There Is Nothing, Be

by Sadhu Arunachala (Major A. W. Chadwick, OBE)

Ramana Maharshi Photo ColorThe Philosophy of Sri Bhagavan, the greatest of sages, can be summed up in just three words “There is nothing.” So simple and yet so supremely difficult. “There is nothing.. All this world that you see, this mad rush of people after money and “existence” is just a fabricless thought. “There is nothing.” You, as a personality, as a petty entity striving for your own selfish ends, ever seeking so-called “Self-Realisation,” are nothing.

You are like the shadow of a leaf cast by the moonlight, intangible, unsubstantial, and in fact non-existent. And, as the shadow is a purely negative phenomenon, is in fact nothing but a shutting out of light, so is the ego and everything else (because everything follows in the train of the ego and is actually a part of it) only a shutting out of the light of the Self.

Sri Bhagavan tells us just one other thing. He says: “Be. Just be your real Self, that’s all.”

“Certainly, it sounds all right,” you say, “but when one tries to do it, it does not seem so easy. Has he no method?”

Method! Well, what exactly do you mean by method? Sitting on the floor and concentrating on the navel? Or blowing the wind out of alternate nostrils? Or repeating some incantation one crore and eight times? No, he hasn’t got any method. All these things are no doubt good in their way and help to prepare one, but Sri Bhagavan doesn’t happen to teach them.

“Then what am I to do?” You must just BE, he says. And to be you must know the “I that is.” To know the “I that is,” just go on enquiring “Who am I?” Don’t take any notice of anything except the “ I,” throw everything else away like refuse. And when you have at last found the “I,” BE. All talk, all empty words. “There is nothing” and that’s the end of it. No method, nothing to discard, nothing to find. Nothing at all is except the “ I.” Why worry about anything else? Just BE, now and always, as you were, as you are, and as you ever will be.

“There is nothing.” You may justly ask “Who wants this purely negative state?”

To which I can only reply: “It is just a question of taste.” Though, note you, I have never suggested that Sri Bhagavan ever says that the ultimate state after which, it is presumed, we are all striving is negative. On the contrary, when he says: “There is nothing,” it is obvious that he is speaking about our present egoistic existence, which for us is everything. But this being where there is nothing must obviously be a state which is something. That state is Self-realisation. Not only is it something but it is EVERYTHING, and being everything then logically and philosophically it must be PERFECT.

“If we are already perfect and there is nothing else, what need is there for us to go to Bhagavan?” you ask.

And this reminds me of a story against myself. An Australian journalist came to the Ashram, quite why he came is a mystery, I doubt if he would be able to tell himself.

Anyhow, he did come and in the course of his visit came to see me in my room. It was obvious from the first moment that I was a tremendous problem to him. Why a European should shut himself away in a place like this was beyond his comprehension. He asked many questions but none of my replies satisfied him. How could they? Especially as he had not the first idea of what the Ashram was, or what people were doing here. I didn’t even write, then what on earth did I do? At length he could contain himself no longer and bluntly asked me what I was doing here. Now here was a problem to answer. If I had tried to tell him the truth he would never have understood, that I realized, so making the best of it I just said that here I found peace of mind. I knew it was an inadequate answer but hoped it would stave off further enquiries. He looked at me seriously for a few minutes and then said pityingly: “Oh I see, I have never been troubled in that way myself”!

All I had succeeded in doing was in confirming him in the conviction that I was insane! And was there not, after all, some ground for his belief? Here have I been spending (“wasting,” he would say) half a lifetime searching for something I already possess. I know that I possess it too, which makes matters appear worse.

“Just BE.” It sounds so easy. Well, Sri Bhagavan says it’s the easiest thing there is. I really don’t know. I suppose it all really depends on how much refuse there is inside. We’re all different anyway and perhaps some of us were handicapped at the start. It’s certain that the rubbish has to come out and the coming out process is full of surprises. All kinds of hidden vices and evil tendencies start to pop up their heads which one never suspected were there at all. But it’s all for the good. Bhagavan says they have to come out. But let them come out, not take charge. Don’t give way to them.

Those who expect Sri Bhagavan to hand them Self-realisation, as if it were some tangible thing, are surely sadly deluded. How can anybody give one what one has already got? All he can do is help one to remove the ignorance that hides it. It is like going to a lake with a cup and sitting by its side praying to it to fill the cup with water. You may sit there for a thousand years but it is certain that unless you lean forward and dip the cup into the water yourself nothing will happen. Even then you have to make certain that the cup is not already full of a lot of residue. Most cups are!

You say: “If there is nothing, why write?”

Yes, why? The whole thing can be summed up in four words: “There is nothing, BE!” When one understands those four words one understands everything including Bhagavan

Then there is no more to say!

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I found, when I had been in the Ashram a short time and was beginning to know my way about, that the best time to catch Bhagavan alone was at one o’clock in the afternoon when he came back from the Hill. Everybody who could would have slipped away for a siesta, except for one attendant whose duty it was to remain with Bhagavan in case he needed anything.

This was before the days of electricity, so a punkah [manual fan] had been hung just over Bhagavan’s couch and this would be kept in lazy motion by a sleepy attendant who was himself dying to run off and have a sleep. At times I would take his duty and let him go, at others I would sit up near the head of Bhagavan’s couch and talk to him.

It was during these hours that he instructed me, and those quiet hours spent with him then were the most valuable of all. He knew enough English to read the paper and to understand me if I spoke slowly and if a short answer or reference to some book was all that was necessary this he could deal with at the time.

But if the answer proved to be complicated he would wait until later in the day when he would call upon some English-speaking Tamil to interpret. In the early days of my stay I was living in a big room adjoining the Ashram store-room. Here Bhagavan often used to visit me, usually when he went out at about ten o’clock.

On coming into my room unexpectedly he would tell me not to disturb myself but to go on with whatever I was occupied at the time. It was correct for people to stand up directly when he came into a room. I was ignorant of this and so would remain seated, carrying on with whatever I was doing at the time. I realize now that this was looked upon as terrible disrespect by the Indian devotees, but it had its reward.

If one put oneself out for Bhagavan or appeared in any way disturbed he just would not come in future, he would disturb nobody, so considerate was he. But if one carried on with what one was doing then he would himself take a seat and talk quite naturally without the formality which usually surrounded him in the Hall.

I had no idea how lucky I was and how privileged, but certainly appreciated the visits. He might pick up my pocket-book and take everything out of it, a photograph, a membership card and any odds and ends it might contain, remark on each thing and ask some question about it. It might have been embarrassing but luckily there was nothing questionable in the wallet. Not that Bhagavan would have minded, for there could be nothing questionable or otherwise for him.

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Major A.W. Chadwick O.B.E. (1890-1962), later known as Sadhu Arunachala, served in the British army in South America. After becoming captivated by Paul Brunton’s book A Search in Secret India, he resigned his post, travelled to India, and came to Sri Ramanasramam in November 1935, where he remained for the rest of his life. He rendered into English the original works of Sri Ramana, which were read by Maharshi himself. He is the author of A Sadhu’s Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi (1961).