Books recommended by Sri Ramana Maharshi
In Vedanta there are three kinds of texts, the process of teaching Vedanta goes through three phases: hearing, reflecting, meditating; shravana, manana, nididhyasana. The central truths of Vedanta are taught by the teacher, and you listen to them attentively, with respect, you get the idea what is Vedanta telling me. And what Vedanta is telling us is simple and direct: “That Thou Art” (“You are the Absolute”), what we considered God in different religions, you are That. In fact, I can’t put it in better words than the great Christian mystic of medieval Germany Meister Eckhart, very non-dualistic his writings, he says, “The ground of my soul and the ground of God are one and the same”. That’s beautiful, that’s exactly the mahavakya, the great statement of the Upanishads, I and God are one not as this little individual and the Lord of the Universe, not in that sense, that’s ridicules, it’s not possible, but what I am, what you are in reality and what God is in reality are one and the same thing. So, that’s the first stage, hearing this truth. We become aware of this great teaching of the eminent divinity within us. That’s one.
Then what happens is, the next stage is, we have many questions: how is it possible, I would like to understand it rationally, I have many, many questions, doubts, skeptical arguments. So, then you enter a phase, in Sanskrit it is called manana. Manana means cogitating, thinking, reflecting, questioning, arguing. So, that’s an intensive phase which you go through, at the end of which you know you’ve reached that phase when you realize you’ve got clarity.
At the end of the first phase, hearing, you can say, “I know what Vedanta says, but I don’t get it, I have many questions”. At the end of the second phase of reasoning you will say, “I know what Vedanta says, and now I get it, I understand it, but it has not yet transformed my life; I know it, I understood it, but you just promised that I’ll be able to overcome suffering and I’ll be in bliss and attain profound peace and have lasting happiness and peace, and overcome, transcend suffering; that has not happened, I still suffer, I’m still upset, I still have problems in life”. So, it’s not delivered. So, there’s the third stage.
The third stage is meditation. Vedantic meditation is a special kind of meditation. What you do there is: what you have heard, what you have understood and you are convinced now, stay with it. Once you have got it, once there’s clarity, you don’t move on immediately to the next book, you sit with it, you absorb it till you become it. You are it already, you recognize yourself as this message. So, the third stage is called nididhyasana. It is related to the Sanskrit word “dhyana”. “Dhyana” means meditation. So, this is a special kind of Vedantic meditation.
Now, why I am saying this is, the Vedanta texts are also of three kinds. The Upanishads are the root texts, the basic texts. They tell you the truth, they are meant to be heard, studied, that’s where you first get the truth. But they are meant to be heard, studied, you get the truth from them. Then there are texts which are heavy on logic, on reasoning. There are texts like Advaita Siddhi, Khandana Khanda Khadya, Chitsukhi, there are many other texts like that which, as somebody told me, anyone of them is enough to fry your brain. All the questions that you can think of and many that you could never think of, they are all asked and discussed threadbare.
After that comes the third stage that I mentioned, meditation. So, you know what it says, you have argued it through, the storm clouds are gone, and then in the clarity of the light which remains you stay with it, you stay with the truth, and there are some texts like that. This is one of them, the Ashtavakra Gita. All this text does is, it tells you again and again, and again just one thing that you are the Absolute. In so many different ways it just tells you one thing, the entire conclusion of the Vedanta, it radiates out of this book. So, you might call it nididhyasana text, meditation text. This is certainly not an introduction, this is the end of the road. Beyond this lies only silence. Nothing more can be said after this. There are no arguments here, there is no fancy language here, there is no poetry here, there is no philosophy here, none of that. There’s only one grand theme repeated with an awesome monotony here again and again, and again. You pick it up at any point, any verse, anywhere, it just says the same thing in different ways, it’s just pointing out continuously forcing you back to your real nature. Byrom [Thomas Byrom] in his introduction [to his translation of the Ashtavakra Gita], beautiful introduction, says, let me just paraphrase it: when all the scriptures have had their say, when all the philosophers have fallen silent, Ashtavakra begins. And he says: the words, they barely touch the page, they seem to emerge out of light and shine before you briefly and fade back into the light again, so they seem to glide on the pages. Beyond this, as I said, lies the silence.
So, don’t be in a hurry. This is the end of the road, the game of life is at an end here. It’s not for nothing that I used the storm metaphor, storms of life have to be gone through, storms of seeking have to be gone through, and when the last cloud has faded away, then only pick up this book, Ashtavakra.
Swami Sarvapriyananda: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfjBXY7F1xE
If Ashtavakra Gita can be considered as several levels above all the orthodox texts of Advaita philosophy, Ribhu Gita can be considered as a few steps above Ashtavakra Gita. Ribhu Gita is almost unknown in most parts of India and practically in the entire West (concerned with spirituality). Initially, it exhorts a person to meditate “I am that. I am the Brahman. I am the Consciousness. It is the truth that the Brahman alone is all”. It goes on to say “In due course leave off that remembrance of Brahman also. Leave off all this renunciation of Brahman and any differentiation between I and Self also. Envelope yourself with the Self alone and remain as your own Self.”- (Verses 25, 26 & 28 of chapter 21 of Ribhu Gita with original in Sanskrit with English meaning). To interpret it properly and to practise it is not an easy task as this is a leap beyond the meditation on Brahman. It is told in the edition from Ramanasramam “Is there a book while reading which, the reader feels increasingly drawn towards his own Self even if it is the very first spiritual book that he reads? The book which you are now holding in your hand is certainly one such.” (See backside cover page of the Sanskrit version published by Sri Ramanasramam). It was the Tamil version of Ribhu Gita by Bhikshu Sastri which was brought to light before the limited devotees of the Asramam by Bhagavan Ramana himself and its language and rhyme are inimitable and extremely attractive. Bhagavan Ramana stressed that even if one does not understand it, a mere reading of it again and again or daily is highly beneficial.
The original Sanskrit version was lying for a long time (perhaps as a manuscript) in the Saraswati Mahal Library of Tanjavur (Tamil Nadu) and it was brought out by them in print a number of years back. Sri Ramanasramam has done a good service by getting this book published with English translation.
I am sure that this small book on “Sadhanas” will induce at least a few people to read the original book and reap immeasurable benefit. In most of the chapters it is mentioned that the one who reads or listens to that chapter becomes the Brahman itself.
H.H. Sri Swami Shantananda Puri Maharaj,
Preface to Sadhanas from Ribhu Gita
…It is the scholars who are bothered about the date of composition of this book [Yoga Vasishtha]. As far as real aspirants are concerned, they should only be content with the savour of the excellent contents of the book. Anybody with some insight should be able to be convinced that whosoever had written Yoga Vasishtha must necessarily have been a realised soul of a high order.
By just reading or hearing the highest truths contained in Yoga Vasishtha, by constantly contemplating and mulling over them, it becomes a Sadhana and it can lead one to the samadhi stage.
From the Introduction to Sadhanas Accordind To Yoga Vasishta
by Swami Shantananda Puri
Valmiki’s book, Yoga Vasishta is about Rama awakening to God realization through the lectures of sage Vasishta. Rama asks questions and Vasishta gives answers over a twenty-two day period.
Ramana Maharshi, one of the great yogis of the 20th Century, often cited Yoga Vasishta. Ramana encouraged the practice of self-inquiry and one who reads Yoga Vasishta will find it to be the quintessential treatise on the practice.
The essence of the philosophy in Yoga Vasishta is that creation is not a separate existence from God but a reflection of God. God is consciousness and there is nothing material anywhere. Each individual is consciousness, ultimately the same indivisible Divine Consciousness, and not any physical body.
Like can only create like. “The essence of consciousness is not material so it cannot be the cause of a material thing.” (YV, Yoga Vasishta) It is impossible for spirit to create material. Therefore material creation is an illusion. It exists only in consciousness.
Those who have attained Self realization experience the truth that all is a reflection of God. They are the spiritual masters beyond all desires and the ordinary limitations of the mind. Their personal experience, indescribable in words, is that only Divine Consciousness and Bliss exists. “After egoism and mental powers are extinguished and all feelings in oneself subside, a transcendent ecstasy arises in the soul called divine or perfect joy and bliss. This bliss is attainable only by yoga meditation and in some ways can be compared to sound sleep. But it cannot be described with words, O Rama. It must be perceived in the heart.” (YV)
What motivates any person to seek this knowledge is the same thing that motivated Rama, a deep apathy towards everything the world has to offer. Upon attaining the state of enlightenment, the living liberated abide in bliss and see all as Divine Consciousness. “All intellectual conceptions cease upon the spiritual perception of God. There ensues an utter and dumb silence.” (YV) “Know that this state of transcendent bliss can only be attained through intense meditation.” (YV)
There is nothing fatalistic about Yoga Vasishta. Early in the work, immediately after Rama completes his speech on the vanity of everything the world has to offer, Vasishta hammers away on the need for personal effort. This theme is woven throughout the book. Vasishta’s teaching begins with the need for personal effort and not religion or teachers or good deeds. The book pretty much ends on the same subject.
“The presence of the Holy Light is not to be had by a teacher’s lectures or the teaching of scriptures. It is not the result of good acts or the company of holy men. It is the result of your own reasoning.” (YV) “The pious acts of men, their riches and their friends are of no use for their salvation from the miseries of life. Only their own efforts are of use for the enlightenment of their soul.” (YV)
Religion, scriptures, the company of the wise, and good deeds serve to create the opportunity to understand, but ultimately, one has to do the work alone. One has to become dispassionate, learn to be without desires, practice good conduct, study scriptures and learn from teachers. Then one has to internalize everything.
Among the available scriptures, Yoga Vasishta is uniquely powerful. The ramifications of its philosophy are staggering. It is the ultimate self-help book. The opportunities for creativity are without limit.
“He who reads this spiritual work once, then neglects it thinking he has already read it and turns to the study of unspiritual books, is a miserable fool… This excellent work is to be read always… This book is calculated to reward the labor of the student if constantly read with reverence and rightly explained with diligence.” (YV)
“Rama, you have heard whatever is worth hearing. You also know all that is worth knowing. Now I see there is nothing left worth communicating to you for your higher knowledge. Now you have to reconcile in yourself, by your best understanding, all that I have taught you and what you have read and learnt in the scriptures, and harmonize the whole for your guidance.” (YV)
Thomas L. Palotas, from his Introduction to Yoga Vasishta by Valmiki
Kaivalya Navaneeta is a widely known Advaita classic in Tamil. Navaneeta means butter. Kaivalya or Kevala is the state in which the soul exists, isolated from all connection with the body, etc. From the vast ocean of milk (the Upanishads etc.) the great teachers have drawn the milk of wisdom and filled it in pots (ancient texts). Tandavaraya Swami, the author of the Kaivalya Navaneeta says that he has extracted the butter from the milk. Those who have obtained this (being fed on the butter of divine wisdom – Brahma jnana – and being eternally satisfied) will not roam about feeding on dust (non-real objects of sense).
Verses 175 and 179 contain references to Narayana Desikar of Nannilam, as the preceptor of the author of this work. The author extols the greatness of his parents who had the prophetic insight to give him an appropriate name. Tandava is interpreted in the present context as one who was beckoned to leap across the sea of births as well as one who dances eternally in the delight resulting from divine wisdom.
The two sections of this work are called “The exposition of the Truth” (Tattva vilakkappadalam) and “Doubts cleared Away” (Sandeham telitarppadalam). They explain the basic philosophical principles and clear doubts which are likely to arise in understanding these principles.
In language easy to understand, the author gives a remarkably clear exposition of the tenets of advaita.
In the absence of any mention in earlier literature on Vedanta in Tamil we can assume that Kaivalya Navaneeta was probably written at least five hundred years ago. It was translated into German and English by Dr. Charles Graul DD of the Leipzig Lutheran Mission and we have in the Ramanasramam Library a book containing these German and English translations and published in 1855, both in Leipzig and London. We have not come across any other English translation so far.
This was one of the works very frequently referred to by the [Sri Ramana] Maharshi. We are confident that this great little book will prove to be of immense help to all seekers.
From Introduction to Kaivalya Navaneeta (English translation) published by Sri Ramanashramam
From places in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi where Bhagavan mentions Kaivalya Navaneeta:
A visitor: What is the difference between meditation (dhyana) and investigation (vichara)?
M.: Both amount to the same. Those unfit for investigation must practise meditation. In this practice the aspirant forgetting himself meditates “I am Brahman” or “I am Siva”; thus he continues to hold to Brahman or Siva; this will ultimately end on the residual Being as Brahman or Siva which he will realise to be Pure Being, i.e. the Self.
He who engages in investigation starts holding on to himself, asks “Who am I?” and the Self becomes clear to him.
D.: Will the knowledge gained by direct experience be lost afterwards?
M.: Kaivalya Navaneeta says it may be lost. Experience gained without rooting out all the vasanas cannot remain steady. Efforts must be made to eradicate the vasanas. Otherwise rebirth after death takes place. Some say direct experience results from hearing from one’s master; others say it is from reflection; yet others say from onepointedness and also from samadhi. Though they look different on the surface, ultimately they mean the same. Knowledge can remain unshaken only after all the vasanas are rooted out.
…D.: … You know that, in the Theosophical Society, they meditate to seek the masters to guide them.
M.: The Master is within. Meditation is meant for the removal of ignorance, of the wrong idea that he is without. If he be a stranger whose advent you await he is bound to disappear also. Where is the use of transient being like that?
However, as long as you think that you are an individual or that you are the body, so long the master also is necessary and he will appear with a body. When this wrong identification ceases the master will be found to be the Self.
There is a stanza in Kaivalya:
“My Lord! You had remained as my Self within, protecting me in all my past incarnations. Now, by your Grace, you have manifested yourself as my master and revealed yourself as the Self“.
Just see what happens in sleep. There is no ego, no India, no seekers, no master, etc.; and yet you are – and happy too.
The ego, India, seekers, etc., appear now; but they are not apart from nor independent of you.
Will-power or any other is gained by practice (abhyasa).
D.: Is success not dependent on Guru’s Grace?
M.: Yes, it is. Is not your practice itself due to such Grace? The fruits are the result of the practice and follow it automatically. There is a stanza in Kaivalya which says, “O Guru! You have been always with me watching me through several reincarnations, and ordaining my course until I was liberated.” The Self manifests externally as Guru when occasion arises; otherwise He is always within, doing the needful.
On another occasion when I [Annamalai Swami] asked Bhagavan [Sri Ramana Maharshi] to select some reading material for me, he gave me a short-list of six books: Kaivalya Navaneetam, Ribhu Gita, Ashtavakra Gita, Ellam Ondre, Swarupa Saram and Yoga Vasishtam.
He laid particular stress on Ellam Ondre, telling me, “If you want moksha write, read and practise the instructions in Ellam Ondre.”
~ Living by the Words of Bhagavan by David Godman
Actually, we first thought that it would be quite enough to have only the extract given above from Living by the Words of Bhagavan to show the importance of the Ellam Ondre’s message. But, since it is nice to sometimes get some more information of any kind about some extraordinary text, here we are also adding the pieces we found available for learning on the other devotees’ websites, one of them from the original text itself, so that we can approach the beauty of Ellam Ondre in this short introductory part at least a bit closer.
A French devotee who could not speak English and was living in Sri Ramanasramam during my last visit asked me to go with him to the Annamalai Ashram for a visit on some personal matter. While I was there translating for this devotee, I noticed Annamalai Swami’s Living by the Words of Bhagavan [by David Godman, who wrote about Annamalai Swami] for sale. I immediately purchased it and while reading through it found the reference to All is One. I somehow became keen on knowing more about this book and asked in the Sri Ramanasramam Book Depot if an English translation of this Tamil book was available. Even though it was also noted to be recommended by Sri Bhagavan in Day by Day with Bhagavan no one could give me any information about it.
Four or five days before my departure something made me remember that probably in the Annamalai Ashram I could find out some information about the book. The Ashram manager told me it was only available in Tamil and that the last English translation had been printed privately sometime around 1950. However, he had a photocopy of that translation and allowed me to copy it for myself.
Around the same time, a French devotee with whom I had earlier discussions about the book came to me and showed me the French translation. In spite of it being printed in Pondicherry, she had purchased it in Paris.
I am now sending it to you because I think that we should make an effort to publish it for the benefit of devotees and Advaita students, even if it is in the form of a small inexpensive brochure. It appears that this 19th Century, anonymous composition was highly valued by Sri Maharshi and, for this reason alone, I am sure many will be interested in studying it.
~ A Letter From Eurico M. S. Saraiva, Lisbon, Portugal
Men court happiness and shun misery. It is the same with other beings also. This holds good for the common run of mankind. But the higher order is bent upon right conduct, enduring patiently the good or evil that it may bring. Fellowship with these will be lasting, whereas fellowship with ordinary people will not be. Good will result to the world through fellowship with the higher order only.
The question then arises: “What is right?” The point is important, but the answer has not been found. Why? Because what is right is determined by circumstances. However comprehensive a work may be written on the subject, there will always be circumstances not envisaged by the author. Therefore, it becomes necessary to realize that state which will enable us to assess the various conditions and determine what is right.
That state is one only. There are no states like it. Although it is single, it is extraordinary that the worldly wise consider it exceedingly rare. Nothing can be more extraordinary than this. That unique state is very clearly taught in the Upanishads. In this book I have put down the same truth according to my understanding. I have considered it my duty. I do not claim originality. The six chapters of this book are so closely interrelated that some point which may be expected in one chapter may be found in another. Again a few points which may not be clear on a superficial reading will become clear upon closer study. More may be gathered from major works or Sages. Universal Mother, Master true, save us!
~ Preface to Ellam Ondre by Vaiyai R. Subramaniam
Sorupa Saram (also known as Swarupa Saram when it is spelt in the Sanskrit way) is a Tamil advaitic work that was composed by Sorupananda, a distinguished Tamil saint and Guru who lived near Virai, a Tamil town, probably around the end of the sixteenth century. He is associated historically with Tattvarayar, an eminent scholar who was also his sister’s son. The following biographical information about them has been taken from a Tamil introduction to Sorupa Saram [pub. K. Nagarajan, 1971].
Sorupananda and Tattvarayar were fluent in Sanskrit and Tamil, and both were learned in all the sastras. However, the true realisation dawned upon them that the profit to be gained from this limited knowledge, however praiseworthy, did not have the power to grant freedom from birth in the way that true knowledge does. They realised that it showed a lack of judgement on their part to devote their time any longer to the acquisition of this limited knowledge, which confers advantages in this life only. By doing so, they would waste a human birth, something that is very hard to attain. Since they were both overcome by a desire to free themselves from worldly attachments, they devoted themselves to the task of seeking out a Sadguru who could bestow jnana.
Having made this resolution, the two of them, before leaving their dwelling-place, made an agreement with one another: “Whichever of us is first to obtain the fortune of a Guru’s darshan, he shall assume the position of Guru to the other.”
They then set out on a pilgrimage, Sorupananda to the South, and Tattvarayar to the North. Upon the banks of the Kaveri, in a holy place called Govattam, Sorupananda had a miraculous experience in which he attained a tranquillity of mind that had thus far eluded him.
“This occurrence is due to the presence here of some great mahatma,” he decided.
Upon consulting the learned people in that place, he discovered that a great being called Sri Sivaprakasa Swami dwelt there in a patch of rushes, immersed in perpetual samadhi. However, he ascertained that on a few occasions he had been known to come outside in the morning time.
Going immediately to the holy presence of that Sadguru, he waited until Sivaprakasa Swami emerged from his state of absorption and came outside. Making obeisance in the proper manner, he beseeched him to accept him as his devotee. When he had received the Guru’s grace, Sorupananda waited for Tattvarayar’s return.
Tattvarayar had travelled to the North, but he had not obtained the darshan of any Guru. When he lost all hope of doing so, he gave up his search and returned to the South. On his way, he had the good fortune to meet Sorupananda, who by that time had realised the Self. Tattvarayar then received the grace of his uncle.
Whilst Sorupananda and Tattvarayar were peacefully dwelling in this way as Guru and disciple, Sorupananda one day ordered that oil be brought for an oil bath. Since that day was amavasai, the disciple was acutely aware of the sastraic injunction that an oil bath was forbidden on the day of the ancestors.
“But today is amavasai, [new moon]”, he said.
On hearing this, Sorupananda said: “What have all the prohibitions of the sastras to do with sadhus? Although you have dwelt in my presence for many days, you remain unable to free yourself from the constraints of the sastras. Is there really any advantage in your remaining here any longer?”
Thus, by means of this question and answer, he confirmed his suspicion that for Tattvarayar birth was not yet at an end. Tattvarayar was shocked by these compassionate words from his Guru. Realising that he had not yet succeeded in eliminating his vasanas, he was filled with remorse.
He came to the following decision: “Rather than remaining here and besmirching the holy presence of my Guru, it would be better to drown this sinful block beneath the ocean.”
Then, realising that it was forbidden to turn one’s back on the Guru, he retired, slowly moving backwards.
When Tattvarayar was departing in this way, meditating on his Guru, the devotees who were accompanying him took down the gems of truth that came out of his lips as his divine utterances and submitted them to Sorupanandar. These words were published in jnana texts that are revered even today.
When Sorupananda saw these works he was astonished by their profundity. Realising in his heart that such a sea of learning did not deserve to drown in the watery ocean, he commanded Tattvarayar to return to his presence.
As soon as Tattvarayar returned Sorupananda said to him: “These difficult works, useful as they are to yourself, will not easily benefit the world as a whole. Compose, therefore, a simple work that everyone may understand and win salvation from.”
After giving this command, Sorupananda went off to eat. In accordance with his Guru’s wishes Tattvarayar composed and completed Cacivanna Bodham while his Guru was still eating. This work became part of the Mohavatai Bharani.
Ramana Maharshi was particularly fond of the next development in the story. This is how he narrated the story. The extract is from Day by Day with Bhagavan, 21st November 1945:
Tattvarayar composed a bharani [a kind of poetical composition in Tamil] in honour of his Guru, Swarupananda, and convened an assembly of learned pandits to hear the work and assess its value. The pandits raised the objection that a bharani was only composed in honour of great heroes capable of killing a thousand elephants, and that it was not in order to compose such a work in honour of an ascetic. Thereupon the author said, “Let us all go to my Guru and we shall have this matter settled there”. They went to the Guru and, after all had taken their seats, the author told his Guru the purpose of their coming there. The Guru sat silent and all the others also remained in mauna. The whole day passed, night came, and some more days and nights, and yet all sat there silently, no thought at all occurring to any of them and nobody thinking or asking why they had come there. After three or four days like this, the Guru moved his mind a bit and thereupon the assembly regained their thought activity. They then declared, “Conquering a thousand elephants is nothing beside this Guru’s power to conquer the rutting elephants of all our egos put together. So certainly he deserves the bharani in his honour!”
Though Tattvaraya was the author of many verses (most of which have disappeared) Sorupananda himself only wrote one poem. This was Sorupa Saram, a distillation of his advaitic experience. This work was highly regarded by Ramana Maharshi. When he gave Annamalai Swami a list of six books to read, he included Sorupa Saram on a list that also included Kaivalya Navaneetam, Ribhu Gita, Ashtavakra Gita, Ellam Ondre, and Yoga Vasishta. This recommendation puts the text in very distinguished company.
This is the first-ever English translation of Sorupa Saram. It has been translated Dr T. V. Venkatasubramanian and Robert Butler and edited by David Godman. The verses themselves are by Sorupananda and the interpolated questions, answers and comments are by a later, unknown commentator. However, these additional remarks have always been associated with the work and they are now regarded as being an integral part of it.
David Godman, preliminary material to Sorupa Saram (The Essence of One’s Own True Nature) by Sorupananda
edited by David Godman