A distraught young housewife comes to Ramana for guidance, but she is too shy to open up, to express her fears and doubts. She returns a month later, for the urge within is too strong to be denied. She gathers courage and asks Ramana if the spiritual path is open to one like her. She felt her youth, her gender and her status as a ‘grihini’ would come in the way of serious pursuit of spiritual practices and reaping the fruits thereof. Another person comes along and queries, ‘How does a grishasta fare in the scheme of Moksha? Should he not necessarily become a mendicant in order to attain liberation?’. Yet another would ask, ‘Can a married man realize the Self?’
Ramana’s replies would have two basic strains of thought. One would be to point out that ‘spiritual fare is common to all and is never denied to anyone’. It is ‘common because it is natural and therefore universal. Self is here and now. This truth is revealed if identification with the body ends. For, all the attributes of marital status, gender and age are related to that. One, however, is not the body but the fullness of consciousness. How can these limitations apply to that which is eternal?
Let us examine, to begin with, the question of gender and the doubt if a woman is handicapped in the scheme of things. This issue was posed before Ramana as early as 1917 by Visalakshi, wife of Ganapati Muni. Her question was whether the scriptures permit women to renounce home and become a renunciate. The question itself was of general significance. Because it pertained to the practice of dharma and correct ethical code. While clarifying the point Ramana gave an authentic ruling that for Liberation and Self-knowledge there is no difference between man and woman. It all depends on the strength of the inner urge. Granted this, all are at par and distinctions based on gender cease to have any significance.
Ramana demonstrated this in practice, in his attitude towards women inmates of Sri Ramanasramam. ‘Ribhu Gita’ is an ancient work to which Ramana would refer for elucidating some points. It contains the distilled essence of the path of ‘jnana’. It was this book which he presented to Sampoornamma. He took the trouble of writing a chapter which was missing in that copy before giving it to her. He firmly ignored her protests that she was a ‘mere woman’ knowing little about Vedanta. On her first visit Ramana agreed to give his own copy of ‘Upadesa Saram’ to Santamma, when she asked him for the same. Yet another member of the kitchen staff, Lokamma, was asked to read ‘Vasudeva Mananam’.
As for youth, who knows the spiritual age of the seeker? Would it not be wrong to judge one’s state of spiritual evolution and capacity to grasp the core of Ramana’s direct path with reference to age? In fact for spirituality no one is of the same age as another. For, this life is a karmic link between the past and a possible future. All that is worked for and gained in the past is not lost but is available in the struggle to push forward to the thought-free state.
As for one’s status in life, whether one is married or single, it does not make a vital difference. True, if one’s fate lies that way, or if one is under a compulsive and mature urge to take to the ochre robe then that life would be conducive to concentrated efforts to become Self-aware. But for the rest the fact of marriage need not be a dampener on spiritual effort. Ramana would say, ‘Married or unmarried, a man can realize the Self because it is immediately available. It is natural and therefore permanent’.
The second way in which Ramana would deal with the mental blocks based on attributes would be to emphasise that whatever be one’s life situation it is the mind that needs to be tackled. The mind haunts one whether one is at home or retires to solitude. Ramana made a pointed reference to this when his classmate and staunch devotee Rangan wanted to take sannyasa. He asked him to bring the book ‘Bhakta Vijayam’ from the library and started reading from it. It was about the story of saint Jnaneswar’s father Vitobha. When Vitobha wanted to take sannyas his saintly son advised, ‘Whether you remain here or go into the forest the mind is the same, is it not? It remains with you’. Having read this Ramana added, ‘You can attain Self-knowledge even if you remain a householder’.
Another difficulty experienced by devotees would be to find an environment congenial for ‘sadhana’. A visitor would tell Ramana that he felt ‘unhappy in Vellore and happy only in his presence’.
Or we would have Duncan Greenlees vouching the feeling of the fellow devotees that the serenity and joy imbibed during the stay at Sri Ramanasramam lasted only for a short period after which one would lapse back into the old stupidities. Quite obviously all could not be permanent residents of the ashram. Here again Ramana would point out that the obstacle is the mind for it superimposes difficulties on daily realities. As a result one might find a comforting excuse that had the circumstances been different then everything would have been fine. One must not however let one’s resoluteness slacken because of the environment but work away, for self-enquiry can be made at all times.
The common notion is that it is one’s duty, one’s work which comes in the way. It is this bubble which Ramana pricks by pointing out that the paramount duty to discover the natural state can be performed in harmony with worldly duties in all situations. The fault does not lie in the duties. The mistake lies in one’s attitude of mind. The mistake lies in one’s inability to tackle the mind. For this the solution has to be sought at a different door.
It lies in the vigilant practice of self-enquiry, in the constant undercurrent of our urge to find out the true import of ‘I’. It is given to all to make this effort, for is not the discriminative faculty an essential human characteristic? Once the mind is strengthened and purified by practice it becomes capable of pushing within and abiding at the source immersed in bliss.
A.R.Natarajan Founder President, Ramana Maharshi Centre for Learning, Bangalore