In silence the Self

By Pradeep Krishnan

December 2012

Pradeep Krishnan meets Swami Madhurananda, author of Effortless Meditation, who asserts that behind the intense effort of spiritual practice lies effortlessness and it is there that the Self resides.

 During my recent annual pilgrimage to Sri Ramanasramam, Thiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, the favorite destination of sincere spiritual seekers, I had the good fortune to meet Swami Madhurananda. Also called Madhu, he is the author of the popular book, Effortless Meditation, that has gone through three reprints in a short time. A native of Honavar, in the West coast of Karnataka, Madhu was a staunch atheist until the middle of his university studies. After graduating as an electronics engineer, instead of pursuing a professional career, he joined the Ramakrishna Mission in Bangalore. After three years of arduous spiritual practices in the monastery, he still had reached nowhere.

Then, one day suddenly he stumbled upon the effortless meditative state of silence, hitherto inexperienced, infusing his whole being with profound happiness without any reason whatsoever. Forthwith, he gave up all sadhanas, which were centerd on effort, and became fascinated by the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, who continuously point to the effortless state. Madhu left the Mission after 11 years, and eventually settled in Thiruvannamalai, the abode of Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Ending monastic life

In 2006, he gave up his robes, after 16 years of monastic life, and wrote the book, Effortless Meditation. By the mysterious ways of destiny, an Indian girl working in the US happened to read the book, was impressed by it, and started interacting with Madhu. Ultimately, the friendship brought her to India, and the couple got married. According to Madhu, his insight into peace changed his whole perspective of life, including that of marriage.

He says effortless meditation unlocks the secret of one’s own being, full of peace and blessedness. He adds, “The discovery of inner peace is the greatest wonder that can ever happen to you. There is nothing that can fascinate you, if it does not fascinate you.”

I met Madhu at his residence, Shantidham, situated by the side of the holy Arunachala.

Atheism to spirituality

What caused him to shift from atheism? Maadhu responded that while in college, he began to realize that life was transient; this conviction made him question his course of life, including his great ambition to become a scientist. “The scrutiny convinced me that life as we generally know and approach is more sorrow than pleasure. I also realized that even though we have discovered hitherto unknown frontiers in science and technology, true happiness eludes us. I could not meet anyone, who, despite his sharp intellect and great achievements, could say with utter conviction and honesty, that he had found the way to live happily in this world of chaos and confusion,” he said. This realization led him to look for happiness within, through meditation. He was under the impression that to pursue a meditative life, a strong will power and effort were the most essential tools, to control and subdue the mind. To train the mind, he practiced severe austerities and sadhanas. After two years, he joined the Ramakrishna Mission. Nevertheless, he was not happy and intuitively felt that effort could not be the way to peace but rather effortlessness was. One day while sitting for meditation, it suddenly occurred to him that there was no controller of thoughts and the very idea that he wanted to control thoughts was one more thought. Other than just the words, “I want to control thoughts,” there was no such entity as a controller at that moment. He described his experience: “I was in a state of utter captivation with my entire being. Thoughts appeared and disappeared at a lightning speed and at some point, I touched the intense energy field of the deepest silence where words disappeared. I knew, without a shadow of doubt, that this was what true happiness was. When I came out of it, thoughts were there as a lively word-flow but singing the song of pure silence. Peace was present with eyes closed, and with eyes open, in whatever I did.” He says, “Once a person deeply experiences the beauty of ‘effortless meditation’, he will never be attracted to any other sadhana or ask anyone how to meditate, how to handle emotions, or how to get rid of boredom. Insight starts emerging that peace or self is your nature, and this world with its objects is but an expression of what you are and is not different from yourself.”

But could effort ever lead to effortlessness? Madhu explained, “Many times those who do not make the effort tend to be very superficial and shallow in the name of effortlessness. Sometimes, they even become cynical which is definitely inimical to their spiritual growth if not to that of others. Hence, it is important to do any sadhana one likes, to relax the body and mind, along with trial and error attempts to stumble upon effortless meditation.” Some excerpts from the interview:

You say surrender means surrendering yourself to your own true being. Can we not say surrender means surrendering to ‘this’ moment?

They are absolutely one and the same. This moment or the Now cannot be separated from what you are. This moment or the Now cannot be caught or objectified but you experience it all the time. The moment you perceive something or are aware of something through the senses without volition, that is the experience of the Now or of your true being. However, when the mind comes in with its judgment of whatever is perceived, it dilutes the purity of the Now and hides its enormous beauty.

Could you please explain the three terrible lies: words, objects, and work described in your book?

As a college student, I was amused by how words, which are only sound vibrations, can instantly create a sense of pleasure or pain and why physical objects attract or repels us.

  The discovery of inner peace is the greatest wonder that can ever happen to you.  

Later on, I realized that neither the words themselves nor objects by itself cause pleasure or pain. This applies to work too. Ultimately, it is the desire born out of the reacting mind that is the cause of pleasure or pain rather than words or objects themselves.

Effortless meditation brings one moments of deep peace in spite of words and objects. It is in those moments that one will discover that it is a fallacy to believe that words, objects, and work disturb us. You will also know in those moments that your true nature is peace and nothing truly disturbs it except your own reacting mind. Meditation is the means to purify the unconscious mind, which is the only hindrance to ever existing peace.

You say mind, ego and desires are the same. However, many teachers of Vedanta tell the students to strengthen the mind to face the vicissitudes of life. Is this not contradictory?

No, there is no contradiction. What the teachers of Vedanta advise is to dwell more and more in the Self and thereby stay less and less in the realm with its conflicts, fear, anxiety, and desires. As you dwell in the Self more and more, the mind becomes calmer and subsequently concentration in work and the capacity to face the vicissitudes of life will naturally increase. The strength of the mind referred above is nothing but the weakening of its capacity to obscure our true nature.

What is suffering?

To live without hope is suffering. To live in hope is suffering! To hold on to hope is like holding on to thousand dollars at the cost of a million dollars, which one already has. Hope is a mixture of both pleasure and pain. If hope were pure pleasure, nobody would try to actualize it. If hope were only pain, nobody would want to live in it.

Buddha said, ‘Events happen, deeds are done, there is no individual doer.’ In existence, does anyone have free will? I do not know whether we have free will or not. The fact is if one can step beyond the controller of thought/ego, then one will stumble upon happiness which does not depend on any idea or theory including the one regarding whether events are destined or not. Then who cares whether there is free will or not, or whether things are destined or not? We also should be aware that the idea ‘I am not the doer’ itself can become a possession of the doer and bind us to individuality.

What do you mean when you say that the greatest confusion in our search for happiness is – desires and desire-less-ness?

Let us look at it from different angles. Obviously, our running after name and fame, competing for power, wishing to hoard money are all desires. Some of us seeing the futility of this approach, give up these desires and go to monasteries or give up jobs. I certainly believe having fewer desires help save time and allows us to explore the profound things of life. However, just by giving up external things, which apparently looks to be a state of desire-less-ness, we do not become desire-less. Many times, we are carried away by these externalize and equate it with extinction of all hankerings and cravings. This is one of the confusions that we are liable to succumb to in the name of deirelessness.

What is true happiness?

What you truly are is true happiness. Happiness without cause, which nobody can give, nobody can take, which is already there is true happiness. It is neither pleasure nor pain but superior to both. Happiness which does not want to be proved either through intellect or faith is true happiness. That which exerts itself irrespective of situations and circumstances is true happiness. It is a sense of utter fulfillment and peace. The lively state where the above question does not arise at all is true happiness.

Will spirituality make one serious, gloomy and lifeless?

A seeker based in Trivandrum, Kerala
seeking answers to ‘existence’ and a
student of consciousness deeply
attracted to the teachings of Sri
Ramana Maharshi and Sri Nisargadatta
Maharaj. Spirituality, which is being in a meditative state, can never make us dull. If we experience a few moments of deep meditative state even for a short time, we will know how extraordinarily alive that state it is. As long as we are searching for the meaning of life through people, goals, or achievement, we do not know and cannot know what liveliness is. When you know that your very nature is that of intense liveliness and happiness, then you have stumbled upon life itself – the source of all inspiration. That liveliness is inexhaustible and cannot meet defeat. You will be in touch with it even when you are lazy because of physical limitations or tiredness. Once you have found it, irrespective of whether you live alone or in a public gaze, no matter what you do, you will be doing it with unwavering mind and zeal.

In your book, you have written, “All comparisons create sorrow. Every effort is a pain.” Can one live without comparing and without making efforts? Is not spiritual sadhana itself an effort?

I do agree that comparisons, thinking, and efforts, are undoubtedly important parts of our lives, as they concern our physical survival. When we employ comparison and effort to seek happiness in the future, the pain starts. Such comparisons are born out of the incessant chattering of the mind, which results in the false notion that we are individuals having separate individuality, which disrupts intrinsic peace. When one drops these, one manages to live happily, in harmony and peace. Spiritual sadhana is ‘effort’ only up to a certain stage. However, it culminates in being effortless. Then the onward spiritual journey itself becomes fascinating. It is in being effortless that you will discover the wonder of wonders. Things naturally start happening in the practical aspect of life for your immense good. You will discover the secret – do not care for happiness in the future. Take care of the Now, and the future will wait for you with happiness.

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