Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
Ramana Maharshi was sixteen years old when he had an experience during which he came to know the Self. He had a sudden, complete immersion in the Self, even while engaging in other normal daily activities. Until that point, he had no knowledge of the Self, and this experience changed his life completely as he understood that he (his “Self”) was separate from his physical being. This realization would change his life and the lives of the many disciples who chose to follow him and to come to an understanding of his teachings. His teachings continue their impact today.
Ramana Maharshi’s Beginnings
Born Venkataraman Iyer in 1879, Ramana Maharshi’s parents were farmers and quite religious, devoted to the gods and goddesses who were a part of the Smarta denomination or tradition: Shiva, Shakti, Ganesha, Vishnu, and Surya. The Smarta denomination is aligned with the school of The Advaita Vedanta, which promotes the concept of the true Self. Ramana Maharshi’s uncle and great uncle were both sannyasins (a Sanskrit word meaning “one who has thrown down his possessions”) and this may have had some influence on him to follow in their religious tradition. After an unimpressive stint as an elementary school student, his father sent him to live with a relative so he could learn English at a school there. While he did learn English, his efforts as a scholar were minimal at best, although he was fascinated by all things spiritual.
Special from the Start
It has been noted that Ramana Maharshi was surrounded by a glowing halo of light when he was born. Throughout his childhood, Maharshi would sleep so soundly that it was impossible to awaken him, even after being moved from place to place or knocked around by his classmates. It was later observed that he may have been experiencing a sort of spontaneous deep meditation. When he was sixteen years old, he had a feeling he described as a sort of heated “force”. He said of the sensation, “At first I thought it was some kind of fever, but I decided, if so it is a pleasant fever, so let it stay.” From there he decided to find out what death is and what the effects of death would be on the non-physical being. After some experimentation and trying to simulate a state that resembled death, including holding his breath and imitating rigor mortis, he entered into a deep meditative state. When he came out of it, he declared that he had experienced an “akarma mukti” or sudden liberation, and determined that he had arrived at a state of “jnani” or self-realization. His regard for common adolescent interests disappeared, and he found himself avoiding school, friends, and even his family. He would leave home for good shortly thereafter to pursue a life devoted to spirituality.
Ramana Maharshi boarded a train for Tiruvannamalai in spite of having no friends or acquaintances there to help him find his way once he arrived. He slept on the street, often entering into a deep Samadhi (immersive state of meditative consciousness) to the point at which he was covered in insect bites and near starvation since eating simply never occurred to him. Rescued by a local holy man, he was fed and cleaned up, and his physical issues were attended to. But Ramana Maharshi wished only for solitude and time for introspection. He soon traveled a short distance away to another temple in Tiruvannamalai, where he thought he could have the private life he craved, but his extreme devotion to an ascetic lifestyle, free from all indulgences or creature comforts, and his ability to sit in silence for days on end soon drew an audience. The people were amazed at his ardent dedication to his spiritual pursuits, showing neither joy nor sorrow, sitting in silence with only his existence for companionship. His mother and brother came to try to convince him to return home, but he refused to acknowledge them; even his mother’s tears did not move him. An observer handed him some paper and a writing implement and asked him to at least explain his behavior. Ramana Maharshi wrote, “The Ordainer controls the fate of souls in accordance with their past deeds. Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try how hard you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to stop it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.” His mother and brother reluctantly returned home, knowing there was nothing more they could do. She did not know it then, but she would return around twenty years later to spend her remaining days as a disciple of her son.
Ramana Maharshi arrives at Arunachala
About two and a half years after his arrival at Tiruvannamalai, Ramana Maharshi arrived at Arunachala hill. In a verse from Arunachala Mahatmyam, a sacred text written by the Hindu god, Shiva, Ramana himself translated the following from Sanskrit into Tamil, “Arunachala is truly the holy place. Of all holy places it is the most sacred! Know that it is the heart of the world.” He would never leave. His reputation preceded him, and he soon found himself the recipient of many existential queries from those seeking spiritual enlightenment. Some came just to sit near him and feel the peacefulness and serenity he exuded. Others were fellow spiritual scholars who came to him for further teaching and understanding. One Vedic scholar, Kavyakantha Sri Ganapati Sastri, found Maharshi’s teaching so impressive that he bestowed upon him a new name and title, christening him Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. “Bhagavan” meaning “illustrious” or “one who possesses opulence” and “Sri” used as an honorary when addressing deities (although it can also be used as simply a title such as “Mr.” or “Mrs.”). Maharshi would later be compared to St. Francis of Assisi due to his unique ability to understand and communicate with all manner of animals.
The Family of Ramana Maharshi Comes to Arunachala
Although his father had passed away many years before, his mother and brother were still alive. Perhaps realizing that Ramana Maharshi was in the place he was destined to be and believing that they perhaps could benefit from being in his presence, they relocated to Arunachala. They became sannyasins and both began working with Ramana Maharshi as well as learning his spiritual teachings. In 1922, his mother died and was entombed at the base of Arunachala (as burials were not permitted on the holy hill itself). Maharshi would honor her with the construction of an ashram at which her tomb is the center. The ashram would be called “Sri Ramanasramam” and while its beginnings were quite humble, consisting of only two huts, it would eventually include a hospital and a post-office as well as several other impressive buildings. A Western author, Arthur Osborne, who spent twenty years at the ashram and was the editor of the ashram’s journal, would share in the responsibility for bringing Ramana Maharshi’s name to the West. Additionally, the author of the movie, “The Razor’s Edge”, W. Somerset Maugham, said he based the character of the holy man on Ramana Maharshi. Several other authors followed suit, describing their “illuminating” and “sublimely all-embracing” experiences while at the ashram. One author and frequent visitor to Sri Ramanasramam, David Godman, who would pen several books on Ramana Maharshi, filmed this about his spiritual teacher: https://youtu.be/M-POLMrAspw. Maharshi’s reputation would be solidified in the West when he appeared in Life Magazine in 1949. This video, taken in 1946, shows rare footage of Maharshi at his ashram: https://youtu.be/1-OS8LU6JW8.
The (Oft-Silent) Teachings of Raman Maharshi
Many of Maharshi’s disciples have said that merely being in the presence of Maharshi affected them deeply and that he often preferred sitting in silence during encounters with his devotees. He said that “Silence is the true Upadesa” (Upadesa is a Sanskrit word for spiritual teaching or instruction). He imparted much verbal spiritual wisdom to his followers as well, however, reinforcing his message of Self-realization. He tried to impart his message that all happiness and fulfillment can be found within the Self and that there is no reason to try to obtain it from outside sources. Ramana Maharshi said in his teachings: “Our real nature is mukti (the liberated state). But we are imagining that we are bound and are making various strenuous attempts to become free, while we are all the time free.” Another principle Maharshi would emphasize frequently is the idea that “Our "true nature" is "simple Being, free from thoughts". He contended that only when we separate ourselves from our thoughts can we find true peace; the true Self.
Ramana Maharshi’s Legacy Lives On
Sri Ramanasramam is still located at the foot of the Arunachala hill and is managed by the children and grandchildren of Ramana Maharshi’s brother. This video tour of the ashram shows what it has become: https://youtu.be/M-POLMrAspw. Many visitors still enjoy visiting the ashram and stay there for a few days at a time each year. If you choose to, you can walk in the footsteps of Ramana Maharshi, and hike around the base of the hill clockwise, a practice called “Giri Pradakshina”. The total distance of the base of Arunachala is approximately 14 kilometers. Maharshi walked around this path frequently, saying that it brought him spiritual enlightenment and that, regardless of one’s beliefs, it would benefit the stroller’s soul. As he told one doubter, “just as fire will burn all who touch it whether they believe it will or not, so the hill will do good to all those who go ‘round it.”
© 2017 5th Dimensional Quantum Healing & Awareness by Author: Roisin Herrera