Devotees of Arunachala are well aware of Giri Pradakshina but what is Atma Pradakshina? To find out let us go back to a certain day in May 1946 when Bhagavan was still present physically in the ashram. On that day, Sundaresa Iyer, a devotee who used to bring food for Bhagavan came and bowed before him. Bhagavan asked him, “Did you go around the hill by way of pradakshina ?” “No, said the devotee.” To this Bhagavan said, “last night when people were going out for giri pradakshina because of the moonlight, he also started to go. But he felt he could not complete the round. When they were starting out after telling me, he went around me quickly. When I asked him why he did so, he said, I am afraid I cannot go round the hill. So I have gone around Bhagavan.” “Go round yourself. That will be Atma pradakshina”, so saying Bhagavan began laughing.
Here Bhagavan narrated a relevant story: “Once upon a time, Lord Shiva wanted to teach a lesson to his son Subramanya who fancied himself to be a great sage; so Lord Shiva sat on the top of Mount Kailasam with Parvathi, holding a wonderful fruit in his hand. Seeing the fruit, both the sons of Lord Shiva, Ganesh and Subramanya each asked their father Shiva to give it to him. To this Shiva said that he would give the fruit to whoever of them got back first after going round the whole world. With confidence and pride that he would win the race, Subramanya started immediately riding on his favorite mount, the peacock and began going at a fast pace, frequently looking behind to assure himself that his elder brother Ganesh was not following. What could poor Ganesh do, with his huge belly? His mount was after all a mouse. So he thought it was no good competing with Subramania in the race around the world, and instead went around his parents Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi, bowed before them and claimed the reward. When they asked him to justify his action he replied, “All the worlds are contained within you; so if I go around you, it is as good as going round the whole world.” Pleased with his reply, Shiva gave him the fruit and Ganesh started eating it with pleasure.
In full confidence that he would be the winner, Subramanya completed his world tour very fast and flew back to Kailash to claim his reward, the fruit from Shiva. To his consternation he found Ganesh sitting there and calmly eating it. Enraged he shouted and asked how that could be, it was unfair and he never saw Ganesh going around before him. So Lord Shiva patiently explained to Subramanya what had happened and how Ganesh came to claim the reward. After hearing this, Subramanya felt ashamed and and realised how full of vanity and pride he was. He bowed humbly before his parents and asked to be pardoned. That is the story.
The significance of this tale is that the ego which goes round like a whirlwind must get destroyed, and must get absorbed in Atma. That is the meaning of Atma Pradakshina” finished Bhagavan.
A seeker asked, “The ancients say that for a person who wants to know the real state, sadhana (spiritual practice), sravana (listening to the Truth), Manana (reflection on the Truth) and Nidhidhyasana (abidance in the Truth) are absolutely necessary till the very end. Is that so?”
Bhagavan replied: “They are necessary only to get rid of the various things that come from outside and that too for purposes of sadhana only, but not for realising the Self. One’s own self is there at all times and in all places. Sravana etc are to be resorted to only to get rid of external influences but if they are regarded as the most important things they will be the cause of the development of further ego such as ‘I am a learned man, I am a great man’ and the like. That is a big samsara. It is difficult to get rid of it later on. It is bigger than a wild elephant. It will not yield ordinarily.”
“For that wild elephant, it is said that Guru Kataksham (the Grace of the Guru) is like seeing a lion in its dream”, said the questioner.
“That is true. If an elephant sees a lion in its dream, it wakes up startled and will not sleep again that day for fear that the lion might appear again in a dream. In the same way in a man’s life which is also akin to a dream, it is not Guru Kataksham alone, but also sravana, manana, nidhidhyasana etc that are akin to the sight of a lion in a dream. As they go on getting these dreams they wake up, and again go to bed and by efflux of time they may some day get a lion’s dream called Guru Kataksham in an intense manner. They get startled and obtain jnana. Then there will be no more dreams and they will not only be wakeful at all times but will not give room for any dreams of life but will remain alert until that true and real knowledge is obtained. These lion’s dreams are unavoidable and must be experienced”, said Bhagavan.
With some surprise the questioner asked, “are Sravana etc and Guru Kataksham akin to dreams?”. “Yes, that is so. For those who realise the truth, everything is akin to a dream. That being so, what do you now say, is the truth? During sleep you have no control over this body. You wander about in various places with different bodies. You do all sorts of things. At that time everything appears real. You do everything as if you are the doer. It is only after you wake up that you feel that you are so and so, that what you experienced in the dream is unreal and that it was only a dream. …
…. When you are able to understand your state which had been existent all the time, you will then understand that all the rest is a dream. When that is known, the feeling that the Guru is different from you will disappear. But then, since this realisation must come about because of Guru Kataksham, that Guru Kataksham is likened to the dream of a lion. That dream must be intense and must imprint itself in one’s mind. It is only then that a proper wakefulness will come about…”
Courtesy: Letters from Ramanasramam by Suri Nagamma
During the time when Sri Ramana used to sit in the old Hall of the ashram, one day there arrived a sadhu among the gathering. He approached Bhagavan and said, “Bhagavan! It is said that the Self (Atman) is present in everything. Does that mean that the Self is to be found, even in a dead body?” Bhagavan replied, “Oh! This is what you want to know, is it? Is it the dead body who wants to know, or is it you? Who is asking the question?. The Sadhu replied, “it is I who want to know, Bhagavan.”
Then Bhagavan explained: While you are asleep, do you wonder, Am I here or not?. It is only in the wakeful state that you say, ‘I am’. Similarly, the Self is definitely present even in a dead body. But if you enquire further, you will realise that both the dead body and the living body are equally illusory. That which moves, we label as being ‘alive’, and that which is motionless, we say is ‘dead’. The differentiation is only in our minds. In our dreams, we see both the living and the dead. As soon as we wake up, we realise that both the living and the dead of our dreams are but illusions. In the same way, this entire universe is nothing more than a grand illusion. The birth of the I thought is referred to as birth and the disappearance of the I thought is death. Both birth and death are for the ego alone. Neither birth nor death can touch the I which forms the essence of your being. When the awareness of the Self is strong, you are there; you are equally there when the self-awareness fades. It is ‘you’ that is the source of the ‘I-thought”. But the ‘I-thought’ is not you.
Realisation is nothing but perceiving the source of the cycle of birth and death, and uprooting the ego and destroying it completely. That is, you must ‘die’ and still remain aware. He who dies with awareness is transformed into pure Self. That is, when the ego dies, the Self is born. When this happens, all doubts vanish immediately. The veil of illusion is lifted and everything is perceived properly. All confusion is removed. The differentiation between birth and death, living and dead, everything disappears. The Self is all-knowing. The Self has no doubts. It is only the ego that is plagued by doubts.
– (from Cherished Memories by T.R.Kanakammal)
Going deeper, the mind (manomaya kosa) and its functions are not ‘I’.
The next step takes on to the question. “Wherefrom do these thoughts arise?” The thoughts are spontaneous, superficial or analytical. They operate in intellect. Then, who is aware of them? The existence of thoughts, their clear conceptions and their operations become evident to the individual. The analysis leads to the conclusion that the individuality of the person is operative as the perceiver of the existence of thoughts and of their sequence. This individuality is the ego, or as people say ‘I’. Vijnanamaya kosa (intellect) is only the sheath of ‘I’ and not the ‘I’ itself.
Enquiring further the questions arise, “Who is this ‘I’? Wherefrom does it come?” ‘I’ was not aware in sleep. Simultaneously with its rise sleep changes to dream or wakefulness. But I am not concerned with dream just now. Who am I now, in the wakeful state? If I originated from sleep, then the ‘I’ was covered up with ignorance. Such an ignorant ‘I’ cannot be what the scriptures say or the wise ones affirm. ‘I’ am beyond even ‘Sleep’; ‘I’ must be now and here and what I was all along in sleep and dreams also, without the qualities of such states. ‘I’ must therefore be the unqualified substratum underlying these three states (anandamaya kosa transcended).
‘I’ is, in brief, beyond the five sheaths. Next, the residuum left over after discarding all that is not-self is the Self, Sat-Chit-Anand
ONE day it was suggested to Sri Maharshi that no spiritual progress could ever be made without sadhana, or discipline. After a pause he made these observations:
“Mind it is that binds man, and the same mind it is that liberates him. Mind is constituted of sankalpa and vikalpa desire and disposition. Desire is of two kinds the noble and the base. The base desires are lust and greed. Noble desire is directed towards enlightenment and emancipation. Base desire contaminates and clouds the understanding. Sadhana is easy for the aspirant who is endowed with noble desires. Calmness is the criterion of spiritual progress. Plunge the purified mind into the Heart. Then the work is over. This is the essence of all spiritual discipline!”
D. Is solitude necessary for a Jnani?
M.: Solitude is in the mind of man. One might be in the thick of the world and maintain serenity of mind; such a one is in solitude. Another may stay in a forest, but still be unable to control his mind. He cannot be said to be in solitude. Solitude is a function of the mind. A man attached to desire cannot get solitude wherever he may be; a detached man is always in solitude.
D.: So then, one might be engaged in work and be free from desire and keep up solitude. Is it so?
M.: Yes. Work performed with attachment is a shackle, whereas work performed with detachment does not affect the doer. He is, even while working, in solitude.
M.: A practiser gains peace of mind and is happy. That peace is the result of his efforts. But the real state must be effortless. The effortless samadhi is the true one and theperfect state. It is permanent. The efforts are spasmodic and so also their results.
When the real, effortless, permanent, happy nature is realised it will be found to be not inconsistent with the ordinary activities of life. The samadhi reached after efforts looks like abstraction from the external activities. A person might be so abstracted or live freely among people without detriment to his Peace and Happiness because that is his true nature or the Self.
A question was asked as to the nature of happiness.
M.: If a man thinks that his happiness is due to external causes and his possessions, it is reasonable to conclude that his happiness must increase with the increase of possessions and diminish in proportion to their diminution. Therefore if he is devoid of possessions, his happiness should be nil. What is the real experience of man? Does it conform to this view?
In deep sleep the man is devoid of possessions, including his own body. Instead of being unhappy he is quite happy. Everyone desires to sleep soundly. The conclusion is that happiness is inherent in man and is not due to external causes. One must realise his Self in order to open the store of unalloyed happiness.