K. Subrahmanyam, M.A.,Vivekananda College, Madras.

There is something too simple, too self-evident in Bhagavan Sri Ramana’s teachings. The pious devotee finds little opportunity for emotional indulgence of any sort. The intellectual finds that the Sage relegates to a secondary place all intellection, as a mere reflected lustre. The man of action, burning with a zeal to transform the community, finds the Maharshi coldly disapproving of his zeal, as still being egocentred; and asks: “Is not this the same old supineness that has made us, Hindus, so helpless and abject?”

We all, with our various temperaments and endowments, seek in religion a mere sublimation of our favourite activities. We are so much encased within them that life is worth while, nay, even intelligible, to us only in terms of these. But to the Bhagavan all temperaments and endowments, and all the activities they inspire, are so many limitations on the Reality which is ourselves. His is the bright colourless light that annihilates all colours, only because it transcends them by absorbing them into itself. Here is the type and symbol of that final mystery which Sri Bhagavan, being of the line of our Upanishadic seers, embodies and expounds: a Reality whence arise all qualities and all actions, and yet which is itself without any quality or action. As the central brightness flows outward, its “light thickens” and as its periphery is a wealth of many colours. But the colours which enthrall us are but a scattering and a weakening of the light.

This is not to condemn the colours as false. Where shall the Knower find any falsity to condemn? Things are false only in so far as they are partial; and there is nothing partial but strives, consciously or not, to transcend its partiality. “All things pray,” says Proclus, in the sense that all things, even inert matter and unconscious life, strive to fulfil themselves. And there is no man so debased but he seeks the Atman. Yajnavalkya says “It is not for the sake of being that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved.” In quest of his own Atman, striving to attain his own inherent freedom, power and dignity, does the drunkard seek his drink-pot, and the miser clutch at gold. The patriot and the philanthropist, too, seek other men’s good only because, in reality, they seek their own Atmanthough they may not always so define the object of their quest to their own consciousness.

But unconscious effort is both uncertain and uneconomical: it fluctuates and it wastes energy. Hence the need, if only that we might function efficiently, for even a tentative knowledge of that Absolute which we all seek, whether knowingly or not. The birth of this knowledge is a crucial moment in our lives; all effort thereafter wings its way straight to its purpose, as all effort before it was at best a fumbling. This is the new birth without which one cannot see the Kingdom of God; this is the possession which entitles us to receive more and more, and the lack of which renders us liable even to forfeiture of whatever else we have. Sri Bhagavan uncompromisingly sets the transcending of personality, the realisation of pure, impersonal consciousness, as the goal of all our effort, devotion and enquiry. This is the one thing needful, and the virtue in all other things is that they tend towards it. This is the citadel of Truth, where all is peace.

It is not here that the battle rages, but it is only from here that we can view the disposition of the forces at the outworks and learn how, at our station, we can fight intelligently, purposively. Sri Bhagavan does not summon us all straightaway to take our places in this citadel, does not ask us immediately to desert our station in the battle of life: many are the would-be recluses, mere fugitives, whom he has ordered back to their posts. But he teaches us the raison d’etre of all this turmoil. But for the knowledge he vouchsafes, our patriotism will become a prison house; our loyalties, so many shackles; our enthusiasms, blazing brands in the hands of maniacs. Aye, our very virtues will bind us hand and foot and deliver us into the keeping of the enemy of all virtues, egoism.

So is it with devotion. Sri Bhagavan spares no illusion, however noble or consoling. He declares that a personal God who makes himself visibly present is only a creation of the mind, though of a mind set in the proper direction. And yet, when a devotee complained that he could not practise the higher mode of contemplation, that of the Formless, Sri Bhagavan rebuked him and advised him to adopt what came natural to him. He confronted a Muslim controversialist with the question how he, who identified himself with his body, could look down upon the devotee who invested God with a form.

Sri Bhagavan is among the most severely intellectual of our sages. And yet he warns us that the idea of the Absolute is only, to use the words of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the correlative of the relative. It is still a category of thought, whereas the final realisation is the annihilation of the mind and all its categories. How shall that which shines with borrowed light, illumine the source of its brightness?

Yes, there is an austerity about Sri Bhagavan’s teaching. He ever dwells in “the white radiance of eternity” and will not tint that light to suit our weak eyes. The utmost he will do is to rebuke those who jeer at the effects that result from the limitations of our vision. Once he declared that there was no difference between his teaching and that of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, that there could be none. And yet, we may not be wrong in believing that there is a difference between them, not in what they have taught, but in the manner of teaching it.

From every point in the orbit of spiritual life, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has beaten a path to the central illumination, whereas Sri Bhagavan rarely moves out of the centre. We need both these kinds of Teachers: those who assure us that we can advance even from where we are, and point to the near-by path that leads us from our various places; and those who warn us that we must advance and point to us the distant goal to which we must all journey, if we are to experience Reality. They both set the same goal and they both recognize the gradations of the spiritual ascent. Sri Bhagavan has not denied the values of relative life, but he is concerned only to tell us whence these values derive their validity, to assert the colourlessness of the light from which issue all colours.