This article first appeared in The Mountain Path.
Verses 773 and 774 of Guru Vachaka Kovai, composed by Muruganar, are grouped together under a chapter heading entitled ‘Being Still’ or ‘Remaining Still’. The second of these two verses immediately attracts attention because Bhagavan states quite clearly that abiding in swarupa, one’s true state, is a state of laziness:
The method of true and supreme tapas that our Lord Ramana declares to be worthwhile and which the mind should firmly hold onto is this, and no more: ‘Being still.’ Other than this there are absolutely no thoughts to think, nor any duties to be contemplated by it.
The lazy state wherein you exist motionlessly and shine is the state of swarupa. In that supreme state you have become That. It cannot be attained except by direct, excellent and rare tapas. You should therefore honour those who are established in that laziness as holy beings.
The state of the Self is described here, perhaps a little ironically, as ‘lazy’ only because there is no one left there who can do anything. It should not be taken as an encouragement to be lazy; it is simply pointing out that this state of spiritual ‘laziness’ is inevitable for enlightened beings have completely lost the ‘I am the body’ idea.
Muruganar wrote in Padamalai that Bhagavan bestowed this ‘idle’ state on him:
The golden Padam [Bhagavan] completely abolished my wandering around as a wicked one and made me shine as a perfect idler.
Even the actions I perform, believing them to be my own, are in reality the actions of Padam, the complete and absolute truth. (Padamalai, pp. 342, 343, vv. 62, 64)
And in a similarly playful mood Muruganar described his experience of the Self in the following terms:
My Guru [Sri Ramana] who possesses the virtue of generosity effectively exercised his dominion over me by bestowing on me the blessed state of living in perpetual bliss. I now live as an inebriated, lazy man, my mind swelling with bliss, just like a bee that has drunk the honey of grace at his feet. I merely eat and play, with absolutely no anxieties in my heart.’ (Sri Ramana Jnana Bodham, volume 3, v. 781)
Bhagavan also mentioned this state of laziness in Aksharamanamalai, verse 37:
If I sleep consciously as a lazy one, remaining still and consuming bliss, this is the supreme state. Is there any [state] other than this, O Arunachala? If there is, please tell me!
Even though this verse begins, in Tamil, ‘Sombiyai…’, which means ‘as a lazy one’, most translators have avoided the word ‘lazy’ in their translations, perhaps feeling that it is somewhat pejorative description of the Self, and by extension, of Bhagavan himself. In two translations I looked at while I was writing this article one opted for ‘lying in peaceful repose’ and the other for ‘slumbering in quiet repose’. It is possible that these euphemistic phrases were trying to convey the idea that realisation is a state in which nothing can be done or needs to be done. While this is a true description of the state being described, the impact of the original phrase ‘Sombiyai…’ is considerably watered down.
I believe that when Bhagavan composed this verse he was using the word ‘lazy’ in its full and normal sense. Why? Because when Muruganar wrote his Tamil commentary on Aksharamanamalai (Aksharamanamalai Vritti Urai) and showed it to Bhagavan, Bhagavan added the following verse from Tirumandiram, one of the canonical scriptures of Saivism, to the section of Muruganar’s manuscript that dealt with this verse:
The place where the lazy ones dwell is pure space.
The place where the lazy ones rest is pure space.
The consciousness of the lazy ones remains
in the place which the Vedas have abandoned as beyond their scope.
The lazy ones have gained the state in which they are sleeping,
totally unaware of the Vedas. (Tirumandiram, v. 127)
When I posted these verses on my blog several years ago, one reader responded by sending me the following very interesting comment:
There is the fascinating anecdote in the book Drops from the Ocean, written by Sri V. Ganesan. He wrote that Sri Bhagavan’s old devotee TPR told him the following story:
Bhagavan would accept a new pencil or pen only when the old one was completely exhausted or totally damaged. He would then take a piece of paper and scribble a few times with the new one to see whether it was working properly. Most of us, on similar occasions, sign our own names, write OM or some God’s name. So I was very inquisitive to know what He scribbled. Bhagavan permitted me to see what He wrote. Even those who were close to Him did not know about it. Either He wrote, “Arunachalavaasi”, meaning, “One residing in Arunachala”, or “Panilenivadu”, meaning, “One without any work”.’ (Drops from the Ocean, p. 117)
‘Panilenivadu’ is a Telugu term that is made up of three components: pani: work; leni: not there, or non-existent; vadu: a person.
Another contributor to the blog, a native Telugu speaker, pointed out that while the three components of the phrase denote a person who is idle, there is also the connotation that it is not a temporary idleness: the laziness is permanent. So, this phrase ‘panilenivadu’ conveys very well the ‘lazy’ state of permanent Self-abidance in which nothing can be done because there is no longer a doer who can initiate actions.
Verse fifteen of Upadesa Undiyar contains a similar idea:
‘For the great yogi who is established as the reality due to the death of the mind-form, there is not any action [to do because] he has attained his [true] nature.’
When Bhagavan translated this verse into Telugu, he used this same term ‘panilenivadu’ to describe the ‘great yogi’s’ final state of not having any actions to do.
This phrase, ‘the man who has no work,’ came up in a story that was narrated by Suri Nagamma. She had complained to Bhagavan that Devaraja Mudaliar was teasing her about being Bhagavan’s ‘Telugu secretary’.
‘What am I to do, Bhagavan? He teases me saying “Nagamma, secretary, secretary”. I requested him several times not to do so but he ignores my entreaties. What great work has Bhagavan got to require a secretary?’
No sooner had I said it than Mudaliar laughed and said, ‘Yes. I did say so. It is based on actual facts. Nagamma is the Telugu secretary and Muruganar Tamil secretary to Bhagavan. What is wrong if I say so?’ He left the hall thereafter. Bhagavan merely laughed and kept quiet.
Taking up the thread of the conversation, Balarama Reddi remarked, ‘Bhagavan has no work whatsoever. Where is the need for a secretary?’
‘That is exactly what I have been saying. When Bhagavan has no work to do, where is the need for two secretaries, Nagamma and Muruganar? Whatever little work there is, we are doing it on our own to satisfy ourselves; otherwise where is any work worth mentioning? I have told him several times that if he has any opinion, to keep it to himself but not give such high sounding designations. He however persists. So I thought I should bring the matter to the notice of Bhagavan hoping it would have the desired effect on him. That is all.’
Bhagavan laughed and said, ‘I have already been dubbed as “a man having no work”‘.
‘Yes. That is just it. This is just like the saying, “A person having no work has ten people working under him”.’ I said. We all had a hearty laugh. In spite of all that had happened, Mudaliar did not give up calling me secretary. (Letters and Recollections from Sri Ramanasramam, pp. 170-1)
Since Bhagavan spoke fluent Telugu and Balaram Reddy and Suri Nagamma were both native Telugu speakers, I think it is reasonable to assume that this conversation would have taken place in Telugu. Bhagavan said, probably in Telugu, ‘I have already been dubbed as “[panilenivadu,] a man having no work”’.
I think the Telugu phrase ‘panilenivadu’, with its connotations of perpetual ‘idleness’, would have appealed to Bhagavan, and I can see him using it to test out a new pencil with a smile on his face. However, I don’t think that he wrote this phrase very often during his pen-tests. As Ganesan has reported elsewhere in Moments Remembered, when Bhagavan was given a new pen or pencil, he generally initiated it by writing ‘Arunachala’ as the first word.