The last day of the year that passed, December 31, was special for spiritual seekers. The followers of Ramana Maharshi celebrated 141ST Jayanti (birth anniversary) of one of the greatest Indian mystics of the past century. Maharshi [great sage] was born on a night earlier, December 30, in the year 1879, near the south Indian town of Madurai as Venkataraman Iyer. Later his devotees started calling him Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharsi.
Ramana is best remembered and revered for his teaching of self-inquiry, in the form of “Who am I”. The questioning is done consistently to such a degree that the question vanishes and everything the “I” associates itself with is dropped, leaving behind the bare, naked I-ness. And this I, in its bare starkness, finds itself no different to the un-manifest basis of all creation—or the Self. Ramana referred to this Self as God or Shiva or Brahma, as the occasion required. In that revelation of the Self, the egoist concept of individual and separate “I” dissolves and you are put on the path of moksha (liberation) or ultimate union with the Self.
But of course, it cannot happen that simply. And this inquiry is not that easy. When visitors came to see him, Ramana tried to help them have a glimpse of their true Self through silent transmission. He just glanced at them with a compassionate gaze, which brought about subtle spiritual changes in them. Visitors would get their questions answered, their thirst quenched, their confusions cleared in his presence. No words were needed. But when prompted, he would give minimal teachings. Sometimes, his caretakers would finger-count the words he spoke in a day. Those few words were remarkably succinct and profound.
“When he chose to answer questions, each sentence was like a text from the Upanishad, so full of meaning that it required calm, silent pondering over in order to be understood fully,” writes Professor T.M.P. Mahadevan of Madras University.
The outer manifestation of Ramana's silence was an absence of speech. But its real nature was the stillness and calm of the mind that was constantly manifest in his meditation as well as his worldly chores, even when meeting people. He said his real teaching was silence, words were just pointers. Teaching through words was a mundane and inferior act for the illumined sage.
Ramana settled at Arunachala, the hill of Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, for the rest of his life after leaving home at 17. The hill was not just a hill, it was his Shiva itself as he referred to it as Arunachala Shiva. Three incidents before his leaving home are noteworthy. When he was 16, a visiting relative told him he was coming from Arunachala. The word worked like a magic spell on the young Ramana, indicating a past-life association. Upon knowing that Arunachala was a real place and it was called Tiruvannamalai, his future course was set. Then he found a book, Periyapuranam, which chronicled the life stories of sixty-three exemplary saints. Their tales of renunciation had an overpowering effect on Ramana, and he started envisioning a similar life for himself.
When he was few months to 17, he entered a death experience. One afternoon he was sitting in his room, his health perfect, but he suddenly felt like dying. He lied down on the floor and welcomed death, questioning what is it that dies. He felt his physical body dying, but his consciousness was very much alive. He had an extraordinary experience of everything about him dissolving except his real Self. Few weeks later, he left home for good.
People coming in his proximity felt liberated. Sometimes, spiritually uplifted gurus may still have a good stock of ahamkara (ego) in them. In their presence, one may feel dwarfed or embarrassed. But never with the egoless Ramana. Anybody coming close to him was bound to be filled with awe for his simplicity and compassion. Face to Face with Sri Ramana Maharshi, a collection of personal accounts by 202 well-known people, has plenty of testimonies to this fact.
“His [Ramana’s] face is full of inspiration, unearthly serenity and power, of infinite kindness and understanding,” writes M. Sudouski (Mouni Sadhu), a Polish-Australian author. “His eyes glow with a perfect understanding of all the weaknesses, defects and inner difficulties of those who look into them. They had much sympathy, wisdom and understanding. An incredible loving kindness radiated from them.”
“Being near the Maharshi one feels the presence of God–no arguments or proofs are necessary. The greatest miracle is the Maharshi himself,” concludes Sudouski.