Saturday, October 25, 2008


A few weeks ago several of our regular contributors were having a discussion in one of the ‘responses’ sections about whether physical renunciation was a prerequisite for progress on the spiritual path. I didn’t contribute much except to say at one point that Bhagavan taught one should ‘renounce the renouncer’, rather than give up particular desires, ways of life, courses of action, and so on. As the debate rumbled on, at some point someone asked me to clarify what Bhagavan had actually taught on this subject. I have therefore, somewhat belatedly, assembled some of Bhagavan’s key teachings on this topic and arranged them under various headings.

Bhagavan taught that true renunciation was giving up interest in and attachment to anything that is not the Self:
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)
According to Bhagavan this is accomplished by giving up erroneous identifications and limitations. This basic theme will come up in all the sections of this post, as will the methods by which this is accomplished: self-enquiry and Self-abidance.

Renouncing the ego

Bhagavan often used terms such as ‘mind’, ‘ego’ and ‘individuality’ interchangeably, particularly when it came to giving them up. If the ego (or any of its synonyms) is renounced, no further renunciation is required. The following three verses from Padamalai (p. 171, vv. 103-105) sum this up quite neatly:
For those who have abandoned their ego mind, what other things besides that [mind] are left that are worthy of being renounced?

Renunciation, glorious and immaculate, is the total extirpation of the impure ego mind.

Only those who have renounced the ego-mind have truly renounced. What have all the others, who may have given up other things, really renounced?

The next three verses (Guru Vachaka Kovai, vv. 837, 500 and 850) emphasise the same point and conclude that it is self-enquiry that produces the true renunciation, which is the abandonment of the individual ‘I’:
For those who have, with great difficulty, accomplished the renunciation of the ego, there is nothing else to renounce.

That which is worth taking up is the self-enquiry that reveals jnana; that which is worth enjoying is the grandeur of the Self; that which is worth renouncing is the ego-mind; that in which it is worth taking refuge, to eliminate sorrow completely, is one’s own source, the Heart.

By becoming the source of all desires, the ego is the doorway to the sorrow of samsara. The extremely heroic and discriminating person first attains through dispassion the total renunciation of desires that arise in the form of ‘I want’. Subsequently, through the Selfward enquiry ‘Who am I?’, he renounces that ego, leaving no trace of it, and attains the bliss of peace, free from anxieties. This is the supreme benefit of dharma.
Renouncing desires

The last verse of the previous section makes the interesting point that desires for external objects have to be renounced ‘through dispassion’ before self-enquiry can accomplish the ultimate renunciation, the renunciation of the ‘I’. The same point is made in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 764:
Those excellent seekers who have completely renounced desires, realising that more and more afflictions result from them, will attain, through the direct path of self-enquiry that they embark on, the endless and supreme experience of the essence of the Self in the Heart.
Sometimes Bhagavan said (as he did in the last two verses) that desires should be tackled prior to the practice of enquiry, but on other occasions he was equally insistent that self-enquiry, properly performed, was the most effective way of eliminating and renouncing desires. The following two dialogues illustrate this particular approach:
Question: What is the best way of dealing with desires, with a view to getting rid of them – satisfying them or suppressing them?

Bhagavan: If a desire can be got rid of by satisfying it, there will be no harm in satisfying such a desire. But desires generally are not eradicated by satisfaction. Trying to root them out that way is like pouring spirits to quench fire. At the same time, the proper remedy is not forcible suppression, since such repression is bound to react sooner or later into forceful surging up with undesirable consequences. The proper way to get rid of a desire is to find out, ‘Who gets the desire? What is its source?’ When this is found, the desire is rooted out and it will never again emerge or grow. Small desires such as the desire to eat, drink and sleep and attend to calls of nature, though these may also be classed among desires, you can safely satisfy. They will not implant vasanas in your mind, necessitating further birth. Those activities are just necessary to carry on life and are not likely to develop or leave behind vasanas or tendencies. As a general rule, therefore, there is no harm in satisfying a desire where the satisfaction will not lead to further desires by creating vasanas in the mind. (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 12th April, 1946)

Question: How am I to deal with my passions? Am I to check them or satisfy them? If I follow Bhagavan’s method and ask, ‘To whom are these passions?’ they do not seem to die but grow stronger.

Bhagavan: That only shows you are not going about my method properly. The right way is to find out the root of all passions, the source whence they proceed, and get rid of that. If you check the passions, they may get suppressed for the moment, but will appear again. If you satisfy them, they will be satisfied only for the moment and will again crave satisfaction. Satisfying desires and thereby trying to root them out is like trying to quench fire by pouring kerosene oil over it. The only way is to find the root of desire and thus remove it. (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 2nd January, 1946)
The question of how to deal with desire was raised in an earlier post. One reader, Haramurthy, said that it should be effectively tackled by viveka, proper discrimination. Bhagavan himself occasionally took this line himself, suggesting that desires could be tackled, to some extent at least, by cultivating an understanding of what was true and real, and what was not:
Question: How can they [desires] be rendered weaker?

Bhagavan: By knowledge. You know that you are not the mind. The desires are in the mind. Such knowledge helps one to control them.

Question: But they are not controlled in our practical lives.

Bhagavan: Every time you attempt satisfaction of a desire the knowledge comes that it is better to desist. What is your true nature? How can you ever forget it? Waking, dream and sleep are mere phases of the mind. They are not of the Self. You are the witness of these states. Your true nature is found in sleep. (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 12th April, 1946)

Bhagavan: There is room for kama [desire] so long as there is an object apart from the subject, i.e., duality. There can be no desire if there is no object. The state of no-desire is moksha. There is no duality in sleep and also no desire. Whereas there is duality in the waking state and desire also is there. Because of duality a desire arises from the acquisition of the object. That is the outgoing mind, which is the basis of duality and of desire. If one knows that bliss is none other than the Self the mind becomes inward turned. If the Self is gained all the desires are fulfilled. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 502)
However, Bhagavan taught that there are limitations to this approach. Viveka can help one to lose interest in the unreal non-Self, but true desirelessness and true renunciation only occur when one abides in and as the Self:
Only the Self-abidance wherein one shines free of affliction will cut asunder all the bonds engendered by the non-Self. Discrimination [viveka], which differentiates between the unreal and the real that is one’s own nature, is [only] an aid to immaculate desirelessness. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 769)

Question: Has the discrimination between reality and unreality [sat asat vicharana] the efficacy in itself to lead us to the realisation of the one imperishable?

Bhagavan: As propounded by all and realised by all true seekers, fixity in the supreme spirit [Brahmanishta] alone can make us know and realise it. It being of us and in us, any amount of discrimination [vivechana] can lead us only one step forward, by making us renouncers, by goading us to discard the seeming [abhasa] as transitory and to hold fast to the eternal truth and presence alone. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 29)

The best kind of renunciation is remaining in the state in which the mind holds extremely tightly to the swarupa. (Padamalai, p. 170, v. 100)
In the context of Bhagavan’s teachings, the implication of this warning about the limitations of viveka is that it is only through enquiry or surrender that true Self-abidance can be attained. This point is made in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 415:
Having, through discrimination, distinguished between the supreme [para] and the world [apara], one should, through enquiry and dispassion, attain attachment to para and detachment from apara. Then, with the strength of dispassion thus attained, one should live with one’s heart completely free from the infatuations of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. This alone is the way of life that should be taken up by those who desire to live in the expansive world of true jnana.
Renunciation of ‘I’ and ‘mine’

‘Internal renunciation’ is renunciation of the ego whereas ‘external renunciation’ is giving up possessions. Together they are known as giving up ‘I’ and ‘mine’. It is the former that results in enlightenment.
If you attain perfect mastery of internal renunciation, external renunciation will have no importance. (Padamalai, p. 170, v. 102)
Bhagavan sometimes illustrated the superiority of inner over outer renunciation by telling the story of King Sikhidhvaja who unnecessarily gave up his kingdom and retired to the forest to seek enlightenment:
He [the king] had vairagya [non-attachment] even while ruling his kingdom and could have realised the Self if he had only pushed his vairagya to the point of killing the ego. He did not do it but came to the forest, had a timetable of tapas and yet did not improve even after eighteen years of tapas. He had made himself a victim of his own creation. Chudala [his enlightened wife] advised him to give up the ego and realise the Self, which he did and was liberated.

It is clear from Chudala’s story that vairagya accompanied by ego is of no value, whereas all possessions in the absence of ego do not matter. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 404)
However, Bhagavan would sometimes say that surrendering to God all the objects and ideas that comprise ‘mine’ would also lead to the same goal:
Whatever the means, the destruction of the sense ‘I’ and ‘mine’ is the goal, and as these are interdependent, the destruction of either of them causes the destruction of the other; therefore in order to achieve that state of silence which is beyond thought and word, either the path of knowledge which removes the sense of ‘I’ or the path of devotion which removes the sense of ‘mine’, will suffice. So there is no doubt that the end of the paths of devotion and knowledge is one and the same. (Upadesa Manjari, chapter one, answer 11)
Generally, though, Bhagavan would recommend enquiry even to those who were pursuing union or identity with a form of the divine:
Through delusion the trickster sometimes arrogantly regards the property of the boundless perfect one, the Lord of all, as ‘I’, and at other times, through attachment to it, regards it as ‘mine’. If he [the trickster] enters the Heart, his source, and examines who he is, then where is he to be found?

Abandon your mind unconditionally at the feet of him [Siva] who shares his form with the Lady [Uma]. Then, as the ‘I’ that investigates the false dies away, along with [the concept of] ‘mine’, the powerful Supreme Self will unfold fully and flourish eternally. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, vv. 484, 487)

Renouncing the ‘I am the body’ idea

Identification with the body is, says Bhagavan, just a wrong idea, but it is an association that prevents us from being aware of who we really are. The renunciation of this idea is therefore central to Bhagavan’s teachings:
Question: Why cannot the Self be perceived directly?

Bhagavan: Only the Self is said to be directly perceived [pratyaksha]. Nothing else is said to be pratyaksha. Although we are having this pratyaksha, the thought ‘I am this body’ is veiling it. If we give up this thought, the Atma, which is always within the direct experience of everyone, will shine forth. (Living by the Words of Bhagavan, 2nd ed., pp. 218-19)
This theme appears many times in Bhagavan’s teachings. Here is a sequence of verses from Guru Vachaka Kovai that covers this important aspect of renunciation:

The 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.


In 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 [the consciousness that divides itself into seer and seen] are merely an imaginary appearance.


Be aware that the ‘I am the body’ ego is truly the one unique cause of all the sorrows of samsara. Therefore, make genuine, firm and steady efforts to destroy that ego, and desist from making any other kind of effort.


Following the destruction of the ‘I am the body’ idea, whatever body it may be, the radiance of being exists forever, free of limitation, without any bondage, shining as the pure expanse. Dwelling in the hearts of all individuated jivas as attribute-free jnana, as wholly the Self, and as non-distinct from them, this radiance of being abides as the all-encompassing supreme power [akila-para-sakti].


Having become free from concepts, which are afflicting thoughts, and with the ‘I am the body’ idea completely extinguished, one ends up as the mere eye of grace, the non-dual expanse of consciousness. This is the supremely fulfilling vision of God.

Bhagavan 17

Know that the eradication of the identification with the body is charity, spiritual austerity and ritual sacrifice; it is virtue, divine union and devotion; it is heaven, wealth, peace and truth; it is grace; it is the state of divine silence; it is the deathless death; it is jnana, renunciation, final liberation and bliss.
Renouncing the ‘I am the doer’ idea

According to Bhagavan, it is not actions themselves that should be given up, but the inner feeling that one is doing them:
If total cessation from activity is alone the determining criterion for jnana, then even the inability to act because of leprosy will be a sure indication of jnana! You should know that the state of jnana is the exalted state of remaining without any sense of responsibility in the heart, having renounced both the attraction to, and the revulsion from, the performance of actions. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 1160)
There are two Sanskrit terms that are relevant to this part of the discussion: kartrutva and kartavya. The former denotes the feeling of being the performer of actions that the body undertakes, while the latter denotes the feeling that there are activities that must be done. Here is one verse from Guru Vachaka Kovai and two from Padamalai that summarise the problem and its solution:
Unless one’s connection with individuality is destroyed at its root, one will not become a true jnani, free of the sense of doership [kartrutva]. Even if one attains a supreme and eminent state of tapas that can be marvelled at, one is still only a sadhaka who is qualified to realise the truth. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, v. 122)

The ignoble infatuation kartrutva that associates with you is the confused attitude of mind that regards the instruments [of action and cognition] as ‘you’.

Deeds [karma] are not your enemy, only the sense of doership [kartrutva] is. Therefore, live your life, having completely renounced that enemy. (Padamalai p. 171, vv. 106, 107)
The next sequence of verses, also from Padamalai, stresses the necessity of abandoning kartavya, the idea that there are courses of action that must be pursued:
The notion of duties that need to be done [kartavya] will not cease as long as the sense of doership [kartrutva] exists in the heart.

Why do you become mentally agitated, blindly believing there are things you have to do [kartavya]?

The bondage called ‘duty’ will cease [being known] as a delusion caused by the ego, when the firm knowledge of reality is attained.

A mind that has dissolved in the state of God, and ceased to exist, will not be aware of any activity that needs to be performed because when the ego, which has the idea that it is the performer of actions, has been completely destroyed, the idea that something needs to be accomplished ends.

Those who do not see anything as a duty that has to be done will attain the bliss of peace that yields limitless contentment. (Padamalai, vv. 119-124)
The abandonment of the ‘I am the doer’ idea is not accomplished by giving up certain courses of action, or even all of them, but by enquiry into the nature and origin of the ‘I’ that thinks it is performing the actions:
The truth of karma [activities] is only the realisation of one’s true nature by the enquiry ‘Who is the doer, the “I” who is embarking upon the performance of karma?’ Unless the ego, the performer of action, perishes by enquiring into and knowing [its real nature], the perfect unassailable peace in which all doing has ended will be impossible [to attain].

Prarabdha, like a whirlwind, relentlessly agitates and spins the mind that has shrunk through the ‘I am the body’ idea. However, it cannot stir, even slightly, the limitation-free mind that shines as the extremely clear space of being-consciousness when that ego-impurity [the ‘I am the body’ idea] is destroyed by self-enquiry. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, vv. 703, 698)
Enquiry leads to an unbroken experience of the Self, and it is this culminating experience, rather than the preceding enquiry, that ultimately destroys the ‘I am the body’ belief. Here is a statement from Bhagavan (Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 699) on this topic, followed by a brief commentary on it by Muruganar:
O mind, other than meditation which takes the form of the akhandakara vritti [unbroken experience] that shines as the Self, have you discovered any means to burn to ashes the evil ‘I am the doer’ belief that propels and plunges the jiva into the bottom of the ocean of karma? If you have, let me know.

Muruganar: The ‘I am the doer’ belief repeatedly plunges the jiva into the ocean of karma, without allowing it to rise up and reach the shore. By doing this it obstructs the attainment of liberation. It has therefore been described as ‘the evil “I am the doer” belief’. The fire that burns this [belief] to ashes is the fire of jnana that has taken the form of akhandakara vritti. The practice of this vritti burns to destruction the ‘I am the doer’ idea by revealing to the jiva the truth that one’s nature is not to do karma but to shine as mere being. There is no other means to destroy this ‘I am the doer’ belief. This is the implication. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, p. 303)
The end of result of this process is the state of Self-abidance wherein both kartrutva and kartavya are absent:
He whose ego, the veiling, has subsided in swarupa-consciousness, and who has become wholly that forever, will, through the disappearance of the ‘I am the doer’ idea, lose all his personal volition, and he will [then] shine with the blissful state, whose nature is peace, flaring up in his Heart. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 864)
Taking sannyasa

In a Hindu context ‘renouncing the world’ is usually associated with the ritual of ‘taking sannyasa’ – becoming a renunciate monk. The restrictions involved in this lifestyle vary – the different religious orders that are authorised to initiate have slightly different rules – but they would generally include celibacy, leaving home and giving up the ties to one’s family, and, more often than not, living on begged food. According to Bhagavan the true and definitive renunciation of the world is not accomplished through giving up relationships or by ceasing to indulge in activities that are prompted by physical desire; it is instead something that happens when the thought-created externally perceived world ceases to appear in the experience of the Self:
Sankalpa [thought] creates the world. The peace attained on the destruction of sankalpas is the [permanent] destruction of the world. (Padamalai, p. 264, v. 6)

The world is seen distinctly only in the waking and dream states in which sankalpas [thoughts] have emerged. Is it ever seen during sleep, where sankalpas do not emerge even slightly? Sankalpas alone are the material substance of the world. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, v. 29)
It is this more profound form of renunciation that Bhagavan was referring to when he said:
Instead of ruining yourself by clinging, as your refuge, to the utterly false world that appears as a conjuring trick, it is wisdom to renounce it in the mind and remain still, forgetting it and remaining detached from it, like the ripe tamarind fruit that, despite remaining inside its pod, stays separate from it. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 825)
The abandonment of the mechanism through which the perceived world is projected and sustained is quite a different process from the adoption of a lifestyle that restricts one from pursuing certain actions. However, even though most of Bhagavan’s devotees were aware of these teachings on mental renunciation, some still wanted to express their inner desire to renounce by formally taking sannyasa. Bhagavan was asked on many occasions to initiate individual devotees into sannyasa, but he refused every single request. Some devotees who felt compelled to adopt this particular lifestyle, even after being refused an initiation by Bhagavan, went elsewhere to obtain it, but they usually faced some degree of disapproval when they returned to Ramanasramam. Kunju Swami and Maurice Frydman both took the sannyasa initiation elsewhere, after being refused by Bhagavan. Others, such as Papaji, went back to a family life after Bhagavan had refused to initiate them.

When the topic of taking sannyasa was brought up in Bhagavan’s presence, his usual response was that true physical renunciation was something that happened naturally and spontaneously, like a fruit dropping from a tree when it is ripe. He did not approve of people who took a formal decision to renounce their former lifestyles, but he did concede that it was good if physical renunciation happened automatically:
Question: I have a good mind to resign from service and remain constantly with Sri Bhagavan.

Bhagavan: Bhagavan is always with you, in you, and you are yourself Bhagavan. To realise this it is neither necessary to resign your job nor run away from home. Renunciation does not imply apparent divesting of costumes, family ties, home, etc., but renunciation of desires, affection and attachment. There is no need to resign your job, but resign yourself to Him, the bearer of the burden of all. One who renounces desires, etc., actually merges in the world and expands his love to the whole universe. Expansion of love and affection would be a far better term for a true devotee of God than renunciation, for one who renounces the immediate ties actually extends the bonds of affection and love to a wider world beyond the borders of caste, creed and race. A sannyasi who apparently casts away his clothes and leaves his home does not do so out of aversion to his immediate relations but because of the expansion of his love to others around him. When this expansion comes, one does not feel that one is running away from home, but drops from it like ripe fruit from a tree; till then it would be folly to leave one’s home or his job. (Crumbs from his Table, p. 43)
The analogy of the ripened fruit also appears in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 830, although there Bhagavan qualifies his remarks by saying that such spontaneous renunciation can only take place if personal circumstances are favourable:
Just as a ripened fruit separates effortlessly from the tree and falls, when a sadhaka who is [aiming to] merge his mind in the supreme attains maturity, he will definitely renounce family life as unsalted gruel unless his unfavourable prarabdha stands in the way.
For complete renunciation to take place one must give up all identities except the identification with the formless Self. Giving up one physical identity (‘I am a householder’) and replacing it with another (‘I am a sannyasi’) does not get to the root of the problem of false identification:
Question: Should not a man renounce everything in order that he might get liberation?

Bhagavan: Even better than the man who thinks ‘I have renounced everything’ is the one who does his duty but does not think ‘I do this’ or ‘I am the doer’. Even a sannyasi who thinks ‘I am a sannyasi’ cannot be a true sannyasi, whereas a householder who does not think ‘I am a householder’ is truly a sannyasi. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 530)
Know that not regarding oneself erroneously as being limited to the body and trapped in family bonds is a far superior renunciation to the state wherein one thinks repeatedly within one’s mind: ‘I have truly extricated myself by renouncing all the ties of this world.’ (Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 840)
Muruganar made the following comments on this Guru Vachaka Kovai verse:
Thinking, ‘I am a person who has renounced’ is only mental imagination. The state of truth transcends such imagination. Only the state of remaining still, which is the natural state, is true sannyasa, the nature of liberation. It is not thinking repeatedly, ‘I am someone who has renounced samsara’. Therefore, not thinking is a far superior renunciation to thinking. Like the thought, ‘I am caught in bondage’, the thought, ‘I am one who is free from bondage’ indicates the delusion of regarding yourself as being limited to the body. When that delusion is destroyed, along with it, both of these thoughts will cease. Unless the ‘I am the body’ belief is present to some extent, there can be no possibility of having the thought, ‘I have renounced’.

Refer to Ulladu Narpadu, verse 39, where Bhagavan wrote: ‘So long as one thinks “I am in bondage”, thoughts of liberation and bondage will remain. When one sees oneself through the enquiry “Who is the bound one?”, and the Self alone remains, eternally attained and eternally free, will the thought of liberation still remain, where the thought of bondage cannot exist?’
The general supposition amongst most Hindus is that sannyasa demonstrates one’s commitment to following the spiritual path full time, and by extension, somehow makes it easier to meditate and realise the Self. Since Bhagavan taught that inner renunciation was more important than outer renunciation, he did not accept the generally accepted premise that sannyasins were in a better position to realise the Self than householders. I put the following dialogue in one of my recent replies, but it is worth posting again because it shows quite definitely that living a normal life in the world is not, according to Bhagavan, a disadvantage when it comes to making spiritual progress:
When I [Rangan] started to visit Bhagavan regularly at Skandashram, it occurred to me that it would be good if I became a sannyasin [mendicant monk]. I knew that this was a foolish and irresponsible dream because it would leave my family, already in a precarious financial position, with no one to support them. However, the thought would not leave me. One night, while I was lying in my bed at Skandashram, I was unable to sleep because this thought kept recurring so strongly.

As I was turning uneasily in my bed, Bhagavan came to my side and asked me, ‘What is the matter? Are you in pain?’ ‘

Venkataraman, [Bhagavan’s childhood name]’ I replied, ‘I want to adopt sannyasa.’

Bhagavan went away and came back with a copy of Bhakta Vijayam, an anthology of the lives of some famous saints who lived in western India many centuries ago. He opened the book and read out the story in which Saint Vithoba decided to take sannyasa. In the story his son, Jnanadeva, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, gave him the following advice.

‘Wherever you are, whether in worldly society or the forest, the same mind is always with you. It is the same old mind, wherever you reside.’

After reading this out Bhagavan added, ‘You can attain jnana even while you are living in samsara [worldly activities]’.

‘Then why did you become a sannyasin?’ I countered.

‘That was my prarabdha [destiny],’ replied Bhagavan. ‘Life in the family is difficult and painful, no doubt, but it is easier to become a jnani while living as a householder.’ (The Power of the Presence, part one, pp. 6-7)
Peace can never be attained by one who subjects himself to ignorance by embracing the body and the world, regarding them as enduring and beneficial. Equally, suffering or fear will never be experienced by one who renounces this ignorance and reaches the permanent resting place of the ego, the Heart, clinging tenaciously to it like an udumbu lizard, without letting go.

What is it that remains as impossible to renounce after all that can be renounced has been renounced? It is the harvest of bliss, the surging flood, the reality of the Self, shining in the Heart, as the Heart, as that which cannot be renounced. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, vv. 130, 836)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Through Knowledge or Through Practice?

I started to compose a response to some of the comments that appeared under the previous post, but then decided to start a separate post to take advantage of the more refined formatting tools that new postings offer.

For those of you who have not been following the comments, there was a discussion over the last day or so about the vedantic approaches of Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Dayananda, and how their ideas had led some people from this tradition to disparage the teachings and even the attainments of Bhagavan. The piece that started the discussion was a long interview, with an American student of Swami Chinmayananda, which gave an interpretation of Who am I?, and of Bhagavan's teachings in general. For those who are interested, it can be found at:'s%20Teachings.htm.

My own response to this piece, along with the of comments of several readers of this blog, can be found in the
response section of the previous post, in entries dated October 22nd and 23rd. Ravi, one of the contributors to the discussion, read the original interview and then gave the following link (, which is an interview between Andrew Cohen and Swami Dayananda. Now read on...

* * *

Thanks, Ravi, for the link to the interview with Swami Dayananda in What is Enlightenment? magazine. I remember discussing this article with the president of Ramanasramam many years ago, when the article first appeared in print. He was understandably annoyed by its rather patronising attitude towards Bhagavan and his spiritual attainments, but we have to accept that there are some people in the world who judge Bhagavan by their own peculiar criteria. This extract from the introduction to the Swami Dayananda interview sums up the most contentious issues:
In fact, both in his writings and in one of our dialogues with him, he [Swami Dayananada] even went so far as to express doubt about the realisation of the widely revered but unschooled modern sage Ramana Maharshi—adding that there may be millions of Indian householders with a similar level of attainment! While such statements initially took us by surprise, we would later discover through dialogues with a number of leading Western Advaita scholars that similar sentiments are held by many Advaita traditionalists. Even one of the living Shankaracharyas—the head of one of the four monastic institutions allegedly established by Advaita's founder, Shankara—also denies the validity of Ramana's attainment, apparently for the simple reason that someone who wasn't formally trained in Vedanta couldn't possibly be fully enlightened!
In the course of the interview Swami Dayananda explained the logic behind the last statement when he said:
We have no means of knowledge for the direct understanding of Self-realisation, and therefore Vedanta is the means of knowledge that has to be employed for that purpose. No other means of knowledge will work.

That is to say, without a thorough study of the vedantic texts and the arguments they lay out, Self-realisation is impossible. The corollary of this is that people such as Bhagavan who never underwent such a course of study cannot possibly be enlightened.

Bhagavan, of course, took an entirely different view, saying on many occasions that scriptural learning is often an impediment rather than an aid to a direct experience of the Self. Here is an interesting story narrated by Kunju Swami:
I once went to Sri Santhalinga Math at Peraiyur, near Coimbatore, for the kumbhabhishekam of the Peraiyur Temple, which was being performed by the Naltukottai Chettiars. At their invitation, sadhus from Kovilur Math, Sadhu Swami and his group from Palani, and other learned sadhus had come and were staying in the math. Some of them were known to me since they had previously come to have Sri Bhagavan’s darshan. After the kumbhabhishekam we had our meal and then started conversing. The sadhus who had known me earlier introduced me to the other sadhus, saying that I had come from Sri Ramanasramam.

On hearing this, the other sadhus said, ‘Since we have all come together, let us discuss something’.

They first asked me to explain akhandakara vritti [unbroken experience]. As I could remember clearly the explanation Sri Bhagavan had given when devotees raised this question in his presence, I quoted the appropriate verse from Ribhu Gita and explained it. Then the sadhus asked me about pratibhanda [the three obstacles: ignorance, doubt and wrong knowledge]. This too I explained with a verse from Vedanta Chudamani. The sadhus were pleased with my explanation.

It occurred to me that I should know about the vedantic texts that were studied in the maths. I did not want to embarrass the ashram by being unable to discuss these matters when I was sent out by them as a representative. Sri Krishnananda Swami, who is presently the head of the Tirukhalar Math, and who was my boyhood friend, had also come to attend the kumbhabhishekam. He had taken lessons in Vedanta from Mahadeva Swami, the head of Kovilur Math. When I informed him of my intention, he said that sixteen texts, selected by Sri Narasimha Bharati Swamigal of Sringeri Math, were taken up for study. This swami had insisted that vedantins should not read secular literature and polemics.

My friend estimated that it would take many years for one to learn these texts in the proper way, so I asked him, ‘I want to learn all these texts, but not in the traditional way. I will read them by myself. It will be enough if you explain the portions I cannot follow. Is it then possible to learn their meaning within two months?’

Seeing my keenness he replied, ‘We will try to complete them all in three months. You must come to Tirukhalar, though, to study them’.

After telling my friend that I would come to study with him as soon as I could, I returned to Sri Ramanasramam.

A few days after my return to the ashram I told Sri Bhagavan about the events that had taken place in Peraiyur.

I concluded: ‘When people from other maths who have studied Vedanta find out that I have come from Sri Ramanasramam, they start asking me philosophical questions. I feel that if I do not give fitting answers to their questions, it will reflect badly on our ashram. Because of this I asked Sri Krishnananda of Tirukhalar to give me lessons on Vedanta. He has asked me to come to Tirukhalar and he has agreed to give me lessons on Vedanta, and to complete them as early as possible. I am now thinking of going of Tirukhalar to learn Vedanta.’

Sri Bhagavan replied with a mocking smile, ‘Now you are going to study Vedanta, then it will be Siddhanta, then Sanskrit, and then polemics.’

As he kept adding more and more subjects, I stood before him dumbfounded.

Seeing my depressed look Sri Bhagavan said, ‘It is enough if you study the One’.

He could see that his answer had puzzled me, so he added, with some compassion, ‘If you learn to remain within your Self as the Self, that will amount to learning everything. What Vedanta lessons did I take? If you remain as the Self, the echo from the Heart will be from experience. It will be in agreement with the scriptures. This is what is called “the divine voice”.’

On hearing Sri Bhagavan’s words, the desire to learn Vedanta in order to answer the questions of others left me for good. From that day onwards, if someone asked me questions related to Vedanta, I was able, through Sri Bhagavan’s grace, to get the appropriate answer from within. As Sri Bhagavan himself has written in Atma Vidya Kirtanam, verse three:

'Without knowing the Self, what is the use if one knows anything else? If one has known the Self, what else is there to know? When that Self that shines without differences in different living beings is known within oneself, the light of Self will flash forth. It is the shining forth of grace, the destruction of “I” and the blossoming of bliss.' (The Power of the Presence, part two, pp. 69-71)
In one of his responses to the last post Broken Yogi expressed a curiosity about how advaita Vedanta was perceived and taught in India nowadays, and in times past. I don't want to digress too much into this topic, but I would like to mention that the monasteries (maths) of the Tamil-speaking world have a syllabus of sixteen texts through which Vedanta is studied. These works are almost unknown outside the Tamil maths in which they are taught, and until recently copies of these texts were quite hard to find. Fortunately, the Kovilur Math (mentioned by Kunju Swami in the last story) is proposing to bring out all sixteen works in a Collected Tamil Vedanta Texts series entitled Kovilur Marabu Vedanta Noolgal. The first two volumes have already appeared and they contain the following works:

Nana Jeeva Vada Katalai, a very free rendering of a portion of the Taittriya Upanishad

Geeta Saara Talattu by Tiruvenkata Nathar

Sasi Vanna Bodham, by Tattvaraya

Maharaja Turavu, by Kumaradeva

Vairagya Satakam, by Santalinga Swami

Vairagya Deepam, by Perur Santalinga Swami

I mention these texts merely to show that the Tamil Vedanta tradition is substantially different from the Sanskrit one, where students are more likely to find themselves being instructed in the Upanishads and the works of leading Sanskrit commentators such as Gaudapada, Shankara and Suresvara.

The independent Tamil Vedanta tradition really began with Tattvaraya around the end of the sixteenth century. Bhagavan often told the story of Swarupananda, Tattvaraya's Guru, and he once included the Tamil advaita poem Sorupa Saram, Swarupananda's only known work, on a ‘six essential books’ reading list that he gave to Annamalai Swami. For those of you who have not read it before, I highly recommend it. There is a complete translation at:

I entitled this post 'Through Knowledge or Through Practice?' because there seems to be a fundamental division of opinion on this matter between the methods espoused by Swami Chinmayananada and Swami Dayananda on the one hand, and those promulgated by Bhagavan on the other. The former stress the necessity of undertaking a rigorous intellectual study of key vedantic texts, with little time set aside for practice or meditation, whereas Bhagavan minimised the importance of studying and instead recommended continuous inner enquiry. Swami Dayananda's ideas can be found in the interview I linked to earlier. Bhagavan's contrary views can be found in the following verses, which are taken from Padamalai, pages 300-305:



For all the myriad religious scriptures, the essential truth is only the supreme reality of consciousness.


The true love of the Vedas, the mother who declares your real nature to be ‘You are That’, is the bridge for you [to cross samsara].
Bhagavan: Each one knows the Self but is yet ignorant. The person is enabled to realise only after hearing the mahavakya. Hence the upanishadic text is the eternal truth to which everyone who has realised owes his experience. After hearing the Self to be Brahman, the person finds the true import of the Self and reverts to it whenever he is diverted from it. Here is the whole process of realisation. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 647)

Learning the jnana sastras is only an incidental cause for travelling the path to samadhi. You should understand that its value is limited.


It is the nature of the ignorant to feel proud and superior by mastering scriptural knowledge that consists of pretentious verbiage.


The rare benefit that accrues from the jnana sastras will only come to the jiva that possesses a longing to know the truth. Not for others.


Hoping to get a revelation of jnana through scriptural knowledge is like resolving to cross the ocean on an insignificant blade of grass.


The truth of the one who reads books is not in the books themselves. It is in the experience of [that] vedantic knowledge.
Question: Bhagavan, I have read much of the Vedas and the sastras but no Atma jnana [Self-knowledge] has come to me. Why is this?

Bhagavan: Atma jnana will come to you only if it is there in the sastras [scriptures]. If you see the sastras, sastra jnana [knowledge of the scriptures] will come. If you see the Self, Self-knowledge will shine. (
Living by the Words of Bhagavan, p. 217.)
True learning


When the mind, one-pointed and fully focused, knows the supreme silence in the Heart, this is [true] learning.


As a result of the knowledge obtained from this true learning, all false misery will fall away, and a profound peace will flourish.


Bear in mind that the benefit of scholarship is prompting the mind to turn about, enabling it to be captivated by the light of the Self.


The benefit of learning is simply to become established within the Heart, in the concept-free state of reality, which is your own nature.


As long as the holy feet do not touch and come to rest squarely upon the head [of the jiva] what benefit can scholarship give?

This verse is speaking obliquely of saktipata, the power that is transmitted by the Guru to the disciple.
Question: Saktipata is said to occur in karmasamya, i.e., when merit and demerit are equal.

Bhagavan: Yes. Malaparipaka [a mature state in which impurities are ready for destruction], karmasamya and saktipata mean the same. A man is running the course of his samskaras; when taught he is the Self, the teaching affects his mind and imagination runs riot. He feels helpless before the onrushing power. His experiences are only according to his imagination of the state ‘I am the Self”, whatever he may conceive it to be. Saktipata alone confers the true and right experience. When the man is ripe for receiving the instruction and his mind is about to sink into the Heart, the instruction imparted works in a flash and he realises the Self all right. Otherwise, there is always the struggle. (
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no 275)

Only the learning of akhanda-vritti [unbroken experience], one’s truth, the substratum, is true learning.

The true purpose of scriptural knowledge


Mere scholarship derived from copious learning, without putting it into practice, will harm the well being of the jiva.
Bhagavan: Ancients have said that the superabundance of book knowledge is the cause of the rambling of the mind. That will not carry you to the goal. Reading of sastras and becoming pandits may give fame to a person but they destroy the peace of mind which is necessary for the seeker of truth and deliverance. A mumukshu [a seeker of deliverance] should understand the essence of the sastras but should give up the reading of sastras as that is inimical to dhyana [meditation]. It is like accepting the grain and discarding the chaff. There will be many big almirahs [cupboards] with many books. How many of them can be read? There are so many books and religions that one life is not enough to read all the books relating to even one religion. Whenever then is the time for practice? The more you read, the more you feel like reading further. The result of all this is to go on discussing with other people who have books and spend time thus but that will not lead to deliverance. What books had I seen and what Vedanta discourses had I heard except to close my eyes and remain peaceful and quiet during the first two years of my coming here? (Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 2nd July, 1949)

Even if one has huge amounts of book knowledge, it is of no use unless the inner attachment [the ego] is destroyed.


The excellence of the subtle intellect is only its ability to enter the Heart – that which possesses great nobility – not its ability to research and understand anything.
Question: Bhagavan, I would like to read books and find out a path whereby I can attain mukti but I do not know how to read? What shall I do? How can I realise mukti?

Bhagavan: What does it matter if you are illiterate? It is enough if you know your own Self.

Question: All people here are reading books but I am not able to do that. What shall I do?

Bhagavan: What do you think the book is teaching? You see yourself and then see me. It is like asking you to see yourself in a mirror. The mirror shows only what is on the face. If you see the mirror after washing your face, the face will appear to be clean. Otherwise the mirror will say there is dirt here, come back after washing. A book does the same thing. If you read the book, after realising the Self, everything will be easily understood. If you read it before realising the Self, you will see ever so many defects. It will say, ‘First set yourself right and then see me’. That is all. First see your Self. Why do you worry yourself about all that book learning? (
Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 1st February, 1946)

Everything that one has learned is total falsehood if it does not become a means for [mind-] consciousness to subside within the Self.
Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 143, Pozhippurai: The knowledge of scriptures should prompt one to reach the Heart, the source of the ego, by taking the grace of God to be the primary support in such a way that the ego ceases to be. If it does not [help in this way] the knowledge borne as a burden by those who behave as if they are the body, the illusory lump of flesh, is nothing but the swinging, fleshy beard of the goat.

Vilakkam: The grace of God is that which springs forth naturally in every being all the time. Since knowledge that does not help one to reach the Heart is totally useless, it has been compared to a goat’s fleshy beard. Until one reaches the Heart, the ego will not cease. Hence it has been said, ‘To reach the Heart in such a way [that] … the ego ceases to be’. Any effort to reach the Heart that relies primarily on ego-consciousness will be utterly futile. This is why it has been said, ‘by taking the grace of God to be the primary support’.

The benefit of learning should be nothing less than to dwell upon the gracious feet of the one whose form is the wealth of pure consciousness.

Pandits and scholars


Only those who are dwelling in the land of Atma-swarupa, which is consciousness, the supreme, are scholars. The rest are madmen.


Even though they have acquired knowledge of other things, what have those lowest of people really gained, they who have not learned to enquire into and know the state of the Self in a fitting manner?


He who sees an object as separate from consciousness cannot be a pandit who has known consciousness.
Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 132, Pozhippurai: Why do many of you who have moved with me call me a pandit? The indispensable mark that should be present as a characteristic of the true pandit is only knowing the one who has studied, right from the beginning, all the arts and sciences that are apart from himself in such a way that they cease, being known to be ignorance.

Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 133, Pozhippurai: By enquiring deeply within oneself, ‘Who is the one who has known all the arts and sciences?’ the ego that says ‘I am a knowledgeable one’ ceases immediately, without raising its head. Along with it, the knowledge of arts and sciences that was known by the ego also ceases. Only he who has unerringly known, as it really is, his true state, the Self that remains after this enquiry, is a pandit. How can someone with an ego, who has not known the Atma-swarupa, become a pandit?

What can be accomplished by intellectual mastery, which overcomes opponents through clever arguments, humbling them and preventing them from opening their mouths?


Even if one studies and knows in minute detail the subtlest of books, unless there is [nishkamya] punya it will be impossible for the mind to enter the Heart. ‘

'Punya’ here refers to the merits that come from spiritual practices performed without any thought of a reward.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Guru Vachaka Kovai

I collected the first few boxes of Guru Vachaka Kovai from my printer yesterday. I delivered 80 copies to the Ramanasramam Book Depot this morning, and will give them more in a few days' time. Devotees living in India should order from Ramanasramam since I will not be supplying to individual customers in India.

The book is a hardback, about 640 pages long.

Two devotees have contributed towards the printing costs and this has enabled me to subsidise the cover price for devotees in India. It will go on sale at Rs 150 in the ashram bookstore, a price which, if I factor in the discount I give to the bookstore, is less than the cost of printing the book. I don't know how much extra will be charged for postage. Indian customers should contact the bookstore manager at for further details.

The price for customers outside India will be $25, plus postage. The postal rates for airmail book post have, unfortunately, just doubled. I haven't actually posted a copy of Guru Vachaka Kovai yet, but I estimate will cost about $11 per copy to post it by airmail, including packing and registration. I have not yet added the book to the 'sale' section of my site yet, but it should appear there sometime this week. Meanwhile, anyone who can't wait can order a copy by sending money ($36 US) through Paypal. My email address is

The discrepancy between the Indian and foreign prices is to make some allowance for the different earning capacity of potential purchasers. There are many devotees in India who live on low fixed incomes, and I know they would not be able to afford to buy a book of this sort if I charged them the full commercial rate.

The book will not be appearing in foreign bookstores for about three months since I have to send shipments by sea-freight to distributors in the West.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Responses to comments on 'The Desire for the Self'

Many people have contributed to an interesting discussion on the last topic: ‘The Desire for the Self’. I have been in bed with the flu for most of the last week, which is why I didn’t feel up to responding to any of the points raised in response. Since my head and lungs feel reasonably clear this morning, I will add my own replies here, as a new post. I will begin with the person who started off the whole debate since he informed me that I did not fully respond to his questions last time. The other responses are in the order in which they appear in the comments section of the last post.

Anonymous: Dear David, I was the ‘anonymous’ who asked for the clarification on desire. Thank you for the post but my confusion still remains. The discussion was much more subtle than what you have explained. I have reread all the arguments again in the other ‘Relations with the Guru’ thread.

If I understood the ‘logicians’ correctly, Arvind did not say that desire for liberation is wrong. He said it should be an intense ‘unconscious’ desire for the Self, that is like breathing or eating food and one that does not cause ‘vrittis’ to rise up in the mind. He said that the intense ‘conscious’ desire for the Self should be at the preliminary stages, and then become an intense ‘unconscious’ desire. He gave the example of desire for sleep.

Broken Yogi said that there should be intense ‘conscious’ desire for the Self, because desire for the Self rises from the Self and is a pure sacred current that exists because it is a desire of the Self for itself. If you remove the mind, which blocks this desire, then the desire is revealed in all glory and the Self is realized. He said that as the seeker advances on his quest, this desire has to be made more and more intense. As an example is his recent post saying how when doing Self-enquiry, the intense ‘conscious’ desire for the Self comes up and takes over and then he concentrates on this desire instead of enquiry.

Both Arvind and Broken Yogi please correct me if I have got it wrong.

I find both arguments appeal to me and sound right. Request you to clarify further in light of Sri Ramana’s teaching. You also have still to explain whether we should actively seek temporary experiences of the type Broken Yogi and others have experienced. Only Westerner devotees seem to have such experiences. Is that so? Thank you. UV.

David: Apologies for not covering all these topics in my previous post. I was not aware that these were the specific points that you were asking me to address. I understood that you merely wanted me to give Bhagavan’s own views on the usefulness or desirability of desiring the Self.

Before addressing your questions I want first to consider the implications of Ulladu Narpadu, verse eight. This is Sadhu Om’s translation:
If one worships the supreme in whatever form, giving him whatever name, it is the way to see the supreme in that name and form; yet realising one’s own truth in the truth of that true thing [the supreme] and being one with it, having been resolved into it, is the true seeing. Thus you should know!

I am aware that there are other ways of translating this verse which give the impression that focusing on name and form is a valid route to a direct experience of the formless. However, for the moment, I want to look at the idea inherent in this particular translation and apply it to our discussion on the desire for the Self. The verse is saying that if you have an idea of the Supreme – what it is, what it is like, and so on – you can, by the power of your worship (concentrated reverential attention) have an experience of the Supreme in the form that you have imagined. The verse, though, goes on to say that the true seeing of the Self comes from merging and becoming one with it, not by seeing or experiencing it in a particular way.

How is this relevant to our discussion on desire? If you have a desire for the Self or a desire to experience it, you can only have an idea of what the Self is since the Self itself cannot be grasped or experienced by the mind. Your idea can cause a particular kind of experience to manifest. It is easy to see how concentrating on a form of Ram can produce a vision of Ram, but what if one’s idea of the Supreme contains elements of bliss, peace, or mental silence? When one plunges into a state of peace or bliss, after imagining that this is what the Supreme is, do not the same rules apply? Is this not just a mental state induced by a strong conviction of what the Self is, accompanied by a desire to experience it in this form?

This topic came up in a very interesting discussion I had with Papaji in Lucknow. The conversation took place after he had asked me to include an interview he had given to two Buddhists in Papaji Interviews:
David: You are telling people to ‘Be still’ and to ‘Be quiet’. This is the classic instruction of Ramana Maharshi. Many people from the Vipassana tradition came to see you in the late 80s and early 90s, and most of them had done years of meditation practice which resulted in a deep quietening of their minds. You generally say that formal meditation is not useful, but are not these Buddhist meditators better equipped to follow your ‘Be quiet’ advice than those who have done no meditation at all?

Papaji: No, and I will tell you why not. When you meditate, you set up a goal or a target that you want to reach or attain. You have an idea of what the Self or God might be; you have another idea that you are separate from that God or Self; so you then plan a journey from where you imagine yourself to be to the state that you imagine to be the Supreme. It’s all imagination, including the experiences you have as a result of your practices.

The ego is very clever and very tricky. If it sees that you are striving towards a state you call ‘silence’ or ‘inner quietness’, it will create a mental realm inside you where you can go and experience, dualistically, a place where peace and silence seem to prevail. While you are in that realm, stray thoughts may be absent and you may be experiencing some peace and happiness, since these are the properties that you imagine the Self to have. But this realm of quiet is a mental state created by your idea of the Self and sustained by your intense concentration on it. That is why everyone says that the peace of meditation goes away when this kind of meditation stops. It may last for half an hour or so as a kind of after-effect, but sooner or later it vanishes. When the effort to sustain it ceases, the state itself vanishes.

The peace of the Self is something completely different. It doesn’t come and go according to how hard you focus on it. It’s there all the time. It reveals itself when the effort to focus on objects – physical or spiritual – ceases.

These Buddhist meditators have learned, through hard work, how to dwell in pleasant inner mental states. If I tell them to ‘Be quiet’, they go off into this mental realm and think that they are following my instructions. What I am actually saying is, ‘Give up the thinker, the one who wants to meditate on an object’. When that thinker goes, the peace of the Self remains. People who, through effort and desire, enjoy mentally induced experiences rarely want to give them up because they think they are signs of great progress.

In ancient times the rishis could create whole, apparently-real, worlds through the power of their imagination. In meditation you create inner spiritual worlds that you take to be real because they conform to your idea of what the Self might be.

Physical efforts produce physical results and mental efforts produce mental results. Since the Self is neither mental nor physical, it cannot be attained by mental or physical activity.

I did not make my introductory remarks and then back them up with this report of my conversation with Papaji in order to disparage desire for the Self; I made them to make the point that a desire for the Self can be unknowingly misdirected. I also wrote this as an answer to the question: ‘Should one [as Broken Yogi suggests] actively seek experiences of the Self?’ My answer to this question would be ‘No’, and my reasons would be those given above: if you start pursuing experiences of the Self, you can end up in pleasant but illusory mental states.

What, then, should one do with this desire, if it manifests? While one may not agree with Papaji’s analysis of misdirected desire, both he and Bhagavan suggested desires of all kinds, including a desire for the Supreme, could be channelled into self-enquiry. The same point was made by Meestergus in the first response to the post:
First, I should admit that I have not read the exchange between Broken Yogi and Arvind. It could be that I will just repeat what one or the other said. Don’t know. I think though that it boils down to this. What happens to desire when it is scrutinized? Who’s desire is it? In my estimation desire of any kind becomes fodder for Self Enquiry, a kind of excellent starting point: Find out who has desire.

The benefit of this approach is that it does not presume any idea of what the Self might be. Instead of pursuing a goal that is unconsciously defined by one’s mental baggage, it says: ‘Hold on to the subjective awareness of “I” to the exclusion of all else. If you succeed, the Self will reveal itself.’ It will not reveal itself in a form imagined by the one doing the enquiry; it will, taking a phrase from the benedictory verse of Ulladu Narpadu, reveal itself ‘as it is’. This is the point being made in the second half of the verse from the Ulladu Narpadu with which I began this discussion.

Though both Bhagavan and Papaji both gave primacy to self-enquiry as the most effective and most direct way of discovering swarupa, one’s own true nature as the Self, they both are on record as saying that it is good to cultivate a desire for the Self. Several of Bhagavan’s statements on this topic are given in my original ‘Desire for the Self’ post. Papaji’s views on this were expressed even more forcibly. He occasionally said that a strong hunger or a strong desire for the Self was the key to discovering the Self. Elaborating on this point, he would say that just as a man whose clothes are on fire will not be distracted as he races to the river to quench the flames, likewise a person who wants or needs the Self more urgently and more desperately than anything else will discover it. Ramakrishna made the same point when he said that when one’s desire for God is equal to the desire for air of a drowning man whose head is being held underwater, then one will see Him. Papaji also sometimes said that a strong and all-consuming desire for liberation or God was a fire that would eventually consume all other desires. In characteristically flamboyant vocabulary he said that once that flame had been kindled, one should fan the flames and even ‘pour benzene on them’ – that is to say, make the flames burn as brightly and hotly as possible. However, when he was asked the inevitable question, ‘How can I increase my desire for the Self?’, his answer would usually be far more orthodox and conventional.

'By renouncing desires for and interest in everything that is not the Self. All these desires are keeping you busy, keeping your attention away from who you are. If you want to fan the flames, don’t pay attention to anything that is not the Self, not God.’

In my original post I referred to the lines in Who am I? where Bhagavan says that the phrase ‘Who am I? is like the stick that is used to stir the funeral pyre. The stirring stick ensures that all the other combustible material is burned, and then is itself consumed by the flames. That description refers to self-enquiry, but something similar happens to those who are consumed by a desire for God or the Self. First, the desire for God or the Self burns up all other desires; then that desire itself is consumed. The sadhanas of Papaji and Saradamma are good examples of how this process works. Both spent years being passionately devoted to a form of the divine: in Papaji’s case it was Krishna, and in Saradamma’s case it was Lakshmana Swamy, her Guru. Both reached a point at which they could no longer repeat the name of their ishta devata because the fire had consumed their ability to externalise the mind onto anything, including images and names that had been dear to them for years. Both then sat in the presence of their Gurus and realised the Self. In both cases the passionate desire for a form of the Self culminated in a desire-free ‘I’, but that desire was not the ultimate cause of their liberation. The final cause was an utterly desire-free ‘I’ meeting the power and grace of the Guru.

I will now go back to the questions that were posed in the initial ‘anonymous’ query and give brief answers that, I hope, are supported by the various points I have just made.
Arvind did not say that desire for liberation is wrong. He said it should be an intense ‘unconscious’ desire for the Self, that is like breathing or eating food and one that does not cause ‘vrittis’ to rise up in the mind. He said that the intense ‘conscious’ desire for the Self should be at the preliminary stages, and then become an intense ‘unconscious’ desire. He gave the example of desire for sleep.

I don’t recognise a distinction between ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’. It is the strength or weakness of the desires that determines the results. If the desire is all-consuming, it will work; if it is dissipated by other desires, it will not. Desire can be extinguished through enquiry, but it can also be extinguished by a passionate focus on the divine.
Broken Yogi said that there should be intense ‘conscious’ desire for the Self, because desire for the Self rises from the Self and is a pure sacred current that exists because it is a desire of the Self for itself. If you remove the mind, which blocks this desire, then the desire is revealed in all glory and the Self is realised.

There is something to be said for this. Whatever rises in the body or the mind is claimed as ‘mine’. Angry thoughts arise, so ‘I’ am angry; I trip over, so ‘I’ am hurt; a feeling of being of being dimly aware of the Self, or of being pulled towards it may be there, but the ‘I’ claims it and says ‘I desire the Self’. The claiming of the awareness or the feeling of desiring the Self establishes separation and the consequent desire for union. When the mind gets out of the way, the Self will reveal itself. However, this is not going to happen in a mind that is stuffed with desires for the non-Self. It is only going to happen to an ‘I’ that has been sufficiently attenuated by enquiry or burnt up in the fire of devotion to the divine.
He said that as the seeker advances on his quest, this desire has to be made more and more intense. As an example is his recent post saying how when doing Self-enquiry, the intense ‘conscious’ desire for the Self comes up and takes over and then he concentrates on this desire instead of enquiry.

As I mentioned earlier, desire for the Self increases in proportion to one’s lack of interest in the non-Self. The longing is not going to increase while the non-Self still holds the power to distract.
I find both arguments appeal to me and sound right. Request you to clarify further in light of Sri Ramana’s teaching. You also have still to explain whether we should actively seek temporary experiences of the type Broken Yogi and others have experienced. Only Westerner devotees seem to have such experiences. Is that so? Thank you. UV.

I know you specified last time that I should stick to Bhagavan’s words in my replies. I have broadened my sources today because I felt that the input from the lives and experiences of these other teachers would make valuable additions to an understanding of the topic being discussed.

I already answered your question about seeking temporary experiences of the Self. Personally, for the reasons I outlined above, I don’t think it is a good idea. If they come, they come, but don’t go looking for them. And I don’t think that western devotees have a monopoly on these experiences. Perhaps they are just more inclined to talk about them.

* * *

Umesh: Isn’t desiring the Self exactly the same as not desiring the Self? Both are mental activities/efforts which need a mind that is turned outward. For a mind that is turned inward there is only the bliss of being.

David: There are two ends to the spectrum of practice, and only those who get to the extreme ends of it and stay there succeed. If you are completely desireless, you succeed; and if you have an unquenchable and continuous desire for God or the Self, you succeed. Those who are stuck in the middle through lack of passion or dispassion don’t make it.

I agree that ‘For a mind that is turned inward there is only the bliss of being’. Desire and effort, though, are still needed to make this choice and execute it.

* * *

V. S. Badrinath: David, I AM CONFUSED. Is there a God different from the Self? The frequent interchange of Self and god in the verses cited confuses me is God a different entity. I always thought one merges in the Self and the Self is ...., nothing but the self exists. How can one be desire free without becoming thought free. --Badri—

David: Bhagavan often used the terms ‘God’ and ‘Self’ interchangeably, although he did sometimes make a distinction between Iswara, the personal God, and Brahman, the unmanifest reality. He said to Paul Brunton that ‘Iswara is the last of the unreal forms to go’.

The mind brings into existence a world that is run by Iswara; when the mind vanishes, Iswara and the world vanish along with it, leaving Brahman alone.

As for your question, ‘How can one be desire-free without becoming thought-free?’ the answer is ‘You can’t’. If there are no thoughts, there are no desires; and if there are no desires, there are no thoughts.

* * *

Anonymous: David, The passage and the verses from Day by Day quoted by you, “Effortless and choiceless awareness etc”, are applicable to EFFORT and not desire. The Maharshi is saying that effort is required. He has not mentioned desire anywhere. Even the context of the talk in Day by Day is whether effort is required or not. Effort in sadhana is a function of faith in the Guru.

David: It is true that this dialogue is primarily about the necessity of effort for those who do not have the good fortune of abiding effortlessly in choice-free awareness. I included these words in the first post because I thought they could be extended to cover the necessity of a desire for the Self for those who were not abiding in the Self. Those who are established in the Self have no desires, and no inclination to accomplish anything. Those who feel that they are not in that state need an initial strong desire to change their circumstances. That desire, if it is strong enough, will manifest as continuous effort.

* * *

Clemens Vargas Ramos: ....The mind creates space and time, ….The mind deals in “or”. The heart knows “and”.

David: It’s a minor pedantic point, but ‘and’ to me denotes more than one. There is no multiplicity on the Heart. If you merely meant to say that the Heart includes everything, then that’s fine with me.

* * *

Anonymous: Dear David, When Ramana says that no motive, no desire, no end to achieve can be attributed to God, does the word “God” refer to nirguna brahman or to Ishvara ? The Self, or nirguna brahman, certainly is without any desire, but can we say the same thing about Ishvara ? Thanks.

David: In the two citations I gave on God being desireless (The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, pp. 42-3, and Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 28) Bhagavan is describing the activities of Iswara, not nirguna Brahman, unmanifest Brahman. The quotations speak of the relationship between God, the world and the jivas who inhabit it. This trinity does not exist in nirguna Brahman.

* * *

R Subramanian: Dear David, Once, Visvanatha Swami’s brother, who was a Gandhian and freedom fighter came to the ashram. He, inspite of being a Brahmin, deliberately sat in non-brahmin’s row, to prove his point. Bhagavan said, “Even not to desire to sit in Brahmin’s row is a desire. I think this makes it clear that both desiring and non desiring are desires. Self is beyond the two.

David: I have not seen a report in which Bhagavan responded to the incident with these words: ‘even not to desire to sit in brahmin’s row is a desire.’ This is how the incident was reported by Krishna Bhikshu in The Mountain Path:
During the lifetime of Sri Bhagavan there was a screen across the dining hall separating the brahmins from the others. Bhagavan himself sat against the wall at right angles to both and in view of both. This is important to remember for the incident that follows. This screen implied an interdict on inter-dining between brahmins and non-brahmins. One day a relative of Bhagavan [and therefore a brahmin] demanded to eat among the non-brahmins but the Sarvadhikari [the ashram manager] would not allow it. They were disputing about it when Bhagavan came on the scene and asked what was the matter.

‘He says that he has no caste,’ the Sarvadhikari told him. ‘That all are equal in the presence of Bhagavan and that he is simply a human being and not bound by the shackles of caste, creed, clime or colour.’ ‘Oh, is that so?’ Bhagavan said, looking surprised. ‘Then in that case you are wrong to insist that he should eat with the brahmins.’

But then, turning to his cousin, Bhagavan remarked, ‘But you too are wrong. These people here feel that they are non-brahmins. You have no caste feeling. So how can you sit among them? There is only one person here who has the feeling of being neither brahmin nor non-brahmin, and that is myself. So,’ calling the attendant, ‘place a leaf plate for him by my side; let him sit with me.’
The young man was shocked by the implication of this proposal and immediately took his place at the brahmin side. (The Mountain Path, 1965, p. 217)

I made my own comments on this incident in ‘Bhagavan the Atiasrami’ (, an article that appears on my site:
In the dining room Bhagavan did not object if brahmins decided to eat with the non-brahmins … so long as it was their custom to do so in other places as well. But if they observed caste eating rules at home, Bhagavan would often insist that they continue to observe such rules in the ashram. Bhagavan did not want the ashram to be used as a platform for visitors who wanted to make political or sociological gestures. His often-repeated phrase, ‘Attend to what you came here for,’ was frequently directed at visitors who forgot to leave their politics and their opinions at home.

Bhagavan’s seat in the dining room, neither in the brahmin nor the non-brahmin sections, was an outer symbolic indication that his realisation had placed him beyond the restrictions of caste and asrama rules.

I don’t think this is a story about desire or non-desire; I see it as an illustration of how Bhagavan made it clear that he didn’t want visitors to use the ashram to make political or social statements.

* * *

Broken Yogi: Ramana seems to be saying that the desire for the Self fuels the practice of self-enquiry, but in some sense it feels like it’s the same as self-enquiry. Though I guess it could take the form of devotion as well, but as you pointed out in “Be As You Are” Sri Ramana feels that genuine devotion is really the same as self-enquiry in essential practice, if not stylistically. I can’t help but wonder if this heart-concentration in the desire for the Self is perhaps more of a form of devotional surrender than self-enquiry, then. I even wonder at times if I am actually more suited to the path of devotional surrender than self-enquiry, and this is an indication of it. When I practice self-enquiry, for example, the major effect is a feeling of devotional love and this desire for the Self, such that I often let go of self-enquiry and concentrate in this love and desire for the Self. Is this advisable, or should I remain active in self-enquiry even then?

David: You are probably aware of Bhagavan’s statement ‘Surrender is to give oneself up to the source of one’s being,’ an upadesa that indicates that surrender and enquiry, done properly, are essentially the same practice. Here are three verses from Guru Vachaka Kovai that espouse similar ideas. The verse by Bhagavan appears between the other two in the original text:

They say that contemplating one’s real nature [swarupa] is supreme devotion to Mahesa [Iswara], who is beyond the reach of the mind, [the intellect,] and so on. This is because the two aforementioned persons [jiva and Iswara] are identical in their real nature.

Bhagavan 13

As Iswara exists as the Self, meditating on the Self is devotion to the Supreme God.


Be aware that the two paths of jnana and bhakti are inseparably related. Therefore, without separating one from the other through the delusion that they are different, practise both simultaneously and harmoniously in your heart.

Muruganar gave the title ‘The inseparable nature of bhakti and jnana’ to verse 731.

* * *

Anonymous: A good quote that I think sums up the debate is “There will be no end to disputations”, that is one of the Maharshi quotes I put on my shelf in marker. That aside, I actually enjoy these debates (so don’t stop, if you feel the urge to argue), and I was glad to see that a whole thread was created to deal with the issue of desire, full of pristine quotes. Both sides made nice points, although I felt more pulled to agreement with Broken Yogi. But that Maharshi quote is nice, in that it says, in my own words, no intellectual argument is going to result in some deeper understanding of the truth, but just go on ad infinitum.

David: There is a difference between ‘disputations’ and discussing the words of one’s teachers with the aim of gaining clarity and understanding. While the former is pointless and ego-driven, the latter is often prescribed as a sadhana. The traditional vedantic route to knowledge is through hearing the words of the Guru, thinking about them in order to convince oneself that they are true, and then putting the words into practice in order to gain a direct experience of what they are pointing at. Such a process may involve, at the second stage, clarifying one’s understanding by having discussions and debates.

Here is Bhagavan warning devotees about the futility of ‘vain disputations’ and recommending instead absorption in mauna:


The doctrines of all religions contradict each other. They wage war, collide with each other, and finally die.


On this battlefield all the religions retreat defeated when they stand before mauna, which abides beneficently, sustaining them all.


The rare and wonderful power of mauna is that it remains without enmity towards any of the religions.


The many different religions are appropriate to the maturity of each individual, and all of them are acceptable to reality.


Abandoning vain disputation, which only deludes and torments the mind, accept the doctrine of the mauna religion, which always remains undisturbed. (Padamalai, pp. 97-8)

Bhagavan: The conflict of teachings is only apparent, and can be resolved if one practises self-surrender to God; this will lead to the Self, to which everyone must come back in the end, because that is the truth. The discord among the creeds can never be got rid of by discussing their merits; for discussion is a mental process. The creeds are mental – they exist in the mind alone, while the truth is beyond the mind; therefore the truth is not in the creeds. (Maha Yoga, p. 220)
* * *

R. Subramanian: Dear David, I agree with what anonymous told in his comment. Bhagavan is Truth, but He prescribed contextual truths to different devotees. He told one to do Rama japa. He told Annamalai Swami to chant Siva, Siva. Perhaps, the seeker should read all the contextual truths of Bhagavan and take one that is most suited to him. As an Advaitic Brahmin, Siva, Siva would suit me best. A Vaishnavite may prefer Rama, Rama. Let each one pursue the one that is the best for him and find the Absolute Truth in the end.

David: While it is true that Bhagavan sometimes gave out different advice to different people, depending on their aptitude and inclinations, on the few occasions he was persuaded to give out a mantra, he always asked the particular devotee to repeat ‘Siva, Siva’. He gave this particular mantra to Annamalai Swami, Muruganar, Rangan’s brother, and an unknown harijan who came to the ashram. Devotees who were already doing japa of the names of other deities would not be asked to change.

* * *

Haramurthy: Basically, however, advising “desire for the Self” is the prescription of a sugar-coated bitter pill. Essentially the phrase simply refers to the act of renunciation… The age-old implication is: if you cannot renunciate all your psychological and social embeddedness, in the first place, it is just ridiculous to entertain the notion of Atmabodha.

David: I agree that a desire for the Self is not something that can be consummated unless one is able to disentangle oneself from all one’s desires for the non-Self. Self-enquiry can accomplish this, as can a fanatic obsession with an image of the divine. Both prevent the ‘I’ from attaching itself to and indulging in distracting phenomena.

* * *

Broken Yogi: In relation to your question as to whether we should seek experiences of the Self, I think you have to realize what such seeking involves. The basic idea is that the Self is a living Being, who responds to our real gestures and needs. If you want an experience of the Self, you have to make a real gesture of some kind to the Self, to demonstrate your seriousness and commitment. What that would be in your case depends on what your ego is most attached to, and you would probably know that better than anyone. If you want the experience of the Self more than that, you will somehow know what to do, and the Self will respond.

David: While I would not go so far as to say that the Self is a ‘living being’, Bhagavan did, though, endorse a commonly held idea that God responds massively, and disproportionately, to devotees who turn to him. Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 965, says:
If you, thinking of God, take one step towards Him, in response, He, who is more kind than a mother, thinking of you, takes nine steps – such a long distance – and accepts you. So great is his grace!

The same point was made in the following two verses from Padamalai (p. 47, vv. 81, 82):
Padam [God] comes swiftly bounding to see those devotees who are genuinely struggling to see it.

Padam, the extremely intense, true and supreme grace, takes ten steps [towards the devotee] when the devotee takes one step [towards Padam].

The traditional number of steps is ten. I am guessing that Muruganar settled for nine in the Guru Vachaka Kovai verse because ten would not have fitted the prosody.

The next question and answer are from The Power of the Presence, part one, p. 261:
Question: Does God bestow grace on jivas or not?

Bhagavan: However much you remember God, God remembers you much more.
* * *

Haramurthy: True, there cannot be doubt about the fact that Ramana Maharshi had no tendencies of manifesting as some sort of missionary trying to impose changes of life-style or anything else upon others. Anyway, 99,999…. percent of the kind and pious people (not to speak of others) visiting him were quite unable to sustain requirements conducible to Atmabodha – thus advising total renunciation, in the proper sense, would have been utterly futile.

David: There is something rather elitist about this assertion that does not sit well with my understanding of Bhagavan’s personality, his attitude to devotees, and his approach to handing out teachings. Here is a verse from Padamalai (p. 4, v. 17) that is followed by my commentary on it from the same book. The citation ends with an additional story that illustrates that Bhagavan did not withhold his highest teachings from those who desired to practice them:
'The extremely wonderful Padam made public the supreme truth of the Vedas, which is normally declared only to trustworthy persons.'
In ancient time disciples would sometimes undergo a long probationary period during which their teacher would assess their spiritual maturity and capabilities. If, after this period, the disciples were deemed to be worthy enough, the teacher would impart one of the key vedic statements of identity, such as ‘Tat tvam asi’ (You are That). Bhagavan never held back any of his teachings while he assessed the worthiness of those who approached him. If visitors asked for the highest knowledge or the most direct practice, he would tell them immediately. In a more general sense, ‘the supreme truth of the Vedas’ denotes the experience of the Self, rather than a revelation of scriptural knowledge. In some verses of Padamalai Muruganar writes about ‘the experience of Vedanta’. This too indicates an experience of the Self, rather than a knowledge or an understanding of particular texts. Bhagavan’s attitude to preliminary teachings is exemplified by the following story:

Once, when Ganapati Muni was present in the hall, a group of villagers asked, ‘How are we to control the mind?’ In reply Bhagavan asked them to look into the origin of the mind and explained the path of self-enquiry. Soon they left and Bhagavan as usual went out for a walk.

Remarking to the others [Ganapati] Muni said, ‘The path of Self-knowledge which Bhagavan teaches is so difficult even for the learned, and Bhagavan advocated it to the poor villagers. I doubt whether they understood it and still less whether they can practise it. If Bhagavan had advised them to practise some puja or japa, that would have been more practical.’

When this was conveyed to Bhagavan, he commented, ‘What to do? This is what I know. If a teaching is to be imparted according to the traditional way, one must first see whether the recipient is qualified or not. Then puja, japa or dhyana are prescribed step by step. Later the Guru says that this is all only preliminary and one has to transcend all this. Finally, the ultimate truth that “Brahman alone is real” is revealed and to realise this, the direct path of self-enquiry is to be taught. Why this roundabout process? Should we not state the ultimate truth and direct path at the beginning itself rather than advocating many methods and rejecting them at the end?’ (Bhagavan Sri Ramana, a Pictorial Biography, p. 74)

Bhagavan did not impose his teachings on anyone; if you were doing japa and wanted to continue, he would say ‘Fine, carry on’. If, however, you asked for the highest and most direct teachings, Bhagavan would never tell you that you were unworthy or unqualified to practise them. Devotees could get the highest practical teachings from Bhagavan simply by asking for them and by being willing to practise them. These were the only qualifications Bhagavan required.

You say that, from Bhagavan’s point of view, ‘advising total renunciation, in the proper sense, would have been utterly futile’. Bhagavan didn’t advocate physical renunciation to anyone; he instead taught that we should renounce the renouncer through self-enquiry or surrender. The following dialogue that was posted in the response column to ‘Desire for the Self’ makes this very clear:
Question: In the early stages, would it not be a help to a man to seek solitude and give up his outer duties in life?

Maharshi: Renunciation is always in the mind, not in going to forests or solitary places or giving up one’s duties. The main thing is to see that the mind does not turn outward but inward. It does not really rest with a man whether he goes to this place or that or whether he gives up his duties or not. All these events happen according to destiny. All the activities that the body is to go through are determined when it first comes into existence. It does not rest with you to accept or reject them. The only freedom you have is to turn your mind inward and renounce activities there.

Question: But is it not possible for something to be a help, especially to a beginner, like a fence around a young tree? For instance, don’t our books say that it is helpful to go on pilgrimages to sacred shrines or to get sat sanga?

Maharshi: Who said they are not helpful? Only such things do not rest with you, whereas turning your mind inward does. Many people desire the pilgrimage or sat sanga that you mention, but do they get it?

Question: Why is it that turning inward alone is left to us and not any outer things?

Maharshi: If you want to go to fundamentals, you must enquire who you are and find out who it is who has freedom or destiny. Who are you and why did you get this body that has these limitations?

Question: Is solitude necessary for vichara?

Maharshi: There is solitude everywhere. The individual is solitary always. His business is to find it out within, not to seek it outside himself. Solitude is in the mind of man. One might be in the thick of that world and maintain serenity of mind. Such a one is in solitude. Another may stay in a forest, but still be unable to control his mind. Such a man cannot be said to be in solitude. Solitude is a function of the mind. A man attached to desires cannot get solitude wherever he may be, whereas a detached man is always in solitude.

Question: So then, one might be engaged in work and be free from desire and keep up solitude. Is it so?

Maharshi: Yes. Work performed with attachment is a shackle, whereas work performed with detachment does not affect the doer. One who works like this is, even while working, in solitude.

Questioner: How can cessation of activity (nivritti) and peace of mind be attained in the midst of household duties which are of the nature of constant activity?

Maharshi: As the activities of the wise man exist only in the eyes of others and not in his own, although he may be accomplishing immense tasks, he really does nothing. Therefore his activities do not stand in the way of inaction and peace of mind. For he knows the truth that all activities take place in his mere presence, and that he does nothing. Hence, he will remain as the silent witness of all activities taking place. (Be as you Are, pp. 130-1, Indian edition)

Bhagavan did expect those who lived with him at Ramanasramam to live simple, fairly ascetic lives, but he never said that such an existence was a sine qua non for realisation. The following dialogue is between Rangan and Bhagavan. It is recorded in The Power of the Presence, part one, page 7:
When I started to visit Bhagavan regularly at Skandashram, it occurred to me that it would be good if I became a sannyasin. I knew that this was a foolish and irresponsible dream because it would leave my family, already in a precarious financial position, with no one to support them. However, the thought would not leave me. One night, while I was lying in my bed at Skandashram, I was unable to sleep because this thought kept recurring so strongly.

As I was turning uneasily in my bed, Bhagavan came to my side and asked me, ‘What is the matter? Are you in pain?’

'Venkataraman,’ I replied, ‘I want to adopt sannyasa.’

Bhagavan went away and came back with a copy of Bhakta Vijayam. It was an anthology of the lives of some famous saints who lived in western India many centuries ago. He opened the book and read out the story in which Saint Vithoba decided to take sannyasa. In the story, his son, Jnanadeva, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, gave him the following advice.

‘Wherever you are, whether in worldly society or the forest, the same mind is always with you. It is the same old mind, wherever you reside.’

After reading this out Bhagavan added, ‘You can attain jnana even while you are living in samsara’.

‘Then why did you become a sannyasin?’ I countered.

‘That was my prarabdha, [destiny]’ replied Bhagavan. ‘Life in the family is difficult and painful, no doubt, but it is easier to become a jnani while living as a householder.’
* * *

Clemens Vargas Ramos: [quoting Swaminathan] ‘I should always remain a humble, ignorant peasant at heart’.

Great! I love these stories more than a thousand words.

David: I love them as well. Humility is one of the virtues that Bhagavan stressed, but which few people associate with his teachings. In the final paragraph of Who am I? Bhagavan wrote:
If one rises [as the ego], all will rise; if one subsides, all will subside. To the extent to which we behave humbly, to that extent will good result. If one can remain controlling the mind, one can live anywhere.

In the following three verses from Guru Vachaka Kovai Bhagavan again stresses the importance of humility before going on to make the surprising assertion that God’s greatness is a function of His humility:

The position of human beings will improve to the extent that they behave with humility towards others. The reason for God’s supremacy, the reason why the whole world bows low before him, is surely, is it not, his exalted nature of not possessing a deluded ego that rises, even inadvertently?


God humbly and enthusiastically worships all beings at all times as though taking upon himself for all time menial service to them. Is it not because of this that he has become privileged to receive the great and pre-eminent forms of worship performed each day by all the beings of all the worlds?


As devotees of God see only their own Self in everything, they behave with humility towards all of them. But since God humbles himself even before his devotees, he has attained, as his nature, that state in which there is nothing inferior to him. Is it not because of the supremacy of this extreme humility that he has attained the state of God?

The next passage comes from Living by the Words of Bhagavan. There had been a somewhat bizarre discussion in the hall between Chinnaswami and Ganapati Muni about who was the greater devotee. Later that day, as Bhagavan and Annamalai Swami were walking on the hill (Annamalai Swami was Bhagavan’s attendant at the time) Bhagavan made the following remarks:
‘Whatever effort is made by whichever person, that which is the reality will always remain. No one, however great, can give another person either moksha or bandha [liberation or bondage].

‘It is natural for a person to think that he should be well-known to the people of the world and be praised by them. But if this thought is present one cannot attain true greatness or happiness. God is not interested in those who promote their own claims to greatness. One who is not satisfactory to God is an inferior person, not a great one. If anyone dedicates both his mind and his body to God in every possible way, God will make him be famous and praised by people all over the world.’

Bhagavan then supported his remarks by quoting a verse from Vairagya Satakam: ‘O mind, you are thinking how to make the people of the world regard you as great. The ever-existing God alone is the one who bestows bondage and liberation. What is the use of others knowing your greatness? O mind, perform the rare tapas of surrendering to the holy golden feet of God. Then God will make you so great that the world will know your greatness and praise you. Know thus.’

On returning to the hall Bhagavan gave me a Tamil work called Sivabhoga Saram and showed verse ninety-six to me: "Those who suppress the thought ‘I am great’ by not paying any attention to it, the Vedas will say that they are great. Those who say ‘I am great’ are small people. Say, other than them, who will undergo misery in this world?" …

There was one devotee in the ashram at that time who, for me at least, exemplified Bhagavan’s teachings on humility and selfless devotion. His name was Viran and he was employed by the ashram to carry water. In the early days of the ashram there was always a water shortage. As the ashram well did not produce enough water to meet all our needs, we had to bring in supplies from outside. At about 4 p.m. every day everyone in the ashram, except for Bhagavan, had to go to the Palakottu tank with a bucket to collect water. We each had to bring about ten buckets of water a day to the ashram. This was quite a strenuous activity because the main ashram buildings were about 150 yards from the tank. In summer, when the water level in the Palakottu tank was very low, our drinking water was brought in a cart from the Boomanda tank, which is located near the mosque in town. All this water had to be stored in big vessels in the ashram.

Since all these activities still failed to produce enough water to meet all our needs, we engaged a man called Viran to carry water full-time from the Palakottu tank to the ashram. In addition to carrying water, he also used to work on various other little jobs that needed to be done in and around the ashram. Although he had been engaged primarily to do ashram work, he was also willing to help any of the resident devotees with their daily chores. If anyone called him to do some work, he would immediately come. No work was too menial for him. He was even willing to work in the middle of the night if anyone asked him to. He was a very humble man whose main aim in life seemed to be to please other people.

If anyone addressed him disrespectfully, because he came from a low caste, Bhagavan would immediately show his disapproval. ‘Why do you call him like this?’ he would ask. ‘If you want him to do any work you should call him with love and affection.’

Bhagavan often showed a lot of love towards this man because he knew he was very humble and because he knew he performed all his chores with love and devotion.

Bhagavan was not the only one who was impressed with his work. A rich devotee, after watching Viran work, decided to help him by paying for his son’s education. The devotee put the boy in a good school in Madras and paid for all his expenses. The ashramites also used to help him by giving him left-over food from the kitchen to take home to his family. Viran’s humility was a shining example of Bhagavan’s teach­ings in action.

On many occasions Bhagavan told me, ‘Become envious of anyone lower than you. You must become very small. In fact you must become nothing. Only a person who is nobody can abide in the Self.’

Bhagavan often spoke to us about the necessity of humility. On another occasion he told me, ‘No one should be our inferior. One who has learned to be the inferior will become superior to all.’ (Living by the Words of Bhagavan, 2nd ed., pp.124-6)

The next series of quotes are from Padamalai, pp. 332-3:

A humble attitude of mind will give you redemption, transporting you to the world of the immortals. Without humility, you will drown in the pitch blackness of Hell.

[This Padamalai verse is a rendering of Tirukkural, verse 121.]


Humility will destroy the powerful and difficult-to-vanquish enemy [the ego] and will bestow on the jiva the great fortune [of liberation].

Bhagavan: The power of humility, which bestows immortality, is the foremost among powers that are hard to attain. Since the only benefit of learning and other similar virtues is the attainment of humility, humility alone is the real ornament of the sages. It is the storehouse of all other virtues and is therefore extolled as the wealth of divine grace. Although it is a characteristic befitting wise people in general, it is especially indispensable for sadhus.

Since attaining greatness is impossible for anyone except by humility, all the disciplines of conduct such as yama and niyama, which are prescribed specifically for aspirants on the spiritual path, have as their aim only the attainment of humility. Humility is indeed the hallmark of the destruction of the ego. Because of this, humility is especially extolled by sadhus themselves as the code of conduct befitting them.

Moreover, for those who are residing at Arunachala, it is indispensable in every way. Arunachala is the sacred place where even the embodiments of God, Brahma, Vishnu and Sakti, humbly subsided. Since it has the power to humble even those who would not be humbled, those who do not humbly subside at Arunachala will surely not attain that redeeming virtue anywhere else. The Supreme Lord, who is the highest of the high, shines unrivalled and unsurpassed only because he remains the humblest of the humble. When the divine virtue of humility is necessary even for the Supreme Lord, who is totally independent, is it necessary to emphasise that it is absolutely indispensable for sadhus who do not have such independence? Therefore, just as in their inner life, in their outer life also sadhus should possess complete and perfect humility. It is not that humility is necessary only for devotees of the Lord; even for the Lord it is the characteristic virtue. (Sri Ramana Darsanam, pp. 77-8)

Finally, two stray quotes from Padamalai: p. 130, v. 26 and p. 332, v. 95:
Humility and self-restraint are the marks of those transformed and radiant beings who embody the quality of virtue.

A humble attitude of mind will give you redemption, transporting you to the world of the immortals. Without humility, you will drown in the pitch blackness of hell.

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Mike: This isn’t strictly on topic but this question has been bothering me for a while. Does realizing the self automatically lead to perfect moral decision making? I ask this because Osho was clearly no saint and yet it is reported by many he had the presence of the self (how else did he work up such a following?)? The same is said about UG Krishnamurti and his attitude was entirely the opposite of Bhagavan. It is possible to for a person to realize the self but the provisional ego remain conceited? Perhaps it was the humbleness of Ramana’s personality coupled with the presence of the self that made him so great? The answer to this question determines the desirability of the Self in my opinion. Maybe the focus should on morality first before desiring the self. –Mike

David: Very much off-topic, but still a very interesting question. In Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 332, Bhagavan said:
Those who have realised the truth are alone the possessors of faultless virtues. Apart from these, everyone else is only base of nature. Hence, he who longs for the fortune of liberation must redeem himself only by resorting to those aforementioned meritorious ones who shine as reality through the knowledge of reality that is devoid of the world-delusion.

I have already given the next verse in an earlier reply, but here it is again in a slightly different context, along with a quote from Day by Day with Bhagavan:
Humility and self-restraint are the marks of those transformed and radiant beings who embody the quality of virtue. (Padamalai, p. 130, v. 26)

Bhagavan: All good or daivic [divine] qualities are included in jnana and all bad asuric [demonic] qualities are included in ajnana. When jnana comes all ajnana goes and all daivic qualities come automatically. If a man is a jnani he cannot utter a lie or do anything wrong. It is, no doubt, said in some books that one should cultivate one quality after another and thus prepare for ultimate moksha, but for those who follow the jnana or vichara marga [the path of self-enquiry], their sadhana is itself quite enough for acquiring all daivic qualities; they need not do anything else. (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 18th July, 1946)

The final quote addresses your query about the necessity of living a moral life before considering Self-realisation. Bhagavan is saying here that preliminary moral training is not necessary, and that the practice of enquiry will by itself instill divine qualities in those who perform it.

You asked the question: ‘It is possible to for a person to realize the self but the provisional ego remain conceited? To which I would say, ‘Absolutely not’. At the moment of realisation the ego is definitively extinguished. Once jnana has been attained, all words and actions are those of the Self and not the ego.

I wrote the following words in an article entitled ‘Bhagavan the Atiasrami’ ( An atiasrami is one who has transcended all asramas or stages of life. Bhagavan once put himself in this transcendent category when he was asked which of the traditional four asramas he belonged to. In the discussion that follows, atiasrami can be taken to be the equivalent of jnani:
It has become somewhat fashionable among certain modern gurus to say, in effect, ‘I have realised the Self; therefore I can do what I like because society’s rules no longer apply to me’. The true atiasrami would never make a statement like this because he or she would know that there is no ‘I’ left that can select particular desires and then indulge them. The true jnani or atiasrami according to Bhagavan, has no sankalpa, that is to say he has no will or desire of his own. His actions are spontaneous manifestations of the Self….

The atiasrami’s inability to execute or even have personal desires was brought home to me some years ago in a conversation I had with U. G. Krishnamurti, an iconoclastic spiritual teacher who likes to poke fun at traditional ideas on spirituality.

While talking about the state of realisation he remarked, ‘All religious teachers say that the seeker is in bondage whereas the so-called enlightened one is free. Actually, the opposite is equally true. One who imagines himself to be a person also imagines that he has free-will. That person makes choices, and if he chooses not to be put off by legal or social restrictions, he can do whatever he likes. But when the idea of the person disappears, free-will, which is just another idea, goes along with it. One is then utterly bound by circumstances because there is no one left to make choices or act on desires. In that state the actions of the body and the brain are just automatic responses to external stimuli. Since no inherent faculty remains to modify these responses, the bondage is complete and irreversible.’

These remarks were made partly in jest, but there is also a certain element of truth in them. To solve the apparent contradiction – that the jnani or the atiasrami is simultaneously liberated and bound – one must define more accurately what ‘freedom’ or ‘liberation’ is.

There are two kinds of freedom: ‘freedom to’ and ‘freedom from’. ‘Freedom to’ implies the existence of choice and of one who chooses. It is basically self-indulgence, for the individual self selects certain desires and then attempts to fulfil them. This ‘freedom to’ is finite since there is a limit to how much the body may indulge: one cannot, for example, eat a million meals a day. ‘Freedom from’ may also be finite – one may be free from attachment to money, for example, but not free from the desire for fame. But for the jnani ‘freedom from’ is absolute because he has permanently given up the idea that he is an individual person. Though he has no ‘freedom to’, since that would imply the existence of an individual self, he is free from all desires, fears, etc., and is content to let his body experience whatever destiny has in store for it. Not having an ability to choose and judge may seem like bondage to an ajnani, but for the jnani it is a consequence of the ultimate freedom.

I doubt that Bhagavan would agree with U.G. Krishnamurti’s assertion that ‘In that state the actions of the body and the brain are just automatic responses to external stimuli’. I think that Bhagavan would say that although this sometimes happens, many of the jnani’s actions are spontaneous, being a result of promptings from the Self, rather than external stimuli. Since the jnani’s words and behaviour are a manifestation of the Self, unmediated by any kind of ego, they are always right, even if they may not necessarily conform to the ajnani’s ideas of what is conventionally right or wrong. As Bhagavan once said: ‘…a man [who holds the Self in remembrance] is not concerned with the right or wrong of actions. His actions are God’s and therefore right.’ (Consciousness Immortality, 1984 ed., p. 130)

The same idea is expressed in verse 96 of a Tamil text entitled Swarupa Saram, a work that Bhagavan put on a reading list for Annamalai Swami, saying that it was one of six essential books that he should study:
The jnani has become one, tranquil and pure. To him ether and the rest [of the five elements] are the form of the Self. Whatever actions such a one has given up become prohibited actions. Whatever he undertakes becomes proper action.
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That’s it for today. Apologies if I missed anyone’s queries. I hope some of the extensive answers I have given here make it clear where I (and Bhagavan) stand on the various issues that have been discussed.