A few days ago someone asked me online: ‘What prompted young Venkataramana to think that he was about to die?’
I replied: ‘When the ego starts to sink into the Heart, a point is reached when the ego becomes aware of what is happening. The reaction is fear, panic, and sometimes an awareness that death is close at hand. Usually, this causes the ‘I’-thought to rise again in a kind of blind panic, but in Bhagavan’s case, he was mature enough and ready enough to allow the extinction process to happen naturally.’
I was then asked to substantiate this with a written source, so I sent the following reply:
My previous comment is derived from descriptions given to me by Lakshmana Swamy and Saradamma. Saradamma had this experience prior to her own realisation and afterwards she made an elaborate diagram that described the process of the mind going back into the Heart, or attempting to go there. The diagram and the comments can be found on pages 194 and 195 of No Mind – I am the Self.
Saradamma described a small hole in the heart or Heart-centre that the mind had to withdraw into for realisation to take place, saying that when this happened realisation resulted. In the book I summarised what she was telling me about this diagram in the following words:
‘As she was explaining this diagram to me Saradamma said that when the mind is just outside the opening one can feel a strong sucking force pulling it towards the hole. She says that the mind is afraid of this force, and that when it feels it, it usually moves away from the hole and tries to escape to the brain. The mind has good reason to be afraid: when it goes through the hole, the Self completely destroys it and Self-realisation results.’
Saradamma’s own experiences of having her mind go near the Heart and then jump in fear back to the brain can be found on pages 170 and 171 of the same book.
In response to this I received the following request for further information and elaboration:
David, do you think these kinds of very specific heart/mind experiences such as Saradamma described (and the kind Papaji has described) always happen when Self-realisation takes place, and some people just never speak of them? When I first read that account in No Mind I am the Self, it struck me as so very precise and physiological that it almost seemed like if that is the doorway through which one ego makes its final exit, that would need to be the way they all go … Yet Annamalai Swami, for example, does not mention anything like this (I don’t think), or speak of severed knots, and instead describes a more gradual process. I am thinking specifically of this exchange in Final Talks:
Question: I want to ask Swamiji about his own experience. Was his own experience a single event, an explosion of knowledge? Or did it happen more gradually, in a more subtle way?
Annamalai Swami: It was my experience that through continuous sadhana I gradually relaxed into the Self. It was a gradual process.
Question: So it is not necessarily something that happens with a big bang?
Annamalai Swami: It is not something new that suddenly comes. It is eternally there, but it is covered by so much. It has to be rediscovered.
I’d love to hear anything and everything that comes to you on this topic … I have wondered a lot about this. Thanks!
This prompted me to a serious consideration of Bhagavan’s teachings on the Heart-centre and the role it seems to play in the realisation events of some jnanis. The following comments, quotes and opinions are what I finally came up with…
Some people seem to have these experiences of the Heart-centre, and some do not. Nisargadatta Maharaj, for example, when I told him that I was from Ramanasramam, said that the only aspect of Ramana’s teachings that he couldn’t corroborate himself was the Heart-centre on the right side of the chest. He said that he had never had that experience. He wasn’t saying that it wasn’t true; he was just remarking that nothing like that had ever happened to him.
Lakshmana Swamy and Saradamma both had experiences of the ‘I’-thought going back into this Heart-centre and dying on the day of their realisation. As you remarked, Annamalai Swami never had any experience of this. Bhagavan himself does not seem to have had this experience on his realisation day, but he did sometimes talk about the moment of realisation in ways that were distinctly anatomical.
The mention of the tiny hole into which the ‘I’-thought must descend was mentioned by Saradamma in the citation I gave earlier. Bhagavan supported this in a reply that appears in Guru Ramana, in the diary entry dated 25th April 1937:
Sri B. V. Narasimhaswami is in the Ashram to prepare the third edition of his English translation of Sri Bhagavan’s Upadesa Saram with his own commentary. He requests the Master to give him some more details about Heart and its movements. Sri Bhagavan said:
Heart is the seat of Jnanam as well as of the granthi (the knot of ignorance). It is represented in the physical body by a hole smaller than the smallest pin-point, which is always shut. When the mind drops down in kevala nirvikalpa, it opens but shuts again after it. When sahaja is attained it opens for good.
The ‘tiny hole’ also gets a mention in the verses from Ashtanga Hridayam that Bhagavan translated into Tamil and incorporated in Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham:
Between the two breasts, below the chest and above the stomach, there are six things of many colours. Among these the one thing which resembles a lily-bud and which is within, two digits to the right [of the centre of the chest] is the heart. Its face is inverted [turned downwards]. In the tiny hole within it there exists the dense darkness [of ignorance] together with desire and so on. All the major nerves are connected with it; it is the abode of breath, the mind and the light [of consciousness]. (verses 18 and 19)
Here, the hole is combined with a downward-facing flower bud. This downward-facing flower was mentioned in a written reply that Bhagavan sent to Ganapati Muni around 1930. Ganapati Muni had written to Bhagavan and asked him to convey his answer to T. K. Sundaresa Iyer, who was present in the ashram at the time. Sundaresa Iyer wrote down Bhagavan’s response and mailed it to Ganapati Muni. The original Tamil appeared in Precious Words and Stray Verses of the Maharshi, a small compilation of unpublished writings by Bhagavan that appeared in 1980, and the English translation, by Sadhu Om, appeared as part of an article that appeared on pages 95-101 of the 1982 edition of The Mountain Path. Since Bhagavan’s response is very interesting I will give the whole letter, even though only part of it pertains to the flower in the Heart.
Ganapati Muni’s query
A doubt. Except Bhagavan, whom else can we ask? Who else can reply? It is clearly known from the teachings of Bhagavan that the ego is of three kinds.
Is that abidance in the intellect a means for gradually attaining the perfect experience, or is it not? If it is not certainly a means for that, then for what purpose is it? Or is there any arrangement that, according to the particular outlook of the aspirant, it is sometimes a means and sometimes not? My dear child Sundara [T. K. Sundaresa Iyer] may kindly write to me the decision of Bhagavan regarding this matter.
Though it is a fact that scriptures like Vasishtam say, as you have mentioned, that the ego is of three kinds, you should take the ‘I-thought’ to be truly only one. When the mind which is the ‘I-thought’ rises, it can only do so by catching hold of something. Since this ego rises between the insentient body and the reality it is given such names a chit-jada granthi [the knot between consciousness and the insentient], jiva [the individual self] and so on.
The ‘I-thought’ which rises in this manner appears in the form of the three gunas, and of these three, the rajas and tamas aspects cling to and identify with the body. The remaining one which is pure sattva is alone the natural characteristic of the mind, and this stands clinging to the reality. However, in this pure sattvic state, the ‘I-thought’ is no longer really a thought, it is the Heart itself.
The wise understand the apparent meaning of prajnana [consciousness] to be the mind, and its true meaning to be the Heart. The Supreme is not other than the Heart. (Sri Ramana Gita, v. 18)
When the mind, the distinctive knowledge that rises from the non-distinctive state of ‘I’ clings to and identifies with the Self, it is called true knowledge. It may also be called ‘knowledge which is the movement of the mind in the form of the Self’ or ‘knowledge in an unbroken form’. The state in which this pure sattvic mind shines clinging to the Self is called ‘aham-sphurana’.
This sphurana cannot remain independently apart from the reality, but it is the correct sign that indicates the forthcoming direct experience of that reality. The source to which this sphurana clings alone is called the reality or pure consciousness. In Vedanta this is expressed by the saying ‘Prajnanam [full or true knowledge] is Brahman’, or pure consciousnesses is the absolute reality. When the pure sattvic mind abides in that sphurana and attends to its source, it is called upasana or meditation; when one is firmly established in the state which is the source of that mind, this is called jnana.
During the time of practice the natural state is called upasana (meditation), and when that state becomes firmly and permanently established it is called jnana. (Sri Ramana Gita, 1.13)
Concerning this unbroken awareness, in Vivekachudamani, verse 380, it is said:
Self, which is self-effulgent and the witness of all ever shines [as ‘I-I’] in the mind. Taking this Self, which is distinct from what is unreal as the target [of your attention] experience it as ‘I’ through unbroken awareness.
The non-existence of the sense of limitation is the fruit of meditation. This is indeed the unbroken experience. This is natural to God and liberated souls.
When the mind, having pure sattva as its characteristic remains attending to the aham sphurana, which is the sign of the forthcoming direct experience of the Self, the downward-facing heart becomes upward-facing, blossoms and remains in the form of that [the Self]; [because of this] the aforesaid attention to the source of the aham sphurana alone is the path. When thus attended to, Self, the reality, alone will remain shining in the centre of the Heart as ‘I am I’.
Bhagavan included the full text of verse 18 and 19 of Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham after ‘downward-facing heart’ in the original Tamil, but to include them again here would make the text rather cumbersome. However, it is clear that he was supplementing the material in those verses by saying that at the moment of realisation the closed downward-facing bud turns upwards, blooms, and remains in that state.
So, there are two key things that happen at the moment of realisation: the ‘tiny hole’ opens and remains permanently open, and the inverted bud turns upwards and blooms.
The description of aham sphurana given in this letter is almost identical to the paragraph on the same topic that appears in Self Enquiry, answer 32:
…The state in which this mind clings to the Self and shines as the form of the Self is called the aham sphurana. This sphurana cannot remain independently, leaving the reality. This sphurana is the correct sign of the forthcoming direct experience of the reality. However, this sphurana cannot itself be the state of reality. That source to which this sphurana clings, alone is called the reality…. Therefore, leaving the corpse-like body as an actual corpse, and remaining without even uttering the word ‘I’ by mouth, if one now keenly enquires ‘What is it that rises as I?’, then in the heart a certain soundless sphurana. ‘I-I’ (that is, an awareness which is single and undivided, the thoughts which are many and divided having disappeared), alone will shine forth of its own accord. If one remains still without leaving it, even the sphurana (having completely annihilated the sense of the individuality, the form of the ego ‘I am the body’), will itself in the end subside, just like the flame that catches the camphor. This alone is said to be liberation by great ones and scriptures.
In an article I wrote in the early 1990s (‘I’ and ‘I-I’: a reader’s query) I argued that this account was actually autobiographical, and that in writing it Bhagavan was describing what happened to him on the day of his own realisation. This raises the possibility that the experience of the ‘tiny hole’ opening and the bud turning and blooming are also written from direct experience. This is very much a conjecture but I would consider it likely since the only experience of realisation that Bhagavan had direct experience of was his own.
I asked Papaji about the points raised in this letter soon after I first met him in 1992:
Question: Ramana Maharshi sometimes said that there is a very small hole in the spiritual Heart. He said that in the sahaja state it is open, but in other states it is closed. Did your Heart open in this way in Bhagavan’s presence? Bhagavan also one said, in describing the realisation process, that ‘the downward-facing Heart becomes upward-facing and remains as That’. Did you have any experience akin to this?
Papaji: [After Bhagavan had told me that he could not show me God or enable me to see God because God is not an object that can be seen] he looked at me, and as he gazed into my eyes, my whole body began to tremble and shake. A thrill of nervous energy shot through my body. My nerve endings felt as if they were dancing and my hair stood on end. Within me I became aware of the spiritual Heart. This is not the physical heart; it is instead the source and support for all that exists. Within the Heart I saw or felt something like a closed bud. It was very shining and bluish. With the Maharshi looking at me, and with myself in a state of inner silence, I felt this bud open and bloom. I use the word ‘bud’, but this is not an exact description. It would be more correct to say that something that felt bud-like opened and bloomed within me in the Heart. And when I say ‘Heart’ I don’t mean that the flowering was located in a particular place in the body. This Heart, this Heart of my Heart, was neither inside the body nor out of it. I can’t give a more exact description of what happened. All I can say is that in the Maharshi’s presence, and under his gaze, the Heart opened and bloomed. It was an extraordinary experience, one that I had never had before. I had not come looking for any kind of experience, so it totally surprised me when it happened. (Papaji Interviews, pp. 31-32)
The question must be asked: ‘How real are these description of the Heart that correspond to physical places in the body, and how real are the descriptions of the tiny hole and the inverted lily bud that are associated with them?’ In Spiritual Instruction (chapter two, answer nine) Bhagavan cites verses 18 and 19 of Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham and then comments:
But, although it is described thus, the meaning of the word heart (hrdayam) is the Self (atman). As it is denoted by the terms existence, consciousness, bliss, eternal and plenum (sat, chit, anandam, nityam, purnam) it has no differences such as exterior and interior or up and down. That state of stillness in which all thoughts come to an end is called the state of the Self. When one realises its nature and abides as That, there is no scope for discussions about its location inside the body or outside.
One could argue from this that all these centres, their locations and their properties, are imagination only, but such a statement could only be made from the standpoint of the formless Self. This quote does not exclude the possibility that the embodied jiva goes through this process (the ‘I’-thought descending into the tiny hole; the hole opening and remaining open; the flower turning and opening) on the way to the realised state in which there is the final understanding that the true Heart cannot be located anywhere or envisioned in any way. Those who have had experiences of this kind (Papaji, Lakshmana Swamy and Saradamma) seem to provide independent corroboration of the points that Bhagavan made in these explanations.
The ‘anatomical’ model of enlightenment includes the idea that there is a channel from the Heart-centre to the brain (the jivanadi) through which the ‘I’-thought travels to the brain and back. Bhagavan accepted this and used it to critique traditional yoga practices which sought realisation by doing exercises that made the kundalini rise from the muladhara to the sahasrara chakra. He maintained that realisation would only result if the kundalini was brought down to the Heart centre through the jivanadi, and he sometimes added that since self-enquiry would achieve this automatically, specific yogic exercises to achieve this goal were not needed. Both Lakshmana Swamy and Saradamma have spoken of experiencing this jivanadi (they call it the amritanadi) and both support, on the basis of their direct experience of this channel, Bhagavan’s assertion that the individual ‘I’ rises and falls through this channel. In Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Bhagavan was specifically asked if this jivanadi was real or not:
Question: Is the Jivanadi an entity or a figment of the imagination?
Bhagavan: The yogis say that there is a nadi called the jivanadi, atmanadi or paranadi. The Upanishads speak of a centre from which thousands of nadis branch off. Some locate such a centre in the brain and others in other centres. The Garbhopanishad traces the formation of the foetus and the growth of the child in the womb. The jiva is considered to enter the child through the fontanelle in the seventh month of its growth. In evidence thereof it is pointed out that the fontanelle is tender in a baby and is also seen to pulsate. It takes some months for it to ossify. Thus the jiva comes from above, enters through the fontanelle and works through the thousands of the nadis which are spread over the whole body. Therefore the seeker of Truth must concentrate on the sahasrara, that is the brain, in order to regain his source. Pranayama is said to help the yogi to rouse the kundalini sakti which lies coiled in the solar plexus. The sakti rises through a nerve called the sushumna, which is embedded in the core of the spinal cord and extends to the brain.
If one concentrates on the sahasrara there is no doubt that the ecstasy of samadhi ensues. The vasanas, that is the latencies, are not however destroyed. The yogi is therefore bound to wake up from the samadhi, because release from bondage has not yet been accomplished. He must still try to eradicate the vasanas in order that the latencies yet inherent in him may not disturb the peace of his samadhi. So he passes down from the sahasrara to the heart through what is called the jivanadi, which is only a continuation of the Sushumna. The sushumna is thus a curve. It starts from the solar plexus, rises through the spinal cord to the brain and from there bends down and ends in the heart. When the yogi has reached the heart, the samadhi becomes permanent. Thus we see that the heart is the final centre. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 616)
My feeling from reading this is that Bhagavan is describing a real process, not something metaphorical or figurative.