Monday, June 23, 2008

More on Bhagavan's death experience

On May 7th I posted an account of Bhagavan’s ‘death-experience’ in Madurai that culminated in his Self-realisation. Today I am providing some additional material on this event. Some of it comes from Sri Ramana Leela, the Telugu biography that was written by Krishna Bhikshu. The first edition of Sri Ramana Leela was just a translation of Narasimha Swami’s Self Realization, but subsequent editions added new material. Bhagavan’s description of his Self-realisation experience is part of this new material.

This Telugu account is surprisingly short, but it does have interesting additions and variations from the English version that was recorded by Narasimha Swami. The translation I am giving here is by Mohan Rao. The original text is in bold, with supplementary words that are not in the original Telugu given in square brackets. Mohan Rao’s linguistic notes are in italics, while my comments and supplementary quotations are in roman.

In 1896, Nagaswami [Bhagavan’s older brother] married Janaki Ammal. The in-laws’ place was Madurai itself. At the post-wedding festivities, Venkataraman was the fellow-bridegroom to his brother. [It was his] seventeenth year. [He] was studying for the Matriculation examination. Though [he was] not that studious a person, there was no fear of failing in the examination. [He was] well-built, [having] good health; half of July had passed.

The Telugu term translated here as ‘post-wedding festivities’ is a phrase that describes the celebrations that go on for three days after traditional weddings.

‘Fellow-bridegroom’ is a term that denotes a young boy who is made to sit by the side of the bridegroom throughout the celebrations to give him some company and to prevent him from getting bored during the long hours of the rituals. The term is sometimes inaccurately translated as ‘best man’.

On the upper storey, Venkataraman was lying down. Nobody [else] was in there. Suddenly, it occurred to Venkataraman, ‘I shall be dead’. There was no reason. ‘Am dying!’

Narasimha Swami’s account has Bhagavan ‘sitting alone’ when the fear of death came. In that account Venkataraman ‘dramatised the scene of death’ by lying down and imitating a corpse. Krishna Bhikshu has him lying down when the fear of death first struck him. This means that he didn’t need to dramatise the scene of death by subsequently lying down and pretending he was dead.

‘There was no reason for feeling like that. It did not occur to me what that state was, and whether fear was proper or not. The thought of asking the elders or the doctors did not come. What is dying? How to escape it? This alone was the problem. There were no other thoughts. That very moment, [I] had to resolve it.’

The word translated as ‘reason’ in this and the previous Bhagavan paragraph can also be translated as ‘cause’.

‘Whether fear was proper or not’ is a literal translation. Idiomatically, it may mean ‘whether it was something to be feared or not’.

The word translated as ‘escape’ can also be translated as ‘avoid’.

The word translated as ‘problem’ may also mean ‘issue’.

The absence of the word ‘I’ is quite significant in this description, and in subsequent paragraphs. Narasimha Swami describes the event as one in which Bhagavan took control, performed a series of actions and came to a solution. Krishna Bhikshu records it as something that happened to Bhagavan, rather than as something he did. I think this is a more correct narration of the events, for Bhagavan himself said in Day by Day with Bhagavan, 4th October 1946, ‘The fact is, I did nothing. Some higher power took hold of me and I was entirely in its hand.’

Narasimha Swami filled his own account with the first-person pronoun ‘I’, but in a note that accompanies the text, he pointed out that this was not what Bhagavan himself said:

The exact words [of the death experience] have not been recorded. The Swami as a rule talks quite impersonally. There is seldom any clear or pronounced reference to ‘I’ and ‘you’ in what he says. The genius of Tamil is specially suited for such impersonal utterances, and he generally talks Tamil. However, one studying his words and ways discovers personal references, mostly veiled. His actual words may be found too colourless and hazy to suit or appeal to many readers, especially of the western type. Hence the use here of the customary phraseology with its distinct personal reference.

My own feeling is that in this particular description the insertion of the personal pronoun ‘I’ into Bhagavan’s description is misleading.

‘Dying means, the legs become stiff; lips become taut; eyes get closed. Breath stops. So it came into experience due to intensity of the strength of feeling. To me too, the legs became stiff, lips became taut, eyes got closed and breath stopped. But with consciousness not lost, everything was breaking forth clearly. (The activity of the outer sense-organs having gone, the in-turned perception became available.)’

‘Was breaking forth’: the original is actually in the active voice. An acceptable alternative translation would be 'everything was being cognised clearly'.

Again, it is the ‘intensity of the strength of feeling’ that drove the process, rather than a personal act of volition.

‘Even if this body dies, the I-consciousness will not go. The individuality- consciousness was clear. When the body is burnt and turned to ashes in the cremation ground, I will not become extinct. Because I am not the body.’

The word translated as ‘consciousness’ may also be translated as ‘awareness’ in both instances.

‘Individuality’ is a translation of vyaktitva. It may also be translated as personality, but 'individuality' is probably a better term here.

‘Now the body is inert. Insentient; I, on the other hand, am sentient. Therefore, death is to the inert body, ‘I’ am [the] indestructible conscious entity.

‘When the body gives up its activities, and the activities of the senses are not there, the knowledge that obtains is not senses-born. That ‘flashing forth of I’ is aparoksha. [It is] self-effulgent. Not a matter of imagination.

Aparoksha means 'not indirect', i.e., 'not obtained through the intervention of the senses and the mind'.

The ‘flashing forth of I’ is a reference to the aham-sphurana. Bhagavan elaborated on this part of the experience when he spoke to a visitor in 1945:

Yesterday a Bengali Swami in ochre robes by name Hrishikesanand came here. This morning from 8-30 to 11-00 Bhagavan continuously discussed spiritual matters with him…

… Bhagavan said, ‘In the vision of death, though all the senses were benumbed, the aham sphurana (Self-awareness) was clearly evident, and so I realised that it was that awareness that we call “I”, and not the body. This Self-awareness never decays. It is unrelated to anything. It is Self-luminous. Even if this body is burnt, it will not be affected. Hence, I realised on that very day so clearly that that was “I”.’ (Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 22nd November, 1945)

Devaraja Mudaliar was also present during this retelling of Bhagavan’s death-experience, but he omitted the aham sphurana reference from his brief record of the dialogue:

Later in the morning, at Rishikesananda’s request, Bhagavan recounted his first experience of the Self in his upstairs room at Madura. ‘When I lay down with limbs outstretched and mentally enacted the death scene and realised that the body would be taken and cremated and yet I would live, some force, call it atmic power or anything else, rose within me and took possession of me. With that, I was reborn and I became a new man. I became indifferent to everything afterwards, having neither likes nor dislikes.’ (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 22nd November 1945)

In ‘“I” and “I-I”, a Reader’s Query’ (http://www.davidgodman.org/rteach/iandii1.shtml) I came to the conclusion that the following explanation from Vichara Sangraham (Self-Enquiry) is also a description by Bhagavan of what happened to him during his own death experience. My arguments in favour of this position can be found in the original article:

Therefore, leaving the corpse-like body as an actual corpse and remaining without even uttering the word ‘I’ by mouth, if one now keenly enquires, ‘What is it that rises as “I”?’ then in the Heart a certain soundless sphurana, ‘I-I’, will shine forth of its own accord. It is an awareness that is single and undivided, the thoughts which are many and divided having disappeared. If one remains still without leaving it, even the sphurana – having completely annihilated the sense of the individuality, the form of the ego, ‘I am the body’ will itself in the end subside, just like the flame that catches the camphor. This alone is said to be liberation by great ones and scriptures. (The Mountain Path, 1982, p. 98)

‘The thing that is there after death is the eternal, real entity.’ In this way, in one moment, new knowledge accrued to Venkataraman.

'Accrued': The Telugu text uses a verse in the active voice, but there is no good equivalent in English. 'Accrued' is therefore adapted for the purpose, though it is slightly inaccurate. The alternative is to use the passive form 'is obtained'. But then it agrees neither with the voice of the verb, nor with the preposition 'to'.

Although these ideas were expressed sequentially, this experience was obtained by Venkataraman spontaneously only.

Expressed’: the literal rendering would be ‘spoken’, but ‘expressed’ is taken to be equally permissible.

‘Sequentially’: the dictionary equivalent is 'by degrees', but 'sequentially' is thought to be equally valid.

This is the end of the Telugu account. The translator noted in an email that the style and idiom of the original Telugu was very archaic. This might indicate that the words were not exactly the ones used by Bhagavan. However, my own conclusion is that this is a more reliable account of the death-experience than the one that appears in Self Realization since it has been shorn of both Narasimha Swami’s embellishments and his gratuitous insertions of the pronoun ‘I’.

I particularly like the final comment that realisation was obtained ‘spontaneously’, rather than as the result of a sequence of thoughts or actions.

How long did this ‘spontaneous’ process take? Most chroniclers have reported that it took a few minutes:

In answer to a question once put by D. S. Sarma, Bhagavan definitely said that in his case, there was no special sadhana, at any rate in this life, leading to Self-realisation, but that in his 17th year, while he was still a student at Madurai, enlightenment, jnana, came to him, suddenly, in the course of a few minutes, not as a result of laboured ratiocination but as a sudden flash of intuition, and that that jnana has remained with him ever since. (My Recollections, p. 135, by Devaraja Mudaliar)

Bhagavan, though, regarded it as an event that took place out of time. The following interesting exchange was recorded by Balaram Reddy in My Reminiscences. p. 75:

‘They say I gained realisation in twenty-eight minutes, or half an hour. How can they say that? It took just a moment. But why even a moment? Where is the question of time at all?’

I then asked Bhagavan if there was ever any change in his realisation after his experience in
Madurai. He said ‘No. If there is a change, it is not realisation.’

Though Krishna Bhikshu’s account seems to me to be more reliable for the events it covers, there is a remarkable omission in his narrative: there is no reference to the spontaneous act of self-enquiry that occurred to Bhagavan while he was lying on the floor. This, more than anything else, was the immediate prior cause of the awakening. In the death-experience account that I posted on May 7th Bhagavan is recorded as saying: ‘So the question arose in me, “What was this ‘I’? Is it the body? Who called himself the ‘I’?”’

Here is Bhagavan’s brief account of how he resolved this question:

When I scrutinised within the mind ‘Who is the seer?’ the seer became non-existent and I saw that which remained. The mind does not [now] rise to say ‘I saw’; how [therefore] can the mind rise to say ‘I did not see’. (Arunachala Ashtakam, verse two, tr. Sadhu Om)

In the ‘“I” and “I-I”, a Reader’s Query’ article I referred to earlier, I equated the aham sphurana with the emanation of ‘I-I’ that Bhagavan often spoke about. If this is a justified correlation, then several of Bhagavan’s other verses can also be take to have autobiographical overtones:

Questioning ‘Who am I?’ within one’s mind, when one reaches the Heart the individual ‘I’ sinks crestfallen, and at once reality manifests itself as ‘I-I’. Though it reveals itself thus, it is not the ego ‘I’, but the perfect being, the Self Absolute. (Ulladu Narpadu, verse 30)

‘Whence does this ‘I’ arise? Seek this within. This ‘I’ then vanishes. This is the pursuit of wisdom. Where the ‘I’ vanished, there appears an ‘I-I’ by itself. This is the infinite [poornam]. (Upadesa Undiyar, verses 19 and 20).

Therefore on diving deep upon the quest ‘Who am ‘I’ and from whence?’, thoughts disappear and consciousness of Self then flashes forth as the ‘I-I’ within the cavity of every seeker’s Heart. (Atma Vidya Kirtanam, verse 4)

Bhagavan commented on the finality of his experience when he spoke to G. V. Subbaramayya:

Sri Bhagavan spoke to me and explained how his spontaneous Self-realisation had by-passed all the usual stages that seekers are enjoined to pass through.

‘Some people,’ he said, ‘start off by studying literature in their youth. Then they indulge in the pleasures of the world until they are fed up with them. Next, when they are at an advanced age, they turn to books on Vedanta. They go to a guru and get initiated by him and then start the process of sravana, manana and nididhyasana, which finally culminates in samadhi. This is the normal and standard way of approaching liberation. It is called krama mukti [gradual liberation]. But I was overtaken by akrama mukti [sudden liberation] before I passed through any of the above-mentioned stages.’

Sri Bhagavan laughed and added, ‘So now when thoughts of these things come to me, I don’t know what to do with them’. (The Power of the Presence, part three, p. 132)

Finally, some comments from Bhagavan on how the death experience affected him in the six weeks he stayed at home before he left for Arunachala:

Mr. T. V. Krishnaswami Aiyer asked, ‘Were Bhagavan’s brother and others aware of Bhagavan’s absorption in the Self and indifference to external things?’ Bhagavan said, ‘Yes. They could not but be aware. For though I tried my best to appear as if I was attending to external affairs, I could not succeed fully in the attempt. I would sit down to read like others, open a book, pretend to read it and after some time turn the page. Similarly, after some time I would take up another book. But all knew that my attitude had changed. They used to make fun of me for this abstraction of mine. I never took offence, as I was totally indifferent to their taunts. This encouraged them to go on with their mockery. If I was so minded, I could have silenced them all with one blow. But I did not care at all. After the “death” experience I was living in a different world. How could I turn my attention to books? Before that, I would at least attend to what the other boys repeated and repeat the same myself. But afterwards, I could not do even that. At school, my mind would not dwell on study at all. I would be imagining and expecting God would suddenly drop down from Heaven before me.’

Someone asked Bhagavan whether he deliberately went in for a study of Periya Puranam. Thereupon Bhagavan said, ‘No. No. It was a mere accident. A relation of mine, my uncle, was given the book by a Swami who was living near our house and was advised to read it. Thus the book happened to be in our house and, coming across it, I looked into it first out of curiosity and then, becoming interested, read the whole book. It made a great impression on me. Before that, the sixty-three images of the Nayanars in the temple were mere images and no more. But afterwards, they gained new significance for me. I used to go and weep before those images and before Nataraja that God should give me the same grace He gave to those saints. But this was after the “death” experience. Before that, the bhakti for the sixty-three saints lay dormant, as it were.’ Mr. Somasundaram Pillai asked Bhagavan, ‘With what bhava did Bhagavan cry before those images? Did Bhagavan pray he should have no further birth, or what?’ Bhagavan replied, ‘What bhava? I only wanted the same grace as was shown to those saints. I prayed I should have the same bhakti that they had. I knew nothing of freedom from births or bondage.’ (Day by Day with Bhagavan, 6th October, 1946)


28 comments:

arvind said...

David, thank you for putting up this further post on Sri Bhagavan’s “death experience”.

I do believe that the “experience” contains vital clues helpful to everyone in their sadhana. In fact, I have found that thinking about Bhagavan’s experience, analyzing it, trying to get at the real meaning of what He said, all lead to newer and deeper understandings of the enlightenment process.

This account, for instance, has something new for me – Bhagavan saying that “the activity of the outer sense-organs having gone, the in-turned perception became available”; confirming thereby that the loss of outer sense-organs, or body consciousness, is a necessary precursor to experiencing the aham-sphurana. Only then does the inward search become adequately concentrated to be able to experience the ‘I’-‘I’. The feeling of ‘dying’, therefore, is merely, perhaps, what the experience of withdrawal of outer-senses and loss of body consciousness would feel like to anyone who is unfamiliar with spiritual experiences. Or for that matter, to anyone who experiences it for the first time.

Bhagavan’s “death experience” was then, perhaps, not any incident when He actually came close to “dying” in anyway and was somehow resurrected by the sudden infusion of the power of the Self. I know a lot of devotees would hold this latter view and I must admit that I too, in the early years, had believed that something like this happened. But now one can perhaps say that all He really experienced was a spontaneous and sudden withdrawal of body-consciousness which felt like “dying”. The early writers gave it the tag “death experience” which has stuck ever since.

[David, your “I & I-I” article in the Mountain Path of 1991 mentioned in the post was a magnificent piece, full of information and fresh ideas].

Sonachala said...

David,

"..Where the ‘I’ vanished, there appears an ‘I-I’ by itself. This is the infinite [poornam]." (Upadesa Undiyar, verses 19 and 20).

I could not understand How Bhagavan seem to equate the Aham Spurana with the Infinite [poornam].

Another thing which puzzled me is why Bhagavan used to go and weep before those images of the 63 saints and praying that God should give Him the same grace He gave to those saints (ie AFTER the 'death experience'when he had Self realized).

Anonymous said...

David, thank you for your valuable research. All devotees of Bhagavan are indebted to you as this is giving much more precision to vital points like the death experience. It seems very obvious that it was a spontanous happening rather a volitional act. What seems still an unclear term is
'personality' for vyaktitva as it cannot have meant what is commonly known as a person composed of mental elements. This i have always felt even with the narrative of Narasimha S.
I am of the same view as arvind that this process was a very deep samadhi which alone seems to be the apt state ot precision for this deepest insight.
As you mention your posting will be less: i think your work should stay on that laudable level. So take your time!

Skeye said...

Sonachala said...

Another thing which puzzled me is why Bhagavan used to go and weep before those images of the 63 saints and praying that God should give Him the same grace He gave to those saints (ie AFTER the 'death experience'when he had Self realized).

~~~~~

It would seem to be that Bhagavan had an 'awakening' that pointed to the truth of Self realization.

Realization being the grace of firm ever-unfolding realization of Self.

If after this 'death experience' nothing else was needed, he would not have gone to Arunachala, nor been absorbed in silence for many years after.

Just as it seems here. :)

Peace....

David Godman said...

Sonachala

Bhagavan has said (see the Vichara Sangraham quote that I gave in the post) that the aham sphurana is something that belongs neither to the Self nor the ego. It is some intermediate state that indicates that the individual is vanishing. The Self has not yet fully revealed itself in its pure and final form, but in this aham sphurana some hint or indication of its glory is already being experienced. It can, therefore, be said that it is a manifestation of the Self, but it is not a full and definitive one.

There is a long-standing tradition among Tamil poet-saints of pleading with God for grace long after that grace has been fully received. Bhagavan said that the four poet-saints Jnanasambandar, Appar, Sundaramurti and Manikkavachagar all indicated in their very first verse that they had attained union with God, yet they all went on to write poems in which they begged Siva for grace. This seems to be a standard bhava in Tamil devotional poetry, and even Bhagavan indulged in this in Aksharamanamalai, which was written around 1913, many years after his final and complete realisation. It is possible that Bhagavan had samskaras of this kind left over from a previous life as a Saiva saint.

Arvind

When there is identification with the body, a knowledge and an experience that the ego-I is about to be extinguished can feel like a fear of death since the two entities - body and ego - are inextricably linked at that point. I noted in one of my first posts in April (The Role of the Heart-centre in Self-realisation) that when the 'I' approaches the Heart, fear often ensues. Usually this results in the 'I' returning to the brain and resuming its former existence. However, in cases where the 'I' is mature and ready for dissolution, it sinks into the Heart and dies.

Personally, I feel that the sudden fear of death arose from Bhagavan suddenly becoming aware that his 'I'-thought was near the Heart. If this is so, it would mean that the process of Self-realisation was well under way when Bhagavan first became aware of it. This in turn adds weight to my belief that it was something that happened to him, rather than something he personally orchestrated.

Skeye

I mentioned earlier that I thought it possible that samskaras made Bhagavan go to the Madurai Temple and ask for grace. The connection with Arunachala can also be attributed to samskaras. In the first verse of Arunachhala Ashtakam Bhagavan noted, 'From my unthinking childhood, the immensity of Arunachala had shone in my awareness'. That is to say, the connection with Arunachala existed before he even had the capacity to think about it or rationalise it. In my opinion such feelings could only come from a previous past-life connection with the mountain.

When he went to Arunachala, it was not because he was spiritually incomplete in any way. His sadhana was over at the end of the death-experience. He went because a long-standing love of Arunachala spontaneously drew him there.

David Godman said...

Sonachala

Bhagavan has said (see the Vichara Sangraham quote that I gave in the post) that the aham sphurana is something that belongs neither to the Self nor the ego. It is some intermediate state which indicates that the individual is vanishing. The Self has not yet fully revealed itself in its pure and final form, but in this aham sphurana some hint or indication of its glory is already being experienced. It can, therefore, be said that it is a manifestation of the Self, but it is not a full and definitive one.

There is a long-standing tradition among Tamil poet-saints of pleading with God for grace long after that grace has been fully received. Bhagavan said that the four poet-saints Jnanasambandar, Appar, Sundaramurti and Manikkavachagar all indicated in their very first verse that they had attained union with God, yet they all went on to write poems in which they begged Siva for grace. This seems to be a standard bhava in Tamil devotional poetry, and even Bhagavan indulged in this in Aksharamanamalai, which was written around 1913, many years after his final and complete realisation. It is possible that Bhagavan had samskaras of this kind left over from a previous life as a Saiva saint.

Arvind

When there is identification with the body, a knowledge and an experience that the ego-I is about to be extinguished can feel like a fear of death since the two entities - body and ego - are inextricably linked at that point. I noted in one of my first posts in April (The Role of the Heart-centre in Self-realisation) that when the 'I' approaches the Heart, intense fear often ensues. Usually this results in the 'I' returning to the brain and resuming its former existence. However, in cases where the 'I' is mature and ready for dissolution, it sinks into the Heart and dies.

Personally, I feel that the sudden fear of death arose from Bhagavan suddenly becoming aware that his 'I'-thought was near the Heart. If this is so, it would mean that the process of Self-realisation was well under way when Bhagavan first became aware of it. This in turn adds weight to my belief that it was something that happened to him, rather than something he personally orchestrated.

Skeye

I mentioned earlier that I thought it possible that samskaras made Bhagavan go to the Madurai Temple and ask for grace. The connection with Arunachala can also be attributed to samskaras. In the first verse of Arunachhala Ashtakam Bhagavan noted, 'From my unthinking childhood, the immensity of Arunachala had shone in my awareness'. That is to say, the connection with Arunachala existed before he even had the capacity to think about it or rationalise it. In my opinion such feelings could only come from a previous past-life connection with the mountain.

When he went to Arunachala, it was not because he was spiritually incomplete in any way. His sadhana was over at the end of the death-experience. He went because a long-standing love of Arunachala spontaneously drew him there.

arvind said...

David, to add further to why Sri Bhagavan went to the Meenakshi Mata Temple and shed tears in front of the Images of the Nyanmars:

We need not suppose that the state of Self-realisation or Jnana is a dry, emotionless one; that after Self-realisation devotional behaviour is not possible. It seems that when the Jnani is active in the world he is drawn naturally towards the Lord and His stories and finds them all irresistibly touching. Sri Bhagavan Himself mentioned repeatedly how pure Devotion and Jnana go hand-in-hand; that the Jnani is indeed the greatest Devotee.

Suri Nagamma records in “Letters”, (3) “Quarrel between Uma and Maheswara” (23rd November 1945):

“…. When he spoke in this strain about her motherly affection [of the younger sister of Muttu Krishna Bhagavathar who had given Him food at Tirukoilur when He was on the way to Arunachala], I could see that Bhagavan was overflowing with love. His voice was choked with emotion. That sight reminded me of the saying that the heart of a Jnani is as soft as butter, and once more of the old saying “premapoornathaya Jnanam” (The culmination of devotion is Knowledge).

Sometime back, while reading that portion in Arunachalapurana where Gautama was extolling Amba, Bhagavan’s eyes were flooded with tears, his voice faltered and he put the book aside and sank into silence. Whenever any incident full of love takes place, or whenever passages saturated with bhakti are read, we often see Bhagavan thus overwhelmed with emotion. As one goes on observing, one gets confirmed in the view that prema and bhakti (devotion) are merely different aspects of Jnana (knowledge).”

[ Also, the query could be that why should a Jnani, post Self-realisation, visit the Meenakshi Mata Temple at all in the first place ? ]

Meenakshi Mata is absolutely the sweetest, most loving form of the Great Mother, ever, and the Temple is an absolute Mother-lode of holiness, sacredness and piety. It draws one in like a magnet so to speak. This is from personal experience. I once stayed close to the temple for just about a week with the intention of spending time in the upstairs room of Sri Bhagavan’s. Instead I found myself irresistibly drawn into the Temple’s cavernous halls and corridors more and more, sitting in obscure dark corners inside the vast complex, and indeed pausing for long in front of all the Images. This was for a dunderhead like me. For the young Venkatraman who had lived for so long so close to the Temple, and who was now a Jnani, the Temple would have exerted a fierce pull and He would have been drawn to it naturally. In fact, my belief is that Sri Bhagavan spent a lot more time inside the Temple than has been recorded.

Anonymous said...

Dear David,

Thank you for the post on Bhagavan's death experience.
It seems there was a second death experience in 1912. All the bios of Bhagavan report this, but do not comment any futher. Bhagavan himself seems to shrug this of by saying that he used to have these kind of experiences earlier too, only this time (in 1912 that is), it was more intense. In his bio of Bhagavan, Prof Swaminathan seems to imply (at least that is my understanding), that only after this second death experience, Bhagavan became less withdrawn and more comfortable with the world of "becoming".

In your interations with devotees like Kunju Swami, Sadhu Om, Poonjaji, Annamalai Swami, Lakshmana Swami, have they commented and elaborated further on this second death experience ?

May we also know your own views on this ?

Thank you,
shiv

Bala said...

David,

Thanks for the lovely posts. God Bless.

Can you please also have a post down the line on the "Tortoise Rock" death experience if possible?

I was going thru your article on Nisargatta Maharaj (in your site) and I am enclosing the snippet below and wondering whether this is kind of related to the Totoise Rock experience which Bahagwan had.

-------------------------

At some point Maharaj asked him, 'Have you witnessed your own death?' and Rudi replied 'No'.

Maharaj then launched into a mini-lecture on how it was necessary to witness one's own death in order for there to be full realisation of the Self. He said that it had happened to him after he thought that he had fully realised the Self, and it wasn't until after this death experience that he understood that this process was necessary for final liberation.

David Godman said...

Anonymous

The second death experience was a physical death experience in so far as Bhagavan says that his circulation and heart-beat both temporarily stopped. I think the Madurai death experience was an ego-death; there is no record of Bhagavan's body having had a near-death experience in the moments it took him to realise the Self.

Lakshmana Swamy often used to say, For realisation, the mind must die. there is no other way.' He used to say that anything short of that was not true realisation. He does not accept that mind in any shape of form can exist after realisation.

I have not heard any of the people you refer to speak about this second death experience.

I remember Nisargadatta telling a visitor 'For enlightenment to be complete, you must have witnessed your own death'. It must have happened to him for him to make this comment, but I don't remember reading any description of it anywhere.

I think that Bhagavan's return to normal functioning took place gradually over several years. At the beginning of the twentieth century he was absorbed in the Self most of the time, and mostly incapable of speech. By the time Ganapati Muni came to see him in 1908, he was talking a little and leading a more normal life. By 1912, which is when the second death experience took place, the process of normalisation was virtually complete. The visit of Humphreys in 1911, for example, indicates that Bhagavan was dealing with visitors and talking to them in a normal way. I don't think there is much evidence to say that the second death experience was a key moment in his development.

Arvind

I agree that Bhagavan used to melt and even cry when stories of the Gods were told, or when he had to tell them himself. That is slightly different to crying to God for grace. I agree with the person who first posed the question on this: it's a little odd that Bhagavan would be praying to God for grace after his realisation.

arvind said...

Thank you David for patiently responding to the comments made. And, forgive me for carrying on the discussion on this topic further, now already much extended.

This one continues on trying to understand Sri Bhagavan’s prayers to God for Grace after His realization …

The Nyanmars were all great Devotees of God. Though I could be wrong, I don’t seem to recall now whether even one of them went through the path of Jnana to achieve liberation. And most of them achieved liberation in the form of – physical union / absorption with God or physical transport in their existent bodies to the abode of God. Some did that immediately whereas some left us their marvelous devotional hymns before their final liberation.

So when Sri Bhagavan prays to God “for the same Grace He gave to the saints” it is the Devotional aspect of the Jnani coming to the fore. It is not as if, after His enlightenment, He went with any pre-planned intention to pray in such a manner in front of the Images. The prayers were unintended and spontaneous outpourings of devotion / devotional emotion once He had been drawn into the temple. In front of the heart-melting images of the great Nyanmar devotees it was as if the Heart of the Jnani took on the bhakti-shade from them and wept spontaneously for God’s love much as the great saints had themselves wept. He was not actually praying for Grace for any further liberation from God. It was that – in a helpless, devotional burst of love, much like a child who wants the same sweet as was given by the father to his brothers without any intention of actually eating it, but solely because he wants to feel loved by his father, He wanted the “same Grace” from the Divine Father.

Subramanian. R said...

Dear David, Reg: Bhagavan's death experience. Krishna Bhikshu's book is unique and closest to the truth in many respects. Eg. When Echammal
merged in the Self, Bhagavan had
commented: " Now, Keerai Patti
remains..." indicating that He
would shed His body only after
Patti's merger in the Self. Again,
Krishna Bhikshu says: "Bhagavan is an avatara of Skanda and Jnana
Sambandha." No one after Kavyakanta Ganapati Muni, wrote this in a forthright manner.

Subramanian. R said...

Dear skeye, Bhagavan wept before
63 saints and requested for Grace,
not to self-realize (which is already over) but to take care of
His mission, for the sake of gracing others, for the remaining 54 years.

Subramanian. R said...

Dear skeye, Bhagavan wept before
63 saints and requested for Grace,
not to self-realize (which is already over) but to take care of
His mission, for the sake of gracing others, for the remaining 54 years.

Subramanian. R said...

Dear David, in the first death experience of Bhagavan in Madurai
house, there was no time element at all, perhaps it was instantaneous; the second experience in the Hill, in the presence of Vasudeva Sastri,
according to Bhagavan, lasted for
about 15 minutes.

Jupes said...

"I felt that there was a force or current, a centre of energy playing on the body, continuing regardless of the rigidity or activity of the body, though existing in connection with it. It was that current, force or centre that constituted my Self, that kept me acting and moving, but this was the first time I came to know it. I had no idea of my Self before that. From that time on, I was spending my time absorbed in contemplation of that current."

I finally got around to reading the May 7th post on Bhagavan's death experience and can see why it was such a big hit on the blog. I am especially struck by the sentences quoted above. I don't recall ever reading anything where Bhagavan used those words 'current, force, or centre' to describe the Self. To my way of thinking this description of the Self comes closest to seeming almost physical, or within the realm of sensation. It almost sounds like he's describing electricity, the basic electrical force of the body and the universe, well-known among acupuncturists, reiki practitioners, polarity therapists, etc. The chi of Qi Gong and T'ai Chi. Since that energy is something that can be felt, I have always assumed that the Self was beyond that, if 'beyond' is the right word.

David, could you please address this and clarify? Thanks!

David Godman said...

Bhagavan used words such as 'silence' and 'stillness' to describe the unmanifest Self. However, when this same Self becomes active through its own inherent sakti, manifestation appears and is sustained. When identification with the individual 'I' is dropped, this energy is often experienced in the form of peace and bliss surging through the body. It is a tangible force that makes the body do the things it is destined to do and say the things it is destined to say.

Rangan was one of Bhagavan's school friends. When he came to Skandashram many years later, he massaged Bhagavan's legs and commented that at school his skin used to be very rough, whereas now it was smooth.

Bhagavan replied, 'This is not the old body. the old body was burned by jnanagni [the fire of jnana].'

The power of the Self surging through a jnani's body not only gives the experience of peace, it also physically transforms the cells of the body in some way.

I don't know enough about all the other systems you mentioned to comment on whether they are referring to the same force or principle, but I can confirm, on the basis of what Bhagavan has said, that this sakti can be experienced in a physical way once one has dropped the 'I am the body' idea.

Jupes said...

I find this very interesting, especially that the power of the Self surging through a jnani's body can physically transform the cells. I wonder if it is only the cells of a jnani's body that can be transformed or if that could also happen with someone who is temporarily centered in the Self, who is still partly oriented to the 'I am the body' idea but is letting go of that.

This transforming of the cells reminds me of things I've heard and read related to 'New Age' thought, about changes occuring in people on a cellular level, as a result of the overall transformation of the earth and humanity that is supposedly occurring. It has always sounded rather hoaky and insubstantial to me, coming from that angle, but hearing it from you in relation to Bhagavan makes it sound much more real.

As far as those other systems I mentioned, I know a little bit about them and my sense is that they do refer to the same current or force that Bhagavan talked about. I may be wrong about this, but that is what I think. I find it exciting to see this possible link between Bhagavan's experience of the Self and these various energetic systems.

If you have more info related to this I would love to read it.

Thanks, David.

Subramanian. R said...

Dear skeye, Bhagavan wept before
63 saints and requested for Grace,
not to self-realize (which is already over) but to take care of
His mission, for the sake of gracing others, for the remaining 54 years.

arvind said...

David, to add further to why Sri Bhagavan went to the Meenakshi Mata Temple and shed tears in front of the Images of the Nyanmars:

We need not suppose that the state of Self-realisation or Jnana is a dry, emotionless one; that after Self-realisation devotional behaviour is not possible. It seems that when the Jnani is active in the world he is drawn naturally towards the Lord and His stories and finds them all irresistibly touching. Sri Bhagavan Himself mentioned repeatedly how pure Devotion and Jnana go hand-in-hand; that the Jnani is indeed the greatest Devotee.

Suri Nagamma records in “Letters”, (3) “Quarrel between Uma and Maheswara” (23rd November 1945):

“…. When he spoke in this strain about her motherly affection [of the younger sister of Muttu Krishna Bhagavathar who had given Him food at Tirukoilur when He was on the way to Arunachala], I could see that Bhagavan was overflowing with love. His voice was choked with emotion. That sight reminded me of the saying that the heart of a Jnani is as soft as butter, and once more of the old saying “premapoornathaya Jnanam” (The culmination of devotion is Knowledge).

Sometime back, while reading that portion in Arunachalapurana where Gautama was extolling Amba, Bhagavan’s eyes were flooded with tears, his voice faltered and he put the book aside and sank into silence. Whenever any incident full of love takes place, or whenever passages saturated with bhakti are read, we often see Bhagavan thus overwhelmed with emotion. As one goes on observing, one gets confirmed in the view that prema and bhakti (devotion) are merely different aspects of Jnana (knowledge).”

[ Also, the query could be that why should a Jnani, post Self-realisation, visit the Meenakshi Mata Temple at all in the first place ? ]

Meenakshi Mata is absolutely the sweetest, most loving form of the Great Mother, ever, and the Temple is an absolute Mother-lode of holiness, sacredness and piety. It draws one in like a magnet so to speak. This is from personal experience. I once stayed close to the temple for just about a week with the intention of spending time in the upstairs room of Sri Bhagavan’s. Instead I found myself irresistibly drawn into the Temple’s cavernous halls and corridors more and more, sitting in obscure dark corners inside the vast complex, and indeed pausing for long in front of all the Images. This was for a dunderhead like me. For the young Venkatraman who had lived for so long so close to the Temple, and who was now a Jnani, the Temple would have exerted a fierce pull and He would have been drawn to it naturally. In fact, my belief is that Sri Bhagavan spent a lot more time inside the Temple than has been recorded.

Prajnananda said...

I may come for a lot of critcism but I am going to post this anyhow. Bhagavan realized his Self because of his conscious death experience at only age 17. Another longer and more acute death experience occured in the Virupaksha cave when Bhagavan's physical body was over 30 years.

So anyway Venkatramana's causal/seed body or the anandamayakosha or the ego completely got destroyed during the death experiences. There was no way for the seed body to take on another body in another lifetime, as it happens to billions upon the death of the mortal body.

So unless this happens (meaning the actual death of the ego) Self Realization will not occur. If I am not mistaken even Nisargadatta Maharaj also had a conscious death experience while alive.

But then today we have so many neo advaitists from the West who do not give any importance to the conscious death experience where the ego or the anandamayakosha is destroyed resulting in liberation.

We have so many neo advaitists and non dualists like Tony parsons, Sailor Bob, John Wheeler, Eckhart Tolle and countless others who call themselves sages, teachers and what not and do not even talk about the actual death fo the ego or the seed body which would certainly sprout into another body according to its triple karma. In fact they have not had their egos destroyed like Bhagavan did.

These self appointed sages have not had a death experience and have only understood the subject matter in theory and claim that, that is enough and ridicule all talk of Self Realization saying such talk is only suppositional and not a necessary event in one's spiritual life.

These neo advaitists conveniently dub the actual occurence of Self Realization or enlightenment or the actual death of the ego or the causal body as stupid concepts and conjecture.

Clemens Vargas Ramos said...

Dear Prajnananda,

we do not know whether Tony parsons, Sailor Bob, John Wheeler, Eckhart Tolle and others have experienced the death of the ego and don't need to know it. Death of the ego is furthermore certainly not the implicit result of a physical death or a death experience but can happen in every second of life, and actually happens (in the absence of the I thought).

But I appreciate your view of the problem that self realization certainly has much more to do with a kind of death experience as many people might assume. We tend to reduce life to this lifetime of the body. But we need to understand and to experience that a) universal life embraces "life" and death and is itself beyond of it and b) that we are part of this universal life.

Ravi said...

Prajnananda,
"which would certainly sprout into another body according to its triple karma."
I agree with what you have posted,except the 'death experience' that you have mentioned.This is like any other experience-and no experience is the LAST one.There have been many jnanis who have not expressed anything like this.For instance Sri Annamalai Swami said that he just eased into self Realization.He used to say that the moment you start climbing a Hill,you start experiencing the coolness.
The other emphasis on 'Rebirth' -this is also another idea that gets dropped.The self is never born(ajata).
From another angle,for a true devotee(jnani)it hardly matters whether one is born or goes beyond it.As long as happiness and misery are the same,how does it matter whether one is born or not.
-----------------------------------
Just this moment,are we born or not;Are we in need of anything in this moment?
Namaskar.

Ravi said...

Arvind,
Just now got to see your wonderful post(Nov 17,2010)
namaskar.

arvind said...

Hi Ravi,

Am glad you liked the post. Actually it was posted in 2008, but somehow blogger has popped it up again with a new date!

But this gives me a chance to write again about the Meenakshi Mata Temple. I know that there are plenty of "touristy" crowds these days with only a little devotion on their minds. But for me, the temple remains as one of the most sacred and holy places one could ever visit.

I really do believe that there is an integral link between Sri Bhagavan and Meenakshi Mata. Perhaps it was Her Grace that triggered the great events that day in July 1896. I know that this leads to hypothetical questions like, “Wouldn’t young Venkataraman have become enlightened even if he were not in Madurai; if he were in Tiruchuli, say ?”

Yes, certainly, would be my reply. A ripe and spiritually mature Venkataraman would have become a Jnani even if he were in New Delhi! But seriously, I believe that Divinity works with the linking of the holy instruments It Itself makes available in the world at that point in time, and the Divine Intent was that young Venkataraman should be a few paces away from one of the holiest places on earth, Mother Meenakshi’s Temple. And thus a clue if you will, or a subtle linkage is available for those who would care to pay attention to it. That the Divine Intent was to show to devotees who follow, that the Grace of Mother Meenakshi Herself was directly at hand for young Venkataraman.

I know there is little literature directly linking young Venkataraman with the temple. It is presumed that he only occasionally visited it for routine traditional pujas perhaps, and then later on, sometimes, when as Sri Bhagavan, He “shed tears”. But this does not take into account the scenario of a temple town in the 1890’s in India. Even if it was a “royal” town. Other than the palace & its compound & the British cantonment, the temple itself was the town. There was virtually nothing of note for the locals beyond 500 metres of the temple, other than other temples. Any child who lived there would have necessarily spent a considerable amount of time flitting in & out through the temple’s vast corridors & halls. The temple’s chambers would have been used for play & study & for carrying out the day to day routine of child-life.

But the foregoing is only my personal belief. It helped me enormously in sadhana to stay close to the temple and pray to Mother Meenakshi for Grace in following Sri Bhagavan as my Guru. In fact, “enormously” does not even come close to describing it.

Best wishes

hey jude said...

Yes I have visited the great Meenakshi temple and have some interesting memories.
I went to the inner sanctum where Ramana wept in front of the 63 saints. It was dark and primordial and each deity was dressed in a different outfit representing various aspects and meaning, quite inexpressible. One of the priests had a pet fox and it walked around with great confidence and all the pilgrims swung around to have a second look
at the wild animal that had been tamed.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm! The title itself starts of with Bhagavan's death EXPERIENCE. Kind of funny the word "experience" has only been faulted now. What was meant was the annhilation of the ego, "the I am this body idea" which causes rebirth, which Bhagavan was able to do after his conscious voluntary death process at age 17 Regarding ajata or the dream of the waking state that requires a different thread altoghether.

This death of the ego is only meant for those interested in actual liberation from further births or formlessness, not for those who like the idea of forms.

Anonymous said...

To me it is all intellectually stimulating discussion by different wisemen/sages I may say. The truth will reveal to the one who has gone through this experience.Let us try earnestly to experience this