Friday, September 12, 2008

An Interview with Prof. T. M. P. Mahadevan

Arvind posted a comment this morning in which he cited Prof. T. M. P. Mahadevan as saying that there was no difference between Bhagavan’s and Sankara’s teachings. He also cited the verses in which Bhagavan identified himself with Sankara. This reminded me of an interview that Prof. Mahadevan gave in the early 1980s to the editor of Arunachala Ramana, a magazine that briefly flourished in that era. I am reproducing the whole interview here since I doubt that many readers of this blog have ever seen it before. It appeared in the January 1982 issue.

Prof. Mahadevan was a natural orator who spoke elegantly and articulately on Indian philosophy and Bhagavan’s teachings. In the 1940s he went to America and gave a series of lectures on Bhagavan’s teachings. With Chinnaswami’s permission, he was allowed to give one of these lectures in Bhagavan’s presence after he returned from his trip.

For me, the most astounding revelation in this interview is that Prof. Mahadevan sat for years in Bhagavan’s presence without ever asking a single question. Here was an enlightened being, Bhagavan, who embodied the experience and the knowledge that Sankara had, who even identified himself with Sankara on occasions, yet Prof. Mahadevan, whose specialty was advaita philosophy, felt no inclination to quiz him on any of the hot topics that he doubtless discussed and wrote about when he was not at the ashram.

Prof. Mahadevan had one of the greatest philosophical minds of his generation, but he chose to remain silent in Bhagavan’s presence in order to absorb his non-verbal teachings. What a great testimony to the power of Bhagavan’s silence! It also indicates that Prof. Mahadevan knew the limits of the intellect and also knew that the treasure of Bhagavan’s silence was more valuable than any intellectual answers he might give out.

To sit before him was itself a deep spiritual education

Dr T. M. P. Mahadevan talks to Arunachala Ramana

[Dr T. M. P. Mahadevan was for a long time the head of the department of philosophy, Madras University, and went to foreign countries to expound Indian philosophy. He is a great exponent of the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. We are grateful that he has kindly answered our question on Bhagavan – Editor]

Arunachala Ramana: When was it that you first heard about Bhagavan?

Mahadevan: In Madras, when I was about eight years old (1919).

Arunachala Ramana: What was your experience in the presence of Bhagavan when you later met him?

Mahadevan: As I recall the days when I spent basking in the sunshine of Sri Ramana’s glorious presence I have no words to express the benefit I derived from that experience. To sit before him was itself a deep spiritual education. To look at him was to have one’s mind stilled. To fall within the sphere of his beatific vision was to be inwardly elevated.

Arunachala Ramana: How did he look on Arunachala?

Mahadevan: Bhagavan’s teaching about Arunachala is that it is Brahman, which is sat-chit-ananda (A-ru-na) and also Iswara as endowed with maya.

Arunachala Ramana: What were the questions you put to Bhagavan?

Mahadevan: There was not even a single occasion when I put a question to Bhagavan. My habit was to sit silent before him.

Arunachala Ramana: Would you give us a word about his humour?

Mahadevan: To Bhagavan the entire world is a humorous manifestation.

Arunachala Ramana: What is your appreciation of Bhagavan’s works? And what is his masterpiece in your opinion?

Mahadevan: Bhagavan did not write any book. His revelations are all equal. What we call his compositions were inspired utterances like the Upanishads. Naturally, I am attracted to all of them. If a single piece is to be selected as the quintessence of Vedanta, I would say it is Upadesa Saram.

Arunachala Ramana: Please tell us something about his affection for animals.

Mahadevan: Every moment of his earthly existence was filled with kindness to all beings. To him the so-called animals were as much human as humans. They conversed with him and he understood their language and moods.

Arunachala Ramana: What was the relationship between you two – Bhagavan and yourself?

Mahadevan: The relationship was both human and spiritual. I accepted him as my spiritual Master. I have already said that I never asked him any questions. Silence was his mode of communication. Every time I had his darshan he used to enquire after my welfare, and this was evidence to show that he had extreme affection for me. I am not unaware that this was the feeling of everyone.

Arunachala Ramana: What is his special teaching?

Mahadevan: What is special in Bhagavan’s teaching is that he does not intend to be special.

Arunachala Ramana: What is his greatest poem?

Mahadevan: Bhagavan himself is the greatest poem.

Arunachala Ramana: How did Bhagavan regard spiritual powers?

Mahadevan: The so-called powers (siddhis) are so low that, according to me, Bhagavan gave no importance to them.

Arunachala Ramana: What are the main points of difference between the teachings of Sri Sankara and Bhagavan?

Mahadevan: In my opinion there is no difference. The path of vichara was simplified by Bhagavan so that everyone in the modern world can practise it.

Arunachala Ramana: At least what is the difference in their techniques?

Mahadevan: There is no significant difference in procedure. Refer to the anvaya vyatireka method (rule of co-presence and co-absence as taught by advaita teachers like Suresvara).

[Anvaya-vyatireka is a method of arguing in Vedanta which distinguishes cause and effect, or relationships. Suresvara was a disciple of Adi-Sankara. Both of them used this approach to demonstrate the validity of the identity established in the mahavakya
‘Tat tvam asi’.


The
anvaya-vyatireka analysis is generally used to establish cause-effect relationships between two events or things. If a thing ‘A’ is present when the other thing ‘B’ is present then it is called anvaya. If ‘B’ is absent when ‘A’ is absent then it is called vyatireka. when anvaya and vyatireka are there then ‘A’ becomes the cause of ‘B’. For example clay is present when the pot is present. This is anvaya. Also when clay is absent, the pot is absent. This is vyatireka. From anvaya and vyatireka it is concluded that clay is the cause of the pot.

Anvaya means ‘concordance’ or ‘agreement’ while vyatireka means ‘discordance’ or ‘difference’. In another vedantic example the beads strung to form a necklace are used to explain these two words. The fact that without the string which holds together the beads, there is no necklace of beads is anvaya. The fact that, however, the string is separate from the beads is vyatireka. The all-pervasiveness of the Absolute is anvaya. The distinctness of the Absolute is the vyatireka.

The analysis is often used to establish what is real and enduring and what is not. The procedure has been used by some teachers, for example, to establish that since the world and the mind cannot exist without the Self, they cannot be regarded as real in the vedantic sense of the word.

Having said all that, I am not really sure what point Prof. Mahadevan is trying to make here. He discusses Sankara’s and Suresvara’s views on
anvaya-vyatireka in Gaudapada, a Study in Early Advaita (pp. 362-65) but I am not sure how his arguments there explain his remark in this interview: ‘There is no significant difference in procedure [between Bhagavan’s and Sankara’s techniques]’. If anyone has an opinion on this, please post it in the ‘responses’ section.]

Arunachala Ramana: Did Bhagavan initiate you as a Guru?

Mahadevan: Bhagavan himself did not claim to be a Guru. His experience is valid for all times and for all climes.

Arunachala Ramana: What is the main difference between Sankara and Ramana?

Mahadevan: This has already been answered. Ramana himself has stated explicitly that there is no difference between himself and Sankara.

Arunachala Ramana: In view of the fact that Bhagavan granted moksha to his mother, then would it not be the right way to pray for his divine grace rather than take to the path of vichara?

Mahadevan: Moksha is not what is given. It is the realisation of the non-dual Self which is eternal. Grace and vichara are not contradictory.

Arunachala Ramana: Is bhakti opposed to jnana?

Mahadevan: There is no conflict between eka bhakti and jnana.

Arunachala Ramana: Bhagavan’s teachings, are they spreading in foreign countries?

Mahadevan: For Ramana, no country is foreign.

Arunachala Ramana: Was there any sign for us to conclude that Bhagavan was really Bhagavan, God Himself?

Mahadevan: When Bhagavan was jnana itself, where is the need of showing any sign at any particular time?

Arunachala Ramana: Were you present at the time of Bhagavan’s mahanirvana?

Mahadevan: I was not in the ashram then. I went there only the next morning. I was there throughout the day. It was in the evening of that day that there was samadhi of his mortal remains.

18 comments:

arvind said...

David,

Thank you for posting this. It is a fascinating read. Even more fascinating to visualize Dr. Mahadevan sitting quietly in the presence of Sri Bhagavan. Am reminded of the movie “Jurassic Park” and the character of a paleontologist played by Sam Neill; who has spent his whole life painstakingly trying to decipher and extract little scraps of knowledge about dinosaurs from bits & pieces of fossils dug up from here & there; and then suddenly he comes face to face with the real thing. I think he too is rendered speechless in the movie for sometime !

Anonymous said...

Thanks! "For Ramana, no country is foreign."!

Anonymous said...

David,
I just started reading 'Cherished Memories' by T.R.Kanakammal. In the 'Genesis of the book' chapter she says 'Devotees like Munagala Venkataramiah, Devaraja Mudaliar, Suri Nagamma, Ramanananda Swarnagiri, Paul Brunton and Maurice Frydman have compiled their memoirs'. Prior to this, I hadn't really heard of any memoirs left by Maurice. Can you shed some light on this? Thanks!

David Godman said...

Anonymous

So far as I am aware, Maurice Frydman did not write any memoirs. I do recollect an article that he wrote shortly before he passed away in 1976 in which he said that he had not taken full advantage of Bhagavan and his teachings in the 1930s while he was a regular visitor to Ramanasramam.

A friend of mine, Nadhia Sutara, wrote two long articles on Maurice Frydman that were published in The Mountain Path in the early 1990s. I remember her corresponding with people who knew him and discovering some quite fascinating material. It was Frydman, for example, who persuaded Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister, to allow the Dalai Lama to stay permanently in India.

Frydman made a point of doing things anonymously and not taking credit for his accomplishments. I am fairly certain, for example, that he was the editor of Maharshi's Gospel, and that the the questions in part two are his, but I can't prove it because he covered his tracks so well.

In the last year or so two researchers have approached me, asking if I could provide more information on him, but I really didn't know in which direction to point them. I would love to read a biography of him, but I don't know if he left enough of a paper trail for a biographer to compile a book.

Anonymous said...

"I would love to read a biography of him". Me too! I think it would be as interesting as Papaji's biography. I guess he had spent time with Gandhi, Nehru, Bhagavan, Nisargadatta, J.Krishnamurthy and God knows who else. I think Sri Nisargadatta considered him enlightened and he may well have achieved the highest state. "Frydman made a point of doing things anonymously and not taking credit for his accomplishments.". That's another fascinating aspect of his character! If you could, can you tell me how I can read the Mountain Path articles on him, or can you post them here? Thanks.

David Godman said...

The 1990s issues of The Mountain Path are not available online yet. Some devotees in the Ramanasramam archives are working their way through all the old issues with the aim of posting them on the ashram's site, but last time I checked they were still in the 1980s. I don't which particular issue it was in. Perhaps someone who is reading this can check their old issues (I don't have any from this era) and at least post a message here that says which issues the articles are in. If you are lucky, the ashram bookstore may still have copies of the issues you need.

arvind said...

David,

I thought to try and explain what Dr. Mahadevan was talking about when he said the following. Let me apologize at the outset for the long post. I just hope that perhaps some would have the patience and be interested enough in the topic to read through till the end.

“Mahadevan: In my opinion there is no difference. The path of vichara was simplified by Bhagavan so that everyone in the modern world can practice it.

Arunachala Ramana: At least what is the difference in their techniques?

Mahadevan: There is no significant difference in procedure. Refer to the anvaya vyatireka method (rule of co-presence and co-absence as taught by advaita teachers like Suresvara).”

-------

Firstly, lest an impression be left that Anvaya-Vyatireka was invented by the Vedanta Acharyas or even Sri Sankara, it may be clarified that the formal logic existed from very ancient, probably Vedic times. It was used extensively by philosophers of the ancient half-forgotten schools; and, for instance, Sri Dignaga, (b. 480 CE), founder of the Buddhist school of logic, used Anvaya-Vyatireka to expound his theory of syllogism, much before Sri Sankara. So, suffice to say, Anvaya-Vyatireka is accepted as a valid, irrefutable tool by all from very ancient times.

Dr. Madhavan has said that there is no significant difference in procedure [between Sri Sankara & Sri Bhagavan] referring to the Anvaya-Vyatireka method. Rather than struggle oneself, clumsily, in trying to arrive at this concordance one would rather let a great master, Swami Sivananda [Divine Life Society], explain it in his own words. He has given a simple but masterly exposition of Anvaya-Vyatirka in the “Essence of Vedanta”, pg 147-149, and has clearly explained how the method is used [as taught by Sri Sankara] to arrive at the conviction that the Self / Atman is all, there is no other. [Also note the clear description based on Ajata principles from the Mandukya Karika in between].

[starts] Anvaya means the presence of one thing along with a particular another, and Vyatireka means its absence when that other is absent. It is synthesis and analysis (positive and negative method). The names and forms are different and unreal, but the one underlying essence of the Atman is the same in all forms. It is the only reality. The forms should be negated and the essence has to be grasped by meditation on the Atman. The Atman is to be separated from the five sheaths, just as one draws out the pith of the Munja grass or a reed. Just as one takes out the small diamond that is mixed with different kinds of pulses and cereals by separating it from them, this Atman is to be taken out by separating it from the physical, vital, mental, intellectual and blissful sheaths. Where these five sheaths exist, there the Atman also exists. Where these five sheaths do not exist, even there the Atman exists. Therefore, the Atman is independent of the five sheaths.

In the state of dream there is no consciousness of the existence of the material body, but the presence of the Atman is felt; as without the Atman it is not possible to have the consciousness of what occurs in a dream. It thus follows that in the state of dream there is the presence of the Atman and the absence of the material body. The coexistence of the Atman with the material body in the waking state is called Anvaya and the non-coexistence of the material body with the Atman in the state of dream is called Vyatireka.

In the state of sound sleep one is not conscious of the existence of the subtle body, but the presence of the Atman is proved by the fact that, after waking, everyone has the consciousness that during sound sleep one was perfectly ignorant of everything. This consciousness is the result of previous experience, and in sound sleep there is no one else than the Atman to receive that experience. The coexistence of the Atman with the subtle body in waking and dream is called Anvaya, and the non-coexistence of the subtle body with the Atman in the state of sound sleep is called Vyatireka.

In the state of Samadhi, i.e. perfect absorption of thought in the one object of meditation, viz. the Supreme Self, there is the absence of the causal body, which is the same as ignorance, but the presence of the Atman or the Self is experienced. The coexistence of the Atman with the causal body in waking, dream and deep sleep is called Anvaya, and the non-coexistence of the causal body with the Atman in Samadhi is called Vyatireka. It has thus been shown that the Atman exists independently of the several bodies under certain conditions. It is an axiom that whatever exists apart from certain things is different from those things. The difference of the Atman from the three bodies means also its difference from the five sheaths, for the sheaths are contained in these bodies. The Atman is absolutely unconditioned and independent.

The Upanishads declare that the Atman is the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unknown knower. One cannot see the seer of seeing, one cannot hear the hearer of hearing, one cannot know the knower of knowing. The Atman has neither a subject nor an object. The subject and the object are both comprehended in the Atman in which all divisions appear and which is raised above them all. The ego and the non-ego have only a practical but not absolute reality, for they are contained in and appear on the basis of the Atman-consciousness. Consciousness is unconditioned, not limited by space, time, causality or individuality. The Mandukya Upanishad describes the Atman as that which is not internally conscious of the subjective world, not that which is externally conscious of the objective world, not that which is conscious of both simultaneously, not that which is a mass of consciousness, not that which is mere consciousness, not that which is unconsciousness. It is declared to be invisible, unapproachable, ungraspable, indefinable, unthinkable, indescribable, the sole essence of the consciousness of the one Self, the cessation of all phenomena, the peaceful, the blissful, the non-dual. It is extolled as the fourth state of consciousness, for from the point of view of the empirical subject it is the fourth, as distinguished from its manifestations in the three states of waking, dream and dreamless sleep. Acharya Sankara, in his invocatory verses to his commentary on this Upanishad, refers to this Turiya-consciousness in the following terms:

“I bow to that Brahman, which, after having experienced the gross by pervading all objects with its all-pervading consciousness-rays entering into the variety of all that is movable and immovable, and after again having drunk deep within itself all creations of the internal organ of knowledge propelled by the impressions of desires, sleeps ever soundly enjoying the sweetness of bliss, yet causing the fruition to us through Maya, and which, from the point of view of Maya, is reckoned as the fourth (state of consciousness). May that, the fourth, which, as the waking self, experiences the results of its actions in the form of gross objects, and then also the subtle ones called into being by its internal organs of knowledge and illumined by its own light, and lastly having drawn all these by degrees within itself, and casting aside all particularities, exists as the One free from all attributes, — may this protect us!”
[ends]

One would note how close the foregoing is to the teachings of Sri Bhagavan [minus the technical terms of Anvaya-Vyatireka, of course]. But the above is essentially the analysis as taught by Sri Sankara using Anavaya-Vyatireka. This is the meditation-cogitation on Atman. Its “phalam” [fruit] is the firm conviction within the devotee - that the Self / Atman is all. There is only Atman. The world is unreal. That Thou Art. I am Brahman. Brahman am I. This is, after all, what is required for the vichara “Who am I ?” as taught by Sri Bhagavan; that is, to abide in one’s Self / Atman, the one and only Reality.

So Sri Sankara’s vichara could be said to be the scriptural, “That Thou Art”; and Sri Bhagavan made it simpler and direct by teaching the vichara “Who am I ?”. But in essence, if one arrives at the firm conviction that the Self / Atman is All, by the logic as explained by Sri Sankara above, then there is no difference.

I believe that is what Dr. Mahadevan meant when he said [as quoted above]: “In my opinion there is no difference. The path of vichara was simplified by Bhagavan so that everyone in the modern world can practice it.”

[For those who wonder why Sri Sankara used such technical terms as Anvaya-Vyatireka to expound on “Atman as the one Reality”, when the same could be done in simple words, and as was indeed done by Sri Bhagavan, the answer is that Sri Sankara was actually not teaching to the common public; he was laying down doctrine, and refuting unimaginably complex tenets of other philosophical schools. The great texts of these schools and their great Acharyas, who were absolute geniuses in mental capability, could not be refuted in simple words but only by use of their own complex terminology].

best wishes

Anonymous said...

Scott Fraundorf:
Maurice Frydman has struck me as one of the more interesting people you (david godman) have talked about. I at one point made a point of reading all the questions and answers in Talks from him. I remember you saying that Nisargadatta said he was a jnani. What a fascinating life.

Ramprax said...

Ulladu Narpadu, verse 5, seems like anvaya-vyatireka. Translation from Five Hymns.

உடல்பஞ்ச கோச உருவதனால் ஐந்தும்
உடலென்னுஞ் சொல்லில் ஒடுங்கும் - உடலன்றி
உண்டோ உலகம் உடல்விட்டு உலகத்தைக்
கண்டார் உளரோ கழறு

udalpañcha kOsa uruvadhanAl aindhum
udalennuñ sollil odungum - udalanRi
uNdO ulagam udalvittu ulagaththai
kandaar uLarO kazhaRu

The body is made up of the five sheaths;
in the term body all the five are included.
Without the body the world is not.
Has one without the body ever seen the world?

baxishta said...

i enjoyed David's recent mention of Sri Shankara's analysis of the validity of the mahavakya.

the more i think about it, the more i see his 3-part statement (of which Sri Ramana was so fond) as a 3-part formulation of the Great Statement, as in:

1. That exists
2. i don't exist, so
3. i must be That

this kind of logical self-convincing in 3 clear steps is necessary at some point because one is eventually faced with seemingly irreconcilable data.

on the one hand, one directly glimpses the first two of these statements and knows without a doubt that they are not negotiable.

one also knows beyond a doubt that no scale or quality of I-ness will ever be That, because That is precisely the denial of I-ness of any flavor and at any scale.

yet one hears that the mahavakyas declare the equivilance of 'I' and 'That', so he wonders, "how can this be? this statement is patently false, both for the ajnani (who has not clearly seen That) and for the jnani (who knows that the fact of That will never meet the fiction of I)."

only by the grace of the Guru are we given the conviction that they are, in fact, equivilant, and the strength to look at the issue more closely.

and only then does Sri Shankara's mighty third statement stop being a koan and become a saving Grace of logic:

1. since i know that That exists, and
2. since i know that i do not, then
3. I must be That.

over time, and with more conviction, this becomes an honest description of one's experience.

tryly, the Master has given me my cloth already woven.

Anonymous said...

David,


Hearty congrats on your excellent job done !!!!

umesh prasad singh said...

professor amiya kumar mazumdar of calcutta university used to mention the non-dualistic thoughts of professor tmp mahadevan.philosophers of great vision always thinks alike. professor mazumdar was an ardent student of dr.radhakrishnan during his post-graduation in calcutta university.i have heard many times from my teacher professor ak mazumdar -a gifted orator about the thesis advocated on non- dualism in vedantic perspectives of professor tmp mahadevan. professor mahadevan used to always hint on doctrine of re-incarnation theory in neo- vedantic expostulations.he also had a vision of introspection in literature and literary criticism. even professor sibjiban bhattacharya of calcutta university an eminent philosophical thinker used to mention professor mahadevans encapsulative philosophical trends.

umesh prasad singh said...

professor amiya kumar mazumdar of calcutta university used to mention the non-dualistic thoughts of professor tmp mahadevan.philosophers of great vision always thinks alike. professor mazumdar was an ardent student of dr.radhakrishnan during his post-graduation in calcutta university.i have heard many times from my teacher professor ak mazumdar -a gifted orator about the thesis advocated on non- dualism in vedantic perspectives of professor tmp mahadevan. professor mahadevan used to always hint on doctrine of re-incarnation theory in neo- vedantic expostulations.he also had a vision of introspection in literature and literary criticism. even professor sibjiban bhattacharya of calcutta university an eminent philosophical thinker used to mention professor mahadevans encapsulative philosophical trends.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! "For Ramana, no country is foreign."!

Sri Brahmananda said...

As Mahadevan said, vicara is required for realization. This contradicts with his silence at the feet of Ramana. So without any vichara what he understood is only imagination, but nothing else.

Sri Brahmananda said...

Without vichara (discourse), no one realize the reality. How Mahadevan understood the reality with silence at the feet of Ramana is absurd and wierd and that is contradictory to his word "vichara" and "Grace".

Clemens Vargas Ramos said...

Sri Brahmananda

How Mahadevan understood the reality with silence at the feet of Ramana is absurd and wierd...


Moksha is not what is given. It is the realisation of the non-dual Self which is eternal. Grace and vichara are not contradictory. (Prof. T. M. P. Mahadevan)

What is wrong with this? It is well understood and great.

S. said...

salutations to all:

brahmananda:
you said "...So without any vichara what he understood is only imagination, but nothing else... Without vichara (discourse), no one realize the reality. How Mahadevan understood the reality with silence at the feet of Ramana is absurd and wierd..."

brahmananda - what is your understanding of vichAra? a discourse??? have you realised the truth to comment on whether mahadevan realised it or not??? perhaps you may as well say 'dakshiNAmurti', the mouna guru, wasn't realised!!! infact, as bhagavAn didn't give or take any "discourses", so i guess you may say that of bhagavAn too!!!