Dr. M. H. Syed, M.A., Ph.D., D.Litt.(Allahabad)

Sri Ramana Maharshi is a modern Sage in the sense that he is living in our time and has been influencing our spiritual life in his own unique way for the last fifty years. His teachings are fairly well-known in India and in some parts of the civilized world. It will be appropriate to examine here some aspects of his philosophy of life in the light of modern thought to see how far they are in consonance with it and what are the elements in which they agree. Another reason for this comparison is that modern thought and modern development of knowledge are ot prepared to accept any dogma or theory of things eternal or mundane unless it is backed up by scientific tests and its conclusion is based on direct personal experience and observation.

In the evolution of modern thought reason, observation and experiment have played a prominent part. Every new and old theory is subjected to a certain critical test in the light of dry reason before it is given any credence or accepted as a working hypothesis. The Maharshi himself has given its rightful place to reason in his scheme of philosophy and enjoins us to search within our own selves what we really are. We have to carry this investigation with our own self-effort and direct observation of our mental life. There is a growing idea in the West that man in the waking consciousness is but a small fragment of the real man, that man transcends his body and that he is decidedly greater than his waking mind and consciousness. There is evidence in plenty, daily forthcoming from most unexpected quarters, to show that human consciousness is far larger and fuller than the consciousness expressed throughout the waking consciousness in man, which has the fullest sanction in ancient Hindu thought and philosophy, is one that has come to be recognised not only by modern psychology but also by modern science in the West.

The particular branch of modern science which comes into close touch with the ancient philosophical thought of the East is that of psychology. Psychology in its modern form is gradually coming nearer the ancient psychology of the East. The method of introspection, of observation of one’s own mental processes, was till recently discountenanced by modern thought, but psychologists are now encouraging it to a greater extent. Among these psychologists William James distinguishes between the Pure Ego and the Empirical Ego.

Some modern thinkers have asserted that it is necessary to first study the brain, the nervous system and mechanism in man, whereby thought is articulated, so to say, in the brain. So far were they inclined to go in making rash statements that it was deliberately laid down that thought was produced by the brain. Such a famous psychologist as the German Carl Vogt declared that the brain produced thought as liver produced bile. The immemorial psychology of the East stands in direct opposition to this statement. The Maharshi’s point of view, in perfect conformity with the ancient Hindu thought, is founded on the idea that man in essence is not the physical body but the living Spirit, not a mere form but the eternal Intelligence itself. Maharshi’s psychological concept is founded on the notion that this living Intelligence, this Entity, is the primary thing to be understood.

Instead of considering life and consciousness as a sort of effervescence resulting from bodily mechanism, the Maharshi declares that the primary fact is the fact of Consciousness and that matter is but its garment, its instrument, arranged and guided by this Intelligence. The Maharshi, endorsing the view of the Chandogya Upanishad, says that the Atman alone exists, and that the body and the senses are all the results of the will of the Atman. In ‘Who am I?’ (page 11) he says “Atman alone exists and is real.

The world, the individual soul are ... imaginary creations in the Atman, they appear and disappear simultaneously. Verily the Self alone is the world, the ‘I’ or ego. All that exists is but the manifestation of the Supreme.”

What does modern science say? In his book, The Limitations of Science, (p.123) J. W. N. Sullivan says, “There is also the hypothesis held by a few distinguished scientists that life is as old as matter, and, in that sense, has had no origin.” Further the same author in his Bases of Modern Science (pp.210-11) says. “It is quite possible that the actual substance of the Universe is mental, that the stuff of events is similar to percepts.

The fact that a piece of matter has been reduced by the relatively theory to a system of events, that it is no longer regarded as the enduring stuff of the world, makes the hypothesis that the ‘physical’ and the ‘mental’ are essentially similar very possible.” In this respect, the words of the Maharshi are crystal clear. In ‘Who am I?’ (page 5) he says: “Nor is there any such thing as the physical world apart from and independence of thought . . . Just as the spider draws out the thread of the cobweb from within itself and withdrawn it again into itself, the mind projects the world and absorbs it back into itself.”

That is the metaphysical basis of Sri Ramana’s philosophy, which we see is quite in harmony with the trend of modern scientific thought.

But how does he solve the moral problem of good and evil? Does he simply etherealize all evil and deny the problem? No. The real Master that he is, the Maharshi tells you: “All the evil lies in you in the form of the ego; endeavour first to eradicate it, instead of probing into the evil you see in others. As you are, so is the world.” It is a hard precept to practise,hard, indeed, even to accept, unless you have the purity of heart and understanding, without which, however, no spiritual endeavour is at all possible. In a few lines the Sage tells you the attitude you should adopt towards the external world, which, in fact is not external to your mind.

In ‘Who am I?’ (page 28) he says: “There are no two minds, one good and the other evil. It is only the vasanas or tendencies of the mind that are of two kinds,good and favourable, evil and unfavourable. When the mind is associated with the former, it is called good; and when associated with the latter, it is called evil. However evil-minded other people may appear to you, it is not proper to hate and despise them. Likes and dislikes, love and hatred are equally to be eschewed. It is also not proper to let the mind often rest on objects or affairs of mundane life. As far as possible one should not interfere in the affairs of others. Everything offered to others is really an offering to oneself; and if only this truth is realized, who is there that would refuse anything to others?”

These words are like nectar to the true aspirant who seeks to realise in himself the highest ideals ever conceived by man. All the good one seeks to do for others must be, and in essence really is, the good one does for oneself. Otherwise, the pretence of doing good to others, of removing the evil outside, is at best a pious platitude, at the worst rank hypocrisy. Know this first, that unless you realize purity and goodness in yourself, you cannot do anything really good to “others.”

The Sage abides in the transcendental State of mindlessness: he is a Trigunatita, For a description of this transcendental State of Absolute Being, untouched by good and evil, I cannot do better than quote the learned words of Dr. Bhagawan Das (Science of Peace, p. 329). “The Knower of Brahman knows that there is no ruthless cruelty, no nightmare agony of helplessness in it, for, at every moment, each condition is essentially voluntary, the product of that utterly free will of the Self (and therefore of all selves), which there is none else to bend and curb in any way, the will that is truly liberated from all bondage. He knows that because all things, all Jivas and all Iswaras, belong to, nay, are in the Self already, therefore whatever a self wishes that, with all its consequences, will surely belong to it, if it only earnestly wishes; this earnest wish itself being the essence of yoga, with its three co-equal factors of Bhakti, Jnana and Karma, corresponding to Ichchha, Jnana and Kriya respectively, Knowing all this, he knoweth, he cogniseth Brahman; and looking on all selves as himself desiring their happiness as he laboureth for his own, he realizeth and is Brahman. Such an one is truly Mukta, free from the fearful bonds of doubt; he knows and is the Absolute, the Self absolved from all the limitations of the not-Self. To him belongs the everlasting Peace!” This is the rationale and fundamental basis of all our modern institutions of social service, ideals of common humanity, economic welfare and religious unity. Let us try and apply them to modern problems of life that confront us today.

If we look round the world today we find it disintegrated, divided, confused, distracted and hopelessly tormented. The march of science with its ever-increasing inventions, discoveries, additions to our physical comforts, facilities of every kind, has not solved our economic, social and political problems. In fact human institutions are in a more complicated condition now than they were ever before. Religions of the world, instead of being a blessing to humanity, are found to be a curse, as they promote more of disharmony, ill-will and animosity than of harmony, good-will and brotherliness. What is all this due to?

Is there any solution for these complex and seemingly insoluble problems? Is there any hope for the future of humanity? So long as the world is wholly dominated by materialism and its innumerable off-shoots, it will give rise to more complications than we can think of. There is no hope for humanity of the future unless it changes its outlook. The world has given long and wearied trial to materialistic ideals. It would be worthwhile to investigate other avenues, new lines of thought and other possibilities of a remedy. In all ages, side by side with a material outlook, there have always existed spiritual values, and those who have had enough experience of this known, palpable world and have failed to find anything in it, have turned their attention to spiritual ideals, to higher values. We have come to a stage in our present-day civilization when the need for a change of outlook and fresh investigation has become urgent and imperative. If we pay no heed to this call, nothing but ruin will overtake us. None can overlook the fact that in spite of his material wealth and prosperity, his inventive genius and organising skill and aptitude for mass production, the man of today is nowhere near true happiness. His desires and wants increase a hundredfold more quickly than they can be fulfilled. As the astute thinker and well-known psychologist, Dr. C. G. Jung, observes, the materialistic mind fails to discern the fact that the root of the malady lies in oneself, that one’s misery and happiness are primarily of one’s own making, and that they are the inevitable outcome of one’s externalised outlook which tries to ignore the higher calls of the Spirit within. The tragedy lies in the fact that the modern man fails to see that unless his inward being is rebuilt on spiritual foundations, his material prosperity and power can never make him happy.

In this context we can at once see that Bhagavan Sri Ramana has a momentous message to offer to the whole of humanity. “Thou art the Bliss itself,” declares the Sage, “and needest no external props, aid and advantages. Seek within, and thou shalt realise thy blissful nature. He that gave you life knows best what use to make of it for the good of the world. Your life of purity and peace will enrich the world a hundred-fold more than you can ever imagine you would be able to do through a world-wide marshalling of the forces of the States towards organized philanthropy and material aid to needy humanity.” Truly, the need of the day is not an addition to the material comforts of the worldly man much less the accumulation of greater power to control the destinies of innocent millions, not even the sickening philanthropy of the patronizing type crazy for modernized world-publicity, but the deeper culture of the soul which makes man selfreliant and strong, which will unfold before him the vision of oneness of life he can realise through self-denial and will enable him to build a social structure on spiritual foundations first laid in his own heart. Undoubtedly, the present-day need is for the peace and purity of the soul, especially in those who happen to wield the power and influence to control the destiny of vast masses of humanity.

For the materialist it is hard to believe that there is any such realm as the spiritual, since it cannot be demonstrated to the physical eye. But we have in our midst Sages and Saints contact with whom and close observation of whose lives will reveal to us that the claim put forth by the votaries of spiritual values has substance and reality. One such Sage, not inaccessible to us, is Ramana Maharshi by contact with whom we can change our outlook and convince ourselves not only of the reality but of the immense utility of spiritual values. His method of reform and uplift is quite different from that of any other reformer or philanthropist. He does not believe in propaganda of any kind, nor does he lecture to any of his numerous admirers and devotees. Most of the time he sits silently, transforming the hearts and minds of those who are privileged to be near him. By the living example of his intensely methodical and practical life he helps and reforms us. His plain, simple and unsophisticated philosophy vividly reflected in his day-to-day conduct serves as a key to unlock the mystery of life and solves in a practical way some of the complicated social, political, religious and economic problems that confront us today. He implicitly believes in the divinity and the unity of life. He enjoins on us that there is only One Self, One Life which is vibrant in every atom, One Light that shines in every creature, One Love that embraces all in Oneness. Setting aside all earthly considerations, if we can bring ourselves to believe even tentatively that there is only One Life dwelling equally in the hearts of all, and that God is the common source of our being, then our hitherto perverted attitude to the problems of every-day life will have been removed to no small extent.

On the basis of this fundamental principle, that all human beings share one common life, have a common interest in many things and have a common destiny, we can, in the light of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s philosophy of life, safely for our guidance that we have to live and let others live. Democracy of spirit cements our differences, provides us with a sound basis for mutual co-operation, hearty goodwill, fellow-feeling and the joy of living in the life of others.

If this principle is fully grasped, much of the ills of life from which we suffer today would slowly but surely disappear. If the tendency to exploit each other could be exchanged for mutual aid and co-operation, much of the complexity and confusion of our economic and political life would possibly be removed. Similarly, social problems in the light of One Self may have better solutions; social justice, opportunity for all, can be attained by the simple recognition of the unity and divinity of human life.

Sri Maharshi sees the same Atman dwelling in the hearts of all, high or low, man or woman. On this ground women are not deprived of their privilege of having social equality and spiritual guidance as they were in olden days. In the matter of religion also Maharshi’s silent influence has revolutionised our inner outlook. One who earnestly believes in the supremacy of the Self cannot possibly entertain any bheda-bhava (ÉedÉav) in his heart. Our revered Maharshi belongs to no religion, no institution, and yet he respects and recognises all the great teachers of humanity, the saints, sages, prophets and avatars, and fully knows that they are linked together in One Spiritual hierarchy and have one common aim, namely the regeneration of the whole of the human race in its final evolution to spiritual realization. Name and form, in his sight, do not matter. What does matter is the One Self without a second, who is manifested in the innumerable forms that abide not for ever. That which alone abides for ever is the Self that knows no birth, no death, and that is beyond all limitations. In the light of all that has been stated to expound the Maharshi’s philosophy of spiritual life in collaboration and comparison with modern thought, we are in a position to assume that the Sage of Arunachala is not a dogmatic teacher nor a religious propagandist or a reformer. He is really a spiritual scientist who has adopted the scientific method of approach to Truth by investigating the realm of the Unknown with the aid of his intuitive genius which has assimilated reason. He has attained Self-realisation through his won self-effort and intense introspection. A modern scientist discovers a certain truth not only for himself but for the benefit of the whole of mankind, irrespective of any race or nationality. He shares his knowledge willingly with those who care for it. Even like the scientist, Sri Maharshi hands over the result of his patient investigation and search to his disciples and earnest students of the subject in order that the torch of spiritual enlightenment may be kept burning from one generation to another. On this most auspicious and happy occasion commemorating the completion of half a century of the transcendental life of the greatest of the modern Sages of India, we pray to him to vouchsafe his grace to all worthy and deserving persons who seek his inward presence, protection and guidance. We pray that his resplendent grace may shine forth in at least a few disciples who may have been privileged to receive it from him, so that they may attain the peace and light of Selfrealization, and carry the Light of Divine Wisdom from generation to generation.