Sustainer of Spiritual Reality
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, M.A., D. LITT., F.B.A.
(Vice-Chancellor, Benares Hindu University)
It is somewhat surprising that many students of religion assume that the religious seers, the true representatives of religious genius, belong wholly to the past and we to-day have to live on the memory of the past. If religion is a living truth, if it has any vitality, it must be capable of producing men who from time to time bear witness to the truth and confirm and correct from their own experience the religious tradition. When the springs of experience dry up, our love for religion is a mere affectation, our faith a belief and our behaviour a habit with no reality behind it. In the Indian religious tradition religion has meant not an imaginative or intellectual apprehension of Reality but its embodiment in regenerated living. Religion should energise our consciousness, transform our character and make us new men. The truly religious are those who have solid hold of the unseen Reality in which we ordinary men merely believe. They are not freaks proclaiming the reality of spirit, which is esoteric and intense. They tell us that they have a direct knowledge of the Real of which we have indirect or inferential knowledge. For them God is an Abiding Fact, a Living Presence, and in the consciousness of this fact their whole existence isഊtransformed. These artists of the inner life are of different types. Some are full of poetry and music; others are vigorous men of action; still others are solitary souls. Despite these differences they walk the same road, speak the same language of the soul and belong to the same family. The Indian tradition has been kept alive by seers who were born in every age and incarnated the great ideal. We have such God-engrossed souls even to-day. It is our good fortune that we have with us to-day a living embodiment of God-centered life, a perfect image of the life divine in the mirror of human existence. Sri Ramana Maharshi is not a scholar; he has no erudition, but he has wisdom that comes from direct experience of Reality, the wisdom we acquire through the discipline, not of intellect but of one’s nature, through chastity, poverty and obedience. The possession of this wisdom yields the fruits of spirit, love and purity, courage and humility, courtesy and holiness.



Sri Ramana was born on the 30th December, 1879, with a latent disposition to religion. He was no good at studies because his heart was elsewhere. His reading of Periapuranam with its account of the selfless devotion of bhaktas made a deep impression on his devout nature. The change which took him away from worldly pursuits is thus described in his own words: “It was six weeks before I left Madura for good that the great change in my life took place. It was so sudden. One day I sat up alone on the first floor of my uncle’s house. I was in my usual good health. But a sudden and unmistakable fear of death seized me. I felt I was going to die, and at once set about thinking what I should do. I did not care to consult anyone, be he a doctor, elder or friend. I felt I had to solve the problem myself then and there. The shock of the fear of death made me at once introspective or ‘introverted’. I said to myself mentally, i.e. without uttering the words, ‘Now death is come, what does it mean? Who is it that is dying? This body dies.’ I at once dramatized the situation. I extended my limbs and held them rigid, as though rigor-mortis (death-stiffening) had set in. I imitated a corpse to lend an air of reality to my further investigation. I held my breath and kept my mouth closed, pressing the lips tightly together, so that no sound could escape. ‘Well then,’ said I to myself, ‘This body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the crematory and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of my body am “I” dead? Is the body “I”? This body is silent and inert. But I am still aware of the full force of my personality and even of the sound of “I” within myself, as apart from the body. So “I” am a Spirit transcending the body. The material body dies, but the Spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. I am, therefore, the deathless Spirit.’ All this was not a feat of intellectual gymnastics, but came as a flash before me vividly as living TRUTH, something which I perceived immediately, without any argument almost. ‘I’ was something very real, the only real thing in that state, and all the conscious activity that was connected with my body was centred on that. The ‘I’ or myself was holding the focus of attention with a powerful fascination. Fear of death vanished at once and forever. The absorption in the Self has continued from that moment right up to now.” Growing absorption in spiritual matters made Sri Ramana indifferent to his studies. When rebuked, he left his home on Saturday, the 29th of August, 1896, leaving a note behind. “I have in search of my Father, according to His command, started from this place. On a virtuous enterprise indeed has this embarked. Therefore, for this act none need grieve nor to trace this out need money be spent.” Thus under a sense of Divine Command he left Madura, and, after some trouble, reached Tiruvannamalai on the 1st of September. When he visited the temple he fell into a trance. In such conditions a sense of oneness with the Ultimate Reality is produced. Sri Ramana renounced the world and became an Avadhuta which is a compound word of four letters A-va-dhu-ta. The first stands for Aksharatva or imperishability; the second for Varenyatva or the summit of perfection; the third for the destruction of the bounds which implicate us in the temporal process, and the last for the realisation of the truths conveyed by the great passage, “That art thou.” To attain such a condition of harmonising consciousness has been the aim of religious men. If we lose ourselves in the hopes and desires, in the fears and cravings, which wax and wane with the accidents of the outer world, if we yield to the chance allurements of time and space, we will lose our soul. Doubt which comes to us from outside is insignificant as compared with the doubt that corrodes from within. The true evil is not death of the body, but the failure of
one’s nature, the death of faith in the Ultimate Reality.


In this thought, Sri Ramana adopts the metaphysical position of Advaita Vedanta. He speaks to us of the Divine which is the pure subject from which all objectivity is excluded. The “I” is different from the “me.” The Self is not the body which perishes, not the senses which suffer the same fate as the body, not life, mind or intellect. It is the pure Spectator, the Sakshin, which is the same in all. We get to realise it not by metaphysical theorising but by spiritual discipline. Reality impinges on the unreality of life and to discover reality, absolute concentration and consecration are essential. We have to still our desires, steady our impulses, tread the ethical path. We cannot see so long as our vision is engrossed in outer forms, but those who turn their gaze inwards behold it. No one can see properly so long as he remains divided and disintegrated in his consciousness. We must become inwardly whole and free. We cannot acquire this wholeness or integrity if we do not root out our selfish impulses. We cannot know truly or act rightly so long as we are too afraid, too indolent or too self-centred. To see the Real and not merely the things of the world, the eye must be inverted. God is within us. Not comfort but control is happiness. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself,” says Jesus. Dedication to God means denial of the ego. We must empty the self in the abyss of God. This process is helped by the practice of unselfish service (Nishkama Karma), devotion (Bhakti), mind-control (Yoga), and inquiry (Vichara). Inquiry into self, religious worship, ethical service are means to this realisation. The end of all worship, puja, japa, dhyana, is communion with God. With increasing intensity in our devotion, the distance between the human and the Divine diminishes. Indian thought believes in four stages of God-realisationsalokya, where God and the worhsipper dwell in the same world, samipya, where the devotee is near the Divine, sarupya, where the devotee assimilates more and more the forms and attributes of the Divine, and sayujya, where the devotee is united to the Divine.

When one discovers the Divine within oneself, one must discover it also in the outer world of men and things. While the heights within are revealed to those who strenuously exclude all that lies without, the process of seeing all in the fullness of the Divine is more arduous. God is both eternal silence and perpetual activity, the unmoved witness and the ground of all that is, the metaphysical Absolute and the personal Lord. The Divine reveals itself anew in all life and existence. Nothing on earth is excluded from the Divine Consciousness. The Divine is the life which gives birth to us all and is farther than our farthest thought. Sri Ramana dwells not only in a world of pure subjectivity but has also a sense of the Infinite that is in all. As he has eliminated his selfish ego he becomes the Voice of the whole, the Conscience of all that is. As he has no selfish desires and no sense of agency, he enters into the world-movement and carries out the functions expected of him by that Universal Spirit. Honour and dishonour, praise and blame, do not move him. Actions are not subject to the necessity of nature but are centred in the freedom of the Divine.

It is a false assumption to hold that the spiritually strong have no patience with human weakness. They are not insensitive to human sorrow. The rishis are revealers of Reality, which is
all-bliss. They do not keep their discoveries to themselves. They have a social significance. By getting into their company, we, ordinary people, realise the actuality of the world of spirit and catch something of their fire. The great of spirit are ministering angels who assist, protect and help those who are in need. Association with the holy people produces detachment from fruits of action. Such detachment leads to desirelessness; from desirelessness arises stability of mind; Liberation in life is then achieved.1 The Upanishad asks the aspirant for spiritual life to approach, fuel in hand, a teacher versed in scripture, steady in his realisation of the Supreme.2 The teachers shows the path. His very presence radiates peace and joy. He refashions the souls of those who look to him for help. With keen psychological insight he understands the needs of those who approach him and satisfies them. Like all saints, he has the foundation in God; his surface is intertwined with everything that exists. He loves all beings as he loves himself and cannot rest until everyone mirrors the Divine in his life. The saints are the sustainers of society. Philo remarks: “Households, cities, countries and nations have enjoyed great happiness, when a single individual has taken heed of the good and beautiful. Such men not only liberate themselves; they fill those they meet with a free mind.” The true sages possess the inner joy and peace which are independent of outer circumstances. Their happiness is not dependent on outer things. They have passed beyond the forms of social life. Their renunciation is spontaneous and does not involve any idea of sacrifice. They work for the fulfilment of the Divine in the world, for the good of all beings, for the fulfilment of the Purpose. They are one in consciousness and action with the Divine.

To suggest that the spiritual souls are expected to abstain from action in the world is incorrect. The opportunities which the world offers are to be used for self-development. Life is a game where we should act our parts. We are all cast for different roles, and our business is to play them in the right spirit. We may lose the game but we should not mind it. It is the play that matters and not the score we make.


If the world is to be saved, it can only be by the intrusion of another world into it, a world of higher truth and greater reality than that which is now submerged by the overwhelming discords and sufferings of the present time. Our failure to develop contact with this world of Reality is the cause of our malady. Men like SRI RAMANA recall us to that larger dimension of Reality to which we really belong, though we are generally unaware of it.