As I have pointed out earlier, most of what is referred to as Ramana’s teaching comes from recorded talks or answers that he gave to visiting seekers. Not only were those answers aimed at the level of understanding of the questioner but the transcriptions were made by others, who may not entirely have understood the answers, and they have been translated from those transcriptions by others who may also not have been especially knowledgeable. The text known as ‘Guru Vachaka Kovai (The Garland of Guru’s Sayings)’ is a collection of his teachings recorded by Muruganar, who lived with Ramana for several years. Ramana is stated to have edited and added to the work so that we can assume it does not suffer to the same degree from those shortcomings (although it has been translated from Tamil).
In this work, Ramana specifically addressed the concept of ‘obstacles’ (pratibandha-s) in Chapter 22. It does read as though it applies mainly to the seeker rather than the j~nAnI but verse 620 refers to ‘reaching the destination’, which may then be construed as the entire ‘path’ through to final liberation (videha mukti):
“619. Just as a gem taken from a mine will not have full luster if it is not polished on the grindstone, so the real tapas, the sadhana which one is doing, will not shine well if it is not provided with trials and tribulations on its way.
620. For a big temple-chariot to go along the streets and safely reach its destination, not only the strong linchpins but also the obstructing blocks, which prevent it from dashing into anything by running to the sides of the streets, are indispensable.” (Ref. 204)
A later verse supports the notion that even a j~nAnI may have obstacles remaining after gaining Self-knowledge, assuming that ‘unless’ is the correct translation:
“830. Just as a fruit falls from the tree when ripe, so an aspirant will certainly renounce his family life like saltless gruel as soon as he becomes fully mature, unless his prArabdha interferes as an obstacle.”
One is bound to observe that some of what is said does not bear logical scrutiny. For example, regarding the continuing influence of prArabdha karma for the j~nAnI, there is the following verse, together with a comment by Ramana’s disciple Sadhu Om:
“554. All the karmas that one has seen that one has done in dream, will not give fruit in the waking state. Likewise, all the karmas done in this waking state by the deluded ego-sense will not give fruit in the state of Self-awakening.
Sadhu Om: This verse emphasizes that for a j~nAnI, none of the three karmas [agamya, sanchita or prArabdha] remain to be experienced.” (Ref. 204)
But these statements are demonstrably untrue. If one has a nightmare, one may easily wake up shaking and anxious, afraid to go out of the room. And the very fact that a j~nAnI does not drop dead on gaining Self-knowledge, shows that prArabdha must continue (as defined and understood by the teaching of Advaita).
The later verse: “698. Know that prArabdha which, like a whirlwind, unfailingly whirls round and round the mind which takes the body as ‘I’, cannot even in the least stir the mind which knows itself and which shines as the pure space of consciousness” does not show that prArabdha does not exist (as stated by Sadhu Om: “The import of this verse is that there is no prArabdha for the j~nAnI”) but rather that the j~nAnI’s mind is not perturbed by the situations that manifest as a result of prArabdha.
In verse 830, Ramana explicitly indicates the possibility of obstacles:
“830. Just as a fruit falls from the tree when ripe, so an aspirant will certainly renounce his family life like saltless gruel as soon as he becomes fully mature, unless his prArabdha interferes as an obstacle.” (Ref. 204)
And later, when talking about the behavior of the ‘liberated one’, Ramana acknowledges the possibility of ‘pleasure and pain’ but states that they are not ‘suffering’ – i.e. in accordance with the suggested ‘definition’ of pratibandha earlier:
“1135-1136. Though their doership has been destroyed, is it proper to call those who are wearing a body, who are eating [making a living] by other activities and who are doing actions [karma-bandha] ‘a liberated one’? We also see that, being victims to the allotted karma [i.e. to their prArabdha karma], even those Great Ones suffer, [so how can it be said that they are free from the experience of pleasure and pain, which are the results of action?]” If it be asked thus, [the reply is that] their sufferings are merely according to the outlook [dRRiShTi] of the onlookers [the aj~nAnI-s]; tell me, do they [the jIvanmukta-s] say that they are suffering?” (Ref. 204)
Sadhu Om continues to insist: “Having transcended the dyad of pleasure and pain, He is both a non-doer [akartA] and a non-experiencer [abhoktA]. Thus, for the j~nAnI none of the three karmas [AgAmi, saMchita and prArabdha] exist even in the least.” In an attempt to explain why the scriptures state otherwise, he says: “Thus, when some scriptures say that AgAmi and saMchita are destroyed and that prArabdha alone will remain for the j~nAnI, their saying so is to be understood as a mere formality [upachAra] and should not be taken to be the actual truth.” (Ref. 204)
This is not acceptable. Nothing of what the scriptures say is the ‘actual truth’; Advaita uses adhyAropa-apavAda as explained elsewhere. That prArabdha remains for the j~nAnI is an aspect of that teaching. It is not at all obvious what ‘a mere formality’ might mean. (In fact, upachAra means ‘figurative’ or ‘metaphorical expression’ according to Monier-Williams, but this does not make sense either.)
Ramana goes on to state that the jIvanmukta has transcended prArabdha by virtue of his effective dissociation from the body: “1146. To the body, which was born because of prArabdha, that prArabdha will never fail [to give fruit]. [But] the JIvanmukta, who has separated Himself [from the body] by severing the chit-jaDa-granthi, has transcended prArabdha itself.” By ‘severing’ the knot between Consciousness and (inert) matter, one assumes that he meant the final ‘destruction’ of pratibandha-s.
Finally, in verse 1147, regarding the apparently continuing physical body after gaining Self-knowledge, Ramana asks who it is who sees this body. And Sadhu Om says that the physical body of the j~nAnI ceases to exist in the same way that the dream body ceases when we wake up! He concludes: “Thus the body of the j~nAnI seems to exist only in the outlook of aj~nAnI-s, who are themselves completely non-existent in His outlook. Therefore, it is meaningless to say that the body of a j~nAnI is still living.” (Ref. 104) How one can take the continuation of prArabdha as figurative and yet believe that the body literally ceases to exist is beyond me!
None of this correlates with recorded statements elsewhere. In the ‘Talks’, for example (talk 30) discussing siddhi-s, Ramana is pointing out that thinking is inconsistent with realization. The questioner suggests that those with ‘advanced wisdom’ might be invisible. Ramana says that, if this were true, all those who continue to be seen by others must be ignorant. The exchange continues:
“D.: But the sages Vasishta and Valmiki possessed such powers?
M.: It might have been their fate (prArabdha) to develop such powers (siddhi-s) side by side with their wisdom (j~nAna).” and he asks: “Does the sage (j~nAnI) feel oppressed by his body being visible?” (Ref. 115)
It seems clear to me that, as I have suggested earlier, anything that Ramana says has to be assumed to be appropriate to the questioner’s level of understanding; it is not to be taken as an absolute indication of his fundamental belief. And this is why a seeker should be basing his or her understanding on a systematic progression by a qualified teacher and not on statements from independent teachers taken out of context, no matter how good that teacher might be or have been.
Elsewhere, Ramana equates prArabdha with predestination. In answer to a question relating to this, he acknowledges that even trivial events are destined to happen to a person even before that person is born. This would apply even to the j~nAnI, the difference being that the j~nAnI no longer identifies with the body, knowing that who-he-really-is does not act or enjoy. (Free will be discussed in Vol. 2.) But he clearly states in Ref. 205 that “the truth is the jnani has transcended all karmas, including the prArabdha karma, and he is not bound by the body or its karmas.”
Finally, Ramana explicitly does not recognize any ‘different categories’ of liberation. He says: “There are no different types or kinds of Mukti and no degrees of it. Either there is Mukti or there is not. Differences observed by others refer only to the mode of action or manifestation of a jIvanmukta dictated by his prArabdha. Therefore Mukti cannot be gradually built up. It dawns as a sudden illumination.” (Ref. 209)
I have included a heading here but no relevant text. I was unable to locate anything that he said on this topic. Indeed, he did not appear to use any of the specialized Advaita terms at all, although this may be the result of omission on the part of translators.