The spiritual attainment of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi is unique. At the age of 16, he experienced the Absolute, the Highest state, in which he constantly stayed. He is called Bhagavan (One with God) and Maharshi (Great Sage) and is considered one of the most outstanding Spiritual gurus of twentieth-century India.
Sri Ramana Maharshi introduced the world to the practice of Self-Inquiry, “Who am I?“, a type of Meditation that allows you to dive into the journey of self-realization.
Sri Ramana Maharshi, the most important teacher of Advaita Vedanta, was well known in Tamil Nadu, his homeland, and parts of India and had a large following in Europe and America. He was a Self-Realized Sage; he was always consciously one with ALL. Although he acted like an ordinary human being, his body not being different from ours except perhaps for greater frailty than that of a normal person.
The early life of Ramana Maharshi
Sri Ramana Maharshi was born on December 30, 1879, to his father, Sundaram Aiyar, from Tiruchuli, a village 30 miles southeast of Madurai. A respectable lawyer treated with respect and love for all, and he was married to Alagammal, a deeply religious Hindu, devoted wife, and wonderful hostess. The child was named Venkataraman.
After his father’s death, he moved to his uncle’s house and studied at the Tiruchuli school and then in Dindigul and Madurai. He was a normal boy who loved to play but was not very interested in school, although he had an excellent memory when he was in charge of studying. He slept extremely heavily, and once, they had to break down the door of his sleeping room before they could wake him.
He didn’t have much interest in religion, although he did visit temples normally, which is customary for a Hindu boy. It was somewhat of a disappointment to his family, who counted on him to gain a good social position to help them maintain. However, as he was young, it was still too early to tell, and perhaps, he would realize his responsibilities later. Nevertheless, all this planning for the future was suddenly upset. At the age of sixteen, in the upstairs room of his uncle’s house, he had a great experience that was about to change everything.
Death-experience of Ramana Maharshi
It was July 1896, when he was 16 years old, and the most important event in his life took place. A sudden and strong feeling of fear and death seized him so much that he felt like he was about to die, although his body was healthy and strong.
The shock of this sudden and overwhelming fear of death led him to a completely unusual experience, as a result of which the conviction that I am the Spirit, something superior to the body, flashed brightly inside him, like a living Truth.
The conviction that he was not a body, but a Spirit, independent of the body, existing even after the cessation of the life of the body, came to him in a glimpse as an instantaneous result of direct experience, and not as the conclusion of a long and painful process of logical reasoning. This awareness was so deep and touching his essence that it never left him for a moment.
The experience, which may have lasted no more than half an hour, completely and forever changed the boy. He lost interest in activities, friends, relatives, and even food, and began to frequent the main temple of Madurai, where he spent long hours in front of the shrines, praying to the Lord for the Mercy that would make him look like any of the 63 saints in the Periya Puranam. But mostly, he was in a state of divine bliss within himself while tears streamed down his eyes.
Arunachala and Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
Arunachala’s choice was far from being a matter of chance. Throughout his short life, he had always heard the name of Arunachala associated with Lord Shiva. When he discovered it by visiting himself, he realized it was not some heavenly realm but an earthly entity.
Hindus had long regarded the mountain itself as a manifestation of Shiva, a Hindu divinity. In later years, Venkataraman often said that Arunachala’s spiritual power brought about his Self-realization. His love for the mountains was great that from the day he arrived there in 1896 until his maha samadhi in 1950, he could never be persuaded to go further than two miles from his base.
For ten years, he lived in temples and caves in the area, immersed in disciplines of silence and detachment, to achieve spiritual purification. His absorption in this consciousness was so intense that he completely forgot about his body and the world. Insects ate small portions of his legs, his body wasted away because he was barely conscious enough to eat, and his hair and nails grew to unmanageable sizes.
His state of consciousness began to radiate, attracting more disciples around him each day. Although he never accepted any special treatment or veneration, his first followers gave him the name by which he would be known throughout the world: Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi (Bhagavan means Lord or God, Sri is an honorific Hindu title, Ramana is a contraction of his name Venkataraman, and Maharshi or Maha Rishi means great sage in Sanskrit).
Bhagavan turned to the Teacher.
In the process, he self-realized that nothing exists apart from an indivisible and universal consciousness, which is experienced in its unmanifested form as beingness or conscious presence and its manifested form as the appearance of the universe.
In 1922 Sri Ramana’s disciples built an ashram, temple, and community center to which thousands of visitors flocked from all over India and around the world. The Bhagavan was at their disposal 24 hours a day, as he lived and slept in a meeting room and shared the meals he personally prepared for years. He treated everyone – high dignitaries, outcasts, animals – with the same love, respect, and utter humility.
They say that some thieves broke into the ashram and brutally beat him. He served them food and kindly sent them away. And even the animals seemed to perceive his highest state of consciousness: the beasts and the snakes approached him without doing him any harm.
Unification with his Mother
Among the first people who found him was his paternal uncle, Neliappa Aiyar of Manamadurai. He made every effort to take his nephew to Manamadurai, but the young sage did not react. He showed no interest in the visitor. Then the disappointed Neliappa Iyar returned to Manamadurai. However, he told the news to Alagammal, Ramana’s mother.
The mother came to Tiruvannamalai accompanied by the eldest son Nagaswami. Ramana was then living in Pavalakunra on the eastern slope of Arunachala. With tears, Alagammal begged Ramana to leave with her. But for the sage, there was no turning back. Nothing touched him – not even the mournful sobs of his mother.
He sat motionlessly and was silent. One of the devotees, who had watched his mother suffer for several days, asked Ramana to at least write down on paper what he wanted to say.
Disappointed, the mother returned to Manamadurai. Sometime after this, Ramana began to live in caves on the slopes of Arunachala. The Virupaksha Cave, where Ramana lived the longest (17 years), is located on the southwestern slope.
For the first few years, Ramana was silent most of the time. His radiance attracted a group of followers to him. Not only seekers of Truth, but also ordinary people, children, and even animals used to come near his presence. Small children from the city climbed the mountain to the Virupaksha cave, sat next to him, played next to him, and returned home happy. Squirrels and monkeys came and fed on his hands.
Ramana’s mother visited him several times in later days. One day she fell ill and suffered from typhoid symptoms for several weeks. Ramana looked after her with great care and attention. Despite the earlier note about the inevitability of fate, he composed a hymn in Tamil, begging Lord Arunachala to cure her of her illness. Alagammal recovered and returned to Manamadurai.
In early 1916, Alagammal came to Tiruvannamalai, deciding to spend the rest of her life with Ramana. A little later, the youngest son Nagasundaram followed her. Ramana then moved from Virupaksha to Skandashram, a little higher on the mountain. Here the mother went through a harsh school of spiritual life. She started preparing food for a small group of devotees who lived there. Nagasundaram became a sannyasin by taking the name Niranjanananda Swami.
In 1920, the mother’s health deteriorated. Ramana looked after her with great care and love, sometimes spending sleepless nights at her bedside. The end came in 1922. At the time of her death, Alagammal was liberated through the grace of her son. Alagammal’s body was not cremated but was buried at the foot of the sacred Mountain on the south side, less than an hour’s walk from Skandashram. Ramana often came there until one day he settled down for good. The place started to become famous as Sri Ramanasramam.
For him, his mother was no longer just his human mother, but she has turned into his Divine Mother. Mount Arunachala was not just a mountain. It was the embodiment of Shiva, the Divine Transcendence. The mother’s grave became the embodiment of Shakti, the Divine Immanence, which is perceived in the Hindu tradition as a female hypostasis.
God Shiva or Mount Arunachala initially attracted Ramana to him. Now in the center of Arunachala was the embodied Shakti, or Divine Femininity, which was revealed to him through the medium of his human mother, and through him was revealed to humanity.
And Ramana Maharshi, thanks to this union of male and female in the mountain of Arunachala and his mother’s grave, thanks to their merger, became available to people who began to arrive at the place of his new residence, to the foot of the mountain.
Teachings of Ramana Maharshi
He did not consider that he had disciples. There is only one guru: the absolute within (and everywhere) of each heart. The Maharshi seldom wrote, but pious disciples sometimes collected his interviews.
Having experienced a spontaneous awakening, Ramana Maharshi had not followed any spiritual discipline, asceticism, or yogic practice. He had read nothing of the spiritual teachings contained in the sacred texts of Hinduism. He knew nothing of Shankaracharya and Vedanta even though he turned out to be a pure Vedantist. Ramana Maharshi gave many spiritual initiations, and the nature of this initiation was such that one turned not to Ramana but to his own spiritual center.
Furthermore, he never advised abandoning everything to gather in the spirit. On the contrary, he urged his disciples to go through different worldly experiences as actors who play a character, who contribute to humanity’s good in the middle of life, but who is tremendously connected with their true Self. That is why he recommended the path of Self-inquiry, or Atma Vichara, where the seeker continually focuses his attention on the question Who am I? to find its origin.
That simple question that requires effort at first, asked many times throughout the day, would dissolve all the false beliefs and attachments that kept us tied to suffering. So, we see that the spiritual path recommended by Sri Ramana Maharshi was free from dogmatism. Sri Ramana Maharshi believed in the words of the Mandukya Upanishad, which says: Aiam Atma Brahma (the soul is God).
As a rule, Ramana Maharshi modestly overshadowed his spiritual abilities because his task was to return a person to his own “I am”. Ramana Maharshi was not subjected to being restricted within one religion. He only taught everyone how to be really happy in a true sense. He taught his followers that we often seek happiness in our external environment and the people surrounding us. But we forget to seek happiness within ourselves; true happiness comes from within, not from the exterior circumstances outside our body.
Death of Sri Ramana Maharshi
In 1949 a malignant tumor was detected on his left arm. His followers were very concerned from then on, but he was completely calm. He never identified with the disease or the pain in his body. He died of cancer in April 1950, at the age of 70.
His death was peaceful and he was surrounded by a group of close devotees. His passing was considered a “Mahasamadhi” which means a “great spiritual union” and is a term used to refer to the death of a realized master. However, his devotees believe that Sri Ramana continued to be present and to guide them even after his physical death.
Sri Ramana’s death marked the end of a significant era in the history of Advaita Vedanta, and his teachings continue to be widely studied and followed today. His ashram at Tiruvannamalai, where he spent most of his later years, continues to be a major pilgrimage site and a center for the study of Advaita Vedanta.
Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Devotees and Disciples
David Godman is a British author and researcher, who has written extensively about Ramana’s teachings and life. He has compiled and edited several books on Ramana’s non-personal, all-inclusive awareness, including “Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi,” which is considered one of the most comprehensive collections of Ramana’s teachings available in English.
Frank Humphreys was considered one of the most devout and close devotees of Sri Ramana. His devotion and dedication to Sri Ramana and his teachings were so great that Sri Ramana himself had said that he was one of the few devotees who had understood the true meaning of his teachings and had attained self-realization. Frank H. Humphreys’ book “Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge” is considered one of the most authentic accounts of Sri Ramana’s teachings and life.
Devaraja Mudaliar was a businessman from a wealthy family and had a successful career, but he was not fulfilled by material success. He was in search of spiritual fulfillment and heard about Sri Ramana Maharshi from a friend. In 1910, he visited Sri Ramana for the first time, and he was deeply impressed by Sri Ramana’s presence and teachings.
Venkataramiah was known for his deep humility and selflessness, and he was highly respected by Sri Ramana and other devotees. He was also a gifted writer and he wrote extensively about his experiences with Sri Ramana and the teachings of Sri Ramana.
Sri Ramana Maharshi Quotes
- Action and knowledge are not obstacles to each other.
- All are gurus to us, the wicked by their evil deeds say ‘do not come near me’. The good is always good, therefore all are like gurus to us.
- You can only stop the flow of thoughts by refusing to have any interest in it.
- There is nothing like ‘within’ or ‘without.’ Both mean either the same thing or nothing.
- Eventually, all that one has learned will have to be forgotten.
- When one remains without thinking one understands another by means of the universal language of silence.
- When the mind that is subtle goes out through the brain and the sense-organs, the gross names and forms appear; when it stays in the Heart, the names and forms disappear.
- Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom insight. To remain quiet is to resolve the mind in the Self.
- You are Awareness. Awareness is another name for you. Since you are Awareness there is no need to attain or cultivate it. All that you have to do is to give up being aware of other things, that is of the not-Self. If one gives up being aware of them then pure awareness alone remains, and that is the Self.
- Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.
- The greatest obstacle to enlightenment is getting past your delusion that you are not already enlightened.
- The man who prays, the prayer, and the God to whom he prays all have reality only as manifestations of the Self.