The account of Krishna Bhikshu
When Self Realization was published, it was soon translated into both Tamil (as Sri Ramana Vijayam) and Telugu (Sri Ramana Leela). Krishna Bhikshu, the translator of the Telugu version updated and modified the book in subsequent editions to such an extent that the current version bears very little resemblance to the original English text.
In 1896, Nagaswami [Bhagavan’s older brother] married Janaki Ammal. The in-laws’ place was Madurai itself. At the post-wedding festivities, Venkataraman was the fellow-bridegroom to his brother. [It was his] seventeenth year. [He] was studying for the Matriculation examination. Though [he was] not that studious a person, there was no fear of failing in the examination. [He was] well-built, [having] good health; half of July had passed.
The Telugu term translated here as ‘post-wedding festivities’ is a phrase that describes the celebrations that go on for three days after traditional weddings.
‘Fellow-bridegroom’ is a term that denotes a young boy who is made to sit by the side of the bridegroom throughout the celebrations to give him some company and to prevent him from getting bored during the long hours of the rituals. The term is sometimes inaccurately translated as ‘best man’.
On the upper storey, Venkataraman was lying down. Nobody [else] was in there. Suddenly, it occurred to Venkataraman, ‘I shall be dead’. There was no reason. ‘Am dying!’
Narasimhaswami’s account has Bhagavan ‘sitting alone’ when the fear of death came. In that account Venkataraman ‘dramatised the scene of death’ by lying down and imitating a corpse. Krishna Bhikshu has him lying down when the fear of death first struck him. This means that he didn’t need to dramatise the scene of death by subsequently lying down and pretending he was dead.
‘There was no reason for feeling like that. It did not occur to me what that state was, and whether fear was proper or not. The thought of asking the elders or the doctors did not come. What is dying? How to escape it? This alone was the problem. There were no other thoughts. That very moment, [I] had to resolve it.’
The word translated as ‘reason’ in this and the previous Bhagavan paragraph can also be translated as ‘cause’.
‘Whether fear was proper or not’ is a literal translation. Idiomatically, it may mean ‘whether it was something to be feared or not’.
The word translated as ‘escape’ can also be translated as ‘avoid’.
The word translated as ‘problem’ may also mean ‘issue’.
The absence of the word ‘I’ is quite significant in this description, and in subsequent paragraphs. Narasimhaswami describes the event as one in which Bhagavan took control, performed a series of actions and came to a solution. Krishna Bhikshu records it as something that happened to Bhagavan, rather than as something he did. I think this is a more correct narration of the events, for Bhagavan himself said in Day by Day with Bhagavan, 4th October 1946, ‘The fact is, I did nothing. Some higher power took hold of me and I was entirely in its hand.’
My own feeling is that in this particular description the insertion of the personal pronoun ‘I’ into Bhagavan’s description is misleading.
‘Dying means, the legs become stiff; lips become taut; eyes get closed. Breath stops. So it came into experience due to intensity of the strength of feeling. To me too, the legs became stiff, lips became taut, eyes got closed and breath stopped. But with consciousness not lost, everything was breaking forth clearly. (The activity of the outer sense-organs having gone, the in-turned perception became available.)’
‘Was breaking forth’: the original is actually in the active voice. An acceptable alternative translation would be ‘everything was being cognised clearly’.
Again, it is the ‘intensity of the strength of feeling’ that drove the process, rather than a personal act of volition.
‘Even if this body dies, the I-consciousness will not go. The individuality-consciousness was clear. When the body is burnt and turned to ashes in the cremation ground, I will not become extinct. Because I am not the body.’
The word translated as ‘consciousness’ may also be translated as ‘awareness’ in both instances.
‘Individuality’ is a translation of vyaktitva. It may also be translated as personality, but ‘individuality’ is probably a better term here.
This is an interesting clarification of a phrase (highlighted in bold) that Narasimhaswami used in his own published account.
‘Well then,’ said I to myself, ‘this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body, am “I” dead? Is the body “I”? This body is silent and inert. But I feel the full force of my personality and even the sound “I” within myself – apart from the body.
I had always found this statement incongruous. If the individual ‘I’ had vanished, why is Bhagavan commenting that he still feels the full force of his personality? I remember speaking to Prof. Swaminathan about thirty years ago and asking him what phrase Bhagavan might have used in Tamil to describe this phenomenon. I felt that there must have been some misunderstanding or mistranslation here. Prof. Swaminathan was unable to come up with anything that fit the context of Bhagavan losing his sense of being an individual person.
Krishna Bhikshu has the Sanskrit word vyaktitva and says, rightly in my opinion, that it should be translated as ‘individuality’ rather than personality in this context.
The phrase appears in a paragraph that begins, ‘Even if this body dies, the I-consciousness will not go.’ This indicates that Bhagavan has already understood the true abiding nature of the real ‘I’. When he follows this up by saying, ‘The individuality-consciousness was clear,’ I believe he is saying that he has understood the nature of vyaktitva, individuality: that it is not the true ‘I’. It is not a declaration of experience (‘I feel the full force of my personality’); it is, instead, a statement that indicates he has discovered the true and ephemeral nature of the individual ‘I’.
‘Now the body is inert. Insentient; I, on the other hand, am sentient. Therefore, death is to the inert body, ‘I’ am [the] indestructible conscious entity.
‘When the body gives up its activities, and the activities of the senses are not there, the knowledge that obtains is not senses-born. That ‘flashing forth of I’ [aham-spurana] is aparoksha. [It is] self-effulgent. Not a matter of imagination.’
Aparoksha means ‘not indirect’, i.e., ‘not obtained through the intervention of the senses and the mind’.
Bhagavan elaborated on the aham-sphurana part of the experience when he spoke to a visitor in 1945:
Yesterday a Bengali Swami in ochre robes by name Hrishikesanand came here. This morning from 8-30 to 11-00 Bhagavan continuously discussed spiritual matters with him…
… Bhagavan said, ‘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”.’ (Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 22nd November, 1945)
Devaraja Mudaliar was also present during this retelling of Bhagavan’s Self-realisation experience, but he omitted the aham sphurana reference from his brief record of the dialogue:
Later in the morning, at Rishikesananda’s request, Bhagavan recounted his first experience of the Self in his upstairs room at Madura. ‘When I lay down with limbs outstretched and mentally enacted the death scene and realised that the body would be taken and cremated and yet I would live, some force, call it atmic power or anything else, rose within me and took possession of me. With that, I was reborn and I became a new man. I became indifferent to everything afterwards, having neither likes nor dislikes.’ (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 22nd November 1945)
In ‘“I” and “I-I”, a Reader’s Query’ I came to the conclusion that the following explanation from Vichara Sangraham (Self-Enquiry) is also a description by Bhagavan of what happened to him during his own Self-realisation experience. My arguments in favour of this position can be found in the original article:
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’, will shine forth of its own accord. It is an awareness that is single and undivided, the thoughts which are many and divided having disappeared. 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. (The Mountain Path, 1982, p. 98)
In the ‘“I” and “I-I”, a Reader’s Query’ article I equated the aham sphurana with the emanation of ‘I-I’ that Bhagavan often spoke about. If this is a justified correlation, then several of Bhagavan’s other verses can also be taken to have autobiographical overtones:
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. (Ulladu Narpadu, verse 30)
‘Whence does this ‘I’ arise? Seek this within. This ‘I’ then vanishes. This is the pursuit of wisdom. Where the ‘I’ vanished, there appears an ‘I-I’ by itself. This is the infinite [poornam]. (Upadesa Undiyar, verses 19 and 20).
Therefore on diving deep upon the quest ‘Who am ‘I’ and from whence?’, thoughts disappear and consciousness of Self then flashes forth as the ‘I-I’ within the cavity of every seeker’s Heart. (Atma Vidya Kirtanam, verse 4)
The Sri Ramana Leela account continues:
‘The thing that is there after death is the eternal, real entity.’ In this way, in one moment, new knowledge accrued to Venkataraman.
‘Accrued’: The Telugu text uses a verse in the active voice, but there is no good equivalent in English. ‘Accrued’ is therefore adapted for the purpose, though it is slightly inaccurate. The alternative is to use the passive form ‘is obtained’. But then it agrees neither with the voice of the verb, nor with the preposition ‘to’.
Although these ideas were expressed sequentially, this experience was obtained by Venkataraman spontaneously only.
‘Expressed’: the literal rendering would be ‘spoken’, but ‘expressed’ is taken to be equally permissible.
‘Sequentially’: the dictionary equivalent is ‘by degrees’, but ‘sequentially’ is thought to be equally valid.
This is the end of the Telugu account. The translator noted in an email to me that the style and idiom of the original Telugu was very archaic. This might indicate that the words were not exactly the ones used by Bhagavan. However, my own conclusion is that this is a far more reliable account of the realisation experience than the one that appears in Self Realization since it has been shorn of both Narasimhaswami’s embellishments and his gratuitous insertions of the pronoun ‘I’.