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Sri Ramana Maharshi

Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) was a great spiritual teacher. He realised the Self in his seventeenth year. Self-realisation happened to him naturally, unaided by external instructions or guidance. A near-death experience one day led to a profound transformation. He was completely and irreversibly transformed and became a realised self. Sri Ramana Maharshi was born at Tirutcchali, near Madurai and studied up to IX class at Madurai during which time he had the near-death experience. He left home shortly after that and reached Arunaachala – Tiruvannaamalai (in Tamil Nadu) his favorite and most dear place and lived there till his death.

 

Sri Ramana Maharshi embodied the well known expression: “Brahma vit Brahma eva bhavati” – “The Knower of Brahman (Self) becomes the Brahman (Self)”.  Brahman is He. He is Brahman. He is Atmārāmam and Rāmabrahmam.  He is unoccupied, peaceful, blissful continuous awareness.

Self realised seers: (i) have compassion for all beings – sentient and insentient, (ii) possess lot of patience, (iii) experience no jealously, (iv) are clean physically and mentally, (v) never strain body or mind and are always relaxed, (vi) are always auspicious in thought, word and deed and always act selflessly for the welfare of others, (vii) give unselfishly and (viii) are always dispassionate in Unoccupied Awareness (niṣpṛhasya tṛṇam jagat – to the dispassionate the internal mental world and external world have no more worth than a blade of grass). All these are the natural qualities of the Brahmajñāni or ātmajñāni (the self-realised seer.) Sri Ramana Maharshi possessed all these traits; indeed he shone with them.

Vairāgyameva abhayam – “Dispassion cultivates fearlessness” was his life and the message of his life.

“Iśvaro guruḥ ātma iti mūrtībhedavibhāgine vyomavat vyāpya desāya (dehāya – body or form) śrī-dakṣiṇāmūrtaye namaḥ

Meaning:

The spiritual teacher – who may be our favorite deity like Shiva, Vishnu; our chosen teacher, either a living teacher or one of the great teachers of earlier times; or we ourselves in the form of our intuition – guides us in our spiritual path and to such a teacher do I bow down, the personification of Ṥrī Dakṣiṇāmūrtī (Lord Siva as  the spiritual teacher according to the Saivaite tradition. Lord Vishnu as Hayagriva according to the Vaishnavaite tradition). This teacher permeates – as awareness – our body, our mind and the external world as sky (ākāśa) permeates space.

This describes Sri Ramana Maharshi well.  Thus Sri Ramana Maharshi is Ṥrī Dakṣiṇāmūrtī Himself.

In Tamil Nadu there were 63 nāyanamārs – great Siva devotees, philosophers and spiritual personalities. Sri Tirugnaana Sambadhar is one among them. Tirugnnaana Sambandhar had a vision of Lord Siva and Parvati as an infant, when he was crying with hunger, and the divine couple appeared and served him milk. Tirugnaana Sambandhar had a filial affection for Lord Siva and his padikams (ten line spiritual expositions) reflect this. Many assume that Sri Ramana Maharshi is a reincarnation of Tirugnaana Sambandhar because of the similarity of their son-father-love for Lord Siva. As Venkata Raaman (as Sri Ramana Maharshi’s original name) he considered Lord Siva his father and was devoted to him. He used to prostrate himself and stand before Lord Sundareswara (presiding deity of Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple) with tears in his eyes and pray to the Lord after his near-death experience. He lost all interest in worldly things and affairs and gave himself up to meditation.

When he reached Arunaachala immediately after this and visited the grand Siva temple there for the first time, he said “I have come, Father!” standing before Lord Arunaachaleswara – the presiding deity of Arunachala. Even though he lived in Arunaachala for the rest of his life he never reentered the temple premises but still thought of the lord as his father.  Kaavyakantha Sri Vaasishista Ganapathi Muni, a great scholar and his elderly contemporary and disciple, whom Sri Maharshi used to address as “nāyana” (which means in Telugu ‘father’) and who named him Sri Ramana Maharshi, declared that Sri Ramana Maharshi was an avatar of Lord Skanda (Lord Subrahmanya, the younger son of Lord Siva and Parvati).

Sri Ramana Maharshi attained self-realisation as described in Ribhu Gita (a spiritual book on self-realization)  Lord Siva brought this about as a mother cat takes care of the kittens on its own, carrying them by the scruff of their necks, the maarjāla-kisora-nyāya (doctrine of the cat and its young). This incident is the lila (divine sport) of Lord Siva which transformed Venkata Raaman into Ramana Maharshi.

Daharā Vidya is an Upanishadic meditation technique. During this meditative process we question ourselves “who am I?” and try to know and merge our apparent identity – with our body, mental traits and all related things from this “I”, “me”, “mine” – collectively our self-consciousness and its relation to external world and persons (called technically the ‘false I’), with the Unoccupied Awareness (the real I or pure consciousness) which sources and generates – through maya and its transformations – our self-consciousness and the “false or unreal I”.

When we question thus and meditate we shed our false identity and transcend our “I”, “me”, “mine” to shine as our real I. According to Upanishadic mahāvākya (profound sentences) “Aham Brahma asmi”: the reall I is the Brahman or Atman, our True Self. This real I is sat- cit-ānanda (being-pure consciousness-bliss) the Brahman or Atman. We will become aware of this truth and win enlightenment. The real I is then identified with the pure consciousness. Peace-bliss-silence fill our mind.

Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching a refinement of this Upanishadic meditation technique:

He asks us to:

(i)                 Find out wherefrom this ‘I’ springs forth and with what it merges at its source; that is tapas (meditation):

(ii)               Find out wherefrom the sound of the mantra in japa rises up and with what it merges at its source; that is tapas (meditation).

Sri Ramana Maharshi though is a jñāni and declared that the path of knowledge (jñāna yoga) is also a yogi of karma (action). Like Sri Adi Sankaraachaarya, he too took care of his mother and served her. He used to cut the vegetables in the ashram kitchen, getting up at 4am. On one occasion he took a cane, polished it and gave to the shepherd boy for his use – as an example of niṣkāma karma (dispassionate action).

Sri Ramana Maharshi demonstrated through his living and actions that a jñāni is never dissociated from the society. He is part and parcel of society. He used to say that a realised self silently guides society. By engaging in karma (actions} he showed that it is not right to say that jñānis need not do any karma. He thus dissolved the illusions and arrogance of many jñānis, dismissing the notion that through their renunciation of karma they are superior. Sri Ramana Maharsi also composed hymns in praise of Arunaachala Siva and Ṥrī Dakṣiṇāmūrtī. He had great compassion and showered it on the animals too that lived in the ashram. The love and affection shown to Lakshmi, the ashram cow, is one example for this.

Sri Ramana Maharshi informs us through his life that we are all in a state of saṃsāra and must make efforts to realize the self. [The actual meaning of samsaara is  sukha-dukha-anubhavam – experience of happiness and unhappiness – and not merely family life and its associated joys and sorrows.  Sanyāsis (renunciants) too can be in a state of samsaara (happiness and unhappiness) which we observe in the case of many genuine and fake swamis today].

He said that each life takes its own course and one cannot and must not compare one life with the other; just because he renounced the world does not mean that every spiritual aspirant must do so. He used the technical word prārabdham – pra+ārabdham (that which is started) to describe the difference. Each one of us will have a different prārabdham and hence different kinds of lives and living. All Upanishadic seers are householders. Some have two wives too, such as Yajñavalkya. Brahmacharyam means moving or residing in the (or as) Brahman – and not abstaining from sex or practicing celibacy as is generally believed. This aspect was often stressed by Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Sri Ramana Maharshi believed in and used to say that the practice of spirituality, and living as a house-holder, must go on hand in hand. There is no spiritual life devoid of or dissociated or different from normal family life. Both exist as one, like milk and water; sweetness and honey. Spirituality does not exist separately from family life. Family life must be made spiritual.

Thus Sri Ramana Maharshi lived the life of True Jñāni and left a lot of literature also for our study and use. Persons interested in knowing more about Sri Ramana Maharshi can read the book in English entitled “Ramana Maharshi” by Arthur Osborne (Jaico Publishing Co.) or many other books both in English and regional languages published by Sri Ramana Ashram Publishers, Tiruvannamalai, Tamilnaadu.

Dr Varanasi Ramabrahmam

 

Panchali

Pānchālī

Pulled into my husbands’ court by my uncombed hair

Thrown onto the floor where hundreds of feet touch their thick, red silk

The flowing carpet rises and falls like the mist of my garden

I know you are immovable in your rage Shákuni

Your ego knows no limits, it is like a snake stalking a mouse

Quietly without remorse in its meager heart

All eyes watch me cry in anguish as you pull my sari

To end of this room it flows like the Gaṅgā

Shining with its thin, gold-laden fabric

And crippled by your greedy fingers

Dignified beauty you tossed with your dice

Human emotions you sacrificed with your heart

Bring your eyes to mine to see one word: regret

Ha! You are the nectar’s enemy: regret!

If you took me then Kṛṣṇa will smite you right now!

His chakra, a knife for your spineless body

All my fears that followed me at night with my friends

Nibbling on their black pearls while I watched the roses rise

They are you…a shadow that rapes the moon

I cannot give you my body for it belongs to Keśava!

My life will one day be returned to his home

To live as a cowherd while churning milk for his hungry lips

The boyish smile and curly hair that barely touches his shoulders

His eyes so wide yet shaped like the waning moon

Little specks in the corner of both eyes are galaxies unknown to us

So far away other people exist for whom Kṛṣṇa is their king

If I am his then he is my king too

Shákuni, you are the drunken ego, a corrupted seed for humanity!

My body is a vase holding the virtues of Sūrya

He touched my spirit to give me a bite of his own

Disrobing me in front of my husbands and all the Āryas of their kingdom

is a sacrilege!

I cry to you to stop this great injustice!

Can’t you see I have sunken into a sea of distress!?

No, you are busy drowning my voice with your wicked laughter

Brahmā gave you a boon that protects your life from any physical or divine harm

Yet, has he no shame when seeing this monstrous deed?

Ma! You are Sarvāsuravināśā, come to my rescue!

Show your terrifying face to this savage

Make him cower under your crippling stare, ma!

Turn his limbs into brittle sticks so he will stop treating my honor like a toy

Sunil P. Narayan

Satyagraha – An Opera in Sanskrit

 

A Review of Satyagraha

Elena Jessup – March 2010, London

In January of this year, a friend told me that the English National Opera was reviving its performance of Philip Glass’ Sanskrit opera Satyagraha in London.  Since my husband and I missed the first performance in 2007, a huge surprise hit, we decided to buy tickets for one of the shows in March.

Although both of us are Sanskrit teachers and have degrees in the language, we were rather nervous about investing a precious Saturday night on a work with which we felt we had no connection.  We were vaguely familiar with Gandhi’s life story and completely unfamiliar with Philip Glass’ music.  Would it be strange? Boring?  The running time of the performance was three hours, which made me nervous.  In the end, we opted for the cheapest tickets, consoled by the fact that we could leave after the first act. When we went for our chocolate ice creams in the interval, we were so impressed that we did not want to leave. 

Satyagraha is not a ‘normal’ opera like Carmen or The Marriage of Figaro.  Composed in 1980 by Philip Glass, it uses the text of the the Bhagavad Gita as a contemplation of Gandhi’s concept of non-violence.  Like a meditation, the work is non-linear and cyclical; as my husband put it, ‘Don’t expect to be entertained.  This is about becoming still.’  In spite of this, the ENO’s performance was amazingly enjoyable due to two factors.  First, the music is moving and powerful, and the orchestra and performers, especially Alan Oke (Gandhi), conveyed it so brilliantly.  Second, the staging was done by Improbable, a UK-based company known for its fresh approach to theatre.  Puppets, masks, and other novelties provided the audience with surprises and insights.  Another original innovation was the integration of the surtitles (i.e., the translation of the Gita verses) into the production, which was accomplished by projecting the words onto different locations on the stage.

However, there were two flaws in the performance, both of which relate to how Sanskrit was used in the work.  The first is that the Sanskrit text was garbled and indistinct.  It would be useful next time for the producers to employ a Sanskritist to help to clarify the performers’ pronunciation.  The second was that the surtitles were so cleverly integrated into the staging that most of the audience members could not see them clearly, unless they were sitting in the most expensive seats.  This was distressing for many people because the meaning of the Sanskrit was so important to the spiritual effect of the opera.

Nevertheless, Satyagraha had replaced The Magic Flute as my favourite opera and I was keen to go again.  Two weeks later we brought some Sanskrit A-level students.  I asked them what they thought.  They said they mostly liked it – not bad coming from a group of 18 year old Londoners.  Hats off to Philip Glass and Improbable for pulling in the punters for a contemplative opera with a Sanskrit libretto; it was great to see so many people experiencing the power of the Bhagavad Gita.

Elena Jessup teaches Sanskrit at St James’ School in central London

Satyagraha’s run at the ENO has now finished, but you can listen to and follow part of the score – and the libretto – on a special site the ENO have set up here. 


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