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.