As a boy of sixteen in 1896, challenged death by a penetrating enquiry into the source of his being. Later hailed as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi he revealed the direct path of practice of Self-enquiry and awakened mankind to the immense spiritual power of the holy Arunachala Hill, the spiritual heart of the world.
Ramana Maharshi is a sage without the least touch of worldliness, a saint of matchless purity, a witness to the eternal truth of Vedanta. It is not often that a spiritual genius of Sri Ramana’s magnitude visits this earth. But when such an event occurs, all humanity benefits and a new era of hope opens before it.
Lord Siva says about Arunachala
“Though in fact fiery, my lack-lustre appearance as a hill on this spot is an act of grace for the maintenance of the world. I also abide here as the Siddha. Within me, there are many glorious caves filled with all kinds of enjoyments. Know this. Action naturally binds the entire world. One’s refuge (from such bondage) is this glorious Arunachala by seeing which one becomes itself. What cannot be acquired without great pains – the true import of Vedanta (viz. Self-realization) – can be attained by anyone who looks at (this hill) from where it is visible or even mentally thinks of it from afar. I, the Lord, ordain that those who reside within a radius of three yojanas of this place (Arunachala) shall attain union (with the Supreme) which removes bondage even in the absence of initiation“
Ramana early life
Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi was born on 30th December 1879 in Tiruchuzhi, Tamilnadu state, South India, the fortunate parents were Sundaram Iyer and his wife Alagammal. The childhood name of Ramana is Venkataraman.
Venkataraman completed elementary school in Tiruchuzhi and moved to Dindigul for further schooling. In February 1892, his father died and the family was broken up. Venkataraman and his elder brother went to live with their paternal uncle Subbier in Madurai, while the two younger children remained with the mother. Initially Venkataraman attended Scott’s Middle School and later joined American Mission High school.
Ramana first time heard Arunachala
Ramana first learned that Arunachala is a geographical location after asking a visiting relative, “Where are you coming from?” He replied, “From Arunachala.” The youth exclaimed with excitement, “What! From Arunachala! Where is that!” The relative, wondering at the boy’s ignorance, explained that Arunachala is the same as Tiruvannamalai. The sage refers to this incident in a hymn to Arunachala that he composed later on:
Ah! What a wonder! Arunachala stands as an insentient Hill. Its action is mysterious, past human understanding. From the age of innocence it had shone within my mind that Arunachala was something of surpassing grandeur, but even when I came to know through another that it was the same as Tiruvannamalai, I did not realize its meaning. When it drew me up to it, stilling my mind, and I came close, I saw it stand unmoving. “Eight Stanzas to Arunachala”
The turning point in Venkataraman’s life came spontaneously in mid-July 1896. One afternoon, the youth for no apparent reason was overwhelmed by a sudden, violent fear of death. Years later, Bhagavan narrated this experience as follows:
It was about six weeks before I left Madura for good that a great change in my life took place . It was quite sudden. I was sitting in a room on the first floor of my uncle’s house. I seldom had any sickness and on that day there was nothing wrong with my health, but a sudden, violent fear of death overtook me. There was nothing in my state of health to account for it; and I did not try to account for it or to find out whether there was any reason for the fear. I just felt, ‘I am going to die,’ and began thinking what to do about it. It did not occur to me to consult a doctor or my elders or friends. I felt that I had to solve the problem myself, then and there.
“The shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing the words: ‘Now death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.’ And I at once dramatized the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out stiff as though rigor mortis had set in and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, so that neither the word ‘I’ nor any other word could be uttered, ‘Well then,’ I said to myself, ‘this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body am I dead? Is the body ‘I’? It is silent and inert but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the ‘I’ within me, apart from it. So, I am Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. This means I am the deathless Spirit.’ All this was not dull thought; it flashed through me vividly as living truth which I perceived directly, almost without thought-process. ‘I’ was something very real, the only real thing about my present state, and all the conscious activity connected with my body was centered on that ‘I’. From that moment onwards the ‘I’ or Self focused attention on itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death had vanished once and for all. Absorption in the Self continued unbroken from that time on. Other thoughts might come and go like the various notes of music, but the ‘I’ continued like the fundamental Sruti note that underlies and blends with all the other notes. Whether the body was engaged in talking, reading, or anything else, I was still centered on ‘I’. Previous to that crisis I had no clear perception of my Self and was not consciously attracted to it. I felt no perceptible or direct interest in it, much less any inclination to dwell permanently in it“
Ramana visits Meenakshi Temple
The effect of the death experience brought about a complete change in Venkataraman’s interests and outlook. He became meek and submissive without complaining or retaliating against unfair treatment. He later described his condition:
One of the features of my new state was my changed attitude to the Meenakshi Temple. Formerly I used to go there occasionally with friends to look at the images and put the sacred ash and vermillion on my brow and would return home almost unmoved. But after the awakening I went there almost every evening. I used to go alone and stand motionless for a long time before an image of Siva or Meenakshi or Nataraja and the sixty-three saints, and as I stood there waves of emotion overwhelmed me.
Ramana Journey to Arunachala
On August 29th while working on a grammar assignment, Venkataraman suddenly realized the futility of it all, pushed the papers away and sitting cross legged entered into deep meditation. His brother Nagaswami who was observing him, remarked caustically, “What use is all this to such a one?” Recognizing the truth of his brother’s criticism, Venkataraman resolved to secretly leave home. He got up and left the house, making the excuse that he had to return to school. His brother gave him five rupees to pay his college fees, thus unknowingly providing funds for the journey. Venkataraman kept three rupees and left the remaining two rupees with the following parting note:
Note translation: I have in search of my father and in obedience to His command started from here. This is only embarking on a virtuous enterprise. Therefore none need grieve over this affair. To trace this out no money need be spent. Your college fee has not yet been paid. Rupees two are enclosed herewith. Thus____
Ramana first met his father “Siva”
It was the morning of September 1st 1896, three days after leaving home, that Venkataraman arrived at Tiruvannamalai station. With quick steps his heart throbbing with joy, he hastened straight to the great temple. In a mute sign of welcome, the gates of the three high compound walls and all the doors, even that of the inner shrine, stood open. There was no one else inside, so he entered the inner shrine alone and stood overcome before His father Arunachala. “I have come at your call, Lord. Accept me and do with me as you will.”
Ramana at Arunachala
Sri Ramana Maharshi stayed at various places in Tiruvannamalai and then in several caves on the Arunachala Hill until he finally settled at what came to be called Sri Ramanasramam where he lived until his Mahanirvana in April 1950. He never took formal sannyasa nor did he claim to have any disciples. From the day he arrived in 1896 until his Mahanirvana, Ramana never left his beloved Arunachala.
The mother later went to Tiruvannamalai accompanied by her eldest son Nagaswamy. Ramana was then living at Pavalakkunru, one of the eastern spurs of Arunachala. With tears in her eyes Alagammal entreated her son to go back with her, but for the sage there was no going back. Nothing moved him – not even his mother’s tears. He kept silent and sat still. A devotee who had been observing the struggle of the mother for several days requested Ramana to write out at least what he had to say. The sage wrote on a piece of paper:
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.
Maharshi at Ramanashram
Ramana would never allow any preference to be shown to him. Maharshi work was purely spiritual: silently guiding the ever-growing family of devotees who gathered around him. The focus of all attention was the meditation hall (Old Hall) where devotees sat with the Maharshi. The dynamic silence of the hall was vibrant with his grace. Divine love was shining in his eyes and when necessary his potent words illuminated the visitors. There were no rules that everyone must meditate in a specific way or at a given time.
Concerned that he should be accessible to all visitors at all hours, Ramana never left the Ashram except for his daily walk on the Hill and in Palakottu (an adjacent sadhu colony), morning and evening. In early years, he sometimes walked the the circuit road around the mountain (Giri Pradakshina).
Last days of Ramana
In 1949 it was detected that Ramana had sarcoma in his left arm. In spite of intense medical care, on April 14, 1950 it was apparent that his physical end was near. In the evening, as the devotees sat on the verandah outside the room which had been specially built for Bhagavan’s convenience during his illness, they spontaneously began singing “Arunachala Siva” (The Marital Garland of Letters). On hearing it Ramana’s eyes opened and shone. He gave a brief smile of indescribable tenderness. From the outer corners of his eyes tears of bliss rolled down. One more deep breath and no more.
At that very moment 8:47 p.m. what appeared to be an enormous star trailed slowly across the sky passing to the north-east towards the peak of Arunachala. Many saw this luminous body in the sky, even as far away as Bombay and struck by its peculiar appearance and behaviour, they ascribed this phenomenon to the passing of their Master.
To this day the power of Sri Ramana has not diminished. Often visitors to the ashram have remarked, “But one can feel his presence very strongly.” Before Sri Ramana gave up his body, devotees went to him and begged him to remain for a while longer as they needed his help. He replied “Go! Where can I go? I shall always be here.”
Ramana was a living example of the teaching of the Upanishads. His life was at once the message and the philosophy of his teachings. He spoke to the hearts of men. The great Maharshi found Himself within himself and then gave out to the world the grand but simple message of his great life, “Know Thyself”.
“Know Thyself, all else will be known to thee of its own accord. Discriminate between the undying, unchanging, all-pervading, infinite Atma and the ever-changing, phenomenal and perishable universe and body. Enquire, ‘Who am I?’ Make the mind calm. Free yourself from all thoughts other than the simple thought of the Self or Atma. Dive deep into the chambers of your heart. Find out the real, infinite ‘I’. Rest there peacefully for ever and become identical with the Supreme Self.” This is the gist of the philosophy and teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Maharshi says; Submission to Guru is not submission to any outside oneself but to the Self manifested outwardly in order to help one discover the Self within. “The Master is within; meditation is meant to remove the ignorant idea that he is only outside. If he were a stranger whom you were awaiting he would be bound to disappear also. What would be the use of a transient being like that? But as long as you think that you are separate or are the body, so long is the outer Master also necessary and he will appear as if with a body. When the wrong identification of oneself with the body ceases the Master is found to be none other than the Self.”
“The world is so unhappy because it is ignorant of the true Self. Man’s real nature is happiness. Happiness is inborn in the true Self. Man’s search for happiness is an unconscious search for his true Self. The true Self is imperishable; therefore, when a man finds it, he finds a happiness which does not come to an end” Ramana Maharshi
His presence, guidance and love continue to be available and experienced through his words, his pictures, his life, at Sri Ramanasramam, wherever one gathers to invoke him in any manner, and in every heart.
—Glory to Ramana Maharshi, Om Tat Sat —
The ‘Self’ is self-luminous without darkness and light, and is the reality which is self-manifest. Therefore, one should not think of it as this or as that. The very thought of thinking will end in bondage.