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The extract that follows is taken from a chapter by Swami Madhavatirtha, a vedantic pandit who had a series of dialogues with Sri Ramana during his one visit to Ramansramam in 1944.
On one of the days of my [Madhavatirtha's] visit somebody gave to the Maharshi the English book Supreme Mystery, by Mirra, the mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Sri Maharshi opened it and read from a page of it on which was written, ‘Till now in this world every man has made an effort to attain his own liberation only. Our yoga is of such a type by which others also can be given moksha [liberation].’
The Maharshi made no comment, but after listening to this extract somebody made a remark that in the path of yoga and Sankhya [one of the six systems of Hindu philosophy] thought is only given to the experience of the waking state. Because of this attitude, he said, many separate people are seen in the waking state, and so thoughts of doing good to others arise. Vedanta, on the other hand, takes into consideration and gives thought to all the three states.
‘When this perspective is taken,’ concluded the man, ‘multiplicity does not remain.’
Sri Maharshi commented on this, saying, ‘During the waking state, if the one who sees the many is subtracted, that is, if the feeling of ‘I’ is removed, the many will not remain. If the state of being the observer is given up, nothing can then be proved. So, the true standpoint is that of the adhistana [substratum]. There is nothing except the substratum. To keep the knowledge of that which is not real is useless.’
Sri Maharshi frequently used this term adhistana during my visit. On more than one occasion he compared it to the sruti note, the continuous monotone sound that underlies many compositions in Indian music:
Question: How to maintain the thought that all is Brahman in the midst of worldly activities?
Maharshi: When the harmonium is being played there is a constant note that is called the sruti. Along with that, other notes also come out. If the ear is fixed on this note that is constant, then, while listening to the other notes, that original note cannot be forgotten. Actually, that first note gives strength to all the other notes. So, the principle to understand is that the first note is the adhistana [substratum] while the other notes represent worldly activities. During worldly activities, if [awareness of] the note of the adhistana is continuous, whatever is spoken is then done with the authority of this adhistana note. But an ordinary man does not keep his attention on the first note, the adhistana. He merely listens to the subsequent notes. The jnani keeps his attention on the first note. Sukdev [a sage of ancient India] used to keep such attention and maintain his awareness of Brahman. When the attention is fixed properly on the first note, the effect of the other notes will not be felt.
I noticed during my visit that the Maharshi often gave practical demonstrations to drive home a point that he had been making. On a subsequent day, when the conversation I have just recorded was still fresh in our minds, some women started to perform a bhajan accompanied by a harmonium.
As soon as the first note came out the Maharshi said: ‘Remember that. On the basis of this first note all the other notes will come out and stay. It should be understood that the same thing happens in the case of adhistana.’
The sruti-note analogy is not an exact one for, as the Maharshi often pointed out, the Self or adhistana alone exists. The world and all the people in it have no real independent existence, so it is not quite correct to compare them to the melodic line that emerges simultaneously with the sruti, which would still continue even if the sruti note suddenly ceased. This was brought home to me in a wide-ranging discussion I had with the Maharshi on the undifferentiated Self and the nature of knowledge and ignorance.
Question: Some see a serpent in the rope, some a stick, some a garland, and some a flow of water, but the one who sees the rope as a rope has the true knowledge. The knowledge of the other witnesses is not true.
Maharshi: It is not necessary to think of the view of other witnesses. Those others are only in your imagination. Know the one who sees and all will be well.
M: In a dream many are seen, but they are all in the imagination of the one who sees. When you wake up from the dream, the dream and those in the dream will take care of their own prarabdha.
Q: Then there will be no others?
M: It is the same in the waking state. In Aparokshanubhuti [an advaitic work attributed to Sankara], the author says, ‘The sight should be fixed in that state in which there is no existence of seer, seeing and seen, and not on the tip of the nose’.
Q: A question arises from this: how can daily life go on if the sight is fixed in this way?
M: Jnanis fix their sight in the substratum, the adhistana, even during worldly activities because nothing else is real except adhistana. To feel that there is clay in the pot is the proper attitude [that is, see the essence and not the form].
Q: A pot can be filled with water, but one cannot achieve the same result by pouring water on clay.
M: I do not tell you to see clay after breaking the pot. Even when the pot is whole you can see it as the form of clay. In the same way the world can be seen as the form of Brahman. To have the knowledge of Brahman in the waking state is similar to having the knowledge of clay in the pot.
Q: Are names and forms real?
M: You won’t find them separate from adhistana. When you try to get at name and form, you will find reality only. Therefore attain the knowledge of that which is real in all three states [waking, dreaming and sleeping].
Q: Is it a fact that dreams arise because of impressions received during the waking state?
M: No, it is not true. In your dream you see many new things and many people whom you have never seen before in your waking state. You may even see a second dream within the dream. After waking up from the second dream, you may feel that you have woken up, but that is the waking state of the first dream. In the same way, man wakes up daily, but it is not to a real waking state.
David Godman Books
Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings
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