By Sadhu Natanananda
Translated by Dr. Venkatasubramanian
Edited by David Godman
Published by Sri Ramanasraman, Tiruvannamalai, 606603, India
SADHU NATANANANDA WAS A TAMIL scholar who edited many of Ramana Maharshi’s works, even some that appeared in Sri Ramana’s Collected Works. This work is a penetrating analysis of Bhagavan’s life and teachings, illustrated by many quotations and stories that have never appeared in English before. Also included are two long poems that Natanananda wrote in the 1950s which explain key points of Bhagavan’s teaching and give intimate details of Natanananda’s own inner experiences.
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This is an extract from Sri Ramana Darsanam by Sadhu Natanananda.
Although Sri Ramana was adored by his devotees as Bhagavan, Maharshi, a grace-giving Guru, a supreme teacher, and a divine incarnation, to others he always showed himself as an ordinary person. While his form itself, appearing as grace personified because of its divine lustre, was captivating everyone’s heart, only very few were able to see him through their unconditioned sight as he really was. However, seeing his external form was itself adequate for experiencing the bliss of peace.
Sri Bhagavan’s view of himself and of others was completely different from that of ordinary people who do not know their real nature. Not only was he aware of his own real nature, he clearly knew the truth of others’. Even when he was in the midst of thousands of devotees of varied temperaments, he always remained steadfast in the awareness of the Supreme Self, without swerving in the least from his state. He consequently had the equal vision of seeing everyone as his own Self. Equal vision is evidence of divinity in human form. It is atma-drishti [the vision of the Self].
For those who have received the jnani’s look of grace, the look that emanates from the supreme space of consciousness is their abode and refuge. Bhagavan demonstrated the truth of his statement [in Who am I?] ‘Those on whom the gracious glance of Guru has fallen will never be abandoned’ immediately to those who received his look of grace. Just as the water of the holy Ganges purifies all those who touch it, the divine look of the jnani also purifies all those on whom it falls. Bhagavan exemplified in every way the fact that the enlightened ones, although in human garb, are in their nature really divine.
Just like the philosopher’s stone, which has the wonderful power of turning base iron into noble gold, Sri Bhagavan’s presence transformed even unfit persons into blessed ones. After many years of silence, when Sri Bhagavan started speaking a little, like bees swarming to a blossoming flower, the world of the intelligentsia started gathering around him. Some proud people, who had learned a little of Vedanta in the same way that they learned the Vedas, and who were in the habit of proclaiming themselves to be Brahman, could not bear to see the position of supreme eminence that Bhagavan was beginning to get. Out of envy they used to go to his presence with the intention of humiliating him by arguments. As soon as Bhagavan’s look fell on them, like a cat that has seen a tiger, they were stunned and remained motionless like statues. After remaining in this state for a long period, receiving new light and feeling penitent, they would beg his forgiveness with great feeling.
Sri Bhagavan, bestowing on them his gracious look, would console them, saying with a smiling face, ‘When all are existing as He, who is to forgive whom? Abstaining from droha [treachery, harm, injury] to oneself is sufficient for salvation.’
Such interesting incidents used to take place every now and then in those days.
It is well known that Adi-Sankara, extolled as ‘the world teacher’, won over many famous pandits who professed the superiority of action [followers of karma kanda] and the bigoted adherents of various other cults by his superb intellectual power. With none to equal or excel him in advaitic knowledge, he ascended the sarvajna peeta [the seat reserved for the one who knows everything]. The power of grace that was seen as speech in Sankara, and which shone throughout the world, that same power of grace manifested in Sri Ramana as his divine look and shone as the supreme light that purified the world by a mere glance. Between these two, there is not the slightest difference in their divine nature.
Ganapati Muni, who had the grace of the goddess of learning [Saraswati], had superb intellectual power, had mastered all the scriptures and was famous as the Lord of Mantras [Mantreswara] and as 'Kavyakantha' [one from whose throat sweet poetry flows]. He could also compose verses extempore. Because of his power of speech, scholars always surrounded him. Believing firmly that it is possible to secure the five divine powers [creation, preservation, destruction, veiling and liberation] through the worship of Sakti and by yogic practices, he had spent many years performing rare tapas. He observed severe vows and in the process had many wonderful visions.
Firmly determined not to accept any human being as his Sadguru, he did not bow down to anyone for a very long time. If even such a great person finally took refuge in Sri Ramana, who taught him the true nature of tapas, who can fully comprehend the power of grace that was shining spontaneously in Bhagavan? It was this great person who declared Sri Ramana to be ‘Bhagavan’ and ‘Maharshi’ to the world at large.
The state of firm consciousness [sthitaprajna], extolled highly in the Bhagavad Gita, was normal and effortless to Bhagavan. Therefore, like the sunstone that absorbs heat because of the mere presence of the sun, many thousands of devotees attained the state of Self-abidance by merely having the darshan of Bhagavan. Many intimate devotees knew this from their own experience. The multitude of devotees sanctified by Bhagavan’s darshan included many animals too.
That even ‘lower’ life forms such as birds and beasts can attain the supreme state through the grace of the great ones [maha purushas] was explicitly demonstrated by Bhagavan through the following incident. Bhagavan, ever shedding grace by remaining in the meditative state of Self-abidance, once externalised his attention, turned towards his devotees with a smile, and suddenly asked the following question.
‘Do you know what state Lakshmi is in now?’
Having never witnessed such a scene before, the devotees were puzzled by this unusual question. There was a cow standing in front of him with a motionless and fixed expression on her face.
The ever-cheerful Bhagavan said, to the astonishment of the devotees, ‘She is in nirvikalpa samadhi,’ revealing by this brief comment the extraordinary power of his grace.
The cow, affectionately called Lakshmi, was closely associated with the ashram. When she came, as usual, for Bhagavan’s darshan and stood in his presence, Bhagavan looked at her with great affection and started stroking her head. As a consequence of receiving this hasta-diksha [initiation in which the Guru places his hands on the disciple’s head] she experienced immediately the state of nirvikalpa samadhi.
Although it is common to come across many human beings with bestial natures, it is extremely rare to see an animal with human nature.
Bhagavan himself once pointed out the sanctity of Lakshmi by saying ‘We don’t know what austerities she has performed in her previous births. It may be that she is in our midst only to complete her unfinished tapas!’
After her nirvana, her body was entombed within the ashram premises in the presence of Bhagavan. It was done in the traditional manner, and a memorial was built on top. Among all those who took refuge in Bhagavan, only Lakshmi had the good fortune of having an epitaph written by Bhagavan himself, confirming her liberation. This is what Bhagavan wrote on that occasion: ‘Lakshmi the cow was liberated under the star of visaka on Friday, the twelfth day of the bright half of jyesta in the year sarvadhari [18th June 1948].’
Among the fortunate animals that were the recipients of Bhagavan’s grace, there were others such as dogs, peacocks, squirrels and crows. Indeed, the life history of each one of them is wonderful. When it is seen that even animals attained mental quiescence by the extraordinary power of Bhagavan’s presence, will it not be superfluous to say that human beings attained the same? During the half century of his manifestation as grace divine at Arunachala, innumerable were the instances and infinite were the ways in which Bhagavan showered his grace on all those who approached him.
Many great people have appeared in this world to show the way to life divine. Chief among the paths that lead to supreme bliss and which have been prescribed by these sages are karma yoga and jnana yoga. Mahatma Gandhi and Maharshi Ramana, who appeared in our generation, belong to this line of illustrious people. These two, who lived as storehouses of divine traits such as truth, non-violence, love, sacrifice and tapas, exemplified respectively karma yoga in a householder’s life and jnana yoga as a sannyasin. In their different ways they set the people of the world on the right path. After Swami Vivekananda it was these two who made this blessed land of Bharat famous throughout the world by demonstrating in their lives her ancient cultural and spiritual values. Both of them symbolised self-sacrifice and firm awareness, which are highly extolled as the truth of life and as the essence of the Upanishads by persons such as Acharya Vinobha Bhave. They are the immortal lights, shining like the moon and the sun. The remark of the renowned physicist Einstein regarding Mahatma – ‘Future generations will find it hard to believe that such a man ever walked on the earth’ – is equally applicable to Bhagavan also.
Though Sri Ramana indicated the truth by always abiding in the Self as pure consciousness, he did, at the same time, appear to many in their visions as God incarnate.
Lord Krishna assured his devotees by saying, ‘As I am shining as the Self in the hearts of all beings, in whatever form I am worshipped, I bless the devotees in that very same form’. Even today Lord Krishna showers his grace on devotees in whatever form they conceive him to be. In the same way, Sri Ramana appeared in devotees’ visions as Lord Subramanya and as Sadguru. In these forms he has showered his grace, given spiritual instructions, and fulfilled desires.
The following experience of a lady devotee, who had come from Poland for Bhagavan’s darshan, will serve as a good example. She once went by herself to see Skandashram, and on the way she started to feel thirsty. Not finding any way of quenching her thirst, she began to think, ‘If it is true that Bhagavan is the omnipotent universal Self, why can’t he appear here and remove my thirst?’ The very next moment Bhagavan appeared there with water in his kamandalu and satisfied her thirst. Although this incident actually took place, it should be noted that at the time Bhagavan was present in the ashram, seated in his usual place, not in the least aware of this miracle concerning himself. That lady devotee, who was a devout Christian, believed that a person could only demonstrate divinity by having supernatural powers. She also had pure love and devotion. It is the experience of devotees that God can be ‘caught in the net of devotion’.
The supremely compassionate Bhagavan, who accepts only devotion as a true offering, appeared before her in conformity with her outlook and fulfilled her wish. Although incidents such as these are miraculous, they are of no use to sages such as Bhagavan. However, it is true that they are a great help in increasing and intensifying the devotion and faith of devotees of various temperaments. There is no connection between siddhis and miracles such as the one mentioned above. Siddhis are obtained through effort, operated with a sense of doership, and hence are limited. However, incidents such as this one are solely due to the grace and power of the divine that dwells in all. As it is reflected from within, according to the outlook of the devotees, it is unlimited.
Some who came to Ramana regarded him as their ishta devata, [chosen deity] who could grant all their desires. Bhagavan, early on, would warn such boon-seekers by saying, ‘There are no siddhis in this place. So, do not wait here expecting to get siddhis and get disappointed.’
Because he was always abiding in the Self, the source of all religions, people belonging to various creeds such as Saivism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Islam and Christianity took refuge in him.
Rajendra Prasad, who later became the first President of India, came for Bhagavan’s darshan at Gandhiji’s behest. When he was about to take leave he humbly requested Bhagavan, ‘Mahatmaji has sent me here. Is there any message that I can take to him?’
Bhagavan, looking at him graciously, replied, ‘What message is needed when heart speaks to heart? The same sakti that is working here is also working there.’
This reply of Bhagavan was based on his non-dual perception and is clear evidence confirming the divinity of both. It indicated that the same divine sakti was manifesting in the hearts of both Gandhi and Bhagavan, although in one case it was tending towards activity and in the other towards renunciation of action.
‘There are two great persons living in our midst today. One of them never permits anyone to keep quiet even for a minute. The other does not allow anyone to rise as “I” even for a moment.’ These aphoristic remarks by the queen of poets, Sarojini Devi, about the Mahatma’s life of self-sacrifice devoid of ‘mine’ and Maharshi’s life of jnana devoid of ‘I’ confirm Maharshi’s views.
A part of the speech delivered by Sarojini Devi at Tiruvannamalai, when she came for the first time to have Bhagavan’s darshan, is worth noting.
Mahatma’s blemishless life based on purity of mind and Maharshi’s life of jnana based on unconditioned existence are a commentary on the path of action and the path of knowledge respectively.
According to the sacred wisdom of Tirukkural, ‘He who has got rid of the delusion of regarding the body as “I” and the objects as “mine” reaches the superior state beyond the reach of even the gods’.
The two paths differ only in their means and not in the end. Among the spiritual leaders who have appeared over the ages, only these two persons were followed by the whole world even during their lifetime.
Unlike other teachers of jnana, Bhagavan neither followed any of the traditional practices such as giving diksha, recognising the guru-disciple relationship or training disciples in rules and regulations, nor did he give upadesa in the conventional fashion. When he spoke, he simply cleared the doubts of seekers, giving advice that corresponded to their spiritual maturity.
Bhagavan was always absorbed in the Self. Hence, just as the presence of light is sufficient for the removal of darkness, his darshan was often sufficient for the removal of ignorance.
This illustrates Thayumanavar’s conclusion: ‘Those who speak will not get collected in nishta [Self-abidance]; those who are firmly established in nishta will not teach [by verbal instructions].’
Despite not following any of the practices and displays prevalent in the various religious establishments that function in the names of Sadgurus of yore, Sri Ramana was always surrounded by a great many devotees. However, in the early days, pseudo-vedantins used to debate among themselves about Bhagavan:
‘What instruction does Sri Ramana give, and to whom? Does he at least prescribe rules and regulations for his disciples? If only he had approached some other Guru and learned something, at least a few of the characteristics of a teacher would be present in him. While a student, still at school, he became a victim of some delusion. Suddenly he left home and came to Arunachala, shaved his head and started wearing a loincloth. He spent many years in silence. That is all.
‘Does he have the proper qualification of hearing, reflection, etc.? Only one who has become a Brahma-nishta [one who is firmly established in Brahman] through hearing, reflection, etc. can be a Sadguru. If his qualifications are so poor, what can one say about all the fools who have gathered around him? That is why all the devotees of Sri Ramana are seen to be without any discipline!’
Such used to be the talk among the pseudo-vedantins.
Others complained, ‘He is spending all his time just observing mere silence, without knowing anything. At least let me teach him something and put him on the right path.’
With such benevolent ideas some came to Sri Ramana to give him upadesa but finally took him as their Sadguru. Such was their good fortune. Some with depraved minds came with the idea that they would become famous by mesmerising him through their initiation tricks, but they had to return disappointed.
It is ignorance, taking the form of the I-am-the-body feeling, that makes one regard oneself as a guru. As the word ‘guru’ connotes the removal of ignorance, how can he who has not got rid of his own ignorance become the Sadguru who removes others’ ignorance? A firm jnani is alone fit to be adored as a Guru. Since such a one has no ego, he perceives only the Self and is not aware of superficial differences.
According to Brahma Gita, ‘A jnani is none other than God. To stay where he stays is liberation.’
Those who regard someone who is firmly established in jnana, a jivanmukta, as their Guru are, following the wasp-grub argument, certain to be blessed by him through the power of their meditation. This is the method of showering grace that was demonstrated by Lord Dakshinamurti, the primal Guru who truly personified non-dual knowledge in the form of supreme silence.
[There is a belief that a wasp larva is terrified of being bitten by a wasp. Since it is always thinking of a wasp, and a possible stinging attack, it eventually becomes a wasp.]
In order to revive this blemishless path to the ultimate state, Sri Ramana incarnated as the gracious Guru. How can the marks imagined by those ‘who act as gurus to get worship from others’ be appropriate in Sri Ramana?
Right from the beginning Bhagavan remained without any sense of doership. He never used to prescribe disciplines for anyone. His nature was to instruct by following himself all the disciplines of conduct enjoined upon spiritual aspirants. However, he never permitted excesses by those who relied entirely on him, for he used to correct them in private with kind words. There were some who complained that Bhagavan was not openly censuring the deficiencies in their conduct.
Coming to realise the distress of one such soul, Bhagavan revealed his views on the matter through the following words of grace: ‘Who is to correct whom? Is it not the Lord alone who has the authority to correct everyone? All that we can do is correct ourselves. That itself is correcting others.’
Although Bhagavan felt that all should follow the path of righteousness, he never had any sense of doership with regard to correcting others. The sages such as Buddha, Sankara and Ramakrishna in their essential nature shone as Brahman. However, their biographies say that for the sake of devotees they took upon themselves the pure sense of doership to some extent. But right up to the end Bhagavan shone as the transcendental supreme without even that pure form of ego.
There were many proud ones who proclaimed themselves to be a ‘Siva yogi’ or a ‘supreme jnani’. But Sri Ramana showed himself to be one who never made such tall claims. In his later days, however, he was surrounded by thousands of Brahma-nishtas and appeared as Dakshinamurti himself. The subtle reasons behind this are investigated next.