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Some chelas of the

Vajrayana Order in

Arunachala, Tiruvannamalai India 2008

 

Arunachala refers to the holy hill at Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, where the Annamalaiyar Temple, a temple of Lord Shiva is located. Every year in the Tamil month of Karthigai (October–November), the Karthigai Deepam (Light) is lit atop the hill. This place is also known by the names Arunagiri, Annamalai Hill, Arunachalam, Arunai, Sonagiri and Sonachalam. It is the most important holy place for people practicing Atma vichara (self enquiry) and one of the 5 main shaivite holy places in South India.

References to Arunachala in religious texts

A very early reference to Arunachala can be found in Rigveda[citation needed], the foremost of the four Vedas. In the Rigveda, a dispute is described between Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver over which of them was superior. In order to settle the chaos that resulted from their argument, Lord Siva is said to have manifested as a column of light, and then, in response to their prayers, taken the form of Arunachala.

In the Maheswara Khanda of Skanda Purana, sage Veda Vyasa describes in great detail the wonder of Arunachala.

Over the centuries, many saints and sages have been drawn to Arunachala. The Saivite saints Manickavachagar, Appar, Sambandar and Sundarar are four examples. In the fifteenth century, Guhai Namasivaya, Guru Namasivaya and Virupaksha Deva came from Karnataka and settled on Arunachala.Saint Namasivaya lived in one of Arunachala's caves which is still known by his name. Virupaksha Deva lived in an OM-shaped cave higher up on the Hill, and this cave too still bears his name. Located on the south-east slope of Arunachala, this was the cave that Sri Ramana Maharshi lived in from 1899 to 1916.

Arunachala Mahatmyam says,

"By seeing Chidambaram, by being born in Tiruvarur, by dying in Kasi, or by merely thinking of Arunachala, one will surely attain Liberation."

Another verse in the Arunachala Mahatmyam, translated from Sanskrit into Tamil by Sri Ramana Maharshi says:

"Arunachala is truly the holy place. Of all holy places it is the most sacred! Know that it is the heart of the world. It is truly Siva himself! It is his heart-abode, a secret kshetra. In that place the Lord ever abides the hill of light named Arunachala."

Asked about the special sanctity of Arunachala, Ramana Maharshi explained that other holy places such as Kailas, Kasi and Chidambaram are sacred because they are the abodes of Lord Siva whereas Arunachala is Lord Siva himself.However, as the above verse of Arunachala Mahatmyam says, Arunachala is a secret kshetra. It is this place that bestows jnana (Self-knowledge) and because most people have so many other desires and do not truly want jnana, Arunachala has always remained comparatively little known. But to those few who seek jnana, Arunachala always makes itself known through some means or other.
Picture of Arunachala Hill taken from outside town

"All stones in that place [Arunachala] are lingams. It is indeed the abode of Lord Siva. All trees are the wish-granting trees of Indra's heaven. Its rippling waters are the Ganges, flowing through our Lord's matted locks. The food eaten there is the ambrosia of the Gods. When men move about in that place it is the earth performing pradakshina around it. Words spoken there are holy scripture, and to fall asleep there is to be absorbed in samadhi, beyond the mind's delusion. Could there be any other place which is its equal?"

Ramalinga Swami

Ramalinga Swami was a secular saint and a revolutionary thinker of 19th century. He belonged to South India and lived from 1823 to 1874. Most of his messages were in the poetic form and were called together as the `Tiruarutpa`, which means the holy songs of grace.

Ramalinga Swami had composed total 5818 poems, which convey the non-parochial, egalitarian outlook of this secular saint. He was a very compassionate person, who accepted Universal Brotherhood as his religion. The mantras of Ramalinga Swami were `Jeevakantnvam`, which means kindness and politeness towards all living beings and `Tanipperumkarunai` that means `supreme compassion`.

The life history of Ramalinga Swami is a very interesting one. It is said that his father Ramiah Pillai married six times. All his first five wives had died one by one in succession without bearing any child. Then Ramiah Pillai married Chinnamai and started living in Marudur, a village situated fifteen kms to the northwest of Chidambaram. She was then blessed with five children of whom Ramalinga Swami was the youngest one. It is known from the ancient storytellers that many miracles happened before and after the birth of Ramalinga Swami. But his father died soon and could not see the fame of his son.

After the death of Ramalinga Swami`s father, the whole family shifted to Chennai. Then, his eldest brother Sabhapati and his wife Parvathi had to take the responsibility of the whole family. In the year 1824, when Ramalinga was five years old, his brother wanted to send him for formal education. But Ramalinga was not at all inclined towards formal studies and he preferred to go to the local Kandasamy temple instead. Realising this unwillingness of his brother in studies, Sabhapati took a tough step and asked his wife not to provide him daily meal until he decides to take formal education. But his Parvathi was a kind lady, who used to feed him secretly and asked Ramalinga tenderly to seriously pursue his studies at home. Ramalinga agreed on the condition that he will be given a separate room. He got the room and placed a mirror there and lighted a small lamp in front of it. Taking the help of this environment, Ramalinga Swami started mediating in front of the light. And it started his spiritual journey. He got the darshana of Lord Muruga as his first reward. As a result of this, Ramalinga earned a good knowledge on various subjects without any formal education.

Ramalinga Swami`s elder brother Sabhapati was a traditional story-teller (upanyasaka). One day, on some occasion, Ramalinga had to substitute for his brother at a performance and he explained the `Periyapuranam` perfectly. He explained the 63 Saiva saints so brilliantly that the audience was bewildered and he got a huge appreciation. He was liked so much that people from various places wanted him in place of his elder brother. With the passing of the days, Ramalinga Swami advanced a lot towards his spiritual journey. He was earlier an ardent devotee of Siva and later got transformed to the worship of formless and soon became a much-revered saint. He was against the caste system in Indian society. He took a remarkable mark in the history of India by spoke openly against the system and about is negative impacts. Ramalinga believed that in the eyes of God everybody is same and all these differences are only made by the human beings. In support of his belief, Ramalinga Swami set up an organisation in 1865, which was known as the `Samarasa Suddha Sanmarga Satya Sangam` that means the society for pure truth in universal selfhood. Again in 1867, he established the `Sathya Dharma Salai` at Vadalur, where all could eat without any distinctions whatsoever.

Ramalinga Swami was a supporter of vegetarianism. He was very generous and disliked non-vegetarianism because he was an ardent believer of non-violence and for him taking non-vegetarian food was assault to that philosophy. Therefore he was also known as Ramalinga Vallalar (generous). He started a school where students from any community could study. He also published a journal with the help of a Muslim called Kadar Sahib to show his faith in the equality of all people. But unluckily, both of his good works failed to continue due to the opposition from various sections. A defamation suit was filed against him by Arumuga Navalar and his teachings were condemned as `marutpa`. But at the end, the truth of Ramalinga Swami won and he continued his work without being bothered by the small challenges.

Ramalinga Swami inaugurated a temple at Vidar on January 25 in 1872 and named it the `Sadiya Gnana Sabhai` or the `Hall of True Knowledge`. The unique nature of the temple was that no offerings in the form of fruits or flowers could be made and there was no sign of benediction also. People of all caste, creed and community could enter the temple excluding the meat-eaters. They could however worship from outside the temple. But due to defiance of his instructions hurt him deeply and in 1873 he shut down the temple.

The story of passing away of Ramalinga Swami was very extraordinary. He died on January 30 in 1874. It is said that he locked himself in a room and asked his students and followers not to open the room at any circumstances. He also added that even if they try to open the room they will find nothing. It created a huge stir in the society and rumour was spread. Then, the government became bound to act. The government authorities opened the door in the month of May forcefully but found it empty as said by Ramalinga. They could not find out anything suspicious. The record of his disappearance can be traced from the Madras District Gazetteer, which was published by the South Arcot district. In different parts of South India, many programmes are organised every year on Thai-Poosam to commemorate Ramalinga Swami.

Yogi Ramsurat

Yogi Ramsuratkumar (December 1, 1918 – February 20, 2001) was an Indian saint and mystic. He was also referred to as "Visiri samiyar" and spent most of his post enlightement period in Thiruvanamalai, a small town in Tamil Nadu which is famous for attracting spiritual seekers worldwide and has had a continuous lineage of enlightened souls. He acknowledges the contribution of three of the most well known saints of his time in his evolution to enlightenment. These individuals were Sri Aurobindo, the founder of Integral yoga, Ramana Maharishi, one of the "spiritual superman" of his time, and Papa Ramdas, Yogi's eventual guru.

Pre Enlightenment History

Yogi Ramsuratkumar was born in a village near Kashi on December 1, 1918. In his childhood, he loved very much to meet the yogis and monks. He was befriended by a number of holy men who built their huts on the Ganges shore or simply wandered nearby.

He grew up as a Grihasta but eventually, the tugs of spirituality in his heart took over. In search of his "guru", he visited and spent time in the ashrams of both Sri Aurobindo and Ramana Maharishi. He later moved to Kerala at the ashram of Swami Ramdas. In his own assessment, Sri Aurobindo gave him Jnana, Sri Ramana Maharshi blessed him with tapas and Swami Ramadas gave him the nectar of Bhakti. Swami Ramadas initiated him into the holy mantra : " Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram ", by pronouncing it thrice in his ears. Yogi Ramsuratkumar often refers to this instance as his "death", since from this moment on, his ego no longer existed, and he had a profound spiritual experience...

Post Enlightenment History

Yogiji travelled across the country from 1952 to 1959. Not much is known about the exact whereabouts of the yogi in this period. He finally reached Thiruvannamalai in the Southern India in 1959. He was a "hidden" saint during this early period, with not too many individuals realizing that this "beggar" was someone who would bring riches to the lives of countless many. He was seen near the Temple chariot, at the corners of the Road,under the trees of the Temple. As more and more people started acknowledging the divine presence in him, Swamiji then began living in a small house in Sannadhi Street beneath the Temple. He continued to bless the devotees who thronged at thousands to his house at the Sannadhi Street. At a point, his devotees became too many to be handled in a small house and the devotees wished him to have an Ashram which he gently accepted after much persuasion for the sake of his devotees. The Yogi Ramsurat kumar Ashram is constructed at Agrahara collai with a total area of 3.5 Acres.

"VISIRI SAMIYAR" attained Siddhi on 20.2.2001 at Tiruvannamalai in the Ashram premises.

Yogi Ramsuratkumar's Message to the world

To his followers, he assures that the mere thought of him and meditation with the repetition of the following mantra would address any difficulties that they have in dealing with their day to day problems.

Yogi Ramsuratkumar Yogi Ramsuratkumar

Yogi Ramsuratkumarara Jaya Guru Raya

The following excerpts are taken from one of his addresses to his followers. He often referred to himself as a "beggar" as a message for followers to not take their egos seriously.

"This beggar learnt at the feet of Swami Ramdas the divine name of Rama, and beg, beg all of you not to forget the divine name Rama. Whatever you do, wherever you are, be like Anjaneya -Maruthi thinking of Rama and doing your actions in this world. Live in the world and the problems will be there. If we are remembering the Divine name, we are psychologically sound. May be, we may feel a little some of the problems. Even then the intensity with which we feel if we don't have faith in God is much more than a man of faith - a man who remembers the name of Rama. So this beggar is always begging, begging for food, begging for clothes, begging that you should compose songs on this beggar, build a house for me - a cottage for me - this thing - that thing - so many things. But this beggar will beg of you this also, and you are always giving what this beggar has begged. So this beggar begs please don't forget the name of God. This Divine name has been always of great help to all in the world. You read Kabir, Tulsi, Sur, Appar Swamy, Manickavasaga Swamy - how they emphasized Namasivaya. Don't forget it- this is your heart- this is your soul. Whether it be Om Namasivaya or Om Namo Narayana whether Rama, Siva or Krishna whatever name you choose, whatever form you choose doesn't matter."

"But remember the lord with any name, with any form of your choice. Just as when there is heavy rainfall, we take an umbrella, and go on doing our work in the factory, in the field, wherever we go for marketing and catching hold of the umbrella we go though the rain is falling there. But still we work-still we work-do our work. Similarly we have got so many problems all around. This divine name is just like an umbrella in the heavy rainfall. Catch hold of the divine name and go on doing your work in the world. This beggar begs of you and this beggar has received all he has begged of you. So I think none of you will shrink away, when this beggar begs of you, don't forget the divine name. This beggar prays to his father to bless you all who have come here. My Lord Rama blesses you- My Father blesses you. Arunachalaswara blesses you. It doesn't matter to me what name it is. All the blessings of my father for all of you! Well, that is the end. That is all."

Sri Ramana Maharshi


Sri Ramana Maharshi (December 30, 1879 – April 14, 1950), born Venkataraman Iyer, was an Indian sage. He was born to a Tamil-speaking Brahmin family in Tiruchuzhi, Tamil Nadu. After having attained liberation at the age of 16, he left home for Arunachala, a mountain considered sacred by Hindus, at Tiruvannamalai, and lived there for the rest of his life. Arunachala is located in Tamil Nadu, South India.[1] Although born a Brahmin, after having attained moksha he declared himself an "Atiasrami", a Sastraic state of unattachment to anything in life and beyond all caste restrictions.

Sri Ramana maintained that the purest form of his teachings was the powerful silence which radiated from his presence and quieted the minds of those attuned to it. He gave verbal teachings only for the benefit of those who could not understand his silence.[3] His verbal teachings were said to flow from his direct experience of Consciousness as the only existing reality.[4] When asked for advice, he recommended self-enquiry as the fastest path to moksha. Though his primary teaching is associated with Non-dualism, Advaita Vedanta, and Jnana yoga, he highly recommended Bhakti, and gave his approval to a variety of paths and practices.

The Awakening

In 1892, Venkataraman's father Sundaram Iyer suddenly fell seriously ill and unexpectedly died several days later at the age of 42. For some hours after his father's death he contemplated the matter of death, and how his father's body was still there, but the 'I' was gone from it.

After leaving Scott's Middle School, Venkataraman went to the American Mission High School. One November morning in 1895, he was on his way to school when he saw an elderly relative and enquired where the relative had come from. The answer was "From Arunachala."[9] Krishna Bikshu describes Venkataraman's response: "The word 'Arunachala' was familiar to Venkataraman from his younger days, but he did not know where it was, what it looked like or what it meant. Yet that day that word meant to him something great, an inaccessible, authoritative, absolutely blissful entity. Could one visit such a place? His heart was full of joy. Arunachala meant some sacred land, every particle of which gave moksha. It was omnipotent and peaceful. Could one behold it? 'What? Arunachala? Where is it?' asked the lad. The relative was astonished, 'Don't you know even this?' and continued, 'Haven't you heard of Tiruvannamalai? That is Arunachala.' It was as if a balloon was pricked, the boy's heart sank."

A month later he came across a copy of Sekkizhar's Periyapuranam, a book that describes the lives of 63 Saivite saints, and was deeply moved and inspired by it.[10] Filled with awe, and a desire for emulation, he began devotional visits to the nearby Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, and associated with this bhakti, later reported fever like sensations[11]. Soon after, on July 17, 1896,[10] at age 16, Venkataraman had a life changing experience. He spontaneously initiated a process of self-enquiry that culminated, within a few minutes, in his own permanent awakening. In one of his rare written comments on this process he wrote: 'Enquiring within Who is the seer? I saw the seer disappear leaving That alone which stands forever. No thought arose to say I saw. How then could the thought arise to say I did not see.' As Sri Ramana reportedly described it later:

"It was in 1896, about 6 weeks before I left Madurai for good (to go to Tiruvannamalai - Arunachala) that this great change in my life took place. I was sitting alone 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 nor was there any urge in me to find out whether there was any account for the fear. I just felt I was going to die and began thinking what to do about it. It did not occur to me to consult a doctor or any elders or friends. I felt 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 at once I dramatised the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out still as though rigor mortis has 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, and that neither the word 'I' nor any 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 burn and reduced to ashes. But with the death of the 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 I within me, apart from it. So I am the Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit.' All this was not dull thought; it flashed through me vividly as living truths which I perceived directly almost without thought process. I was something real, the only real thing about my present state, and all the conscious activity connected with the body was centered on that I. From that moment onwards, Ramana focused attention on itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death vanished once and for all. The ego was lost in the flood of Self-awareness. Absorption in the Self continued unbroken from that time. Other thought might come and go like the various notes of music, but the I continued like the fundamental sruti ["that which is heard" i.e. the Vedas and Upanishads] a note which underlies and blends with all other notes."

After this event, he lost interest in school-studies, friends, and relations. Avoiding company, he preferred to sit alone, absorbed in concentration on the Self, and went daily to the Meenakshi Temple, ecstatically devoted to the images of the Gods, tears flowing profusely from his eyes.

Venkataraman’s elder brother, Nagaswamy, was aware of a great change in him and on several occasions rebuked him for his detachment from all that was going on around him. About six weeks after Venkataraman’s absorption into the Self, on August 29, 1896, he was attempting to complete a homework assignment which had been given to him by his English teacher for indifference in his studies. Suddenly Venkataraman tossed aside the book and turned inward in meditation. His elder brother rebuked him again, asking, "What use is all this to one who is like this?" Venkataraman did not answer, but recognized the truth in his brother’s words.

The Journey to Arunachala

He decided to leave his home and go to Arunachala. Knowing his family would not permit this, he slipped away, telling his brother he needed to attend a special class at school. Fortuitously, his brother asked him to take five rupees and pay his college fees on his way to school. Venkataraman took out an atlas, calculated the cost of his journey, took three rupees and left the remaining two with a note which read: "I have set out in quest of my Father in accordance with his command. This (meaning his person) has only embarked on a virtuous enterprise. Therefore, no one need grieve over this act. And no money need be spent in search of this. Your college fee has not been paid. Herewith rupees two."

At about noon, Venkataraman left his uncle's house and walked to the railway station. At about three o'clock the next morning, he arrived at Viluppuram and walked into the town at daybreak. Tired and hungry, he asked for food at a hotel and had to wait until noon for the food to be ready. He then went back to the station and spent his remaining money on a ticket to Mambalappattu, a stop on the way to Tiruvannamalai. From there, he set out, intending to walk the remaining distance of about 30 miles (48 km).

After walking about 11 miles (18 km), he reached the temple of Arayaninallur, outside of which he sat down to rest. When the priest opened the temple for puja, Venkataraman entered and sat in the pillared hall where he had a vision of brilliant light enveloping the entire place. He sat in deep meditation after the light disappeared until the temple priests who needed to lock up the temple roused him. He asked them for food and was refused, though they suggested he might get food at the temple in Kilur where they were headed for service. Venkataraman followed, and late in the evening when the puja ended at this temple, he asked for food and was refused again. When he asked for water, he was directed to a Sastri’s house. He set out but fainted and fell down, spilling the rice he had been given in the temple. When he regained consciousness, he began picking up the scattered rice, not wanting to waste even a single grain.

Muthukrishna Bhagavatar was amongst the crowd that gathered around Venkataraman when he collapsed. He was so struck by Venkataraman’s extraordinary beauty and felt such compassion for him that he led the boy to his house, providing him with a bed and food. It was August 31, the Gokulastami day, the day of Sri Krishna’s birth. Venkataraman asked Bhagavatar for a loan of four rupees on the pledge of his ear-rings so that he could complete his pilgrimage. Bhagavatar agreed and gave Venkataraman a receipt he could use to redeem his ear-rings. Venkataraman continued on his journey, tearing up the receipt immediately because he knew he would never have any need for the ear-rings.

On the morning of September 1, 1896, Venkataraman boarded the train and traveled the remaining distance. In Tiruvannamalai he went straight to the temple of Arunachaleswara. There, Venkataraman found not only the temple gates standing open, but the doors to the inner shrine as well, and not a single person, even a priest, was in the temple. He entered the sanctum sanctorum and addressed Arunachaleswara, saying: "I have come to Thee at Thy behest. Thy will be done." He embraced the linga in ecstasy. The burning sensation that had started back at Madurai (which he later described as "an inexpressible anguish which I suppressed at the time") merged in Arunachaleswara. Venkataraman was safely home.

Early Life at Arunachala

The first few weeks he spent in the thousand-pillared hall, but shifted to other spots in the temple and eventually to the Patala-lingam vault so that he might remain undisturbed. There, he would spend days absorbed in such deep samādhi that he was unaware of the bites of vermin and pests. Seshadri Swamigal, a local saint, discovered him in the underground vault and tried to protect him.[17] After about six weeks in the Patala-lingam, he was carried out and cleaned up. For the next two months he stayed in the Subramanya Shrine, so unaware of his body and surroundings that food had to be placed in his mouth or he would have starved.

From there, he was invited to stay in a mango orchard next to Gurumurtam, a temple about a mile out of Tiruvannamalai, and shortly after his arrival a sadhu named Palaniswami went to see him. Palaniswami's first darshan left him filled with peace and bliss, and from that time on his sole concern was serving Sri Ramana, joining him as his permanent attendant. From Gurumurtam to Virupaksha Cave (1899-1916) to Skandasramam Cave (1916-22), he was the instrument of divine protection for Sri Ramana, who would be without consciousness of the body and lost in inner bliss most of the time. Besides physical protection, Palaniswami would also beg for alms, cook and prepare meals for himself and Sri Ramana, and care for him as needed.

Gradually, despite Sri Ramana's silence, austerities, and desire for privacy, he attracted attention from visitors, and some became his disciples. Eventually, his family discovered his whereabouts. First his uncle Nelliappa Iyer came and pled with him to return home, promising that the family would not disturb his ascetic life. Sri Ramana sat motionless and eventually his uncle gave up. It was at the temple at Pavalakkunru, one of the eastern spurs of Arunachala, that his mother and brother Nagaswami found him in December 1898. Day after day his mother begged him to return, but no amount of weeping and pleading had any visible effect on him. She appealed to the devotees who had gathered around, trying to get them to intervene on her behalf until one requested that Sri Ramana write out his response to his mother. He then wrote on a piece of paper, "In accordance with the prarabdha of each, the One whose function it is to ordain makes each to act. What will not happen will never happen, whatever effort one may put forth. And what will happen will not fail to happen, however much one may seek to prevent it. This is certain. The part of wisdom therefore is to stay quiet." At this point his mother returned to Madurai saddened.

Soon after this, in February 1899, Sri Ramana moved further up Arunachala where he stayed briefly in Satguru Cave and Guhu Namasivaya Cave before taking up residence at Virupaksha Cave for the next 17 years, using Mango Tree cave during the summers (except for a six month period at Pachaiamman Koil during the plague epidemic).

In 1902, a government official named Sivaprakasam Pillai, with writing slate in hand, visited the young Swami in the hope of obtaining answers to questions about "How to know one's true identity". The fourteen questions put to the young Swami and his answers were Sri Ramana's first teachings on Self-enquiry, the method for which he became widely known, and were eventually published as 'Nan Yar?', or in English, ‘Who am I?’.[22]

Several visitors came to him and many became his disciples. Kavyakantha Sri Ganapati Sastri, a Vedic scholar of repute in his age, came to visit Sri Ramana in 1907. After receiving instructions from him, he proclaimed him as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Sri Ramana was known by this name from then on.

Final Years

In November 1948, a tiny cancerous lump was found on the Maharshi's arm and was removed in February 1949 by the ashram doctor. Soon, another growth appeared, and another operation was done by an eminent surgeon in March, 1949, with Radium applied. The doctor told Sri Ramana that a complete amputation of the arm to the shoulder was required to save his life, but he refused. A third and fourth operation were performed in August and December 1949, but only weakened him. Other systems of medicine were then tried; all proved fruitless and were stopped by the end of March when devotees gave up all hope. During all this, Sri Ramana reportedly remained peaceful and unconcerned. As his condition worsened, Sri Ramana remained available for the thousands of visitors who came to see him, even when his attendants urged him to rest. Reportedly, his attitude towards death was serene. To devotees who begged him to cure himself for the sake of his devotees, Sri Ramana is said to have replied "Why are you so attached to this body? Let it go.", and "Where can I go? I am here."

By April 1950, Sri Ramana was too weak to go to the hall, and visiting hours were limited. Visitors would file past the small room where he spent his final days to get one final glimpse. Swami Satyananda, the attendant at the time, reports, "On the evening of 14 April 1950, we were massaging Sri Ramana's body. At about 5 o'clock, he asked us to help him to sit up. Precisely at that moment devotees started chanting 'Arunachala Siva, Arunachala Siva'. When Sri Ramana heard this his face lit up with radiant joy. Tears began to flow from his eyes and continued to flow for a long time. I was wiping them from time to time. I was also giving him spoonfuls of water boiled with ginger. The doctor wanted to administer artificial respiration but Sri Ramana waved it away. Sri Sri Ramana’s breathing became gradually slower and slower and at 8:47 p.m. it subsided quietly." Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French photographer, who had been staying at the ashram for a fortnight prior to Sri Ramana’s passing, recounted the event:

"It is a most astonishing experience. I was in the open space in front of my house, when my friends drew my attention to the sky, where I saw a vividly-luminous shooting star with a luminous tail, unlike any shooting star I had before seen, coming from the South, moving slowly across the sky and, reaching the top of Arunachala, disappeared behind it. Because of its singularity we all guessed its import and immediately looked at our watches – it was 8:47 – and then raced to the Ashram only to find that our premonition had been only too sadly true: the Master had passed into parinirvana at that very minute."

Cartier-Bresson took some of the last photographs of Sri Ramana on April 4, and went on to take pictures of the burial preparations. Reportedly, millions in India mourned his passing. A long article about his death in the New York Times concluded: "Here in India, where thousands of so-called holy men claim close tune with the infinite, it is said that the most remarkable thing about Ramana Maharshi was that he never claimed anything remarkable for himself, yet became one of the most loved and respected of all."

Teachings

Sri Ramana's teachings about self-enquiry, the practice he is most widely associated with, have been classified as the Path of Knowledge (Jnana marga) among the Indian schools of thought. Though his teaching is consistent with and generally associated with Hinduism, the Upanishads and Advaita Vedanta, there are some differences with the traditional Advaitic school, and Sri Ramana gave his approval to a variety of paths and practices from various religions.[5]

His earliest teachings are documented in the book Nan Yar?(Who am I?), first written in Tamil. The original book was published by Sri Pillai,[36] although the essay version of the book (Sri Ramana Nutrirattu) prepared by Sri Ramana is considered definitive as unlike the original it had the benefit of his revision and review. A careful translation with notes is available in English as 'The Path of Sri Ramana, Part One' by Sri Sadhu Om, one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramana. Selections from this definitive version follow:

* As all living beings desire to be happy always, without misery, as in the case of everyone there is observed supreme love for one's self, and as happiness alone is the cause for love, in order to gain that happiness which is one's nature and which is experienced in the state of deep sleep where there is no mind, one should know one's self. For that, the path of knowledge, the inquiry of the form "Who am I?", is the principal means.


* Knowledge itself is 'I'. The nature of (this) knowledge is existence-consciousness-bliss.


* What is called mind is a wondrous power existing in Self. It projects all thoughts. If we set aside all thoughts and see, there will be no such thing as mind remaining separate; therefore, thought itself is the form of the mind. Other than thoughts, there is no such thing as the world.


* Of all the thoughts that rise in the mind, the thought 'I' is the first thought.


* That which rises in this body as 'I' is the mind. If one enquires 'In which place in the body does the thought 'I' rise first?', it will be known to be in the heart [spiritual heart is 'two digits to the right from the centre of the chest'. Even if one incessantly thinks 'I', 'I', it will lead to that place (Self)'


* The mind will subside only by means of the enquiry 'Who am I?'. The thought 'Who am I?', destroying all other thoughts, will itself finally be destroyed like the stick used for stirring the funeral pyre.


* If other thoughts rise, one should, without attempting to complete them, enquire, 'To whom did they arise?', it will be known 'To me'. If one then enquires 'Who am I?', the mind (power of attention) will turn back to its source. By repeatedly practising thus, the power of the mind to abide in its source increases.


* The place where even the slightest trace of the 'I' does not exist, alone is Self.


* Self itself is the world; Self itself is 'I'; Self itself is God; all is the Supreme Self (siva swarupam)

Sri Ramana warned against considering self-enquiry as an intellectual exercise. Properly done, it involves fixing the attention firmly and intensely on the feeling of 'I', without thinking. It is perhaps more helpful to see it as 'Self-attention' or 'Self-abiding' (cf. Sri Sadhu Om - The Path of Sri Ramana Part I). The clue to this is in Sri Ramana's own death experience when he was 16. After raising the question 'Who am I?' he "turned his attention very keenly towards himself." Attention must be fixed on the 'I' until the feeling of duality disappears.

Although he advocated self-enquiry as the fastest means to realization, he was also known to have advised the practice of bhakti and self-surrender (to one's Deity or Guru) either concurrently or as an adequate alternative, which would ultimately converge with the path of self-enquiry.

Sri Ramana's teachings and Advaita

Sri Ramana's teachings and the traditional Advaitic school of thought pioneered by Sri Sankaracharya have many things in common. Sri Ramana often mentioned and is known to have encouraged study of the following classical works: Ashtavakra Gita, Ribhu Gita and Essence of Ribhu Gita, Yoga Vasista Sara,[39] Tripura Rahasya[[40]], Kaivalya Navaneetam,[41] Advaita Bodha Deepika,[42] and Ellam Ondre.[43] However, there are some practical differences with the traditional Advaitic school, which recommends a negationist neti, neti (Sanskrit, "not this", "not this") path, or mental affirmations that the Self was the only reality, such as "I am Brahman" or "I am He", while Sri Ramana advocates the enquiry "Nan Yar" (Tamil, "Who am I"). Furthermore, unlike the traditional Advaitic school, Sri Raman

a strongly discouraged most who came to him from adopting a renunciate lifestyle.

To elaborate:

* The traditional Advaitic (non-dualistic) school advocates "elimination of all that is non-self (the five sheaths) until only the Self remains". The five kosas, or sheaths, that hide the true Self are: Material, Vital, Mental, Knowledge, and Blissful.

* Sri Ramana says "enquiry in the form 'Who am I' alone is the principal means. To make the mind subside, there is no adequate means other than self-enquiry. If controlled by other means, mind will remain as if subsided, but will rise again"

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