Questioner: I was born in the United States, and the last fourteen months I have spent in Sri Ramanashram; now I am on my way back to the States where my mother is expecting me.
Maharaj: What are your plans?
Q: I may qualify as a nurse, or just marry and have babies.
M: What makes you want to marry?
Q: Providing a spiritual home is the highest form of social service I can think of. But, of course, life may shape otherwise. I am ready for whatever comes.
M: These fourteen months at Sri Ramanashram, what did they give you? In what way are you different from what you were when you arrived there?
Q: I am no longer afraid. I have found some peace.
M: What kind of peace is it? The peace of having what you want, or not wanting what you do not have?
Q: A little of both, I believe. It was not easy at all. While the Ashram is a very peaceful place, inwardly I was in agonies.
M: When you realise that the distinction between inner and outer is in the mind only, you are no longer afraid.
Q: Such realisation comes and goes with me. I have not yet reached the immutability of absolute completeness.
M: Well, as long as you believe so, you must go on with your sadhana, to disperse the false idea of not being complete. Sadhana removes the super-impositions. When you realise yourself as less than a point in space and time, something too small to be cut and too short-lived to be killed, then, and then only, all fear goes. When you are smaller than the point of a needle, then the needle cannot pierce you — you pierce the needle!
Q: Yes, that is how I feel sometimes — indomitable. I am more than fearless — I am fearlessness itself.
M: What made you go to the Ashram?
Q: I had an unhappy love affair and suffered hell. Neither drink nor drugs could help me. I was groping and came across some books on Yoga. From book to book, from clue to clue — I came to Ramanashram.
M: Were the same tragedy to happen to you again, would you suffer as much, considering your present state of mind?
Q: Oh no, I would not let myself suffer again. I would kill myself.
M: So you are not afraid to die!
Q: I am afraid of dying, not of death itself. I imagine the dying process to be painful and ugly.
M: How do you know? It need not be so. It may be beautiful and peaceful. Once you know that death happens to the body and not to you, you just watch your body falling off like a discarded garment.
Q: I am fully aware that my fear of death is due to apprehension and not knowledge.
M: Human beings die every second, the fear and the agony of dying hangs over the world like a cloud. No wonder you too are afraid. But once you know that the body alone dies and not the continuity of memory and the sense of ‘I am’ reflected in it, you are afraid no longer.
Q: Well, let us die and see.
M: Give attention and you will find that birth and death are one, that life pulsates between being and non-being, and that each needs the other for completeness. You are born to die and you die to be reborn.
Q: Does not detachment stop the process?
M: With detachment the fear goes, but not the fact.
Q: Shall I be compelled to be reborn? How dreadful!
M: There is no compulsion. You get what you want. You make your own plans and you carry them out.
Q: Do we condemn ourselves to suffer?
M: We grow through investigation, and to investigate we need experience. We tend to repeat what we have not understood. If we are sensitive and intelligent, we need not suffer. Pain is a call for attention and the penalty of carelessness. Intelligent and compassionate action is the only remedy.
Q: It is because I have grown in intelligence that I would not tolerate my suffering again. What is wrong with suicide?
M: Nothing wrong, if it solves the problem. What, if it does not? Suffering caused by extraneous factors — some painful and incurable disease, or unbearable calamity — may provide some justification, but where wisdom and compassion are lacking, suicide cannot help. A foolish death means foolishness reborn. Besides there is the question of karma to consider. Endurance is usually the wisest course.
Q: Must one endure suffering, however acute and hopeless?
M: Endurance is one thing and helpless agony is another. Endurance is meaningful and fruitful, while agony is useless.
Q: Why worry about karma? It takes care of itself anyhow.
M: Most of our karma is collective. We suffer for the sins of others, as others suffer for ours. Humanity is one. Ignorance of this fact does not change it. We could have been much happier people ourselves, but for our indifference to the sufferings of others.
Q: I find I have grown much more responsive.
M: Good. When you say it, what do you have in mind? Yourself, as a responsive person within a female body?
Q: There is a body and there is compassion and there is memory and a number of things and attitudes; collectively they may be called a person.
M: Including the ‘I am’ idea?
Q: The ‘I am’ is like a basket that holds the many things that make a person.
M: Or, rather, it is the willow of which the basket is woven. When you think of yourself as a women, do you mean that you are a women, or that your body is described as female?
Q: It depends on my mood. Sometimes I feel myself to be a mere centre of awareness.
M: Or, an ocean of awareness. But are there moments when you are neither man nor women, not the accidental, occasioned by circumstances and conditions?
Q: Yes, there are, but I feel shy to talk about it.
M: A hint is all that one can expect. You need not say more.
Q: Am I allowed to smoke in your presence? I know that it is not the custom to smoke before a sage and more so for a women.
M: By all means, smoke, nobody will mind. We understand.
Q: I feel the need of cooling down.
M: It is very often so with Americans and Europeans. After a stretch of sadhana they become charged with energy and frantically seek an outlet. They organise communities, become teachers of Yoga, marry, write books — anything except keeping quiet and turning their energies within, to find the source of the inexhaustible power and learn the art of keeping it under control.
Q: I admit that now I want to go back and live a very active life, because I feel full of energy.
M: You can do what you like, as long as you do not take yourself to be the body and the mind. It is not so much a question of actual giving up the body and all that goes with it, as a clear understanding that you are not the body. A sense of aloofness, of emotional non-involvement.
Q: I know what you mean. Some four years ago I passed through a period of rejection of the physical; I would not buy myself clothes, would eat the simplest foods, sleep on bare planks. It is the acceptance of the privations that matters, not the actual discomfort. Now I have realised that welcoming life as it comes and loving all it offers, is best of it. I shall accept with glad heart whatever comes and make the best of it. If I can do nothing more than give life and true culture to a few children — good enough; though my heart goes out to every child, I cannot reach all.
M: You are married and a mother only when you are man-women conscious. When you do not take yourself to be the body, then the family life of the body, however intense and interesting, is seen only as a play on the screen of the mind, with the light of awareness as the only reality.
Q: Why do you insist on awareness as the only real? Is not the object of awareness as real, while it lasts?
M: But it does not last! Momentary reality is secondary; it depends on the timeless.
Q: Do you mean continuous, or permanent?
M: There can be no continuity in existence. Continuity implies identity in past, present and future. No such identity is possible, for the very means of identification fluctuate and change. Continuity, permanency, these are illusions created by memory, mere mental projections of a pattern where no pattern can be; Abandon all ideas of temporary or permanent, body or mind, man or women; what remains? What is the state of your mind when all separation is given up? I am not talking of giving up distinctions, for without them there is no manifestation.
Q: When I do not separate, I am happily at peace. But somehow I lose my bearings again and again and begin to seek happiness in outer things. Why is my inner peace not steady, I cannot understand.
M: Peace, after all, is also a condition of the mind.
Q: Beyond the mind is silence. There is nothing to be said about it.
M: Yes, all talk about silence is mere noise.
Q: Why do we seek worldly happiness, even after having tasted one’s own natural spontaneous happiness?
M: When the mind is engaged in serving the body, happiness is lost. To regain it, it seeks pleasure. The urge to be happy is right, but the means of securing it are misleading, unreliable and destructive of true happiness.
Q: Is pleasure always wrong?
M: The right state and use of the body and the mind are intensely pleasant. It is the search for pleasure that is wrong. Do not try to make yourself happy, rather question your very search for happiness. It is because you are not happy that you want to be happy. Find out why you are unhappy. Because you are not happy you seek happiness in pleasure; pleasure brings in pain and therefore you call it worldly; you then long for some other pleasure, without pain, which you call divine. In reality, pleasure is but a respite from pain. Happiness is both worldly and unworldly, within and beyond all that happens. Make no distinction, don’t separate the inseparable and do not alienate yourself from life.
Q: How well I understand you now! Before my stay at Ramanashram I was tyrannised by conscience, always sitting in judgment of myself. Now I am completely relaxed, fully accepting myself as I am. When I return to the States, I shall take life as it comes, as Bhagavan’s grace, and enjoy the bitter along with the sweet. This is one of the things I have learnt in the Ashram — to trust Bhagavan. I was not like this before. I could not trust.
M: Trusting Bhagavan is trusting yourself. Be aware that whatever happens, happens to you, by you, through you, that you are the creator, enjoyer and destroyer of all you perceive and you will not be afraid. Unafraid, you will not be unhappy, nor will you seek happiness.
In the mirror of your mind all kinds of pictures appear and disappear. Knowing that they are entirely your own creations, watch them silently come and go, be alert, but not perturbed. This attitude of silent observation is the very foundation of Yoga. You see the picture, but you are not the picture.
Q: I find that the thought of death frightens me because I do not want to be reborn. I know that none compels, yet the pressure of unsatisfied desires is overwhelming and I may not be able to resist.
M: The question of resistance does not arise. What is born and reborn is not you. Let it happen, watch it happen.
Q: Why then be at all concerned?
M: But you are concerned! And you will be concerned as long as the picture clashes with your own sense of truth, love and beauty. The desire for harmony and peace is in eradicable. But once it is fulfilled, the concern ceases and physical life becomes effortless and below the level of attention. Then, even in the body you are not born. To be embodied or bodyless is the same to you. You reach a point when nothing can happen to you. Without body, you cannot be killed; without possessions you cannot be robbed; without mind, you cannot be deceived. There is no point where a desire or fear can hook on. As long as no change can happen to you, what else matters?
Q: Somehow I do not like the idea of dying.
M: It is because you are so young. The more you know yourself the less you are afraid. Of course, the agony of dying is never pleasant to look at, but the dying man is rarely conscious.
Q: Does he return to consciousness?
M: It is very much like sleep. For a time the person is out of focus and then it returns.
Q: The same person?
M: The person, being a creature of circumstances, necessarily changes along with them, like the flame that changes with the fuel. Only the process goes on and on, creating time and space.
Q: Well, God will look after me. I can leave everything to Him.
M: Even faith in God is only a stage on the way. Ultimately you abandon all, for you come to something so simple that there are no words to express it.
Q: I am just beginning. At the start I had no faith, no trust; I was afraid to let things happen. The world seemed to be a very dangerous and inimical place. Now, at least I can talk of trusting the Guru or God. Let me grow. Don’t drive me on. Let me proceed at my own pace.
M: By all means proceed. But you don’t. You are still stuck in the ideas of man and women, old and young, life and death. Go on, go beyond. A thing recognised is a thing transcended.
Q: Sir, wherever I go people take it to be their duty to find faults with me and goad me on. I am fed up with this spiritual fortune making. What is wrong with my present that it should be sacrificed to a future, however glorious? You say reality is in the now. I want it. I do not want to be eternally anxious about my stature and its future. I do not want to chase the more and the better. Let me love what I have.
M: You are quite right; do it. Only be honest — just love what you love — don’t strive and strain.
Q: This is what I call surrender to the Guru.
M: Why exteriorise? Surrender to your own self, of which everything is an expression.