Guru Vachaka Kovai

Guru Vachaka Kovai

By Muruganar

Translated by Dr T. V. Venkatasubramanian, Robert Butler and David Godman

Edited and annotated by David Godman

Main text 598 pages plus a 35-page Introduction

ISBN: 9780971137189



GURU VACHAKA KOVAI (The Garland of the Guru’s Sayings) is the most authoritative collection of Ramana Maharshi’s spoken teachings. The first Tamil edition of the book, published in 1939, was personally checked and revised by Ramana Maharshi himself.

The Guru Vachaka Kovai verses, recorded by Muruganar in the last decades of Ramana Maharshi’s life, cover the full spectrum of his teachings. This new translation of the entire work includes previously unpublished explanatory notes by Muruganar and supplementary teaching material by Sri Ramana that illustrates or expands on the words of the original text.

There are two translations of Guru Vachaka Kovai available from this website, one by Sadhu Om and Michael James, and the other by T. V. Venkatasubramanian, Robert Butler and David Godman.

Other translations

Translation by Sadhu Om and Michael James


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The Garland of the Guru’s Sayings

This extract comprises the first fifty-seven verses of Guru Vachaka Kovai, along with editorial notes and supplementary quotations from Bhagavan. The translated verses and Muruganar's comments on them are in roman; the editorial comments and the additional quotations are displayed in italics. The various headings and subheadings are given in bold.

Prefatory verses

1   Obeisance to the Guru

1The Guru abides without the base mental attitude of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, which exist through their dependence on erroneous understanding. He is the flame of bodha [knowledge] that will shine as the Self of the seeker, conferring such a clarity of knowledge in his heart, he will no longer be distressed by his longing for grace.

The idea being presented here is that once seekers have a direct experience of true knowledge, they will no longer pine for grace because they already have the full experience of it. The word bodha, translated here as ‘knowledge’, can be equated in this context with jnana, a Sanskrit word that was often used by Bhagavan to indicate 'true knowledge’ or ‘knowledge of the Self’. Jnana is the state of irrevocable enlightenment. In it one knows oneself to be Atman (the Self) and Atman alone.

2Even as I wallowed in misery, confounding myself with the form of the body, he [Ramana], banishing as ‘not “I”’ the dirty insentient body, lovingly ruled over me as the Guru who bestowed knowledge of the indestructible reality. May the feet of the Mauna Guru, benevolent grace itself, rest on my head!

Mauna means ‘silence’. In this context it denotes Bhagavan, the Guru who taught through silence and bestowed the direct experience of that silence on Muruganar.

3The Guru, the Master of jnana, gives out clearly and concisely the true import of all the widely differing [scriptural] statements, skilfully establishing their relevance so that they are shown to be completely harmonised. May his feet rest upon my head!

Muruganar: To the sadhaka [spiritual practitioner] the arguments appear endless and contradictory, causing disturbing confusion. Unless the jnana experience arises, the harmony underlying the divergent arguments will not be revealed.

2   Name of the Work and its Origin

4This bright clear ‘Lamp of Supreme Truth’ [Paramartha Deepam] was not one that I myself lit with my infantile and immature knowledge — I whose heart had not seen the truth shine. It was lit by my Lord Ramana with his ripe, supreme jnana.

The ‘Lamp of Supreme Truth’ is the original subtitle of Guru Vachaka Kovai.

5The grace-bestowing Lord Ramana is the swarupa that shines as the Self, the reality that exists as self-effulgent being-consciousness. Of the many instructions he gave out to end the [mental] weakness and confusion [of sadhakas], I shall relate a few that have remained in my memory and which I have cherished in my heart.

‘Swarupa’ is one of the most common technical terms in this work. It is a Sanskrit word that is made up of two components: ‘swa’, meaning ‘one’s own’, and ‘rupa’, meaning form. Combined together the word means, ‘one’s inherent nature’, ‘one’s true form’. It often appears as a compound term with ‘Atma’, the Self. Atma-swarupa means 'the intrinsic or true nature of one’s own Self’, or ‘the Self which is one’s true nature’.

In the Introduction it was explained that Muruganar generally showed Bhagavan verses which recorded his teaching statements on the day that they were composed. This particular verse, with its statement, ‘I shall relate a few that have remained in my memory and which I have cherished in my heart’, was composed after Bhagavan passed away and was first published in the 1971 edition. The final sentence probably refers to those verses which Muruganar lost and which he subsequently attempted to retrieve from his memory.

6Abiding where Ramana embraced me, I dwelt there with my Lord and rejoiced with him. I will relate a fragment [of the teachings] on the nature of the Supreme Truth [paramartha dharma] that I realised in our life of union together.

7Ramana, Guru and God, caused clear understanding to arise in me by destroying the veiling, the rising ego-sense. I shall now relate the teachings on the Supreme Truth that I discovered through the perspective of grace granted by him, and I shall string them together as a garland.

3   Benefit of the Work

8Since the Supreme Self exists as all there is, there is nothing whatsoever for it to attain. Therefore, the benefit of this ‘Lamp of Supreme Truth’ is to bring about total cessation of mental movements towards dharma, artha and kama.

Traditional scriptures have identified four acceptable goals or ways of life:

Dharma: the performance of social duties in an ethical way.

Artha: the acquisition of wealth through righteous means.

Kama: the happiness derived from sensual enjoyments.

Moksha: liberation, the natural state of abiding as the Self.

Bhagavan is saying here that the Self is eternally attained or realised, and that one knows this when the mind stops running towards dharma, artha and kama. Having a mind that no longer pursues these three is the benefit of reading this work. A similar idea appears in verse 1,204 of this work.

The following story, narrated by Kanakammal, expands on this theme. In it the following works and authors are mentioned: Tiruvalluvar (also called Valluvar), author of the Tirukkural (also abbreviated as ‘the Kural’), an ancient Tamil book on dharma, artha and kama; Idaikkadar and Avvaiyar, who were contemporaries of Tiruvalluvar, were distinguished Tamil poet-saints.

Once, Bhagavan’s devotees were discussing Tiruvalluvar’s skill in condensing the greatest truths into the shortest of verses. Someone mentioned that Idaikkadar, one of the famous poets of the Sangam age, had composed a verse in praise of Tiruvalluvar’s unique ability. Idaikkadar says, ‘So much wisdom has been condensed into such compact verses that it seems as though Tiruvalluvar has drilled a hole in a single mustard seed and filled it with all the waters of the seven seas’.

Bhagavan, who was listening to this discussion, turned to Muruganar and said, ‘Hasn’t Avvaiyar condensed the Kural even further?’

To this query Muruganar replied, ‘Yes indeed! Avvaiyar has composed a poem of amazing brevity and unmatched beauty. It is an interesting story. Once, a group of poets were discussing the greatness of Tiruvalluvar and the unique nature of the Tirukkural. Avvaiyar was asked to give her opinion.

‘She said, “All of you seem to be highly impressed by the so-called brevity of the Tirukkural. But is it really so very concise and compact? Can a collection of 1,330 couplets, divided into 133 chapters, be thought of as being ‘brief’ or ‘concise’? I cannot see the need for so many verses just to tell us about virtue, wealth and happiness [dharma, artha and kama]. In my opinion the Tirukkural is an unnecessarily long composition.”

‘The other poets were taken aback by Avvaiyar’s words. They did not believe that the matter in the Tirukkural could possibly be condensed any further. So they challenged Avvaiyar to compose a really short poem which could be considered equal to the Tirukkural in brevity, clarity and beauty. Immediately Avvaiyar responded with the following poem:

'Dharma is to give generously; artha is to earn wealth without resorting to unethical methods; kama is [the consequence of] a loving couple whose minds have become one and who are ever devoted to each other; the supremely blissful moksha is the state in which these three have been abandoned by meditation on the Supreme.’

Muruganar said, ‘Whereas Valluvar had dealt with the three subjects of virtue, wealth and happiness, Avvaiyar had included liberation also in her four-line poem. All the other poets were speechless with wonder.’

Bhagavan thoroughly enjoyed and endorsed the meaning of the verse. (Cherished Memories, pp. 132-3.)

9One’s own real nature, the Self, which shines as the very essence of happiness, is the origin of all the pleasures in this world and the next. Because of its supreme eminence, the benefit of this work is to become firmly absorbed in that Self, without being assailed by thoughts of all the other states of attainment.

This is a continuation of the theme in verse 8. ‘The other states of attainment’ are those that are other than jnana.

4   Apology

It was traditional in ancient times for poets to present their new writings to a learned panel of scholars. In the preamble to these works it was customary for the author to ask these experts to ignore any defects in the text.

10Upon examination, [it will be discovered that] this elegant Guru Vachaka Kovai was not sung by me, a dull-witted fool, through intellectual exertion. It was Venkatavan, divinity in human form, who, without conscious volition, caused me to sing it.

Venkatavan is a diminutive of Venkataraman, Sri Ramana’s birth name. Muruganar frequently uses it in his works.

11Why should I offer an apologetic preface for a work that was not written by an ego-consciousness that proclaims itself to be ‘I’? The responsibility for this work belongs solely to that great being [Ramana] who is realised by the great ones in their hearts through mauna samadhi.

The word for ‘great ones’ — sandror — generally denotes people who excel in learning and virtuous behaviour. Muruganar makes it clear in other places that he is using the term to denote jnanis — those who have realised the Self — not merely scholars or virtuous men.

Samadhi is often taken to be a yogic state of absorption, but Bhagavan once defined it by saying, ‘Holding onto reality is samadhi’. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 391.) Since mauna is the silence and stillness of the Self, mauna samadhi is the state of silence that is experienced when one is fully absorbed in the Self.

5   Dedication

12By giving me this birth, my mother, who knew nothing of craftiness or clever talk, enabled me to destroy ignorance and attain the wealth of jnana. I therefore lovingly and whole-heartedly dedicate this work [to her], saying, ‘Let this work become an offering to my mother’s blessed heart’.

Muruganar dedicated two of his major works, Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai and Guru Vachaka Kovai, to his mother.

6   The Author

13He who [recorded and] strung into a garland a few of the Guru’s instructions and announced this pre-eminent scripture to the world is Kanna Murugan, who sees through his eye of grace that the essence of all things is only the flourishing feet of his Lord.

The first draft of this verse was composed by an anonymous admirer of Muruganar. It read:

Holding in his heart as the supreme truth the feet of illustrious Ramana, God manifesting in the form of the Guru, [Muruganar revealed] the ambrosial truth of all things. Declare that his name is Mugavai Kanna Murugan of the Bharadwaja lineage.

When Bhagavan read the proof copy of this work prior to its first printing in 1939, he crossed out virtually all of the original and then composed a new version. A comparison of the two verses will show that Bhagavan’s revision praises Muruganar far more effusively than the original.

Part One

Investigation into Truth

Auspicious Invocation

14Through the righteous and exalted tapas performed by Goddess Earth, whom the oceans encircle, the abundantly glorious pure Brahman itself has assumed the graceful form of Sri Ramana Sadguru. May his immaculate feet, being-consciousness, abide in our hearts.

In English we might say, ‘The world paid no attention,’ when we mean ‘The people of the world paid no attention’. This is known as metonymy. Here, in a somewhat similar literary form, ‘Goddess Earth, whom the oceans encircle’, denotes the people of the world, rather than the tutelary Goddess of Earth, Nilamakal.

The Sadguru is the Guru who is established in sat — true being — and who has the power to convey his own experience of the Self to others. Tapas is an intense spiritual practice, often accompanied by some sort of bodily mortification, that frequently has as its goal the granting of some kind of boon or blessing by a deity. The verse is saying that for those who perform ‘righteous and exalted tapas’  Brahman takes the form of a human Guru. Brahman is not a specific deity; it is the Hindu term for the impersonal absolute reality.

In the following dialogue Bhagavan explained how the process outlined in this verse actually works. The ‘sadhus’ referred to in the question are not just renunciate Hindu monks; they are enlightened beings.

Question: When does one get the company of sadhus?

Bhagavan: The opportunity to be in the company of a Sadguru comes effortlessly to those who have performed worship of God, japa [repetition of God’s name], tapas, pilgrimages, etc. for long periods in their previous births. There is a verse by Thayumanavar [a Tamil poet-saint who lived several centuries ago] which points out the same thing:

'For those who, in the prescribed manner, have embarked upon the [pilgrim] path of divine images, holy sites and holy tanks, a Sadguru, too, will come to speak one unique word, O Supreme of Supremes!'

Only he who has done plenty of nishkamya punyas [meritorious actions performed without any thought of a reward or consequence] in previous births will get abundant faith in the Guru. Having faith in the Guru’s words, such a man will follow the path and reach the goal of liberation. (Living by the Words of Bhagavan, p. 220.)

15The pure swarupa, the unique word that abides as the heart of all things, is the excellent, grace-bestowing invocation to this Guru Vachaka Kovai, whose purport is the jnana that dispels the delusion of the ignorant.

The unique word that abides as the heart of all things is ‘I’. The phrase ‘the unique word that abides as the heart of all things’ is possibly a reference to the first line of one of Bhagavan’s stray verses: ‘One syllable shines forever in the Heart as the Self’. (The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, p. 137, stray verse 1.)

16Atma-swarupa, the primal essence that is wholly consciousness, is experienced directly through the state that is entirely mauna. It flourishes and shines as the real nature of the reflected consciousness [chidabhasa] whose form is the false ‘I’, the ego. This pure transcendental swarupa, the fundamental substratum, is the ultimate reality.

Chit, pure consciousness, is distinguished from chidabhasa, the reflected consciousness. Through ignorance the ‘I’ projects a world onto the screen of pure consciousness and then perceives it as a separate and external entity. This illusory reflection is the chidabhasa. The term is usually taken to indicate the unreal appearance of the world that is projected and witnessed by the individual self. Since this projection is the mind itself, not just something that is witnessed by the mind, chidabhasa (as in the verse above) is sometimes equated with the mind or the ego.

17Our Guru’s form is the reality that sleeps without sleeping in the Heart. He is the self-luminous effulgence that shines in the Heart like a beautiful lamp that needs no kindling. To those who have experienced merging in the Heart he is a luscious fruit full of the sweet clarity of the supreme bliss that, without a trace of aversion, causes an ever-increasing desire [for itself]. His grace indeed is the true wealth.

Heart, when capitalised, is usually a translation of the Sanskrit hridayam or the Tamil ullam. It is another synonym for the Self, and when it is used it often denotes the source from which all manifestation emerges and into which it disappears.

Bhagavan: The Heart is not physical; it is spiritual. Hridayam equals hrit plus ayam and means ‘this is the centre’. It is that from which thoughts arise, on which they subsist, and where they are resolved. The thoughts are the content of the mind and they shape the universe. The Heart is the centre of all. ‘Yatova imani bhutani jayante…’ [that from which these beings come into existence…] is said to be Brahman in the Upanishads. That is the Heart. Brahman is the Heart. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 97.)

18He possesses a heart in which attachment and separation are not possible. He is the swarupa who has the beauty of renunciation that is jnana. Putting an end to the sorrow caused by forgetfulness of the Self, he ruled over me and brought me under his dominion. His feet are the perfect exemplar of all the distinguishing characteristics of truth.

Bhagavan: Renunciation and realisation are the same. They are different aspects of the same state. Giving up the non-Self is renunciation. Inhering in the Self is jnana or Self-realisation. One is the negative and the other the positive aspect of the same, single truth. (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 2nd January, 1946, afternoon.)
1   The Reality of the World

The teaching portion of Guru Vachaka Kovai begins here with a long section of verses that lays out Bhagavan’s views on the nature and reality of the world.

The question ‘Is the world real?’ is a recurring one in Indian philosophy, and Bhagavan was asked for his views on this topic on many occasions. To understand the context and background of his replies it will be helpful to have a proper understanding of what he meant by the words ‘real’ and ‘world’.

In everyday English the word ‘real’ generally denotes something that can be perceived by the senses. As such, it is a misleading translation of the Sanskrit word ‘sat’, which is often rendered in English as ‘being’ or ‘reality’. Bhagavan, along with many other Indian spiritual teachers, had a completely different definition of reality:

Bhagavan: What is the standard of reality? That alone is real which exists by itself, which reveals itself by itself and which is eternal and unchanging. (Maharshi’s Gospel, p. 61.)

In Indian philosophy reality is not determined by perceptibility but by permanence, unchangeability and self-luminosity. This important definition is elaborated on in the dialogue from which the above quotation has been taken. It appears in full as a note to verse 64.

As for the word ‘world’, Muruganar points out in his comments to verses 63 and 64 that the Sanskrit word for world, ‘loka’, literally means ‘that which is seen’. The Tamil word for the world, ulagu, is derived from loka and has the same meaning. If one combines this definition of the word ‘world’ with the standard of reality set by Bhagavan, the question, ‘Is the world real?’ becomes an enquiry about the abiding reality of what is perceived: ‘Do things that are perceived have permanence, unchangeability and self-luminosity?’ The answer to that question is clearly ‘no’. The names and forms perceived by a seer do not meet the standard of reality defined by Bhagavan, and as such they are dismissed as ‘unreal’.

According to Bhagavan these names and forms appear in Brahman, the underlying substratum. Brahman does meet the stringent test for reality outlined above since it, and it alone, is permanent, unchanging and self-luminous. If one accepts these definitions, it follows that Brahman is real, whereas the world (the collection of perceived names and forms) is unreal. This formulation, ‘Brahman is real; the world is unreal’ is a standard and recurring statement in vedantic philosophy.

Vedanta is the philosophy that is derived from the Upanishads, the final portions of the Vedas, and the subdivision of it that tallies with Bhagavan’s teachings is known as ‘advaitaadvaita’, which translates as ‘not two’. ‘Not two’ means, among other things, that there are not two separate entities, Brahman and the world; all is one indivisible whole. This point is important to remember since it is at the crux of the apparently paradoxical statements that Bhagavan made on the nature and reality of the world and its substratum. Since there is nothing that is separate from Brahman, it follows that the names and forms that appear and manifest within it partake of its reality. This means that when the world is known and directly experienced to be a mere appearance in the underlying Brahman, it can be accepted as real, since it is no longer perceived as a separate entity. If one knows oneself to be Brahman, one knows that the world is real because it is indistinguishable from one’s own Self. However, if one merely perceives external names and forms, without experiencing that substratum, those forms have to be dismissed as unreal since they do not meet the strict definition of reality.

Bhagavan summarised this position in the following reply:

Shankara [a ninth century sage and philosopher who was the principal populariser of Advaita Vedanta] was criticised for his views on maya without understanding him. He said that (1) Brahman is real, (2) The universe is unreal, and (3) Brahman is the universe. He did not stop at the second, because the third explains the other two. It signifies that the universe is real if perceived as the Self, and unreal if perceived apart from the Self. Hence maya and reality are one and the same. (Guru Ramana, p. 65.)

Maya is the power, inherent within the Self, that makes the world appear to be manifold, rather than an indivisible appearance within Brahman, its source. Maya is both the power that brings apparent multiplicity into existence and the manifestation itself. However, it has no inherent reality, as Bhagavan points out in the following reply:

Question: What is the relationship between maya, the power that makes us take the world to be real, and Atman, the reality itself?

Bhagavan: A man gets married in a dream and there the groom is real but the wife is false. And when he wakes up he is the same man as before. Similarly, the real Atman always remains as it is. It does not get affected or contaminated by maya. It does not marry either maya or anatma [the not-Self] because it is complete, whereas the substance of the world is unreal. (The Power of the Presence, part one, p. 257.)

Bhagavan used many terms, apart from Brahman and the Self, to denote the underlying real substratum. Consciousness, the word used in the following verse, was one of his favourites.

19Since the cause itself [reality] appears as the effect [the world], and because consciousness — the cause of this vast world described by the sastras [the scriptures] as being merely names and forms — is a truth as obvious as the nelli fruit on one’s palm, it is proper to term this great world ‘real’.

‘Nelli’ is the Tamil name for a small green fruit that physically resembles a gooseberry. It is known elsewhere in India as ‘amla’. In many parts of India people say, ‘It’s as obvious as the amla on one’s palm’ when they mean that something is clear, easily perceived and irrefutable. In Atma Vidya, one of Bhagavan’s poetical compositions, he wrote: ‘Even for the most infirm, so real is the Self that compared with it the amla [on the palm of] one’s hand appears a mere illusion.’ (The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, p. 133.)

20The worlds that are described as being either three or fourteen are real when seen from the point of view of the primal cause [Brahman] because they have unceasing existence as their [real] nature. However, when attention is paid only to the names and forms, the effect, even the undecaying cause, the plenitude, will appear to be non-existent.

21To the ignorant, who believe it to be real and revel in it, the world that appears before them is God’s creation, but to the steadfast jnanis, who have known the bondage-free Self by direct experience, it is merely a deluding and binding concept that is wholly mental.

Bhagavan generally taught that the appearance of an external world comes into existence as an act of projection by the individual ‘I’ that sees it. As such, it is very similar to the dream world, which is also a mental creation of the one who dreams. For those who were not able or willing to accept this explanation he would say that it was ‘God’s creation’. Irrespective of which theory one believes in, the external world is known to be a mere concept once the Self has been realised.

22Understand [well] that the world-scene of empty names and forms, comprising the objects of the five senses perceived in the perfectly pure swarupa, the Supreme Self, is merely the divine sport of the mind-maya that arises as an imaginary idea in that swarupa, being-consciousness.

Question: Are names and forms real?

Bhagavan: You won’t find them separate from adhistana [the substratum]. When you try to get at name and form, you will find reality only. Therefore attain the knowledge of that which is real in all three states [waking, dreaming and sleeping]. (The Power of the Presence, part one, pp. 251-2.)

23Those in whose consciousness there is no awareness whatsoever of anything other than the Self, the absolute fullness of consciousness, will not declare this world, which from the perspective of God [Brahman] does not exist, to be that truth whose hallmark is never to deviate from absolute fullness [paripuranam].

In Bhagavan’s teachings there is usually a distinction made between God and Brahman. Iraivan, the Tamil word used here for God, corresponds approximately to Iswara, the generic Sanskrit term for the personal God who supervises the activities of the world. God, the world and the jivas (individual souls) arise and subsist together, but they are not, according to Bhagavan, fundamentally real entities since they are not permanent. Eventually, they all merge into Brahman, the impersonal absolute and unchanging reality, and disappear.

When the world is seen as a separate entity by the jiva, there is also a God who manages the affairs of that world. When the jiva no longer exists, the world and God also cease to exist. An objection could therefore be raised to this verse which says that the world does not exist in the perspective of God. Bhagavan would normally say that the world does not exist in Brahman, but it does exist in the perspective of God.

Sadhu Om has recorded an incident in which Bhagavan himself queried Muruganar about the vocabulary used in this verse:

The Tamil word iraivan is usually understood as meaning God, the Lord of this world, and as Bhagavan has elsewhere explained, the trinity of soul, world and their Lord will always appear to co-exist in maya, and thus the apparent world does exist in the view of its apparent Lord, God. Therefore, on seeing this verse, Bhagavan remarked, ‘Who said that there is no world in God’s view?’, but when the author, Sri Muruganar, explained that he had used the word in the sense of the Supreme Brahman, Sri Bhagavan accepted this meaning and approved the verse. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, tr. Sadhu Om, p. 8.)

There are a few other instances (see verses 33 and 38, for example) in this section where Muruganar uses the word ‘God’ when ‘Brahman’ might possibly be a more appropriate term.

24You who believe that the world, which is experienced merely as an object of the senses, is real, and who cherish it as something worthwhile, come ultimately to grief, like the parrot that waits for the silk-cotton fruit to ripen! If this world is real merely because it is perceived, then water seen in a mirage is also real because it too is perceived.

The fruit of the silk-cotton tree is a large pod that always remains green. When it finally ripens, it bursts open, revealing its insides — an inedible, white, fluffy mass of fibre. Expecting the world to produce real benefits is compared to the fruitless vigil of the parrot that ignorantly expects something delicious to come out of the silk-cotton tree’s pod.

25Do not get confused by abandoning the state of clarity, the swarupa perspective, and then pursue appearances, taking them to be real. That which appears will disappear, and hence it is not real, but the true nature of the one who sees never ceases to exist. Know that it alone is real.

26Since the world appears only to mind-consciousness, the distortion produced by maya, and not to the Atma-swarupa that exists as the source of that mind, can there be any world that truly exists?

27Do not be confounded by this worthless samsara that appears as a dream in the deluding [sleep of] ignorance. In a mind that has an intense desire for reality — consciousness, the supreme — it is impossible for the binding mental delusion that arises in the dense darkness of ignorance to remain.

Samsara is the continuous round of birth and death to which the jiva is subjected until it attains liberation. In a more general sense it denotes worldly life.

28You who shrink from the world, trembling in fear! There is definitely no such thing as a real world. Therefore, to be afraid of the imaginary world that appears to be real is like fearing the imaginary snake [that is misperceived] in a coiled rope.

29The world is seen fully and distinctly only in the waking and dream states in which sankalpas [thoughts] have arisen. Is it ever seen during sleep, where there is absolutely no arising of thoughts? Therefore, sankalpas alone are the material substance of the world.

Bhagavan: Sankalpa [thought] creates the world. The peace attained on the destruction of sankalkpas is the [permanent] destruction of the world. (Padamalai, p. 264, v. 6.)

30If the perceived world is only the glorious play of thought, why does it still appear as it did before — albeit like a dream — even when the mind remains tranquil, without thoughts? This is because of the unexhausted momentum of the previous imagination.

31Like a spider that has the wonderful power to extrude the strands of its web from its mouth and then withdraw them back there, the mind unfolds the world from within itself and then withdraws it back into itself.

Bhagavan: Just as the spider spins out the thread from within itself and again withdraws it into itself, so the mind projects the world from within itself and again absorbs it into itself. (Who am I? essay version, The Path of Sri Ramana Part One, p. 184.)

Question: What is the relation between mind and object? Is the mind contacting something different from it, viz., the world.

Bhagavan: The world is ‘sensed’ in the waking and the dream states or is the object of perception and thought, both being mental activities. If there were no such activities as waking and dreaming thought, there would be no ‘perception’ or inference of a ‘world’. In sleep there is no such activity and ‘objects and world’ do not exist for us in sleep. Hence [the] ‘reality of the world’ may be created by the ego by its act of emergence from sleep; and that reality may be swallowed up or disappear by the soul resuming its nature in sleep. The emergence and disappearance of the world are like the spider producing a gossamer web and then withdrawing it. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 25.)

32When the mind emerges first through the brain and then through the senses, along with it names and forms are pushed out from within. Conversely, when the mind rests in the Heart, they enter and subside there again.

33Through names and forms the world appears in all its discordant diversity. When names and forms cease forever, it [the world] is Brahman. A person with a limited mind masks the true God [Brahman] with concepts of name and form, sees it as a world, and is bewildered and frightened.

Bhagavan: It is said that Brahman is real, and [the] world an illusion; again it is said that the whole universe is an image of Brahman. How are these two statements to be reconciled? In the sadhak stage, you have got to say that the world is an illusion. There is no other way, because when a man forgets that he is the Brahman, who is real, permanent and omnipresent, and deludes himself into thinking that he is a body in the universe which is filled with bodies that are transitory, and labours under that delusion, you have got to remind him that the world is unreal and a delusion. Why? Because, his vision, which has forgotten its own Self, is dwelling in the external material universe and will not turn inward into introspection unless you impress on him that all this external, material universe is unreal. When once he realises his own Self, and also that there is nothing other than his own Self, he will come to look upon the whole universe as Brahman. There is no universe without his Self. So long as a man does not see his own Self which is the origin of all, but looks only at the external world as real and permanent, you have to tell him that all this external universe is an illusion. You cannot help it. Take a paper. We see only the script, and nobody notices the paper on which the script is written. The paper is there, whether the script on it is there or not. To those who look upon the script as real, you have to say that it is unreal, an illusion, since it rests upon the paper. The wise man looks upon both the paper and script as one. So also with Brahman and the universe. (Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 24th August, 1946.)

34The world that associates with us as an appearance of names and forms is as transient as a lightning flash. The faltering understanding ‘I am the body’ is the deceptive device that makes us desire the world as if it were real, [thereby] entrapping us instantaneously in the powerful snare of bondage.

Muruganar: Since the world does not appear without the body, the confused belief ‘I am the body’ is said to be the maya that projects the appearance of names and forms. The delusion that causes the name-and-form appearance to be seen as different from swarupa is that which insists that the world is real. It’s root is the primal ignorance ‘I am the body’.

35This world phenomenon, consisting of dualities and trinities, shines because of thoughts. Like the unreal circle traced in the air by a whirling firebrand, it [the world phenomenon] is created by the spinning of the illusory mind. However, from the point of view of swarupa, the fullness of intense consciousness, the illusory mind is non-existent. This you should know.

The dualities are pairs of opposites such as happiness and sorrow, and the trinities are the groups of three: seer, seeing and seen and knower, knowing and known. Whenever the Sanskrit word ‘triputi’ is used in this text, it refers to one or both of these two groups.

The analogy of the moving firebrand that creates an illusory pattern comes from Gaudapada’s commentary on the Mandukyopanishad:

As a firebrand, when set in motion, appears as straight, crooked, etc., so also consciousness, when set in motion, appears as the perceiver, the perceived, and the like. (The Mandukyopanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika, 4.47.)

36You worldly minded man, [you] who do not accept as true the fair and reasonable teachings of supreme jnana that are declared by jnanis! If you thoroughly examine the world, this vision misperceived by a jaundiced eye, this bloating out of a great delusion, it is merely a deception caused by vasanas.

Vasanas are mental habits or tendencies. They are the desires and aversions that impel one to behave in a particular way. In common with other advaita teachers, Bhagavan taught that one’s vasanas not merely determine one’s behavior, they actually create and sustain the illusion of the world by taking one’s attention away from the Self and onto the external objects that one wants to enjoy or avoid. These buried or latent habits of the mind withdraw into the Heart at the moment of physical death, but they are not extinguished there. Their unexhausted momentum will cause them to take a new form, a new body, a new incarnation through which they can continue to thrive. Vasanas are therefore the fuel that drives samsara, the continuous cycle of birth and death.

37What exists is the plenitude of object-free jnana, which shines as unconditioned reality. The world appears as an object that is grasped by your suttarivu. Like the erroneous perception of a person with jaundice who sees everything as yellow, this entire world is a deluded view consisting wholly of a mind that has defects such as ego, deceit, desire, and so on.

Suttarivu is a key word in Muruganar’s writings. Arivu means consciousness or true knowledge, and it is often used in Tamil as an equivalent of jnana. ‘Suttu’ means ‘pointed at’. Arivu is the true consciousness, the true knowledge that is aware of nothing other than itself. However, when attention is externalised and ‘pointed at’ phenomena which are assumed to be external, the trinity of seer, seeing and seen arises. This creates the idea of an individual self who sees an external real world, and while this suttarivu process is functioning, the reality of the undivided Self is hidden.

The term suttarivu comes from Saiva Siddhanta philosophy, a subject Muruganar had a strong grounding in, but it does not appear in Vedanta. The word is generally translated as ‘objectifying consciousness’, ‘objectified consciousness’, ‘objective knowledge’ or ‘relative knowledge’, but since these terms are a little abstract and do not fully convey this process whereby the externalising of attention brings about duality, we have retained the Tamil word suttarivu in many of the verses.

In the following selection of verses from Padamalai Bhagavan explains the nature of suttarivu and the means by which it can be eradicated:

Bhagavan: Though the Atma-swarupa is one’s own true nature, the reason why it appears difficult to attain is because of the powerful illusion wrought through suttarivu.

That which exists is only the one consciousness. The many conceptualised varieties of objectified consciousness are only an imaginary notion in that which is.

It is foolishness to suffer by desiring and struggling to know the Self in the same way that sense objects are known by the suttarivu.

It is not possible to see the eye with the eye. [In the same way] it is not possible to see the Self with suttarivu.

The experience of the bliss of blemishless, true jnana-samadhi will abide in a heart in which the suttarivu has perished.

Knowledge of the reality of the knower terminates mind-consciousness, the suttarivu that knows the non-Self.

Confusion, the whirling of the mind that is suttarivu, will not cease except by internal renunciation.

The cavorting mind, suttarivu, will not die except by awareness of the truth of the real nature of the thinker. (Padamalai, pp. 148-150, vv. 2, 3, 10, 11, 19, 21, 22, 24.)

38Just as yellow turmeric powder loses its colour and becomes white under sunlight, this wholly mental world perishes before the sunlight of the knowledge of reality. Therefore, it is not a creation of God, the sun of true jnana. Like the many-hued eye of the peacock feather, this bright world is only a vast picture, a reflection seen in the darkened mirror of the impure mind.

Bhagavan: If the obstacle of the ego-impurity is destroyed, the creation [srishti] that appeared as the world will become a mere appearance [drishti]. (Padamalai, p. 272, v. 16.)

39In the experience of true knowledge, which is the reality of the Self, this world is merely the beautiful [but illusory] azure-blue colour that appears in the sky. When one becomes confused by the veiling, the ‘I am the body’ delusion, those things that are seen through suttarivu are merely an imaginary appearance.

40This world, a vast and harmful illusion that hoodwinks and ravages the intellect of all, has arisen through nothing other than the mistake of pramada, which is abandoning one’s true nature instead of remaining merged with it.

See verse 368 where a similar idea is expressed. Pramada is another key word in the text. It denotes the forgetfulness of the Self that arises when one puts one’s attention on anything that is not the Self. When attention is wholly on the Self, ‘this world, a vast and harmful illusion’ ceases to exist. The world only comes into an apparent existence when Self-awareness is absent.

Bhagavan: Through forgetfulness the villainous mind will throw away the Self, that which is, and will get agitated.

In the state in which one has known the truth without any pramada, all names and forms are Brahman.

The reason why the state of Brahman has become different from you is nothing other than your deceitful forgetfulness of the Self. (Padamalai, p. 72, vv. 86, 87, 88.)

41This worldly life is a dreamlike appearance, sapless and deluding, that functions through the mixture of the pairs of opposites such as desire and aversion. It appears as if real only as long as one is under the spell of the maya-sleep. It will end up being totally false when one truly wakes up into the maya-free Self.

42One’s true nature is consciousness, the supreme. When the mind is extinguished in that Self, the several saktis, beginning with iccha, which are said to exist, will completely cease, being [known to be] an unreal superimposition upon the perfectly pure consciousness that is one’s true nature.

The three saktis, or powers, are iccha sakti (the power of desiring), jnana sakti (the power of knowing), and kriya sakti (the power of doing).

43Sivam, which is consciousness, the supreme, abides as the substratum for the entire universe. Consisting of the triputis, this world picture that appears in it is the sport of the supreme power of consciousness. Like a cinema show, it is a superimposed illusion. This you should know.

The triputis are the groups of three elements that are essential for perceiving an external world: seer, seeing and seen, and knower, knowing and known. Sivam is another key word in Guru Vachaka Kovai. Siva is the personal God, whereas Sivam is the formless consciousness of Siva. As such it can be equated with other synonyms for the Self such as Brahman.

44The world does not exist in the state of ultimate truth [paramartha]. Its appearance, its [apparently] existing nature in maya, is like the imagined appearance of a snake in a rope, a thief in a wooden post, and water in a mirage. Their essential nature is delusion.

45This world that consists of diverse moving and unmoving objects, which arise and shine in the Self, is like the various ornaments that arise from gold and shine, taking gold as their basis. Just as the ornaments that shine as many are, in truth, only gold in essence, the world is not separate and distinct from the Self, consciousness.

46The Supreme is concealed when the world is seen, and conversely, when the Supreme is seen, the world disappears. Both cannot be seen distinctly, as two separate entities, at the same time, [just as] in a carved statue of a dog, the dog and the stone cannot be seen as two separate entities simultaneously.

Bhagavan: The triputis and their source, pure consciousness, can, under no circumstances, appear simultaneously. Like the wood and the elephant in a wooden elephant, when one appears, the other will disappear. (Padamalai, p. 270, v. 7.)

Bhagavan: Just as when you see a stone carved into the form of a dog and you realise that it is only a stone, there is no dog for you; so also, if you see it only as a dog without realising that it is a stone, there is no stone for you. If you are existent, everything is existent; if you are non-existent, there is nothing existent in this world. If it is said that there is no dog, but there is a stone, it does not mean that the dog ran away on your seeing the stone. There is a story about this. A man wanted to see the king’s palace, so [he] started out. Now, there were two dogs carved out of stone, one on either side of the palace gateway. The man standing at a distance took them for real dogs and was afraid of going near them. A saint passing along that way noticed this and took the man along with him, saying, ‘Sir, there is no need to be afraid’. When the man got near enough to see clearly, he saw that there were no dogs, and what he had thought to be dogs were just stone carvings. In the same way, if you see the world, the Self will not be visible; if you see the Self, the world will not be visible. A good teacher [Guru] is like that saint. (Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 12th September, 1947.)

47The world that veils the Self through names and forms, and appears to be real, is only a dream-like appearance. If, instead, that very same world gets veiled by the Self and appears as consciousness alone, then, as the Self, it too is real.The world of triputis is only the play of the power of consciousness.

48This world, an infatuating throng of triputis, bewilders the minds of people into believing that it has an independent existence distinct from swarupa. However, it is all only the play of the power of consciousness that, not existing apart from that supreme non-dual swarupa, always remains one with it.

49God, the light of consciousness, shines as Atma-swarupa to one whose attention is focused within. For those who look outwards, he is shrouded by the world, which is a collection of tattvas. This is like a fire that glows brightly within but is covered on the outside by smoke. If, by divine grace, which is the very nature of God, the mind is cleared of the confusion that is suttarivu, the beauty of the world will not be a mental hallucination, an imaginary appearance, but ultimate reality itself.

Tattvas is a term that is used extensively in Indian philosophy. It denotes the categories, entities or principles that the world, and the power that manifests it, can be divided up into. Systems of tattvas are generally hierarchical and reductionist. They divide the world into an elaborate series of subdivisions, which then have further subdivisions, and so on. As Bhagavan notes in this verse, a world-view that comprises tattvas can only be sustained when attention is fixed on external objects instead of the Self.

Muruganar: The word ‘world’ includes the body also. The body veils the Atma-swarupa, and the world veils the form of God. As both the body and the world are a collection of tattvas, they are identical in their nature. Similarly, the individual and God are identical in their true nature. In Ulladu Narpadu, verse 5, Bhagavan wrote, ‘Does the world exist apart from the body?’ and in Upadesa Undiyar, verse 24, he wrote, ‘in the nature of their being, God and individual souls are one and the same’.

Since divine grace is indeed the shining of God as pure being, which is the Atma-swarupa in the heart of the individual, the radiant light of consciousness is known as ‘grace, noble and holy’. The pure mind that, by divine grace, shines as the Self, without suttarivu, will also see the world as the Self and remain still, without pursuing it as mere names and forms. Therefore it has been said that the world is reality itself, and to emphasise it further it has been said, ‘will not be a mental hallucination, an imaginary appearance’.

50To the steadfast jnanis who do not abandon the Self-consciousness that is the substratum for all the imaginary and differentiated forms of knowledge, these [forms of knowledge] are all wholly Self. From this standpoint they [the jnanis] declare that these [differentiated forms of knowledge] are also real. How is it possible for ignorant people who have not attained Self-knowledge to understand the true meaning of this statement?

51True consciousness shines by itself, without limitation, and without clinging to the world. By the shining of this consciousness the power that the maya-defilement [exerts] over the mind perishes. Only those people who have a defilement-free pure mind, and who therefore know the transcendental consciousness, in addition to awareness of the world, can know with certainty the true import of the statement ‘the world is real’.

52If one corrects one’s gross vision, transforming it into the eye of jnana, and if one attentively views [the world] with that eye of truth that is wholly jnana, then the world which was previously seen as the form of the five elements, beginning with space, will be only the Brahman that is wholly consciousness.

This idea appears in Ulladu Narpadu, verse 4:

Bhagavan: If one’s self is a form, then it follows that the world and the Supreme will have form also. If one’s self is not a form, who is there to see their forms, and how? Is there anything that is seen whose nature is other than that of the eye [that sees]? That eye is in reality the Self, the infinite eye.

Bhagavan elaborated on this in an explanation he gave to Lakshman Sarma:

If the eye that sees be the eye of flesh, then gross forms are seen; if the eye be assisted by lenses, then even invisible things are seen to have form; if the mind be that eye, then subtle forms are seen; thus the seeing eye and the objects seen are of the same nature; that is, if the eye be itself a form, it sees nothing but forms. But neither the physical eye nor the mind has any power of vision of its own. The real eye is the Self; as he is formless, being the pure and infinite consciousness, the reality, he does not see forms. (Maha Yoga, p. 83.)

53If one corrects one’s defective vision, transforming it into the form of true jnana, the Supreme, and if one then sees with that jnana vision, the world that appeared as a sea of sorrows will exist as a sea of supreme bliss.

Question: In this life beset with limitations can I ever realise the bliss of the Self?

Bhagavan: That bliss of the Self is always with you, and you will find it for yourself, if you would seek it earnestly.

The cause of your misery is not in the life without; it is in you as the ego. You impose limitations on yourself and then make a vain struggle to transcend them. All unhappiness is due to the ego; with it comes all your trouble. What does it avail you to attribute to the happenings in life the cause of misery which is really within you? What happiness can you get from things extraneous to yourself? When you get it, how long will it last?

If you would deny the ego and scorch it by ignoring it, you would be free. If you accept it, it will impose limitations on you and throw you into a vain struggle to transcend them. That was how the thief sought to ‘ruin’ King Janaka.

To be the Self that you really are is the only means to realise the bliss that is ever yours. (Maharshi’s Gospel, pp. 47-48.)

54The jnani’s vision matures into being-consciousness-bliss, the eye of truth, because the mischievous movements of the ego-mind have ceased completely. Since the nature of the seen is not different from the nature of the eye that sees, to the true jnani the world too is definitely being-consciousness-bliss.

Verses 51, 52 and 53 are, respectively, about the world being sat (being), chit (consciousness) and ananda (bliss). Verse 54 combines the components and expounds on the nature of the world as sat-chit-ananda.

55The world scene that unfolds like a dream is nothing other than the mind, a deluded perspective. Its true nature will appear as it really is only to the true awareness, the distilled being-consciousness that shines, transcending the mind-maya.

56Foolish and deceitful mind, you who every day become greatly deluded upon seeing as different from yourself the dream [of the waking state], which occurs as wholly yourself! If you realise your true nature as it actually is, will this world be different from that reality, being-consciousness-bliss?

57Just as the yolk of the egg of the many-hued green peacock is only one [in colour], the original state of this insubstantial world, which appears to be distorted into teeming multiplicity, is pure and unalloyed happiness. By abiding in the state of the Self, know this truth now, even while that Self, appearing as an effect, takes the form of the world manifesting through the power of maya.

Bhagavan made a minor correction to this verse. Muruganar wrote, ‘which shines as teeming multiplicity’. Bhagavan’s correction indicates that it is the Self alone that shines, not the distorted and fragmented unreal world that is projected by the individual self.