Teachings of Ramana Maharshi (1879 – 1950). A Reflection plus Quotations
TALKS WITH RAMANA MAHARSHI
Jewels of One-liners
A few years ago, I made a short pilgrimage to Tiruvannamalai, south India, to return to pay respect to the late Sri Ramana Maharshi, one of the great saints of India. I also had the privilege of offering teachings on a rooftop, nearby to his ashram, for several days to people from the Indian and overseas community.
While there I re-read Talks with Ramana Maharshi. I took notes from this excellent book of my favourite responses by Ramana to some of the questions he received. Ramana is truly the Master of the one liner offering teachings free from the dross of superfluous words.
Upon return home to Totnes, UK, I typed these one-liners into my computer. These brief statements of Ramana may be of interest for those deeply connected to a depth of spiritual enquiry and liberation. I have put them at the foot of this reflection.
Between 1935 and 1939, Sri Mangala, a student of Ramana, kept a written record of the questions and answers with Ramana. In 1955, the ashram published the 616-page book of his exchanges titled Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879- 1950).
There are numerous similarities between the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of Ramana. They shared a passion for simplicity of lifestyle, enquiry, meditation and liberation. The Buddha lived a nomadic way of life for 45 years while Ramana spent 38 years in the Tiruvannamalai ashram from 1922 until his death in 1950. Like the Buddha, Ramana lived a life of remarkable austerity.
People came daily to see Ramana with numerous profound questions. He responded to many thousands of questions from those engaged in a spiritual enquiry. Free from the obscuration of latent tendencies, Ramana responded quietly and succinctly from the great silence. He referred in his teachings to the ‘eloquence of silence.’ He first became known in the West during the late 1920’s through the articles of an appreciative English policeman during the time of British Occupation of India. Years later, Paul Brunton, another Englishman, wrote a book on Ramana’s teachings that drew much interest among spiritual seekers.
Day after day, seekers sat quietly with him in a small Dharma hall in the ashram. He responded with few words but always cut straight to the point. In 1976 (26 years after Ramana’s death), I had the privilege on my first visit to Tiruvannamalai having meetings with. Ramana’s cousin. He told me that the small hall had remained largely untouched since the passing of Ramana. The hall exuded a palpable silence. Devotees and practitioners continue to spend hours daily dwelling in the eloquent silence of the room.
Emphasis on the Teachings
Ramana’s teachings emphasised self-enquiry, practice, letting go of attachments, realisation and liberation. He showed the way to seeing through the ego, the self of I and my.
Orthodox Buddhists feel discomfort with the language of the Self. It would appear in the English that Ramana points to a True Self through the dissolution of the ego (ahamkara), the I-making activity.
The English translations of the teachings of Ramana use the Self as the goal. It is regrettable that Atman and self (with or without a capital ‘S’) have become interchangeable concepts.
Ramana’s teachings then appear to be in direct contrast to the teachings of the Buddha with his unwavering priority to the realisation of non-self. It is unfortunate that such a confusion has arisen. Ramana also emphasised non-self in his teachings.
There is a poverty of spiritual language in English compared to Sanskrit and Pali. As a result, the word ‘self ‘ and ‘Self ‘gets used.
Contemporary Advaita teachers, mostly Westerners, make the claim. “You are not the body. You are not the mind. You are consciousness.” The same teachers will give consciousness a capital “C” in their writings to attempt to add gravitas to the claim about the supremacy of consciousness above all else. Concepts like self and consciousness become more confusing in speech when used in both relative and ultimate categories.
Buddhist and Advaita teachers have also frequently failed to emphasis the significance of a genuine modesty of life, sustainability and moderation in every area of life. The enquiry into lifestyle, the very foundation for liberation, gets overlooked as well a sustained enquiry, reflection, meditation and regular dialogues with a teacher of liberation.
Spiritual seekers can have a spiritual experience, often in satsang (gathering) with their teacher and then believe they have realised liberation while carrying on much the same much lifestyle and latent tendencies as before. With others, the teachings of Ramana have truly changed the lives of those dedicated to his teachings of liberation through ongoing enquiry into every area of inner-outer life.
Ramana and the Buddha would put their head in their hands if they heard such compromising of their teachings of liberation and the way to liberation.
I treat differences in language between Ramana and the Buddha as semantic rather than experiential or a difference of viewpoint. There is no English equivalent for the word atman, which is translated as Self in the English. The notion of self in English seems narrow and restricted especially spoken. Some scholars have attempted to translate atman as awareness to expand the sense of Atman. Awareness still does not convey the significance of Atman.
A useful analogy for atman is the wave and the ocean. Brahman is the ocean and the wave. The wave is named atman. Large or small, sentient and insentient, humans/animals and the multiplicity of things, form the waves, rising and falling, coming and going.
Brahman and atman are both made of the same – water. Brahman reveals the Immeasurable. The Buddha and Ramana teach the way to realise the Immeasurable/the Unformed – a liberation from the notion of finiteness and identification with the formed. Ocean and wave confirm the Immeasurable, namely the Water.
Both the Buddha and Ramana point to the One Dharma of Liberation. They do not point to duality. They do not offer teachings on non-duality. They do not give great significance to the oneness or non-duality of the ocean and wave. The realisation of the ‘Water’ makes everything possible.
We are all blessed to have access to such teachings from the Buddha and Ramana. There is a separation of around 2500 years between their teachings. Both offer timeless teachings.
Both remained unwaveringly dedicated to offering teachings of liberation and the preparation for liberation.
The slight differences in language are insignificant. Both are Sons of an Awakened Life.
Selected Responses from Ramana Maharshi to Questions.
Here are this wallah’s favourite one liners of Ramana. Talks with Ramana Maharshi has been reprinted on numerous occasions since the first edition in 1955.
Readers should note that the page numbers I use vary in different editions of the book over the years. There is an excellent index at the back of the book,plus definition of Sanskrit words, so readers can find these quotes below in their edition.
Page 1. If a man thinks his happiness is due external causes and his possessions, it is reasonable to conclude his happiness must increase with the increase of possessions and diminish in proportion to their diminution.
Page 5. If you go the way of your thoughts, you will be carried away by them and you will find yourself in an endless maze.
Page 5. Q. What are the obstacles that hinder realisation? Habits of the mind.
Page 5. Q. What are the aids to realisation? Teachings of scriptures and realised souls.
Page 6. Does my realisation help others? It is the best help possible.
Page 7. Shadows flitting across the screen impress the audience. You are the screen.
Page 10. Does posture indicate temperament? Yes.
Page 12. Is work an obstruction to self-realisation? No. Actions are only phenomenal. Even when acts he has no sense of being an agent.
Page 12. Q. What is the practice? Constant search for the source of the ego.
Page 12. Q. Is not brahmachariya (celibacy) necessary for the realisation of the Self? Bramachariya is living in Brahman. It has no connection with celibacy as commonly understood.
Page 14. Q. How long did it take Maharishi to realise the Self? The question is asked because name and form are perceived.
Page 19. Silence is permanent and benefits the whole of humanity. Silence is unceasing eloquence.
Page 23. Individuality is the ego. The mind is the sheath of “I.”
Page 27. Q. How is restlessness removed from the mind? Loss of interest in non-self.
Page 27 Enquiry is the first and foremost step.
Page 28. If the mind is distracted ask the question promptly. To whom do these distracting thoughts arise?
Page 28. Food is regulated both in quantity and quality.
Page 30 Q. How long is the practice to continue? Until yoga liberation becomes permanent.
Page 31 Q. If you give up “I” and “Mine,” all are given up at a stroke.
Page 34. Grace is vouchsafed only to him who is a true devotee or yogin, who has striven hard and ceaselessly on the path towards freedom.
Page 35 Gradually the obstacles are overcome and your current becomes stronger. Everything comes right in the end. Steady determination is what is required.
Page 38 Q. What to do to get liberation? Learn what liberation is.
Page 39 Q. My mind is unsteady. What should I do? Fix your attention on any single thing.
Page 39. Q. To help concentration is it good to have some aids? Breath regulation etc. are such helps.
Page 43. Identification with the body is dvaita (duality). Non-identification is non-duality.
Page 45 If the fruits of action do not affect the person, he is free from action.
Page 48. Who am I? is the investigation.
Page 43 Actions form no bondage. Bondage is only the false notion ‘I am the doer.’
Page 60. “I am Brahman” is passing beyond limitations and signifies sympathy, charity and love.
Page 72. A woman wore her necklace round her neck but forgot it. She began to search for it and made enquiries.
Page 82. There are no investigations into the Atman. The investigation can only be into the non-self.
Page 83. Human beings are only animals unless they are realised beings. Possibly they are worse also.
Page 84. The state free from vasanas (tendencies) is the primal state.
Page 86 How to turn the mind away from the world. Is there the world?
Page 89. Vibhuti is the sacred ash of what is left after all the dross has been burnt away by the fire of realisation.
Page 102. Q. Atman is difficult to realise? There is nothing to realise.
Page 105. The universe is only expanded self. It is not different from the Self.
Page 110. There should be harmony of knowledge of the self and knowledge of the world. Yes.
Page 134. Is there a way to meet the appointed Guru? Intense meditation brings it about.
Page 131. Subject and object – all merge in the Self. There is no seer no objects seen. There are not many selves either. All are only one Self.
Page 131. We seek to reach the goal with the ego, but the goal exists before the ego.
Page 133. The ego is like one’ shadow thrown on the ground. If one attempts to bury it, it will be foolish.
Page 134. In Yoga Vasishtha, it is said: What is real is hidden from us but what is false is revealed as true.
Page 136. Subjugation of senses is a necessary preliminary for self-realisation.
Page 140 A man on realising the Self can help the world more effectively. Is it not so? If the world be apart from the Self.
Page 143. Q. Is there any way of sensing super-physical phenomena. E.g. guardian angels. The state of the object is per the state of the seer.
Page 144. Is there is efficacy in bathing in the Ganges? The Ganges is within you. This Ganges does not make you feel cold or shiver. Bathe in it.
Page 145 Q. What is silence? It is eternal eloquence.
Page 168 Q. How do you meditate? I begin to ask myself Who am I?” Eliminate the body as not I, the breath as not I, the mind as not I and I am not able to proceed further.
Page 169. The body does not say I am. It is you who say I am the body.
Page 177. Mourning is the changed forged by the mind to bind itself to the dead.
Page 179. When Self is associated with the ego, the knowledge is objective (vinhnana). When not associated with ego it is nana (authentic knowledge).
Page 181. Sleep implies forgetfulness of all differences.
Page 183. To say that one is apart from the Primal Source is itself a pretension.
Page 188. Q. Does Bhagwan (Ramana) feel for us and show grace? You are neck deep in water and yet cry for water.
Page 199. We are reading the printed characters on paper but ignore the paper.
Page 200. If atma vicharda (self investigation) ceases, then loka vichara (world investigation) takes it place.
Page 202. Just so water is got by boring the well, so you also realise the self by investigation.
Page 209 The thoughts are due to the identification of the self with the non-self.
Page 218. Grace is within you. If it is external, it is useless.
Page 218. There was really no bondage so it follows there was really no liberation.
Page 227. How did avidya (ignorance, not knowing) arise? Avidya is like maya (false, deception, illusion).
Page 228. Evolution must be from one state to another. When no differences are admitted how can evolution arise?
Page 229. Q. Are all in liberation? Where is all? There is no liberation either. It could only be if there is bondage.
Page 235. Q. How many hours a day should one devote to meditation? Your very nature is meditation.
Page 237. There are widespread disasters. What is the cause of this state of affairs? To whom does all this appear? The world is not external. Because you identify yourself wrongly with the body, you see the world outside.
Page 239. If you are the Self, the world appears as Brahman
Page 249. I do not call myself a guru or a disciple.
Page 250. Q. By what name am I to be known. I myself do not know.
Page 257. Mind without an aim is restless, with an aim it remains at peace.
Page 263. Practice is necessary. Practice means removal of pre-dispositions. Practice is power.
Page 268. When thoughts cross the mind and an effort is to made to eliminate them, then the effort is usually termed meditation.
Page 271. Q. What is karma and rebirth? See the karta (doer) and then the karma (action) becomes obvious.
Page 296. Grace is both the beginning and the end. Introversion is due to grace. Perseverance is due to grace and realisation is grace.
Page 337. Tiruvannamalai is the same by whichever route is gained.
Page 342 The sastras (spiritual texts) are not meant for the wise because they do not need them. The ignorant do not want them. Only the mumukkshus (ones engaged in enquiry for liberation) look up to the sastras.
Page 344 Meditation is meant for the removal of ignorance.
Page 401. There is neither dvaita (duality) nor Advaita (Non-duality).
Page 401. God is Love
Page 415. The difference of view is according to the angles of vision
Page 445. This thought must be for mukti (liberation).
Page 453. Real waking lies beyond the plane of differences.
Page 472 Mental reform is needed.
Page 473. Q. Is the Hindu view of reincarnation correct? We were never born.
Page 505. Q. Who wants knowledge. Find the ‘I’ and see later what further knowledge is required.
Page 531. The ego must die. By repeated reflection one becomes more and more fit.
Page 541. Only get rid of the non-self
Page 561. You must certainly wake up from the sleep which is holding you at present.
Page 599. One should act without thinking that oneself is the actor.
Page 599. The actions go on despite his egolessness.
MAY ALL BEINGS ENGAGE IN ENQUIRY
MAY ALL BEINGS KNOW FREEDOM FROM THE FINITE
MAY ALL BEINGS KNOW LIBERATION