A.S.Panchapagesa Ayyar


A. S. Panchapagesa Ayyar, M.A., I.C.S., BAR-AT-LAW, F.R.S.L.

Hinduism is quite different from the other great religions of mankind in that it has not been founded by any one teacher or prophet. Thus, Islam has been founded by Muhammad, Christianity by Jesus, Zoroastrianism by Zoroaster, and Buddhism by Buddha; but Hinduism has no known founder, and has, like a great river, a natural growth. It is something like the Tungabhadra, whose origin is just a drop of water continually flowing from each nostril of a giant image-like boulder, called Roopnarayan. These drops become small streams, each a yard broad, one furlong from the source, and, ultimately become the mighty Tunga and Bhadra combining into the famous Tungabhadra River, now about to be harnessed to irrigate a million acres. Hinduism has, from its small origins, several millenniums ago, developed into the mighty river of to-day.

Like the Tungabhadra too, it has got two streams, the Aryan, coming from the right nostril of the Vedas and the Ganges, and the Dravidian, coming from the left nostril of the Siddhantas and the Indus. Hinduism is both the product of the land of the Vedas and of the men of Mohen-jo-Daro. Now, like the Tunga and the Bhadra, after their confluence, and the Ganges, after the confluence of the Jamuna with it, it is impossible to separate, or even to distinquish, the two streams. It follows, from the nature of its origin itself, that Hinduism started not as a complete system, like Islam or Christianity, and that it has been developed from age to age by the teachings of Avataras, Rishis and Bhashyakaras, by the Vedas, Upanishads, Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, Brahmasutras and Dharma Sastras and by the teachings of Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhwa, Vallabha, Chaitanya and the other eminent teachers of the Advaita, Dvaita, Vishishtadvaita, Suddhadvaita and Dvaita-Advaita, schools. All these have contributed to the making of the structure now known as Hinduism, let alone the doctrines of the Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purvamimamsa and Uttaramimamsa schools, and of Buddhism, Jainism and Materialism. Not only the Vedanta philosophers but also Buddha, Mahavira and Charva kahave contributed to Hinduism which, like a mighty river, has received waters from all sides. The greatest contribution to the creation and preservation of Hinduism has, of course, been made by the Rishis and Sages.

The Bhagavad Gita has clearly stated in chapter IV, that Truth is eternal, and that it is proclaimed afresh from age to age, when it has become lost, owing to lapse of time. So, Krishna came to fulfil, not to destroy, even as Christ and Mohammed came. It is because of this peculiar feature of Hinduism that Rishis and Sages are so necessary for its very existence and growth so that the old truths may be preached anew by new men living the lives they advocate. Anubhava
(actual experience) and Darshana (Vision of the Supreme) are essential for Teachers of religion, according to the Hindus. That is why India, the Home of Hinduism, has produced a never-ending series of Rishis and Saints, like the eternal snowclad peaks of the Himalayas, while it has egregiously failed to produce great soldiers like Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Napoleon, Chengiz Khan and Tamerlane, or industrialists like Rockfeller, Henry Ford and Carnegie, or imperialists like Chatham, Pitt and Churchill. One of the cardinal teachings of Hinduism is the divinity of man which, in its philosophy, does not detract from the unity of God. In the famous Vibhuti Yoga of the Bagavad Gita, it is clearly enunciated that God is the beginning, the middle and the end of all things, animate and inanimate, and that there is not a single atom, or disintegrated atom in the whole universe, without being pervaded by Him. His all-pervasiveness is something mysterious, being not merely like the salt pervading water, since the salt particles may be isolated, but He cannot be. It is not like the water soaking the earth, as water and earth may be separated, but not He and His creation. What is more, having pervaded the entire universe with a fraction of Himself, He remains entire, contrary to all the solemn teachings of human mathematics. He is full always; the best of Saints, like Prahlada or Narada, cannot add to that fullness; the worst of demons, like Ravana and Kamsa, cannot detract from that fullness. So, man cannot enhance His glory by his good deeds; nor can be detract from His glory by his bad deeds.

For the guidance of man, and for that alone, and not as an absolute statement of truth, the Vedas have divided God into three aspects, the Immanent, or the one-fourth immersed in the universe, the Transcendent, or the three- fourths left outside the universe, and the Emergent, or Avataras, like that of Sri Krishna, when the three-fourths and one-fourth combine to make the whole, for the benefit of mankind. So too, religion has been simplified by the Hindus by stating that it is only the three-fold formula of Brahma, Dharma and Karma. Man has to do Karma (work), and go along the path of Dharma (righteousness) and attain Brahma (God). Hinduism emphasised Brahma who could cancel both Dharma and Karma, whereas Buddhism emphasised Dharma and Jainism emphasised Karma. Hindus who emphasised Brahma stated that He was Satyam (Truth), Jnanam (Knowledge), Anandam (Bliss), Sakshi (Witness), Nirguna (the Absolute devoid of qualities) and Advaita (one and only one).

Devotees are advised to hear the proclamation of His greatness, in the Vedas, Sastras and Puranas and in the words of Saints, and to acquiesce in it, till they are made to accept it, by their own realisation; in other words, proclamation, acquiescence, and acceptance are the three steps. Every man is unique, because he is unlike every other man in the whole universe, having special gifts and aptitudes of his own, derived from God’s infinite resources. He is also universal as, otherwise, he cannot understand his fellow-men. Both this uniqueness and this universality are imbedded in the eternal, which is both unique and universal. So God has got, in Hinduism, not only the universal aspect, common to all, as in other religions, but He has also got His unique aspect for each man, leading to the Istadevata doctrine, or worshipping that aspect of God most conducive for the individual’s spiritual development. The Sahasranamas of different deities are intended to cultivate this uniqueness which leads, in its turn, to universalness, which leads, in its turn, to the eternal. That is why Krishna had no difficulty in proclaiming that any worship offered to any deity is only worship offered to Him, and that whoever wants to meet Him, He meets halfway. The tolerance of Hinduism is, therefore, inherent in its very nature and follows from its natural hypothesis. No wonder, then, that among the Hindus, there are many devout admirers of Jesus and Muhammad, let alone Buddha, Mahavira and others.

In this process of interpreting the true doctrines of Hinduism, which is not a religion of dogmas and precepts and periodical observances, but a way of life pervading all its aspects, Sages have to exist to show the way to laymen by life and precept. Here, too, the peculiar genius of Hinduism has made it reconcile the apparently diametrically opposite methods of evolution and revolution. On the side of evolution, we have got the regular schools of philosophy, and the great Mutts of the Adwaita, Dwaita, Vishishtadwaita, Dwaitadwaita and Suddhadwaita schools scattered all over India, from Kashmir to Cape Comorin, from Assam to Sind.

But Hinduism never forgot the lesson of history, that evolution, by itself, is not enough, and that revolution is needed, sometimes, to supplement it, for preserving the health and promoting the growth. God, in the Bible, has stated, “I will overturn, and overturn till everything is set right.” The Hindus have embodied this truth also as a fundamental part of their daily routine. Sannyasis and Rishis defy all conventions, and experiment always, by overturning established customs, whereas Mathadhipatis and Jagadgurus uphold such customs, thus forming the other half of the circle. So, while the Jagadgurus will be upholding the caste system, and untouchability, unapproachability and even unseeability, the Sannyasis and Sages, like Sri Ramana, refuse to recognise distinctions of caste, creed, colour, class, sex or country. Both have their uses, and Hinduism, by its trinity of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Siva, the destroyer has recognised the equality of creation, preservation and destruction. It has no sympathy for out-worn beliefs any more than for dilapidated buildings, and will mercilessly destroy them for leaving the path free for creation of new and better structeres. On the other hand, it will preserve every structure so long as it deserves to be preserved. This, naturally, is a combination of the methods of evolution and revolution. The man of the world, superior or inferior, goes by the path of evolution. The man of the other world, called Jeevanmukta, adopts, indifferently, the path of evolution or the path of revolution, as it suits him. Thus, God says that, for the Jeevanmukta, what is night for the common man is day and what is day for the common man is night; wealth and pleasure, which attract the common man, have no attraction for the Sage; truth, love and justice to which the layman does but lip-service are the life-breath of the Sage.

Sri Ramana, the Sage, has, in his own life, defied conventions several times. when he left his family on his fateful journey to Tiruvannamalai, he took with him, for his railway fare, three rupees given to him for paying his brother’s college fees, and displayed an utter disregard for the middle-class conventions regarding money matters, even as Lord Sri Krishna, when stealing butter, showed similar disregard. Indeed, an English lady of high culture, one day, told me that she could not regard Sri Ramana as a Sage because of his ‘misappropriation’ of these three rupees. I shall not be surprised if there are thousands of pharisees of that type even among Indians. So too, one of my orthodox Brahmin friends was scandalised on hearing that Sri Ramana would not eat anything till his mother died, and that he ate to the full the moment she died. His conventional mind could not understand the feelings of the Sage who could not eat while his mother was suffering agony but could eat the moment her soul was released from the body. Again, a police friend of mine was shocked at the refusal of Sri Ramana to give a complaint, or even to give evidence, regarding the theft of some vessels belonging to his Ashram by some members of the criminal tribe. Sri Ramana refused to believe that the vessels belonged to him any more than to those thieves. The policeman exclaimed indignantly to me that it would be the end of the world, forgetting that the world has not come to an end yet. I was first attracted to this great Sage by reading his book, “Who Am I?” I liked immensely his clear exposition of the matter which was only the typical Hindu exposition, viz., that the real “I” is not the gunny-bag of the body, or the Decca muslin of the mind, or the spider’s web of the ego, but something above and beyond all this viz., the Atman, or God-Immanent. It appears to be at first sight curious that any person, least of all a Sage, should ask the elementary question “Who am I?”, when everybody knows himself best, being always with himself and loving himself most. But, as is well-known, the most familiar thing is the most unexplored. Once Sri Ramana’s small book on this subject is read in its proper setting, the difficulty of the problem will become apparent, and one will realise that one is not the sthulasareera nor the sukshmasareera nor even the karanasareera but only the Atman or pure Consciousness. If a man is simply the body, he must say, when he is being taken away after losing his legs, “Threefourths ‘I’ am going leaving one-fourth ‘I’ behind”, as his legs represent one-fourth of his body. But he says, “I am going after losing my legs”, and we, the bystanders, also say, “he is going after losing his legs”, thus showing that the body is not the real self. If the mind were the real self, a man waking up from dreamless sleep or from a comatic stage of unconsciousness, when the mind is wiped out for all practical purposes, will not say “I had a dreamless sleep”, or “I was in comatic stage of unconsciousness”, nor will bystanders say “He ceased to exist during sleep” etc. Nor is his ego the real self; if it were, nobody would condemn himself inwardly, or be willing to die for something outside himself. But there is not a single human being in the whole world who will not die for something outside him.

Englishmen will die to defend their country from invasion; Americans will die to keep the world markets free; Russians will die to preserve Communism; Hindus will die to prevent interference with their orthodox customs; and Muslims will die in defence of their mosques. The famous passage in the Upanishads “neti, neti, neti” (not this, not this, not this) means simply that the Self is not the body, not the mind, not the ego. It is not born, like the body, nor does it die. It is not gross, and it does not require food, water and air like the body. It is not subtle and cunning, like the mind. It is not cruel and selfish and given over to pride, power, lust, fear, wrath and greed, like the ego. It is unborn, eternal, indestructible, infinite, invulnerable, incombustible, insoluble, all-pervasive, and above the three gunas.

Sri Ramana has consistently upheld, like all great Hindu Saints, that the real self is always happy, and that the theory of original sin and original sorrow is not acceptable to Hinduism. It is obvious that every man is after happiness, that being the universal goal. One wants a good-looking wife, in order to be happy; another wants a crore of rupees, again, to be happy; a third wants power, like Hitler and Mussolini, once more, to be happy; a fourth wants to do humanitarian work, again, to be happy; a fifth wants to commit suicide, again only to be happy, as he is unhappy now and wants to get rid of his present existence in order to be happy. From the Hindu theory of inherent Divinity of man, it is obvious that sin is not his original or ultimate nature, but only something which has come in adventitiously, like dust on a mirror or smoke in fire, something which can be wiped out. Death is not the wages of sin, but only a tunnel to facilitate the progress of the soul; just as no train will ever stop in a tunnel for good, no life will ever end in death for good.

God, too, has four bodies. His Sthulasareera is the universe or universes. God is not extinguished by their dissolution or disappearance, any more than man is killed by his hair being cut, or a land destroyed by cutting the trees or crops on it, or a spider by destroying the threads woven by it. Indeed, the Purusha extends beyond the universe, on every side, according to the Purushasukta of the Rig Veda. That is the answer to atheists who blindly rely on Einstein’s theory of the limited universe for disproving the existence of the Supreme Being. That universe is, of course, limited and finite. That does not affect the infinite nature of the Lord. In a minor way, the temples, mosques, churches and synagogues are also God’s Sthulasareera. Destruction of these will not affect Him, as the universe, like the human body, is only a temple of God. God’s sukshmasareera consists of the scriptures, the Vedas, the Koran the Bible, the Zend Avesta, the Tripitakas, the Jain scriptures etc. Even if all these were destroyed, He will remain, just as He remained before they came into being. Hindus believe that the Vedas are the breathing-out of Brahman. It is obvious that Brahman was even before He breathed out, and remains entire and infinite even after they have been breathed out, and will remain so even if they are ultimately lost to mankind. An atheist once told a Sage, ‘I cannot believe anything I cannot see. I cannot see God. So, I take it that he does not exist.” Quick came the retort, “I cannot see your brains. May I take it that you have none?”

God’s apparent Karanasareera (it can, of course, not be real, since God can never have egoism) is seen in Avataras like those of Rama, Krishna and Christ, where Ravana, Kamsa and the Jews were opposed to them, and considered them to be egoistic, and foolishly or wickedly ignored them in human form, and came to ruin. It is just a folly of theirs, this attribution of egoism to an Avatara, something like a boy travelling in a motor car at night imputing fiery eyes to bullocks coming opposite, forgetting that the eyes are devoid of fiery nature, and that it is the motor car’s head-lights which make them appear to be so. The fact remains, however, that these enemies of the Avataras thought so, and worshipped God, as it were, over the heads of the Avataras. Even now, many non-Jews consider Jehovah to be God of the Jews; many non-Christians consider Christ to be God of the Christians; many non-Muslims consider Allah to be God of the Muslims; and many non-Hindus consider Krishna to be God of the Hindus. This attribution of egoism to God is not yet gone.

Unfortunately it persists still, and is not a mere phenomenon of the past. Nay, even among the Hindus Siva is considered to be God of Saivites by Sri-Vaishnavites, and Krishna is considered to be God of Vaishnavites by Veerasaivas, as if there can be rival Gods with independent jurisdictions! Of course, beyond and above these three bodies of God, is the fourth and real body, Purushottamma, God Immanent yet Transcendent, Emergent yet Unchanging and Eternal. There is a lot of prejudice among Westerners against the Hindu custom of regarding Sri Ramana or Sri Aurobindo or Sri Sai Baba as Bhagavan, or God. Our Muslim friends too object to associating anyone with God. The misunderstanding arises largely because of the imperfect understanding of the Hindu attitude, which does not see any breach in the unity of God by regarding these highly evolved men as Vibhutis of God. There is nothing really incongruous in this, any more than in the case of a judge or a magistrate issuing the King’s writ. “Bhagavan” means “the worshipful one” or “man of divine qualities,” and even the Emperor Asoka refers to the Buddha, who never claimed to be God, as “Bhagavan.”

The prejudice against repetition of truths by the Hindu Sages is equally unwarranted.1 We repeat to a child, pointing out a cow, “cow, cow”, in order to impress it upon the young mind; how much more repetition would be necessary for making difficult philosophical and religious conceptions sink into the mind of man! Even with these repetitions, these critics will be hard put to it to explain the truth expounded in them. The repetition of truths is as necessary for the preservation of Truth as the repetition of breaths is for the preservation of life.

The Maharshi has got a very convincing method of expounding truths and silencing frivolous arguments. Thus, one of his cardinal tenets is: “There is One Who governs the world, and it is His lookout to look after the world. He Who has given life to the World knows to look after it also. He bears the burden of this world, not you.” A man who had suffered much by the buffetings of the world went to him, one day, and complained that God was not bearing his burden for him, as stated by the Maharshi. The Maharshi asked him how he had come to Tiruvannamalai. The man replied that he had come by train. Then he was asked if he had brought any luggage. The man replied that he had taken a steel trunk. The Maharshi asked him if he had carried it on his head or lap, and was told, indignantly, “Of Course not. I put it in the compartment.” Then, the Maharshi asked him, “Why carry your troubles and worries on your head and lap, instead of putting them on God?”

To another individual, who asked the Maharshi persistently “Why is God so unjust, so imperfect?” the Maharshi’s cool retort was, “Why ask me? Go and ask Him.” On being told that he could not go to Him, to ask Him, that swift retort came, “Then, when you cannot reach Him, how can you question Him? Salvation is not for the weak.”

A man went and asked him where his deceased sister had been reborn. The Maharshi requested him not to bother about such things, as they were only manifestations of his ego. The man persisted in saying that it was a quest for knowledge, pure and simple, devoid of the least egoism. The Maharshi asked him, “Was she born first only as your sister?” On being told that she must have had thousands of births before, he asked him if he had ever cared to find out what she had been born as, before she was born as his sister. On his replying that he did not, the Maharshi said, “Do you not see that it is only your egoism which has prompted your questions, and not any desire for knowledge pure and simple?” To a man who stated that he could not understand the world at all, Sri Ramana replied, “As you are, so is this world. Without understanding yourself, what is the use of trying to understand the world? People waste their energies over all such questions. First, find out the truth behind yourself; then, you will be in a better position to understand the truth behind the world, of which yourself is a part.” At times specific and controversial issues are raised by visitors. Some years ago a man wanted to know from Maharshi as to who was right in the Guruvayur Temple-Entry Satyagraha, the Sanatanists or Satyagrahis. The Sage replied that both were wrong; the Satyagrahis, because they wanted to force open the house of God, and the Sanatanists because they wanted to monopolise to themselves the house of God. To a critic who attacked the visions of some devotees, of Sri Rama and Sri Krishna, as only the projections of their own ideas, derived from temple sculptures and idols, the Maharshi remarked that, if the realities corresponded with the ideas, the visions could not have been otherwise. The above are only a few instances to show the extraordinary originality and acumen of the Sage when he condescends to reply to questions which from his point of view are worthless.

The Maharshi’s life is one long “sacrifice of knowledge”, by disseminating it to all and sundry. Any one can go and sit near him, invited or uninvited. Anyone can partake of the homely meal in the Ashram, whether native or foreigner, caste or outcaste. The Maharshi does not compel interdining, any more than he compels intermarriage. He believes in divine liberty, equality and fraternity, but not in the pinchbeck liberty, equality and fraternity preached by the political charlatans out to exploit others. He has things served by Brahmins and non-Brahmins alike, and has not the least tinge of caste, creed, colour, race, class, sex or country in him. He has not only sacrificed all ideas of private possession in his supreme attempt at possessing the soul, he has sacrificed even the privacy of time. He sits, day in and day out, in that little hall of his, and even sleeps in the presence of all. He is a sublime example of what a Sage ought to be. He has never known the hold of lust for woman or money (Kamini or Kanchanam, to use the expressive words of Sri Ramakrishna) and is a perfect Brahmachari. He is an embodiment of the Hindu truth that
Karma, Jnana and Bhakti are all one, and that man can attain God, even in this life, the progress being from historic immediacy, when man goes to a temple or mosque or church, or reads the scriptures, to poetic intimacy, as when he goes, into Samadhi and communes with God, alone, and to scientific identity when he can exclaim, “He and I are one.” But he does not claim any occult powers, though he may possess them.

He does not believe in disciple, though many claim to be his disciples. He does not advise practice of Yoga, or even silence, though he has practised both. From concentrating on silence, as a Muni, he has begun to teach, as a Rishi. He has clearly taught people who go to him, that the Hindu principle “I am He” applies only to the Atman, and not to the threefold, sareera, sthula, sukshma and Karana. That is why he is so passionately earnest in asking the thousands of his visitors to pursue the enquiry “WHO AM I?”

Some may wonder what use there is for Saints like these in an age of science like ours. They know not what they are asking. Science cannot explain why salt is saltish, or sugar is sugarish; why the universe exists, and why man is born here. It is only philosophy and metaphysics which
can do that, through Sages like Sri Ramana. As Sir Ray Lankester says, in his Science from an Easy Chair, “The whole order of nature, including living and lifeless matter, from man to gas, is a network of mechanism, the main features and many details of which have been made more or less obvious to the wondering intelligence of mankind by the labour and ingenuity of scientific investigators. But no same man has ever pretended, since science became a definite body of doctrine, that we know, or ever can hope to know, or conceive of the possibility of knowing, whence this mechanism has come, why it is there, whither it is going and what there may or may not be beyond and beside it which our senses are incapable of appreciating. These things are not ‘explained’ to us by science, and never can be.” Sages do what scientists cannot. Sri Ramana once had an experience resembling death. He survived, and discovered that the spiritual heart was on the right side of the chest.

Sages can go into samadhi, hold their breaths for days together, and take their minds in a trice away from the work-a-day world to God. They can bring peace to troubled souls by their mere presence, and send spiritual waves of santi (peace) to those whose minds are in agony and approach them. Compared with these waves, the wireless waves and the emanations from the atom bomb are merely children’s toys. Sages love all alike. Sri Ramana fondles squirrels, which approach him fearlessly and feed from his hands. He says to one and all, “Look within. Don’t look
round. You can do it anywhere.” That ought to warn foolish critics.

The paths that lead to God are as different and innumerable as the paths of the animals on land, the fishes in water; and the birds in air. Man born pure in his first birth, acquires impurities in the middle period and has to get rid of them, to reach God again, just as a spark of fire has to get rid of its ashes in order to become fire again. With the help of the evolution in previous births, and the grace of God, he can accomplish this, but only by being reborn in bodies, just as electric light can only be manifested and perfected in bulbs. To ask why God, Who is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient, should not save man without all this trouble, is as foolish as the French lady’s remark, on ascertaining, from some English people playing foot-ball, that the object was to get the ball through the goal, “You will do it much better if you do not obstruct one another.” In this difficult progress to salvation, it is obvious that man will require many births, to wipe out his debt of sin, incurred in between, just as a national debt has to be paid out in several generations and cannot be paid out in one. It is equally obvious that, just as a skilled financier is required to direct the nation’s finances, and create surpluses to pay off the debt and secure redemption, so too, individuals will require a man of God, like Sri Ramana Maharshi, to guide them, to enable them to increase their merit and decrease their demerit, and secure redemption. No wonder, then that men of diverse temperaments have been flocking to Ramanashram, to see the Sage and profit by his presence and by his instruction. For fifty years he has been there, doing this work of God.

We, in our age, are lucky in having him in our midst. I have no reason to believe that Rishis of old were very different from Sri Ramana and Sri Aurobindo of to-day. Once we get rid or the illusion caused by the cobwebs of time, the similarity will become striking. It will be a pity to waste anything in the world of to-day; it will be a thousand pities if a spiritual dynamo, like that of Sri Ramana, is not utilised to its fullest extent by Indians and others. He requires no permission; he charges no fee; he does not require conformity to any dogma or even acceptance of him as a Rishi. He is, like the rivers and mountains, the common property of mankind. He, like them, is for all the world to visit, enjoy, and profit from.