The two major competing systems of religious and philosophical thought in South India have, for several centuries, been Vedanta and Saiva Siddhanta. The proponents of each school have been criticising the other in their writings for much of the last thousand years. Bhagavan tended to use the language and philosophical structures of Vedanta when he answered visitors’ questions whereas Thayumanavar, in his poems, showed a strong Saiva Siddhanta influence. However, neither was dogmatic about his system since they both knew, from direct experience, that in the experience of the Self all philosophical divisions and distinctions are dissolved. As Thayumanavar wrote:
Since my own actions are forever your own actions,
and since the ‘I’-nature does not exist apart from you,
I am not different from you.
This is the state in which Vedanta and Siddhanta
are harmonised. (‘Paripurananandam’, verse 5)
The verse is cited in Day by Day with Bhagavan, 17th June, 1946. Bhagavan’s own synthesis of the two apparently contradictory philosophies can be found in the following two replies:
Question: What is the end of devotion [bhakti] and the path of Siddhanta [i.e., Saiva Siddhanta]?
Bhagavan: It is to learn the truth that all one’s actions performed with unselfish devotion, with the aid of the three purified instruments [body, speech and mind], in the capacity of the servant of the Lord, become the Lord’s actions, and to stand forth free from the sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. This is also the truth of what the Saiva Siddhantins call para-bhakti [supreme devotion] or living in the service of God [irai pani nittral].
Question: What is the end of the path of knowledge [jnana] or Vedanta?
Bhagavan: It is to know the truth that the ‘I’ does not exist separately from the Lord [Iswara] and to be free from the feeling of being the doer [kartrtva, ahamkara]. (Spiritual Instruction, part one, questions nine and ten)
Death and Liberation
Question: Is liberation to be achieved before the dissolution of the body or can it be had after death?…
Bhagavan: Is there death for you? For whom is death? The body which dies, were you aware of it, did you have it, during sleep? The body was not, when you slept. But you existed even then. When you awoke you got the body and even in the waking state you exist. You existed both in sleep and waking. But the body did not exist in sleep and exists only in waking. That which does not exist always, but exists at one time and not at another, cannot be real. You exist always and you alone are therefore real.
Liberation is another name for you. It is always here and now with you. It is not to be won or reached hereafter. Christ has said, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you,’ here and now. You have no death. (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 9th March 1946)
Bhagavan then cited some lines from Thayumanavar to illustrate his theme:
… those whose state of nishta [Self-abidance] is permanent
will not even entertain the thought that death exists.
This is not a thing to be taught to those of little understanding.
At the mere mention of it, numerous disputations will ensue.
Are not the divine-natured Markandeya and Suka,
and the rest of the [great] sages immortals, their minds transcended?
Divine One, to whom
Indra and all the devas, Brahma and all the gods,
sages learned in the Rig and other Vedas,
the countless leaders of the celestial hosts,
the nine principal siddhas,
the Sun, the Moon and the rest of the planets,
the gandharvas, kinnaras and all the rest,
join their palms together in worship!
My Lord, compassion’s home, who dance your dance
beyond the reach of thought, in consciousness’s Hall! (‘Karunakarakkadavul’, verse 7)
Markandeya and Suka are deemed to be immortals, as are all the other sages who have permanently transcended the mind. Some of the commentators on this verse say that all the other beings who are listed after Markandeya and Suka are not immortal, and therefore have to continue to pay obeisance to forms of the divine.
It is worth noting that Devaraja Mudaliar noted in his reminiscences (My Recollections of Bhagavan Sri Ramana, p. 91) that Bhagavan once quoted him a portion of this same verse (‘This is not a thing to be taught to those of little understanding. At the mere mention of it, numerous disputations will ensue.’) Mudaliar understood this to mean that Bhagavan was occasionally circumspect about giving out some aspects of his teaching to people who were not ready for them because to do so would merely provoke pointless arguments.
The real ‘I’ and the spurious ‘I’
There was once a discussion in the hall about the true meaning of verse ten of Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham which states:
The body is like an earthen pot, inert. Because it has no consciousness of ‘I’, and because daily in bodiless sleep we touch our real nature, the body is not ‘I’. Then who is this ‘I’? Where is this ‘I’? In the Heart Cave of those that question thus, there shines forth as ‘I’, Himself, the Lord Siva of Arunachala. (The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, p. 124)
Dr Srinivasa Rao asked whether [this stanza] does not teach us to affirm soham [repeating ‘I am He’ as a spiritual practice]. Bhagavan explained as follows.
It is said that the whole Vedanta can be compressed into the four words, deham [the body], naham [I am not the body], koham [Who am I?], soham [I am He]. This stanza says the same. In the first two lines it is explained why deham is naham, i.e., why the body is not ‘I’ or na aham. The next two lines say, if one enquires ko aham, i.e., Who am I?, i.e., if one enquires whence this springs and realises it, then in the heart of such a one the omnipresent God Arunachala will shine as ‘I’, as sa aham or soham: i.e., he will know ‘That I am,’ i.e., ‘That is “I”‘.
In this connection Bhagavan also quoted two stanzas, one from Thayumanavar and the other from Nammalvar, the gist of both of which is: ‘Though I have been thinking I was a separate entity and talking of “I” and “mine”, when I began to enquire about this “I”, I found you alone exist.’ (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 23rd January, 1946)
This is the Thayumanavar verse:
O Supreme of Supremes!
Searching without searching who this ‘I’ was,
soon I found You alone
standing as the heaven of bliss,
You alone, blessed Lord. (‘Paraparakkanni’, verse 225)
The following morning (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 24th January, 1946) Bhagavan showed Devaraja Mudaliar the written texts of both these verses, and he also added the following Thayumanavar verse which, in its middle portion, expounds the same theme:
Though you dwell as space and the other elements,
as all the worlds in their tens of millions,
as the mountains and the encircling ocean,
as the moon, and sun, and all else that is,
and as the flood of heaven’s grace;
and though, as I stand here as ‘I’,
you dwell united with myself,
still there is no cessation of this ‘I’.
And since I go blabbering ‘I’, ‘I’,
undergoing countless changes,
ignorant in spite of knowing all this,
will be it be easy to overcome the power of destiny?
Is there any means of awakening one,
who even before the day has ended,
remains, feigning sleep, his eyes tightly closed?
What, then, is the way that may be taught?
Yet, this vileness in unjust, so unjust.
Who is there to whom I might plead my cause?
Supreme One, whose form is bliss,
whose unique fullness encompasses
this universe and that which lies beyond! (‘Anandananaparam’, verse 7)
Mauna and the thought-free state
Mr Nanavati asked Bhagavan, ‘What is the heart referred to in the verse in Upadesa Saram where it is said, “Abiding in the heart is the best karma, yoga, bhakti and jnana?”‘
Bhagavan: That which is the source of all, that in which all live, and that into which all finally merge, is the heart referred to
Nanavati: How can we conceive such a heart?
Bhagavan: Why should you conceive of anything? You have only to see wherefrom the ‘I’ springs.
Nanavati: I suppose mere mauna in speech is no good; but we must have mauna of the mind.
Bhagavan: Of course. If we have real mauna, that state in which the mind is merged into its source and has no more separate existence, then all other kinds of mauna will come of their own accord, i.e., mauna of words, of action and of the mind or chitta.
Bhagavan also quoted in this connection the following from Thayumanavar: (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 29th April 1946.)
O Supreme of Supremes!
If the pure silence [suddha mauna]
arises within me,
my mind will be silence,
my actions and words, all
will be silence. ( ‘Paraparakkanni’, verse 276)