Ramana Maharshi

Ramana was born on December 29th, 1879, at Tiruchuzhi in South India. His father was an uncertified pleader, which is a sort of rural lawyer, and as a child, Ramana showed no sign of his later experiences. At school he was athletic; football, wrestling and swimming being his main enjoyments. He had an amazing memory, being able to repeat a lesson once heard, but was not thought of as bright.

Just after his sixteenth birthday, however, a strange experience came to him. Sitting alone he suddenly felt a violent fear of death. There was no sickness, only the thought, “I am going to die.” The shock of this drove him into an immediate self-analysis. He asked himself “What is it that is dying? This body dies.” With this thought he dramatised the enquiry by laying with body stiff, holding his breath, imitating a corpse. He went on to ask himself, But with the death of this body am I dead? Is the body I?” This drove his enquiry inwards until there awakened that consciousness of THAT. He says, “Fear of death vanished once and for all. Absorption in the Self continued from that time on.”

The results upon his outer life were quite marked, although he told no one of his experience. He says, “Whatever work was given, whatever teasing or annoyance there was, I would put up with it quietly. The former ego that had resented and retaliated had disappeared. I stopped going out with friends to play games, and preferred solitude. I would often sit alone especially in a posture suitable for meditation, and become absorbed in the Self, the Spirit, the force or current which constituted me.”

His everyday life suffered however, and on a remark from his brother that his home was no use to one who acted like a Yogi, he left home for Arunachala, which is a holy mountain. From this time, until his death in 1950, he stayed near or on the Holy Mountain of Arunachala. He sought no disciples and made no effort to go about preaching of his insight. For some length of time, day and night were spent in meditation, his whole consciousness immersed in that “current” of his being revealed to him earlier. For many years he did not even speak, but sat quiet and still, immersed in that he had discovered within. This did not stop others noticing the blessedness of his presence, and soon crowds would visit just to see or sit near him, even though he never spoke or seemed to notice them. As time passed however, he began to answer questions in writing, and later on began speaking again.

Later, in describing this part of his life, he said, “Sometimes I opened my eyes and it was morning, sometimes it was evening; I did not know when the sun rose or when it set.” He compared this experience with a bucket being lowered by rope into a well, and then being drawn out. In other words, the ego dips into the unconditional, but can emerge again. His eventual condition was however, like the river entering the sea. That is, the ego is now merged into the unconditional, and yet one is still aware of the physical world, and can go about normal duties without loss of that consciousness. In the first one, the ego disappears only at deeper levels of consciousness. In the second, the unconditional bliss is felt at all times, in all situations.

With the growth in number of those who came as disciples to him, he took up residence on the slopes of Arunachala itself. He still maintained silence in these early years on the Holy Hill. So why did many make the long journey up the mountain to see him? Arthur Osborne, one of Ramana’s European disciples, says, “It was not only seekers after Truth who were drawn to him but simple people, children, even animals. Young children from the town of Tiruvannamalai would climb the hill to Virupaksha Cave, sit near him, play around him, and go back feeling happy. Squirrels and monkeys would come up to him and eat out of his hand.”

Outwardly from this time on, his life is empty of the exciting events one so often meets in famous biographies, but the richness of Ramana’s life, lived in the unconditional state, was one of inner relationships with the thousands who visited him. Unless we account these inner contacts he made with those who came, his life must appear empty and uneventful. For each day was spent seated, hardly speaking, or quietly performing every-day chores as in cleaning vegetables for the day’s meal.

H. Humphreys, writing to a friend in London about Ramana, says, “On reaching the cave we sat before him at his feet and said nothing. We sat thus for a long time and I felt lifted out of myself. For half an hour I looked into the Maharshi’s eyes, which never changed their expression of deep contemplation. I began to realise somewhat that the body is the Temple of the Holy Ghost; I could feel only that his body was not the man: it was the instrument of God, merely a sitting, motionless corpse from which God was radiating terrifically. My own feelings were indescribable.”

Paul Brunton, a journalist who had visited a number of so-called Masters, and had left each one still sceptical, also visited Ramana and wrote: “It is an ancient theory of mine that one can take the inventory of a man’s soul from his eyes. But before those of the Maharshi I hesitate, puzzled and baffled.

“I cannot turn my gaze away from him. My initial bewilderment, my perplexity at being totally ignored, slowly fade away as this strange fascination begins to grip me more firmly. But it is not till the second hour of the uncommon scene that I become aware of a silent, resistless change which is taking place within my mind.”

“I know only that a steady river of quietness seems to be flowing near me, that a great peace is penetrating the inner reaches of my being, and that my thought-tortured brain is beginning to arrive at some rest.”

One of those who stayed to serve him and become a disciple, arrived with a different problem than the quest for truth or understanding. Echammal had been a happy wife and mother, but before twenty-five she lost her husband, her only son, then her only daughter. Her grief and torture were such that she could not even stay in the vicinity of her previous home. She travelled to Gokarnam to serve the holy men there, but found no respite from her agony. Returning home, friends told her that many had found peace in Ramana’s presence. Immediately she set out. She had relatives in Tiruvannamalai, but she did not visit them, knowing it would increase her suffering by reviving memories. She climbed the hill and stood before Ramana in silence, not telling her misery. For a whole hour she stood and looked. Then she turned, her burden lifted and gone.

See: Ramana Website: Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge.

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