Every serious seeker enters the inner path in a unique way, which is why we are fortunate if we find friends who resonate with our views and feelings. My own trajectory began when I was a troubled teenager looking for a permanent antidote to my angst. I began my quest with an intense study of the basics of classical hatha yoga philosophy; as the years flowed by, still looking for answers, I moved into Japanese Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, to the Path of the Mystics (Santh Math), played around with the fascinating fields of Sufism and allied mystical paths, and finally was guided back to the ancient cradle of Advaita-Vedanta, and specifically to Ramana’s Direct Path of Atma-Vichara. I am so grateful that I did not dump anything that was valuable; no, I extracted the essence of all these fabulous paths and meshed them into my “view,” so that they are now a living truth, a treasure chest of tools I can dip into at will.
This is just to say that I can empathize with those who do not resonate with the expression of my particular views; nor do I count on them for validation, for the work of convincing myself that I am on the right path (for me) has been done well. Nevertheless, I share portions of my journey, perhaps because long ago I took the Boddisattva Vow (to seek enlightenment not just for oneself (how utterly boring!) but for all beings), and so I have a compulsion to offer others the results of my questing, knowing full well that too many are too busy or unwilling to do what I have done and still do. Also, one never knows what will strike a note with another, and it is a magnificently liberating feeling to express the delicate truths revealed as one persists in delving into the cosmic Self. If even one person’s load is lightened as a result of our openness and willingness to give, then that is a great blessing, for me, anyway.
So why do I view Jnana, the ancient tradition of Eastern wisdom, as a jealous god? Well, from what I see within even the small world of committed seekers, only a minute segment can appreciate the subtle wisdom of the sages to the point that their lives transform; and this is the true litmus test—personal transformation, or what the hell is the point??? Worshipping deities, visiting temples, churches of mosques, relying on external gurus, etcetera is their way of evolving, and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this; if one is sincere, eventually these paths too can also lead to the gold of realization. But there is a short-cut for folks like me, and that is the undiluted teaching of Atma-Vichara, as informally transmitted by the great Advaita sage of south India, Ramana Maharshi.
Atma-Vichara relies on no external supports. There is the Self (the substratum of our being, pure existence-awareness and bliss; call it Shunyata (the fecund void, both the emptiness and the plenum of existence), Parabrahman (the Impersonal Supreme Divine) or the Absolute; it does not matter what label you stick on it, for here we are entering the wordless nameless realm of immortal bliss and peace. And then there is the Egoic self, mini-me, the body-mind-emotional system caged in a particular matrix that it takes for reality. By using the timeless principles of Jnana, we can break down the prison walls that keep us caged in delusion/illusion. Yes, by directly challenging the power of Maya, the Cosmic Enchantress whose divine game is Lila, Jnana can lead us rapidly through the thickets of samsara (relative reality) and to our eternal home of eternal happiness. In essence, if we have taken the trouble to really understand this invisible path, the ego burns down into the infinite ocean of Self.
But, as Ramana Maharshi often said, very few have the courage or the rapier-like impersonal intellect that coaxes one to let go of all relative props in order to follow the narrow tortuous path that wends its way into the core of the Spiritual Heart. If we start now, however, by acquiring a foundation and following simple ethical prescriptions, we can prepare ourselves to bask in the bliss and peace that is our true nature.
Many intellectuals are fascinated by the brilliant teachings of the jnanis and can spout all sorts of impressive stuff; but sorry, this alone, while critical in its own way, is not enough. The teachings must go deep, seeping in through multitudinous layers of the egoic self until they penetrate the heart. Success is evident when you note a distinct transformation in views, behavior and state of mind. Thought, speech and action begin to mesh harmoniously and personal ethics spontaneously guide ones behavior. What used to hassle and vex no longer has much of an impact, and if it does, the trouble is brief, for one has tasted the peace that surpasses all mundane understanding. Yes, entering the substratum by stopping the mind in its tracks, however briefly, is proof enough of our eternal existence, and this gradually becomes our platinum insurance against all the ups and downs of samsara.
Now, if we are sitting on the fence, and still spending most of our time and energy in buttressing our financial standing, work or social status—if the basic groundwork of understanding the Two Truths (Absolute and Relative reality) has been ignored, and if you don’t realize a basic mystical truth, which is that as soon as you try to fix a hole in samsara, a hundred other holes will open (so that you are kept perennially busy trying to plug them); if you naïvely believe that you can sort out all your relative affairs and tie them up in neat pretty parcels so you can finally focus on your inner work when you are old and relaxed (don’t forget Death could claim you at any time and there are no guarantees in this department); if the concept of Advaita (Not Two) is still only a sweet fiction, and so blood relatives and those who can materially benefit you are the only beneficiaries of your love and concern—then don’t be surprised if you fail to experience that first flicker of inner bliss (Aham Sphurana, in Sanksrit), which grows into a roaring torrent and heralds the advent of Samadhi (the transcendent state).
Jnana can only make sense if you are sick and tired of the endlessly mesmerizing games (both beautiful, horrific and everything in between) that Queen Maya has been playing with you for eons, and if you can now see through the tinsel veils of mundane gratification. Once this work is done, not with bitterness but with overwhelming gratitude that one’s inner eye has finally opened, then the road to wisdom can become a radiant highway to permanent bliss. If not, perhaps its best to stay where you are, and to get samsara out of your system before you come back, for Jnana is a jealous god and will not tolerate half-hearted fragmented love and shoddy commitments from its proponents.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who aids us in the Herculean task of dropping the unreal for the Real!