Sri Ramana Maharshi – the Sage of Arunachala

Sri Ramana Maharshi was a self-realised sage of South India. As a boy of sixteen in 1896, he challenged death by a penetrating enquiry into the source of his being. Later hailed as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi he revealed the direct path of practice of Self-enquiry and awakened mankind to the immense spiritual power of the holy Arunachala Hill, the spiritual heart of the world.

The Sage of Arunachala
1879 Tiruchuzli – Tiruvannamalai 1950

Born in the outskirts of Madura, South India, Venkatraman Aiyer studied at the town’s American high school. He later confided to his followers: “I have read nothing. My knowledge is limited to what I learned before the age of 14 … All my studying was done in former existences and I have had enough of it.” At the age of 17 he was sitting peacefully in his room when suddenly he was overwhelmed by the terrifying experience of his own death. He then ‘contemplated’ the divine source of his being, the immortal “I” as opposed to the temporary and changeable ‘Me’.

A Death Experienced

“It was in 1896, about 6 weeks before I left Madurai for good (to go to Tiruvannamalai – Arunachala for good) that this great change in my life took place. I was sitting alone in a room on the first floor of my uncle’s house. I seldom had any sickness and on that day there was nothing wrong with my health but a sudden violent fear of death overtook me. There was nothing in my state of health to account for it nor was there any urge in me to find out whether there was any account for the fear. I just felt I was going to die and began thinking what to do about it. It did not occur to me to consult a doctor or any elders or friends. I felt I had to solve the problem myself then and there.

The shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing the words: “Now death has come; what does it mean? What is that called dying? This body dies.” And at once I dramatised the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out still as though rigor mortis has set in, and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, and that neither the word “I” nor any word could be uttered. “Well then,” I said to myself, this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burn and reduced to ashes. But with the death of the body, am I dead? Is the body I? It is silent and inert, but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of I within me, apart from it. So I am the Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit. All this was not dull thought; it flashed through me vividly as living truths which I perceived directly almost without thought process. “I” was something real, the only real thing about my present state, and all the conscious activity connected with the body was centered on that “I”. From that moment onwards, the “I” or Self focussed attention on itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death vanished once and for all. The ego was lost in the flood of Self awareness. Absorption continued in the Self continued unbroken from that time. Other thought might come and go like the various notes of music, but the “I” continued like the fundamental sruti [that which is heard] note which underlies and blends with all other notes.”

Ramana Maharshi as a youth
Ramana Maharshi photograph, taken at a young age, perhaps 20, at Arunachala

Withdrawal to Arunachala

Ramana Maharshi did not realize that this spontaneous revelation conformed exactly to the teachings of Hindu mystical philosophy until many years later. Shortly after this experience in 1896, an inner voice compelled him to give up everything and to withdraw to a cave on the side of holy Arunachala, a sacred mountain near Tiruvannamalai to the west of Pondicherry. But soon pilgrims were attracted to this ascetic who was almost permanently transfigured by a state of ecstasy, whom they called Maharshi (Great Soul). Two ashrams had to be built to house the pilgrims who flocked to the mountain, not only from all over India, but also from the many Western countries to which his reputation for saintliness had spread.


Arunachala, with the town of Tiruvanamali visible at the foreground

Later on his followers noted down the discussions he had with them. The Maharshi is distinguished from other great contemporary Hindu leaders in that he belonged to no particular sect, nor did he have a spiritual adviser. However, he is representative of the pure advaita vedanta tradition. Living in solitude, he never sought to teach. To those who came looking for him and to question him, he invariably asked in return: ‘Who are you?’ thereby encouraging them to discover their true nature, the “I” identical to ‘Self and to atma, which is pure reality, and to the universal principal within every human being which constitutes that pure reality. For him, the role of the guru who is always present in the innermost depths of “Self” consisted essentially in ‘taking the disciple back to his original state and preventing any further distancing’.


Ramana Maharshi at Arunachala, with a group of devotees

Questions and Answers, the Divine Teachings

Many seekers believe there ought to be a renunciation of the world in order to achieve an effective sadhana. What really needs renouncing is the feeling of ‘doership’, the thought that ‘I-am-the-doer’. Caste, position, status, married man or renunciate, it doesn’t matter. Access to spiritual experience and reality is not dependent on anything external. All are prey to the illness of the mind. All take their mind with them wherever they go, be it the family home, the forest, the ashram or the mountain fastness. Being, Awareness, Bliss (sat-chit-ananda) requires detachment from ‘doership’, detachment from activity and the fruits of activity. These are all binding. Bondage is the result. Bondage is the work of the mind. Samadhi is beyond the mind.

Devotee: Is it possible to enjoy samadhi while busy with worldly work?

Bhagavan: It is the feeling ‘I work’ that is the hindrance. Ask yourself: ‘Who works?’ Remember who you are. Then the work will not bind you. It will on automatically. Make no effort either to work or to renounce; your effort is the bondage. What is destined to happen will happen. If you are destined to work, you will not be able to avoid it; you will be forced to engage in it. So leave it to the Higher Power. It is not really your choice whether you renounce or retain. When women carrying jars of water on their heads stop to talk, they are very careful, keeping their mind on the water jars. Similarly, when a sage engages in activity, his mind remains fixed in the Self and his activity does not distract him.

The goal of life may be pursued at any station in life, in any occupation, for status, family, occupation, all have nothing to do with the goal. You are THAT, now. Here and now, you are THAT. The senses, the organs of action, the intellect, all have nothing to do with THAT. One may pursue one’s duty and remain immersed in THAT.

Devotee: How can a householder who is constantly engaged in the active discharge of his domestic duties, which should naturally impel him to still greater activity, obtain the supreme peace of withdrawal and freedom from the urge to such activity even while thus busily engaged?

Bhagavan: It is only to the spectator that the enlightened householder seems to be occupied with his domestic duties; for even though apparently engaged in domestic duties, he is not really engaged in any activity at all. His outer activity does not prevent him from realising the perfect peace of withdrawal, and he is free from the restless urge to activity even in the midst of his activities.

There are many pressing anxieties in this modern electronic age. Economic security, employment, family, raising children, terrorism, lack of stability in world leadership, lack of responsibility among youth, the breakdown of the extended family in the west—all lead to anxiety about one’s place in the world, harmony, peace among nations and the future.

Devotee: Will Bhagavan give his opinion about 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.

Devotee: 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 it. He who has given life to the world knows how to look after it also. He bears the burden of the world, not you.

Devotee: Yet, if one looks round with unprejudiced eyes, it is hard to see where this benevolent care 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 worry about. People waste their energy 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 you are a part.

Parable from Ramana Maharshi

Ten foolish men forded a stream and on reaching the other shore wanted to make sure that all of them had in fact safely crossed the stream. One of the ten began to count, but while counting others left himself out. “I see only nine; we have lost one. Who can it be ?” he said. “Did you count correctly?” asked another, and did the counting himself. But he too counted only nine. One after the other, each each of the ten counted only nine, missing himself. “We are only nine, they all agreed, “but who is the missing one?” they asked themselves. Every effort they made to discover the ‘missing’ individual failed. “Whoever he is that is drowned,” said the most sentimental of ten fools, “we have lost him.”

So saying, he burst into tears, and the rest of the nine followed suit. Seeing them, weeping on the river bank , a sympathetic wayfarer inquired for the cause. They related what had happened and said that even after counting themselves several times they could find no more than nine. On hearing the story, but seeing all the ten before him, the wayfarer guessed what had happened. In order to make them know for themselves that they were really ten, that all of them had come safe from the crossing, he told them, ” Let each of you count for himself but one after the other serially, one, two three and so on, while I shall give you each a blow so that all of you may be sure of having been included in the count, and included only once. The tenth ‘missing’ man will then be found.” Hearing this, they rejoiced at the prospect of finding their “lost” comrade and accepted the method suggested by the wayfarer. While the wayfarer gave a blow to each of the ten in turn, he that got the blow counted himself aloud. ” Ten”, said the last man as he got the last blow in his turn. Bewildered, they looked at one another. We are ten, ” they said with one voice and thanked the wayfarer for having removed their grief.

That is the parable. From where was the tenth man brought in? Was he ever lost? By knowing that he had been there all the while, did they learn anything new? The cause of their grief was not the real loss of any one of the ten; it was their own ignorance, rather their mere supposition that one of them was lost( though they could not find who he was) because they counted only nine.

Such is the case with you. Truly there is no cause for you to be miserable and unhappy. You yourself impose limitations on your true nature of infinite Being and then weep that you are but a finite creature. Then you take up this or that sadhana to transcend the non-existent limitations. But if you sadhana itself assumes the existence of the limitations, how can it help you to transcend them?

Hence I say know that you are really the infinite, pure Being, the Self Absolute. You are always that Self and nothing but that Self. Therefore, you can never be really ignorant of the Self; your ignorance is merely a formal ignorance, like the ignorance of the ten fools about the “lost” tenth man. It is this ignorance that caused them grief.

Know then that true Knowledge does not create a new Being for you: it only removes your ‘ignorant ignorance’. Bliss is not added to your nature; it is merely revealed as your true natural state, eternal and imperishable. The only way to be rid of your grief is to know and be the Self. How can this be unattainable?

The Self is God. “I am” is God. If God is apart from the Self, He must be a selfless God, which is absurd. All that is required to realize the Self is to be still. What can be easier than that?

Ramana Maharshi, reclining

Question and Answer, the Gurukula system of education
How can I attain Self-Realization?

Realization is nothing to be gained a fresh; it is already there. All that is necessary is to get rid of the thought “I have not realized”.

Realization is not acquisition of anything new nor is it a new faculty. It is only removal of all camouflage. The wrong knowledge is the false identification of the self with the body and the limited mind.

“If the mind is happy, not only the body but the whole world will be happy.”

The State of Self-Realization is not attaining something new, or reaching some goal which is far away, but simply being that which you have always been. All that is needed is that you give up your realization of the “NOT TRUE” as true. All of us are regarding as real that which is not real. We have only to give up this practice on our part.

The ultimate truth is so simple. It is nothing more than being in the pristine state. This is all that need be said.

When you pray for God’s grace you are like some one standing neck-deep in water and yet crying for the water.

The reality which shines fully, without misery, and without a body, not only when the world is known but also when the world is not known is your real form.

There is only one state, that of consciousness or awareness or existence. The three states of waking dream and sleep cannot be real. They simply come and go. The real will always exist.

The ego self (separate self) does not exist at all. The ego self appears and disappears and is transitory whereas the real Self is permanent. Though you are actually the true Self you wrongly identify the real Self with the ego self.

There is no goal to be reached. There is nothing to be attained. You are the Self. You exist always. Nothing more can be predicated of the Self than that it exists.

Seeing God or the Self is only being the Self or yourself. seeing is being. you being the Self, want to know how to attain the Self. It is something like a man being at Ramana’s ashram asking how many ways there are to reach Ramana’s ashram and which is the best way for him. All that is required of you is to give up the thought that you are this body and to give up all thoughts of the external things or the not-self.

Reality is simply the loss of ego. Destroy the ego by seeking its identity Because the ego is no entity it will automatically vanish and reality will shine forth of itself. This is the direct method, whereas all other methods are done only be retaining the ego. in those paths there arise so many doubts and the eternal question: “Who am I?” remains to be tackled finally. But in this method the final question is the only one and it is raised from the beginning. No sadhanas (spiritual practice) are necessary for engaging in this quest.

There is no greater mystery than this – that being the reality we seek to gain reality. We think that there is something hiding our reality and that it must be destroyed before reality is gained. It is ridiculous. A day will dawn when you will yourself laugh at your past efforts. That which will be on the day you laugh is also here and now.

Ramana Maharshi authoried two small works in Tamil:
Who Am I, and 40 Verses on What Is.
To read Forty Verses, click here.
To read Who Am I, click here.



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