Q: What is the interrelation between regulation of thought and regulation of breath?
Ramana: Thought (intellectual) and respiration, circulation, etc. (vegetative) activities are both different aspects of the same – the individual life. Both depend upon (or metaphorically ‘reside’ or ‘inhere’ in) life. Personality and other ideas spring from it like the vital activity.
If respiration or other vital activity is forcibly repressed, thought also is repressed. If thought is forcibly slowed down and pinned to a point, the vital activity of respiration is slowed down, made even and confined to the lowest level compatible with life. In both cases the distracting variety of thought is temporarily at an end. The interaction is noticeable in other ways also. Take the will to live. That is thought-power. That sustains and keeps up life when other vitality is almost exhausted and delays death. In the absence of such will-power death is accelerated. So thought is said to carry life with it in the flesh and from one fleshy body to another.
Q: Are there any aids to (1) concentration and (2) casting off distractions?
R: Physically the digestive and other organs are kept free from irritation. Therefore food is regulated both in quantity and quality. Non-irritants are eaten, avoiding chilies, excess of salt, onions, wine, opium, etc. Avoid constipation, drowsiness and excitement, and all foods which induce them. Mentally take interest in one thing and fix the mind on it. Let such interest be all absorbing to the exclusion of everything else. This is dispassion (vairagya) and concentration. God or mantra may be chosen. The mind gains strength to grasp the subtle and merge into it.
Q: Distractions result from inherited tendencies. Can they be cast off too?
R: Yes. Many have done so. Believe it! They did so because they believed they could. Vasanas (predispositions) can be obliterated. It is done by concentration on that which is free from vasanas and yet is their core.
Q: How long is the practice to continue?
R: Till success is achieved and until yoga-liberation becomes permanent. Success begets success. If one distraction is conquered the next is conquered and so on, until all are finally conquered. The
process is like reducing an enemy’s fort by slaying its man-power – one by one, as each issues out.
Q: What is the goal of this process?
R: Realising the Real.
Q: What is the nature of the Reality?
R: (a) Existence without beginning or end – eternal.
(b) Existence everywhere, endless, infinite.
(c) Existence underlying all forms, all changes, all forces, all matter
and all spirit. The many change and pass away (phenomena), whereas the One always endures (noumenon).
(d) The one displacing the triads, i.e., the knower, the knowledge and the known. The triads are only appearances in time and space, whereas the Reality lies beyond and behind them. They are like a mirage over the Reality. They are the result of delusion.
Q: If ‘I’ also be an illusion, who then casts off the illusion?
R: The ‘I’ casts off the illusion of ‘I’ and yet remains as ‘I’. Such is the paradox of Self-Realisation. The realised do not see any contradiction in it. Take the case of bhakti – I approach Iswara and pray to be absorbed in Him. I then surrender myself in faith and by concentration. What remains afterwards? In place of the original ‘I’, perfect self-surrender leaves a residuum of God in which the ‘I’ is lost. This is the highest form of devotion (parabhakti), prapatti, surrender or the height of vairagya.
You give up this and that of ‘my’ possessions. If you give up ‘I’ and ‘Mine’ instead, all are given up at a stroke. The very seed of possession is lost. Thus the evil is nipped in the bud or crushed in the germ itself. Dispassion (vairagya) must be very strong to do this. Eagerness to do it must be equal to that of a man kept under water trying to rise up to the surface for his life.
Q: Cannot this trouble and difficulty be lessened with the aid of a Master or an Ishta Devata (God chosen for worship)? Cannot they give the power to see our Self as it is – to change us into themselves – to take us into Self-Realisation?
R: Ishta Devata and Guru are aids – very powerful aids on this path. But an aid to be effective requires your effort also. Your effort is a sine qua non. It is you who should see the sun. Can spectacles and the sun see for you? You yourself have to see your true nature. Not much aid is required for doing it!
Q: What is the relation between my free-will and the overwhelming might of the Omnipotent?
(a) Is omniscience of God consistent with ego’s freewill?
(b) Is omnipotence of God consistent with ego’s freewill?
(c) Are the natural laws consistent with God’s free-will?
R: Yes. Free-will is the present appearing to a limited faculty of sight and will. The same ego sees its past activity as falling into a course of ‘law’ or rules – its own free-will being one of the links in that course of law.
Omnipotence and omniscience of God are then seen by the ego to have acted through the appearance of his own free-will. So he comes to the conclusion that the ego must go by appearances. Natural laws are manifestations of God’s will and they have been laid down.
Q: Is the study of science, psychology, physiology, philosophy, etc.
(1) this art of yoga-liberation.
(2) the intuitive grasp of the unity of the Real?
R: Very little. Some knowledge is needed for yoga and it may be found in books. But practical application is the thing needed, and personal example, personal touch and personal instructions are the most helpful aids. As for the other, a person may laboriously convince himself of the truth to be intuited, i.e., its function and nature, but the actual intuition is akin to feeling and requires practice and personal contact. Mere book learning is not of any great use. After realization all intellectual loads are useless burdens and are thrown overboard as jetsam. Jettisoning the ego is necessary and natural.
Q: How does dream differ from waking?
R: In dreams one takes on different bodies, and they re-enter this body when one dreams of sense-contacts.
Q: What is happiness? Is it inhering in the Atman or in the object, or in the contact between the subject and the object? But we do not see happiness in our affairs. When does It actually arise?
R: When there is contact of a desirable sort or memory thereof, and when there is freedom from undesirable contacts or memory thereof, we say there is happiness. Such happiness is relative and is better called pleasure.
But men want absolute and permanent happiness. This does not reside in objects, but in the Absolute. It is Peace free from pain and pleasure – it is a neutral state.
Q: In what sense is happiness our real nature?
R: Perfect Bliss is Brahman. Perfect Peace is of the Self. That alone exists and is conscious. The same conclusion is arrived at: (a) judged metaphysically, and (b) inferred by Bhakti Marga (Path of Devotion).
We pray to God for Bliss and receive it by Grace. The bestower of bliss must be Bliss itself and also Infinite. Therefore, Iswara is the Personal God of infinite power and bliss. Brahman is Bliss, impersonal and absolute. The finite egos, deriving their source from Brahman and then Iswara, are in their spiritual nature bliss only. Biologically, an organism functions because such functions are attended with happiness.
It is pleasure that helps our growth; food, exercise, rest, and gregarious qualities. The psychology (and metaphysics) of pleasure is perhaps this: Our nature is primarily one, entire, blissful. Take this as a probable hypothesis. Creation is by the entire Godhead breaking into God and Nature (maya or prakriti). This maya is of two parts: (para) – the supporting essence and (apara) the five elements, mind, intellect, and ego (eightfold).
Ego’s perfection is suddenly broken at a point and a want is felt giving rise to a desire to get something or do something. When that want is cured by the fulfilment of that desire, the ego is happy and the original perfection is restored. Therefore happiness may be said to be our natural condition or nature. Pleasure and pain are relative and refer to our finite state, with progress by satisfaction of want. If relative progress is stopped and the soul merges into Brahman – of the nature of perfect peace – that soul ceases to have relative, temporary pleasure and enjoys perfect peace – Bliss. Hence Self-Realisation is Bliss; it is realizing the Self as the limitless spiritual eye (jnana dristi) and not clairvoyance; it is the highest self surrender. Samsara (the world-cycle) is sorrow.
Q: Why then is samsara – creation and manifestation as finitised – so full of sorrow and evil?
R: God’s will!
Q: Why does God will it so?
R: It is inscrutable. No motive can be attributed to that Power – no desire, no end to achieve can be asserted of that one Infinite, All-wise and All-powerful Being. God is untouched by activities, which take place in His presence; compare the sun and the world activities. There is no meaning in attributing responsibility and motive to the One before it becomes many. But God’s will for the prescribed course of events is a good solution of the free-will problem (vexata quaestio). If the mind is restless on account of a sense of the imperfect and unsatisfactory character of what befalls us or what is committed or omitted by us, then it is wise to drop the sense of responsibility and free-will by regarding ourselves as the ordained instruments of the All-wise and All-powerful, to do and suffer as He pleases. He carries all burdens and gives us peace.