6 The Author
He who [recorded and] strung into a garland a few of the Guru’s instructions and announced this pre-eminent scripture to the world is Kanna Murugan, who sees through his eye of grace that the essence of all things is only the flourishing feet of his Lord.
The first draft of this verse was composed by an anonymous admirer of Muruganar. It read:
Holding in his heart as the supreme truth the feet of illustrious Ramana, God manifesting in the form of the Guru, [Muruganar revealed] the ambrosial truth of all things. Declare that his name is Mugavai Kanna Murugan of the Bharadwaja lineage.
When Bhagavan read the proof copy of this work prior to its first printing in 1939, he crossed out virtually all of the original and then composed a new version. A comparison of the two verses will show that Bhagavan’s revision praises Muruganar far more effusively than the original.
Investigation into Truth
Through the righteous and exalted tapas performed by Goddess Earth, whom the oceans encircle, the abundantly glorious pure Brahman itself has assumed the graceful form of Sri Ramana Sadguru. May his immaculate feet, being-consciousness, abide in our hearts.
In English we might say, ‘The world paid no attention,’ when we mean ‘The people of the world paid no attention’. This is known as metonymy. Here, in a somewhat similar literary form, ‘Goddess Earth, whom the oceans encircle’, denotes the people of the world, rather than the tutelary Goddess of Earth, Nilamakal.
The Sadguru is the Guru who is established in sat — true being — and who has the power to convey his own experience of the Self to others. Tapas is an intense spiritual practice, often accompanied by some sort of bodily mortification, that frequently has as its goal the granting of some kind of boon or blessing by a deity. The verse is saying that for those who perform ‘righteous and exalted tapas’ Brahman takes the form of a human Guru. Brahman is not a specific deity; it is the Hindu term for the impersonal absolute reality.
In the following dialogue Bhagavan explained how the process outlined in this verse actually works. The ‘sadhus’ referred to in the question are not just renunciate Hindu monks; they are enlightened beings.
Question: When does one get the company of sadhus?
Bhagavan: The opportunity to be in the company of a Sadguru comes effortlessly to those who have performed worship of God, japa [repetition of God’s name], tapas, pilgrimages, etc. for long periods in their previous births. There is a verse by Thayumanavar [a Tamil poet-saint who lived several centuries ago] which points out the same thing:
‘For those who, in the prescribed manner, have embarked upon the [pilgrim] path of divine images, holy sites and holy tanks, a Sadguru, too, will come to speak one unique word, O Supreme of Supremes!’
Only he who has done plenty of nishkamya punyas [meritorious actions performed without any thought of a reward or consequence] in previous births will get abundant faith in the Guru. Having faith in the Guru’s words, such a man will follow the path and reach the goal of liberation. (Living by the Words of Bhagavan, p. 220)
The pure swarupa, the unique word that abides as the heart of all things, is the excellent, grace-bestowing invocation to this Guru Vachaka Kovai, whose purport is the jnana that dispels the delusion of the ignorant.
The unique word that abides as the heart of all things is ‘I’. The phrase ‘the unique word that abides as the heart of all things’ is possibly a reference to the first line of one of Bhagavan’s stray verses: ‘One syllable shines forever in the Heart as the Self’. (The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, p. 137, stray verse 1)
Atma-swarupa, the primal essence that is wholly consciousness, is experienced directly through the state that is entirely mauna. It flourishes and shines as the real nature of the reflected consciousness [chidabhasa] whose form is the false ‘I’, the ego. This pure transcendental swarupa, the fundamental substratum, is the ultimate reality.
Chit, pure consciousness, is distinguished from chidabhasa, the reflected consciousness. Through ignorance the ‘I’ projects a world onto the screen of pure consciousness and then perceives it as a separate and external entity. This illusory reflection is the chidabhasa. The term is usually taken to indicate the unreal appearance of the world that is projected and witnessed by the individual self. Since this projection is the mind itself, not just something that is witnessed by the mind, chidabhasa (as in the verse above) is sometimes equated with the mind or the ego.
Our Guru’s form is the reality that sleeps without sleeping in the Heart. He is the self-luminous effulgence that shines in the Heart like a beautiful lamp that needs no kindling. To those who have experienced merging in the Heart he is a luscious fruit full of the sweet clarity of the supreme bliss that, without a trace of aversion, causes an ever-increasing desire [for itself]. His grace indeed is the true wealth.
Heart, when capitalised, is usually a translation of the Sanskrit hridayam or the Tamil ullam. It is another synonym for the Self, and when it is used it often denotes the source from which all manifestation emerges and into which it disappears.
Bhagavan: The Heart is not physical; it is spiritual. Hridayam equals hrit plus ayam and means ‘this is the centre’. It is that from which thoughts arise, on which they subsist, and where they are resolved. The thoughts are the content of the mind and they shape the universe. The Heart is the centre of all. ‘Yatova imani bhutani jayante…’ [that from which these beings come into existence…] is said to be Brahman in the Upanishads. That is the Heart. Brahman is the Heart. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 97)
He possesses a heart in which attachment and separation are not possible. He is the swarupa who has the beauty of renunciation that is jnana. Putting an end to the sorrow caused by forgetfulness of the Self, he ruled over me and brought me under his dominion. His feet are the perfect exemplar of all the distinguishing characteristics of truth.
Bhagavan: Renunciation and realisation are the same. They are different aspects of the same state. Giving up the non-Self is renunciation. Inhering in the Self is jnana or Self-realisation. One is the negative and the other the positive aspect of the same, single truth. (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 2nd January, 1946, afternoon)
1 The Reality of the World
The teaching portion of Guru Vachaka Kovai begins here with a long section of verses that lays out Bhagavan’s views on the nature and reality of the world.
The question ‘Is the world real?’ is a recurring one in Indian philosophy, and Bhagavan was asked for his views on this topic on many occasions. To understand the context and background of his replies it will be helpful to have a proper understanding of what he meant by the words ‘real’ and ‘world’.
In everyday English the word ‘real’ generally denotes something that can be perceived by the senses. As such, it is a misleading translation of the Sanskrit word ‘sat’, which is often rendered in English as ‘being’ or ‘reality’. Bhagavan, along with many other Indian spiritual teachers, had a completely different definition of reality:
Bhagavan: What is the standard of reality? That alone is real which exists by itself, which reveals itself by itself and which is eternal and unchanging. (Maharshi’s Gospel, p. 61.)
In Indian philosophy reality is not determined by perceptibility but by permanence, unchangeability and self-luminosity. This important definition is elaborated on in the dialogue from which the above quotation has been taken. It appears in full as a note to verse 64.
As for the word ‘world’, Muruganar points out in his comments to verses 63 and 64 that the Sanskrit word for world, ‘loka’, literally means ‘that which is seen’. The Tamil word for the world, ulagu, is derived from loka and has the same meaning. If one combines this definition of the word ‘world’ with the standard of reality set by Bhagavan, the question, ‘Is the world real?’ becomes an enquiry about the abiding reality of what is perceived: ‘Do things that are perceived have permanence, unchangeability and self-luminosity?’ The answer to that question is clearly ‘no’. The names and forms perceived by a seer do not meet the standard of reality defined by Bhagavan, and as such they are dismissed as ‘unreal’.
According to Bhagavan these names and forms appear in Brahman, the underlying substratum. Brahman does meet the stringent test for reality outlined above since it, and it alone, is permanent, unchanging and self-luminous. If one accepts these definitions, it follows that Brahman is real, whereas the world (the collection of perceived names and forms) is unreal. This formulation, ‘Brahman is real; the world is unreal’ is a standard and recurring statement in vedantic philosophy.
Vedanta is the philosophy that is derived from the Upanishads, the final portions of the Vedas, and the subdivision of it that tallies with Bhagavan’s teachings is known as ‘advaita’, which translates as ‘not two’. ‘Not two’ means, among other things, that there are not two separate entities, Brahman and the world; all is one indivisible whole. This point is important to remember since it is at the crux of the apparently paradoxical statements that Bhagavan made on the nature and reality of the world and its substratum. Since there is nothing that is separate from Brahman, it follows that the names and forms that appear and manifest within it partake of its reality. This means that when the world is known and directly experienced to be a mere appearance in the underlying Brahman, it can be accepted as real, since it is no longer perceived as a separate entity. If one knows oneself to be Brahman, one knows that the world is real because it is indistinguishable from one’s own Self. However, if one merely perceives external names and forms, without experiencing that substratum, those forms have to be dismissed as unreal since they do not meet the strict definition of reality.
Bhagavan summarised this position in the following reply:
Shankara [a ninth century sage and philosopher who was the principal populariser of Advaita Vedanta] was criticised for his views on maya without understanding him. He said that (1) Brahman is real, (2) The universe is unreal, and (3) Brahman is the universe. He did not stop at the second, because the third explains the other two. It signifies that the universe is real if perceived as the Self, and unreal if perceived apart from the Self. Hence maya and reality are one and the same. (Guru Ramana, p. 65)
Maya is the power, inherent within the Self, that makes the world appear to be manifold, rather than an indivisible appearance within Brahman, its source. Maya is both the power that brings apparent multiplicity into existence and the manifestation itself. However, it has no inherent reality, as Bhagavan points out in the following reply:
Question: What is the relationship between maya, the power that makes us take the world to be real, and Atman, the reality itself?
Bhagavan: A man gets married in a dream and there the groom is real but the wife is false. And when he wakes up he is the same man as before. Similarly, the real Atman always remains as it is. It does not get affected or contaminated by maya. It does not marry either maya or anatma [the not-Self] because it is complete, whereas the substance of the world is unreal. (The Power of the Presence, part one, p. 257)
Bhagavan used many terms, apart from Brahman and the Self, to denote the underlying real substratum. Consciousness, the word used in the following verse, was one of his favourites.
Since the cause itself [reality] appears as the effect [the world], and because consciousness — the cause of this vast world described by the sastras [the scriptures] as being merely names and forms — is a truth as obvious as the nelli fruit on one’s palm, it is proper to term this great world ‘real’.
‘Nelli’ is the Tamil name for a small green fruit that physically resembles a gooseberry. It is known elsewhere in India as ‘amla’. In many parts of India people say, ‘It’s as obvious as the amla on one’s palm’ when they mean that something is clear, easily perceived and irrefutable. In Atma Vidya, one of Bhagavan’s poetical compositions, he wrote: ‘Even for the most infirm, so real is the Self that compared with it the amla [on the palm of] one’s hand appears a mere illusion.’ (The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, p. 133)
The worlds that are described as being either three or fourteen are real when seen from the point of view of the primal cause [Brahman] because they have unceasing existence as their [real] nature. However, when attention is paid only to the names and forms, the effect, even the undecaying cause, the plenitude, will appear to be non-existent.
To the ignorant, who believe it to be real and revel in it, the world that appears before them is God’s creation, but to the steadfast jnanis, who have known the bondage-free Self by direct experience, it is merely a deluding and binding concept that is wholly mental.
Bhagavan generally taught that the appearance of an external world comes into existence as an act of projection by the individual ‘I’ that sees it. As such, it is very similar to the dream world, which is also a mental creation of the one who dreams. For those who were not able or willing to accept this explanation he would say that it was ‘God’s creation’. Irrespective of which theory one believes in, the external world is known to be a mere concept once the Self has been realised.
Understand [well] that the world-scene of empty names and forms, comprising the objects of the five senses perceived in the perfectly pure swarupa, the Supreme Self, is merely the divine sport of the mind-maya that arises as an imaginary idea in that swarupa, being-consciousness.
Question: Are names and forms real?
Bhagavan: You won’t find them separate from adhistana [the substratum]. When you try to get at name and form, you will find reality only. Therefore attain the knowledge of that which is real in all three states [waking, dreaming and sleeping]. (The Power of the Presence, part one, pp. 251-2)
Those in whose consciousness there is no awareness whatsoever of anything other than the Self, the absolute fullness of consciousness, will not declare this world, which from the perspective of God [Brahman] does not exist, to be that truth whose hallmark is never to deviate from absolute fullness [paripuranam].