WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8171

Date uploaded in London – – – 14 June 2020   

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                                                    R. Nanjappa

Sri Ramakrishna and Bhagavan Ramana

The life and teachings of Bhagwan Sri Ramana Maharshi differ from those of Sri Ramakrishna,  in their outer aspects though ultimately they are like two sides of the same coin. In fact, many devotees came to Sri Ramana after studying the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.

Sri Ramakrishna’s childhood was soaked in mystic light. His noble parents were very pious, though very poor. His youth was spent in intense Sadhana for over 14 years; different Gurus came to him to instruct on various paths. His mission of teaching lasted another 14 years. [The Gospel covers only the last four and a half years of his life and teachings.] It so happened that he had to leave the place where had lived for 30 years- the Dakshineswar Kali temple precincts- in the last 10 months of his life due to his illness. The young devotees desired to bring him back to Dakshineswar, but the temple management did not allow him to come back.

Sri Ramana reached Tiruvannamalai as a lad of 17 on 1 Sep, 1896 and did not leave the place even for a single day for 54 years, till he attained Maha Nirvana on 14 April, 1950. By the time he reached there, he was already a Jnani, a Realised Being. There was no further Sadhana, no tapas, no anything.  There was no human Guru. He just remained as he was.

Sri Ramana’s name was Venkataraman. His life is well chronicled, so we need not concern ourselves with those details.

Now, what about his teaching?

He had not studied any religious or spiritual book, other than the Bible he was taught at the Missionary school, and the lives of the 63 Tamil Saivite saints. He had not received any instruction in religious matters and did not know any scriptures. He had no knowledge of Sanskrit.

But he had encountered Death and Realised what was life first hand some six weeks before he came to Tiruvannamalai, whose other name “Arunachala” had had a mystic hold on him even as a youngster.  He was only interested in remaining in his natural state, a state of natural silence, with the mind completely annihilated. He did not feel inclined to talk or teach, certainly not to expound any theory or philosophy. Most people naturally fell silent in his presence, and experienced a sense of peace. Even animals remained calm and inactive in his presence.

However, some people kept approaching him for instructions from his earliest days, even when he was not talking. While he would not answer idle curiosity, or respond to mere learning, he was naturally inclined to help sincere sadhakas, whatever may be their path.  So, he would answer their questions raised on the basis  of the practical difficulties encountered by them, in writing in the days of silence. He was only interested in teaching a practical way to realise Truth. “What is Truth, and what is the way to attain it.”
But this he did as a “silent influence on the heart”, in the words of Arthur Osborne. For those who were not able to respond to that, he explained in words: 

Mind is a bundle of thoughts. The thought ‘I’ is the basic thought. If one questioned where this thought arose from, the mind would be absorbed in that source. Then one remained as one ever was. This questioning is not verbal, repetition of any formula, but paying attention to the source of one’s being. This he called “Self-enquiry” or finding out “Who Am I”. For those unable to follow this, he prescribed “Surrender”.

Enquire or Surrender- this is his only teaching. It has to be practiced, not studied.

Over the years, as his name spread, visitors, Indian and foreign, started pouring in, raised questions in the light of their spiritual practices or difficulties and he had to answer. Then, in response to devotees’ requests he had to write something, in prose and verse, all in his mother tongue, Tamil. These have been collected and published as his ‘Collected Works’. These have been translated into English and other languages. Like the original works in any language, his words in Tamil are his own, based on his experience, and do not employ any jargon. Something of the beauty, and accuracy (and Power?) is lost in any translation, however competent. Lucky are those who can read the original.

There is precise history behind and reason for everything that  Bhagavan Ramana wrote.  (Though he was named Ramana Maharshi, it was usual for devotees to address him as “Bhagavan”. So, we will also follow that practice!) It is important to know this.


This is the first work that Bhagavan wrote. Around 1901 one devotee Gambhiram Seshayya submitted to him a few questions. Since those days he was not inclined to speak, Bhagavan wrote out his answers. Seshayya had copied them in his diary. After many years, the diary was recovered, the material was edited by a devotee and published under this heading. It is available both in essay and original question -answer forms.


Around the same time, one Sivaprakasam Pillai turned up. He had studied philosophy at the university, but was vexed by the question of one’s true identity ie ‘Who Am I’. He raised this and some related questions. Bhagavan’s answers were collected and later published under this heading. This too is both in the essay and question-answer forms.

Sivaprakasam Pillai is a very lucky devotee, and we are lucky too because of him. He raised the one question for which Bhagavan had already found the original answer! Later, on the advice of Bhagavan he went to his village and settled to a quiet life of sadhana. When he passed away years later, Bhagavan remarked: “Sivaprakasam has become Siva’s effulgence” (“Sivaprakasam Sivaprakasam aanaar”,  சிவப்ரகாசம் சிவப்ரகாசமானார் “in Tamil). This is high praise indeed, coming from Bhagavan! This teaching is the most characteristic of Bhagavan, though it had to be couched in conventional language to suit the questioner.


This contains a record of conversations which took place on one of the early days between Bhagavan and devotees. They were noted down by a devotee, expanded and arranged and submitted to Bhagavan who appreciated them. We may however note that they were not the spontaneous teachings of Bhagavan, but his reaction to the discussions initiated by others.


These are the supreme devotional outpourings of a perfect Jnani, spontaneous expression of devotional exuberance in sublime poetry in the classical mould. Obviously devotional in tone, they distill perfect Jnana, and move heart and soul as nothing else. One simply melts.

1. The Marital Garland of Letters.

 This is a hymn of 108 verses, sung in the nayaki-nayaka bhava ( bridal mysticism) showing the sublime union of the soul with God, where the individual merges completely with the object of devotion.

This was written about the year 1914. The devotees were then going round the town to beg their food and they wanted Bhagavan to compose something distinct for them to chant as they went about. But Bhagavan was not inclined, saying there were already many hymns written by saints. But one day as Bhagavan started going round the Hill, as was his wont, a devotee followed him with paper and pencil in hand. The verses started welling up and Bhagavan wrote them down, with profuse tears flowing down his eyes and obscuring his vision. By the time the round was over, the poem was completed.

2.The Necklet of Nine Gems.

One day, a learned Dikshitar of Chidambaram came to Bhagavan and requested him to visit that holy place, as it represented the Akasha tatva, which was superior to the other four elements. Bhagavan wrote the first verse in reply, showing how Arunachala was superior to all;  the other verses were written afterwards.
3. Eleven Verses to Sri Arunachala

4. Eight Stanzas to Sri Arunachala.

About these, Bhagavan himself said:

“The only poems that came to me spontaneously and compelled me, as it were, to write them without anyone urging me to do so are the Eleven Verses to Sri Arunachala and the Eight Stanzas to Sri Arunachala. The opening words of the Eleven Verses came to me one morning and even though I tried to suppress them saying, ‘What have I to do with these words?’, they would not be suppressed till I composed a song bringing them in; and all the words flowed easily, without any effort. The remaining stanzas except two were also composed the same way.”

The last two were composed just before a devotee took them away for printing.

5.Arunachala Pancharatna (Five Stanzas)

These were composed by Bhagavan in Sanskrit at the urging of a devotee who was also a Sanskrit scholar. Bhagavan did not know Sanskrit but on composition, this was found to be flawless.

These Five Hymns are preceded by a verse written by Muruganar on the significance of  Arunachala. This is followed by a verse by Bhagavan on the significance of the Deepa that is lit on the Hill every year. Then follow some verses on the glory of Arunachala rendered in Tamil from Skandapurana. In a court case involving the Temple and the Forest Dept. Bhagavan’s views were sought on the status of the Hill and Bhagavan then pointed  out these verses, which he later rendered in Tamil.


 The coming of Muruganar marks a glorious new chapter in the chronicles of Bhagavan. Muruganar was an acknowledged Tamil Scholar of standing, and a poet, working as a Tamil pandit, and was a member of the Tamil Lexicon committee. [His name was C.K.Subramanya Iyer, which he had rendered as ‘Muruganar’ due to his love of Tamil.] Coming to Bhagavan, he left everything and stayed with him permanently, outliving Bhagavan by 23 years. Bhagavan was the only God he knew. He has  crucial role in Ramana Leela and Literature.

  1. The Essence of Instruction: Upadesa Undiyar.

Once, he composed hymns in praise of Bhagavan, which have been collected together under the name Ramana Sannidhi Murai. In one part, he described  all the Avatars as Bhagavan’s. There is one episode in the divine play of Lord Siva. The Rishis of Daruka forest became attached to the performance of karma, to the extent of even disregarding God. Lord Siva wanted to teach them a lesson. Muruganar recorded the episode but when it came to the teaching, he felt unequal to the task, and urged Bhagavan to write out that portion. The result is thirty verses, capturing the very essence of all sadhana, giving a gist of the whole spiritual path . These have been published separately under the title Upadesa Undiyar, translated in English as ‘The Essence of Instruction’. In verses of stunning beauty and brevity, Bhagavan shows how Self-enquiry constitutes the best path. Bhagavan himself later rendered it in Telugu, Malayalam and Sanskrit. The Sanskrit version is chanted daily at the Samadhi shrine along with other Sanskrit scriptures.

  • Reality in Forty Verses: Ulladu Naarpadu.

    Bhagavan used to write stray verses occasionally on the urging of some devotee or other, or translate from Sanskrit; these  contained or reflected his own teachings. Once there were 20 such verses. Muruganar who was a great scholar of ancient Tamil literature felt that like some ancient Tamil collections which had forty verses as standard , Bhagavan should also write forty verses, containing his teachings.” Please tell us the nature of truth and the way to attain it so that we may be saved: Maiyin iyalbum atai mevum tiranum uyyumpadi emakkarulga”, he used to urge Bhagavan. மெய்யின் இயல்பும் அதை மேவும் திறனும் உய்யும்படி எமக்கருள்க“.

  As Bhagavan  composed , Muruganar started compiling them in some order, discarded some, and urged Bhagavan to write something more. Like this, he got a treasure of 40 original compositions from Bhagavan. He put them together under the name Reality in Forty Verses. The Tamil name derives from the first word of the first verse, which was later adopted as the benedictory verse. Bhagavan calls Truth : ULLADU- உள்ளது THAT WHICH IS- avoiding all jargon. This single verse conveys the essence of Bhagavan’s teaching: to find out the source of one’s Being or Self which always Is and abide as That! There is no other way!

3. Supplement to the Forty Verses:

This contains the verses excluded from the original Forty and contains many translations, but all having unity of subject. Here verse 39 is important. It instructs: Keep Advaita (bhava) at heart; never carry it  out in action. Even if you practice  it in the three worlds, it is never to be adopted with respect to the Guru. Nowadays, there is a kind of popular advaita which is tom-tomed, as if it can be easily done . Such people should remember the above verse.


Apart from the above, the Collected Works contain Bhagavan’s translations from Sanskrit sources: 2 pieces from Agama in verse; Atma Bodha and Dakshinamurti  Stotram in verse, and Viveka Chudamani and Drik Drisya Viveka in prose from Acharya Sankara. He also extracted some portions from an earlier translation of a Hindi work Vichara Sagara, rendered in Tamil as Vichara Mani Mala

Bhagavad Gita

Devotees used to urge Bhagavan to indicate some important verses from Bhagavad Gita as they felt it was difficult to recite all the 700 verses daily. Bhagavan used to say all verses were important, and pointed to verse 20, Chapter X as significant. But on further urging, he selected 42 verses, rendered them in Tamil, rearranged them and wrote an invocatory verse.

பார்த்தன் தேரில் நல் வார்த்தையாலவன் 

ஆர்த்தி போக்கருள் மூர்த்தி காக்கவே,

May that Murti, who removed, by his auspicious words, the distress of Arjuna  in the chariot,  , protect us.

 This was published as Bhagavad Gita Saram, ‘Song Celestial’ in English.

There are some stray verses also included in the collected works.

The Significance of the Collected Works. 

This collection itself reveals an important point. As the book was being readied for the press, in 1929, devotees desired that it should contain a  preface, as was the convention. People kept discussing, but no one was prepared to write a preface to a work containing Bhagvan’s words. It was nearing midnight and they were still talking. Bhagavan called a devotee, T.K Sundaresa Iyer and told him why could he not write it himself. Saying he could do only with Bhagavan’s blessings, TKS sat down and wrote something and showed it to Bhagavan around 2 a.m. Bhagavan read it and gave it back with his approval. TKS took the paper away and had gone a few steps when Bhagavan called him again, took back the sheet and changed one word. TKS had concluded that it was “hoped”  (Nambukiren நம்புகிறேன்) that this book containing the grace of  Bhagavan would enable struggling souls to get rid of misery and attain bliss. Bhagavan  scored out the word ‘hoped’ and wrote “CERTAIN” (TINNAM, திண்ணம் in Tamil) in his own hand and returned the sheet. This shows the importance of the work. 

Ramana Books, literature


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