ONCE AGAIN PEOPLE throng together from all parts of India for the jayanti of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi at Tiruvannamalai, at the foot of the sacred mountain of Arunachala. Men and women, young and old, from the town dweller in coat and trousers, to the old- world type of sadhu, all alike irrespective of wealth and caste and from beyond India also. America, France, England, Holland, Poland, Iraq, Ceylon, all are represented. The Maharshi, tall, white-haired, goldenhued, frail now beyond his years, goes through his daily routine unperturbed, unselfconscious because completely Self-conscious.
Being unperturbed does not mean being indifferent. Never was a face so alive, so responsive. From the rocklike gravity of samadhi to free laughter or amused smile; the gracious recognition of a devotee drawn here again, a smile, a look of compassionate understanding that enters the heart and makes an impression never to be forgotten. Nevertheless, many are puzzled about the Maharshi.
They ask, is he always in samadhi? Is it true that he will not answer questions? Will he give advice? What kind of sadhana does he enjoin? Is it any use for ordinary people to go there? I will try to answer these questions as well as I can.
The supreme and final state of samadhi is Sahaja samadhi which does not imply any trance or any oblivion to what we ignorant ones call the `outer world'. There is no going backward and forward between the trance state and the mental state, the inner and the outer. His consciousness embraced both constantly without distinction and without effort. That is why the Maharshi seems so natural, so simple and human in his ways, why he laughs and talks freely and shows interest in all that goes on around him. He is gracious to all, responds to all. There is no aloofness, except the indefinable grandeur, the awe that a devotee feels in his heart.
He does not expound doctrine unless asked, but when asked, he answers all sincere questions graciously and often at length. The widespread idea that he will not answer questions perhaps comes from his own saying that he teaches in silence. But that only means that the real teaching is the silent influence on the heart of the seeker. The doubts of the mind can take shape in words but that is not the essential teaching because, however much a man may argue, he is not really to be convinced in his mind but only in his heart, and that teaching is silent.
Indeed, it has happened to many, as Paul Brunton relates, that when they sat silent before the Maharshi such peace flooded their heart that the mind's doubts also disappeared and they found they had no questions to ask.
In any case, the kind of sadhana enjoined by the Maharshi requires little philosophy. It is the pure doctrine of Advaita. This is the most direct spiritual path and is generally referred to in books as the path of intellect. It is a peculiar use of the word intellect and misleads many. It does not mean that there must be more attention given to philosophy, but only that there must be understanding of the one simple, central truth of Advaita, that the Self alone is, and that all that is real in you is the Self, Atma, and is universal. Therefore, the Maharshi does not answer questions about what you were before you were born or what you will be after you die. All such philosophy is brushed aside and he turns you from such mental speculation to the practical work of Self-enquiry `Who am I?' When asked about life after death, he has said, "Why worry about what you will be when you die? First find out what you are now." Probably commentators will arise whowill call this `agnosticism' just as some have called Budha an agnostic or atheist, but it is not. It is simply a practical reminder that the Self not only was or will be, but is and that if the apparent separateness of this life is an illusion, that of the next life is also, and for the jnani who abides in truth, in the Self, there is neither past nor future, neither birth nor death, neither this life nor the next. The body may change, but the consciousness of Self is immutable.
In order to realise universality, it is necessary to try to give up the thought `I am this' or `I am that' and think only `I am'. That is why the Maharshi does not advise people to change their conditions of life or work. If he advised them to give up their work or their family and retire into solitude it would only be exchanging the thought `I am a house-holder' for `I am a sadhu' and both are equally wrong, since it is necessary to remember only `I am'. It is the mind that must be overcome, and that can be done as well in the world as in the jungle. If a man's work distracts him from sadhana, the cure is not to give it up (because even if he does other thoughts will distract him) but to ask himself constantly `Who am l?' `Who is doing this work?', until he acquires detachment towards his life just like the work of the bank cashier who receives and pays out lakhs of rupees efficiently and without emotion because he is not the owner and the sums do notaffect him. It means playing one's part in life with the same consciousness and indifference to the outcome as the actor who knows that he himself is not affected whether he has to play Caesar who is stabbed or Brutus who stabs.
Many will say that this is too hard. Certainly it is harder to control the mind than the body. To fast or remain celibate is much easier than to keep your mind off food or women. But if the way is hard, the blessing and support of the presence of Bhagavan on earth is great. If a man says that this sadhana is beyond his power, he is quite right! If he says that it is beyond the power of Bhagavan to enable him to follow it, he is wrong.
Some may also say that it is a cold and mental way, but it is not really. It is not a sadhana of the mind but of the heart. The mind may wander and argue, the heart can perceive the truth of oneness and must hold grimly to it until the wandering mind has been subdued. But how can one explain the conviction that awakens in the heart and the remembrance that stays there from sitting in the presence of the Maharshi? His eyes can destroy doubt and implant the seed of life. The memory is in the heart, not the mind. It must be experienced to be understood.
Not all who go to the Maharshi are intellectuals. All sincere devotees enjoy his grace. Sometimes philosophers have gone there and drifted away and simple folk with love in their heart have remained. Here, though never in the material world, the saying is made good `to each according to his needs'. You can expect such devotees to tell you why they go there only when the lover can tell why he loves and the penitent why he worships.