By Maria Wirth
The story of ramana maharshi and his teachings are as relevant today as in his times
It has been 60 years since Ramana Maharshi left his body. However, his teaching is as up to date as it can get. He has put India’s ancient wisdom into a nutshell, unencumbered by religious trappings. It is the ultimate science and the ultimate fulfilment to know, “Who am I?”
It was Friday, April 14, 1950. The doctors knew that it was his last day. The cancerous growth, which had appeared on the left arm of Ramana Maharshi about a year earlier, had taken away all his strength. His devotees were in deep sorrow. They felt helpless, hoped against hope, and feared what was unavoidable.
Towards evening, they filed past his room, where he lay on his cot for the last time, and may have wished for one more precious glance from him – a glance from those calm, luminous eyes that had always given them so much strength.
Some of those present started singing the hymn, Arunachala Siva. Maharshi’s eyes were shining. He had a smile on his lips and tears of joy trickled from the corners of his eyes. He took a deep breath. It was his last breath. The clock showed 8.47 pm.
All India Radio broadcast the news of the passing away of the great sage of Arunachala hill, in the evening news bulletin. Many people silently started on their journey to Thiruvannamalai, to pay their respects for the last time.
What made this man, who sat for 30 years on a couch, wearing only a loincloth, so special? What is the reason that even today, many well known spiritual teachers consider him their inspiration? Why do so many people from all over the world, keep coming to the place where he had lived – 60 years after his death?
The name Ramana Maharshi guarantees quality in a field overrun by impostors. His life is an open book. Whoever reads it is invariably touched by his simplicity and love.
Ramana Maharshi was above average. Yet he would not have agreed with that statement. Because he saw clearly and stressed all his life that everyone was just the same as he was – the one, eternal self or ‘I’. This continuous, ever-present ‘I’ is the only ‘thing’ that really exists. Everything else is only insubstantial, fleeting thoughts – the countless personal ‘I-s’ and the great, big world included.
Ramana or Venkataramana, as he was called originally, was 16 when he experienced this unexpectedly and with full impact. Until then he had been a normal boy, tall and strong, a good football player and swimmer. In studies, too he was not bad, thanks to his phenomenal memory.
Then suddenly, one afternoon, he felt a terrible fear that he was going to die ‘right now’. He was healthy, and the fear was inexplicable, yet extremely real for him. That afternoon he realised that there was an eternal ‘I’ in him that could not die. It drew his attention. It was incredibly attractive, and fascinating. It was dearly beloved. Even playing football had lost its charm.
He secretly left his home six weeks later, and went to the holy Arunachala hill. He reached there on September 1st, 1896, threw away his clothes except for the loincloth, had his head shaved, and went into deep meditation for weeks together in a dark dungeon beneath the temple in Thiruvannamalai.
Sheshadri Swami, a well-known saint in town, who noticed him, carried him out and looked after him. Ramana had festering wounds from the vermin in that cellar, and from stones, which boys had thrown at him, to find out whether he was real, or a statue, as one of them later confessed.
Ramana stayed about four years at the foot of Arunachala, and then moved higher up on the mountain to the Virupaksha cave. Wherever he went now, people followed him. They simply sat with him in silence; even children ran up the hill and sat with him quietly. His glance was luminous and full of peace. He seemed absorbed in the pure being, which is the basic reality of all appearances. However, a change was noticed now. He remained conscious of his environment. The trance states became less frequent. Yet he still did not talk.
The news went around town that there was an extraordinary young swami up on the hill, and more and more people came to see him – people who had been on the spiritual path for years, who had read books, met gurus, practised methods, and yet had not found that inner peace. Among them, some had followers themselves, like the brilliant scholar and poet Ganapathy Muni.
Ganapathy Muni was one year elder to Ramana and in his 20s, when he climbed up the hill in the midday sun. He knew the scriptures and had practised almost all possible methods but had reached a dead end. “What is the right striving for self-realisation?” he asked Ramana who sat alone on his veranda. The answer: “Observe from where the I-feeling emerges. Go to its source. If you go to this source, you will dissolve in it. That is the right striving for self-realisation.” This was one of the first instructions of Ramana Maharshi.
Ramana stayed for 17 years in the Virupaksha cave and five more years in a cave further up on the hill, called Skandashram. By now, several people lived with him, among them his mother and younger brother.
In September 1896, his mother had not resigned herself to the fact that her son had disappeared. She did everything to find him and four years later, she stood before him. Yet her pleas to come home with her, did not meet with success. Ramana wrote for her on a chit:
….what is destined not to happen, will not happen, even if one does everything to make it happen and what is destined to happen, will happen, even if one does everything to prevent it. That is certain…
Several years later, after her eldest son had died, she came to Ramana and stayed with him until her death in 1922.
There are many interesting stories from that time on the mountain. Dogs, monkeys, squirrels and also snakes, tigers and leopards had free access to Ramana. He was fearless. He did not move when once a snake glided over his foot or when his followers rushed into the cave and closed its door hurriedly, because a tiger came up the hill. In the safety of the cave, the people became courageous. “They are afraid. Why don’t you go away,” Ramana said to the tiger that turned and left.
After the death of his mother in 1922, Ramana moved to the foot of Arunachala on the southern side, where slowly an ashram came up, because people wanted to stay near him. Some years earlier he had started to talk, and now he became more and more the great spiritual teacher as the world knows him. Paul Brunton, an Englishman, who had travelled to India in the 1930s, and had described his meeting with Ramana in his book, Search in Secret India, helped to make Ramana known also in the west. More and more foreigners found their way to the ashram, among them well-known personalities, like Somerset Maugham, Arthur Osborne, Baron von Veltheim, Major Chadwick, and Maurice Friedman.
A thread runs through whatever Ramana Maharshi says:
There is only one ‘I’ or self. Everybody is ‘That.’ Always. Ever. Even now. Everybody is basically perfect. Nothing is to be attained. Everybody is always only the one self. The whole point is to get rid of a wrong idea – the idea that ‘I’ am the body.
Thoughts are the cause for this feeling that one is the body. Thoughts dim the splendour of the self, foremost among them the ‘I-thought,’ which is the basis of all other thoughts. There is not a big ‘I’, and a small ‘I’ next to it. There is only one real ‘I’ or self, from which an ‘I-thought’ regarding the individual emerges. This ‘I-thought’ has no substance. It is not the real ‘I’, yet it pretends to be ‘I’. This insubstantial ‘I’ is the basis for everything that happens in our life and in our world. Everything revolves around this personal ‘I’, which is nothing but thought.
This individual, thought-based ‘I’ exists only in the waking state. In deep sleep, it is not there. Yet ‘I’ is no doubt continuously there – in waking, dreaming and sleeping. The personal, pseudo ‘I’ emerges from the real ‘I’ on waking up.
Ramana advised making use of the moment of waking up. The awareness of ‘I’ or ‘I am’ appears a little before thoughts regarding the world crowd the mind. This short transition is ideal to realise the truth because the ‘I’-thought without the trail of other thoughts is the source that Ramana had mentioned in his instruction to Ganapathy Muni. “Find out its source and remain there,” he had advised and added, “That is all what you can do. From then on, you are helpless. No kind of effort can get you further. From then on, that which is beyond thoughts, takes over.”
Some of Ramana Maharshi’s listeners were worried, whether they would be able to function normally after self-realisation. Ramana Maharshi cleared their doubts. An actor dresses, acts, and even feels the role, which he plays, but he knows that in real life, he is not that role but somebody else. The fact that the actor knows who he truly is does not obstruct him from playing his role well. In the same way, remaining in the self will not be an obstruction to fulfil one’s duties with care.
Shortly before he died he said, “People say that I am going. Where can I go? I am always here.” By ‘here,’ he did not refer to the place at the foot of Arunachala, and by ‘I’ not to the person known as Ramana Maharshi.
Maria Wirth, a German planned only a stopover in India in 1979. She is still here (presently in Dehradun) Reason: India’s spirituality, which she feels, has no equal.
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