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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.



Showing Respect for Ramana Maharshi

How did Ramana Maharshi want his devotees to show their respect for him?


Devotees offer food to Sri Ramana Maharshi, a famous Indian sage of the early twentieth century..

A FEW DAYS AGO, the editor of this website received a letter from a reader which said in part:

Kindly ask your authors to learn proper conduct while writing about gurus or desist from writing about them. This is truly disgusting behavior and I am surprised that you put up a website with this kind of writing. I am passing on this article to the entire Indian community as an example of flagrant disregard for our community and our gurus.

The writer was upset because we had referred to Sri Ramana Maharshi, the great Indian saint, simply as "Ramana" without his usual honorific titles. (Sri means "eminent," maharshi means "great sage.")

The writer thought we did this due to a lack of respect, but actually we did it because it's customary in American publications (and those of most other English-speaking countries) to call religious figures by their first names alone after they have been introduced.

This custom should be familiar to anybody who has ever used an American or British encyclopedia. Saint Paul is simply Paul, Pope Gregory the Great is simply Gregory, and Jesus Christ is simply Jesus. This custom has nothing to do with respect or lack of it; it's just a convention.

Western users of English probably got into this habit from reading the Bible, where Moses is plain old Moses and Peter is plain old Peter.

EVEN THOUGH THE LETTER was based on a mistaken premise, it got me wondering what Ramana himself would think about this question of showing respect to him.

Luckily, we don't have to guess. Ramana's opinion has been preserved in the wonderful book Living By the Words of Bhagavan by David Godman. Here are some excerpts:

Bhagavan [Ramana] occasionally got irritated if devotees prostated to him excessively or absent-mindedly, without devotion. I can give several examples of this. I was once making garlands for the Mother's puja when Bhagavan came into the temple and sat in the padmasana [full lotus posture].

While I was prostrating to him he criticised me by saying, 'If you do like this, all the others will feel obliged to follow suit. Why should you all do namaskaram [prostrations] to me like this? I do not think that I am someone greater than you. We are all one.'

The others ignored these hints and went ahead with their own prostrations.

If there were any devotees sitting on the ground when Bhagavan came out of the hall, they would immediately stand up as a mark of respect. This mechanical gesture of deference occasionally annoyed him.

On one such occasion he told the standing devotees, 'Why are you standing like this? Why don't you stay seated on the floor? Am I a tiger or a snake that you should jump up every time I appear?'

On another occasion, when Bhagavan was going for a walk along the foot of the hill, an ashram worker saw him, stopped his work, and prostrated full length on the ground.

Bhagavan told him, 'If you do your duty properly, that itself is a great namaskaram. If everyone did his own appointed duty [swadharma], without swerving from it, it would be easy to reach the Self.'

Bhagavan once expounded the theory behind namaskaram and explained why he disliked people continually prostrating to him.

'Initially, the practice of namaskaram was introduced by great people as an aid to dedicating their mind and body to God. This original purpose has now been entirely lost. Nowadays people think, "If we do one namaskaram to Swami we can charm him into doing whatever we want." This is a big error because Swami can never be deceived. Only those selfish people who perform namaskaram with false motives will be cheated. I don't like seeing people come and do namaskaram to me. What namaskaram is needed? To keep one's mind on the correct spiritual path is alone the greatest namaskaram.'1


1. David Godman, Living By the Words of Bhagavan (1995, 2nd ed.; Tiruvannamalai: Sri Annamalai Swami Ashram Trust, 1994) pp. 115-16.

Here's one more short excerpt:


A devotee once approached Bhagavan and asked him if he could prostrate to him and touch his feet.

Bhagavan replied: 'The real feet of Bhagavan exist only in the heart of the devotee. To hold onto these feet incessantly is true happiness. You will be disappointed if you hold onto my physical feet because one day this physical body will disappear. The greatest worship is worshipping the Guru's feet that are within oneself.'2

  1. David Godman, Living By the Words of Bhagavan (1995, 2nd ed.; Tiruvannamalai: Sri Annamalai Swami Ashram Trust, 1994) p. 118.

Article copyright 2000 Elena Gutierrez. Photograph copyright Sri Ramanasramam. Used by permission. Excerpt from Living By the Words of Bhagavan copyright Sri Annamalai Swami Ashram Trust.

Elena Gutierrez writes frequently for this website.



Sri Ramana Maharshi
Our main reference page on the man whom many people regard as the greatest sage of the twentieth century. Biography, articles, links, recommended books, etc.



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Living By the Words of Bhagavan
By David Godman
This book was actually written by Sri Annamalai Swami, who was Ramana Maharshi's personal attendant and intimate disciple; David Godman, who is credited as the author, is really the editor. The book fascinates in at least two ways: it paints a matter-of-fact portrait of Ramana's personality without any apparent romanticizing, and it explains the instructions that Ramana gave to Annamalai which eventually allowed him to become self-realized. Rarely if ever have we seen instructions for self-realization explained so clearly or plainly. We recommend this book very highly.

This page was published on October 10, 2000 and last revised on August 5, 2001.

Copyright 2001 Realization.org. All rights reserved.