Ramana is, in my estimation, the fountainhead of the teachings of self-inquiry that have become quite prevalent today. His basic teaching is interpreted and used by many teachers in our time.
Ramana Maharshi taught the technique of self-inquiry as a method to reach liberation. His teachings are rooted in an ancient Indian philosophy called Advaita Vedanta. Ramana Maharshi synthesized these voluminous, obscure and often inaccessible teachings into a simple, profound and accessible technique centered on the “I AM” experience.
Ramana, who passed away in 1950 at the age of 71, advised seekers to observe the flow of thoughts cascading endlessly through the mind and to pose to oneself the simple question: “To whom are these thought occurring?” The answer is obviously: To me. The next question the seeker ask is: “Who am I?” This is the essence of how to practice self inquiry.
An Introduction to Ramana’s Teachings
I first encountered the teachings of Ramana Maharshi in 1980, at age 18, while attending the University of California at San Diego. I had been practicing various types of mediation for about two years. His writings inspired me and gave me clarity in my spiritual search, yet I found the technique rather difficult. It was not till 30 years later that I would uncover within his teachings a few keys that have made the practice very accessible.
Ramana is, in my estimation, the fountainhead of the teachings of self-inquiry that have become quite prevalent today. His basic teaching is interpreted and used by many teachers in our time. Not all do the same justice to his teachings and some have created questionable hybrids. Best to drink from the source if you want the purest water.
When exploring his teachings it is it is important to remember that his original words and writings were not in English. Others later translated them into English. English does not have a sufficient lexicon of spiritual vocabulary to translate word for word from Sanskrit or other Indian languages. Understanding the intricacies of a practice such as self-inquiry requires an exact understanding of the teachings.
To remedy this I suggest either studying Sanskrit or Tamil or reading at least 4 of Ramana’s books in English (different translators worked on his books) to great the feel for the spirit of his teachings.
Coming back to my college attempts at self-inquiry. After having read just a few passages from Ramana I tried the technique of observing my thoughts, then asking, “To whom have these thoughts arisen?” I would then have the thought, “They have arisen to me.” I would then ask: “Who am I.” The problem was–I felt like I was in a hall of mirrors. Whatever thought or idea would arise in response to “Who am I?” would just lead me to ask again “Who am I?” and I just kept going around and around in the carousel of my mind. It became frustrating and seemed senseless.
As “fate” would have it—I can explore Ramana’s philosophy on free will and destiny at another time!—I moved onto other meditation techniques, disheartened by the hall of mirrors effect.
Many years later I returned to the writings of Ramana in more depth, read 5 different books by Ramana, each translated by a different translator—hence my above suggestion to you—and discovered the solution to my challenge.
Talks with Ramana Maharshi
Talks with Ramana Maharshiis the book that unraveled my confusion. The book is a translation of talks that Ramana had with visitors to his ashram and covers a period of four years, 1935-1939. All were recorded and translated by Sri Munagala S. Venkataramiah who spoke both Tamil and English fluently.
In a discussion the visitor says that in the process of enquiry thoughts suddenly cease and then the deeper sense of I—to whom all these thoughts occur—arises as a FEELING! They ask if it is this feeling they are to focus on.
On page 17 of the book Ramana says, “It is certainly right. Thoughts must cease and reason disappear for the “I-I” to rise up and be FELT. FEELING is the prime factor and not reason.” (Emphasis is mine.)
What had happened to me in college was that in the process of asking the question “Who am I?” I was expecting or awaiting an answer in the form of a certain thought. I was posing the question through thought and sought a thought in return. But what becomes clear from the above passage is that although the question is asked with thought, what one is seeking in answer is a feeling. A feeling of Self.
Once I began to FEEL my sense of “I,” of individuality, I knew, both intuitively, and through the writings of Ramana that I was now following the thread of awareness in the direction his teaching were pointing: toward liberation.
Sujantra McKeever is the founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week, and also helped create Pilgrimage Yoga Online. He is the author of five books on eastern philosophy, success and meditation. Sujantra studied meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy and has lectured on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries.
It is easy to get discouraged by the bad news that echoes around us on a daily basis…
By Sujantra McKeever
It is easy to get discouraged by the bad news that echoes around us on a daily basis. In contrast, the practice of meditation can bring us a deep feeling of peace. As practitioners, we may begin to wonder how to share this peace with others and whether it is possible to use our practice to transform the world around us. It can seem daunting to speak of meditation with people who have never experienced it. They might have preconceived notions about it, and they may have difficulty understanding a meditator’s experiences, or they may simply be resistant to learning about it. So how can we share our enthusiasm about meditation with others?
What I’ve learned as I’ve developed my practice is the importance of embodying the peace of meditation. We must discover for ourselves what a peaceful consciousness is so we can enter that state and share it, even in silence. In fact, the majority of my teacher’s teachings were given in silent meditation or while playing music. At that time he wasn’t giving verbal instruction; he was entering into a state of meditation and inspiring us with that energy.
To inspire positive change in our world, the very best thing we can do is to enter into a deep, peaceful state of meditation. During World War II, the Indian sage, Ramana Maharshi, was criticized for focusing on spirituality while his country India, an ally of England, was being drawn into the war. People didn’t understand why he didn’t gather the disciples and encourage them to fight; but he noted that the source of all action is thought, and the source of thought is the Self. When one can consciously abide in the Self, that is the greatest offering one can make to the world. Without that awareness and intention, thought and action are pointless for they lack the soul’s power. His response has always stuck with me. Deep awareness and intention may, or may not, lead to external action but it always has a profound effect in the world.
We must change our value systems from an outer view of life as enjoyment to an inner view of life as an adventure in consciousness…
Vamadeva David Frawley Interview
With Sujantra, founder Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga
Sujantra: We are honored to have Vamadeva David Frawley here with us today. He is the author of over thirty books on Indian philosophy and Vedic studies. He is the founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has been instrumental in bringing Eastern teachings to the West though his life and writings. His books have helped me innumerable times to unravel many of the mysteries of Indian thought. We caught up with him while he was journeying through India.
Thank you for joining us!
Vamadeva: It is my honor to be with you and to have a sharing of the teachings with your important audience. There is much we can learn from the dharmic traditions of the East, if we take them as our own and discover them as part of our own deeper awareness.
Eastern Teachings Impact on the West
Sujantra: You have authored and lectured on Indian philosophy around the world and written over 30 books. Are you optimistic about Eastern teachings having a significant impact here in the West?
Vamadeva: Eastern teachings have had a significant impact in the West for many decades now, though sometimes from behind the scenes. Many of the most important new insights in healing and spirituality have been rooted in eastern dharmic traditions. Insights in ecology, physics and biology have occurred as well. Millions have adopted eastern practices such as asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation.
“We must change our value systems from an outer view of life
as enjoyment to an inner view of life as an adventure in consciousness.”
Yet we in the West are still overall too caught up in the outer world, personal fulfillment and the pursuit of desire. Our culture as a whole remains alienated from such dharmic approaches to life. This needs to be rectified. We must change our value systems from an outer view of life as enjoyment to an inner view of life as an adventure in consciousness. Then such teachings will become even more relevant and transformative for us. This is bound to happen over time.
Sujantra: You have written on all aspects of Indian philosophy. What do you think is the most accessible aspect to people in America?
Vamadeva: Most important for us is to understand the world of nature as a manifestation of universal consciousness, and our own individual minds as reflections of the cosmic mind. It is not an issue of a foreign philosophy, culture or ideology, but of Self-knowledge and understanding the nature of existence. For this we should forget about being Americans, Westerners or anything else, and learn to experience our own lives and minds more directly. We can begin with honoring ecology. We must recognize that there are powers of consciousness in all of nature that can guide us to a higher truth. Our country has wonderful landscapes that can help us in this process and Native American traditions that are aware of these.
The Explosion of Yoga Asana in the West
Sujantra: Based on your knowledge of the various aspects of the individual’s spiritual journey, how do you explain the explosion of Yoga asana in the West?
Vamadeva: Yoga has many dimensions and is essentially a tradition designed to draw us into deep meditation as our way of life. The physical side of Yoga is clearly the most accessible for those of us in the western world, as we are very physically minded. But it can lead the student to the deeper dimensions of Yoga if the student is receptive and uses the asana as part of introspection, as originally intended in classical Yoga.
We need to approach all the other limbs of Yoga with the same energy and interest as we are doing with asana today. I believe that will happen in the decades to come, but such cultural changes take time. Let us remember that asana is part of a sacred and spiritual practice for developing higher awareness; then our asana practice can lead us to the transcendent, but not otherwise. Deeper yoga practice is a way of meditation on an individual level, not an en masse class. We should not forget this either.
Sri Aurobindo’s Offering and the Flowering of Eastern Philosophy in the West
Sujantra: You discovered the Vedas through the writings of Sri Aurobindo. My teacher, Sri Chinmoy, studied at the Sri Aurobindo ashram from 1944-1964. How would you describe the relationship between Sri Aurobindo’s offering and the flowering of Eastern philosophy in the West?
Vamadeva: Sri Aurobindo was a spiritual and intellectual giant of the highest order. It will take decades for the world to properly appreciate his work. He could understand the most ancient Vedic teachings and at the same time had an unparalleled vision of the future evolution of humanity at the level of consciousness, which modern science still has only the most vague intimation of. If you try to read his books, his sentences are longer than most paragraphs, his paragraphs go on for pages, and he discusses all sides of a topic before coming to a comprehensive understanding and way forward. You need a strong dharana or power of concentration to connect with him, which is rare today in the era of quick information bites.
Aurobindo pioneered the whole concept of Integral Yoga, brought out the importance of life as Yoga, and created a Yoga for the modern world that we can incorporate into our work and daily lives. Simultaneously his Yoga has deep dimensions linking us beyond time and space to the very fountains of creation. It is hard to put this many-side vision into words.
Aurobindo also wrote directly in the English language, explaining the higher teachings in concepts we can grasp today, so no translation is required. In addition he wrote on philosophy, psychology, poetry, art, politics and all aspects of life and culture, so each one of us can find some angle of access to his work.
One Book for World Leaders
Sujantra: If there was one book you could get the leaders of the world to read what would it be?
Vamadeva: Reading is not enough: the mind can filter anything according to its conditioning, biases and opinions. It would be better if world leaders could go out into nature and enter into a state of deep silence and peace and surrender to the unknown powers of existence and the cosmic mind. For this they would have to give up their concepts of being leaders or even being in the world, and embrace infinite space as their true identity. We need to empty our minds first and go back to our core consciousness in the heart. Then we can truly benefit from great books, for which I would recommend the Upanishads, particularly the shorter texts like Katha, Kena, Mundaka, Mandukya, Svetasvatara, Isha or Taittiriya.
Sujantra: Ramana Maharshi had a profound influence on my life. His writings cleared up many of my misconceptions and his photographs touched something deep in my heart. How is that possible? I never personally knew him yet he changed my life?
Vamadeva: The great gurus exist beyond time and space. They have transcended the human mind to the deeper dimension of consciousness that is behind our own state of deep sleep and forms our core awareness. We can always contact them within, if we know how to look within. Our true identity is in consciousness. Mind and body are but shadows. Ramana Maharshi reflects our own true Self-nature that is one with all. You can see that in his eyes, if you meditate upon his pictures. Through his picture you can contact the immortal self in all.
A Last Bit of Advice
Sujantra: Finally, what one bit of advice would you like to offer our readers?
Vamadeva: Develop patience, introspection and turn within. The world in any case will not disappear if you forget about it for a while and contact your timeless Self. Do not be a slave to your body, mind or senses. Stand up for the eternal within you and stop running after fleeting desires. Before sleep shut off the media, let go of the world and dive deep into the ocean of the heart. The outer world is but the shadow of an unlimited divine light and delight.
Sujantra: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and inspiration with us!
Pilgrimage Yoga founder Sujantra McKeever recently sat down with Shaun Monson, the writer, creator and director of Unity, an enlightening new film…
Pilgrimage Yoga founder Sujantra McKeever recently sat down with Shaun Monson, the writer, creator and director of “Unity”, an enlightening new film set for release in August.
Sujantra: I watched your entire film and was very motivated by it. At the same time, to watch a film such as Unity, it’s not pleasant in terms of what we usually think of as entertainment. It really takes attention and determination. I’m wondering what you would say to people to energize them, to take the time to watch a film such as yours.
Shaun: It’s interesting that you have all these different mediums such as literature, music, film and that each medium sort of has these unwritten rules that they have to follow. And perhaps the content of Unity would be better suited for books where we are more prepared to read statistics or philosophy or whatever the case may be. Movies have been hijacked by entertainment and not much else. But there is this genre called documentary film, which is nonfiction film, and there’s no revelation there, but I’m glad it exists because you can be a little more honest. Sometimes it’s a little harder to take, so what happens when you’re editing these films, like Unity you start debating how much truth to put into it and how much truth to take out of it because you have to think of the audience. That’s a long answer to your question, but I think it’s important to see that stuff. Like the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Why turn away from it? Why label it positive or negative? If we really want to be honest with ourselves then we should be willing to have one genre in the canon of filmmaking that allows us to look at stuff like this, and that is the documentary.
Solutions For Humanity’s Problems
Sujantra: I’ve been a vegetarian for thirty-five years and I’ve watched a lot of films that present stark imagery but from many of them I’ve walked away with a feeling of hopelessness. There are these huge corporate power structures that we can’t do anything about, but from your film I came away with a feeling of hope because you kept juxtaposing the problems but you also presented a lot of solutions.
Shaun: Mankind, humankind is coming up with solutions. There’s a great quote in the film from Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of human history is long but it then does a tour of justice.” So we are seeing that we are evolving and we are less and less brutal and savage as we evolve. At one point in time we used to crucify people in Rome on the way to the gates of the city, we don’t do that anymore as you walk into a city. And slavery is abolished, women have the right to vote, and now this topic of equal rights and gay marriage are on the forefront. All these issues are coming to a head. We are getting more and more accepting of everything. That’s very hopeful to me. And the treatment of animals and the environment. And yes, you can look at a series of only negative images but if presented in a proper context you will see the great strides we are taking as human beings so it gives me hope.
Sujantra: Speaking of the growth of humanity, I like the section of the film where you take us from the Roman Emperor who created some human rights to the Magna Carta to the Declaration of Independence. One thing you don’t often see in films is that you put energy into and highlighted the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Could you talk to that a little bit?
Shaun: It was part of a longer piece but I thought the animation was a great embodiment to encapsulate the human struggle to respect one another, which was the original formation of the UN right after WWII or right around that time. People get into political arguments about this or that on the surface, but at its base you can see we are trying to find a way of diplomacy with one another of getting along, of working together. This comes back to the main focus of the film that we are not the same but equal. This is the main take-home message of the film, not the same but equal. I think if that alone somehow got through to the world, that one simple phrase, ‘not the same but equal.’ Just imagine the world we live in if people understood that. We are not the same but equal. Just think of the effect that would have on the planet. Think of it in just the smallest terms like road rage, the food we eat, construction, rainforest, wars, I mean, not the same but equal. That simple principle could come through to people and create an entirely different world.
Sujantra: As the creator, writer and director of this film, where does your creative process start in a gigantic undertaking such as this? Is it one simple idea you want to get across and it grows from there? How do you do it?
Shaun: I guess every filmmaker is different. They say a movie is born three times, once in writing, once in shooting and once in editing and it’s true. Documentaries are a little different because I wrote all the text and was comfortable with the text going into the project. In a documentary we are interviewing people and going out shooting footage but it’s not like scenes from a script that you’re specifically shooting. It’s happening live, or your licensing footage or getting newsreel footage and creating a collage. It kind of evolves as you’re making it. The text was there from the beginning. What inspired me to make this film was a question as to why we can’t seem to get along or what we come up with seems to better our lives but it doesn’t seem to stop us from wanting to kill each other. And that nagged at me a lot. I started looking at history and all the inventions throughout the ages whether it was literature, science, technology, yoga, veganism or any number of things humanity’s come up with and still there’s this collision we have with one another. It occurred to me that I don’t think anything we invent will stop us from killing each other. I don’t think the new Hubble telescope will do it, I don’t think a new quantum physic equation will do it. I think something has to awaken within us. I was interested in that and I wanted to shine a light on this inner shifting and that was sort of the genesis of it. Then of course I felt a bit overwhelmed and thought maybe it should be a book instead of a film but I felt the visual would be more effective so I started assembling it together, step by step.
The Evolution into Homo-spiritus
Sujantra: I remember well part of the film when you’re talking about how all of these things we’ve created have not provided a solution and yet you talk about the emergence of homo-spiritus, the being with conscious spiritual awareness and I was really thrilled to see Ramana Maharshi in the film because I’ve read him quite a bit. So those teachers do point us to forms of practice to help us achieve the transcendence you’re talking about.
Shaun: Right. I didn’t come up with the term “homo-spiritus.” I interviewed a man named David Hawkins. He’s since passed away. I had the opportunity to interview him twice. He’s written several wonderful books. Probably the best known is Power vs. Force, where he talked about how Hitler used force, which is a very brief encounter of force, but Gandhi used power. The interesting thing about power is that power will endure long after the person has passed away. We still speak about Gandhi or hear about Gandhi or teach others about him, and this shows how his power endures and that force is like a rocket. It has propulsion but it can only take you so far before it runs out. I had the chance to interview him twice and he also talked about how the spirit is the highest evolution of physical consciousness of mortality. I thought it was good to show human rights evolution over the ages and also the physical evolution from Cro-Magnon and the Neanderthal all the way up to this capacity of homo-spiritus. We know it exists because if you look at Gandhi who was a contemporary of Hitler, there is two beings right there living at the same time in the world that personified opposite ends of the conscious spectrum. So that capacity exists. It doesn’t mean we have to be bad or we have to always be primitive or always use force, it also shows that we can be like homo-spiritus. That capacity in the human being exists. That potentiality is very interesting to me. We have to cultivate that in one another.
Moral Consideration for All Beings
Sujantra: I think that came across really strongly in the film, which is great. You talk about the key idea of the moral consideration for all beings, that we are all one. A big part of your film was when you got into the body section about we are what we eat. It seems to me that that’s something that’s starting to catch on in our society. My nephew who’s going into high school this year is required to read a book about healthy eating, getting away from chemicals and getting back to natural food.
Shaun: There was talk early on about the body section when I was cutting and we were testing the film in focus groups. Some of my colleagues, who are backers of the film, the body section would always say this was a tough one because that’s where some of the animal footage was. Some of them felt it was out of place, it’s almost like this “come on kids, let’s eat our fruits and vegetables ” section of the film suddenly. I fought to keep it in because this is an entire kingdom of beings that are drastically, absolutely affected by humankind. It seems if we are going to talk about the expressions of life, the expressions of being, then we couldn’t just remove an entire kingdom of beings. Even so, the movie is ninety-eight minutes long and I think there are only fourteen minutes of animals, and really no blood. I couldn’t leave this out because we do affect other life forms. I think it’s healthy for people even if they feel a bit squeamish sometimes. It’s odd actually because we have way more war footage and human destruction footage than animal footage. Rarely, if ever, am I asked about the human violence in the film because we are so accustomed to it. It’s the animal footage that people go “Oh I don’t know if you should show this stuff,” meanwhile we have executions and horrible stuff. I find that very interesting. This always comes up, this concern. Even with exhibitors this concern came up. I find that to be a strange contradiction. We fictionalize or romanticize violence or romanticize pain, which we see a lot of times in TV shows or even on the news. So that’s okay, but actual pain shown in a documentary may not be politically correct. I think this kind of dialogue is actually very healthy.
Photo by Alastair Rae(https://www.flickr.com/photos/merula/) License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode)
Sujantra: I also like the contrast between showing people in suffering and pain and then showing people in meditation, you showed some yoga postures and I think that’s something else we are seeing in our society, the awareness of yoga.
Shaun: Yes, definitely. It’s great and encouraging. It’s hopeful.
Sujantra: Hopeful. Yes. Do you have any specific practice you do in your own life that refreshes you or gives you a fresh surge of energy?
Shaun: A couple different kinds, not just one. I have dogs; I’ve rescued a lot of dogs, so just living with animals I get to see their personalities or expressions, or their little nuances that I find to be a marvel. I think it helps ground me in nature. I also love to surf and I enjoy just going out, sitting on a board in the ocean and connecting with nature that way.
New Style of Release for the Film
Sujantra: The way you’re releasing the film is very unique in my experience. Can you explain how you’re doing it and why you’re doing it that way?
Shaun: Movies are released so many different ways nowadays; they are released in theatres or as a digital download. It’s just so different from how it’s been before. This idea of a very limited release is sort of an event release on a wide scale is different from independent films from even last year, just one year ago. Getting that traditional limited release, let’s say, five theatres only maybe in big cities for one week for a full run or what they call a split-run, which would be maybe a couple times a day for a week. It’s just a week to see if it attracts attention and then maybe it goes away if it doesn’t or it expands to twenty or thirty theatres. We are trying something new and quite different with a one day release but in twelve hundred theatres in the U.S. and another five hundred theatres overseas. That is not a decision I made, that’s something the distributors and exhibitors are thinking of experimenting with. They call it “event cinema.” We add extra content that you can’t see online. For instance, someone will introduce himself only in theatres, he will do it in-show and out-show on camera which is part of the screening you saw. There will be a panel discussion at the end from our premiere up in Los Angeles. It’s just something new that we are doing and I am curious to see how it does as well.
Sujantra: That’s great. It’s a great film and I hope lots of people go out and watch it.