First and foremost - the most common questions are:
Question - Is this some form of cult - do I have to leave home, family, work,
friends and Faith?
Answer - No
Question - How much is this going to cost me ?
Answer - Nothing, unless you choose to purchase media - that's up to you.
Question - In that case how do the Ramana Maharshi groups survive ?
Answer - On kindness, strictly voluntary donations and the sale of books etc.
All of the genuine groups have a core activity of meetings, meditation, worship, etc. which is supported by the strictly voluntary contributions of the devotees and the sale of the Publications of Sri Ramanasramam, photographs, prints and the two videos of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. The solicitation of donations whether direct, subtle or third-party is not only frowned upon but positively attacked by genuine devotees.
The basic rule is - if you are asked for money, then take a brisk walk in the opposite direction - find a genuine group instead.
The purpose of this page is to introduce those who are new to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, to the fundamentals of Advaita - the core teaching of Bhagavan Sri Ramana.
To assist the newcomer, I will keep things as simple as they can be and avoid ponderous and argumentative philosophical concepts wherever possible.
Happiness and the world
It is a fact that everyone in the world is seeking happiness, often unconsciously (whatever their concept of it is) - some may deny it, citing other pursuits instead, but no-one actively pursues misery, except in the mistaken belief that it is happiness. That the pursuit of this ideal is often unrecognised by those seeking it, must be accepted by us - it is nevertheless a fact - and happiness is given many names, satisfaction, excitement, thrill, good times etc. Its pursuit can take on the guise of drug and alcohol abuse, sexual pursuit, greed, lust for power, high ambition, steady employment, a family, good exam results etc. The list is in fact endless, but none of them lead to real abiding happiness, because no sooner is one objective fulfilled than another raises its head to spoil the fragment of happiness obtained. So what is the solution and how do we find this real and abiding happiness ? The clues are there for everyone to see, both in the world and within yourself, but most people miss them.
To test the above requires only a few moments of clear introspection. It is the mind which conjures up daydreams and we then take part in them, acting out in our mind-world the scenes we expect to take place in the material world, imagining all sorts of bliss arising from the fulfilment of our illusions. Soon we become convinced by the illusion and set out to give some concrete form to the dream. It might be a new car, a washing machine, a holiday in the sun, a new partner, money, anything in fact. But what is the real truth - most of the time our dreams are only dreams, coming to nothing but increased frustration. On the rare ocassions that they become a concrete fact, we find not our expected result of endless bliss, but a short period of exultation as the desire dies in the achievment of the object. For a short time we have a quiet mind and in that quiet we find happiness. It is not the object that generates happiness, because if it was, then happiness would continue as long as the object remained. We all know that such is not true and the more we get, the more we want and the less peace we have. This is common to all.
Change is the nature and engine of creation, and experience shows the impermanent nature of man's achievements in life, with death being the only certainty - a creeping certainty that most choose to ignore, but cannot, because we are surrounded by it. But then strangely, no-one actually believes that they are going to die and this is the first clue to real freedom.
In our pursuit of happiness, we know instinctively that we are not experiencing perfect happiness, but how do we know that unless we actually know what it is ? This is the second clue.
We are full of ambition and the desire to obtain more and more in life, but yet we see millionaires who in the majority are all misery (hidden behind arrogance), individuals who have to constantly flaunt their wealth and deride the poor in an effort to arouse envy and justify their existence. We see people in power who are generally corrupt, depraved and inexplicably cruel. We see people who find escape in the stupifying effects of alcohol and drugs etc. and yet on the other hand, we are mystified by people who appear happy and contented in the most deprived conditions, living lives of the utmost simplicity. Between the two we find the majority, who are troubled with ambition, dreams and disappointment, which, however much they try, never seem to fulfil the endless longing within. This is the third clue.
Finally, we see people of criminal and degraded nature attaining easy success in the world, seeming to be free from all moral and legal restraints, whilst those who are kind, good and gentle seem to suffer intolerable ills at the hands of the world. This is the fourth clue.
Philosophy, Religion and Advaita
The various brands of philosophy take many paths, but all seek to find meaning behind the myriad phenonema in the world and the meaning of life. Those that begin with the world often end with it, leading nowhere but to ponderous and often ridiculous ideas, endless thought and a steaming brain. Religions in their purest teaching deal with the spirit, the domain to which they should, but often don't restrict themselves. This leads to dilution and thereby corruption. Advaita (non-duality) is the purest of all philosophy, and unlike other doctrines, Advaita provides the means to obtain and make permanent the Proof and Truth of its teaching. This is no blind alley; neither is it intellectual gymnastics; it does not demand blind faith; it does not require a change of religion; it only requires effort.
Unlike other philosophies, religions and theoretical sciences, which start with the world and try to work backwards, Advaita deals with YOU who are the witness of all of this manifestation, YOU who are the thinker, YOU who are the seer, the philosopher, the faithful, the theoretician. Advaita deals with the one thing that all of the others forget, Advaita deals with the source of everything - YOU !
Advaita begins with the absolute truth, propounding the One Reality; it then offers intellectual proof, followed by the means to absolute proof and finally to Realisation - Being the Truth.
The Teaching in brief
The fundamental teaching is that we are the deathless spirit, eternal, free, never born, never dying - which is why we do not really believe we are going to die, even in the midst of death. It teaches that perfect unending happiness is our real nature - this alone is the reason we pursue it at any price - but our tendency is to seek it in the world through the mind and senses. It teaches that Desires (Vasanas - Samskaras) are the source of misery - which is why those who lead the simplest lives are the happiest. It teaches that all manifest life is ruled by the law of Karma (the law of cause and effect, known generally as the law of retribution, but is also of reward) - we reap the rewards and pay the penalty for our every act in successive lives - which is why evil sometimes seems to be rewarded and good punished.
All of the above we can prove for ourselves once our vision is clear and we begin to be honest. But is this enough ? The answer is no; it is not enough to think these things out. That does not bring happiness or solve problems. Advaita and specifically Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, teach the path of 'Self-enquiry', the route to proof and permanent freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth, to the ending of misery forever and to the realisation (becoming) of our true nature as the immortal Self (Being-Consciousness-Bliss).
It is not my place to teach, and ten words from Bhagavan produce more progress than a million from me, but the core teaching is thus - You are the immortal Self NOW and ALWAYS - you only believe the opposite - you are already eternal, pure consciousness and happiness - you only have to give up the lie to BE THE TRUTH.
To realise this you must practice whenever possible the inner search for your true identity - hold on to your awareness of YOU, excluding thought and at the same time longing with all of your power (but without strain or thought) to know 'Who am I?' [this is similar to trying to see something in the distance; your whole attention is focussed on the distant object and your mind is usually still - but in our case there is no distance and the eyes are not used, there is just the longing to know]. This is the practice, very simple and very straightforward - there are many aids to assist the progress of this practice, from prayer to meditation and concentration; it is up to the seeker to choose that which suits best; there are no fixed rules, but generally, anything which puts the raging bull of the mind under control is considered helpful, as is anything which helps to purify the mind. These matters are dealt with in the many books from Sri Ramanasramam, which are very lucid and very easy to follow.
Do not expect immediate results and do not run yourself down with doubts - progress cannot be measured by the mind which seeks to measure it (the uncontrollable mind is the enemy your are out to kill, so don't give it room to fight you). Progress is measured in the peace dividend that comes with practice (the mind comes under control and its power to torment wanes). There are subtle changes that take place in worldly matters also; quite often we find that obstacles vanish from our lives and everything that we have to do, not, want to do, becomes easier. This is because our efforts attract Grace and also because we stop interfering in matters - we begin to lose the curse of ambition and perform our duties in life because we have to.
Read whenever possible the publications of Sri Ramanasramam, the lives of the Saints and any uplifting Spiritual works. Do not become involved in the words, but absorb the meaning - at all costs avoid comparison and judgement, remember, everything in creation IS GOD, therefore everything has its purpose and place in His plan - not yours.
Most of all, have faith in in God, Bhagavan Ramana, in yourself - think only the best, expect only the best, aim only for the highest. No matter what comes to you in this life, know that it is for your improvement, and whatever you might think at the time, it will always turn out for the best - reflect on your life up to now and see the disasters that brought you to this point; this is the final step to absolute freedom, God has brought you here out of His love for you, and unlike the transitory world, everything you now do in the pursuit of Self-realisation is accumulated, nothing is ever lost - take this with caution also. If your efforts to destroy the ego-mind illusion are intense, ruthless and tenacious, you will realise the Self in this life - this is the promise of the Sages; if not in this life, then in the next. This is the promise and the fact - many have attained it and are still doing it.
In this introduction I have avoided saying too much about the Absolute Truth. Self-enquiry is called the 'Mountain Path' because it is the most direct route and steepest climb. There is no return from this path, you cannot enter upon it lightly and succeed. This path is only for those who seek permanent freedom from worldly things - it cannot be abused, nor used for profit. Do not enter it unless you are determined to give up all worldly ambition - falls from this path are usually disastrous except in the case of those whose determination to succeed is complete, in which case God's Grace intervenes to lift them back up after a suitable interval of recrimination - those who attempt to tread this path out of egotism and ambition will find only complete disaster attending their lives.
There are many other paths to God that go hand in hand with 'normal' life, all of them are preperatory to this path and are useful in purifying the seeker who remembers the above words. So if you do not feel you are ready for the mountain path, then take up one or more of the other disciplines first. If you are merely curious, then go somewhere else.
The concepts expressed above may be alien to the newcomer, and to alleviate this I set out below a simplified explanation of the terms used.
Self vs self - There is a widespread misconception that 'The Self' of an individual is to be discovered - that is, one self trying to discover another. This is of course ridiculous, because it would entail you having lost yourself in the first place in order to find yourself in the second. No-one is unaware of himself - you are and that is all that there is. There is also the false notion that Self-realisation can be transmitted - if this were so, then there would be no need for effort and the Jnani would have to be an Ajnani (ignorant) -- from the point of view of the genuine Jnani, there are no others, therefore who is to transmit what to whom ? This is the testimony of the true Sages.
Self-realisation - simply means 'remaining as your-Self', that is consciousness devoid of identity with form. This false identity with form is the result of thought and when thought stops (as in deep sleep) you remain as 'the Self', but in this case it is in ignorance. The purpose of 'Self-enquiry' is to stop thought consciously and to remain fully aware of your thought-free nature - to become absorbed in it, to be it permanently. This state is referred to as The Light, Pure Spirit, Being, Nirvana, Jnana, Self, Supreme Consciousness, Samadhi, Mukti and various other terms. It is not alien to anyone and every genuine 'Teacher of Humanity' has pinpointed this as the supreme goal.
God - It is fundamental to every faith that God is Supreme, the First, the Primal Cause, One and Only, One without a Second etc. and simple logic must lead to the conclusion that everything must come from the 'Primal Cause' - God - and is therefore God in substance and in Spirit. Christ taught 'I and my Father are One' - this is pure Advaita and its Sum, when read correctly.
It is commonplace for everyone to question the meaning and purpose of life - at least once during their lifetime - and even hardened materialists are prone to despair at the pointlessness of their pursuits, because no matter what they do they cannot prevent ageing, infirmity and death. Most people give it a little thought, get frightened and lose themselves in their ambitions and misery, taking what little pleasure comes their way and calling it happiness and progress. Everyone has an idea of 'the Spirit', many dismiss it because it cannot be proven, assuming that when the body dies you become something else and such an idea must be false - that idea IS false - but few go beyond that thought to its ultimate conclusion. Advaita, unlike other faiths or paths, takes you directly to the Source and is thus the ultimate of all paths.
There are no promises of Heaven and winged existence; there are none of the laughable promises of bodily resurrection for the rotting corpse; there are no promises of physical immortality; no promises of wealth and power; no promises of forgiveness for your every repeated sin; no promises of special treatment; no promises at all in fact - because promises and offers are for the mind and the body and are but more chains to drown you deeper in the ocean of suffering.
In the past, the earnest seeker had to join some mysterious organisation or other; endure all sorts of initiations and trials and be subjected to a lifetime of outer and inner investigation; all of this to find himself outside the door of the highest truth but unable to push it open. Advaita is no different in that it was forbidden to reveal the Highest Truth to the common man - for very good reason.
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi appeared on earth to open the otherwise closed Truth to all seekers - to revitalise and regenerate the path of 'Self-enquiry' (vichara), the very core of Advaitic Philosophy. His advent is no small occurrence in the history of humanity; Bhagavan Ramana was no ordinary guru, in fact He was not a teacher as such is understood, but was the 'Living Embodiment' of the Highest Truth. His entire life, every action, every word and every silence was pregnant with profound meaning; a glance from His lustrous eyes or a short time in His silent presence stilled the raging mind and gently thrust the aspiring devotee into the bliss of the highest state - many are those who have testified to such and even more who have simply remained silent. To His humble abode came royalty, philosophers, teachers, politicians, judges, spiritual leaders, writers (including Somerset Maugham), every kind of seeker and simple folk; there were also other Jnanis and Saints who came to pay homage to this unassuming Sage - someone asked these latter what the relationship (if any) was between Bhagavan Ramana and they - the answer came "He is the Sun and we are the rays" - this response is perhaps the most illuminating glimpse we can have of the True Glory of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.
To read of His life and that of those who stayed with Him, is to truly understand the meaning of Grace, to fully comprehend the brotherhood of all life, to begin to destroy that which for aeons has brought us misery in our lives - to walk the path to absolute freedom and unending bliss. This is the destiny of those who walk the path of vichara with determination and faith.
Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya.