The following article was first published in the September 1931 monthly magazine called PEACE, the journal of Swami Omkar's Shanti Ashrama in Andhra Pradesh. It was later reprinted in the April, 1966 issue of the Mountain Path.
It describes Paul Brunton's first visit to Sri Ramanasramam and one of the dialogues he had with the Maharshi. In this article, his former name "Hurst" was used. He later adopted Paul Brunton as his pen name which he ultimately made his permanent name.
It is interesting to note what an event a visit from a foreign journalist to the Ashrama was in those far off days — something to be written about in the newspapers.
IT WAS half past four in the afternoon and the disciples were sitting before the Maharshi in the hall and were talking about a notification that had appeared in the dailies [newspapers] to the effect that a Mr. Hurst and a Buddhist Bhikshu were intending to visit the Ashrama. The clock struck five and there entered the hall a man in European costume, bearing a plate of sweets and followed by a Buddhist monk. The visitors offered the sweets to the Maharshi and then, after making obeisance in the Eastern way, they both squatted on the floor before him. These were the visitors of whom the disciples had been talking. The man in English clothes was R. Raphael Hurst [Paul Brunton], a London journalist who was then on a visit to India. He was keenly interested in the spiritual teaching of the East and thought that by an intelligent study and appreciation of it the cause of cooperation between East and West might be greatly promoted. He came to Sri Ramanasramam after visiting many other ashramas. The Bhikshu who came with him was also an Englishman by birth. He was formerly a military officer but was known as Swami Prajnananda. He was the founder of the English Ashrama in Rangoon. Both visitors sat spellbound before Maharshi and there was pin-drop silence. The silence was broken by the person who had brought the visitors, asking them if they would like to ask any questions.
They were, however, not in a mood to do so, and thus an hour and a half passed. Mr. Hurst then stated the purpose of his visit. In a voice of intense earnestness he said that he had come to India for spiritual enlightenment. "Not only myself," he added, "but many others also in the West are longing for the Light from the East.''
The Maharshi sat completely indrawn and paid no attention. One of those who were sitting there asked them if they had come to the East for a study of comparative religions. "No," the Bhikshu replied, "we could get that better in Europe. We want to find Truth; we want the Light. Can we know Truth? Is it possible to get Enlightenment?" The Maharshi still remained silent and indrawn, and as the visitors wanted to take a walk, the conversation ended and all dispersed.
Early next morning the visitors entered the hall and put some questions to the Maharshi with great earnestness. The conversation reproduced below is from rough notes taken while it was going on.
Bhikshu: We have travelled far and wide in search of Enlightenment. How can we get it?
Maharshi: Through deep enquiry and confident meditation.
Hurst: Many people do meditate in the West but show no signs of progress.
Maharshi: How do you know that they don't make progress? Spiritual progress is not easily discernible.
Hurst: A few years ago I got some glimpses of the Bliss but in
the years that followed I lost it again. Then last year I again got it.
Why is that?
Maharshi: You lost it because your meditation had not become natural (sahaja). When you become habitually inturned the enjoyment of spiritual beatitude becomes a normal experience.
Hurst: Might it be due to the lack of a Guru?
Maharshi: Yes, but the Guru is within; that Guru who is within is identical with your Self.
Hurst: What is the way to God-realization?
Maharshi: Vichara, asking yourself the 'Who am I?' enquiry into the nature of your Self.
Bhikshu: The world is in a state of degeneration. It is getting constantly worse, spiritually, morally, intellectually and in every way. Will a spiritual teacher come to save it from chaos?
Maharshi: Inevitably, when goodness declines and wrong prevails He comes to reinstate goodness. The world is neither too good nor too bad; it is a mixture of the two. Unmixed happiness and unmixed sorrow are not found in the world. The world always needs God and God always comes.
Bhikshu: Will He be born in the East or the West?
The Maharshi laughed at the question but did not answer it.
Hurst: Does the Maharshi know whether an Avatar already exists in the physical body?
Maharshi: He might.
Hurst: What is the best way to attain Godhood?
Maharshi: Self-enquiry leads to Self-realization.
Hurst: Is a Guru necessary for spiritual progress?
Hurst: Is it possible for the Guru to help the disciple forward on the path?
Hurst: What are the conditions for discipleship?
Maharshi: Intense desire for Self-realization, earnestness and purity of mind.
Hurst: Is it necessary to surrender one's life to the Guru?
Maharshi: Yes. One should surrender everything to the Dispeller of Darkness. One should surrender the ego that binds one to this world. Giving up body-consciousness is the true surrender.
Hurst: Does a Guru want to take control of the disciple's worldly affairs also?
Maharshi: Yes, everything.
Hurst: Can he give the disciple the spiritual spark that he needs?
Maharshi: He can give him all that he needs. This can be seen from experience.
Hurst: Is it necessary to be in physical contact with the Guru, and if so, for how long?
Maharshi: It depends on the maturity of the disciple. Gunpowder catches fire in an instant, while it takes time to ignite coal.
Hurst: Is it possible to develop along the path of the Spirit while leading a life of work?
Maharshi: There is no conflict between work and wisdom. On the contrary, selfless work paves the way to Self-knowledge.
Hurst: If a person is engaged in work it will leave him little time for meditation.
Maharshi: It is only spiritual novices who need to set aside a special time for meditation. A more advanced person always enjoys the Beatitude whether he is engaged in work or not. While his hands are in society he can keep his head cool in solitude.
Bhikshu: Have you heard of Meher Baba?
Bhikshu: He says that he will become an Avatar in a few years.
Maharshi: Everyone is an Avatar of God. "The kingdom of heaven is within you." Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, all are in you. One who knows the Truth sees everyone else as a manifestation of God.
Bhikshu: Will the Maharshi make a statement about Meher Baba?
Maharshi: What statement? That (the existence of an outer Avatar) is a question which seekers of Truth need not consider.
Bhikshu: Will the world be rejuvenated?
Maharshi: There is One who governs the world and it is His business to look after it. He who has created the world knows how to guide it also.
Bhikshu: Does the world progress now?
You, your family and friends are warmly invited to attend the 25th anniversary of Arunachala Ashrama, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi Center in Nova Scotia, Canada at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday 31 August 1997. The program will consist of puja, bhajans, talks, arati and prasad (meal).
In New York you are cordially invited to join us in celebrating the 101st anniversary of Sri Ramana Maharshi's arrival at the holy Sri Arunachala Hill. The program will start at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, August 31, 1997.Arunachala Ashrama
For more than two decades we have had the good fortune of occasionally meeting, but more often, hearing from members of A Luz no Caminho-Associacao Espiritualista, a Center dedicated to Sri Ramana Maharshi in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. The president of this Center, Nelson Lara dos Reis, will invariably visit our New York Ashrama whenever he travels to the U.S. on business. He called us from Brazil on the day of their 25th Anniversary celebration and also visited the Ashrama in New York on July 21. On that day he personally delivered the following letter:
The year of 1997 is a very important milestone for Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi Brazilian devotees. A Luz no Caminho-Associacao Espiritualista completes twenty-five years of existence.
Daura Silva Franc, after years of work and dedication to the Arunachala Group in Brazil, finally succeeded in founding an Ashrama in Rio de Janeiro on May 3rd, 1972. She fulfilled her mission with forty-nine friends who signed the Articles of Association of A Luz no Caminho-Associacao Espiritualista.
Since that day, our "House," as we gently call the Ashrama, has been proclaiming Maharshi's teachings. The Advaita doctrine, through Self-enquiry (Atma Vichara) as an instrument for realization, is the focus of our prayers and meetings.
In addition to the Ashrama, our Center also maintains a house to serve the aged, named "Case de Ramana" (Ramana House for the Old People). At present, seven elderly ladies reside there.
The preparations for the Silver Jubilee Commemoration of the Ashrama led us to the recollection and memories of the July 1982 issue of the Mountain Path magazine. In this issue, the Ramana devotees of the world were informed of the existence of the Ramana Center in Rio de Janeiro. This is the reason why we are once more writing to you in Arunachala Ashrama. We would be glad if through your newsletter we could share with devotees the happiness of this milestone in the history of A Luz no Caminho-Associacao Espiritualista.
We pray to Ramana that His Grace may remain with us and that we may be blessed to commemorate many more 25-year anniversaries.
As our Master praised Lord Arunachala, we devotees in Brazil, fixing our gaze on his graceful eyes, repeat His verses:
Whoever can find You? The eye of the eye is Thou, that without eyes can see me, Oh Arunachala!
From my home Thou have taken me and soon, penetrating into my Heart, Thou have brought me within Yourself. So great is Thy Grace, Oh Arunachala!"
On arriving at Sri Ramanasramam on December 5, 1982, I was given room number 16 in the guest compound across from the Ashrama. Beside me was the room of Ramaswami Pillai, who had come to Bhagavan in the 1920s. Throughout my first night at the Ashrama I often heard Ramaswami burst into songs of devotional fervor.
December 6, 1982: Ramaswami Pillai was leaving his room after yet another outburst of song. I accosted him saying, "Swamiji, I enjoy your bhajan any hour of the day or night! 1 a.m. or 1 p.m.!" He laughed and gave a humble pranam, moving his head from side to side. He began to walk away. I asked him to wait and brought him the portrait of Sri Bhagavan done by my friend back in New York, Madeline Lorio. To me Madeline's drawing was especially beautiful, capturing the feeling of Bhagavan's overflowing love. From the way the Swami scrutinized it, I could tell he had some trouble seeing. "What is this...," he asked, "a drawing of a person?" I explained it was a picture done by a devotee in New York City but, also hard of hearing, he had trouble following me. He seemed to think it needed some work and said, "It's all right. If a person thinks of even a stone as God, he realizes Him - from Form to the Formless. But stick to the Formless - the forms will change, go away." The Swami's words went straight to my heart. Did he know that during this visit to Sri Ramanasramam I was feeling the absence of Viswanatha Swami and other friends so keenly? He handed back the picture and I placed it on my head. Yet I wondered about this man who, with sight and hearing limited, spoke so appropriately to my need.
December 9, 1982: Following pradakshina, on my way to lunch, I dropped into Ramaswami's small room. I had been moved out of room 16 and put in the German Cottage at the end of the guest compound. "I miss hearing you sing," I told him.
"Can you hear me where you are?" he asked.
"No, but before I could hear every word!"
Then he said, "I don't sing always. Inspiration must come. One may do stotra daily. Also, if you ask me to sing I can, but it will not be so sweet." He explained he had been feeling weak.
Ramaswami asked me whether I had received some initiation, and practice some mantra. "Yes, from Sri Bhagavan, in a dream."
"Oh, did He tell you to keep it a secret?" he asked with interest. "Was it to take His Name, or (that of) Arunachala...?"
"No, it was to practice Self-enquiry."
"And, can you do it?'
"Not very well."
"No matter. You must persevere...."
Taking note of my photo of Sri Bhagavan, Ramaswami remarked, "I see you keep this with you. In samadhi the eyes may be closed and there is no thought. However, samadhi is also experienced with eyes open. Sri Bhagavan was always in samadhi. One may look into his open eyes and experience, with eyes open, the same state. In that state, all the senses are alert; yet are not travelling outward. The mind is calm and one is aware. One may engage in some activity in that state. A child may be about to fall and you could catch the child. Still, with a calm mind, activity is no hindrance."
About pradakshina he said, "Now, because of problems with my legs, I must take a rickshaw, but to walk is better. The moment I think of it I go, sometimes in the middle of the night!"
December 9, 1982, afternoon: Kunju Swami and I sat for a talk on the porch of a new guest house on the west side of the Ashrama. He asked me what practice I do and I described our routine in the New York City Ashrama and my present employment. He then said, 'Keep your mind calm at the feet of Bhagavan. Take no thought about the Ashrama (i.e. Arunachala Ashrama) and have no concern for its growth. If Sri Bhagavan wills, it will grow. You need not worry about it. The body is itself an ashrama - for that ashrama only a small hut is necessary." So saying, he took my leave.
I have been aware of the teaching of Ramana Maharshi for about ten years. About three years ago I visited Sri Ramanasramam for two weeks....
Could you please help me by responding to the following questions:
1. Have you pursued meditation in this fashion and been able to experience this in a practical manner?
2. Can you offer any insights or "tips" (so to speak) that might be helpful to approach the meditation in the proper way?
3. Do you find that there are any common difficulties or misunderstandings that seekers come up against when trying to follow this line of meditation?
4. How can I tell whether I am doing the enquiry properly?
5. In sum, what is your advice for the seeker trying to sincerely understand, apply and experience Bhagavan's meditation of Self-enquiry?
6. In the past I was associated with a teacher whom I later came to know was of questionable character. How can I safely determine which of the teachers are authentic and which are not?
Whenever I have visited India since the early 1970s I always made it a point to spend time with those who moved close to Bhagavan and remained His lifelong devotees. I would humbly approach them and imbibe whatever I could grasp from their life and guidance. Invariably, I would always discover that the deeper the spiritual experience these fortunate souls had, the more they would turn my attention to the ever-present Presence of Sri Bhagavan. They would always say, "He is here now just as before. Turn to Him with sincere devotion and humility and He will guide you, bless you, extend His grace to you." And after all these years, I still find this most simple instruction to be the greatest of all. Many understand the Maharshi's teachings, many may be practicing them or teach them, but there are not many with a sincere and firm faith in His Presence and guidance.
I preceded the answers to your questions with the above paragraph because I realize that these answers cannot satisfy you to the extent you desire. That fullness will only come by God's Grace and your experience of It. To experience this, faith is required: faith in the Maharshi's words, faith in His omnipresence and faith that you can realize the fullness of His teachings and His Presence.
Bhagavan's teachings are most practicable. They are like the air we breathe. It is available to the new-born babe all the way up to a mature adult. Likewise, we can experience the practicability of His teachings at any stage of spiritual development.
Teachings or "tips" are often given to meet the particular need of the individual aspirant. No two are alike and there is no teaching that will apply in all respects to all people. There are general guidelines, though. These help prevent the aspirant from deviating from the path.
I have seen some common misunderstandings in the practice of the Maharshi's teachings. Firstly, I notice that many seekers are taken up with the "Who Am I?" practice and do it enthusiastically for sometime. Not finding themselves in the Supreme State, they drop it and go on to some other type of meditation practice, or stop meditating altogether. Aspirants often do not realize that only a very few are fit to jump straight to the roof from the ground (to the highest experience from the mundane). One usually has to take to additional methods to still the mind, purify it and scorch the ego. On occasions Bhagavan explained this to aspirants. The aids the Maharshi talked about were devotional practices, pranayama, service, hearing, reflecting, etc.
If one is unable to still the mind by questing "Who Am I?" the practice should not be abandoned. It should be supplemented with other spiritual exercises which curb the outward going, or selfish tendencies of the mind. When, through the steady and consistent practice of sadhana, the mind becomes fit, it will automatically sink into the Heart. There should be no doubt about this.
By the depth of peace experienced you can tell whether you are doing the practice correctly. But in general, it is difficult to judge our own progress. Bhagavan has said this on many occasions.
Dispassion and practice-these are the means for attaining the goal. Be ready to sacrifice everything for the ideal, but in doing so you should in no way make others suffer. Seek the company of like-minded aspirants. Serve all, and look on yourself as a simple servant of God's creation who has no other aim but to abide in Him.In response to your question about teachers whose outer actions do not necessarily reflect their teachings, all I can say is to study intently the life of Sri Bhagavan. He is our yardstick. There was no discrepancy in what He taught and how He lived. He wanted nothing from anyone. He served all with His gracious glance. He loved all and experienced all as His Self. He is our ideal. Choose your company from those who most emulate these genuine qualities. Bhagavan always protects those who look up to Him. He seems to have protected you so far and kept you on the path to freedom and joy. Trust him. He is our Guru and guide.
Thank your for the brochures. I hope it will not be amiss for me to ask you about the practice itself. While I feel at home intellectually with the Maharshi's teaching, I have the greatest difficulty with the assertion stated often in different ways, that "the Self cannot be objectified."
On the one hand, I can see that an objectively perceived Self is a contradiction in terms, requiring a second self to perceive the first. But on the other hand, how else can anything be known? What distinguishes an "unknowable" Self from any other inferred thing such as a "magnetic field' or mathematical abstraction? Or from an imaginary Creator?
If this were mere intellectual curiosity, I wouldn't bother you with it. However, it disrupts, in any case, my feeble attempts at "Enquiry." Five minutes after sitting silently it occurs to me that I can't "Get" anything from the practice, otherwise I'd be separated from the thing I "Get." Yet if its not possible to discover an objective self, I'm simply left with this ordinary discursive mode of seeing things. I am really trapped.
I'm not seeking your opinion as to how to go about resolving the dilemma in theory. What I am asking is whether you could say something from your own experience that could point the way to resolving the difficulty in practice.
What does "pure subject" mean, if anything? Is it awakening to a hitherto unknown sense? Or is it just an abstraction we invent to nicely round out our "theory of the Self?"
Perhaps at bottom, I am grasping for some evidence - even if only hearsay evidence from you - that there really is a "Self", and it's not a fiction. Putting away speculation, are you able to confirm it by your direct experience?
If this is too personal, I won't hold you to an answer.Regards,
I can tell you that there really is a Self and it is no fiction. All conscious beings know this. But all conscious beings do not wish to understand the essential nature of the Self.
The term "Pure Subject" means nothing to me. We can never "Get" anything by meditation. We can only realize what we are and have always been.
Understanding or experience comes only by practice. If there is no faith that the spiritual practice we are doing will be effective, we should stop doing it. If we still feel unfulfilled and cannot proceed, we must pray to God. If we have no faith in the existence of God and no faith in the effectiveness of spiritual practice then we can simply turn away from this line of thinking and enjoy life in whatever way we believe will make us happy.
Eventually, all will be humbled and made to realize the futility of the intellectual approach. The Maharshi has said, "The door to realization is always open, but the entrance is low and one must bend his head very low before entering."It is much better to realize the limitations of the intellect and humbly feel, "Lord, I know nothing. Please save me," than to pursue an answer to the many doubts that enter the mind. After all, it is the mind and its thoughts alone that veil the ever-present experience of Truth.