy mood was overwhelmed and wiped out by an alarming onset of the fear of death. This was not a mental interpretation of something vaguely felt but something so urgent and ‘real’ that he did not think of resisting or of calling for help. He knew he had simply to submit.
Many years later the Maharshi talked about that to some devotee:
“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 dramatized 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 any 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, focussed 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. 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.”
Though this report is close to what happened, it may leave the reader somewhat disappointed, because it might look rather like an interpretation of something which is beyond the mind, which is the means of interpretation. We can leave it alone. The central point of the Great Experience is striking and quite clear: it is a revelation of true Identity.
The boy Venkataraman was not prepared in any way for an experience of this kind. He knew practically nothing about mysticism, or about religious ideas or concepts. Therefore no visions interfered, no deities, nothing could offer itself as an interpretation. His whole consciousness was focussed on the one and only undiluted fact in this incident… the clear revelation of his true identity.
However, there is another report by Sri Ramana of this strange hour, to be found in the diary of a close devotee, Devaraja Mudaliar. He noted it under the date of November 22, 1945:
“When I lay down with limbs stretched out and mentally enacted the death scene and realised that the body would be taken and cremated and yet ‘I’ would live, some force, call it atmic power or anything else, rose within me and took possession of me. I was reborn and I became a new man.”
Here is mentioned another, most important feature of the great event: “Some force rose within and took possession” of the experiencer.
Many mystics of all climes and centuries have known this extraordinary experience of Venkataraman, but to all of them it came as a religious experience, caused, recognised and interpreted according to certain preconceived religious assumptions.
Venkataraman did not know anything like that. Thus it seems that we have in his experience not another ‘variety’ of mystic experience, but the original ‘absolute’ form of all revelations of this kind, uncoloured by any personal psychological adjuncts.
One may wonder and ponder how such a rare and strange thing could have occurred to an ‘ordinary’ schoolboy like Venkataraman. Though the fact as such may be extraordinary, it need not necessarily be a miracle. The miracle rests with the boy; it lies in the fact that he was able to observe and recognise in an almost scientific way what was happening to himself and to remain for ever in that new dimension of consciousness which had opened itself before him in this Great Experience.
The attempt to understand this central event of the life of Arunachala Ramana, here and now, would be very difficult, because for the time being we have no experience of our own to compare with his. We may get at something later on and then shall return.
One would expect that the boy Venkataraman would have talked to his elders about this strange ‘Death’-experience. He must have felt that there were no words available to transmit the ‘reality’ of the event. But they soon discovered of their own that the boy was not any more the same as before. They saw that he tried to behave the way they expected him to, but the result was poor. He seemed to be indifferent to whatever food was put before him, having lost all likes and dislikes. He avoided his comrades and games. He gave himself quietly to the task before him, and had obviously lost even the little attention which he had shown previously for his lessons. Teachers and elders got alarmed.
The elder brother tried teasing, calling him ‘Yogiraj’ and the like. When one day he cast aside his books and was about to lose himself in meditation, the elder one broke out:
“I wonder what such a one as you has to do at all with school and books and so on…” Venkataraman had cared little all these days for his brother’s endeavour to correct him, but
this remark went home. Was not the brother quite right? Lessons, teachers, books… what were they to him, after what he had gone through? And like lightning it flashed through his mind:
He opened his eyes, gathered his books, and, preparing to leave the room said: “I have to attend a special class in physics…”
“Then please take five rupees with you and pay my fee in the college!”
Those five rupees did not reach the college at all. Venkataraman took the needed Railway fare, immediately got into a train and disappeared.
At dawn on September 1st 1896, he entered the great Arunachaleswara Temple and stood before the most sacred Lingam.
Thereafter he lost himself in a permanent silent contemplation of his new Identity, first in several places connected with the temple, and later on in the caves of the Hill.
As his life before his Great Experience had been the life of an ‘ordinary’ schoolboy, his present life seemed to be that of an ‘ordinary’ sadhu, to be known from his typical credentials … the loincloth, a certain type of name, sometimes a vow of silence.
In the case of the young Brahmana Swami of the Hill, each of these signs was misleading. According to the Hindu society, even the sadhu who has left his former society-status has only exchanged it for another one, that of the traditional sadhu.
For some years the young Swami of the Hill did not speak; people took it that he was observing mouna, silence. But behind his silence there was no motivation, no tapas at all. He simply did not feel any motive to speak and considered the curious questions of visitors after his name, family and place not worth answering.
As a rule, the genuine sadhu has a regular initiation into his new way of life, particularly when he is a Brahmin by birth. The Swami of the Hill never thought of that. Once a member of a certain Math entreated him that, since he had been born a Brahmin, he should respect the rules of yore and take the prescribed initiation into sannyasa. The young ascetic remained silent, and the sannyasi left him to himself to think over the matter, promising to return for his decision.
Before him, an old man had passed the cave and left some books behind, announcing that he would take them back on his return. Now the young sadhu picked up one of the books to take a look at it. It opened at a page which showed the ancient promise of Lord Siva: “Whoever shall live in a circle of 3 Yojanas around this Hill shall be sure to get liberated even in the absence
When the sannyasi returned, the young hermit showed him those lines, against which the admonisher could say nothing more.
In the course of time, a famous poet, himself a well known guru, came to see the young nameless Swami of the Hill. He confessed to having a certain spiritual problem and received an answer which thoroughly satisfied him. In his enthusiasm, he composed on the spot a Sanskrit hymn on the youthful sage, in which he named him Ramana, and he ordered his own disciples to address him henceforth as ‘Maharshi’. Thus the nameless Swami of the Hill got the name which would make him famous all over the world.
However, he himself, after having lost his boyhood name, never again used any name, not even to sign a legal document.
A name stands for a person. He was not the person. Belonging neither to caste nor ashrama (stage of life), he was an atiasrami, beyond any classification.
He was Satchidananda, the Bliss of Conscious Being.
Ramana Maharshi lived 54 years in the shade of Arunachala. The first half of them was spent in its caves, the last half in an Ashram at the foot of it which had grown round the samadhi of his mother. He wrote some small treatises, his main work being Ulladu Narpadu, Forty Verses on That which is, Upadesa Saram, Essence of Instruction and Five hymns on Arunachala, and translated some texts which he considered important and useful for those who were following his advice. For several years conversations with visitors were jotted down and these offer the best commentary to the concentrated teachings of his writings.
But though there is nothing in his teachings which cannot be found in the scriptures, he was not teaching that wisdom of the rishis of yore, nor did he need it for testifying to the truth of his own. His teaching was an attempt to transmit to seekers the Truth, as he had found it in his own Great Experience, thus testifying to the truth and value of the scriptures.
Since this experience by its very nature evades being caught in the net of language, he considered his most efficient ‘teaching’ to be Silence. For ‘Silence’ is not only the true nature, but also the true ‘language’ of Atman, the mystery of Man.
However, for transmittance there must be a receiver, tuned to the same wavelength. Thus his teachings in words, the gist of which is given in the following pages, are meant in the first lines as preparing the searching soul for the initiation into the Silence of its true Identity.
The master came at his own time; he went when his time was over.
The instrument, brought forth by the Spirit of the ancient land, lost in the sea, to call the man of the 20th century, broke down on April 14th, 1950, destroyed by an incurable sarcoma. At that moment, a radiant meteor arose in the east, climbed slowly up to the zenith, and disappeared behind the sacred Hill.
The Lone Star of Arunachala had gone, but he left us his Voice… and his Silence.