The Gurutvam of Arunachala
Arunachala has always been renowned as the bestower of liberation, the destroyer of the ego, the remover of the false notion ‘I am the body’ – as the jnana-Guru par excellence.
When Brahma and Vishnu began to quarrel, being deluded by pride and egoism, Lord Arunachala Siva appeared before them in the form of a column of fire, thereby vanquishing their egoism and teaching them true knowledge. When Sakti, Goddess Parvati, wished to attain a state in which she could do no wrong, Lord Siva sent her to Arunachala, where she merged and became one with him. Thus, even to Brahma and Vishnu, Arunachala was Guru, and to Parvati it was the place where she lost her separate individuality.
Throughout the ages saints and sages have sung verses in Sanskrit, Tamil and other Indian languages extolling the unique power of Arunachala to root out the ego and to bestow Self-knowledge. All the four great Saiva sages of Tamil Nadu, Manikkavachagar, Sundaramurti, Appar and Jnanasambandhar, have sung in praise of Arunachala. In one verse often pointed out by Sri Bhagavan, Jnanasambandhar described this hill as being jnana-tiral, a dense mass of jnana. And Sundaramurti, singing in Tiruvanaikka, remembers Arunachala and sings, ‘O Annamalai, you can be known only to those who give up the attachment to the body’.
These puranic stories and songs of ancient sages all confirm the fact that Arunachala is the supreme jnana-Guru. But this fact has received its most striking confirmation from Sri Bhagavan. In verse nineteen of Aksharamanamalai he explicitly states that Arunachala shines as the form of his Guru; and in the same verse he reveals the function of the real Guru, namely to destroy all our defects, including the root-defect, the ego, to bestow all good qualities upon us and to rule over us.
In many of his other verses Sri Bhagavan has clearly indicated that the role of Arunachala is the role of the Sadguru. For example, in Aksharamanamalai he sings that Arunachala roots out the ego of those who think of it (verse 1), that it annihilates those who approach it as God (verse 48) and that it destroys the attachment of those who come to it with attachment (verse 77). He also reveals that Arunachala instructs through silence (verse 36) and that it teaches the path of self-enquiry (verse 44); and he shows us the way of praying to Arunachala to bestow jnana (verse 40) to reveal Self as the reality (verse 43) and to make us give up the attachment to the body (verse 75). He has also confirmed from his own experience the power of Arunachala as Guru. In verse eight of Sri Arunachala Navamanimalai he sings that, in order to put an end to his sufferings in the world, Arunachala ‘gave me his own state’; and in verse nine he describes the wonder of Arunachala’s grace saying, ‘You entered my mind, drew me and established me in your own state’.
All that Sri Bhagavan has said about the power of Arunachala tallies exactly with what he has said about the power of the Guru. In verse 268 of Guru Vachaka Kovai (The Garland of Guru’s Sayings) he says that the Guru is he who possesses the supreme power to make any soul who comes to him merge into Self, the knowledge beyond all speech. The Guru works in many ways to make the disciple merge into Self. ‘He gives a push from “without” and exerts a pull from “within”, so that you may be fixed in the Centre,’ says Sri Bhagavan in Maharshi’s Gospel, p. 36. From ‘without’ the Guru gives verbal instructions to turn the disciple’s mind towards Self, and he also enables the disciple to have association (satsang) with his form, and thereby to gain the necessary strength and love to turn within and attend to Self. To give verbal instructions it is necessary for the Guru to be in human form, but to give satsang and subtle inner guidance he may be in any form.
Sri Bhagavan has come as the Guru in human form to give us all the necessary verbal instructions, and he has revealed that Arunachala is the Guru in the form of a hill with which we can always have satsang. Like any human body, the human form of the Guru will inevitably pass away one day, whereas the form of Arunachala will always remain. Thus, though Sri Bhagavan has left his human form, he has provided us with all the requisite outward help: he has left us with a permanent record of his verbal teachings, and he has shown us a form with which we can always have satsang. Therefore, for the devotees of Sri Bhagavan there will never be any need to search for another outer Guru, because all the necessary help and guidance is ever available for us in the form of the teachings of Sri Bhagavan and the satsang of Arunachala.
The power of the satsang of Arunachala was often confirmed by Sri Bhagavan. Dr T. N. Krishnaswamy records in the Ramana Pictorial Souvenir, page 7, that Sri Bhagavan once said to him:
The whole hill is sacred. It is Siva himself. Just as we identify ourselves with a body, so Siva has chosen to identify himself with his hill. Arunachala is pure wisdom (jnana) in the form of a hill. It is out of compassion to those who seek him that he has chosen to reveal himself in the form of a hill visible to the eye. The seeker will obtain guidance and solace by staying near this hill.
Arunachala is the physical embodiment of Sat, the reality, and hence to have contact with it in any manner is satsang. To think of Arunachala is satsang, to see Arunachala is satsang, and to live near Arunachala is satsang. But one very special way of having satsang with Arunachala is to do Arunagiri-pradakshina, that it is, to walk barefoot round the hill keeping it to one’s right-side.
The great importance that Sri Bhagavan attached to giri-pradakshina is well known to all the devotees who lived with him. He himself did pradakshina countless times, and he actively and spontaneously encouraged devotees to follow his example.
‘Bhagavan, who scarcely ever gave advice to devotees unless asked, wholeheartedly encouraged their going round the hill as conducive to progress in sadhana,’ writes Lucia Osborne in The Mountain Path, January 1974, p. 3.
Devaraja Mudaliar records that the importance of pradakshina became evident to him ‘from the frequent references by Bhagavan himself to its great significance, and from the fact that thousands of people do it, including almost all the close disciples of Bhagavan, even those who may be considered the most advanced among them.’ (My Recollections of Bhagavan Sri Ramana, p. 64)
Though comparatively little has been recorded of what Sri Bhagavan used to say about the power of pradakshina, there is no doubt that he considered it to be an act having great spiritual efficacy. In fact he used to say that the benefits which can be gained by meditation and various other forms of mind-control only after great struggle and effort, will be effortlessly gained by those who go round the hill.
‘Bhagavan often said that those unable to meditate would succeed in their endeavour by circumambulating Arunachala,’ writes Suri Nagamma in My Life at Sri Ramanasramam, p. 144.
Kunju Swami records on p. 108 of Enadu Ninaivugal that Bhagavan once told him. ‘What is better than pradakshina? That alone is sufficient.’
While extolling the spiritual efficacy of pradakshina, Sri Bhagavan sometimes used to narrate the story of King Vajrangada Pandya, which is told in the Arunachala Mahatmyam. Vajrangada Pandya was a powerful monarch who ruled over most of South India, but one day he was told by some celestial beings that in this previous birth he had been Indra, the ruler of heaven, and that if he worshipped Arunachala he could regain his former position. On hearing this, he at once renounced his kingdom and, with the intense desire to become Indra, he began to worship Arunachala by going around the hill three times a day. After three years of such worship, Lord Siva appeared before him and offered him any boon he wished to pray for. Though his original ambition had been to become Indra, his mind had been matured by doing so many pradakshinas, he now realized that it was worthless to pray for such a transitory pleasure. He therefore prayed to Lord Siva for the eternal happiness of Self-knowledge. This story thus aptly illustrates that even if a person begins to do pradakshina for the fulfillment of worldly desires, his mind will in time be matured and he will gain proper discrimination (viveka), desirelessness (vairagya) and love for Self (swatma-bhakti)
Generally, whenever sages or scriptures prescribe any form of dualistic worship, whether for the fulfillment of worldly desires or for the attainment of Self-knowledge, they always say that it must be done with faith. But Sri Bhagavan used to say that the power of Arunachala is such that even if one does pradakshina with no faith, it will still have its effect and will surely purify the mind. Devaraja Mudaliar records on p. 64 of My Recollections that Sri Bhagavan told him, ‘For everybody it is good to make circuit of the hill. It does not even matter whether one has faith in this pradakshina or not; just as fire will burn all who touch it whether they believe in it or not, so the hill will do good to all those who go round it.’
Because Arunachala is the ‘fire of knowledge’ (jnanagni) in the form of a hill, the outgoing tendencies (vasanas) of the mind are automatically scorched when one goes round it. When damp wood is brought close to a fire, it will gradually be dried, and at a certain point it will itself catch fire. Similarly, when the mind which is soaked with worldly tendencies goes round the hill, the tendencies will gradually dry up and at a certain point the mind will become fit to be burnt by the fire of jnana. That is why Sri Bhagavan said to Kunju Swami, ‘This hill is the storehouse of all spiritual power. Going round It benefits you in all ways’. (The Mountain Path, April 1979, p. 75)
The spiritual benefits of pradakshina have been described by Sri Sadhu Om in one of his Tamil poems, Sri Arunachala Pradakshina Manbu. In verses six and seven he says, ‘A cow grazing round and round its peg, does not know that the length of its rope is thereby decreasing. Similarly, when you go round and round Arunachala, how can your mind know that it is thereby subsiding? When the cow goes round more and more, at one point it will be bound tightly to its peg. Similarly when the mind lovingly goes more and more round Annamalai [Arunachala], which is Self, it will finally stand still in Self-abidance, having lost all it movements [vrittis].’
In verse eight he says, ‘It is a well-proven truth that the minds of those devotees who ever go round Annamalai achieve great love to turn within towards Self. Annamalai is the blazing, wild hill of fire [the fire of Jnana] that burns all our worldly desires into ashes.’ And in verse nine he gives the simile of a piece of iron being rubbed against a magnet; just as the scattered atoms of iron are all aligned by the magnet to face in one uniform direction, thereby transforming the iron into a magnet, so when a person goes round Arunachala, the divine magnet, his scattered mind, is turned towards Self and is thereby transformed into Self.
Sri Muruganar, who was a great sage and one of the foremost disciples of Sri Bhagavan, was noted as a staunch lover of pradakshina. In the days of Sri Bhagavan he used to write to any friends who were coming to see him, ‘You will find me either in Bhagavan’s hall or on the giri-pradakshina road,’ and it is said that at one time he even used to go round the hill daily. How he first came to know about the greatness of giri-pradakshina is related by Kunju Swami in The Mountain Path, April 1979, p. 83, as follows:
Sometime after he came here, Sri Muruganar asked Bhagavan about the spiritual benefit of going round the hill (giri-pradakshina). Bhagavan asked him to go round it first and them come to him. Sri Muruganar followed his advice and told Bhagavan that he lost his dehatma buddhi [sense of identification with the body] after a while and regained it only after reaching Adi-Annamalai [a village on the way]. He reported to Sri Bhagavan that the experience was unexpected and unique. Sri Bhagavan smiled and said, ‘Do you now understand?’
This incident proves very clearly the power of pradakshina, and it shows that mature souls can even lose their sense of identification with the body by going round the hill. It also illustrates what Sri Bhagavan meant when he used to say that while going round the hill one can experience sanchara-samadhi, a thought-free state of bliss while walking.
Though such a thought-free state is not experienced by all devotees when they go round the Hill, that does not mean that their pradakshina is not yielding fruit. The main benefit of pradakshina is that the tendencies (vasanas) are slowly made to lose their grip over the mind, but just as a child cannot easily perceive its own growth, so the mind cannot easily perceive the weakening of its own vasanas.
However, one very notable feature about pradakshina that can be perceived by anyone and which clearly indicates its spiritual efficacy is the extraordinary power of attraction it exerts over the minds of devotees. For no special reason one feels attracted to go round Arunachala again and again.
‘Go round the hill once. You will see that it will attract you,’ said Sri Bhagavan to Devaraja Mudaliar (My Recollections, p. 65).
‘Bhagavan used to say that if one went round the hill once or twice, the hill itself would draw one to go round it again. I have found it true. Now this is happening to Dr Syed,’ writes Devaraja Mudaliar in Day by Day with Bhagavan, 19th December, 1945.
In Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, volume 2, letter 98, Suri Nagamma records Sri Bhagavan as saying, ‘The dhyana [meditation] that you cannot get into while sitting, you get into automatically if you go for pradakshina. The place and atmosphere here are like that. However unable a person is to walk, if he once goes round the hill he will feel like going again and again. The more you go, the more the enthusiasm for it. It never decreases. Once a person is accustomed to the happiness of pradakshina, he can never give it up.’
Just as the mind is automatically attracted to the Guru, knowing intuitively that he can bestow eternal bliss, for the same reason the mind feels automatically attracted to giri pradakshina.
To understand the power of Arunachala, it is first necessary to understand the relationship that existed between Arunachala and Bhagavan. To Bhagavan, Arunachala was Mother, Father, Guru and God – it was his all in all, his own Self.
Sri Bhagavan often said, ‘God, Guru and Self are one and the same,’ and to him Arunachala was all three of these. In verse forty-eight of Aksharamanamalai he refers to Arunachala as his God, in verse nineteen as his Guru, and in verse five of Atma Vidya Kirtanam (The Song on the Science of Self) as ‘Annamalai, my Self’.
Truly, Arunachala is Ramana and Ramana is Arunachala. The two are inseparable. Arunachala is Ramana in the form of a hill, and Ramana is Arunachala in human form. The oneness that Sri Bhagavan felt with Arunachala is disclosed in many of his verses.
When a devotee enquired about his true nature, he replied, ‘Arunachala-Ramana is the Supreme Self who blissfully abides as consciousness in the heart-cave of all souls beginning with Hari (Lord Vishnu)…’.
The same name, ‘Arunachala-Ramana’, which he used while referring to himself, he also uses while addressing the hill in the last verse of Aksharamanamalai, and in verse ninety he calls the hill ‘Ramana’. When Sri Bhagavan composed Sri Arunachala Pancharatnam (The Five Gems) in Sansksrit, a devotee composed a concluding verse in which he said that these five verses were an Upanishad revealed by Srimad Ramana Maharshi. Later, when Sri Bhagavan translated this hymn into Tamil, he adapted this concluding verse and substituted the name ‘Arunagiri-Ramana’ for the name ‘Srimad Ramana Maharshi’, thereby indicating that it was Arunagiri (Arunachala) itself in the form of Ramana who sang this hymn. From all this, it is clear that Sri Bhagavan experienced no individuality or existence of his own separate from Arunachala.
Though Bhagavan Ramana has left his human form, he will always remain shining here in the form of Arunachala, giving guidance and solace to his devotees. Therefore, the power of Arunachala is the power of Ramana – the power of the Sadguru’s grace.
O Arunachala, ocean of grace in the form of a hill, bestow grace upon me! (Sri Arunachala Aksharamanamalai, verse 17)
The Arunachala verses that Michael James cited in this article have mostly been taken from Sri Arunachala Stuti Panchakam, a translation of and commentary on Bhagavan’s Arunachala verses. Although Sadhu Om is listed as the author, Michael James was heavily involved in both the translation and the commentary. The book is available on the Books page of this site.