Prof. T.M.P. Mahadevan, M.A., Ph.D., was Head, Dept. of Philosophy, Madras University.
We hear of Shuka and Yajnavalkya; and we read of Gaudapada and Sankara. But here we have before our eyes a contemporary witness to the Eternal Truth of the Vedanta, an eloquent commentary on the Upanishads. We for the most part seem to be so small in his presence, bound as we are in the coils of time.
The Maharshi tells that we will never get at Reality if we take the appearance to be real: the dream world appears all too real to us so long as we are in it; but as soon as we are awake, we realise its unsubstantiality.
The Maharshi seldom talks. He believes that the Self is best taught in silence. He says, “Silence is ever speaking, it is the perennial flow of language.” For the benefit of those who cannot understand the language of Silence, the Maharshi sometimes talks, but he warns at the same time that questions and answers lie within the region of avidya. Till the dawn of wisdom, doubts will necessarily arise. Once the Self is realised there will be no problem to be solved.
The Maharshi’s method of Self-enquiry ends in mental suicide; it provides an instrument whereby the mind destroys itself, thus revealing the Self. The Maharshi directs us to put ourselves the question, ‘Who am I?’ But this is not an empty formula or a barren mantra to be muttered. Patient, intelligent and unsparing effort is required before progress could be registered on this arduous journey.
The Maharshi teaches that the Heart, on the right side of the chest, is the seat of the Self. He makes it very clear that any reference to the physical body is only from the empirical point of view. From the absolute standpoint it is impossible to locate the Heart or Self in any place either inside the body or outside. So, when any particular part of the body is spoken of as the seat of the Self, it is so described only as an aid to the layman’s understanding.
It would not be possible to realise the Self, if there is attachment to the objects of senses. The Maharshi told a grihastha (who was tormented by the thought that this was a despicable position, unhelpful to spiritual achievement): “Whether you continue in the household or renounce it and go to the forest, your mind haunts you. The obstacle is the mind; it must be got over whether in the home or in the forest.” These words, however, should be interpreted with great care. They were given in an answer to a grihastha who was trying to assess the relative value of his own asrama and sannyasa. If he was really keen on renunciation, he would not have argued or hesitated. One who feels the burning heat of a red-hot iron rod does not take even the space of a moment to let go his hold of it.
When I first saw the Master, his head had begun to nod. The shaking head seemed to me saying ‘neti’, ‘neti’, (not this, not this). Many who came with long list of questions used to depart in silence after sitting for a while in the Master’s presence. When he chose to answer questions, each sentence was like a text from the Upanishad, so full of meaning that it required calm, silent pondering over in order to be understood fully.
Having been a student ofthe Gita since childhood I saw in Bhagavan a vivid and living commentary on that great scripture. In 1948-49, during my lecture tour of the United States, I often said that if there was anyone living in India answering to the truth of the Vedanta, it was Ramana Maharshi.
The critics of advaita usually say that the advaitin is an austere intellectual in whom the wells of feeling have all dried up. Those who have seen the Master will know how unfounded such a criticism is. Sri Ramana was ever brimming with the milk of divine kindness. Even members ofthe subhuman species had their share of the unbounded love of the Master. He was a consummate artist in life. Anything that he touched became orderly and pleasant.1
1. The write-up, except the last three paras, was written in collaboration with Swami Rajeswarananda, no. 97.