Ramana Maharshi on those who claim to have surpassed the traditional notion of enlightenment

Last month I wrote a post titled Q. Some teachers (eg. Bentinho Massaro, Anadi, Adi Da Samraj) claim to have surpassed the traditional notion of enlightenment and say co-creation is the next evolutionary step…any thoughts?.

There have always been spiritual teachers who claim to have gone beyond the traditional notions of enlightenment and who claim that they have had a special enlightenment that is somehow unique to them. Often their teachings, in my view, leave much to be desired and wreak of egotism, and those seekers who know what to look for sense this fairly quickly. Their teachings often rehash a mixture of traditional and non-traditional methods, which is fine in itself as far as I am concerned, but then they mix in a good helping of old fashioned ego and narcissism: ‘I am the best, follow me’. The teachings are often presented in a more glamorous way which is ultimately less effective at best and very damaging at worst.

It may interest you to know that Ramana Maharshi was also asked about these types of teachers who claim something more that ‘traditional realisation’ and something special for themselves, and in this post I will give you an example of what Ramana said in response to this.

The following excerpt is from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 201, and Ramana is initially asked about Sri Aurobindo who apparently stated that Self-Realisation was only the beginning of the journey and not the end:


They further asked for Maharshi’s opinion of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga, and his claim to have probed beyond the experiences of the Vedic rishis and the Mother’s opinion of the fitness of her disciples to begin with the realisation of the Upanishadic rishis.

Tom’s comment: ‘The Mother’ or Mirra Alfassa was a westerner from Paris who taught alongside Sri Aurobindo and set up Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram

M.: Aurobindo advises complete surrender. Let us do that first and await results, and discuss further, if need be afterwards and not now. There is no use discussing transcendental experiences by those whose limitations are not divested. Learn what surrender is. It is to merge in the source of the ego. The ego is surrendered to the Self. Everything is dear to us because of love of the Self.

Tom’s comments: you can see how Ramana Maharshi’s first response is not to criticise another teacher or teaching but to find some common ground and focus upon this. This would presumably be of most benefit for the seeker, which is Ramana’s primary concern, rather than engaging in some intellectual debate or trying to prove his teaching style to be superior

The Self is that to which we surrender our ego and let the Supreme Power, i.e., the Self, do what it pleases. The ego is already the Self’s. We have no rights over the ego, even as it is. However, supposing we had, we must surrender them.

D.: What about bringing down divine consciousness from above?

Tom’s comments: this presumably was another of Sri Aurobindo’s teachings, namely that divine consciousness should descend onto us from above. Here Ramana responds by quoting various scriptures:

M.: As if the same is not already in the Heart? “O Arjuna, I am in the expanse of the Heart,” says Sri Krishna “He who is in the sun, is also in this man”, says a mantra in the Upanishads. “The Kingdom of God is within”, says the Bible. All are thus agreed that God is within. What is to be brought down? From where? Who is to bring what, and why?

Realisation is only the removal of obstacles to the recognition of the eternal, immanent Reality. Reality is. It need not be taken from place to place.

D.: What about Aurobindo’s claim to start from Self-Realisation and develop further?

M.: Let us first realise and then see.

Tom’s comments: Again, Ramana’s instinct is to sidestep any intellectual argument and instead encourage the seeking in practical terms. Ramana now considers other theories on enlightenment and liberation, and again gives a practical response:

Then Maharshi began to speak of similar theories: The Visishtadvaitins say that the Self is first realised and the realised individual soul is surrendered to the universal soul. Only then is it complete. The part is given up to the whole. That is liberation and sayujya union. Simple Self-Realisation stops at isolating the pure Self, says Visishtadvaita.

The siddhas say that the one who leaves his body behind as a corpse cannot attain mukti [liberation]. They are reborn. Only those whose bodies dissolve in space, in light or away from sight, attain liberation. The Advaitins of Sankara’s school stop short at Self-Realisation and this is not the end, the siddhas say.

There are also others who extol their own pet theories as the best, e.g., late Venkaswami Rao of Kumbakonam, Brahmananda Yogi of Cuddappah, etc.

The fact is: There is Reality. It is not affected by any discussions. Let us abide as Reality and not engage in futile discussions as to its nature, etc.

The fact is: There is Reality.

It is not affected by any discussions.

Let us abide as Reality and not engage in futile discussions as to its nature, etc.

ramana umbrella

FALSE VEDANTA – a warning from Vivekachudamani

5bcbc2e6adc6ac9dfb690a3edcb64ab2_l
Sri Shankara

Perhaps the most important single text that traditionally outlines the Jnana Marga (Path of Knowledge) is Shankara’s Vivekachudamani.  This text has been used for centuries as a step by step manual to take one from (apparent) ignorance to Moksha (liberation) in which there is no suffering and it has been recommended by all the great Advaita sages including Sri Ramana Maharshi.

There are many gems littered throughout the text, and here is one of them which you may have missed:

160. The stupid man thinks he is the body, the book-learned man identifies himself with the mixture of body and soul, while the sage possessed of realisation due to discrimination looks upon the eternal Atman as his Self, and thinks, “I am Brahman”.

In verse 160 Shankara tells us that the one who is book-learned in Vedanta considers himself to be a mix of ‘body and soul’. In doing so, the one with mere book-learning still retains identification with the body, and so remains in ignorance and continues to suffer. In verse 162 Shankara, as is characteristic of the writing in Vivekachudamani, repeats his point and elaborates on it to make the meaning clear and beyond doubt:

162. As long as the book-learned man does not give up his mistaken identification with the body, organs, etc., which are unreal, there is no talk of emancipation for him, even if he be ever so erudite in the Vedanta philosophy.

There are many who know the scriptures, know the teachings, but still identify with the body in some way. These verses are a warning against this view. Shankara concludes this small section as follows, dispensing his sagely advice:

163. Just as thou dost not identify thyself with the shadow-body, the image-body, the dream-body, or the body thou hast in the imaginations of thy heart, cease thou to do likewise with the living body also.
164. Identifications with the body alone is the root that produces the misery of birth etc, of people who are attached to the unreal; therefore destroy thou this with the utmost care. When this identification caused by the mind is given up, there is no more chance for rebirth [ie. liberation is attained].

So don’t take yourself to be the body, just as you do not take your shadow to be yourself, do not take your body to be your-Self. Also, do not take yourself to be both the body and something else and in doing so retain a sense of limitation. You are That alone, you are the Self.

You are That alone,

You are the Self.

Jnana vs Bhakti (The path of Knowledge vs Devotional Love)

Ramana Maharshi downward gaze

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi states in Guru Vachaka Kovai:

722. On scrutiny, supreme devotion [parabhakti] and Jnana are in nature one and the same. To say that one of these two is a means to the other is due to not knowing the nature of either of them.

731. Know that the path of Jnana and the path of Bhakti are inter-related. Follow these inseparable two paths without dividing one from the other.

B13. Attending to Self is devotion to the supreme Lord, because the Lord exists as Self.

Ramana Maharshi on Neo-Advaita | Radical Non-duality | Are practices really required?

Also see:
False enlightenment
Are spiritual teachings prescriptions or descriptions? Sudden vs. gradual teachings
3 stories of awakening: no path vs sudden path vs gradual paths to enlightenment

Neo-Advaita (or ‘new advaita’), itself a modern-day term, is used to refer to teachings or communications that do not accept the existence of separation or duality in any way shape or form: there is no seeker, no separation, and therefore no need for a teaching or practice or communication even.

The term ‘neo-advaita’ is often used pejoratively by more traditional Advaita Vedantins, who do advocate teachings and practices, in order to discredit the neo-style ‘communications’. I use the word ‘communications’ when describing neo-advaita rather than teachings as often neo-advaita ‘speakers’ do not like to refer to themselves as teachers or as having teachings, as ‘teaching’ can imply a separation between a seeker who needs to be taught and a teacher who knows something and is teaching something to someone.

Below is a wonderfully instructive excerpt from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi that addresses the apparent conflict between the two types of teaching in talk number 57. It is well worth reading. See if you can see some of the parallels and issues that are raised. This except also explains in brief the method of Advaita Vedanta but is also heavily littered with Sanskrit words which may obstruct the understanding for some. I therefore have added some comments in italicised red which I hope are helpful in fully explaining the text’s meaning:

201908

Ramana Maharshi: Some people think that there are different stages in jnana. The Self is nitya aparoksha, i.e., ever-realised, knowingly or unknowingly. Sravana [hearing the teachings], they argue, should therefore be aparoksha jnana (directly experienced) and not paroksha jnana (indirect knowledge). But jnana should result in duhkha nivriti (loss of misery) whereas sravana alone does not bring it about. Therefore they say, though aparoksha, it is not unshaken; the rising of vasanas is the cause of its being weak (not unchanging); when the vasanas are removed, jnana becomes unshaken and bears fruit.

In the first sentence of the above paragraph Ramana hints that there are no stages in Jnana. He then goes on to state that The Self is ever-realised. Sometimes the mind ‘knows’ this, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way the Self is ever-realised as it is what we are, already and always.

The argument that is therefore proposed by some is that because we are already the Self – limitless, whole and complete –  just by hearing the teachings that point this out to us (sravana in Sanskrit), we will now knowingly ‘be the Self’ and have a direct experiential understanding of this (aparoksha jnana: ‘direct knowledge’ aparoksha means umediated or direct; jnana means knowledge or understanding and in a spiritual context means liberation or self-realisation), ie. through hearing the teachings alone self-realisation will result. This view is essentially stating that practices such as meditation and contemplation are not required for liberation as we are already fully realised and so no progressive path is required. Only direct pointing out alone is required and all else is illusion.

Ramana then points out the flaw in this argument. He states that the problem with this teaching is that liberation must lead to the cessation of suffering (duhkha nivriti in Sanskrit: duhkha means hurt or pain or suffering; nivriti in this context means cessation) and merely listening to teachings alone does not yield this result. Essentially, whilst mere sravana or listening to the direct teachings can yield direct insight (aparoksha jnana), this insight is weak and not stable. This is also my experience with seekers who have been exposed to these teachings. Whilst the can be direct and profound and trigger a realisation of sorts, the effects are often short lived and do not end suffering. This can, in some cases, lead to flip-flopping, in which the sense of liberation seems to come and go, alternating with confusion, seeking and suffering. In many it can also lead to an over-emphasis on concepts, although I am sure this is not the intent.

Ramana explains that the reason why insight is weak is due to the vasanas. Vasanas is a Sanskrit word that I often use in my teachings. It refers to habitual egoic tendencies that, through the force and momentum of ingrained habit, cause us to seemingly re-identify and re-immerse ourselves back into egotism, separation, illusion and suffering. It is the energy and momentum of the egoic vasanas that prevent liberation from appearing to be stable and lasting, even though liberation or the Self is all there is already and always.

Lastly, Ramana states that once the vasanas are removed, then realisation becomes stable and bears the fruit of cessation of suffering. This is the point of spiritual practices – not to bring liberation about – as that is all there is already and ‘we are that’ – but to remove the habitual wrong notions/beliefs or vasanas.

Ramana continues:

Others say sravana is only paroksha jnana. By manana (reflection) it becomes aparoksha spasmodically. The obstruction to its continuity is the vasanas: they rise up with reinforced vigour after manana. They must be held in check. Such vigilance consists in remembering = “I am not the body” and adhering to the aparoksha anubhava (direct experience) which has been had in course of manana (reflection).

Such practice is called nididhyasana and eradicates the vasanas. Then dawns the sahaja state. That is jnana, sure.

Ramana here explains an alternative theory which in practical terms is a the same argument I explained above as the vasanas have to be removed, but with some technical differences. Here Ramana explains that another view is that listening to the direct teachings (sravana) leads only to intellectual understanding (indirect understanding or paroksha jnana). In order to have a direct understanding or genuine experiential understanding (aparoksha jnana), one has then to reflect on the conceptual teachings (manana) and see the truth of them for oneself in one’s own direct experience. This then leads to spasmodic direct realisation which comes and goes. 

We can see that the only difference between this second theory and the first one is that the first theory states that listening to the teachings (sravana) alone leads to direct realisation where as this second theory adds in another stage in which sravana leads to indirect or mere intellectual understanding and this intellectual understanding is converted into direct experiential understanding through reflection (manana). In both cases what results from sravana or sravana-manana is spasmodic unstable direct realisation which comes and goes and alternates with confusion and suffering.

Ramana proceeds to point out that once we have attained a genuine direct insight, the egoic suffering-causing vasanas rise up with a newfound vigor and so the realisation we ‘attained’ is quickly dispelled.

How to dispel the suffering-causing vasanas? Through Nididhyasana, the 3rd stage of the traditional teaching in Advaita Vedanta (the first two stages are Sravana and Manana). The literal translation of Nididhyasana is meditation and there are different forms and aspects of this part of the teaching. Here Ramana explains two aspects of Nididhyasana, firstly a conceptual aspect: knowing ‘I am not the body’ or ‘I am not the body-mind’. The second aspect is to remember the experiential insight or direct realisation-experience that was obtained from sravana-manana and remain there.

What then results is removal of the wrong notion ‘I am the limited body-mind’ and removal of the associated habitual tendencies (vasanas) that obstruct suffering. This then results in what is usually termed Samadhi (the 4th and last stage of the traditional Advaita Vedanta teachings), and the culmination of Samadhi is Sahaja Samadhi, what Ramana here calls the Sahaja state. Sahaja means easy or natural in Sanskrit, so this is the Easy State or Natural State, a synonym for Liberation itself (ie. ‘Jnana sure’ in the text).

I have written several more posts on this and done a few videos that go into this in more detail, so feel free to take a look:

You are innate divine power
How to recognise false or incomplete spiritual teachings
Ramana Maharshi summarises the entire spiritual path in his Introduction to Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (Crest Jewel of Discrimination)
Essential teachings for liberation: we need a ‘double teaching’ as we suffer from ‘double ignorance’| The ‘two wings’ of the teaching | Buddhism | Vedanta

Ramana Maharshi: is intellectual or theoretical understanding required or even useful?

ramana maharshi

D.: Is intellectual knowledge enough?
M.: Unless intellectually known, how to practice it? Learn it intellectually first, then do not stop with that. Practise it.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 40


Questioner: Is a teacher necessary for instructions?
Ramana Maharshi: Yes, if you want to learn anything new. But here you have to unlearn.
Questioner: Yet a teacher is necessary.
Ramana Maharshi: You have already got what you seek elsewhere. So no teacher is necessary.
Questioner: Is there any use of the man of Realisation for the seeker?
Ramana Maharshi: Yes. He helps you to get rid of your delusion that you are not realised.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 434


Questioner: Is an intellectual understanding of the Truth necessary?
Ramana Maharshi: Yes. Otherwise why does not the person realise God or the Self at once, ie. as soon as he is told that God is all or the Self is all? That shows some wavering on his part. He must argue with himself and gradually convince himself of the Truth before his faith becomes firm.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 596


Question: Is the study of science, psychology, physiology, etc., helpful for attaining Yoga-liberation or for intuitive understanding of the unity of Reality?

Ramana Maharshi: Very little. Some theoretical knowledge is needed for Yoga and may be found in books, but practical application is what is needed. Personal example and instruction are the most helpful aids. As for intuitive understanding, a person may laboriously convince himself of the truth to be grasped by intuition, of its function and nature, but the actual intuition is more like feeling and requires practical and personal contact. Mere book learning is not of any great use. After Realisation all intellectual loads are useless burdens and are to be thrown overboard.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 28


It is those who are not learned that are saved rather than those whose ego has not yet subsided in spite of their learning. The unlearned are saved from the relentless grip of the devil of self-infatuation; they are saved from the malady of a myriad whirling thoughts and words; they are saved from running after wealth. It is from more than one evil that they are saved.

Reality in forty verses – Supplement, verse 36


‘Eventually, all that one has learnt will have to be forgotten’

From ‘Who am I?’


 

Tom comments: Intellectual understanding has a certain importance – it gives the seeking mind direction and structure. This enables one to peel back the illusion of egotism or Maya, the cause of apparent separation and suffering. Then, theoretical knowledge, once it has fully served its purpose, can be discarded, like the metaphorical thorn used to remove a thorn.

Q. Is ignorance a moment to moment choice?

head-2147328_1280 (1).png

Q: Would you say it’s a choice to pretend I am not Brahman ie. to believe I am the body mind?

Tom: This question is being asked from the ‘I am the body-mind’ point of view. In truth you are Brahman, you have always/will always be Brahman, there is only Brahman, there is no ignorance. The mind may ‘choose’ to identify as Brahman or as the body-mind, but you are not the mind either way.

Q: Does anything stop me from ending all egoic tendencies right now?

Tom: Egoic tendencies are based upon the ‘I am the body-mind notion’

Q. Would you say ignorance is a moment to moment choice?

Tom: Ignorance is not real, so there is no moment to moment choice – only from the point of view of the mind is there this choice – which is an illusory/ignorant point of view ie. to say ignorance is a moment to moment choice is to identify with the body-mind.

THE ROOT CAUSE OF SUFFERING

sun barbed wire

The search to end suffering, to gain spiritual knowledge, to attain true spiritual experience and to end confusion is all due to believing you are the body-mind.

The belief ‘I am the body-mind’ is the ignorance that causes all the trouble. This belief is also known as egotism, maya, illusion, duality, separation and samsara. It is a fiction.

In essence you are not the body-mind.

You are in essence That which is Infinite, Eternal, beyond words and speech and concepts.

This is known intuitively already. It is not more conceptual knowledge for the body-mind which is just more ignorance.The words are indicators and are not meant to be more beliefs for the body-mind.

You are That which was before the body-mind was born and will be when the body-mind has gone. You are That which is in deep dreamless sleep. Again this is already intuitively known without thought or words.

There is therefore nothing to seek, nothing to know, nothing to attain, no experience required.

🕉 You are That! 🕉

🕉 Tat Tvam Asi! 🕉

🕉 Be what you are! 🕉