This was originally posted on my blog 12 September 2008:
Arvind posted a comment this morning in which he cited Prof. T. M. P. Mahadevan as saying that there was no difference between Bhagavan’s and Sankara’s teachings. He also cited the verses in which Bhagavan identified himself with Sankara. This reminded me of an interview that Prof. Mahadevan gave in the early 1980s to the editor of Arunachala Ramana, a magazine that briefly flourished in that era. I am reproducing the whole interview here since I doubt that many readers of this blog have ever seen it before. It appeared in the January 1982 issue.
Prof. Mahadevan was a natural orator who spoke elegantly and articulately on Indian philosophy and Bhagavan’s teachings. In the 1940s he went to America and gave a series of lectures on Bhagavan’s teachings. With Chinnaswami’s permission, he was allowed to give one of these lectures in Bhagavan’s presence after he returned from his trip.
For me, the most astounding revelation in this interview is that Prof. Mahadevan sat for years in Bhagavan’s presence without ever asking a single question. Here was an enlightened being, Bhagavan, who embodied the experience and the knowledge that Sankara had, who even identified himself with Sankara on occasions, yet Prof. Mahadevan, whose specialty was advaita philosophy, felt no inclination to quiz him on any of the hot topics that he doubtless discussed and wrote about when he was not at the ashram.
Prof. Mahadevan had one of the greatest philosophical minds of his generation, but he chose to remain silent in Bhagavan’s presence in order to absorb his non-verbal teachings. What a great testimony to the power of Bhagavan’s silence! It also indicates that Prof. Mahadevan knew the limits of the intellect and also knew that the treasure of Bhagavan’s silence was more valuable than any intellectual answers he might give out.
To sit before him was itself a deep spiritual education
Dr T. M. P. Mahadevan talks to Arunachala Ramana
[Dr T. M. P. Mahadevan was for a long time the head of the department of philosophy, Madras University, and went to foreign countries to expound Indian philosophy. He is a great exponent of the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. We are grateful that he has kindly answered our question on Bhagavan – Editor]
Arunachala Ramana: When was it that you first heard about Bhagavan?
Mahadevan: In Madras, when I was about eight years old (1919).
Arunachala Ramana: What was your experience in the presence of Bhagavan when you later met him?
Mahadevan: As I recall the days when I spent basking in the sunshine of Sri Ramana’s glorious presence I have no words to express the benefit I derived from that experience. To sit before him was itself a deep spiritual education. To look at him was to have one’s mind stilled. To fall within the sphere of his beatific vision was to be inwardly elevated.
Arunachala Ramana: How did he look on Arunachala?
Mahadevan: Bhagavan’s teaching about Arunachala is that it is Brahman, which is sat-chit-ananda (A-ru-na) and also Iswara as endowed with maya.
Arunachala Ramana: What were the questions you put to Bhagavan?
Mahadevan: There was not even a single occasion when I put a question to Bhagavan. My habit was to sit silent before him.
Arunachala Ramana: Would you give us a word about his humour?
Mahadevan: To Bhagavan the entire world is a humorous manifestation.
Arunachala Ramana: What is your appreciation of Bhagavan’s works? And what is his masterpiece in your opinion?
Mahadevan: Bhagavan did not write any book. His revelations are all equal. What we call his compositions were inspired utterances like the Upanishads. Naturally, I am attracted to all of them. If a single piece is to be selected as the quintessence of Vedanta, I would say it is Upadesa Saram.
Arunachala Ramana: Please tell us something about his affection for animals.
Mahadevan: Every moment of his earthly existence was filled with kindness to all beings. To him the so-called animals were as much human as humans. They conversed with him and he understood their language and moods.
Arunachala Ramana: What was the relationship between you two – Bhagavan and yourself?
Mahadevan: The relationship was both human and spiritual. I accepted him as my spiritual Master. I have already said that I never asked him any questions. Silence was his mode of communication. Every time I had his darshan he used to enquire after my welfare, and this was evidence to show that he had extreme affection for me. I am not unaware that this was the feeling of everyone.
Arunachala Ramana: What is his special teaching?
Mahadevan: What is special in Bhagavan’s teaching is that he does not intend to be special.
Arunachala Ramana: What is his greatest poem?
Mahadevan: Bhagavan himself is the greatest poem.
Arunachala Ramana: How did Bhagavan regard spiritual powers?
Mahadevan: The so-called powers (siddhis) are so low that, according to me, Bhagavan gave no importance to them.
Arunachala Ramana: What are the main points of difference between the teachings of Sri Sankara and Bhagavan?
Mahadevan: In my opinion there is no difference. The path of vichara was simplified by Bhagavan so that everyone in the modern world can practise it.
Arunachala Ramana: At least what is the difference in their techniques?
Mahadevan: There is no significant difference in procedure. Refer to the anvaya vyatireka method (rule of co-presence and co-absence as taught by advaita teachers like Suresvara).
[Anvaya-vyatireka is a method of arguing in Vedanta which distinguishes cause and effect, or relationships. Suresvara was a disciple of Adi-Sankara. Both of them used this approach to demonstrate the validity of the identity established in the mahavakya ‘Tat tvam asi’.
The anvaya-vyatireka analysis is generally used to establish cause-effect relationships between two events or things. If a thing ‘A’ is present when the other thing ‘B’ is present then it is called anvaya. If ‘B’ is absent when ‘A’ is absent then it is called vyatireka. When anvaya and vyatireka are there then ‘A’ becomes the cause of ‘B’. For example clay is present when the pot is present. This is anvaya. Also when clay is absent, the pot is absent. This is vyatireka. From anvaya and vyatireka it is concluded that clay is the cause of the pot.
Anvaya means ‘concordance’ or ‘agreement’ while vyatireka means ‘discordance’ or ‘difference’. In another vedantic example the beads strung to form a necklace are used to explain these two words. The fact that without the string which holds together the beads, there is no necklace of beads is anvaya. The fact that, however, the string is separate from the beads is vyatireka. The all-pervasiveness of the Absolute is anvaya. The distinctness of the Absolute is the vyatireka.
The analysis is often used to establish what is real and enduring and what is not. The procedure has been used by some teachers, for example, to establish that since the world and the mind cannot exist without the Self, they cannot be regarded as real in the vedantic sense of the word.
Having said all that, I am not really sure what point Prof. Mahadevan is trying to make here. He discusses Sankara’s and Suresvara’s views on anvaya-vyatireka in Gaudapada, a Study in Early Advaita (pp. 362-65) but I am not sure how his arguments there explain his remark in this interview: ‘There is no significant difference in procedure [between Bhagavan’s and Sankara’s techniques]’.]
Arunachala Ramana: Did Bhagavan initiate you as a Guru?
Mahadevan: Bhagavan himself did not claim to be a Guru. His experience is valid for all times and for all climes.
Arunachala Ramana: What is the main difference between Sankara and Ramana?
Mahadevan: This has already been answered. Ramana himself has stated explicitly that there is no difference between himself and Sankara.
Arunachala Ramana: In view of the fact that Bhagavan granted moksha to his mother, then would it not be the right way to pray for his divine grace rather than take to the path of vichara?
Mahadevan: Moksha is not what is given. It is the realisation of the non-dual Self which is eternal. Grace and vichara are not contradictory.
Arunachala Ramana: Is bhakti opposed to jnana?
Mahadevan: There is no conflict between eka bhakti and jnana.
Arunachala Ramana: Bhagavan’s teachings, are they spreading in foreign countries?
Mahadevan: For Ramana, no country is foreign.
Arunachala Ramana: Was there any sign for us to conclude that Bhagavan was really Bhagavan, God Himself?
Mahadevan: When Bhagavan was jnana itself, where is the need of showing any sign at any particular time?
Arunachala Ramana: Were you present at the time of Bhagavan’s mahanirvana?
Mahadevan: I was not in the ashram then. I went there only the next morning. I was there throughout the day. It was in the evening of that day that there was samadhi of his mortal remains.