Ramana Maharshi is iconic figure of the contemporary spirituality – dozens of spiritual teachers address to his him as their Master, directly or indirectly. Unwillingly he has inspired the whole big movement of Neo-Advaita, and his teachings, once simple and straightforward, now turned into long discussions in thousands of lectures, meetings and satsangs. So what is it that made Ramana Maharshi and his teachings so popular?
Ramana Maharshi is a classical example of an old-school indian saint. Born in a village in a religious brahmin family, he had his first spiritual experience in the age of 16. That experience was so overwhelming, that the boy lost any interest in social life and wanted to spend all his time meditating alone. Soon he felt pulled to the holy mount Arunachala, so he secretly let his family and went to Tiruvannamalai, where he stayed till the end of his life. First he lived in the city temples, and later moved to the mountain itself, living in its caves for more that 20 years. He was totally absorbed in his meditation, not paying any attention to the outer world – in the beginning some people had to take care of him, otherwise he wouldn’t even eat. Sometimes he would be begging for food in the streets of the town, but mostly stayed unmoving, whether somebody would bring him food or not. He was a full renunciate, living his whole life without any possessions and wearing only a loin-cloth. By and by he became known as an enlightened being, and some followers started building an ashram for him at the base of Arunachala, and eventually Ramana Maharshi moved there from the cave. Mostly he stayed in silence, but sometimes when people were asking questions, he was giving short and simple answers. He never gave any complete teaching, basically he taught through these occasional question-answer sessions in the meetings with his followers. During this meetings he was mostly staying silent, he called silence the true and perfect spiritual teaching. But for those who were unable to understand his silence, he was using words, which couldn’t express truth, but at the most show a direction for the search. Ramana Maharshi didn’t speak of himself as a guru, never initiated disciples, and didn’t leave any successors.
The teachings of Ramana Maharshi can put just in a few lines. Your real Self is a “non-personal, all-inclusive awareness”. All the ideas that “I am this” or “I am that”, or even that “I am” is nothing but a false personality, ego, which in reality does not exist, and appears just as an illusion in the mind. Realization or enlightenment is a self-awareness, that has become perfect and permanent. The best way to reach to that state is self-enquiery – constantly questioning within “Who am I?” “Where does the “I” arise? Seek this within. The “I” then vanishes. This is the pursuit of wisdom.” By practicing awareness by and by the false idea of “I”, the ego, disappears, and only that awareness remains. “You are awareness. Awareness is another name for you.”
Another way of spiritual practice that Ramana Maharshi suggested was devotion – a total unconditional surrender to the God or Guru. Realizing that you are absolutely helpless, you give yourself completely without asking anything in return. “True surrender is the love for God for the sake of love and nothing else.” In this surrender the false ego also disappears, and what remains is awareness. Thus eventually both paths are leading to the same goal. And on both paths the essential is to remove the ego, just the ways are different.
Hardly anybody would critisize Ramana Maharshi. There is no controversy around him, no rumours or scandals. Why does everybody love him so much? He is utterly simple, clean and humble. Simple was his life, simple are his words, simple is his method. He appears like a sage from the times of Vedas and Upanishads – a naked man with no possessions, but he reached such heights in spirit, that the richest people felt like beggars next to him.