It is not often that we come across a noble theme explained by a worthy writer in a lucid manner. This book definitely belongs to this rare category. It is most appropriate that the National Book Trust should have asked Professor Swaminathan with his life-long devotion to the Maharshi to write this book on Ramana. Many people may not know that when Professor Swaminathan came to Delhi in 1960, when he was already past sixty, he had set his heart on two important tasks. One was the officially assigned business of editing and publishing The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. The other noble mission was bringing home to the people in the north the message of Ramana. Today he has the satisfaction of having completed both the tasks. The Ramana Kendra of Delhi, a unique institution, owes its existence mainly to his tireless efforts. The book falls into two parts. The first deals with Ramana, the man. The earlier years of the boy, Venkataraman at Tiruchuzhi and Madurai, leading up to the great event at the age of sixteen when a mere boy became transformed into a seer and his subsequent going away to Tiruvannamalai, his tranced years there as a Brahmana Sanyasi, the gradual transition to the normality of a human being while retaining his liberated status, the growth of Ramanashram around him, the flocking of disciples and his method of dealing with them—all these are explained clearly.
Many of his disciples have borne testimony to the unique way in which Bhagwan influenced his disciples. To quote Osborne, ‘Bhagwan was reclining on his couch and I was sitting in the front row before it. He sat up, facing me, and his narrowed eyes pierced into me, penetrating, intimate, with an intensity I cannot describe. And then quietness, a depth of peace, an indescribable light and happiness. I did not at first realize that it was the initiation by look that had vitalized me and changed my attitude of mind.’
Very often he taught the ashram inmates more by example than by precept. When Mr. Rangachari wanted Bhagwan to explain nishkama karma, there was no reply. But a few minutes later when Bhagwan prepared, in front of his eyes, the crook for the shepherd who needed it badly, he got his answer.
Part two of the book deals with the work of the Maharshi, his prose pieces, his philosophical poems, his talks and his sayings. In the chapter on prose pieces, the author explains in a lucid manner Ramana’s insistence on the Soham meditation as a way of turning the mind inward and merging it in the heart. ‘After negating the body, the five senses of perception, the five senses of action, the breath or prana, the mind and the nescience of sleep as “not this”, “not this” that Awareness which alone remains, That I am and its nature is bliss.’
It is difficult in a short review to do justice to all the ideas propounded by the Maharshi and explained in the second part of the book. ‘Ramana Maharshi belongs to the line of seers, beginning with the Upanishadic masters and including Buddha and Sankara who taught by precept and example jnana marga or the path of knowledge.’ While he was not blind to the use of bhakti, and in some of his Tamil poems vies with the Alwars in his stress on bhakti, his main emphasis was on the jnana marga. In the last chapter, Professor Swaminathan sums up the work of his Master in these words, ‘The Indian life-plan for a dynamic self-reliant dharma, whose root and fruit alike are moksha or an awareness of unity, was preserved for future generations by Sankara and Ramanuja in the glass jar of an elite society. In our own time, Gandhiji and Ramana Maharshi have smashed the jar and scattered the seeds. They have broken down the barrier between intellectual and popular Hinduism, between jnana karma, between the classes and the masses.’
The National Book Trust must be congratulated for publishing such an excellent and eminently readable book on what will, at first blush, appear to be an abstruse subject. The felicity of the author’s expression adds to the excellence of the book. May I conclude this review with a quotation which will haunt the reader’s mind for ever. ‘While it is true that the spirit bloweth where it listeth, and the atman reveals itself to whom it chooses and there is no accounting for the phenomenon of jivanmukh, nevertheless the pond deserves some notice as a minor partner with the all powerful sun in producing the day’s lotus.’
Venkataraman has been till recently Assistant Editor, Indian Institute of Public Administration.