Ramana Maharshi

Ramana Maharshi (30 December 1879 – 14 April 1950) is widely acknowledged as one of the outstanding Hindu gurus of modern times.He was born Venkataraman Iyer, in Tiruchuli, Tamil Nadu, South India, and given the name Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharsh in 1907, by one of his first devotees, Ganapati Muni. This would be the name by which he became known to the world.

At the age of sixteen, Venkataraman lost his sense of individual selfhood, an awakening which he later recognised as enlightenment. Six weeks later he left his home to journey to the holy mountain Arunachala, Tiruvannamalai, where he remained for the rest of his life.
His first years were spent in solitude, but his stillness and his appearance as a sannyasin soon attracted devotees. In later years, he responded to questions, but always insisted that silence was the purest teaching. His verbal teachings flowed "from his direct knowledge that consciousness was the only existing reality." In later years, a community grew up around him, where he was available twenty-four hours a day to visitors. Though worshipped by thousands, he never allowed anyone to treat him as special, or receive private gifts. He treated all with equal respect] Since the 1930s his teachings have also been popularised in the west.
In response to questions on self-liberation and the classic texts on Yoga and Vedanta, Ramana recommended self-enquiry as the principal way to awaken to the "I-I", realise the Self and attain liberation. He also recommended Bhakti, and gave his approval to a variety of paths and practices.

Biography

Early years (1879–1895)

Family background (1800s)

Ramana Maharshi was born Venkataraman Iyer on 30 December 1879 in the village Tiruchuzhi near Aruppukkottai, Madurai in Tamil Nadu, South India. His birth came upon Arudra Darshanam day. Venkataraman was the second of four children and born into an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family. His father was Sundaram Iyer (1848–1890), from the lineage of Parashara, and his mother Azhagammal (?-1922). He had two brothers Nagaswamy (1877–1900) and Nagasundaram (1886–1953), along with a younger sister Alamelu (1891/92-1953). Venkataraman's father was a respected man in town and a court pleader by profession.

Childhood (1879–1895)

As a child, Venkataraman was intelligent, popular, good at sports, mischievous, and had an exceptional memory which enabled him to succeed in school without having to put in much effort. He also had a couple of unusual traits. When he slept, he went into such a deep state of unconsciousness that his friends could physically assault his body without waking him up. He also had an extraordinary amount of luck. In team games, whichever side he played for always won. This earned him the nickname 'Tanga-kai', which means 'golden hand'

When Venkataraman was about eleven his father sent him to live with his paternal uncle Subbaiyar in Dindigul as he wanted his sons to be educated in English so that they would be eligible to enter government service. Only Tamil was taught at the village school in Tiruchuzhi. In 1891, when his uncle was transferred to Madurai, Venkataraman and his elder brother Nagaswami moved with him. In Dindigul, Venkataraman attended a British School.
In 1892, Venkataraman's father Sundaram Iyer suddenly fell seriously ill and unexpectedly died several days later at the age of 42. For some hours after his father's death Venkataraman contemplated the matter of death, and how his father's body was still there, but the 'I' was gone from it.

Awakening (1895–1896)

Arunachala and 63 Saivite saints (1895-1896)

After leaving Scott's Middle School, Venkataraman went to the American Mission High School. One November morning in 1895, he was on his way to school when he saw an elderly relative and inquired where the relative had come from. The answer was "From Arunachala." Krishna Bikshu describes Venkataraman's response:

The word 'Arunachala' was familiar to Venkataraman from his younger days, but he did not know where it was, what it looked like or what it meant. Yet that day that word meant to him something great, an inaccessible, authoritative, absolutely blissful entity. Could one visit such a place? His heart was full of joy. Arunachala meant some sacred land, every particle of which gave moksha. It was omnipotent and peaceful. Could one behold it? 'What? Arunachala? Where is it?' asked the lad. The relative was astonished, 'Don't you know even this?' and continued, 'Haven't you heard of Tiruvannamalai? That is Arunachala.' It was as if a balloon was pricked, the boy's heart sank.

A month later he came across a copy of Sekkizhar's Periyapuranam, a book that describes the lives of 63 Saivite saints, and was deeply moved and inspired by it. During this period he began to visit the nearby Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.

Death experience (1896)

On 17 July 1896, at age 16, Venkataraman had a life-changing experience. He spontaneously initiated a process of self-enquiry that culminated, within a few minutes, in his own permanent awakening. In one of his rare written comments on this process he wrote:

Enquiring within Who is the seer? I saw the seer disappear leaving. That alone which stands forever. No thought arose to say I saw. How then could the thought arise to say I did not see.

In 1930, over a period of six weeks, Narasimha Swami had a series of conversations with Ramana on this experience.
According to David Godman, a more accurate exposition of this event is given in the Sri Ramana Leela, the Telugu biography of Ramana that was written by Krishna Bhikshu :

In the vision of death, though all the senses were benumbed, the aham sphurana (Self-awareness) was clearly evident, and so I realised that it was that awareness that we call "I", and not the body. This Self-awareness never decays. It is unrelated to anything. It is Self-luminous. Even if this body is burnt, it will not be affected. Hence, I realised on that very day so clearly that that was "I".

At first, Ramana thought that he was possessed by a spirit, "which had taken up residence in his body".] This feeling remained for several weeks. Later in life, he called his death experience akrama mukti, "sudden liberation", as opposed to the krama mukti, "gradual liberation" as in the Vedanta path of jnana yoga:
‘Some people,’ he said, 'start off by studying literature in their youth. Then they indulge in the pleasures of the world until they are fed up with them. Next, when they are at an advanced age, they turn to books on Vedanta. They go to a guru and get initiated by him and then start the process of sravana, manana and nididhyasana, which finally culminates in samadhi. This is the normal and standard way of approaching liberation. It is called krama mukti [gradual liberation]. But I was overtaken by akrama mukti [sudden liberation] before I passed through any of the above-mentioned stages.'

After this event, he lost interest in school-studies, friends, and relations. Avoiding company, he preferred to sit alone, absorbed in concentration on the Self, and went daily to the Meenakshi Temple, ecstatically devoted to the images of the Gods, tears flowing profusely from his eyes. Venkataraman’s elder brother, Nagaswamy, was aware of a great change in him and on several occasions rebuked him for his detachment from all that was going on around him. About six weeks after Venkataraman’s absorption into the Self, on 29 August 1896, he was attempting to complete a homework assignment which had been given to him by his English teacher for indifference in his studies. Suddenly Venkataraman tossed aside the book and turned inward in meditation. His elder brother rebuked him again, asking, "What use is all this to one who is like this?", referring to his behaviour as a sadhu. Venkataraman did not answer, but recognised the truth in his brother’s words.

Journey to Tiruvannamalai (1896)

Knowing his family would not permit him to become a sanyasin and leave home, Venkataraman slipped away, telling his brother he needed to attend a special class at school. Fortunately, his brother had asked him to take five rupees and pay his college fees on his way to school. Venkataraman took out an atlas, calculated the cost of his journey, took three rupees and left the remaining two with a note which read:

I have set out in quest of my Father in accordance with his command. This (meaning his person) has only embarked on a virtuous enterprise. Therefore, no one need grieve over this act. And no money need be spent in search of this. Your college fee has not been paid. Herewith rupees two.

On the morning of 1 September 1896, Venkataraman boarded a train and travelled to Tiruvannamalai, where he was to stay for the rest of his life.

Tiruvannamalai temples (1896–1899)

Arunachaleswara temple (1896–1897)

Upon arriving in Tiruvannamalai Venkataraman went straight to the temple of Arunachaleswara. There, he entered the sanctum sanctorum and embraced the linga in ecstasy. The burning sensation that had started back at Madurai, which he later described as "an inexpressible anguish which I suppressed at the time", merged in Arunachaleswara.

The first few weeks he spent in the thousand-pillared hall, but shifted to other spots in the temple and eventually to the Patala-lingam vault so that he might remain undisturbed. There, he would spend days absorbed in such deep samādhi that he was unaware of the bites of vermin and pests. Seshadri Swamigal, a local saint, discovered him in the underground vault and tried to protect him. After about six weeks in the Patala-lingam, he was carried out and cleaned up. For the next two months he stayed in the Subramanya Shrine, so unaware of his body and surroundings that food had to be placed in his mouth or he would have starved.

Gurumurtam temple (1897–1898)

In February 1897, six months after his arrival at Tiruvannamalai, Ramana moved to Gurumurtam, a temple about a mile out of Tiruvannamalai. Shortly after his arrival a sadhu named Palaniswami went to see him. Palaniswami's first darshan left him filled with peace and bliss, and from that time on he served Ramana, joining him as his permanent attendant. From Gurumurtam to Virupaksha Cave (1899–1916) to Skandasramam Cave (1916–22), he took care of Ramana. Besides physical protection, Palaniswami would also beg for alms, cook and prepare meals for himself and Ramana, and care for him as needed. In May 1898 Ramana and Palaniswami moved to a mango orchard next to Gurumurtam.

During this time, Ramana neglected his body, "completely disregarding his outward appearance". He also neglected the ants which bit him incessantly. Gradually, despite Ramana's desire for privacy, he attracted attention from visitors who admired his silence and austerities, bringing offerings and singing praises. Eventually a bamboo fence was built to protect him.

While living at Gurumurtam temple his family discovered his whereabouts. First his uncle Nelliappa Iyer came and pled with him to return home, promising that the family would not disturb his ascetic life. Ramana sat motionless and eventually his uncle gave up.

Pavalakkunru temple (1898–1899)

In September 1898 Ramana moved to the Shiva-temple at Pavalakkunru, one of the eastern spurs of Arunachala. His mother and brother Nagaswami found him here in December 1898. Day after day his mother begged him to return, but no amount of weeping and pleading had any visible effect on him. She appealed to the devotees who had gathered around, trying to get them to intervene on her behalf until one requested that Ramana write out his response to his mother. He then wrote on a piece of paper:

In accordance with the prarabdha (destiny to be worked out in current life) of each, the One whose function it is to ordain makes each to act. What will not happen will never happen, whatever effort one may put forth. And what will happen will not fail to happen, however much one may seek to prevent it. This is certain. The part of wisdom therefore is to stay quiet.

At this point his mother returned to Madurai saddened.

Arunachala (1899–1922)

Virupaksha Cave (1899–1916)

Soon after this, in February 1899, Ramana left the foothills to live on Arunachala itself.He stayed briefly in Satguru Cave and Guhu Namasivaya Cave before taking up residence at Virupaksha Cave for the next 17 years, using Mango Tree cave during the summers, except for a six-month period at Pachaiamman Koil during the plague epidemic.

In 1902, a government official named Sivaprakasam Pillai, with writing slate in hand, visited the young Swami in the hope of obtaining answers to questions about "How to know one's true identity". The fourteen questions put to the young Swami and his answers were Ramana's first teachings on Self-enquiry, the method for which he became widely known, and were eventually published as 'Nan Yar?', or in English, 'Who am I?’.

Several visitors came to him and many became his devotees. Kavyakantha Sri Ganapati Sastri, a Vedic scholar of repute in his age with a deep knowledge of the Srutis, Sastras, Tantras, Yoga, and Agama systems, came to visit Ramana in 1907. After receiving instructions from him, he proclaimed him as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Ramana was known by this name from then on.
In 1911 the first westerner, Frank Humphreys, then a policeman stationed in India, discovered Ramana and wrote articles about him which were first published in The International Psychic Gazette in 1913.

Skandashram (1916–1922)

In 1916 his mother Alagammal and younger brother Nagasundaram joined Ramana at Tiruvannamalai and followed him when he moved to the larger Skandashram Cave, where Bhagavan lived until the end of 1922. His mother took up the life of a sannyasin, and Ramana began to give her intense, personal instruction, while she took charge of the Ashram kitchen. Ramana's younger brother, Nagasundaram, then became a sannyasi, assuming the name Niranjanananda, becoming known as Chinnaswami (the younger Swami).

During this period, Ramana composed The Five Hymns to Arunachala, his magnum opus in devotional lyric poetry. Of them the first is Akshara Mana Malai. It was composed in Tamil in response to the request of a devotee for a song to be sung while wandering in the town for alms. The Marital Garland tells in glowing symbolism of the love and union between the human soul and God, expressing the attitude of the soul that still aspires.

Mother's death (1922)

Beginning in 1920, his mother's health deteriorated. On the day of her death, 19 May 1922, at about 8 a.m., Ramana sat beside her. It is reported that throughout the day, he had his right hand on her heart, on the right side of the chest, and his left hand on her head, until her death around 8:00 p.m., when Ramana pronounced her liberated, literally, 'Adangi Vittadu, Addakam' (‘absorbed'). Later Ramana said of this: "You see, birth experiences are mental. Thinking is also like that, depending on sanskaras (tendencies). Mother was made to undergo all her future births in a comparatively short time." Her body was enshrined in a samadhi, on top of which a Siva lingam was installed and given the name Matrbhuteshwara, Shiva manifesting as mother. To commemorate the anniversary of Ramana Maharshi's mother's death, a puja, known as her Aradhana or Mahapooja, is performed every year at the Matrbhuteshwara.

Sri Ramanasramam (1922–1950)

Commencement of Ramanasramam

From 1922 till his death in 1950 Ramana lived in Sri Ramanasramam, the ashram that developed around his mother's tomb.[37] Ramana often walked from Skandashram to his mother's tomb. In December 1922 he didn't return to Skandashram, and settled at the base of the Hill, and Sri Ramanasramam started to develop. At first, there was only one hut at the samadhi, but in 1924 two huts, one opposite the samadhi and the other to the north, were erected. The so-called Old Hall was built in 1928. Ramana lived here until 1949.
Sri Ramanasramam grew to include a library, hospital, post-office and many other facilities. Ramana displayed a natural talent for planning building projects. Annamalai Swami gave detailed accounts of this in his reminiscences. Until 1938, Annamalai Swami was entrusted with the task of supervising the projects and received his instructions from Ramana directly.

Final years (1940-1950)[edit]

Ramana's relative fame spread throughout the 1940s. However, even as his fame spread, his lifestyle remained that of a renunciate. The 1940s also saw many of Ramana's most ardent devotees pass away. These included Echamma (1945), attendant Madhavaswami (1946), Ramanatha Brahmachari (1946), Mudaliar Granny and Lakshmi (1948).

Sri Ramana Maharshi Mahanirvana in Ramanasramam

Ramana was noted for his belief in the power of silence and his relatively sparse use of speech, as well as for his lack of concern for fame or criticism,[web 16] and unusual love of creatures and plants.[note 15] On the morning of 18 June 1948, he realised that his favourite cow Lakshmi was near her death. Just as he had with his own Mother, Ramana placed his hands on her head and over her heart. The cow died peacefully at 11:30 a.m. and Ramana later declared that the cow was liberated

In November 1948, a tiny cancerous lump was found on Ramana's arm and was removed in February 1949 by the ashram's doctor. Soon, another growth appeared and another operation was done by an eminent surgeon in March 1949 with radium applied. The doctor told Ramana that a complete amputation of the arm to the shoulder was required to save his life, but he refused. A third and fourth operation were performed in August and December 1949, but only weakened him. Other systems of medicine were then tried; all proved fruitless and were stopped by the end of March when devotees gave up all hope. To devotees who begged him to cure himself for the sake of his followers, Ramana is said to have replied, "Why are you so attached to this body? Let it go" and "Where can I go? I am here." By April 1950, Ramana was too weak to go to the hall and visiting hours were limited. Visitors would file past the small room where he spent his final days to get one final glimpse.

Swami Satyananda, the attendant at the time, reports:

On the evening of 14 April 1950, we were massaging Ramana's body. At about 5 o'clock, he asked us to help him to sit up. Precisely at that moment devotees started chanting 'Arunachala Siva, Arunachala Siva'. When Ramana heard this his face lit up with radiant joy. Tears began to flow from his eyes and continued to flow for a long time. I was wiping them from time to time. I was also giving him spoonfuls of water boiled with ginger. The doctor wanted to administer artificial respiration but Ramana waved it away. Ramana’s breathing became gradually slower and slower and at 8:47 p.m. it subsided quietly.

Teachings

Early on, Ramana attracted devotees who would sit in his company, and ask him questions. Several devotees recorded the answers to their own specific questions, or kept the sheets of paper on which Ramana answered, and later had them published.[51] Other devotees recorded the talks between Ramana and his devotees, a large amount of which have also been published. Although Ramana's teaching is consistent with and generally associated with Hinduism, the Upanishads and Advaita Vedanta, there are some differences with the traditional Advaitic school. Ramana gave his approval to a variety of paths and practices from various religions, with his own upadesa (instruction or guidance given to a disciple by his Guru) always pointing to the true Self of the devotees.[

The Self

The essence of Ramana Maharshi's teachings is that there exists only one single reality, which is both immanent, and directly experienced by everyone, and is, at once, the source, substance and real nature of all that exists. The term he used most frequently for this reality was "The Self". David Godman defines this term, as used by Ramana Maharshi, in the introduction of his book, Be As You Are:

The real Self or real 'I' is, contrary to perceptible experience, not an experience of individuality but a non-personal, all-inclusive awareness. It is not to be confused with the individual self which (Ramana) said was essentially non-existent, being a fabrication of the mind, (and) which obscures the true experience of the real Self. He maintained that the real Self is always present and always experienced but he emphasized that one is only consciously aware of it as it really is when the self-limiting tendencies of the mind have ceased. Permanent and continuous Self-awareness is known as Self-realization.

Ramana would on occasion use a number of other terms in place of the Self; with each term signifying a different aspect of this ultimately indivisible reality. The most frequently used terms were sat-chit-ananda, which translates into English as being-consciouness-bliss; God, Brahman and Siva, which Ramana would use to refer not to a personal God, but to the "formless being which sustains the universe"; and the Heart, which is not to be confused with the physical heart, or a particular point in space, but was rather to indicate that "the Self was the source from which all appearances manifested."

Silence

Ramana's main means of instruction to his devotees in order to realise the Self was through silence; using words only sparingly. His method of teaching has been compared to Dakshinamurti - Shiva in the ascetic appearance of the Guru, who teaches through silence:
One evening, devotees asked Sri Ramana to explain the meaning of Shankara's hymn in praise of Dakshinamurti. They waited for his answer, but in vain. The Maharishi sat motionless on his seat, in total silence.

Commenting upon this silence Ramana said:
Silence is the true upadesa. It is the perfect upadesa. It is suited only for the most advanced seeker. The others are unable to draw full inspiration from it. Therefore, they require words to explain the truth. But truth is beyond words; it does not warrant explanation. All that is possible is to indicate It. How is that to be done?

Self-enquiry

Ramana urged people who came to him to practice self-enquiry. He directed people to look inward rather than seeking outside themselves for Realization: "The true Bhagavan resides in your Heart as your true Self. This is who I truly am". Ramana's teachings about self-enquiry have been classified as the Path of Knowledge (Jnana marga) among the Indian schools of thought. In response to questions on self-liberation and the classic texts on Yoga and Vedanta, Ramana recommended self-enquiry as the means to awaken to the "I-I" and the Self

Enquiry in the form 'Who am I' alone is the principal means. To make the mind subside, there is no adequate means other than self-enquiry. If controlled by other means, mind will remain as if subsided, but will rise again".

Basically "self-enquiry" is the constant attention to the inner awareness of "I" or "I am"). Sri Ramana Maharshi frequently recommended it as the most efficient and direct way of discovering the unreality of the ‘I'-thought. Enquiring the "I"-thought, one realises that it raises in the hṛdayam (heart). The 'I'-thought will disappear and only "I-I" or Self-awareness remains, which is Self-realization or liberation:

What is finally realized as a result of such enquiry into the Source of Aham-vritti (I-thought) is verily the Heart as the undifferentiated Light of Pure Consciousness, into which the reflected light of the mind is completely absorbed.

Ramana warned against considering self-enquiry as an intellectual exercise. Properly done, it involves fixing the attention firmly and intensely on the feeling of 'I', without thinking. Attention must be fixed on the 'I' until the sense of "I" disappears and the Self is realised. Ramana's written works contain terse descriptions of self-enquiry. Verse thirty of Ulladu Narpadu:

Questioning 'Who am I?' within one's mind, when one reaches the Heart, the individual 'I' sinks crestfallen, and at once reality manifests itself as 'I-I'. Though it reveals itself thus, it is not the ego 'I' but the perfect being the Self Absolute.

Verses nineteen and twenty of Upadesa Undiyar describe the same process in almost identical terms:

19. 'Whence does the 'I' arise?' Seek this within. The 'I' then vanishes. This is the pursuit of wisdom.

20. Where the 'I' vanished, there appears an 'I-I' by itself. This is the infinite.[web 25]

Ramana considered the Self to be permanent and enduring, surviving physical death. "The sleep, dream and waking states are mere phenomena appearing on the Self", as is the "I"-thought. Our "true nature" is "simple Being, free from thoughts". Ramana's own death experience when he was 16 already contains the practice of self-enquiry. After raising the question 'Who am I?' he "turned his attention very keenly towards himself". His earliest teachings are documented in the book Nan Yar? (Who am I?), in which he elaborates on the "I" and Self-enquiry:

Bhakti

Although he advocated self-enquiry as the fastest means to realisation, he also recommended the path of bhakti and self-surrender (to one's deity or guru) either concurrently or as an adequate alternative, which would ultimately converge with the path of self-enquiry.

Bhakti can be done in four ways:

To the Supreme Self (Atma-Bhakti)
To God or the Cosmic Lord as a formless being (Ishvara-Bhakti)
To God in the form of various Gods or Goddesses (Ishta Devata-Bhakti)
To God in the form of the Guru (Guru-Bhakti)

Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramana_Maharshi

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