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Ramana Maharshi and Yogananda Meet

In The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi [Tb], Venkataraman Aiyer (1879-1950) says "Breath control is . . . an aid for diving inwards . . . Breath control is a help in controlling the mind [Tb 145, 146]." He also says "Illusion itself is illusory [Tb 17]." That is a point against all who tell "the world is illusory," and such things, like the famous guru Yogananda.

Someone who has read Yogananda's hype on kriya yoga, a system of breathing methods (pranayama etc.) can note how the teachings of Ramana and Yogananda agree in some respects and disagree in other respects. By regulating the breath skilfully, one's attention may be directed inward and sort of lifted, by degrees. It can resemble what happens when we fall asleep, only that we can be conscious at the time. This crucial phase of interiorisation of the mind is called pratyahara ("inward-turning") in yoga. [See e.g. Yajanavalkya Yoga]

Interiorisation (pratyahara) is a decisive phase for mastering and excelling in a good fare and good mind use - that sort of higher yoga, or dhyana. The Sanskrit dhyana is translated into Zen i Japan, and meditation in the West very often. In short: Pranayama (methods) help pratyahara (interiorised attention), which may sustains dharana (one-pointed attention), which evolves into dhyana (still steadier awareness or attention).

Yogananda and his fellowship also teach that the art of breath, including kriya yoga, can go further than easing interiorisation. There is research that proves it can in at least one case. [Research findings].

From a Visit

In 1935 Yogananda visited the advaitist Venkataraman Aiyer, known as Ramana Maharsi (Dasgupta 2006: 82). Yogananda brought his secretary, Richard Wright and two others with him. This is recorded:

29th November, 1935. Talk 106

Swami Yogananda with four others arrived at 8.45 a.m . . . The group had lunch in the Asramam.

Mr. C. R. Wright, his secretary, asked: How shall I realise God?

M.: God is an unknown entity. Moreover He is external. Whereas, the Self is always with you and it is you. Why do you leave out what is intimate and go in for what is external?

D.: What is this Self again?

M.: The Self is known to everyone but not clearly. You always exist. The Be-ing is the Self. 'I am' is the name of God. Of all the definitions of God, none is indeed so well put as the Biblical statement "I AM THAT I AM" in EXODUS (Chap. 3). There are other statements, such as Brahmaivaham, Aham Brahmasmi and Soham. But none is so direct as the name JEHOVAH = I AM. The Absolute Being is what is - It is the Self. It is God. Knowing the Self, God is known. In fact God is none other than the Self.

D.: Why are there good and evil?

M.: They are relative terms. There must be a subject to know the good and evil. That subject is the ego. Trace the source of the ego. It ends in the Self. The source of the ego is God. This definition of God is probably more concrete and better understood by you.

D.: So it is. How to get Bliss?

M.: Bliss is not something to be got. On the other hand you are always Bliss. This desire is born of the sense of incompleteness. To whom is this sense of incompleteness? Enquire. In deep sleep you were blissful: Now you are not so. What has interposed between that Bliss and this non-bliss? It is the ego. Seek its source and find you are Bliss. There is nothing new to get. You have, on the other hand, to get rid of your ignorance which makes you think that you are other than Bliss. For whom is this ignorance? It is to the ego. Trace the source of the ego. Then the ego is lost and Bliss remains over. It is eternal. You are That, here and now . . . That is the master key for solving all doubts. The doubts arise in the mind. The mind is born of the ego. The ego rises from the Self. Search the source of the ego and the Self is revealed. That alone remains. The universe is only expanded Self. It is not different from the Self.

D.: What is the best way of living?

M.: It differs according as one is a Jnani [knower] or ajnani. A Jnani does not find anything different or separate from the Self. All are in the Self. It is wrong to imagine that there is the world, that there is a body in it and that you dwell in the body. If the Truth is known, the universe and what is beyond it will be found to be only in the Self. The outlook differs according to the sight of the person. The sight is from the eye. The eye must be located somewhere. If you are seeing with the gross eyes you find others gross. If with subtle eyes (i.e., the mind) others appear subtle. If the eye becomes the Self, the Self being infinite, the eye is infinite. There is nothing else to see different from the Self.

He thanked Maharshi. He was told that the best way of thanking is to remain always as the Self.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi.

29th November, 1935. Talk 107

Later the Yogi (Swami Yogananda) asked: How is the spiritual uplift of the people to be effected? What are the instructions to be given them?

M.: They differ according to the temperaments of the individuals and according to the spiritual ripeness of their minds. There cannot be any instruction en masse.

D.: Why does God permit suffering in the world? Should He not with His omnipotence do away with it at one stroke and ordain the universal realisation of God?

M.: Suffering is the way for Realisation of God.

D.: Should He not ordain differently?

M.: It is the way.

D.: Are Yoga, religion, etc., antidotes to suffering?

M.: They help you to overcome suffering.

D.: Why should there be suffering?

M.: Who suffers? What is suffering?

No answer! Finally the Yogi rose up, prayed for Sri Bhagavan' s blessings for his own work and expressed great regret for his hasty return. He looked very sincere and devoted and even emotional.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi.

AKT COMMENT: They were not quite on terms, as Yogananda's work consisted of mass-propagation of kriya yoga and thoughts. I should add: If remaining always in the Self is not yet fully accomplished, repeating your guru-given mantra adequately for a while may work fine too, and also shows proper thankfulness.

What puzzles some may be Ramana Maharsi's teaching in the matter: For there can indeed be general yoga instructions, and such instructions abound too. What is more, Ramana himself used to teach a generalised method, and did not deplore others either. [Link]

Here are further thoughts to consider:

Most factors in a human life are common to many. The body shape in gross outline, the inner organs, how the mind tends to work, and so on. The behaviour is very conform, as Yogananda too observed, where people live in "little boxes, little boxes made of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same" (from a song).

Even ground-breaking artists conform to basic techniques, skills and measures for most part. What may finally get unique and yet likable could be a final touch, like the rose flower of the rose-bush.

One implication of this rosebush view is that techniques may assist conform humans. Thus, there is no reason to discard general instructions for the many just because the blessed few - who have struggled or suffered too - need individual tending to develop. In other words, it is not an either-or, but a both-and where delicate nuances or differences take time to blossom forth.

General yoga paths - Ramana taught one himself - and self-help books and courses in yoga suggest there is room for "both-and" favours. [More]


Ramana Maharshi and Yogananda meet and talk, Literature  

Ak: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Man's Eternal Quest. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1982.

Ap: Mieder, Wolfgang (main editor), Stewart A. Kingsbury, and Kelsie E. Harder: A Dictionary of American Proverbs. (Paperback) New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Ay: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. 1st ed. New York: Theosophical, 1946. Online.

EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica. See Britannica Online.

Op: Simpson, John, and Jennifer Speake. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Pa: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. 11th ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1971.

Psy: Dasgupta, Sailendra. Paramhansa Swami Yogananda: Life-portrait and Reminiscences. Lincoln NE: iUniverse 2006.

Say: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Sayings of Yogananda. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1958.

Tb: Osborne, Arthur ed. The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharsi in His Own Words. New ed. London: Rider, 1971.

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