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:
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.