Sonntag, 14. September 2008

13.2. In the Old Hall

Though Sri Ramana used words sparingly and gave his most profound instruction in silence, there are records of so many talks that they fill whole volumes, not to mention those which were never written down. Almost daily from May 1935 to April 1939 Munagala S. Venkataramiah wrote down visitors’ questions and Sri Ramana’s answers. These were published under the title ‘Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi’. Devaraja Mudaliar did the same for the period March 1945 to January 1947 in ‘Day by Day with Bhagavan’ and Suri Nagamma for the period November 1945 to February 1950 in ‘Letters from Sri Ramanasramam’. In addition there are several collections of conversations with individuals, which devotees have handed over. One of them is ‘Maharshi’s Gospel’.

Whenever devotees asked questions, Sri Ramana’s answers were always suited to the needs and powers of comprehension of the questioner. He immediately knew with what intention a question had been asked. It should be borne in mind that visitors sometimes came with the sole aim of demonstrating their knowledge or of testing Maharshi’s.

Sri Ramana taught the way of Self-enquiry (atma vichara, see also Chapter 18). But for those to whom this did not appeal he would suggest devotion to god (bhakti), which leads to the same goal. If someone practised mantra japa, yoga or another form of meditation, he would confirm that this was fine, but would gently lead him in the direction of atma vichara. He was open to all religions, so there are many facets to his way of teaching. He never forced anyone to adopt a specific path, but at times he could be very firm.

Sometimes devotees would not ask their questions orally, preferring to write them down on a slip of paper. Once a simple woman had written to him, “I am not learned in the Scriptures and I find the method of Self-enquiry too hard for me. I am a woman with seven children and a lot of household cares, and it leaves me little time for meditation. I request Bhagavan to give me some simpler and easier method.”

Sri Ramana gave her the following practical advice, “No learning or knowledge of Scriptures is necessary to know the Self, as no man requires a mirror to see himself. All knowledge is required only to be given up eventually as not-Self. Nor is household work or cares with children necessarily an obstacle. If you can do nothing more, at least continue saying ‘I,I’ to yourself mentally all the time, as advised in ‘Who am I?’, whatever work you may be doing and whether you are sitting, standing or walking. ‘I’ is the name of God. It is the first and greatest of all mantras. Even OM is second to it.”91

A young man asked Maharshi, “Swami, having a great desire for moksha (deliverance) and anxious to know the way thereto, I have read all sorts of books on Vedanta. They all describe it, each in a different way. I have also visited a number of learned people and when I asked them, each recommended a different path. I got puzzled and have come to you; please tell me which path to take.”Sri Ramana answered with a smile, “All right, then, go the way you came.”

The young man was confused and did not know what to say. He waited until Ramana had left the Hall and then turned to the others disheartened saying, “Gentlemen, I have come a long way with great hope and with no regard for the expenses or discomfort, out of my ardent desire to know the way to moksha; is it fair to tell me to go the way I came. Is this such a huge joke?”Thereupon one of them said, “No, Sir. It is no joke. It is the most appropriate reply to your question. Bhagavan’s teaching is that the enquiry, ‘Who am I?’ is the easiest path to moksha. You asked him which way ‘I’ should go, and his saying, ‘Go the way you came,’ meant that if you investigate and pursue the path from which that ‘I’ came, you will attain moksha.”92

Over the course of the years and through his contact with learned devotees such as Ganapati Muni and others, Sri Ramana had become well-versed in Advaita literature. If specific questions arose, he would take one of the many books from the bookshelf beside his couch and read the appropriate passage from it or give it to the questioner to read. He had an exceptionally good memory and so always knew where to look to find a particular book or the appropriate passage. He recommended reading the Bhagavad Gita, the Ribhu Gita, the works of Shankara such as Dakshinamurti Stotram, Vivekachudamani and Atma Bodha, also Yoga Vasishta, Ashtavakra Gita, Ellam Ondre and Kaivalya Navaneeta. He translated into Tamil those parts of these Advaita scriptures, which he considered to be especially important.

Sri Ramana was also an excellent storyteller. He liked to make use of the stories of the Periyapuranam and other spiritual scriptures, with their legends about kings, saints and gods. When telling these stories he used to dramatize the characters of the main figures in voice and gesture and seemed to identify himself fully with them. If the story was particularly moving, he would at times be overcome by such intense emotions, that he was unable to reach the end of the story. Once when reading a very moving story from the Periyapuranam about the deep devotion of the saint Kannappar, sweat broke out of all the pores of his body, his hair stood on end and tears flowed from his eyes. He was barely able to speak. All those present in the Hall became silent and one could hear a pin drop. Everyone was speechless that the devotion of the great hunter-saint could cause this great jnani to be overcome by such emotions and ecstasy. After a while Ramana silently closed the book, wiped away the tears with the corner of his towel and said that he was unable to go on reading.

The Old Hall was not only the place where spiritual questions were asked and answered, day-to-day problems were also dealt with there. Devotees came to lay their troubles before their master. For long-standing devotees in particular it was natural to come to Sri Ramana with their worries and ask for his help or advice. Whether the coming marriage of a daughter, the birth of a child, a sick family member, professional troubles, financial hardships or even more mundane matters – no matter was considered too insignificant. Ramana reacted to the needs of his devotees with sympathy and helped at times by giving concrete advice. At times, however, he might also direct the devotee’s attention along another path. Feroza Taleyarkhan reported the following amusing story, “An Indian gentleman who had spent about a year in Germany and had brought down with him an expensive radio set was rather worried that it was not working and that there was none at hand to set it right. He carried his worries to Bhagavan, perhaps expecting Bhagavan to set the radio right. Little did he (or we) know Bhagavan. In a consoling voice Bhagavan referred to his worries over the radio, its cost, the lack of a mechanic to set it right and so on. Then began something unusual. He said to the visitor that if he tried to tune his own inner radio with eyes closed he could hear and speak to any country in the world and elsewhere too. A peal of laughter shook the Hall then. Little did we realise that the joke was on us too.”93

The Englishman Arthur Osborne, who joined the Ashram in the late forties and lived there together with his family, describes the vivid bustle in the Hall as follows, “Some of the devotees, without rising from their places, talk with Sri Bhagavan about themselves or their friends, give news of absent devotees, ask doctrinal questions. One feels the homely atmosphere, as of a great family. Perhaps someone has a private matter to report and goes up to the couch to speak to Sri Bhagavan in an undertone or to hand him a paper on which he has written it out. … A mother brings a little child in and he smiles to it more beautifully than a mother. A little girl brings her doll and makes it prostrate before the couch and then shows it to Bhagavan who takes it and looks at it. A young monkey slips in at the door and tries to grab a banana. The attendant chases it out, but there happens to be only one attendant present, so it runs round the end of the Hall and in through the other door, and Sri Bhagavan whispers urgently to it, ‘Hurry! Hurry! He’ll be back soon.’ A wild-looking sadhu with matted locks and ochre robe stands with hands upraised before the couch. A prosperous townsman in European suit makes a decorous prostration and secures a front seat; his companion, not quite sure of his devotion, does not prostrate at all.

A group of pandits [scholars] sit near the couch, translating a Sanskrit work, and from time to time take it up to him to elucidate some point. A three-year-old, not to be outdone, takes up his story of Little Bo Peep, and Sri Bhagavan takes that too, just as graciously, and looks through it with the same interest; but it is tattered, so he passes it to an attendant to bind and gives it back next day neatly repaired.”94

91 Mudaliar: Day by Day, p. 229
92 Nagamma: Letters, pp. 16ff
93 Taleyarkhan: Sages, p. 95
94 Osborne: Ramana Maharshi and the Path, pp. 129ff

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