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Part One Introduction

The Path of Sri Ramana - Part Two


by Michael James
Whereas in Part One Sri Sadhu Om discusses only the philosophy and practice of atma-vichara or self-enquiry, in this volume he discusses many other important and closely related aspects of Sri Ramana’s teachings such as the reality of the world and God, bhakti or devotion, and karma or action.

Thus Part Two is a very useful supplement to Part One, because by discussing in it such subjects and relating them constantly to the practice of self-enquiry, Sri Sadhu Om repeatedly emphasises the need for us to know ourself, and the truth that in order to know ourself we must persistently practise the one true spiritual path of self-enquiry and self-surrender – the simple practice of sinking within, subsiding in our natural state of thought-free self-conscious being.

The main body of Part Two of The Path of Sri Ramana contains three chapters:
  1. The World and God
  2. Love or Bhakti
  3. Karma
In the first chapter, ‘The World and God’, Sri Sadhu Om explains that the world and the ‘God’ whom we imagine to be other than ourself are both mental projections – creations of our own mind or power of imagination – as indeed is our own finite self or ‘soul’. The root cause of the appearance of these three seemingly separate entities, the world, soul and God, is our own pramada or self-forgetfulness. Because we have used our infinite freedom to choose to ignore or forget what we really are, we now imagine ourself to be this finite body-bound mind or soul, and hence we imagine the existence of otherness, which appears as this seemingly external world, which is governed or controlled by a power that we call ‘God’.

However, though God as a seemingly separate entity is no more real than our mind, which imagines his separateness, he is absolutely real as our own true self. He appears to be other than ourself only because we have imaginarily separated ourself from his infinite being by imagining ourself to be this finite object-knowing consciousness that we call our mind.

Since ourself, the world and God all appear to have come into existence as seemingly separate entities only because we have chosen to ignore our true nature, which is thought-free and therefore adjunctless self-conscious being, all this duality will cease to exist only when we know ourself as we really are, and we can know ourself thus only by withdrawing our attention from all otherness and focusing it keenly and exclusively on ourself. That is, since self-forgetfulness is the root cause of all this seeming multiplicity and consequent misery, self-remembrance or self-attention is the only means by which we can restore ourself to our natural state of absolutely non-dual self-conscious being.

In the second chapter, ‘Love or Bhakti’, Sri Sadhu Om explains how our devotion or bhakti takes different forms at the various stages of the development of our spiritual maturity, using the example of the different standards that a child progresses through in school. In the ‘school of bhakti’ there are five ‘standards’, each of which represents a certain type of religious or spiritual devotion that characterises a particular stage in our spiritual development.

The first standard is characterised by faith in ritualistic actions – a faith that is often so blind that it attaches so much importance to such actions that it overlooks God, the real power that ordains the fruit of action. This is the type of faith that was personified by the so-called rishis or ‘ascetics’ living in the Daruka forest, in the story that formed the context in which Sri Ramana composed Upadesa Undiyar.

The second standard is characterised by faith in many different deities (such as the many names and forms in which God is worshipped in the Hindu religion, or the many saints to whom a devout Catholic or Orthodox Christian might pray), each of whom is supposed to have some particular power to fulfil a particular type of desire or to ward off a particular type of evil.

The third standard is characterised by faith in and single-minded devotion to only one particular name and form of God. However, this third standard is divided into two stages, standard 3(a) and 3(b), because it is in this third standard that the most significant change of heart takes place within us.

That is, in standards 1, 2 and 3(a), our devotion is not real devotion to God, but is only devotion to the material and other personal benefits that we hope to achieve from our ritualistic actions, worship and prayers. In other words, it is kamya bhakti – devotion practised only for the fulfilment of our personal desires. This is the spirit of devotion with which most so-called religious people practise their respective religions.

However, when we practise such kamya bhakti for many lives, our mind gradually gains spiritual maturity – the clarity of mind that enables us to discriminate and understand that true happiness does not lie in the mere fulfilment of our personal desires – until in the final stages of standard 3(a) we come to understand that the real source of our happiness is not any of the benefits that we seek to gain from God, but is only God himself, who has so much love for us that he grants our prayers and wishes. Thus we progress from the kamya bhakti of standard 3(a) to the nishkamya bhakti of standard 3(b) – that is, true devotion to God, not for the sake of anything that we may gain from him, but for his own sake alone.

It is at this stage in our spiritual development that God manifests himself in the form of guru to teach us the truth that happiness does not exist outside ourself – not even in the all-loving God whom we imagine to be other than ourself – but only in ourself, as ourself. Thus in the form of guru God directs us to turn our mind selfwards and thereby to sink into the innermost core or depth of our own self-conscious being, which is his true form – the form of infinite sat-chit-ananda or being-consciousness-bliss.

This stage at which we sincerely and wholeheartedly attempt to practise this path of self-enquiry and self-surrender that guru has taught us is true guru-bhakti, which is the fourth standard in our ‘school of bhakti’.

Finally when, as a result of our devoted and perseverant practice of self-enquiry, our self-surrender becomes complete – that is, when we merge and lose our finite self in the infinite clarity of thought-free self-conscious being – we will experience the non-dual state of true self-knowledge, which is our natural state of svatma-bhakti or true self-love. This svatma-bhakti is the fifth standard – the final goal of our ‘school of bhakti’ – beyond which nothing exists to achieve or know.

In the third chapter, ‘Karma’, Sri Sadhu Om explains the truth of action or karma, but while doing so he begins from a perspective that is radically different to the perspective from which we normally understand karma. That is, karma is usually explained and understood from the perspective that we are a finite self, a body-bound mind or ‘soul’, whose nature is to do action by mind, speech and body, whereas Sri Sadhu Om begins by explaining that we are in truth the one infinite self, the absolute reality or brahman, whose real nature is just to be and not to do anything.

Having begun from this perspective, he explains that as the one infinite reality we are perfectly free and all-powerful, because there is nothing other than ourself that could limit either our freedom or our power. Thus we are free to will or choose either to be as we really are, or to imagine ourself to be a finite self that does action or karma.

In order to imagine ourself to be a finite self, which we are not, we must first ignore or forget ourself as we really are. Therefore our present condition as a seemingly finite body-bound mind is the result of our misusing our infinite freedom to choose to forget our real self and thereby to imagine ourself to be this false self. Having thus imagined ourself to be this limited mind and body, our perspective is now distorted, as a result of which we see our true ‘being’ as ‘doing’ or karma.

Thus all our ‘doing’, action or karma is merely an unnatural distortion of our natural state of just being. Therefore if we investigate ‘who is doing these actions?’ – that is, if we keenly scrutinise ourself, the ‘I’ whom we now imagine to be thinking, speaking and doing bodily actions – we will discover that the one reality underlying this entire illusion of action or karma is our own essential being, our real self, which in truth never does anything, and which therefore never knows anything other than our own natural state of being.

Having thus established that the underlying reality and basis of all ‘doing’ or karma is only our own true being, and that the appearance of karma is caused only by our ignoring or forgetting our real nature as simple non-dual self-conscious being, Sri Sadhu Om proceeds on this basis to explain the entire web of karma that we have thus woven for ourself.

That is, he explains the three forms of karma, namely agamya karma or the actions that we are constantly doing by our own free will (which is a limited form of our original infinite freedom to will and act), sanchita karma or the accumulation of the ‘fruits’ (or moral results) of our past agamya karmas that are yet to be experienced by us, and prarabdha karma or our present destiny, which is those ‘fruits’ of our past agamya karmas that God has selected from the vast store of our sanchita karma for us to experience as pleasures and pains in the lifetime of this present body that we now imagine to be ourself.

In addition to these three chapters, Part Two of The Path of Sri Ramana also contains the following four appendices:
  1. Self-Effort (Personal Effort)
  2. The Resumption of Actions Birth after Birth
  3. Personal Cleanliness (Acharas)
  4. Explanatory Notes on (a) Verse 6 of Sri Arunachala Ashtakam, (b) Verse 8 of Ulladu Narpadu and (c) Verses 9, 10, 11 and 12 of Ulladu Narpadu
The first two appendices are a continuation of some of the important truths discussed in the third chapter. In Appendix One Sri Sadhu Om explains that effort can take either of two forms, namely the form of pravritti, which is the effort that we make in doing actions or karmas by mind, speech or body, thereby entangling ourself further in the dense web of karma, or the form of nivritti, which is the effort that we make to attend to our own essential being, our real self, thereby weakening our attachment to our mind and body, and thus cutting the very root of all karma.

In Appendix Two he explains that whenever we take a new birth (that is, whenever having ceased to imagine ourself to be one body we begin to imagine ourself to be another body), we take with us not only all our karma-phalas or accumulated fruits of our past action that are yet to be experienced by us, but also all our karma-vasanas – our latent desires, impulsions or propensities to do particular actions. Our karma-phalas are like the edible part of a fruit, while our karma-vasanas are like the seeds contained in that fruit.

However, there are two types of vasana that we can cultivate, namely karma-vasanas, inclinations or desires to do actions, and sat-vasana, the inclination or love just to be. By doing actions we cultivate karma-vasanas, and by practising self-enquiry or self-surrender, which is the art of just being, we cultivate sat-vasana. Therefore if we have a liking in this life to attend to our real self and to surrender our false self, we must have been gradually cultivating this sat-vasana in our previous lives.

The experience of true self-knowledge cannot be attained as the result of any action or karma, so it is in no way related to or dependent upon our destiny or prarabdha – that is, it cannot be either caused or obstructed by our destiny – because our destiny is just the fruit of our past actions, which we did due to the impulsion of our karma-vasanas. Therefore the truth is that we can attain self-knowledge only by cultivating sat-vasana, the true love to know and to be nothing other than our own real self – our action-free being, ‘I am’.

In Appendix Three Sri Sadhu Om narrates a story that Sri Ramana told in order to explain the true inner purpose of acharas (orthodox codes of personal cleanliness prescribed in certain Hindu scriptures), the essence of which Sri Muruganar recorded in verse 680 of Guru Vachaka Kovai.

In Appendix Four(a) Sri Sadhu Om explains the meaning of verse 6 of Sri Arunachala Ashtakam, in which Sri Ramana uses the analogy of the projection of a cinema film to illustrate how our mind projects the appearance of the world through the medium of this body (which is like the projector) and its five senses (which are like the lenses in the projector).

In Appendix Four(b) Sri Sadhu Om explains the meaning of verse 8 of Ulladu Narpadu, in which Sri Ramana says that though by worshipping the nameless and formless essential reality that we call ‘God’ in name and form it is possible for us to see him in name and form, becoming one with him – which is possible only by scrutinising and knowing our own truth (our formless essence or ‘am’-ness) and thereby subsiding and merging in his truth (his formless essence or ‘am’-ness) – is alone seeing him in truth.

Finally in Appendix Four(c) Sri Sadhu Om clarifies a confusion that has occurred in some translations and interpretations of verses 9, 10, 11 and 12 of Ulladu Narpadu. That is, in these verses Sri Ramana has taught us that our mind or ego is the cause and supporting base of the appearance of all the ‘dyads’ and ‘triads’, that is, the pairs of opposites such as knowledge and ignorance and the three factors of objective knowledge (namely the ‘knower’, the ‘knowing’ and the ‘known’, that is, our knowing mind, its act of knowing and the objects known by it), but unfortunately some people whose understanding of his teachings is rather superficial have wrongly interpreted these verses as meaning that our real self is the cause and base of them.

Though the ultimate base or reality underlying the appearance of our mind and hence of these ‘dyads’ and ‘triads’ is indeed our real self, the immediate base of them is our mind, because they are experienced only by our mind or ego, and hence they exist only in its perspective and not in the non-dual perspective of our real self. This is the reason why Sri Ramana says in verse 26 of Ulladu Narpadu, “If ego comes into existence, everything comes into existence. If ego does not exist, everything does not exist. [Therefore] ego itself is everything. ...”

About the English translation of these books

Though the present English translation contained of the two parts of The Path of Sri Ramana does convey much of the import of the original Tamil text, Sri Ramana Vazhi, it is unfortunately neither a complete nor an entirely satisfactory translation. There are several reasons for this, which can best be explained by giving a brief outline of the evolution of this book.

Most of the material in this book was compiled over a period of time from notes that friends of Sri Sadhu Om had made of explanations that he had given orally and from letters that he had written in answer to questions that he had been asked about various aspects of the teachings of Sri Ramana. Many such notes and letters were copied by a friend, Dr R.Santanam, who wished to publish them as a book, and who therefore requested Sri Sadhu Om to compile them into a form suitable for publication.

Sri Sadhu Om felt that the explanations that would potentially be most useful to fellow devotees of Sri Ramana were those that related specifically to the philosophy and practice of atma-vichara, so he selected only such explanations and compiled them into eight chapters, which form most of what is now the main body of Part One of Sri Ramana Vazhi. Therefore in 1967, when Sri Ramana Vazhi was first published in Tamil, it consisted only of a briefer version of Part One of the present book. Later, at the request of many devotees of Sri Ramana who did not know Tamil, this original version of Part One was translated into English, and the English translation was published in 1971.

The Tamil and English versions of this book soon became very popular among the devotees of Sri Ramana, because many people found it to be the clearest available explanation regarding the practice of atma-vichara. However some devotees felt that it was incomplete, because it concentrated only on atma-vichara, which is the core of Sri Ramana’s teachings, and did not discuss many other closely related aspects of his teachings, so they requested Sri Sadhu Om to write a sequel discussing such matters as God, bhakti and karma.

Therefore from the notes and letters that he had discarded while compiling Part One, Sri Sadhu Om compiled Part Two. However, since there were no funds at that time to publish it, Part Two remained in manuscript form for some years, until a friend in America offered to finance the publication of an English translation of it. Thus Part Two was first published in English in 1976.

In 1979, when the second Tamil edition of Sri Ramana Vazhi was published, it contained Parts One and Two in a single volume. After all the copies of this second edition had been sold, we began to make arrangements for the publication of a third edition, and at that time I requested Sri Sadhu Om to incorporate in it many additional explanations that I had heard him giving either to me or to other friends, so when the third edition was published in 1985 (shortly after his passing away) it was a revised and enlarged version of the earlier editions.

Since most of the friends who helped Sri Sadhu Om translate Sri Ramana Vazhi into English were not native English-speakers, and since some of them had only a very limited knowledge of Tamil, the present translation of it is not very satisfactory. Though the translation in the first English edition of Part One had been thoroughly revised in preparation for the second edition, the revised translation was not actually a very great improvement, so shortly before it was published in 1981, Sri Sadhu Om asked me to check it and make any corrections that I felt to be necessary. If I had had sufficient time to do so, I would have liked to work with him to make an entirely fresh translation, but since the time available was very limited, all I could do was to correct the most obvious errors in the rather clumsy existing translation.

The translation of Part Two in its first English edition was even more clumsy than the translation of Part One, so in the early 1980’s Sri Sadhu Om and I began to make an entirely fresh translation of Part Two, but unfortunately we had time to retranslate less than three-quarters of the first chapter (that is, up to about page 38 or 39 of the present third edition). Therefore except for these first 38 pages or so, the rest of Part Two is still the same unsatisfactory translation that was published in the first edition.

Moreover, since the existing English translations of both parts were made before Sri Sadhu Om incorporated the final additions in the 1985 edition of the Tamil book, the translations are not only a rather poor reflection of the original Tamil text, but are also not a translation of it in its present complete form. Therefore, if I ever have the time to do so, I would like to make an entirely fresh translation of the entire Tamil book, in order to convey as well as I can full import and spirit of this rich and profound book.

However, as I said above, though the present English translation of Parts One and Two is neither complete nor entirely satisfactory, it does nevertheless succeed in conveying – albeit in a not very elegant manner – much of the import of the original Tamil text, and over the years many devotees who do not know Tamil have derived great benefit from reading it. Therefore even in its present form, The Path of Sri Ramana is a book that should be read by any spiritual aspirant who wishes seriously to practise the path of self-enquiry and self-surrender that Sri Ramana has taught us as the only means by which we can experience the infinite happiness of true self-knowledge.

Part One Introduction
updated: Thu 27 Apr 2017 20:26:46 -0400