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Thursday, December 25, 2014

“Who am I? Swami” – on ultimate reality



(Continued from previous post)

Knowing the ultimate reality has always been the quest of all intellectuals from time immemorial. Each philosopher has his/her own version of this reality. What does Ramana have to say about this ultimate reality?

Ramana’s often repeated assertion is that in the ultimate sense this world does not exist!  What we perceive as world around us is “just a creation of the mind” and as such it actually does not exist!

Ramana gives the example of deep sleep when we are totally unaware of any world around us though we know that we exist. The world “appears” only when we wake up from our sleep and our mind once again starts functioning. Similarly, in samädhi - deep state of meditation (when the mind has stopped functioning), once again the world disappears. The obvious conclusion of Ramana is that world exists only when the mind functions. Or in other words, it is the creation of the mind.

People who are familiar with ancient Indian philosophy at once recognize similarity of this view with that of Vijñänavädi Buddhists, or the philosophy of Gaudapäda – grand Guru of well known Advaita proponent Sankara.

In my book “Some important missing dimensions in our current understanding of the mind”, I have discussed in detail how Gaudapäda puts forth his argument and even claims support from Upanishads. In that book, I have also discussed how Sankara later disagrees with this theory, and ridicules the Vijñänavädis in his commentary on Brahma sutra – one of most important ancient texts on Veda.

One of the readers of my book strongly objected to my view that Sankara disagrees with this theory even though I had quoted profusely from Sankara’s commentary. This reader felt that it is “a commonly accepted fact that Sankara propagated the same philosophy put forth by Gaudapäda”.

It is interesting that one of the visitors to Ramana points out this fact (that Sankara has refuted this view in his commentary), Ramana refuses to change his view and continues to say that world is only a creation of the mind and it does not exist!

I wonder whether the words in the Brahma sutra commentary attributed to Sankara were introduced later by his followers to escape from the allegation that this view is borrowed from the Buddhists. Since Ramana quotes heavily from Yoga Vasista – a supposedly 10th century composition (which was believed to have been continuously modified till 18th century), is it likely that  Yoga vasista was composed based on Sankara’s original views which were modified later on by his followers ? – I am only trying to hazard a guess.

On my part, I find it difficult to accept Ramana’s/Gaudapäda’s views on this since I feel

1. Upanishads don’t support this view as Gaudapäda tries to show.
2. Sankara’s views expressed in the Brahma sutra commentary are genuine unless proven otherwise.
3. It is possible to logically show that the deep sleep analogy given by Ramana, or the dream analogy given by Gaudapäda are not foolproof.
4. It does not make any sense to have any discussion or enquiry if the entire thing is only nonexistent.

I have discussed all these issues in my book mentioned above. As always, my intention is not to show that all these great men were wrong, but to question till satisfactory answers are got.

Friday, December 19, 2014

"Who am I? Swami" – on paths to salvation



(Continued from previous post)
As the name with which he is well known suggests, Ramana’s emphasis had always been the path of enquiry, namely “who am I?”. But in general he suggests four paths.
1. Path of enquiry
2. Path of devotion
3. Path of Yoga
4. Path of Hatayoga
In all these paths Ramana says that the underlying principle is the same – stopping the mind and its activities. But Ramana hastens to add that stoppage of the mind does not mean complete stoppage. The awareness has to continue even after stoppage of other mental activities. Otherwise, he points out, a person in deep sleep, a person who is in coma, or a person who is unconscious in general, would all have attained salvation! In none of these cases the awareness persists though the mental activities have stopped. 

This is yet another point I have discussed in my book “How and why of Yoga and Meditation”, where I have equated “awareness” to the activity of the “attention system” in the brain. This system should not be shutdown but should be in a highly active (while most of the cortical activities have stopped) state to attain self realization.

Let me briefly discuss the four paths suggested by Ramana.

1.Path of enquiry
This is Ramana’s pet path. Ramana says that when someone constantly indulges in the enquiry – “Who am I?” all other thoughts in his mind gradually stop and he will reach a stage of samädhi. This is when the ultimate self realization is attained and according to Ramana, that is the direct path to salvation.

2.Path of devotion
In this path, Ramana says that one focuses his mind on an external object such as God, Guru and so on, and expresses devotion to that object. Though Ramana disapproves the existence of separate God or Guru (Ramana believes in just the soul and nothing else), he says that in the initial stages such devotion helps one to stop mental activities since the mind is repeatedly focused on God or Guru. But gradually this focus turns inward and finally leads to self realization where he realizes that “He” himself is both the God and Guru.

This is yet another point where there is amazing similarity between Ramana’s views and what I have discussed about devotional singing in my book “How and why of Yoga and Meditation”.

3. Path of Yoga
By Yoga, Ramana means the Yoga system laid down by Patanjali and not what we know today as Yoga. Ramana fully agrees with Patanjali’s definition of Yoga as “Yoga is about restraining the activities of the mind”. And the process naturally leads to samädhi and ultimate self realization.

4. Path of Hatayoga
Today, most people take the words Yoga and Hatayoga as if they are synonymous. But not Ramana. All through his conversations Ramana directly or indirectly makes light comments about Hatayoga, though he repeatedly says that he does not wish to criticize any path. The first post in this series namely “Who am I? Swami – on Hatayoga” says it all.

Another strange recent development is - equating Yoga postures or asanas to Yoga, though originally Patanjali talks about none of the asanas propagated by modern Yoga teachers. On several occasions when people ask Ramana about his opinion about asana, Ramana intentionally or unintentionally evades direct answer. Sometimes he uses the word asana to mean meditative postures such as the lotus posture and says that they are useful during meditation or while doing Pränäyäma. Sometimes he uses the word asana to mean just the seat (in Sanskrit language that is what it means) on which a person sits during meditation, and says that whether it has to be on a deer skin, layer of kusha grass etc. (these are the seats some Yoga teachers recommend), is immaterial. He talks lightly about strange explanation given by these teachers for the use of a particular type of seat.

Ramana’s final word about Hatayoga is that - those who cannot follow the first 3 paths probably get benefited by Hatayoga, though he repeatedly says that it is a roundabout path which has to ultimately lead to the first three paths!

Though I have tried to show that there is not much of support for asanas (as they are known today) in ancient texts, I have discussed some proven health benefits of these asanas in my book. I have also discussed the possible reasons for the same.

More in the next post.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Free e-books in PDF format

You can now download some of my free e-books (in PDF format) by clicking the "Free books" link on the right side column of my blog. As always please give your feedback and comments on that page.

Thanks.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Who am I? Swami – on Pränäyäma



(Continued from previous post)
Pränäyäma or Yogic breathing is considered to be one of the important aspects of Yoga practice. Modern Yoga teachers give mysterious explanations about how it works. For example, in one of the interviews the renowned Yoga teacher B.K.S Iyangar says something like this.

“Pränäyäma is not just breathing in and out. It is directing the subtle and invisible energy called Prana (life force) through the nostrils in such a way that it hits against a specific nerve centre”

Most modern Yoga teachers give similar explanations about this important Yoga technique. But none explain it logically nor give exact references supporting their statements. And you don't find these in Yoga Sutra of Patanjali either.

Here is what Ramana has to say about Pränäyäma.

“If life is imperiled the whole interest centers round the one point, the saving of life. If the breath is held the mind cannot afford to (and does not) jump at its pets - external objects. Thus there is rest for the mind so long as the breath is held. All attention being turned on breath or its regulation, other interests are lost……..The mind improves by practice and becomes finer just as the razor’s edge is sharpened by stropping.”

Interestingly, I gave a very similar explanation about Pränäyäma in my book “How and Why of Yoga and Meditation”. I was a bit nervous at that time since my views differ from popular beliefs and there was always a chance of someone getting offended. I was not trying to show that popular beliefs are wrong. My intention was to separate logically explainable parts from the apparently mysterious practices so that we can make progress. And now, after reading Ramana, I feel lot at ease!(thanks to the reader who sent me the book on Ramana)

More in the next post.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Who am I? Swami – on Hata Yoga


You probably have read about this spiritual man from southern India, made well known in the west by Paul Brunton  through his  book “Search in secret India”. His actual name was Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950). He acquired the name “who am I? swami” since he used to advise people who came to him to enquire who they really are. According to him this was the most direct route to ultimate realization or rather removal of ignorance.
Recently someone sent me a book (actually a compilation of conversation with the swami) which the sender said has lot in common with some of the statements I have made in some of my books on Yoga. Actually, I had never read about Ramana before, except the one by Brunton. So I was curious. This book with more than 700 pages had many statements by Ramana about Yoga. These statements were markedly contradictory to what is popularly known about Yoga today and the statements made by several well known modern Yoga teachers. Here is one snippet.

“They (the Hata yogis) think that after purifying the 72,000 nadis in the body, sushumna is entered and the mind passes up to the sahasrara and there is nectar trickling.

These are all mental concepts. The man is already overwhelmed by world concepts. Other concepts are now added in the shape of this Yoga. The object of all these is to rid the man of concepts and to make him inhere as the pure Self - i.e., absolute consciousness, bereft of thoughts! Why not go straight to it? Why add new encumbrances to the already existing ones?”

More in the next post.