Bhagavan’s mouna upadesa

Neo-traditional Vedantins are fond of claiming Bhagavan Ramana as their own, and acknowledge him as a great saint.  However they are conflicted because his teaching is diametrically opposite to what they say.

He says scriptures are fine, but need to be left behind, and self-abidance / enquiry should be pursued in order to permanently dissolve the ego.  This cannot be done by simply adding scriptural concepts, such as “I am Brahman”

The neo-traditionalists say scriptural knowledge is the only means to jnana, that teaching cannot be done in silence, and that “who am I”, self-enquiry can in no way be a means to jnana.  And they do not accept that the mind / ego can die.  Some also go on to say that Bhagavan’s primary teaching was not who am I, and that he has been mis-interpreted; and also that we was not interested in teaching, and that was why he remained in silence.

So lets consolidate what Bhagavan himself said about these issues.

First, on the point of his interest in teaching, take the following dialogue when he was asked why he does not go around teaching:

M.: How do you know that I am not doing it? Does preaching consist in mounting a platform and haranguing to the people around? Preaching is simple communication of knowledge. It may be done in Silence too.

What do you think of a man listening to a harangue for an hour and going away without being impressed by it so as to change his life? Compare him with another who sits in a holy presence and leaves after some time with his outlook on life totally changed. Which is better: To preach loudly without effect or to sit silently sending forth intuitive forces to play on others?
(Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no 285)

Second, on the point of teaching in silence, consider what he wrote in his poem Aksharamanamalai:

v.36: Arunachala you did not say the words, ‘Do not speak, just be still’, but communicating through the posture of divine silence you remained still, speech and breadth both in abeyance.

v.37: The bliss of the Self shines within the Heart in its own nature when one remains silent, completely indifferent to external phenomena, and entirely free of the mischievous movements of the body, speech and mind, which arise from the aggressive ego. If I remain there peacefully experiencing that bliss in unsleeping sleep, (is that not the supreme path?) If there is any path other than this, you may in grace let me know of it.

Murugunar comments: This mouna upadesa that Aunachala conveys to those like Bhagavan who have attained the highest degree of spiritual maturity, dwelling within as the awareness that underlies their own consciousness, in order that they may truly avail themselves of that teaching. This indeed is the method of instruction that Dakshinamurti employed with Sanaka and the rest of the rishis. Other than mouna, there is no other means to truly know or impart knowledge of the infinitely subtle supreme Reality, which is beyond word and thought. The aim of the guru in remaining still is to instruct his disciples to – cause them to- remain like himself in their natural state.

Third, as to the efficacy of his mouna upadesha, one need look no further than to comments made by Swami Chinmayanada (who was the guru of many of these neo-traditionalists):

“At the Ashram I was told that the Maharshi was in the hall and anybody was free to walk in and see him. As I entered, I saw on the couch an elderly man, wearing but a loincloth, reclining against a round boster. I sat down at the very foot of the couch. The Maharshi suddenly opened his eyes and looked straight into mine. I looked into his. A mere look, that was all. I felt that the Maharshi was, in that split moment, looking deep into me – and I was sure that he saw all my shallowness, confusions, faithlessness, imperfections and fears.
I cannot explain what happened in that one split moment. I felt opened, cleaned, healed and emptied! A whirl of confusions, my atheism dropping away, but scepticism flooding into question, wonder, and search. My reason gave me strength and I said to myself, “It is all mesmerism, my own foolishness.”. Thus assuring myself, I got up and walked away.

“But the boy who left the hall was not the boy who had gone in some ten minutes before. After my college days, my polical work, and after my years of stay at Uttarkashi at the feet of my master, Tapovanam, I know that what I gained on the Ganges banks was that which had been given to me years before by the saint of Tiruvannamalai on that hot summer day – by a mere look.

“Sri Ramana is not a theme for discussion; he is an experience, he is a state of consciousness. Sri Ramana was the highest reality and the cream of all the scriptures in the world. He was there for all to see how a master can live in perfect detachment. Though in the mortal form, he lived as the beauty and purity of the infinite”

Finally, on the primacy and efficacy of his self-enquiry – who am I – teaching, one only need recollect that the first prose that Bhagavan wrote was an essay he entitled Nan Yar (Tamil for Who am I?). It is true that these were initially notes taken by a disciple of responses that Bhagavan have given to his questions.  However Bhagavan later took these and personally re-wrote them in prose form.  In paragraph 11, he says:

As long as viṣaya-vāsanās exist in the mind, so long the investigation who am I is necessary. As and when thoughts arise, then and there it is necessary to annihilate them all by vicāraṇā [investigation or vigilant self-attentiveness] in the very place from which they arise. Being without attending to [anything] other [than oneself] is vairāgya[dispassion] or nirāśā [desirelessness]; being without leaving [separating from or letting go of] self is jñāna [true knowledge]. In truth [these] two [desirelessness and true knowledge] are only one. Just as a pearl-diver, tying a stone to his waist and submerging, picks up a pearl which lies in the bottom of the ocean, so each person, submerging [beneath the surface activity of their mind] and sinking [deep] within themself with vairāgya [freedom from desire to experience anything other than self], can attain the pearl of self. If one clings fast to uninterrupted svarūpa-smaraṇa[self-remembrance] until one attains svarūpa [one’s own essential self], that alone [will be] sufficient. So long as enemies are within the fort, they will continue coming out from it. If [one] continues cutting down [or destroying] all of them as and when they come, the fort will [eventually] come into [one’s] possession”

In Upadesa Saram Bhagavan writes:

v.16: The mind knowing its own form of light (its true form of mere Consciousness, the real Self), having given up (knowing) external objects, alone is true knowledge.

v.17: When one scrutinises the form of the mind without forgetfulness (i.e. without pramada, slackness of attention), (it will be found that) there is no such thing as mind; this is the direct path for all.

In Ulladu Narpadu (the original Tamil version of Sad Darshanam) he writes:

v.29: Without mouthing aloud ‘I’, but diving deep into the Heart and seeking the place from where the consciousness as ‘I’ rises, is the direct path of winning the awareness of the real Self. But the mere contemplation, ‘This body I am not; that Brahman am I’, no doubt is helpful as an auxiliary tool to that direct path, but can that, by itself, be the direct means, namely the quest of the Self?

So, whether you agree with it or not, Bhagavan’s teaching was diametrically different from that of the neo-traditional school.  It is worth understanding and digesting in its own right.


12 thoughts on “Bhagavan’s mouna upadesa

  1. A very good Post.

    Thank you, Venkat for excerpting the salient points from Ramana’s teaching.

    An acid test for a true Teacher is whether the guy is interested in building an empire (by whatever name) and encourages (overtly or covertly) people to worship his smelly clay feet OR delivers the True message directly to the “heart” in Silence, by example, or through a word without humdrum harangues and in all simplicity.


  2. One does not need elaborate analysis to see that Baghavan saw little use for scriptures. There are many direct statements. ‘No learning or knowledge of scriptures is necessary to know the Self’. ‘All knowledge is required only to be given up as non Self’. ‘The Self cannot be found in books. You have to find it for yourself, in yourself’. Apart from Krishnamurti (who came later) nobody in recent history has made this so abundantly clear. Yet the traditionalists will keep trying to give their own interpretation of Bhagavan’s teachings. Their goal is to absorb Bhagavan as another traditional teacher in a few centuries. This has been done to other masters in human history. It is neither new nor surprising.

  3. Unfortunately, I have been on holiday whilst this exchange has been taking place but clearly something needs to be said to clarify the situation. It is clear to anyone exercising reason that no Self-knowledge can be transmitted by one who remains silent. Anyone who thinks otherwise should go look for a blog on siddhi-s or parapsychology! The key to understanding what is happening lies with this quotation from an earlier thread:

    “Siva appeared before them sitting under the sacred banyan tree. Being yogiraja should He practise yoga? He went into samadhi as He sat; He was in Perfect Repose. Silence prevailed. They saw Him. The effect was immediate. They fell into samadhi and their doubts were at an end.
    Silence is the true upadesa. It is the perfect upadesa. It is suited only for the most advanced seeker. The others are unable to draw full inspiration from it. Therefore they require words to explain the Truth. But Truth is beyond words. It does not admit of explanation.
    (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 569)”

    And the key sentence here is: ” It is suited only for the most advanced seeker.”

    I suggest that the ONLY situation in which the silence of the teacher might be of value is when the seeker has already acquired the Self-knowledge earlier (through shravaNa) and removed any doubts by questioning the teacher (manana). What is now needed is to reflect upon it in order fully to assimilate it (nididhyAsana). Maybe he/she asks a further question and the teacher remains silent, as if to say “You already know all that you need to know – think about it”. Prompted by this, the seeker meditates upon it for a while and realization dawns.

    The silence ALLOWED the realization to take place; it did not CAUSE it. Only Self-knowledge can remove Self-ignorance. And this is conveyed through speech, not silence.

  4. Paradoxes! Even Ramana had to use words in order to explain that silence is the perfect upadesa. Had he lived his entire life without saying a word, how many would have heard of him?
    It also raises the question of who is really an advanced seeker? Somebody who has mastered various philosophies? Somebody who has read all the scriptures and reproduces them at will? One who has done puja, japaetc throught life? One who is capable of hundreds of yoga postures? One who has developed advanced psychic powers? Granted the world generally accepts as a master one who falls in some of those categories. But is that what Ramana is saying? Then who is an advanced seeker? Some of us may feel we are advanced sekers. Or at least more advanced than we were 10 or 20 years ago. Just food for thought.

  5. Who is an advanced seeker? I would posit one who has come to understand WHY silence is the perfect upadesa.

    • That only shifts the question to what is understanding? Is it the result of an intellectual conclusion arrived at by some logical analysis by the mind? Is that all? In that case, my feeling (I may be off here) is that some here on this forum would be considered as advanced seekers. But I seriously doubt whether that was what Ramana meant by the word.

  6. Raising and answering questions like ‘what is an advanced seeker’ is only an intellectual exercise. It is another way to get caught up in conceptualizing all that one has read and heard on the subject. What value is there in doing that? I don’t think an advanced seeker thinks in those terms any longer. LOL. Putting to rest all those ‘what ifs’ and ‘imaginings’ about what it would be like to be in another state is over. All that analysis and inner dialogue about this and that has been put aside. All those worries about ‘me’ and ‘mine’. All that desiring and grasping, greed and loathing, reduced to a whisper. Those sound like earmarks for someone who has understood something of their nature. It’s a switch out of ego based action. They are changed deeply.

    • It is a valid question when people quote somebody like Ramana where he talks about different levels of seekers. What exactly does it mean to the poster and what is he trying to communicate to others?
      Your characterization seems to indicate somebody who is liberated. Since ego based action has ended. But it seems to me that an advanced seeker is yet to be liberated. At least, that is the sense I got from the original post that stated ‘silence is the perfect upadesa suited for the most advanced seeker’. One can also look at Ramana’s statement differently, that for most people silence is NOT appropriate as upadesa. No wonder enormous explanations and examples are needed.

  7. Perhaps the ending of ego based action is not the same as liberation. It may appear that it is a ‘giant-step forward’, but not the end of the story. If you’ve ever read any of the Buddhist teachings about the 4 stages of enlightenment, the Buddha explains what takes place at each stage. The 1st stage is Entering the Stream. This sets the foundation for everything else. Someone who is a ‘Stream Enterer’ is not fully liberated.

    I use this as an example as there are people who have had deep realizations and are changed significantly, but not to the point of total liberation. The habits of mind are deeper in some than others. The real work begins with entering the stream. Before this, it is all intellectual. Zen practitioners equate this with satori or kensho. They call it ‘partial realization’. Your perspective changes as your glimpse into your own nature deepens.

    The whole idea of seeking is called into question. What happened to Ramana, Nisargadatta, and UG, were a kind of ‘death’ where any psychological identification with a self was lost. This is beyond ‘ego-death’, and is a literal physical transformation where no return to psychological suffering can recur.

    In any case, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks (about this subject). It is not going to change anyone significantly. The only problem is you and its demands.

  8. Yes, all religious traditions speak of several stages. There are three stages of seekers in Hinduism as well if I understand correctly. But as stated earlier I find a common misconception that equates these stages with theoretical knowledge. However, liberation is indeed taken to be ‘Mano-nasa’ or destruction of the ego/mind in Hinduism. The ego is limitation and the ending of limitation is freedom. So I am a skeptic when it comes to concepts like partial realization. Even a small ego is limitation or bondage if you prefer Christian vocabulary. I don’t wish to comment on UG or other personalities.

  9. I can never know what it is that Anon or twopaisa are experiencing. Ditto you can never know, with any certainty what I am experiencing, or indeed what Nisargadatta, Ramana or UG went through. One can only make assumptions and assertions, based on words that are heard / written. At the end of the day, whether you subscribe to eka jiva vada or not, you are alone in “your own” existence / consciousness. That is your only experience. The words of Shankara, Nisargadatta and Ramana can serve as pointers – the rest is up to you. But there is no ‘you’ so it is out of your hands, a matter of grace as Kathapanishad puts it.

    Trying to opine on whether others are advanced or not is pointless measurement, the antithesis of eliminating the ego. You can only be responsible for yourself in this matter of who/what am I.

    In an event physical death puts an end to it, and is the great leveller (whether immature or advanced).

  10. Quite right. One cannot understand the experience of the liberated whoever or whatever it may be. But the rest do live a very similar life, a mix of desires, anxieties, relationships etc etc. So the drive to find a way out of this mess is understandably strong. Theories and vadas offer some temporary solace. From seeing all this that millions go through all over the world, one can see that true individuality does not exist even at this level. But the ego/mess does exist. The ‘you does not exist’ theory may be true only for a liberated person who wrote the Upanishads. One must be clear from which standpoint we are discussing. Theory or daily living, absolute or relative, liberated or limited.

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