Ramana Maharshi On Silence

Maurice Frydman, who edited and compiled Nisargadatta Maharaj’s Marathi satsang recordings into ‘I Am That’, was also a devotee of Ramana Maharshi. Some of his dialogues with the Maharshi are available in a slim book called ‘Maharshi’s Gospel’. I found out about this book recently and quickly bought myself a copy. Take a look at the following excerpt about solitude and silence and see if you find it interesting.

Devotee: Is solitude necessary for a sannyasin?

Maharshi: Solitude is in the mind of a man. One might be in the thick of the world and yet maintain perfect serenity of mind; such a person is always in solitude. Another may stay in the forest, but still be unable to control his mind. He cannot be said to be in solitude. Solitude is an attitude of the mind; a man attached to the things of life cannot get solitude, wherever he may be. A detached man is always in solitude.

D: What is mauna?

M: That state which transcends speech and thought is mauna; it is meditation without mental activity. Subjugation of the mind is meditation; deep meditation is eternal speech. Silence is ever- speaking; it is the perennial flow of ‘language’. It is interrupted by speaking; for words obstruct this mute ‘language’. Lectures may entertain individuals for hours without improving them. Silence, on the other hand, is permanent and benefits the whole of humanity. By silence, eloquence is meant. Oral lectures are not so eloquent as silence. Silence is unceasing eloquence. It is the best language.

There is a state when words cease and silence prevails.

D: How then can we communicate our thoughts to one another?

M: That becomes necessary if the sense of duality exists . . .

D: Why does not Bhagavan go about and preach the Truth to the people at large?

M: How do you know I am not doing it? Does preaching consist in mounting a platform and haranguing the people around? Preaching is simple communication of knowledge; it can really be done in silence only. What do you think of a man who listens to a sermon for an hour and goes away without having been impressed by it so as to change his life? Compare him with another, who sits in a holy presence and goes away after sometime with his outlook on life totally changed. Which is the better, to preach loudly without effect or to sit silently sending out inner force?

Again, how does speech arise? There is abstract knowledge, whence arises the ego, which in turn gives rise to thought, and thought to the spoken word. So the word is the great-grandson of the original source. If the word can produce effect, judge for yourself, how much more powerful must be the preaching through silence! But people do not understand this simple, bare truth, the truth of their everyday, ever-present, eternal experience. This truth is that of the Self. Is there anyone unaware of the Self? But they do not like even to hear of this truth . . .

Rushing through life

I was recently on a superfast night train from Bangalore to my hometown in Kerala. I got up just before dawn and stood looking out of the door watching the land slowly wake up from sleep. The train was travelling very fast as we raced through the monsoon-wet, lush-green landscape. Nearby, streams wound their way through fields in which herons and storks waded. In the distance, the mists rolled down from the tops of green hills into the folds and valleys below. Here and there, in the morning coolness, the smoke from wood-fires was rising over red-tiled roofs as people started going about their daily business. It was all very serene and beautiful!

And we were rushing through all this at 130 kmph!

The streams and fields and hills in the distance were all talking to some deep, hidden part in me, inviting me to stop and stay, but I knew that this could never be. My long education is in rushing through and I would not know what to do if I find myself standing near the streams or fields or hills in the distance. I have a strong suspicion that human beings are designed to stand near streams and fields and hills and watch interestedly as the sun and moon and stars and people rise and set. I have a strong suspicion that this is where happy fulfilled lives can be lived. But, in my case, it reminds me too much of how small children were taught to swim in Kerala. When I was young we were thrown into the pond and we learned to swim and we learned to love swimming. The thought scares me. I think I will continue to rush through life at 130 kmph!

(Excerpt from Hind Swaraj by Gandhiji as an afterword:)

EDITOR: . . . . Railways accentuate the evil nature of man. Bad men fulfil their evil designs with greater rapidity. The holy places of India have become unholy. Formerly, people went to these places with very great difficulty. Generally, therefore, only the real devotees visited such places. Nowadays rogues visit them in order to practise their roguery.

READER: You have given a one-sided account. Good men can visit these places as well as bad men. Why do they not take the fullest advantage of the railways?

EDITOR: Good travels at a snail’s pace. It can, therefore, have little to do with the railways. Those who want to do good are not selfish, they are not in a hurry, they know that to impregnate people with good requires a long time. But evil has wings. To build a house takes time. Its destruction takes none. So the railways can become a distributing agency for the evil one only. It may be a debatable matter whether railways spread famines, but it is beyond dispute that they propagate evil.

A Self-Sufficient Civilization

In 2017 Dr Claude Alvares gave an entertaining, hard hitting talk at NIT Kozhikode about the disconnect between the subjects we study in college and the reality that we inhabit outside the classroom. We are a self-sufficient civilization, said Dr Alvares towards the end of this talk. This and many of the themes he highlights during this talk, I think, will be of great interest to everyone who reads the SIDH blog posts. Hope you like the video and it makes you think in some new directions.

The following are some interesting quotes from the YouTube video that is linked below:

Indian education is a massive transfer of resources. From unemployed people (students) to unemployable people (people running educational institutions).

Best of human beings (who come out on top of the educational rat-race) should be at the service of society not at the service of corporations.

I tell all youngsters to please take a mechanical attitude to their studies. Because if you take a serious attitude to your studies, you will have to be committed. . . . Committed, means committed to a mental asylum! No normal young man would want to study any of the garbage they teach in universities today.

You do whatever needs to be done (for passing your study) but keep your learning in your own hands. The only way to do that is to move around in the learning environment. The learning environment is no longer the university.

If you wasted time in educational institutions and not in learning you will be the loser. The educational institution will give a fresh coat of paint to the buildings and continue. But you will lose out.

(Our country has very strong traditions) Traditions like: feeding people – we share food (unlike europe). Harminder Sahib 70,000 people/day, Dharmasthala 80,000 people/day. Language – 50s and 60s we thought everybody would be talking english- TV was all english. But our languages are still going strong. . . . Look at our respect for our food, language and clothes.

Focus on your strengths. Look at the diversity. Look at the richness. Till 1970 there were 3,00,000 varieties of rice being grown in India. These were all created by peasants and tribals. Rice research institute preserves some 62,000 varieties even today. We have 2500 varieties of brinjals.

About Claude Alvares: (From Wikipedia)

Claude Alphonso Alvares is an Indian environmentalist based in Goa. Alvares is the editor of the Other India Press and Director of the Goa Foundation, an environmental monitoring action group that has filed successful public interest litigation cases. Alvares is a member of the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). He is also a member of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous Wastes constituted by the Supreme Court of India.

On Inadvertence

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Inadvertence as: a result of inattention. This word comes up many times in Nisargadatta Maharaj’s conversations collected together in ‘I am That’. I have been recently thinking that what Maharaj says about inadvertence or inattention gives pointers to a powerful spiritual practice. Take a look at the following excerpts and see if you agree.

Excerpt 1: (Page 43 of ‘I Am That’ by Nisargadatta Maharaj)

You are in bondage by inadvertence. Attention liberates.

Excerpt 2: (Page 239)

I see what you too could see, here and now, but for the wrong focus of your attention. You give no attention to your self. Your mind is all with things, people and ideas, never with your self. Bring your self into focus, become aware of your own existence. See how you function, watch the motives and the results of your actions. Study the prison you have built around yourself by inadvertence. . . . Once you are convinced that you cannot say truthfully about your self anything except ‘I am’, and that nothing that can be pointed at, can be your self, the need for the ‘I am’ is over – you are no longer intent on verbalising what you are. All you need is to get rid of the tendency to define your self. All definitions apply to your body only and to its expressions. Once this obsession with the body goes, you will revert to your natural state, spontaneously and effortlessly. The only difference between us is that I am aware of my natural state, while you are bemused. Just like gold made into ornaments has no advantage over gold dust, except when the mind makes it so, so are we one in being – we differ only in appearance. We discover it by being earnest, by searching, enquiring, questioning daily and hourly, by giving one’s life to this discovery.

Excerpt 3: (Page 249)

Q: There is no ‘I am’ in sleep.
M: Before you make such sweeping statements, examine carefully your waking state. You will soon discover that it is full of gaps, when the mind blanks out. Notice how little you remember even when fully awake. You just don’t remember. A gap in memory is not necessarily a gap in consciousness.
Q: Can I make myself remember my state of deep sleep?
M: Of course! By eliminating the intervals of inadvertence during your waking hours you will gradually eliminate the long interval of absent-mindedness, which you call sleep. You will be aware that you are asleep.
Q: Yet, the problem of permanency, of continuity of being, is not solved.
M: Permanency is a mere idea, born of the action of time. Time again depends of memory. By permanency you mean unfailing memory through endless time. You want to eternalise the mind, which is not possible.
Q: Then what is eternal?
M: That which does not change with time. You cannot eternalise a transient thing – only the changeless is eternal.

Learning is effortless

Principle 1 of true teaching: Nothing can be taught
All learning happens within the child. No teacher can have direct control over it. The teacher is a helper and a guide. They can only attempt to draw the attention of the student to where the knowledge lies and thus assist him/her to see it.
– From ‘Learning to learn’ (More details and link to buy the book is available here)

(In the Hindi version of the book we changed it to make the same idea clearer:
सिद्धांत 1: समझाना और समझना पृथक प्रक्रियाएं हैं।
शिक्षक समझाने का प्रयास करता है और उसके लिए तर्क विधि का प्रयोग करता है। विद्यार्थी उसे समझने का प्रयास करता है और उसके लिए अनुभव विधि का प्रयोग करता है।)

It was under Pawanji’s close guidance that this small book, ‘Learning to Learn’, was conceptualized and written in 2018 but it lists my name as the author. I bring this up as the prelude to this blog post because what should have been one of the central insights of the book revealed itself to me only last week. Let me explain.

I had gone to Purnapramati school in Bangalore to run the prototype of a science learning program I have recently developed. In this program the learning process described in the ‘Learning to Learn’ book is encoded in the study material. The children learn science by following the written instructions given in the learning material and without any ‘teaching’ input from a teacher. In other words, the program is an effective demonstration of the inherent self-learning ability of children.

While the children were busy with the program, I was talking to the science teachers trying to convince them that their job should be to be inspirational science educators and not people who transact the simple content that is in the NCERT textbook. I was also telling them that although self-learning is natural and, on introspection, may turn out to be how we have learnt everything, but we will still have no confidence in the process. This may be because we have been brainwashed through long experience into thinking that it is teaching (and teaching only) that results in learning.

While this conversation was going on, I had my moment of insight, my epiphany. Nothing can be taught is one aspect of it but the other important aspect is that learning (समझना) is effortless. The children are putting their effort in following a learning process but the learning itself is a natural outcome of this process and is effortless. It will become clearer if we look at the effort of thinking, reading and following the learning process in other ways as an external process (in the realm of doing/gati) and learning or understanding or समझना as an internal process (in the realm of being/sthiti). All effort is in gati. There is no movement or effort in sthiti. Or, again, if we use the Hindi version, समझाना तर्क विधि से होता है (tark implies effort) लेकिन समझना अनुभव विधि से होता है (there is no effort required in anubhav).

I felt that it was only now that I fully understood what ‘Learning is natural’ really meant.

Narayan Ashram Retreat

I have just got back home from the SIDH retreat at Narayan Ashram. This retreat was unique in many ways. Firstly, Narayan Ashram set at an altitude of 9000 feet on the India-Nepal border is very difficult to get to. Our 35 participants arrived in many difficult ways but most of us reached Delhi from our various locations and then travelled by a tempo traveller to the Ashram. It took us 30 hours to reach the ashram and around 24 hours plus a night halt in Pithoragarh to travel back to Delhi. This was one of the most difficult road journeys I have ever done. Of course, once you reach the ashram and experience its tranquillity, its simplicity and its beauty, you forget the difficult journey you had to make to reach there. Established in 1936 by Shri Narayan Swami the ashram was on the old route for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra and the many pilgrims and sages who would have passed through must have enhanced its sacredness.

Secondly, it was a longer retreat than the ones we normally conduct. We thought that since it is so difficult to reach we should stay a few extra days. This was useful and helped us get comfortable in each others company and open up our hearts during the retreat. It also helped that the only mobile network that works there was BSNL and that was also down most of the time. So we had practically no contact with the outside world and with no internet, we were cut away from our favourite social media addictions. All the news we avidly consume in our daily lives was unavailable to us and we seem to have managed fine and not experienced the withdrawal symptoms that addicts usually face. Our powerful smart phones worked only as alarm clocks and cameras!

Thirdly, the participants came from very diverse backgrounds. We had a very learned swamiji, two traditional Sanskrit scholars, five PhDs (engineering, ecology, political science, economics), founding members of two alternative schools, the founder of an ashram working on traditional crafts, a Sanskrit scholar-businessman, a retired banker, two fashion designers etc. Although the ashram provided us with very tasty, simple food, five of our participants were cooking and eating their own food. The ashram only had 4 and 5 bedded rooms, so this diverse group was staying and interacting with each other in a deep manner.

We ran the retreat with a focus on meditative silences and contemplative discussions on quotations taken from the works of Professor A.K. Saran, J. Krishnamurti, Dharampal etc. The objective of the discussions (held in small groups and presented in the main large group) was to look inwards and see the deep assumptions that we hold and, if possible, to break out of them and begin to see things with a little more clarity. I felt that some things that had lain in separate compartments in my mind got connected when I listened to the ongoing discussions. I hope that this has happened, to a smaller or larger extent, for all the participants who came for our Narayan ashram retreat. Swamiji’s blessing to all of us on the last day is an apt way to close this post. He said – “May you learn to dance on the razor’s edge.”

Materialism – The Cult of the Mother Goddess

In a recent YouTube video, Dr Rupert Sheldrake discussed various aspects of matter. At around the 31 minute mark he proposed that Materialism, the worship of matter, was really the unconscious worship of the Great Mother. The relevant excerpt from the video is given below:

“There is a mythological aspect of matter. The word ‘matter’ itself, of course, has the same root as the word ‘mater’ – mother – and the material out of which something is made. The philosophy of materialism says there is nothing but unconscious matter in the universe. Or Physicalism that says there are only unconscious physical processes, basically equivalent to materialism. Materialism is the basis for the most common form of atheism, that the whole universe is made of unconscious matter and there is no God out there, there is no consciousness out there. There is just consciousness, for an unknown reason, inside our brains. And maybe in animal brains as well. That is a very, very restrictive view of consciousness which can’t be explained in terms of a fully material universe. That is the problem with materialism.

“I think what’s less noticed is that materialism has a kind of unconscious mythology, in that it started historically as a rebellion against an extreme form of mechanistic Protestantism. You know, God is the Supreme Engineer and creator of the whole universe. God is the all powerful Emperor who sets the laws of nature. God is the engineer who designed the machinery of nature – and nature is a machine – and then he pressed the start button.

“So it’s very much a kind of male God that atheist materialists were rebelling against in the 17th, 18th and 19th Century, and what they said was “No, no, there’s no God out there, the total reality is matter, matter is the sum total of all things”. Basically it’s saying “We don’t believe in the Great Father, instead we believe in the Great Mother”, so matter is I think a kind of unconscious Cult of the Great Goddess, the mother principle, so it’s just all from the Mother and not all from the Father. Of course, as soon as you put it in those terms, it’s obvious this is an unbalanced metaphor in both directions. You know, if you’re going to use mother and father as metaphorical terms, in a sense they’re co-determinative – you can’t have a father without a mother and you can’t have a mother without a father.

“They’re polar, they’re part of a greater unity, of which they’re polar parts, but I think that materialism when one sees it as the unconscious Cult of the Great Mother – everything comes from matter, everything goes back to matter, matter is the source of all things – it’s basically a Great Mother cult. So hard-nosed materialists who think they’re just being rationalists, are unconsciously believing this, and the fact it’s unconscious doesn’t mean it’s not powerful, it means it’s so powerful it’s emotional power is kind of repressed.”

Our Bharatiya mythology is free from this kind of polarity and we have not had to historically rebel against any Great Father. We can probably drop the materialistic madness as soon as we realize this. The full video is linked below:

On Tentativeness

Lately I have been thinking about a child-like tentativeness in thought and behaviour as a desirable trait. I will quote two ancient Chinese sages and let them present the case for me. Take a look and let me know what you think…

THE Sage has no interests of his own,
But takes the interests of the people as his own.
He is kind to the kind;
He is also kind to the unkind:
For Virtue is kind.
He is faithful to the faithful;
He is also faithful to the unfaithful:
For Virtue is faithful.

In the midst of the world, the Sage is shy and self-effacing.
For the sake of the world he keeps his heart in its nebulous state.
All the people strain their ears and eyes:
The Sage only smiles like an amused infant.

– From the Tao Teh Ching of Lao Tzu

THE ancient adepts of the Tao were subtle and flexible, profound and comprehensive.
Their minds were too deep to be fathomed.

Because they are unfathomable,
One can only describe them vaguely by their appearance.

Hesitant like one wading a stream in winter;
Timid like one afraid of his neighbours on all sides;
Cautious and courteous like a guest;
Yielding like ice on the point of melting;
Simple like an uncarved block;
Hollow like a cave;
Opaque like a muddy pool;

And yet who else could quietly and gradually evolve from the muddy to the clear?
Who else could slowly but steadily move from the inert to the living?

He who keeps the Tao does not want to be full.
But precisely because he is never full,
He can always remain like a hidden sprout,
And does not rush to early ripening.

– From the Tao Teh Ching of Lao Tzu

“The man of character lives at home without exercising his mind and performs actions without worry. The notions of right and wrong and the praise and blame of others do not disturb him. When within the four seas all people can enjoy themselves that is happiness for him. When all people are well provided, that is peace for him. Sorrowful in countenance, he looks like a baby that has lost its mother. Appearing stupid, he goes about like one who has lost his way. He has plenty of money to spend and does not know where it comes from. He drinks and eats just enough and does not know where the food comes from. This is the demeanour of the man of character.

“The hypocrites are those people who regard as good whatever the world acclaims as good and regard as right whatever the world acclaims as right. When you tell them that they are men of dao then their countenances change with satisfaction. When you call them hypocrites they may look displeased. All their life they call themselves men of dao and all their lives they remain hypocrites. They know how to make a good speech and tell appropriate anecdotes in order to attract the crowd. But from the very beginning to the very end they do not know what it is all about. They put on the proper garb and dress in the proper colours and put up a decorous appearance to make themselves popular but refuse to admit that they are hypocrites.”

– Behaviour of the high form of man, Zhuang Zhou

Four Ideas on Education

A friend with young school-going children was recently talking to me about education. Some ideas came up in the conversation that I thought were worth sharing here as this week’s blog post.

  1. Imagine a classroom with many children working on some set task and an adult sitting in the classroom busy with some work of his own. He will be available to answer queries, if required, while the children are learning on their own in small groups. The work the teacher could be doing may be something that actually earns him his livelihood. For example, we can imagine that the teacher is part of a distributed software team and he is doing his work finishing a project while the children in his class go through their maths or science syllabus. If you think that this idea is Utopian you should take a look at the work of Dr Sugato Mitra who has experimented with giving unsupervised computer access to illiterate children and seen them teach themselves English and complicated subjects like biochemistry (https://youtu.be/y3jYVe1RGaU).
  2. School can be a place where the teacher grows in knowledge and wisdom. Transacting the school text books with passive students leads to neither knowledge nor wisdom. If we have a good artist, a good craftsman, a good poet, a good actor, a good boxer, all hanging out together in the same school staff room with an agenda to learn from each other, it is possible that all of them will grow in knowledge and wisdom. It is grown-up, wise men and women we need if we want our students also to aspire to be grown up and wise. This seems to be obvious but in every school the teachers are so stretched finishing their syllabus that there is no time for self-development.
  3. One often hears people saying that they enjoy the company of children so they chose to work as school teachers. We see that the company of grown-ups is helpful in making us grown-up. This is the idea of the Sangha where people at different stages of maturity come together and help each other to grow up. So what my friend was wondering was whether spending all your time with children, getting involved in all their activities, was not a way to infantilize ourselves? You may not agree and this is a slightly controversial idea but I think it is worth thinking about.
  4. A large percentage of school teachers are women. This has happened probably because the work of a school teacher is perceived to be easy with its long breaks and fixed timetables. A woman who has to make food and take care of children and take care of the house will probably find being a teacher easier than being a software engineer working to tight deadlines. All this is very commendable but is it not true that when we bring up our children, both the mother and father play different roles and both are equally important? I know that in the polarised world of today’s feminist ideologies there may be people who think that the father plays no role or plays a negative role. Keeping such foolish ideas to the side, does it not seem that children spending huge amounts of time in our current school system are like children who are being brought up in a fatherless house?

The Future of the Body – Part 3

(The Future of the Body is a remarkable book that has an encyclopedic cross-cultural study of the extraordinary potentials that human beings embody. Of the 12 capacities that the book identifies and details out, the following are the notes I made for ‘Vitality’ and ‘Love’. The overview of the book is available here and the notes on ‘Cognition’ are available here.)


Superabundant vitality that is difficult to account for in terms of ordinary bodily processes.

Examples of nascent expressions in everyday life:
– Feeling great warmth on cold days, without benefit of extra clothing.
– Remaining free of infection in spite of contagious diseases among those around you.
– Going without normal amounts of sleep for extended periods without loss of clarity, vitality, or physical strength.

Evidence of evolution from animal to ordinary human to metanormal (extraordinary) development:
Sustained energy levels, exemplified by warm-bloodedness among birds and animals.
Enhanced vital capacity such as the exceptional fitness produced by endurance sports and the ability to survive extreme deprivation produced by religious asceticism.
Extraordinary vitality evident, for example, in the rising kundalini of Indian yoga traditions.

Practices that foster this attribute:
– Psychotherapy that lifts repressions, resolves internal conflicts, and unblocks defences against strong feeling.
– Somatic disciplines that reduce chronic tensions, promote regenerative relaxation, and make available energetic reserves.
– Athletic training that improves blood circulation, metabolic efficiency, and general fitness so that more energy is available for mental and physical activity.
– Martial arts that promote mental alertness, emotional balance in stressful circumstances, and general somatic efficiency.
– Meditation or other religious practices that reduce draining emotions, unify conflicting volitions, and promote access to the subliminal depths of mind and body.


Love that transcends ordinary needs and reveals a fundamental unity with others.

Examples of nascent expressions in everyday life:
Experiencing love that removes all sense of boundaries between you and a loved one, as if you and the other were a single person or body.

Evidence of evolution from animal to ordinary human to metanormal (extraordinary) development:
Loving devotion to others exemplified, for example, in whales and dolphins.
Empathy and interpersonal creativity produced by emotional education. The loving service evoked by religious service.
Love that transcends normal needs and motives, revealing a unity among people and things more fundamental than any differences between them.

Practices that foster this attribute:
Love has many elements, among them:
– Delight in others for their own sake.
– Empathy, which can be developed by:
–>> experiencing actual situations that others experience.
–>> imaginatively entering another’s experience during role-playing, intimate conversation, or solitary reflection.
–>> extending the range and depth of emotions through non-interfering observation of suppressed or forgotten feelings, concentration upon visual, auditory, or other imagery that evokes it, etc.
– Desire that others thrive, which can be strengthened by:
–>> self-examination or therapy that reduces competitiveness and needs for dominance.
–>> practices that promote one’s own integration, well-being, and sense of personal security.
–>> philosophical reflection that reveals the similarity or identity of one’s own and another’s highest ends.
– A well-being that overflows to others, which can be cultivated through all the practices noted here and by mutual self-disclosure.