Why is there such a discrepancy between the published accounts of Narasimhaswami and Krishna Bhikshu? Bhagavan himself remarked, while checking the third edition of Sri Ramana Leela, that Krishna Bhikshu had remained in contact with Bhagavan and had revised his version, whereas Narasimhaswami had left Tiruvannamalai soon after the publication of the first edition of Self Realization and had never returned. Around 1930 Narasimhaswami went to Shirdi, where he chronicled the lives of Sai Baba and his devotees. Neither he nor Ramanasramam ever revised the early portions of Self Realization that deal with Bhagavan’s early life and liberation:
Even though he [Krishna Bhikshu] had left, discussions relating to the book [the third and revised edition of Sri Ramana Leela] were continued subsequently in Bhagavan’s presence. Yesterday afternoon a devotee said that between the Telugu and the English versions of the biography there were several discrepancies. Bhagavan remarked, ‘Yes, that is so. Krishna Bhikshu has made several alterations as he has been coming here every now and then and checking up. Narasimhayya [Narasimhaswami], who had written the English version and Suddhananda Bharati, who had written the Tamil version, have not come here since writing them.’ (Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 10th April, 1949)
Krishna Bhikshu’s account in Sri Ramana Leela concludes by saying, ‘Although these ideas were expressed sequentially, this experience was obtained by Venkataraman spontaneously only.’ Though this is not a direct quote from Bhagavan himself, I suspect that Bhagavan must have added this explanation while he was narrating his story. It corroborates the statement Bhagavan himself gave 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.’
Though Krishna Bhikshu’s account seems to me to be more reliable for the events it covers, there is a remarkable omission in his narrative: there is no reference to the spontaneous act of self-enquiry that occurred to Bhagavan while he was lying on the floor. As I mentioned earlier, Narasimhaswami also failed to include this in his published account, even though he recorded the following sentences from Bhagavan in his notes:
That time, instinctively, I held my breath and began to think or dive inward with my enquiry into my own nature…
So the question arose in me, ‘What was this “I? Is it the body? Who called himself the “I”?’
Bhagavan himself stressed the importance of this act of enquiry when he wrote about his enlightenment in the first part of Arunachala Ashtakam, verse two:
When I scrutinised within the mind ‘Who is the seer?’ the seer became non-existent and I saw that which remained. The mind does not [now] rise to say ‘I saw’; how [therefore] can the mind rise to say ‘I did not see’? (Arunachala Ashtakam, verse two, tr. Sadhu Om)
This is a sutra-like summary of the experience in which Bhagavan boiled down the whole enlightenment narrative into its true essence. He asked himself ‘Who is the one who sees objects?’ He focused on that entity, saw it disappear into its source, and from that moment on the individual perceiving ‘I’ never rose or functioned in him again.
This verse was written around 1913, many years before either Narasimhaswami or Krishna Bhikshu wrote their accounts. I find it odd that both of them decided to exclude this crucial part of the story.
The time element
How long did this ‘spontaneous’ process of awakening take? Most chroniclers have reported that it took a few minutes:
In answer to a question once put by D. S. Sarma, Bhagavan definitely said that in his case, there was no special sadhana, at any rate in this life, leading to Self-realisation, but that in his 17th year, while he was still a student at Madurai, enlightenment, jnana, came to him, suddenly, in the course of a few minutes, not as a result of laboured ratiocination but as a sudden flash of intuition, and that that jnana has remained with him ever since. (My Recollections, p. 135, by Devaraja Mudaliar)
Bhagavan, though, regarded it as an event that took place out of time. The following interesting exchange was recorded by Balaram Reddy in My Reminiscences, p. 75:
‘They say I gained realisation in twenty-eight minutes, or half an hour. How can they say that? It took just a moment. But why even a moment? Where is the question of time at all?’
I then asked Bhagavan if there was ever any change in his realisation after his experience in Madurai. He said ‘No. If there is a change, it is not realisation.’
I should like now to turn to another interesting aspect of Bhagavan’s Self-realisation experience: its permanence. Many people have a direct experience of the Self, but it is highly unusual for permanent liberation to be attained in a single moment, without any desire for it, or prior spiritual practice. When Bhagavan came to Arunachala in 1896, he spent several years sitting in samadhi, oblivious to the world and his body. This led many people to believe that the Madurai experience was not definitive, and that the years of silent tapas were subsequent stages of his spiritual development. A discussion on this topic was recorded by G. V. Subbaramayya:
One day during this visit Sri Bhagavan was questioned as to what changes he underwent after coming to Arunachala.
Sri Bhagavan replied, ‘I am ever the same. There [was] neither sankalpa [intention to accomplish something] nor change in me. Till I reached the Mango Grove I remained indifferent, with my eyes shut. Afterwards I opened my eyes and I am now functioning in an active way. Otherwise there is no change whatsoever in me.’
‘But Bhagavan,’ someone said, ‘we do note so many outward changes in you.’
‘Yes,’ replied Bhagavan, ‘that is because you see me as this body. So long as you identify yourself with your body, you cannot but see me as an embodied being. So long as the doubter is there, the doubt persists.’
This declaration that nothing had changed in him since his arrival at Arunachala was not a new one for Sri Bhagavan. This is what I had heard him say on one of my earlier visits:
‘Even in the beginning I realised that I am not the body. After I came to Arunachala all sorts of questions were raised by visitors: whether I am one with the all-pervading reality or different, whether that reality is non-dualism, dualism or qualified non-dualism, etc. Even the idea “I am Brahman” is only a thought and is not atmanishta [Self-abidance]. That one should give up all thought and abide as the Self is the conclusion of all religions. Even nirvikalpa samadhi is only a stage in sadhana. It implies going into samadhi and rising from samadhi. For me there was no necessity at all to do any sadhana.’ (The Power of the Presence, part three, pp. 128-9)
G. V. Subbaramayya recorded another important response from Bhagavan on this topic:
My former [teacher], Sri D. S. Sarma, came to the ashram in 1946, and he too asked Sri Bhagavan about the different stages he had gone through since his arrival at Arunachala.
Question: In the lives of western mystics we find descriptions of what is called the mystic way with three well-marked stages: purgation, illumination and union. The purgatory stage corresponds to what we call the sadhana period. Was there any such period in the life of Sri Bhagavan?
Bhagavan: I know no such period. I never performed any pranayama or japa. I know no mantras. I had no rules of meditation or contemplation. Even when I came to hear of such things later, they never attracted me. Even now, my mind refuses to pay attention to them. Sadhana implies an object to be gained and the means of gaining it. What is there to be gained which we do not already possess? In meditation, concentration and contemplation, all we have to do is be still and not think of anything. Then we shall be in our natural state. This natural state is given many names – moksha, jnana, Atman, etc. – and these give rise to many controversies. There was a time when I used to remain with my eyes closed. That does not mean that I was practising any sadhana then. Even now I sometimes remain with my eyes closed. If people choose to say that I am doing some sadhana at the moment, let them say so. It makes no difference to me. People seem to think that by practising some elaborate sadhana the Self will one day descend upon them as something very big and with tremendous glory, giving them what is called sakshatkaram [direct experience]. The Self is sakshat [direct] all right, but there is no karam [experience] or kritam [experiencer] about it. The word karam implies doing something. But the Self is realised not by doing something but by refraining from doing anything, by remaining still and being simply what one really is.
On a different occasion Sri Bhagavan spoke to me and explained how his spontaneous Self-realisation had by-passed all the usual stages that seekers are enjoined to pass through.
‘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.’
Sri Bhagavan laughed and added, ‘So now when thoughts of these things come to me, I don’t know what to do with them’. (The Power of the Presence, part three, pp. 130-32)
Sravana is hearing the words of truth from a competent teacher; manana is studying them and reflecting on them in order to convince oneself that they are true; nididhyasana is the spiritual practice that attempts to convert the conviction that the teacher’s words are true into direct experience.
This important dialogue between Bhagavan and D. S. Sarma is referred to and expanded on by Devaraja Mudaliar in Day by Day with Bhagavan, 4th October 1946 and 11th October 1946.
Bhagavan’s early spiritual experiences
The impression conveyed by most biographies of Bhagavan is that realisation came to him on one day, in a few minutes, without any prior effort, interest or practice. While it is true that the young Venkataraman made no effort to engage in formal meditation, there is evidence from several sources that Bhagavan entered states of deep absorption several years before his final experience in Madurai in 1896.
In Sri Ramana Vijayam, the Tamil biography of Ramana Maharshi, its author, Suddhananada Bharati, asked him, ‘Were you not in the habit of lying down at night, with your legs stretched out? How would meditation take place then?’ (Sri Ramana Vijayam, p. 68, 1991 edition) The question referred to a time a few years before the Self-realisation experience in Madurai. Bhagavan replied:
Some incomplete practice from a past birth was clinging to me. I would be putting attention solely within, forgetting the body. Sometimes I would be sitting in one place, but when I regained normal consciousness and got up, I would notice that I was lying down in a different narrow space [to the one where I had first sat down].
The phrase ‘incomplete practice from a past birth clinging to me’ includes the Tamil term vittakurai which the Tamil Lexicon defines as ‘Karma resulting from acts performed in a previous birth, and which are considered to be the cause of progress in the current birth’. The implication is that some spiritual practice performed in a previous life carried forward and drew the young Venkararaman into states of absorption in which he was unaware of either his body or his surroundings.
Bhagavan sometimes spoke about occasions when, as a young boy, he was so deeply asleep, not even violence to his body could wake him up. At least one of them happened around the time of the experience that Suddhananda Bharati recorded:
In the afternoon, Bhagavan saw a relative of his, a young man called Sesha Aiyar, in the hall. He said: ‘Seeing you reminds me of something that happened in Dindigul when I was a boy. Your uncle Periappa Seshaiyar was living there then. There was some function in the house and all went to it and then in the night went to the temple. I was left alone in the house. I was sitting reading in the front room, but after a while I locked the front door and fastened the windows and went to sleep. When they returned from the temple no amount of shouting or banging at the door or window could wake me. At last they managed to open the door with a key from the opposite house and then they tried to wake me up by beating me. All the boys beat me to their heart’s content, and your uncle did too, but without effect. I knew nothing about it till they told me next morning.
I asked, ‘How old was Bhagavan then?’
Bhagavan said, ‘About eleven.’ Then he continued: ‘The same sort of thing happened to me in Madurai too. The boys didn’t dare touch me when I was awake, but if they had any grudge against me they would come when I was asleep and carry me wherever they liked and beat me as much as they liked and then put me back to bed, and I would know nothing about it until they told me in the morning.’
I [Devaraja Mudaliar] said: ‘It would seem that even in those days Bhagavan’s sleep was not ordinary sleep but some state like samadhi.’
Bhagavan: I don’t know what state it was, but that is the fact. Some who have written about my life have called it somnambulism.
I: [Devaraja Mudaliar] It was certainly not somnambulism; that is walking in one’s sleep. This was more like samadhi or absorption in the Self. (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 31st May, 1946)
Though, on this occasion, Bhagavan refused to commit himself to Devaraja Mudaliar’s suggestion that these deep sleep experiences were actually a kind of samadhi in which he was absorbed in the Self and unable to respond to external stimuli, he may have been more forthcoming on other occasions. Sadhu Om wrote the following paragraph in The Path of Sri Ramana Part One, page. 8, 2005 edition:
An incident which gave a hint of this Self-absorption even at the age of twelve took place in Dindigul when Venkataraman was studying there, but those who were around Him at that time did not recognise its importance and preciousness. One day, while His relatives had gone out, Venkataraman lay on His bed after locking the house from inside. On their return, even though they knocked at the door and called Him loudly, the door was not opened. After finding another way to enter the house, they again tried to wake Him from His sound sleep by shaking, rolling and beating His body heavily. But all in vain. Venkataraman would not wake up! After some time, however, He woke up of His own accord. The people assembled there wondered at this exclaiming: ‘A sleep of Kumbhakarnan [Ravana’s brother who slept soundly for six months at a time]!’ But this state was neither a dull sleep nor a swoon; it was in fact the state of samadhi! Once, years after, Sri Bhagavan remarked about this state: ‘The result of what was done and left had now resumed again, on account of which the attention was always in the source [the Self].’
This account appears to combine the events described in Day by Day with Bhagavan with the brief exchange that was recorded in Sri Ramana Vijayam. The vittakurai term appears in both accounts. I wrote to Michael James, who edited both the English and Tamil editions of The Path of Sri Ramana, and asked him if there was a written source, independent of the account that Suddhananda Bharati recorded, that supported Sadhu Om’s contention that Bhagavan went into a state of samadhi prior to his final experience in Madurai. In his reply he said that the story was known by some of the Tamil-knowing devotees, but that it hadn’t been published by any of them. If this is so, I find it odd that such a crucial episode in Bhagavan’s early life has been so poorly reported. The epic eight-volume biography Arunachala’s Ramana, for example, fails to include any mention of Bhagavan entering into a samadhi state in Dindigul.
There is one other story, which has also been poorly reported, that dates from the same period of Bhagavan’s life. It appears to be an early attempt by Bhagavan to analyse the nature of the ‘I’ in order to see how it related to the body:
On the day his father died  he [Venkataraman] felt puzzled by death and pondered over it, whilst his mother and brothers wept. He thought for hours, and after the corpse was cremated, he got by analysis to the point of perceiving that it was the ‘I’ which makes the body to see, to run, to walk and to eat. ‘I now know this ‘I’ but my father’s ‘I’ has left the body.
This account was recorded in a typed manuscript that Paul Brunton compiled at Ramanasramam in the 1930s. Brunton’s son sent it to me over thirty years ago, and parts of it were published as Conscious Immortality. A. R. Natarajan, who edited the first edition of Conscious Immortality, included the story in his biography Timeless in Time (p. 22, 1999 edition). In the manuscript Brunton mistakenly states that Bhagavan attained jnana on the day of his father’s funeral as a result of this analysis. Though this concluding part of the story is incorrect, the incident appears to be the first recorded instance of Bhagavan pondering the nature of the ‘I’.
The vittakurai – spiritual practices brought forward from an earlier life – did appear to be the cause of at least some of the intense sleep-like experiences that Bhagavan experienced when he was around eleven or twelve years old. Though these states were not a result of any practices that Bhagavan consciously performed, Bhagavan did once admit that tendencies from a past life did ultimately lead him towards self-enquiry.
I was indeed fortunate that I never took to it [philosophy]. Had I taken to it, I would probably be nowhere – always in confusion. My purva vasanas directly took me to the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ It was indeed fortunate. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 392)
Purva vasanas are those predispositions that have been brought forward from a previous life. What this paragraph is indicating is that there was an incomplete practice of self-enquiry in a previous life that manifested again in Venkataraman, though it did not appear fully until the day of his realisation.
This almost casual remark by Bhagavan – ‘My purva vasanas directly took me to the enquiry “Who am I?”’ – is of the very few instances where Bhagavan hinted at what he might have been in a previous life. Several of Bhagavan’s devotees, most notably Ganapati Muni, promoted the idea that Bhagavan was an avatar of Subramanian. Bhagavan’s own admission that he was unenlightened in his previous life, and that the practice of self-enquiry had to be completed in his final birth, indicates that it is more likely that he was simply an advanced jiva who needed to reincarnate to complete his sadhana.
The role of Arunachala in Bhagavan’s Self-realisation
The compulsion to do self-enquiry was not the only purva vasana that manifested in Bhagavan’s final incarnation. His writings and his spoken comments indicate that an attraction to Arunachala was something else that was carried forward from an earlier life.
In the first verse of Arunachala Ashtakam Bhagavan wrote:
From my unthinking [arivu aru] childhood the immensity of Arunachala had shone in my awareness.
When he was a small child Bhagavan had had an instinctive awareness of the greatness of Arunachala, and an attraction towards it, even before he had begun to think about it in a rational or intellectual way. I think it is reasonable to infer from this that some past-life connection with the mountain made itself felt in the young Venkataraman. Bhagavan remarked in later years, after his realisation, that when he did think about Arunachala in his childhood, he equated it with the divine, somehow imagining it to be some heavenly realm, rather than a physical location that one could visit. He was therefore more than a little surprised when, in his early teens, a relative who had been to Arunachala and returned informed him that it was a mountain which could be visited. The next line of the Ashtakam verse I just quoted alludes to this discovery:
But even when I learnt from someone that it was only Tiruvannamalai, I did not realise its meaning.
That is to say, the discovery that it had a physical form and an accessible location did not give him a direct knowledge and experience of Arunachala’s true nature. That came later, on the day of his realisation.
The concluding portion of this Arunachala Ashtakam verse says:
When it [Arunachala] stilled my mind and drew me to itself and I came near, I saw that it was absolute stillness.
At first sight this looks like it is merely a description of Bhagavan’s physical journey to Arunachala. However, it can also be taken to be an account of how the power of Arunachala pulled his mind into the source and dissolved it in the silence of the Self. The word used here for ‘stillness’ is ‘achala’, a word that can be translated as either ‘stillness’ or ‘mountain’. The verse plays on this double meaning by ostensibly describing a pilgrimage to Arunachala, while at the same time making it clear that it was the power of Arunachala that had claimed Venkarataraman’s mind and destroyed it in the silence of the Self.
Since Bhagavan made it clear on many occasions that his liberation was definitive and irrevocable before he left Madurai for Arunachala, the power of Arunachala clearly did its work internally in him. He did not need the physical presence or proximity of the mountain.
Bhagavan would occasionally quote a centuries-old Tamil saying which confidently asserted that Arunachala did have this power to enlighten people who knew about it and thought about it, but who had not physically come into its presence:
By seeing Chidambaram, by being born in Tiruvarur, by dying in Kasi, or by merely thinking of Arunachala, one will surely attain liberation.
The origin of this saying is not known, but the following expansion of the final idea comes from Arunachala Mahatmyam:
The supreme knowledge, the import of Vedanta, which cannot be attained without great difficulty, can easily be attained by anyone who sees the form of this hill from wherever it is visible or who even thinks of it mentally from afar.
Bhagavan showed his approval of this sentiment by translating the original Sanskrit into Tamil and including it in a sequence of seven verses from the Arunachala Mahatmyam that appear in his Collected Works.
At the beginning of the Tamil Collected Works, under a picture of Arunachala, there is another line from Bhagavan that reads:
This is Arunachala-Siva, the ocean of grace that bestows liberation when thought of.
Bhagavan was clearly speaking with the authority of his own experience when he made claims of this sort. Nor are these isolated examples of this rather radical claim. In the very first line of Aksharamanamalai it is stated:
O Arunachala, you root out the ego of those who think of you in the heart as ‘Arunachala’.
And in the last line of the second verse of Sri Arunachala Navamanimalai he wrote:
Arunachala, the mere thought of which bestows liberation.
These quotations from Bhagavan’s written works are simply factual declarations that Arunachala has the power to bestow liberation when it is thought of. There are other verses, though, in which Bhagavan clearly states that Arunachala bestowed its grace on him after he had thought of it. In Aksharamanamalai, verse 102, he states:
O Arunachala, the moment I thought of Arunai I was caught in the trap of your grace. Can the net of your grace ever fail?
Arunai is one of the old names for Arunachala. It also denotes the town of Tiruvannamalai at the base of the mountain. In verse ten of Sri Arunachala Patikam Bhagavan gave more details of how, in his own case, thinking about Arunachala produced a flow of grace from the mountain that was sufficient to devour his mind.
I have discovered something new! This soul-attracting mountain-magnet stills the movements of anyone who thinks of it but once and turns his face towards it. It pulls him in, makes him motionless like itself, and then feeds upon his soul that has been ripened in this way.
And in the verse that follows Bhagavan confirms that it was his thoughts about Arunachala, and his conviction that it was the Supreme Being, that instigated the process that culminated in his own liberation:
How many are there who, like me, have been destroyed for regarding this hill as the Supreme Being? You people who, disgusted with this life of endless misery, seek some means of giving up the body, there is on this earth a rare medicine that kills without killing anyone who thinks of it just once. Know that this medicine is the mighty Aruna Mountain, this and nothing else.
Rangan, one of Bhagavan’s childhood friends, has recorded a statement by Bhagavan, probably made in the Skandashram era, that confirms and adds to the lines of these verses:
I [Rangan] asked, ‘You attained enlightenment while you were still in Madurai, didn’t you?’
He [Bhagavan] replied, ‘When I was studying, the thought of Arunachala came into my mind unexpectedly. I felt that my whole body was burning. From that moment on, I was in samadhi. (The Power of the Presence, part one, p. 30)
In designating Arunachala as the power that ultimately bestowed liberation on him, Bhagavan is saying, indirectly, that Arunachala was his Guru. However, though Bhagavan was happy enough to write that the power of Arunachala brought about his realisation, he seemed unwilling to state directly that Arunachala was his Guru. He got quite close in verse nineteen of Aksharamanamalai where he wrote, ‘O Arunachala, you who stand in the form of the Guru… ,’ but he does not explicitly say there that Arunachala was his Guru. It is a more generic statement that Arunachala is capable of performing the function of the Guru.
When, in the mid-1930s, he was asked in the Perumal Swami court case who his Guru was, he simply replied:
For me Atma itself is the Guru. My Atma is Guru for my Atma. (‘Bhagavan the Atiasrami,’ The Mountain Path, 1991, pp. 112-21)
Bhagavan was given another opportunity to state that Arunachala was his Guru when he was questioned by Dilip Kumar Roy in the mid-1940s:
Dilip Kumar Roy read out a poem in English composed by him on Bhagavan and sang some songs before Bhagavan. Later he asked Bhagavan, ‘While all say Guru’s direction is necessary it seems Bhagavan has said a Guru is not necessary.’
Bhagavan: I have not said so. But a Guru need not always be in human form…
Roy: But in Bhagavan’s case there was no Guru.
Bhagavan: The whole world was my Guru. It has been already said that Guru need not be in human form and that the Self within, God and Guru are the same. (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 30th October, 1945)
Bhagavan’s refusal to state directly that Arunachala was his Guru is one of his interesting, and perhaps inexplicable, quirks. Though he certainly regarded Arunachala as his Guru, he seemed unwilling to make a direct statement about it.
Two complementary forces brought about Bhagavan’s Self-realisation. There was the initial fear of death which prompted a spontaneous act of enquiry that drove his ‘I’ back into the Self. However, that was not enough for the process to be completed. The ‘I’ still needed to be destroyed at its source, and for that to happen, the intervention of a Guru was required. Bhagavan said on a number of occasions that the grace or power of the Guru is always needed to complete this process, although the Guru need not necessarily be one who has a human form. S. S. Cohen also recorded the dialogue between Dilip Kumar Roy and Bhagavan on the necessity of the Guru. This is his version:
Dilip Kumar Roy: Some people reported you to have said that there was no need for a guru. Others gave the opposite report. What does Maharshi say?
Bhagavan: I have never said that there is no need for a guru.
Dilip Kumar Roy: Sri Aurobindo and others refer to you as having had no guru.
Bhagavan: All depends on what you call guru. He need not be in a human form. Dattatreya had twenty-four gurus: the five elements – earth, water, etc., which means that every object in this world was his guru. Guru is absolutely necessary. The Upanishads say that none but a guru can take a man out of the jungle of intellect and sense-perceptions. So there must be a guru.
Dilip Kumar Roy: I mean a human guru – the Maharshi did not have one.
Bhagavan: I might have had one at one time or other. But did I not sing hymns to Arunachala? (Guru Ramana, 30th October 1945, p. 67)
Several important points are covered in this brief exchange. Bhagavan initially insisted that a Guru is needed for liberation in all cases, without exception, but then he qualified this by saying that the Guru need not have a human form. He also hinted in the final line that in his own case Arunachala served as his own Guru.
The ‘might have had one at one time or other’ in the final reply is an intriguing response to Dilip Kumar Roy’s statement that Bhagavan did not have a human Guru. Since there was no human Guru in his final incarnation, Bhagavan seems to be hinting that he had had one in a previous life.
Bhagavan’s claim that ‘thinking of Arunachala once’ is sufficient to attain liberation, though true in his own case, does not seem to be a recipe that has worked for anyone else that I know of. The statement needs, regrettably, to be qualified by saying that it requires a remarkable level of spiritual maturity for this to occur.
In Sri Ramana Darsanam, page 118, there is an editorial note that looks at the question of spiritual maturity from a Saiva perspective:
In the Saiva Siddhanta tradition there are three impurities – anava (ego), karma and maya (illusion) – that prevent devotees from attaining the ultimate goal, oneness with the consciousness of Siva. Those who have all three impurities (malas) need a human Guru to realise Sadasivam, consciousness of Siva. Those devotees who are only afflicted by anava and karma can reach Sadasivam by having Siva appear before them in a physical form. Many of the devotees from the Periyapuranam would come into this category. Those in the third category, whose only mala is anava, can get enlightenment through the power of the Self [acting as the Guru] within, without needing either a human Guru or the darshan of an external God. Bhagavan would be a good example of someone who became enlightened through the power of the Self alone. Since devotees who fall into the second and third category are quite rare, the necessity of a human Guru is stressed.
Muruganar, who had a strong background in Saiva philosophy, clearly felt that this three-fold classification explained how Bhagavan was able to realise the Self so quickly and easily. The following remarks, taken from his Tamil essay ‘Sri Ramana’, appeared in appendix six of volume nine of Sri Ramana Jnana Bodham:
The fact that the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ spontaneously arose in his [Bhagavan’s] heart as a result of practice in past [lives], and the fact that he attained the ultimate state of perfection very easily merely by that enquiry – from these [facts] the discerning ones can realise that only a trace of anava remained as a cause for his final birth…
As a result of tapas performed in the past, only a little of the anava impurity was left over, and this was as thin as the wing of a fly…
In Bhagavan’s case his ego ‘I’ (anava) was so attenuated, so pure, a human Guru was not required to destroy it. The power of Arunachala, which had been resonating within him as a child, caused him at the age of sixteen to turn inwards and face the Self through a spontaneous act of enquiry. That single act, prompted by the grace of Arunachala that had been throbbing away within him, caused the ‘I’ to return to its source, where it was promptly and definitively destroyed by Arunachala, his Guru.
The immediate aftermath of the Self-realisation experience
There is one other aspect of Bhagavan’s Madurai experience that some devotees have found puzzling: his visits to the Madurai Temple where he would weep and occasionally ask Iswara for the same grace that the sixty-three Saiva saints had received.
The connection with these saints had been established several months before, probably at the end of 1895. Krishna Bhikshu has reported how Bhagavan’s religious fervour was first kindled several months before the July 1896 realisation experience:
The first religious text that Venkataraman read was Periyapuranam. It was as if he [had] entered a new world altogether. The more he read, the greater was his thirst… The subjects of the book were all contented devotees of Siva. Devotion, love, peace and bliss flooded all over [him] as knowledge of Siva himself.
As he was progressing [with his reading] Venkataraman’s devotion and reverence for the devotees was increasing – he grieved at their travails and rejoiced in their triumphs. Venkataraman felt that Siva was glancing at him, just as he beheld the devotees. [However,] on completion of the book, his emotional upsurge vanished. (Sri Ramana Leela, 2004 ed. p. 15)
Bhagavan himself talked about his discovery of the Periyapuranam in a reply that is recorded in Day by Day with Bhagavan:
Someone asked Bhagavan whether he deliberately went in for a study of Periya Puranam. Thereupon Bhagavan said, ‘No. No. It was a mere accident. A relation of mine, my uncle, was given the book by a swami who was living near our house and was advised to read it. Thus the book happened to be in our house and, coming across it, I looked into it first out of curiosity and then, becoming interested, read the whole book. It made a great impression on me. Before that, the sixty-three images of the Nayanars in the temple were mere images and no more. But afterwards, they gained new significance for me. I used to go and weep before those images and before Nataraja that God should give me the same grace He gave to those saints. But this was after the “death” experience. Before that, the bhakti for the sixty-three saints lay dormant, as it were.’
Mr. Somasundaram Pillai asked Bhagavan, ‘With what bhava [attitude] did Bhagavan cry before those images? Did Bhagavan pray he should have no further birth, or what?’ Bhagavan replied, ‘What bhava? I only wanted the same grace as was shown to those saints. I prayed I should have the same bhakti that they had. I knew nothing of freedom from births or bondage.’ (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 6th October, 1946)
The idea that a realised being would pray and ask God for the same grace that he had showered on saints of ancient times might seem a little odd. The best explanation of this comes from Narasimhaswami’s notes in which Bhagavan explained that the avesam – the current of the Self – took him over, made him focus on the Self, and occasionally took him to the temple where he would weep and ask for grace. There was no ‘person’ left to initiate these actions, or do them for a particular reason:
It was not fear of death that took me to the Madurai Temple during those six weeks in 1896. The fear seized me for a short while when I was upstairs in my uncle’s house, and it gave rise to that avesam or current. That obsession made me introspective and made me look perpetually into my own nature, and took me also to temples, made me sob and weep without pain or joy or other explanation, and also it made me wish that I should become like the sixty-three saints and that I should obtain the blessings or grace of Iswara – general blessings, specifying and expecting nothing in particular. I had no thought or fear of death then, and I did not pray for release from death. I had no idea before those six weeks or during those six weeks that life on earth was full of pain, and I had no longing or prayer to be released from samsara, or human life or lives. All that idea and talk of samsara and bandha [bondage] I learnt only after coming to this place and reading books. I never entertained either the idea that life was full of woe or that life was undesirable.
Question: How is it that there was a perception of difference and prayer that ‘I should become like the sixty-three saints and get Iswara’s grace?’
Bhagavan: The akhandakara [unbroken] current was sporting with these and still remained despite that desire. (The Mountain Path, 1981, pp. 67-69)
I really do like this final answer. Narasimhaswami noted in Self Realization that Bhagavan’s replies were often terse, elliptical, and lacking personal pronouns. This is a classic example. What Bhagavan appears to be saying here is that the avesam, the unbroken current (akhandakara) that had taken him over, was playing with his old desires for devotional fervour and making him weep and pray. All the while, though, it remained unmoved as his own Self.