Question: I often read references in Ramana Maharshi’s writings of the need for ALL thought to be removed or extinguished. Is this a translation error? Perhaps he means that only egoic or self-referential thoughts need to be removed? If all thoughts are removed, how could he teach others?
Tom: The need to remove all thoughts seems to be a very strange teaching indeed, and the objection you raise is a common-sense and valid one. However Sri Ramana was very clear that he meant ALL thoughts should be removed. Note this is also known as Samadhi, Turiya or Wakeful-Sleep (Jagrat-Susupti).
eg. In his short text ‘Who am I?’ Ramana writes:
‘The thought ‘Who am I?’, destroying all other thoughts, will itself finally be destroyed like the stick used for stirring the funeral pyre.’
‘As and when thoughts rise, one should annihilate all of them through enquiry then and there in their very place of origin.’
Nowhere in the vedanta teachings do we see any mention of only ‘self-referential thoughts’ needing to be removed, and with good reason too – only when all thoughts are removed will the Reality Shine. Otherwise ignorance will find a way to continue.
We see the same teaching in the Vedanta scriptures such as in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the writings of Gaudapada and of Shankara.
As to how can a Guru teach if he/she has no thoughts, the essential response is that from the point of view of ignorance it seems that Ramana is a body-mind entity (ie. a human being or person) that thinks, acts and suffers, but In Reality Sri Ramana is not a body mind at all – he is the Ultimate Reality – the Self, and it is only from the point of view of ignorance that he seems to move and act and think, etc.
Ramana sometimes said that he couldn’t think a single thought even if he tried! Oh, the paradox!
All thoughts must be removed (by Self-Enquiry)
The text Guru Vachaka Kovai is said to be the most authoritative recording of Sri Ramana’s verbal teachings. Here are some verses on the need to extinguish all thoughts:
- Unless the noise of thoughts subsides
One cannot know the ineffable bliss
- True wealth is but the gracious silence
Of steady, unswerving Siva-awareness.
This bright, rare treasure can be gained
Only by those who earnestly
Strive for extinction of all thoughts.
(Tom: ie. for liberation, one must earnestly strive for the extinction of ALL thoughts)
- Siva, who is Pure Awareness
Transcending thought, is only known
To seers heroic who with minds
Extinct abide thought-free within
The heart, and not to those whose minds
Are still engaged in thought.
(Tom: ie. Liberation is not known to those who are still engaged in thought. One must abide with ‘minds extinct’ and ‘thought-free’)
- The mark of bhakti true, total
Self-surrender at Siva’s Feet,
Is perfect peace without a thought
Or word of prayer or plaint.
(Tom: ie. True Bhakti, which is the same as True Jnana, also has no thoughts within it)
How does a sage function with no thoughts? The Jnani (Sage) does not act or think or perceive any differences (The Unfathomable nature of the Sage)
And here are some verses describing the unfathomable nature of Liberation/Jnana/The Jnani:
- “The mukta [liberated sage] like the rest of us perceives
The world in all its vast variety
And yet he sees non-difference in it”,
So people say. This is not true.
(Tom: ie. the idea that the liberated sage still perceives differences ‘like the rest of us’ but perceives an underlying unity despite various objects being seen is here being refuted.)
- Those who mistakenly perceive
The variegated universe believe
The mukta too is a perceiver like them
But he is not the perceiver.
(Tom: ie. Taking yourself, in ignorance, to be a perceiver and doer, one also, in ignorance, takes the sage to be a perceiver and doer. The notion that the sage is not a perceiver at all is one we find throughout the vedanta scriptures, but how can the mind understand this?)
- Ascribing individual being
To realised muktas is sheer folly.
Their being is universal Being.
The separateness seen in that pure
Sky is but the shadow cast
By the separateness of lookers-on
- In that great Silence there is no
Sense of difference. But is there then
A feeling of non-difference? No.
The non-duality extolled
By Seer’s is nothing but the absence
Of all sense of difference.
(Tom: here Sri Ramana states explicitly that the sage perceives no difference whatsoever, and feels no differences whatsoever. How can this be?! All difference is an effect of ignorance only!)
But do we not see the sage eating, doing things and suffering?
1135 & 1136. Even if the sense of doership
Is dead, “How could one call the sage
A mukta freed from all the bonds
Of karma? Do we not see him eating,
Engaged in work, bearing a body
Of flesh, accepting prarabdha [destiny],
And suffering pain?” If you ask this,
The answer is, “True, in your sight
He seems to suffer, you see him suffering,
But did he tell you that he suffered?”
1137 The sage enjoys as his own being
The bliss of all transcendent Being.
The error lies in these ignorant folk
Seeing him as a body that suffers
1152. Beyond the reach of words extends
The sage’s greatness. None but he
Can know his state of Being, vaster
Than the sky and than the mountain
Firmer. To experience it
Yourself, you should first shed your own
(Tom: Oh the wonder and unfathomable nature of Self-Realisation! No matter how many times we hear the state of Moksha described, know it cannot be understood! It is truly beyond the mind! How lucky we are to have Sri Ramana’s Presence and Teachings to guide us!)
Blessings and Namaste
To understand this in greater detail, please read the PDF here