we superimpose our illusory ideas on others



In the following text, Ramana Maharshi expresses the perspective of an awakened one, a jnani, meaning one who has seen through the deluded state of imagining there to be something other than the one Reality, which he calls the Self.

I find this statement in particular:

Some power acts through his body and uses his body to get the work done.

gives us a sense of the jnani’s state, which is in strong contrast to our usual sense of being the doer and the ‘captain of our destiny’. Does this realization lead to the jnani falling into indolence? On the contrary; when the impediments to our ‘getting the work done‘ are removed (the ego behavior) we are much more productive and diligent in our commitment to protecting and fostering life in all forms in whatever way is open to us. Ramana’s life was constant evidence of that.

Ramana speaks of “some power” in this statement. It is, even for him, a mystery what this power really is that acts through the body of the jnani and uses his body to get the work done. Many words are given to this power like God, the Tao, Brahman, intelligent infinity, intelligence of energy-substratum of the universe. In the first verse of the Tao Te Ching we see that Lao Tzu speaks of the Cosmic Mystery that is the gateway to the secret of all life. (See this article) By opening up to that which we do not ‘know’, we allow the quality of that Mystery to enter our life.



Ramana: The fact is that any amount of action can be performed, and performed quite well, by the jnani (the awakened one), without his identifying himself with it in any way or ever imagining that he is the doer. Some power acts through his body and uses his body to get the work done.

Q: Is a jnani capable of or likely to commit sins?

A: An ajnani (the deluded one) sees someone as a jnani and identifies him with the body. Because he does not know the Self and mistakes his body for the Self, he extends the same mistake to the state of the jnani. The jnani is therefore considered to be the physical frame.

Again since the ajnani, though he is not the doer, imagines himself to be the doer and considers the actions of the body his own, he thinks the jnani to be similarly acting when the body is active. But the jnani himself knows the truth and is not confounded.

The state of a jnani cannot be determined by the ajnani and therefore the question troubles only the ajnani and never arises for the jnani. If he is a doer he must determine the nature of the actions. The Self cannot be the doer.

Find out who is the doer and the Self is revealed.

Q: So it amounts to this. To see a jnani is not to understand him. You see the jnani’s body and not his jnana. One must therefore be a jnani to know a jnani.

A: The jnani sees no one as an ajnani. All are only jnanis in his sight. In the ignorant state one superimposes one’s ignorance on a jnani and mistakes him for a doer.

In the state of jnana, the jnani sees nothing separate from the Self. The Self is all shining and only pure jnana. So there is no ajnana in his sight.

There is an illustration for this kind of illusion or superimposition. Two friends went to sleep side by side. One of them dreamt that both of them had gone on a long journey and that they had had strange experiences. On waking up he recapitulated them and asked his friend if it was not so. The other one simply ridiculed him saying that it was only his dream and could not affect the other. So it is with the ajnani who superimposes his illusory ideas on others.

Q: You have said that the jnani can be and is active, and deals with men and things. I have no doubt about it now. But you say at the same time that he sees no differences; to him all is one, he is always in the consciousness. If so, how does he deal with differences, with men, with things which are surely different?

A: He sees these differences as but appearances, he sees them as not separate from the true, the real, with which he is one.

Q: The jnani seems to be more accurate in his expressions, he appreciates the differences better than the ordinary man. If sugar is sweet and wormwood is bitter to me, he too seems to realize it so. In fact, all forms, all sounds, all tastes, etc., are the same to him as they are to others. If so, how can it be said that these are mere appearances? Do they not form part of his life-experience?

A: I have said that equality is the true sign of jnana. The very term equality implies the existence of differences. It is a unity that the jnani perceives in all differences, which I call equality.

Equality does not mean ignorance of distinctions. When you have the realization you can see that these differences are very superficial, that they are not at all substantial or permanent, and what is essential in all these appearances is the one truth, the real. That I call unity. You referred to sound, taste, form, smell, etc.

True, the jnani appreciates the distinctions, but he always perceives and experiences the one reality in all of them. That is why he has no preferences.

Whether he moves about, or talks, or acts, it is all the one reality in which he acts or moves or talks. He has nothing apart from the one supreme truth.

Q: They say that the jnani conducts himself with absolute equality towards all?

A: Yes. Friendship, kindness, happiness and such other bhavas [attitudes] become natural to them.

Affection towards the good, kindness towards the helpless, happiness in doing good deeds, forgiveness towards the wicked, all such things are natural characteristics of the jnani. (Patanjali, Yoga Sutras, 1:37).

You ask about jnanis: they are the same in any state or condition, as they know the reality, the truth. In their daily routine of taking food, moving about and all the rest, they, the jnanis, act only for others. Not a single action is done for themselves.

I have already told you many times that just as there are people whose profession is to mourn for a fee, so also the jnanis do things for the sake of others with detachment, without themselves being affected by them.

The jnani weeps with the weeping, laughs with the laughing, plays with the playful, sings with those who sing, keeping time to the song. What does he lose? His presence is like a pure, transparent mirror. It reflects the image exactly as it is. But the jnani, who is only a mirror, is unaffected by actions. How can a mirror, or the stand on which it is mounted, be affected by the reflections? Nothing affects them as they are mere supports.

On the other hand, the actors in the world – the doers of all acts, the ajnanis – must decide for themselves what song and what action is for the welfare of the world, what is in accordance with the sastras (the scriptures), and what is practicable.

source: Be As You Are, The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, David Godman, pp 30 – 40 (link to PDF here)




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