Ramana Maharshi


Ramana Maharshi
orig. Venkataraman Aiyer

born Dec. 30, 1879, Madurai, Madras state, India
died April 14, 1950, Tiruvannamalai

Hindu spiritual leader.

Born into a Brahman family, he left his village at age 17 to become a hermit on Mount Arunachala, where Shiva was said to have entered the world at creation. One of India's youngest gurus, he held that evil and death were an illusion, which could be dissipated through his technique of vicara (self-pondering inquiry), and that to achieve liberation from rebirth it was necessary to practice bhakti (devotional surrender) either to Shiva or to Ramana Maharshi himself.

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▪ Hindu philosopher
original name  Venkataraman Aiyer  
born Dec. 30, 1879, Madurai, Madras states, India
died April 14, 1950, Tiruvannāmalai

      Hindu philosopher and yogi called “Great Master,” “Bhagavan” (the Lord), and “the Sage of Aruṇāchala,” whose position on monism (the identity of the individual soul and the creator of souls) and māyā (maya) (illusion) parallels that of Śaṅkara (c. AD 700–750). His original contribution to yogic philosophy is the technique of vicāra (self-“pondering” inquiry).

      Born to a middle-class, southern Indian, Brahman family, Venkataraman read mystical and devotional literature, particularly the lives of South Indian Śaiva saints and the life of Kabīr, the medieval mystical poet. He was captivated by legends of the local pilgrimage place, Mt. Aruṇāchala, from which the god Śiva was supposed to have arisen in a spiral of fire at the creation of the world.

      At the age of 17 Venkataraman had a spiritual experience from which he derived his vicāra technique: he suddenly felt a great fear of death, and, lying very still, imagined his body becoming a stiff, cold corpse. Following a traditional “not this, not that” (neti-neti) practice, he began self-inquiry, asking “Who am I?” and answering, “Not the body, because it is decaying; not the mind, because the brain will decay with the body; not the personality, nor the emotions, for these also will vanish with death.” His intense desire to know the answer brought him into a state of consciousness beyond the mind, a state of bliss that Hindu philosophy calls samādhi. He immediately renounced his possessions, shaved his head, and fled from his village to Mt. Aruṇāchala to become a hermit and one of India's youngest gurus.

      The publication of Paul Brunton's My Search in Secret India drew Western attention to the thought of Ramana Maharshi (the title used by Venkataraman's disciples) and attracted a number of notable students. Ramana Maharshi believed that death and evil were māyā, or illusion, which could be dissipated by the practice of vicāra, by which the true self and the unity of all things would be discovered. For liberation from rebirth it is sufficient, he believed, to practice only vicāra and bhakti (devotional surrender) either to Śiva Aruṇāchala or to Ramana Maharshi.

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Universalium. 2010.

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