Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One more note on Maia-Gaia's comments. He made the following remarks in an attempt to describe two possible extremes of “activism” and “traditionalism”:

“I happen to be reading about a Neo-Vedantic philosopher- Swami Vivekananda at your fellow blogger- kelamuni - Like Aurobindo, the swami was a Hindu nationalist and spiritual reformer repudiating things like the caste system. Their activist approach can be contrasted with Ramana who during the same period showed no interest in worldly politics beyond that which affected the title to his ashram property or had any concern about oppressive religious discrimination. His satsang gatherings were dutifully arranged according to caste with a curtain separating Brahmin. Your  environmental essay contrasting our ego (where guilt over our evil potential arises) with our spiritual essence seems inspired by Ramana's emphasis on the Self and his detachment in contrast to the engagement of Aurobindo and ultimately is a reflection of the ontological maya-gaia dialectic.”

I think a few things need to be corrected about this. First, Ramana is not actually a good example of a traditional Hindu teacher. In fact, Ramana often denied being a Hindu at all, and often said that he just went along with the culture of his time and place, largely because he was indifferent to such things. So he allowed an ashram to grow up around him, but he considered himself “atiashrama”, which means, “outside the ashram”. He looked favorably upon many aspects of Hindu culture and teachings, at least those aspects which seemed in accord with his own realization and mode of living, but he did not feel any particular need to conform to them. As far as the caste system goes, he had no interest in it whatsoever, and didn't live according to caste rules or obey the general strictures of caste association. Among his own devotees he made no distinction between castes, and frequently commented that such things were absurd, and even upbraided his closer devotees when they tried to institute such things around him.  

On the other hand, Ramana was very considerate of others, even to the caste traditions others followed. When visitors came to the ashram, Ramana would try to accommodate them as much as he could. Sometimes when visitors came who followed strict caste rules, Ramana would have the ashram follow them, particularly in diet and seating. So yes, there were occasions when Ramana divided devotees sitting before him by caste, so as not to make the visiting traditionalists uncomfortable. When they left, he would take the screens away, and resume his normal mode of life.  Such things were never a normal part of his ashram life.

In general, Ramana's ashram was not a good example of a traditional Hindu ashram, and his teaching was not a good example of traditional Advaita. One can certainly say there is enough looseness within the Hindu religion to accommodate people like Ramana, and even to herald them as great realizers, and that Ramana's teachings are in accord with the principles of Advaita, but they deviate from them in important ways. So one should really not use Ramana as an example of a traditional Hindu teacher, as opposed to Vivekananda's crusading reformism. In fact, in the general stream of these movements, Ramana is usually put in the same general camp as Vivekananda, as a “neo-Advaitin”, rather than a traditional Advaitin. His life and teachings represent a powerful reforming and modernizing influence within Advaita, in some respects even more influential than Vivekananda at this point in history.  

If one were to look for an example of a Hindu traditionalist who ranks among the century's spiritual luminaries, one should probably look to someone like The Shankaracharya of Kanchi, also known as the Sage of Kanchi. He was a strong defender of the caste system through and through, and of most aspects of traditional Hindu culture. Of course one has to realize that even Vivekananda did not call for the total abolition of the caste system. He knew quite well that it was too deeply entrenched within Indian religious and political culture to entirely eliminate. So he too was an accomodationist to a serious degree.

One can certainly say that Ramana was not an activist crusader, on this or any other issues. Vivekananda clearly was. One thing to remember is that Vivekananda was not a Selfrealizer, at least not until his death. As Ramankrishna told him, realization would be withheld in his case until he had completed his life's work, and once he had realized he would give up the body, which is precisely how it happened. So Vivekananda is not a good example of how a realizer works in relation to the world.

Ramana, on the other hand, was a realizer from the age of sixteen on. His life demonstrates the truth that silent realization can be a more powerful influence on the world than any amount of activism. People would sometimes ask Ramana why he wasn't actively working to change the world for the better, and his reply was always “How do you know I'm not?” From his point of view, the real sources of spiritual transformation in the world are not in the realm of action, but in the realm of silence and stillness. One of my favorite quotes from Ramana is a response to these kinds of questions, when he said “An old women who finds the peace of God in her prayers does more to change the world than all the intellectuals combined”. It's not as if activism plays no positive role in these matters, but it's value is often exaggerated. Real change occurs through genuine heart-opening.  

There's a kind of activism which can combine aspects of both. An example is found in this video: 

An invitation

As a side note, it's worth mentioning that Gandhi often expressed a desire to visit Ramana Maharshi at his ashram, and this almost happened a number of times. However, his close aide Rajagopal gave strict orders that under no circumstances should Gandhi be allowed to see Ramana, because he feared that if they met, Gandhi would renounce his mission and retire to Ramana's ashram. So every time a meeting seemed possible, Rajagopal would find some excuse to rush Gandhi away to some emergency somewhere far away. This was all a little hilarious, and probably unnecessary, but you never know.  


Losing M. Mind said...

I actually am going to have to disagree with you here. But my disagreement is subjective and not empirical. Reading the Katha Upanishad, Bhagavad gita, works by Shankara. I would have to say Maharshi's teachings do not depart at all from traditional vedic or advaita teachings. It's pure Advaita. In Boquet of nondual texts and svatmanirupinam, as well as in Crest Jewel of Discrimination, there is no difference between Maharshi and Shankara's teachings. In Katha Upanishad, the Self is described in the same terms, Maharshi said both the Ribhu Gita and Ashtavakra Gita described perfectly his Realization. Also the history of saints and sages in Hindu history, they never conformed to some stereotype whether shankara, Yashnavalka, Thayamanavar, Kabir Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi. Saints and sages are always unique. So your contention that somehow Maharshi is outside of traditional Hindu teachings (or is somehow modern--probably more aptly described as timeless), just don't see it. Infact it is striking how little he departs from traditional teachings. The only thing that maybe is noteable is that Ramana was an actual embodiement, being gloriously Realized of the truths expressed in the Vedas. The same could be said of Nisargadatta and his guru. Nityananda. Those who are actually Jnanis are always unique. Though they are same Self.

Broken Yogi said...

In terms of the general theory of Advaita, you are right that Ramana is not outside the mainstream. But in terms of the specifics, yes, Ramana's teachings, especially in terms of practice. do differ from traditional Advaita.

For example, Ramana's primary recommended practice is self-enquiry, which is simply not how traditional Advaita is taught. It has some precedents in the literature, such as in the Ribhu Gita, but self-enquiry is simply not what the traditional Advaitic path practices or recommends. Further, as David Godman's research has attested, the specific forms and descriptions of self-enquiry that Ramana taught are simply not found anywhere in the traditional literature.

Traditional Advaita has some very specific teachings and practices that are to be followed, such as the primary practice of Niddidyasana, or "neti neti". Ramana, on the contrary, was completely opposed to the practice of Niddidyasana and regularly criticized it. Further, traditional Advaita has a very specific course of study and practice of the traditional scriptural teachings, which Ramana himself specifically instructed his devotees not to follow. There's an incident where one of Ramana's devotees was instructed by him to go to a traditional math to engage in a discussion/debate with the people there who wanted to know about Ramana's teachings. After he came back, he told Ramana that he felt a little awkward in that he knew so little about the traditional scriptures and path that he felt he needed to embark on a course ofstudy, such as was taught at the maths, in order to effectively engage these people. Ramana said that was completely unnecessary and even a bad idea, that he shou;d just rely on his own experience with Ramana.

Now, that's good advice I think, but it goes completely against the grain of the traditional teachings. In a sense that one bit of advice represents the essence of the neo-Advaitin approach, which is to eshew traditional scriptural teachings in favor of examining one's own direct personal experience. In that sense, Ramana is a genuinely modern teacher, in line with the general stream of modernism itself, which across the board, in art, science, poltics, and religion, appeals to our direct personal experience rather than traditional modes of interpretation and expression. Many of Ramana's findings and his realization do accord well with the highest teachings of the ancients, but he doesn't get there by the traditional route. His own realization was not the product of the traditional path, but of a spontaneous inspection of his own personal experience. And he taught, very specifically, on the basis of his own experience, not on the basis of the scriptures. He merely used the scriptures as a reference point for others, often not to confirm the validity of his realization, but the other way around, to confirm the validity of certain scriptures.

Losing M. Mind said...

It seems to me, regardless though, what you say sounds good, but it seems to me that in terms of experiential depth and understanding and usefulness spiritually they are all equally helpful. In what is substantive, what is actually helpful for Realizing, becoming free of bondage, which seems to me to be the important part there is no difference. Yes, all the things you say are perhaps different. But there was no less clarity in Ribhu Gita or Shankara, which is the reason Maharshi translated Crest Jewel of Discrimination and hymns to dakshinamurthy.
For instance here Shankara almost sounds so much like Maharshi to me, that it could easily have been uttered by him. My opinion and I cannot prove it because it's not empirical is that the only difference between Maharshi, Shankara, the author of the Ribhu Gita, and Upanishads is the manifest, the body, differences in speech, gait, clothing. If Shankara and Maharshi were sitting with eachother, they woudl agree on everything. Or Yashnavalka and Maharshi. Ramakrishna or Kabir and Maharshi. There would not be a point on which they would find any difference with eachother. Infact they probably would not talk at all, smile benevolently and drink their coffee and prasad. haha. The one difference that might agree with you, is I don't believe, I have seen anyone besides Maharshi refer to asking "Who am I?" but that is the only difference. Self-inquiry I've heard mentioned I believe in teh upanishads, Shankara, Ribhu Gita, and I can't remember if it was in the Bhagavad Gita. Inquiry usually I think meant discrimination between the real and unreal. The four thigns in Crest Jewel of Discrimination by Shankara (and translated by Maharshi--> in collected works). Discrimination, detachment, the six essentials (peacefulness, equanimity, faith, fortitude, renunciation, deep meditation), and the Desire For Liberation. Since Maharshi translated it, I can only imagine that he agreed with every word. Also I wonder if there are perceived differences, it could be because those texts are more ancient, and have been mis-translated, changed over time. Just look at Shankara's face. There is something that has that same piercing jnana effect as Ramana. haha.

This is Shankara:
"What is there to think, what is there not to think, What is there to speak, what is there not to speak, What is there to be done, what is there not to be done, For the realized ones who know that all is Brahman."

"For the Realized ones who see
All objects of diverse attributes to be of the nature of the seer (the Self), There is no bondage and also no liberation,
No state of the Supreme SElf and also no state of individuality (state of being a jiva).

"For those who inquire continuously,
Only this is the conclusion of all the Veda-s, The ultimate frontier of authority, Conveying their own teaching without the least contradiction."

"Thus taught by the Guru,
The disciple, full of joy, and prostrating at his feet,
Meditated upon (inquired into), by and within himself,
The significance established by his own experience.

I am un-aging. I am undecaying. I have exalted Knowledge.
I am the Knowledge that is the inner Self.
I am full of Supreme Bliss. I am the Supreme Siva. I am the perfectly full and complete."

maya-gaia said...

Oh that link! Realize its always dangerous to try satire with a topic with such volatility but that was my intention with the Euthanasia Society link- ill advised it turns out.

Actually most of my pages deal with highly charged and controversial subjects and I do often throw in some links to the ever-present extreme pro and con views so readers can consider the broadest perspective. It was unfortunate that combining "cancer" and
"euthanasia" created a perfect storm for offending everyone.

The only pro activism I advocate for individuals to help save Earth's nature is to join and perhaps volunteer in environmental and wildlife organizations. Neither ecospiritual social networking nor the postmodern movement for self realization have anything near the potential that the collective will and means orgs have to grow political support for the Gaia imperative- essential for actuating sustainable conservation.

I'm afraid my analogy between Aurobindo and Ramana - and engagement and detachment, got lost when the term "tradition" replaced "detachment". The conversation went tangential from
environmentalism to all about whether Ramana was a Neo Vedantan. Refocusing: I think there is simply too much data to sustain the old hats of- Oh- threats are overblown; things really aren't that bad; Gaia isn't fragile and is resilient and there have always been extinctions yet nature recovers, etc. Such equivocations become rationalizations for adopting a detached Maya paradigm- leaving Gaia to fend for herself. This seems to deny the essence of the realization to which we aspire-to apperceive our wholeness. How better to anticipate our awakening than to become loving allies in defending against her/our defile.

Losing M. Mind said...

I was kind of thinking how all sages really are modern, in the sense that they do not necessarily share out-moded, or taboo aspects of religion. And I would think what was true for Maharshi in that, for instance tolerance toward a lesbian actress from Hollywood, was true for Shankara, was true for the sages who were in or wrote the Upanishads, was true for Ribhu and jesus as well. Jesus hung out with poor and prostitutes which the Pharisees did not approve of. That a sage is infact beyond the mores and prejudices of their contemporaries, always. And so while some of that may have made in-roads into Shankaracharya maths, Shankara himself was beyond all that. On the other hand, I suppose sages are ancient, Shankara doing commentaries on Upanishads and Bhagavad gita. Maharshi translating Shankara works that spoke exactly of his own Realization. Maharshi's tolearnace and use of ritual. Wearing vibhuti. The singing of Ribhu Gita, etc. The aspects of Ramana Ashram that were and are a traditional Hindu temple.

kelamuni said...

Hi Conrad,
I'm going to have to side with you on most of what you say here, though I think we can distinguish between Neo-Vedanta and Neo-Advaita. Like Ramakrishna, Ramana was not a political activist like Vivekananda. And I would have to say that there are indeed differences between the teachings of Shankara and Ramana. And the Vivekachudamani does not make for good comparison since it was not written by Shankara. There was, on the other hand, a form of self-enquiry taught by Shankara, and we find it in the Upandeshasahashri, the only authentic independent work written by Shankara. However, as you say, Shankara's enquiry is much more scripturally oriented, while Ramana's attempts to deal with experience per se. There is much that Ramana teaches that is more or less derived from Shankara, but there are also other elements that are foreign to Shankara.