Ruzbeh N. Bharucha
The story of Ramana Maharshi, or as I like to call Him, Ramana The MahaRishi, is that of simplicity.
Not only was This Master, like all Masters, child like, but His philosophy too was straightforward.
He believed that it was the identification of oneself to the body and everything related to the body which was the bane of all issues. The more the individual identified with his or her body, more entrapped the individual got with the outside world and got mired in the quick sand of Karma and its laws of cause and effect.
The only thing according to Ramana wasto ask this simple question:
Who am I?
Am I the body or am I the consciousness in this body? The more one questioned oneself, the less hold Karma and the laws of Karma had on the individual, as then slowly one stopped identifying with the body, the desires, the emotions, the words, the actions that followed. The more one stops to identify with actions, thoughts, words, deeds, the grasp of Karma and its fanatically rigid laws, become to loosen Its hold over the individual.
The more one got absorbed in the silence within, the chaos outside would first stop having a vice like grip on the individual and then slowly the hold of Karma and all that which plummets one’s true flight would weaken and finally the individual would realise the Oneness of it all.
To achieve this state of Oneness and to burn away one’s Karmic balance sheet, the only thing required was to be silent and still from within. Nothing else was required but the repeated query: Who am I?
Am I the body? No. Then am I the desires? No. Am I the thoughts within? No. Am I this and am I that? No. Am I what the divorce decree says I am? Hell, no. Then Lord love a defrosted duck, who am I?
I am Pure Consciousness.
Just as Baba Sai of Shirdi had shown Upasani Maharaj in a vision, two Upasani Maharaj; one body dark and negative, the other body, pure and shimmering, and then Baba Sai destroyed the spirit body of Upasani which harboured darkness, but told Upasani Maharaj, that it was only after He destroyed even the so called purer body of Upasani, would Upasani really be free; as till there is a body, physical, astral, causal, pure, impure, it doesn’t matter, one is really not free. It is only when one has no identification with any of the bodies, but just Pure Consciousness, does one truly soar on the wings of The Archangels, Homeward bound.
Ramana too believed that it was when the individual, just dwelt within, not identifying himself or herself with either the body, the thoughts, the desires, the Karma, actions, words, but only with his or her True Form, which is Pure Consciousness, that the pull and tug of heart, mind, actions, words, fame, repute, slander, ill repute, everything would just drop away.
He did not advocate leaving everything and going away to some mosquito infested cave in some remote area where mobile network was a distant reality.
All He insisted on was to stop identifying oneself with the body, as we are not the body but the energy within the body. He was very clear that what is destined will take place, no matter what, and what is not destined, if desired, will remain confided in the womb for future materializations.
When an individual speaks, acts, thinks, without identifying himself or herself with the word, action, thought, that is the time the clock of Karma begins to stand still. Karma cannot affect an individual who doesn’t identify himself or herself with the action, thought or word.
For example, let us say, you give ten rupees to a beggar. You have given the money as you feel the beggar truly needs it. All is well till now. But the moment you feel good about it, the moment you feel your Master has seen all this and is going to bless you, the moment you feel the beggar is going to bless you, or praise you or your Karma might get a little easier to bear, you have identified yourself with the action of giving the ten rupees to the beggar. That moment itself the laws of Karma get into motion. You have tied yourself with the beggar into a Karma gig.
But let us say you have given the money to the beggar because you truly feel compassionate towards the beggar and just want to lighten the burden of the man or burden and that’s it. No pleasing the Master, no getting bonus points from Him, no thought or intention or expectation of reducing your own Karma, no blessings, nothing involved, but sheer compassion and love for the beggar, then you have not identified yourself with the action and thus Karma cannot have a hold over you.
Living one’s best, if it has to take place it will take place, but the moment you and I stop identifying with the action or the result, emotions, thoughts or word, then we are removed from the arena of Karmic play.
When does this happen? Ramana was clear, this can only happen, when you realise that you are not the body, you are not your thoughts, you are not even your desires and emotions. You are beyond all this. You are Pure Consciousness, having chosen to be caught in the web of give and take, consumed by impressions collected through lifetimes of identifying oneself with the body. The moment you realise that you cannot possibly be the body, the thoughts, the emotions, but you are beyond all that, the true journey inward starts and culminates with Godhood.
Ramana was emphatic that all one needs is to keep questioning one-self: Who am I truly? For that one needs to just be still and go within. Keep asking yourself, who am I? Keep at it? Am I this? Am I that? If I am not the body, nor the thoughts, nor the desires, then who am I? And one day, through the womb of silence, the wave of self realisation will engulf the individual and then The Truth of Oneness will embrace you.
All one needs to do is sit quietly, eyes shut and questioning every thought that arises, every desire that pounds, every word that echoes: Am I this? No? Then who am I?
Slowly silence will engulf you. Embrace you within its sigh. The world may collapse around you, but you will know this is the dance of Karma, nothing personal, nothing that can do the real you any harm.
Ramana was of the belief that most of us operate from fear. The genesis of this fear has come most often through lifetimes of identifying with the false self. When one realises that you cannot be affected, the real you cannot be harmed, slandered, betrayed, hurt, manipulated, killed; fears will slowly drop away. Yes, one will go through what one has to go through, but the impact and ramification will not affect, as the real you, sits quietly embraced with Pure Silence within.
Who was Ramana? He was born on December 30th, 1879, in Tamil Nadu. His Name was Venkateswara, but for some reason, whoever was filling His form during admission in school, spelt his Name as Venkataraman.
Ramana was breast fed till he was five. There was a motherless child, named Meenakshi, a close relative, who He was found of. Ramana showed His compassion early on, when He refused to be fed till His mother had not first breast fed Meenakshi.
In school He was only interested in sports and games. He didn’t care much for studies but was so intelligent that somehow He would get good grades. Two things were noticed about Him which were different from the beginning. No matter how badly He fell down or hurt Himself, His body would not show even a scratch.
The second being, He couldn’t stand bullies and would get into fist fights, and He was tough, thus He would be the last Boy standing. But there was a problem. When Ramana slept, He could sleep through a war or an earthquake. For school, even if thrashed to be awakened, He would continue to sleep peacefully, later on He would wonder why His body ached. That was because either His family would thrash Him to awaken or His friends would come in the night to thrash Him, to get even with Him, for all the thrashing He would give them during the day, as He couldn’t stand fools easily.
But strangely Ramana never required too many hours of sleep. Neither did His brother. So they would stuff the bed with pillows, cover the pillows with a blanket and then scoot outside, be with their friends long into the night. This habit remained with Ramana even after He became Ramana The MahaRishi. His devotees would always worry about His health and Him not getting enough rest and sleep. So strict instructions were given to one and all to let This Sage rest and to make sure this was achieved, they would periodically make rounds to see if This Master was asleep and nobody was disturbing Him. Little did they know that The Master would stay awake late into the night talking to His helpers and those who were meant to take care of Him and whenever He would know from within that the surveyors were nearby, He would tell all to pretend to sleep, and once alone, they would all chat till late at night.
Soon, He and His brother were sent away from home, as His father wanted them to be educated in English. Thus He was well versed in English too.
As a child itself, He was a leader and His words meant a lot to His friends. Once when He saw His Muslim friend eat a non vegetarian dish, He showed His displeasure of having to kill an innocent animal to appease one’s taste buds. The Muslim friend turned vegetarian for the rest of his life. But the strange part was that many of His disciples and devotees have recounted that though He never told anybody to be vegetarian, spending a little time with Ramana, the desire to eat non vegetarian would surprisingly disappear for the rest of their lives.
The turning point in Ramana’s life was when His father passed over. Ramana stood by the body of His father and realised that His father was not in the body. The body of His father lay near Him but Ramana couldn’t identify with the body, as this body was not His father. His father had left the building, as one were to say. Later on Ramana told one of His disciples, Paul Brunton, “It was the ‘I’ which makes the body to see, to run, to walk and to eat…I know this ‘I’ but my father’s ‘I’ had left the body.”
It was after a short while of His father passing away, when on the afternoon of July 17, 1896, when Ramana was seventeen years of age, something took place which transformed His life and the journey towards Oneness began.
For some reason on that day, Ramana got obsessed and terrified with the fear of death and dying. It was overwhelming and there was no real reason for such fear. But the fear wouldn’t leave Him. No matter what, how hard He tried to shake the claws of death and the fear of dying away, the terror of dying overwhelmed Ramana. For some reason He lay on the floor and imagined Himself dying. He enacted the whole drama of death to the extent of His grieving family putting Him on the funeral pyre and giving the pyre the lick of flame. He imagined His body burnt to ashes and then the ashes consigned to the waters. And He realised that He was never in the body when He died. He couldn’t have been. He was Consciousness. He was Energy. How could Consciousness be consigned to the holy fire. “So I am Spirit transcending the body. The body dies, but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. This means I am the deathless Spirit.”
This experience was the turning point in the life of Ramana. He began to go deeper and deeper within Himself. His attitude changed. He no longer fought, He no longer criticized, He no longer challenged. He became within. He did all His duties but His observation and contemplation of ‘who am I’ never left Him for a moment.
It was then that Ramana realised He was not cut out for the normal world. His need to go more within Himself was over powering. Just before the incident of His tryst with His own death, He had just read Sekkilar’s Periya Puranam, the book was about the lives of the sixty-three Saints who worshipped Lord Shiva. The love, the faith, the devotion that the Saints had for The Divine and the need for Oneness with The Creator, was so overwhelming that Ramana realised that His time too had come to dive within and swim in the ocean of silence and embrace Oneness.
Six weeks later, on the pretext of some assignment He left home for Arunachala, in Tiruvannamalai. Ramana had been lately mesmerized by Arunachala.
I can vouch for Arunachala. In 2001, along with my publisher then and now old friend, Sunit Banerjee, and his wife Meena, we had gone to Arunachala. I was editing Om Mystic, one of the first web magazines on spirituality in India. So we arrived in Tiruvannamalai and it was already late. We had some grub and then I entered my hotel room and though the air conditioner was on, I wanted to breathe in fresh air. I opened the windows and I saw this Mountain, right in front of me. It was nearing sunset or it was twilight. And I sat mesmerized by this Mountain. There was something about this Mountain that was profound. I sat and looked at it and then did what most people do when humbled by Divinity. I lit a smoke.
Unable to look away from the Mountain I left the hotel, got lost, fifteen minutes later found myself again in front of the Mountain. It was now dark but there were lot of folks with carts and a certain part of the Mountain was lit.
I stopped a chap and asked him what was with this Mountain. He told me something in Tamil which didn’t sound very parliamentary and the bugger walked away. I stood staring at the Mountain and then a foreigner came and stood by me. He too looked at the Mountain.
We looked at each other.
“You know what is with this Mountain?”
“That’s not a mountain. It’s a Hill. Yes, this is the place Bhagvan Ramana Maharshi got Enlightened. He stayed here for a long time. He was really a dude, man.” He replied.
“Yes, that’s what I have been told too.”
We both stared at the Mountain, which I was told was a hill and after a while when I looked around I realised the man had left.
The next day we went to the Ashram and it was so serene and beautiful. I sat by His Samadhi and I felt a deep sense of silence within me. A profound state of Nothingness. No joy, no happiness, no sadness, just Nothingness.
So anyway, Tiruvannamalai, situated at the foot of Arunachala, is a small town, around 120 miles southwest of Chennai.
Ramana called Arunachala, The Spiritual Heart of the world and I truly tell you, I knew jack about anything, but the hill mesmerized me. There is something in that hill.
Aruna means ‘red bright like fire’, Ramana said it signifies not mere fire but fire of knowledge and wisdom and the word Achala means a hill. Thus Arunachala means The Hill of Wisdom.
The story of Arunachala goes something like this. Once, for some odd reason, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma got into an argument about who was greater amongst the two. Our two Gods got overtly involved in the argument and there was chaos on Mother Earth.
Lord Shiva was meditating someplace and realised that both Vishnu and Brahma were sort of creating the mother of all ruckuses and so He appeared to Them as a beam or a column of Light and after hearing Them out He told Them that whoever finds either the end or the beginning of His Light would be the Boss Man.
Lord Vishnu took the form of a boar and began to burrow away like crazy but after a lot of burrowing He began to see within Himself the Light that He was trying to find.
(I feel what the legend is trying to say is something like this….ya ya….am rambling again….somebody has to….so this is what I think. Vishnu and Brahma though Gods, began to identify Themselves with Their actions and thus began to loose Their Godhood as it brought Them down into Karmic entrapment. Vishnu burrowed inside….means when you go within, and more within, searching for The Light, you realise that you are The Light. So Lord Vishnu realised The Light burning within Himself. He began to see within Himself The Divine Light which in reality if sought after resides in the hearts of all. Okay enough of my rambling now back to serious stuff.)
While Lord Brahma went upwards in the form of a swan and He saw a flower of some plant falling and decided to sought of cheat…naughty boy Lord Brahma….and declared that He was the winner.
But when Lord Vishnu praised Lord Shiva that He was the ‘be all and end all’ of everything and resided in everyone, in their heart, Lord Brahma confessed that He had cheated. According to Ramana, Lord Vishnu represents the intellect, Brahma the ego, while Lord Shiva is The Aatma, The Eternal Spirit which resides in every being.
According to the legend, Lord Shiva then tells one and all that, “As the Moon derives Its light from the Sun, so other holy places shall derive their sanctity from Arunachala. This is the only place where I have taken this Form for the benefit of those who wish to worship Me and obtain illumination. Arunachala is OM itself.” Ramana too made it clear that, ‘In the end everyone must come to Arunachala’.
So Ramana left for Arunachala six weeks after He went through the fear of death and realised that it is all about ‘Who am I?’
Ramana reached Arunachala and He began to go into a state of Samadhi. He would go so deep into the state of Samadhi that for days He would remain in Samadhi. The local boys would harass Him, throwing stones at Him and very often Ramana’s body would be bleeding but He didn’t care. Once He entered a deep pit filled with scorpions, snakes, insects and thus sat in peace for days but the boys found His spot and continued to hound Him.
It was then that a senior Swami, by Name Seshadri, realising who Ramana really was, began to watch over the young Sage. Those who did not know Seshadri any way took Him to be a madman and He protected young Ramana. When realising that the pit would be the ruin of Ramana’s body, Seshadri with the help of a few likeminded people, picked up Ramana who was still clueless about His body and brought Ramana’s body near the shrine of Subrahmanya. His body was badly bitten and pus and blood sprang forth from various parts of His body. Ramana was oblivious to what had happened to His body.
Then six months later He was shifted to a Shrine called Gurumurtam. Ramana lived for years like this, being shifted from one place to another. His fame spread far but He was oblivious to it all. He sat for weeks on the floor with countless ants crawling all over Him, stinging Him, His body sometimes a mesh of bites and blood. Ramana did not speak for eleven years. His mother found out where He was and He refused to leave. He was beyond the calling of mortals.
Ramana then went to the Virupaksha Cave on Arunachala. This Cave is very important for Ramana lovers, as it was here that He broke His eleven year silence. This was a Cave used by a powerful Sage who lived in the 13th century and is shaped like the symbol Aum. I believe it was here that Ramana came back to human consciousness with Oneness from God Consciousness. It was here that His mother eventually came to live with Him and She became His follower and threw away all her prejudices and became the mother of all Ramana’s disciples. It was here that she passed away with Ramana taking care of Her and making sure she was freed from the bondage of Karma. In this Cave, Ramana dictated His profound works, Who Am I? and Self Enquiry and it was here that He was called Bhagvan Ramana Maharshi.
More than once Ramana and His devotees were looted by dacoits, and every time they did so, they hit Ramana. Once slapped Him and the other time hit Him hard on the thigh. Both the times Ramana offered Himself to them, to be hit, but not to touch His people.
“The snake bites, the scorpion stings, the bull buffs. Are we right in crushing them because they do so? We should try to keep away from them. Even so, the thieves think that it is their nature to commit theft. But to pardon them is our Dharma (sacred duty). True humanity lies not in returning violence for violence, but in forgiveness. Let us set the man free.” After the thieves left, Ramana told His followers with a smile, “they have worshipped me also.”
Later on an Ashram was opened. Ramana remained who He was; a friend of animals, the down trodden and the poor. Animals, birds, squirrels, flocked around Him. A cow once put her head on His shoulder and cried and He tended to Her broken heart by talking to her….later on she died with Him caressing her and assuring her that she was free from all karmic bondage. He healed a broken egg, nursing it till the egg hatched and joyously played with the baby, got slapped by a monkey and humbly apologoised to it, realizing that the monkey was the King of his tribe and thus needed that respect which Ramana accorded to Him. He never referred to an animal or a bird as ‘it’ but always ‘he or she’. He was very protective about them. It was as though He spoke to them and they spoke to Him. There are innumerable stories of His interaction with animals.
Ramana could never tolerate any discrimination. Till the end He made it clear that, be it an animal, a bird, a poor person, elderly, children, had the first right over Him. He would make sure the poor were fed properly, the woman were treated with equality, no preferential treatment was given to Him and that He was accessible to all who wanted to come to see Him or talk to Him. Nobody went without being fed or helped. No matter what ailed Him, He was always there, with a smile and compassion flowing through Him.
And then The Master got cancer. He was seventy years old, but looked much older. The physical deprivation and the lack of regard to His body had taken its toll. A nodule appeared below the elbow of his left hand. The doctors operated on it but in a month’s time it reappeared. Ramana joked with the doctors that the nodule kept rising up like a very loving Shiv’s Lingam. Surgeons from Chennai were called. They operated but without success. Once He went through the operation without anesthesia. Somebody asked Him whether it hurt Him. He said yes, it hurt the body. Nothing could hurt Him though. Eventually the doctors advised that His arm should be amputated. He refused, and said that just a simple cloth covering would do. “There is no need for it. This body itself is a big disease. Such being the case why should the hand itself be cut off? Let any thing happen. Let this hand die naturally.”
But through it all, He spent time with His animals and birds and the throngs of devotees who came to seek His Darshan. He was in tremendous pain but He never showed it to anybody. The doctors wondered how such a frail Man could function with so much ease when they were certain He was going through severe pain and agony.
Many of His devotees wanted Him to perform a miracle on Himself and cure Himself. He said the greatest miracle is to go within and find God residing within each one.
On April 14th 1950, He came out to give blessings to the countless devotees who kept thronging for His blessings. He was weak and though He didn’t show it, He was in extreme pain. He looked at all and kept blessing all. It was evening time. He asked His helpers to make Him sit upright. His eyes were a blaze with glory. Tears trickled down His cheeks and then He breathed His last. At that very moment, the newspapers reported the next day that at that very moment, when The Master took Samadhi, a comet moved slowly across the sky, reached the summit, of the holy Hill, Arunachala, and disappeared behind It.
Ramana only wanted each one of us to go beyond the body. Not to identify with the body, but with the Eternal Spirit within each one of us. This is our reality, the Spirit within.
All else is dancing with shadows.
Ruzbeh N. Bharucha