Arthur Osborne

“Unchanged and unbegun,
Unfellowed, He, the One,
The All He is, the Alone,
Otherness but a dream gone on too long.”
—Arthur Osborne

Arthur Osborne was born in London on September 25, 1906. His father was a school headmaster, while his mother was a simple gentlewoman, as loveable as she was impractical. From her, Arthur must have inherited his bent for poetry, for she spent much of her time writing poems amidst her flowers.

When still a schoolboy, Arthur wanted to become a farmer and spent a lot of his free time in their garden, helping his father. However, his father had other plans for him, particularly after he won an exhibition in English literature that was open to schoolboys throughout England. So he took his degree in history at Oxford, where he could have stayed on as a don, and later, professor. However, he rejected this career because he was seeking a meaning and purpose to life, and he realized that research into particular periods in history would not provide the answer he was seeking. As he expressed later, he rejected both consciously and instinctually a life lived without meaning. Perhaps in one who does not even know that there is anything to seek for, rejection serves as a beginning of the search.

A friend introduced Arthur to René Guenon’s early books, which emphasized that “Being is One,” and by realizing this, one’s true identity is realized. The impact of Guenon on Arthur was tremendous. His restlessness and discontent fell away with the realization that life had a meaning after all. When he read the sentence that “Being is One,” he felt immediately that it was true and that he had always known it, though not consciously. He also recognized that if Being is One, and there is no “other,” then “who am I?” The “I” cannot be other than the One Being. Therefore, to realize one’s true Self is to realize one’s Identity with the absolute One Being.

This realization marked the beginning of the quest from which he was never to turn back. Arthur soon realized that all religions teach about our supreme identity–Eastern religions openly, and Western ones often veiled behind esoteric terminology. Esoterically, then, religions are unanimous, diverging only in their external application, ritual, social organization, and code of conduct.

We heard about Ramana Maharshi for the first time while in Poland. One member of our group was in India, living at his Ashram. This news created a curious feeling of nostalgia within us. Later, in Bangkok, Arthur received two of Maharshi’s booklets, Who Am I? and Upadesa Saram (The Essence of Instruction). The photograph of Ramana Maharshi in one of the booklets was so impressive that it strengthened our resolve to go to India and see him. After three years at the University, Arthur got six months’ leave, and two friends from the group arranged for us to go first to Kashmir; it would have been far too hot in Tiruvannamalai at the time for our three small children. The eldest, Kitty, was not yet five; Adam was about three; and Frania was six or seven months old. It was the beginning of the hot season, so we stayed in that beautiful valley with our friends for several months, continuing our spiritual practices as before. In September, Arthur went back to Bangkok alone. World War II was drawing nearer to Siam, and women and children were advised not to remain there. So, at last, I left with the children to Tiruvannamalai, where our friend had kindly put his house at our disposal. We were going to live near the sacred hill Arunachala and the abode of Ramana Maharshi! As for Arthur, a little while after his return to Bangkok, the Japanese invaded Siam, and all the Westerners were interned for the duration of the war. We had no news at all of each other until his release four years later.

During internment, Arthur continued pursuing his spiritual practices, which made him rather conspicuous in such a confined place. Several people became interested and asked questions, and Arthur’s replies so convinced them of higher truth that one of them later came to Tiruvannamalai and became a devotee of Ramana Maharshi. Characteristically enough, Arthur made a flower garden in the camp that was occasionally rocked by bombs. Throughout his internment, Arthur strongly felt Ramana Maharshi’s support and grace. How strange that he should have turned to Sri Bhagavan and felt his grace while pursuing the initiatic practices given by a Western guru.

When the Japanese surrendered, Arthur left for Tiruvannamalai. He arrived with the preconceived idea imparted to him by the above mentioned group that Ramana Maharshi was not a guru; that, great as he was, he did not give initiation; and that he had no disciples.

Sri Bhagavan did not immediately reveal himself to Arthur. In fact, the first impression of Maharshi was less striking than his photographs had made him seem. The change came a few weeks later during a festival for which huge crowds came to Tiruvannamalai and the Ashram. The people were sitting in the courtyard in front of Sri Bhagavan, with Arthur in the front row. Arthur describes what happened to him in his autobiography:

He sat up facing me, and his luminous eyes pierced into me, penetrating, intimate with an intensity which I cannot describe . . . then quietness, a depth of peace, an indescribable lightness and happiness.

This initiation by look vitalized him and he began to practice Self-inquiry, which as a sadhana suited his temperament perfectly. As Arthur’s practice deepened, the vichara, the constant inquiry, began to awaken an awareness of the Self as Bhagavan outwardly and simultaneously as the Self within. The erroneous theory that Bhagavan was not a guru had simply evaporated in the radiance of his grace. He now perceived that Bhagavan’s teachings were extremely practical, offering people specific guidance in their sadhana, according to their aptitude.

Arthur found that he could no longer continue the practices into which he had been previously initiated. He forced himself to continue them for some time out of a sense of duty and then asked Sri Bhagavan’s permission to drop them. Sri Bhagavan agreed immediately, saying, “Yes, all other methods only lead up to Self-inquiry.”

Until this point, Arthur still considered going back to the Chulalongkorn University, but Sri Bhagavan obviously meant to keep him at Arunachala. Conditions in Siam made it unrealistic to return, and later the question did not arise anymore. Released internees were being evacuated back to England and given priority and help in readjusting to their interrupted careers. Out of kindness and concern about our future, the British High Commissioner kept urging us to return to England; finally, he wrote that the last boat was leaving on a specific date. We did not even show these letters to Bhagavan. It was impossible to consider leaving him and living somewhere else. From a worldly point of view, our decision was very unpractical, a sort of divine madness. We had three children to be educated and no adequate prospects in Tiruvannamalai for a man with Arthur’s qualifications. In fact, he did have a hard time of it later when work became necessary away from the Ashram. First, he took a job on a newspaper (as if in preparation for his work on The Mountain Path) and later spent four years as the principal of a school. With his usual efficiency and thoroughness, he did these jobs successfully, but conditions were far from congenial. He spent holidays and any free days from work in Tiruvannamalai.

After Bhagavan’s Mahanirvana (death), Arthur wrote a number of articles about him for various newspapers. He collected these together and, after editing the articles, he gave them to the Ashram to publish as Ramana-Arunachala. His lucid, simple though erudite expositions, written from genuine understanding, with himself always in the background, served as important pointers for many people who viewed his work as a turning point in their spiritual life.

After spending four years in Calcutta as a school principal, events took a turn that allowed us to retire to Tiruvannamalai to a simple life of sadhana. Before we left Calcutta, a group of boys and teachers came to see Arthur and bid him goodbye, many actually weeping.

RamanasramamArthur started The Mountain Path magazine in 1964, along with V. Ganesan, who became the Managing Editor. Everyone agreed that Arthur was the ideal person to take this work up, and he did so with remarkable success. The magazine really became an instrument for disseminating the wisdom of the world’s spiritual traditions, as testified to by their seers, while clarifying the paths available to seekers in modern times. Above all, The Mountain Path spread Ramana Maharshi’s teaching and message throughout the world. Within the short span of six years, it achieved an international reputation. Arthur single-handedly did the editorial job of several people, often writing articles under various pseudonyms if the contributions were not suitable.

In a letter that I wrote to readers of The Mountain Path, I described how Arthur had already prepared me for his death towards the end of 1967, even though he was in good health. He told me that he would die of heart trouble. Until then, he had never experienced any heart trouble, nor did he toward the end of his life. Yet, it was his heart that gave out in the end. Immediately after this warning, he set to work preparing complete issues of The Mountain Path for an entire year, finishing a number of editorials in a remarkably short time, while badly overworking. Then, his health collapsed for the first time. Within a week or so he recovered and told the Managing Editor that he had been saved this time for The Mountain Path. Arthur’s face was so full of peace and serenity that, as Ganesan told me much later, he was under the strong impression of being in the presence of a realized person. A few months later the second collapse came, from which he never fully recovered. During our final visit to Europe, Arthur was at the point of death several times. Yet, he came through it all and I hoped that he would be with us until the end of the next year (1971), since his life followed the rhythm of four-year cycles, one of which was coming to an end. I even hoped that he would fully recover, but it was not to be. Looking through his reminiscences, I found a page towards the end, which I had not read before because it was crossed out. It is revealing:

In order to safeguard against any trace of hesitance, I began to practice dying–that is, being in readiness to lay down life or the mind completely. There must be no stipulation that perception of a body and the world should be restored again after dying, because that would be bargaining, not surrender. If they are restored, all right; if not, all right . . . Also, the readiness to die must not be because life is sour, oppressive, or futile. That (the suicide’s attitude) carries with it the obverse that if conditions were changed and made attractive one would cling to life. That is not surrender but rebellious rejection of the terms of life offered. I had the feeling: “I am ready to give up my life but it is not accepted . . .”

On May 8, 1973, Arthur left this earthly scene. His death, peaceful and serene, was like a ripe fruit falling off a tree. The intervals between his breathing became longer without any sign of struggle right up to the last breath. Shortly before his death, when I was bending over his feet, I heard him say so clearly and distinctly, “Thank you.”

From For Those with Little Dust: Pointers on the Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, by Arthur Osborne. Copyright © 2001 by Sri Ramanasramam. All rights reserved. An Inner Directions Publishing book.


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