Updated: May 21, 2019
It’s back to business again and I’m south side in Tiruvanamalai. Across all the Yoga schools I’ve visited in India, there has been one constant. This constant is Sri Ramana Maharshi. In my early days, I knew that this white bearded man was recurring but didn’t bother to delve any further. It was only after watching a documentary on him that my interest started to blossom. There are many spiritual leaders in India but none more universally revered than Sri Ramana Maharshi. He is the epicentre and his teachings are the ripples that flow silently across India.
First, I need to address a concept that many will be unfamiliar with, I certainly was until relatively recently. This is the concept of liberation. It has many different names depending on your viewpoint, Samadhi in Yoga, Moksha or Mukti in Hinduism and Nirvana In Buddhism. Other terms also include enlightenment or self-realisation. All terms are the same. The first point to understand is that liberation is achievable by any person at any time. Like laughing or crying, liberation is an experiential state. It already exists inside you, waiting to be unlocked. Once unlocked, a person experiences their true nature of existence, a limitless state beyond time and space and free from all bondage. A truly fascinating concept. I will no doubt explore this in much greater detail in the upcoming series. But for the continuity of this post, just know liberation is real and achievable by anyone.
Naturally, the next step for me was to find these people liberated beings. Unfortunately, there doesn’t exist an online directory with the contact numbers and locations. One of the biggest marks of a liberated person is the dissolution of the ego. If this is achieved than the person will not attempt to market or sell themselves and so finding them is very difficult. This was especially true for Ramana Maharshi.
In 1986, at the age of 12, Ramana witnessed the death of his father and saw his body in an open casket. Innocence of mind fuelled his first line of inquiry. He could see his fathers body yet was confused as others were telling him that his father had died. As you can imagine this had a deep impression on Ramana and set in motion the events to come. At 16 years old, Ramana had a fear of death experience. It is described below in his own words. Like spontaneous combustion, he had very rapidly transformed into a liberated being. He had achieved in seconds what many have been longing for through decades of meditation. Unlike many others, his state was now permanent and unchanging.
Two months after his experience, Ramana ran away from his family with minimal possessions and only enough money for the 4 day train ride to Tiruvanamalai. It is here where Ramana spent the rest of his life. Upon arriving at Tiruvanamalai, he went straight to Arunachaleswara temple and sat in a deep state of Samadhi. He lived like this for 3 years and was completely unaware of his body. His ecstasy ran so deep that ants and pests ate away at his flesh and food had to be manually placed in his mouth to avoid starvation. Anything but Samadhi was a come down.
Eventually, Ramana moved out of the temple when he was 20 and resided on the holy hilltop of Arunachala, overlooking the temple. He stayed in this cave for the next 17 years. During this time, his mother joined him in the cave and started to receive intense personal instruction on his teachings. In 1920, his mothers health deteriorated and died beside Ramana. During her death, Ramana stayed beside her for 8 hours and laid motionless with his hand on the right side of her chest and the other on her head. One third of your heart is beneath your right chest and Ramana taught that it is here where your true self resides.
The Sri Ramanasraman was built around his mothers tomb and it is here where Ramana delivered his teachings. His primary source of teachings was silence. Ramana would act as a true guru and silently transmit his state to others who were finely tuned into his frequency. There were countless examples of people who experienced his blissful state, many times temporarily and very rarely permanently. For those who didn’t feel anything, he advised a technique called self-inquiry, famously known as Who am I? It’s a simple technique and Ramana considered it to be the most potent and fastest way to liberation.
His teachings stated that in many instances the mind consists of a subject and object. The subject consists of I or my and the object is anything external, a thought, emotion, feeling, possession etc. I am angry. I don’t like my hair today. I feel healthy. I’m hungry. My back hurts. My car, my phone, my house etc. The subject is indeed your ego and the object is what feeds the ego. So, the process of self-inquiry goes a little like this:
1. Subject-Object thought arises. I am angry at that person.
2. Become aware of this thought, objectively.
3. Withdraw from the object completely so you are no longer directly involved i.e. anger.
4. Switch focus purely on the object of I and isolate it completely.
5. End of inquiry, do not analyse just move gracefully until the next inquiry is needed and repeat.
The idea behind the above is that we load our ego with countless objects. For arguments sake, imagine your ego consisted 1,000,000 attached objects, like a giant octopus. You’ve already dealt with anger as per above, so it shouldn’t arise again if the inquiry has been adequately carried out. This leaves the remaining 999,999 objects. Continuous iterations of the technique slowly chip away all the attached objects in a rather potent and efficient fashion. Eventually, there will be no attached objects for the ego to associate with. Once the “I” is fully deprived of all it’s oxygen, it cannot exist in isolation. When this happens, the “I” thought disappears and in its place emerges the true nature of your existence- uncompromising reality.
What you see here, is of course a snapshot of self-inquiry. Depending on the individual, Ramana would prescribe various other add-ons to increase efficiency, for example, meditation or japa mantra to increase awareness. The teachings go a lot deeper than what you see here. I was very lucky to interview David Godman, a man who had studied and written extensively on Sri Ramana over the past 40 years or so. If there were one living person who understood Ramana’s teachings fully, it would be him. Parts of the Q&A exist here but for the most part, I am still constructing the answers. I wanted to introduce Sri Ramana Maharshi first, and later release the contents of the Q&A in the upcoming series. Below is a nice watch on him. Check it out.