Chapter 14 of the biography “Ramana Maharshi And The Path Of Self-Knowledge” written by Arthur Osborne.
It is surprising how secret was the upadesa of Sri Bhagavan, that is to say the guidance or instruction he gave to his disciples — there is no exact English translation of the word. Although he was accessible to all alike, although questions were normally asked and answered in public, the guidance given to each disciple was nevertheless intensely direct and adapted to his character. When asked once by Swami Yogananda, a Swami with a large following in America, what spiritual instruction should be given to the people for their uplift, he replied: “It depends on the temperament and spiritual maturity of the individual. There can be no mass instruction.” It is enough to recall the stories of four devotees already referred to — Echammal, the Mother, Sivaprakasam Pillai and Natesa Mudaliar — to realize how enormously the treatment varied.
Sri Bhagavan was intensely active — he himself has said so, though none who experienced his Grace needed any confirmation — and yet so concealed was his activity that casual visitors and those who failed to perceive believed that he gave no upadesa at all or that he was indifferent to the needs of seekers. There were many such, like the Brahmin who tried to dissuade Natesa Mudaliar from visiting him.
The extreme importance of this question lies in the fact that (except in the rarest of cases, such as that of Sri Bhagavan himself) Realization is possible only through the Grace of a Guru. Sri Bhagavan was as definite about this as other Masters. Therefore it was not enough for the sadhaka (aspirant) to know that his teaching was sublime and his presence inspiring; it was necessary to know that he was a Guru giving diksha (initiation) and upadesa (instruction).
The term ‘Guru’ is used in three senses. It can mean one who, although he has no spiritual attainment, has been invested (like the ordination of a priest) with the right to give initiation and upadesa. He is often hereditary and is not unlike a family doctor for spiritual health. Secondly, the Guru can be one who, in addition to the above, has some spiritual attainment and can guide his disciples by more potent upadesa (even though the actual practices enjoined may be the same) as far as he himself has gone. But in the highest and truest meaning of the word, the Guru is he who has realized Oneness with the Spirit that is the Self of all. This is the Sadguru.
It is in this last sense that Sri Bhagavan used the word. Therefore he said, “God, Guru and Self are the same.” And in describing the Guru he said (in Spiritual Instruction):
“The Guru is one who at all times abides in the profound depth of the Self. He never sees any difference between himself and others and he is completely free from false notions of distinction — that he himself is the Enlightened or the Liberated while others around him are in bondage or the darkness of ignorance. His firmness or self-possession can never be shaken under any circumstances and he is never perturbed.”
Submission to this Guru is not submission to any outside oneself but to the Self manifested outwardly in order to help one discover the Self within. “The Master is within; meditation is meant to remove the ignorant idea that he is only outside. If he were a stranger whom you were awaiting he would be bound to disappear also. What would be the use of a transient being like that? But as long as you think that you are separate or are the body, so long is the outer Master also necessary and he will appear as if with a body. When the wrong identification of oneself with the body ceases the Master is found to be none other than the Self.”
It is axiomatic that one who is a Guru in this supreme sense of having realized his identity with the Absolute does not say so, inasmuch as there is no ego left to affirm the identity. Also he does not say that he has disciples, for, being beyond otherness, there can be no relationship for him.
Although the Jnani (Enlightened) is One with the Absolute, his traits of character continue to exist outwardly as the vehicle of his manifestation, so that one Jnani can have quite different human characteristics from another. One characteristic of Sri Bhagavan was his shrewdness and perspicacity. There seems no doubt that, just as he allowed himself to be considered a mouni (one who has taken a vow of silence) during his early years at Tiruvannamalai in order to avoid disturbance, so he took advantage of this doctrinal impossibility of asserting identity or admitting relationship in order to ward off unwarranted demands for upadesa from those who were not his real devotees. It is remarkable how successful the defence was, while real devotees were not taken in by it and were not intended to be.
Let us examine Sri Bhagavan’s statements carefully. He sometimes said he had no disciples and never stated explicitly that he was the Guru; however, he used the expression ‘the Guru’ as equivalent to ‘the Jnani’ and in such a way as to leave no doubt that he was the Guru, and he more than once joined in singing the song ‘Ramana Sadguru’.
Moreover, when a devotee was genuinely distressed and seeking a solution he would sometimes reassure him in a way that left no room for doubt. An English disciple, Major Chadwick, kept a record of such an assurance given to him in the year 1940:
Chadwick: Bhagavan says he has no disciples?
Chadwick: He also says that a Guru is necessary if one wishes to attain Liberation?
Chadwick:What then must I do? Has my sitting here all these years been just a waste of time? Must I go and look for some Guru in order to receive initiation seeing thatBhagavan says he is not a Guru?
Bhagavan: What do you think brought you here such a long distance and made you remain so long? Why do you doubt? If there had been any need to seek a Guru elsewhere you would have gone away long ago.
The Guru or Jnani (Enlightened One) sees no difference between himself and others. For him all are Jnanis, all are one with himself, so how can a Jnani say that such and such is his disciple? But the unliberated one sees all as multiple, he sees all as different from himself, so to him the Guru-disciple relationship is a reality, and he needs the Grace of the Guru to waken him to reality. For him there are three ways of initiation, by touch, look and silence. (Sri Bhagavan here gave me to understand that his way was by silence, as he has to many on other occasions).
Chadwick: Then Bhagavan does have disciples!
Bhagavan: As I said, from Bhagavan’s point of view there are no disciples; but from that of the disciple the Grace of the Guru is like an ocean. If he comes with a cup he will only get a cupful. It is no use complaining of the niggardliness of the ocean; the bigger the vessel the more he will be able to carry. It is entirely up to him.
Chadwick:Then to know whether Bhagavan is my Guru or not is just a matter of faith, if Bhagavan will not admit it.
Bhagavan: (Sitting straight up, turning to the interpreter and speaking with great emphasis). Ask him, does he want me to give him a written document?
Few were so persistent as Major Chadwick in their demand for an assurance. The statement involving recognition of duality would not be made, but short of that Sri Bhagavan admitted being the Guru clearly enough for any person of understanding and goodwill; and some knew it without verbal confirmation.
A. Bose, a Bengali industrialist, as recorded by S.S. Cohen, once tried to elicit a precise statement. He said, “I am convinced that a Guru is necessary for the success of the sadhaka’s (aspirant’s) efforts.” Then he added, with a quizzical smile, “Does Bhagavan feel for us?”
But Sri Bhagavan turned the tables on him, “Practice is necessary for you; the Grace is always there.” After a short silence he added, “You are neck deep in water and yet you cry out that you are thirsty.”
Even the practice really meant making oneself receptive to the Grace; Sri Bhagavan sometimes illustrated this by saying that although the sun is shining you must make the effort of turning to look at it if you want to see it. Professor Venkatramiah records in his diary that he said to Mrs. Piggott, an English visitor, “Realization is the result of the Guru’s Grace more than of teachings, lectures, meditations, etc. These are only secondary but that is the primary and essential cause.”
Some who knew his teaching at second-hand suggested that he did not hold it necessary to have a Guru and explained the lack of explicit initiation in that way, but he rejected this suggestion unequivocally. S.S. Cohen has recorded a conversation on this subject with Dilip Kumar Roy, the celebrated musician of Sri Aurobindashram:
Dilip Kumar Roy: Some people report Maharshi to deny the need of a Guru. Others say the reverse. What does Maharshi say?
Bhagavan:I have never said that there is no need for a Guru.
Dilip Kumar Roy: Sri Aurobindo often refers to you as having had no Guru.
Bhagavan: That depends on what you call Guru. He need not necessarily be in human form. Dattatreya had twenty-four Gurus — the elements, etc. That means that any form in the world was his Guru. Guru is absolutely necessary. The Upanishads say that none but a Guru can take a man out of the jungle of mental and sense perceptions, so there must be a Guru.
Dilip Kumar Roy: I mean a human Guru. The Maharshi didn’t have one.
Bhagavan: I might have had at some time or other. And didn’t I sing hymns to Arunachala? What is a Guru? Guru is God or the Self. First a man prays to God to fulfil his desires, then a time comes when he does not pray for the fulfilment of a desire but for God himself. So God appears to him in some form or other, human or non-human, to guide him as a Guru in answer to his prayer.
It was only when some visitor brought up the objection that Sri Bhagavan himself had not had a Guru that he explained that the Guru need not necessarily take human form, and it was understood that this referred to very rare cases.
Perhaps it was with V. Venkatraman that he came nearest to an explicit admission that he was the Guru. He told him once: “Two things are to be done, first to find the Guru outside yourself and then to find the Guru within. You have already done the first.”
Or perhaps the confirmation that I myself received was even more explicit. After some weeks at the Ashram I perceived that Sri Bhagavan really was a Guru giving initiation and guidance. I wrote to inform friends in Europe of this and, before sending the letter, I showed it to Sri Bhagavan and asked whether to send it. He approved of it and, handing it back, said, “Yes, send it.”
To be a Guru is to give initiation and upadesa. The two are inseparable, for there is no upadesa without the initial act of initiation and no point in initiation unless it is to be followed up with upadesa. The question, therefore, sometimes took the form of whether Sri Bhagavan gave initiation or upadesa.
When asked whether he gave initiation Sri Bhagavan always avoided a direct answer. Had the answer been ‘no’ he would most certainly have said ‘no’; but had he said ‘yes’ the defence against unwarranted demands for initiation would have been down and it would have become necessary to accept some and reject others by a decision that would have appeared arbitrary instead of letting their own understanding or lack of understanding make the decision. His most usual form of reply was that given to Major Chadwick, “There are three modes of initiation, by touch, by look and by silence.” This was the practice usual to Sri Bhagavan of making an impersonal doctrinal utterance in which, however, the answer to the specific question was to be found. The statement is well known, the three modes of initiation — according to the Hindus — being typified by the bird, which needs to sit on its eggs in order to hatch them, the fish, which needs only to look at them, and the tortoise, which needs only to think of them. Initiation by look or by silence has become very rare in this age; it is the mouna diksha of Arunachala, of Dakshinamurti, and is the mode of initiation particularly appropriate to the direct path of Self-enquiry which Sri Bhagavan taught. It was, therefore, doubly suitable, both inherently and as affording a convenient camouflage.
The initiation by look was a very real thing. Sri Bhagavan would turn to the devotee, his eyes fixed upon him with blazing intentness. The luminosity, the power of his eyes pierced into one, breaking down the thought-process. Sometimes it was as though an electric current was passing through one, sometimes a vast peace, a flood of light. One devotee has described it: “Suddenly Bhagavan turned his luminous, transparent eyes on me. Before that I could not stand his gaze for long. Now I looked straight back into those powerful and wonderful eyes, how long I could not tell. They held me in a sort of vibration distinctly audible to me.” Always it was followed by the feeling, the indubitable conviction, that one had been taken up by Sri Bhagavan, that henceforth he was in charge, he was guiding. Those who knew would perceive when such an initiation took place, but it would usually be inconspicuous; it might happen during the chanting of the Vedas, when few would be watching or the devotee might feel a sudden impulse to go to Sri Bhagavan before daybreak or at some time when few or none would be present. The initiation by silence was equally real. It entered into those who turned to Sri Bhagavan in their hearts without being able to go bodily to Tiruvannamalai. Sometimes it was given in a dream, as with Natesa Mudaliar.
No Master was more categorical than Sri Bhagavan about his guidance and protection once a devotee had been taken up and the silent initiation given. He assured Sivaprakasam Pillai in the exposition that was later published as Who am I?: “He that has won the Grace of the Guru shall undoubtedly be saved and never forsaken, just as the prey that has fallen into the tiger’s jaws will never be allowed to escape.”
A Dutch devotee, L. Hartz, being able to stay only a short time, and perhaps fearing that his determination might weaken when he left, asked for an assurance and was told, “Even if you let go of Bhagavan, Bhagavan will never let go of you.”
Two other devotees, a Czech diplomat and a Muslim professor, struck by the unusual force and directness of the assurance, asked whether it applied only to Hartz or to all the devotees and were told, “To all.”
On another occasion, a devotee grew despondent at seeing no progress in himself and said, “I am afraid if I continue like this I shall go to hell.” And Sri Bhagavan replied, “If you do Bhagavan will go after you and bring you back.”
Even the circumstances of the devotee’s life are shaped by the Guru so as to promote his sadhana (spiritual progress). One devotee was told, “The Master is both within and without, so he creates conditions to drive you inwards and at the same time prepares the interior to drag you to the Centre.”
If one who was not turned to Sri Bhagavan in his heart asked whether he gave upadesa he might make some enigmatic reply or none at all, and in either case a negative answer would be presumed. In fact, his upadesa, like his initiation, was through silence. The mind was silently turned in the direction in which it should strive. A devotee was expected to understand this. Very few needed verbal assurance.
The story of V. Venkatraman, who has already been referred to, is illustrative. In his youth he was a great devotee of Sri Ramakrishna, but he felt the need for a living Guru in flesh and blood, so he prayed to him with the fervour of intense longing, “Master, grant me a living Guru no less perfect than yourself.” Very soon afterwards he heard of Sri Ramana, then but a few years in the Ashram at the foot of the Hill. He went there with an offering of flowers. It so happened (as would always happen when desirable) that there was no one else in the hall when he arrived. Sri Bhagavan was reclining on the couch, behind him on the wall the portrait of Sri Ramakrishna to which Venkatraman had prayed. Sri Bhagavan cut the garland in half; one half he bade the attendant place upon his portrait and the other on the temple lingam. Venkatraman had a feeling of lightness and ease. He was at home, his purpose achieved. He told the story of his coming. Sri Bhagavan asked him, “You know about Dakshinamurti?”
“I know that he gave silent upadesa,” he replied.
And Sri Bhagavan said, “That is the upadesa you will get here.”
This silent upadesa was in fact very varied. Sri Bhagavan spoke and wrote most about the vichara or Self-enquiry, and therefore the opinion arose that he prescribed only Jnana-marga, the Path of Knowledge, which most people find too sheer in this age. But in fact he was universal and provided guidance for every temperament, by the path of Devotion no less than of Knowledge. Love and devotion to him are a bridge across the abyss to salvation. He had many devotees for whom he prescribed no other path.
The same Venkatraman grew uneasy after some time at being given no sadhana — that is no practice to perform — and complained.
“And what brought you here?” Sri Bhagavan asked.
“Thinking of you, Swami.”
“Then that is also your sadhana. That is sufficient.” And indeed, the thought or remembrance of Bhagavan began to accompany him everywhere, to become inseparable from him.
The path of devotion is the same really as that of submission. The whole burden is cast upon the Guru. This also Sri Bhagavan enjoined. To one devotee he said, “Submit to me and I will strike down the mind.” To another he said, “Only keep quiet, Bhagavan will do the rest.” He told another, Devaraja Mudaliar, “Your business is only to surrender and leave everything to me.” And he often said, “There are two ways: either ask yourself ‘Who am I?’ or surrender to the Guru.”
And yet, to surrender, to keep the mind still and be fully receptive to the Grace of the Guru, is not easy. It requires constant effort, constant remembering, and only the Grace of the Guru makes it possible. Many used devotional or other practices to help them in the attempt, and Sri Bhagavan approved and authorised such means, though he seldom actually prescribed them.
Most potent, though invisible, was the power of sat sangh. Literally this means ‘association with Being’, but as a means of sadhana it is used to mean ‘association with one who has realized Sat or Being’. Sri Bhagavan spoke of it in the highest terms. The first five of the Supplementary Forty Verses are devoted to its praise. The story of their inclusion is characteristic. The adopted daughter of Echammal found one of them written in Sanskrit on the paper in which a packet of sweets was wrapped and was so moved by it that she learned it and recited it before Sri Bhagavan, and he, seeing its importance, translated it into Tamil. At the time when he was compiling the forty supplementary verses, writing some and translating others, and this verse with the four others, also from Sanskrit, were included. The third of them gives association with a Master pre-eminence over all other methods. “If association with Sages is obtained to what purpose are the various methods of self-discipline? Tell me, of what use is a fan when the cool, gentle, southern breeze is blowing?”
Association with Sri Bhagavan worked a subtle alchemy, even though its effects might only become visible years later. He sometimes told devotees explicitly of its value to them. To Ranga Aiyar, the school friend referred to in Chapter Three, he once said, “If you stay with the Jnani he gives you your cloth ready woven,” the implication being that by other methods you are given the thread and have to weave it yourself.
Sundaresa Aiyar became a devotee at the age of twelve. When he got to be about nineteen he grew dissatisfied with himself, feeling that more conscious and intense effort was needed. He was a householder, living in town, but had been visiting Sri Bhagavan almost daily; now, however, he decided, as an act of stern discipline, not to go again until he had developed such detachment and earnestness of purpose as to make him worthy of the association. For a hundred days he stayed away, and then the thought came to him, “How am I better for not seeing Bhagavan?” And he went. Sri Bhagavan met him at the entrance to Skandashram and greeted him with the question, “How are you better for not visiting me?” He then spoke to him of the importance and potency of sat sangh even though the disciple did not perceive the effect it was having on him or see any improvement in himself. He compared it to a mother feeding her child during its sleep at night, so that next day the child thinks it took no food, although she knows it did and in fact the food sustains it.
This example implies more than an automatic benefit from living within the atmosphere of a Sage; it implies conscious direction of the influence by him. On one occasion Sri Bhagavan gave striking confirmation of this, though those who had experienced it needed none. Sundaresa Aiyar composed a Tamil song in his praise referring to the Grace flowing forth from his eyes to sustain the devotees, and Sri Bhagavan corrected him, “No, not flowing but projected, because it is a conscious process directing the Grace to the persons chosen.”
The disciple also has to make effort in order to utilise fully the Grace of the Master, and for this the method that Sri Bhagavan constantly propounded was the vichara, the question ‘Who am I?’ This was the sadhana he brought to meet the needs of our age and about this there was no secrecy or concealment. He was quite categorical about its pre-eminence. “Self-enquiry is the one infallible means, the only direct one, to realize the unconditioned, absolute Being that you really are…. The attempt to destroy the ego or mind through sadhanas other than Self-enquiry is like the thief turning policeman to catch the thief that is himself. Self-enquiry alone can reveal the truth that neither the ego nor the mind really exists and enable one to realize the pure, undifferentiated Being of the Self or Absolute. Having realized the Self, nothing remains to be known, because it is perfect Bliss, it is the All.” (Maharshi’s Gospel, Part II.)
“The purpose of Self-enquiry is to focus the entire mind at its Source. It is not, therefore, a case of one ‘I’ searching for another ‘I’.” (ibid.)
To focus the entire mind at its Source is to turn it inward upon itself. The instruction was to sit in meditation, asking ‘Who am I?’ at the same time focussing the attention on the heart, not the physical organ on the left side of the chest but the spiritual heart on the right. According to the nature of the questioner, Sri Bhagavan would lay stress first on the physical or the mental aspect, the concentration on the Heart or the question ‘Who am I?’
The spiritual heart on the right site of the chest is not one of the yogic chakras (centres); it is the centre and source of the ego-self and the abode of the Self and is therefore the place of Union. When asked whether there was any scriptural or other authority for locating the Heart at this spot, Sri Bhagavan said that he had found that it is so and had later seen it confirmed in one Malayalam book on ayurveda.(Cf. “The wise man’s heart is at his right hand but a fool’s heart is at his left”. Ecclestiastes, x, 2.) (an Indian system of medicine.) Those who have followed his injunctions have also found it so. This is so fundamental to the use of the vichara that it will be worthwhile reproducing here a conversation from Maharshi’s Gospel in which Sri Bhagavan explained it at some length.
Devotee: Sri Bhagavan has specified a particular place for the Heart within the physical body, that is in the chest, two digits to the right from the median.
Bhagavan: Yes, that is the Centre of spiritual experience according to the testimony of the Sages. This Spiritual Heart-centre is quite different from the blood-propelling, muscular organ known by the same name. The spiritual Heart-centre is not an organ of the body. All that you can say of the Heart is that it is the very Core of your being, that with which you are really identical (as the word in Sanskrit literally means) whether you are awake, asleep or dreaming, whether you are engaged in work or immersed in samadhi.
Devotee: In that case, how can it be localised in any part of the body? Fixing a place for the Heart would imply setting physiological limitations to That which is beyond space and time.
Bhagavan:That is true, but the person who puts the question about the position of the Heart regards himself as existing with or in the body. . . . Since, during the bodiless experience of the Heart as pure Consciousness, the Sage is not at all aware of the body, that absolute experience is localised by him within the limits of the physical body by a sort of recollection made while he is with bodily awareness.
Devotee: For men like me who have neither the direct experience of the Heart nor the consequent recollection, the matter seems to be somewhat difficult to grasp. About the position of the Heart itself, perhaps, we must depend on some sort of guesswork.
B: If the determination of the position of the Heart depended on guesswork, even for the ignorant, the question would be scarcely worth consideration. No, it is not on guesswork that you have to depend but on an unerring intuition.
Devotee: Who has this intuition?
Devotee: Does Sri Bhagavan credit me with an intuitive knowledge of the Heart?
Bhagavan: No, not of the Heart but of the position of the Heart in relation to your identity.
Devotee: Did Sri Bhagavan say that I intuitively know the position of the Heart in the physical body?
Bhagavan: Why not?
Devotee: (pointing to himself) Is it to me personally that Sri Bhagavan is referring?
Bhagavan: Yes. That is the intuition. How did you refer to yourself by gesture just now? Did you not point your finger to the right side of your chest? That is exactly the place of the Heart-Centre.
Devotee: So then, in the absence of direct knowledge of the Heart-Centre, I have to depend on this intuition?
Bhagavan: What is wrong with it? When a schoolboy says, “It is I that did the sum right”, or when he asks you, “Shall I run and get the book for you?” does he point to the head that did the sum right or to the legs that will carry him quickly to get the book? No, in both cases his finger is pointed quite naturally towards the right side of the chest, thus giving innocent expression to the profound truth that the Source of I-ness in him is there. It is an unerring intuition that makes him refer to himself, to the Heart that is the Self, in that way. The act is quite involuntary and universal, that is to say it is the same in the case of every individual. What stronger proof than this do you require about the position of the Heart-centre in the physical body?
The instruction, then, was to sit concentrating on the heart at the right side and ask ‘Who am I?’ When thoughts arise during the meditation one is not to follow them up but to watch them and ask: ‘What is this thought? Where did it come from? And to whom? To me — and who am I?’ So each thought disappears when scrutinised and is turned back to the basic I-thought. If impure thoughts rise up they are to be treated in the same way, for sadhana really does what psycho-analysis claims to do — it clears out the filth from the subconscious, brings it up to the light of day and destroys it. “Yes, all kinds of thoughts arise in meditation. That is only right, for what lies hidden in you is brought out. Unless it rises up how can it be destroyed?” (Maharshi’s Gospel.)
All thought-forms are alien to this mode of meditation. Sometimes a devotee would ask Sri Bhagavan if he could use a theme such as ‘I am He’, or any other, during the enquiry but he always forbade it. On one occasion when a devotee had suggested one theme after another, he explained: “All thoughts are inconsistent with Realization. The right thing to do is to exclude thoughts of oneself and all other thoughts. Thought is one thing and Realization is quite another.”
There is no answer to the Who-am-I question. There can be no answer, for it is dissolving the I-thought, which is the parent of all other thoughts, and piercing beyond to the stillness where thought is not. “Suggestive replies to the enquiry, such as Sivoham (I am Siva) are not to be given to the mind during meditation. The true answer will come of itself. No answer the ego can give can be right.” The answer is the awakening current of awareness mentioned at the end of Chapter One, vibrating as the very essence of one’s being and yet impersonal. By constant practice this is to be made more and more frequent until it becomes continuous, not only during mediation but underlying speech and action also. Even then the vichara is still to be used, for the ego will try to make a truce with the current of awareness and if it is once tolerated it will gradually grow to power and then fight to recover supremacy, like the Gentiles whom the Hebrews allowed to remain in the Promised Land. Sri Bhagavan insisted (for instance, in his replies to Sivaprakasam Pillai) that the enquiry is to be kept up to the very end. Whatever states, whatever powers, whatever perceptions or visions may come, there is always the question of to whom they come until the Self alone remains.
Indeed, visions and powers can prove a distraction, clamping the mind down as effectively as attachment to physical power or pleasure and deluding it into imagining that it has been metamorphosed into the Self. And, as with earthly powers and pleasures, the desire for them is even more injurious than their possession. Narasimhaswami was once sitting before Sri Bhagavan, translating into Tamil the life and sayings of Vivekananda. Coming upon the description of the well-known incident when a single touch by Sri Ramakrishna gave Vivekananda the perception of all things as one substance, the thought struck him whether such a perception was not desirable and whether Sri Bhagavan could give it to him also by touch or look. As so often happened, the question that troubled him was raised at that very moment by another devotee: Echammal asked whether siddhis (powers) could be attained by the devotees. It was the period when Sri Bhagavan was composing the Forty Verses on Reality, the work which, with its Supplement, can be taken as his enunciation of doctrine, and he composed a stanza in answer to the question. “To abide firm in the Reality which is eternal is the true siddhi. Other attainments are all such as are possessed in dreams. Do they prove real when one awakes? Will those who are established in Reality and free from illusion care for such things?”
The occult is an obstacle to the spiritual. Powers and, even more, the desire for powers, impede the aspirant. It is said in the Devikalottram, which Sri Bhagavan translated from Sanskrit into Tamil: “One should not accept thaumaturgic powers, etc., even when directly offered to one, for they are like ropes to tether a beast and will sooner or later drag one down. Supreme Mukti (Liberation) does not lie that way; it is not found elsewhere than in Infinite Consciousness.”
To return from this digression: it is not only as a technique of meditation that Sri Bhagavan prescribed Self-enquiry but as a technique of living also. Asked whether it should be used always or just in fixed hours of meditation, he replied, “Always.” This throws light upon his refusal to sanction renunciation of worldly life, for the very circumstances which had been obstacles to sadhana were thus converted into instruments of sadhana. Ultimately, sadhana is simply an attack on the ego, and no amount of ecstasy or meditation can carry it to success so long as the ego remains entrenched in hope and fear, ambition and resentment, in any sort of passion or desire. Sri Rama and King Janaka were free from attachment although they lived in the world; the sadhu who tried to roll down rocks on Sri Bhagavan was bound by it although he had renounced the world.
At the same time, this does not mean that mere unselfish action is sufficient without any plan of campaign, for the ego is subtle and tenacious and will take refuge even in those actions that are intended to destroy it, taking pride in humility or enjoying austerity.
Self-enquiry in daily activity, asking oneself to whom any thought occurs, is a plan of campaign and a very potent one. It may not seem so when applied to an unemotional thought, say to one’s opinion of a book or a film; but applied to an emotional thought it has terrific potency and strikes at the very root of the passions. One has been hurt and feels resentment — who is hurt or resentful? Who is pleased or despondent, angry or triumphant? One falls into daydreaming or visualise possible triumphs and thus inflates the ego as powerfully as meditation deflates it; and at such a moment it requires strength and alertness to draw the sword of vichara and cut through the entanglement.
In the activities of life also, Sri Bhagavan enjoined surrender and submission to the Divine Will side by side with vichara. He compared a person who thought he was bearing his own burdens and responsibilities to a passenger in a train who insists on carrying his luggage even though the train is taking it along just the same and a wiser passenger puts it on the rack and sits back comfortably. All the injunctions and examples he gave converge on the one point of weakening self-interest and assailing the Iam-the-doer illusion.
A famous Congress worker, Jamnalal Bajaj, once came to the Ashram and asked, “Is the desire, for swaraj (political independence) right?”
Sri Bhagavan replied: “Yes, prolonged practical work for the goal gradually widens the outlook so that the individual gradually becomes merged in the country. Suchmerging of the individual is desirable and the karma is nishkamyakarma.”
Jubilant, perhaps, at having got the Swami to approve of his political aims and desiring a still more definite assurance, Jamnalal now asked what seemed to follow logically, “If swaraj is gained after a prolonged struggle and terrible sacrifice is not the person justified in being pleased with the result?”
But he was disappointed. “No, in the course of the struggle he should have surrendered himself to a Higher Power whose Might must be kept in mind and never lost sight of. How then can he be elated? He should not even care for the results of his actions. Only then it becomes nishkamya.”
That is to say that the outcome of one’s activity rests with God, and all that one is responsible for is the purity and disinterestedness of it. Moreover, by doing what is right simply because it is right, without self-interest, one is benefiting others even apart from the visible results achieved and in a more potent although more subtle manner than results can indicate. One is also benefiting oneself in a very direct way. In fact, disinterested activity may be said to be the true bank account, accumulating good karma which will shape one’s future destiny.
In a case like this, when questioned by some visitor, Sri Bhagavan explained what attitude of mind could make social or political activity a valid sadhana, but he discouraged his devotees from taking up such activity. It was enough that they should perform their own functions in life with purity and disinterestedness, doing what was right because it was right. Even though the present state of the world seems inharmonious, it is part of a vaster harmony; and by developing Self-knowledge one can both know this harmony and exert a far greater harmonious influence than by attempts to change the course of events. Sri Bhagavan’s teaching in this matter is summed up in a conversation with Paul Brunton:
Paul Brunton: Will Maharshi give his opinion on the future of the world, as we are living in critical times?
Bhagavan: Why should you worry about the future? You don’t even know the present properly. Take care of the present and the future will take care of itself.
Paul Brunton: Will the world soon enter a new era of friendliness and mutual help or will it go down in chaos and war?
Bhagavan: There is One who governs the world and it is His task to look after the world. He who has given life to the world knows how to look after it also. He bears the burden of this world, not you.
Paul Brunton: Yet if one looks around with unprejudiced eyes it is hard to see where this benevolent regard comes in.
Bhagavan: As you are, so is the world. Without understanding yourself what is the use of trying to understand the world? This is a question that seekers after Truth need not consider. People waste their energies over all such questions. First find out the Truth behind yourself, then you will be in a better position to understand the Truth behind the world of which yourself is part.
It should be noted that in this last sentence Sri Bhagavan is using the word ‘yourself’ to mean the ego, what the questioner at the moment took to be himself. The real Self is not a part of the world but the Self and Creator of the world.
The injunction for the use of Self-enquiry in the activities of life was an extension of its traditional use and an adaptation to the needs of our time. In its direct use as meditation it is the purest and most ardent (ancient) sadhana. Although it came to Sri Bhagavan spontaneously and untaught, it is in the tradition of the ancient Rishis. The Sage Vasishta wrote: “This enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is the quest of the Self and is said to be the fire that burns up the seed of the poisonous growth of conceptual thought.” However, it had formerly existed only as pure Jnana-marga (Path of Knowledge), simplest as well as most profound, the ultimate secret to be imparted only to those of purest understanding and to be followed by them in constant meditation, away from the distractions of the world. Karma-marga (the path of Action), on the other hand, had been the path for those who remained in the life of the world and consisted, as defined in the Bhagavad Gita, in a life of service and in acting without being attached to the fruits of one’s actions, that is so say disinterestedly, with no trace of egoism. These two paths are now fused into one, making a new path suited to the new conditions of our age, a path that can be followed silently, in office or workshop no less than in ashram or cave, with or without outer observances, simply a time for meditation and then remembrance throughout the day.
“In the end all that was hidden shall be made known.” Doctrinally, this saying of Christ’s is fulfilled by the own proclamation of the ultimate and most secret path and by its adaptation to our age. This is what Sri Bhagavan has done.
Indeed, the new path is more than a fusion of Jnana-marga and karma-marga; it is bhakti (love or devotion) also, for it generates pure love — love for the Self, the Inner Guru, which is love of Bhagavan, love of God. Sri Bhagavan has said in Maharshi’s Gospel: “The eternal, unbroken, natural state of abiding in the Self is Jnana. To abide in the Self you must love the Self. Since God is in fact the Self, love of the Self is love of God, and that is bhakti. Jnana and bhakti are thus one and the same.”
The ways of Jnana and bhakti that Sri Bhagavan enjoined may seem quite different paths but actually they are far closer together than might appear, and one does not preclude the other; in fact they can fuse into the single, integral path just described.
On the one hand, submission to the outer Guru leads, through his Grace, to the inner Guru that the vichara seeks to discover; and, on the other hand, vichara leads to quietude and submission. Both methods strive after the direct subsidence of the mind, only in one case more before the outer and in the other more before the inner Guru. Indirect methods of sadhana seek rather to strengthen and build up the mind in order that it may eventually attain sufficient strength and amplitude to surrender before the Spirit, and it is this that Sri Bhagavan referred to as ‘the thief turning policeman to catch the thief that is himself’. It is, of course, true that the mind must be strengthened and purified before it will surrender, but with the use of the vichara under the Grace of Sri Bhagavan this happens automatically.
A devotee, Krishna Jivrajani, once asked about this, “It is said in books that one should cultivate all the good or daivic (divine) qualities in order to prepare oneself for Self-realization.”
And Sri Bhagavan replied: “All good or daivic qualities are included in Jnana (Knowledge) and all evil or asuric qualities in ajnana (ignorance). When Jnana comes all ajnana goes and all daivic qualities come automatically. If a man is a Jnani he cannot utter a lie or do anything wrong. It is, no doubt, said in some books that one should cultivate one quality after another and thus prepare for ultimate Moksha (Deliverance), but for those who follow the Jnana or vichara marga their sadhana is quite enough in itself for acquiring all daivic qualities; they need not do anything else.”
It may, however, be asked how accessible the vichara is in fact. It is reported in Spiritual Instruction, compiled shortly after Sri Bhagavan came down from Skandashram, that a devotee asked, “Is it possible for all seekers, whatever their spiritual equipment, to adopt straight away and put into practice this method of enquiry in quest of the Self?” And that he replied: “No, it is intended only for ripe souls. Others should get the necessary training and practice by adopting such other methods as are suited to their individual development, mental and moral.”
From the Virupaksha period also a similar reply is reported in the elucidations published as Sri Ramana Gita. The ‘other methods’ include religious and devotional observances, meditation, invocation, mantras, also breath-control. Not only are these preparatory to the use of the vichara but they may be used concurrently with it. Many devotees told Sri Bhagavan that they used such methods prescribed by some guru or asked his authorisation to use them, and he listened graciously and approved. But when any found these other methods fall away he approved of that also. A devotee told him that he no longer found any support from the other methods he had formerly used and asked his authorisation to drop them, and he replied, “Yes, all other methods only lead up to the vichara.”
During the later period in the Ashram at the foot of the Hill, there is no record of any such limitation on the use of the vichara being stipulated, whereas one did hear it explicitly enjoined, together with concentration on the heart, on all who asked the way. This may lead to the conclusion that, in the new form in which Sri Bhagavan presented it, the vichara had only then been made really accessible to all who, through his Grace, aspired to use it.
On the other hand, it was also observed that, so far as evidence is available, few did aspire to use it. Indeed, many who came to the Ashram and asked for an elucidation of life’s mystery or for some discipline to bring them peace or to purify and strengthen their character were patently so far from understanding the doctrine of Advaita or practising the sadhana of Self-enquiry that it was hard for the superficial observer not to feel disappointed or annoyed at the small solace they seemed to be given. But only the superficial, for as one observed more closely one perceived that the real reply was not verbal but was the silent influence that began to permeate the mind of the questioner.
In his expositions Sri Bhagavan adhered to the ultimate truth which alone the Jnani recognises, just as he adhered to the dictum that, being beyond otherness, the Jnani has no relationship and therefore calls none his disciple; but his silent Grace, acting upon the mind, enabled it to seek out for itself the most appropriate ‘other methods’ for its development, as has been said already in speaking of those who simply strove to surrender and keep the mind quiet. Verbal injunctions were not necessary. Each was helped according to his nature, in proportion to his understanding and devotion. “The Grace of the Guru is like an ocean. If one comes with a cup he will only get a cupful. It is no use complaining of the niggardliness of the ocean. The bigger the vessel the more one will be able to carry. It is entirely up to him.”
An elderly French lady, the mother of one of the devotees, came on a visit to the Ashram. She neither understood nor cared to understand the philosophy, but from the time of her visit she became a devout Catholic although she had been little more than a nominal one before; and she recognised that the change was due to the influence of Sri Bhagavan. It was developments like this more than verbal expositions that constituted his teaching.
It may also be that, with the passage of time, the ever-increasing graciousness of Sri Bhagavan was binding the devotees to him more closely and thus preparing their hearts for the vichara through devotion. Not only devotees but more casual visitors also perceived how gentle, how effulgent his face became in the last years. Through Love he led up to Knowledge, just as the vichara leads through Knowledge to Love. Devotion to him turned the mind inwards to the Self he manifested, just as the quest of the Self within awakened unbounded love of the Self manifested in him.
One devotee expresses it: “To look at his face, so gripping, so incredibly gracious and so wise, yet with the innocence of a new-born child — he knows everything there is to know. Sometimes a vibration starts in the heart — Bhagavan — it is the core of my being taken shape, my own externalised heart — Who am I? — And thus love leads to enquiry.”
It has not been normal for a Master to describe the technique of sadhana openly in speech and writing, as Sri Bhagavan did. This is because such technique has been effective only when imparted to the user of it as upadesa by his Guru. Sri Bhagavan’s innovation in this matter raises from a different point of view the question how accessible is the vichara: how accessible can any sadhana be that has not been personally enjoined by the Guru?
Sri Bhagavan himself endorsed the universal tradition that the technique of sadhana is valid only when enjoined by the Guru. When asked once whether a man could benefit by mantras picked up anyhow, he replied, “No, he must be initiated into them.”
How is it, then, that he explained the vichara openly and sometimes even referred visitors to the written expositions in his books? The only explanation is that he is far more than the Guru of those few who were able to approach him physically in Tiruvannamalai. His is the authority and he gave the sanction. In this spiritually dark age when many seek but a Guru is rare to find, Bhagavan Himself took form on earth as the Sadguru, the Divine Guide, of all who turn to him and proclaimed a sadhana accessible to all who, through his Grace, find it accessible.
Not only was the use of the vichara not confined to those who could go to Tiruvannamalai, it was also not confined to Hindus. The teaching of Sri Bhagavan is the essence of all religions, proclaiming openly that which was hidden. Advaita is the central postulate of Taoism and Buddhism; the doctrine of the Inner Guru is the doctrine of the ‘Christ in you’ restored to the plenitude of its meaning; the vichara penetrates to the ultimate truth of the Islamic creed or shahada, that there is no god but God — that there is no self but the Self. Sri Bhagavan was beyond the differences between religions. Hindu books were available to him, so he read them and expounded according to their terms, but he was also prepared to expound in the terms of other religions when asked. The sadhana he enjoined was not dependent on any religion. Not only Hindus came to him but Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Parsis, and he never expected any to change his religion. Devotion to the Guru and the flow of his Grace leads to the deeper reality of every religion, and Self-enquiry to the ultimate Truth behind all religion.