The Core Teachings of Ramana Maharshi by Roy Melvyn - Read Online
The Core Teachings of Ramana Maharshi
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The philosophy of Advaita or Non Duality has become, along with Buddhism, one of the most popular spiritual paths being pursued by those interested in enlightenment today. During the past three decades, Advaita has become more widely recognized in the West through the ever growing popularity of Ramana Maharshi.
His point of view has for its aim Self-realization. The central path taught in this philosophy is the inquiry into the nature of Self, the content of the notional 'I-thought'.
Carl Jung wrote of Ramana: “Sri Ramana is a true son of the Indian earth. He is genuine and, in addition to that, something quite phenomenal. In India he is the whitest spot in a white space. What we find in the life and teachings of Sri Ramana is the purest of India; with its breath of world-liberated and liberating humanity, it is a chant of millenniums.”
The core of Ramana’s teachings are presented herein; also included are three Ramana classics: Who Am I?, Self Enquiry, and Spiritual Instruction.
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ISBN: 9781105325656
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Advaita or Non Duality

The philosophy of Advaita or Non Duality has become, along with Buddhism, one of the most popular spiritual paths being pursued by those interested in enlightenment today. During the past three decades, Advaita has become more widely recognized in the West through the ever growing popularity of Ramana Maharshi.

Endeavoring to acquire a deeper understanding of the background and philosophical context of this profound and ever more influential teaching, one must look back to its source, to the man who is widely recognized as its founder, the eighth century religious philosopher and master teacher Shankara. Advaita Vedanta is considered the crown jewel of Indian philosophy, and Shankara's powerful influence can be felt throughout most modern schools of Indian thought.

Shankara was a master philosopher-sage who put great emphasis on a rigorous interpretation of Vedantic scripture strictly in accord with the doctrine of advaita, or nonduality. In traditional Advaita philosophy (which can be simply defined as the Upanishadic declaration, Thou Art That, the Immortal Self, the Absolute), spiritual knowledge was sought not through yogic experience as much as it was through the systematic practice of discriminating the Real from the unreal, supported by the study of the scriptures.

[I am] the nature of Pure Consciousness. I am always the same to beings, one alone; [I am] the highest Brahman, which, like the sky, is all-pervading, imperishable, auspicious, uninterrupted, undivided and devoid of action. I do not belong to anything since I am free from attachment. [I am] the highest Brahman . . . ever-shining, unborn, one alone, imperishable, stainless, all-pervading, and nondual—That am I, and I am forever released.

—Shankara, The Upadesasahasri

From the highest perspective, the world is simply not there.

Once again, even though modern proponents of Advaita do not appear to exclude the world in their vision of nonduality, in the classical view, the world is clearly recognized as being either completely unreal, or only partially real. And this is what Advaita has been historically criticized for. Precisely because of its emphasis on the ultimate unreality and illusory nature of the world and embodied existence, any teaching of how to live in the world is entirely absent. More specifically, the nondual teaching does not in any way address the ethical or moral dimension of human life. And even though modern Advaita does not seem to exclude the world in its nondual view, it still is devoid of any teaching that addresses the realities of human life.

Interestingly enough, it appears that historically Advaita did not address ethical or moral questions because, the highest nondual teachings were never intended to be a philosophy for the general public. In fact, they were formulated by and for a narrow spiritual elite of male brahmins [members of the highest, priestly class], primarily sannyasins [renunciates], who alone were believed qualified to fully appropriate its import.

This practically would have meant that the individual to whom the absolute teachings were revealed would have already fulfilled the demanding moral and ethical qualifications for discipleship. And even more than that, Shankara himself states that the qualifications for discipleship also demanded an extraordinary degree of detachment from and transcendence of worldly desires:

The pupil must be dispassionate toward all things noneternal. . . . [Having] abandoned the desire for sons, wealth and worlds, endowed with self-control [and] compassion, he is a brahmin who is internally and externally pure, whose thought is calm, who has reached tranquility. . . . [Thus] let him go to a spiritual teacher who is learned in the scriptures and established in Brahman.

—The Upadesasahasri

The unusual phenomenon occurring in the postmodern spiritual marketplace is that now, as never before in history, what were once considered the highest esoteric teachings, revealed only to those who were prepared and had proven themselves worthy of their unimaginable depth and subtlety, are available to anyone who wanders into a spiritual bookstore.

However, this begs the question: Are most seekers genuinely prepared for the psychological upheaval and world-shattering shift of perception that penetration into the Absolute unleashes?

Consider the sense of separateness. Things can appear different without being separate. Just look at your hand for a moment. Your fingers are all different from each other, but are they separate? They all arise from the same hand. Similarly, the objects, animals, plants and people in the world are all definitely different in their appearance and functioning. But they are all connected at their source—they come from the same source. This one Being that is behind all life has an infinite number of different expressions that we experience as different objects.

To continue with the hand analogy, your fingers are all made of the same substance. They are made up of similar tissues, cells, atoms, and at the deepest level, subatomic particles. Similarly, when your experience of reality becomes more subtle, you discover that everything is just different expressions of one field of nondual Being.

But what about your experience right now? Is it possible to realize this subtle oneness or nonduality in ordinary experience? It is, if you set aside the expectation of a dramatic awakening to the experience of oneness and explore the nondual nature of reality a little bit at a time. Just as even a single drop of water is wet, you can experience oneness in even simple everyday experiences, since oneness is a fundamental quality of everything that exists.

Dennis Waite suggests the following: As an experiment, just notice your fingers and the palm of your hand. Can you say where one starts and the other ends, or are they one thing? To take this further, where does your hand stop and your forearm begin? Can you experience the oneness of your hand and your forearm? If these are not separate, then what about other parts of your body? Are your feet and your ears really one even though they are so different? Now notice if there really is a separation between your thoughts and your head. Where does your head stop and something else called thought begin? What about feelings or desires? Are they really separate from you or your body?

Now, notice the simple sensations you are having: the sounds you are hearing, the sensations of touch, and the objects and events you are seeing. If you are seeing something, where does the seeing stop and something else called the eye begin? If you are hearing sounds, where does the sound start and the ear stop? Perhaps the hearing, the sound, and your ear are all one thing. Yes, the ear is different from the sound, but in the act of hearing, they become one thing.

Then, where does the source of the sound stop and the sound itself start? For example, if a bird is singing outside your window, where does the bird stop and the sound of its song begin? Or are they one thing? If the bird and its song are one thing, and your hearing and the song are one thing, then is it possible that you and the bird are also one thing?

The Advaita truth of nondual consciousness, or oneness of Being, has often been thought of as something hidden or difficult to experience, when it is quite ordinary and available in every moment. Nondual consciousness is the natural state. Of course, a dramatic experience of oneness is a rare event. But why wait for something so rare when this sweet and satisfying oneness is right here, right now?

Advaita's emphasis on the illusory nature of embodied existence has the potential to give license to human weakness and self-indulgence if the individual is not already firmly grounded in a fundamentally wholesome relationship to life. The unwholesome tendencies characterized by narcissistic, neurotic and deeply cynical convictions so common today create a dangerously weak foundation for a nondual perspective that transcends all pairs of opposites, including right and wrong. While Advaita's great strength is its singular, unwavering emphasis on the Absolute dimension of existence, its weakness is revealed in the limited scope of its singularity. And while any truly absolute view must, by definition, transcend all distinctions, the inherent potential of Advaita or non dualism to inspire a worldview that is perilously empty of any value whatsoever is enormous. Indeed, the potential for escape, rather than genuine transcendence, is great in such an absolute teaching. For to be embraced, absorbed and utterly consumed by the Absolute is one thing—but to escape from the inherent complexity of life in order to avoid the overwhelming demand that true surrender requires is another thing altogether.

Advaita is unique and it provides a daring declaration that differs from all others. It says you are trying to solve a problem where is no problem to start with - and that becomes a problem. The fundamental conclusion that you reached about yourself is fundamentally wrong. You are not mortal, you are not unhappy and you are not ignorant. You take yourself to be what you are not and try to solve a problem which is not there, and therefore there cannot be any solution to that problem other than the recognition that the original conclusions about yourself are wrong. The problem is unreal and therefore any number of pursuits will not solve a non-existent problem; hence all human pursuits fail miserably. Vedanta says: You are immortal (sat), you are happy (Ananda or limitless) and you are knowledge itself (chit) – your nature is sat-chit-Ananda.

How can that be? I feel I am a limited mortal who is unhappy; I am born on a particular day and will die one day. How can I be immortal? I do not know many things – I do not know many subjects starting from physics to chemistry to astrology to many other ologies. How I can be knowledgeable entity. Apart from the occasional happiness that I get when my desires are fulfilled, I am miserable most of the time. How can I be happy? Vedanta says that the fundamental problem is that you do not know your true nature and, because of that ignorance of your true nature, you take yourself to be other than your true nature. This is what is called a superimposed error. You do not know what you are or who you are; you take yourself to be what you are not and suffer the consequences of that identification.

Imagine that you are relaxing after a scrumptious dinner sitting on a comfortable chair in an air conditioned room and intently watching a movie on TV. You are so involved in the movie that you start sweating and crying since the hero and heroine in the movie are miserably suffering, running away to save their lives in the hot sun without food and shelter. There is no reason for you to cry since you just finished your dinner and the chair in the air conditioned room is very comfortable – but yet here you are crying. This is the error. You have nothing to do with the story on the TV but you superimpose the problems of the hero and heroine on yourself by identifying with them and suffer the consequences of this identification. First it is a just a story, second the problems belong to the hero and heroine and third you have nothing to do with their problems. But the identification is so intense that you are unable to separate the problems of the seen from that of seer, yourself. You are the seer, the subject and the movie; the hero and heroine are the seen, the objects. The seer is different from the seen. Yet, because of intense identification with the characters that are seen, you superimpose their problems as your problems. you are not even aware that you are superimposing that which does not belong to you.

In the same way, Advaita says that you are the subject - the seer - and the rest of the world, that includes whatever is seen, are objects. Objects are limited – time-wise and space-wise and of course object-wise. I am not an object but a subject. Whatever I see, whatever I have, whatever I transact with are all objects. That includes this body that I claim as my body, my mind and my intellect. Whatever is mine is not me, the subject. I have a car, but I am not the car. I have a body but I am not the body. The subject I is different from the object ‘this’. Yet I transact in the world fully and consciously as though I am the body. The body is born and the body dies. The modification of the body I take as my modifications, due to intense identification of myself with the body. The body continuously changes - the body that I had when I was a child is different from that when I was youth and that when I am old. But I am the same entity who claims that this is my body when I had child body, or that this is my body when the body slowly changed into a youth and that this is my body when it becomes old. The body changes but I am the changeless entity in the changing body. I am the owner who is different from the owned and I am a conscious entity (chit swarupa) different from the body, which is matter and is an unconscious entity.

How can I be ‘this’, the object of my perception? Yet I take the qualities or attributes of the body as my attributes. The body is limited, therefore I feel I am limited. And any limitation is a source of unhappiness. I do not like to be limited and I try to solve this superimposed problem by acquiring this or that to make myself limitless, without realizing that any amount of limited additions cannot change a limited I into an unlimited I. That is I cannot become infinite by adding finite things. Therefore any amount of addition will not result in the eternal infinite happiness that I am seeking. Vedanta says that you are limitless or infinite (Brahman) and that is your essential nature. Seeking your essential nature is natural and therefore seeking happiness, assuming you are unhappy, becomes a natural struggle. But any amount of seeking will not solve the problem; in fact it will aggravate the problem, since in the very seeking you are solidifying the problem. Therefore, the solution to the problem is to recognize your true identity. You are that sat chit ananda that you are seeking in terms of immortality, knowability and happiness – the three fundamental universal pursuits of all beings. This is the essence of Advaitic doctrine.

Ramana Maharshi seldom wrote; and what little he did write in prose or verse was written to meet the specific demands of his devotees. He himself declared once : Somehow, it never occurs to me to write a book or compose poems. All the poems I have made were on the request of someone or other in connection with some particular event.

The philosophy of Sri Ramana, which is the same as that of Advaita-Vedanta, has for its aim Self-realization. The central path taught in this philosophy is the inquiry into the nature of Self, the content of the notion 'I'.

Ordinarily the sphere of the 'I' varies and covers a multiplicity of factors. But these factors are not really the 'I'. For instance, we speak of the physical body as 'I'; we say, 'I am fat', 'I am lean,' etc.

It will not take long to discover that this is a wrong usage. The body itself cannot say, 'I' for it is inert. Even the most ignorant man understands the implication of the expression 'my body'. It is not easy, however, to resolve the mistaken identity of the 'I' with egoity (ahankara). That is because the inquiring mind is the ego, and in order to remove the wrong identification it has to pass a sentence of death, as it were, on itself. This is by no means a simple thing. The offering of the ego in the fire of wisdom is the greatest form of sacrifice.

The discrimination of the Self from the ego, we said, is not easy. But it is not impossible. All of us can have this discrimination if we ponder over the implication of our sleep-experience.

In sleep 'we are', though the ego has made its exit. The ego does not function there. Still there is the 'I' that witnesses the absence of the ego as well as of the objects. If the 'I' were not there, one would not recall on waking from one's sleep-experience, and say; I slept happily. I did not know anything. We have, then, two 'I's' - the 'pseudo-I' which is the ego and the true 'I' which is the Self.

The identification of the 'I' with the ego is so strong that we seldom see the ego without its mask. Moreover, all our relative experience turns on the pivot of the ego. With the rise of the ego on waking from sleep, the entire world rises with it. The ego, therefore, looks so important and unassailable.

But this is really a fortress made of cards. Once the process of inquiry starts, it will be found to crumble and dissolve. For undertaking this inquiry, one must possess a sharp mind - much sharper than the one required for unravelling the mysteries of matter.

It is with the one-pointed intellect that the truth is to be seen (drsyate tu agraya buddhya). It is true that even the intellect will have to get resolved before the final wisdom dawns. But up to that point it has to inquire - and inquire relentlessly. Wisdom, surely, is not for the indolent!

The inquiry 'Who am I?' is not to be regarded as a mental effort to understand the mind's nature. Its main purpose is 'to focus the entire mind at its source'. The source of the 'pseudo-I' is the Self. What one does in Self-inquiry is to run against the mental current instead of running along with it, and finally transcend the sphere of mental modifications. When the 'pseudo-I' is tracked down to its source, it vanishes. Then the Self shines in all its splendor - which shining is called realization and release.

The cessation or non-cessation of the body has nothing to do with release. The body may continue to exist and the world may continue to appear, as in the case of the Maharshi. That makes no difference at all to the Self that has been realized.

In truth, there is neither the body nor the world for him; there is only the Self, the eternal Existence (sat), the Intelligence (cit), the unsurpassable bliss (ananda).

Such an experience is not entirely foreign to us. We have it in sleep, where we are conscious neither of the external world of things nor of the inner world of dreams. But that experience lies under the cover of ignorance.

So it is that we come back to the phantasies of dream and of the world of waking. Non-return to duality is possible only when nescience has been removed. To make this possible is the aim of Advaita.

Ramana’s Life and Times

About thirty miles south of Madurai there is a village Tirucculi by name with an ancient Siva temple about which two of the great Tamil saints, Sundaramurti and Manikkavacakar, have sung. In this sacred village there lived in the latter part of the nineteenth century an uncertified pleader, Sundaram Aiyar with his wife Alagammal. Piety, devotion and charity characterised this ideal couple.

Sundaram Aiyar was generous even beyond his measure. Alagammal was an ideal Hindu wife. To them was born Venkataraman - who later came to be known to the world as Ramana Maharshi - on the 30th of December, 1879.

It was an auspicious day for the Hindus, the Ardra-darsanam day. On this day every year the image of the Dancing Siva, Nataraja, is taken out of the temples in procession in order to celebrate the divine grace of the Lord that made Him appear before such saints as Gautama, Patanjali, Vyaghrapada, and Manikkavacaka. In the year 1879 on the Ardra day the Nataraja Image of the temple at Tirucculi was taken out with all the attendant ceremonies, and just as it was about to re-enter, Venkataraman was born.

There was nothing markedly distinctive about Venkataraman's early years. He grew up just as an average boy. He was sent to an elementary school in Tirucculi, and then for a year's education to a school in Dindigul. When he was twelve his father died. This necessitated his going to Madurai along with the family and living with his paternal uncle Subbaiyar. There he was sent to Scott's Middle School and then to the American Mission High School.

He was an indifferent student, not at all serious about his studies. But he was a healthy and strong lad. His school mates and other companions were afraid of his strength. If some of them had any grievance against him at any time, they would dare play pranks with him, only when he was asleep. In this he was rather unusual: he would not know of anything that happened to him during sleep. He would be carried away or even beaten without his waking up in the process.

It was apparently by accident that Venkataraman heard about Arunachala when he was sixteen years of age. One day an elderly relative of his called on the family in Madurai. The boy asked him where he had come from. The relative replied, From Arunachala. The very name 'Arunachala' acted as a magic spell on Venkataraman, and with an evident excitement he put his next question to the elderly gentleman, What! From Arunachala! Where is it? And he got the reply that Tiruvannamalai was Arunachala.

Referring to this incident the Sage says later on in one of his hymns to Arunachala : 'Oh, great wonder! As an insentient hill it stands. Its action is difficult for anyone to understand. From my childhood it appeared to my intelligence that Arunachala was something very great. But even when I came to know through another that it was the same as Tiruvannamalai I did not understand its meaning. When, stilling my mind, it drew me up to it, and I came close, I found that it was the Immovable.'

Quickly following the incident which attracted Venkataraman's attention to Arunachala, there was another happening which also contributed to the turning of the boy's mind to the deeper values of spirituality. He chanced to lay his hands, on a copy of Sekkilar's Periyapuranam which relates the lives of the Saiva saints. He read the book and was enthralled by it. This was the first piece of religious literature that he read.

The example of the saints fascinated him; and in the inner recesses of his heart he found something responding favourably. Without any apparent earlier preparation, a longing arose in him to emulate the spirit of renunciation and devotion that constituted the essence of saintly life.

The spiritual experience that Venkataraman was now wishing devoutly to have came to him soon, and quite unexpectedly. It was about the middle of the year 1896; Venkataraman was seventeen then. One day he was sitting up alone on the first floor of his uncle's house. He was in his usual health. There was nothing wrong with it. But a sudden and unmistakable fear of death took hold of him. He felt he was going to die.

Why this feeling should have come to him he did not know. The feeling of impending death, however, did not unnerve him. He calmly thought about what he should do. He said to himself, Now, death has come. What does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.

Immediately thereafter he lay down stretching his limbs out and holding them stiff as though rigor mortis had set in. He held his breath and kept his lips tightly closed, so that to all outward appearance his body resembled a corpse. Now, what would happen?

This was what he thought: Well, this body is now dead. It will be carried 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? This body 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 the 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.

As Bhagavan Sri Ramana narrated this experience later on for the benefit of his devotees it looked as though this was a process of reasoning. But he took care to explain that this was not so. The realization came to him in a flash. He perceived the truth directly. 'I' was something very real, the only real thing. Fear of death had vanished once and for all. From then on, 'I' continued like the fundamental sruti note that underlies and blends with all the other notes.

Thus young Venkataraman found himself on the peak of spirituality without any arduous or prolonged sadhana. The ego was lost in the flood of Self-awareness. All on a sudden the boy that used to be called Venkataraman had flowered into a sage and saint.

There was noticed a complete change in the young sage's life. The things that he had valued earlier now lost their value. The spiritual values which he had ignored till then became the only objects of attention. School-studies, friends, relations - none of these had now any significance for him.

He grew utterly indifferent to his surroundings. Humility, meekness, non-resistance and other virtues became his