Last year I mentioned this story to a friend of mine, Aruna, who occasionally does graphic design and page making work for me. Since she was coordinating transcription work for another Guru, I thought she might appreciate the story. She supplied me with her own best example, taken from her own volunteer crew. One of them had sent her a transcript in which the Guru had apparently said: ‘I am neither a butler nor a nanny.’ After deciding that this was probably not what the Guru had said, she checked the tape and found he had said: ‘I am not a bhakta or a jnani.’
Mishearings such as these were nicely parodied in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, in the scene where a group of men find themselves slightly too far away to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. One of them asked the people in front what Jesus was saying, and the word came back, ‘Blessed are the cheese makers’. This confused most of the group, but one man, who considered himself to be a theological expert, started to give a talk on the religious significance of ‘Blessed are the cheese makers’. How many religious doctrines, I wonder, have emerged from misunderstandings such as these?
The last two paragraphs are just entertaining digressions. What I want to do today is elaborate a little on Papaji’s statement: ‘I don’t give people any do’s or don’ts.’
Many people go to the Guru with the idea that he should tell them to ‘do’ something in order to reach some goal or be relieved of some problem or other. We are all so addicted to ‘doing’, we believe that we have to ‘do something’ to attain whatever spiritual goal we are chasing.
When the Guru says, ‘You are the Self, you are Brahman,’ the disciple often responds by saying, ‘Yes, I understand, but what do I do to attain it? How do I discover this for myself?’
The asking of such a question means that the disciple thinks that Brahman is something he should become, through effort, rather than something that he already is. The assumption implicit in this world-view is the premise behind all sadhana.
With this in mind, read verse 271 of Guru Vachaka Kovai:
The Guru who instructs the disciple, who has taken complete refuge in him, by giving one more prescription for action, instead of directing him towards jnana, and who leads him into activities, saying ‘These should be done,’ is for the disciple [equivalent to] the coming of cruel Yama and Brahma. Only he who consummates them [the disciples], transforming them into those who have done all that needs to be done, enabling them to attain the true benefit of this birth, is the grace-bestowing, divine Guru.
Since Brahma is the god of birth and Yama the god of death, the verse is implying that gurus who get their disciples involved in unnecessary activities, physical or mental, instead of directing them towards jnana, will be responsible for them being reborn. Bhagavan gave similar advice to the following devotee when the latter came up with a ‘Yes I understand, but what do I do?’ query:
Question: Our grasp is only intellectual. If Sri Bhagavan be pleased to direct us with a few instructions we shall be highly benefited.
Bhagavan: He who instructs an ardent seeker to do this or that is not a true master. The seeker is already afflicted by his activities and wants peace and rest. In other words, he wants cessation of his activities. Instead of that he is told to do something in addition to, or in place of, his other activities. Can that be a help to the seeker?
Activity is creation; activity is the destruction of one’s inherent happiness. If activity be advocated the adviser is not a master but the killer. Either the Creator (Brahma) or Death (Yama) may be said to have come in the guise of such a master. He cannot liberate the aspirant but strengthens his fetters. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 601.)
The same idea appears in Day by Day with Bhagavan,
Ozhivil Odukkam is a Tamil philosophical text composed by Kannudaiya Vallalaar several centuries ago. It was one of Bhagavan’s favourite advaita texts, so much so that he asked Muruganar to make a Tamil prose rendering of it in order to make the meaning clearer and more accessible. The original Tamil is extremely difficult to follow, and most people gain an understanding of the work through a commentary that has appeared in all editions of the text. Unfortunately, the commentator incorporated a few interpretations of his own that are not present in the text, which is why Bhagavan thought that a new and clearer rendering of the original was desirable. Muruganar never found time to execute this commission, so the true meaning of the original verses remains inaccessible to all but the most learned Tamil scholars.
Having exhausted themselves by activities, aspirants come to the Guru seeking jnana. He alone is the true jnana-bestowing Guru who, possessing the wealth of bliss, produces the crop of bliss in them so that they wander without volition and without doing anything. But the Guru who occasions the least rising of their ego through his instructions is both Brahma, he who possesses the ability to create the world, and Yama too, the god of death.
‘Without volition and without doing anything’ refers to the ego-free state in which there are no sankalpas (decisions or choices made by the mind) and no sense of being the performer of the actions that the body is doing.
Most people will read a verse like this and decide that it refers to physical activities alone.
‘My Guru is OK.’ they will say, ‘He doesn’t tell me to run around doing things; he tells me to meditate instead.’
That is not an acceptable response to this verse because it is also implying that keeping the mind busy – even with meditation – is no different from keeping the body busy. Anyone who prescribes either course keeps his followers on the wheel of birth and death. It would seem that Bhagavan accepted this position because, in the two citations from Talks and Day by Day that I have already given, he is introducing the ideas from this verse and endorsing them.
I began with a quote from Papaji. I will reintroduce him here because one of his often-repeated maxims is highly relevant to what I am endeavouring to say: ‘Physical activities produce physical results; mental activities produce mental results; since the Self is neither physical nor mental, an awareness of it cannot be brought about by either physical or mental activity.’
That’s a hard conclusion to accept for most people because it undercuts and negates all their mental activities that are optimistically geared towards realising the Self. The solution, as both Bhagavan and Papaji pointed out on many occasions is ‘being still’ (summa iruttal). When Bhagavan gives out the instruction ‘Summa iru’ (be still), he is not telling us to practise being still – that would just be more ‘doing’ – he is telling us desist from all mental activity, even meditation. ‘Being still’ is not something you accomplish by effort; it is what remains when all effort ceases.
Here is a Thayumanavar verse (‘Udal Poyyuravu’, verse 52) on this topic that Bhagavan was fond of quoting:
Bliss will arise if you remain still.
Why, little sir, this involvement still
with yoga, whose nature is delusion?
Will [this bliss] arise
through your own objective knowledge?
You need not reply,
you who are addicted to ‘doing’!
You little baby, you!
To which I will add verse 647 of Guru Vachaka Kovai, followed by another quote from Thayumanavar that comes from the same poem:
If you remain still, without paying attention to this, without paying attention to that, and without paying attention to anything at all, you will, simply through your powerful attention to being, become the reality, the vast eye, the unbounded space of consciousness.
If we truly see-without-seeing the inner light,
not investigating, not thinking at all,
will not the flood of bliss come,
spreading in all the ten directions,
rising up in surging waves to overflow its banks?
(‘Udal Poyyuravu’, verse 58)
There is a section in Padamalai that gives a broad summary of Bhagavan’s views on ‘being still’. I will conclude today’s offering by reproducing it. The verses are in bold, editorial comments in italics, and parallel quotations in roman.
Supreme liberation will shine as Atma-swarupa if one remains still.
This verse is introduced by the word ‘amma’, which indicates that Bhagavan is expressing surprise in this statement, possibly at the thought that anyone could think otherwise.
Through his gentle smile, radiant Padam joyfully declares: ‘Why this distress? Be happy by just remaining still.’
Bhagavan: Your duty is to be, and not to be this or that. ‘I am that I am’ sums up the whole truth; the method is summarised in ‘Be still’.
And what does stillness mean? It means ‘Destroy yourself’; because, every name and form is the cause of trouble. ‘I-I’ is the Self. ‘I am this’ is the ego. When the ‘I’ is kept up as the ‘I’ only, it is the Self. When it flies off at a tangent and says ‘I am this or that, I am such and such’, it is the ego.
Question: Who then is God?
Bhagavan: The Self is God. ‘I am’ is God. If God be apart from the Self, He must be a selfless God, which is absurd.
All that is required to realise the Self is to be still. What can be easier than that? Hence Atma-vidya [Self-knowledge] is the easiest to attain. (Maharshi’s Gospel, pp. 31-2)
Since becoming established in the state of the Self is both the means and the goal to be attained, remain still.
Though it was Bhagavan’s highest and simplest upadesa, he conceded that for many people, it was an impossible command to execute:
Question: What should one do in order to remain free from thoughts as advised by you? Is it only the enquiry ‘Who am I?’
Bhagavan: Only to remain still. Do it and see.
Question: It is impossible.
Bhagavan: Exactly. For the same reason the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is advised. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 322)
Bhagavan: All the age-long vasanas carry the mind outward and turn it to external objects. All such thoughts have to be given up and the mind turned inward. For that, effort is necessary for most people. Of course everybody, every book says, ‘Summa iru,’ i.e. ‘Be quiet or still’. But it is not easy. That is why all this effort is necessary. Even if we find one who has at once achieved the mauna or supreme state indicated by ‘Summa iru’ you may take it that the effort necessary has already been finished in a previous life. (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 11th January, 1946)
The wonderful meaning of the one supreme word [summa iru] is to know and rest in the Atma-swarupa through the enquiry ‘Who am I?’
Except by remaining still [summa iruttal] by what great tapas can the Atma-swarupa be attained in the Heart?
Bhagavan: People seem to think that by practising some elaborate sadhana the Self will one day descend upon them as something very big and with tremendous glory, giving them what is called sakshatkaram [direct experience]. The Self is sakshat [direct] all right, but there is no karam or kritam about it. [That is, there is no one who performs actions, and no actions being performed.] The word ‘karam’ implies doing something. But the Self is realised not by doing something but by refraining from doing anything, by remaining still and being simply what one really is. (The Power of the Presence, part three, pp. 131-3)
It will be impossible to merge with the feet of Lord Sonachala [Arunachala], unless one remains still, with the mind consumed and annihilated.
Bhagavan: Stillness is total surrender without a vestige of individuality. Stillness will prevail and there will be no agitation of mind. Agitation of mind is the cause of desire, the sense of doership and personality. If that is stopped there is quiet. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 354)
By shining motionlessly, which is meditation on the Self, all manner of excellent benefits accrue.
To remain still, without thinking about that which is other than the Self, is to offer the mind to the Self.
Being still is the experience of swarupa jnana. Whatever is perceived by the senses is a false, illusory appearance.
To rest, remaining still as consciousness, is union [sayujya], the abundance of peace.
Knowing That is only abiding as That. Therefore, shine, remaining still without objectifying.