The author recalls how Sri Ramana Maharshi's presence helped him understand who he really is.
This article was originally published by Sri Ramanashramam in 1980 in a collection of recollections by devotees called Ramana Smrti.
Pondering over the Editors’ request for an article, I am asking myself — What has Bhagavan meant to me, and what does he still mean to me. And I find that it is impossible to give a neat answer to this question.
The first thing, perhaps, is that he opened my heart. Immediately when I saw him, even from a distance, I recognized that this was what I had been looking for. But when I say that this This was radiating, all-penetrating and all-overthrowing love, striking me with the power of lightning, I know that only those who had the same experience will know what I mean. To anybody else, all this is verbiage, at best creating an image of someone very magnificent.
Well, Sri Ramana Maharshi was the Unimaginable, and therefore the Indescribable.
In literature, all over the world, one finds magnificent descriptions of sorrow. But who can describe happiness? Happiness is a state without ego and therefore without a someone in it to describe it, or even to remember it. What we remember is its afterglow, its reflection in feeling and body, not the moment when we were present as happiness itself, as happiness only.
Ramana Maharshi is not the frail, old, dying body that I saw reclining on a chair, but the Unimaginable, egolessness, pure radiance, and the body, however much we may have loved its appearance, was merely like a glittering diamond reflecting the light that he really was.
I did not understand all this, when I first arrived. To me, he was something like a divine person, and I was inclined to compare him with Jesus or the Buddha. But Jesus or the Buddha were images in my head, formed on the basis of the belief in which I had been brought up, and on stories heard and read later on. And Sri Ramana Maharshi, from the first second I saw him, was anything but an image in my head. He was a bomb, exploding the myth of my life until then, within a few minutes, and without a word. His famous, to some, notorious question, “Who Am I?” immediately got a totally new colour. For several years, at home, I had been meditating on it, and it had something of a mystical, yogic and philosophical ring about it. Now it turned into, “Who on earth do you think you are, that you should be so important as to cultivate a garden full of problems and questions”? And this was not by way of condemning my ‘self’, my ego as it is usually called in Vedantic circles — but the question took this form in a sphere of utter astonishment: how, boy, tell me, how have you been so misled as to think that you or your ego had any importance? Instead of seeing that an ego is a mere stupidity or the belief in a fantasy, you have been cherishing it and even cultivating it by feeding it with important questions and problems. Your life until now was led by the belief in something totally imaginary.
Again, there was no condemnation in this — it was a discovery, something revealed to me, suddenly, and leaving me in utter amazement. Perhaps that is what triggered it. His mere presence revealed to me how utterly stupid I had been until now, that it was love which revealed it, not the criticising father-knows-better attitude that we know only too well. My darkness was revealed by the mere confrontation with light — light that did not condemn me or wish to change me, but accepted and loved me totally and unconditionally; light, as I understood later, that saw me as nothing but light.
What I did not understand at the time, was that this confrontation inevitably threw me back, as it were, upon the love that I was myself. Seeing “myself” as an oddity with problems implied that I was taken to a position beyond this “myself”, to that one Consciousness that all beings have in common and outside of which nothing is. In this confrontation, this “myself” was no longer the “I” which I had lived so far, but a curious object, a little whirlpool of light within an ocean of light.
I have described my “adventures” with Bhagavan
1. The Mountain Path. Jan. 1977.
In other words, it was only three or four years later that the full impact of what his silence had revealed to me became clear and “my own”. Perhaps these last two words and their inverted commas indicate the problem. Bhagavan never gave anyone the possibility to believe that you, as a person, could realize the truth. The axis, the central point in the sadhana that he proposed to most of us, was the invitation to examine who put questions, who came to see him, who wanted to realize, who felt exalted or miserable or angry, who desired or shunned, and so on.
Recently I heard a “realised person” (there is no such thing) say to one of his pupils, “There is only one question — that is the question “Who am I”. But we come with many, many questions, as our belief that we are a person has begotten many other beliefs such as the belief that if we are to realize the truth, we are to behave in a certain way, that we should or should not eat and drink certain things, that love is an object that one person can give to or receive from another person, and so on. All such questions stand solved, the moment the question ‘Who am I’ is solved, when the light that we are and have always been is suddenly recognized in all perceptions, in the ones usually called ‘good’ no more than in the ones usually called ‘bad’; in the perceptions usually called ‘the world’ and in perceptions called ‘the ego’. Self-realisation is never found by attempts to change the person, the ego that we are not. It dawns, the moment it is made possible, and that is when there is full realisation of the fact that ‘I am no ego and I have no ego’. I am That unimaginable something in which all things, including the thought that ‘I am a person’ arise, and which remains over after such perceived thoughts or feelings or sensorial perceptions have dissolved into it.
Once Shri Bhagavan asked someone, “How do you know that you are not realised”? If you ponder over it, you will find that this question is like an earthquake. Who says so indeed? It is the person, a mere habit of thought, that says it is not realised. How can a habit of thought, or, for that matter any thought at all know what I am? On the face of it, it seems extremely humble and it is certainly most acceptable to say, “Ah, poor me, I am not realised, no, no, far from it”. In reality it is lunacy to believe that thought could ever know what ‘I am’. It is the arrogance, the vanity of thought, to imagine the unimaginable and to have opinions about it.
So, pondering deeply over this question, one cannot but come to the conclusion that once again Shri Bhagavan told us the plain and naked truth, when he said, “The Self is always realised”.
If you wish to have information about Britain, you do not go to the Turkish Embassy, and if you wish to have information about Turkey you do not go to the British Embassy. But in matters of Self-enquiry we do so all the time. We ask the not- Self about the Self and we investigate the image of the Absolute instead of realising that the Absolute is unimaginable. A Turk may have visited Britain and someone from Britain may have lived in Turkey, but thought and the thoughtless can never be reconciled in an idea or image. So it is not by changing thought and through holier behaviour that the Self is realised, but through the insight that no information whatsoever can be obtained by what body and senses perceive, by what thought says or by what feelings tell us: the Self is always the Self, whatever pranks body, senses or mind may play. Realising the Self occurs when we stop questioning the perceived and start listening to the Self. How? For it is clear that the Self, the Absolute Reality, can never become an object to which we might listen. So direct contemplation of the Self is out of the question.
But we may for instance direct our attention to what remains over when thoughts, feelings and sense-perceptions have disappeared. Only that, which is always here, is entitled to the name ‘I’. Thoughts and feelings and perceptions leave us as fast as they have come. Therefore, we can never be anything perceived. We are that which remains over when nothing is perceived but the Presence that we are, and in which all perceptions arise.
What happens in practice, is that when awareness is directed to the Self, it dissolves into the Self and awareness becomes aware of itself.
But it is essential, in one way or the other, that the answer to the question ‘Who am I’ is clearly seen on all levels: countless are the yogis who, by directing attention to awareness, got into all kinds of samadhi, and came out just as ignorant as they were before — and even more so. This is because it has not been shown to them that the ‘I’, the person, is nothing but a thought, an image which appears in Consciousness like a wave in water or a current of air in space. When the wave and the current have gone, water remains, space remains, quite unchanged, completely unaffected. Water has remained H2O and space has remained space.
To the yogi who has not seen this, the belief will cling that the ‘I’, the person, was in samadhi, and this is perhaps more dangerous than the other superstition that ‘I am an ignorant person.’ Many people, even amongst the world famous spiritual leaders of our time, got stuck up there, in India as in the West. They talk about growing still larger, reaching still higher states, having still purer love, and so on, and completely miss the point that anything which can change is a perceived something, and that we can never be defined as limited, by what is perceived within us. They talk about enjoying God’s love, failing to see that in love there is no ‘I’ to enjoy anything and that love is our real nature; that there, we are present as love, not as an ‘I’ that loves.
It seems so obvious, so evident, that “I love” and unfortunately “I hate”, also from time to time. The question “Who am I” helps us to get disentangled from the ever-soobvious. When we face this question, one day the trap will release us. But face it we must.
You as an ego are born afresh infinite times every day, but, there is no reality and no permanency in you, and only the telephone needs to ring to wipe out the I-thought or I-feeling; and indeed, in reality you do not exist other than as an “imaginary image” in your own head; in reality you were never born. . . to realise all that requires courage, and lots of it, if only because it goes straight against common sense and accepted truths and respectability. But what Sri Ramana Maharshi the radiant Master stands for is murder! What he wants is the death of you as a body and you as a mind. He or his words propagate the total disappearance of everything you call ‘I’ and at all levels. What we now call “my body” is a standpoint that must go. There is no such thing. What we now call “my thoughts, my feelings” must go. There is no such thing as ‘me’ or ‘mine’. And when the illusion of ‘me’ goes, that which we call a body now, will be seen as non-existent, unless in imagination; what we now call “my mind” will turn out to be non-existent, unless in imagination. Whose imagination? The ‘me’ is part of the imagined, just like the dreamer is part of the dream. When the dream disappears, so does the dreamer.
Yogis usually make a mistake when they try to kill thought by refusing it and clubbing it on the bead, the moment it appears. To them, thought is the enemy, and a very real one that must be fought. To other, equally unfortunate persons, the I-am-this-body is such an obstacle and such a situation of unhappiness, that they kill the body. What such misled people fail to see is that the real death they seek is the disappearance of the idea I-am-this-body and I-am-this-mind. When thought is seen as nothing but consciousness or clarity, as nothing but a little whirlpool of light, thought disappears and light remains. This is the real death that we seek, and the return to life as really is, ever now.
When it is seen that every perception, sensorial or mental, is nothing but a movement in consciousness, in light, then, from that moment on, every perception chants the glory of this Clarity, just as one can see a wave as a song of the sea. Of every hundred people who come to visit Ashrams and gurus, ninety-nine come to seek food for their imaginary ego. That is why so many frauds succeed in misleading many thousands of well-intentioned people. Such imposters hand out intellectual food and even the most authentic texts, and a pleasing atmosphere for feeling, and in exchange they humbly accept your dollars.
But Sri Ramana Maharshi has never given me anything. When I arrived, regarding myself as a poor man in need of help, he revealed to me that I was more than a millionaire, and the source of all things. Nor has Sri Ramana Maharshi asked anything from me — not even my love or respect. It was his mere presence that uncovered or unleashed in me what cannot be described by words such as love or respect; it went deeper than the deepest feeling. My meeting with him was in no way a matter of giving or receiving, even though for a long time I thought so (he had given me his love, I had given him my heart). It was the naked, radiant confrontation of illusion and truth, in which confrontation and illusion could not stand up. It was wiped away, but not because He wanted it. He wanted nothing, and accepted me as I was. He did not wish to change me, but he saw me as I really was — a whirlpool of light in an ocean of light.
Perhaps it was the radiant certainty that he was, that broke through my fears and desires and enabled me to let go of the desire to enrich an imaginary “me”. Does it mean something to you when I say that what he meant and means to me, is the mere fact, that he was what he was, and is what he is? This certainty made me face and later realize the ageless, timeless, unimaginable fact, so utterly simple — “I am what I am” — the Unthinkable.
A good deal more than half of the film reels called ‘my life’ have been projected. I do not know how many more are awaiting — but what does it matter? So far the film has shown the best and the worst; it has shown scenes of violence, death, war, blind hatred, sadness and utter despair. It has also shown scenes of tenderness, of exaltation, the sudden flash of insight when, suddenly for a moment, the screen remains white, and I am there, all along, onlooker a moment ago, something like “spaceness” now.
Here I sit, in the shadow of the temple, my back against its wall.
Opposite: blazing light.
Behind him: sand, coconut palms. A monkey walks behind him, just a few yards away, its baby clasping itself tight under its mother, and looking curiously into his direction from its safe, protected place. Squirrels running up and down the palms. An attendant moves a fan, to protect him from the heat.
Someone approaches, prostrates before him, and hands a bundle of incense sticks to one of the attendants, who lights them. A wave of scent floats through the stillness.
What does he mean to me? What does all this mean to me?
The question has now become absurd, really.
I look at him. He makes it clear that I am this stillness.
The stillness that he is, the stillness that I am, is the meaning of things. To find it, people do whatever they do, hoping that it will make them happy and lead them to this stillness that is the perfect equilibrium, deep unfathomable peace, fulfilment of everything, root of all joy where no desire can survive.
I am the meaning of all things, the stillness behind the pictures projected upon the screen. They all point to one thing — that I am their beholder and that their meaning derives from me. As long as there is the belief that ‘I am a person’, their meaning is fear and desire, pleasure and pain, the constant search for love. The moment it is revealed that I am all, the meaning changes. Love does not search for love. It recognizes it everywhere. This inmost meaning, not a thought and not a feeling, may yet be called love. That is what human beings are — love, in search of itself, a whirlpool of light in an ocean of light.
Deep, dreamless sleep is the dark, dark-blue stillness, the peace from which all things arise, the waking state, the dream. These states are what we call ‘all things.’ Once this is seen, the waking state-the world-is peace with form. When form dissolves, peace remains. But no ‘I’ to speak of. The ‘I’ is part of the states. When the states disappear, what we really are remains, nameless, I-less, formless, source of the universes that we call waking state or dream.
He called it the I-I, to make us understand.
It has no name, for in It, there is no-one to name it.
Words can only give a hint. Like — I am that I am.
The rest is Silence.
Article copyright © 1980 Sri Ramanasramam
Reprinted from Ramana Smrti: Sri Ramana Maharshi Birth Centenary Offering 1980. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanashramam, 1999. PDF file. Pages 60–69.
Photo courtesy Sri Ramanasramam.
Wolter Keers (1923–1985) was a Dutch teacher, author, and editor. He died in 1985.