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  The Path of Self-Knowledge  

This is the path of pure jnana, but the Maharshi also taught the path of bhakti. He often said: “There are two ways: ask yourself ‘Who am I?’ or submit.” A philosopher could easily argue that these two paths are mutually exclusive. If one seeks to realize his identity with the One Universal Self, which is the Absolute, he logically would not worship a personal God or Guru at the same time. Logically   not,   but   in real life

one can, because one has different moods that may be helped by different approaches to spiritual practice. Therefore, in spite of logic, the Maharshi said that the paths of Jnana and Bhakti are not incompatible, and devotees have found it so. It will be seen in practice that both these paths are direct, complementary inner disciplines, independent of ritual; so here we have another characteristic of Ramanasramam. Here one finds a minimum of external discipline and organization. People sit silently in the Maharshi’s shrine or in the hall where he sat for so many years with his devotees. They walk on the sacred mountain, Arunachala, or sit quietly in their rooms. They arrange to take their meals at the Ashram or prepare their own food, as they choose. Rules and regulations are kept to a minimum, allowing each to follow the inner leadings of the Marharshi’s silent instruction. This, however, does not imply laxity; the discipline comes from within. The Vedas are chanted in front of his shrine, morning and evening, as they used to be in the Maharshi’s presence during his lifetime, but even for this attendance is not compulsory. And those who do attend sit together, shoulder to shoulder, regardless of caste, religion or nationality.


In addition to jnana- and bhakti-margas, the Maharshi’s path contains a strong element of karma-marga as well, since he expects his devotees to practise this teaching in the life of the world. Time and time again some one would come to him and ask his permission to renounce the world and he would not grant it.

“Why do you think you are a grihastha (householder)? If you go out as sannyasi (ascetic), a similar thought that you are a sannyasi will haunt you. Whether you continue in the household or renounce it and go to the forest, your mind goes with you. The ego is the source of all thought. It creates the body and the world and makes you think you are a grihastha . If you renounce the world it will only substitute the thought sannyasi for grihastha and the environments in the forest for those of the household. But the mental obstacles will still be there. They even increase in the new surroundings. There is no help in change of environment. The obstacle is the mind. It must be got over whether at home or in the forest. If you can do it in the forest, why not at home? Therefore, why change your environment? Your efforts can be made even now - in whatever environment you are now. The environment will never change according to your desire.”

How does this affect Ramanasramam? In the first place, it means that there are relatively few sadhus or sannyasins to be found there. Also, not many of the Maharshi's devotees live there permanently. Most of them pursue their professional lives in the world, practicing their sadhana invisibly, without external form or ritual, and only coming to Tiruvannamalai from time to time to recharge their batteries, so to speak. A doctor, an engineer, a school teacher, a bank manager, an editor, a cinema proprietor, and many others come to mind. When it becomes appropriate for one of them to retire from active life in the world and settle down at Tiruvannamalai, circumstances become propitious. It just happens so. Devotees tend to pledge their lives to silent, unseen sadhana, while performing their obligations in the world, and to seek the Grace of the Maharshi and the power of his support to aid them in doing so.


Another result of the essentially formless nature of the Maharshi’s path is the large proportion of foreigners both among visitors and resident devotees. There is no need to be a Hindu to follow the path prescribed by the Maharshi. Anyone, whatever religion he may profess, can practise Self-enquiry,    or    can   worship and

surrender. Therefore the Maharshi never expected any of his devotees to change from one religion to another. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Parsis came to him, as well as Hindus. Some continued to practise their religions, others not; it was up to them.


Mr. Evans-Wentz, the well-known writer on Tibetan Buddhism, visited the Maharshi and asked whether he recommended any special method for Europeans, and the Maharshi replied: “It depends on the mental equipment of the individual. There are no hard and fast rules.” Each aspirant was guided according to his aptitude, not on the basis of race, caste, sex or religion.

The Maharshi often reminded those who came to him that they were not the body. While following his Maha Samadhi some may have presumed that he was no longer there, many more have come to feel in their hearts the power and subtlety of his guidance and the vibrant, all-pervading peace of Arunachala, the sacred mountain which he loved and revered and at whose foot his Ashram is located.

The Maharshi used to say: “The purpose of the outer Guru is only to awaken the inner Guru in the heart.” And shortly before leaving the body he told a group of devotees: "When the Guru has awakened the inner Guru in the heart of his devotees, he is free to leave the body.”

Yes, it may be said, that is all very well for those who were already his devotees when he shed the body, but what about those others who approach him now and feel the need for an outer Guru?

It may be that in some cases he guides them indirectly through those older disciples in whom the inner Guru has been awakened. Certainly, in many cases he does influence them directly and powerfully with no need of an intercessor or intermediary.

A visitor asked once whether contact with the Guru would continue after the dissolution of his physical body, and he replied: “The Guru is not the physical form, so contact will remain even after his physical form vanishes.”


If it were asked how he could guide individuals or perform any function after having become One with the Absolute, the answer is: in the first place he has not ‘become’ One with the Absolute but simply has realized his preexisting and eternal Oneness. In the second place, he had already realized this Oneness while wearing the body and was universal then, as he is now. He himself told us that death makes no difference to the Jnani. The only way of understanding how the Jnani, who is universal, can perform an individual function is to become one. Therefore, when people   asked   him such

questions he would usually reply: “Never mind about the Jnani; first find out who you are.”


But surely this continued guidance after leaving the body is unusual. Yes, it is unusual; but who is to bind Divine Providence with regulations? The formless path the Maharshi prescribed can compensate for the modern difficulty in finding adequate guidance within the forms of any religion; similarly, the invisible Guru may compensate for any difficulty in finding a fully potent living Guru on earth. Such explanations are for those who like to speculate; for those who are content to strive on the path, guidance is surely available.

The unseen nature of the Master’s guidance also has an effect on his Ashram. It means that most of those who come, both from India and abroad, are people who never saw the Maharshi in his lifetime but have been drawn to him in various ways since then. The conclusion, then, is that for a ritualist or strict formalist, for those who crave material boons or who seek visions or powers, there are other places better suited than Sri Ramanasramam. However, the seeker who has understood the ultimate spiritual goal of life to be Liberation, who seeks Grace and guidance on the path to the ultimate goal, will unfailingly receive the potent, silent guidance of the Maharshi at Sri Ramanasramam.


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