Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Ramana's Path of Peace, and the Ego's Path of Adversarial Conflict

Elias wrote an essay over at the Broken Yogi Forum, "Seeing The Elephants In Ramana's Room", that I initially considered such a piece of crap that it wasn't worth responding to. Unfortunately, it was such disturbing crap that I couldn't get it out of my mind, and some people seem to think it has merit, so I feel that I've got to respond to the many falsehoods in the piece.

Elias speaks of his essay as a "testing" of a "contrarian view", so I'll take it in that dubious if less-than-completely serious vein. There's nothing wrong with experimenting with contrarian views, but if they turn out to be just plain wrong even on the factual level, it needs to be pointed out. Normally I enjoy Elias' views, and though I may disagree with one or two points he raises, there's usually a lot I'd agree with or consider valuable. In this essay, however, he manages to get virtually everything he says about Ramana so maniacally wrong, one can't help but be a bit in awe. And to come to the clearly insane conclusion through his warped chains of logic that "Ramana is the adversary of the Holy Spirit, and an enemy of the human race," is, well, so laughably absurd as to discredit all that precedes it. So perhaps it's unnecessary to debunk the points he raises, and yet I'll do so anyway, and see if something meaningful comes of it.

Right off the bat Elias describes me as an "apologist" for Ramana, which I find rather strange, in that I wasn't aware of anything Ramana had said or done that needed an apology. I'm sure not everyone responds favorably to Ramana's teachings or to Advaita altogether, but I can't see anything about it that would require an apology or excuses. Explanations of meaning and context, to be sure, but I can't think of anything which is so clearly "wrong" either morally or theologically in Ramana as to put him or his admirers on the defensive.

In his first specific complaint about Ramana, Elias cites the strange fact that Ramana seldom referred to Buddhism in his teachings, as if there were something odd about a rural South Indian teacher of Advaita not being much conversant in Buddhism. Elias doesn't cite a single negative comment on Buddhism by Ramana, but instead only three brief positive references. And yet this is supposed to be seen as a slap in the face to 2,500 years of Buddhist dharma. I'm not sure if Ramana's lack of references to B'hai or Taoism or Judaism or the Greek Gods or Jainism or American Indian religion is meant to be taken as an insult to those traditions also. Clearly, Elias is under the mistaken impression that Ramana was some kind of professor of comparative world religion with an obligation to cover all religions equally. He seems to have missed the point that Ramana taught within a context familiar to himself and those who came to him, which was almost entirely local Hindus, at least until many decades into his life as a teacher.

When Ramana is asked about Buddhism's eightfold path by Evans-Wentz, a prominent western scholar of eastern religion, he merely says that it's basically the same as Raja-Yoga, and on another occasion says that Krishnamurti's teaching is similar to Buddha's. I think this indicates that Ramana cared very little for the finer scholastic and dogmatic differences in religion, and was more interested in the core truths and practices, which he felt were common to many religions, regardless of outer differences. In the only references to Judaism I'm aware he made, he frequently cited the Biblical "I am that I am" as a sign that the God of the Old Testament and of Christianity was of the same nature as the Vedantic Brahman. This would of course be unsatisfying to a scholar or fundamentalist of these religions, but that was never Ramana's concern. Likwise, there's no indication that Ramana felt any conflict with Buddhism, regardless of the various differing dogmas, so I'm not sure where Elias is manufacturing the inference of a lack or regard for Buddhism on Ramana's part. Further, Ramana wss certainly not a naif in regards to various religions, he simply didn't seem to care about what to him were petty differences between them.

Perhaps if Elias cited some specific conflict between Buddhism and Ramana's teaching, that would be helpful. He only says, "As a matter of fact, Ramana's own teaching about the mind (and the ego) is in serious conflict with that of Buddha," but cites nothing of Buddha's teaching which is in conflict with Ramana's. The conflict appear to be with Elias' understanding of "ego" and "mind", both of which Elias finds to be of positive value. The problem here is that Buddha, like Ramana, considered the ego to be an illusion, and that any mind built upon the ego-illusion he considered to be founded in a conceptual error. It would appear that while Ramana and Buddha are pretty much on the same page regarding the ego, Elias is in conflict with both.

The heart of Elias' problems with Ramana's views on ego and mind seem to be the result of a simple semantic conflict. As he says, referring to Ramana's declaration (quoted by me in the post "Jivanmukta and the Mind of the Realizer, Part II)  that  "The mind is nothing other than the "I"-thought. The mind and the ego are one and the same,", Elias counters, "The mind and the ego are not the same. The ego is a process, within the mind, but to call the whole of the mind "the ego" is to state an empirical falsehood". He goes on to declare that the mind includes awareness and self-awareness, and that these are rooted in egoless Brahman, not the ego itself.

The problem with this formulation is that Ramana is using the term "mind" in a manner that clearly makes a distinction between the "I"-thought and fundamental awareness. He is not at all arguing that awareness is egoic in nature, but only that by association with the "I"-thought it seems to be limited by that.
You must distinguish between the 'I', pure in itself, and the 'I'-thought. The latter, being merely a thought, sees subject and object, sleeps, wakes up, eats and thinks, dies and is reborn. But the pure 'I' is the pure being, eternal existence, free from ignorance and thought-illusion. If you stay as the 'I', your being alone, without thought, the 'I'-thought will disappear and the delusion will vanish forever. In a cinema show you can see pictures only in a very dim light or in darkness. But when all the lights are switched on, the pictures disappear. So also in the floodlight of the supreme atman all objects disappear.-(Be As You Are, p.49)
Elias' argument boils down to a semantic tautalogy, using differing definitions of "mind" to create the illusion of contradiction. This allows him to make non-sensical statements such as the folowing:

Let's assume for a moment, however, that the mind and the ego are the same. What are the implications of that assumption? First of all, Ramana is saying that mind must always have an "I", or an egoic perspective. He is saying there is no mind beyond self-awareness. The concept that mind might exist in a state of selflessness -- or "no-self" -- is foreign to Ramana.
Since Ramana defines his use of the term "mind" as "the 'I'-thought", obviously there is going to be no mind remaining when the 'I'-thought is gone. But since he doesn't consider fundamental awareness or identity to be the same as the 'I'-thought, there is no absence of such awareness or identity when the 'I'-thought is gone. What remains is certainly egoless self-awareness and egoless identity. If one wishes to call that the "One Mind", as Ramana himself does at times, this is fine. But to suggest that this contradicts Ramana's earlier formulation is not only simplistic pedantry, it is false pedantry.

Secondly, Ramana is also saying that wherever limited self-awareness arises (as opposed to Atman-Brahman, or unlimited Self Awareness), there is ego. And, according to Ramana, this self-awareness is a delusion which thinks "the waking state and the world are real", when in fact they are not.
This betrays a mistaken understanding of Ramana's teaching about awareness and the ego. In the first place, in his view unlimited Self-Awareness does not "arise". It is already the case, and it is never in any way altered by the ego.  It is the very foundation of all existence, and is the absolute, infinite, unqualified subjective source of all that arises, including the 'I'-thought or ego. There is not even any sense of "opposition" between unlimited Self-Awareness and the ego. All of that is manufactured by the ego itself, and does not exist from the perspective of Atman-Brahman. In this sense the ego and its viewpoint is considered unreal and something which has "never happened". The underlying reality has never been in the least bit altered or modified by the arising of the ego, since there is in reality no ego at all, and an illusion cannot alter the reality it misrepresents, but only the perception of that reality.

This requires an understanding of the term "unreal" in both Ramana's teaching and Advaita (and in Buddhism for that matter). The most basic definition of "unreal" in Advaita is "impermanent", meaning something that changes its name and form. In a classic metaphor, gold is considered real, but the jewelry it is shaped into is "unreal", because it is merely one of many shapes or names the gold could take. One could shape the gold into a ring, or a pedant, or a flower, or a frog, but in any of those shapes, it is only the gold that is real, not the shape the gold takes. Similarly, in Advaita it is only consciousness, primal awareness, that is considered real, and not the shapes that consciousness takes, such as the human form, the world of objects, and the sense of "ego" or "self" that we attach to those forms. The point of Advaita is to help us see that unifying "gold" from which all names and forms derive their reality, and this is done by pointing out the illusory nature of these names and forms, so that the primal awareness or  transcendental Self that is their real nature is known to us. That is what "jnana" means - to know the underlying reality of all names and forms.

Ramana also uses another classic Advaitic metaphor to describe the illusion of the ego, comparing it to the story of the snake and the rope. A think rope lies on a dark roadway, and a man walking by at night mistakes it for a deadly snake. He screams for help, and the villagers come with torches and spears to kill the snake. When they arrive, however, and shine the light on the snake, it is revealed to be a mere rope, not a snake at all. In the same way, Advaita teaches that the ego is like the snake - it only appears to exist due to our ignorance and false imagination that multiplies in the darkness, making us think the road is filled with dangerous snakes. In reality, when the light of self-awarness is brought to the inspection of the snake, we find that it was never there to begin with. The snake "vanishes" suddenly, and is nowhere to be seen. Instead, there is merely the harmless rope of egoless reality. The rope never became a snake except in our own minds, and that was merely an illusion, not real at all. There was no magic required to transform the snake back into a rope, merely the light of awareness brought to inspect the presumed danger.

In the same way, not only the ego, but all the experiences we imagine to exist on the basis of the ego are considered to be "unreal", including our waking and dreaming "lives" lived in separation and fear, filled with enemies and opponents. In the Advaitic view, these are the "snakes" we see in ignorance, but brining the light of self-awarness to them all, they vanish, and leave only the Self, the "rope" that is the real nature of all the mind's snakes. One does not therefore have to "murder" or kill the snake, or vanquish one's opponents and enemies, one only has to see the rope from which our fantasies were derived, and the snake is instantly gone, without a single act of  violence or drop of blood spilled. This does not mean that when the snake is found to be unreal, there is no more life or existence or form. There is simply no basis for fear or separation any longer. Life is founded in reality then, not in unreality.

Part of the problem many westerners have with the Advaitic teaching about the world of the ego being "unreal" is that they confuse it with the notion of "non-existence", or "lacking meaning". Even when the analogy of the dream is mentioned, of the world being a dream in consciousness, they tend to get upset, since most westerners consider dreams to be less real than waking experiences. But within Advaita, the notion of unreality is much more subtle than that. It does not mean that egoic experiences are non-existent, only that they are akin to an optical illusion. Seen rightly, in the clear light of the Self, the underlying reality of all experiences becomes obvious. It becomes clear that there was never any ego-snake at all, only the Self-rope, and that all our fears were mistaken products of an overactive imagination. They were "shaped", like the gold ring, from something real, meaning the gold-rope-Self, but just like a lump of gold shaped into the form of a snake, the reality of the snake is that it is actually made of gold, and is incapable of hurting anyone.

The question is, is the self-awareness of a spider "ego" or is it Atman-Brahman? I think you could argue either side of that question, but my sense is that Ramana would come down on the side of "ego" for every kind of self-awareness that is not free of bodily identification with the struggle for survival in the realm of matter.

I think one can see from the rope-snake analogy that Ramana often used, Ramana would clearly come down on the side of the rope. To Ramana, there is no ego, and the illusion that there is such a thing is not to be taken seriously. When self-awarness becomes convinced that it is an ego, it does indeed seem to "see" an ego, and it consequently finds its awareness limited to the form it finds. This is like the villager seeing the rope in the dark and becoming frightened. In that state of mind, the man is clearly in the grip of fear, and is unable to shake off the "snake" he has imagined. It would certainly be true that Ramana would describe such a person to be under the spell of ego, but not that he's actually being attacked by something that is real. And so it is with all creatures who see themselves as egos due to their identification with the forms consciousness takes. If they presume that these forms really are who they are, they are living under an illusion that is able to perpetuate itself only due to ignorance, the lack of light in their minds. When the light of consciousness is brought to bear on the situation, the forms are revealed to be unreal, and the underlying reality is known directly.

So it could certainly be said that to Ramana, wherever the 'I'-thought persists, the "snake" seems to control our awareness, turning it into "mind". When the illusion of this imaginary 'I'-thought is seen through, it vanishes, and so does what we call "mind". What remains is the underlying reality. This does not mean that this underlying reality does not continue to create forms, as in the metaphor of the gold jewelry. It merely means that all such forms are recognized as golden, and thus "unreal" in the fundamental sense, even as they are molded into shape and melted back into shapelessness before being re-shaped into some new form.

My next point is two-fold. First, that Ramana is absolute in his indictment of the self-aware Universe as consisting of "ego". Mind, including the psyche (and all the constituents of what we call "the unconscious"), is nothing but ego. As such, all consciousness except Self Realization is delusion and unreality.

That, in fact, is Ramana in a nutshell: an absolute rejection of life as it is lived by all beings (except Himself and one or two others).
This has it so hilariously wrong it's hard to unpack without ripples of laughter shaking one's vision. In the first place, it's not necessary to reject anything in Ramana's view. Rejecting the snake would be to still presume it is real to begin with. Bringing the light of consciousness to illuminate the darkness does not "reject" even the darkness, much less the rope. It merely shows us what was always the case, what was already real, and that what we feared to be the case simply never was real to begin with. There is no motive or activity of rejection involved.

Similarly, self-enquiry does not reject anything at all. It does not find ego in us, and then reject it. Instead, it merely brings the light of our innate self-awareness to bear upon this felt presumption of ego, to see what is really there. As we do so, the light of our own awareness dispels the illusion of the ego, and reveals that it was always only a harmless rope - and even further, that this "rope" is the golden, unshakable reality of the true Self. There is no rejection of the darkness by the light, but only a natural process of illumination. Similarly, with Ramana there is no rejection of the ego or the world, but merely the illumination of the underlying reality which dispels all fears and illusions we have created through ignorance.

Ramana merely points out that the ego is nothing but an imaginary thought - nothing more, nothing less. And all the thoughts and fears that emanate from the ego are also merely imaginary, like the various conceptions that arise from seeing a snake on the road. The absence of these is not an absence of real life, it is an absence of hysterical imaginings, that is all. It is the beginning of real life, based in reality rather than illusions. One can take offense at such things, and consider this message an assault on "life as it is lived" by most people. But I think life as it is lived by most people could use quite a lot of help to free us from our fears and illusions. Only the ego itself would have anything to fear from this kind of message, or someone so wedded to the life of the ego that they cannot imagine any other possibility.

At this point, unfortunately, Elias jumps off the deep end into the waterless swimming pool he's constructed:

Can you see what's going on here? I smell a power trip, and even a pathological dissociation. Ramana's rejection of life -- as opposed to "pure being" -- is so absolute it engenders an irreconcilable duality in anybody who contemplates it.
I'm not sure how to even respond to this. WTF? I'm not sure where Elias dreams up this "power trip", or this "pathological dissociation" of Ramana's, but I suspect it's the same place that we dream up snakes and impose them on the form of a simple rope. As the rope-snake analogy makes clear, there's nothing "irreconcilable" about the duality that Ramana describes. It's easily reconciled by the simple act of bringing light to bear on the alleged snake, and seeing that it's actually a rope. The only problem arises if we are so attached to the snake-vision that we can't bear the thought of parting with it. And it's certainly true that many people are deeply attached to their illusions, and hold onto them dearly, as if their very life and existence depended upon them. But it is this that is the pathological disassociation, not pointing out the reality of the situation. The ego induces a pathological dissociation in us between our very self-awareness and the underlying reality of the real Self. It then projects this onto the world around us, producing "enemies of mankind" and "adverseries of the Holy Spirit". Religion is filled with precisely these kinds of hard-held illusions masquerading as "truth", and it's certainly true that Ramana is happy to dispel such ideas. But he's not even in opposition to these, he's merely helping bring the light forth so that we can see what is true. Truth doesn't reject or oppose illusions, it merely exposes them by its very nature, and they fall away harmlessly.
While mind is in fact ocean-like in extent, for Ramana it is all "ego". Or, to use a different metaphor, the Sun exists, but earth-gardens are forms of illusion/delusion.
What Ramana would point out is that "mind" is not ocean-like in extent, it is actually quite limited and small, more like a little puddle. The underlying reality of the mind is indeed ocean-like, and infinite in extent, but the mind isn't able to appreciate that, because it only sees a limited self where in reality there is an infinite Consciousness that is our real Self. The ego is a reduction of the Self to the name and form of a small piece of the infinite Being. Self-Realization is merely a restoration of our awareness to its real nature, which is infinite and formless, the very gold from which everything is shaped. And once again, Elias makes the error of presuming that because these forms are "unreal", that they are to be disassociated from by Ramana. The opposite is the case. It is by disassociating from the Self that we imagine these "earth gardens" to exist independently, on their own, separate from the Self. When the true perspective is realized, the earth garden is seen as the Self, as made entirely and purely of Self, one's own very Being, and is thus as dear and true as one's own Self.  Ramana made it quite clear that in Self-Realization, "everything is real", and "everything is Brahman". Or, in the classic formulation of Shankara's Advaitia, "The world is an illusion, only Brahman is real, Brahman is the world". This earth-garden is, in reality, Brahman. It is only in ignorance that it appears to us an something independent of Brahman, something that must be "saved" or "restored" to Brahman. To Ramana, the world is not in need of salvation at all. It is merely in need of illumination, so that we can see its real nature.

My theory is that there is a root cause to this kind of thinking in a man, and that is dissociation from and rejection of the feminine. Where is Ramana's woman? Where is the Ramakrishna in Ramana? Yes, I know, there's a notion about that the old sage of Arunachala is so far beyond the male-female duality that the idea of him falling in love with a female counterpart is ridiculous. Bullshit, I say. I don't believe it for one minute.

This is an even stranger accusation. In the first place, Ramana was not at all disassociated from women. He had many female devotees he worked with every day, especially in the ashram kitchen, which Ramana spent several hours in every day helping prepare the ashram meals. Even more obviously the question "where is Ramana's woman" is easily answered, in that his own mother was not only one of his primary devotees, but was the only person Ramana ever specifically acknowledged as fully liberated. He lovingly was at her deathbed steering her through the death process, in which he confirmed that she haed achieved full liberation. Furthermore, he had a Goddess temple built for her Samadhi site, at which he did many hours of puja for many years on end. He often described this site as his relationship to the Divine Feminine, and it was the most honored place in his entire ashram. So the notion that Ramana was somehow negligent of the feminine aspect of the Divine is just bizarre, and indicates a complete lack of basic knowledge about Ramana's actual life.

Many critics of Ramana point out the opposite - that Ramana was clearly a tantric who had a strong involvement in the "Goddess" dimension of spirituality, and that he wasn't a pure Advaitic at all. But of course Shankara too worshipped the Goddess, as Ramana did, though it's not as widely known. Ramana himself was even known to visit Goddess temples as a young boy, before his awakening, and is reported to have spent hours outside the gates of one of these temples, both before and after his awakening, staring at a statue of the Goddess with tears of devotion streaming down his cheeks. Likewise, Ramana was completely enthralled with the devotional aspects of religion, and stated repeatedly that there was no such thing as Jnana without Bhakta, that they were inseparably bound, that love was the very nature of the Self.

Furthermore, the very personality of Ramana and the life he lived exposes this whole notion of him as a disassociated misanthrope as a complete lie. Aside from the earliest years of his life at Arunachula, in which he lived in caves in samadhi and paid little attention to ordinary matters, his entire life as a teacher was one of gregarious and loving human society. In fact, he and his ashram were often criticized as "a bunch of householders" who didn't seem to take seriously the rigorous demands of ashram life. Instead, he merely hung out with his devotees in an informal manner, giving instruction in the vernacular, in the midst of very ordinary activities. As mentioned, he worked in the ashram like everyone else at menial duties, side by side with whoever was there, and he refused special treatment that made him "different" from others. He refused special meals, foods, even medication. His personal care and concern for the people around him was evident to all. He kept his own bedroom door open at all hours of the day and night, and insisted that any devotee who needed to talk with him be able to do so at any time. This is hardly the life of someone who is disassociated from life, relations, and the feminine side of consciousness. One can certainly say that Ramana preferred to teach in simple silence, but not the silence of disassociation, but the silence of deep and abiding love.
OK, to bring this "theoretical consideration" to a close (for now), let's look at one more thing: Repeatedly Ramana says that the ego should be "killed" or "destroyed". Not absorbed, dissolved, integrated, or allowed to flow into the Self -- but murdered. What's with this inner violence toward his own vitality (and the vitality of everything around him)?
Once again, Elias misunderstands what Ramana means when he uses phrases like "destroying the mind". The snake is "destroyed" when one brings light to it and sees that it is actually a rope, but no violence is involved, and nothing real is actually harmed. It is only an illusion that is destroyed by the light, not an actual snake. Similary, the ego is just an impermanent thought, not something real, and when that thought is revealed to be merely imaginary in nature, it vanishes, and the underlying reality is simply obvious. The force of life and vitality is not "killed", only the illusion which limited life and vitality to the snake-illusion. In reality, in awakening to the Self the power of life and vitality is revealed to be that of the Self, and this unleashes that vitality in the form of an all-powerful force which fills the body and awareness with infinite love and bliss, and transforms its function into an extension of the Self that acts towards all with equality and wisdom. The life of Ramana demonstrates that vitality and love, even when he was old and sick. As Ramana explains:
 Q. How to get rid of the mind?

M. Is it the mind that wants to kill itself? The mind cannot kill itself. So your business is to find the real nature of the mind. Then you will know that there is no mind. When the Self  is sought, the mind is nowhere. Abiding in the Self, one need not worry about the mind.
To Ramana, the mind of the Jnani is not his own, and has no independent existence, but only reflects the Self. As he points out here:

See the moon and also the cloud in the sky. There is no difference in their brilliance. The moon only looks like a speck of cloud. The Jnani's mind is like this moon before sunlight. It is there, but not shining of itself.
Because the awareness of the Jnani is not identified with any forms, his mind is like an empty mirror, and merely reflects whatever is around it. Just as there is no actual content in a mirror, the mind of the jnani has no content either, nothing to call "I", it is simply "empty". This is certainly a concept familiar to Buddhists, who are also quite aware of the teaching of "no mind", such as is found in Zen. Bodhidharma, the originator of Zen, famously taught that there was no mind, and when a man came to him desperate for the removal of his mind, Bodhidharma simply asked him, "what mind?" When the man looked to see where his mind was, he suddenly saw that there was no such thing at all. In that moment, he was enlightened. Bodhidharma could be said to have "slain" the man's mind, but in reality he merely pointed out that it didn't exist in the first place.
Realization for him is "the final doom" of the Universe, a kind of apocalypse of everything that human beings hold dear. To know God is to be "destroyed" in an absolute way, such that the archetypal dharmas of both Christ and Buddha (who preached compassion and salvation) are eradicated.
The problem here is that Elias see the ego as the center of the universe, upon which all we hold dear depends, when in reality this is simply not the case. The ego is not the center of the universe, though it might like us to think so. In reality, the ego is superfluous, an unnecessary presumption superimposed on reality. The mind that depends on the ego for its existence is not easily persuaded of this, however, and often reacts with fear and apocalyptic doom to any inference that the ego is not essential to our existence. Ramana's teaching and experience points to the opposite, that when the ego-illusion falls away, life does not disappear, nor does anything dear to us disappear. Instead, all is illuminated by the Conscious Light of the Self, and lived by the innate Power of the Self. Of course, all forms by their very nature arise and fall, live and die, but the Self that is there very substance and nature does not, just as gold is not destroyed when it is melted and reshaped into a new form.

I am not sure at all how any of this contradicts the teaching of Jesus or Buddha. Jesus taught to love others as our very self, which seems to be just what Ramana not only preached, but practiced. True, Ramana did not preach that the ego could achieve salvation, but I doubt that is what Jesus meant either by the term. In fact Jesus taught that the Kingdom of heaven is within, and that to get there one would have to give up all the things of this world, including even family and friends - certainly a harsher path than Ramana ever advocated, who was against outer renunciation, but instead recommended the life of the householder for most devotees. Buddha too was a monastic, and he clearly advocated that life for most of his followers, and yet somehow Elias considers Ramana to be the "disassociated one" who is the enemy of ordinary life as most live it.

And then Elias goes completely out of his mind, and not in Ramana's sense of the phrase:
In that sense Ramana is the adversary of the Holy Spirit, and an enemy of the human race
 I have a hard time imagining any sense in which this is even remotely true. I'm not sure we could describe anyone in the world as "the adversary of the Holy Spirit", but least of all someone who lived an immensely peaceful life in fraternity and love and equality with all he met, who never raised his hand in violence towards anyone, who advocated a life of quiet contemplation and active friendship towards others, whose very presence emanated peace, tranquility and good humor, and who saw no one as his enemy or adversary. Is the Holy Spirit really that inhospitable towards Advaitins? I would somehow doubt it.

As for being an enemy of the human race, one searches far and wide for any sign of this in Ramana's teachings or life. Even the human race seemed to have no idea that Ramana was its enemy. Was all that love and peace just a front for some kind of evil plot, some twisted power-play as Elias has earlier suggested?

Apparently so, for the next agenda item Elias brings up is - can we really say we are surprised - the Nazi card:
t may be no accident that he lived and taught during the Second World War, and never bothered to condemn the Nazis or the annihilation of the Jewish people. Yes, he is innocent by default, since there was no requirement that he join Upasani Maharaj, Meher Baba, Yogananda, Gandhi, or other Indian saints in condemning Hitler. But the question hangs in the air -- was he complicit in the sense that Siva-Arunachala is always complicit in acts of destruction? Or was he simply dissociated from it all, like a heroin addict to whom human beings have become unreal actors dancing on a movie screen of light and shadows?

So now Elias is suggesting that Ramana is such an enemy of humanity that he's a secret Nazi sympathizer, or at least indifferent to the mission of the Nazis and the sufferings they brought about. His evidence for this is as damning as his lack of citations for Buddhism - Elias can't seem to find any references to the Nazis in Ramana's published Talks. Of course, this is rather strange reasoning - Elias assumes the lack of references to Buddha indicates a hostility to Buddhism, whereas now a lack of references to Nazis indicates some kind of sympathy for Nazism. The odd logic of this aside, one has to wonder why Elias would even think references like that, if Ramana even made them, would find their way into the collected Talks. Ramana did not write the Talks, it's merely a collection of conversations he had with devotees and visitors over a few years in the early 1940s. It's by no means exhaustive or comprehensive, it only records things thought to be worthy of writing down by some of the people who were around Ramana. It's almost entirely composed of remarks he made about spiritual practice, and virtually nothing else is included. Certainly there's no comments about politics and other matters of interest. It's certainly hard to imagine that Ramana never said anything about the war, in that he read the newspaper on almost daily basis, but it's also not surprising that anything he might have said about it didn't make it's way into the Talks.

Even so, it takes an extremely weird and demented imagination to think that Ramana would have been in any way sympathetic to or indifferent to the sufferings of the war that was brought on by the Nazis. Being a critic of the ego does not, as far as I'm aware, indicate a sympathy for Nazism. I'd say quite the opposite. Nazism is an extreme example of the ego gone wild, creating the most fantastic imaginary snakes, and then acting as if they are real, and thus wrecking havoc on the innocent world in the effort to destroy them. What better personifies the illusory rope-snake analogy than turning innocent Jews into rabid vermin who must be destroyed? The ego, once taken to be real, engages in massive programs of projection upon the whole of the world, seeing snakes everywhere who must be killed, in the forms of countless innocent human beings. That mad theater is played out not just among the Nazis, but among us all, even as we blame the Nazis themselves for our own egoic miseries. This is why Ramana taught that we must examine the very root of the ego-illusion, and not just fight its various imagined forms and threats.

Even if we assume for the sake of argument that Ramana never did mention or "condemn" the Nazis, what are we really to make of that? I don't think Ramana was under any illusion that issuing condemnations of Nazis was going to change the situation any. I don't think that any Nazis were waiting for Ramana's remarks before invading Poland. And I don't think they gave a rat's ass what Gandhi or Yogananda thought about them either. Nor would I imagine anyone was much in doubt of their nature, and in need of Ramana to tell us that the Nazis were bad dudes. Anyone who did had bigger problems than I think Ramana could have solved through some official declaration of condemnation.

What this does bring up, however, is that Ramana was certainly reluctant to condemn anyone or anything. In fact, he was reluctant to tell anyone how to live. I'm not aware of his ever condemning anyone. He truly did have a blessing attitude towards all, like Christ, who said that God's love is like the sunlight, it falls on sinner and innocent alike. I'd have to think that not even Christ would condemn the Nazis, since he failed to condemn even those who tortured and put him to death. The worst he might have said is, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." This spirit of love and forgiveness is found in Ramana as well.

Even further, it must be noted that Ramana felt that the power of loving contemplation of the Self was the greatest help mankind could have. In response to a devotee who desired to get involved in political work for the sake of mankind, Ramana said, "An old woman who finds the peace of God in her prayers does more for humanity than all the intellectual combined." The sense I get of Ramana during the second world war is that he felt the best thing he and others in his situation could do was simply to live in and radiate the peace of God, rather than to issue meaningless condemnations of "evil-doers". He did not advise against involvement in politics for those who were so destined, but he did not consider it either necessary or even the most important means for the improvement of humanity. Just as Shelley used to refer to poets and artists as the "unacknowledged legislators of the world", so Ramana seemed to consider those living the peaceful, contemplative life to be the unacknolwedged peacemakers of the world. The basic idea he seemed to have is that if you wanted peace, you had to live it to the very core of your being, and that would change the world more than any oppositional stance towards whatever "evil" one might find out in the world, whether it be Nazis or Communists or Terrorists or whatever the latest bogeyman was. He was not a pacifist, and he did not disapprove of England or India's involvement in the war (as some like Krishnamurti did), but he was not a politician either, or an intellectual commentator on the issues of his day. He was an advocate for the most radical form of peace, the cessation of the ego-illusion, which is the source of all conflict, dualism, and its natural and endless battles of "good vs. evil", always defined by the ego on its own terms. The Nazis, after all, considered themselves the force of good in the world, and their enemies the forces of evil. And so it is for all egos.

Anyway, my apologies if I've offended or insulted Elias, but this essay needed a strong take-down. I doubt he's that attached to his ideas in any case. I will presume he was just playing with us all, and we can move on to something more valid, if he wishes to keep approaching Ramana's teachings with an heretical viewpoint.

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