The story of Samudra manthana (churning of the ocean) behind Maha Shivaratri is symbolic for churning of the ocean of consciousness by meditation and other yogic practices. In doing this tapas (spiritual practice) one becomes aware of both the Halāhala (poison of the ego) and Amrit (the nectar of immortality). Both are within us.
When Shiva, the great yogi, saw that the poison of the ego which had come out first from churning of the ocean would destroy the world, he immediately drank it so that others would be protected from harm. As Shiva suffered intense pain from the poison, his wife, the Goddess Parvati touched Shiva’s throat and by the power of her love neutralized the effect of the poison.
The story of Maha Shivratri teaches us that the ego is a powerful poison that can delude the mind and be cause of much destruction. However, pure love, as demonstrated by the Goddess Parvati is overwhelming and can neutralize that poison of the ego and lead to the nectar of immortality. Happy Maha Shivaratri!
When India was a British Colony, there were hundreds of kingdoms within India. The biggest kingdoms were Hyderabad and Mysore. The Maharaja (King) of Mysore had a devotional nature.
One day, the Maharaja of Mysore came secretly in the middle of the night to see Bhagavan Ramana and stayed until early morning. He wanted a private audience with Bhagavan. But Bhagavan ate in public and slept in public in the Hall. People were always around.
However, because it was the middle of the night, the Ashram management permitted the Maharaja to see Bhagavan in the eight by eight foot bathroom where Bhagavan bathed. Upon seeing Bhagavan, the Maharaja fell at his feet, and wept so profusely that his tears drenched Bhagavan’s feet.
The Maharaja then got up and said, “Bhagavan, they have made me king and forced me to sit on the throne. For this reason I am not able to come and stay with you and be in your presence. These few moments are most precious few in my whole life. After this, I will not be able to come. Please bless me.”
When Santhammal, a devotee, asked Bhagavan about the Maharaja’s visit, Bhagavan just said, “He is a ripe soul.”
Bhagavan never encouraged people to give up their worldly obligations or duties. His advice to visitors was that one can gain the required purity, strength, and awareness to advance on the path regardless of one’s station in life or geographical location.
Whatever one wants to practice, devotional prayer, meditation, chanting, some form of yoga, or self-inquiry, all of these are good. Bhagavan often said that it is the not physical contact with the Guru that is important, but the mental and spiritual contact. Even a person who is no longer in the body can serve as a Guru, if we become connected and influenced by their thoughts and vibrations.
Adapted from Ramana Periya Puranam (278 Santhammal)
Sri Ramana gave attention and showed affection to all beings who came within his orbit. He treated humans, animals, birds, bees, and plants with love, care, and the utmost courtesy. To those who showed him disrespect, he generally kept quiet. Sri Ramana understood human frailties and was not critical or judgmental of people. He forgave quickly and easily.
The Sage of Arunachala was fearless, self assured, and had a wonderful sense of humor. One time thieves broke into the Ashram in the middle of the night and started frightening and beating everyone. Bhagavan told the devotees to not fight back and let the thieves take what they wanted. One of the thieves hit Bhagavan on one of his legs with a stick. The sage offered the other leg as well and said to the thief, you can hit that one also. Later when the thieves left, a devotee commented on the marks on Bhagavan’s legs. Sri Ramana simply smiled and said that the thieves did “Puja” to him in their own way.
A sage gives the infinite treasure of wisdom and is never depleted or disappointed. Everything that comes to such a person; good or bad, painful or pleasant, is accepted as the divine will. There are many gurus and spiritual teachers. No doubt all are good in their own way. However, a truly Self-Realized sage is very rare indeed. Such was the Sage of Arunachala, Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching is beautiful, unique, and direct. There is no encouragement of superstition, no secret mantras to be whispered in your ear, no fancy handshakes, no unusual postures or dance moves to learn, no dependence on rituals or outside forces. In Bhagavan’s teachings, there are no special requirements to meet, and no examinations by the Guru to test your worthiness.
Bhagavan says that you are the Self. Being the Self is nothing more than pure Being, Pure Existence. You have the power to discover the natural state of bliss inherent in you and abide as That.
The highest, the purest, the most sublime teaching that leads to Self-Realization is open to all. It is completely free. There are no initiation fees for special secret techniques and methods. That is why Bhagavan says, “No secret technique. It is all an open secret in this system in “Day by Day with Bhagavan” ~ (8-10-46).
A True Master does not tell you to do this or that. Already, you are anxious and bewildered reading self-help books, going to motivational speakers, Satsang teachers, visiting holy places, and going to one guru after another.
All of these things and various practices of yoga and meditation are helpful if they advance our quest for self-knowledge. However, Truth cannot be found in a place or a person outside of us. Truth must be known as our very own nature, our essence.
The real pilgrimage we make is not to some holy place but to the Temple of the Heart within. Sri Ramana Maharshi used to say that all deep thinking people are fascinated by the nature of consciousness.
This is the sacred quest in life. To know the mystery that reveals all other mysteries. In the words of the Upanishads, “Know That by which all else is known.”
Shabari served her Guru Rishi Matanga with devotion for many years since her youth. As years went, Shabari became elderly and thin. She moved slowly and needed help of a cane to walk. However, she got up early everyday at 3am and after her meditation did all the chores and collected fruits and berries for herself and her Guru.
When her Guru, Sage Matanga, was about to leave the world, Shabari was despondent and asked him whether she was qualified to receive God’s grace before he departed the world. Sage Matanga told Shabari that since she was such a pure soul, Bhagavan Rama himself would grant her Moksha (Liberation). He told her to wait for Bhagavan as he would pass by this way in his search for Sita (Rama’s wife). Saying this Rishi Matanga entered Mahasamadhi.
Then the news came that Bhagavan Rama and his brother Lakshman would be walking on the path that led to the town. Shabari had a few days to prepare and so she started to look for the best fruits and berries to offer Rama should she happen to see him. In two days, she had filled several baskets of fruits and berries.
As Bhagavan Rama came towards the town, he avoided visiting all the rich ashrams and temples that had big feasts prepared for him. His brother Lakshman wondered what was going on because they had been walking the whole day and needed to eat.
With Lakshman following, Rama walked straight to Shabari’s small hut. Rama said to Shabari, “Granny, my brother and I are hungry. We have been walking the whole day. Do you have anything for us to eat?” Shabari was ecstatic to see Rama and Lakshman. Giddy with delight Shabari said that she had collected fruits and berries. So Rama and Lakshman sat down. Shabari insisted on feeding Rama with her own hands.
Lakshman was horrified to see that Shabari started to nibble on each berry before putting it in Rama’s mouth with her hands. Some berries Shabari would eat whole. Others, she would taste and give to Rama. Lakshman was even more surprised as Rama accepted Shabari’s half eaten berries and seemed to enjoy it.
Lakshman whispered in Rama’s ear, “Brother she is giving us half eaten berries. First she eats and then she gives to us. She is eating some of the whole berries herself. But we are only getting the ones that she has already eaten parts of. What a way to treat the guests? Don’t you see it?” Rama whispered back to Lakshman, “Yes, I see it. She is making sure that we only get the sweet berries. She is testing each berry. The ones which are bitter, she does not give us but eats them whole. We are only getting the sweetest ones. So eat up brother.”
Rama said to Shabari, “Granny these are best berries I have ever tasted. Certainly, there is nothing as sweet as a mother wanting to give her child only the best and the most tasty things. Thank you Granny.” Shabari was filled with delight at Bhagavan’s words and started to giggle. In the pure joy exploding in her heart, Shabari attained liberation. In this way, Bhagavan taught that purity, sincerity, and devotion makes everything sweet and full of joy and leads to freedom of the soul.
When I was very young, my meditations made me soar so high that I was afraid of falling from the heights and felt anxious. In those moments, the most gentle and angelic female presence firmly held me from behind and guided my flights over celestial regions like a mother showing a child how to ride a bicycle. It happened often.
This angel was always behind me at my back holding my shoulders in the most reassuring manner. Gliding over the heavenly realms of light with this divine companion was pure joy. But I could never see her face and wondered who she was.
Who was this motherly angel who manifested in my meditations to protect me from fears? Who was this divine being that embraced me with such tenderness and silently guided and navigated the path? Although I practiced yoga since childhood, I had never formally worshipped any form of the Devi (Goddess). But probably the mantras I practiced evoked Her. Or perhaps the Goddess as the Divine Mother does not require an invitation to come.
This went on for many years. She was my guardian angel. Where she came from, I don’t know. Yet, she was always there in my meditation in the background and when needed would manifest to silently reassure me. I would momentarily see her hazy form but never saw Her clearly. She held me tightly and firmly from the back when needed as I flew over the unknown realms.
The Goddess made HerSelf very real to me. She always seemed to be around, especially in contemplative and meditative states. Her form was that of a gentle motherly presence. It was absolutely unmistakable. Whenever she came, I knew it instantly just like a newborn knows his mother by smell. Her presence was the most reassuring and made me feel that everything would be okay and go smoothly now.
As time went by and I got older, I felt her less and less often. It happened gradually. She seemed to have receded somewhere in the background of my mind. Perhaps I had spiritually matured in some ways and did not need Her anymore. I don’t know the psychology of it. Still, I did not forget Her. Who was she and where had she gone? I thought at times.
Many many years passed in meditation and in life. I was much older now. I was 39. One midnight, I lay down for meditation. Without warning, suddenly, the Goddess appeared in full bloom right before me! For the first time, I saw Her with the utmost clarity. She was the epitome of purity and innocence and the very essence of beauty. Her Being radiated bright blessings.
Speechless, I gazed at Her face and spontaneously folded my hands in “Namaste” with reverence and bowed slightly. Through Her eternal and watchful eyes that see into the Heart, the Supreme Goddess looked at me intently with the utmost tenderness and smiled sweetly. Then she disappeared.
The Goddess did not look like any of the pictures that artists have drawn and are found in Hinduism. I have chosen to describe Her by accurately stating, “She was the epitome of purity and innocence and the very essence of beauty.” Those words are the truth.
Mira Prabhu is now free from the torment of physical suffering caused by her cancer. Death claimed Mira at a young age when she was on the verge of becoming well known for her writings and spiritual novels. Mira left her body on January 6, 2019, in Tiruvannamalai, India, near the Holy Hill of Arunachala. Her ashes were sprinkled over the Holy Mountain.
Mira was a beautiful soul with a kind heart and I felt her warmth and love that she naturally had for Bhagavan Ramana devotees. We used to post each other’s blog posts on our respective blog sites. Mira often shared my FB posts on her wall. She was always generous in her comments and very supportive as we were both Bhagavan devotees.
Mira was a prolific and gifted writer. She was also a yogini and mystic. She was a devotee of Bhagavan Ramana and also followed Nisargadatta Maharaj’s teachings. Mira had been living close to the Holy Hill of Arunachala in the south of India (where Sri Ramana spent 53 years) before she passed away.
Mira was an amazing woman. She was fiery and fearless and authentic in her expressions. She despised hypocrisy, especially among the so-called spiritual people. She always spoke her truth from the heart without hesitation. She did not suffer fools and charlatans and false prophets silently. When she saw injustice, she spoke up.
Mira and I connected on FB in 2014. Mira seemed to like everything I wrote on my blog and on FB on Ramana Maharshi, Advaita Vedanta, and other yoga-related topics. She would frequently share my writings on her blog and her FB page. I also started visiting her blog and following her on facebook. I realized that she was an extraordinarily perceptive and brilliant spiritual aspirant. Mira and I became part of the mutual admiration society for each other!
In the summer of 2016, Mira asked me to recommend her book on my blog and also review it on Amazon. I was delighted to do it. Ten days later, after I had read more of her essays, I wrote to Mira an email. It stated in part:
“I am a professor and have read literally thousands of student papers and a few books as well. When I read your writing, I find myself thinking, “Mira is so immensely gifted and spectacularly talented with such a mastery of expression and command of the English language”.
“You are able to take the raw experiences of your life and through your knowledge of various fields, subtly weave them in enchanting stories and articles”!
“I feel so happy for you Mira. May all the universal blessings shine on you”…
All Love _______
Mira was ecstatic on getting my email. I only give part of her response to me below:
What a wonderful message to receive on a beautiful morning in the shadow of Arunachala! You pay me great compliments and I will treasure them because sometimes the inner journey gets hard and lonely and I for one rely on my closest friends (whom I call my “kalyanamitras”) to pull me through. Its been a rough ride all right, but everything in the past turns into light when I consider the grace of Arunachala and Ramana that drew me to this tiny town to know my Self.
Do you plan to make a trip to Arunachala? I would be so happy to meet you in person and might even cook for you, although I know you are a great cook yourself, vegan, am I right? But I can only try! I would also love for you to meet a few close friends too, so, if you get the opportunity to leave what must be a very busy life (based on what I know of the West), please seize the day, Carpe Diem!
Thank you again, Harsh. I’ve been dealing with the usual ups and downs (of living in a small semi-rural town where folks have odd ways of doing things) and was feeling a bit blue – when your email arrived and energized me. Arunachala’s Magic again!
Much love and Namasthe! Mira __________
Mira and I exchanged other emails and got to know each other. We kept in touch. Mira invited me to come to Arunachala where she was living and told me that she was never going to leave there. During most of 2018, I had gotten busier professionally and was not writing as much on my blog. I was on Mira’s general mailing list that Mira sent her articles to and got those on a regular basis.
The last communication I received from Mira was on November 8, 2018. She had sent it to all her contacts. Mira’s email stated, “HI ALL, just to say that I’ve been terribly sick and still trying to get better. Pray if you pray! Love!” I went on Mira’s Facebook page the same day and there was the exact same message there. I left a heart symbol for her on her FB page in response to her message. I had no idea that that was going to be the last communication from Mira.
I learned a few days ago (March 19, 2019) that Mira had passed away two months earlier in January of 2019. I was so surprised to hear the news. I felt sad that I did not get a chance to say goodbye.
Death freed Mira from her physical pain and suffering. But it left a big gap in the lives of her friends and followers. I will miss Mira immensely.
A number of other scholars/practitioners, including David Godman and Michael James have done admirable work of researching and identifying authentic sources of Bhagavan Ramana’s words. This is important for obvious reasons. We see too many misquotes of Sri Ramana’s teachings by people who are not intimate with Bhagavan’s teachings and whose main interest seems to be in finding nice sounding feel-good quotes.
Having said that the need to identify authentic sources of Sri Ramana’s teaching is important, it still needs to be acknowledged that the teachings transmitted via language, no matter how authentic and genuine a source is, have built-in limitations. That is why Bhagavan often stated that the highest teaching is always given in silence.
Sri Ramana used to say that once the basic teaching/method of self-inquiry is grasped, the books are of little use to the aspirant. It is the practical application of the teaching that matters. He stated this again and again in a variety of ways and in many different contexts in order to emphasize the point.
Despite the volumes written on Sri Ramana’s teachings, the teachings are easy to understand for a sincere person who makes the effort. The reason for that is that we are already the Self. Bhagavan is simply reminding us by speaking directly to our essence. Whatever the limitation of the language and the source, these words are full of the force of grace. It is up to us to be open to this power of grace.
Hence we have the ability to “Hear” Bhagavan Ramana, no matter what the source. It does not matter if we do not “Hear” him perfectly at first. It is the practice that purifies the mind and makes it subtle. It is then the teaching/grace works spontaneously and guides the mind to enter the Heart and understand the true nature of silence.
Sri Ramana never approved of devotees getting entangled with intellectual debates and losing their focus from the main purpose of life. Self Recognition.
There is no end to self-improvement and learning my dear friends. If you want to reach the Heart, unburden yourself from the mind, and just be. That is essentially Sri Ramana’s teaching.
A peaceful mind has the capacity to surrender to its source, the Heart, where the individual consciousness merges with the Universal Being. It is That, which the ancient sages referred to as Sat-Chit-Ananda. Existence, Consciousness, Bliss.
All the various yogas and tantras have only one aim and that is to help the mind attain peace. All genuine spiritual teachings, without exception, are meant for making the mind peaceful.