Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Master and Disciple

 In an earlier blog “Swami Vivekananda, the dynamic Jeevanmuktha” I had briefly described the meeting between Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, referred to hereafter as Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Narendranath, referred to as Naren hereafter, and how the latter blossomed into a spiritual giant, Swami Vivekananda, under the nurturing of the former.  Now I propose to deal in a little more detail on their unique relationship in which the Master, Sri Ramakrishna, had great faith in the potential of the disciple, Naren and the disciple in the spirituality of the Master but would not accept anything that did not satisfy his reason and who also believed in the philosophy of Brahma Samaj that there is no need for intermediary to realise God.  How young rationalistic Naren blossomed into a spiritual dynamo who took the Western world by storm and became the beacon light of spirituality for Young India, under the guidance and grooming of Sri Ramakrishna is well documented in the biographies of  both.  The incidents narrated are based on those biographies.

One day Sri Ramakrishna in the Samadhi state had a strange vision. He was soaring high in a luminous path. He soared higher and higher and came to a point where no one was seen, but only seven sages seated in deep meditation.  As he was gazing at them, a portion of undifferentiated light took the portion of a child, went to one of the sages, clasped his neck with its lovely arms and told him “I am going down.  You too must come with me”. The sage in meditation opened his eyes and gazed at the child with love and tenderness and again closed his eyes. But now a fragment of the body and mind of the sage started descending down to earth as a ball of light.  When Sri Ramakrishna came out of the Samadhi, he realized he was the child in the vision and now he began looking for the sage.

When young Naren came to him with his friends in his quest for meeting someone who had seen God, Ramakrishna realised that he was the sage in his vision. So he felt intensely drawn to him, and in the first meeting itself he took the bewildered Naren aside, took Naren’s hand in his and said with tears flowing from his eyes “I know you are the ancient sage” among other things.  Naren who was expecting to receive some private instructions, was completely baffled by his strange words and behaviour but heard him fully and allowed himself to be fed sweets by him and also promised to visit him again.  As they came out of the room Sri Ramakrishna asked Naren whether he sees a light before falling asleep.  When Naren replied in the affirmative, Sri Ramakrishna declared before others that Naren was a Dhyana Siddha, an adept in his meditation even from birth. As Naren loved to meditate even as a child, these remarks convinced Naren of his deep spiritual powers but left him confused as to his rationality in view of his eccentric behaviour. In this first meeting only, Naren popped his usual question “Sir, have you seen God?” and received the now world-famous reply “Yes, I have seen God.  I have seen Him more tangibly than I see you.  I have talked to Him more intimately than I am talking to you”. 

So when Naren returned alone next month, it was with the opinion that Sri Ramakrisna was a monomaniac.  This time another strange thing happened. Sri Ramakrishna moved slowly near him and placed his right foot on Naren’s chest. Then whole world including the walls of the room seem to whirl around as he drifted into a void. In a state of panic Naren cried aloud ”What are you doing to me? I have my parents at home”. Sri Ramakrisna laughed aloud and stroked his chest stating everthing will come in time and Naren became normal.  Naren thought he had been hypnotised but he wondered how a man of strong will like him could be hypnotised against his will.  So the next time he went with a resolve that he will not relax his guard even for a moment.  This time Sri Ramakrishna took him for a walk in neighbour’s garden. After a walk when they sat down in the parlour, Sri Ramakrishna looked at Naren strangely and fell into a state of trance. And in that state of trance he touched Naren and Naren lost consciousness and knew nothing until he regained consciousness, when he found Sri Ramakrishna stroking his chest.  Sri Ramakrishna later revealed that he questioned Naren in his unconscious state and got the confirmation that Naren was the sage as he surmised and that Naren will give up the body in yoga the day he realised by himself the truth about his self.

Thereafter Naren gave up doubting whether Sri Ramakrishna was a hypnotist or a monomaniac, but he still retained his scepticism of image worship and he also did not accept totally Sri Ramakrishna as his Guru. Rather he openly laughed at Sri Ramakrishna’s visions and talks with Divine Mother as hallucinations. But thereafter there was no doubt in his heart regarding Sri Ramakrishna’s sincerity, renunciation, selflessness and integrity and he responded with equal measure the special love that Sri Ramakrishna bore him.  If Naren did not turn up for a few days, Sri Ramakrishna will enquire others about his health or ask them to convey that he is missing Naren.  On one occasion, he went to Naren’s house looking for him and on another occasion went to Brahma Samaj meeting where Naren sang in the choir. Naren felt embarrassed by all this attention and once remarked that like Jada Bharatha, whose love for the deer dragged him down from his spiritual heights to be born as a deer, Sri Ramakrishna may be dragged down to Naren’s level because of his excessive affection for him.  Sri Ramakrishna felt so distressed by these remarks  that he straight went to Divine Mother for guidance and then came back to Naren with these words “You rogue, I won’t listen to you anymore.  Mother says I love you because I see God in you, and the day I no longer see God in you I shall not be able to bear even the sight of you.” 

Sri Ramakrishna tried to initiate him into Advaita philosophy by asking him to read aloud Advaithic scriptures like Ashtavakra Gita. Groomed as he was in Brahma Samaj doctrines, Naren rebelled against the concept of Jiva-Brahma Ikyam calling it a blasphemy akin to atheism.  But Sri Ramakrishna persisted with his efforts arguing that Naren should not try to limit God’s infinitude and he should try to pursue the path of Truth, praying to the aspect of God that appeals to him without rejecting other views off-hand. On one such occasion Naren left the room and went to the relative of Sri Ramakrishna in the next room and said with a big laughter “How can this be? The jug is God, the cup is God and we too are God; nothing can be more preposterous!” Sri Ramakrishna then entered the room in a state of semi-trance and touched him saying “Hallo! What are you talking about” and went into a state of Samadhi. What effect it had on Naren can better be described in Naren’s words, as given in his biography. 

“That magic touch of the Master, that day immediately brought a wonderful change over my mind.  I was stupefied to find that really there was nothing in the Universe but God!  I saw it quite clearly but kept silent to see if the idea would last. But the impression did not abate in the course of the day. I returned home, but there too everything I saw appeared to be Brahman. I sat down to take my meal, but found that everything-the food, the plate, the person who served and even myself – was nothing but That. I ate a morsel or two and  sat still. I was startled by my mother’s words “Why do you sit still? Finish your meal”- and began to eat again. But all the while, whether eating or lying down or going to college, I had the same experience and I felt myself always in a comatose state.  While walking in streets, I noticed cabs plying but I did not feel inclined to move out of the way.  I felt that the cabs and myself were one stuff.  There was no sensation in my limbs which I thought were getting paralyzed.  I did not relish eating, and felt as if somebody else were eating” This lasted for few days and his mother started worrying about him.  In a few days this state slightly changed and he started seeing things as if in a dream. He will periodically knock his head against something to assure himself that he was not dreaming. In another few days he became normal.  This experience convinced him of the truth of Advaita philosophy and transformed him to see Brahman in all.

Now there came a crisis in Naren’s life. Naren’s father died suddenly, leaving no money but heavy debts.  Naren had to go without food on some days. He gave up studies and started looking for a job.  One day he came to Sri Ramakrishna and asked him to pray to the Divine Mother to remove his poverty.  Sri Ramakrishna asked him to do it himself.  He entered the shrine of Kali and as he stood before the image in a prayerful attitude he saw not an image but a living Goddess of liberating wisdom and he prayed for renunciation and liberation and came back to Sri Ramakrishna.  When he narrated what happened, Sri Ramakrishna rebuked Naren for forgetting the purpose for which he went there and asked him to go again and pray for the removal of poverty. Second time also he forgot the purpose in her presence and asked only for knowledge and liberation. This happened a third time also and then in a flash he realised that this was the work of Sri Ramakrishna and so straightaway asked Sri Ramakrishna to remove his poverty and was assured that his family will not suffer for basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter.

After this Naren was convinced about personal God in the relative plane and also that Divine power can flow through image.  Now the transformation of the philosopher to devotee was complete and this delighted Sri Ramakrishna in no small measure.  Shortly after this Sri Ramakrishna remarked to a devotee pointing first to himself and then to Naren, who silently agreed with him,  ”I see I am this and again that.  Really I feel no difference.  A stick floating in Ganges seems to divide water; but in reality the water is one.----- Well, whatever is, is the Mother” 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


The story of Moses comes in Bible.  At the time of Moses’ birth, Hebrews were slaves in Egypt.  The king of Egypt, Pharaoh, was afraid the rising population of Hebrews will pose a future threat to the kingdom and so he decreed all the male Hebrew children should be killed at birth. Moses’ mother hid him in a basket and let him float in river Nile.  As it happened, Pharaoh’s daughter, found the floating child, took it to the palace and prevailed upon her father to let her bring it up.  Moses grew under her care as an Egyptian prince. But he did not forget his Hebrew lineage. As the slaves were whipped and beaten, he watched helplessly with disgust and in anguish.  One day he lost his temper, when he watched a slave being brutally beaten to death by a guard.  In his fury he killed the guard and buried the body in the sand. When the body was found out, he left Egypt and fled into the desert to escape the punishment of death. There he married a shepherdess by name Zipporah and lived with her.  One day as he was looking after the sheep he saw a burning bush that burned but was not consumed.  When he looked closely at the burning bush wondering what it was, God spoke to him from the bush revealing His name as “I AM THAT I AM”.  What interests me in this story is God’s declaration “I AM THAT I AM”

In the statement “I AM THAT I AM”, there are two parts “I AM” and “THAT I AM”. In our usage the expression ‘I am’ is followed by a defining statement, that spells out the identity or the physical, mental, intellectual status.  So here “THAT I AM” is the descriptive statement spelling out the identity of the voice from the burning bush. ‘I am” by itself without any defining statement, is a simple statement of existence applicable to any entity in the universe, if it could articulate. So the ‘I AM’ statement without any qualifications stands for pure Existence, the Sat principle which is the intrinsic characteristic of Brahman, the Cosmic Supreme, here referred to as God. Further “I AM”, by itself without any defining statement is also a statement of unconditioned awareness, pure Awareness, Chit principle, the intrinsic characteristic of Brahman. This “I AM” is also always here and now, and suffers no limitation of time and space.  So ‘I AM’ plain and simple refers to Brahman/God. (Pl. refer to my earlier blog “I am Brahman” uploaded in Nov.2012)

We always in our ignorance regard Brahman, that is God, as not only separate from us but also distant from us. In the Mahavakhya ‘Tattvamasi’  that spells out the identity of individual self with Brahman, the Cosmic Self, Brahman is indicated by the phrase ‘That’.  Putting these together we find ‘THAT I AM’ stands for Brahman. So what the voice from the burning bush said is only the upanishad Mahavakhya  ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ (I am Brahman) with the difference that in upanishads this declaration is made by the individual self on realization while here God/Brahman Itself reveals Itself with this declaration.

Reasoning from ‘I AM THAT I AM” backwards, now some Western philosophers also arrive at the identity of one’s Self with Brahman, only their idioms and expressions are different.  It is stated that  ‘I’ refers to our ego, the lower self and “I am” stands for our Higher Self, God, which is also referred to as Presence and Being among other things. To quote two instances:
1)    David Allen in the foreword to the book “The Power of I AM”, quoting the statement “I AM THAT I AM’ states, “I AM is the name of God” and also “I AM” is “who you are”.  When we put these together we arrive at “God is who you are”, same as “Tattvamasi”.
2)      Dr. Wayne Dyer in his Program “I AM”  quoting the statement “I AM THAT I AM” says “’I am God’ is not blasphemy, it is your birthright”, conveying the same idea of  “Aham Brahmasmi” 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Spiritual Journey

In response to my status in the Face book regarding my blog “True happiness”, Kumar, my young nephew in U.S. commented “--- when the blood has vigour it becomes difficult to comprehend these sayings”.   Happy that he has taken an interest to read through the blog and comment on it, I commented back as follows giving the gist of the blog. “In simple words what it says is "the happiness that comes of inaction (Tamas) and the one that comes of action (Rajas) are transient and so not true happiness. But the happiness that comes of inaction in action i.e. wisdom (Satva) that your Real Self is not the doer or enjoyer but only the witness is permanent and so is the True happiness". Pat came back his further comment with a question “Thanks for the explanation.....getting it...true happiness is possible only when we get enlightenment. how does a common man get enlightened and what are the different milestones....I believe there is no destination point for that journey”  I replied back as “One can start on the spiritual journey by moving from being world-centred to God-centred slowly. God here is any Ishta devata, on which you can focus without effort. Once you choose, stick to it without being fanatic about it. Just be sincere and serious in your effort and leave the rest to Him.”  But I did not feel satisfied as the expressions ‘God-centred and world-centred’ were too general.  So I decided to write a little more on spiritual journey in this blog.

First thing is to make clear what ‘being spiritual’ means, as more often than not it is mistaken for ‘being religious’.  Both are based on strong faith in God or the Divine principle behind the world, also referred to as Brahman, but they are of different dimensions due to areas of emphasis. In ‘being religious’, the emphasis is on observance of rituals and procedures of worship and so there is a body orientation, with do’s, don’ts, rules and regulations with regard to food, dress marriage and other social disciplines.  ‘Being spiritual’ is of a different dimension where the focus is on knowing about God and His creation, seeking Him and experiencing Him.  And so the emphasis here is on disciplines that ensure purity of mind, subtlety of intellect and the resultant jnanam and attitude change and so there is more of a mind orientation, mind including intellect, as both are two phases of Anthakaranam, inner organ. 

Before embarking on spiritual path we are all world-centred.  Our main interest is on worldly pleasures, possessions and relationships.  Our ego defines our individuality and our actions and thoughts are governed by ego. God is in our life, but only for a brief moment during prayer at home or in occasional satsang or during a visit to temple, where we seek something for us or for people close to us or where we seek to avoid something for us or for people close to us.  We blame everybody else including God, for things going wrong with us.  We want to change everything else and everybody else except ourselves.  In contrast when we become God – centred, God-consciousness underpins all our thoughts and actions. In fact the priority shifts away from material pursuits and our prayers also reflect it.  We seek His Grace only at all times for our spiritual advancement.  Even the material benefits we seek are to equip ourselves better for pursuing the spiritual interests.  The ego is defanged as dehabhimana takes a back seat, yielding place to God-consciousness.  We take responsibility for our actions and inwardly blame ourselves only and not blame others for things going wrong with us. We understand that when we change, the world also changes for us, and so any change should start from us only.

Our efforts to achieve the shift in priorities constitute the spiritual journey.  Karma yoga, Bhakthi yoga, Upasana yoga, Raja yoga are the various sadhanas in this path.  But the journey does not stop with one becoming God-centred.  It is continued until one realizes through Jnana Yoga that his true Self is God only and that all of us in creation, though separated by body-mind-complexes are in essence one only i.e. God only.  When emphasising separateness we are thinking like the wave that thought that it was different from other waves because of its height and depth, time of rise and fall without realising that all waves and ocean are one only in essence, the essence being water.  So all of us in the world, whatever be our colour, sex and religion are one only in essence, essence being God.  When this realization dawns one accepts everything that happens to him with equanimity, judging no one and blaming no one, not even himself for anything going wrong. 

Sri Nochur Venkatraman narrates an incident in Ramana Maharishi’s life, which can be recalled here.  Once one householder came to Maharishi and was narrating his woes for nearly an hour. Maharishi was silently listening, without speaking a word.  Then another devotee tried to console him by remarking that the householder is like a person standing on the banks of Ganges and crying he is thirsty.  Maharishi immediately corrected the devotee by saying it is like Ganga itself crying it is thirsty, implying that the householder is as much divine as Maharishi himself.  If one after realization of his inner Divinity can stay steadfast like this in the inner conviction of the essential Divinity of one and all at all times as well, then that person can be said to have arrived at the end of the journey:
Journey from Aham, aham –---> Daso’ham –---------> So’ham.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

True happiness

We all have different pursuits in life.  The goals of these pursuits appear different, like position, fame, fortune etc.  But in the end-analysis all of them will converge in the happiness of our ego self, the self that identifies with body-mind-intellect referred to as BMI in Swami Chinmayananda’s lectures.  This happiness Lord Krishna grades into three categories Satvic, Rajasic and Tamasic in Bhagavad Gita (Ch.18). We shall see them starting from Tamasic happiness.

Tamo guna is characterized by inertia, both mental and physical. Tamasic happiness is one which begins and ends in self-delusion that comes from sleep, procrastination and misapprehension (18-39).  The happiness that one appears to derive in the state of intoxication, whether with drinks or drugs also falls into this category.  Here the sense organs or/and mind and intellect are either not functioning or handicapped in their functions due to a deranged mind. This happiness is achieved by detaching oneself temporarily from reality and as this state wears off whatever unhappiness one escaped temporarily returns back with added vigour.  In sleep we are not conscious of the happiness; only we can realize for a moment after we wake up that we had been happy forgetting our cares and worries, and again these cares and worries surface again.  In procrastination we are only postponing what we fear as the pain/discomfort of action for us extending our illusion of being happy for awhile. So in all these cases happiness is not permanently achieved.

Rajo guna is characterised by activity.  The Rajasic happiness is one derived from the contact of a sense object with sense organ/s (18-38).  Here Lord Krishna sounds a note of caution that though it may appear to be nectar initially, it will prove to be a poison in its effect in the end i.e. pleasant initially but unpleasant later. For instance if one neglects studies in the student days spending time in entertainment and recreation, he may feel happy then, but as he grows into a nobody struggling to make a living, his life will be one of regret and frustration. Lord Krishna refers to these pleasures which are derived from external contacts, be they objects or relationships in another place (5-22) where He points out that these pleasures have a beginning and an end and also they are sources of unhappiness, which surface sooner or later.  

Satva  guna is characterised by wisdom.  Satvic happiness is one in which one enjoys a tranquillity of mind as a result of gaining and staying in Self-knowledge, Athma Jnanam (18-37). Lord Krishna here warns that the path to Self-knowledge is a difficult one.  Here the simile employed in the case of Rajasic happiness is reversed; deterring like poison in the beginning but uplifting like nectar in the end.  It is deterring because to acquire Self-knowledge one has to have the four fold qualification of discrimination, dispassion, disciplines numbering six and desire besides engaging in the study of sastras under the guidance of a competent guru and complementing it with reflection on the teachings, to make it doubt-free. It is uplifting because when one acquires Self-knowledge and is able to stay in that knowledge without doubt and without effort, he is in a state of peace and bliss that passes all understanding. For he realises that his real Self is not the mortal samsara-afflicted “ego-self” that gives him the sense of individuality, giving him the identity of BMI but the eternal, ever blissful Cosmic Supreme, Brahman, with this BMI as upadhi. With this realisation comes the spiritual awakening that the ego-self is only the virtual self whose role is limited to transacting with the world during the stay with this upadhi. With Self-realisation one rises to the state of Jeevanmuktha, where he is not affected by opposites like pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow etc. as he considers all these are for BMI, which is only a dress worn in this birth.  As he considers himself one with all in the creation, he has no sense of fear as fear arises only where you cognize a second thing.  So this Satvic happiness, the happiness of Jeevanmuktha, is the only true happiness.