The spiritual attainment of Sri Ramana Maharshi is unique, for at the age of 16, without the help of an external Mentor, he experienced the Absolute, the Eternal Truth, the Greatest Self, realized the Highest state in himself, in which he constantly stayed. He is called Bhagavan (One with God) and Maharshi (Great Sage) and is considered one of the ten most outstanding Teachers of India in all its spiritual history. He introduced the world to the practice of Self-Inquiry, “Who am I?, a type of Meditation which allows you to dive into the journey of self-realization.

Sri Ramana Maharshi
Sri Ramana Maharshi in his late 60s (Source)

Sri Ramana Maharshi 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, that is, 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.

Early life of Ramana Maharshi

Sri Ramana Maharshi was born on December 30, 1879, to his father, Sundaram Aiyar, who was from Tiruchuli, a village 30 miles southeast of Madurai. A respectable lawyer, treated with respect and love for all, 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 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 in a normal way, which is customary for a Hindu boy. It was somewhat of a disappointment to his family who was counting on him to gain a good social position to help them maintain. However, it was still too early to tell, as he was young 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, the most important event in his life took place. A sudden and strong fear of death seized him so much that he felt like he was about to die, although the 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, 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 from 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 by visiting oneself, he realized it was not some heavenly realm but an earthly entity. The mountain itself had long been regarded by Hindus as a manifestation of Shiva, a Hindu divinity, and in later years Venkataraman often said that it was Arunachala’s spiritual power that had 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.

Ramana Maharshi Young

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 Teacher

In the process, he self-realized that is, he had realized by direct experience 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 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 that 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 with him 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.

Sri Ramana Maharshi and his mother

Disappointed, the mother returned to Manamadurai. Sometime after this, Ramana began to live in caves on the slopes of Arunachala. The Virupaksha Cave, in which Ramana lived the longest (17 years), is located on the southwestern slope. 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 came to him, but also ordinary people, children, and even animals. Small children from the city climbed the mountain to the Virupaksha cave, sat next to him, played next to him, and then 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.

Sri Bhagavan at Skandashram with Mother Alagammal
Sri Bhagavan at Skandashram with Mother Alagammal and devotees (source)

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. According to tradition, Alagammal’s body was not cremated but was buried at the foot of the Mountain on the south side, less than an hour’s walk from Skandashram, and Ramana often came there until one day he settled down for good.

For him, his mother was no longer just his human mother, but she has turned into Divine Mother. Mount Arunachala was not just a mountain, it was the embodiment of Shiva, the Divine Transcendence, and 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 the grave of his mother, 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 any 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. Ramana Maharshi having experienced a spontaneous awakening 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 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, actors who contribute to the good of humanity, in the middle of life, but who are 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 be restricted within one religion. He only taught how to be really happy in a true sense, he taught his followers that we often seek happiness in our external environment and people who surround us. But we forget to seek happiness within oneself, the true happiness comes from within not from the exterior circumstances outside our body.

Sri Ramana Maharshi in Arunachala Hill
Image source – sriramanamaharshi.org

In 1949 a malignant tumour 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.

Life Turning Quotes of Sri Ramana Maharshi

  1. All beings always desire joy, a joy in which there is no place for sorrow, While everyone loves themselves more than anyone else. The only reason for this love is joy, That’s why joy should always be within one’s self. A person forgets that he feels that joy when he goes into a deep sleep where the mind is absent. Every person does it and feels that joy every day. To attain that natural joy, one should know about oneself. For this, self-thought and exploration – Who am I? Is the main tool.
  2. As long as ignorance remains, rebirth exists. In fact, there is no rebirth nor was it before, nor is it now, nor will it be ahead. This is the truth.
  3. Never think about what will happen after you die, it is important to know what you are now.
  4. It is necessary to identify oneself before recognizing God, there is no position of God apart from the soul. The reason for the sorrows of this world is not to know the soul of oneself.
  5. Wanting to reform the world without discovering one’s true self is like trying to cover the world with leather to avoid the pain of walking on stones and thorns. It is much simpler to wear shoes.
  6. Have faith in God and yourself; everything will be alright. Hope for the best, expect the best, work hard for the best, and in the end everything will be right for you.
  7. The source of all thoughts that comes to our mind is the idea of “I”. This thought of “Who I Am?” will destroy all other thoughts. If in some way, some other thoughts emerge in your mind, then think why are these thoughts arising and for whom? The answer will be for Me/I. So keep on practicing and asking yourself the question Who Am I? This will never arise any other thoughts in your mind and your mind will always reside in its source.
  8. There is no difference between the dream and the waking state, except that the dream is short and the waking state is long. Both are the result of the mind. The actual state, which is called Turiya is beyond waking, dreaming, and sleeping.
  9. I have not said that a Guru/Teacher is not required, but a Guru is not always in the physical form. First, a person thinks that there is one superior, omniscient, omnipotent God who controls the fate of him and the world. He then worships that superior power in the form of God. When he reaches the stage of enlightenment, the same God turns into his teacher who guides him. The Guru is there to teach you that God is within you. You need to dive in yourself, into your soul, and experience God and Guru in one form.
  10. Free will and destiny always exist. Luck and destiny is the result of past deeds. It is related to the body. Let your destiny do what is right for the body. Why do you care about it? Free will and luck are there as long as there is a body but knowledge is beyond both of them. The soul is outside the limits of knowledge and ignorance. Whatever happens is the result of one’s own past deeds, divine will, and other facts.
(Last Updated On: July 9, 2021)
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