Alan Jacobs (9th Sept 1929 – 25th July 2020)

(Photo by Paula Marvelly)

Alan Jacobs, President of the Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK, died last month. Well-known and respected in the Advaita community, he was the author of nearly 30 spiritually-related books, from a contemporary, free-verse rendering of the Bhagavad Gita to a compilation of material from Ramesh Balsekar.

I only met Alan a couple of times so am not qualified to write any eulogy. I will leave that to Paula Marvelly, who knew him for many years. I can however, agree entirely with her summary: “Alan was the quintessential English man of letters and a perfect gentleman. I shall always have an enduring image of him sporting a Panama hat, cravat and cane, with a cup of tea near to hand”. Continue reading

pratibandha-s – part 9 of 10

Read Part 8

Ramana Maharshi

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) Continue reading

Enlightenment – akhaNDAkAra

The word akhaNDAkAra means ‘form of the whole’. AkAra means ‘form, shape, appearance’; akhaNDa means ‘entire, whole’ (a means ‘not’, khaNDa means ‘broken, deficient, fragmented’). So, what happens on enlightenment is that the previous mental disposition of believing ourselves to be separate and limited is replaced by the realization that we are the unlimited whole – brahman.

This realization takes place in the mind of a person at a moment in time but the irony is that, once it has occurred, it is then known that who-we-really-are is timeless and mindless.

Swami Paramarthananda tells a story about a game he used to play as a child. He and his friends would take a child into a room that was entirely empty and they would place pillows about the room and stand the child up against one wall. He was told to memorize the positions of the pillows and then they blindfolded him. He was then told that he had to cross the room to the other wall without touching any of the pillows. The other children then watched as he very carefully edged his way forward. Whenever they laughed, he would retreat and move sideways before trying again. Eventually he reached the other wall and was allowed to remove the blindfold. He then discovered that all of the pillows had been removed before he began and that he had been moving across an empty floor trying to avoid non-existent objects. Continue reading

‘I’ is a Door

Philip Renard appears in the ‘Teacher Lineage’ charts in Advaita Vision under Nisargadatta Maharaj but he has also been significantly influenced by both Ramana Maharshi and Atmananda Krishna Menon. In his first English language book, Philip writes about Advaita as communicated by all of these modern sages.

An extract from the book (about Atmananda) can be read here.

I have not yet read the book, which has just been published. It has a chapter devoted to each teacher, followed by a summary chapter, short biographies, extensive ‘Notes’ and bibliography.

It is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats:
Paperback: Buy from Amazon US ($14.00) Buy from Amazon UK (£11.00)
Kindle: Buy from Amazon US ($6.06) Buy from Amazon UK (£4.59)

Knot of the Heart

I first encountered this term many years ago in discussions on the Internet with people who were influenced by Ramana Maharshi. The context was that, in order to attain enlightenment, it was not simply to do with gaining knowledge, or some key experience, but to do with breaking down some sort of emotional or psychological barrier. Maybe this is a peculiarly Western problem, whereby anything to do with the heart is equated to emotions. At any rate, the concept did not ring true for me at the time!

Also, prior to this, I had encountered the concept of the self or Atman living in the ‘cave of the heart’. This is an ambiguous and unhelpful phrase, if ever I heard one! If you read my review on the Mundaka Upanishad, you will have seen that I addressed this particular concept. As far as the literal idea is concerned, it is the vishiShTAdvaitins who believe this. They claim that the jIvAtman is aNu parimANa – atomic in size, as opposed to vibhU parimANa – all pervasive. (Note that the word parimANa should not be confused with pariNAma, meaning ‘transformation’, or pramANa, meaning source of knowledge!) Their idea is that the jIvAtman is minute and occupies a tiny space in the body, with its attribute of consciousness somehow radiating out to all parts of the body. There are many jIvAtman-s and only one paramAtman. Needless to say, these ideas are systematically refuted by Vyasa and Shankara. Continue reading

Birth and Death

One of the most startling passages that I encountered when I first began to study advaita was that in chapter 2 of the Bhagavad-Gita in which Arjuna bemoans the fact that he is expected to kill his teachers and relatives. Krishna responds with the following amazing statement (II.19 – II.20): “He who thinks that the spirit kills, and he who thinks of it is killed, are both ignorant. The spirit kills not, nor is it killed. It was not born; it will never die: nor once having been, can it ever cease to be: unborn, eternal, ever enduring, yet most ancient, the spirit dies not when the body is dead.” (Ref. 1)

Needless to say, the idea of death is one that disturbs most people. Indeed, it is probably the most feared event for the vast majority whether or not they believe that it signifies the literal end of their existence. Life appears to have the profile of a hill. We start at the bottom; slowly we begin to make an impression on life, ‘making a name for ourselves’, acquiring all of those things that are considered to make life significant – job, spouse, peer recognition, house and money etc. And then, there comes a time when we feel that we have achieved all that we are going to achieve. Ambitions cease; physical and mental capabilities decrease; ailments become more frequent; there is a gradual slide into physical decay and ultimate death. As Macbeth puts it so depressingly:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.

Or, as Jaques puts it in ‘As You Like It’:

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Continue reading

Ego – Shadow

The ego cannot be subjugated by one that takes it to be real. It is just like one’s own shadow. Imagine a man who does not know the truth of his shadow. He sees it following him persistently, and wants to get rid of it. He tries to run away from it, but it still follows him. He digs a deep pit and tries to bury it, filling up the pit; but the shadow comes to the top and again follows him. He can get rid of it only by looking away from it, at himself, the original of the shadow. Then the shadow will not worry him. The seekers of Deliverance are like the man in this parable. They fail to see that the ego is but a shadow of the Self. What they have to do is to turn away from it, towards the Self, of which it is the shadow.

Ramana Maharshi, quoted in Maha Yoga or The Upanishadic Lore in the Light of the Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana, K. Lakshmana Sarma, Sri Ramanasramam, 1937. ISBN 978-81-88018-20-8. Buy from Amazon US, Buy from Amazon UK

Q.342 – Teachings of Nisargadatta and Ramana

Q: Is there a difference in the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj?

A (Dennis): This is too general a question, really. The short answer is that the bottom-line message of any teacher of Advaita must be the same, obviously. But the methodology depends upon the teacher lineage. Nisargadatta did have a lineage, although his own style developed somewhat! And Ramana did not have a lineage at all. The absence of a lineage means that what is said lacks rigor and is subject to differing interpretations etc. This is why the recommendation is always to try to find a qualified, traditional teacher.

Q: I do realize that my question was too general and could not be dealt with in a short answer. What I had in my mind was with regard to their approaches to meditation/ self enquiry or the “path” recommended by them. In self enquiry Ramana stated that while enquiring into “who am I?” the I that is enquired into is the individual or the ego and not the Self. According to him, focusing on the ego or I would make one realize that it is a phantom and thus lead one to the Self. Nisargadatta, on the other hand, seems to suggest that one should focus directly on I am, which is the same as the Self. In this sense, I thought there was some difference in their teaching. Continue reading