Sri Ramana Maharshi was probably
the most famous sage of the twentieth century both in
India and the rest of the world.
He was renowned for his saintly life, for being fully
realized, and for the powerful transmissions that often
occurred to visitors in his presence. At age 16 he realized
spontaneously and ran away to Arunachala, one of India's traditional
holy sites, where he stayed for the rest of his life. So many people
came to see him there that an ashram was built around him. Many
of his close devotees were regarded by their peers as self-realized.
His Main Teaching
Ramana Maharshi always said that his most important teaching
was done in silence. He meant that when people were in his physical
presence, in his sannidhi, their minds were affected. In
some cases the effects were astonishingly strong.
Hundreds of people
have described these phenomena in books and articles. For
examples, see here and
here. For longer accounts, see David
The Power of the Presence.
His Second-Most Important Teaching
His second-most important teaching was a practice called
vichara in Sanskrit. The
customary English translation is "self-enquiry."
Self-enquiry as taught by Sri Ramana is the continuous
effort to focus attention as keenly as possible on the
I-thought in order to recognize the I-thought's
source, the Self.
When this is done, awareness intensifies and thoughts diminish.
The practice must be performed continuously for long periods in order to
Sri Ramana often used the word "enquire" in the
sense of "observe closely." For example, in verse 23
of Ulladu Narpadu he wrote, "With a keen mind
enquire from where this 'I' emerges."
Self-enquiry does not mean asking questions except as an occasional
device for reminding ourselves to refocus attention when it wanders.
Self-enquiry does not mean focusing on the physical heart or on any
other part of the body or on any object whatsoever.
Sri Ramana was born near Madurai in Tamil Nadu, India.
Sri Ramana summarized his method in a pamphlet called "Who Am I?"
which was for years his most widely disseminated writing. The
title has probably contributed to the widespread but mistaken
impression that the method consists of questions.
Actually, the main significance of the title is that the method is
a technique for finding the answer.
Sri Ramana didn't intend the question to be mysterious. Early editions
of the pamphlet began with the sentence "Who am I?" The next sentence
supplied the answer: "Consciousness [arivu] itself is I."
He was born on December 30, 1879 in a village called Tirucculi
about 30 miles south of Madurai in southern India. His middle-class
parents named him Venkateshwara, although a few years later he
enrolled in school under the name Venkataraman. His family
were Iyers, members
of the Tamil Brahmin caste. His father died when he was twelve,
and he went to live with his uncle in Madurai where he attended
American Mission High School.
At age 16, he became spontaneously self-realized. Six weeks later
he ran away to the holy hill of Arunachala where he would remain
for the rest of his life. When he arrived he threw away all his
property including the thread which marked him as a Brahmin. For
several years he stopped talking and spent many hours each day
in samadhi. When he began speaking again, people came to ask him
questions and he soon acquired a reputation as a sage. In 1907,
when he was 28, one of his early devotees named him Bhagavan Sri
Ramana Maharshi, Divine Eminent Ramana the Great Seer, and
the name stuck. Eventually he became world-famous and an ashram was
built around him. He died of cancer in 1950 at the age of 70.
At age 16, he heard somebody mention "Arunachala." Although he
didn't know what the word meant (it's the name of a holy hill
associated with the god Shiva) he became greatly excited. At about
the same time he came across a copy of Sekkilar's
a book that describes the lives of
Shaivite saints, and became fascinated by it. In the middle of
1896, at age 16, he was suddenly overcome by the feeling that he
was about to die. He lay down on the floor, made his body stiff,
and held his breath. "My body is dead now," he said to himself,
"but I am still alive." In a flood of spiritual awareness he
realized he was the Self.
Two other documents are of special importance although they
may not be to the average reader's taste. Ulladu Narpadu,
a poem of 42 verses, is regarded by many as Sri Ramana's
most significant work. Guru Vachaka Kovai, a collection of
1254 verses composed by one of Sri Ramana's closest
disciples, Sri Muruganar, and checked for accuracy by Sri Ramana,
is probably the most detailed
statement of Sri Ramana's teachings. It is available in three different translations.
Be As You Are
Edited by David Godman
In our opinion this superb collection of extracts
Maharshi's writings and dialogues is
the best single-volume introduction to his
teachings. This is the book we recommend to people who want
to read about Sri Ramana for the first time.
The editor, David Godman, is probably the foremost
living expert on Sri Ramana's teachings. David has gone
through dozens of books by and about Sri Ramana and collected
passages which most clearly state various points of
his teaching. These extracts are organized thematically
into chapters with higher teachings first and
less important ones last.
David has also provided informative introductions
to each chapter and to the book as a whole as well as a
glossary and notes.
Be as You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi
Published by Penguin
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi
Edited by Sri Munagala Venkataramiah
For serious students
of Ramana Maharshi there are two Bibles, one written in prose and
the other in verse. This one is prose. (The verse Bible is Guru Vachaka Kovai.) It contains
724 pages of conversations that occurred
from 1935 to 1939 between Sri Ramana and his visitors who traveled to south India
from all over the world to ask for advice from the man whom many regard
as the greatest realized teacher of the twentieth century. The text consists
not of transcripts, as one might expect, but summaries and paraphrases recorded
mostly from memory by the compiler. The reason for this strange format
is that the compiler was prohibited by ashram rules from writing
in the hall where Sri Ramana spoke. As a result the book's prose is unnatural but
nonetheless lucid, direct, literate, and pleasant to read.
This book is an autobiography of Annamalai Swami who became Self-realized
after many years of effort and close association with his guru,
Ramana Maharshi. It paints an unusually intimate portrait of the
Maharshi based on Annamalai Swami's ten years of interactions with him,
first as his personal attendant and then as supervisor of
building projects at Sri Ramanasraman. The book is sober and
free of the cloying sentimentality that mars many memoirs of
this type. This is not a hagiography; Annamalai's Maharshi is
a surprising figure who does quirky and even incomprehensible things.
The final section of the book
contains transcripts of conversations that Annamalai Swami held with
seekers in the 1980s. Annamalai Swami worked hard for many years to realize the
Self, making his advice especially useful to seekers for whom
Self-realization does not come easily. We think this is a wonderful
book, one of the best about Sri Ramana, and we recommend it very highly.
This small book is one of a half dozen
that we recommend most strongly to people who want
to practice self-enquiry in order to realize. It
contains transcripts of talks that
Annamalai Swami held with seekers during the last six
months of his life. His advice about how to practice
Self-enquiry is unusually valuable because he
worked for a long time to become Self-realized.
Annamalai Swami spent nearly ten years with Ramana Maharshi,
first as his personal attendant and later as construction
manager at Sri Ramana's ashram.
Published by Annamalai Swami Ashram and AHAM (2000)
99 or 162 pages
ISBN-10: 0971137181 and 1888599170
Path of Sri Ramana Part One
by Sri Sadhu Om
translated by Michael James
The definitive version
of Ramana Maharshi's teachings is contained in his writings such as
and Sri Muruganar's Guru Vachaka Kovai. Unfortunately, his works aren't easy to read. Most
of them are written in a terse, classical style of Tamil poetry which is
not easily understood even by many educated Tamils. In order to understand
him, most of us must therefore rely on translations and commentaries. This
book is one of the best of that kind because it was written by a skilled
Tamil poet who was Sri Muruganar's literary executor and a close disciple of Ramana's. It contains 145 pages
of exact instructions for practicing self-inquiry plus literal English translations
of several of Ramana's works. In this volume, part one of the work, the
author covers Jnana Marga (self-enquiry); part two deals with Bhakti