An Introduction to Sri Ramana's Life and Teachings
David Godman talks to John David
jd: There are many people nowadays who travel around the world giving satsang. Many of them place themselves in Bhagavan's lineage. Would you like to say anything about this?
DG: First of all, Bhagavan never authorized anybody to teach, so anyone who claims they've got Bhagavan's permission to teach isn't telling the truth. People might claim they are in the Ramana Maharshi lineage, which means that Bhagavan is their Guru or their Guru's Guru. I don't necessarily think that this gives people authority to teach. Authority to teach can come from someone who has realized the Self, and it can also come from the Self within. It was the power of the Self that gave Bhagavan himself the authority to speak and teach. No human teacher gave him that authority.
Papaji used to say, 'If you are destined to be a Guru, the Self within will give you the power to do the work. That authority doesn't come from anywhere else, or anyone else.' Papaji told me once that Arunachala gave Bhagavan the power and authority to be a
Sadguru. I think most people would agree with that.
Bhagavan was never authorized to teach by a human Guru, because he didn't have one. In fact, I don't think Bhagavan particularly wanted to be a teacher. In his early years on the hill he tried to run away from his devotees on three occasions, but he never got very far because he was severely limited by his love of Arunachala. There's a limit to how well you can hide yourself on Arunachala. If you are willing to run away to the Himalayas you can get away with it, but if you are just dodging from rock to rock in Tiruvannamalai, people will catch up with you sooner or later. After the third unsuccessful attempt, Bhagavan realized that it was his destiny to have people around and to teach them.
jd: Can we go back to the story of Bhagavan's life? I have been very struck by the stories about his final days. He had a small cancer on his arm, which could have been easily treated by western medicine, but he never gave it much interest.
DG: He did receive the best western medical treatment. He had four operations, which were all done by very competent surgeons, but it was a malignant growth that kept coming back. The only thing that might have cured him was amputation. He drew the line at that and refused to have his arm amputated.
You shouldn't get the impression, though, that he wanted all this treatment. Whenever he was asked what should be done, his reply was 'Let nature take its course'.
The doctors were brought by the ashram authorities and by devotees who didn't want to see him suffering. Bhagavan accepted all their treatments, not because he felt that he needed to be cured, but because the various treatments were offered as acts of devotion. Allopaths, homeopaths, ayurvedic doctors, nature cure experts and herbalists all came, and he accepted all their treatments. He didn't really have much interest in whether they succeeed or not because there was nothing left in him that could say 'I want this to happen,' or 'I don't want this'. He let everyone, one by one, play with his body. He let the surgeons cut him open; he let the herbalists put poultices on.
jd: In a sense that is how he lived his whole life. He basically let his whole life happen.
DG: Yes. He probably knew better than the doctors what would work for him and what would not, but he didn't interfere. He let then do whatever they wanted to do. There's one story from his final days that I really like. Some village herbalist came along and made a concoction of leaves and put it on his arm. The high-powered allopaths were horrified. They thought they were losing valuable time as this bundle of leaves was sitting on Bhagavan's arm. Finally, they ganged up on this man and compelled the ashram manager to take the poultice off so they could get back to work with their scalpels. Even though Bhagavan had agreed to have this poultice on, he accepted the decision to take it off.
I have already said that Bhagavan didn't like to waste anything. He took the poultice off himself and put it on the neck of somebody who had a cancerous growth there and said, 'Well, let's see if it does you any good'.
That person got better and Bhagavan died.
jd: In a way his whole life was a living example of total surrender to 'life taking its course'. It seems to me that this is a message that doesn't always come through because it's the 'self-enquiry' that is connected to his name.
DG: I think the key word to understanding Bhagavan's behaviour is a Sanskrit term,
sankalpa, which means 'will' or 'intention'. It means the resolve to follow a particular course of action or a decision to do something. That is a
sankalpa. Bhagavan has said that this is what separates the enlightened being from the unenlightened.
He said unenlightened people are always full of
sankalpas, full of decisions about what they're going to do next: how they are going to plan their lives; how they are going to change their current circumstances to benefit themselves the most in the long or the short-term future.
Bhagavan maintained that the true jnani has no desire whatsoever to accomplish anything in this world. Nothing arises in him that says, 'I must do this, I must be like this'.
Narayana Iyer once had a most illuminating exchange with Bhagavan on this topic, an exchange that gave a rare insight into the way that a
jnani's power functions: '
One day when I was sitting by the side of Bhagavan I felt so miserable that I put the following question to him: ''Is the
sankalpa of the jnani not capable of warding off the destinies of the devotees?''
'Bhagavan smiled and said: ''Does the jnani have a
sankalpa at all? The jivanmukta [liberated being] can have no
sankalpas whatsoever. It is just impossible.''
'I continued: ''Then what is the fate of all us who pray to you to have grace on us and save us? Will we not be benefited or saved by sitting in front of you, or by coming to you?…''
'Bhagavan turned graciously to me and said: ''…a person's bad karma will be considerably reduced while he is in the presence of a
jnani. A jnani has no sankalpas but his sannidhi [presence] is the most powerful force. He need not have
sankalpa, but his presiding presence, the most powerful force, can do wonders: save souls, give peace of mind, even give liberation to ripe souls. Your prayers are not answered by him but absorbed by his presence. His presence saves you, wards off the karma and gives you the boons as the case may be, [but] involuntarily. The
jnani does save the devotees, but not by sankalpa, which is non-existent in him, only through his presiding presence, his
jd: Is that what the Dalai Lama and the Buddhists call 'compassion'?
DG: I don't know enough about Buddhism to comment on that.
'No sankalpas' means that in an enlightened being there are no feelings or thoughts such as, 'I must help this person', 'this person needs to be helped', or 'this situation needs to be changed'. Everything is totally OK as it is. By abiding in that state, somehow an energy, a presence, is created that takes care of all the incoming problems.
It's like a desk in the outer office. All the incoming requests are processed, and processed very efficiently, in the outer office. The door to the inner office is closed, and behind it the
jnani sits at his desk all day doing absolutely nothing. However, by abiding in his natural state the energy is created that somehow deals with all the requests that come in. The
jnani needs to be there in the inner office, just being himself, because if he wasn't there, the outer office wouldn't be able to function at all.
jd: That would reinforce the time-honored idea that you have to go and sit with an enlightened one.
DG: I agree, but such people are hard to find. In my opinion there are very few of them.
jd: Well, I think your opinion has some authority because you have been living here for about twenty years.
DG: Twenty-five years.
jd: In those twenty-five years you have met many people who were with Bhagavan. You have an unusual, analytic way of looking at things; you have had your own practice here, and you have served several teachers in this lineage. That should be enough to give you some authority to talk about these things.
DG: I have opinions, but I am not an authority. Don't try to make me into one. You can find many people who have been here twenty-five years or more, and none of them agrees with me. You are quite free to go and listen to them and believe anything they have to say.
jd: Is there anything else you'd like to say that somehow summarizes what we've been talking about?
DG: Find a teacher whose mind is dead and spend as much
time as possible in his or her presence. That's my advice to everyone who is serious about enlightenment.
jd: That's interesting. We met a teacher in Rishikesh who basically said the same thing. He said, 'You have to find a Guru'.
DG: There is a limit to what you can accomplish by yourself. Sitting in the presence of a true Guru will always do you more good than meditating by yourself. I am not saying that meditation is not useful. Intense meditation will purify the mind and it may lead you to a competent Guru, but being with a Guru is like freewheeling down a hill on a bike instead of pedaling uphill.
Papaji had an interesting notion. He said that if you meditate intensively enough, you will accumulate the
punyas, which are spiritual brownie points, that somehow earn you the right to sit in the presence of a realized being. However, he said that once you had entered the presence of a realized being, it was more productive to sit quietly and not make any effort at all. When you sit in the presence of such a being, it is the power of the Self coming off and through that person that makes you progress further, not anything you do there.
I think Bhagavan would agree with this. He once told one of his devotees, 'Just keep quiet. Bhagavan will do the rest.'