Ramana Maharshi, Sri (1879-1950)
Ramana Maharshi, Sri (1879-1950)
An important twentieth-century Indian spiritual teacher, whose life and teachings have been cited as an example of the classic God-realized sage. Born December 30, 1879, in the village of Tiruchuzhi, near Madura, South India, he was the second son of a pleader or solicitor. The boy attended elementary school at Tiruchuzhi and Dindigul, and went on to Scott's Middle School, Madura, and the American Mission High School.
As a boy, he was impressed by a casual remark from a visitor that he had come from Arunachalam, a holy place in Tiruvannamalai, and his mind was directed to study of the lives of Tamil saints. At the age of seventeen, he had a strange mystical experience following a period in a trance -like condition. He felt that he was going to die, but perceived that only the body could die, the true self being independent. He lost interest in his studies and felt an intense desire to go to Arunachalam.
On August 29, 1896, he renounced his everyday life and set out for Arunachalam, where he spent the rest of his life in a condition of mystical meditation which transformed his understanding. Impervious to physical or mental discomforts, he remained in ecstatic spiritual meditation, at first in complete silence, living under a tree, or in temples, accepting minimum food which he ate mechanically.
In the course of time, the young renunciate attracted the attention of devotees, who found that he was able to answer the most abstruse metaphysical questions with wit and incisive wisdom. Eventually a religious settlement grew up around him, and he was visited by devotees from all over India and even from western countries.
He gave no formal teaching as such, but merely answered questions put to him in such a way that traditional Hindu metaphysical teachings had personal relevance to the questioner. His constant theme was the discovery of the essential Self present in all beings, summarized in the formulation "Who Am I?"
His statements combined metaphysical subtlety and simplicity, while his gentle and perceptive presence was inspiring to his devotees. Even the local creatures (monkeys, cows, peacocks, birds) were attracted to him as if to a latter-day St. Francis of Assisi. He was also visited by leading Western scholars and seekers, including Paul Brunton and W. Y. Evans-Wentz.
In his later years, he developed various illnesses and a cancerous tumor on his left elbow, but remained indifferent to intense physical pain. He passed into the mahasamadhi (great sleep) of death on April 14, 1950, after assuring devotees of continued presence. He stated "I am not going away. Where could I go? I am here." This implied the omnipresence of the Universal Self. At the precise moment of death a large star was seen to trail slowly across the sky. It was witnessed by the famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was visiting the ashram at the time.
The ashram is still in existence and has published a number of books dealing with the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. A biography by Arthur Osborne was published in London, 1957, and reissued by Jaico paperbacks, Bombay, 1958. The ashram is located at: Sri Ramananasramam, Tiruvannamalai, South India.
Brunton, Paul. A Message from Arunchala. 1936. Reprint, New York: Samuel Weiser, 1971.
Melton, J. Gordon. Religious Leaders of America. Detroit: Gale Research, 1991.
Osborne, Arthur. Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1970.
——, ed. The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi. 1963. Reprint, New York: Samuel Weiser, 1978.
Ramana Maharshi. The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi. 20 vols. London: Rider, 1970.