The Truth of Vedanta (Ramana Maharshi, Guru Vachaka Kovai)

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In the text Guru Vachaka Kovai are recorded some of the most important teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Here are verses 148 and 149 which come under the heading ‘The Truth of Vedanta’ in the text. I have also included commentary from Sri Sadhu Om, a direct disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s:

The Truth of Vedanta

148. Those who know nothing but sense-pleasure,
To ruin and destruction doomed,
Resent transcendence of the senses
And call this fresh and fruitful wisdom
Dry Vedanta!

Tom’s comments: many seekers often resent the idea of turning away from sense pleasures, saying this is a dry or repressive path that is ‘anti-life’. Here Ramana calls this path ‘fresh and fruitful’ instead!

149. The experience of Vedanta comes
Only to those who are utterly
Without desire. Far, far it is
From those who still retain desires.
For such the penance is prescribed
Of longing for the Lord who knows
No desire, so as to end
Forever all desire.

Commentary from Sri Sadhu Om:

The term Vedanta is commonly understood to mean a particular system of philosophy, but its true meaning is the experience of Jnana which is gained as the conclusion [anta] of the Vedas.

The desire for sense objects, which are all 2nd or 3rd persons, is directly opposed to the desire for God, and so it is quite clear that God is not merely one among the many 2nd and 3rd personal objects, but that He must be the Reality of the 1st person. Therefore, we should understand that discarding all desires for 2nd and 3rd personal objects and having love for Self alone is the true devotion towards God.

Verse B 13 [which comes after verse 731] also asserts this same point.

731. The way of knowledge and the way of love
Are interwoven close. Don’t tear
Asunder these inseparables.
But practise both together holding
In the heart the two as one.

SRI BHAGAVAN 13: Meditation on the Self
Is devotion to the Lord
Supreme, since He abides as this,
Our very Self.

What is the relationship between Desire and Realisation?

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Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi states in his text ‘Who am I?’:

Question 26. What is the relation between desirelessness (nirasa) and wisdom (jnana)?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Desirelessness is wisdom. The two are not different; they are the same. Desirelessness is refraining from turning the mind towards any object. Wisdom means the appearance of no object. In other words, not seeking what is other than the Self is detachment or desirelessness; not leaving the Self is wisdom.

The above was taken from the question and answer version of ‘Who am I?’. Note that the Sanskrit word Jnana, literally meaning knowledge or wisdom, is a synonym for Self-Realisation when used in spiritual texts. In the alternate essay version of ‘Who am I?’, which is the version Ramana wrote himself, the same essential teachings are given but phrased slightly differently. Here is this particular teaching from the essay version:

Not attending to what-is-other (anya, that is, to any second or third person object) is non-attachment (vairagya) or desirelessness (nirasa); not leaving Self is knowledge (jnana). In truth, these two (desirelessness and knowledge) are one and the same.

In Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk number 502, Ramana states the following:

There is room for kama (desire) so long as there is an object apart from the subject (i.e., duality). There can be no desire if there is no object. The state of no-desire is moksha.

In Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 149, Ramana States:

149. The non-dual experience will only be attained by those who have completely given up desires. For those with desires, it is far, far away. Hence it is proper for those with desires to direct their desires towards God, who is desireless, so that through desire for God the desires that arise through the delusion that objects exist and are different from oneself will become extinct.

In verses 378-9 Ramana states:

378. Except for the one who has completely cut the tie of desires, the false appearance [that he is a suffering jiva] will not cease. Therefore, without any hesitation, one should cut even the desire for the great Divine Happiness.
379. O foolish mind who is suffering due to the desire for the petty pleasures of this world and of the next, if you remain quiet [i.e. without desire] you will certainly attain that State of Bliss which surely transcends the pleasures of these two.

As always, Ramana’s teachings are in line with the traditional Vedanta texts such as the writing of Shankara and the Upanishads. I have written some other posts that demonstrate this point, see below:

DESIRE, DISPASSION & LIBERATION with quotes from The Upanishads

Shankara: How to Meditate for Self-Realisation| Vivekachuhdamani

Does stillness of mind lead to liberation?

 

Ramana Maharshi: some gems from Who Am I? (Nan Yar) | Be still | Silence

Here are some quotes I have arranged by theme: they are all taken from Ramana Maharshi’s masterpiece Who Am I? (Nan Yar? in Tamil).

It is a short text and should ideally be read in full. You can find a version on this website here which is truer to the original Ramana himself wrote and where I have also introduced the text more fully, and you can find another version from Ramanashramam here, from where the quotes below were taken.

Throughout you can see that the emphasis is on stilling the mind to bring about Self-Realisation. The method for doing this is Self-Enquiry. See if you can see all the different ways that Ramana points to making the mind still in each of his answers. The Bold Type Headings are my own additions and my comments are in italicised red.

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See here for an audio version of the text below:

How can I attain realisation? By removing the world and making the mind still.

Q. When will the realization of the Self be gained?
A. When the world which is what-is-seen has been removed, there will be realization of the Self which is the seer.

Q. Will there not be realization of the Self even while the world is there?
A. There will not be.

Q. When will the world which is the object seen be removed?
A. When the mind, which is the cause of all cognition’s and of all actions, becomes quiescent, the world will disappear.

Tom: Ramana is stating that realisation appears when the mind is still. Many people avoid these kinds of teachings which advocate turning away from the world, and give various seemingly logical reasons for this philosophical stance (note that it is a philosophical stance for the most part, based on logical reasoning, belief and a certain ideology), but for most people, without prolonged stillness of mind, egotism finds a way to perpetuate itself and suffering, separation and ignorance also continue.

Breath control, mantra, devotional practice are aids but are not the true practice.

Like the practice of breath-control, meditation on the forms of God, repetition of mantras, restriction on food, etc., are but aids for rendering the mind quiescent.

Through meditation on the forms of God and through repetition of mantras, the mind becomes one-pointed.

Just as when a chain is given to an elephant to hold in its trunk it will go along grasping the chain and nothing else, so also when the mind is occupied with a name or form it will grasp that alone.

Why make the mind one-pointed?

When the mind expands in the form of countless thoughts, each thought becomes weak; but as thoughts get resolved the mind becomes one-pointed and strong; for such a mind Self-inquiry will become easy.

Tom: Note that here Ramana defines a strong and weak mind: a strong mind is one that is one-pointed, a weak mind is one that is not one-pointed, ie. a scattered mind. It is a strong one-pointed mind that can undergo self-enquiry effectively for most. Therefore the practices above such as breath control, devotion and mantra practice can form a spiritual foundation for those who are not able to effectively perform self-enquiry straight away.

But thoughts keep on coming. Will thoughts ever end? 

Q. The residual impressions (thoughts) of objects appear unending like the waves of an ocean. When will all of them get destroyed?
A. As the meditation on the Self rises higher and higher, the thoughts will get destroyed.

Q. Is it possible for the residual impressions of objects that come from beginningless time, as it were, to be resolved, and for one to remain as the pure Self?
A. Without yielding to the doubt “Is it possible, or not?”, one should persistently hold on to the meditation on the Self. Even if one be a great sinner, one should not worry and weep “O! I am a sinner, how can I be saved?”; one should completely renounce the thought “I am a sinner”; and concentrate keenly on meditation on the Self; then, one would surely succeed.

Tom: To worry about whether or not thoughts can end is itself a thought and so is moving away from stillness of mind. See how tricky the mind is?

What about my worldly problems and other people?

The mind should not be allowed to wander towards worldly objects and what concerns other people.

However bad other people may be, one should bear no hatred for them.

Tom: Again, the above teachings are all about the mind becoming still.

What about desire and hatred?

Both desire and hatred should be eschewed.

Tom: Hatred and desire are more agitations of the mind.

How can I stop worrying about worldly affairs? 

Whatever burdens are thrown on God, He bears them. Since the supreme power of God makes all things move, why should we, without submitting ourselves to it, constantly worry ourselves with thoughts as to what should be done and how, and what should not be done and how not? We know that the train carries all loads, so after getting on it why should we carry our small luggage on our head to our discomfort, instead of putting it down in the train and feeling at ease?

Tom: One solution for an agitated mind is to have faith in the Supreme God, for the mind that trusts and has faith in God naturally becomes still. This is made clearer in the next quote.

Is there room for devotion and surrender on this path?

He who gives himself up to the Self that is God is the most excellent devotee. Giving one’s self up to God means remaining constantly in the Self without giving room for the rise of any thoughts other than that of the Self.

Tom: ie. be still. If you do have thoughts, they should only be about the Self, meaning the mind is strong and one-pointed, as referenced in an earlier quote above.

Maybe I should find a guru who will help me? Perhaps I need their grace or transmission?

God and the Guru will only show the way to release; they will not by themselves take the soul to the state of release.

Each one should by his own effort pursue the path shown by God or Guru and gain release.

Tom: The Guru only tells you to be still. Seeking a Guru is entering more delusion/illusion/ignorance and merely perpetuates ignorance and mental agitation/movement. See how skilfully Ramana steers us away from this mistake? This same teaching is also given at the start of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (verses 51-55).

Which scriptures and books will help me on this path?

All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore their conclusive teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent; once this has been understood there is no need for endless reading.

Where in the world can I find lasting happiness and fulfillment?

There is no happiness in any object of the world. We imagine through our ignorance that we derive happiness from objects. When the mind goes out, it experiences misery. In truth, when its desires are fulfilled, it returns to its own place and enjoys the happiness that is the Self.

Tom: Seeking happiness in the world or in objects is more mental agitation. Ceasing to do this is making the mind still. This is elaborated upon and emphasised in the next two quotes.

How does a wise one act?

Under the tree the shade is pleasant; out in the open the heat is scorching. A person who has been going about in the sun feels cool when he reaches the shade. Someone who keeps on going from the shade into the sun and then back into the shade is a fool. A wise man stays permanently in the shade. Similarly, the mind of the one who knows the truth does not leave Brahman. The mind of the ignorant, on the contrary, revolves in the world, feeling miserable, and for a little time returns to Brahman to experience happiness. In fact, what is called the world is only thought. When the world disappears, i.e. when there is no thought, the mind experiences happiness; and when the world appears, it goes through misery.

What about Spiritual Knowledge (Jnana) or Wisdom?

Q. What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?
A. Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight.

Q. What is the relation between desirelessness and wisdom?
A. Desirelessness is wisdom. The two are not different; they are the same. Desirelessness is refraining from turning the mind towards any object. Wisdom means the appearance of no object.


SOME CONCLUDING WORDS:

Tom: Gratitude to Sri Ramana for his teachings that skilfully and in numerous ways tell us to still the mind. Bhagavan Ramana writes:

‘All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore their conclusive teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent; once this has been understood there is no need for endless reading.’

If you are not able to take up self-enquiry and still the mind, take up the auxiliary practices at once and devote yourself fully to them. Bhagavan Ramana writes:

‘Through meditation on the forms of God and through repetition of mantras, the mind becomes one-pointed…the mind becomes one-pointed and strong; for such a mind Self-inquiry will become easy.’

So devote yourself to God, devote yourself to Sri Ramana, chant the mantra with unceasing and unending devotion, and then go deep deep into stillness wielding the question ‘Who am I?’ as your weapon of choice, eventually letting go of this weapon too, drowning in Effulgent Grace in the formless form of Realisation. Bhagavan Ramana writes:

‘By the inquiry ‘Who am I?’. The thought ‘who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts, and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre, it will itself in the end get destroyed. Then, there will arise Self-realization.’

Om Tat Sat

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DESIRE, DISPASSION, LIBERATION & THE ABSOLUTE with quotes from The Upanishads and Sri Ramana Maharshi

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One learns more and more that no number of objects we experience (this includes worldly objects, people, thoughts, feelings, experiences, praise, adoration, etc) will ever bring lasting satisfaction. These objects (which includes all experiences), each being temporary and limited, will bring only temporary and limited pleasures at best. This pleasure will inevitably end which results in stress and suffering as we try to prevent the ending of our association with the desired objects. So seeking fulfillment in objects results in the perpetuation of suffering, and this is learnt over and over again ever more deeply over the course of time.

Simultaneously, we realise that lasting fulfillment only comes from not-seeking, ie. when we are resting as our-Self in the Natural Condition. Again, this insight-realisation deepens and our conviction that this is true grows stronger over time, as we psychologically and spiritually mature.

How quickly we learn this depends on our ability to observe, listen, discern and learn the lessons life is teaching us (this is called Viveka in Sanskrit, often translated as discrimination or discernment, but also can be translated as wisdom).

This natural turning away from gross and subtle objects and dropping away of desire for them is known as dispassion or vairagya in Sanskrit, and this vairagya naturally occurs to spiritual seekers (ie. the ego) as they spiritually mature and internalise these above lessons.

When vairagya becomes fully mature there is just constant abiding as Self. Self is satisfied as Self, not needing pleasure or good feelings from ‘outside’ limited objects. The seeking mind (which is the egoic mind or the functioning of the separate ‘I’ concept), then never emerges and is eventually destroyed through sustained inactivity.

This total Vairagya is where the separate ‘I concept’ never rises and is essentially dead. This is known as destruction of the Mind (Manonasa) or extinction of the vasanas (the habitual egoic tendencies, the extinction of which is called Vasana Kshaya). It is also known as Self-Realisation (Atma Sakshatkara) or Self-Knowledge (Atma Jnana). It is not realisation or knowledge in the traditional sense, as there is not necessarily any knowledge in the mind. Rather it is the non-emergence of egotism (egotism is also known as ignorance or separation, so knowledge is simple the lack of ignorance or the lack of separation). It is also known as Silence (Mauna) or the Absolute (Brahman).

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi gives us a practical definition of Silence here when he states:

‘The Self is that where there is absolutely no “I”-thought. That is called silence [mauna]’ and again he states ‘That state in which the “I”-thought does not rise even in the least is silence [mauna].’

In the same vein Advaita Bodha Deepika states:

‘What is variously described as Knowledge [Jnana], Liberation [Moksha], etc., in the scriptures, is but stillness of mind.’

In the Amritabindu Upanishad it is written:

‘When the mind, with its attachment for sense-objects annihilated, is fully controlled within the heart and thus realises its own essence, then that is the Supreme State (Brahman is gained)’

The Advaitic giant, Sri Gaudapada, (Shankara’s guru’s guru) writes in his Mandukya Karika:

‘The controlled mind is verily the fearless Brahman’ (Chapter 3, verse 35)

Regarding Vairagya and Jnana, in the text ‘Who am I?’, Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi writes:

‘Not to desire anything extraneous to oneself constitutes vairagya (dispassion) or nirasa (desirelessness). Not to give up one’s hold on the Self constitutes jnana (knowledge). But really vairagya and jnana are one and the same.’

Later in the same text, ‘Who am I?’, he writes:

‘It is pleasant under the shade of a tree, and scorching in the heat of the sun outside. A person toiling in the sun seeks the cool shade of the tree and is happy under it. After staying there for a while, he moves out again but, unable to bear the merciless heat of the sun, he again seeks the shade. In this way he keeps on moving from shade to sun and sun to shade.

It is an unwise person who acts thus, whereas the wise man never leaves the shade: in the same way the mind of the Enlightened Sage (Jnani) never exists apart from Brahman, the Absolute. The mind of the ignorant, on the other hand, entering into the phenomenal world, suffers pain and anguish; and then, turning for a short while towards Brahman, it experiences happiness. Such is the mind of the ignorant.’


May these teachings, through repeated hearing and contemplation, grow in your hearts and mind and give rise to stillness of mind and eventually Mauna, that is Self-Realisation itself.

May vairagya and viveka grow and blossom into timeless Jnana!

Tat Tvam Asi!

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Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

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Also see: What is the relationship between Desire and Realisation?