Sri Ramana Leela is a Biography of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi by Sri Krishna Bhikshu Edited and Translated by Pingali Surya Sundaram
Chapter-XXXXIX, The Nature of The Avatar
Modernists do not have faith in the existence of a heaven, or a hell and the like; they expect proof of everything.
An advocate from Madurai once asked Bhagavan if there were devatas and bhutas really.
Bhagavan: Yes. Yet their lokas like our own are only relative truths.
Advocate: So, are Siva and others not mere imaginary figures but real?
Advocate: If they are also similar to us, it means that they also suffer the consequences of deluge (pralaya).
Bhagavan: It is not like that. If even you can become a jnani, a liberated person, and Brahman they, who are much more intelligent, can surely become the immortal Brahman.
We have already noticed that Ganapati Muni emphatically asserted in the Ramana Gita that Bhagavan was an avatar of Skanda. Who is Skanda? What does an avatar mean?
Easwara loves all life and he becomes embodied, through maya, for the benefit of living beings. He also assumes certain divine forms for the benefit of people or for specific purposes.
One of those forms is known as Skanda. He is the presiding deity of all weapons and the concealed power of the mantras connected with them. In Chandogya Upanishad he is referred to as Sanatkumara. He is worshipped as Kumara, Subrahmanya, or as Senani (Commander). He is an ocean of wisdom capable of rendering asunder all attachments, he is the guru. The theory is that such a universal guru appeared as Ramana to impart jnana by his teachings to humanity.
The expression ‘avatara’ means the descent in human form of an aspect of Easwara for a certain specified purpose. There are different types of avatars.
Even we have a divine spark but unless it is specifically noticed we cannot claim to be avatars. By constant tapas a person may, step by step, come to express some aspect of the divine. Such persons remain only as tapasvins but do not become avatars. If the power of Easwara expresses itself explosively on its own in all the five sheaths suddenly, only then is an avatar said to manifest itself.
Different deities, like Siva, assume human form for discharging specific purposes. Rama and others appeared to eliminate the asuric forces and to impart jnana. Siva is said to be the cause of dissolution (laya karaka) and physically causes the deluge but inherently he is the one who destroys the manas (manolaya karaka) which in turn destroys individuality. His son Kumara is the presiding deity of all the mantras of weapons and is the personification of jnana, he is the guru. Siva’s form as guru is known as Dakshinamurti which can also be referred to as Skandamurti. Ramana is a guru of that type, come to impart jnana.
Ordinary yogis cannot survive the vision of the embodied Brahman. Both Chaitanya, an avatara of Krishna and Sri Ramakrishna lost control over the physical body on the appearance of the Light. If the state beyond it enters the body it cannot survive. It is said by some that it was because of this that Yagnavalkya dissuaded his spouse Gargi from seeking what should not be sought. Bhagavan did not lose control of his body or mind; such a thing would be impossible had he not been an avatar.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa clarified that the feeling of unity with Brahman cannot be experienced except in the nirvikalpa Samadhi state and that the body cannot last beyond twenty one days in the nirvakalpa samadhi state. A study of the lives of yogis also shows that the body does not last long in the nirvikalpa samadhi state. Hence on that ground also Ramana has to be considered an avatara.
By saying that the Maharshi is an avatara of Skanda nothing is lost; it does not in any way detract from his greatness. But it behoves us to explain the nature of the guru to the extent possible. Inference and evidence are the standards by which proof is to be adduced.
- Right from his young days Ramana, even when he did not know who Easwara was, had the cognition of Arunachala.
- He obtained jnana not from tapas nor did he have it by birth. He got it, like divine beings, by mere smarana. No other yogi has obtained it in such a manner.
- It is difficult for ordinary yogis to transcend the three states – awakened, dream and deep sleep – and enter the turiya state. While it is possible in a state of samadhi to have a sakshatkara of the embodied Brahman it is difficult in the nirvikalpa samadhi to reach the state where there is no difference between the seer and seen. That is the sahaja state and to abide in it is impossible. Nobody among Hindus, has any doubt about Lord Krishna in this respect. No Hindu who is a believer contradicts the belief that he lived in the ‘So’ham‘ state right till his physical body dropped off. Krishna was an avatara purusha and such capacity could accrue only to an avatara and not to anyone else. Bhagavan Ramana also carried out daily activities in the same so’ham state throughout. How could it be possible if he had not been an avatara?
- Even Sankara could not obtain jnana without the backing of mantropadesa. Only Ramana obtained jnana without any such thing. This is prohibited except for avatara purushas according to the sastras.
Evidence to show that Ramana is an avatara of Skanda:
- In March 1908, Bhagavan was at Pachaiamman Kovil along with Ganapati Muni. One early morning the latter saw a bright light appear and touch Bhagavan’s forehead. Ganapati Muni also noticed that within the effulgent light enveloping Bhagavan, six stars of different colours got merged. Kumara had six mothers who collectively are known as Krittikka.
- Raghavachari’s experience: Bhagavan appeared in the form of Dakshinamurti to Raghavachari. The nature of both Dakshinamurti and Kumaraswami is the same.
- Bhagavan appeared in the form of a crystal to Sivaprakasam Pillai and a crystal relates to Siva’s nature.
- In Echammal’s dreams at Kandukur a form appeared which was identified as that of Skanda. Later when she actually saw Bhagavan, she noticed that the form which appeared in her dreams was Bhagavan himself.
- Right from his early days, Bhagavan had the feeling that Arunachala was his father. Until he actually came to Tiruvannamalai he did not know whether it was a hill or a cave.
- Sankarananda Bharati was a devotee of Skanda. Bhagavan showered on him great grace. Several people who perform japa of the Skanda mantra while thinking of Bhagavan obtain very beneficial results. Similarly in the Ramana ashtottara Bhagavan is looked upon as Skanda and worshipped. Beneficial results follow.
- Ganapati Muni had great occult powers – all of which will be evident from VasishtaVaibhavam. Ganapati Muni emphatically asserted that he, by his occult powers, saw Bhagavan as Skanda. His assertion cannot be brushed aside.
- Even Bhagavan said in 1912 that ‘he was the child that came second’ would this not immediately refer to Kumara (who came after Ganesa?)
- The physiognomy of Dandayudhapani at Palani resembled Bhagavan’s form very closely. And were not the image sculptors proficient in the agama sastras?
- On 26 December 1941 one Alamelammal, arrived at the Ashram from Madras. She received a letter from her friend, Chengalvaraya Pillai, stating that he had vowed to go to Tiruttani to perform abhishekam of milk, to the deity there. Alamelammal showed that letter to Bhagavan who asked: “Is he going there for performing abhishekam and not coming here?” She could not follow the question and hence kept quiet. Bhagavan repeated his remark adding, “It is alright” and returned the letter to her. As she was going back Bhagavan said, “That Swami has come here.”
According to the Saiva tradition Jnana Sambandar was an incarnation of Kumara this was expressed in his songs as well. Appar and other Saivite saints accepted that. If it was contended that Bhagavan was an incarnation of Sambandar then it followed that he could be the incarnation of Kumara also.
In 1913, Ganapati Muni propounded his theory that Bhagavan was an incarnation of Jnana Sambandar on the following grounds:
- Sambandar had a darshan of the Jyoti in his sixteenth year and shed his mortal coil at that very age. Ramana had illumination at about that age (sixteen) and commenced his mission. In other words, Ramana took up where Sambandar left off.
- Sambandar was full of devotion. Ramana’s experience started at that point (i.e. devotion) and culminated in jnana – after all, jnana was the final shape of bhakti.
- Sambandar and his entourage merged in Light, Ramana too was enveloped in Light.
- Ramana’s appearance while Sambandar’s songs were being sung in his presence was unique and provided sufficient evidence on their affinity.
- Ramana had formal education only up to matriculation which was inadequate for one to write poetry. But Sambandar was a great poet. Ramana belonged to this heritage.
- The spot at which Ramana beheld the light at the Arayaninallur temple was the very spot at which Sambandar had the darshan of Arunachaleswara (as Light). This was narrated by Ramana to Kapali and Ganapati Muni. Thereupon Ganapati Muni remarked to Ramana, “So this experience was as Jnana Sambandar”. Ramana merely asserted, “Yes, yes” and passed on to a different topic.
- The Mahaswami of Kanchi Kamakoti math once said to a devotee that Ramana who came to uplift jnana yoga was the same as the one who earlier was Kumarila Bhatta.
The above points may not be indisputable but considered in their totality give the impression that Bhagavan was an avatar of Skanda and that he was the form of Jnana Sambandar and Kumarila Bhatta.
Unlike most avatars who came for the elimination of evil-doers this avatar was for imparting knowledge. What is the purpose of this avatar? Buddha appeared at a time when the Upanishadic injunction that ‘all was Brahman’ fell into disuse. His disciples propagated the idea that everything was sunya. To reestablish the primacy of Brahman Sankara came. But Sankara’s view that what was visible was ‘maya’ could not be experienced and became a mere theory. Ramana’s avatar was to complete the attempt of Sankara. He adopted the path of ‘self-enquiry’ and through it established the reality of Brahman. He showed that the Atma, the World and Brahman were in fact the same. By abiding in the turiyateeta state he established its practicable nature. Ramana’s advent was for the upliftment of people of different spiritual attainments.
As Kumarila he established the supremacy of the karma marga, as Jnana Sambandar, a poet, he brought bhakti marga close to the people and as Ramana he showed that the purpose of life was to abide in the Self and to stay in the sahaja state by the jnana marga. Truly wonderful!