A few years ago I received a query about some words that Ganapati Muni had addressed to Bhagavan via a letter. The original letter can be found online here.
Ganapati Muni’s letter to Bhagavan.
3 June 1931, Anandasramam, Sirsi
Lord, Friend of the Lowly and Meek, Sundara [T. K. Sundaresa Iyer] has conveyed us in his letter the explanation vouchsafed by Bhagavan. All the doubts of all of us here are now dispelled. The word of Bhagavan that the experience of the absence of any sense of finiteness (limitation) is the same in the Lord of the Universe and the liberated has completely set at rest some other doubts of ours also. We have understood by this statement of Bhagavan that there is the Supreme Lord, the Ruler of the Universe, that the liberated do also exist as distinct entities and that their experience of the absence of finiteness alone is the same.
Pranavananda has written me a letter asking for chapter names in Sanskrit and Telugu of Sri Ramana Gita which is to be reprinted. I have replied saying that I shall write and send him not only the names of chapters but a comprehensive introduction also.
All well here. I am, The Bee, Happy at your Holy Feet.
1) What does Ganapati Muni mean by ‘exist’ [‘exist as distinct entities’] here? Does he mean they exist after physical death?
2) Does Ganapati mean Lord of the Universe is separate from the jnani/Self?
These are interesting questions, some of which were addressed in an article that was published in The Mountain Path, 1982, pp. 95-101. The author was given there as ‘Michael Spenser’, which are my two middle names. The article was originally submitted by Michael James at a time when I was editing the magazine. I decided that it needed drastic revisions to make it publishable, although at this distance in time I can no longer remember what the problem was. Michael was not happy with many of my rewrites, so he asked that his name be removed. However, he was willing to let me use the material myself. I rewrote the piece still further and eventually attributed it to ‘Michael Spenser’ since most of the ideas were Michael’s and a substantial portion of the writing was mine.
Bhagavan’s Letter to Ganapati Muni
Between March and August 1931 Ganapati Muni was living mostly in Anandashram on the outskirts of Sirsi, a town in the North Kannada District. During this period he wrote a series of more than twenty letters in Sanskrit to his Guru, Bhagavan Sri Ramana. All of these letters have been printed in the original Sanskrit together with English renderings by Viswanatha Swami in a booklet entitled Epistles of Light, which was published in 1978 by the Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni Trust, Madras.
Since Bhagavan never replied to letters, the replies that were sent to Ganapati Muni were all drafted by the ashram office. Although Bhagavan would have inspected them before they were posted, except on one occasion, he could not be held responsible for their contents. This one exception was the reply to Ganapati Muni’s letter dated 20th May, 1931. Ganapati Muni expressed a doubt in his letter about the ego, and he particularly requested a devotee named T. K. Sundaresa Iyer to convey to him in writing the answer of Sri Bhagavan. Bhagavan gave a verbal reply to the doubts raised in the letter, and this reply was then incorporated in a letter and sent to Ganapati Muni. This reply containing Bhagavan’s answer was published by Sri Ramanasramam in 1980 in a small Tamil booklet entitled Precious Words and Stray Verses of the Maharshi.
The Doubt of Ganapati Muni
Ganapati Muni begins his letter by saying:
A doubt. Except Bhagavan, whom else can we ask? Who else can reply? It is clearly known from the teachings of Bhagavan that the ego is of three kinds.
Ganapati Muni is here alluding to the three bodies, the gross, the subtle and the causal, and in his letter he expounds on their various characteristics. He was particularly interested in the subtle body that is said to contain the intellect, and his main question revolved around the use of the intellect as a means to attain realisation.
‘Is that abidance in the intellect a means for gradually attaining the perfect experience, or is it not? If it is not certainly a means for that, then for what purpose is it? Or is there any arrangement that, according to the particular outlook of the aspirant, it is sometimes a means and sometimes not? My dear child Sundara (T. K. Sundaresa Iyer) may kindly write to me the decision of Bhagavan regarding this matter.
Before proceeding to give Bhagavan’s reply, it should be pointed out that Ganapati Muni’s assumption that Bhagavan taught that there are three kinds of ego is incorrect. This is best illustrated by referring to Maharshi’s Gospel, (Book 2, Chapter 5), where, in answer to a question about the three kinds of egos mentioned in Yoga Vasishta, Bhagavan replied:
The ego is described as having three bodies, the gross, the subtle and the causal, but that is only for the purpose of analytical exposition. If the method of enquiry were to depend on the ego’s form you may take it that any enquiry would become altogether impossible, because the forms the ego may assume are legion. Therefore, for the purposes of self-enquiry, you have to proceed on the basis that the ego has but one form, namely that of the ‘I’-thought.
From this it is clear that Bhagavan regards all classifications such as the three bodies, the five sheaths and the three kinds of ego as being of secondary importance. For earnest aspirants who seek to know the ultimate truth of the ego (i.e. its non-existence) it is sufficient that they enquire into the one basic form of the ego, which is the ‘I’-thought.
Bhagavan’s disinclination to subdivide the mind or ego is also shown in chapter four of Self Enquiry where he gives the following answer:
The mind is nothing other than the ‘I’. The mind and the ego are one and the same. The others, [i.e. the other two antahkaranas or inner organs] the intellect and chittam [the storehouse of tendencies] are only this. Mind [manas], intellect [buddhi], the storehouse of tendencies [chittam] and ego [ahankara]; all these are only the one mind itself. This is like different names [such as son, husband, father, clerk, Hindu, etc.] being given to a man according to his different functions. The individual soul is nothing but this mind or ego…
Whereas the tendency of the scriptures is to classify the non-Self into more and more different categories, the tendency of Sri Bhagavan is always to simplify things and reduce them back to fundamentals.
As Sri Bhagavan has said in Who am I?, it is futile to scrutinise and classify the garbage (i.e. the non-Self), all of which is to be cast aside. Therefore, though the intellect is given many names such as vijnanatma, vijnana (the terms used by Ganapati Muni in his letter), buddhi and so on, according to Sri Bhagavan, all these terms refer only to the one mind.
The reply of Sri Bhagavan
Contrary to his usual practice while replying to devotees, throughout this reply Sri Bhagavan uses many obscure scriptural terms and concepts partly because Ganapati Muni was a pandit well-versed in the scriptures and partly because his doubt was rooted in the concepts he had learned from them. Because of this, Bhagavan’s reply will be easier to understand if it is split up into several sections, with an explanatory note following each section. In order to make this reply intelligible to readers, who do not have a good grounding in Sanksrit terminology, it will occasionally be necessary to give a free, paraphrased rendering of Bhagavan’s words. Bhagavan’s answer is in bold; the author’s comments follow it in roman type.
Though it is a fact that scriptures like Vasishtam say, as you have mentioned, that the ego is of three kinds, you should take the ‘I-thought’ to be truly only one. When the mind which is the ‘I-thought’ rises, it can only do so by catching hold of something. Since this ego rises between the insentient body and the reality it is given such names as chit-jada granthi [the knot between consciousness and the insentient body], jiva [the individual self] and so on.
In this opening paragraph Bhagavan confirms that the ego should be taken to be a single entity and not three or more entities, and that the various names such as chit-jada-granthi and jiva are merely different names for the same thing. However, in the next section Bhagavan abandons this stance and replies to Ganapati Muni in his own terms.
According to traditional Indian philosophy the mind is compounded of three characteristics: sattva (harmony or purity), rajas (activity or restlessness), and tamas (dullness or inertia). Since Ganapati Muni structured his letter around an assumption of the reality of these three gunas, Bhagavan adapts his answer to this assumption.
The ‘I-thought’ which rises in this manner appears in the form of the three gunas, and of these three, the rajas and tamas aspects cling to and identify with the body. The remaining one which is pure sattva is alone the natural characteristic of the mind, and this stands clinging to the reality. However, in this pure sattvic state, the ‘I-thought’ is no longer really a thought, it is the Heart itself.
‘The wise understand the apparent meaning of prajnana [consciousness] to be the mind, and its true meaning to be the Heart. The Supreme is not other than the Heart.’ (Sri Ramana Gita, V. 18)
In this section Bhagavan begins to outline the nature of the mind and to show how it is possible for it to subside into the Heart. In doing so, he indirectly answers Ganapati Muni’s question concerning the role of the mind in sadhana.
Sri Bhagavan is saying that when the mind is active, that is, dominated by rajas and tamas, identification with the body takes place, but when the mind is quiet and still, that is, in its pure sattvic state, it subsides into the Heart until only the Heart remains. Sri Bhagavan has stated in the quotations from Maharshi’s Gospel and Self Enquiry that were given earlier in this article that the mind is nothing other than the ‘I’-thought. When this ‘I-thought identifies itself with objects, the rajasic and tamasic mind arises, but when the ‘I’-thought alone remains, it can be termed the sattvic mind. However, Sri Bhagavan states in this section that the term ‘sattvic mind’ is something of a misnomer, for when only the feeling of ‘I’ remains, the mind has ceased to exist. This is what Sri Bhagavan means in the last line of his own comments and in the quotation from Sri Ramana Gita when he states that the feeling ‘I’ is not really a modification of the mind but the Heart itself.
Sri Bhagavan often stated that the biggest obstacle to Self-realisation is the ‘I am the body’ idea. Since he states here that a mind dominated by rajas and tamas identifies with and clings to the body, a rajasic or a tamasic mind is obviously an unproductive vehicle for sadhana. According to Sri Bhagavan, realisation is only attained by abiding in the sattvic state. However, since the mind has ceased to exist in this state, one cannot say that abidance in this state is abidance in the mind; rather, it is abidance in the state where the mind is absent.
The solution to Ganapati Muni’s question lies in this distinction between the clinging and identifying characteristics of the rajasic and tamasic mind, and the absence of mind in the sattvic state. Ganapati Muni’s question was: ‘Is that abidance in the intellect a means for gradually attaining the perfect experience?’ He uses the word vijnana to describe the intellect, and in his letter he defines this term still further by calling it the thinking faculty (vritti-jnana). Bhagavan is saying in this reply that one should not abide in this thinking faculty; instead one should abide in the sattvic state where thought has ceased and only the ‘I’-feeling remains.
Having answered the question in this somewhat oblique manner, Bhagavan goes on to give a description of the state in which the ‘I’-feeling clings to and identifies with the Self.
When the mind, the distinctive knowledge that rises from the non-distinctive state of ‘I’, clings to and identifies with the Self, it is called true knowledge. It may also be called ‘knowledge which is the movement of the mind in the form of the Self’ or ‘knowledge in an unbroken form’. The state in which this pure sattvic mind shines clinging to the Self is called ‘aham-sphurana’.
In this passage Sri Bhagavan is describing the state where the ‘I’ feeling alone remains and clings to the Self. This state is not the final state of realisation, for in this state there is still the dualistic feeling that there is an ‘I’ that is clinging to the Self. Bhagavan calls this state the ‘aham-sphurana’ and it may be described as the subjective experience of the feeling of ‘I’ that manifests when the mind is quiet and still.
In the next section of the letter Sri Bhagavan gives a detailed description of the sphurana and shows how it is related to the Self.
This sphurana cannot remain independently apart from the reality, but it is the correct sign that indicates the forthcoming direct experience of that reality. The source to which this sphurana clings alone is called the reality or pure consciousness. In Vedanta this is expressed by the saying ‘prajnanam Brahma’, or pure consciousness is the absolute reality. When the pure sattvic mind abides in that sphurana and attends to its source, it is called upasana or meditation; when one is firmly established in the state which is the source of that mind, this is called jnana.
‘During the time of practice the natural state is called upasana [meditation], and when that state becomes firmly and permanently established it is called jnana.’ (Sri Ramana Gita, 1.13)
The term aham-sphurana denotes the new, clear, and fresh knowledge of one’s being that is experienced when the ‘I’-thought attends to and identifies with the Self. The nature of this aham-sphurana was explained by Sri Bhagavan in the answer to question thirty-two in Self Enquiry, and he described it in phrases which are almost identical to those used in the letter:
…The state in which this mind clings to the Self and shines as the form of the Self is called the aham sphurana. This sphurana cannot remain independently, leaving the reality. This sphurana is the correct sign of the forthcoming direct experience of the reality. However, this sphurana cannot itself be the state of reality. That source to which this sphurana clings, alone is called the reality…
Reality will be directly experienced only when this sphurana subsides or comes to an end. This process is described in the answer to question three in Self Enquiry as follows:
…Therefore, leaving the corpse-like body as an actual corpse, and remaining without even uttering the word ‘I’ by mouth, if one now keenly enquires ‘What is it that rises as I?’, then in the heart a certain soundless sphurana, ‘I-I’ [that is, an awareness which is single and undivided, the thoughts which are many and divided having disappeared], alone will shine forth of its own accord. If one remains still without leaving it, even the sphurana [having completely annihilated the sense of the individuality, the form of the ego ‘I am the body’], will itself in the end subside, just like the flame that catches the camphor. This alone is said to be liberation by great ones and scriptures.
In the same way that a piece of camphor, once it has caught fire, will not subside until the last trace of camphor is burnt, so when the aham sphurana is experienced it will not subside until the last trace of the ego is destroyed. That is, when the mind or ‘I’-thought turns 180 degrees away from the non-Self and turns towards the Self, it is caught in the grip of the Self. After this, it cannot turn towards the non-Self again. This is the state of sphurana, which is the correct sign indicating that the reality is about to be experienced directly. But since in this state there is still a feeling of attending to the Self, this sphurana is not actually the Self, the reality; the reality is the source to which this sphurana attends or clings. When even this feeling of attending to the Self subsides, the sphurana itself subsides, and only being remains. This state, in which even the slightest trace of the ego or individuality has been completely annihilated, is called liberation, the direct experience of the reality, or the natural state of the Self (sahajatma sthiti).
In the concluding portion of his letter Sri Bhagavan explains how unbroken awareness is a consequence of the subsidence of the sphurana, and he relates it to the heart-centre which he locates on the right side of the chest.
Concerning this unbroken awareness, in Vivekachudamani, verse 380, it is said: ‘Self, which is self-effulgent and the witness of all, ever shines [as ‘I-I’] in the mind. Taking this Self, which is distinct from what is unreal, as the target [of your attention] experience it as ‘I’ through unbroken awareness.’ The non-existence of the sense of limitation is the fruit of meditation. This is indeed the unbroken experience. This is natural to God and liberated souls. When the mind, having pure sattva as its characteristic remains attending to the aham sphurana, which is the sign of the forthcoming direct experience of the Self, the downward-facing heart becomes upward-facing, blossoms and remains in the form of that [the Self]; [because of this] the aforesaid attention to the source of the aham sphurana alone is the path. When thus attended to, Self, the reality, alone will remain shining in the centre of the Heart as ‘I am I’.
In the middle of this explanation, after the phrase ‘downward-facing heart’, Bhagavan quotes in full verses 18 and 19 from the Supplement to the Forty Verses. Since this quotation makes the sentence extremely long and difficult to follow, the two verses are given below:
Between the two breasts, below the chest and above the stomach, there are six things of many colours. Among these the one thing which resembles a lily-bud and which is within, two digits to the right [of the centre of the chest] is the heart. Its face is inverted [turned downwards]. In the tiny hole within it there exists the dense darkness [of ignorance] together with desire and so on. All the major nerves are connected with it; it is the abode of breath, the mind and the light [of consciousness].
After describing the Heart as being a downward-facing lily-bud that exists two digits to the right from the centre of the chest, Sri Bhagavan says that by attending to the source of the aham-sphurana, this lily-bud will be made to face upwards and blossom. In this context it is worth noting that in Spiritual Instruction (Chapter 2, Question 9) Sri Bhagavan explains that although the Heart is described in this way in these two verses, the true import of the word Heart (hridayam) is only the Self in which there are no differences such as ‘in’ and ‘out’ or ‘up’ and ‘down’. In Maharshi’s Gospel (Book 2, Chapter 4) he states that people ‘cannot help thinking in terms of the physical body’ and ‘it is by coming down to this ordinary level of understanding that a place is assigned to the Heart in the physical body’. Therefore, the description of the Heart as a downward-facing lily-bud that must be made to face upwards and blossom, is only figurative and not literal, and it is given only for those whose minds are much inclined to raja yoga, which abounds with such figurative descriptions.
In Self Enquiry (Chapter 7) Sri Bhagavan says:
The mind alone is the kundalini. It is described otherwise as a serpent only for those having a gross outlook. The six yogic centres and so on are all only mental imaginations and are meant only for beginners in yoga.
The same comments apply equally well to the description of the Heart as a downward-facing lily-bud.
As Sri Bhagavan says in Sri Ramana Gita (V. 2),
That from which all thoughts of embodied beings issue forth is called the Heart. All descriptions of it are only mental conceptions.
As regards the true significance of this figurative description of the Heart, since Sri Bhagavan says that attention to the source (i.e. the Self) is the only way to make the downward-facing Heart turn upwards and blossom, it is reasonable to infer that the downward-facing Heart signifies our power of attention being turned towards the non-Self. The turning upwards of the Heart signifies that same power of attention turning towards the Self. By extension, the blossoming of the Heart signifies the dawn of Self-knowledge that results from such one-pointed Self-attention.