The Power of the Presence PART ONE In this excerpt from David Godman's new book, Swami Madhavatirtha recalls a conversation in which Ramana Maharshi explained the differences between his teachings and Sri Aurobindo's. By DAVID GODMAN
One day, during the second week of my stay, I was standing near the northern gate that leads to the hill path. With me was a devotee who had returned the previous day from Sri Aurobindo's ashram. It was evening and Sri Maharshi came by that way after his usual evening stroll. I wanted to ask him about his views on the theory of creation and the presence of the devotee who had returned from Sri Aurobindo's ashram prompted me to refer to Sri Aurobindo's views on the subject. I may say here that I am well acquainted with Sri Aurobindo's philosophy, for during my earlier visits to him some twenty-five years ago I used to discuss with him freely about these spiritual subjects. By way of an introduction, I asked the Maharshi whether he upheld the vedantic views on creation that were promulgated by Adi-Sankaracharya. After that we moved on to a discussion about Sri Aurobindo's world view.
Q: In the Vedanta of Sri Sankaracharya, the principle of the creation of the world has been accepted for the sake of beginners, but for the advanced, the principle of non-creation is put forward. What is your view in this matter?
M: Na nirodha na chotpattirNabaddho na cha sadhakaha Na mumukshur na vai mukta Ityesha paramarthata This sloka appears in the second chapter [v. 32, vaithathya prakarana] of Gaudapada's Karika [a commentary on the Mandukyopanishad]. It means really that there is no creation and no dissolution. There is no bondage, no one doing spiritual practices, no one seeking spiritual liberation, and no one who is liberated. One who is established in the Self sees this by his knowledge of reality.
Q: Sri Aurobindo believes that the human body is not the last on this earth. Establishment in the Self, according to him, is not perfectly attained in a human body, for Self-knowledge does not operate there in its natural way. Therefore the vijnanamaya sarira [the body made of pure knowledge]1 in which Self-knowledge can work naturally must be brought down on this earth.
M: Self-knowledge can shine very well in the human body, so there is no need of any other body.
Q: Sri Aurobindo believes that the vijnanamaya sarira will not be attacked by disease, will not grow old, and will not die without one's desire.
M: The body itself is a disease. To wish for a long stay of that disease is not the aim of the jnani. Anyhow, one has to give up identification with the body. Just as the I-am-the-body consciousness prevents one from attaining Self-knowledge, in the same way, one who has got the conviction that he is not the body will become liberated even if he doesn't desire it.
Q: Sri Aurobindo wants to bring the power of God into the human body.
M: If, after surrendering, one still has this desire, then surrender has not been successful. If one has the attitude, 'If the higher power is to come down, it must come into my body', this will only increase identification with the body. Truly speaking, there is no need of any such descent. After the destruction of the I-am-the-body idea, the individual becomes the form of the absolute. In that state, there is no above or below, front or back.
Q: If the individual becomes the form of the absolute, then who will enjoy the bliss of the absolute? To enjoy the bliss of the absolute, we must be slightly separate from it, like the fly that tastes sugar from a little distance.
M: The bliss of the absolute is the bliss of one's own nature. It is not born, nor has it been created. Pleasure that is created is sure to be destroyed. Sugar, being insentient, cannot give its own taste. The fly has to keep a little distance to taste it. But the absolute is awareness and consciousness. It can give its own bliss, but its nature cannot be understood without attaining that state.
Q: Sri Aurobindo wants to bring down on the earth a new divine race.
M: Whatever is to be attained in the future is to be understood as impermanent. Learn to understand properly what you have now so that there will be no need of thinking about the future.
Q: Sri Aurobindo says that God has created various kinds of worlds and is still going to create a new world.
M: Our present world itself is not real. Each one sees a different imaginary world according to his imagination, so where is the guarantee that the new world will be real? The jiva [the individual person], the world and God, all of these are relative ideas. So long as there is the individual sense of 'I', these three are also there.
From this individual sense of 'I', from the mind, these three have arisen. If you stop the mind, the three will not remain, but Brahman alone will remain, as it remains and abides even now. We see things because of an error. This misperception will be rectified by enquiring into the real nature of this jiva. Even if the jiva enters Supermind, it will remain in mind, but after surrendering the mind, there will be nothing left but Brahman. Whether this world is real or unreal, consciousness or inert, a place of happiness or a place of misery, all these states arise in the state of ignorance. They are not useful after realisation.
The state of Atmanishta [being fixed in the Self], devoid of the individual feeling of 'I', is the supreme state. In this state there is no room for thinking of objects, nor for this feeling of individual being. There is no doubt of any kind in this natural state of being-consciousness-bliss. So long as there is the perception of name and form in oneself, God will appear with form, but when the vision of the formless reality is achieved there will be no modifications of seer, seeing and seen. That vision is the nature of consciousness itself, non-dual and undivided. It is limitless, infinite and perfect. When the individual sense of 'I' arises in the body, the world is seen. If this sense is absent, who then will see the world?
Note 1. This is probably Swami Madhavatirtha's Sanskrit rendering of Supermind, a key term of Sri Aurobindo's philosophy. Sri Aurobindo taught that one could evolve physically as well as spiritually. As the subsequent dialogue reveals, Sri Aurobindo maintained that when one evolved into this state, physical immortality was attained. (Go back to text.) Copyright 2000 David Godman. Reprinted by permission. David Godman is the author of several books about Sri Ramana Maharshi and his disciples. He was the librarian at Sri Ramanasramam for eight years. For more information, see our reference page about him.