The young age is a very important stage in one’s life. This is the time, like a flower that blooms in the morning, the inherent qualities of the youth unfold, when the perfection within manifests and the urge for spiritual knowledge develops. All that he needs is a stimulus, like the brilliant rays of the sun from which the flower blooms. The stimulus came to young Venkataraman, the son of Sundaram Iyer and Azhagammal, through an elderly relation. Having known the relative closely, Venkataraman asked him why he was not seen for some time and where he had been. “Arunachalam”, the relative replied. The moment the word fell on his ears, he experienced a flash of light within. He remained still, for a while, deeply absorbed in the word which brought an indelible imprint on his heart.
A question may arise how a mere name like “Arunachalam” could create such an impact on a school going youth like Venkataraman who never had contact with anything religious before. The light that radiates from the Self illumines always. It is like a magnet that attract the right object; the iron. It is like a piece of cotton brought near a lamp catching fire. The Self radiates its light always and the right person who has the inner urge to know, to explore and to examine recognizes it, experiences it and realizes it. On further enquiry, the young Venkataraman learned that Arunachalam is in Tiruvannamalai. A few months later, another event happened in his life that brought him nearer to Arunachala. He found a copy of Sekkeezhar’s ‘Periapuranam’ which his uncle had borrowed from library. This was the first religious book he was laying his hand on. The book rejuvenated him beyond words. The book which described the utmost devotion of 63 Tamil saints towards Lord Siva created an enormous impression on him. As he put the book aside, the dull routine started again and he continued doing school lessons and some domestic duties mechanically. But he was not destined to flow in the stream of life like a leaf that flows by the force of current in the river. Soon, an occasion came when he enquired what life is all about and what death is all about; the enquiry that brought a transformation in him. He said about this experience: “It was about six weeks before I left Madura for good that the 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 and I did not try to account for it or to find out whether there was any reason for the fear. I just felt ‘I am 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 that I had to solve the problem myself, there and then. The shock of the fear of death made me introspective. I said to myself mentally; “Now, death has come. What does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies”. I at once dramatized the scene of death. I extended my limbs and held them rigid as though the stiffening of the body after death had set in. I imitated a corpse to lend an air of reality to my enquiry. I held my breath and kept my mouth closed, pressing the lips tightly together, so that no sound might escape, so that neither the word ‘I’ nor any other 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 burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of the 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 of the sound of “I” within myself, as apart from the body. So ‘I’ am a spirit, a thing transcending the body. The material body dies but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless spirit, the indestructible conscious entity. All this was not dull thought. It flashed through me vividly as living truth which I perceived directly, almost without throught-process. From that moment onwards, the fear of death had vanished once and for all. Absorption in the Self continued unbroken from that time on”.
Now, his relations his friends, his studies and the external world all appeared irrelevant to him. The feelings and emotions, the likes and dislikes, the taste for food, the urge for human contact all gave way for a spirit that was pulsating inside him. Soon, he heard the call of Arunachala. He discarded everything he held dear, left the town, boarded the train and reached Arunachala. It was on lst September 1896. He went straight inside. It looked as though Arunachala was waiting for his son to come. He then addressed Arunachala: “Oh! God, obedient to Thy call, here I have come, deserting all”. Later, he asked himself “who has seen Arunachala?” When he sought to find answer to this question, he could not say “I saw” because there was no ‘I’ to see. There was no seer. The distinction between the seer and seen having gone, he emerged with the realization that he was the immortal spirit. The world has known him as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.
He threw away the sacred thread; the last vestige of his worldly identification. He threw away his clothes which marked his severance with bodily identification. At the cave nearby, he remained in Samadhi state, detached from the world, beyond body and mind. The devotees have taken care of him and attended to his basic needs like food and shelter. By the initiatives taken by devotees, Maharshi moved to Virupaksha cave, up the hill. Here, most of the time he remained in Samadhi. “Sometime when I opened my eyes, I found it a day. At some other time, it was night. I never knew when the sun rose or set”, he said. He was unaware of the existence of body or its needs and remained unresponsive to any external moves. He studied ‘Kaivalya Navaneetham’, Adi Sankara’s ‘Viveka Chudamani’, and some other Tamil works. “As I studied the sacred books, I found that they were analyzing what I had already felt intuitively,” he said. Apart from glancing through Periapuranam and and Viveka Chudamani, he had not studied scriptures but by a flash or like lightening, by being himself, he had attained Jnana. Maharshi’s teachings are only an expression of his own experience and realization. Others find that it tallies with scriptures.
Maharshi then moved to Skandasramam, located at slightly higher the hill. On May 19, 1922, the mother, Azhagammal, who presented to the world a great spiritual leader, attained Maha Samadhi. Her mortal remains were laid to rest and a shrine came up there. Later, Maharshi came to stay near this shrine. A temple of Matrubhuteswara, Lord Siva in the form of Mother, was built over the Samadhi of mother and adjoining the temple, a huge hall came up. As Bhagavan chose to remain here and more devotees started coming and it became Ramanasramam, the towering Institution which symbolizes Atma Jnana (Self-realization) which serves as a sanctuary for all spiritual aspwirants.
Maharshi was a living testimony of Jivan Mukta whom Yoga Vasishta defined thus: “Pleasures do not delight him, pains do not distress. He is beyond likes and dislikes. Though engaged in the worldly actions, he has no attachment towards any object. He is un-agitated, always in supreme bliss. There is nothing he has to achieve. In spite of his being occupied with actions appropriate to the time, place and circumstances, he is untouched by pleasure or pain arising from them. He is full of mercy or magnanimity even when surrounded by enemies. He is always in the state of Samadhi. He works without the notion of doer-ship. He finds equal pleasure in old age, death, misery, poverty or in ruling over an empire. So far as the external behavior (vyavahara) is concerned, no difference is found between the liberated and the ignorant ones. The difference however consists in the presence of desire in the case of the latter and its total absence in the former. The liberated one is not only happy himself but spreads happiness all around”. The Self is always liberated and Sri Ramana Maharshi who realized his Self became Jivan Mukta. He was Achala, unmoving, still and quiet. Whether it is an occasion of joy or grief, he remained calm and composed, never showing any signs of emotion. Though he looked very normal and natural, he was detached from the world. Though he appeared to be doing some work, he always remained in the transcendental state of self-abidance.
Seldom there appeared a saint who realized by direct experience, who ever remained at peace. “It is not often that a spiritual genius of the magnitude of Sri Ramana visits the earth. But when such an event occurs, the entire humanity gets benefited and a new era of hope opens before it”, said Sri T.M.P. Mahadevan, the author of ‘Ramana Maharshi and His Philosophy of Existence’. Swami Sidheswarananda, Head of Ramakrishna Mission said: “Maharshi has postulated a philosophy which is the essence of Vedanta. He discovered Truth on his own experience. The existence of such individuals, who are living incarnations of truth, renders the Truth demonstrable”
Sri Ganapati Muni, an erudite scholar, who has mastered epics like like Ramayana and Mahabharata and recipient of the title, “Kavyakanthar” came to Tiruvannamalai, saw Maharshi and said: “All that has to be read I have read. I have performed Japa and yet I have not known what tapas means. Pray enlighten me about the nature of tapas.” Maharshi said: “Closely watch where the notion of “I” arises and reach its source. You will find the mind gets absorbed there. This is Tapas. If a Mantra is repeated and attention directed to the source from where the mantra sound is produced, the mind will be absorbed in that. That is Tapas.” Paul Brunton, the British national, a philosopher, came to Tiruvannamalai in his spiritual mission to know what constitutes the eternal truth. With few questions written on a piece of paper, he sat cross legged before Bhagavan and looked for an opportunity to communicate. As Maharshi looked at his eyes, he became aware of a mysterious change taking place in his heart and mind. The time stood still. He said that one by one, the questions he prepared dropped away and a steady river of quietness flowed near him. “I pluck golden fruit from meetings with wisemen” wrote Emerson in his diary and I could pluck whole basketfuls during my talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi” wrote Paul Brunton in his book, “A Search in Secret India). Among the many who were moved by this book, Major A.W. Chadwick was one. He came to Tiruvannamalai and experienced the peace and tranquility that radiated from Bhagavan. “I found Arunachala my home and Maharshi as my spiritual master”, said Chadwick who came to be known as Sadhu Arunachala. A journalist went to him and said: “Europe symbolized prosperity and affluence. Leaving behind a life there, you have come all the way to this southern part of Asia and chosen to lead a simple and quiet life in this cottage. A happy life, as is generally perceived, is availing and enjoying all that the glittering world offers, but you have renounced all that and come here. What is it that attracted you here or what is it that keeps you going here?”
Even now, the question, which the journalist asked then, continues to be raised because like a river that seeks its destiny in the ocean, devotees flow towards Sri Ramanasramam, the symbol of Bhagavan Ramana, continues unabated. “What is it that attracts those who are far and near to come to Maharshi? What is it they get here which they do not get anywhere else? What is the power which drew even enlightened sages, heads of Institutions and Maths, Doctors, Scientists and Engineers to come to Maharshi, the power which gravitate towards Ramanasramam? What is the power in the name of Sri Ramana Maharshi which brings the devotees to his Ashram here? Maharshi was not a sage possessing miraculous power. There was nothing to be gained and yet people from all walks of life, saints and sages went up to him just to experience the peace and bliss that radiated from him. Swami Sidheswarananda, Head of Ramakrishna Mission said truthfully: “Maharshi experienced the “Self” in its supreme, self-effulgent form. He experienced the Brahman, the eternal truth. He was the embodiment of truth. He ever abided in Self.” Mundaka Upanishad says that Atman (Self) reveals itself to those who seek. Just as Maharshi having an innate urge for knowledge heard the call of Arunachala and came to Tiruvannamalai, the devotees whose heart was pulsating with an urge for Atma Vidya were attracted to the source, the source of Jnana, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. “Atman is like a powerful magnet. Hiding itself in the recess of the heart, it slowly draws the individual towards it. The individual feels as if he is striving to seek the Atman while in fact it is the Atman within that draws the individual towards it. As the individual reaches near it, the magnet (Atman) restricts his worldly activities, makes him still and conscious. As the proximity increases, the magnet (Atman) completely submerges the individual. Thus, the individuality of the Jiva ceases to exist. He becomes conscious of it and overwhelmed by such experience, he attains the stage of Samadhi. Actually, the individual Jiva is like the needle caught by the power of magnet. Our effort at self-knowledge is like a divine magnetic action. The individual is striving to reach only up to the sphere where the magnetic force extends. Once he reaches there, the magnetic force draws him towards it and integrates him.”
“Who Am I?” According to Bhagavan, realization consists in finding answer to this question. It was Sivaprakasam Pillai, who came to Bhagavan and posed the question. Bhagavan replied: “You are the Self. The real ‘I’ or Self is not the body, neither the senses, nor the organs of action, nor the prana, nor the mind, nor even the deep sleep state where there is no cognizance of these.” Bhagavan said: “After you reject each of these by saying “I am not this”, the state where the consciousness, the pure ‘I’ alone remains; you are that”. “The state, Sat Chit Ananda (Being consciousness and bliss) where there is no trace of ‘I-thought’ where there is silence and peace, where there is no duality; that is your real nature (Atma Swarupa).” In fact, whatever images that we see with our external eyes are unreal and delusions. Unless, we get rid of the illusion of serpant, we cannot see the reality of the rope. It is only through Atma Vichara (Self enquiry) by looking into the source of the ‘I’ and merging into that source, one is able to see the reality of Self. There may be other methods like devotion or surrender but all methods ultimately lead towards Self-Realization.
The advice of enquiry; “who am I” is significant because this enquiry would lead to dispassion, desirelessness and detachment, paving the way for Atma Jnana (Realization). “One need not concern too much with abstract concepts like Maya, Karmas or Vasanas. He need not engage in debates over diads (knowledge and ignorance) or triads (dwaita, adwaita or visishtadwaita). All that he has to do is to know his own Self. Once the realization, which is already there, is experienced, these concepts which are born in mind disappear automatically. The Self alone is obvious to the seeker. The existence alone is real. It is enough to understand the “Self”. It is enough to abide by the Self”, said Bhagavan.
Bhagavan used very few words but those words were enough to convey the eternal truth. Mostly, he maintained in divine silence. In her commentary on Anuvada Nunmalai, Smt. Kanakammal says: “That Acharya Ramana is but an avatar of Lord Dakshinamurthi can be proved by recalling many incidents from his life. Most of the time, Bhagavan remained seated in the hall facing south. He always remained in silence. He gave Upadesa through silence. Bhagavan explained that Guru Dhakshinamurthi answered all the questions raised by Sanakadi Rishis. When Muruganar said that he found no mention in the texts about Guru Dhakshinamurthi answering the questions of the Rishies, Bhagavan replied: “Yes, that is what actually happened”. From the assertive way Bhagavan replied it became evident to Muruganr that Bhagavan was none other than Sri Dakshinamurthi. Bhagavan said: “Silence is the true upadesa. It is the perfect upadesa. It is suited only for the most advanced seeker. Others are unable to draw full inspiration from it. Therefore, they require words to explain the truth. But truth is beyond words. It does not admit of explanation”. Once, a devotee came to him and solicited his advice. Bhagavan kept quite. The devotee waited for some time. When he found that the advice he was looking for was not coming, he asked Bhagavan “why?” Bhagavan said I have been giving the advice by means of silence but you were not able to take it.
Sri Nataraja Iyer has summed up in few words why Maharshi manifested in human form. “When we address Him as Bhagavan, it is not a mere reverential term. The knower of the source and end of all, of birth and death, who sees the Self alone in others, who is ever established in the blissful state of Pure Being and one who is omniscient and omnipotent, He alone is Bhagavan. When we talked of Bhagavan, we referred to Him as ‘It’, neuter gender, for the Jnani is neither male nor female, but the Eternal That. True, He sat and ate with us and spent all His 24 hours with us, but we should not forget that He was God Himself who walked on earth clothed in human form. His whole life was lived in perfect harmony. All His utterances were supremely pure and perfect. He ever abided in the Self. Hence peace and bliss radiated from Him all the time. He used to jokingly call Himself as one without any work. When He did anything like reading proofs, walking, chopping vegetables, gardening, binding the book, cleaning etc. there was always the stamp of perfection and the utmost precision on it and yet he distanced from them. Bhagavan was a Jnani, a fully realized being, in Sahaja Nishta, dwelling naturally in Eternity while seeming to be one of us.