Banning Richardson

Banning Richardson, M.A., (Hons.) (Cantab), A.B. (Princeton)


Can you imagine being influenced more greatly by a man you have never spoken to than by any other man you have ever met? I am not referring merely to ideas or “representation” of personality, as may be the case for instance with Jesus Christ and sincere Christians, or Krishna, Vishnu or Shiva amongst different sects of Hindus, or of Mohamed vis-a-vis the majority of Mussalmans. It is possible, no doubt, to have a direct spiritual or psychic experience of such personalities which will completely alter one’s life. For instance, the story of St. Paul is typical; but what we are concerned with here is one’s experience of men in the flesh. Have you, then, ever been with a man almost constantly, during the daytime, for three days and never spoken to him because speech seemed superfluous; and yet have gone away with his image imprinted more firmly in your heart and mind than those of persons you have known intimately for many years? Had anyone asked me a similar question ten years ago, I should have doubted his sincerity, or I should have considered that the enthusiasm of a disciple was leading to poetic exaggeration. And yet, nine years ago, I had just such an experience, and the spiritual influence of him who impressed me so deeply has increased with the passing years, though I have communicated with him rarely, and then only by letter; and I have scarcely read his published works, because I felt no need to do so. Members of my father’s family have been wanderers for many generations, as is the case with so many Scotsmen; so it is small wonder that I was born in England and educated, except for final years at Cambridge, in Canada and the United States. When I had just graduated from Princeton University I was introduced to the first Indian I had ever met. He was Dhan Gopal Mukerji, author of that moving book My Brother’s Face. A Cambridge graduate himself, he had been living in America for many years. He was a master at the Dalton School in New York; but I called on him at his summer home in one of the beautiful river-valleys of northern Connecticut. Ever since the age of nine or ten I had been deeply interested in religion, and during the years just preceding our meeting, I was more and more drawn to books on occultism and mysticism; so when he said that during one of my vacations from Cambridge I should fly to India and visit some of the centres of spiritual teaching in the Himalayas, I took the suggestion quite naturally and said I would try to do so. Therefore, when, through a series of “accidents” I was asked to come to India for two and a half years to lecture on English literature at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, I accepted immediately, as I had had no chance to carry out Dhan Gopal’s suggestion while “up” at Cambridge. Before sailing for India I returned to spend the summer in Canada and the United States. In America there is a pleasant custom that when a friend or relation sails abroad, one gives him a book or two to read on the voyage. Among the books I was given in New York when I sailed for India was one from my godmother, a Roman Catholic by birth, and perhaps by belief, in a vague sort of way. It was A Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton. The angels and spiritual guides who help us to fulfil our destinies must often chortle with a delight at the ironies they are instrumental in bringing about in human affairs. What could be more ironic than a Roman Catholic godmother of a devout Protestant, going out to teach in a Cambridge Mission college in India, giving him a book which effected the first big step in turning him, first, from orthodox Christianity to an heretical form, and, finally, to the “Religion of Self-Realization”, if it can be so called without doing it violence?During the subsequent two years, up to the time of my marriage, I was soaked in Christian atmosphere. I lived in a chummery at St. Stephen’s College with four other Englishmen, of whom one was a parson, two had been theological students, and the fourth was a convert to Quakerism, and so a student of Christian mysticism. I mention this fact only to show that when, twenty months after arriving in India, I paid my first visit to Sri Ramanasramam, I had been virtually a theological student for the previous year and a half. However, though this tended to make me see Sri Ramana Maharshi through Christian eyes, it also helped greatly towards my theoretical and practical knowledge of religion, and made me more sensitive to and appreciative of mystical experience.

The India of fakirs, rope tricks and tigers had appealed to me in childhood, but as I grew up it was mystic India that made an appeal. Through my mother I had come into touch with spiritualism of the finest type, and the teaching that I received from spiritual Masters pointed eastwards, and specially towards India. Books like the Life and Teaching of the Masters of the Far East, by Baird T. Spalding, were recommended to me, and these developed in me the longing to sit at the feet of a great Indian sage. Therefore, when I read A Search In Secret India on the ship, I was ravished by Brunton’s description of the Sage of Tiruvannamalai; and inspite of my orthodox Christian religion I determined to seek out this great teacher at the earliest possible date.

* * *

The opportunity came in May, 1937. I had been invited to attend an inter-religious students conference at Alwaye, in Travancore, and I travelled south from Delhi during the Easter vacation, my head bursting with questions to ask Sri Maharshi. But the questions were never asked; though they have been answered, one by one, during the intervening years, by “my” Real Self. The reason the questions were never asked was that when I was in the presence of the Master I was so filled with joy and peace that the desire to ask questions disappeared. This happened throughout the brief three days I stayed at Sri Ramanasramam, though admittedly a violent reaction took place immediately after I left.


It has been my fate that I should meet and know great and famous men and women from all parts of the world, including saints like Sri Bhagavan Maharshi and Mahatma Gandhi, religious leaders like the late Archbishop Temple of Canterbury, Presidents of the United States, Ministers and Prime Ministers of Great Britain, France and other countries, great musicians like Toscanini, Chaliapin and Egon Petri, scientists like Fritz Haber and Lord Rutherford, and many others. In such circumstances one undergoes a process of clarification of values and of realization of human failings. I have often been profoundly shocked by the pettiness and lack of spiritual understanding of some of these “great men”. The consequence is that one comes slowly to realize that only a saint can match one’s idealization of human thought and conduct. So when one comes into the presence of a man who is “good” not merely because he shuns “evil,” but because his love is universal and falls alike on the just and the unjust, then one experiences immediate recognition of a soul that is not great as the World values greatness, but great when compared to an absolute standard of valuesa precious stone, an emerald without flaw. It is a difference not merely of quality, but of kind. I have never been long enough with Gandhiji to say whether my impression of his spirit is equally exalted, but in the presence of Sri Bhagavan Maharshi I felt an inward joy which suffused my consciousness and made “thinking” seem superfluous. One communes with the Divine; thought is useful only later when one seeks to analyze and understand the communion, and even then its value is much over-rated. It is over-rated because, more often than not, it leads one away from one’s super-conscious apprehension of Being into a whirlpool of egoism disguised as reality.

Such an experience was mine when I left Tiruvannamalai. So strong was my egoistic desire to explain all spiritual matters in orthodox Christian terms, that, no sooner had I read that Sri Bhagavan had as a boy attended a mission school, than I insisted on explaining away his teaching as a mere adaptation of Christ’s teaching. I realize now how near I was to the truthtruth which would have revealed itself to me then had I felt the need of discarding my pride in favour of humility. It is of course true that Sri Bhagavan teaches what Jesus the Christ taught. Satyam is One! and He who taught 2000 years ago that ‘I am in my Father, and my Father is in me. I and my Father are one’, said in fact the same as He who teaches today in Tiruvannamalai.

“See thyself and see the Lord”
That is the revealed word,
and hard is its sense indeed,
For the seeing Self is not to be seen,
How then is the Sight of the Lord?
To be food unto Him, that indeed is to see Him.

Only, their audiences were different, with different religious traditions and at different levels of understanding. Had Christ said “See thyself and see the Lord,” he would have been immediately attacked, even by moderate Jews for blasphemy of the worst type. Indeed, he was attacked when he went no farther than saying, “I and my Father are one.” But his very moderation has led to later misinterpretation of his message as meaning “I alone am and will be the incarnation of God.”


Two main criticisms are levelled by Westerners against the tradition that has produced Sri Maharshi. The first is that of the materialist and some Christians, and takes the form of a condemnation of what may be called the Sadhu or Sannyasin tradition. The second is specifically Christian and asserts that lack of the doctrine of Grace vitiates Hindu teaching. The first argument is scarcely worth refuting, were it not for the fact that it is so widespread, specially in England and North America, and till it is effectively controverted, there is small chance of the West awakening to an understanding of spiritual values. Taken in its crudest form it simply means that unless one is doing something of utilitarian value he is a traitor to the service of humanity; and Christians underline this argument by pointing to the active workhealing and preachingwhich Christ carried on, as opposed to the passive attitude of Indian mystics, the majority of whom seem indifferent to the world. This argument is on a part with the Western saying, “Those who can, do; those who can’t teach.”

In other words, those who have the ability to “succeed” in the world, do so; those who can’t, turn to teaching as a profession. Unfortunately this is to some extent true, in India as well as in Western countries. But, in the West it is connected with a utilitarian philosophy of life which has led to Nazism and Communism on the one hand, and to the self- indulgent, luxury-worshipping democracies on the other. Activity is the basis of all life, but modern civilization has taken one particular form of activitywhat may be called the “intellectual-physical”, and made it the only recognized form of activity, thus neglecting the spiritual basis of the civilization on which it is founded. This has been a gradual and cumulative process which started in the Middle Ages when the so- called re-discovery of Greek culture resulted in the raising of Aristotle to a position of intellectual dominance. Aristotle may be termed the first scientist of Western civilization. His conception of spirit was, like that of the nineteenth century evolutionists, that of an attribute which emerges out of the primeval slime. So, when medieval European scholars turned away from the truly spiritual tradition of Plato and his Alexandrian follower Plotinus to the scientific but fundamentally anti-spiritual Aristotle, they sacrificed the basis of their civilization along with a great deal of obscurantism which admittedly had to go. With the coming of the Renaissance the next inevitable step was taken,science was separated from religion, which meant that it became its own master, uncontrolled by spiritual direction. Finally, in the eighteenth century, which may be said to be the last peak of Christian civilization, religion was separated from philosophy and the devastation was complete.

The truly spiritual life became completely alien to the main stream of civilization. Intellect, applied to the solution of material problems, reigned supreme. Marx and Engels, Schopenhauer, Neitzsche, Spencer, Huxley, Emerson, H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw are the prophets of this age of doom. Man’s material condition has been raised to the position of a god, and there is no limit to the greed for ‘higher’ standards of living, even after poverty has been abolished. There could be only one logical outcome to such a false-based civilizationself-destruction; and the atom bomb is the instrument of suicide. This is the civilization, these are the men that condemn the Indian quietist tradition, who would point to Sri Bhagavan as “inactive.” as doing less for mankind than Christ. But, according to such standards, the artisan should be considered the highest type of man. The carpenter and the blacksmith “do” more for mankind than the teacher and the priest. And indeed we find this is becoming the case more and more. Now-a-days, in England, France and America, the factory workers are being paid more than the professional classes. By such a standard certainly Sri Bhagavan is to be considered not of much value. But such a standard, as I have tried to show, is based on a completely false view of life, which is as anti-Christ as it is anti-Sri Maharshi. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” cannot be taken to mean “by the material goods they produce,” but rather”by their thoughts and actions we shall know their true nature.” And the thoughts of Sri Bhagavan have now in his own lifetime girdled the world and set men thinking again about the real meaning of life. This is his form of service to mankind. Such truly creative activity dwarfs the feverish rush of lesser men who dare to criticize Sri Ramana’s “inactivity”. A disciple once asked Sri Bhagavan why he didn’t go about and preach the truth to the people at large. He answered, “How do you know I am not doing it? Does preaching consist in mounting a platform and haranguing the people around? Teaching is simple communication of knowledge; it can really be done in silence only. What do you think of a man who listens to a sermon for an hour and goes away without having been impressed by it so as to change his life? Compare him with another, who sits in a holy presence and goes away after some time with his outlook on life totally changed. Which is the better, to preach loudly without effect or to sit silently sending out Inner Force? “Again, how does speech arise? There is abstract knowledge, whence arises the ego, which in turn gives rise to thought, and thought to the spoken word. So the word is the great grandson of the original source. If the word can produce effect, judge for yourself how much more powerful must be the preaching through silence. But people do not understand this simple, bare truth, the truth of their everyday, ever present eternal experience. This truth is that of the Self. Is there anyone unaware of the Self? But they do not like even to hear of this truth, whereas they are eager to know what lies beyond, about heaven, hell and re-incarnation.......”.

Again, he was asked, “Does my realization help others?” And he answered: “Yes, and it is the best help that you can possibly render to others. Those who have discovered great truths have done so in the still depths of the Self. But really there are no ‘others’ to be helped. For the Realized Being sees only the Self, just as the goldsmith sees only the gold while valuing it in various jewels made of gold. When you identify yourself with the body, name and form are there. But when you transcend the body-consciousness, the ‘others’ also disappear. The Realized One does not see the world as different from Himself.” The disciple then asked, “Would it not be better if the saints mix with others?” And quick the reply came, “There are no others to mix with.

The Self is the only reality...... Your duty is TO BE and not to be this or that. ‘I AM THAT I AM’ sums up the whole truth; the method is summarised in ‘BE STILL.”


With regard to the criticism that saints in the Hindu tradition, like Bhagavan Sri Maharshi, don’t do physical healing, nor has any of them risen from the dead like Jesus the Christ, one can only say this: Jesus was certainly an exceptionally great spirit or, possibly, the greatest known to mankind. He wanted to make men realize that God was not the fierce God of the Old Testament Hebrews, but a living, merciful God. Secondly, He, like Sri Maharshi, wanted men to realize that the Kingdom of God lay within them and that if they would look within they would be given unlimited power to help their fellowmen. The most striking means of such power was to be the healing of the sick; but He made it clear that those who had faith in Him (i.e., in the truth of what He said and did, and of His divine nature) were to be given this gift only as a means of making men realize that the real world lies behind the barrier of the flesh and that men must remould their lives and their philosophy of life if they would enter into this world. In other words, Christ used healing as a sign of hope and of the reality of the Spiritual Kingdom. To say that all other spiritual teachers must use the same method is, to say the least, narrow minded. As for the resurrection of Jesus, an impartial study of the evidence suggests that it did take place. My belief is that no sincere Hindu would find any difficulty in accepting it, for it fits in with his tradition of divine beings assuming bodily form when necessary and convenient. Whether or not we accept the Christian teaching that Jesus Christ’s Resurrection is the only one known to history, we must admit that it is the only one backed by considerable historical evidence. However, that its apparent uniquenes, therefore, affirms the unique nature of Jesus Christ does not necessarily follow. Again, we must look at Christ’s intention in the Resurrection. The Gospels are filled with prophecies of the Resurrection, and their intention in this matter is clear, when Jesus says, “Neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” (Luke, XVI, 31), as well as from other passages. The intention is, then, (i) to show finally and positively that death has no reality, and (ii) that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah whom the Old Testament Hebrew prophets had promised.

A very powerful Jewish sect, the Sadducees, at the time of Christ denied the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, and the existence of spirits. To disprove their arguments once and for all, as well as to ensure that mankind, or a part of it at least, should be turned from the worship of false ideas of God to a realization of the God of Love in their own hearts, Christ had to resurrect his physical body. It was a particular act to meet a particular need. I am not arguing that others have done or could do the same, but I would point out the logical fallacy of the opposite, the orthodox Christian argument, that therefore Jesus Christ is proved to be not only an incarnation of God, but the only incarnation of God.

This is not the place to go into this argument in detail, but one may point out that the conception of God is involved in it. I can find no fundamental difference between Jesus Christ’s conception of God and Bhagavan Sri Maharshi’s, but I find a very great difference between Christ’s conception and that of the Christian Church, in which the Jehovah of the Old Testament is inextricably confused with the Inner Spirit, who is “within” every man, of the New Testament. Finally with regard to the doctrine of grace, Christian criticism of Hindu theology asserts that Hinduism advocates “pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps” without assistance from the love of God. Such a statement is, in my opinion, unfair; but let us look at one of Christ’s teachings”For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” (Matthew, XIII, 12). In other words, “In accordance with each man’s own efforts for spiritual enlightenment shall he be given assistance by God; and those who make no effort shall lose even what spiritual understanding they had.” Surely this means that Divine Grace is dependent on effort; and what true Hindu, whether Shaivite or Vaishnavite, would deny such a teaching? However, we are not concerned with a defence of “orthodox”

Hinduism; in many respects it is farther from the truth than orthodox Christianity. But Bhagavan Sri Maharshi answers this riddle of self-help and grace in final fashion, in my view. In Sat-Darshana Bhashya and Talks with Maharshi we find: “Disciple: Then I can dispense with outside help and by mine own effort get into the deeper truth by myself? Maharshi: True. But the very fact you are possessed of the quest of the Self is a manifestation of the Divine Grace, It is effulgent in the Heart, the inner being, the Real Self. It draws you from within. You have to attempt to get in from without. Your attempt is Vichara, the deep inner movement is Grace, That is why I say there is no real Vichara without Grace, nor is there Grace active for him who is without Vichara. Both are necessary.’’ And there are several other similar examples in the same work and elsewhere in the Maharshi’s writings.


To remove the blinkers from men’s eyes, to take away their spiritual crutches is a great, though painful, task. Men generally are unwilling to surrender their long-cherished illusions, whether based on nineteenth century materialismstill so widespread and, indeed, spreading in Indiaor on orthodox religion. It is painful and lonely to be told that you must strip your soul naked and depend only on yourself and the divine inner Gracewhich Christ called the Holy Ghostif you seek spiritual liberation; that no amount of prayers or saying ‘credo’ can take the place of this lone pilgrimage.

Most men are unwilling to make, or rarely feel the need of making such a search. To them one can only say “Depart in peace.” For such persons it is useless to visit Sri Maharshi’s ashram for darshan, in the hope that this in itself will liberate one. That is only a beginning, an inspirationthe long, stony path lies ahead. It is a tenet of Hinduism that all spiritual paths lead to the same goal. In a broad sense this is true, but also it hides the truth. For if one has followed one religion or another, one yoga or another, one has still in the end to go through the process of self-analysis, of inner search and surrender which is best described in our time by Sri Maharshi. In other words, the “goal” is not a goal but a path. When one has learnt everything that one can from one’s inherited or acquired religion or spiritual discipline, he has to take this prized possession and cast it to one sidethe most painful of actsand, starting afresh, follow the simple, scientific method that the Saint of Arunachala teaches us.

I have said that this saint is the greatest contemporary exponent of this age-old teaching. This is as true for the scientific-minded Western as it is for the Easterner. Elsewhere in this volume Dr. Jung, who is unquestionably the doyen of psychoanalysts, writes — “The identification of the Self with God will strike the European as shocking. It is a specially oriental Realization, as expressed in Sri Ramana’s utterances.” No doubt such identification is shocking to the Western Christian or other orthodox religionist, but as I have implied, it is consonant with Christ’s teachings, if they are approached afresh without prejudice.

If one examines the New Testament carefully one finds that Christ is trying to convince a fanatically monotheistic peopleas monotheistic as the Muslims are today that God could inhabit human form for a special purpose, and that the nature of God was not something different from man’s but that one could see the image of God in a perfect man. And He proclaimed himself to be a perfect being who had presided over human destiny since the world began. This in itself was an overwhelming dose for the orthodox Jew to swallow. One would not therefore expect that Christ would go on farther and show that this Perfect Being is latent in every man, because God is in every man. But in fact he does say this by implication, and sometimes directly, throughout his teaching. Take for instance – “The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation; Neither shall they say, Lo here! or lo there! for, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke, XVII, 20 and 21.) In other words His first lesson was, “Heaven is within you and it is a spiritual state, not a material place.” Having made this clear, He goes on to say, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew, V, 48). Thus He was saying in fact”God dwells within you; you can become perfect like Him.” This was revolutionary teaching, and its full implications are only understood if one comes into touch with the teachings of a Ramakrishna or a Sri Maharshi.

But Christ went even farther than this. In verses 33-36 of the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel we read”Jesus answered them (the Jews), Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are Gods.”

“If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world. Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the son of God.” So we might ask today, “Do you accuse Sri Maharshi of blasphemy for saying that the True Man within us is God; when Christ was executed on the same charge by part of the Jews 2,000 years ago?” Just because the Church has petrified His teaching, as Judaism before His time had petrified the teaching of the prophets, do you expect those who feel God stirring within them to join the mob who cry ‘Blasphemy’?” And to pursue this arguement a little farther in order to reveal the basic similarity of Jesus Christ’s and Bhagavan Maharshi’s teachings, one remembers that Christ answered the rich, young man who came to Him and asked, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life,” by saying “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God.” (Mark, X, 18,). This, taken with the questions already mentioned, clearly shows that He believed that God was in all men and that all men could attain the perfection that He, Christ, Himself revealed, through following His path - i.e. actively loving God and one’s fellowmen and knowing that the Kingdom of Heaven is within each one of us.

Finally, this view is reinforced by, “For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matthew, X, 20). Could anything be clearer than this - that Christ wanted men to realize, as does Sri Maharshi, that God is not something apart from men to be worshipped and feared at a distance, but the only true reality in each man; and that man’s work is to discard the false, imaginary ego which he has allowed to deceive him and so to separate him from his true Self, which is God. If that is blasphemy, then let us acknowledge ourselves, as Christ and His followers acknowledged themselves, to be blasphemers in the eyes of the world; for that way lies salvation.

On reaching the interior of the Heart through search,
The ego bows its head and falls.
Then shines forth the other I, the Self Supreme,
Which is not the ego, but verily the Perfect and
...............................................Transcendental Being.

But in addition to being in the true line of spiritual teaching - the line that extends back to Gautama the Buddha and Sri Mahavir, the tenth and greatest Tirthankar of the Jains, in one branch; and to Mohammed, Plotinus, Christ, Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras and Zoroaster in anotherI believe Sri Maharshi to be the greatest living interpreter, and indeed, in a sense the fulfilment of modern psychology and psycho-analysis and that therefore he must be taken seriously even by Western or Eastern materialists.

Dr. Jung recognizes this when he says, “The wisdom and mysticism of the East have, therefore, a very great deal to tell us, provided they speak in their own inimitable speech.... The life and teachings of Sri Ramana are not only important for the Indian but also for the Westerner. Not only do they form a record of great human interest, but also a warning message to a humanity which threatens to lose itself in the chaos of its unconsciousness and lack of self-control.” These words were written some time ago. How terrifyingly they ring in our ears todayin the ears of those who have to watch the bestiality and spiritual poverty of a world that has been through the purgatory of two world wars in scarcely more than a generation? And still rumors of war and revolution echo round the hollow shapes of bomb-blasted ruins. Man is unquestionably at the cross-roads. He can choose the path of materialistic phantoms, seeking only better social and economic conditions, however desirable these may be in themselves, or he can turn his face towards the old light rising anew in the East, which, while by no means scorning improved conditions of life for the masses, seeks to direct man’s inquisitive nature primarily towards the realization of his own being. Its aim is the same as Christ’s”Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you,” which has been read weekly in countless churches every week for nineteen hundred years. But faithless, worldly minded mankind has considered this to be merely a pleasant moral aphorism, not to be taken literally. Now men must take it literally or be prepared for further destruction, and indefinite chaos.

Today and for many years to come, one prays, this message in the peculiarly beautiful metaphor of Indian mysticism sings out from a small town with a huge temple in the heart of southern India, which somehow has preserved Indian thought and culture much more effectively than northern India. Not everyone can make a pilgrimage to this spot, hallowed for all time by the life of Sri Ramana Maharshi, but everyone can follow the Maharshi’s precepts which are, in a strange way, ultra-modern in form. Even the Maharshi cannot convey permanent blessedness; that we alone through our own strivings can do. But he is a guide to be trusted absolutely, whether our background be Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Parsi, Jewish, Jain, Buddhist, confucian, agnostic or rank materialist. Each will find what he needs; all essential questions are answered, if we have ears to hear. It is the path of the Razor’s Edge we are called on to tread, but in fact, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

“He is bound to reap the fruit
who is fixed in the I-do-thought.
The sense of doer lost by the search in the heart,
Triple karma diesand that is Liberation.”