Nome – a leading American teacher of Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Inquiry: By Richard Clarke

Birds in the sky and fish in water
Dart and leave no track behind.
And none can trace the path by which
The sages journeyed to the Self.’

(Ramana Mandiram; Sri Muruganar)

I am Being

Which alone knows.

I am Bliss,

Which along shines.

I am the Self

Known as “I” by all.

I am the Existence

That is the Existence of all.

I am the Essence

Ever undivided

(Nome, from Mandala Eight, Self-Knowledge)

Nome giving satsang

Nome, giving Satsang

Nome gives satsang at SAT (Society of Abidance in Truth, Santa Cruz, CA, www.satramana.org). He reveals the nondual Advaita Vedanta of Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi and Adi Sankara and the practice of Self-inquiry (Atma Vichara).

Early Life and Spiritual Experiences

Nome was born on January 23, 1955 in Long Island, New York and spent most of his childhood in New Jersey. Though not from a religiously oriented family, Nome as a child had memories and a vivid familiarity with places, images, and words that he came to know later as associated with Sri Ramana Maharshi and Advaita Vedanta.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi

His first spiritual experience came at age 16—without previous spiritual questing (in this life), one day in a park. It was nirvikalpa samadhi, in which the meditator makes himself free from all thoughts and distinctions, free of all differentiations such as the knower, knowledge, and the known, and in which the mind ceases to be active. (A more detailed definition is found at the end of this article).

After this samadhi he sought out the solitude of mountains and woods, and spent much of his time in the forest meditating. While others were building their personalities, he took his down—for good. He lost interest in worldly acquisitions and activities. He saw that the source of happiness is within. There were further instances of samadhi.

Seeking Self-realization

After his 17th birthday, before completing high school, he left his family without telling them he was going. When asked by a friend why he was going, he said, “To attain Self-Realization.” He got an airplane ticket and flew to San Francisco.

In San Francisco he met Swami Swanandashram, who introduced him to the Vedanta teachings of Sankara, and the Upanisads, in which Ajata Vada is revealed. This is the Sanatana Dharma (the Eternal Teaching, called in the west, Hinduism) teaching of the Uncreated, where there is only Brahman, only the Absolute, only God. Nome recognized this teaching as his actual experience.

Introduced to these teachings and finding materials to help deepen his practice, Nome kept the focus of his life within. He found wisdom in such books as Talks with Ramana Maharshi, the Avadhuta Gita, the Astavakra Gita and Sankara works such as Atma Bodha.

He lived in a renounced fashion, meditating, intensely practicing Atma Vichara (Self inquiry). If in line at the supermarket, he would meditate. Waiting, he would meditate. He had no documentation, and worked at the kind of jobs where none is required, rough physical labor.

Turning Inward

Nome continued to inquire, realizing that the Truth revealed by the Maharshi cuts the imagined knot that seems to tie our true being with a bodily form. During this period of practice, Nome saw that “Whoever we are, Bliss is within, and can no more be apart from us than we can be separated from our own existence.”

Now, how to turn the mind inward, and to turn it inward steadily? The answer was the Maharshi’s steady inquiry, revealing the Bliss of the Self. The search for happiness is really the search for the Self, which is Reality.

Nome realized that turning inward is essential. He felt that by the Grace of the Maharshi, this is accomplished. Self-effort is needed. When self-effort meets with Grace, the highest good results. Turning inward, how to go outward is forgotten. Accustomed to detachment, one forgets how to be attached. “Who am I?” becomes the only true question.

Asthma and the desire for Liberation

While practicing, Nome’s body was afflicted by asthma, intensifying the desire for spiritual liberation. He felt, “If I do not fully awaken to the Truth, I will live and die in an unreal world. If I practice right through the last breath, it will all be worth it; and if the Truth is realized even at the last moment, the Liberation from samsara (birth and death) will be for all eternity.”

Pictures from Sri Ramanasramam

Sri Ramana Maharshi

Sri Ramana Maharshi

At this time, pictures arrived from Sri Ramanasramam. There had been no picture of any kind in his home for months. Then they arrived from Ramana’s Ashram on the other side of the world, beckoning Nome to leave the world altogether.

Nome felt on this day filled with a profound joy. It was the joy of devotion, of faith, of being blessed with the guiding light of the Guru’s Presence. The whole place seemed sanctified by Sri Bhagavan.

Reliance on the Guru

He placed himself in Sri Bhagavan’s hands, feeling that when the heart’s consecration is made, Grace is always present. Nome saw what the Maharshi revealed—thought’s utter unreality, and that the real Self is all. He saw the objective nature of all thoughts, and the existence of That which is formless and always nonobjective. Only the nonobjective is who we are; we cannot be a thought of which we are aware.

The senses do not determine Reality, nor does the mind.
For whom is the world?

Nome came to know experientially that the world, including the body, is the sensory experience, the sensory experience is entirely in the mind, and the mind is but “I” in different guises or forms. So he inquired, “Who am I?”

The world seemed to Nome as an unreal dream. Detached from this unreal dream, he did not take it to be the source of happiness. The inquiry “Who is bound and who desires liberation?” becomes the way the Truth is realized.

Making permanent the state without thought

Thought ceased. Then it resumed, again it ceased. And again it resumed. The focus of practice for Nome then was “How can I extend and make permanent this state without thought?”

Following the Maharshi’s teachings about the three states (waking, dream, and deep dreamless sleep), Nome saw that which is continuous, in which the states seem to appear, the one thing that does not change. “It is perpetual Existence. What is that? It is perpetual Consciousness.”

Elimination of all Vasanas

Nome would look at recurring experiences, examining them to see what brought them about, and what brought samadhi to an end. “What takes one up, and what brings one down?” was the investigation. It helped to eliminate vasanas—misidentifications and attachments. The Maharshi’s revelation of the Truth eliminated the entire field, “Who is the knower?”

Questions about samadhi were difficult to raise, for one could not expect an accurate answer in any less expansive or more formed state of mind, and in samadhi itself the questions do not arise. Meditating with Sri Bhagavan’s guidance, Nome saw that what is experienced in samadhi—the essence—does not come and go; the boundaries constituting the before-the-beginning and the after-the-end appear and disappear, for they are composed only of illusions. “Who goes up or down?” “Who enters into or merges with what?” “Who realizes what?” He cut each knot, vanquished every illusion, and dissolved every vasana.

Absence of Individuality

Nome came to know that the utter absence of individuality (called “an ego”) is Realization. The ignorance seems to rise with the ‘I’-thought and is identical with the ‘I’-thought. “I want to be free of individuality. I may be free from its appendages in the form of various characteristics, etc. but the ‘I’ itself must also disappear. How is the elimination of the individual ‘I’ to be brought about?” Like this was Nome’s meditation. Sri Bhagavan’s instructions, “Can ‘I’ eliminate itself?” and “Find out that the ego does not exist,” revealed, upon inquiry, the answer that the ego does not exist.

The Maharshi’s teaching lays out the direct path—Who am I? —and this is the ultimate guidance. “Are there two selves, one to realize the other?” This instruction blows away the dust of dualism and reveals Sri Bhagavan’s silent presence. This is what Nome’s inquiry revealed.

Final Realization

May 14, 1974, at 19 years of age, waiting in the office of an oral surgeon, meditating on a small Ramana pamphlet Self Realization (later reprinted by SAT), Nome realized finally and completely that the notion of “I” does not refer to any actually existent ego entity, and is itself unreal. This “I” does not come from the real Self, does not come from “anything else,” and is not self-generated. He realized that there was “no me,” no individual, there is only the vast Absolute, and I am That. This was the revelation of Truth, without these words or ideas. Everything objective disappeared, never to return.

This is what Ramana referred to as Sahaja Samadhi, pure, uninterrupted Consciousness, transcending the mental and physical plane, yet (to an observer), with awareness of a manifested world, and full use of mental and physical faculties.

“The Self is only Being—not being this or that. It is simply Being. Be, and there is the end of ignorance.” Meditating on Sri Bhagavan’s revelation of Reality—realizing its meaning, supremely profound—the “I” does not survive.

Speaking now about the period of practice, Nome says that persistence was important. Clearly the deep desire for Liberation was also key, as was his surrender and devotion to Sri Ramana Maharshi.

The writer observes that Nome was not satisfied with nirvikalpa samadhi at age 16. Rather this brought him to look deeply and intensely within to find the Truth that is within, to look beyond what comes and goes for what is changeless and eternal. Finding That as his identity, then to stand in Sahaja Samadhi.

After Realization

In 1978, after four years spent mostly in silence, Nome started answering questions of sincere aspirants, first in a house in San Bruno, CA, then Boulder Creek, and finally Santa Cruz. Around Nome a group of spiritual seekers formed, and was first called “The Avadhut Ashram.” Satsang was held in Santa Cruz and San Francisco.

The SAT Temple

When the room in which satsang was held got too small, a temple was built in Santa Cruz by those who practiced and meditated with Nome. The SAT temple is dedicated to Sri Ramana Maharshi. The doors opened on August 20, 1989. By then the name Avadhut Ashram evolved into “The Society of Abidance in Truth (SAT).”

SAT Temple

SAT Temple

The SAT Temple is nestled into the side of a hill. After entering the Temple, first comes a large hall, called the Lotus room. The Bookstore is also found here. Then, after climbing a set of stairs (and greeted by a large picture of Sri Ramana Maharshi), the shrine room dedicated to Sri Bhagavan is first encountered. Then the eight-sided satsang hall is entered. In the rear of the hall are several murtis (statues) familiar in Hindu temples. These include a bronze Dakshinamurti, Nataraja (Dancing Siva), Ardhanarisvara, and a stone Lingodbhava. This Lingodbhava is also found in any Siva temple in India, and in the Mother’s Temple at Sri Ramanasramam.

Satsang at SAT Temple

Satsang at SAT Temple

Satsang is held regularly, every Sunday morning at 10 AM. After meditation in the deep quiet that seems to envelope the hall, Nome will give a short discourse on the Nondual Truth. The listeners, absorbed in the discourse, are taken to spiritual—nondual—depths. After the discourse come questions by seekers and answers from Nome. Many questions are asked: about inquiry, about the nature of Reality, about how to deepen one’s practice. The answers plunge into the depths of the questioner, aiding the questioner to thoroughly examine his own identity, and to see what is always there, to see just who he is. Always is revealed the nondual truth of who we are, and the utter nonexistence of what is not real. Then will come a chant, often from the Upanisads, in Sanskrit then English. Finally, there is more meditation in the quiet of the Satsang Hall on what has been imparted.

The satsang hall is a place of real peace and silence. Many find this so. Old devotes that remember the silence of Sri Bhagavan’s presence, have commented that the SAT satsang hall is the place most like the old hall at Ramanasramam during the days of Ramana.

For directions to the SAT temple, go to http://www.satramana.org/html/directions_to_sat.htm

Writing, Translations and Publishing

In addition to giving satsang at SAT, Nome continues to write, translate and publish spiritual texts that support the practitioner of Self-inquiry and Advaita Vedanta. Nome started collaborating in 1988 with Dr. H Ramamoorthy, a Sanskrit and Tamil scholar, to translate original Advaita Vedanta scriptures into English. Together they translated more than 20 Advaita Vedanta texts. Of these, more than half have been published to date. The translation work proceeded from 1988 to the 2001 passing of Dr. Ramamoorthy. Nome now continues to translate and publish Sanskrit texts, including the completion of manuscripts which were started in collaboration with Dr. Ramamoorthy.

Nome is married to Sasvati. Sasvati provides much assistance with the creation and publishing of these books; Sasvati also provides spiritual guidance and support to those who come to SAT.

Nome has journeyed to India several times, staying at Sri Ramanasramam, and The Ramana Centre for Learning in Bangalore. He was invited to speak at both locations.

Books and Publications:

Below is a partial list of books written or translated by Nome. They are available at http://store.satramana.org/

Nirguna Manasa Puja – Worship of the Attributeless One in the Mind by Adi Sankara, 1993, English translation by Dr. H Ramamoorthy and Nome. Published by SAT.

Ribhu Gita – The Sanskrit Ribhu Gita, 1995, English translation by Dr. H Ramamoorthy and Nome. Introduction by Nome. Published by SAT.

Timeless Presence, 1996, written by Nome at the request of Ramanasramam for the centenary celebration of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s arrival at Arunachala. Republished by SAT.

Song of Ribhu – The Tamil Ribhu Gita, 2000, English translation by Dr. H Ramamoorthy and Nome. Introduction by Nome, with extensive glossary of nondual Sanskrit terms. Published by SAT. Reprinted by Ramanasramam.

Svatmanirupanam – The True Definition of One’s Own Self by Adi Sankara, 2002, Sanskrit with English translation by Dr. H Ramamoorthy and Nome. Published by SAT.

Self-Knowledge, 2003, written by Nome. Published by Atma Jnana Publications.

The Four Requisites for Realization and Self-Inquiry, 2003, written by Nome. Published by SAT.

Nirvana Satkam- Six Verses on Nirvana by Adi Sankara, 2004, English translation by Nome. Published by SAT.

Essence of Inquiry, 2005. English translation of Ramana’s Vichara Sangraham with Nome’s commentary. Published by The Ramana Centre for Learning in Bangalore, India.

Origin of Spiritual Instruction – an edited reprint of Sri Natanananda’s A Catechism of Instruction (republished later by Sri Ramanasramam as Spiritual Instruction). 2006. Edited by Nome. Published by SAT.

Bouquet of Nondual Texts – Eight texts by Adi Sankara, 2006,
Sanskrit with English translation by Dr. H Ramamoorthy and Nome. Published by SAT.

Glossary

Nirvikalpa Samadhi

(Definition from the Glossary of The Song of Ribhu, English translation by Dr. H Ramamoorthy and Nome. Published by SAT.)

Nirvikalpa Samadhi, in which the meditator makes himself free from all thoughts and distinctions, free of all differentiations such as the knower, knowledge, and the known, and in which the mind ceases to be active. It may be divided into two subcategories:

1. Subjective: Here the mind is steady like an unflickering flame in a windless place, indifferent to both objects and sounds and in which the ideas that arise in Savikalpa Samadhi are absent. It is likened to an empty pitcher placed in the sky having nothing inside or outside.

2. Objective: Here the meditator, plunged in bliss, perceives no external objects. He is completely absorbed in the contemplation of Brahman; all illusory phenomena are merged in Brahman; he is indifferent to the manifest world and also to such ideas as akhanda (the undivided), eka rasa (the single essence), and such. It is likened to a pitcher placed in the sea with water inside and out.

Sri Ramana Maharshi refers to nirvikalpa samadhi as complete absorption in the Self with resultant oblivion to the manifested world, as a state of blissful trance but not permanent, like a bucket of water lowered into a well. In the bucket is the water (the mind) that is merged with the water in the well (which is the Self), but the rope and the bucket still exist to draw it out again.

Sahaja Samadhi

(Definition from the Glossary of The Song of Ribhu)

The Maharshi declares that Sahaja Samadhi is pure, uninterrupted Consciousness, transcending the mental and physical plane, yet (to an observer), with awareness of a manifested world, and full use of mental and physical faculties; Sahaja is a state of perfect equilibrium, perfect harmony, beyond even bliss, comparable to the waters of a river merged in those of the ocean. Sahaja signifies what is effortless, natural, and innate. It is the state of Being the Self and the Self Alone.

This article was written by Richard Clarke, who has attended satsang with Nome since 1990. Much help and guidance in the writing was provided by Sarasvati.

Acknowledgements

Much of the material for this article came from “Timeless Presence,” written by Nome. It some cases it is quoted directly, with the permission of SAT.

Self-Inquiry_The Science of Self-Realization: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

According to Advaita Vedanta, the science of Self-Realization (which we call Self-Inquiry), requires a different approach than the sciences involved in discovering the complexities of the Universe. Both approaches are similar in one way in that our consciousness with focused attention and awareness is used as an instrument of perception to gain knowledge.

Sciences involving the exploration of the universe and its laws focus the attention outside to perceived objects (time, space, matter, laws of motion, gravity, mass, etc.) to determine their nature. When attention and awareness are focused on such analysis, the relationships between various objects according to universal laws becomes clear. This is due to the inherent power of consciousness to discover and make known to itself anything that it focuses attention on. That is how sciences (Mathematics, Physics, Medicine, etc.) move forward.

However, the theoretical limit to understanding objective phenomena is always there to the extent that the observed phenomena is based on the very nature of the observer. It is not clear how precisely the relationship between the subject and the object can be determined scientifically. Philosophically, this is due to the logical difficulty of separating the subject from the object and demonstrating their independence.

Science of the Self, however, is a radical departure from the physical sciences and has a different aim. Here attention is directed inwards towards the subject and not outwards towards objects of perception. The classic methodology given by Sri Ramana for Self-Inquiry is to ask oneself with attention and inquire, “Who am I?” This is done in order to introvert the mind and drive it deeper into its source. In Self-Inquiry, the quality of consciousness itself becomes the center of attention. In this method, consciousness is not focused anywhere or on anything other than itself.

Language is not perfect but there are many ways to say this. Attention focused on attention itself is Self-Inquiry. Consciousness becoming self-focused is Self-Inquiry. Mind turning inwards to its source is Self-Inquiry. Awareness aware of itself is Self-Inquiry. All of these are variations of the same process and basically refer to the same thing. These statements indicate that one should quietly abide in one’s own sense of identity and being with full awareness.

This is not an easy notion to grasp. The Self-Inquiry methodology does not present the aspirant with an image or a sound to concentrate on. Because we are so dependent on our sense of hearing and sight even for meditation and prayer, Self-Inquiry presents a challenge. People often find it difficult to know what to focus in doing the Self-Inquiry because they associate their identity and thus consciousness strongly with the body.

This is why Sri Ramana used to say that Self-Inquiry is not for everyone to take on immediately. I have observed this phenomena carefully for a long time. People find meditation, yoga, tantra, chakras, and kundalini methods much more interesting and exciting to talk about and practice than Self-Inquiry. It is because all of these Yoga systems are directly or indirectly based on producing changes in the physical or the subtle bodies which one can experience.

Consumption of experience in some form or another is natural to all living beings. Self-Inquiry points, however, to the subject; the one who experiences. What is the nature of the one who experiences? Self-Inquiry shifts our attention from perception to the perceiver. Who is the one who perceives and experiences reality?

The practice of meditation and yoga leads the mind to temporarily withdraw the senses from objects of perception. However, internal perceptions in meditative states or Samadhi will most likely still exist. These internal perceptions may manifest in a number of ways including that of visions of angels, holy sages, the Goddess. Various spiritual and religious symbols often appear spontaneously in the mental eye of the aspirant during meditation or contemplative prayer and there may also be experiences of lucid dreaming states. So even in higher meditation states, the distinction between the subject and the objects of perception continues as we engage in and consume one experience after another.

Self-Inquiry, on the other hand, is found to be boring and irrelevant by many people because it promises them no special experience to enjoy other than being their own self. People should always do what feels natural. Nothing can be forced.

Eventually with the practice of meditation and other types of yogas, the mind becomes more subtle. The understanding of the nature of consciousness as free from outer perception (of physical objects) as well as internal perceptions (dreams, visions, other mental experiences) can then start to emerge. Once the independent nature of consciousness (free from all perceptions) is understood, one can recognize the essential quality of existence and pure being in the midst of various experiences.

When attention/awareness become self-focused, that is called Self-Inquiry. When attention lights up attention, awareness lights up awareness, consciousness lights up consciousness, Self is Realized as Sat-Chit-Ananda, the ultimate subject, the very core of being. Sri Ramana called it simply the Heart, whose nature is that of silence which is beyond all understanding.

The Path to Enlightenment: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

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A Popular Dichotomy

A popular dichotomy has emerged about Enlightenment in the West since the 1970s between the schools of “gradual enlightenment” and “instant enlightenment”. Some of this can probably be traced back to Poonja ji’s and Nisargadatta Maharaj’s disciples returning to the west in the 1970s and 1980s from India and bringing their understanding of Advaita Vedanta with them as given to them by their teachers. However, because many of these students deviate from traditional Advaita as taught in the classic lineage of Adi Shankracharya, they are referred to as neo-advaitins.

Given this thesis and antithesis between the gradual path and the direct path, I address the following question:

It is said that there are two approaches to the Truth of Being or Reality which some call Enlightenment or Self-Realization. A gradual path and a direct path. What is the truth of it? Are their really two paths? If not, which approach is the correct one? What road should a seeker of truth take?

First we look at the two paths and what these are about.

The Gradual Path

In the gradual path, one engages in meditation and other spiritual practices and disciplines, refines and purifies the mind over time, and is able to rise above the body limitations in ecstatic and trance states.

At some point, the mind beholds the divine directly or is able to surrender itself and be absorbed in the divine. Most yoga paths in various Eastern traditions fall into this category. One can check the ancient Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras for reference.

Such schools of thought are also common to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and other religions as well. In these traditions, personal prayers, effort, and practice to reach the supreme divine is emphasized and considered vital to success on the spiritual path.

Criticism of the Gradual Path

The yogic paths and meditative approaches based on effort are criticized by the proponents of the direct path (the neo-advaitins) as being misguided.

The advocates of the direct path point out that since Advaita Vedanta states that the Self is always realized, expending effort to find it, is itself counterproductive. Their essential position is that since any effort towards enlightenment is based on ignorance, it cannot lead to true understanding or Enlightenment.

If I were to frame the objection of the neo-advaitin to the gradual path in the form of a question, it would be this: ” How can spiritual effort based on the false assumption of ignorance lead to the Truth of Reality?”.

Logically, It is a quite a beautiful and a powerful assertion.


Criticism of the Direct Path

On the other hand, the “direct path students and teachers” are viewed by many traditional yogis and practitioners of meditation as deluded individuals who at best have convinced themselves due to the power of sheer ignorance that they are enlightened. Such self-deception in the long run is bound to prove frustrating and disappointing to themselves as well as those unfortunate enough to fall for their hype of “Instant Enlightenment”.

Many traditional practitioners also claim that the “direct path teachers” tend to be on power trips and underneath the facade of their “Enlightenment” lies the basic human nature of greed and the hunger for power and the usual sexual and financial exploitation of those who follow them. They point to numerous examples of this happening in various spiritual communities and satsangh circles.

Unfortunately, the traditional practitioners and gurus are also not free from such issues. So neither can win the argument on the ground of excessive purity in behavior and conduct.

Support for Both Schools of Thought Exists

Such criticisms and counter-criticisms that the practitioners of two schools hurl toward each other all appear to have some degree of validity. Both schools also have their own particular strengths. An integrative understanding can lead one to relax one’s position on such matters.

In the direct path, the insight or the revelation is sudden like thunder. Truth of the Self appears as lightning and illuminates one’s being in a flash. The ignorance drops away as if it never was and one is at ease with one’s nature. Buddhists call it the Original Face, the Buddha mind, or the Buddha nature. Hindus and Jains call it Atma Jnana, Kevala Jnana, or Moksha.

There are various examples of this particular mode of thought in Hinduism and other religions as well. In this approach, for many, the Grace of God or Guru becomes the focal point on the spiritual path and the role of personal effort is downplayed. Support for this is found in the Upanishads (sacred scriptures of Hindus) where we see statements like, “Self reveals Itself to whom It chooses.” For reference, see the Katha Upanishad, where Yama, the Lord of Death, explains to Nachiketa,” The Self cannot be known through the study of scriptures, nor through intellect nor through hearing learned discourses. It can be attained only by those whom the Self chooses.”

On the other hand, in many schools of Hinduism, the emphasis is on works and on spiritual practices such as meditation, pranayama, fasting, etc. Similarly, in Jainism, the spiritual aspirant must bravely work out his/her karma (destiny) in this world following the path of forgiveness, compassion, and nonviolence. This was demonstrated over 2600 years ago by the Tirthankara Bhagavan Mahavira who bore physical and mental hardships with a feeling of amity and nonviolence towards all living beings. Eventually, as his karma dropped, the heavy burden of his soul becomes lighter and led to Self-Realization and Kevala Jnana (Which Jains view as Omniscience).

We see that in Jainism, the actual working out of karma through indifference to suffering, doing good deeds and by cultivating universal love for all beings is emphasized. The same is true in most schools of Hinduism. Even in Buddhism, originally Buddha taught the doctrine of effort and walking the spiritual path with care and compassion. Buddha’s last words to his students are said to be, “Work out your salvation with diligence.” Essentially, Buddha was saying to his students that after receiving his teachings, it was up to them to walk the path and attain their Buddha nature.

Where is the Truth in this Forest?

So then where lies the Truth of Enlightenment? Is the Truth of Realization achieved through walking the path gradually and carefully while engaging in spiritual practices? Or is Realization attained suddenly through a Zen like Satori or when the Zen master does something strange and shocking as depicted in many Zen stories. Can Realization really come unannounced knocking at the door as was the case with Sri Ramana Maharshi?

Sri Ramana, the great sage of Arunachala, has simultaneously endorsed both perspectives and said that the Truth of the Self is indeed simple and within everyone’s grasp. We simply mix the underlying feeling of “I AM” which is there in all of us (and always the same from childhood to old age) with the circumstances of our life, and the ever changing currents and patterns of our mood and personality.

The self-feeling of existence, the “I AM” which animates our life and consciousness and gives light to identity becomes invisible and goes in the background as we become captivated with our perceptions and invest in our daily relationships. That is only according to nature, and one is meant to engage in these things.

All relationships inevitably end. Even when we love someone dearly and they love us, eventually we are separated through circumstances, old age, or illness. If someone is married for 50 years, there is no guarantee that they will make it another year or another 10 years. In due time, one person will pass away due to old age or illness or another cause.

Coming together and separating are the nature of life. Underlying all these events and relationships is the silent presence of “I AM”. If we are paying attention we can feel it. In our quiet moments it comes upon us and we can stay with it. The truth is so simple and ordinary and that is why we take it for granted. If we remain with this self-feeling of existence, the stainless “I AM” free from the contents of the mind, we can come to see the value and beauty of it. It is only pure being. Our own being.

The Role of Spiritual Effort

The spiritual effort needed in terms of meditation and inquiry, to make the mind subtle and to refine the intellect so that this simplicity of being can be grasped with immediacy and certainty, should not be dismissed.

If some people do not need such efforts and can recognize the truth of their being immediately by hearing someone restate or paraphrase what the ancient sages have said, that is wonderful indeed. It shows that their mind already had requisite subtlety, depth, and maturity.

The Sense of Being I AM: The Open Secret

If there is a deep sense of quiet within, it can be like a mirror and we can see the image of “I AM” reflected in the mind. I am reminded of that passage where God said to Moses, “I AM That I AM”. I am not a scholar or religious expert but sometimes it seems to me that this is a symbolic message telling us to pay attention to the “I AM” within because it is God sitting in our own being and Heart saying, “Here I AM, I AM, Come to Me”.

It is said that man (woman) was made in the image of God. If the nature or identity of God can be described best as “I AM THAT I AM” it stands to reason that the nature of Man (Woman) is also similar. Our essential nature can be captured by this feeling we all have; the simple feeling of being-existing, free from conflicts, “I AM”. According to Advaita, this “I AM” within us is the link to God. Prayer, meditation, contemplation all make us reflect on this sense of being within us.

The Sahaj State

The state of the Self is natural. Easy and natural because the Self remains as It Self. It is devoid of sorrow and has nothing to attain being whole and complete and what the Advaita scriptures refer to as One without a second. Sages called this Realization the Sahaj state.

Sahaj in Sanskrit means easy and natural. That which requires no effort is Sahaj. To understand the Sahaj state of the Self, we can start and reflect on our body and see what is natural to it. What is easy and natural differs among people. Some people are able to sit in the lotus posture in an easy and natural way (see the picture of this young woman at www.harshasatsangh.com sitting in the lotus posture).

However, the lotus posture is not easy and natural for everyone. For most people, to sit like that would hurt their knees and ankles and is very uncomfortable. God did not say to Moses, “Here I Am, sitting in the Lotus Posture.” God only said, “I AM THAT I AM”. The feeling of “I AM” within us is independent of posture. Physical postures pertain only to the body and not to the spirit.

What is Natural Differs Among People

In life and on the spiritual path we have to see what is easy and natural for us. For some, walking is easy and natural and such people practice their prayers, mantras, and pranayama taking a morning stroll. Others are not satisfied unless they lift very heavy weights and scream “Oh God”, “Oh God”, and breathe rapidly and heavily. This is their form of being natural. For such people becoming very muscular becomes natural. If you were to tell weight lifters to take it easy and just take a nice walk every morning, they would not agree to it. They like to have big muscles and low body fat. That is natural for them but not for everyone.

In Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna that actions and paths of people differ according to their natural inclinations and therefore one should follow one’s own Dharma not someone else’s. In other words, we need not seek or follow someone’s path because it may not be natural for us. We should be natural, authentic, and true to our self. Without it, there would be inner conflict which is not conducive to being quiet and meditative.

 What Path Should One Follow?
Gradual or Direct or Just Stay Home

In this essay, I have suggested that the philosophies and perspectives of the gradual or the direct path are not inherently meaningful. Their truth lies only in being teaching tools. Words and concepts such as the “direct path” and the “gradual path” are meant to point at the truth but they are not themselves the truth. The Truth must reveal itself to us in our own Heart.

Therefore, one should not be rigid about which notion is correct or more important or higher than the other. Asking whether the direct path is better than the gradual, one misses the point. The real question is, “What feels natural to you and makes sense?”

Being rigid in one’s view, one misses the obvious. Both the notion of “direct” and “gradual” depend on each other for meaning and have no basis in the Reality of the Self.

According to Advaita Vedanta, the Self Always Is. It cannot be seen by “another” directly. Neither is it approached by “another” gradually. Self Reveals It Self Alone to ItSelf. To understand it in plain English, you can say to yourself, “I am always going to Me. And Here I Am.” Just stay with that.

You Are the Self.

Wisdom Eye: The True Guru: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

“Who is a master? He is the Self after all.” Ramana Maharshi

The company of peaceful Sages (Satsangha) and living in Ahimsa (harmlessness) is considered the primary influence that leads to Self-Realization. The forced attempts to discard various habits and conditioning and practicing different techniques to calm the mind have built in limitations. However, such methods can be pursued with benefit if one is already inclined towards these practices.

When strong inner motivation is present, one is automatically propelled towards Self-Awareness and Meditation. The fog of confusion then quickly evaporates and leads to Self-Seeing, Self-Being, Self-Realization, and Silence of the Heart.

Meditation and mind calming methods, can be effective at many different levels if practiced in the context of a clear understanding. Such practices, however, cannot by themselves end the fundamental agitation of the mind which continues at more and more subtle levels and causes suffering.

The nature of the mind is to hanker after that which is not real and is constantly subject to change. Not knowing who we are, where we come from, and where we are going, we still continue chasing after dreams built on the sand castles of desires.

If we become aware of this, we can see the primary nature of suffering, and direct our attention to the mystery of life and the nature of our perceptions.

In Indian spiritual traditions, a guru serves as a conduit to help us along the path. However, many things we hear about gurus these days are not appetizing. Still, if we realize the truth of the pure teachings, that the Supreme Reality is indeed our own Heart which guides us, then we can walk the path lightly without being misled.

The Self Always Reveals It Self from Within. Listen. Remain aware.

Be utterly indifferent to the clever words, miracles, and magical techniques that promise salvation. If you have the courage, open your wisdom eye and see clearly what attracts you to such things and people.

What is it that these gurus have to give you that you do not have? Question seriously and honestly and investigate the root of your hopes and fears.

There are many active marketers of “spiritual wisdom.” It has now become a public relations game with the many modern gurus as they compete in the free market of spirituality. Many spiritual teachers today attempt to distinguish themselves on the basis of their “enlightenment”, their spiritual experience, and how “awake” they are. Some claim that by their magical touch, shaktipat, or willpower, they can create miracles and remove obstacles from someone’s path. We cannot say that all such teachers and gurus are good or bad. But we have witnessed enough scandals among spiritual teachers to conclude that there is a need to be alert to the human tendency of those in power to exploit others financially and even sexually. Some teachers, giving satsang, and teaching yoga and advaita, are no doubt good and genuine people, but others may be quite ignorant and have generally bad tendencies.

I will share with you briefly a story. One time, I was walking my teacher, Chitrabhanu-ji, back to his apartment and we were speaking about the guru-disciple relationship. During the conversation, he said to me, “You should never follow any guru.” I was quite surprised to hear him say that because you see Chitrabhanu-ji was my spiritual teacher and mentor and I referred to him as Gurudeva. All Indian spiritual traditions in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, in fact, have the guru-disciple relationship at their core. So I asked Chitrabhanu-ji, “Gurudev, why do you say this? Why do you say that I should never follow any guru?” My teacher smiled and said, “Well, what if the guru goes crazy and starts acting nutty?” So I had a good hearty laugh.

My teacher, Gurudev Chitrabhanu-ji, was also my friend. I was only 21 when I met him. He was then 56 and now he is in his mid 80s (written in 2006). During the time spent with him, I had the sense that he wanted to make sure that I understood the realities of life and was fully independent and able to think on my own. His success as a teacher was that he made me independent of himself as well. Chitrabhanu-ji used to say that…” a real guru is like an ice cube. He cools your consciousness and then disappears without a trace.” From my teacher I learned the sacred philosophy of Ahimsa (harmlessness), which is the cardinal principle of Jainism. Mahatma Gandhi of India was an exemplar of the practice of Ahimsa in the last century.

After some years, when I left my teacher to go back to graduate school, he said that I should always remember the principle of Ahimsa and keep that as my ideal. From Ahimsa follows being able to understand many different points of view and to approach situations with awareness and compassion. During the years that I studied with my teacher, he never asked me for anything. No money, nothing. Actually, I had nothing to give. At that time I used to teach yoga to earn a livelihood and it was barely enough to pay the rent and eat.

Sometimes I see gurus who treat their students badly and even exploit them financially and in other ways. I see the huge contrast between that and how my teacher treated me, despite my youth and immaturity, with the utmost respect and courtesy as a human being and his equal. So I tell students on the spiritual path that it is never a good idea to hang around a so called guru or a spiritual teacher who demeans you or insults you or disrespects you in any way. It does not matter if such a person is charismatic or if your friends adore him or her. In Patanjali’s ancient yoga sutras, Ahimsa (harmlessness or nonviolence) is mentioned as the first principle of yoga. A guru or a teacher whose words and attitude carry and convey violence cannot be good for you.

Understand that, like you, most gurus and spiritual teachers today have their own personal challenges and suffering. You need not judge others too harshly. Yet at the same time one must be free to follow one’s own vision. With compassion for others and one’s own self, one should keep one’s focus utterly, totally, and completely pure. This means that you should not give in to the attraction of confusion, and compromise in seeking the Truth by creating a permanent dependence on another person. If a guru creates circumstances and subtly encourages you to do become dependent or submit to his/her will, know that such a person is controlled by his or her own power needs and greed. What can such a person give you?

When I first met my teacher he told me frankly, “I cannot give you enlightenment. Gurus who claim such a thing deceive their students. To become Self-Realized, one must carefully investigate the mind and perceptions and meditate on the nature of the Self.”

I pass this on to you. No one can give you the Truth. Truth is always revealed from the inside. And when it comes, you see that your own essence is that of Truth. That is our mystery that the perfect and complete love that we long for is ultimately seen in our nature and our own heart. The ancients called it the Heart, Sat-Chit-Ananda, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss, which is our very being.

Do not settle for anything less than the Heart, your own Heart. Do not settle for anything – keep going until there is nothing left to settle for.

Let your effort be absorbed in peaceful Self-awareness. There is absolutely nothing else to be done.

Nothing given,

nothing taken.

See the sights,

be not mistaken.

You have everything you need.

Think not that you must awaken,

now or at some later date.

Know this for certain,

That You Are Already Wide Awake!

Abide in that Heart of Being.

Ahimsa – The Antidote to Fear

By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

Bhagavan Sri Ramana used to say, “Ahimsa Param Dharma”. It means that Ahimsa (Nonviolence) is the Supreme Dharma (Duty or Principle). Sri Ramana pointed out to the devotees and yogis that in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Ahimsa is named as the highest virtue above all other virtues. If we are able to understand what Ahimsa means at the deepest level, that clarity itself guides us in discovering the nature of the Self as our own Being.

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Heart of the Light: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

Anchor yourself in the Heart
Human life is a precious gift that is best utilized for the search of the sublime, the good, the beautiful, and the eternal reality which is joy itself. Such words may appear trite to some, true to some, and irrelevant to still others. Certainly, in the middle of the ups and downs of daily living it is easy to become cynical and bitter about the world around us. We have all endured loss in one form or another and there is no one who has not experienced some shock or tragedy at some point in his or her life.

If you listen to the T.V. news even a few times a week, it seems like the whole world is caught in a whirlpool of suffering. There are endless disputes and wars going on. Human beings are fighting, torturing, or killing each other in the name of religion, God, race, territory, politics, or just because of their inflated egos which have driven them crazy.

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I Was A Totally Cool Dude! By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

Welcome everyone to the Fall semester. After the quiet summer, I feel the vibrating energy of the returning students and the new freshmen as the campus literally comes alive with enough parking for everyone! College life is one of the most exciting as well as challenging phases of our life that potentially lays the foundation for future success.

I am reminded of my first year as a freshman at Beloit College in Wisconsin. One of my main anxieties during my freshman year was that someone would find out my real age. I turned seventeen during my first semester of college. Being a year or two younger than most other students made me feel very insecure. My second major anxiety was that someone would see me with my huge ultra thick glasses and realize that I was quite near sighted.

I was convinced that both of these conditions combined would wreck my social life completely. To avoid looking like a nerd, I grew long hair and a beard and wore contact lenses 16-18 hours a day. I also carefully observed what the other “cool” students did and tried to hang out with them.

I noticed that many of the “cool” people got drunk often and virtually chain-smoked during parties. This was hard for me to emulate, as I did not like either smoking or drinking. My “cool” friends often told tall tales “the day after”. Typically, these stories went like this: “And then I got so drunk man that I didn’t know what I was saying or doing. By end of the night, I was puking all over the place. They had to carry me back to my dorm. And since this morning, I have had the worst hangover and I can’t remember a thing! My head really hurts. Boy was last night fun or what?!”

This kind of talk always went completely over my head. I blamed myself for not being cool enough to understand.

One day I asked one of my “cool” friends, while he was sober, to tell me really why drinking at parties leads to having more fun.

My cool friend explained it very clearly, “Well it kind of loosens you up. It’s easy to talk to people. You can say things to people when you are drunk and they don’t hold it against you. And it’s great for getting to know girls. In fact, after I threw up on Kelly last month at a party, it really brought us a lot closer together.”

After that lucid explanation, I tried drinking a bit.

The problem was that drinking did not agree with my constitution. It made me nauseous and I did not like the feeling of being tipsy. So I hit upon a clever solution. I started drinking 7-UP at parties but gave the impression to everyone that it was really Gin and Tonic! I occasionally acted silly and brash to reinforce the notion that I was feeling “quite good”. I never had a hangover and thought I had the best of both worlds.

Finally, in the desire to fall in with the “ultra cool” group, I started smoking cigarettes while I drank my 7-UP. My act was so good that I had people cautioning me not to drink too heavily at the parties. “I can take it”, I would say in my pretend macho cool manner. And yes, I could take it. I could put away glasses of 7-UP like it was no body’s business. Of course, it meant a lot of trips to the bathroom; but that was a small price for being cool. As far as the cigarettes go, that was tough to play out. I could never bring myself to fully inhale the smoke into my lungs. It made me cough and feel dizzy. So I smoked but did not inhale. I believe President Clinton used this technique as well when he was in college.

Instead of inhaling, I would take the smoke in my mouth, hold it for a while, and blow it out of the side slowly in as cool a way as is possible. Those were some of my coolest moments, I think. Sometimes I also tried to make smoke rings come out of my mouth by twisting my face in a highly sophisticated manner.

After about a year of heavy 7-UP drinking combined with pretend smoking, I could no longer live a lie and slowly gave up both. I did not have strength to go cold turkey with 7-UP and so yes, I gave it up slowly. I have not engaged in pretend smoking since my college days and almost never drink alcohol or, for that matter, soft drinks. In retrospect, I can understand why I did what I did as a freshman. My need to be accepted by my peers was so strong that it made me act out of character.

Although I was immature in some ways at 17, I was lucky because I never became a smoker or a drinker. Many young people, once they become addicted to nicotine, find it very difficult to give up. This expensive habit is easy to cultivate but very difficult to break. Smoking was much more accepted in public places in the past than it is now.

When I was in college, professors and students both used to smoke in class. My philosophy professor had a huge pipe, bigger than the one Sherlock Holmes ever smoked. During the lectures, when perhaps he ran out of material, our professor would simply smoke his pipe and look very thoughtfully into space. As he appeared lost in a trance, much like Socrates of old days, all of us gazed in admiration and waited for him to break his silence with words precious and pregnant with meaning.

This was back in the early 1970s. Smoking was considered very cool then. Today, it is not viewed as cool, because we know so much more about the health effects of smoking. Some of the commercials I have seen on TV to discourage teenagers from smoking focus on how smoking causes bad breath and is not conducive to kissing.

Alcohol, of course, can play havoc with your body and mind both. It is the cause of much destruction in the lives of people. The grief suffered by parents whose children are harmed due to alcohol related incidents is indescribable. Ask any official in a college or in law enforcement, who has had to inform parents that their child has been in a life threatening accident. They will tell you that it is the most difficult thing to do. I was told this personally by someone who had to once inform the parents that their child had lost his life due to an alcohol related accident. Even listening to him, tell me, about the reaction of the parents, I felt much shaken up at the time.

So dear students, in my own funny way, I am trying to tell you to be careful with yourself in college and in life. For most of you, this is all simple stuff that you already know. For all of us, it is sometimes good to hear things we already know. When we are young, we do many things to impress our peers and to be accepted. I know that many times I was too weak to resist peer pressure.

Getting older, I have learned that when we make genuine friendships, we are accepted as who we are. Many people try smoking, alcohol, and other drugs when they come to college and are away from home for the first time. In the beginning, all these things seem harmless when we see our friends doing it and seeming to have fun. However, the truth is that behind such things lurks unexpected danger and potential harm, which can ruin lives.

The general rule is that you should be suspicious of consuming anything that dulls your senses or alters them in any unnatural way. Human senses are a gift. The gift of seeing clearly, hearing clearly, smelling clearly, and experiencing clearly can only be appreciated if we are in our natural state of body and mind.

Life offers no guarantees to anyone, and we are too limited as human beings to see the future. Nevertheless, our God given intelligence tells us that over the long run, people who avoid alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes and lead a natural life are more alert and likely to lead healthier lives. This is not a moral judgment but an observation based on experience and some scientific research.

If you have a healthy lifestyle and have already made constructive choices about drinking, drugs, and smoking, find others like you and keep their company for support. Community of like-minded people is very helpful in life. If you have one or more of these habits, then the best time to give them up is when you are young.

When we are young, we have enormous physical strength and resources and the will power and can easily make very positive changes in our lives, which go with us until the end. As we get older and the habits become more ingrained, it becomes more difficult (but certainly not impossible) to kick the addictions. For those who feel they cannot give up their addiction or do not want to, my advice would be to be moderate and manage your behavior in such a way so that it is not destructive to yourself or others. This can be done through application of intelligent reasoning while one is sober and rational with sensitivity to one’s own safety and that of others.

Good luck!

This article was originally written for Bryant University students in the Archway Newspaper. HL