The Last Talk of Ramalingam (2): Worldly and Spiritual Inquiry

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An old photo of Siddhi Valaagam or “Abode of Adepthood”, the venue of Ramalingam’s last talk in October 1873

 

Although these notes of his last talk are garbled in some places, they remain a crucial record for understanding Ramalingam’s views expressed in October 1873, a few months before his decision, at the age of 50,  to depart from the ken of mortals.  And there is a great deal in these notes on Ramalingam’s last talk consistent with his late writings in prose and poetry.

The radical and progressive nature of the views expressed by Ramalingam in his last talk in 1873 is evident from their contents. Perhaps, they retain their radical and progressive tenor even today.

In his last talk, Ramalingam rejected anthropomorphic religious thought, the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism and their theologies (and his rejection of heaven-hell eschatology implies a rejection of  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), religious sectarianism and the resulting social divisions, the Indian theologico-philosophical systems of Vedanta, Siddhanta, etc., and the social canker of casteism. I will address these aspects of Ramalingam’s radical critique in my next post in this series on his last talk.

Even in 1873, he affirmed and pointed the way toward a Post-Religious and Universalist moral and spiritual consciousness. Although he had no formal education, and had no normal access to developments in science in the West in the 19th century, he embraced scientific inquiry, especially cosmology and human biology, as an important part of a comprehensive spiritual inquiry on the path of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam, i.e., an inquiry, into the nature of ultimate reality, whose goal is the attainment of the immortal life of supreme wisdom, power, and bliss.

Of course, it is the presupposition of such spiritual inquiry on the path of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam, a presupposition whose truth is affirmed in Ramalingam’s own testimony, that the nature of ultimate reality is அருட்பெருஞ்ஜோதி (Arutperumjothi), or the Immense Light of Compassion, which bestows the immortal life of supreme wisdom, power, and bliss on those who have unconditionally surrendered body, life, and soul to it.

The notes state that Ramalingam pointed out that inquiry, as he conceives it, leads to liberation from sorrow,  but attribute to him garbled claims on the root meaning of the Tamil term for inquiry, விசாரம் (vicāram).

He is supposed to have said that the prefix “வி” (Vi) serves to negate what follows. It does have that sense or function in some Tamil words, e.g., “விராகம்” (virākam), which means the absence of “ராகம்”, or desire, or craving. “வி” (Vi) negates “ராகம்” (rākam) which means desire or craving.

However, the notes attribute to Ramalingam the claim that “விசாரம்” (vicāram) implies negation or absence of sorrow in that the prefix “வி”  (Vi) negates “சாரம்”  and the latter word “சாரம்” (cāram) is supposed to mean “துக்கம்” (tukkam) or suffering. The notes state:

சார மென்கின்றது துக்கம். விசார மென்கின்றது துக்க நிவர்த்தி. வி உபசர்க்கம். சாரமென்கின்ற துக்கத்தை நிவர்த்தித்தது வி ஆதலால், விசாரமென்கின்றது.”

Translation: ““சாரம்” (cāram) means “துக்கம்” (tukkam) or suffering. The prefix “வி” negates “சாரம்” (cāram) or suffering. Therefore, “விசாரம்” means negation or removal of suffering.”

On the contrary, as far as I have been able to ascertain from Tamil dictionaries, the word “சாரம்” (cāram) does not connote suffering at all. Therefore, the term “விசாரம்” (vicāram) cannot possibly mean removal or negation of suffering. In fact, one of the meanings of “விசாரம்” (vicāram) is anxiety or disquietude. The notes claim that Ramalingam rejected this sense of “விசாரம்” (vicāram), but provide no plausible explanation.

This is a good example of the fact that these notes of his last talk are garbled on some points and, therefore, cannot be taken at face-value. They must be evaluated in light of the late writings available in his own hand.

The prefix “வி”  also connotes திசை (ticai) or direction. “சாரம்” (cāram) also means the “core, gist, or essence” of something. This suggests that “விசாரம்” (vicāram) means moving toward the core, or gist, or essence of something. In other words, it means that inquiry proceeds toward the core, or gist, or essence of something.

Since சாரம் (cāram) also means “elevation or high ground”, the term “விசாரம்” (vicāram) can also mean “toward elevation or high ground”, or, in other words, inquiry is an ascent of the mind to get a better perspective on things.

The notes also claim that Ramalingam made a distinction between mundane inquiry or inquiry into worldly affairs (அபரம் – aparam – or இகலோக விசாரம்) and inquiry into the nature of divinity (பரம் – param – or பரலோக விசாரம்) and stated that only the latter is proper or true inquiry:

அவ்விசாரம் பரம் அபரம் என்று இரண்டு வகையா யிருக்கின்றது இவற்றிற் பரம் பரலோக விசாரம், அபரம் இகலோக விசாரம். இவ்விரண்டில் இகலோக விசாரம் விசார மல்ல. சாதாரணமாக ஒருவன் விசாரம் செய்து கொண்டிருக்கின்றானேயென்றால், அவ்விசாரம் விசாரமாகாது, உண்மை விசாரமுமல்ல. ஏனெனில்: விசார மென்கின்றதற்குப் பொருள்: வி-சாரம் என்பதில் வி சாதாரண உலக விசாரத்தை மறுக்க வந்தது; அது மேலும் பரலோக விசாரத்தையே குறிக்கும் பொருட்டு வந்தது.”

Translation: “Inquiry is of two kinds: பரம் (param) or inquiry into the nature of divinity or divine reality and அபரம் (aparam) or இகலோக விசாரம் or inquiry into mundane reality or worldly affairs.  Of these two kinds of inquiry, the inquiry into mundane reality or worldly affairs is not really inquiry. It is not true inquiry. The real meaning of inquiry is to go beyond mundane or worldly matters or affairs. It refers to inquiry into the supra-mundane and divine reality.”

In declaring that inquiry into worldly affairs is not true inquiry or the highest form of inquiry, Ramalingam may have had in mind one of the meanings of the Tamil word “அபரம்” (aparam) he uses to refer to inquiry into mundane or worldly affairs, namely, பொய் (poy) or falsehood, i.e., that the realm of worldly affairs, constituted by desire for wealth, property, and sexual enjoyment, is a realm rife with deception and falsehood.

A question could be raised in this context. How is his rejection of inquiry into mundane or worldly affairs (இகலோக விசாரம்) consistent with the inclusion of pure scientific inquiry (notably, cosmology and human biology) in his conception of inquiry? Scientific inquiry pertains to this world. If he rejects worldly affairs from the purview of inquiry, how is this consistent with his inclusion of scientific inquiry?

The answer hinges on a careful understanding of what he means by “அபரம்” (aparam), or இகலோக விசாரம், or inquiry into worldly affairs. I don’t think he intended to include in  இகலோக விசாரம், or inquiry into worldly affairs, matters of pure scientific inquiry motivated by the pursuit of truth. Rather, he means the ordinary affairs of the world driven by egocentric desire or aversion in varying forms and degrees.

These worldly affairs are constituted by the triad of பொன்விஷய இச்சை (desire for gold or wealth) பெண்விஷய இச்சை (sexual desire), and மண்விஷய இச்சை (desire for land or property).

In one of his petitions of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam (these petitions are addressed to Arutperumjothi or the Immense Light of Compassion), Ramalingam emphasizes the importance of transcending this triad of desires constitutive of worldly affairs. His rejection of inquiry into worldly affairs is based on the fact that these affairs are driven by the triad of desires which must be transcended on the path of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam.

All this implies that on the path of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam, we must not only eschew entanglements in worldly affairs constituted by the triad of பொன்விஷய இச்சை (desire for gold or wealth) பெண்விஷய இச்சை (sexual desire), and மண்விஷய இச்சை (desire for land or property), but also refrain from wasting precious time pursuing “studies” on these matters.

However, it is important to note that the path of  Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam advocated by Ramalingam is not a path of asceticism or monasticism and that in the early stages a moderate pursuit of worldly goods and pleasures is permissible on the condition that the requirements of compassion are not violated.

To return to the question posed earlier, since Ramalingam’s conception of இகலோக விசாரம், or inquiry into worldly affairs, does not include matters of pure scientific inquiry motivated by the pursuit of truth, his rejection of inquiry into worldly affairs is consistent with the inclusion of pure scientific inquiry (notably, cosmology and human biology) in his conception of inquiry and also his emphasis on inquiry as the means to the attainment of a life of supernal bliss or joy (பேரின்பப் பெருவாழ்வு).

 

 

 

 

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