The Last Talk of Ramalingam (5): The Taste Of The Transcendental

Traditional Tamilian vegetarian lunch spread on eco-friendly plantain leaf – In the Arutperunjothi Agaval, Ramalingam praises the sustaining power of the OmniLight in terms of the metaphor of delectable and nourishing food: “இளைப்பற வாய்த்த வின்சுவை யுணவே!”


In the notes on Ramalingam’s last talk (பேருபதேசம்), it is reported that he made the following remarks:

“சமயந்தவிர மதங்களில் உள்ள வேதாந்தி சித்தாந்தி யென்று பெயரிட்டுக் கொண்ட பெரியவர்களும் உண்மை யறியாது, சமயவாதிகளைப் போலவே ஒன்று கிடக்க ஒன்றை உளறுகிறார்கள். ஆதலால் நீங்கள் அஃது ஒன்றையும் நம்பவேண்டாம். எவைகளிலும் தெய்வத்தைப் புறமுகமாகப் புலப்படச் சொல்லவில்லை.”

Translation: “Apart from the adherents of religious sects, there are also those in philosophical or theological schools who call themselves “Vedantin” (adherent of Vedanta) , “Siddhantin” (adherent of Siddhanta), and so forth, who senselessly proclaim falsehoods or absurdities in the manner of the adherents of religious sects. Therefore, you should not subscribe to any of their claims. None of them provide an integral and clear account of the nature of the supreme divine being (தெய்வம்) or the OmniLight.”

Here are a few examples of this “உளறல்” or incoherence Ramalingam refers to:

Take the claim, prevalent in some schools of “Vedanta”, that the world is an “illusion” or “Maya” (Saiva Siddhanta uses this term “Maya” in a different sense, to mean the primordial stuff, or matter, which constitutes a cosmos and its objects or entities).  It is meant that the world does not have reality and that it is ignorance, a grave error, to think that it is real.

This is a case of “உளறல்” or incoherence because to think and speak consciously that the world is an “illusion” implies that there is a thinker who possesses the appropriate means, e.g., the instruments of thought, cognition, language, speech, etc., to think and express in speech the thought that “the world is an illusion”. These instruments of thought, cognition, language, speech, etc., must be real or actually exist. Otherwise, one cannot think and express the claim that “the world is an illusion”.

And since entities and instruments don’t exist in a vacuum, the existence of a thinker who uses such means of thought and speech implies the actuality or reality of a world which has facilitated the emergence of these means or instruments and constitutes their basis.

It is important to bear in mind that these schools or forms of “Vedanta” are not purveyors of philosophical skepticism, i.e., the view that we cannot know anything. They acknowledge or assume that we can know that the world is an “illusion” and that Brahman or the Absolute Being is the sole reality. Hence, skeptical arguments in their defense would render their position utterly incoherent.

Further, since illusions are occurrences or events, they do not have the capacity to perceive or recognize themselves as such. It is absurd to think that a mirage or an optical illusion, e.g., seeing an oasis in the distant desert landscape, itself has the capacity to recognize that it is an illusion.

An illusion can occur or happen only for a being which has the capacity of perception, judgment, and knowledge. And, again, such a being can only exercise its capacity of perception, judgment, and knowledge with the help of requisite instruments of cognition which, again, require and imply a real world.

Hence, it is a case of “உளறல்” or incoherence to claim that “the world is an illusion”, a claim which implies that there actually exists a thinker, speaker, instruments of cognition and speech, and world.

Notice also that in judging as an error, or a case of ignorance, the belief in the reality of the world, these “Vedantins” turn incoherent again, since error or ignorance can only be attributed to a being who has the capacity and means of knowledge, i.e., instruments of cognition, and this, again, implies their reality and that of the world in which they have emerged.

As his “Arutperunjothi Agaval” or “Invocations of the OmniLight” makes it clear, Ramalingam accepts the reality of the world, and celebrates its manifold beauty,  its diverse objects and creatures, their attributes, states, and experiences,  all of which is a function of the fact that it is brought about, organized, developed, regulated, sustained, transformed, and dissolved by அருள் or the supreme compassion-force of the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி).

I have also pointed out in an early post that Ramalingam accepts the reality of suffering, a sine qua non of compassion and its development.

In his great essay on the practice of compassion for living beings, Ramalingam refutes the Vedantic doctrine that suffering is an “illusion” because the individual self or soul (ஆன்மா) is really the Atman which is of the nature of bliss (Ananda), and, hence, immune to suffering.

Ramalingam’s refutation of this Vedantic doctrine is based on the fact that there is something which is the bearer, subject, or “experiencer” of enjoyment or suffering, that which recognizes, or remembers, and declares that it has undergone suffering or enjoyment caused by diverse objects, events, etc. He argues that the physical body cannot be the bearer, subject, or “experiencer” of suffering since it has no inherent property of consciousness or intelligence. It is made of material constituents which are insentient and lack the property of intelligence. The instruments of cognition share the same properties.

I would add that these material or physical constituents of the body lack the I-sense or sense of self. Therefore, an essential characteristic of human and non-human sentient beings, viz., the I-sense, cannot be reduced to the properties of the constituents of their physical bodies. How, then, do we account for the reality of the I-sense in sentient beings?

Ramlingam writes in his 1867 essay on compassion for living beings (சீவகாருண்ய ஒழுக்கம்):

“இந்தத் தூலதேகத்தில் சீவனாக இருக்கிற ஆன்மாவும் அறிவுக்கறிவாயிருக்கிற கடவுள் இயற்கை விளக்கமுந் தவிர, கரணம், இந்திரியம் முதலிய மற்றவைகளெல்லாம் கருவிகளாகிய தத்துவசடங்களே யல்லது சித்துக்களல்ல.”

In this gross (தூல or sthūla) body, apart from the soul which lives in the body and the inherent illumination of God (கடவுள்) also present in the body, the mind, the inner senses of cognition (கரணம்), and the outer physical senses (இந்திரியம் or Indriyas) are only inert natural constituents (தத்துவசடங்கள்) which are instruments (கருவி) and not entities possessing consciousness and intelligence”.

“ஆகலில் சுகதுக்கங்களைச் சடங்கள் அனுபவிக்க அறியா.”

Therefore, happiness and suffering cannot be experienced and known by those inert natural constituents, viz., senses, mind, the instruments of cognition.

“ஆகலில் ஆன்ம திருஷ்டிக்கு உபநயனங்களாக இருக்கின்ற மனம் முதலான கருவிகள் சுகதுக்கங்களை அனுபவிக்க மாட்டா; ஆன்மாவே அனுபவிக்குமென்று அறியவேண்டும்.”

Therefore, the mind and other instruments which enable a soul to perceive and understand cannot experience happiness and suffering. Only the soul can experience them.”

Thus, that which knows and declares that it has suffered or enjoyed is the soul (ஆன்மா), an immaterial entity, a soultron or conscious particle of light (சிற்றணு பசு), which is the bearer of intelligence and knowledge, but bound and incarnated  in a physical body as a consequence of its three primordial impurities of egoism (ஆணவம்), attachment to matter (மாயை), and karma (கன்மம்).

To return to other important remarks reported by the notes on Ramalingam’s last talk (பேருபதேசம்):

தெய்வத்தைத் தெரிந்து கொள்ளாது இவ்வுலகத்தார் என்னைத் தெய்வமெனச் சுற்றுகின்றார்கள். ஐயோ! நம் சகோதரர்கள் தெய்வத்தைத் தெரிந்து கொள்ளாததினாலேயல்லவா நம்மைச் சுற்றுகிறார்கள்!” என்று நான் உள்ளும் புறமும் பரிதாபப்பட்டுக் கொண்டே இருந்தேன், இருக்கின்றேன், இருப்பேன்.”

Translation: “Not knowing the supreme divine being, people are surrounding and worshiping me as a divine being! “Alas! It is because my soul-kin do not know the supreme divine being or the OmniLight (தெய்வம்) that they are surrounding and worshiping me as a divine being!”. I have been commiserating in this manner and will continue to do so.””

In these remarks, after dissuading against entanglement in the absurdities of sectarian religions and their theological schools, Ramalingam clearly rejects the practice of worshiping human beings as divine persons and points out that this is the result of ignorance, i.e., the lack of knowledge of the supreme divine being (தெய்வம்) or the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி).

The manuscript of Ramalingam’s magnum opus Arutperunjothi Agaval or Invocations of the OmniLight

This is consistent with the verses in his magnum opus Arutperunjothi Agaval, or Invocations of the OmniLight, which celebrate the gifts bestowed on him by the OmniLight. In the spirit of Ramalingam’s commiseration mentioned earlier, we must turn toward the munificent divine donor, the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி) , and not glorify the recipient at the expense of our contemplation of the benevolence of the divine donor.

Ramalingam’s commiseration at the sight of people who were trying to worship him as a divine being, instead of trying to gain knowledge of the divine supreme being or the OmniLight, tells us that he was not interested in encouraging a cult of the Guru, or a cult of the Avatar (divine incarnation).

It is important to note that he did not even designate himself the leader or president of the Suddha Sanmarga Sangam or community of Suddha Sanmargam which he founded. Instead, he affirms that the OmniLight  (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி) is the only president or leader of this community.

The great verses in his magnum opus Arutperunjothi Agaval (Invocations of the OmniLight) invoke அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி or the OmniLight as the supreme Guru or teacher.

Is it not, then, inconsistent with his own prohibition if we worship Ramalingam as a divine being or Guru today?

Certainly, if we are worshiping the human being who had the name “Ramalingam”.

However, such ritual worship (often to the neglect of the imperative of exemplifying his teachings) usually ignores the fact that Ramalingam’s unitive realization of the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி) implies that he exists now as a transfigured individual eternally attuned to it and inseparable from it.

If we keep this truth in mind, then we ought to realize that we are really looking up to the OmniLight or அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி when we invoke Ramalingam for guidance or cultivate devotional sentiments toward him. The being which had a human existence and bore the name “Chidambaram Ramalingam” is not a limited individual who confers blessings based on likes or dislikes, avowals of devotion, pooja or ritual worship, praise, etc. We must discard such false notions and always bear in mind that this being now has a transfigured individuality or personhood in the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி) and is inseparable from it.

In any case, we must never forget Ramalingam’s prescription to aspire for the experience and enjoyment of the supreme divine being or the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி)  and continue with the inquiry and practice to attain this experience.

Ramalingam’s radical departure from the traditional Hindu worship of some human beings as gurus, avatars or divine incarnations, and so forth, is also evident from the fact that there are no references to Rama or Krishna, the two great avatars in the Hindu pantheon,  in his post-enlightenment poetry and prose (1872 – 1874).  Even his 1867 essay on the ethic of compassion for living beings makes no reference to any Hindu deities, including Siva, the chief deity of  Saivism.

Ramalingam’s great Hall of Truth-Knowledge (Sathiya  Jnana Sabhai), which he designed without any formal training in architecture, does not have any images or symbols of Hindu deities. The Way of the OmniLight (Suddha Sanmargam) is above, beyond, and immeasurably greater than the narrow alleys of sectarian religions and their theological schools.

Ramalingam’s rejection of the Hindu Varnashrama system implies a rejection of Sannyasa (exemplified by the saffron-robed Hindu order of monks) and the associated cult of the “Swami” or the “Holy One”.

When his students and associates wanted to affix the title of “Swami” to his name in the volume of his collected poetry published during his lifetime, he forbade them (in a letter dated March 28, 1866) for the reason that it was a pompous title (ஆரவாரத்திற்கு அடுத்த பெயராகத் தோன்றுதலில்):

இராமலிங்கசாமியென்று வழங்குவிப்பது என் சம்மதமன்று. என்னை – ஆரவாரத்திற்கு அடுத்த பெயராகத் தோன்றுதலில். இனி அங்ஙனம் வழங்காமை வேண்டும்.

Translation: “I do not consent to being presented (to the public) by the name “Ramalingaswami” since it is pompous and pretentious. It must not be used.”

This tells us what he thought of the cult of the “Swami” or the “Holy One” and similar pretentious and pompous designations assumed by masters (and novices) of the impostures of pretended “holiness” and “enlightenment”.

His personal rejection of the Sannyasa order was also evident in the fact that, although his non-attachment to worldly matters was non pareil, he did not don any religious uniform such as saffron robes, or assume any pompous religious titles such as “Swami”, “Guru”, “Mahatma”, “Maharishi”, “Paramahamsa” and so forth. He invariably signed his letters and appropriate documents simply with his full name “Chidambaram Ramalingam”, notably omitting the caste suffix of “Pillai”.


David Hume (1711 – 1776)

In this context, it may be helpful to take into account the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume’s perceptive remarks on the psychology of pretension and dishonesty of religious authorities, e.g., priests, nuns, gurus, swamis, mullahs, rabbis, monks, Lamas, Rinpoches, “Zen masters”, and so forth.

In his short essay “A Note On the Profession of Priest“, Hume observed that:

“…clergymen…will find it necessary, on particular occasions, to feign more devotion than they are, at that time possessed of, and to maintain the appearance of (religious) fervor and seriousness, even when jaded with the exercises of their religion, or when they have their minds engaged in the common occupations of life. They must not, like the rest of the world, give scope to their natural movements and sentiments: They must set a guard over their looks and words and actions: And in order to support the veneration paid them by the multitude, they must not only keep a remarkable reserve, but must promote the spirit of superstition, by a continued grimace and hypocrisy. This dissimulation often destroys the candor and ingenuity of their temper, and makes an irreparable breach in their character.

The ambition of the clergy can often be satisfied only by promoting ignorance and superstition and implicit faith and pious frauds.

Most men have an overweaning conceit of themselves; but these (clergy) have a peculiar temptation to that vice, who are regarded with such veneration, and are even deemed sacred, by the ignorant multitude.”

Of course, such generalizations allow for exceptions, authentic figures of moral and spiritual excellence. The historical records of religions include such exceptional authentic figures, but they are exceptions in a welter, or pattern, of pretension, pomposity, hypocrisy, and worse.

I pointed out earlier that Ramalingam rejected the sanctimonious title of “swami” and did not encourage veneration by his friends and associates.

Sincerity was a cardinal value in Ramalingam’s ethical outlook. A celebrated prayer-poem he composed in his youth affirms the importance of avoiding insincerity or dissimulation:

“உள்ளொன்று வைத்து புறமொன்று பேசுவார்

உறவு கலவாமை வேண்டும்.”

Translation: “I must eschew relations with those whose speech conceals their true thoughts or intentions.”

He would, therefore, agree with Hume’s criticism of dissimulation and pretension in the religious professions.

The notes on Ramalingam’s last talk also report the following statements:

தெய்வத்தை ஏன் தெரிந்துகொள்ளவில்லையென்றால்: ஒரு பதார்த்தத்தை அனுபவித்தாலல்லது அந்தப் பதார்த்தத்தினுடைய ருசி தெரியாது. ருசி தெரியாத பதார்த்தத்தின் மேல் இச்சை போகாது. அதுபோல், தெய்வத்தையுள்ளபடி அனுபவித்தாலல்லது, தெய்வத்தினிடத்தில் பிரியம் வாராது. ஆதலால், தெய்வத்தைத் தெரிந்து கொள்ள வேண்டுமென்கிற முக்கிய லக்ஷியத்திலிருந்து கொண்டு விசாரஞ் செய்துகொண்டிருங்கள்.”

Translation: “The reason for not knowing the supreme divine being or the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி) is this: if we do not eat and gain experience of a delectable dish, we cannot know and enjoy its taste (and we will have no desire or craving for it). In the same way, if we do not have any experience and enjoyment of the supreme divine being or the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி), we will not have any desire to know its nature. Therefore, you must have the central goal of experiencing and knowing the supreme divine being or the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி) and continue with your inquiry to achieve this goal.”

This is a clear statement of the importance of striving for the highest spiritual experience, i.e., an experience of the supreme divine being or the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி).  Ramalingam characteristically draws a simple analogy to show that spiritual experience is essential to gaining knowledge of the supreme divine being or the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி).

And it is all based on the reasonable assumption that it is only by having an experience of something that we can develop an aptitude for gaining further experience and knowledge of it. It follows that an aptitude for gaining knowledge of the supreme divine being or the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி) can be developed only if we aspire wholeheartedly for spiritual experience and inquire into the means of attaining this experience.

In his magnum opus Arutperunjothi Agaval (Invocations of the OmniLight), Ramalingam describes an experience unique in the annals of mysticism, his enjoyment and “taste” of the supreme divine being or the OmniLight (அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி). His verses on this unique experience are examples of great spiritual or mystical poetry.

I will translate and discuss them in my next post.



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