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!
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.
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.
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.
The wise say that the Tao that can be talked about is not The True Tao. Still, Sages such as Ramana Maharshi manage to indicate the existence of the underlying Reality with words and without words. Self-Realized sages point to the Truth easily and spontaneously. Knowledge of Reality is not just their first-hand knowledge but their very Being.
Sri Ramana, through his silence, words, and actions, was always pointing at the highest reality, the Heart of existence, the Self. Even in minor things like giving instructions on cooking and eating food, cutting wood, or other matters, Bhagavan was doing that. Sages like that are more than just Satsang givers, good public speakers, and charismatic orators.
I am often reminded of the words of Sri Ramana who used to say that the Supreme Reality, whatever it is, must Always be Real. It cannot be more real sometime in the future than it already is right now.
Therefore, the central truth to be grasped by a devotee of Bhagavan Ramana is that whatever is real, permanent, eternal, must be Here and Now also. In this very moment, it must be so!
If the Self is not Here and Now and is to be gained at some future time, then it must be subject to loss also. What can be gained can also be lost!
Therefore the sages declare that That which is Real, Absolute, Eternal cannot be gained. It is because you are already That! What You already Are cannot be attained because it is your very nature, very being.
Can we Accept This?
What undermines the acceptance of our Own Natural State?
There always have been and there always will be beautiful, evolved, and God-realized souls. Regardless of when they lived and where they lived, one can be in tune with their essence. Time and distance do not hinder the movement of grace.
Even if we do not have the physical presence of great sages in our life, we can have spiritual fellowship by creating a mental atmosphere filled with their vibrations and teachings.
My teacher used to tell me that there is always at least one perfectly God-realized soul somewhere in the Universe.
When Paul Brunton asked Sri Ramana about when Sahaj Samadhi should be practiced, the sage said and I paraphrase….”right from the beginning….that which is the practice of the Sadhaka is the state of the Siddha.”
People are surprised when they hear this. How can we practice the highest state from the beginning?
But this is exactly what Sri Ramana meant. Practice being absolutely natural from the very start!
Recognition of our nature as pure awareness is the goal. Awareness scanning Awareness, Awareness being Aware of Awareness is the method. Awareness abiding in Itself is the essence of the nondual realization. Sri Ramana is clear on that point.
However, Sri Ramana gave the essential teachings in a variety of ways in his own words to suit the devotees. Sri Ramana’s words and sentiments that poured forth are imbued with a certain energy if one is in tune with the Sage of Arunachala.
Self-Realization is a matter of sincere effort and whatever method one is using gradually clarifies into Self-Awareness. I recall Sri Ramana saying one time to an obviously sincere devotee something like ..”Realization will be forced upon you in spite of yourself…”
Note the term, “Forced upon you, in spite of yourself.” It totally bypasses any loyalty to a particular approach or method. Ramana’s own realization, you may recall, was “forced” upon him. The Divine does not ask our permission before the Self-revelation.
It is the sincerity of aspirant’s effort which calls forth Grace that leads to Realization. Ramana knew this intimately as only a Self-Realized Sage can know. A variety of works by Sri Ramana, the ancient stories he used from scriptures, or recorded conversations or recollection of devotees may be (and are) useful.
What I sense in some Ramana devotees is a certain rigidity and adherence to a sanitized structure of Sri Ramana’s teaching. It is only the play of the mind which in its narrowness assumes that it knows the Truth. In fact, Truth is what swallows up the mind! Even a great teaching repeated often without sensitivity to others and without in-depth understanding that comes from being the Heart, becomes ineffective.
Sri Ramana used to say that the highest teaching he gave us was in Silence. How one comes to this Silence and Recognizes It as one’s own essence as Awareness, as Sat-Chit-Ananda, is unique to all.
Did Sri Muruganar not write in one of his poems that……..the path a sage takes to Self-Realization is like that of a bird that flies in the sky. It leaves no trace.
Around the age of 31, Swami Lakshman Joo, the great yogi mystic philosopher, and exponent on Kashmiri Shaivism went to Tiruvannamalai to meet Bhagavan Ramana and spent a few weeks there. Speaking about his experiences with Sri Ramana, he later said, “I felt those golden days were indeed divine”. He is shown below in one of the pictures that were taken when he was there.
The greatest yogis of the day and Shankracharyas came and visited Bhagavan Ramana and saw an ordinary frail man, who had nothing, sitting there on the rocks. Although Bhagavan did not try to impress anyone, the highest adepts instantly saw that they were in the presence of the Eternal Presence ItSelf.