GAmbhiram Seshaier was a Municipal Overseer at Tiruavannamalai about 1900. He became a devotee of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi who was then living at the Virupaksha cave on the Arunachala Hill.
A student of Yoga, he was especially interested in Swami Vivekananda’s lectures on Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, etc. Finding some difficulty in understanding these and similar books, he brought them to the Maharshi for elucidation. Sri Bhagavan then went through each of them and wrote out in easy Tamil prose the gist of these works on bits of paper and answered supplementary questions put by Seshaier. Thus Seshaier had quite a sheaf of these papers written by the Maharshi in 1900, 1901 and 1902; and he copied them into a small notebook.
After Seshaier passed away his notebook and some of the papers were obtaine from his elder brother, G. Krishna Iyer and the contents were published with the title Vichara Sangrabam.
This may therefore be regarded as the gist of the Maharshi’s earliest teachings. The Vichara Sangraham has unique value in that it constitutes the first set of instructions given by Sri Bhagavan in his own handwriting.
The present work in prose consists of forty questions with answer covering the entire range of spiritual disciplines required for the gainging of release (oksha). The questioner was Gambhiram Seshayya, one of the early devotees of Bhabavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. He was a municipal Overseer at Tiruvannamalai about 1900. Besides being an ardent Ramabhakta(worshipper of Rama) he was interested in the study and practice of yoga. He used to read Seami Vivekananda’s lectures on the different yogas as also an English translation of the Rama Gita. For resolving the difficulties which he came across while studying these bools and in his spiritual practices, he approached Bhabavan Sri Raman from time to time . Bhagavan, who was only twentyone years old, was then living in Virupaksha cave on Arunchala Hill. As he was keeping silent at the time, not because of any vow taken, but because he was not inclined to talk- he wrote out his answers to Seshayya’s questions on bits of paper. These writing over the period 1900-1902 were later copied in a note –book by Seshayya. The material thus gathered was published by Sri Ramanasramam under the title Vichara Sangraham which literally means ‘A Compendium of Self- Enquiry’. A digest of the teaching contained in this book work was later printed in English bearing the title’ Self- Enquiry’. In that English version, the questions were omitted and the substance of Bahaman’s teaching was given, classifying it in twelve short chapters with appropriate headings. The present English translation is of the entire original text Vichara Sangraham as it is in Tamil. The Vichara Sangraham has unique value in the sense that it constitutes the first set of instructions given by Bhagavan in his own handwriting.
A careful study of the instructions given by Bhagavan here will reveal that they are based on his own plenary experience as confirmed by the sacred texts which were brought to his notice by the early devotees and which he perused for the purpose of clearing the doubts that arose in the minds of the devotees . In the course of his instructions, Bhagavan makes use of such expressions as, ‘the scriptures declare’, ‘thus say the sages’, etc. He also cites passages from texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Viveka Chudamani and once he mentions by name the Ribhu Gita. But it is quite clear that these citations are offered only as confirmations of the truth discovered by Bhagavana himself in his own experience.
The basic teaching is that of Advaita Vedanta. The plenary experience of the on-dual Self is the goal; enquiry into ht mature of the Self is the means. When the mind identifies the Self with the not-self (the body, etc.), there is bondage; when this wrong identification is removed through the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ there is release. Thus, Self-enquiry is the direct path taught by Bhagavan Ramana. The ‘I’-experience is common to all. Of all thoughts, the ‘I; - thought is the first to arise. What one has to do is the reverse process of what ordinarily happens in the life of the mind. The mind enquires into the constitution and source of everything else which, on examination, will be found to be its own projection; it does not reflect on itself and trace itself to its source. Self-discovery can be achieved by giving the mind an inward turn. This is not to be confused with the introspection of which do the paychologists speak. Self-enquiry is not the mind’s first mode, the ‘I’- thought to its source which is the Self. When there is proper and persistent enquiry, the ‘I’- thought also ceases and there is the wordless illumination of the form ‘I-I’ which is the Pure Consciousness. This is release, freedom from bondage. The method, by which this is accomplished, as has been shown, is enquiry which, in Vedanta, is termed (dhyana), and concentration (yoga) is identical therewith. As Bhagavan makes it perfectly clear, not to forget the plenary Self experience is real devotion, mind-control, knowledge, and all other austerities. In the language of devotion, the final goal may be described as the resolution of the mind in its source which is God, the Self, in that of technical yoga, it may be described as the dissolution of the mind in the Heart –lotus. There are only different ways of expressing the same truth.
The path of Self-enquiry is found difficult b those who have not acquired the necessary competence for it. The mind should first be rendered pure and one-pointed. This is done through meditaion, etc. So, the various paths, in their secondary sense, are auxiliaries to the direct path, in their secondary sense, are auxiliaries to the direct path which is Self-enquiry. In this context, Bhagavan refers to three grades of aspirants: the highest, the medium, and the lowest. For the highest typw of aspirants, the path prescribed is Vedanta enquiry; through this path, the mind becomes quiescent in the Self and finally ceases to be, leaving the pure Self-experience untarnished and resplendedt. The path for the medium is meditation on the Self. Meditaiton consists in directing a contionuous flow of the mind towards the sme object. There are several modes of meditation. The best mode eventually culminates in Self-relization. For the lowest grade of aspirants, the discipline that is useful is breath- control which in turn results in mind control.
Bhagavan explains the difference between jnana yoga (path of knowledge ) and dhyana yoga (path of meditation ) thus: jnana is like subduing a sself-willed bull by coaxing it with the help of a sheaf of green grass, while dhyana is like controlling it by using force. Just as there are eight limbs for dhyana yoga, there are eight for janana yoga. The limbs of the latter are more proximate to the final stage than those of the former. For instance, while the pranayama of technical yoga consists in regulating and restraining breath, the pranayam that is a lilmb of jnana relates to rejecting the name-real and realizing the Real which is Existence- Consciousness-Bliss.
Realization of the Self can be gained in this very life. In fact, Self-realization is not something which is to be gained afresh. We are already the Self; the Self alone is. It is ignorance that makes us imagine that we have not realized the self. When this ignorance is removed through Self-knowledge, we realized our eternal Self-nature. One who has gained this realization is called a jivanmuka (liberated while living). To others, he may appear to continue to tenant a body. For the benefit of those others it is stated that he body will continue so long as the residue of the prarabdha karma (that karma of the past which has begun to fructify in the shape of the present body) lasts, and that when the momentum is spent the body will fall and the jivanmukta will become a videhamukta. But from the stand point of the Absolute Truth, there is no difference in mukti. What needs to be understood is that mukti or release is the inalienable nature of the Self.
This, in substance, is Bhagavan Sri Ramana’s teaching in the Vichara Sangraham.
Brahma Sutras (79)
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