An Introduction to Sri Ramana's Life and Teachings
David Godman talks to John David
jd: That's only understanding? Surely, once you've perceived that there are piles of grass at home, why would you want to go out again?
DG: The notion of being better off at home belongs to the 'I', and that 'I' has to go before realization can happen.
Let's pursue this analogy a little more. What I will say now is not part of Bhagavan's original analogy, but it does incorporate other parts of his teaching.
For realization, for a true and permanent awakening, the bull has to die. While it is alive, and while the door is still open, there is always the possibility that it will stray. If it dies, though, it can never be tempted outside again. In realization, the mind is dead. It is not a state in which the mind is simply experiencing the peace of the Self.
When the mind goes voluntarily into the Heart and stays there, feeling no urge whatsoever to jump out again, the Self destroys it, and Self alone remains.
This is a key part of Bhagavan's teachings: the Self can only destroy the mind when the mind no longer has any tendency to move outwards. While those outward-moving tendencies are still present, even in a latent form, the mind will always be too strong for the Self to dissolve it completely.
This is why Bhagavan's way works and the forcible-restraint way doesn't. You can keep the mind restrained for decades, but such a mind will never be consumed by the Self because the desires, the tendencies, the
vasanas, are still there. They may not be manifesting, but they are still there.
Ultimately, it is the grace or power of the Self that eliminates the final vestiges of the desire-free mind. The mind cannot eliminate itself, but it can offer itself up as a sacrifice to the Self. Through effort, through enquiry, one can take the mind back to the Self and keep it there in a desire-free state. However, mind can't do anything more than that. In that final moment it is the power of the Self within that pulls the last remains of the mind back into itself and eliminates it completely.
jd: You say that in realization the mind is dead. People who are enlightened seem to think, remember, and so on, in the just the same way that ordinary people do. They must have a mind to do this. Perhaps they are not attached to it, but it must still be there otherwise they couldn't function in the world. Someone who had a dead mind would be a zombie.
DG: This is a misconception that many people have because they can't imagine how anyone can function, take decisions, speak, and so on without a mind. You do all these things with your mind, or at least you think you do, so when you see a sage behaving normally in the world, you automatically assume that he too is coordinating all his activities through an entity called 'mind'.
You think you are a person inhabiting a body, so when you look at a sage you automatically assume that he too is a person functioning through a body. The sage doesn't see himself that way at all. He knows that the Self alone exists, that a body appears in that Self and performs certain actions. He knows that all the actions and words that arise in this body come from the Self alone. He doesn't make the mistake of attributing them to an imaginary intermediary entity called 'mind'. In this mindless state, no one is organizing mental information, no one is deciding what to do next. The Self merely prompts the body to do or say whatever needs to be done or said in that moment.
When the mind has gone, leaving only the Self, the one who decides future courses of actions has gone, the performer of actions has gone, the thinker of thoughts has gone, the perceiver of perceptions has gone. Self alone remains, and that Self takes care of all the things that the body needs to say or do. Someone who is in that state always does the most appropriate thing, always says the most appropriate thing, because all the words and all the actions come directly from the Self.
Bhagavan once compared himself to a radio. A voice is coming out of it, saying sensible things that seem to be a product of rational, considered thought, but if you open the radio, there is no one in there thinking and deciding.
When you listen to a sage such as Bhagavan, you are not listening to words that come from a mind, you are listening to words that come directly from the Self. In his written works Bhagavan uses the term
manonasa to describe the state of liberation. It means, quite unequivocally, 'destroyed mind'.
The mind, according to Bhagavan, is just a wrong idea, a mistaken belief. It comes into existence when the 'I'-thought, the sense of individuality, claims ownership of all the thoughts and perceptions that the brain processes. When this happens, you end up with a mind that says, 'I am happy' or 'I have a problem' or 'I see that tree over there'.
When, through self-enquiry, the mind is dissolved in its source there is an understanding that the mind never really existed, that it was just an erroneous idea that was believed in simply because its true nature and origin were never properly investigated. Bhagavan sometimes compared the mind to a gatecrasher at a wedding who causes trouble and gets away with it because the bride's party thinks he is with the bridegroom and vice versa. The mind doesn't belong to either the Self or the body. It's just an interloper that causes trouble because we never take the trouble to find out where it has come from. When we make that investigation, mind, like the troublesome wedding guest, just melts away and disappears.
Let me give you a beautiful description of how Bhagavan spoke. It comes from part three of
The Power of the Presence. It was written by G. V. Subbaramayya, a devotee who had intimate contact with Bhagavan. It illustrates very well my thesis that the words of a sage come from the Self, not from a mind:
Sri Bhagavan's manner of speaking was itself unique. His normal state was silence. He spoke so little, casual visitors who only saw him for a short while wondered whether he ever spoke. To put questions to him and to elicit his replies was an art in itself that required an unusual exercise in self-control. A sincere doubt, an earnest question submitted to him never went without an answer, though sometimes his silence itself was the best answer to particular questions. A questioner needed to be able to wait patiently. To have the maximum chance of receiving a good answer, you had to put your question simply and briefly. Then you had to remain quiet and attentive. Sri Bhagavan would take his time and then begin slowly and haltingly to speak. As his speech continued, it would gather momentum. It would be like a drizzle gradually strengthening into a shower. Sometimes it might go on for hours together, holding the audience spellbound. But throughout the talk you had to keep completely still and not butt in with counter remarks. Any interruption from you would break the thread of his discourse and he would at once resume silence. He would never enter into a discussion, nor would he argue with anyone. The fact was, what he spoke was not a view or an opinion but the direct emanation of light from within that manifested as words in order to dispel the darkness of ignorance. The whole purpose of his reply was to make you turn inward, to make you see the light of truth within yourself.
jd: Can we go back to the analogy of the bull that has to be enticed back into its stable? It seems the bull, which represents the mind, has to die. When the mind dies, can this considered to be a full awakening? Is there a difference between awakening and enlightenment? Obviously, we're just using words, but are there two different states?
DG: Self is always the same. Self being aware of the Self is always the same. Different levels of experiences belong to the mind, not the Self.
Mind can be temporarily suspended, having been replaced by what appears to be a direct experience of the Self. Nevertheless, this is not the
sahaja state, the permanent natural state in which the mind can never rise again. These temporary states are very subtle experiences of the mind. The bliss and peace of the Self are being experienced, being mediated through an 'I' that has not yet been fully eliminated.
For example, I experience being in this room. I mediate it through my senses, through my knowledge, my memory. When the 'I' goes back into the Heart and remains still without rising, there, in that state, it experiences the emanations of the Self; the quietness, the peace, the bliss.
This is still an experience, and as such, it is not enlightenment. It's not the full awareness of the Self. That full awareness is only there when there is no 'I' that mediates it. The experiences of the Self that happen when the 'I' is still existing may be regarded as a 'preview of forthcoming attractions', like the trailers for next week's movie, but they are not the final, irreversible state. They come and they go, and when they go, mind returns with all its usual, annoying vigour.
jd: How does one progress from these temporary experiences to a permanent one? Is keeping still enough, or is grace required?
DG: I would like to bring in Lakshmana Swamy again at this point. I mentioned him earlier as being an example of someone who realized the Self in Bhagavan's presence through the practice of self-enquiry. So, we are dealing with an expert here; someone who knows what he is talking about.
Lakshmana Swamy is quite clear on this point. He says that devotees can, by their own effort, reach what he calls 'the effortless thought-free state'. That's as far as you can go by yourself. In that state there are no more thoughts, desires or memories rising up. They are not being suppressed; they simply don't rise up any more to grab your attention.
Lakshmana Swamy says that if you reach that state through your own intense efforts and then go and sit in the presence of a realized being, the power of the Self will make the residual 'I' go back to its source where it will die and never rise again. This is the complete and full realization. This is the role of the Guru, who is identical with the Self within: to pull the desire-free mind into the Heart and destroy it completely.
As I mentioned before, this won't happen if the desires and tendencies of the mind are still latent. They all have to go before this final act of execution can be achieved. The disciple himself has to remove all the unwanted lumber from his mental attic, and he also needs to be in a state in which there is no desire to put anything more into it. The Guru cannot do this work for him; he has to do it himself. When this has been accomplished, the power of the Self within, the inner Guru, will complete the work.
jd: We've both had this common experience of living around Papaji, and we have both heard him say to people 'You've got it!' Was he referring to that first temporary state or the second, final irrevocable state?
DG: I would say almost invariably the first. His particular knack, his talent, his skill was to completely pull the mental chair out from underneath you. He would somehow, instantaneously, disentangle you from the superstructure, the infrastructure of the mind, and you would fall - Plop! - right into the Self. You would then immediately think, 'This is great! This is wonderful! I'm enlightened!'
He had this astonishing talent, this power of being able to rub your nose in the reality of the Self. It was completely spontaneous because most of the time he wasn't even aware that he was doing it. Somehow, in his presence people lost this sense of functioning through the individual 'I'. When this happened you would be completely immersed in the feeling, the knowledge of being the Self. However, it wouldn't stick for the reasons I have already given. If you haven't cleared out all the lumber from your mental attic, these experiences will be temporary. Sooner or later the mind will reassert itself and this apparent experience of the Self will fade away. It might last ten days, ten weeks, ten months or even years, but then it goes away and just leaves a memory.
jd: Does that mean that this second final state is very, very, very rare?
DG: In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says, 'Out of every thousand people one is really serious, and out of every thousand serious people only one knows me as I really am'.
That's one in a million, and I think that's a very generous estimate. Personally, I think it's far fewer than that.
jd: This bring us to the subject of your recent series of books. In these books you have chosen people who were close to Bhagavan. Presumably, you chose people who you feel have reached that final state.
DG: No, that wasn't the criterion at all. Initially, my aim was to bring into the public domain accounts by devotees of Bhagavan that hadn't been published before in English. I make no judgments about spiritual maturity or accomplishments. My prime consideration was 'Has this been published before in English, and if it hasn't, is it interesting enough to print now?'
jd: So you don't in any way suggest in the book that they've reached this or that state?
DG: I let people speak for themselves.
The second chapter of part one of The Power of the
Presence, for example, is about a man, Sivaprakasam Pillai, who spent fifty years with Bhagavan. I have already mentioned him; he was the person who recorded the answers that Bhagavan wrote in the sand in 1901. In many parts of this chapter he's lamenting 'I've wasted my life', 'I'm worse than a dog', 'I've sat here for many years without making any progress'.
jd: But this man might have got it in that period, even if he thinks he didn't.
DG: In Bhagavan's day there was a daily chanting of Tamil devotional poetry. There was a fixed selection of material that took fifteen days to go through. Sivapraksam Pillai's poems were part of this cycle. Every fifteen days the devotees would sit in front of Bhagavan and chant 'I am worse than a dog,' and so on.
Somebody asked Bhagavan, 'This man has been here fifty years and he is still in this state. What hope is there for us?'
Bhagavan replied, 'That's his way of praising me'.
When Sivaprakasam Pillai died Bhagavan commented, 'Sivaprakasam has become the light of Siva'.
Prakasam means 'light', so this was a pun on his name.
jd: This suggests that he had achieved this second, final state.
DG: Bhagavan himself only gave public 'certificates of enlightenment' to his mother and the cow, Lakshmi. He did indirectly hint that other people had reached this state, but he would never name the names. He only named those two after they died.
samadhi on the right;
other animal samadhis are on the
left. (Click on image to enlarge)
stone statue of Lakshmi erected
samadhi (Click on image to enlarge)
jd: Let me ask this question differently. In the collective consciousness of the ashram and the people who are associated with it, are there certain people who, somehow, everyone agrees on? Are there people that everyone accepts as enlightened, even though Bhagavan didn't publicly acknowledge their state?
DG: You'll never get everybody to agree on anything around here, but probably the most widely revered was Muruganar. He's an obvious candidate because right from the 1920s onwards he was writing Tamil poetry that spoke of his own realization. He wrote more than 20,000 verses, and in a large number of them he was declaring his enlightenment. Many of these were published in Bhagavan's lifetime, and Bhagavan made no attempt to discourage the notion that these were true accounts. Bhagavan often read out extracts from these books, and this convinced many people that the contents must have been true.
jd: Are there some other candidates that Bhagavan himself seems to acknowledge?
DG: There's a very interesting 'back door'. Both his mother and Lakshmi the cow were given traditional burial rites that are reserved, according to an ancient Tamil scripture, for enlightened beings. During Bhagavan's lifetime only one other devotee was buried in this way: a Muslim man called Mastan who passed away in 1931. He is relatively unknown, but when he died Bhagavan immediately sent Kunju Swami to his village, which is about forty miles away, with instructions to build the kind of shrine that he ordered when his mother died.
I would take this to be a very strong but indirect endorsement of this man's state.