Tuesday, August 26, 2008


A couple of days ago I was asked, in one of the comments to a post: ‘in ajatic terms, is there such a thing as ‘life’ or even ‘Life’?

Ajata means ‘not created’ or ‘not caused’. When the word is used as a prefix in vedantic creation theories, it indicates a philosophical or experiential position that the world was never ‘created’. The classic formulation of this position can be found in Gaudapada’s Mandukya Upanishad Karika, chapter two, verse thirty-two. This is Bhagavan’s Tamil rendering of the Sanskrit verse:

There is no creation, no destruction, no bondage, no longing to be freed from bondage, no striving to be free [from bondage], nor anyone who has attained [freedom from bondage]. Know that this is the ultimate truth.

This rendering appears as ‘Stray verse nine’ in Collected Works and as ‘Bhagavan 28’ in Guru Vachaka Kovai. Variations of this verse can also be found in the Amritabindu Upanishad (verse 10), Atma Upanishad (verse 30) and Vivekachudamani (verse 574).

The ajata doctrine takes the position that since the world was never created, there can be no jivas within it who are striving for or attaining liberation. Though it violates common sense and the experience of the senses, Bhagavan regarded it as ‘the ultimate truth’.

Muruganar has noted that, though Bhagavan taught a variety of theories of creation to devotees who asked him questions on this topic, the only explanation that tallied with his own experience was the ajata one:

Though Guru Ramana, who appeared as God incarnate, expounded numerous doctrines, as befitted the different states and beliefs of the various devotees who sought refuge at his feet, you should know that what we have heard him affirm to intimate devotees in private, as an act of grace, as his own true experience, is only the doctrine of ajata [non-creation]. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 100)

Adi-Sankaracharya generally invoked maya to explain how an unreal world is created within the Self, whereas his Paramaguru, Gaudapada, taught that the world did not exist at all, even as maya. Swami Madhavatirtha, a vedantic scholar, once asked Bhagavan which side of this doctrinal divide he favoured.

Question: In the Vedanta of Sri Sankaracharya, the principle of the creation of the world has been accepted for the sake of beginners, but for the advanced, the principle of non-creation [ajata] is put forward. What is your view in this matter?

Na nirodho na chotpattir
Nabaddho na cha sadhakaha
Na mumukshur na vai mukta
Ityesha paramarthata

This verse appears in the second chapter [v. 32, vaithathya prakarana] of Gaudapada’s Karika [a commentary on the Mandukyopanishad]. It means really that there is no creation and no dissolution. There is no bondage, no one doing spiritual practices, no one seeking spiritual liberation, and no one who is liberated. One who is established in the Self sees this by his knowledge of reality. (The Power of the Presence, part one, p. 240)

Though Bhagavan says here that ‘One who is established in the Self sees this [the truth of the ajata position] by his knowledge of reality’, it was not a teaching that he often gave out. Bhagavan himself explained why in this extract from Day by Day with Bhagavan:

The letter went on to say, ‘Ramana Maharshi is an exponent of ajata doctrine of advaita Vedanta. Of course, it is a bit difficult.’

Bhagavan remarked on this, ‘Somebody has told him so. I do not teach only the ajata doctrine. I approve of all schools. The same truth has to be expressed in different ways to suit the capacity of the hearer. The ajata doctrine says, “Nothing exists except the one reality. There is no birth or death, no projection [of the world] or drawing in [of it], no sadhaka, no mumukshu [seeker of liberation], no mukta [liberated one], no bondage, no liberation. The one unity alone exists ever.”

‘To such as find it difficult to grasp this truth and who ask. “How can we ignore this solid world we see all around us?” the dream experience is pointed out and they are told, “All that you see depends on the seer. Apart from the seer, there is no seen.”

‘This is called the drishti-srishti vada, or the argument that one first creates out of his mind and then sees what his mind itself has created.

‘To such as cannot grasp even this and who further argue, “The dream experience is so short, while the world always exists. The dream experience was limited to me. But the world is felt and seen not only by me, but by so many, and we cannot call such a world non-existent,” the argument called srishti-drishti vada is addressed and they are told, “God first created such and such a thing, out of such and such an element and then something else, and so forth.” That alone will satisfy this class. Their mind is otherwise not satisfied and they ask themselves, “How can all geography, all maps, all sciences, stars, planets and the rules governing or relating to them and all knowledge be totally untrue?” To such it is best to say, “Yes. God created all this and so you see it.”’

Dr. M. said, ‘But all these cannot be true; only one doctrine can be true.’

Bhagavan said, ‘All these are only to suit the capacity of the learner. The absolute can only be one.’ (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 15th March, 1946, afternoon)

I began this post by citing a query that appeared in response to something else I had written: ‘in ajatic terms, is there such a thing as ‘life’ or even ‘Life’?

I think the answer to that would be: ‘If the world was never created, where is life going to reside?’ I could also point out that postulating a category such as ‘life’ (or even ‘Life’ with a capital L) implies some sort of dichotomy between animate and inanimate, sentient and insentient. I don’t think that the formless Self can support such distinctions.

I gave a brief reply to Michael, the original questioner, who responded by asking, ‘Are you aware of others who have spoken of this [ajata]?

Yes, I am. Papaji wrote about this extensively in his diary, and I also spoke to him about his views on ajata on a few occasions. Here, for example, is what he wrote in his journal on 6th March 1982:

NO creation,
NO dissolution,
NO bondage,
NO liberation,
NO seeker after liberation,
None liberated:
This is the ultimate Truth.

Absolute non-manifestation
is the only Truth.

Creation indicates an unsatisfied desire on the part of the creator. If the ultimate reality is perfect in itself, then the act of creation can never be predicated on it. (Nothing Ever Happened vol. 3, pp. 217-8)

The emphatic upper case words come from Papaji himself. He begins with a summary of Gaudapada’s classic verse and then elaborates on it in a most interesting way by postulating that creation can never happen because such a process would imply imperfection or incompleteness in the Self. The argument seems to be: creation arises from desire; desire implies incompleteness in the one who has the desire; since the Self is complete, it has no desires; and since it has no desires, creation can never happen.

The corollary of this would be: if you see a world, you have desires; if you have desires, you are ignorant of the Self; if you knew yourself to be Self and Self alone you would have no desires, and in that state there would be no creation. Here is Papaji again elaborating on this chain of logic:

Ignorance gives rise to desires. Desires give rise to the world. When you realise that ignorance itself does not exist, you will discover the illusoriness of your desires. As a result the whole world becomes illusory and non-existent. The world never did exist. If there was no past happening, how then could the desire to have possession of an object arise? If there is no desire, how then could the world be seen as reality? If the desire is ended, you will discover the illusory relationship between the seer and seen. Thus you become the goal where all sufferings end. (Nothing Ever Happened, vol. 3, p. 221)

I think that most devotees of Ramana Maharshi can assimilate the idea that an unreal world is created by the seer of it. This, however, is not ajata; it is drishti-srishti vada. As Bhagavan noted in the quote I gave earlier, this is not the final truth. Ajata, flying in the face of logic, common sense and everyday experience, says very clearly that not even an unreal, illusory projected world has been created. The bald truth, the final truth, is ‘No world has ever been created’.

Maya, the idea that a power within the Self creates and sustains an unreal illusory world, gives a handy and convenient explanation of why an unreal world appears to exist and be real, but ajata rejects this compromise. It sticks firmly to the position that there is no creation and no causality.

Gaudapada declared ‘non-creation’ to be paramartha, the final truth, and Bhagavan endorsed this conclusion, saying that it tallied with his own experience. Papaji too sided with Gaudapada on the issue of whether creation ‘never happened’ or whether it appeared to happen on account of maya:

Somehow, I have to accept Gaudapada’s teaching. And that teaching is ‘Nothing ever existed at all’. This is the teaching which I like. Even Sankara did not agree with him. He started this maya philosophy, the idea that all is an illusion. (Nothing Ever Happened vol. 3, p. 218)

Papaji was fond of saying, ‘Nothing ever happens,’ or ‘Nothing ever happened’. For him this was the ultimate truth, even if it appeared to violate common sense and everyday experience. Bhagavan used this phrase himself in a reply he gave to Swami Madhavatirtha:

…one who is properly established in the Atman knows that nothing happens in this world, and that nothing is ever destroyed. Something is felt to be happening only when we are in the state of pramata, the knower. This state is not one’s real nature. For the jnani who has given up the idea of the knower, nothing ever happens. (The Power of the Presence part one, p. 238)

This is an interesting comment that explains, to some extent, the paradox of ajata. Something can only happen or exist if there is a knower or an experiencer of it. If there is no seer of the world, the world itself is not there, and never was.

It is hard to defend any of this logically or rationally, so don’t expect me to do so in the ‘responses’ section. All I can say is that this is what certain masters have said on this topic, and I can add that they have all said this on the basis of their own direct experience of the Self. That experience does not seem to be governed by the rules of logic.

The issue is complicated even further by their statements that the world still ‘appears’ after realisation, even though the ajata position would seem to indicate that it shouldn’t be there at all. Bhagavan said on several occasions that the world can be taken to be ‘real’ when it is known and experienced to be an indivisible appearance within one’s own Self, and unreal when it is perceived as an object by a seer.

He [Sankara] said that (1) Brahman is real, (2) The universe is unreal, and (3) Brahman is the universe. He did not stop at the second, because the third explains the other two. It signifies that the universe is real if perceived as the Self, and unreal if perceived apart from the Self. (Guru Ramana p. 65)

Papaji gave a very similar explanation in a conversation I had with him in the mid-1990s:

In that place [the silence of the Heart] and in that place alone, one can say, ‘Nothing has ever happened. Nothing has ever existed. The world never came into existence or disappeared from it.’

That place is my real home. It is where I always am. One can say this with authority only when one abides in that ultimate place where nothing has ever happened.

A few weeks ago someone asked me, ‘You say that the world is a projection of the mind, and that you yourself have no mind. If you have no mind, how does the world still appear to you?’

I answered, ‘I don’t see any world, so I don’t need any explanation for its appearance. If I ever see a world in front of me, then I will have to think up an explanation for it.’

That’s one way of answering this question. I could also have said that the world is Brahman, and that everything that is seen is Brahman.

You can see the world as real, as Brahman, or, like the Buddha, you can say that it is not there at all. He never saw anything. Both statements are equally valid.

I can say the world never existed or that the world is Brahman. Both statements are equally true, but this is very hard to understand. The world is real because it is Brahman, not because it appears as names and forms. It is the names and forms that never existed. (Nothing Ever Happened, vol. 3, pp. 223-4)

This elaboration of the points that Bhagavan made in the earlier quote from Guru Ramana gives an indication of how some of the perplexing tenets of ajata can be resolved, at least on an intellectual level. The next quotation is what I wrote as an introduction to some Guru Vachaka Kovai verses that deal with the topic of creation. I included this explanation in a post I made three months ago (http://sri-ramana-maharshi.blogspot.com/2008/05/is-world-real.html), but it is worth repeating here since it dissects some of the terms that are used in Hindu theories of creation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once these terms (‘world’ and ‘real’) are analysed and understood, some of the more perplexing conundrums that characterise advaitic creation theories can be seen in a new light. If a world is ‘seen’, it is created and sustained by the ignorance of the ‘seer’; it is not a creation of the Self. In these circumstances, it is still possible to say that in the Self creation has ‘never happened’. But what of the world that ‘appears’ to the jnani? This may seem to be semantic hair-splitting of an extreme kind, but ‘appearance’ does not mean ‘creation’. Ajata means ‘not caused’ or ‘not created’. It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘not existing at all’. The world of the jnani is an uncaused and uncreated appearance within the Self; the world of the ajnani, on the other hand, is a creation of the mind that sees it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New blog design

I have widened the width of the column in which my posts and your responses are displayed. I have also increased the size and width of the Arunachala photo that is the background to the blog title.

Please let me know if you are having problems viewing in this new format. Two people have written to me to say that they now have to scroll sideways to get the full display on their screen. One has to scroll a little, the other a lot. The person who helped me with this change says that any screen resolution of 1,024 x 768 or higher should display all the content without the necessity of sideways scrolling. On my screen I have plenty of blank blue space on either side of the two blog columns, but I view at 1,440 x 900 and have a nineteen-inch screen. It is possible that people with small screens may not be able to see all the display.

Thanks to Ramprax for guiding me through the necessary changes to the html code that made this possible.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sri Guru Ramana Prasadam

Since we have been discussing, rather passionately at times, the role of God and the Guru in the granting of liberation, I thought today that I would introduce some ‘expert testimony’ from a devotee who had first hand experience of that liberating grace.

Here is another installment of verses from Sri Guru Ramana Prasadam by Muruganar. All the verses I have included today come from a section entitled ‘The Rapture of the Guru’s Grace’. The translation is by Robert Butler. Robert has translated the whole work and he is mildly optimistic that it will be in print by the end of the year. I have persuaded him to have a separate printing in India so that devotees here can have copies at an affordable price. I will make an announcement on this blog whenever copies become available.

The nature of the Guru


Even as I grieved, thinking thoughts I should not think, he became my Lord, spreading his radiance within my heart so that I tasted the sweet nectar of his bliss. He is the ambrosial one who delights my eyes with his form that is pure consciousness. He is Mount Annamalai’s exalted Guru Ramana.


He is the Ancient One who prospers in his powerful natural state of mauna, untroubled by questions of ‘where’ and ‘when’. He is the Wondrous One who, established in the glorious radiance of the supreme reality, banishes the mental creations that manifest as space and time.


He who dispelled my dullness of mind with the powerful rays of his radiant grace is none other than the Self’s bright Sun, infinite and supreme, who reduced to ashes the impediment of my threefold body.


Heart, he neither separates from nor merges with you. He is the lofty one, the reality that is Brahman. Great and small, unaffected by the threefold divisions [knower, known and knowledge, God, the soul and the world etc.], he is eternally liberated and all-transcending. He is the witness, the supreme source of consciousness’ light. He is pure space. He is your husband and protector.

Glory of the Guru’s feet


Manifesting as the vast all-transcending supreme reality that reveals the truth, so that the false dream of the deluded senses is destroyed, they are the holy feet of Lord Siva, which for those desirous of salvation are the path that leads to final liberation.


Through the path of his grace that even the gods cannot know, he came as a Teacher, in a form knowable to the senses and easily accessible to the hearts of men, setting upon the earth those holy feet that shine like bright jewels set in wisdom’s dawn.


The world that is perceived through the five senses is like a fiction played out in space and time. For the perplexed souls of men the only salvation is to follow the feet of the Slayer of Death, he whose nature is pure and limitless intelligence.


He is the fair husband, the virtuous one. He shines with jnana, the light of the Self, the core of the real. He is pure space. He is the holy bridegroom. He is the Lord whose holy feet are placed upon the heads of the Vedas themselves. And it is those same feet that dwell within my heart as the ultimate reality!


If you ask what it was that, as pure consciousness, took the soul of this devotee as its dwelling place, granting me that realisation which never fails – it was the feet of Sri Ramana who reigns as the divine king in the consummate state of final absorption in Brahman.


As soon as I had I obtained the blessing of approaching, as a devoted servant, those golden feet which shimmer like perfect, whole gems, the abundant sufferings caused by the ties of kinship and family ceased and took their leave, never to return again.


As soon as I sought asylum in the protecting embrace of the Self, whose glorious form shines with the noble radiance of the Supreme, the sorrowful delusion of birth and death receded from me, for I had tasted the nectar of the experience of Sivam.


The moment he placed upon my head those compassionate feet that allay the suffering of his devoted servants – so that the mark of destiny is wiped from their brows – the seeds of defilement withered and died within me and the torment within my heart was fully assuaged.


The great excellence of his holy feet, which illuminate the hearts of those who have attained equanimity, is that they have brought me to the verdant mountain shore of liberation, and through their grace I have escaped the waves of the ocean of rebirth.


The direct experience of the one Self engulfed me in its radiance, banishing the misery of birth that cloaked my soul in darkness. There then remained in my consciousness no landmark whatsoever other than my teacher’s feet – the infinite sky of his grace – subjecting me to their gracious rule and dispelling my fears.


The lotus flowers of his feet sprang up within my heart and shone there as the witness, so that I retained no connection whatsoever with anything else. Now I can perceive nothing other than those feet that are the Self whose nature is the highest knowledge.

The majesty of the Guru


He is the wisest of sages, the Primal Being who imparts clear understanding so that the sense of doership is removed from our actions. He is the unique Master who through his gracious bearing afforded me his blissful compassion so that I suffered no more.


The great and noble Ramana, flower of the Saivite faith, in whom the powerful light of jnana, the diamond of truth, shines forth, is the Mountain Teacher, who in grace entirely destroyed the antics of false Kama.


He is the Lord, the immaculate reality, suffusing the inner stillness where thoughts no longer arise with the pure light of his grace. Dwelling as the Self in the form of the shining Guru, he shattered the darkness that enveloped this world.

The excellence of the Guru’s words


To those who take as their goal the holy utterances of the Guru – in whom the flame of the Self illuminates the supreme reality – those sacred words are the only truth, and nothing can stand comparison with them.


To whatever extent a man listens to good counsel, to that extent will he reap a great and lasting benefit from it; but a single word from our Lord, he who lavishes upon us the treasure of his compassion with more than a mother’s love, will be as rarest ambrosia.


Those devotees who have tasted the unique word distilled from the divine lotus mouth of the Prince of Tamilians, and have slaked their thirst on the fair ambrosia of reality, will be immersed in the Self, conscious of nothing which is not That.


When he expounded the truth of reality, so hard to grasp, that which had been unattainable was made easy through his very nature, so that the lofty truth of mighty Brahman became manifest in my heart as my own essential being.


It [the word of the Guru] is the unique word for dispersing the darkness of ignorance, so hard to dispel. The moment he destroyed the entrapping illusion [by uttering that word], I could no longer discern any distinction between myself and him, as the triad of knower, known and knowing was revealed as false.


When, through the power of his unique word, Sri Ramana destroyed my soul’s defilement, declaring it to be nonexistent, my own true Self, shining forth suddenly within my heart, became as Siva in the divine sky of Chidambaram.


Through the medium of his unique unspoken word, the knot within my heart was severed and destroyed, so that my spirit became separate from the illusory body that surrounded it, giving way to the overflowing expanse of reality.

The power of the Guru’s rule


He placed the nectar-filled lotuses of his feet upon my head and said, ‘Know that you are That’. He held me in his sway, abiding as the radiant absolute fullness merged in the cave of the heart, joyfully and causelessly bestowing his grace.


Devoid of all capacity for jnana as I was, he revealed to me in grace the true realisation of his own Self, dwelling within me as the ‘I’ sense. Without even for an instant becoming separated from the absolute state of reality where nothing is lacking, joyfully he made himself my Master.


Holding dominion upon this earth over the life of pure reality that shines as the treasured wealth of the wise gods themselves, he plunged me into the ocean of his grace, so that I was completely submerged. Destroying the seeds of my ajnana vasana [ignorance], he became my Lord.


Even as I wandered lost, he took me fully into the gracious protection of his noble feet, filling my existence with prosperity and joy in the bright heaven of final liberation which the mind cannot fathom.


He is the Lord who shines as the form of true love within the pure consciousness that is free from doubt and wrong understanding. What a wonder it is that, totally ignorant as I was as to how I might achieve it, he imparted to me the state of mauna so that I was redeemed, becoming Sivam itself!


I was the meanest and most wretched of curs, and the corrupt life of the senses was all I knew. What a wonder it was that you illuminated even my heart with the pure radiance of your feet so that, tasting your supreme bliss, I was filled with joy.


What a wonder it was how, through his sweet grace, I attained [true] tapas so that my mind became clear, realising that ‘I’ is Sivam; how the shameful delusion of ego was abolished, and sorrow, the dream of birth, vanished.


I was the lowest of the low, my mind intoxicated by birth. Yet I attained that tapas which is filled with the holiness of the way of truth of Lord Siva: to speak with deep and abundant desire of the glory of his grace, dwelling in the heart with a consciousness made conformable to his own.

Protection of the Guru’ s grace


Slaying the rutting elephant of my ego-mind, he brought me to the state of final liberation, whose nature is delight, graciously feeding me on the honeyed essence of his holy feet, so that the burning pangs of my soul’s hunger and thirst faded and disappeared.


‘Know that the realisation of Lord Siva, the foundation of the universe, is of the same essential nature as your own Self!’ Thus in joy did he speak as he fed me lavishly upon the butter churned from the wisdom of the Vedas and Agamas.


Dissipating the ego’s dark cloud, abide steadfastly as that which you are! Thus, like a long-awaited guest, did he come and pour out his grace, establishing it ineradicably within my heart.


He is Lord Siva, bestowing his grace like the rains! He is the Blissful One, the Old One and the New One! He is the one who is sweet to those who flock to him! He entered me, I who dwell as his servant, as the deeply subtle awareness that is the inextinguishable light [of the Self]!


Setting the irremovable seal of the all-encompassing state of Brahman upon my heart, he entered and made it his abode, thoroughly permeating my awareness so that I was conscious of nothing apart from the Self, whose very nature is consciousness itself.


He is the Unique One, whose awareness does not perceive even the tiniest thing as different from itself! He is the Supreme One, whose form is the stillness of reality! He is the Sweet One, the Joyful One! He is the deeply noble Ramana, who joyfully dwells within my mind!


In my desperate plight, poor wretch that I was, I saw in my terror that my only recourse was to seek refuge in the fortress of his holy feet. No sooner had I entered there than my Master, the doughty bestower of clear understanding, flooded my heart with his light.


Not content to establish his light within the hearts of the virtuous only, he who entirely dispels the illusion of ignorance suffused even my understanding with his radiance, filling me with delight, even though I was the most worthless of wretches.


He is the Supreme One, the Lord who dwells upon Kailash’s Mount, who does not frequent those who do not seek him out. Yet, poor ignorant fool that I was, as I wandered in confusion amongst the states of waking and sleep, he came to me and illuminated my heart with the radiance of his true nature.


He whose noble feet never cease, not even for a moment, from their work of imparting their grace to his humble devotees as they are whirled along in the torrent of mental confusion, fittingly infused my own heart with the sweet nectar, rare and true, of Lord Siva’s divine lore [dharma].


Clearly revealing the essence of his own true wisdom, the Lord guided me onto the supreme path of Sivahood, so that there was an end to the demeaning suffering of birth caused by the worthless delusion of involvement in worldly ways.


He is my Master, a bright sun flooding my devotee’s heart with the light of the beautiful and exalted jewel of the [Siva] lingam. He sweetly granted me the boon of dwelling in the state of union with the supreme Self, free of terror and confusion.


I saw him as the wise One with the power to destroy the effects of my deeds; little did I realise then that he would destroy me as well! With a love greater even than that of a mother, he put an end to me, deeming it most beneficial for me.


‘Final liberation in Lord Siva is to be united with the supreme reality that shines, filling your consciousness with its light!’ Thus, never relaxing his hold, spoke the Lord, as he brought my own consciousness into the state of union with Brahman.


I was the lowest of curs, worthy only of reproach, an empty vessel, not knowing how to walk the path of righteousness, and yet that treasure house of compassion here on earth placed me in the midst of his true devotees who have attained that righteous state.


My mind was deluded by the taint of its false creations that spread as a forest of worldly attachments until it was filled with clarity through the grace of my Teacher, and a realisation that cannot be expressed in words shone forth, free of the concept of the ‘I’.


In the shining clarity of the state of Sivam, the Self, where light is pure space and pure space is light, supreme devotion born of love came to fruition within my mind as it ripened in the joy of its own blissful nature.


The delusion wherein I wandered in a dream from womb to womb came to an end, and I feared no more as I awoke into the supreme state of reality. And as I entered this divine existence in the Self, illumined by the blessed truth of Lord Siva, the light of realisation began to shine within me.


Mounted on the steed of thought, Sadasiva rode into the city of my mind, so that miraculously, through the perfection of his grace, the ‘I’, my own self, was revealed as the all-transcending supreme Self in all its glory.


Through the clarity of his divine wisdom that is the very essence of the pure supreme Self, he nurtured in me the eternal state of supreme liberation, so that my very thoughts were sweet sustenance to that gracious Creator.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Greatness of the Guru

As I was going through the comments to the ‘Power to Enlighten’ post I noticed a tendency amongst a minority of contributors to minimise the role and importance of the Guru, particularly his transmitting power. Today, as a rejoinder, I am posting a section from Guru Vachaka Kovai on ‘The Greatness of the Guru’. The extract is from the new edition of the book that has been prepared by T. V. Venkatasubramanian, Robert Butler and myself. The book should be available early next month.

First, a word about the formatting:

The original chapter headings (in this case ‘57 The Greatness of the Guru’ ) are centered in bold type.

Verse numbers are centered in bold type.

Muruganar’s comments on the verses are flush with the margins and printed in roman.

Comments by the editors are in italics and are flush with both margins.

Additional quotations added by the editors to illustrate points made in the verses are indented and in italics. The indented quote in verse 326 is in roman because it is part of Muruganar’s own explanation. Verse 326, in which Bhagavan states that the jnani’s Self-abidance is the weapon that destroys the chit-jada knot, is highly relevant to the ‘Power to enlighten’ discussion that has been going on. This idea is similar to a comment Papaji made, which I included in the ‘Power to Enlighten’ post:

If you want freedom, find a man like this [Bhagavan] who has absolutely no desire, someone who sits unmoving like a mountain. Sit in his presence and see what happens.

You want to know who or what is doing the work when someone gets enlightened in the Guru’s presence. Nobody is doing the work. Enlightenment happens in these circumstances merely because the Guru is abiding in a state of absolute desirelessness.

At the end of the section I have added chapter 59, ‘The Greatness of Devotees’ since it complements the material in the ‘Greatness of the Guru’ verses.

57 The Greatness of the Guru


You may have acquired all the virtues and renounced all the vices; you may have renounced totally all your relationships and have no attachment; you may have completely performed all the many penances enjoined upon the virtuous by the scriptures; but however great you may be by virtue of your intellect and accomplishments, will you attain the experience, the state of kaivalyam [oneness] that is wholly bliss, until you obtain, as a result of meritorious karma, the good fortune of seeing the jnana-Guru?


Unless we first obtain the divine grace of a Guru, a jivanmukta in whose perspective the triputi-differences have ended and who shines as the undivided and single essence, it will be impossible to obtain the life of liberation and live illustriously under the shade of God’s twin feet, [a life] that is all bliss and the highest of all benefits.

Question: Is a Master necessary for realisation?

: The realisation is the result of the Master’s grace more than teachings, lectures, meditation, etc. They are only secondary aids, whereas the former is the primary and the essential cause. (
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 13)

Muruganar: As it is difficult for ordinary jivas to get redeemed by directly knowing the limitation-free swarupa of the Supreme that shines unceasingly as ‘I-I’ in everyone’s Heart as their own Self, they should first worship the Guru’s form, destroy their delusion and attain redemption. This is the implication. Though the Guru appears to be like a human being in the perspective of ordinary people, through his experience he is indeed the supreme swarupa. Therefore, to imagine differences between him and swarupa is ignorance.

Question: Is it possible to gain knowledge without the blessings of a Guru? Even Rama, who was like a dullard in his early life became a realised soul only with the help of his Guru.

Yes, how can there be any doubts? The grace of the Guru is absolutely necessary. That is why Thayumanavar praised his Guru in his hymns, and another said, ‘O Gurudeva, your look falling upon it, a tiger becomes gentle like a goat, a snake like a squirrel, and a bad man becomes a good man. And what else may not happen? With your gracious look everything becomes good. How can I describe your greatness?’ The Guru’s grace is extraordinary. (
Letters from and Recollections of Sri Ramanasramam, p. 26)

What is Guru-kripa? [Guru’s grace] How does it lead to Self-realisation?

Guru is the Self.... Sometimes in his life a man becomes dissatisfied with it, and, not content with what he has, he seeks the satisfaction of his desires, through prayer to God, etc. His mind is gradually purified until he longs to know God, more to obtain his grace than to satisfy his worldly desires. Then, God’s grace begins to manifest. God takes the form of a Guru and appears to the devotee, teaches him the truth and, moreover, purifies his mind by association. The devotee’s mind gains strength and is then able to turn inward. By meditation it is further purified and it remains still without the least ripple. That calm expanse is the Self.

The Guru is both ‘external’ and ‘internal’. From the ‘exterior’ he gives a push to the mind to turn inward; from the ‘interior’ he pulls the mind towards the Self and helps in the quieting of the mind. That is
guru-kripa. There is no difference between God, Guru and the Self. (Maharshi’s Gospel, p. 33)


As the inner and the outer, as ‘I’ and ‘this’, as this world and the next, pervading all as the boundless radiance of consciousness, the Guru is the unmoving support, the jewel-like lamp that shines effortlessly and continuously in the Hearts of true devotees.

‘The jewel-like lamp that shines effortlessly and continuously’ is a translation of a term that denotes a lamp that is self-kindling and which maintains its light without any outside assistance.


Those who, through rare, intense and surging devotion, exist by trusting solely in the Guru’s piercing glance of grace will live in this world like Indra [the king of the gods]. There will be no suffering for them.

Generally, ‘live in this world like Indra’ would imply ‘enjoying the maximum amount of pleasure’, but Muruganar has appended a brief note to this verse that says, ‘They will live like Indra, rejoicing in the spiritual life’.


The manner in which the Guru sits majestically in state on the Heart-throne of his devotees whom he has taken up, destroying their egos, is lofty like a mountain, splendid and glorious. Those who have experienced this do not talk about it. Those who talk about it have not experienced it. The abundant utterances of devotees [jnanis], which are sacred like the Vedas, bear witness to this.

The phrase ‘The abundant utterances of devotees [jnanis]’ does not contradict the earlier statement, ‘Those who have experienced this do not talk about it’. The ‘abundant utterances’ are those remarks which state that the experience of the Self cannot be encapsulated in words.


The excellent sahaja nishtai – the natural abidance as Atma-swarupa – of the jnana-Guru who is freed of the ego impurity [anava mala] is the weapon that has the power to rapidly home in on, uproot and throw away the chit-jada knot of disciples who have, with rapturous delight, taken refuge in his feet.

Saiva Siddhanta teaches that there are three impurities, known as malas, that prevent one from experiencing Sivam: anava, which is the ego, karma and maya.

Muruganar: As the other two malas, karma and maya, exist by depending on the anava mala, the implication is that the Guru is freed from all the three impurities.

In Ulladu Narpadu, verse twenty-four, we learn about the characteristics and synonyms of the ego:

Bhagavan: The physical body does not say ‘I’. Being-consciousness does not arise [or disappear]. But in between the two something arises, the ‘I’, which is limited to the body. Understand that this is known as the ‘knot between consciousness and the insentient’ [chit-jada-granthi], as bondage, as the individual soul, as the subtle body, as the ego, as this worldly condition of existence, and as the mind.

This [Guru Vachaka Kovai] verse explains the power of natural Self-abidance. Because outwardly the Guru appears to be doing nothing, let no one think that he is not bestowing his grace. The very nature of his Self-abidance is grace. This truth will become clear to those who sit in his presence with a still mind, attained through inward attention.

Question: While sitting near you, what sort of mental state should we have so as to receive the transmission from your Self?

Keep your mind still. That is enough. You will get spiritual help sitting in this hall if you keep yourself still. The aim of all practices is to give up all practices. When the mind becomes still, the power of the Self will be experienced. The waves of the Self are pervading everywhere. If the mind is in peace, one begins to experience them. (The Power of the Presence
, part one, p. 230)


Know that the Heart-directed conduct in which one steadfastly holds onto jnana in the way one has been taught, and abides there firmly as being-consciousness, without letting the mind stray towards the ignoble sense objects, is alone the true teaching [of the Guru].

This verse may also give the meaning that when the Guru abides in the state of jnana, without being distracted, this itself is the teaching.

59 The Greatness of Devotees


Beyond the reach of both mind and speech is the glory of those who have the good fortune, earned through past tapas, of becoming the target of the grace-bestowing glance of the Guru, he who has ripened into the para-swarupa [the supreme or ultimate swarupa] through the excellence of the matchless experience of Self-knowledge.

Muruganar: The sole and excellent benefit of tapas is to become the target of the Guru’s glance of grace. As, from that very moment, they have entered the path of redemption, and as their ego-consciousness also gets destroyed, it is said that their greatness is beyond mind and speech.


Lord Siva, who loves to move intimately with his clear-minded devotees, conceals his real form, assumes another form [as a human being], enters the holy throng of those who have firm devotion, sports with them and rejoices in their great love.

Muruganar: This verse indicates that he who has assumed the form of the Sadguru is Lord Siva himself.


It is impossible to determine the greatness of devotees. Devotees are greater than even Siva and Vishnu since they [these gods] employ themselves as the servants of devotees. The greatness of devotees is that which the Vedas extol.

Bhagavan mentioned the following verses to Devaraja Mudaliar. The first is from Brahma Gita, and the second from Kurunthirattu.

To stay where a jnani, who is none else but the Supreme Self, stays, is mukti. He who serves a jnani is so great that I permanently bear on my head his feet. None can equal the spotless and supreme jnani, neither Siva, Vishnu nor I, Brahma. Who else then can equal him?

Vishnu will carry on his head all that a real jnani wants. Siva will follow him everywhere. While virtuous kings and all the devas do obeisance to the dust of such [a] jnani's feet, Brahma will beg that those feet may be placed on his head. (My Recollections of Bhagavan Sri Ramana, p. 32)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The jnana bhoomikas

I had planned to answer some pending queries from old threads today but I got sidetracked by my first reply, which was a response to Subramanian about the saptha bhoomikas. He mentioned these ‘seven stages of knowledge’ a few times in his replies to my post on how some jnanis seem to have more power than others. Since it is an interesting classification, I wanted to mention what Bhagavan himself had to say on this topic. When my reply moved into its third page, I decided to make a separate post out of it.

As Subramanian remarked, the saptha bhoomikas are mentioned in the Yoga Vasishta. They also appear in other texts. Some of the categories in these works vary from list to list. In Upadesa Manjari (Spiritual Instruction), chapter four, Bhagavan answers questions about these saptha bhoomikas, which are also known as the jnana bhoomikas. In a footnote to his reply the seven items are defined in the following way:

1 subheccha (the desire for enlightenment).
2 vicharana (enquiry)
3 tanumanasa (tenuous mind).
4 satwapatti (self-realisation).
5 asamsakti (non-attachment).
6 padarthabhavana (non-perception of objects).
7 turyaga (transcendence).

Those who have attained the last four bhoomikas are called brahmavit, brahmavidvara, brahmavidvariya and brahmavid varistha respectively.

A Brahmavit is one who has realised or known Brahman; a Brahmavidvara is one who is superior among the knowers of Brahman; a Brahmavidvarya is defined as ‘the best among the knowers of Brahman’ and Brahmavidvarishtha means ‘the very best among the knowers of Brahman’. These four terms in the final paragraph come from a similar explanation that can be found in the Varaha Upanishad.

The seven categories enumerated in Spiritual Instruction correspond exactly to a list in Kaivalya Navaneetam, a Tamil advaitic text. When Bhagavan was asked these questions in Upadesa Manjari, he was, in fact, being asked to comment on the version of the jnana bhoomikas that appears in Kaivalya Navaneetam. This is how that text defines and explains the various terms:

149 The elders have analysed them [the jnana bhoomikas] as:

1 Subheccha: desire for truth.
2 Vicharana: investigation into the truth
3 Tanumanasi: pure and attenuated mind
4 Sattvapatti: the realisation of the truth
5 Asamsakti: a detached outlook on the universe and its contents
6 Padarthabhavani: untainted awareness of Self
7 Turiya: the highest and indescribable state.

150 and 151

1 To wean from unedifying associations and desire, knowledge of the Supreme is the first plane called subheccha.
2 To associate with enlightened sages, learn from them and reflect on the truth, is called investigation.
3 To be free from desires by meditating on the truth with faith, is the attenuation of the mind.
4 The shining forth of the highest knowledge in the mind owing to the development of the foregoing conditions, is realisation.
5 To be free from illusion by firm realisation of truth is the detached outlook on the universe.
6 The bliss of the non-dual Self, devoid of triads [knower, knowing, known, and so on] is untainted awareness of Self.
7 Sublime silence of the very nature of Self is turiya.

(Kaivalya Navaneetam, part two, verses 149-51)

The four levels of knowing Brahman that correspond to categories four to seven are discussed in the first part of Kaivalya Navaneetham:

94 The wise, remaining like ether and liberated even here, are of four classes, namely Brahmavid (i.e. knower of Brahman), vara, varya, and varishta, in order of merit.

95 The Brahmavids who by steadfast practice have gained clear realisation of Brahman, continue to perform even the hard duties of their caste and stage in life, exactly as prescribed by the shastras, for the benefit of others, without themselves swerving from their supreme state.

96 Should passions rise up they disappear instantly and cannot taint the mind of the Brahmavids who live in society detached like water on a lotus leaf. They look ignorant, not showing forth their knowledge and remain mute owing to intensity of inward bliss.

97 Prarabdha, i.e. karma which is now bearing fruit, differs according to the actions of the persons in past incarnations. Therefore their present pursuits also differ among jnanis who are all, however, liberated even here. They may perform holy tapas; or engage in trade and commerce; or rule a kingdom; or wander about as mendicants.

98 They would not think of the past or future; would partake of what comes unsolicited; would not wonder if the sun turned into the moon or at any marvel, whether the sky were to spread its shoots down like a banyan tree or a corpse were to be revived; nor would they distinguish good and bad, for they always remain as the unchanging witness of all.

99 Among the other three classes, the vara and the varya remain settled in samadhi.

The vara feels concern for the maintenance of the body; the varya is reminded of it by others; the varishta never becomes aware of the body either by himself or through others.

100 Although there are distinguishing characteristics in the lives of the different sages, who are themselves very rare in the world, yet there is absolutely no difference in the experience of liberation.

What can be the use of the hard won samadhi?

The Brahmavid who is outwardly active, seems sometimes to feel the misery of calamities whereas the others remain in unbroken bliss.

101 Now if the Brahmavids live like the ignorant how are they free from the cycle of births, and how is their ignorance gone?

The all-pervading ether remains untainted by anything; the other four elements are tainted by contact with objects. So it is with the Brahmavid and the ignorant.

Now, having given the necessary background quotes, I can give Bhagavan’s views on this list, and by extension his opinions on whether some jnanis know Brahman better than others. The dialogue is from chapter four of Spiritual Instruction:

Question: To which of the seven stages of knowledge [jnana-bhoomikas] does the sage [jnani] belong?

Bhagavan: He belongs to the fourth stage.

Question: If that is so why have three more stages superior to it been distinguished?

Bhagavan: The marks of the stages four to seven are based upon the experiences of the realised person [jivanmukta]. They are not states of knowledge and release. So far as knowledge and release are concerned no distinction whatever is made in these four stages.

Question: As liberation is common to all, why is the varistha [literally, the most excellent] alone praised excessively?

Bhagavan: So far as the varistha’s common experience of bliss is concerned he is extolled only because of the special merit acquired by him in his previous births which is the cause of it.

Question: As there is no one who does not desire to experience constant bliss what is the reason why all sages [jnanis] do not attain the state of varistha?

Bhagavan: It is not to be attained by mere desire or effort. Karma [prarabdha] is its cause. As the ego dies along with its cause even in the fourth stage [bhoomika], what agent is there beyond that stage to desire anything or to make efforts? So long as they make efforts they will not be sages [jnanis]. Do the sacred texts [srutis] which specially mention the varistha say that the other three are unenlightened persons?

Question: As some sacred texts say that the supreme state is that in which the sense organs and the mind are completely destroyed, how can that state be compatible with the experience of the body and the senses?

Bhagavan: If that were so there would not be any difference between that state and the state of deep sleep. Further how can it be said to be the natural state when it exists at one time and not at another? This happens, as stated before, to some persons according to their karma [prarabdha] for some time or till death. It cannot properly be regarded as the final state. If it could it would mean that all great souls and the Lord, who were the authors of the Vedantic works [jnana granthas] and the Vedas, were unenlightened persons. If the supreme state is that in which neither the senses nor the mind exist and not the state in which they exist, how can it be the perfect state [paripurnam]? As karma alone is responsible for the activity or inactivity of the sages, great souls have declared the state of sahaja nirvikalpa [the natural state without concepts] alone to be the ultimate state.

* * *

My feeling from reading these answers is that Bhagavan thought that the distinction between level-four jnanis and level-seven jnanis was an artificial one. As he remarked in one of his replies: ‘So far as knowledge and release are concerned, no distinction whatever is made in these four [higher] stages’. It is also interesting to note that his own preferred term for the highest state was not Brahmavidvaristha but sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi.

My conclusion that Bhagavan was somewhat dismissive of the apparent distinctions between these states is reinforced by his concluding remarks in Vichara Sangraham [Self Enquiry]:

Because of the grades in misery and happiness, the released ones, the jivanmuktas and videhamuktas, may be spoken of as belonging to four categories – Brahmavid, Brahmavara, Brahmavariyan and Brahmavarishta. But these distinctions are from the standpoint of others who look at them; in reality, however, there are no distinctions in release gained through jnana. (The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi p. 35)

That is to say, the apparent distinctions between jnanis exist solely in the eyes of those ajnanis who want to categorise them.

The varishta state, the highest on the list, is traditionally regarded as one in which there is a lack of awareness of the body, combined with an experience of extreme bliss. Bhagavan himself experienced this state around the turn of the twentieth century when he was absorbed in the Self in the Arunachaleswara and Gurumurtham temples. He was not in a ‘higher’ state then; it was simply that his prarabdha had decreed that he should spend some time in a state of blissful Self-abidance in which he was completely unaware of either his body or the world. He himself has remarked that there was no change in his state or his experience from the moment when he realised the Self in Madurai in 1896.

I did not include this jnana bhoomika list in the ‘Power to Enlighten’ post because there is no indication in Bhagavan’s words that he felt that the distinctions between the top four stages of the bhoomikas were in any way connected with the ability to transmit grace and enlighten devotees. He says, quite clearly, that the bhoomika state one ends up in is a matter of prarabdha, but he does not say that those in the higher states have more power and more capacity to wake others up. The higher bhoomikas, if they are valid at all, are states of experience, rather than states that indicate how much transmitting power a jnani has.

I spoke to Papaji about brahmavit, brahmavidvara, brahmavidvariya and brahmavidvaristha soon after I went to Lucknow in 1993. I was curious to know what his take on this list would be.

His response was: ‘There are no knowers of Brahman. Brahman alone is. How can you have ‘better’ or ‘best’ knowers if the knower himself is not there? Brahman alone exists. No one knows it. Brahman is so alone, when Brahman speaks, there is not even anyone who knows or remembers what Brahman has said.’

This conclusion is supported by Bhagavan’s comment in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no 68: ‘How can one speak of him [the jivanmukta] as Brahmavid [a knower of Brahman]. Brahman can never be an object to be known.’