Ramana Corona: By Alan Jacobs

In this sequence of sonnets are laid out the basic tenets of Sri Ramana’s teachings.

This was previously published in The Mountain Path.

RAMANA CORONA

All beings yearn to be happy, always;
Happiness without a tinge of sorrow,
To enjoy a life of carefree days,
Taking no burden of thought for tomorrow.
When restless mind’s at peace in deep sleep,
What glimpse of worry, grief or despair?
So happiness lies therein, buried down deep.
How to find this treasure, awake, aware?
Ask the question, who am I, and from where?
That’s the essential means of the holy task,
Ending ego’s ‘me’ and ‘my’, that’s there.
No pleasure endures in things of this Earth,
Enquire within, who basks behind our mask?
To regain that Selfhood we lost at birth.

To regain that Selfhood we lost at birth,
First consider well the cinema screen,
To understand that, gains merit and worth.
On the screen there appears a tense drama,
The film begins and we enjoy the show.
Fire, flood, sex, death, a vast panorama;
The screen’s unchanging, but the film’s a shadow.
The simile teaches, strange as it may be,
That both seer and seen make up the mind.
On Consciousness as screen, all action’s based.
To know that is true, is the clue to be free,
A guiding beacon that’s so rare to find.
That’s the Sage wisdom by which we are graced.

That’s the Sage wisdom by which we are graced,
We’re taught the silver screen as a metaphor.
Seated in theatre stalls, now we are placed,
To proceed with clarity and enquire some more.
The bright theatre lamp is the light supreme,
Illuminating both actors and the scene.
We see stage and the play only by light,
Yet when action ends, the lamp remains bright.
Just as woven cloth and its colour white
Are never, ever perceived as apart,
So when mind and light both unite,
They form ego, knotted and bound in the heart.
Of all that we’ve ever learned since birth,
That’s the high wisdom proclaimed on Earth.

That’s the high wisdom proclaimed on Earth,
How to make mind to merge in its source?
Only by enquiring with all of one’s force,
The central question regarding its birth,
The ultimate scrutiny of “Who Am I”?
As thoughts froth forth like waves on the ocean,
They’ll all be slain by such introspection,
Unveiling the Self, the lost inward eye.
Pearls lay buried on the deep ocean floor,
Attracting divers to search for this goal.
Holding their breath they plunge to the core
Of the ocean bed, for the pearl oyster’s soul.
To gain this gem in the heart’s sacred place,
Just seek for the source where mind is based.

Just seek for the source where mind is based.
You travel alone on a mystery train;
By this metaphor we’re comfortably placed,
To travel by providence free from pain.
So put all your heavy luggage on the rack,
Only a fool carries it on his head!
Be glad, accept the predestined track,
Rest quietly, safe at home on your bed!
Surrender in joyful jubilation!
Surrender utterly to God’s almighty will,
Surrender with total resignation,
Surrender knowing all will be well,
Surrender whole heartedly with one accord,
Take safe refuge in the all loving Lord!

Take safe refuge in the all loving Lord!
For life’s a dream and sleeping dreams are short,
The waking dream is long; both stem from thought.
The Real is beyond both this waking and sleep.
The sword of enquiry slays dream states deep,
So reaching their substratum, numinous,
The state of pure consciousness, Self luminous!
Blissfully aware, yet awake in sleep.
As the cockerel crows ready to sup,
At the roseate dawn of first morning light,
Awareness pours into the near empty cup,
Granting a moment’s taste of Self insight.
This light is the eye that forever sees,
Who can be known by enquiring “who frees?”

Who can be known by enquiring “who frees?”
The Master who lives in the cave of the heart,
Not separate from one’s Self, being the start,
Of the final search from bond to release.
The Sage appears when the soul is ready,
With strong gaze of grace he says “be aware
That God and his wisdom are already there!”
He acts as a brake to make the mind steady,
While mercy flows freely in sunshine and air,
Hindered only by our being unready.
If you come to him, meekly with an empty cup,
His grace is then bound to fill it up.
The Master’s glance is the grace of the Lord,
He cuts you free with his mighty sword.

He cuts you free with his mighty sword,
To guide you surely, on the upward way
To Self Realisation, your real birthday!
Consummation of “That” the Sage’s word,
Is “rest in the Self,” which is always heard.
In him, place great trust and affirm, say yea
As certainty! Our Real Self blazes away,
Ever surrendered to the almighty Lord,
Revealing great peace for Realisation’s sake,
Renouncing belief that a rope is a snake.
The seeker surely becomes “the great find”,
His own blissful being, the summit in kind,
This great Teaching eternally frees,
One with the Self, as the Absolute sees.

One with the Self, as the Absolute sees,
He answers all our prayers and our pleas;
We must first enter that dear sacred part,
Not the fleshy pump that throbs on the left,
But the sacred core: by being skilful and deft,
We find that on the right; is the real Heart!
By harnessing breath, being adept and bright,
We dive with great skill and all of our might,.
There dwelling in depths of our true Heart’s cave,
Lives the shining ”Unity” blazing as Self,
Pulsation of I-I, where all shadows cease.
So fixing gaze there, finally, off we stave,
Perverted, wandering, demonic mind elf,
Returning to “Self”, our birthright of peace.

Returning to “Self”, our birthright of peace,
Is knowing that all this vile body performs
Was predestined before it ever took form.
So from stress, despair and fretting, pray cease!
Our freedom dwells in our natural State,
Renouncing the “ Am The Doer” notion,
Detached from fruit of form’s puppet motion,
Yet grace can avert even predestined fate!
Be like a skilled actor on this stage of strife!
Play with goodwill the part you’ve been given,
No matter how strangely you find you are driven,
Knowing who, truly you are, in this life.
Until fate pulls down the final curtain,
Know you’re Self not body, know that is certain!

Know you’re Self not body, know that is certain!
In this Realisation, there’s no cause to leave home,
You can strive in the city, there’s no need to roam.
To change style of life would all be in vain,
For mind remains with you, until it is slain.
Demonic ghost ego, source and fabric of thought
Create body and world, whereby we are caught.
Change of place, never changed the way we behave,
Whether living at home, in a forest or cave.
There are two ways by which our bonds may be freed:
Either ask “to whom is this strange fate decreed?”
Or surrender false ‘me’ to be then stricken down,
So praying intensely for ‘my will’ to cease,
We leave it to grace, to grant us release.

We leave it to grace, to grant us release.
God will do this through the gaze of his Sage,
He sends down His messenger for every age,
To those who yearn and pray for great peace.
The Realised Sage lives on here and now,
Without confusing the Self with the mind.
Humble, compassionate, loving and kind,
Wisely profound, as his way clearly shows.
He steers the vessel of firm devotees,
Fulfilling everyone’s spiritual need.
In deep silence, he sits, with perfect ease,
To awaken those, whom his teaching well heed.
Graciously, his great glance of initiation,
Drives the mind inwards, to Self Realisation!

Driving the mind inwards, to Self Realisation,
He grants safe passage through life’s stormy ocean;
What frail soul will ever be excluded
From the presence of the holy Supreme?
No matter how depraved or deluded,
His mercy never ends, and will always redeem,
Raising the soul from the depth of depression,
To free one from the ‘I am this body’ obsession.
From passions that churn desire and aversion,
His fair breeze wafts clear equanimity;
Enmeshed no more in worldly adversity,
Never perturbed by praise nor foul enmity,
We learn that there’s the greatest giving
In knowing all are Self, and so truly living.

In knowing all are Self, and so truly living,
We thank the great Sage who is ever giving.
We praise the Lord, who leads us to his feet,
His gracious gaze is eternally sweet,
Without ceasing, he’s forever reviving,
He grants that freedom, our real surviving.
He severs the grip of bondage’s chains,
He frees the soul, where confusion reigns,
He bestows both compassion and deep peace,
He sends out his grace to grant us release.
He teaches the truth that Consciousness is all,
And Self Enquiry to raise us up from our fall.
We praise God Almighty whom is ever living,
This crown of my verses is our thanksgiving!

To regain that Selfhood we lost from birth,
That’s the Sage wisdom by which we are graced,
This is the high wisdom proclaimed on Earth.
Just seek for the source where mind is based.
Take refuge in the all loving Lord,
Who can be known by enquiring ‘who frees?’
He cuts you loose with his mighty sword,
One with the Self, as the Absolute sees.
Returning to Self, our birthright of peace,
Know you’re Self, not body, know that is certain!
We leave it to grace, to grant us release.
He drives the mind inwards, to Self Realisation,
In knowing all are Self, and so truly living,
This crown of my verses is our thanksgiving!

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Life is a pure flame, and we live
by an invisible Sun within us.

Alan Jacobs is Chairman of the Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK , and author of The Bhagavad Gita a Poetic Transcreation and The Principal Upanishads A Poetic Transcreation.

This article published with permission from The Mountain Path.

Indian Village Life – Samuthiram Villages Prays for Rain: By Richard Clarke

This week we were invited to another Indian Village function–an annual ceremony where they ask the gods to bring rain. This is always held on the same day of the year. So on June 23, 2008 we went into Samuthiram Village to see the ceremony.

The rain is particularly needed this year. There are two monsoons that bring the bulk of the rain to the area. The Northeast Monsoon in October and November, and the Southwest Monsoon in the summer. The Northeast Monsoon failed to come last fall, and so far the Southwest Monsoon has failed to arrive as well.

Tamil Nadu has vast agricultural areas, much of which are rice fields farmed as small plots by village farming families. The rice fields can grow three crops each year, but they use lots of water. The English, when they came to India, said that these South Indian fields were the most productive in the world. They depend each year on the monsoons. Now we may have had two monsoon failures in a row.

We were invited to the ceremony by Dakshinamoothi, a man in the village whom we assist with his local organization, Quality of Life Trust. He told us to arrive at 1 PM, thinking that this celebration, like all such events, would start late. He then called us about 12:30 and said that we should be there. When we arrived a few minutes later, we found that it had already started.

It was being help at the village temple, a small building by the road that we have gone past many times. When we arrived, people were already gathered at the temple, the puja was over, and the next part of the rites had started.

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The villagers were gathered under the awning put up for the day.

There were three cones, decorated with flowers, several priests, and an open space in the middle of the crowd.

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Much work was done decorating these cones.

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In the circle there were drummers, beating out a rhythm, and someone dancing in the circle, an elderly lady. It is not usual at village functions to see women dancing, it is usually just the men. The ‘dancing’ seemed particularly energetic and expressive, and not any formal dance at all.

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After she left the circle, a young man, seen above in an orange shirt, stepped into the circle. Before he started moving, he spent some time, in what seemed like working himself up into some state. I wondered if perhaps he was drunk.

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Then he started to move wildly.

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I think his eyes were closed, and there is an expression on his face, almost, I thought, of pain.

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There was another man in the circle as well, in a white dhoti.

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The man in the orange shirt dropped to the ground, and was writhing around. I could not get a good picture of him. The view was blocked by a drummer.

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After this was over, he was exhausted, and had to be helped walk to where he could sit down.

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I found out later that these people were, in this ‘dancing’, surrendering themselves to God, and probably asking for something from God.

After this, the crowd broke up, and the next part of the rites got underway. We went to the Satya’s Cafe in the village to wait.

First came the drummers, who seem to lead all these village processions.

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Then after the drummers, came the cones, each carried by a man. We had seen similar cones walking through the village where we lived, and we wondered what they were about.

They stopped across the street, and the occupants of the house came out with puja items to offer, and received blessings from the priest who walked with the group.

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Then they walked to Satya’s Cafe, where we were waiting. There were some boys walking with the group, too, naturally.

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At Satya’s, the owner, our host, Dhakshinamoorthy, had three malas ready and waiting to offer. He gave them to three western women who sometimes help our his trust, Vishni, Shivani, and my wife Carol, who in turn placed them onto the cones, after puja items were offered.

First the puja offering.

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Then the malas were placed.

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then off to the next house.

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One man stopped for a photo.

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Here are shots of the temple, the next day.

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All the ritual items were still there, waiting to be cleaned up, which was to happen soon. Boys played among the cones.

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Temple gods watched the unfolding of the whole event, remaining silent and full of peace.

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Diving Into The Heart: By Alan Jacobs

Alan Jacobs

(An Article published in the July Issue of The Mountain Path)

“Just as the pearl diver ties a stone to his waist ,

to the bottom of the ocean bed, and there takes the pearls,

so each one of us should be endowed with non-attachment,

dive within himself and obtain the Self-Pearl.

The first clear statement pointing to the practice of Diving Into the Heart appears in Bhagavan’s second written work entitled, Who Am I, composed in 1901. Thus my chosen quotation, from the Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi verse 19, of this seminal work, is quoted at the head of this article.

Ramana used different metaphors and phraseology to describe this practice, which forms one of the key approaches to Self Enquiry, but the metaphor of the Pearl Of Great Price pointing to Liberation is on also used by Jesus Christ and is often found in the poetry of Jaludin Rumi and the Sufi Mystics.

It is however, in the Ramana Gita that the Second Verse in Chapter Two, has become immortalized by the great Tamil Poet and Yogi, Ganapati Muni, who in 1915 was rewarded by Sri Ramana himself, with the answer which is popularly named as the Eka Sloki. Of over three Hundred verses in the Ramana Gita, all the questions and answers were transcribed by the Muni into Sanskrit verse, with the exception of this one, which was composed metrically by Bhagavan himself, in 1915, also in Sanskrit. This was his first composition in that language, rather than Tamil

There are several fine English translations of the famed Eka Sloki of Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, but I have selected the poetic metrical one used in the current edition of Bhagavan’s Collected Works on page 151, under the title The Self in the Heart where in the eighth stanza of the Supplement to the Forty Verses (1928), it was repeated by Ramana exactly as he gave it in the Ramana Gita, but now in Tamil.

IN THE INMOST CORE, THE HEART

SHINES AS BRAHMAN ALONE,

AS I-I, THE SELF AWARE.

ENTER DEEP INTO THE HEART

BY SEARCH FOR SELF, OR DIVING DEEP,

WITH BREATH UNDER CHECK.

THUS ABIDE EVER IN ATMAN.

Later, in Verse three of Chapter two, the Muni writes in 1917 “This verse is the utterance of Bhagavan Maharshi himself and is the essence of the Upanishads and Vedanta! Then in verse 47 of the Marital Garland of Letters Bhagavan himself writes ‘Oh Let me by Thy Grace, dive into Thy Self, wherein merge only those divested of their minds and thus made pure, O Arunachala.’ Further more to add to the pointers in which Sri Bhagavan obviously emphasizes this suggested practice for us, we have in the Upadesa Sarum or Thirty Verses different metaphor, but pointing to the same or similar practice. In verse 11 he writes:

“Holding the breath controls the mind

like a bird caught in a net.

Breath regulation helps absorption

In the heart.”

We shall be discussing the finer distinctions between breath control and breath regulation as I begin to look at approaches to the actual practice, but meanwhile we have the most important 28th and 29th verse in the Ulladu Narpadu or Forty Verses on Reality.

28. Controlling speech and breath, and diving deep within oneself – like one who, to find a thing that has fallen into water, dives deep down – one must seek out the source whence the aspiring ego springs.

29. Cease all talk of I and search with inward diving-mind whence the thought of I springs up. This is the way of wisdom. To think instead, I Am not this, but that Am I, is helpful in the search but it is not the search itself.

There have been numerous translations and commentaries on these two verses. The one I personally found to be most helpful was in the Sat Darshan Bhashya by K (Sri Kapali Sastriar) the respected, brilliant, and erudite, young disciple of Ganapati Muni .The original text was written in Tamil by Bhagavan but the Muni translated it into Sanskrit. He then asked Kapali, who was highly fluent in the use of the English language, Prosody, and Vedantic Philosophy, to write the commentary, and translate the verses metrically into English, thereby preserving much of the original ‘rasa’ or delight of Ramana’s own Metre. According to Kapali Sastriar’s Diaries, in his Collected Works, (published by the Aurobindo Ashram), where Kapali eventually took up residence, this text and commentary was shown to Sri Bhagavan, amended, and where necessary improved. The numeration in this translation differs as the invocatory verses were numbered one andtwo, thus the verses under discussion appear as 30 and 31.

S.S Cohen, for example makes the cogent point, in his commentary on verse 28, he writes “Deep Diving is a metaphor that implies salvaging the ego from the depths of ignorance into which it has fallen, not amateurishly, but very expertly and unremittingly, or else success will be sporadic and even doubtful”. At this point it is worthy of mention that Sri Kapali Sastriar also wrote an exhaustive commentary on the Ramana Gita, published by Ramanasramam. His Diaries vividly recount his meeting with Ramana, which took place, and the text approved after ammendation. This was composed in Sanskrit in 1941. It also includes a comprehensive commentary on the famous second verse of the second chapter, the Eka Sloki, much too long for this Essay, but well worth studying by those interested in pursuing this practice. However K’s commentary on these verse in the earlier Sat Darshan Bhashya is both long and powerful. On these verses. He makes many powerful points, and some of these I have extracted.

For example in (V 30) he writes that ‘just as one forgets all other thoughts and keeps aside all other cares, and holding breath and speech gets into the well and plunges deep to find the lost article’. This method called Plunge is suggested , and this is the real test of earnestness….. the attempt involves gathering up all one’s divided interests and dissipated energy into a concentrated effort of the whole man, of his Being in all its entirety…. V.31, then alone real quest for the Self may be said to begin…..’ It is my own opinion and that of others with whom I have discussed this important practice that Diving and Plunging are synonyms for this approach to Self Enquiry . On page 26 of this Sat Darshan Bhashya (published by Ramanasramam), in one of the introductory chapters, entitled Sadhana and Siddhi K writes “…..it throws the whole being into a consuming fire as it were, takes hold of the life breath which is lost in the bodily feeling , and separating it from the bodily grip enters it into the Heart…such is the real Jijnasa, the genuine earnest desire and search for the Self.

Before moving onto the actual approach and experience of this great practice, it is necessary to point out that there are numerous references on ‘Diving’, in the celebrated Talks with Ramana Maharshi .As these are not separately indexed I note some important ones here. In Talks 252 Page 210 he gives A full answer to the question ‘how is the mind to enter the heart?’, which is much too long to quote here, and anything taken out of context would fail to do justice to the text, and it would be preferable to look up the original. Similarly, In an answer also much too long to quote here is Talks No.616 on page 576, where there is a very long dissertation on the ’Jivanadi’ during which Bhagavan “ says ….. the seekers aim must be to drain away the vasanas from the heart and let not the reflecting medium obstruct the Light of Eternal Consciousness .This is achieved by the search for the origin of the Ego and by Diving into theHeart. This is the direct method for Self Realisation……I feel this is a key quote.

It is, however, in the recently published Padamalai, the Teachings of Ramana Maharshi recorded by Muruganar and edited and annotated by David Godman, that the richest haul for the potential ‘Pearl Fisher or Diver’ may be found. Again these are not separately indexed so I list some here. On Page 92…One’s own reality is Ananda, if you were to dive knowingly into the Atman, with the conviction born of this experience, then the state of Self would be experienced.(From The Power of the Presence Vol. 1 p.263-4.) On Page101 , No’s 50 & 51. “To whatever extent you dive with a one pointed mind within the Heart, to that extent you will experience bliss. In so doing the vexation of the clamorous and exceedingly cruel ego ghost, the mind, will perish leaving not a trace. On Page 146.No.53 ….Q. How to seek the mind? Bhagavan: “Dive within .You are now aware that the mind rises up from within. So sink within and seek. There is further comment on breath control being an aid, and where the breath sinks, the I Thought arises…when the attempt is made, it will itself take you to the goal. In Talks. No 195,Page 160.On Page 234 no.210 David Godman gives all of Muruganar’s Guru Vachaka Kovai verse 46 in which he quotes Ramana as having said “….put aside completely the extremely extensive Vedas and Agamas because their true benefit is getting established in the enquiry of diving within oneself….. On Page 232 No.18 he quotes “to whatever extent that mind-consciousness dives within, to that same extent will the bliss of the Self spring forth and reveal itself…

So we see the extent to which Sri Bhagavan repeatedly points to the importance of this practice over and over again . To cap it all we find The Eka Sloki was mounted during Bhagavan’s lifetime, obviously with his consent, above his ornate marble couch in the New Hall, where the verse is engraved in Gold Sanskrit letters on, a tablet of polished black marble . As Sri C. Sudarsanam writes “the Kavya Kanta was so overjoyed with this Eka Sloki when Bhavagan first gave it , that he proclaimed it as Ramonopanishad, Hardopanishad , and is reported as saying ‘the time for that , (a commentary on the Eka Sloki) has yet to come. I shall compose something like the Bhagavad Gita as a commentary.’ That is how the Ramana Gita with the traditional eighteen chapters, in Sanskrit poetic metre was born.

Before discussing the practice, from my own experience, and all I have read , and discussed with other Devotees, it is necessary to point out that it is only one of the different approaches to Atma Vichara, given by Sri Ramana to suit the dispositions of different seekers, according to their temperaments and maturity. Devotees who earnestly wish to practice some form of Atma Vichara find they are, as it were, ‘Initiated’ , by a strong intimation from the Sat-Guru in the Heart ,pointing to a suitable approach for them, or an approach which is the easiest for them to commence. and in some cases, even setting up the Enquiry in the Heart as a direct experience. This is obviously a great manifestation of Grace, when the Self sees that the earnest seeker is sufficiently mature enough to commence Atma Vichara.

In my own case I found it very difficult, like many western seekers, to maintain the attention needed for the Self Enquiry approach initially prescribed in ‘Who Am I’? but when I came across ‘Diving Into the Heart’ it was a revelation! as here was a radical practice I could pursue, by stopping my restless mind through breath control and regulation. I have been enjoying this form of Self Enquiry for some years and have great faith and personal evidence in its efficacy. In my enthusiasm I even composed a long Narrative Poem , published privately called ‘The Pearl Fishers’, which describes the practice. Of course Ramana’s long essay called Self Enquiry at the beginning of his Collected Works summarizes the different approaches and the necessary, optional preparatory and support practices, including regulation of the breath (verses 21-26), and in Chapter Six of the Ramana Gita, and verse 4 Chapter 2 of Spiritual Instruction. they are expanded as aids for necessary mind control.

Each practitioner of Self Enquiry will be drawn to that approach which he finds the easiest and appeals to him most. Some even have several arrows in their ‘atma vichara quiver’ with Aum as their bow. When however we come to Diving into the Heart, there is a useful treatise called ‘The Technique of Maha Yoga’ by Shri N.R.Narayana Aiyar in which he describes his own practice of Diving Into the Heart, as enjoyed by this earnest Sadhak, and first published by Ramanasramam in 1962. Briefly this short book summarises in general terms, his own experience and understanding of Self Enquiry, preparatory and support practices in the first twenty six pages .But on page 26he leads one into his own personal Sadhana of Diving Into the Heart by the key passage I have already partially quoted from Talks 616 page 576…… ‘the seekers aim should be to drain away the vasanas from the heart and let no reflection obstruct the Light of Consciousness. This is achieved by the search for the source of the ego. This is the direct method. The state free from vasanas is the primal state and eternal state of purity….’. He then quotes in Bhagavan’s description of the Locus of the Self, the famous quotation from the Supplement to the Forty Verses.

‘Two digits to the right of the centre of the chest is the Heart like a lotus bud. Breath, mind and the Light of Consciousness originate from here’.

There are many supporting passages in the Ramana Literature where Bhagavan indubitably affirms this location from his own direct experience. But we also know that Ramana stated elsewhere in Talks 403 page 378 that ‘you are the centre of Dhyana and that is the Heart. Thus a location is given with reference to the body……’even when the limbs are amputated you are there but with defective senses(adjuncts). So a centre must be admitted. That is called the Heart. The Heart is not merely the centre but the Self. Heart is only another name for the Self. Doubts only arise when you identify it with something tangible and physical…..’ However in Talks No.131 page 116 Ramana also states …’of course there is also the practice of meditation on the heart centre. It is only a practice and not investigation. Only the one who meditates on the heart can remain aware when the mind ceases to be active and remains still’ From this statement, as a practitioner of Diving or Plunging I have deduced, along with trusted and advanced Devotees in Ramanasramam and Tiruvannamalai with whom I have discussed the question, that the right side of the chest must not be seen as an object to be focused on, but merely as a doorway or portal in which one can enter to commence the search for the source of the ‘I Thought’. The point of entry may be found as the author of ‘The Technique of Maha Yoga’ writes, and Ramana also suggests , ‘watch the movement of the breath…and observe where breath rises and sinks inside the chest….’ . As in the Upadesa Sarum (and elsewhere) Bhagavan writes ‘the source of breath and mind is the same. Earnest Practitioners invariably find , as I have, that the Locus where a palpitation can sometimes be felt, is on the right side of he chest, where Sri Bhagavan himself affirms it to be.

Now regarding breath control and breath regulation, the Eka Sloki clearly states this as an option. Diving can be practiced with or without restraint of breath. We once had a Yahoo Group Discussion Group called Atma Vichara, with over two hundred subscribing members, world wide .Some reported that as soon as they approached the door-way of the heart with devotion and attention, the sacredness of the inner shrine automatically made the mind go quiet, and breath regulation was therefore unnecessary for them. Many practioners, however, especially those like myself with the usual Western rajasic restless mind, find breath restraint invaluable. Although Breath Control is summarised in ‘Self Enquiry’ from verses 21-25, it is more fully detailed by Bhagavan in his answer to the Muni and his disciples in Chapter Six of the Ramana Gita called ‘Mind Control’.

Ramana’s approach to this practice is very simple, and is not the extensive Pranayama which needs the supervision of a competent Teacher. One clear demonstration of full inhalation, retention and exhalation would be adequate . In verse five he states ‘control of life force means merely watching the course of its movement. By constant watch over its course (flow), Kumbhaka (retention) is achieved. This is an invaluable aid for calming the agitated mind at any time. In verse 6 Bhagavan, does recommend Hatha Yoga as an additional aid for those disposed towards this health giving and purificational practice, which would include some Pranayama. Many, like myself, find it is a valuable support practice for Atma Vichara. Here a competent Teacher is essential. In verse 7 we are asked to breathe out fully (Rechaka) with the necessary time required, and then fully inhale for another unit of the same time (Puraka). Then Kumbhaka or Retention may be held for four counts of the time taken for inhalation. It is during this period of holding the breath , that I finds is the best time to Plunge or Dive into the Heart by entering the portal on the right side of the chest using focussed attention, like a laser beam, from the chakra between the eye brows, to penetrate as deeply as one can, searching for the source of the ‘I Thought’, until one is forced to fully exhale, with Bhastika or diaphramtic exhalation with a guttural or hissing sound, which, more effectively, expels residual thought and vrittis.

This differs from the approach of the author of The Technique of Maha Yoga where he recommends (page 57) ‘to slowly Exhale and watch the exhalation movement in the chest. With the sinking movement in the chest dive into the Heart. Here I assume he is relying on the Pranic Force to enter the heart , with focussed attention . But I find focused attention issuing from the chakra or pineal gland, between the eye brows, far more powerful and would include the Pranic Force on exhalation as well. But obviously as in all matters of Sadhana it is for each Sadhak to find his own most effective way which is most amenable for him, guided by the Sat-Guru within his own Heart.

Another important prerequisite to this practice is given in verse three of the famed Arunachala Pancharatna or Five Gems to Arunachala where Bhagavan writes ‘He who turns inward with untroubled mind to search within where the Consciousness of ‘I’ arises, Realises the Self, and dissolves in Thee O Arunachala!’ .

Chapter Nine of the Ramana Gita in which the great Eka Sloki first appeared, has a whole explanation on the Granthi Bheedam or Knot. In verse three, Ramana states that theassociation of the Self with the Body is called the Granthi (Knot). It is my intuitive feelingthat Bhagavan’s powerful sword of Diving Into the Heart will eventually cut this identification and sever the knot . A full explanation to the Granthi Bheedham can be found in Spiritual Instruction Verse 12, Collected Works Ramanashramam Edition page 63.

Bhagavan often stated that a moderate Vegetarian Satvic Diet with milk products was a great aid in atma vichara, and there are many references to this in his ‘Talks’ where the importance of a Satvic Diet is clearly indexed. Finally there is the question of posture and here Bhagavan is very clear when he writes ‘of the eighty four main postures siddha is the most excellent’ in verse 27 section 3 of Self Enquiry. This is Siddhasana when the left heel is placed over the crotch and the right heel over that.’ Narayana Aiyer warns that this process of dedicated Diving Into the Heart may take a number of years, and this writer fully agrees from my own experience over many years. One assumes it depends on the skill employed in the practice of concentrated probing, with devotion, and the force of attention available, and the strength of the occlusions and vasanas resisting expulsion, as well as the gunas active at the time.

Obviously it will differ with each Sadhak, and no Plunge or Dive, in the search for the source of the I Thought can ever be exactly the same for anyone at any time. I find that each Dive is different in quality depending on the force of attention gathered, like an artist, when he prepares to draw an object, or a mathematician concentrating on a difficult problem, or gazing into the wick of a lit candle. In some cases one feels one strikes a wall , or sheath, and the attention cannot penetrate .But invariably one finds one can penetrate deeper and deeper until one reaches the abyss when one can go no further. Then on the exhalation a great deal of residual thought or vrittis are expelled. The more zeal , and determination one devotedly feels, that this isthe most urgent vital act and necessary effort one can make, the deeper it goes. One is immediately detached from any identification previously agitating the mind.

I find it is quite easy to commence the day with three or four dives, and then the opportunity or energy to proceed may happen another three or four times during the day. There is, however considerable Grace involved , as this practice churns the nadis, and the nervous system would be overstrained if achievement was too sudden .If their is a strain on the Nadis , Bhagavan says that with persistence all will come right in the end. This is expanded in the valuable chapter on ‘Self Enquiry Misconceptions’ in David Godman’s excellent anthology ‘Be As You Are’. Patience must be exercised for ripeness and maturity to fructify, and then Grace mercifully chooses the right moment for appropriate glimpses of the Real Self, in all its magnificence, as a forerunner to Realisation, when no further Sadhana is needed.

There is, however, from my own experience, no doubt that the practice gracefully weakens identification with troublesome thoughts whenever it is applied. Also pulsations are often felt on the right side of the chest , where a niche can be found in which one may rest for sitting in silent meditation. Again, however, every bold adventure into deep sea pearl fishing will be different, for each sadhak, and unique according to his own endeavour.

A baffling question arises, however, insofar as even when reaching the bottom ofthe abyss with concentrated attention, nothing is discovered, and the space probed seems empty. Wise, experienced devotees with whom I have discussed this question inform me that while the practice is still done from the mind, nothing should be expected. But at a certain point, after earnest and regular persistence in the practice the enquiry moves into the Heart, through Grace. Then atma vichara spontaneously arises, and one is drawn into the Heart, when the source of the I Thought may eventually be found with the necessary release. I have found this happens to me more and more, but I have not reached the stage where it becomes frequent or permanent.

Keeping in mind that one is searching for the root of the I Thought with zeal, and holding the breath, one should not expect an answer or result .The purification of latent tendencies are buried deeply in the subconscious, and what is happening can not be known by the reflected, limited, normal consciousness of the empiric mind. I am totally convinced, however, from my own experience, that Grace and effort are firmly interlinked.

This practice may be a great help for some Devotees, as it has for me. Especially for those who find other approaches too difficult because of lack of necessary yogic preparation, concentration practice, or inability to control the mind, even using Mantra Japa. There is no doubt that the implication of the Maharshi’s many repetitions of this practice, in his own writings and Talks, is of major significance. It is if our Ramana Sat-Guru appears and tells us Dive within the Heart and Realize the Self!

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Note from Richard: I did a final pass at editing and formatting this article for Alan and am posting it for him. If there are any problems with the work that I did, I am sorry.

Family Feast in Gondapatai Village, Tamil Nadu: By Richard Clarke

Yesterday, on Guru Purnima day, our rickshaw driver, Rajan, had invited us ‘to the temple.’ We, thinking nothing of it, and thinking we were going to some temple in Tiruvannamalai, said OK. Rajan said the he had to go early with his wife and children, and so would send someone to pick us up. We were a bit surprised when a car showed up, rather than a rickshaw, but again thought nothing of it. There were two other rickshaw drivers in the car as well. Again, I thought nothing of it other than thinking they must be going to the temple, too. But when the driver turned away from town, I knew that something was different.

I remembered that Rajan frequented a different temple than the main one nearby, Arunachaleswar Temple, and I thought that it must be out of town and we were driving to it. I just let it play out. Then we kept going further away, going through Chengam, about 30K to the west of Tiruvannamalai, on the road to Bangalore. I knew by then that something different was happening than I had thought, and I continued to just let it play out. We went about another 30 KM, then turned onto a poor quality dirt road, and drove into a village about 2 KM off the main road.

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We stopped at a house that was set up for a special function. The awning and chairs are typical of such functions, we know now. We learned that this was the house of Rajan’s uncle.

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Here is the taxi and driver who took us to the village:

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I found out later this was Gondapatai Village, in the Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu. This is the village in which Rajan’s father was born. It turns out that we were invited to an annual function where the family does a puja at the nearby temple, makes an animal sacrifice, and prepares a special meal for friends and family. Rajan has a truncated relationship with his father, because he died when Rajan was in the Third Form, maybe eight years old. Rajan had to drop out of school then, being the oldest boy, and start working (for just a few rupees a day). Now he must preside at this annual family function, done on the same day each year.

We were the first westerners to ever come into the village. There was much interest in us from the villagers.

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I asked their permission before I took the photo. It turns out this was the right thing to do. We were told by one of the rickshaw drivers that some village people believed that having their picture taken reduces the number of days that they will live.

Now more people started to arrive. There were two groups, family, and Rajan’s friends, mainly other rickshaw drivers. They drove their rickshaws 60 KM to get here.

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Here is Rajan, to the left, with his uncle and his uncle’s wife, and the daughters from the two families. Rajan is in the blue shirt. Behind Rajan is a cousin, Ranjit. Ranjit used to have a good job in Chennai, but quit the job to return to Tiruvannamalai, where he always feels the peace of Arunachala. He feels that this inner peace is more important than a good job making lots of Rupees. So now he is a rickshaw driver, like Rajan.

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Materials for the puja and feast are brought by various people, and set out for later use.

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We then started to walk to the family temple, through the village.

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Walking through the center of town we came to an ancient tree, with a raised area around it where people can sit. Village men (the village elders, I think) were sitting there and talking (while, I think, their wives were getting the mid day meal, the most important meal of the day, ready).

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We walk some more through the village …

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to the family temple …

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…where beside it sat a group of women and a couple younger boys. The women are cleaning garlic. The woman in the yellow saree is Rajan’s aunt. As the senior woman who is here, she will also play a role in the ceremonies to come.

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Now Rajan starts to prepare the goat for the puja and rites. He sprinkles water on its head and feet, and then applies yellow turmeric and red kum kum to its head and hooves. Then a flower mala is wrapped around the goat’s neck.

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And the goat is ready.

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The puja preparation starts in the temple.

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The priest (?) decorates the gods with flower malas (like were on the goat).

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Here are the temple gods, in all their finery, decorated with flowers, etc.

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In the antechamber, two more gods are decorated, and ceremonial food offerings are laid out before them.

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The gods outside the temple are decorated too. None can be left out.

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Notice that it is Rajan’s aunt who has the ceremonial role of this decoration. The priest did it inside the temple, the auntie, outside.

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Now these gods are decorated. I think this is a Snake God, a Naga.

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The priest starts breaking coconuts. The broken coconuts are offered to the gods. The coconut milk is saved for other ritual use.

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And the final offerings are made to the gods.

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The goat is then prepared for sacrifice. This took quite some time. Rajan told us that they were getting permission from the goat for what was to come. My wife was not sure that the goat spoke the same language. During this part there was much discussion from the older men in the group. We think they were discussing just what was to happen. We have seen this group discussion and decision making in other village activities.

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After the sacrifice, during which my wife and I (as well, it turned out, as Rajan) turned our eyes away, the priest came out and blessed each person by putting vibhuti and kum kum on each person’s forehead.

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Then prasad was given to each person. Since we were westerners, they served it to us on banana leaves. Others just got it in their bare hands.

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Now it’s back to the house and the cooking. Onions and tomatoes and green chilies are made ready in great profusion.

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While the women worked, the men naturally did important man stuff. Here they are gambling, playing a form of rummy. Each put Rs 500 into a common pot, to be split among the winners.

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The other bit of important man stuff is drinking. HPIM5335

Meanwhile the women are still working on preparation for the meal. Some of the girls help too. Many people are involved in the meal preparation, men and women, other villagers. These meals are really community efforts.

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Now the fire is started under the pot.

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First, bags of peanut oil are poured in the huge cooking vessel, then the garlic, onions and green chilies. They are cooked for a while. Notice that it is a man with the ladle. This is the only time, except at restaurants and food stalls, that we see a man cooking.

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Then add the tomatoes …

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And cook some more.

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Herbs are added for flavoring. I think this is curry leaf.

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Add a pinch of salt.

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Then the ‘mutton’ is added and cooked.

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While this is going on the men are still doing their important work. I am trying to figure out the rules so maybe I can play too.

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While the biryani cooks, they prepare the ‘curd’ dish – yogurt and onions, and what else I don’t know. Hey, some of the men are actually helping with this!

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Some of the younger woman sit and watch and talk. You can see that these are school-age women, since they wear salwar (or punjabi) suits instead of sarees, which is what “real women” wear here. Now my wife Carol does not feel properly dressed if she is not wearing one of her sarees.

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One of the men:

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One of the woman who help prepare the meal:

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A village woman watching from in front to her house:

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Now the final step, adding a bit of rice (and water).

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Then the pot is covered while the rice cooks.

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Here is a picture of the ‘hostess’, Rajan’s uncle’s wife, with Rajan’s son and daughter, Raam and Janini.

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After the rice cooks for a while, a layer of coals is added to the top of the pot. Maybe to cook the top layer, or maybe to make a crust on the top, I am not sure.

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Now the ‘mutton biryani’ is ready!

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Banana leaf plates are set out.

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First the guests eat.

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This included even the women guests eating at the same ‘sitting.’ Before, when we’ve been at other social functions where there was a meal, the men eat first, then the women. When eating is done in ‘men first’ order, they let Carol eat with me, since we are Westerners, and apparently the rules are different for us.

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Then finally the family members get to eat.

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This day was not what we expected. In many ways. But to be involved with such village activities is, we think, a special privilege, and is not something shared by many Westerners.

We felt honored to be invited, and to be able to take these pictures to share with you.

Then we were driven the 60 km. home, to rest and to reflect upon the day. Just another day in India.

A note about caste and diet in South India

We know many people here that might object to a celebratory meal that includes meat eating and alcohol. Tamil Nadu has been very much vegetarian and against alcohol for the last 1000 years (at least for the higher castes). We have found that this is largely a caste issue, with the higher castes like the Brahmins often following pretty strict rules on diet, etc. I suspect that this never was the case in the villages (which are mainly lower caste people), and it certainly is not now. Even though, with the rise of India as a nation, caste discrimination was made against the law, such a change does not really affect the behavior of people in a culture with thousands of years of history, tradition, and social order.

I think even some of our friends might be offended that we participated in such activities. But, if this were some family function with our family at our home in California, we probably would serve BBQ meat and cold beer. And everyone would enjoy it.

The Unreality of the World: By Alan Jacobs

The Guru Vachaka Kovai, the Garland of Guru’s sayings, is a comprehensive collection of the Maharshi’s Sayings , composed and strung together by the great Tamil Poet Muruganar.This translation is by Professor K. Swaminathan.

In Part 1 , after the invocation there is a long section called ‘The Quest’, and part 2 is entitled the Unreality Of The World, and continues from verse 63 to 70.. Verse 69 states

“The world perceived by the poor jiva

Lapsed from its own Being true,

Buried in darkness, and believing

That it is but the body, alas,

The world thus seen is non-existent;

Yes, it is indeed unreal.

The thrust of this verse, and those like it is underlined by the often quoted passage in Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 24th August, 1946, quoted in the marvelous book Muruganar’s Padamalai, edited by David Godman. On page 283 of the Chapter entitled The Reality Of The World Appearance we read.

Bhagavan:” In the sadhak stage [the stage of being a spiritual seeker] you have got to say that the world is an illusion. There is no other way. When a man forgets he is Brahman, who is Real, permanent and omnipresent, and deludes himself into thinking that he is a body in the universe which is filled with bodies that are transitory, and labours under that delusion, you have got to remind him that the world is unreal and a delusion. Why? Because his vision which has forgotten its own Self is dwelling in the external material universe. It will not turn inwards into introspection unless you impress on him that all this external universe is unreal. When once he realizes his own Self, and also that there is nothing other than his own Self, he will come to look upon the whole universe as Brahman.”

Like very many sadhak’s I found it difficult to be convinced that the world we perceive is ‘unreal’. I realized that the concepts of space, time, and causality are inherent in the organ of cognition and create the screen of consciousness on which the world stage, actions and pictures are projected. Also that quantum physics has confirmed that what we see, feel, smell , touch and taste is not what it appears to be, but subtle energies in constant movement. But, It was not until I read the Advaita Bhoda Deepika, The Lamp of Non-Dual Knowledge, a short work, highly spoken of by Bhagavan that I followed the complete logic of this point of view.

I summarize my findings as follows, largely based and inspired by Chapter 1 of this marvelous treatise, entitled On Superimposition.

1.All is Absolute, pure, infinite Consciousness, non-dual, Supreme Intelligence, the Self-Existent Self or Brahman.

2. Maya or Illusion, the powers of veiling and projection are inherent powers in Brahman.

3.These powers manifest an apparent, but unreal Universe. Unreal because it was NOT before manifestation and will NOT BE after dissolution. Therefore it is likened to a dream in the Supreme Intelligence or Mind of Brahman. Thus the apparent Universe is but an appearance based on Brahman. It does not exist apart from Brahman. It could be termed, therefore, a confusion between the Real and the Unreal, or neither Real nor Unreal, or both Real and Unreal. In the Vedanta, the term Real is applied to the Immutable or Unchanging. The apparent world is constantly changing, in a state of flux, becoming and decaying, so it cannot be termed Real in this sense, whereas Brahman is immutable, unchanging and eternal.

4.The ignorant ‘jiva’ (the ajnani) or individual soul is reborn and dies continuously through many lifetimes, until Self Realization. It carries forward from each life the seeds of many latent tendencies from previous lives, although its True Nature is also the Absolute Pure Consciousness of Atman-Brahman. But because of the implicit Maya, projection and veiling, inherent in the Self of Pure Consciousness or Brahman, it identifies with its insentient body and creates a Universe from its latent tendencies (vasanas) through the mind, (organ of cognition, the brain and sensorial adjuncts). The mind is a wondrous power in the Self. The world it sees, composed of latent tendencies, and thoughts is therefore of the nature of a dream, even an hallucination, and may be termed ‘unreal’.

5. The latent tendencies inherent in each jiva at the time of each life, are selected by Isvara, an adjunct of Brahman, for its spiritual development. So all is benign, based on Love, essentially. This is stated By Bhagavan in answer to a question by Paul Brunton quoted in the book Conscious Immortality on Page 130 , Chapter 10.

6. The mind-body complex, personal individuality, other sentient beings, and the Universe of multiplicity, are therefore a superimposition on the Self which is now living from reflected Consciousness, mirrored by egotism and the latent vasanas.

7. Through Grace, the jiva receives the teachings of Advaita from a Jnani, and when fit, through assimilation of this Knowledge and mental purification through right intellectual discrimination, spiritual practice and devotion, he or she is shown the way to awaken from the dream of suffering and transient joy (samsara). The means are through Self Enquiry into the source of the ego, the Self and the illusory nature of the Universe.

8. At the same time one lives one life as if it was real, knowing it to be unreal, and accepting all that happens as ultimately for the best.

9. When there is an awakening from the dream of life, the transmigration of the jiva is over. The immortal Self of infinite Consciousness is Realized directly and one lives from that state of ‘sahaja’ until the mind-body falls off in death, and one is absorbed into Brahman or Infinite Consciousness, no longer a separate individual identified with its body-mind. All is the Self, and the world is seen to be Real because its substratum is now known to be Brahman.

I hope this essay, into a difficult metaphysical question may be helpful to seekers baffled by the world illusion.

Re-reading Bhagavan's Eight Stanzas to Arunachala, a marvelous poem, I came across this verse which sums up my Essay. I add it as an addition, as it seems to sum the whole question up, very succinctly.

6. Thou art Thyself, the One Being, ever aware as the Self-luminous Heart! In Thee there is a mysterious power (Shakti) which without Thee is nothing. From it proceeds the phantom of the mind emitting its latent subtle dark mists, which illumined by Thy light (of consciousness) reflected on them, appear within as thoughts whirling in the vortices of parabdha, later developing into the psychic worlds and projected outwardly as the material world transformed into concrete objects which are magnified by the outgoing senses and move about like pictures in a cinema show. Visible or invisible, oh hill of grace, without Thee they are nothing!

Alan Jacobs

Adi Annamalai Temple – North side of Arunachala: By Richard Clarke

Adi Annamalai is the oldest temple around Arunachala. It was built hundreds of years before Arunachaleswarar Temple, which per Wikipedia, “The earliest known record of the temple is in the works of the poet Nakkirar of the third Tamil Sangam period. At that time, the temple might have been a simple wooden structure. The present masonry structure and gopurams (temple towers) date back approximately 1200 years.”

Adi Annamalai clearly predates Arunachaleswarar Temple, so is older than 2000 years. I suspect the gopuram is also about 1200 years old, from the same period as Arunachaleswarar Temple.

“The name of this Temple, Adi Annamalai means ‘first’ or ‘ancient’ Annamalai (Arunachaleshwarar). Its size is small and it occupies only 1/2 acre in size – compared with the 25-26 acre size of Arunachaleswarar Temple on the Tiruvannamalai side of the Hill. The legend of Adi Annamalai recounts that Brahma, after His dispute with Vishnu about the fiery column, made a lingam and went to the other side of the Hill to worship Shiva. Thus, this lingam is supposed to be the first, ancient and original lingam of Annamalai and hence the name Adi Annamalai.” This quote is from Arunachala Grace Blog. Here is a good article from them on Adi Annamalai.

There are many legends about this temple. The one I like the best is of a secret cave that goes from the temple to inside Arunachala, where all the Siddhis are.

You can see the temple in Google maps, click here.

Turning off the Hill Round Road, going through the small village of Adi Annamalai, you come to the temple, with its tower visible from far away.

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And enter through the gopuram.

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If you look closely at the gopuram, you will see images that illustrate many ancient stories of the gods. A repeated figure is that of a man, straining to hold up the tower. Since the wall has its own support all this effort is not needed. This image is to illustrate the futility of ego-driven action, ‘trying to hold up the universe’ when it is really God, Siva, Brahman, your Self, that is doing ‘all the work.’

Adi Annamalai goporum close up

We are not allowed to take photos inside the main shrine. The photos below were taken walking around within the temple walls.

First is Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. This is the first god seen in the Siva temples. Here Ganesh is enclosed in a small shrine that is locked when the priest is not there.

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Walking in the usual clockwise direction, here is a hall of pillars. Note all the statues on top of the wall. Similar statues are on all four sides of the temple.

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Here is a close up of one on this wall:

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Looking to the back of the temple, we can see the Dakshinamurthy shrine protruding from the wall.

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Here is Dakshinamurthy, the Southward-facing god. From the Wikipedia entry, “Dakshinamurti literally means ‘one who is facing south (dak?i?a)’ in Sanskrit. South is the direction of Death, hence change. In every Siva temple the stone image of Dakshinamurthy is installed, facing south, on the southern circumambulatory path around the sanctum sanctorum.”

Dakshinamurthy has a special place in our hearts. Dakshinamurthy is said to be the primordial Guru. He is pictured as a young man, with four older disciples sitting with him. Dakshinamurthy taught only in silence. Sri Ramana Maharshi is spoken of comparing him to Dakshinamurthy. It is also said that Arunachala is Dakshinamurthy. Certainly both teach in silence. Ramana says that real silence is when no ego-‘I’ arises.

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Looking back from Dakshinamurthy, one can see Arunachala. Here is the face of ‘The Elephant.’ I wrote an entry about Arunachala in this area, see

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Behind the shrine, behind the pillars on the back wall of the temple, there are quite a number of statues, I think of various local gods, and gods of local significance. You can see, looking at the wear on some of these, just how ancient they must be, hundreds of years, certainly, thousands of years, probably.

Most of them I do not recognize. They have names, written in an archaic Tamil, above each statue. As I find out these names, I will add them to this post. Some are small, just a few inches tall. Others are several feel high.

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Here is one of three Nandis, guarding several ancient lingams behind the fence.

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Here are the first two lingams.

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Here is the third. Note the additional carving on the upper part. Someone thought this was special. It is the only one that has a flower placed on top of it.

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Here is the fourth. Notice that it has a face, surely Siva’s face, carved into it.

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I love this one. Is that Siva on the elephant?

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Notice how old this elephant must be. The top of the statue has been rubbed away by countless hands touching it, probably over hundreds of years.

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Looking back at the hall of statues.

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We walk back toward the front of the Temple.

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Another statue. This god has three faces (that I can see).

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The gopuram, seen from within the temple walls.

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The main entryway, from the North side. To the right is the inner temple. To the left, back outside.

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Samuthiram Village – A Night at the Movies: By Richard Clarke

We are working with village leadership in Samuthiram Village. This village is right next to Tiruvannamalai, at the foot of Arunachala Hill, about 2 KM from our house. We go though it almost every day going to and from Tiruvannamalai and Ramanasramam.

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Samuthiram Village has many of the problems from this growing region without receiving much of the benefit from the growing region. These problems include increased crowding, increased disease, urban pollution and greatly increased land and living costs. Like most villages in India, there is much poverty with all its related problems. The additional problems from nearby growth just makes the village issues more severe.

This village is one that gets many westerners as temporary residents during the winter season, when people from around the world are coming to visit Ramanasramam. Contact with westerners has helped village leadership see that more is possible for the village. With the help of some of these western visitors, Quality of Life Trust was organized in 2006 as a means of accomplishing this work. Quality of Life Trust has since put in place a small village elder support project, funded by donations, which provides food and housing to abandoned elders, and an Eco San Toilet (a composting toilet) construction program, funded by BLESS, an NGO in Cuddalore.

I have written a bit about the Trust, see

. My wife Carol posted about a ceremony that Quality of Life held. This can be seen at http://infinitepie.wordpress.com/2008/05/19/our-vip-night-at-the-quality-of-life-trust/. See also their web site, http://www.qualityoflife.in/.

The photos below are from a village meeting, where they gathered around my laptop for a show. It was set up on a table outside. Power was strung from a nearby house so we could power the external speakers.

To start, we played a slide show of photos taken at the recent village celebration. First the children, then their mothers and other adults gathered around the computer to see photos of themselves and their family and friends. Then we played a Tamil movie. Finally, we played a video of the celebration (mainly of a meeting with different people talking).

Before we came to live in India one thing we did to give us a tiny bit of flavor of India is to watch Indian movies. These photos remind me of one movie we saw where villagers gathered around a sheet, strung up as a movie screen, to watch a movie. One big difference, though, is that while viewing my laptop, no one broke out in song and dance, as they did in the movie.

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Carol had the camera, and the village children love to have their photos taken.

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Some of the girls climbed on a nearby truck to get a better view. The girls were not at all shy about climbing around on the truck, even while parents were trying to get them to stop.

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Here is Carol sitting in a chair, surrounded by children. (They made sure that they brought chairs for us to use.)

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Here the children are seated in front, with mainly village women standing behind.

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The children naturally, once the movie was over, got bored and entertained themselves. There is construction going on nearby. (This is the case over much of this area, where many people are busy adding rooms that they will be able to rent to westerners during the next winter ‘season.’) So the children started carrying bricks over to where we were and finding different ways to play with them.

The first game seemed to be ‘chairs.’ You can see to the right of the photo below girls sitting on chairs made from piling bricks, with different kids making different designs. Most of the time they got bricks by bringing them from the construction site. Sometimes, while their neighbor was not looking or busy doing something else, they would quickly grab bricks from an adjoining ‘chair.’

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After a while, one girl changed the game from ‘chairs’ to ‘houses.’ After this, they all started to build houses.

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The performance was over. We all went home and went to bed. Now I hear that the villagers want to do it again. Only this time, just a movie, not a boring video of a bunch of adults talking. I sure wish these Tamil movies had English subtitles.