When I asked myself: “What do I really want?” Peace and Quiet is the answer I got. Not peace like RIP at the cemetery, but Peace with the capital “P”. This Peace is alive, becomes part of my cells and is there as my core experience no matter what turbulence may be in my situation or surroundings. The Quiet with a capital “Q” is also transcendent; it doesn’t exclude any sounds or noises but rather shines out from within them and lifts them up to join with the Peace. We have all heard the words “The Peace that passeth all understanding”.
I like this translation: ”Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
In this article, Verse One of Ramana Maharshi’s “Forty Verses on Reality” is introduced and commented on. Join me in a thread for contemplation that draws me into inner Peace, which has increasingly become the foundation for my life.
Ramana Maharshi, as he is known to the world, was born in 1879 and named Venkataraman. He had a death experience with no apparent cause when he was 16. His own account of the event is as follows:
“One day I was alone in the first floor of my uncle’s house. I was in my usual state of health. But a sudden and unmistakable fear of death seized me. I felt I was going to die. Why I should have so felt cannot now be explained by anything else in the body. I did not however trouble myself to discover if the fear was well grounded. I did not care to consult doctors or elders or even friends. I felt I had to solve the problem myself then and there. … ‘Dying means, the legs become stiff; lips become taut; eyes get closed. Breath stops. So it came into experience due to intensity of the strength of feeling. To me too, the legs became stiff, lips became taut, eyes got closed and breath stopped. But with consciousness not lost, everything was breaking forth clearly. (The activity of the outer sense-organs having gone, the in-turned perception became available.)’
‘Even if this body dies, the I-consciousness will not go. The individuality-consciousness was clear. When the body is burnt and turned to ashes in the cremation ground, I will not become extinct. Because I am not the body.’
‘Now the body is inert, insentient; I, on the other hand, am sentient. Therefore, death is to the inert body, ‘I’ am [the] indestructible conscious entity.’
‘When the body gives up its activities, and the activities of the senses are not there, the knowledge that obtains is not senses-born. That ‘flashing forth of I’ is aparoksha (immediate knowledge or divine knowledge). [It is] self-effulgent. Not a matter of imagination.’
‘The thing that is there after death is the eternal, real entity.’
In this way, in one moment, new knowledge accrued to Venkataraman. Although these ideas were expressed sequentially, this experience was obtained by Venkataraman spontaneously as in a flash. Here is more on his death experience.
He later said that his separate identity as Venkataraman had been lost after his discovery of his true identity as the Self, thus he never called himself by any name. He received his full name Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi in 1907 from Ganapati Sastri. From this time on he saw only the Self and knew that there is only in reality only the Self and all else is just appearance. The young boy left his home and made his way to the sacred mountain Arunachala, Tiruvannamalai. He lived at the mountain for the rest of his life, from 1896 until 1950, first in temples and caves and later in Ramanasramam, the ashram which grew around him at the foothill of Arunchala Here is a link to the complete story.
After his arrival on Arunachala he remained silent for the next 11 years and then began to answer questions put to him by his devotees, who had accompanied him in growing numbers over the years. The well-known ”Forty Verses on Reality” were written at the request of one devotee, who wanted a concise synopsis of Ramana’s teaching.
I present here Verse One:
“1. From our perception of the world there follows acceptance of a unique First Principle possessing various powers. Pictures of name and form, the person who sees, the screen on which he sees, and the light by which he sees: he himself is all of these.”
This Verse One puts me in the driver’s seat. I no longer can look around and ask whose fault it is or what this all means.
“Pictures of Name and Form” is a term that in the Hindu philosophy encompasses everything that we can in any way perceive, think of, intuit, sense or dream of. In other words, it encompasses everything in our field of perception, internally and externally; whether sleeping, dreaming or waking. The word “Pictures” points me to the role that images, and thus imagination, play as an aspect of this power. This statement says that all this coming into appearance is a power of this First Principle.
The next power of this First Principle that is mentioned is the person who sees all this. Each of us is this particular power of the unique First Principle. We are the seeing power of the First Principle.
Then this unique First Principle possesses a power called the screen on which the person, as the seeing power, sees all of this. So beyond the first two basic elements of the world, which are all that is seen and the power that sees (powers one and two), we have now the third element, or power: the screen. The screen is a power of the unique First Principle.
We grow up believing that we see something because outside of us there exists an object that we perceive. Ramana tells us that from his point of perception he doesn’t see any external objects at all. Rather, he perceives various powers of the one First Principle working together and complementing each other, conjuring up the world that we see. It is as if you take baking soda and vinegar and mix them together and observe the foam that is created. You will say: “There is foam.” Another will say: “Yes, there is foam, but I recognize it as the reaction caused by the mixture of the two elements.” Ramana is showing us what actually is happening when we say: “There is the world.” We are seeing the interplay of various powers of the First Principle. They complement and potentiate each other.
The fourth power is the light by which the seeing power sees. So the seeing power, the person who sees, cannot see alone, but only in conjunction with the fourth power, the light by which he sees.
In this Verse One, Ramana brings our attention to the world first off (“pictures of name and form”), and leads us step by step onward. Look at the world, he says. See if you can perceive a unique First Principe at work. Here are the elements of Its powers that you can perceive: one, two, three and four. He is actually inviting us to ponder if there is anything he didn’t consider in his description of that which we can directly perceive when we look at the world.
Finally, he gives the unique First Principle an identity:
It is all the “names and forms” – It is everything that we conventionally think of as “the world”.
It is the person who sees, which is you and me.
It is that by which we see – Ramana calls it “the screen” and he gives me the sense of a plasma-like substance that forms itself into every shape that this First Principle conjures up. Another word for “screen” here might be “vehicle” or “carrier substance”.
It is the Light that is the energy that makes anything visible, It powers the projection of images (power one), It enlivens the person who sees (power two), It lets the screen shine and shape itself into the world (power three). And It is Its own validation as Inner Effulgence (power four).
I like to start at the Inner Effulgence, that I began to get a visceral sense of when I was at Arunachala mountain in India. I spent some time on the mountain in the first little ashram, Skandashram, that sprang up around Ramana, when as a young man he was hanging out in a state of silent bliss in different caves on the mountain. Skandashram up on Arunachala, looks down on the large Siva Temple in the town of Tiruvannamalai. I went up there first thing every day to do yoga and then sit and enjoy. I even had the blessing to spend a night there once when I reached the ashram too late in the evening to return to town in the dark. The Hindu priest-custodian let me stay on the floor inside. A very fine glow started to be noticeable inside me. I was smiling 24/7 – despite whatever things were uncomfortable (which for westerners in India is pretty often).
Putting my attention on the Inner Effulgence, I notice how It spreads into the “screen” – through Its essence everything shines out, glows and we can see the world. From there it spreads to the person, me in that case, or whomever is with me, and moves us like pneumatic machinery is moved by the gas that is pumped through it – only so very subtly, enlivening our DNA, molecular structure, etc. all the way up to our brain, nervous system, arms, legs, and speech. Then, in conjunction with our nervous systems (and finer, subtle energy centers and auras) the world of images, names and forms appears. I see this as the expression of the Love to Be that is the basic motive of the Inner Effulgence – once It leaves Its own Inner Sanctuary of just Being Bliss and becomes Consciousness – (dynamic manifest consciousness, as Nisargadatta calls it).
This short passage by Nisargadatta also sheds some light on this dynamic:
“The totality of the perceived is what you call matter. The totality of all perceivers is what you call the universal mind. The identity of the two, manifesting itself as perceptibility and perceiving, harmony and intelligence, loveliness and loving, reasserts itself eternally.”
“He himself is all of these” are the last words of Ramana’s Verse One.
Each moment that I am able to see the world around me (including myself and others) as integral parts of One Being, I experience peace within myself.
- It is named ‘ego’ (placelore.typepad.com)
- Q & A with Dr. Robert Saltzman #2 (nondualityamerica.wordpress.com)
- Imagine World Peace (professionsforpeace.com)
- Rainbow Luck (rarasaur.wordpress.com)
- Surrender to Peace (everydaygurus.com)