Nome – a leading American teacher of Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Inquiry: By Richard Clarke
Birds in the sky and fish in water
Dart and leave no track behind.
And none can trace the path by which
The sages journeyed to the Self.’
(Ramana Mandiram; Sri Muruganar)
I am Being
Which alone knows.
I am Bliss,
Which along shines.
I am the Self
Known as “I” by all.
I am the Existence
That is the Existence of all.
I am the Essence
(Nome, from Mandala Eight, Self-Knowledge)
Nome, giving Satsang
Nome gives satsang at SAT (Society of Abidance in Truth, Santa Cruz, CA, www.satramana.org). He reveals the nondual Advaita Vedanta of Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi and Adi Sankara and the practice of Self-inquiry (Atma Vichara).
Early Life and Spiritual Experiences
Nome was born on January 23, 1955 in Long Island, New York and spent most of his childhood in New Jersey. Though not from a religiously oriented family, Nome as a child had memories and a vivid familiarity with places, images, and words that he came to know later as associated with Sri Ramana Maharshi and Advaita Vedanta.
His first spiritual experience came at age 16—without previous spiritual questing (in this life), one day in a park. It was nirvikalpa samadhi, in which the meditator makes himself free from all thoughts and distinctions, free of all differentiations such as the knower, knowledge, and the known, and in which the mind ceases to be active. (A more detailed definition is found at the end of this article).
After this samadhi he sought out the solitude of mountains and woods, and spent much of his time in the forest meditating. While others were building their personalities, he took his down—for good. He lost interest in worldly acquisitions and activities. He saw that the source of happiness is within. There were further instances of samadhi.
After his 17th birthday, before completing high school, he left his family without telling them he was going. When asked by a friend why he was going, he said, “To attain Self-Realization.” He got an airplane ticket and flew to San Francisco.
In San Francisco he met Swami Swanandashram, who introduced him to the Vedanta teachings of Sankara, and the Upanisads, in which Ajata Vada is revealed. This is the Sanatana Dharma (the Eternal Teaching, called in the west, Hinduism) teaching of the Uncreated, where there is only Brahman, only the Absolute, only God. Nome recognized this teaching as his actual experience.
Introduced to these teachings and finding materials to help deepen his practice, Nome kept the focus of his life within. He found wisdom in such books as Talks with Ramana Maharshi, the Avadhuta Gita, the Astavakra Gita and Sankara works such as Atma Bodha.
He lived in a renounced fashion, meditating, intensely practicing Atma Vichara (Self inquiry). If in line at the supermarket, he would meditate. Waiting, he would meditate. He had no documentation, and worked at the kind of jobs where none is required, rough physical labor.
Nome continued to inquire, realizing that the Truth revealed by the Maharshi cuts the imagined knot that seems to tie our true being with a bodily form. During this period of practice, Nome saw that “Whoever we are, Bliss is within, and can no more be apart from us than we can be separated from our own existence.”
Now, how to turn the mind inward, and to turn it inward steadily? The answer was the Maharshi’s steady inquiry, revealing the Bliss of the Self. The search for happiness is really the search for the Self, which is Reality.
Nome realized that turning inward is essential. He felt that by the Grace of the Maharshi, this is accomplished. Self-effort is needed. When self-effort meets with Grace, the highest good results. Turning inward, how to go outward is forgotten. Accustomed to detachment, one forgets how to be attached. “Who am I?” becomes the only true question.
Asthma and the desire for Liberation
While practicing, Nome’s body was afflicted by asthma, intensifying the desire for spiritual liberation. He felt, “If I do not fully awaken to the Truth, I will live and die in an unreal world. If I practice right through the last breath, it will all be worth it; and if the Truth is realized even at the last moment, the Liberation from samsara (birth and death) will be for all eternity.”
Pictures from Sri Ramanasramam
Sri Ramana Maharshi
At this time, pictures arrived from Sri Ramanasramam. There had been no picture of any kind in his home for months. Then they arrived from Ramana’s Ashram on the other side of the world, beckoning Nome to leave the world altogether.
Nome felt on this day filled with a profound joy. It was the joy of devotion, of faith, of being blessed with the guiding light of the Guru’s Presence. The whole place seemed sanctified by Sri Bhagavan.
Reliance on the Guru
He placed himself in Sri Bhagavan’s hands, feeling that when the heart’s consecration is made, Grace is always present. Nome saw what the Maharshi revealed—thought’s utter unreality, and that the real Self is all. He saw the objective nature of all thoughts, and the existence of That which is formless and always nonobjective. Only the nonobjective is who we are; we cannot be a thought of which we are aware.
The senses do not determine Reality, nor does the mind.
For whom is the world?
Nome came to know experientially that the world, including the body, is the sensory experience, the sensory experience is entirely in the mind, and the mind is but “I” in different guises or forms. So he inquired, “Who am I?”
The world seemed to Nome as an unreal dream. Detached from this unreal dream, he did not take it to be the source of happiness. The inquiry “Who is bound and who desires liberation?” becomes the way the Truth is realized.
Making permanent the state without thought
Thought ceased. Then it resumed, again it ceased. And again it resumed. The focus of practice for Nome then was “How can I extend and make permanent this state without thought?”
Following the Maharshi’s teachings about the three states (waking, dream, and deep dreamless sleep), Nome saw that which is continuous, in which the states seem to appear, the one thing that does not change. “It is perpetual Existence. What is that? It is perpetual Consciousness.”
Elimination of all Vasanas
Nome would look at recurring experiences, examining them to see what brought them about, and what brought samadhi to an end. “What takes one up, and what brings one down?” was the investigation. It helped to eliminate vasanas—misidentifications and attachments. The Maharshi’s revelation of the Truth eliminated the entire field, “Who is the knower?”
Questions about samadhi were difficult to raise, for one could not expect an accurate answer in any less expansive or more formed state of mind, and in samadhi itself the questions do not arise. Meditating with Sri Bhagavan’s guidance, Nome saw that what is experienced in samadhi—the essence—does not come and go; the boundaries constituting the before-the-beginning and the after-the-end appear and disappear, for they are composed only of illusions. “Who goes up or down?” “Who enters into or merges with what?” “Who realizes what?” He cut each knot, vanquished every illusion, and dissolved every vasana.
Absence of Individuality
Nome came to know that the utter absence of individuality (called “an ego”) is Realization. The ignorance seems to rise with the ‘I’-thought and is identical with the ‘I’-thought. “I want to be free of individuality. I may be free from its appendages in the form of various characteristics, etc. but the ‘I’ itself must also disappear. How is the elimination of the individual ‘I’ to be brought about?” Like this was Nome’s meditation. Sri Bhagavan’s instructions, “Can ‘I’ eliminate itself?” and “Find out that the ego does not exist,” revealed, upon inquiry, the answer that the ego does not exist.
The Maharshi’s teaching lays out the direct path—Who am I? —and this is the ultimate guidance. “Are there two selves, one to realize the other?” This instruction blows away the dust of dualism and reveals Sri Bhagavan’s silent presence. This is what Nome’s inquiry revealed.
May 14, 1974, at 19 years of age, waiting in the office of an oral surgeon, meditating on a small Ramana pamphlet Self Realization (later reprinted by SAT), Nome realized finally and completely that the notion of “I” does not refer to any actually existent ego entity, and is itself unreal. This “I” does not come from the real Self, does not come from “anything else,” and is not self-generated. He realized that there was “no me,” no individual, there is only the vast Absolute, and I am That. This was the revelation of Truth, without these words or ideas. Everything objective disappeared, never to return.
This is what Ramana referred to as Sahaja Samadhi, pure, uninterrupted Consciousness, transcending the mental and physical plane, yet (to an observer), with awareness of a manifested world, and full use of mental and physical faculties.
“The Self is only Being—not being this or that. It is simply Being. Be, and there is the end of ignorance.” Meditating on Sri Bhagavan’s revelation of Reality—realizing its meaning, supremely profound—the “I” does not survive.
Speaking now about the period of practice, Nome says that persistence was important. Clearly the deep desire for Liberation was also key, as was his surrender and devotion to Sri Ramana Maharshi.
The writer observes that Nome was not satisfied with nirvikalpa samadhi at age 16. Rather this brought him to look deeply and intensely within to find the Truth that is within, to look beyond what comes and goes for what is changeless and eternal. Finding That as his identity, then to stand in Sahaja Samadhi.
In 1978, after four years spent mostly in silence, Nome started answering questions of sincere aspirants, first in a house in San Bruno, CA, then Boulder Creek, and finally Santa Cruz. Around Nome a group of spiritual seekers formed, and was first called “The Avadhut Ashram.” Satsang was held in Santa Cruz and San Francisco.
The SAT Temple
When the room in which satsang was held got too small, a temple was built in Santa Cruz by those who practiced and meditated with Nome. The SAT temple is dedicated to Sri Ramana Maharshi. The doors opened on August 20, 1989. By then the name Avadhut Ashram evolved into “The Society of Abidance in Truth (SAT).”
The SAT Temple is nestled into the side of a hill. After entering the Temple, first comes a large hall, called the Lotus room. The Bookstore is also found here. Then, after climbing a set of stairs (and greeted by a large picture of Sri Ramana Maharshi), the shrine room dedicated to Sri Bhagavan is first encountered. Then the eight-sided satsang hall is entered. In the rear of the hall are several murtis (statues) familiar in Hindu temples. These include a bronze Dakshinamurti, Nataraja (Dancing Siva), Ardhanarisvara, and a stone Lingodbhava. This Lingodbhava is also found in any Siva temple in India, and in the Mother’s Temple at Sri Ramanasramam.
Satsang at SAT Temple
Satsang is held regularly, every Sunday morning at 10 AM. After meditation in the deep quiet that seems to envelope the hall, Nome will give a short discourse on the Nondual Truth. The listeners, absorbed in the discourse, are taken to spiritual—nondual—depths. After the discourse come questions by seekers and answers from Nome. Many questions are asked: about inquiry, about the nature of Reality, about how to deepen one’s practice. The answers plunge into the depths of the questioner, aiding the questioner to thoroughly examine his own identity, and to see what is always there, to see just who he is. Always is revealed the nondual truth of who we are, and the utter nonexistence of what is not real. Then will come a chant, often from the Upanisads, in Sanskrit then English. Finally, there is more meditation in the quiet of the Satsang Hall on what has been imparted.
The satsang hall is a place of real peace and silence. Many find this so. Old devotes that remember the silence of Sri Bhagavan’s presence, have commented that the SAT satsang hall is the place most like the old hall at Ramanasramam during the days of Ramana.
For directions to the SAT temple, go to http://www.satramana.org/html/directions_to_sat.htm
Writing, Translations and Publishing
In addition to giving satsang at SAT, Nome continues to write, translate and publish spiritual texts that support the practitioner of Self-inquiry and Advaita Vedanta. Nome started collaborating in 1988 with Dr. H Ramamoorthy, a Sanskrit and Tamil scholar, to translate original Advaita Vedanta scriptures into English. Together they translated more than 20 Advaita Vedanta texts. Of these, more than half have been published to date. The translation work proceeded from 1988 to the 2001 passing of Dr. Ramamoorthy. Nome now continues to translate and publish Sanskrit texts, including the completion of manuscripts which were started in collaboration with Dr. Ramamoorthy.
Nome is married to Sasvati. Sasvati provides much assistance with the creation and publishing of these books; Sasvati also provides spiritual guidance and support to those who come to SAT.
Nome has journeyed to India several times, staying at Sri Ramanasramam, and The Ramana Centre for Learning in Bangalore. He was invited to speak at both locations.
Books and Publications:
Below is a partial list of books written or translated by Nome. They are available at http://store.satramana.org/
Nirguna Manasa Puja – Worship of the Attributeless One in the Mind by Adi Sankara, 1993, English translation by Dr. H Ramamoorthy and Nome. Published by SAT.
Ribhu Gita – The Sanskrit Ribhu Gita, 1995, English translation by Dr. H Ramamoorthy and Nome. Introduction by Nome. Published by SAT.
Timeless Presence, 1996, written by Nome at the request of Ramanasramam for the centenary celebration of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s arrival at Arunachala. Republished by SAT.
Song of Ribhu – The Tamil Ribhu Gita, 2000, English translation by Dr. H Ramamoorthy and Nome. Introduction by Nome, with extensive glossary of nondual Sanskrit terms. Published by SAT. Reprinted by Ramanasramam.
Svatmanirupanam – The True Definition of One’s Own Self by Adi Sankara, 2002, Sanskrit with English translation by Dr. H Ramamoorthy and Nome. Published by SAT.
Self-Knowledge, 2003, written by Nome. Published by Atma Jnana Publications.
The Four Requisites for Realization and Self-Inquiry, 2003, written by Nome. Published by SAT.
Nirvana Satkam- Six Verses on Nirvana by Adi Sankara, 2004, English translation by Nome. Published by SAT.
Essence of Inquiry, 2005. English translation of Ramana’s Vichara Sangraham with Nome’s commentary. Published by The Ramana Centre for Learning in Bangalore, India.
Origin of Spiritual Instruction – an edited reprint of Sri Natanananda’s A Catechism of Instruction (republished later by Sri Ramanasramam as Spiritual Instruction). 2006. Edited by Nome. Published by SAT.
Bouquet of Nondual Texts – Eight texts by Adi Sankara, 2006,
Sanskrit with English translation by Dr. H Ramamoorthy and Nome. Published by SAT.
(Definition from the Glossary of The Song of Ribhu, English translation by Dr. H Ramamoorthy and Nome. Published by SAT.)
Nirvikalpa Samadhi, in which the meditator makes himself free from all thoughts and distinctions, free of all differentiations such as the knower, knowledge, and the known, and in which the mind ceases to be active. It may be divided into two subcategories:
1. Subjective: Here the mind is steady like an unflickering flame in a windless place, indifferent to both objects and sounds and in which the ideas that arise in Savikalpa Samadhi are absent. It is likened to an empty pitcher placed in the sky having nothing inside or outside.
2. Objective: Here the meditator, plunged in bliss, perceives no external objects. He is completely absorbed in the contemplation of Brahman; all illusory phenomena are merged in Brahman; he is indifferent to the manifest world and also to such ideas as akhanda (the undivided), eka rasa (the single essence), and such. It is likened to a pitcher placed in the sea with water inside and out.
Sri Ramana Maharshi refers to nirvikalpa samadhi as complete absorption in the Self with resultant oblivion to the manifested world, as a state of blissful trance but not permanent, like a bucket of water lowered into a well. In the bucket is the water (the mind) that is merged with the water in the well (which is the Self), but the rope and the bucket still exist to draw it out again.
(Definition from the Glossary of The Song of Ribhu)
The Maharshi declares that Sahaja Samadhi is pure, uninterrupted Consciousness, transcending the mental and physical plane, yet (to an observer), with awareness of a manifested world, and full use of mental and physical faculties; Sahaja is a state of perfect equilibrium, perfect harmony, beyond even bliss, comparable to the waters of a river merged in those of the ocean. Sahaja signifies what is effortless, natural, and innate. It is the state of Being the Self and the Self Alone.
This article was written by Richard Clarke, who has attended satsang with Nome since 1990. Much help and guidance in the writing was provided by Sarasvati.
Much of the material for this article came from “Timeless Presence,” written by Nome. It some cases it is quoted directly, with the permission of SAT.