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Bhagavan's early life
Hi, this is David Godman here. I have returned to this article after a gap of several years and discovered many things in it that I feel could be improved on. I don't propose to do any editing myself. I will just list things that caught my attention, usually by citing reference numbers from the text. It's up to everyone else to decide whether to act on them or not. I have started at the beginning. The next installment will be a serious critique of the way that Bhagavan's Self-realisation experience has been reported.
Note 3 This comment by Eliott Deutsch is not supported by any biographical account, or by anything Bhagavan himself has said. There is no evidence that he contemplated the question ‘Who am I? before he was sixteen. In the succeeding quote from Brunton Bhagavan is analyzing the nature of the ‘I’ in an intellectual way, but he is not asking himself the crucial question, ‘Who am I?’
The Brunton quote itself is problematic. In the original typed manuscript the account concludes, ‘On that day he attained jnana,’ which is clearly wrong. A. R. Natarajan, who edited the first edition of Conscious Immortality, left it out, and he also omitted it from Timeless in Time, which he wrote several years later. There may be a kernel of truth in the story, but its censored conclusion is inconsistent with other known facts of Bhagavan’s teenage years.
Note 5 Sivananda’s version is a very poor translation. It is just an abbreviated paraphrase. If you want to link to the full text, use Saint Sekkizhar’s Periya Puraanam, translated by R. Rangachari, published by Sri Ramanasramam, 2008, ISBN 81-8288-086-6
Note 6 None of this is relevant to the highlighted ‘Tamil Saivaite bhakti saints’. These saints belong to an era that stretched from the 6th to the 9th century. The philosophies described in the note did not arise until much later.
, [web 5] and  During this time he also read Sekkizhar's Periyapuranam… which "made a great impression" on him,
The best source for this is Krishna Bhikshu’s Sri Ramana Leela. The text says:
- The first religious text that Venkataraman read was Periyapuranam. It was if he [had] entered a new world altogether. The more he read, the greater was his thirst… The subjects of the book were all contented devotees of Siva. Devotion, love, peace and bliss flooded all over [him] as knowledge of Siva himself.
- As he was progressing [with his reading] Venkataraman’s devotion and reverence for the devotees was increasing – he grieved at their travails and rejoiced in their triumphs. Venkataraman felt that Siva was glancing at him, just as he beheld the devotees. [However,] on completion of the book, his emotional upsurge vanished. (Sri Ramana Leela, 2004 ed. p. 15)
All three references can be replaced with one for this Sri Ramana Leela passage. The two paragraphs could also be included since they contain extra material that is not in the original article.
[web 3] Osborne’s biography does not say that he began to visit the Meenakshi temple in the period between reading the Periyapuranam and the moment when he had his realisation experience. He may have gone there casually, since it was in his neighbourhood, but it was not because of any newly-discovered sense of devotion. In the standard account of Bhagavan’s realisation that appears in both Narasimhaswami’s and Osborne’s books the following lines appear:
- Formerly I used to go there [the Meenakshi Temple] very occasionally with friends to look at the images and put the sacred ash and vermilion on my brow and would return home almost unmoved.
There is nothing here that indicates he went to the temple with an increased devotional fervor from the time he reads the Periya Puranam till the moment of his realisation.
 "a state of blissful consciousness transcending both the physical and mental plane and yet compatible with full use of the physical and mental faculties."
This Osborne quote is not supported by anything in the Krishna Bhikshu biography (‘his emotional upsurge vanished’) or by Narasimhaswami’s account in Self Realization. Narasimhaswami supports Krishna Bhikshu by saying that after the initial euphoria of devotional fervor wore off, ‘the dull routine of his life was resumed’. I have not come across Bhagavan making any remarks that would support this particular description of his state between 1895 and 1896. Incidentally, Narasimhaswami is spelled as one word, not two.
However, there is an interesting reply by Bhagavan in Sri Ramana Vijayam, the Tamil biography that first appeared in the 1920s. It raises the possibility that Bhagavan did experience deep meditative states spontaneously when he was about twelve years old, well before the period that Osborne mentioned. The author of the biography, Suddhananada Bharati, asked Bhagavan, ‘Were you not in the habit of lying down at night, with your legs stretched out? How would meditation take place then?’ (Sri Ramana Vijayam, p. 68, 1991 edition)
The question referred to a time a few years before the Self-realisation experience in Madurai. Bhagavan replied:
- Some incomplete practice from a past birth was clinging to me. I would be putting attention solely within, forgetting the body. Sometimes I would be sitting in one place, but when I regained normal consciousness and got up, I would notice that I was lying down in a different narrow space [to the one where I had first sat down].
The phrase ‘incomplete practice from a past birth clinging to me’ includes the Tamil term vittakurai which the Tamil Lexicon defines as ‘Karma resulting from acts performed in a previous birth, and which are considered to be the cause of progress in the current birth’. The implication is that some spiritual practice performed in a previous life carried forward and drew the young Venkararaman into states of absorption in which he was unaware of either his body or his surroundings.
I think the Osborne description is suspect since it has no documentary support, but this little-known episode from a few years earlier can be included in the account.
 I have the same objection here. Osborne begins chapter two of his biography by saying:
- This current of awareness, fostered by continual effort, grows ever stronger and more constant until finally it leads to Self-realization, to sahaja samadhi, the state in which pure blissful awareness is constant and uninterrupted and yet without impeding the normal perceptions and activities of life.
This is not supported by any other biography or by anything Bhagavan himself has said. There is nothing to substantiate his claim that a current of awareness was growing stronger in Sri Ramana in the months prior to realisation.
- @David Godman: really pleased to see you here; welcome, and thanks for your comments! Some responses:
- Deutsch & Brunton: I found this comment by Deutsch puzzling, and asked other editors what they thought about it. I've added additional info to the note. Brunton's comment that Ramana Maharshi attained jnana is indeed at odds with other accounts; yet, it's clearly attributed, and it's clear that these are his words.
- Saint Sekkizhar’s Periya Puraanam: I've replaced the link with the title you recommand.
- Tamil Saivaite bhakti saints: it is relevant to contemporary Shaivism.
- "a great impression": why not your own webpage? You gave an extensive analysis there.
- Osborne’s biography & the Meenakshi temple: I've removed that sentence, but Osborne does mention visits to the temple, where 'a new current of awareness started to awaken', and does situate this before the death-experience.
- "a state of blissful consciousness": it means that Osborne's biography is not reliable?
- deep meditative states & vittakurai: interesting, especially from a neuro-theological perspective: what was going on in his brain?
- I'm looking forward to your next part. Best regards, Joshua Jonathan -Let's talk! 04:41, 30 October 2015 (UTC)
Reply by Davd Godman:
Deutsch & Brunton: I found this comment by Deutsch puzzling, and asked other editors what they thought about it. I've added additional info to the note.
If someone makes a claim about Bhagavan’s early spiritual experiences and attitude that has no textual support, there is no reason to include it in a note, which is then followed by a statement that there is no evidence for the claim. I accept that Prof. Deutsch is a distinguished Indologist whose opinions on Bhagavan are to be respected, but this is not a matter of opinion, it is a question of fact. Raising and then refuting these sorts of claims takes us into the realms of original research which is not the point of Wikipedia. It is simpler to stick to known facts.
Brunton's comment that Ramana Maharshi attained jnana is indeed at odds with other accounts; yet, it's clearly attributed, and it's clear that these are his words.
I agree that this statement (Bhagavan attained jnana at the age of twelve) should be considered since it has appeared in a published form which indicates that Brunton heard these words from Bhagavan himself. However, since the statement contradicts everything else that Bhagavan has said about his Self-realisation, it should be annotated to this effect. It is likely that Brunton misheard what Bhagavan said and conflated two unrelated incidents: an experience at his father’s funeral and the Self-realisation experience he had at the age of sixteen. I think the quote can appear in the article as it is since it describes an experience that is not recorded elsewhere. The unreliable conclusion can be referred to in a note.
Tamil Saivaite bhakti saints: it is relevant to contemporary Shaivism.
The original text does not reference contemporary Saivism. It merely says ‘Tamil Saivite bhakti saints.’ These people were not philosophers. They belonged to a bhakti movement which believed that salvation was possible through love and devotion to the divine. If you want to annotate these four words, explain who Jnanasambandhar, Appar, Sundaramurthi and Manikkavachagar are, since these are the premier saints of the movement. Explain how their movement and songs challenged and ultimately triumphed over the contemporary religions of Buddhism, Jainism and vedic brahminism. The current note currently contains no information about the people who are highlighted in the link.
"a great impression": why not your own webpage? You gave an extensive analysis there.
If you are asking why I am not linking to my site here, I think we should go for primary sources wherever possible. The Krishna Bhikshu biography is the most complete and nearest-to-the-source documentation that we can cite on this topic.
Osborne’s biography & the Meenakshi temple: I've removed that sentence, but Osborne does mention visits to the temple, where 'a new current of awareness started to awaken', and does situate this before the death-experience.
This is the conclusion of chapter one in Osborne’s biography:
- …it was provoked by a book. Again it was a wave of bewildering joy at perceiving that the Divine can be made manifest on earth. His uncle had borrowed a copy of the Periapuranam, the life stories of the sixty-three Tamil Saints. Venkataraman picked it up and, as he read, was overwhelmed with ecstatic wonder that such faith, such love, such divine fervour was possible, that there had been such beauty in human life. The tales of renunciation leading to Divine Union inspired him with awe and emulation. Something greater than all dreamlands, greater than all ambition, was here proclaimed real and possible, and the revelation thrilled him with blissful gratitude.
- From this time on the current of awareness which Sri Bhagavan and his devotees designate ‘meditation’ began to awaken in him. Not awareness of anything by any one, being beyond the duality of subject and object, but a state of blissful consciousness transcending both the physical and mental plane and yet compatible with full use of the physical and mental faculties.
- Chapter two begins:
- This current of awareness, fostered by continual effort, grows ever stronger and more constant until finally it leads to Self-realization, to sahaja samadhi, the state in which pure blissful awareness is constant and uninterrupted and yet without impeding the normal perceptions and activities of life. It is rare indeed for this consummation to be attained during the life on earth. In the case of Sri Bhagavan it occurred only a few months later and with no quest, no striving, no conscious preparation. He himself has described it.
- “It was about six weeks before I left Madura for good…’
I don’t see any temple visits between reading the Periyapuranam (the first time his devotional fervor was aroused) and the description of his realisation. There is also no mention of these visits in either Sri Ramana Leela or Self-Realization.
"a state of blissful consciousness": it means that Osborne's biography is not reliable?
I think Osborne is mistaken here since there is nothing in the written records to corroborate this statement. Everyone gets things wrong once in a while, and that includes Bhagavan’s biographers. Since, in his later years, Bhagavan spoke extensively about his life, we have the opportunity to check and verify many of the incidents that are reported in his biographical accounts. In the Perumal Swami court case Bhagavan was shown a copy of Self Realization and asked (a) whether he had checked it prior to publication and (b) whether it was accurate. He replied that he had not read it prior to publication and that it contained some mistakes. Unfortunately, he never said what they were. While all the biographies mostly relate incidents that are corroborated elsewhere, there are a few occasions when some of their statements need to be challenged. I think this is one of them.
deep meditative states & vittakurai: interesting, especially from a neuro-theological perspective: what was going on in his brain?
I will go into this in more detail in my next set of comments.
- Hi David; thanks for your reply.
- Regarding the use of primary sources: Wiki-policies say to use secondary sources where possible. You are considered by several editors here to be such a source (others regard you to be a primary source).
- Regarding the bhakti-saints: you wrote "their movement and songs challenged and ultimately triumphed over the contemporary religions of Buddhism, Jainism and vedic brahminism." - that was then; what is their importance now, or at the time that Ramana Maharshi read that book? Why did people read that book? In other words: what was the religiou milieu in which Ramana Maharshi grew up?
- Regarding Osborne: the 2002 version, published by Sri Ramanasramam as a pdf, ends chapter one with the following paragraph:
- "Sri Bhagavan has told with a characteristic simplicity how this awareness began to awaken in him during his visits to the Meenakshi Temple at Madura. He said, “At first I thought it was some kind of fever, but I decided, if so it is a pleasant fever, so let it stay.”"
- Could it be that osborne has placed the rise of this awareness, and the visits to the Meenakshi Temple, too early? But if so, why?
- I'm very glad David Godman has joined us here and found his comments very clarifying.
- I was particularly struck by this comment of his:
- "If someone makes a claim about Bhagavan’s early spiritual experiences and attitude that has no textual support, there is no reason to include it in a note, which is then followed by a statement that there is no evidence for the claim. I accept that Prof. Deutsch is a distinguished Indologist whose opinions on Bhagavan are to be respected, but this is not a matter of opinion, it is a question of fact. Raising and then refuting these sorts of claims takes us into the realms of original research which is not the point of Wikipedia. It is simpler to stick to known facts."
- I very much agree with this. If we discover that someone has quite obviously gotten something wrong (misheard, misremembered, etc), just because it made it into print is not a reason to put it in the article. I agree we should stick to the facts. (Iddli (talk) 22:01, 30 October 2015 (UTC))
- I was particularly struck by this comment of his:
Current of awareness
Could it be that osborne has placed the rise of this awareness, and the visits to the Meenakshi Temple, too early? But if so, why?
I think you are right on this, but I can’t answer the question ‘Why?’ other than to say that it was a probably a mistake.
I ran the quote about Bhagavan having ‘some kind of fever’ and deciding it was a pleasant one through all the Ramanasramam text databases. It does not show up in any book other than Osborne’s. I included all issues of The Mountain Path and The Call Divine in the search and drew a blank there as well. There is no other known citable authority for this incident. The nearest I could find was a quote from Lucia Osborne (Arthur’s wife) describing a kundalini experience she had in the following words:
- From the base of my spine a tingling feeling arose as if a thousand ants were climbing up. ‘I must have fever, I thought; but a most delightful fever, so let it be.’ (The Mountain Path 1994, p.148)
I hope Arthur didn’t get the idea from his wife.
In the biographies that appeared during Bhagavan's lifetime there are two mentions of Bhagavan’s visits to the Meenakshi Temple prior to his realisation:
- Venkataraman who would earlier visit the temple of Meenakshi only on holy days would now become a frequent visitor. (Sri Ramana Leela, p. 21 2004 edition).
- Formerly I would go there [the Meenakshi Temple] rarely with friends, see the images, put on sacred ashes and sacred vermilion on the forehead and return home without any perceptible emotion. After the awakening into the new life, I would go almost every evening to the temple. (Self-Realization, p. 23, 1993 edition)
Neither of these accounts supports Osborne’s contention that he went there in a state of increasing fervor prior to his realisation. In fact, Osborne rewrote Narasimhaswami’s statement and included it in his own biography in the following form:
- One of the features of my new state was my changed attitude to the Minakshi Temple. Formerly I used to go there very occasionally with friends to look at the images and put the sacred ash and vermilion on my brow and would return home almost unmoved.
This appears to refute Osborne's own comments that appear at the end of chapter one and the beginning of chapter two of his own biography.
I mentioned in earlier comments that neither Narasimhaswami nor Krishna Bhikshu made any mention of Bhagavan’s feverish devotional fervor in the weeks leading up to his realisation. Subsequent biographers have ignored Osborne’s claims completely. A. R. Natarajan devotes a whole chapter to Bhagavan’s state of mind immediately prior to his realisation and fails to mention Osborne’s claims. Captain Narayanan (Arunachala’s Ramana, volume 1) wrote that he collected all the stories of Bhagavan’s death experience and placed them back-to-back, but this Osborne claim was omitted. I can only guess that they both thought the story was not reliable and therefore omitted it.
Since the Osborne claim has appeared in some versions of his biography, you can keep it in if you want to, but I think it should be accompanied by a note to the effect that the story is not supported by anything Bhagavan said about his realisation and the events that preceded it.
- @David Godman: I've added a note. What do you make of Sab Jan's account below? Joshua Jonathan -Let's talk! 06:33, 31 October 2015 (UTC)
- Osborne p.170: "The answer is the awakening current of awareness mentioned at the end of Chapter One, vibrating as the very essence of one’s being and yet impersonal." So, Osborne was very well aware of what he wrote. Could it be that Ramana Maharshi told this to Osborne personally? Note also that Narasimha Swami recorded Ramana's account of an avesam, a "current" or "force" which appeared/descended, but omitted this arising from Self-Realisation, as if it was a current which had always been thre, but never been noticed. Osborne does mention the absorption into this current at p.13. In which ways did Narasimha Swami interpret Ramana Maharshi's answers to his queries on his life? He also redacted the "death-experience," using the "I" term instead of the unpersonal account. Joshua Jonathan -Let's talk! 11:35, 1 November 2015 (UTC)
Om namah shivaya
I am having trouble understanding the logical order here, in the comments. So I am not sure if I am placing this one from me best in that order. It concerns a small edit I just now did.
Anyway... In the Early Years section I corrected the Sanskrit translation of the mantra 'Namah Shivaya' from its earlier (simply fanciful) version to this: 'na-maH-shi-vA-ya, meaning "prostration" (namaH) - "to shiva" (shivAya).' I plan to come back later to examine other such translation details in this article. Savitr108 (talk) 17:35, 24 November 2015 (UTC)
- I reverted your edit, because the source I used says "not mine" (namaH) - "belongs to shiva" (shivAya), not "prostration" (namaH) - "to shiva" (shivAya). Note the relevance of this specific interpretation in the context of Ramana Maharshi: "It is negating the ahankAra (ego) and realizing everything to belong to Lord shiva." The Wiki-article Om Namah Shivaya gives yet another translation in the lead, namely adoration (namas) to Śiva", preceded by the mystical syllable "Aum". Joshua Jonathan -Let's talk! 05:41, 15 December 2015 (UTC)
Speaking here to Joshua Jonathan...
The word namaH (namaḥ, नमः) simply does not mean 'not mine' in Sanskrit. To me it looks like a word-play, a pun.
For starters, namaḥ exists as one word, not two. It is a noun, in the nominative case, singular. To write 'not mine' you will need two words, namely 'na mama,' if the context calls for the nominative case singular. The 'not mine' version presents no more than a fanciful pun, I am guessing -- however nicely the meaning fits in this context.
- Maybe put the "not mine" interpretation in a note. As I said, in this context it's a relevant interpretation. Best regards, Joshua Jonathan -Let's talk! 21:23, 15 December 2015 (UTC)
- I agree with Savitr and Kautilya that the "not mine" translation is wrong. And I agree that the cited website seems "random" or to put it another way, it has no clear qualification as a reliable source (WP:RS). As someone who has received a bit of training in Sanskrit, Savitr's analysis appears spot on. As someone who has long observed how fanciful etymologies are sometimes used at devotional websites to offer inspiration, it does not seem surprising that such a website would offer a fanciful etymology in this way, without explaining that it was a fanciful etymology.
- This leaves the question of what should happen to the citations. The sentence in question did not have its own specific reference, because the "random webpage" with the fanciful etymology appeared in the subsequence sentence. Conceivably this random webpage could be a reliable source for that later sentence that seems valid ("The mantra aims at negating the ego-tendencies, and instead attending to Shiva"), though I doubt that page should function as a reliable source for anything, given its unreliability for basic etymology. Someone with time should make sure the references are appropriately tidied up - but not by introducing nonsense from random webpages. --Presearch (talk)
I just eliminated the non-reliable (non-WP:RS) reference that JJ has tripled down on using to promulgate a fanciful etymology. If he persists in defying the advice of Savitr, Kautilya, and myself, someone with more time than I have should arrange a request for comments. Lines must be drawn against what are frankly absurdities. --Presearch (talk) 20:09, 16 December 2015 (UTC)
Several persons were removed from the list of devotees, with the comment:
- "trimmed redlinks, if subjects are notable, please create cited articles first"
We really should not be using blogs, stuff by Brunton, Godman etc, and stuff published by bodies connected to the article subject. We're supposed to use independent reliable sources and disciples/followers etc are certainly not that. - Sitush (talk) 16:38, 10 September 2016 (UTC)
- Two, three academical papers, that's all. Which also rely on those 'dependent sources'. The best part are some of the notes on RM's "death experience," for RM's biography, which have been published by Godman. They give a more basic, uninterpreted version of this experience. And there's an interesting, critical work which is, unfortunately, self-published. Joshua Jonathan -Let's talk! 18:09, 10 September 2016 (UTC)
Dakshinamurthy Stotram and "deathbed stuff"
This info is relevant, because the standard narrative sees RM's "death experience" as an isolated experience without any religious context, while RM in fact already may have been 'scripted' by preceding experiences and influences. You probably don't know too much about this RM-cult, and the standard interpretation of RM? Joshua Jonathan -Let's talk! 18:18, 10 September 2016 (UTC)