Your true nature is always the undivided, nondual Brahman,
Which is a mass of Being-Consciousness-Bliss,
Motionless, ancient, still,
Eternal, without attributes,
Without confusions, without sheaths,
Without parts, without impurity,
Completely free from any illusion of duality,
Full, peerless, and the One.
From Song of Ribhu, Chapter two.
The Ribhu Gita is a spiritual text that was extensively used by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. It was one of the first books he read after Self-Realization, one whose message clearly accorded with what he had realized within himself. For many years during his life it was read to those at Ramanasramam. It is still read at Ramanasramam today. Ramana’s use and recommendation of this text has brought it into much wider visibility among those interested in his teachings and Advaita Vedanta.
A number of teachers in the tradition of Sri Ramana have been using these translations of the Ribhu Gita in their teaching. Above is a picture of Papaji reading from the English Translation of the Sanskrit version.
The Ribhu Gita is a book that is best read aloud, a few verses at one time. It is in an ancient form designed to be chanted, and they way it is written is most conducive to reading aloud, even if one is reading it to oneself.
The Ribhu Gita presents the timeless teaching of Self Knowledge, emphasized by Advaita Vedanta. Its fundamental tenet is the identity of the Self with Brahman, a term signifying the vast Absolute. This scripture presents the teaching given by the sage, Ribhu, to Nidaga to become enlightened into his true nature.
According to Annamalai Swami, “Bhagavan often said that we should read and study the Ribhu Gita regularly. In the Ribhu Gita it is said, ‘That bhavana “I am not the body, I am not the mind, I am Brahman, I am everything” is to be repeated again and again until this becomes the natural state.”
In describing the Self or Brahman, negation is primarily used because the Self can never be an object, can never be what is perceived or conceived. By negation in the process of Self-inquiry, the ignorance of identifying ones own existence with an individual body and mind is destroyed. This “destruction” of ignorance is really not the destruction of anything real, as the false identification as an individual just consists of assumptions, ideas. What remains after this so-called destruction is not anything new. It is not something achieved. It is not a transformation. It is what has been your innermost identity all the time.
As all differences are an illusory appearance
On Brahman, which is not different from the Self,
Due to conditionings of the Self like the defect of nescience (ignorance)
And conditionings of Brahman like maya (Illusion, delusion),
One should realize, by a practice of negation,
That all appearances are not a whit different from the substratum
And one should cognize the originless, endless,
Undivided identity of the Self and Brahman.
From Song of Ribhu, Chapter One
“The text is a relentless reiteration of uncompromising Advaita―that the Supreme Brahman, ‘That,’ is all that exists and exists not, that nothing else exists, the Self is Brahman and Brahman is the Self, I am that, I am all, and That is myself. This Awareness is moksha (liberation) which is attained by the way of knowledge and the certitude I-am-Brahman,” says Dr. H Ramamoorthy, one of the co-translators, in his Translator’s Introduction to the English translation of the Sanskrit version published by The Society of Abidance in Truth in 1995.
The origins of the Ribhu Gita are uncertain. It is contained within the Sivarahasya, an ancient Sanskrit epic devoted to Siva. It has been compared to the better-known Bhagavad Gita, contained within the epic, Mahabharata. Similar dialogs between Ribhu and Nidagha on the Self and Brahman are also found within the traditional 108 Upanisads, so it appears that the origin of the Ribhu Gita dates from the Upanisadic period, generally thought to be about 600 BCE.
The Ribhu Gita exists in two forms, the traditional Sanskrit version, and a Tamil version rendered in the late 1800s by Bhikshu Sastrigal, also known as Ulagantha Swamigal. Both versions have been translated into English by Dr. H. Ramamoorthy, a Sanskrit and Tamil scholar, and Nome, a Self-Realized sage in the United States of America, who realized the Truth revealed by Sri Ramana Maharshi and the Ribhu Gita in 1974. Both books, The Ribhu Gita and The Song of Ribhu (the Sanskrit and Tamil versions of the text) have been printed by the society of Abidance in Truth (SAT) and are available from their website (www.satramana.org).
These English translations have become the basis for a widening appreciation of this ancient nondual work. Translations have been made from these English translations into a number of other languages, including Italian, and Hindi. The Song of Ribhu has also been reprinted by Sri Ramanasramam and is available from their bookstore.
In addition to these two complete translations, there have been a number of partial translations published. One is a small pamphlet, Essence of Ribhu, available by download from Sri Ramanasramam – www.sriramanamaharshi.org . The other is The Heart of the Ribhu Gita, by F Jones, Los Angeles: Dawn Horse, 1973.
Nome has been teaching Self-inquiry, as taught by Sri Ramana, for about 30 years. He gives satsangs and holds retreats at the temple of The Society of Abidance in Truth (SAT), in Santa Cruz, CA, USA. For more information go to http://www.satramana.org. He has translated and published a number of books of Advaita Vedanta that otherwise would not be available in English. Many of these translations were done in collaboration with Dr. Ramamoorthy.
The night of March 6 – when there was no moon – was Mahasivaratri this year. This night honors Siva, seen in nonduality as Being-Consciousness absolute. It is the association with Siva that makes Arunachala such a holy mountain.
Instead of going into town to a temple, or doing pradakshina – walking around Arunachala – we decided to hold a Siva Puja at our house. Here are some photos.
The Altar set up near sun down
The altar has a picture of Siva, a lingam, a photo of Nome, and various puja materials.
Arunachala is is the background.
Fruit and a coconut are common offering.
For Sivaratri it is important to have Bilva leaves as an offering.
Camphor is there for later use.
Puja at midnight
Richard is offering Puja to the Sivalingam.
Coconut milk, cows milk, ghee, bilva leaves and flower petal are offered in turn.
Lingam after Puja
After the Puja here is the broken coconut.
The lingam is covered with bliva leaves and flowers.
Dawn over Arunachala after Mahasivaratri night
Richard and Carol were up most of the night, listening to recordings of chants, and spiritual discourses from their teacher, Nome.
In quiet times we meditated. For us this is a most holy night.
Altar at dawn
Here is the altar at dawn. The lingam has been put back in its usual place, and wrapped with a flower mala.
Now we will go downstairs and go to sleep. This is along night, but spiritually fulfilling.
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.
Picture of Arunachala by Gabriele Ebert
Song to the Goddess
Either let me be intoxicated
in your love completely
or put on my robes of joy
and rob me absolutely.
Judge me guilty
in the court of love
or absolve me absolutely;
find me flawed if you like
but never hold me weakly.
No middle ground is possible
for lovers who love completely!
Love, Consciousness, and Bliss
The great sage of Arunachala, Sri Ramana Maharshi, used to say that all deep thinking people are fascinated by the nature of consciousness. The outer world of time and space is known only through ones’ own mind. Therefore, the mystery of mind and consciousness has been a magnet of attraction for philosopher, yogis, sages, and scientists. Upanishads say that one should know “That” by which all else is known.
What is “That”, which makes all else visible and known? The ancient philosophy outlined in the Upanishads, the sacred Hindu scriptures, refers to “That” as Sat-Chit-Ananda, the core of one’s being which is Absolute Bliss, Absolute Existence, Absolute Consciousness, and we can also say that it is the same as Absolute Love which makes all human love possible. Sri Ramana used to say that “Love is the actual form of God.”
For one irresistibly pulled by the hunger of Self-Knowledge that manifests in one’s own heart, the turning within to “That” Absolute Love and Bliss happens at some point. When consciousness spontaneously starts the process of scanning its own formless form, this churning results in the beauty and self-delight of awareness which underlies all manifestations of energy (Shakti).
Appearance of the Supreme Goddess
In many of the mystical traditions of Hinduism, the manifestations of this energy, resulting from consciousness becoming focused on its own nature, take the forms of Devi. Devi is the Supreme Goddess, who appears in visions and dreams of devotees according to their mental and spiritual condition to nurture, protect, bless, and guide them.
The Goddess is depicted in Hindu art in hundreds if not thousands of ways. This art is part of the Indian history, culture, and Hindu traditions. It comes from the inspired imagination of the artists and is based on the ancient stories about the Goddess and Her powers.
However, no artwork can really capture the form of the Goddess who appears in the mystic eye of the aspirant. She appears to each devotee in a unique way according to what best suits the nature and personality of the person at that time. As the yogi evolves in the spiritual path, the visionary forms of the Goddess can change along with that.
So a relationship develops between the devotee and the Goddess or the Divine Beloved. Like human relationships between lovers, it is not always easy.
Sometimes, the devotee cannot bear the separation and wants immediate union and consummation. He may even blame and question the Goddess as to why She has left him in the middle of the path after taking his hand.
Song of Despair to the Goddess
Play hide and seek
not too much longer
and risk this longing
get even stronger;
when people ask unashamedly
why your love flees from me
what honest answer can I make
and can you also say for sure
that in choosing me as your lover
you have made some grave mistake.
But the Goddess realizes that it is not time and waits for the moment to be ripe for the final liberation. Many of the love poems of mystics to the Goddess have come from this intermediate level of spiritual experiences where the Supreme Beloved appears to plays hide and seek with them.
Sri Ramana and Marital Garland of Letters
In the classic Tamil poem, “The Marital Garland of Letters” the Sage of Arunachala, Sri Ramana Maharshi, chides the Divine Beloved in some of the verses and apologizes for having done so in other verses. He begs Arunachala to fully embrace him (as the devotee) and utterly consume him in love; Because only then he will have peace.
Verse 23. “Sweet fruit within my hands, let me be mad with ecstasy, drunk with the bliss of Thy essence, Oh Arunachala!”
Verse 34. “Unless Thou embrace me, I shall melt away in tears of anguish, Oh Arunachala!”
Verse 60. “In my unloving self Thou didst create a passion for Thee; therefore forsake me not, Oh Arunachala!”
Hindu Mystical Bhakti Poetry
The love pattern of alternating between despair and ecstasy (Does She/He love me or love me not), joy and sadness (When will the Goddess/Divine Beloved visit again) is common in the poetry of many Hindu saints and mystics. Even the seeming confusion about the relationship itself, which makes the devotee beg sometimes for love and other times actually blame, chide, and command the Goddess/Divine Beloved, can be seen in some of the poems including the Marital Garland of Letters.
Although the Marital Garland of Letters by Sri Ramana is embedded in the Indian spiritual, historical, and cultural context, the symbolism of a lover who is in complete despair because of an incomplete consummation with her/his beloved is universally understood.
People who are in love with and fascinated by the mystery of consciousness have felt that mysterious pull of the Heart from within themselves. Who can really explain ways of the Divine and the different forms She/He manifests in.
What is the first step on this path of love? No one can say for sure. Was it the smile and look of a Sage, the grace of the Divine Mother, the kiss of the Goddess, or the kindness of a teacher or a friend? There must be many possibilities that make us aware of the Heart within, whose nature is Sat-Chit-Ananda, that which is the source of the ultimate bliss.
This memory once awakened brings upon the experience of pure being, and attracts the devotee to the truth of her/his own nature. This gentle pull within makes itself felt. It does not let go until the Truth of one’s own Heart is recognized, and there is nothing left to let go.
Some say that it is the Goddess Herself, who takes the devotee into the Heart and then reveals Herself as the Universal Heart. The complete identity between the devotee, the Goddess, and the Heart thus established, everything disappears. There is only that Heart of Love and Fullness, eternal consciousness completely at rest in its own nature.
Knowing That is Self-Knowledge. That is the final consummation.
“I came to feed on Thee, but Thou hast fed on me; now there is peace, Oh Arunachala!” Verse 28. Marital Garland of Letters.
NOTE: Some of the verses on the Goddess in this article are from a longer poem on the Goddess by Dr. Harsh K. Luthar.
This article was originally written on May 9, 2006 and posted by Michael Bowes on the old HS blog.
One weekend in the early 1990s, my friend Narayan and I went to Saint Louis, Missouri to visit with Swami Chetanananda. Narayan and I have known Swami since the late 1980s. On Sunday morning of that weekend we were eating breakfast with Swami and the other residents of the temple, and according to the custom there, we were all reading a portion of the newspaper.
When reading the paper, Narayan nearly always goes straight to the “funnies”.
We were all reading and eating. Swami was at the head of the table, I was to his left, and Narayan was to my left. At some point Narayan nudges me and hands me the funnies. He pointed to the “Donald Duck” comic strip.
Donald Duck was in the Himalayas searching for his guru. And there were signs posted in the mountains that said “Guru”, and then an arrow would be pointing to a certain direction. And Donald followed the signs and arrows until finally, at the top of a mountain peak sat the guru with a personal computer in front of him.
Donald Duck asked the guru, “What is the meaning of life?”
The guru didn’t answer; but the computer started printing out something that couldn’t be read on the comic strip.
The gag was that personal computers were becoming the rage, and now even the guru was using one to divine the mystic truths.
But another peculiar thing was that Narayan and I were searching for a guru and a spiritual home; and now, thanks to Donald Duck, the stage was set for that possibility.
I nudged Swami and handed him the funnies while pointing to the Donald Duck comic strip. He read it and handed it back without saying a word, and continued to eat breakfast. After breakfast Swami went to prepare for his weekly public talk. The rest of us cleaned up after the meal and relaxed until the beginning of the service.
Swami began his Sunday morning talk and I really don’t remember the topic; but near the end he announced that he was going to reveal the “Meaning of Life”. He was going to reply to the question in the funnies.
Swami started by saying, “The meaning of life is bliss.”; and the following is a very loose paraphrase of what he said to explain that statement:
There is an “ocean of bliss” that is the source, the cause and support of all that we see; And in its manifest forms that bliss is experienced as amrita, rasa, love, joy, happiness, fun, hope, peace and even as pain and suffering. Pain and suffering serve as motivation for us to find a way to return to our original state of bliss.
We were all born from bliss. We arrive in this world because one day or one night our parents engaged in a blissful activity, and as a result we were born. From that day on, all of our conscious and even subconscious activities are meant to help us either directly or indirectly to achieve bliss and happiness.
As children all we really wanted to do was play. Our true unconditioned nature is playful. But, as we start to get a little older, we are forced to go to school and we are conditioned by society to perform certain useful functions.
But bliss, happiness, satisfaction, etc. are still the primary objective of all of our behaviors. Our parents and our society force us to go to school so that we can get a job, so that we can earn money, so that we can be happy.
We marry because we believe that another person will fulfill us and make us happy. We have children because we think that will make us happy. Everything that we do is ultimately for happiness and bliss. Even so called, “selfless love” only serves to satisfy ourselves. We believe that by performing our self-ordained duties that we will be satisfied.
A short time after I heard these words from Swami, I directly experienced that “ocean of bliss”. Our own true nature is something that cannot be imagined, and it is truly inexpressible. Since then, even though I have gone through some dark times, it isn’t possible for me to worry or lose my connection to that blissful being, the “ocean of bliss” that is our own true nature. And I have a lot of fun. I can’t seem to avoid it.
I began to experience this truth because of an encounter with the “funny paper”.
Love and peace to all,