RS: What effect do you feel in the presence of Arunachala?
DG: Arunachala brought me here in the same way it brought Ramana here.
And it has kept me here for most of the last 25 years. I have occasionally left to be with
teachers in other places: Nisargadatta Maharaj in Bombay, Lakshmana Swamy in Andhra Pradesh,
Papaji in Lucknow, but Arunachala has always brought me back here afterwards. It's my spiritual
center of gravity. I can make an effort to be somewhere else if I feel I would spiritually
benefit from it, but when I stop making that effort, the natural pull of Arunachala brings
me back here again. It's the only place in the world that I feel truly at home.
Arunachala has been attracting people for well over 1,500 years. Ramana liked to quote a
saint of about 500 years ago who wrote in one of his verses, "Arunachala, you draw to yourself
all those who are rich in jnana tapas." Jnana tapas can be translated as the extreme efforts
made by those who are in search of liberation.
There are dozens of teachers nowadays who tour
the world touting their experiences and their teachings. Many of them trace their lineage
back to Ramana Maharshi via Papaji. And where did Ramana Maharshi's power and authority come
from? From Arunachala, his own Guru and God. He explicitly stated that it was the power of
Arunachala that brought about his own Self-realization. He wrote poems extolling its greatness,
and in the last 54 years if his life, he never moved more than a mile and a half away from its
base. So, it is the power of Arunachala that is the true source of the power that now appears
as "advaita messengers" all over the world.
For me, this is the world's great power spot.
Arunachala has brought about the liberation of several advanced seekers in the past few
centuries, and its radiant power remains even today as a beacon for those who want to find
out who they really are.
RS: Have there been living people whom you regarded as your Gurus,
or who had an especially strong impact on you spiritually?
DG: I think the four key spiritual figures would be Lakshmana Swamy,
Saradamma, Nisargadatta Maharaj and Papaji. I have to include Ramana Maharshi on this list,
even though I never met him while he was alive. I feel him as strongly as I have felt any
other teacher. The Self that took the form of Ramana Maharshi is my Guru. He lit the lamp
of enlightenment in the Heart of a few of his devotees, and when I sit in the presence of
these beings I am receiving the luster, the light of Ramana Maharshi through them. So I will
not say that my Guru has a particular form. I will say that the light of Arunachala became
manifest in Ramana, and through him it was passed on to Lakshmana Swamy, Papaji, and
Saradamma. When I bask in their light, I am basking in the living, transmitting light of
Nisargadatta does not belong to this lineage, but he was an enormously
beneficial presence in my life in the late 1970s and early 80s. I used to go and see him
as often as I could. He repeatedly told me "you are consciousness" and on a few rare,
glorious occasions I understood what he was talking about. He was not simply giving me
information, he was instead describing my own state, my own experience in that moment.
That was his technique. He would talk endlessly about the Self until you suddenly realized
directly, "Yes, this is what I am right now."
RS: Have you used any practices in addition to those associated
with Sri Ramana?
DG: No. From the moment I first encountered Bhagavan and his teachings
in the 1970s I have never found myself attracted to any other teachings or practices.
RS: I often wonder whether Westerners misunderstand Ramana Maharshi.
What are the most common misconceptions about his teachings?
DG: I am not sure how much understanding there is of Ramana Maharshi
and his teachings in the West. He is an iconic figure to a vast number of people who are
following some sort of spiritual path. I think that for many people he epitomizes all that
is best in the Hindu Guru tradition, but having said that, I think that very few people know
much about him, and even fewer have a good grasp of his teachings. Not many people read books
about him nowadays — I know that from trying to sell my own —and even fewer would profess
themselves to be his devotee. I find there is very little interest in his teachings even
among the people who come to visit Ramanasramam. Nowadays, many of the people who come are
spiritual tourists, pilgrims who just travel round India, checking out all the various ashrams
and teachers.About twenty years ago I met a foreigner here who had come to the ashram for
advice on how to do self-inquiry properly. For several days he couldn't find anyone who
was practicing it, even in Ramanasramam. The people he asked in the ashram office just told
him to buy the ashram's publications and find out from them how to do it. Eventually, he had
what he thought was a bright idea. He stood outside the door of the meditation hall at
Ramanasramam, the place where Sri Ramana lived for over twenty years, and asked everyone
who came out how to do self-inquiry. It transpired that none of the people inside were
doing self-inquiry. They came out one by one and said, "I was doing japa," or "I was doing
vipassana," or "I was doing Tibetan visualizations."
How can there be misunderstandings
among people who have never even bothered to find out the teachings in the first place,
or put them into practice?
RS: I think that some people who are now teaching in the West
are creating misunderstandings about his teachings. Some of them seem to confuse glimpses
of nonduality and feelings of relative selflessness with Self-realization. Since a number
of these teachers trace their lineage back to Sri Ramana, their students project the ideas
of these teachers onto Sri Ramana. What do you think about this?
DG: What are Sri Ramana's teachings? If you ask people who have become
acquainted with his life and work, you might get several answers such as "advaita" or
"self-inquiry." I don't think Sri Ramana's teachings were either a belief system or a
philosophy, such as advaita, or a practice, such as self-inquiry.
Sri Ramana himself would
say that his principal teaching was silence, by which he meant the wordless radiation of
power and grace that he emanated all the time. The words he spoke, he said, were for the
people who didn't understand these real teachings. Everything he said was therefore a kind
of second-level teaching for people who were incapable of dissolving their sense of "I" in
his powerful presence. You may understand his words, or at least think that you do, but if
you think that these words constitute his teachings, then you have really misunderstood him.
RS: There are some aspects of his spoken teachings that appear
to be unique. For example, his reference to the heart center on the right side of the chest.
He said that this was the source of the "I" and the place in the body where the sense of "I"
had to return in order for realization to take place. People who talk about his teachings in
the West rarely seem to mention this point.
DG: Ramana didn't mention it much either. On a few occasions when he
was asked about it, he said it was more important to have the experience of the Self, rather
than locate it in some part of the body. It is true that no teacher who came before him ever
mentioned this, but I would not say that this is a major aspect of his teachings. Nor would I
say that is necessary to have this knowledge in order to have an experience of the Self.
RS: How did you choose the subjects for your three biographical
DG: In two of the three cases the subjects chose me. When I went to
Lakshmana Swamy's ashram in the early 1980s, he asked me to write a brief biography of
Saradamma, a project that eventually turned into a book-length account of both of them.
A few years later, when I wrote a fifty-page account of Papaji's experiences with Ramana,
intending to use it in a book about Ramana's disciples, Papaji liked it so much, he invited
me back to Lucknow to do a complete biography on him. As for the third biography, I
approached Annamalai Swami in the late 1980s, hoping to interview him in order to get enough
material for a chapter in the same book that was going to feature Papaji's account. His story
turned out to be so engrossing, so detailed, so unlike anything I had come across in the
existing Ramana literature, it soon expanded into a book-length project.
RS: All these people seem to be Self-realized. Did you pick
them for this reason? How did you know that they are Self-realized?
DG: The simple answer is that no one who is not a
jnani can really
tell who is in that state, and I would not claim to be in that state myself. Ramana told
people that the peace one feels in the presence of such beings is a good indication that
one is in the presence of an enlightened being, but this is a sign not a proof.
When I first went to see Lakshmana Swamy in the late 1970s, I did not go there with any
intention of evaluating him. But as soon as I looked into his eyes, something inside me
said, "This man is a jnani." Nothing has ever caused me to doubt that first impression.
I don't know how I came to that conclusion because I had never had that kind of thought
before with anybody else. Something inside me just knew. Up till the time I first met him,
I had been meditating intensively for most of the day for a period of about eighteen months.
My mind was fairly quiet most of the time and I really felt that I was making good progress
on the road to Self-realization. However, within a few seconds of being looked at by
Lakshmana Swamy, I was in a state of stillness and peace that was way beyond anything that
I had experienced through my own efforts. That one darshan effectively demonstrated to me
the need for a human Guru, and it also demonstrated to me that there were still people
alive in the Ramana lineage who seemed to have the same power and presence that I had
read about in so many Ramanasramam books. Since that day a large portion of my life and
energy has been devoted to serving such beings and writing about their life and teachings.
RS: What is Self-realization? The terms "glimpse" and "waking-up
experience" appear in Nothing Ever Happened. Did you invent these terms? What is the
relationship between a glimpse or waking-up experience and Self-realization?
DG: I would say that Self-realization is what remains when the mind
irrevocably dies in the Heart. The Heart is not a particular place in the body. It is the
formless Self, the source and origin of all manifestation. Self-realization is permanent
and irreversible. I also suspect that it is quite rare. Many people have had glimpses or
temporary experiences of a state of being in which the mind, the individual "I", temporarily
stops functioning, but I don't think that there are many people in the world in whom the "I"
Papaji used to say, "What comes and goes is not real. If you have had an experience
that came and went, it was not an experience of the Self because the Self never comes and
I think this is an interesting comment. If it is true, it means that most waking-up
experiences are merely new states of mind. It is only when the mind dies completely, never
to rise again, that the Self really shines as one's own natural state.
The terms "glimpses"
and "waking-up experiences" that you refer to are temporary. They come and they go because
the '"I" itself has not been permanently eradicated. A powerful Guru may be able to give a
glimpse of the Self to just about anyone, but it is not within his power to make it stick.
If the person has a mind that is full of desires, those desires will eventually rise again
and cover up the glimpse.
RS: Do Westerners tend to have an exaggerated idea of the
significance of these preliminary experiences?
DG: When these temporary no-mind states are being experienced,
their importance can be greatly exaggerated by people who think that they have attained
permanent enlightenment. But in most cases the feeling of self-importance vanishes along
with the experience.