Bhagavan once told me that thought comes in flashes, no thought was continuous. It was like the cycle of an alternating current but was so rapid that it seemed continuous as does the light given off by an electric bulb. If one could only concentrate on the intervals between thoughts rather than on the thoughts themselves that would be Self-realization.
He always taught that mind and thought were exactly the same,
“The mind is nothing but a lot of thoughts.”
—Upadesa Saram, v18
And again that ego and mind were identical and arose together,
“The ego rising all else will arise.”
—Ulladu Narpadu, v26
“The ego is the root of all thought.”
—Ulladu Narpadu, v40
Yes, surely but,
“The mind in truth is only the thought ‘I’.”
—Ulladu Narpadu, v40
The ego is as impermanent as thought and has in truth no real existence at all. Do not the Buddhists say that there is no such thing as ego? Which brings us directly to Advaita.
Now Advaita is not the same as is usually meant by Monism nor is it some catchword to avoid difficulties. The word means, of course, Not-Two, but this is not the equivalent for One, though to the casual thinker it is not easy to see where the difference lies. But if we call it Monism then premising one we infer a whole series, one, two, three etc. No such series actually exists, there is just Not-Two.
When we see things, we see duality; in one sense this duality is not unreal, it is only unreal in the sense that there is Not-Two. It is there in appearance but yet is impermanent and fleeting. This fleeting manifestation is called Maya, which is often taken to mean illusion, but actually means “that which is not,” or which sets a limit to the limitless. In fact we sense everything, everything being in the mind, and the senses being only the instrument of the mind. For as a matter of fact there is no illusion, only impermanence.
The same truth is behind all. What then is the solution, seeing that everything has no permanency and is only an appearance? This, Bhagavan taught, also applies to our bodies and even our egos, which are thought by us to be all-important, but now we find them discarded as fleeting shadows. There is, however, no need to be despondent, for behind even the most fleeting appearance there must be something to appear. We jump aside because we think we see a snake only afterwards to discover that it is but a rope. But even though the snake is quite unreal the rope is there. So the obvious solution to our riddle is to search out and find the permanent behind the impermanent. This was Bhagavan’s solution and he taught us how to do it by his method of self-enquiry. Though the ego changes minute by minute, though we are entirely different people through every stage of our life, there has always been for us an “I.” Now this is obviously not the ego, for we have already seen that the ego changes every second, while the “I” has been there all along as the observer. Let us trace it to its source. And through this method of self-enquiry we shall eventually realize the Self.
When talking about Bhagavan and the various things that he said, there will always appear contradictions in his teachings, but this is solely because he had to speak from two points of view. His real teaching, which never wavered, was that there is nothing but the SELF. He saw everything as just That and nothing else. But most people were unable to accept this. They wanted it to be expanded, so some explanations were necessary and to make such explanations he had to speak from the questioner’s limited point of view. I said above that Bhagavan never taught re- incarnation and this is true though from our point of view he accepted it, as I believe did the Buddha. How could Bhagavan teach it when he saw no more than one? But in the “Talks” he explains how egos are reborn into a succession of bodies; so long as the individual idea persists there must be some form for it to take until the individual ceases to exist, and this continued individualization consists in a constant change of form. For as one set of Vasanas is worn away another takes its place. Such apparent contradictions must always be there for the unrealized. Bhagavan taught us always to look to the present, find out who you are now, whereas re-incarnation tends to put things off to the future. What does it matter, you will have innumerable lives in which to put things in order? This is naturally fatal to spiritual progress and is probably the reason why Christianity has never allowed it to be taught, though there are indications of it in the New Testament and some of the Fathers.
After I had been meditating in the presence of Bhagavan for some months, I reached a certain stage when I would be overcome by fear. I asked Bhagavan about this. I was assured by some of those present in the Hall at the time, not of course by Bhagavan, that this was all wrong and quite absurd. In fact they laughed at me for my foolishness. Bhagavan was not so amused. He explained that it was the ego that experienced the fear as it felt that it was gradually losing its grip. It was, in fact, dying, and naturally resented it. He asked me, “To whom is the fear? It is all due to the habit of identifying the body with the Self. Repeated experience of separation from this idea will make one familiar with this state and fear will then automatically cease.” Since then I have come to realize that Bhagavan mentions this fear in the second verse of the Ulladu Narpadu:
“’tis only those who fear death intensely take refuge at the feet of the Lord.”
In fact it is really a good sign when one is following the method of self-enquiry, though it must be overcome.
Afterwards some of the scoffers came up to me secretly and said that had they had the same trouble and what were they to do about it? This conversation of mine with Bhagavan must have been recorded somewhere, for still people come to me to ask about it. There is the one and only answer to this in the method taught by Bhagavan: enquire to whom is the fear, get behind it to the witness and fear will automatically cease.
In the supplement to the Ulladu Narpadu it says that one look of a Mahatma is sufficient to give us initiation and is far more effective than any number of pilgrimages, the worship of images and other devotional practices. I asked Bhagavan about this, saying foolishly that I had already been staying with him for some months and yet I did not yet feel any change in myself. It is the look that purifies, he told me, but it is not a visible purification. Coal takes time to ignite, but charcoal is proportionately quicker, while gunpowder ignites immediately. So it is with men under the powerful glance of a Jnani.
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Before I came to India I had read of such people as Edward Carpenter, Tennyson and many more who had had flashes of what they called “Cosmic Consciousness.” I asked Bhagavan about this. Was it possible that once having gained Self-realization to lose it again? Certainly it was. To support this view Bhagavan took up a copy of Kaivalya Navanita and told the interpreter to read a page of it to me. In the early stages of Sadhana this was quite possible and even probable. So long as the least desire or tie was left, a person would be pulled back again into the phenomenal world, he explained. After all it is only our Vasanas that prevent us from always being in our natural state, and Vasanas were not got rid of all of a sudden or by a flash of Cosmic Consciousness. One may have worked them out in a previous existence leaving a little to be done in the present life, but in any case, they must first be destroyed.
I was reminded of Sri Ramakrishna who said that so long as one single desire remained unfulfilled one had to go on being born to fulfil it. He said he himself, once, had wanted to wear a silk cloth and gold ring and sit and smoke a hookah. One day he asked Mathura Nath to obtain these things for him. When he had been given them he sat on the banks of the Ganges dressed in the silk cloth with his gold ring conspicuously on his hand and smoking the hookah. Then he told himself, “Now I am dressed in a silk cloth, look at my gold ring, yes, and I am smoking a hookah.” He continued for some time enjoying these. After a while he got up, threw his ring into the river, tore off the silk cloth, stamped and spat on it and broke the hookah. He had now fulfilled his desire and he no longer had any wish to do these things again.
Yet even supposing one has got rid of most of one’s Vasanas, how does attainment actually occur? On this question of attaining Self-realization Bhagavan told me that in the early stages a person who was regularly meditating would usually at first go into a trance which would probably last for some thirty minutes, and if he continued with his Tapas properly such Samadhi would become more frequent. So carried away by it would he be that he would be able to think of nothing but slipping away to some quiet corner to meditate undisturbed. He would lose all interest in everything else until that time when he became established in the Self and no more meditation was necessary.
He had then attained Sahaja Samadhi or his natural state. But there were no fixed rules. Some might attain this state quietly and unrecognized, without even the necessity of the process of meditation. However, Bhagavan explained, although there were no actual stages in Self-realization, there was a deepening of one’s Sadhana as explained above.
In the Indian spiritual vocabulary you find the terms Manolaya, Savikalpa Samadhi, Nirvikalpa Samadhi and Sahaja Samadhi, and these are apt to cause some confusion to those not familiar with the terminology.
Manolaya is just a blank mind. Advaitins are often accused of trying to achieve this, which is quite absurd though I have at times met those who told me that this was their aim, and they would be most happy to achieve it. I would point out to them that this could be attained by them every night in sleep so what was the use of undergoing all sorts of austerities, spending hours in meditation to obtain a thing that could be got by just lying down on their bed?
With regard to this Bhagavan used to tell the story of the Yogi who was practicing Tapas on the bank of the Ganges. He told his disciple to go and fetch him some water and in the meantime went into a state of Manolaya. After a thousand years he awoke, the first thing he did was to demand his water, but the disciple had become skeleton at his side, the Ganges had changed its course and the whole country was different. What good had the long trance done? It had just been a blank when time stood still.
Savikalpa Samadhi is the state of deep meditation when one is sunk in peace but still retains the consciousness of one’s identity. One knows that one is meditating and can still consciously continue one’s Sadhana.
In Nirvikalpa Samadhi one has attained to a state where the identity has been lost and sunk entirely in the highest Self. However long it may last it is only temporary, one must return eventually to one’s normal state of consciousness. One is unable to function in this state and so long as it lasts one is in a state of trance. It is usually preliminary to the final state. But Bhagavan attained Sahaja Samadhi directly without any intermediate state. Many people consider that Nirvikalpa Samadhi is final, and once having attained it seek to progress no further.
Sahaja Samadhi is the final and most blessed state, the goal of all Yogis. In this state the individual has become completely merged in the Supreme Self. His identity which became lost in Nirvikalpa Samadhi has become enlarged and is now the Supreme Self and knows itself as such. Trances are no longer necessary, a person can still carry on with the ordinary day-to-day business but he no longer identifies himself with the activities but watches them like a dreamer watching a dream. There is no more to do, and no more to be attained. This is the Supreme State of Absolute Bliss. But in the simple words of Bhagavan, it is the SELF and it can be realized by one and all by Self-enquiry.
The word Yoga means union, yoke is derived from it. There are four principal schools of Yoga: Jnana, Bhakti, Hatha and Karma, but there are also a number of subsidiary schools which are usually a combination of two of the above. In any case it is almost impossible to separate off any one of them from the others as a cast iron system. As Bhagavan used to say, to know God (or Jnanam, the Path of Wisdom) one must love God (Bhakti, the Path of Devotion) and to love him one must know him, while to do this a certain amount of Hatha Yoga and Karma is often practiced. Hatha Yoga itself consists of various exercises, body postures, and breath control, whereas Karma Yoga is the Yoga of works and comprises chanting of Vedas, elaborate Poojas and daily purification ceremonies. There are many other minor schools such as Tantra, Kundalini, and others.
Bhagavan of course never taught any of these though I once saw him giving instruction in Yoga, a thing almost unheard of, to a North Indian who was practicing some form of Kundalini Yoga. This can only be explained by the fact that Bhagavan saw that by this method and this method alone, the person would be able to advance. But as a rule he would tell people not to waste time in these practices, going the long way round, when they could go direct by the practice of Self-enquiry.
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One night in the Hall there was some talk about reincarnation. Just as Bhagavan was getting up from his couch to go for his evening meal, I, as a joke, said, “But Alan Chadwick has not been born before.” “What, what did he say?” asked Bhagavan sharply. “He said that he had never been born before,” someone wrongly interpreted. Of course I had not said that at all. I had meant that whatever form the ego took formerly it had never had the name and form Alan Chadwick but had been some entirely different person. But Bhagavan replying to the wrong interpretation quickly replied, “Oh, yes he had been, for what has brought us all together here again?”
He never asked us what had brought us to him, but what had brought us again to Arunachala. He had so completely identified himself with the Mountain. This answer, though caused by a mistake, was very gratifying to me, as Bhagavan admitted the old connection between us. So must I always be with him until Self-realization, after which there will be no more he and I. I used to say that I must attain Self-realization in this life or Bhagavan would have to be born again so that I might be with him. So for his own good he must see that I gain my end in this life. Bhagavan would just smile. Though this was only said as a joke, there was a fundamental truth behind it.
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Sadhu Arunachala (Major Allan W. Chadwick, OBE), came to Ramana Maharshi in November 1935 and remained a the Ashram until his death in April 1962. Chadwick was deeply devoted to Maharshi and was instrumental in establishing a future for the Veda Patsala school after Bhagavan’s passing.
From A Sadhu’s Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi, by Sadhu Arunachala. Copyright 1961-2003 by Sri Ramanasramam. www.sriramanamaharshi.org