Ramana Maharshi

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Ramana Mahrishi as portrayed in a loving oil painting by Jayalakshmi Satyendra
Ramana Mahrishi as portrayed in a loving oil painting by Jayalakshmi Satyendra

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi (December 30, 1879April 14, 1950) was a great Hindu mystic of the Advaita Vedanta stream and is regarded by some as one of the greatest saints of Hinduism in the 20th century. He lived in the sacred Tiruvannamalai hill near Chennai. The core of his teachings was the practice of atma-vichara (self-enquiry).


Maharshi's Life

Ramana Maharshi was born in a village called Tirucculi near Madurai in southern India. He was given the name Venkataraman. His father died when he was twelve, and he went to live with his uncle in Madurai, where he briefly attended American Mission High School. However, his thoughts soon turned to religion, namely mystic Hindu philosophies and understandings of universal divinity.

At the age of sixteen, he heard somebody mention "Arunachala." Although he didn't know what the word meant (it's the name of a holy hill associated with the Hindu deity Shiva) he became greatly excited. At about the same time he came across a copy of Sekkilar's Periyapuranam, a book that describes the lives of Shaivite saints, and became fascinated by it. In the middle of 1896, at age 16, he was suddenly overcome by the feeling that he was about to die. He lay down on the floor, made his body stiff, and held his breath. "My body is dead now," he said to himself, "but I am still alive." In a flood of spiritual awareness he realized he was spirit, not his body.

His Teachings

Ramana Maharshi taught a method called self-inquiry in which the seeker focuses continuous attention on the I-thought in order to find its source. In the beginning this requires effort, but eventually something deeper than the ego takes over and the mind dissolves in the heart center. He is an acknowledged Hindu master of the Advaita Vedanta stream of Vedic thought, and has many followers throughout India and abroad. This system of philosophy endorses the view that the 'true being' within each one of us is the Ultimate, sublime reality, the Brahman (the one without a second). What prevents us from realizing this is the ego, or the association of the mind with the body (and, from a larger perspective, worldly affairs). Therefore, this ego must be destroyed in order to realize the truth. Advanced thinkers would note that 'realize the truth' is a bit of a misnomer, because we already are the truth, and we only need to remove the false veil.

In a very simple manner he asks us to go back to the source from wherein all thought arises and ask ourself, "To whom is this thought? To whom has this anger arisen?" The answer would be obviously "To me"; after that, you then enquire as to "Who am I?". Ramana Maharishi forbade answers like: I-am-not-the-body, I-am-not-the-food-I-eat, I-am-not-the-brain etc. He would also suggest the question "Whence am I?" which some of his devotees consider to be more important than "Who am I?". In this way one traces the 'I-Thought' back to the source. The source is what one may call the God or the Self. Another important mantra of Ramana's is: "Stay in Silence."

Many western authors, including the American philosopher Ken Wilber, have been influenced by Ramana Maharshi's nondual thought. Paul Brunton was another Western author who deeply impressed by Ramana Maharshi. He wrote his experiences of staying at Arunachala in a book called "A Search in Secret India". This was one of the first books to bring Ramana Maharshi to the attention of the Western World. He wrote of Arunachala.

"I never fail to become gradually aware of the mysterious atmosphere of the place… I enjoy an ineffable tranquillity merely by sitting for a while in the neighbourhood of the Maharishee." 1

Teachers in the tradition

Several followers of Ramana Maharshi became teachers in their own right, and have subsequently spawned their own successors as well, including Papaji, Lakshmana Swami, and Annamalai Swami. Western followers of Ramana Maharshi include Robert Adams, A. Ramana from AHAM, Nome from the Society of Abidance in Truth, Neelam from the Fire of Truth Satsanga, Gangaji from the Gangaji Foundation, Eli Jaxon-Bear from the Leela Foundation, Catherine Ingram from Dharma Dialogues, and Isaac Shapiro.

External links

  • Acalayoga blog focused on RM and related content
  • Maharshi Gita verses from the Gita arranged by RM to give its essential meaning
  • Papaji quotes and photos of one of RM's most influential disciples
  • Robert Adams A prominent American disciple of Ramana Maharshi
  • Gangaji a direct disciple of Papaji, and teacher of advaita in Ramana's tradition
  • Eli Jaxon-Bear a teacher in the lineage of Ramana Maharshi and Papaji
  • Neelam A student of Papaji's who leads satsangs and retreats in the USA, Europe, and India

See also

Nisargadatta Maharaj


  • The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi edited by Arthur Osborne
  • Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi edited by David Godman
  • The Path of Sri Ramana (Parts One and Two) by Sri Sadhu Om
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