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|Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi|
Sri Ramana Maharshi in his late 60s.
30 December 1879
Tiruchuzhi, Tamil Nadu, India
|Died||14 April 1950 (aged 70)|
Sri Ramana Ashram, Tiruvannamalai, India
|Literary works||Nān Yār? (Who am I?)|
Five Hymns to Arunachala
|Quotation||Of all the thoughts that rise in the mind, the thought 'I' is the first thought.|
|Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi|
Sri Ramana Maharshi in his late 60s.
30 December 1879
Tiruchuzhi, Tamil Nadu, India
|Died||14 April 1950 (aged 70)|
Sri Ramana Ashram, Tiruvannamalai, India
|Literary works||Nān Yār? (Who am I?)|
Five Hymns to Arunachala
|Quotation||Of all the thoughts that rise in the mind, the thought 'I' is the first thought.|
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Ramana Maharshi / / (30 December 1879 – 14 April 1950) is widely acknowledged as one of the outstanding Hindu gurus of modern times. He was born Venkataraman Iyer, in Tiruchuli, Tamil Nadu, South India, and given the name Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi[note 1] in 1907, by one of his first devotees, Ganapati Muni. This would be the name by which he became known to the world.
At the age of sixteen, Venkataraman lost his sense of individual selfhood,[note 2] an awakening which he later recognised as enlightenment.[note 3] Six weeks later he left his home to journey to the holy mountain Arunachala, Tiruvannamalai, where he remained for the rest of his life.
His first years were spent in solitude, but his stillness and his appearance as a sannyasin soon attracted devotees. In later years, he responded to questions, but always insisted that silence was the purest teaching. His verbal teachings flowed "from his direct knowledge that consciousness was the only existing reality." In later years, a community grew up around him, where he was available twenty-four hours a day to visitors. Though worshipped by thousands, he never allowed anyone to treat him as special, or receive private gifts. He treated all with equal respect. Since the 1930s his teachings have also been popularised in the west.
In response to questions on self-liberation and the classic texts on Yoga and Vedanta, Ramana recommended self-enquiry as the principal way to awaken to the "I-I",[web 1] realise the Self and attain liberation.[note 4] He also recommended Bhakti, and gave his approval to a variety of paths and practices.[web 2]
Ramana Maharshi was born Venkataraman Iyer on 30 December 1879[note 5] in the village Tiruchuzhi near Aruppukkottai, Madurai in Tamil Nadu, South India. His birth came upon Arudra Darshanam day, the day of the Sight of Siva.[web 5] Venkataraman was the second of four children and born into an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family. His father was Sundaram Iyer (1848–1890), from the lineage of Parashara, and his mother Azhagammal (?-1922). He had two brothers Nagaswamy (1877–1900) and Nagasundaram (1886–1953), along with a younger sister Alamelu (1891/92-1953). Venkataraman's father was a respected man in town and a court pleader by profession.
As a child, Venkataraman was intelligent, popular, good at sports, mischievous, and had an exceptional memory which enabled him to succeed in school without having to put in much effort. He also had a couple of unusual traits. When he slept, he went into such a deep state of unconsciousness that his friends could physically assault his body without waking him up. He also had an extraordinary amount of luck. In team games, whichever side he played for always won. This earned him the nickname 'Tanga-kai', which means 'golden hand'.[web 6]
When Venkataraman was about eleven his father sent him to live with his paternal uncle Subbaiyar in Dindigul as he wanted his sons to be educated in English so that they would be eligible to enter government service. Only Tamil was taught at the village school in Tiruchuzhi. In 1891, when his uncle was transferred to Madurai, Venkataraman and his elder brother Nagaswami moved with him. In Dindigul, Venkataraman attended a British School.
In 1892, Venkataraman's father Sundaram Iyer suddenly fell seriously ill and unexpectedly died several days later at the age of 42. For some hours after his father's death Venkataraman contemplated the matter of death, and how his father's body was still there, but the 'I' was gone from it.
After leaving Scott's Middle School, Venkataraman went to the American Mission High School. One November morning in 1895, he was on his way to school when he saw an elderly relative and inquired where the relative had come from. The answer was "From Arunachala." Krishna Bikshu describes Venkataraman's response:
The word 'Arunachala' was familiar to Venkataraman from his younger days, but he did not know where it was, what it looked like or what it meant. Yet that day that word meant to him something great, an inaccessible, authoritative, absolutely blissful entity. Could one visit such a place? His heart was full of joy. Arunachala meant some sacred land, every particle of which gave moksha. It was omnipotent and peaceful. Could one behold it? 'What? Arunachala? Where is it?' asked the lad. The relative was astonished, 'Don't you know even this?' and continued, 'Haven't you heard of Tiruvannamalai? That is Arunachala.' It was as if a balloon was pricked, the boy's heart sank.
A month later he came across a copy of Sekkizhar's Periyapuranam, a book that describes the lives of 63 Saivite saints, and was deeply moved and inspired by it. During this period he began to visit the nearby Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.[web 5]
On 17 July 1896,[note 6] at age 16, Venkataraman had a life-changing experience. He spontaneously initiated a process of self-enquiry that culminated, within a few minutes, in his own permanent awakening. In one of his rare written comments on this process he wrote:
Enquiring within Who is the seer? I saw the seer disappear leaving That alone which stands forever. No thought arose to say I saw. How then could the thought arise to say I did not see.[web 6]
It was in 1896, about 6 weeks before I left Madurai for good (to go to Tiruvannamalai/Arunachala) that this 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 nor was there any urge in me to find out whether there was any account for the fear. I just felt I was 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 I had to solve the problem myself then and there. The shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing the words: 'Now death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.' And at once I dramatised the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out still as though rigor mortis has set in, and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, and that neither the word 'I' nor any 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? It is silent and inert, but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of I within me, apart from it. So I am the Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit.' All this was not dull thought; it flashed through me vividly as living truths which I perceived directly almost without thought process. I was something real, the only real thing about my present state, and all the conscious activity connected with the body was centered on that I. From that moment onwards, the "I" or Self focused attention on itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death vanished once and for all. The ego was lost in the flood of Self-awareness. Absorption in the Self continued unbroken from that time. Other thought might come and go like the various notes of music, but the I continued like the fundamental sruti note ("that which is heard" i.e. the Vedas and Upanishads) a note which underlies and blends with all other notes.[web 9]
According to David Godman, a more accurate exposition of this event is given in the Sri Ramana Leela,[note 8] the Telugu biography of Ramana that was written by Krishna Bhikshu, which "is surprisingly short, but (has) interesting additions and variations from the English version that was recorded by Narasimha Swami ... and which has been shorn of both Narasimha Swami’s embellishments and his gratuitous insertions of the pronoun ‘I’."[web 8][note 9] Ramana summarised his insight into "aham sphurana" (Self-awareness)[note 10] to a visitor in 1945:[web 8][note 11]
In the vision of death, though all the senses were benumbed, the aham sphurana (Self-awareness) was clearly evident, and so I realised that it was that awareness that we call "I", and not the body. This Self-awareness never decays. It is unrelated to anything. It is Self-luminous. Even if this body is burnt, it will not be affected. Hence, I realised on that very day so clearly that that was "I".[web 8]
At first, Ramana thought that he was possessed by a spirit, "which had taken up residence in his body".[web 7] This feeling remained for several weeks.[web 7] Later in life, he called his death experience akrama mukti, "sudden liberation", as opposed to the krama mukti, "gradual liberation" as in the Vedanta path of jnana yoga:[web 8][note 12]
‘Some people,’ he said, 'start off by studying literature in their youth. Then they indulge in the pleasures of the world until they are fed up with them. Next, when they are at an advanced age, they turn to books on Vedanta. They go to a guru and get initiated by him and then start the process of sravana, manana and nididhyasana, which finally culminates in samadhi. This is the normal and standard way of approaching liberation. It is called krama mukti [gradual liberation]. But I was overtaken by akrama mukti [sudden liberation] before I passed through any of the above-mentioned stages.'[web 8]
After this event, he lost interest in school-studies, friends, and relations. Avoiding company, he preferred to sit alone, absorbed in concentration on the Self, and went daily to the Meenakshi Temple, ecstatically devoted to the images of the Gods, tears flowing profusely from his eyes. Venkataraman’s elder brother, Nagaswamy, was aware of a great change in him and on several occasions rebuked him for his detachment from all that was going on around him. About six weeks after Venkataraman’s absorption into the Self, on 29 August 1896, he was attempting to complete a homework assignment which had been given to him by his English teacher for indifference in his studies. Suddenly Venkataraman tossed aside the book and turned inward in meditation. His elder brother rebuked him again, asking, "What use is all this to one who is like this?", referring to his behaviour as a sadhu. Venkataraman did not answer, but recognised the truth in his brother’s words.[web 9]
Knowing his family would not permit him to become a sanyassin and leave home, Venkataraman slipped away, telling his brother he needed to attend a special class at school. Fortunately, his brother had asked him to take five rupees and pay his college fees on his way to school. Venkataraman took out an atlas, calculated the cost of his journey, took three rupees and left the remaining two with a note which read:
I have set out in quest of my Father in accordance with his command. This (meaning his person) has only embarked on a virtuous enterprise. Therefore, no one need grieve over this act. And no money need be spent in search of this. Your college fee has not been paid. Herewith rupees two.
On the morning of 1 September 1896, Venkataraman boarded a train and travelled to Tiruvannamalai, where he was to stay for the rest of his life.
Upon arriving in Tiruvannamalai Venkataraman went straight to the temple of Arunachaleswara. There, he entered the sanctum sanctorum and embraced the linga in ecstasy. The burning sensation that had started back at Madurai, which he later described as "an inexpressible anguish which I suppressed at the time", merged in Arunachaleswara.[web 9]
The first few weeks he spent in the thousand-pillared hall, but shifted to other spots in the temple and eventually to the Patala-lingam vault so that he might remain undisturbed. There, he would spend days absorbed in such deep samādhi that he was unaware of the bites of vermin and pests. Seshadri Swamigal, a local saint, discovered him in the underground vault and tried to protect him. After about six weeks in the Patala-lingam, he was carried out and cleaned up. For the next two months he stayed in the Subramanya Shrine, so unaware of his body and surroundings that food had to be placed in his mouth or he would have starved.
In February 1897, six months after his arrival at Tiruvannamalai, Ramana moved to Gurumurtam, a temple about a mile out of Tiruvannamalai. Shortly after his arrival a sadhu named Palaniswami went to see him. Palaniswami's first darshan left him filled with peace and bliss, and from that time on he served Ramana, joining him as his permanent attendant. From Gurumurtam to Virupaksha Cave (1899–1916) to Skandasramam Cave (1916–22), he took care of Ramana. Besides physical protection, Palaniswami would also beg for alms, cook and prepare meals for himself and Ramana, and care for him as needed. In May 1898 Ramana and Palaniswami moved to a mango orchard next to Gurumurtam.
During this time, Ramana neglected his body, "completely disregarding his outward appearance". He also neglected the ants which bit him incessantly. Gradually, despite Ramana's desire for privacy, he attracted attention from visitors who admired his silence and austerities, bringing offerings and singing praises. Eventually a bamboo fence was built to protect him.
While living at Gurumurtam temple his family discovered his whereabouts. First his uncle Nelliappa Iyer came and pled with him to return home, promising that the family would not disturb his ascetic life. Ramana sat motionless and eventually his uncle gave up.
In September 1898 Ramana moved to the Shiva-temple at Pavalakkunru, one of the eastern spurs of Arunachala. His mother and brother Nagaswami found him here in December 1898. Day after day his mother begged him to return, but no amount of weeping and pleading had any visible effect on him. She appealed to the devotees who had gathered around, trying to get them to intervene on her behalf until one requested that Ramana write out his response to his mother. He then wrote on a piece of paper:
In accordance with the prarabdha (destiny to be worked out in current life) of each, the One whose function it is to ordain makes each to act. What will not happen will never happen, whatever effort one may put forth. And what will happen will not fail to happen, however much one may seek to prevent it. This is certain. The part of wisdom therefore is to stay quiet.[web 9]
At this point his mother returned to Madurai saddened.[web 9]
Soon after this, in February 1899, Ramana left the foothills to live on Arunachala itself. He stayed briefly in Satguru Cave and Guhu Namasivaya Cave before taking up residence at Virupaksha Cave for the next 17 years, using Mango Tree cave during the summers, except for a six-month period at Pachaiamman Koil during the plague epidemic.
In 1902, a government official named Sivaprakasam Pillai, with writing slate in hand, visited the young Swami in the hope of obtaining answers to questions about "How to know one's true identity". The fourteen questions put to the young Swami and his answers were Ramana's first teachings on Self-enquiry, the method for which he became widely known, and were eventually published as 'Nan Yar?', or in English, 'Who am I?’.
Several visitors came to him and many became his devotees. Kavyakantha Sri Ganapati Sastri,[note 13] a Vedic scholar of repute in his age with a deep knowledge of the Srutis, Sastras, Tantras, Yoga, and Agama systems, came to visit Ramana in 1907. After receiving instructions from him, he proclaimed him as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Ramana was known by this name from then on.
In 1911 the first westerner, Frank Humphreys, then a policeman stationed in India, discovered Ramana and wrote articles about him which were first published in The International Psychic Gazette in 1913.[note 14]
It is reported that in 1912, while in the company of disciples, an episode occurred where Ramana's vital life signs ceased for approximately 15 minutes, after which he displayed an enhanced ability to engage in practical affairs while remaining in Sahaja Samadhi:
The landscape in front of me disappeared as a bright white curtain was drawn across my vision and shut it out. I could distinctly see the gradual process. There was a stage when I could still see a part of the landscape clearly while the rest was covered by the advancing curtain. It was just like drawing a slide across one's view in a stereoscope. On experiencing this I stopped walking lest I should fall. When it cleared I walked on. When darkness and faintness came over me a second time I leaned against a rock until it cleared. The third time it happened I felt it safer to sit, so I sat down near the rock. Then the bright white curtain completely shut off my vision, my head was swimming and my circulation and breathing stopped. The skin turned a livid blue. It was the regular death hue and it got darker and darker. Vasudeva Sastri, in fact, took me to be dead and held me in his arms and began to weep aloud and lament my death. I could distinctly feel his clasp and his shivering and hear his words of lamentation and understand their meaning. I also saw the discolouration of my skin and felt the stoppage of my circulation and breathing and the increased chilliness of the extremities of my body. My usual current of awareness still continued in that state also. I was not in the least afraid and felt no sadness at the condition of the body. I had sat down near the rock in my usual posture and closed my eyes and was not leaning against the rock. The body, left without circulation or respiration, still maintained that position. This state continued for some ten or fifteen minutes. Then a shock passed suddenly through the body and circulation revived with enormous force, and breathing also, and the body perspired from every pore. The colour of life reappeared on the skin. I then opened my eyes and got up and said, `Let's go'. We reached Virupaksha Cave without further trouble. This was the only fit I had in which both circulation and respiration stopped. I did not bring on the fit purposely, nor did I wish to see what this body would look like after death, nor did I say that I will not leave this body without warning others. It was one of those fits that I used to get occasionally, only this time it took a very serious form.[web 11]
In 1916 his mother Alagammal and younger brother Nagasundaram joined Ramana at Tiruvannamalai and followed him when he moved to the larger Skandashram Cave, where Bhagavan lived until the end of 1922. His mother took up the life of a sannyasin, and Ramana began to give her intense, personal instruction, while she took charge of the Ashram kitchen. Ramana's younger brother, Nagasundaram, then became a sannyasi, assuming the name Niranjanananda, becoming known as Chinnaswami (the younger Swami).
During this period, Ramana composed The Five Hymns to Arunachala, his magnum opus in devotional lyric poetry. Of them the first is Akshara Mana Malai.[translation 1] It was composed in Tamil in response to the request of a devotee for a song to be sung while wandering in the town for alms. The Marital Garland tells in glowing symbolism of the love and union between the human soul and God, expressing the attitude of the soul that still aspires.[web 12]
Beginning in 1920, his mother's health deteriorated. On the day of her death, 19 May 1922, at about 8 a.m., Ramana sat beside her. It is reported that throughout the day, he had his right hand on her heart, on the right side of the chest, and his left hand on her head, until her death around 8:00 p.m., when Ramana pronounced her liberated, literally, 'Adangi Vittadu, Addakam' (‘absorbed'). Later Ramana said of this: "You see, birth experiences are mental. Thinking is also like that, depending on sanskaras (tendencies). Mother was made to undergo all her future births in a comparatively short time."[web 13] Her body was enshrined in a samadhi, on top of which a Siva lingam was installed and given the name Matrbhuteshwara, Shiva manifesting as mother. To commemorate the anniversary of Ramana Maharshi's mother's death, a puja, known as her Aradhana or Mahapooja, is performed every year at the Matrbhuteshwara.
From 1922 till his death in 1950 Ramana lived in Sri Ramanasramam, the ashram that developed around his mother's tomb. Ramana often walked from Skandashram to his mother's tomb. In December 1922 he didn't return to Skandashram, and settled at the base of the Hill, and Sri Ramanasramam started to develop. At first, there was only one hut at the samadhi, but in 1924 two huts, one opposite the samadhi and the other to the north, were erected. The so-called Old Hall was built in 1928. Ramana lived here until 1949.
Sri Ramanasramam grew to include a library, hospital, post-office and many other facilities. Ramana displayed a natural talent for planning building projects. Annamalai Swami gave detailed accounts of this in his reminiscences. Until 1938, Annamalai Swami was entrusted with the task of supervising the projects and received his instructions from Ramana directly.
Sri Ramana led a modest and renunciate life. However, according to David Godman, who has written extensively about Ramana, a popular image of him as a person who spent most of his time doing nothing except silently sitting in samadhi is highly inaccurate. From the period when an Ashram began to rise around him, after his mother arrived, until his later years when his health failed, Ramana was actually quite active in Ashram activities such as cooking and stitching leaf plates.[web 14]
In 1931 the classic biography of Ramana Maharshi, Self Realisation: The Life and Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, written by Narasimha Swami, was published. Ramana then became relatively well known in and out of India after 1934 when Paul Brunton, having first visited Ramana in January 1931, published the book A Search in Secret India. In this book he described his meeting with Ramana Maharshi, and the effect this meeting had on him. Brunton also describes how Ramana's fame had spread, "so that pilgrims to the temple were often induced to go up the hill and see him before they returned home", and the talks Ramana had with a great variety of visitors and devotees. Brunton calls Ramana "one of the last of India's spiritual supermen", and describes his affection toward Ramana:
I like him greatly because he is so simple and modest, when an atmosphere of authentic greatness lies so palpably around him; because he makes no claims to occult powers and hierophantic knowledge to impress the mystery loving nature of his countrymen; and because he is so totally without any traces of pretension that he strongly resists every effort to canonize him during his lifetime.
While staying at Sri Ramanasramam, Brunton had an experience of a "sublimely all-embracing" awareness, a "Moment of Illumination". The book was a best-seller, and introduced Ramana Maharshi to a wider audience in the west. Resulting visitors included Paramahansa Yogananda, Somerset Maugham (whose 1944 novel The Razor's Edge models its spiritual guru after Ramana),[web 15] Mercedes de Acosta and Arthur Osborne, the last of whom was the first editor of Mountain Path in 1964, the magazine published by Ramanashram.
Ramana's relative fame spread throughout the 1940s. However, even as his fame spread, his lifestyle remained that of a renunciate. The 1940s also saw many of Ramana's most ardent devotees pass away. These included Echamma (1945), attendant Madhavaswami (1946), Ramanatha Brahmachari (1946), Mudaliar Granny and Lakshmi (1948).
Ramana was noted for his belief in the power of silence and his relatively sparse use of speech, as well as for his lack of concern for fame or criticism,[web 16] and unusual love of creatures and plants.[note 15] On the morning of 18 June 1948, he realised that his favourite cow Lakshmi was near her death. Just as he had with his own Mother, Ramana placed his hands on her head and over her heart. The cow died peacefully at 11:30 a.m. and Ramana later declared that the cow was liberated.[web 17]
In November 1948, a tiny cancerous lump was found on Ramana's arm and was removed in February 1949 by the ashram's doctor. Soon, another growth appeared and another operation was done by an eminent surgeon in March 1949 with radium applied. The doctor told Ramana that a complete amputation of the arm to the shoulder was required to save his life, but he refused. A third and fourth operation were performed in August and December 1949, but only weakened him. Other systems of medicine were then tried; all proved fruitless and were stopped by the end of March when devotees gave up all hope. To devotees who begged him to cure himself for the sake of his followers, Ramana is said to have replied, "Why are you so attached to this body? Let it go" and "Where can I go? I am here." By April 1950, Ramana was too weak to go to the hall and visiting hours were limited. Visitors would file past the small room where he spent his final days to get one final glimpse. Swami Satyananda, the attendant at the time, reports:
On the evening of 14 April 1950, we were massaging Ramana's body. At about 5 o'clock, he asked us to help him to sit up. Precisely at that moment devotees started chanting 'Arunachala Siva, Arunachala Siva'. When Ramana heard this his face lit up with radiant joy. Tears began to flow from his eyes and continued to flow for a long time. I was wiping them from time to time. I was also giving him spoonfuls of water boiled with ginger. The doctor wanted to administer artificial respiration but Ramana waved it away. Ramana’s breathing became gradually slower and slower and at 8:47 p.m. it subsided quietly.[web 18]
Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French photographer, who had been staying at the ashram for a fortnight prior to Ramana’s death, recounted the event:
It is a most astonishing experience. I was in the open space in front of my house, when my friends drew my attention to the sky, where I saw a vividly-luminous shooting star with a luminous tail, unlike any shooting star I had before seen, coming from the South, moving slowly across the sky and, reaching the top of Arunachala, disappeared behind it. Because of its singularity we all guessed its import and immediately looked at our watches – it was 8:47 – and then raced to the Ashram only to find that our premonition had been only too sadly true: the Master had passed into parinirvana at that very minute.
Cartier-Bresson took some of the last photographs of Ramana on 4 April 1950, and went on to take pictures of the mahasamadhi preparations. The New York Times in its article dated 16 April 1950, concluded:
Here in India, where thousands of so-called holy men claim close tune with the infinite, it is said that the most remarkable thing about Ramana Maharshi was that he never claimed anything remarkable for himself, yet became one of the most loved and respected of all.[web 19][web 20]
The essence of Ramana Maharshi's teachings is that there exists one indivisible reality, which is both immanent and directly experienced by everyone, and is, at once, the source, substance and real nature of all that exists. The term he used most frequently for this reality was "the Self". David Godman defines this term, as used by Ramana Maharshi, in the introduction of his book, Be As You Are:
The real Self or real 'I' is, contrary to perceptible experience, not an experience of individuality but a non-personal, all-inclusive awareness. It is not to be confused with the individual self which (Ramana) said was essentially non-existent, being a fabrication of the mind, which obscures the true experience of the real Self. He maintained that the real Self is always present and always experienced but he emphasized that one is only consciously aware of it as it really is when the self-limiting tendencies of the mind have ceased. Permanent and continuous Self-awareness is known as Self-realization.
Ramana would on occasion use a number of other terms in place of the Self; with each term signifying a different aspect of this ultimately indivisible reality. The most frequently used terms were sat-chit-ananda, which translates into English as being-consciouness-bliss; God, Brahman and Siva, which Ramana would use to refer not to a personal God, but to the "formless being which sustains the universe"; and the Heart, which is not to be confused with the physical heart, or a particular point in space, but was rather to indicate that "the Self was the source from which all appearances manifested."
Ramana's main means of instruction to his devotees in order to realise the Self was through silence;[web 21] using words only sparingly. His method of teaching has been compared to Dakshinamurti - Shiva in the ascetic appearance of the Guru, who teaches through silence:
One evening, devotees asked Sri Ramana to explain the meaning of Shankara's hymn in praise of Dakshinamurti. They waited for his answer, but in vain. The Maharishi sat motionless on his seat, in total silence.
Commenting upon this silence Ramana said:
Silence is the true upadesa. It is the perfect upadesa. It is suited only for the most advanced seeker. The 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 warrant explanation. All that is possible is to indicate It. How is that to be done?
At the highest level that could be expressed in words Ramana would say that "consciousness alone exists"; if this was met with doubt by the questioner, Ramana would say that this truth was being obscured by self-limiting ideas of the mind. For those followers who were so immersed in the self-limiting ideas of the mind that they could not experience the highest truth, Ramana prescribed an innovative method of self-attention which he called self-enquiry. He recommended this technique so often and so insistently in response to questions on self-liberation and the classic texts on Yoga and Vedanta[web 1] that it was regarded by many people as the most distinctive motif in his teachings:
Enquiry in the form "Who am I?" alone is the principal means. To make the mind subside, there is no adequate means other than self-enquiry. If controlled by other means, mind will remain as if subsided, but will rise again.
Self-enquiry is the constant attention to the inner awareness of "I" or "I am".[note 16][note 17] Sri Ramana Maharshi frequently recommended it as the most efficient and direct way of discovering the unreality of the ‘I'-thought. Enquiring the "I"-thought, one realises that it raises in the hṛdayam (heart).[note 18] The 'I'-thought will disappear and only "I-I"[web 23][note 19][note 20][note 21] or Self-awareness remains, which is Self-realization or liberation:[web 25]
What is finally realized as a result of such enquiry into the Source of Aham-vritti (I-thought) is verily the Heart as the undifferentiated Light of Pure Consciousness, into which the reflected light of the mind is completely absorbed.
Ramana warned against considering self-enquiry as an intellectual exercise. Properly done, it involves fixing the attention firmly and intensely on the feeling of 'I', without thinking. Attention must be fixed on the 'I' until the sense of "I" disappears and the Self is realised. Ramana's written works contain terse descriptions of self-enquiry. Verse thirty of Ulladu Narpadu:
Questioning 'Who am I?' within one's mind, when one reaches the Heart, the individual 'I' sinks crestfallen, and at once reality manifests itself as 'I-I'. Though it reveals itself thus, it is not the ego 'I' but the perfect being the Self Absolute.[web 23]
Verses nineteen and twenty of Upadesa Undiyar describe the same process in almost identical terms:
19. 'Whence does the 'I' arise?' Seek this within. The 'I' then vanishes. This is the pursuit of wisdom.
20. Where the 'I' vanished, there appears an 'I-I' by itself. This is the infinite.[web 23]
Ramana considered the Self to be permanent and enduring, surviving physical death. "The sleep, dream and waking states are mere phenomena appearing on the Self", as is the "I"-thought. Our "true nature" is "simple Being, free from thoughts". Ramana's own death experience when he was 16 already contains the practice of self-enquiry. After raising the question 'Who am I?' he "turned his attention very keenly towards himself". His earliest teachings are documented in the book Nan Yar? (Who am I?), in which he elaborates on the "I" and Self-enquiry:[note 22]
Although he advocated self-enquiry as the fastest means to realisation, he also recommended the path of bhakti and self-surrender (to one's deity or guru) either concurrently or as an adequate alternative, which would ultimately converge with the path of self-enquiry.
Ramana Maharshi was a charismatic person, who attracted many devotees. Early on, Ramana attracted devotees who would sit in his company, and ask him questions. Several devotees recorded the answers to their own specific questions, or kept the sheets of paper on which Ramana answered, and later had them published. Other devotees recorded the talks between Ramana and other devotees than themselves, a large amount of which has also been published. Early on, Ramana was worshipped by his devotees, and people came to Ramana Maharshi for darshana, devotion to God by looking at him in the person of a guru or incarnation. Objects being touched or used by him were highly valued by his devotees, "as they considered it to be prasad and that it passed on some of the power and blessing of the Guru to them". People also tried to touch his feet, which is also considered to be darshana. Also the water which he used to wash his hands was valued. The bathing-water he used became an object for achamaniyam, "sipping drops of water for religious purpose". Sri Ramana strongly discouraged this type of activity, and constantly reminded people to turn within. While he spoke highly of the power of being in the physical proximity of a guru, he also said that physical contact with the guru was not necessary. When one devotee asked if it would be possible to prostrate before Sri Ramana and touch his feet, he replied:
The real feet of Bhagavan exist only in the heart of the devotee. To hold onto these feet incessantly is true happiness. You will be disappointed if you hold onto my physical feet because one day this physical body will disappear. The greatest worship is worshipping the Guru's feet that are within oneself.
In later life, the amount of devotees and their devotion became so extensive that Ramana became restricted in his daily routine. Measures had to be taken to prevent people touching him. Several times Ramana tried to escape from the ashram, to return to a life of solitude. Vasudeva reports:
Bhagavan sat on a rock and said with tears in his eyes that he would never again come to the Ashram and would go where he pleased and live in the forests or caves away from all men.
Ramana did return to the ashram, but has also reported himself on attempts to leave the ashram:
I tried to be free on a third occasion also. That was after mother's passing away. I did not want to have even an Ashram like Skandashram and the people that were coming there then. but the result has been this Ashram [Ramanashram] and all the crowd here. Thus all my three attempts failed.
Over the course of Ramana's lifetime, people from a wide variety of backgrounds, religions, and countries were drawn to him. Some stayed for the rest of their lives (or his) and served him with great devotion, and others came for a single darshan and left, deeply affected by the peace he radiated. Quite a number of devotees wrote books conveying Ramana's teachings, including several western authors who have been instrumental in gaining western attention for Ramana Maharshi.
Ramana Maharshi did not publicise himself as a guru, never claimed to have disciples,[web 27] and never appointed any successors.[web 28][web 29][web 30][note 23] While a few who came to see him are said to have become enlightened through association,[note 24] he did not publicly acknowledge any living person as liberated[web 27] other than his mother at death. Ramana never promoted any lineage.[web 28][note 25]
Although Ramana's teachings have often been labelled as Advaita Vedanta, he never received initiation into the Dashanami Sampradaya or any other sampradaya[note 26] as a sannyasin.[web 29][web 28][note 27] A sannyasin belonging to the Sringeri Sharada Peetham, one of the monasteries founded by Adi Shankara, once tried to persuade Ramana to be initiated into sannyasa, but Ramana refused. In the Arunachala Puranam,[translation 2] left behind by an old man, Ramana found the following verse, copied it onto a slip of paper, and showed it to the sannyasin upon his return, where-after the sannyasin gave up and left:
Those who reside within the radius of three yojanas (30 miles) of this place [Arunachala], even if they have not had initiation, shall by my supreme decree attain Liberation, free from all attachments.
With regard to Sri Ramana Ashram, Sri Ramana had in 1938 executed a legal will bequething all the Ramanashram properties to his younger brother Niranjanananda and his descendants. The Ramanashram as in 2013 is run by Sri Niranjananda's grandson Sri V.S. Raman. Ramanashram is legally recognised as a public religious trust whose aim was to maintain Ramanasramam in a way that was consonant with Sri Ramana's declared wishes that is the ashram should remain open as a spiritual institution so that anyone who wished to could avail themselves of its facilities.   
A number of Ramana's Marharshi's Indian devotees (not comprehensive):
A list of Western devotees of Ramana Maharshi (not comprehensive):
During his lifetime, through contact with educated devotees like Ganapata Muni, Ramana Maharshi became acquainted with works on Shaivism and Advaita Vedanta, and used them to explain his insights:
People wonder how I speak of Bhagavad Gita, etc. It is due to hearsay. I have not read the Gita nor waded through commentaries for its meaning. When I hear a sloka (verse), I think its meaning is clear and I say it. That is all and nothing more.
Already in 1896, a few months after his arrival at Arunachala, Ramana attracted his first disciple, Uddandi Nayinar, who recognised in the him "the living embodiment of the Holy Scriptures". Uddandi was well-versed in classic texts on Yoga and Vedanta, and recited texts as the Yoga Vasistha and Kaivalya Navaneeta in Ramana's presence.
In 1897 Ramana was joined by Palaniswami, who became his attendant. Palaniswami studied books in Tamil on Vedanta, such as Kaivalya Navaneeta, Shankara's Vivekachudamani, and Yoga Vasistha. He had difficulties understanding Tamil. Ramana read the books too, and explained them to Palanaswami.
As early as 1900, when Ramana was 20 years old, he became acquainted with the teachings of the Hindu monk and Neo-Vedanta[note 31] teacher Swami Vivekananda through Gambhiram Seshayya. Seshayya was interested in yoga techniques, and "used to bring his books and explain his difficulties". Ramana answered on small scraps of paper, which were collected after his death in the late 1920s in a booklet called Vichara Sangraham, "Self-enquiry".
Although Ramana's teaching is consistent with and generally associated with Hinduism, the Upanishads and Advaita Vedanta, there are some differences with the traditional Advaitic school. Ramana gave his approval to a variety of paths and practices from various religions,[web 2] with his own upadesa (instruction or guidance given to a disciple by his Guru)[web 40] always pointing to the true Self of the devotees.
Ramana's teachings are often interpreted as Advaita Vedanta, though Ramana Maharshi never "received diksha (initiation) from any recognised authority".[web 28][note 32][note 33] It was via his devotees that he became acquainted with classic texts on Yoga and Vedanta. Ramana himself did not call his insights advaita:
D. Does Sri Bhagavan advocate advaita?
There are differences with the traditional Advaitic school. Advaita recommends a negationist neti, neti (Sanskrit, "not this", "not this") path,[note 35] or mental affirmations that the Self was the only reality, such as "I am Brahman" or "I am He". Ramana advocated the enquiry "Nan Yar" (Tamil, "Who am I"). And Sri Ramana, unlike the traditional Advaitic school, strongly discouraged devotees from adopting a renunciate lifestyle and renouncing their responsibilities. To one devotee who felt he should abandon his family, whom he described as "samsara" (illusion), to intensify his spiritual practice, Sri Ramana replied:
Oh! Is that so? What really is meant by samsara? Is it within or without? Wife, children and others. Is that all the samsara? What have they done? Please find out first what really is meant by samsara. Afterwards we shall consider the question of abandoning them.
Ramana's teachings about self-enquiry have been classified as Jñāna Yoga (path of knowledge) among the Indian schools of thought. Jñāna in Sanskrit means "knowledge". Ramana is quoted as saying:
Know that jnana alone is non-attachment; jnana alone is purity; jnana is the attainment of God; jnana which is devoid of forgetfulness of Self alone is immortality; jnana alone is everything.
Ramana would field many questions about "jnanis" (liberated beings) from devotees, but even the terms "jnani" and "ajnani" (non-liberated being) are incorrect, since it leads one to the idea of there being a knower and a known, a subject and an object. The truth of it according to Ramana Maharshi is that there are neither "jnanis" nor "ajnanis", there is simply "jnana".
The jnani sees no one as an ajnani. All are only jnanis in his sight. In the ignorant state one superimposes one's ignorance on a jnani and mistakes him for a doer. In the state of jnana, the jnani sees nothing separate from the Self. The Self is all shining and only pure jnana.
Though Ramana's teachings are often considered to be akin to Vedanta, his spiritual life is also associated with Shaivism.[note 36] In contrast to Shankara's Vedanta, which speaks of Maya and sees "this world as a trap and an illusion, Shaivism says it is the embodiment of the Divine". It speaks of "the Goddess Shakti, or spiritual energy, portrayed as the Divine Mother who redeems the material world".
Shaiva Siddhanta, the Shaivism which is prevalent in Tamil Nadu, combines the original emphasis on ritual fused with an intense devotional tradition expressed in the bhakti poetry of the Nayanars. The Tamil compendium of devotional songs known as Tirumurai, along with the Vedas, the Shaiva Agamas and "Meykanda" or "Siddhanta" Shastras, form the scriptural canon of Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta. Osborne notes that Ramana was born at Arudra Darshan, the day of the 'Sight of Siva'[web 5]
When telling these stories, he used to dramatize the characters of the main figures in voice and gesture and seemed to identify himself fully with them.
In later life, he came to be regarded as a Dakshinamurthy,[web 9] an aspect of Shiva as a guru of all types of knowledge, and bestower of jnana. This aspect of Shiva is his personification as the supreme or the ultimate awareness, understanding and knowledge. This form represents Shiva in his aspect as a teacher of yoga, music, and wisdom, and giving exposition on the shastras.
Ramana considered the Self to be his guru, in the form of the sacred mountain Arunachala, where he spent his adult life. Arunachala is a holy hill at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, where the Annamalaiyar Temple, a temple of Lord Shiva is located. It is one of the five main shaivite holy places in South India.
One of the works that Ramana used to explain his insights was the Ribhu Gita, a song at the heart of the Shivarahasya Purana, one of the 'Shaiva Upapuranas' or ancillary Purana regarding Shiva and Shaivite worship. Another work used by him was the Dakshinamurthy Stotram, a text by Shankara. It is a hymn to Shiva, explaining Advaita Vedanta.
C.G. Jung objected to regarding Ramana as an "isolated phenomenon" Jung wrote the foreword to Heinrich Zimmer's Der Weg zum Selbst, "The Path to the Self" (1944), an early collection of translations of Ramana's teachings in a western language. According to Wehr, Jung regarded Ramana Maharshi not to be an "isolated phenomenon", but a token of Indian spirituality, "manifest in many forms in everyday Indian life":
Alan Edwards has placed Ramana Maharshi in the context of western Orientalism, arguing that:
...scholarship can misinterpret and misrepresent religious figures because of the failure to recognise the presence of [Orientalist stereotypes] and assumptions, and also because of the failure to maintain critical distance when dealing with the rhetoric of devotional literature."[web 42][note 39]
According to Zimmer and Jung, Ramana's appearance as a mauni, a silent saint absorbed in samadhi, fitted into pre-existing Indian notions of holiness. They placed the Indian devotion toward Ramana Maharshi in this Indian context.[note 40]
Tamil culture has a long tradition of devotional spiritual practices and non-monastic religious authority, such as the Nayanars and the Siddhas. Ramana himself considered God, Guru and Self to be the manifestations of the same reality.[web 44] One of these manifestations is the mountain Arunachala, which is considered to be the manifestation of Shiva. It can be worshipped through the mantra "Om arunachala shivaya namah!" and by Pradakshina, walking around the mountain, a practice which was often performed by Ramana. Ramana considered Arunachala to be his Guru. Asked about the special sanctity of Arunachala, Ramana said that Arunachala is Shiva himself.[note 41] In his later years, Ramana said it was the spiritual power of Arunachala which had brought about his Self-realisation. He composed the Five Hymns to Arunachala as devotional song. In later life, Ramana himself came to be regarded as Dakshinamurthy,[web 28] an aspect of Shiva as a guru. On the three occasions Venkataraman (Ramana) referred to himself he used the name Arunachala Ramana.
In the 1930s Ramana Maharshi's teachings were brought to the west by Paul Brunton in his A Search in Secret India. When this book was published in 1934, the western world had already been exposed to Indian religious thought for 150 years. In 1785 appeared the first western translation of a Sanskrit-text. It marked the growing interest in the Indian culture and languages. The first translation of Upanishads appeared in two parts in 1801 and 1802, which influenced Arthur Schopenhauer, who called them "the consolation of my life".[note 42] Early translations also appeared in other European languages.
A major force in the mutual influence of eastern and western ideas and religiosity was the Theosophical Society, of which Paul Brunton also had been a member. It searched for ancient wisdom in the east, spreading eastern religious ideas in the west. One of its salient features was the belief in "Masters of Wisdom",[note 43] "beings, human or once human, who have transcended the normal frontiers of knowledge, and who make their wisdom available to others". The Theosophical Society also spread western ideas in the east, aiding a modernisation of eastern traditions, and contributing to a growing nationalism in the Asian colonies.[note 44] Another major influence was Vivekananda, who popularised his modernised inerpretation of Advaita Vedanta in the 19th and early 20th century in both India and the west, emphasising anubhava ("personal experience" over scriptural authority.
Brunton wasn't the first westerner who searched for masters in India. Renard mentions Edward Carpenter as the most remarkable example, who wrote about his visit to a "Gnani" (jnani) in his "Adam's Peak to Elephanta", published in 1892. Stimulated by Arthur Osborne, in the 1960s Bhagawat Singh actively started to spread Ramana Maharshi's teachings in the USA. In his 1960 lecture, The Nature of Consciousness, British philosopher and writer Alan Watts talked about the role of a guru in spiritual awakening, and cited Sri Ramana Maharshi as an example of such a person from modern times:
When you're in the way of waking up, and finding out who you really are, you meet a character called a guru ... You know Sri Ramana Maharshi, that great Hindu sage of modern times? People used to come to him and say, "Master, who was I in my last incarnation?", as if that mattered. And he would say "Who is asking the question?" And he'd look at you and say, basically, "Go right down to it. You're looking at me, you're looking out, and you're unaware of what's behind your eyes. Go back in and find out who you are, where the question comes from, why you ask." And if you've looked at a photograph of that man, I have a gorgeous photograph of him; and you look in those - I walk by it every time I go out of the front door. And I look at those eyes, and the humor in them; the lilting laugh that says "Oh come off it, man (laughs). Shiva, I recognize you. When you come to my door and you say 'I'm so-and-so,' I say, 'Ha ha, what a funny way God has come on today.'"[web 46]
Since the 1970s western interest in Asian religions has seen a rapid growth. Ramana Maharshi's teachings have been further popularised in the west as neo-Advaita via H. W. L. Poonja and his students.
Ramana "never felt moved to formulate his teaching of his own accord, either verbally or in writing". The few writings he is credited with "came into being as answers to questions asked by his disciples or through their urging". Only a few hymns were written on his own initiative.
Writings by Ramana are:
Ramana often mentioned and encouraged the study of the following classical works which are associated with Advaita Vedanta and Shaivism:
Several collections of recorded talks, in which Ramana used Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam,[web 2] have been published. Those are based on written transcripts, which were "hurriedly written down in English by his official interpreters".[web 2][note 46]
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