Understanding Bhagavan Ramana’s Teachings: By Alan Jacobs


In his seminal Crest Jewel of Discrimination, the Self-realized philosopher, Shankara, spoke of the three high gifts bestowed through the grace of God. Firstly, to be born in a human body, secondly, to aspire to liberation, and thirdly, to be associated with a great sage.

Those who are called to the teaching of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi are indeed fortunate. It is for sadhakas aspiring towards Self-realization that these tentative notes on a practical approach for twenty-first century householders are written, through my own experience.

Diverse are the spiritual backgrounds and tendencies that make up those who are called to be his devotees. It is for each one to find out where he is, and what is best suited to his needs at any given time, through intelligent discrimination based upon knowledge of the Self and the non-Self.

Knowledge of the Field

Krishna: ‘This body is called the Field and he who knows it is called the Knower of the Field by the men of knowledge’ [Gita, Xlll 1, transl. Aurobindo].

In his selection of the forty most important verses of the Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavan selects this one as the second, following an Introductory verse. This choice must be viewed as greatly significant.

Before sadhana can commence, and during its whole progress, the impartial observation of the body-mind complex (which is not the pure Consciousness-Awareness-Bliss of the Self), or witnessing, is an essential foundation. We must know the field. Bhagavan lays great emphasis on witnessing the activities of the mind and body, as he demonstrated by example through his attention to detail when working in the kitchen or on the binding of books, his awareness of the state of mind of every devotee who approached him, and his sublime and compassionate detachment.

This act of witnessing in which all of his teaching is grounded is not analysis or enquiry into the concerns of the ego, which is “a bundle of thoughts”. Rather, one watches and listens with attention to all which occurs, using ones normal kinaesthetic “self-awareness” to catch continuously what the non-Self – or ego – is up to.

The writings of Krishnamurti, Jean Klein, P.D.Ouspensky and Douglas Harding lay great emphasis on this practice of self observation as a preparation for Self-remembering, and are worth reading. But Bhagavan assumes that those who are called by Him to Him, have already been partially prepared by previous sadhana for some knowledge of the petty personal self and its demeanours. He does stress witnessing, and knowing the field.

He discourages psychological analysis on the mental or descriptive level, as the “examining of the hairs at the barbers’, after they have fallen on the floor”. His own emphasis is mainly on the direct path – Self-enquiry – enquiry into being. The quality and intensity of the question here, leaves any answer far behind. An answer can only limit it, restricting it to the cage of our mental conditioning. The question is open. It arises from the deep.

Before we can safely proceed with this wide open question, however, we must have some understanding of the structure of our innate vasanas (tendencies), noble and ignoble. We must be in a position to notice the different ‘l’s which make up our multiple personality contradictions, and the way they interact. This self-observation, without condemnation or justification, happens from the standpoint of impartial witnessing, through the light of awareness. It helps us to avoid leaks of energy, and from being dragged down by our worst or most despairing tendencies.

We can live from those sattvic tendencies, which are purer, and more intelligent, continuously, in the way that we take notice of what the mind-body is up to.

Which “I” is uppermost now? What has happened to the “I” or mood which was in the driving-seat fifteen minutes ago, this morning or yesterday? This can be an on-going joyful practice, full of adventure and the unexpected, and of deep interest, like reading a good novel, going to the theatre, cinema, concert or puppet show. Self-observation can be the greatest entertainment of all. And it prepares us to go deeper.

This suggestion leads us to karma yoga, where we act the part, the role we are given in life, quite appropriately, but behind it we are witnessing what happens, knowing that we are not the doers of the happening. It is happening, the life as it is flows in us; it all is happening. So we eventually see through the illusion of the false ‘me’ – that there is no entity in control – and we then reach what is termed the actionless action, or pure witnessing. In the actionless action, things seem to happen without a doer, and everything works out perfectly and we act appropriately.

If something appears to disturb us, we welcome our disturbance wholeheartedly and with a full acceptance. So we eventually come to a point where there is witnessing, but no witnesser. There is no individual entity. There is just a pure awareness, a pure seeing, the acceptance of what is, without any resistance. There is no judgment of what is being witnessed, and no desire to change what is. An effortless spontaneity flows through life; a pure awareness of I Amness in all that exists, witnesses all that the senses bring to us, and the events which happen.

[To be continued…]

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