Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In praise of the lazy ones

Verses 773 and 774 of Guru Vachaka Kovai are grouped together under a chapter heading entitled ‘Being Still’ or ‘Remaining Still’. The second of these two verses immediately attracts attention because it states quite clearly that abiding in swarupa, one’s true state, is a state of laziness:

The method of true and supreme tapas that our Lord Ramana declares to be worthwhile and which the mind should firmly hold onto is this, and no more: ‘Being still.’ Other than this there are absolutely no thoughts to think, nor any duties to be contemplated by it.

The lazy state wherein you exist motionlessly and shine is the state of swarupa. In that supreme state you have become That. It cannot be attained except by direct, excellent and rare tapas. You should therefore honour those who are established in that laziness as holy beings.

This state is described, perhaps a little ironically, as ‘lazy’ only because there is no one left there who can do anything. Muruganar wrote in Padamalai that Bhagavan bestowed this state on him:

The golden Padam [Bhagavan] completely abolished my wandering around as a wicked one and made me shine as a perfect idler.

Even the actions I perform, believing them to be my own, are in reality the actions of Padam, the complete and absolute truth.

(Padamalai, pp. 342, 343, vv. 62, 64)

Bhagavan also mentioned this state of laziness in Aksharamanamalai verse 37:

If I sleep consciously as a lazy one, remaining still and consuming bliss, this is the supreme state. Is there any [state] other than this, O Arunachala? If there is, please tell me!

I have just done a quick check on the two English versions (Collected Works and Prof. Swaminathan’s Five Hymns to Arunachala) that are on my bookshelf, and neither of them mentions the word ‘lazy’ even though it is clearly mentioned in the verse. I suspect the translators felt that ‘lazy’ as a description of the Self was more than a little pejorative, so they toned the first phrase down and used the more euphemistic phrases ‘lying in peaceful repose’ and ‘slumbering in quiet repose’. I would guess they were trying to convey the idea that it was a state in which nothing could be done or needed to be done. While this is a true description of the state being described, the impact of the original phrase is considerably watered down.

I think that Bhagavan, the author, intended to convey the full and normal meaning of the word ‘lazy’ when he composed this verse, not some wishy-washy state of ‘quiet repose’. When Muruganar wrote his Tamil commentary on Aksharamanamalai (Aksharamanamalai Vritti Urai) and showed it to Bhagavan, Bhagavan endorsed this interpretation by adding the following verse from Tirumandiram, one of the canonical scriptures of Saivism, to the section of Muruganar’s manuscript that dealt with this verse:

The place where the lazy ones dwell is pure space.

The place where the lazy ones rest is pure space.

The consciousness of the lazy ones remains

in the place which the Vedas have abandoned

as beyond their scope.

The lazy ones have gained the state in which they are sleeping,

totally unaware of the Vedas.

(Tirumandiram, v. 127)


Arvind Lal said...

David, thanks for putting up this post on this important concept. You gave it a great title too ! Sorry for the belated comment.

Sri Bhagavan, it seems, used the term “lazy” or “without work” (in the higher sense as described by you) to describe the Jnani’s state more often than has been brought out.

There is the fascinating anecdote in the book “Drops from the Ocean”, written by Sri V Ganesan. VG writes (Pg 117) that Sri Bhagavan’s old devotee TPR told him the following –

‘Bhagavan would accept a new pencil or pen, only when the old one was completely exhausted or totally damaged. He would then take a piece of paper and scribble a few times with the new one to see whether it was working properly. Most of us, on similar occasions, sign our own names, write OM or some God’s name. So I was very inquisitive to know what He scribbled. Bhagavan permitted me to see what He wrote. Even those who were close to Him did not know about it. Either He wrote, “Arunachalavaasi”, meaning, “One residing in Arunachala”, or “Panilenuvaadu”, meaning, “One without any work”.’

So the One who would not sign with any name at all, ever, chose to give Himself an identity - linked to Holy Arunachala and as “One without any work”. How revealing.

(Here - “One residing in Arunachala” would not merely mean residence in the physical location Arunachala, but the higher sense of - extinguishment of oneself in Arunachala, or abidance in the Heart as Arunachala, or as a picture in relation to the screen Arunachala etc.)

Similarly, of course, “One without work” would have a lot of higher meanings.

One wonders (alas, not knowing Tamil), is the word “Panilenuvaadu” above, accurately translated as “One without any work” or are there deeper shades of meaning to it ? “Pani” means “hand” in Sanskrit. So, is the literal meaning something like - “One whose hands are idle” ?

Also, one wonders where all in the extant translations of Sri Bhagavan’s works, the concept of “laziness” is watered down – you have already mentioned Aksharamanamalai verse 37. If you come across or remember any other texts, wherein the concept is used, please do put it up on the blog.

Many thanks

David Godman said...

That's an interesting anecdote. I have never come across it before. If I had, I would have added it to the original post and to the commentary I added after the Guru Vachaka Kovai verses.

Panilenuvaadu is actually a Telugu word with three components:

panil, work
enu, without
vaadu, a person

If there are any Telugu readers out there, I would love to know if this term has any spiritual significance in Telugu beyond the three-part breakdown I have just given.

Since I wrote the post Sadhu Om's translation has appeared. He has the following rendering of verse 37:

O Arunachala, tell me, if you merely sleep [in this manner] enjoying bliss [of Self] like an idler, then what will be my condition?

The verse begins, in Tamil, 'Sombi (y)ai...' which means 'like a lazy person'. Aksharamanamalai (The Marital Garland of Letters) has 'Letters' in its title because the first letter of each verse follows the sequence of the Tamil alphabet. When Bhagavan came to verse 37, in order to begin the first line he needed to find a word that started with the consonant 's' and was followed by the long 'o' sound. 'Sombi' was the one he chose.

David Godman said...

This is a follow up to my last comment. A more prosaic explanation has just occurred to me, one that comes from a story that can be found on pages 169-71 of Letters and Recollections from Sri Ramanasramam. Suri Nagamma is narrating:

Bhagavan was giving me for copying whatever was received subsequently. Incidentally he was also discussing with me the affairs relating to the printing of Telugu books. I was also looking after the library-lending books and receiving them back. As I was doing all this work, Bhagavan was calling me frequently and entrusting me with some work or other. Later on, I also commenced writing my Letters from Sri Ramanasramam. Thus I came into closer contact with Bhagavan than the other devotees.

Noting all this one day Devaraja Mudaliar jocularly said, “Nagamma is Bhagavan’s Telugu Secretary.” As I did not like his saying so I protested saying, “My dear Sir, if you have any regard for me, please keep it to yourself. Why all these designations? After all what is the work I am doing for Bhagavan? Really speaking, what work is there for Bhagavan to be done by me?” “That is not it, my dear sister. Is it not a fact that whenever anything written in Telugu is received he passes it on to you? You are looking after all the Telugu work. So I am calling you his Telugu Secretary,” he said. I begged of him not to call me that way but he would not listen. Finally one day I told him, “Look. If you persist in calling me Secretary I shall make you stand before Bhagavan and complain to him.” I thought the threat would have the desired effect but was he of the sort that could be so easily threatened?

The next morning after looking through the mail, Bhagavan went out as usual and returned. While he was seated leisurely on the sofa with Balarama Reddi opposite to him, Devaraja Mudaliar suddenly came in, prostrated himself before Bhagavan and after getting up said with a smile, “Bhagavan, Nagamma says she will make me stand before you and impeach me today.” Mudaliar with a further smile turned towards me and said, “Yes. Start with your impeachment. I am now standing before Bhagavan.” “So you have started it. All right. What am I to do, Bhagavan. He teases me saying ‘Nagamma, Secretary, Secretary.’ I requested him several times not to do so but he ignores my entreaties. What great work has Bhagavan got to require a Secretary?” No sooner had I said it than Mudaliar laughed and said, “Yes. I did say so. It is based on actual facts. Nagamma is the Telugu Secretary and Muruganar Tamil Secretary to Bhagavan. What is wrong if I say so?” He left the hall thereafter. Bhagavan merely laughed and kept quiet.

Taking up the thread of the conversation, Balarama Reddi remarked, “Bhagavan has no work whatsoever. Where is the need for a Secretary?” “That is exactly what I have been saying. When Bhagavan has no work to do where is the need for two secretaries, Nagamma and Muruganar? Whatever little work there is, we are doing it on our own to satisfy ourselves; otherwise where is any work worth mentioning? I have told him several times that if he has any opinion, to keep it to himself but not give such high sounding designations. He however persists. So I thought I should bring the matter to the notice of Bhagavan hoping it would have the desired effect on him. That is all.” Bhagavan laughed and said, “I have already been dubbed as a man having no work.” “Yes. That is just it. This is just like the saying, ‘A person having no work has ten people working under him’” I said. We all had a hearty laugh. In spite of all that had happened, Mudaliar did not give up calling me Secretary.


Bhagavan spoke Telugu, and Balaram Reddy and Suri Nagamma were both native Telugu speakers, so I am sure that this conversation would have taken place in Telugu. Bhagavan said, probably in Telugu, 'I have already been dubbed as a man having no work'.

I think the phrase would have appealed to Bhagavan, and I can see him using it to test out a new pencil. As Ganesan has reported elsewhere in Moments Remembered, when Bhagavan was given a new pen or pencil he generally initiated it by writing 'Arunachala' as the first word.

Murali said...

I am a Telugu person.

Actually the break up is

Pani - work
Leni - not there (non-existant)
Vadu - a person
"A person without work"

There is no dual meaning (higher/lower) for "Pani". It is as-is translation of "work".

The combination of these three letters is used to denote a person who is idle... in a perpetual sense..i.e., not at this moment.

Regards Murali

David Godman said...

Thanks for the clarification. I like the idea that the term denotes someone who is perpetually idle, rather than someone who is temporarily not occupied.

Arvind Lal said...

Thank you David & Murali for the illuminatory replies.

It was really silly of me to presume in the first place that “Panilenuvaadu” was a Tamil word. I just assumed that Sri Bhagavan would write in His native Tamil.

And so, David, the background you have given from Suri Nagamma’s writings certainly offers a plausible explanation for the same. Particularly since Sri T. P. Ramachandran Aiyer & SN (& the other Telugu devotees mentioned), would all have been in Sri Ramanasramam at the same time in 1943-44 (& onwards till 1950). And 1943-44 is the approx. time mentioned by SN in her book for the story you have referred to.

David Godman said...

Arvind and Ravi

I submitted an article to The Mountain Path that included the views I expressed in this post. I supplemented them with additional material that came from your comments. One of the people who checked the article mentioned to me that in verse fifteen of the Telugu version of Upadesa Saram Bhagavan himself used the phrase 'panilenivadu' in the sentence 'For the great yogi... there is not any action [to do]'. I didn't know that. I have added this point to the article, which will appear in the October issue.

Arvind Lal said...


Many thanks for the update. Will watch out for your article in the October issue.

Best wishes

Chuck Cliff said...

I knew a Scottish folksinger who used to sing a little ditty that went:

"I wish I was a rock, sitting on a hill, I'd do nothing all day long just sitting still..."

Now I know why that line has stuck with me all these many years -- Thanks!

Zee said...

He who teaches all devils and humnas is the one God,
Through him the enemy prevails even if he is small,
On whichever side that teacher is,Be also on that same side.
"And if the other has already seen my trick,
How will I know his nature then?"
"Sit before him in silence,
make patience your ladder
That climbs toward the higer place,
His presence there will gush into your heart,
A speech past realms of joy and sorrow,
In that higher place,then listen in this space,
To the words from heart to heart.
Be sure, do nothing, God works for the lazy."

hey jude said...

Dear David, Would you be able to give us a perspective on Ratnamji? Along the lines you sketched about Chalam.
Awaiting your reply.

Ravi said...

hey jude,
you may be interested in this article by neale Rosner on Ratnamji.An Excerpt:
"Sri Venkatarathnam lived with Bhagavan from 1944 to 1950. During the last year he served as one of His
personal attendants. Neal Rosner came to Sri Ramanasramam from the USA in 1968, attached himself to
Venkatarathnam and diligently served him until his passing in 1976. Neal's immersion into the spiritual
heritage of India under the guidance of Venkatarathnam is elaborately described in his book, On the Road
to Freedom: A Pilgrimage in India
.(An interesting account now published by Mata Amritanandamayi Trust ,Amritapuri Kerala-) Neal now resides in Amritanandamayi's Kerala Ashram and is known as
Swami Paramatmananda. In the following article, details regarding the life of Venkatarathnam have been
extracted from a 25-page essay written about Venkatarathnam by Neal Rosner. He presented this
manuscript to us thirty years ago at Sri Ramanasramam. We have also utilized some material from the
above-mentioned book."
You may read the article here:

Ravi said...

hey jude,
Here is an excerpt from the second instalment of the article by Neale Rosner on Ratnamji:
"I first met Venkatarathnam [writes Neal Rosner] in September 1968. Venkatarathnam was returning to his room after completing the seva at Sri Ramana's Samadhi. When I saw his face which was glowing with tejas and ananda a shock went through my being and I wondered who he might be. The next night I met him on the Hill where he was talking to some devotees about Divine Consciousness. Someone asked, "What is the flash of Divine Consciousness?" He replied that it is like a flash of lightning which illumines everything for a moment and then everything is dark again. Just then there was a brilliant flash of lightning, as if to demonstrate what he has just said.

Routine in the Ashram
At this time Sri Venkatarathnam was very busy with his daily routine which was roughly as follows: 3:30 a.m. got up, swept the room, went to the latrine, etc.; 4:30 a.m., finished bath, sandhya (puja), japa and cleaned his altar; 5:15, went to Bhagavanís Samadhi, cleaned and swept it, and then arranged for the 6:15 puja. From 7 to 8:15 he performed his own Panchyatana puja, 8:15 to 9:15 he did Samadhi puja and from 9:30 to 11:30 did japa and studied the Srimad Bagavatam. Then he partook of food. From 12 to 2 p.m. he rested or spent the time in visiting and meeting devotees. 2 to 4 p.m., he wrote letters, etc; 4 p.m. bath; 4:30 to 6:30, Samadhi Shrine work, Veda Parayana and puja; 6:30 to 7 p.m., sandhya and japa; 7:30 was mealtime; and 8 to 11 p.m., miscellaneous activities or satsang; 11 p.m. sleep.

It was at this time that I started assisting him in work, like picking flowers for puja, sweeping or any other service he might give me to do. While near Bhagavan's Samadhi he would not speak to anyone unless it was regarding the immediate work at hand. He often said, "The Samadhi is the same as Sri Bhagavan. As I felt near his body during his lifetime, I feel the same near his Samadhi now. It is Him only."

Frequently he would go on Giripradakshina during the nights after 8:30, usually returning only the next morning, and then again start the daily routine without even resting.

I asked him how could bear the strain day after day. He simply said that when there is love of God one doesnít feel any strain however great it may be. It is only when the love and interest go away that boredom and strain are felt. If any new bhaktas would come to visit from outside he always made it a point to go and meet them and spend time with them, more so if they had real devotion and sincerity. He spent many sleepless nights like this in satsang."
Please download the article from this link:

I warmly recommend the Autobiography of Neale Rosner as well.Rosner was advised by Ratnamji to eat with his fingers and not use a spoon.Ratnamji simply said:"To use a spoon for Eating is like having an interpreter for a Love affair"!

heyjude said...

Ravi thanks for all the information. I have read the marvelous book 'On the road to freedom' but it was interesting to read the additional info April Sarangathi by Paramatmananda.

Ravi said...

hey jude,
Here is an excerpt from Neale Rosner's autobiography-Chapter V ,'Fending for Myself':
"After the completion of the ceremonies(Ratnamji's passing away),I took Ratnamji's few possessions with me and returned to Arunachala.I had,after all,come to Arunachala eight years ago to live near the tomb of Ramana and try to attain realization of my true Nature.I felt that I had been guided these past years by Ramana in the form of Ratnamji.Now I must put into practice all that has been learned.The Foundation has been laid,now the building must be raised.
On the train on the way back,I had another wonderful dream.I found that I had arrived at the ashram and there was a big crowd assembled at the foot of the Hill.I came closer and saw that Ramana's body lay there unmoving.He had just died a short while back.Everyone was weeping.I came near his body and started to weep,"O Lord,I have come all this way to see you but before I could reach you,you left!"Then he opened his eyes and smiled at me.He asked me to sit down and place his feet in my lap and asked me to press his legs.
"They say I am dead.Do I look dead to you?"he asked.I then woke up and wondered at the clarity of the Dream.Surely he was with me.I became convinced of this.
Our houses seemed empty and devoid of life without Ratnamji.I wondered how I would be able to stay in his house without him.I felt that he was within me but there was no doubt that he was physically absent.The bliss which I had felt continuously in his company was no longer there.I decided to meet with the astrologer in the ashram.He welcomed me and asked me about Ratnamji.I told him everything.I also told him that not only was he correct in predicting that Ratnamji should finish his work before the 21st February,but also that I had needed to ask my mother for a loan in order to perform the monthly ceremonies for the departed which are done for one year following the death.I told him I was surprised at the accuracy of his predictions.
"Would you tell me what the future holds for me now that Ratnamji is gone?"I asked.
"Your health will gradually deteriorate,"he bagan,"and after four years there is a chance that you will die.If not,you will go to your mother and continue your spiritual life.At the same time you will be busy collecting money."
Death?Going back to America?Collecting money?It all sounded too terrible to be true.I thanked him and went back to the house.I started to worry.I knew this man's words could not be false and felt very sad and restless.There was nobody I could talk about it.For ten days I brooded over the matter,unable to meditate or even to read anything.This probably would have continued but for a dream I had.Ratnamji was standing in the house looking at me with an expression of irritation on his face."Why are you acting like this?"he said."Everything is in Ramana's hands.You have surrendered your life to him,have you not?You must do your duty by meditating on God day and night.What is to happen to you will be looked after by him.Do not worry."I woke up.Not a trace of Drowsiness remained and I felt relieved of a burden.From that time onwards,thoughts of the future ceased to plague me".

This a wonderful book by a truly earnest seeker-intensely human account.Warmly recommended.
How the astrolger's prediction came true in a different way-How Neale became the disciple of amma,and died to become swami Paramatmananda is a wonderful story

Fidarose Isha said...

How difficult it is, to achieve this state of laziness :P I will go for it, all out.