Paul Brunton on Ramana Maharshi

There are a number of selections from The Notebooks of Paul Brunton about Ramana Maharshi and PB’s relationship with him. If you would like to read these, go to the online Notebooks and do a search for Ramana or Maharshi to find the selections. There is also more information in the unpublished archive which we hope will be available online for searching in the near future.

Sri Ramana was a Pure Channel for a Higher Power

[Essay written for publication in The Mountain Path]

The organizers of this meeting to commemorate Sri Ramana Maharshi's anniversary have asked me to take part in it. I have no official connection with the movement associated with his name, and for many years have preferred to remain silent. But their kindly insistence has overcome this reluctance.

Forty years have passed since I walked into his abode and saw the Maharshi half-reclining, half-sitting on a tigerskin-covered couch. After such a long period most memories of the past become somewhat faded, if they do not lose their existence altogether. But I can truthfully declare that, in his case, nothing of the kind has happened. On the contrary, his face, expression, figure, and surroundings are as vivid now as they were then. What is even more important to me is that--at least during my daily periods of meditation--the feeling of his radiant presence is as actual and as immediate today as it was on that first day.

So powerful an impression could not have been made, nor continued through the numerous vicissitudes of an incarnation which has taken me around the world, if the Maharshi had been an ordinary yogi--much less an ordinary man. I have met dozens of yogis, in their Eastern and Western varieties, and many exceptional persons. Whatever status is assigned to him by his followers, or whatever indifference is shown to him by others, my own position is independent and unbiased. It is based upon our private talks in those early days when such things were still possible, before fame brought crowds; upon observations of, and conversations with, those who were around him; upon his historical record; and finally upon my own personal experiences, whatever they are worth.

Upon all this evidence one fact is incontrovertibly clear--that he was a pure channel for a Higher Power. This capacity of his to put his own self-consciousness aside and to let himself be suffused by this Power is not to be confounded with what is commonly called, in the West, spiritualistic mediumship. For no spirit of a departed person ever spoke through him: on the contrary, the silence which fell upon us at such times was both extraordinary and exquisite. No physical phenomena of an occult kind was ever witnessed then; nothing at all happened outwardly. But those who were not steeped too far in materialism to recognize what was happening within him and within themselves at the time, or those who were not congealed too stiffly in suspicion or criticism to be passive and sensitive intuitively, felt a distinct and strange change in the mental atmosphere. It was uplifting and inspiring: for the time being it pushed them out of their little selves, even if only partially.

This change came every day, and mostly during the evening periods when the Maharshi fell into a deep contemplation. No one dared to speak then and all conversations were brought to an end. A grave sacredness permeated the entire scene and evoked homage, reverence, even awe. But before the sun's departure brought about this remarkable transformation, and for most of the day, the Maharshi behaved, ate, and spoke like a perfectly normal human being.

That there was some kind of a participation in a wordless divine play during those evenings--each to the extent of his own response--was the feeling with which some of us arose when it all ended. That the Maharshi was the principal actor was true enough on the visible plane. But there was something more . . .

In his own teachings Sri Ramana Maharshi often quoted, whether in association or confirmation, the writings of the first Shankaracharya, who lived more than a thousand years ago. He considered them unquestionably authoritative. He even translated some of them from one Indian language to another.

In the temple of Chingleput I interviewed His Holiness the Shankaracharya of Kamakoti Peetam, a linear successor of the first Guru. When the meeting was concluded, but before I left, I took the chance to ask a personal question. A disciple of the Maharshi had come to me and wanted to take me to his Guru. None of those I asked could tell me anything about him, nor had even heard of him. I was undecided whether to make the journey or not.

His Holiness immediately urged me to go, and promised satisfaction. He is still alive and still active in the religious world of Southern India. In my humble belief, he embodies the same high quality of Consciousness which the Maharshi did. The belief is shared by Professor T.M.P. Mahadevan, who was present as an eighteen-year-old student during my first meeting with the Maharshi, and who has ever since remained a devotee of both Mahatmas. He is now Head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Madras. [Professor Mahadevan has since deceased, in October of 1983.--Ed.]

Sometimes, as I looked at the figure on the couch, I wondered if he would ever come to England. If so, how would he be dressed, how would he behave in those teeming London streets, how eat, live, and work? But he was uninterested in travelling and so he never came, not in the physical body: what did come was his spirit and mind, which have awakened sufficient interest among the English to make this meeting possible.

Again and again he gave us this teaching, that the real Maharshi was not the body which people saw; it was the inner being. Those who never made the journey to India during his lifetime may take comfort in this thought: that it is possible to invoke his presence wherever they are, and to feel its reality in the heart. (15-2-413)

Ramana Maharshi was one of those few men who make their appearance on this earth from time to time and who are unique, themselves alone--not copies of anyone else--and who contribute something to the world's spiritual welfare that no one else has contributed in quite the same way. (15-2-414)

Sri Ramana Maharshi is certainly more than a mystic and well worthy of being honoured as a sage. He knows the Real. (15-2-416)

There are few men of whom one may write with assured conviction that their integrity was unchallengeable and their truthfulness absolute, but Ramana Maharshi was unquestionably one of them. (15-2-417)

In the twelve years that passed afterwards until his death, I never saw Ramana Maharshi again. At least a half dozen times I passed within a few miles of his ashram during the part of that period when I was wandering in India. A lump would come into my throat and a choking sensation would seize me as I thought how close we were in spirit and yet so harshly separated by the ill-will of certain men and by the dark shadows of my own karma. For inwardly I never broke away from him. (12-6-210)

The criticisms of Ramana Maharshi are deeply regretted: they were occasioned more by events in the history of the ashram than by his own self. It is not possible to make an appropriate amendment, although I had planned to make one in the next book which I hoped to write. But alas! such a book was never completed. (15-2-459)

Let there be no misunderstanding about my connection with Ramana Maharshi. My appreciation and reverence for him remain as great as ever. I still consider him one of the few enlightened seers of modern centuries. I did during his lifetime adopt the outward attitude of an independent student. However, my inner connection with the living mind which manifested as Ramana Maharshi remains unbroken. (15-2-454)

Ramana Maharshi: One night in the spring of 1950, at the very moment that a flaring starry body flashed across the sky and hovered over the Hill of the Holy Beacon, there passed out of his aged body the spirit of the dying Maharshi. He was the one Indian mystic who inspired me most, the one Indian sage whom I revered most, and his power was such that both Governor-General and ragged coolie sat together at his feet with the feeling that they were in a divine presence. Certain factors combined to keep us apart during the last ten years of his life, but the inner telepathic contact and close spiritual affinity between us remained--and remains--vivid and unbroken. Last year he sent me this final message through a visiting friend: "When heart speaks to heart, what is there to say?" (15-2-453)

There were times when Ramana Maharshi actually appeared before me, advised or discussed. Death had not ended our relationship or barred our communions. He still existed in my mind, life, as a veritable force, an entity bereft of the flesh but clearly present at such times. And then one evening which I shall never forget, about a year and a quarter after his physical passing, he said that we needed to part and that he would vanish from my field of awareness. He did. I never saw him again. If it was his spirit, as I believed, it was either no longer able to maintain communication with this world, which I did not believe, or had withdrawn because the next step in my own development imperatively called for this freedom, which subsequently proved to be the case.

[In 1981, P.B. said more about this "next step". He said that while the inner contact had never in fact been broken, he had lacked the ability to recognize that at the time. He had to stop looking for the contact through any sort of imagery, and learn to recognize its presence as pure essence rather than personalized image. --Ed.] (12-6-183)