Arunachala Shiva is a profound homage to the spiritual greatness of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi who is one of India's most well known Sages. Included in this book is his famous text, Who Am I ? (Nan Yar) in which he declares that self - enquiry is the most direct route to Self - realisation.
Arunachala Shiva, beautifuly illustrated with 100 photographs, paints an intimate picture of Sri Ramana's life and takes us behind the scenes to moments with his closest disciples. The shocking yet compelling commentaries offer new and unexpected insights into his teachings, challenging entrenched ideas and assisting a final realisations. The unique nature of these interviews is revealed in the Preview DVD included in the book.
Arunachala Shiva is my homage to the spiritual greatness of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi who awakened to his true nature in 1896 at the age of sixteen. A few weeks after this event he left home and made his way to Arunachala, a holy mountain in Tiruvannamalai, South India, which is reputed to be Shiva himself Sri Ramana spent his whole life living on the mountain, which he took to be his Master. He is considered by most spiritual adepts to be one of the greatest Indian Sages of our times.
Sri Ramana's small booklet Who Am I ? (Nan Yar) contains the core of his teachings with a focus on Self-enquiry. This booklet grew out of a meeting between Sri Ramana and a spiritual seeker who had a burning desire to find the answer to his question, 'Who am I?' Although Sri Ramana had not studied the scriptures when he first answered the questions, it is a spiritual classic that is in line with both the Vedanta and Yoga traditions. He answered the questions posed to him that day from the Self, reflecting the ancient wisdom of India and the contemporary wisdom of his time.
There is no doubt that the importance Sri Ramana gave to Self-enquiry as the most direct route to Self-realisation has attracted enormous attention from serious Western seekers of Truth in the last years. It is not only his teachings which have attracted attention but also his exemplary lifestyle and the sattvic (quiet and peaceful) nature of his mind, which is reflected in the architecture of his ashram, which he designed. Thousands of Western seekers visit the ashram every year to stay for some days in the simple but glorious peace of that place. It is always a delight to sit on the red clay floor, eating, with one's own hand, the delicious vegetarian food which is served from buckets onto a banana leaf plate.
This silent atmosphere of the ashram can be felt in the one hundred photographs on the thirty-six colour art pages. They span Sri Ramana's life from the earliest photo of him, aged twenty-one or two, to his death in 1950. Several relatively unknown photographs have been obtained, including the two photographs taken by the famous French photographer, Cartier-Bresson, on the days before and just after Sri Ramana's passing. The photographic pages also chart the development of Ramana Ashram from its beginnings right through to today, and they introduce us to some of the people who were fortunate to spend time with Sri Ramana. The beauty of Sri Rarnana's guru, Arunachala, Shiva incarnate, graces every page.
The first steps of this book were taken in 1992 while I stayed in the room next to David Godman at Ramana Ashram. He was kind enough to explain Self-enquiry to me and to introduce me to Sri Lakshmana Swamy, one of the last living direct disciples of Sri Ramana. Later David was also part of the large community of Westerners living around Papaji in Lucknow. On Papaji's birthday in September 2000, he was happy to give the interview about his life and his relating with Papaji. His story is a classic example of how a Master does his real work. Later, in 2002, we recorded the interviews about Sri Ramana's Life, Teaching and Devotees. At that time he also offered me his commentary on Who Am I? and supported this project by having the interviews on his website. As the material was so compelling I decided to continue with its publication even though it has taken me several years.
In the same period in 2002 I stayed in Tiruvannamalai on a personal retreat and it was then that I met James Swartz. Most evenings he could be found in a local restaurant holding forth to a rapt audience his views on Vedanta. We became friends and we spent many hours together in dialogue. From our talks I gained a greater inner clarity and I was particularly happy during the many hours in which he patiently explained the finer points of Vedanta to me. This led directly to me asking him to dialogue with me on the teachings of Sri Ramana, which are presented in this book, with James bringing his knowledge of Vedanta to bear on the interpretation of these teachings. It is a valuable piece of work and by deciding to publish this with David's interviews it creates the ingredients for a lively debate on the correct interpretation of the important essence of Sri Ramana's teachings.
Arunachala Shiva offers four sections. In the first section, David Godman introduces us to Sri Ramana's life and to the lives of many of his closest disciples. He goes into the teachings in detail, particularly Self-enquiry. The complete original text of Who Am I? (Nan Yar), edited by Sri Ramana in the 1920s, is included in the second section. In section three, commentaries from David, lames and myself on Who Am I? (Nan Yar) set out the important key questions and answers. One of the contentious issues is the question about 'destroyed mind'. David advocates this strongly in Chapter 2 as an essential part of Sri Ramana's teaching and lames offers an opposing interpretation in his commentaries. In the fourth section the life story of each commentator provides a unique and interesting glimpse into the adventures of serious spiritual seekers.
The interviews and dialogues with David, lames and myself have been edited into an amazing ninety minute DVD Film, Arunachala Shiva. It contains archive material of Sri Ramana, film of the current ashram and of course, beautiful footage of Arunachala. This film visually expresses the important highlights of Sri Ramana's life and teachings. In the back of this book you will find a Preview DVD giving a taste of the full length film. High quality photographs taken from the Open Sky House archive of Arunachala and Ramana Ashram are available for printing on this Preview DVD. In addition, there is a loose map of Arunachala with the main pilgrimage temples, ash rams and hotels printed on fine quality paper.
H.W.L. Poonja, known affectionately as Papaji, the Lion of Lucknow, was a direct disciple of Sri Ramana. During the years from 1990 to Papaji's death in 1997, many Western seekers flocked to Lucknow to sit in his presence. I was one of them. He always said he was a channel for the teachings of Sri Ramana, but of course these teachings belong to the ancient spiritual tradition rather than to anyone Master. Papaji was my guru and later Sri Ramana became my main inspiration and guide.
In the last fifteen years there has been an explosion of Western spiritual teachers, mainly devotees of Papaji, travelling throughout the world offering Satsang (meeting in Truth). As a result, their message has touched a growing number of Western seekers and it seems increasingly important to open up the ancient teachings so that this wider audience can understand their meaning. I would like this book to contribute to making the teachings of Sri Ramana more accessible and in this way also the ancient wisdom. I would like it to challenge entrenched spiritual ideas and encourage healthy debate. Finally, this is my homage to Sri Ramana who has guided me over the last years on my own journey as a spiritual teacher.
What a glorious title for such a fine book! Arunachala Shiva. The holy mountain reputed to be Lord Shiva himself has been a renowned pilgrimage centre for millennia and perhaps above all the home for fifty years of that celebrated world teacher, the revered jnani (one who has realised the Self), Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. Premananda, the respected Western master of Advaita Vedanta, once again uses his powerful interview skills to fully explore the inspired teachings of Sri Bhagavan, in considerable depth. Premananda's work as a spiritual master has taken him to Australia, New Zealand, India and Europe, including Russia. Over the past six years he interviewed many Indian saints and sages, resulting in his successful and masterly publication, Blueprints for Awakening - Rare Dialogues with 16 Indian Masters on the Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. A further volume of Western masters will be published shortly.
For his dialogues in Arunachala Shiva Premananda has chosen David Godman, a well known author on Sri Ramana Maharshi, and James Swartz, Vedanta teacher and author. He fully questions and cross examines them both, probing Sri Bhagavan's teachings in depth, so as to elucidate their full meaning, with clarity. These interviews will prove a great help for the very many spiritual aspirants, Western and Eastern, who wish to learn more about Sri Ramana and his message for contemporary humanity- a teaching that promises to bring them to Self- realisation if they will only follow his suggestions with determination and persistence.
With his book Be As You Are, David Godman has compiled perhaps the best introduction to Sri Bhagavan's teachings, and it is now established as a standard work of reference. David is generally regarded as one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on Sri Bhagavan's life, teaching and disciples. He has written or edited fourteen books on topics related to Sri Bhagavan.
James Swartz studied under the great Vedanta master Swami Chinmayananda and now uses his excellent writing skills to explain this most ancient of truths in terms fully understandable to the Western seeker. His commentaries on Sri Ramana's teachings from a Vedanta point of view create the possibility of a lively debate. Premananda has chosen his dialogue partners most wisely.
The book rightly opens with Premananda interviewing David Godman whose exhaustive research reveals many intimate details of Sri Bhagavan's life for the first time. Premananda and David then move on, in two enthralling chapters, to discuss more about Sri Rarnana's subtle teachings and the lives of those devotees who were close to him.
The next section contains the key text of Sri Bhagavan's own Who Am I? (Nan Yar). This is the foundation, seminal essay on the highly important teaching of atma uichara, or Self-enquiry, which Sri Bhagavan always spoke of as the direct path and sure route to Self-realisation, providing this teaching was conscientiously practised. Then Grace would flow.
Premananda then engages lames Swartz in a dialogue on Sri Bhagavan's unique enlightenment experience, which occurred while he was still a teenage schoolboy. lames fully explores Sri Bhagavan's own description of this event and makes some very illuminating comments which are most helpful to all those who wish to understand the implications of this event.
James also comments on Who Am I? (Nan Yar) in a most helpful fashion. His analysis of this important text from a Vedanta viewpoint is quite brilliant and is strongly recommended for those seriously interested in the practice of Self-enquiry and the meaning of the Self and realisation in Sri Bhagavan's teaching. Premananda and lames go on to discuss Self-enquiry as described by Sri Ramana in his book Self Enquiry.
If this was not enough, in a further chapter David Godman analyses, explains and comments on Who Am I? (Nan Yar) in his own lucid and scholarly fashion.
To complete the commentary section, Premananda gives us his own appreciation of the practice of Self-enquiry and explains how it is done, in a most practical form. For devotees who find Self-enquiry difficult to commence, Premananda's commentary will prove clear and compelling.
These chapters on Self-enquiry will greatly assist the many aspirants struggling to come to grips with this essential sadhana (spiritual practice), which, along with devotional surrender, forms the backbone of Sri Bhagavan's great gift to humanity.
This is perhaps an appropriate time to discuss Self-enquiry in more depth and detail. Sri Bhagavan describes it as the direct path to Self- realisation and it can be found recorded in the classic Advaita scripture, the Yoga Vasistha. In this profound philosophic work, punctuated by enlightening stories and fables, the sage Vasistha instructs his pupil, Prince Rama, in Self-enquiry, repeating several important instructions as the book develops. From then on, in the Advaitic literature, we see little or nothing concerning this practice. This is because it became essentially reserved for the initiated mature students. So, it became a concealed or hidden teaching. It was Sri Bhagavan's great innovative gift to our weary humanity to bring this practice right to the forefront of his teaching, from the very beginning, when he gave written answers to questions after his Self-realisation.
Who Am I? (Nan Yar) has almost become a mantra (sacred sound) of Sri Bhagavan's teaching. So Self-enquiry became an open secret available to anyone, without changing their life style. Devotees can practise and hasten the day of their liberation through this magnificently effective sadhana. I advise all those who are in earnest about Self-realisation to study well Sri Bhagavan's essays in his Collected Works, Who Am I? and Self-Enquiry. During his lifetime, a copy of Who Am I? was given to each newcomer who visited his ashram for darshan (being in the presence of a saint).
Self-enquiry as a practice is only found amongst Advaita teachers following Sri Bhagavan's teaching. It is not given in other traditions where bhakti (devotion) or karma Yoga (work given to the divine) are largely the chosen paths for liberation. Of course meditation is taught in all traditions, but not necessarily with any reference to Self-enquiry.
There is no doubt that Self-enquiry has become very popular in the West largely through the burgeoning of a great many Advaita teachers who have sprung up since Sri Bhagavan's maha samadhi (consciously leaving the body at the time of death) in 1950. It is however, often sidelined because of the subtle difficulty which can be found in its commencement, and the need for supervision to become well established in the practice. Often it is taught in an inadequate, over-simplistic form which fails to be really effective in destroying the latent tendencies which veil and occlude the full potency of the real Self Sri Bhagavan gave many different approaches to Self-enquiry, which he referred to as the direct path to Self-realisation, to suit the needs of the different maturity and temperaments of his devotees.
There is the questioning method applied when thought and emotions arise, to ask who is having these thoughts or emotions. This pulls the mind to a sudden halt, into silence. Alternatively, it could be putting attention on the real Self, or the central feeling of ‘I amness', or just becoming aware of one's own awareness. It could be the radical practice of diving into the heart, with or without breath control, as taught by Sri Bhagavan in the Ramana Gita. Or one can use the real I, which is the name of God, repeating it as I-I-I, using it as a mantra. One needs to read his Collected Works and answers to question in his Talks, reading the indexed references to Self-enquiry zealously, to fully ground oneself in the practice, and then exercise it persistently and diligently. Then the veil and occlusion to the real Self is lifted, the vasanas (tendencies of the mind) emerge, and the ego or false sense of, me' topples. Self-realisation inevitably follows for the assiduous practitioner of Self-enquiry in due course, so says Bhagavan Sri Ramana!
Following these important chapters, Premananda turns to questioning both James and David about their own life stories, enthralling spiritual quests which reveal their own spiritual findings. Premananda also subjects himself to an in-depth interview.
David Godman's own pilgrimage and spiritual search had led him to Ramana Ashram, then on to see H.W.L. Poonja or Papaji, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Annamalai Swami, Lakshmana Swamy and many other of Bhagavan's principal, close devotees. David tells us about his colourful experiences with many of the sages he has met, interviewed and worked with, when writing their biographies.
David settled down in India and has lived in Tiruvannamalai for thirty years where he assiduously continues to edit and translate major works on Sri Bhagavan's teachings by sages such as the famed Tamil poet, Sri Muruganar. The many devotees of Sri Bhagavan owe this fine writer and biographer a great debt for his dedicated work over some thirty years. James Swartz' colourful life makes exciting reading. After being a successful businessman he turned to the psychedelic movement of the 60s. His journeys into conciousness eventually led him to his master, Swami Chinmayananda. James studied Vedanta under this great master. His unique gift to his readers and those who go to him for guidance is his ability to communicate the wisdom of Vedanta in modern language. He maintains a fascinating website where he debunks many spiritual myths and is currently publishing his new book, How to Attain Enlightenment.
Premananda's life journey chronicles his years living in Japan, India, USA, Australia and now Europe. He tells how his time with Osho prepared him for the meeting with his sadguru (guru who liberates) Papaji, and how identification with 'Premananda' fell away. His work as a spiritual master has taken him to many countries and has also resulted in a residential Satsang community near Cologne in Germany.
Premanada's deep love for Sri Ramana has been the catalyst for this and other books, and the result is a platform for valuable discussion and debate about the interpretation of Sri Ramana's teachings. What does this excellent book achieve? In my opinion it tells us why the teachings of this supreme guru, Sri Ramana Maharshi, have become so widely influential in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and have led to a spiritual renaissance and interest in Advaita Vedanta in both India and the West, spreading like a prairie bush fire. The book also adds to the understanding of Sri Ramana's teachings in a positive way and succeeds in presenting a novel understanding of his work.
This is undoubtedly an important seminal work on the teachings of Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. It will prove to be a most useful introduction for those encountering Advaita for the first time as well as a valuable handbook and guide for all those currently engaged in following his teachings, both in the East and the West. The book is handsomely graced with forty pages of beautiful colour photos, and is exceptionally well designed. It includes a Preview DVD with extracts from the DVD Film, Arunachala Shiva, which will be offered separately from the book.
It has been a privilege to be invited to write the foreword to this important book which I am sure will assist the very many thousands who are intensely interested in this most treasured teaching, both now and in the future. Premanada is once again to be congratulated and thanked for his diligent work in adding an important and significant contribution to the renowned Sri Ramana Maharshi literature.
Brahma Sutras (81)
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