In 2006 T. V. Venkatasubramanian was asked by the president of Ramanasramam to go through the version of Spiritual Instruction that appears in The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi and make suggestions for changes that could be made to the next edition. The current published version has remained unchanged for many years. Venkatasubramanian asked me to help him, and I agreed. We went through the text together and revised those portions of the text that we felt needed to be amended. It was not a new translation; we only made corrections when we thought that the English text was not accurately conveying the original. We submitted our amended version but none of our suggested changes were incorporated in the next printing.
Here is the version we put together. The portions that appear in bold type (other than the section headings) are the suggested corrections. The remaining text, in roman, is the translation that currently appears in Collected Works.
I seek refuge at the sacred feet of the blessed Ramana, who performs the entire work of creation, preservation and destruction, while remaining wholly unattached, and who makes us aware of what is real and thus protects us, that I may set down his words fittingly.
Worshipping with the instruments (of thought, word and body) the sacred lotus feet of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, the very embodiment of the beginningless infinite supreme Brahman, the Satchitananda (existence, consciousness, bliss), I have gathered this bouquet of the flowers of his instructions (upadesa manjari) for the benefit of those who are foremost among the seekers of Liberation and who are adored by learned persons, in order that they might adorn themselves with it and attain salvation.
This book is an epitome of the immortal words of that great soul, Sri Ramana Maharshi, whose teachings entirely dispelled the doubts and wrong notions of this humble person even as the sun dispels darkness.
The subject of this book is that eternal Brahman which shines as the pinnacle and heart of all the Vedas and Agamas.
That incomparable Self-realisation (atma siddhi) which is praised by all the Upanishads and which is the supreme good to be sought by all noble aspirants (brahmavids) is the supreme benefit of this work.
1. What are the marks of a real teacher (Sadguru)?
Steady abidance in the Self, looking at all with an equal eye, unshakeable courage at all times, in all places and circumstances, etc.
2. What are the marks of an earnest disciple (sadsisya)?
An intense longing for the removal of sorrow and attainment of joy and an intense aversion for any other attainment.
3. What are the characteristics of instruction (upadesa)?
The word ‘upadesa’ means : ‘near the place or seat’ (upa – near, desa – place or seat). The Guru who is the embodiment of that which is indicated by the terms sat, chit, and ananda (existence, consciousness and bliss), prevents the disciple who, on account of his acceptance of the forms of the objects of the senses, has swerved from his true state and is consequently distressed and buffeted by joys and sorrows, from continuing so and establishes him in his own real nature without differentiation.
Upadesa also means showing a distant object quite near. It is brought home to the disciple that the Brahman which he believes to be distant and different from himself is near and not different from himself.
4. If it be true that the Guru is one’s own Self (atman), what is the principle underlying the doctrine which says that, however learned a disciple may be or whatever occult powers he may possess, he cannot attain Self-realisation (atma-siddhi) without the grace of the Guru?
Although in absolute truth the state of the Guru is that of oneself, it is very hard for the Self, which has become the individual soul (jiva) through ignorance, to realise its true state or nature without the grace of the Guru.
All mental concepts are controlled by the mere presence of the real Guru. If he were to say to one who arrogantly claims that he has seen the further shore of the ocean of learning, or one who claims arrogantly that he can perform deeds which are well-nigh impossible, ‘Yes, you learnt all that is to be learnt, but have you learnt (to know) yourself? And you who are capable of performing deeds which are almost impossible, have you seen yourself?, they will bow their heads (in shame) and remain silent. Thus it is evident that only by the grace of the Guru and by no other accomplishment is it possible to know oneself.
5. What are the marks of the Guru’s grace?
It is beyond mind and speech.
6. If that is so, how is it that it is said that the disciple realises his true state by the Guru’s grace?
It is like the elephant which wakes up on seeing a lion in its dream. Even as the elephant wakes up at the mere sight of the lion, so too is it certain that the disciple wakes up from the sleep of ignorance into the wakefulness of true knowledge through the Guru’s benevolent look of grace.
7. What is the significance of the saying that the nature of the real Guru is that of the Supreme Lord (Sarvesvara)?
In the case of the individual soul which desires to attain the state of true knowledge or the state of Isvara and with that object always practises devotion, when the individual’s devotion has reached a mature stage, the Lord who is the witness of that individual soul and not separate from it, comes forth in human form with the help of sat-chit-ananda, His three natural features, along with form and name which he also graciously assumes, and in the guise of blessing the disciple, absorbs him in Himself. Since this is a well-established conclusion, saying that the Guru is the Lord is absolutely true.
8. How then did some great persons attain knowledge without a Guru?
To a few mature persons the Lord shines as the light of knowledge and imparts awareness of the truth.
9. What is the end of devotion (bhakti) and the path of Siddhanta (i.e., Saiva Siddhanta)?
It is to learn the truth that all one’s actions performed with unselfish devotion, with the aid of the three purified instruments (body, speech and mind), in the capacity of the servant of the Lord, become the Lord’s actions, and to stand forth free from the sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. This is also the truth of what the Saiva-Siddhantins call para-bhakti (supreme devotion) or living in the service of God (irai-pani-nittral).
10. What is the end of the path of knowledge (jnana) or Vedanta?
It is to know the truth that the ‘I’ does not exist separately from the Lord (Isvara) and to be free from the feeling of being the doer (kartrtva, ahamkara).
11. How can it be said that the end of both these paths is the same?
Whatever the means, the destruction of the sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ is the goal, and as these are interdependent, the destruction of either of them causes the destruction of the other; therefore in order to achieve that state of Silence which is beyond thought and word, either the path of knowledge which removes the sense of ‘I’ or the path of devotion which removes the sense of ‘mine’, will suffice. So there is no doubt that the end of the paths of devotion and knowledge is one and the same.
Editor’s [Natanananda’s] Note: So long as the ‘I’ exists it is necessary to accept the Lord also. If any one wishes to regain easily the supreme state of identity (sayujya) now lost to him, it is only proper that he should accept this conclusion.
12. What is the mark of the ego?
The individual soul of the form of ‘I’ is the ego. The Self which is of the nature of consciousness (chit) has no sense of ‘I’. Nor does the insentient body possess a sense of ‘I’. The intermediate appearance of a delusive ego between consciousness and the inert body is the root cause of all the troubles. Upon its destruction, by whatever means, that which really exists will shine as it really is. This is called Liberation (moksha).