Archive for ‘Ramalingam Biography’

May 6, 2018

The Letters of Ramalingam (2)

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A letter from Ramalingam dated April 25, 1865, addressed in his own handwriting to his long-time friend Irukkam Rathina Mudaliyaar in Chennai.

 

Letter # 2 (May 31, 1858)

Ramalingam’s second letter to Irukkam Rathina Mudaliyar (IRM), available in the collection of his letters published in 1932 by A. Balakrishna Pillai, is dated May 31, 1858.

It begins with an expression of good wishes from Ramalingam for long life and all-round prosperity (சகல சம்பத்து) to IRM.

This is followed by a remarkable request from Ramalingam:

“இந்தக் கடிதம் கொண்டு வருகிற சி. குமாரசாமி பிள்ளை படிக்க வேண்டுமென்று விரும்பியிருக்கிறபடியால், அவனுக்கு எந்த விதத்தில் படிப்பித்தால் படிப்பு வருமோ அந்த விதத்தில் படிப்பிக்க வேண்டும். சிரஞ்சீவி நமசிவாயத்துக்கும் இதுவே.”

“Since the bearer of this letter, C. Kumarasami Pillai, is coming there (Chennai, where IRM resided during this period) with the desire to pursue his education, he should be encouraged to learn in the manner which facilitates his progress in his studies. Siranjeevi Namasivayam should also be encouraged in the same way.”

In a note added to this letter, and addressed to the newlywed Muruga Pillai, Ramalingam writes again that:

“சிரஞ்சீவி குமாரசாமி அவ்விடம் வருகிறபடியால் அவனுக்கு படிப்பும் முயற்சியும் ஊதியமும் உண்டாகின்ற வகை எவ்வகை – அவ்வகை ஆராய்ந்து கூட்ட வேண்டும்.”

“Since Siranjeevi Kumarasami is coming there (Chennai), investigate (ஆராய்ந்து) and determine the manner in which his effort, learning, and gain may be augmented and implement it.”

In other words, Ramalingam advocated student-centered learning in 1858! I think his early experiences with mechanical and mind-numbing rote-learning in the formal educational system of his day (which still persists in the Indian educational system) certainly shaped his emphasis on student-centered learning. Ramalingam quit school in childhood and was a precocious autodidact in many branches of learning, including Tamil grammar, Tamil poetry, philosophy, herbology, and architecture (he designed the simple and exquisite structure of the Sathiya Gnana Sabhai or the Hall of Truth-Knowledge).

In his note to the newlywed Muruga Pillai, Ramalingam also provides sage advice on the life of a householder in the world:

“பழமை பாராட்டலும் கண்ணோட்டம் செய்தலும் சுற்றந் தழுவலும் அவசியம் சமுசாரிக்கு வேண்டும் என்பது நீ மாத்திரம் அடிக்கடி கவனிக்க வேண்டும்.”

“Observance and appreciation of customs (பழமை பாராட்டல்), discernment and consideration (கண்ணோட்டம்), and cultivating the company of relatives and friends (சுற்றத்தார் தழுவுதல்) are essential for a householder and you must foster them consistently.”

Letter # 3 (தை – Jan-Feb (probably 1859 or 1860)

The third letter addressed to IRM is undated except for the Tamil month (தை – Jan- Feb). It was probably written in 1859 or 1860 and contains important spiritual instructions. Ramalingam inscribes the words “this is confidential” (இது ரகசியம்) at the top of this letter and reiterates at the end that it should not be read to others.

It begins characteristically with praise for (I think it is a truncated exhortation to cultivate or develop the specified virtues) the virtues of IRM – love, intelligence, compassion, and ethical conduct – and invokes the supreme being Sivam to graciously confer on him and foster spiritual knowledge, long life, and சிந்தித மனோரத சித்தி or the attainment of  the ability to execute his intentions and realize his heart’s desires.

Ramalingam writes that in accordance with the request made by IRM in previous letters, he is going to offer some spiritual instructions in the sacred presence of Sivam (சிவ சந்நிதான சாட்சி), the deity of pure intelligence and goodness:

“பிர்ம விஷ்ணு ருத்திராதிகளுடைய பதங்களும் அந்தக் கர்த்தாக்களும் அவர்களால் சிருட்டி திதி சங்காரம் செய்யப்பட்டு வருகிற தேகாதி பிரபஞ்சங்களும் அனித்தியம்”

“Brahmas (godheads of creation), Vishnus (godheads of protection), and Rudras (godheads of destruction), their abodes, and the universes and bodies created, preserved, and destroyed respectively by them are impermanent.”

Note: In a striking departure from the popular Hindu view, Ramalingam mentions a plurality of these three types of godheads. In his magnum opus, Arutperumjothi Agaval, he also refers to innumerable cosmic rulers (தலைவர்கள்) who wield superhuman powers of creation, protection, destruction, concealment, and revelation in relation to countless universes and worlds.

“ஆகலில் – நித்தியமாகியும் என்றும் ஒரு தன்மை யுள்ளதாகியும் சச்சிதானந்த வடிவமாகியும் அகண்ட பரிபூரண வஸ்துவாகியும் விளங்கிய சிவமே நமக்குப்பொருள்.”

“Hence, Sivam who is the eternal being, whose essential nature does not undergo any change, who has the form of Satchidananda or absolute being-consciousness-bliss, who is the all-pervasive, whole or indivisible, and immaculate complete substance is the only ultimate reality or truth for us.

Note: Even in 1859 or 1860, Ramalingam’s understanding of the nature of Sivam makes it clear that he is not referring to the anthropomorphic deity of popular Saivism, the person with matted hair, serpents coiled around his neck, etc.

“அன்றியும், தாய் தந்தை குரு தெய்வம் சிநேகர் உறவினர் முதலியவர்களும் மேற்குறித்த சிவத்தின் திருவருளேயல்லது வேறில்லை.”

“Father, mother, teacher, tutelary deity, friend, relation, and so forth are all only manifestations or forms of this selfsame Sivam’s grace.”

“நாம் பல சனனங்களையுந் தப்பி மேலான இந்த மனிதப் பிறவி யெடுத்தது சிவத்தின் திருவருளைப் பெறுவதற்கே. எவ்வகைப் பிராயாசத்தினாலாவது அந்த அருளை அடைய வேண்டும்.”

“We have averted many lower forms of embodiment and attained this higher human embodiment, or embodiment in human form, only to obtain Sivam’s grace. We must obtain this grace by any endeavor or effort.”

“அந்த அருள் எவ்வகையால் வருமென்றால் – எல்லாவுயிர்களிடத்திலும் தயவும் பிரபஞ்சத்தில் வெறுப்பும் சிவத்தினிடத்தில் அன்பும் மாறாது நம்மிடத்திருந்தால் அவ்வருள் நம்மையடையும். நாமும் அதனையடைந்து எதிரற்ற சுகத்திலிருப்போம். இது சத்தியம்.”

“This grace can be obtained by the constant practice of compassion for all living beings, aversion to, and detachment from, the world,  and love of Sivam, the supreme being. We will then attain permanent bliss. This is the truth.”

“இனி மேற்குறித்த சாதனத்தை நாம் பெறுவதற்கு சிவபஞ்சாக்ஷரத் தியானமே முக்கிய காரணமாக இருக்கிறது. ஆகலில், இடைவிடாது நல்ல மனத்தோடு அதனை தியானிக்க வேண்டும்.”

“The above-mentioned spiritual practice is sustained by the constant contemplation of the Siva Panchaakshara mantra (Om Namah Sivaaya). This mantra must be contemplated with a good or purified mind.”

Note: Again, it is important to bear in mind Ramalingam’s account of the nature of Sivam, the Deity of the Siva Panchaakshara mantra: the eternal being (நித்தியம்),  One whose essential nature does not undergo any change (என்றும் ஒரு தன்மை உள்ளது),  One who has the form of Satchidananda or absolute being-consciousness-bliss (சச்சிதானந்த வடிவம்), and One who is the all-pervasive, whole or indivisible, and immaculate complete substance (அகண்ட பரிபுரண வஸ்து). It is also important to note that Ramalingam wrote these instructions more than a decade before his final enlightenment and his realization of the ultimate mantra which reveals Arutperumjothi or the Immense Light of Compassion. After his enlightenment, and particularly in his last talk delivered in October 1873, Ramalingam emphasized that the mantra of Arutperumjothi superseded all other mantras.

“அதனையிதனடியில் குறிக்கின்றேன். இதனைக் கண்டு தியானித்து வந்தால் பின்பு எல்லாம் விளங்கும்.”

“The Siva Panchaakshara mantra must be contemplated in conjunction with the following lines (of Tamil devotional poetry). This will result in enlightenment or the illumination of everything.”

“நானேயோ தவஞ்செய்தேன் சிவாயநம எனப்பெற்றேன்”

nāṉēyō tavañceytēṉ
civāyanama eṉappeṟṟēṉ

“What austerities and other spiritual practices could I have performed in past lives to obtain the mantra சிவாயநம (Sivaaya Namah) in this life?”

சிவாய நமவென்று  சிந்தித்து இருப்பார்க்கு அபாயம் ஒருநாளும் இல்லை

“To those who remain steadfast in the contemplation of “Sivaaya Namah”, there is no danger, misfortune, or calamity, on any day.”

நான் செய்த புண்ணியம் யாதோ சிவாயநம வெனவே, ஊன் செய்த நாவைக்கொண் டோதப்பெற்றேன்

“I do not know what good deeds performed in past lives have enabled me now to recite “Sivaaya Namah” with a tongue made of corruptible flesh!”

Note: Ramalingam’s first quotation is from a poem in one of the great works of Tamil spiritual poetry, and indeed world devotional poetry, the Thiruvaasagam (திருவாசகம்), composed by the 9th-century Tamil mystic poet Maanikkavaasagar. The rest of the poem is as follows. Its import is that Sivam, the being of bliss who is of the essence of the sweetness of honey and ambrosia, deigned to come on his own accord, and, entering the heart of the poet, conferred his grace, and made him averse to a life based on identification with the body. As a result of this act of grace by Sivam, the poet is left wondering “What austerities and other spiritual practices could I have performed in past lives to obtain the mantra சிவாயநம (Sivaaya Namah) in this life?”.

 

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The statue of Maanikkavaasagar holding a palm leaf on which is inscribed “Om Namah Sivaaya”, the mantra of Sivam, the supreme being

 

“நானேயோ தவஞ்செய்தேன்
சிவாயநம எனப்பெற்றேன்
தேனாய்இன் அமுதமுமாய்த்
தித்திக்குஞ் சிவபெருமான்
தானேவந் தெனதுள்ளம்
புகுந்தடியேற் கருள்செய்தான்
ஊனாரும் உயிர்வாழ்க்கை
ஒறுத்தன்றே வெறுத்திடவே.” (திருவாசகம்-திருவேசறவு)

Ramalingam’s second quotation is from a poem attributed to the legendary Tamil woman poet Avvaiyaar ( 1 – 2nd century CE) who lived in the Sangam epoch or the golden age of Tamil poetry. Her dictum on learning “கற்றது கைமண் அளவு, கல்லாதது உலகளவு  (The extent of what one knows is a handful, but the extent of what remains to be known is as vast as the world) is exhibited at NASA. Historians of Tamil literature have pointed out that there were later Tamil women poets with the same name.

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The statue of Avvaiyaar (1 – 2nd century CE) in Marina Beach, Chennai, India

The meaning of the following poem # 15 in the work ” நல்வழி” (“The Way to the Good”), attributed to Avvaiyaar, from which Ramalingam’s quotation is drawn, is that for those who remain steadfast in the contemplation of “Sivaaya Namah”, there is no danger, misfortune, or calamity, on any day. This strategy ( உபாயம்) of remaining steadfast in the contemplaton of Sivam, the supreme being, is the essence of the discernment (மதி) which overcomes fate (விதி). Any other strategy is only a ruse of destiny or fate itself.

சிவாய நமவென்று சிந்தித்து இருப்பார்க்கு

அபாயம் ஒருநாளும் இல்லைஉபாயம்

இதுவே மதியாகும் அல்லாத எல்லாம்

விதியே மதியாய் விடும்.

– நல்வழி 15 – ஔவையார்

Ramalingam’s last quotation is from one of his own poems. The import is that he does not know what good deeds performed in past lives have enabled him now to recite “Sivaaya Namah” (the mantra of Sivam, the supreme being) with a tongue made of corruptible flesh when it is rare even for the godheads and gods to obtain this good fortune!

நான்செய்த புண்ணியம் யாதோ சிவாய நமவெனவே
ஊன்செய்த நாவைக்கொண் டோதப்பெற் றேன் எனை ஒப்பவரார்
வான்செய்த நான்முகத் தோனும் திருநெடு மாலுமற்றைத்
தேன்செய்த கற்பகத் தேவனும் தேவருஞ் செய்யரிதே.
__ திருஅருட்பா 2260

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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April 28, 2018

The Last Talk of Ramalingam (1)

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"Siddhi Valaagam",  or the  "Abode of Adepthood"

Ramalingam’s last talk was delivered to his associates in the small cottage of “Siddhi Valaagam” or “Abode of Adepthood” in the village of Mettukuppam, near the town of Vadalur, Tamilnadu, Southern India, on October 21, 1873. The notes of this talk, taken by an anonymous attendee, and later published in the early editions of Ramalingam’s writings, constitute the sole available record of this talk. Although it is garbled in places, these notes are a very important source of Ramalingam’s final message before his passing from the ken of mortals in early 1874.

The last talk of Ramalingam was given on the occasion of raising the dual-colored flag of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam outside the Siddhi Valaagam on October 21, 1873.

The flag has yellow at the top and white at the bottom. It was raised to signal the advent of the age of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam, an age constituted by the progressive global acknowledgment and implementation of its fundamental principles and values, e.g., human unity, the rejection of division and discrimination based on caste, religion, gender, and nationality, the concern for the well-being of non-human life, including plant life, the rejection of religious fundamentalism, sectarianism, and fanaticism, the abolition of hunger, war, and torture, and the amelioration of poverty and lack of education.

The notes suggest that Ramalingam had explained the symbolism of the flag in terms of the colors of a membrane in the location of the forehead “chakra” or the center of spiritual perception located between the eyebrows. Apparently, he had said that these colors are visible to the inner eye in spiritual experience.

Be that as it may, we should take note that white and yellow constitute two of the fundamental colors mentioned by Ramalingam in his great tetralogy of “True Supplications of Suddha Sanmargam”, or the four great petitions (Tamil: விண்ணப்பம்) to Arutperumjothi or the Immense Light of Compassion. Ramalingam’s theory of colors is worth discussing in a separate series of posts.

White could also symbolize the “Chitsabhai” (Tamil: சிற்சபை) or the “Hall of Consciousness” within every soul, and yellow could symbolize the “Porsabhai” (Tamil: பொற்சபை) or the “Golden Hall”, the immaculate, incomparable, transcendent “hall”, or “space” beyond all things, in which Arutperumjothi abides forever.

As I pointed out earlier, some of the points in the notes of this last talk are evidently garbled and even incoherent, e.g., the claims on the nature and order of the colored Cosmic Screens which block the individual soul’s perception of different aspects of reality. Therefore, we must use the standard of consistency with the central authentic writings of Ramalingam, e.g., the four great petitions or the tetralogy of Supplications of Suddha Sanmargam, the Essay on Compassion for Living Beings, and his magnum opus, Arutperumjothi Agaval or the Song of Divine Light, to sift through the contents of these notes.

Here are the results of this process of sifting through the notes of his last talk in terms of the specified standard.

The talk begins with an advice, or perhaps, even an admonition, to his associates not to continue to waste their precious time and span of life. Ramalingam goes on to emphasize the importance of devoting their precious time to intensive inquiry (Tamil: விசாரணை).

He clarifies the nature of this intensive inquiry. It is concerned with understanding the nature and condition of the individual self or soul and the divine nature and condition of the Deity or Supreme Being (Tamil: தெய்வம்) which excels individual selves or souls.

He points out that this intensive inquiry can be undertaken individually or in association with others.

He also mentions his former Tamil poetry student and long-time associate, Thozhuvoor Velayuda Mudaliyar (who wrote, despite his long association with Ramalingam, a cursory and inadequate reminiscence of the latter which was published in the official journal of the Theosophical Society), and says that they could also consult with TVM in the pursuit of their inquiry.

It is intriguing that, according to the notes, Ramalingam said that TVM would facilitate their inquiry in human terms or in terms sufficient for human intelligence or understanding. This suggests that Ramalingam had transcended human intelligence or understanding. There are other passages in these notes indicating that Ramalingam had said that he had attained cosmic consciousness:

“இப்போது என்னுடைய அறிவு அண்டாண்டங்களுக்கு அப்பாலும் கடந்திருக்கிறது.” (Translation: “My knowledge now extends beyond the universes.”

see_explanation-_clicking_on_the_picture_will_download_the_highest_resolution_version_available

It is remarkable that Ramalingam, who had no formal education and no normal avenues of acquaintance with developments in science in Europe, elucidates this inquiry, in a talk given in October 1873 in an obscure village in the state of Tamilnadu in southern India, in terms of what he designates in Tamil “அண்ட விசாரம்” (anda vicāram) , or inquiry into the nature of the cosmos and “பிண்ட விசாரம்” (pinda vicāram), or inquiry into the nature of living bodies, particularly the human body.

In other words, the intensive inquiry he emphasizes also includes cosmology and biology, particularly human biology. In fact, Ramalingam states that “அண்ட விசாரம்” or cosmological inquiry consists in the inquiry into the சொரூபம் (essential structure), ரூபம் (form and beauty of form), and சுபாவம் (inherent tendencies or dispositions) of our Sun, the moon, the stars, and other cosmic phenomena.

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“Vitruvian Man” by Leonardo da Vinci – the Roman author and architect Vitruvius celebrated the geometrical proportionality of the human body

“பிண்ட விசாரம்” or biological/physiological inquiry consists in pursuing questions such as “What is the nature of the self or agent in this body?”, “Why do the parts of our human bodies have their respective features? For instance, why does hair grow in other parts of the human body, but not on the forehead (eyebrows excepted)?”,  “What processes determine the growth of nails on fingers and toes?”, and so forth. It is evident that he was pointing to genetic inquiry even in 1873.

The notes indicate that Ramalingam pointed out that this intensive inquiry into the nature of the individual self or soul, the divine nature of the Deity or Supreme Being, the nature of cosmic phenomena, and the nature of biological phenomena, notably the human body, will remove the first, dense Screen which hides the manifold aspects of  the divine reality and divine governance of the cosmos from the soul’s perception or understanding.

However, the notes seem garbled in their account of the color of this first, dense Screen. It is mentioned that the color of this Screen is green, but this must be a mistake because in Ramalingam’s remarkable account, given in his magnum opus Arutperumjothi Agaval or Song of Divine Light, of the colored Cosmic Screens which hide the manifold aspects of  mundane, supramundane, and divine reality from the soul’s perception or understanding, the first, immense, and dense cosmic Screen is black in color. It represents “மாமாயை”,  “Mahamaya” or vast, primeval matter-energy, and hides the divine governance and foundation of the cosmos.

mark20rothko20no-201201964

Mark Rothko, Black-form paintings, No. 1, 1964

 

As the Arutperumjothi Agaval puts it:

கரைவின்மா மாயைக் கரும்பெருந் திரையால்

அரைசது மறைக்கும் அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி

Translation: Arutperumjothi has hidden its  governance of the cosmos by means of the immense, dense, Black Screen of endless matter-energy.

The cosmic green Screen is the third one and hides the “பரவெளி” or the Divine Space, the field of supramundane and divine entities and forces:

Space, Time, Motion, Green, 2010 (mixed media)

Space, Time, Motion, Green (Homage to Mark Rothko) by Izabella Godlewska de Aranda (2010)

பச்சைத் திரையாற் பரவெளி யதனை

அச்சுற மறைக்கும் அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி

Translation: “Arutperunjothi has, in an awe-inspiring manner, hidden the Supramundane Divine Space by means of the Green Screen.

In a later post, I will elucidate Ramalingam’s remarkable account of the different, colored Cosmic Screens by which Arutperumjothi hides the manifold aspects of  mundane, supramundane, and divine reality from the ego-bound individual soul’s perception and understanding.

Arutperumjothi also graciously lifts or sets aside these Screens, commensurate with the soul’s effort to liberate itself from the threefold defilement and bondage of ஆணவம், or egoism, or the disposition to assert separation and independence from the Supreme Being, மாயை, or “Maya“, the identification with,  and consequent subjection to, matter or physical body, and கன்மம், or Karma, or the chain of cause and effect involving its thoughts, desires, choices, actions, and their consequences.

 

 

 

 

 

April 13, 2018

The Letters of Ramalingam (1)

swami-ramalinga-vallalar

A letter from Ramalingam dated April 25, 1865, addressed in his own handwriting to his long-time friend Irukkam Rathina Mudaliyaar in Chennai.

Fortunately, a collection of letters from Chidambaram Ramalingam (1823 – 1874) is available to us. It was included in the magisterial 12-volume edition of Ramalingam’s prose and poetry published by the pioneering teacher and scholar A. Balakrishna Pillai (1890 – 1960) in the years 1931 – 1958. A volume of Ramalingam’s letters, announcements, and instructions for the maintenance of the Sathiya Gnana Sabhai (Hall of  Truth-Knowledge) and the Sathiya Dharma Saalai (House of True Charity) was published by Balakrishna Pillai in 1932. In this thread of posts on Ramalingam’s letters, I will be providing English translations of excerpts from the letters originally published in this volume.

Ramalingam’s letters are succinct and eschew ostentatious or pretentious rhetoric. He uses the Tamil language in a literate and formal, but also humane and solicitous style. It is noteworthy that his letters characteristically begin with a mode of address which praises the virtues of the recipient and invokes the Deity (சிவம் or Sivam, the Supreme Being who is Pure Intelligence) to bestow long life and other blessings on the recipient.

In fact, Ramalingam always addressed his recipients with the blessing prefix “Siranjeevi” (Tamil: சிரஞ்சீவி) which means “long-living” or “long-lived”. In Tamil usage, it is prefixed to the names of males. For unmarried or married females, the blessing prefix is “saubhāgyavatī” (Tamil: சௌபாக்கியவதி) which means “recipient of good fortune”.

For instance, an early letter to Irukkam Rathina Mudaliyaar sent sometime in 1858 begins as follows:

To Siranjeevi Rathina Mudaliyaar who excels in virtues such as conduct in accordance with compassionate intelligence, may the grace of Sivam bestow on you long life and all forms of prosperity! I wish to hear from you frequently about good deeds and auspicious events in your life.”

Ramalingam goes on, in this letter, to inquire anxiously about the health of one Nayakkar, and asks Irukkam Rathina Mudaliyaar (IRM) to inform Nayakkar that he intends to definitely visit Chennai in two to four months time. He also asks IRM to exercise vigilance in his daily life. This emphasis on vigilance in matters of daily life is a recurrent theme in Ramalingam’s letters to his friends.

This early letter to IRM concludes as follows:

“Siranjeevi Namasivaya Pillai has gone there (Chennai) to pursue his education. You may ascertain regularly his progress in his studies. I wish to hear soon about the well-being of yourself and Nayakkar. My mind is anxious on account of this concern. Therefore, you must let me know.”

I think Namasivaya Pillai was a relative of Ramalingam. Notice Ramalingam’s concern about his relative’s progress in education. It is also touching to note Ramalingam’s frank avowal of anxiety concerning the well-being of IRM and Nayakkar. In many of his letters to his friends, Ramalingam confesses his anxiety about their well-being, particularly in the case of absence of communication from them, or on hearing that they were subject to some adversity. It testifies to his great compassion and humanity even in these years (he was in his mid-thirties) before his முத்தி or enlightenment and attainment of சித்தி or adepthood in his late forties .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 3, 2014

A Rare Reminiscence On Ramalingam (2)

An old photograph of Sathiya Gnana Sabhai (Hall of Truth-Knowledge) in its original appearance

Note: TVM’s reminiscences are in block quotes. My comments and corrections are in italics.

In the year 1867, he founded a Society, under the name of “Sumarasa Veda Sanmarga Sungham,” which means a society based on the principle of Universal Brotherhood, and for the propagation of the true Vedic doctrine. I need hardly remark that these principles are identically those of the Theosophical Society.”

TVM’s claim that the principles of Suddha Sanmargam  are “identically those of the Theosophical Society” is a dubious one.

For instance, association with those who embody or practice the spiritual virtues of dedication to the pursuit of realizing ultimate reality, sincerity in speech, compassion, etc., is indispensable on the path of Suddha Sanmargam, but, in contrast to Theosophy,  Suddha Sanmargam has no pantheon and cult of the “Masters”, or dependence on the “Masters” to bring about one’s enlightenment.

Ramalingam was not part of any “lineage” of Gurus and did not start one. He did not anoint anyone as his disciple to continue a lineage. He rejected the role of the “Guru” or “Master” which many of his associates eagerly sought to impose on him.  He dissuaded his associates from focusing on him and encouraged them to concentrate on the practice of Suddha Sanmargam and the realization of ARUTPERUMJOTHI.

Ramalingam recommended rigorous spiritual inquiry and practice, either individually and/or in a group or community, but he never advocated that a seeker must find a “Guru” or “Master”, an intermediary, human or divine, in order to attain  unitive experience and realization of the ultimate reality ARUTPERUMJOTHI. Rather, on the path of Suddha Sanmargam, the ultimate and supreme being, Arutperumjothi, is itself the Guru or teacher nonpareil.

Ramalingam had no “Guru” other than ARUTPERUMJOTHI. It is noteworthy that there are sixteen exquisite verses in his magum opus Agaval which celebrate ARUTPERUMJOTHI’s role as his supreme Guru or teacher. I will discuss these verses in a future post.

“In the year 1867, he founded a Society, under the name of “Sumarasa Veda Sanmarga Sungham,” which means a society based on the principle of Universal Brotherhood, and for the propagation of the true Vedic doctrine”.

It is important to note that TVM fails to mention that Ramalingam changed the name of the spiritual path and Order he founded in 1867 to better reflect its principles and goals.

Initially, it had the name “Samarasa Veda Sanmarga Sangam” (Tamil: சமரச வேத சன்மார்க சங்கம்) and included the word “Veda” signifying, in this context, knowledge or realization of  two central facets of  Samarasam (Tamil:சமரசம்), unity and harmony.

Ramalingam later adopted the name “Samarasa Suddha Sanmarga Sangam” (சமரச சுத்த சன்மார்க சங்கம்).  As we shall see later, this change of name and the removal of “Veda” from it  is deeply significant.

The ideal of Samarasam (சமரசம்) held a central place in the visionary philosophy of the great  17th century (some unreliable accounts place him in the 18th century) Tamil mystic and poet Thayumanavar (தாயுமானவர், 1602 – 1662).

A Poem Of Thayumanavar (17th century Tamil mystic and poet)
Eternal, pure, groundless, death-and-birth free, pervasive, ever immaculate, distant, near, enveloping effulgence of void, the support of all, the fullness of bliss, the consciousness-form beyond thought and speech, That which thus stood, the expanse vast that generates bliss, let us contemplate.”

Thayumanavar’s ideal of Samarasam, the realization of unity and harmony underlying apparent diversity and conflict of doctrines on the nature of ultimate reality, was his solution to the philosophical conflict between the Vedanta, i.e., primarily the non-dualist (advaita) approach, and the theistic Tamil Saiva Siddhanta schools of thought, and, generally, religious conflict based on doctrinal differences on the nature of ultimate reality.

Thayumanavar implemented his solution in terms of a remarkable integration of  the approaches of Vedanta and the Tamil Saiva Siddhanta (Vedanta Siddhanta Samarasam) to the nature of  ultimate reality and its relation to the self.

Thayumanavar’s project of integration was not merely an intellectual and obscurantist “dialectical” exercise a la Hegel, but the expression of  a deep and comprehensive experience and realization of the truth that the facets of ultimate reality exclusively emphasized by (Advaita) Vedanta and Saiva Siddhanta are complementary facets of one reality.

In contrast, Ramalingam’s ideal of Samarasam is a state of unity and harmony based on the transcendence of the conflicting doctrines, ideals, and values rather than any form of synthesis and integration of those doctrines, ideals, and values. In its moral dimension, it also includes a sense of unity and kinship with all sentient beings regardless of their differences and diverse mutual relations.

In other words, the conflict engendered by the relevant doctrinal or theological propositions “A” and “Not A”, in this context, is not resolved by synthesis, but dissolved by transcending and relinquishing adherence to them.

The transcendence of partial, exclusive, and conflicting  standpoints which constitutes the ideal of Samarasam in Suddha Sanmargam is the attainment of a level of consciousness in which there is no partial, fragmentary, and incomplete understanding of ultimate reality and its relation to the world. Therefore, there is no attempt to “synthesize” the diverse and conflicting partial and fragmented forms of understanding and expression of the nature of ultimate reality.

Since the division and conflict of doctrines, ideals, and values is a function of partial, fragmentary, and incomplete understanding of ultimate reality and its relation to the world,  detachment or the withdrawal of any form of adherence to such doctrines, ideals, and values, e.g., the prevalent religions and their theologies, is a sine qua non of attaining the ideal of Samarasam in Suddha Sanmargam.

Hence, on the path of Suddha Sanmargam, no importance is accorded to the synthesis and integration of the conflicting partial, fragmentary, and incomplete doctrines, values, and ideals.

I think that Ramalingam removed the word “Veda” from the earlier name of his society because of its inveterate association with the Vedic tradition of India, a tradition rooted in the four Vedas or “sacred scriptures”, Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Veda.

Ramalingam never had any allegiance to this Vedic tradition. He had rejected it even in the early stages of his spiritual quest. His total rejection of the caste system implies a complete rejection of Vedic justifications of the caste system.

There are many verses in his Agaval which declare that Arutperumjothi is beyond the range of the conjectures of the Vedas and Agamas. In his later writings and discourses, Ramalingam firmly advised against following the false dogmas, rituals, and divisive social codes of the Vedas and Agamas.

Ramalingam’s central reason for his rejection of the Vedas and Agamas pertains to the fact that their extant corpus is vitiated by an admixture of truths and falsehoods and obscurantism. He acknowledged that there were glimpses, in the vast corpus of the Vedas and Agamas, of the true way to the realization of ultimate reality, but that these rare glimpses are marred by partial understanding, distortions, perversions, and obscurity of language.

The term “Sanmargam” (சன்மார்க்கம்,  caṉ-mārkkam) also requires clarification. It is the path of wisdom culminating in enlightenment, liberation, and adepthood. The prefix “Suddham” (Tamil:சுத்தம்) means “pure” and also “complete or whole”.

Hence, Suddha Sanmargam is the pure and complete path of wisdom leading to enlightenment, liberation, and adepthood.

The great Tamil classic of yoga, the Thirumandiram (800 CE), gives us a description of the path of Sanmargam in eleven verses (1477 – 1487)  in its fifth book or “tantra”.

However, we must bear in mind that the path of Sanmargam described in this work is not necessarily identical to the path of Suddha Sanmargam (pure Sanmargam) envisaged by Ramalingam.

The Thirumandiram contains nine “tantras” or “books”. According to the fifth book or “tantra”:

1. Sanmargam leads to the transcendence of the ego and the conquest of death.

2. Sanmargam is the path of wisdom concerning the Light of ultimate reality which constitutes the goal  of all scriptures in the Vedic and Agamic traditions.

3. Sanmargam is a universal path to enlightenment, liberation, and adepthood.

4.  The dedicated and worshipful contemplation of the Guru is an essential element of the path of Sanmargam. (According to Ramalingam, it is Arutperumjothi who is the ultimate Guru on the path of Suddha Sanmargam.)

5. Sanmargam gives us the clarity of vision and enlightenment necessary for liberation.

6. Sanmargam leads to the attainment of the “Supreme Grace-Bliss”.

7. Sanmargam leads to the removal of impurities of consciousness and attainment of silence (of mind), bliss, and oneness with the ultimate being.

8. Sanmargam leads to insight into the nature of the self, its structure of bondage, its fetters of karma and the consequent variety of its states and conditions,  the nature of primordial matter, the consciousness which permeates the core of matter, and the innumerable mutations or transformations in the universe.

I will continue with my commentary on TVM’s reminiscences in my next post.

October 16, 2013

A Rare Reminiscence On Ramalingam (1)

Chidambaram Ramalingam
May All Beings Attain Bliss and Flourish!

Although Ramalingam (1823 – 1874) was a contemporary of Ramakrishna (1836 – 1886) the famous Bengali mystic, he is hardly known outside the state of Tamilnadu, India, and educated circles among the Tamil-speaking peoples of the world.

Ramakrishna in spiritual ecstasy (photographed in 1879)

Ramakrishna had some articulate disciples, e.g., Vivekananda, who brought him and his teachings to the attention of the world at large. He also had disciples such as “M”, or Mahendranath Gupta, whose record of the conversations of Ramakrishna, the “Gospel of Ramakrishna“, is a classic in the genre of records of conversations with great figures.

In contrast, Ramalingam, despite his greater intellectual, moral, and spiritual stature, did not have anyone of the caliber of “M”, or Mahendranath Gupta, to persistently and faithfully record his observations, discourses, and conversations.

The radical originality of Ramalingam’s mature spiritual insights and moral values were beyond the ken of understanding of most of his contemporaries and even many of his close associates.

Indeed, some of his radical proposals, e.g., his proposal that we ought to train more animals, in just the way in which we train some domestic dogs, to refrain from hurting and killing other animals, his uncompromising stance on our moral obligation to practice vegetarianism, his view that plant life also deserves moral consideration, are beyond the range of moral sensibility and imagination of many of our own contemporary “ethical thinkers”!

It seems to me that most of his associates, including the long-standing ones, barely had an inkling of his greatness and originality as a radical Siddha or adept who rejected not only irrational social divisions and practices based on caste and religious sectarianism, but also the narrow structures of prevalent religious and philosophical thought.

Fortunately, we can yet have a glimpse of his stature on the basis of the great works he penned in Tamil:  மனு முறைகண்ட வாசகம் (Manu’s Norm of Justice) a great work of morals composed in ornate Tamil prose dealing with the ancient Chola King Manu’s dispensation of justice regardless of species membership, ஜீவகாருண்ய ஒழுக்கம் (The Ethic of Compassion for Sentient Beings) an unfinished masterpiece on the ethics and spirituality of Suddha Sanmargam, அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி அகவல் (Verses On The Immense Light of Compassion) one of the greatest classics of revelatory mystical poetry, and the tetralogy of சுத்த சன்மார்க்க விண்ணப்பம் (Petitions of Suddha Sanmargam), incomparably inspired short classics of spirituality in Tamil prose, and many volumes of poems and songs.

Perhaps, Ramalingam himself was responsible for this paucity of reliable first-hand accounts of his life, discourses, and conversations. He shunned publicity. He was uncompromising in discouraging the formation of a “cult of personality” around him. He prohibited many attempts to turn him into a popular or famous religious figure, e.g., he did not give permission to prefix the title of “Swami” to his name in the two volumes of his early devotional poetry published during his lifetime by some of his friends.

Therefore, it is remarkable that there is an authentic and published piece of reminiscence, albeit brief and inadequate, on Ramalingam, by one of his earliest students, தொழுவூர் வேலாயுத முதலியார் (Thozhuvoor Velayuda Mudaliar, 1832 – 1889). His reminiscence on Ramalingam was published in The Theosophist, Vol. III, No. 10, July, 1882.

T. Velayuda Mudaliar (TVM) was Second Tamil Pandit at the prestigious Presidency College in Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamilnadu, India. He was also a member of the Theosophical Society. Unfortunately, in his eagerness to place Ramalingam in the pantheon of the “Masters” of theosophical thought, he engages in some omissions and distortions of his teacher’s original and radical views.

TVM became a student of Ramalingam in 1849 when he was merely seventeen. Ramalingam himself was only twenty-six at that time, but he had already acquired a reputation as a lecturer and savant of Tamil letters. We should not forget that Ramalingam was a prodigy who had started composing poems and songs at the age of nine and had also delivered some eloquent discourses on Tamil Saiva literature in his teens.

TVM was associated with Ramalingam for twenty-five years,  from 1849 to 1874. Apparently, he was present when, according to his account of what transpired, Ramalingam entered a room in Siddhi Valagam, a cottage in the village of Mettukuppam near Vadalur, Tamilnadu, India, on January 30th, 1874, laid himself on a carpet on the floor, and asked those present to lock the door from the outside and wall up the only window, a small one, in the room. He was never to see Ramalingam again during his lifetime. 

TVM passed away in 1889, fifteen years after the disappearance of his teacher.

There is a funny story about their first meeting in 1849.

A friend of TVM’s father urged him to become a student of Ramalingam and learn the art of poetry. TVM, a teenager at that time, wanted to test Ramalingam’s proficiency in Tamil poetry. So, he composed a medley of verses closely resembling Sangam or classical Tamil poetry and asked Ramalingam for his judgment on the verses he claimed were composed by the Sangam or classical Tamil poets.

Ramalingam took one glance at the poems, laughed, and said that they were not the compositions of the Sangam or classical Tamil poets, but those of an upstart! TVM fell at Ramalingam’s feet and apologized. Ramalingam graciously brushed the whole thing aside and accepted TVM as his student.

Let us now take a look at TVM’s reminiscence on Ramalingam. His reminiscences are in block quotes. My comments and corrections are in italics.

From The Theosophist, Vol. III, No. 10, July, 1882, pp. 243-244:

STATEMENT OF THOLUVORE VELAYUDHAM MUDALIAR, SECOND TAMIL PANDIT OF THE PRESIDENCY COLLEGE, MADRAS.

To the Author of Hints on Esoteric Theosophy:

“Sir,—I beg to inform you that I was a Chela of the late “Arulprakasa Vallalare,” otherwise known as Chidambaram Ramalinga Pillai Avergal, the celebrated Yogi of Southern India. Having come to know that the English community, as well as some Hindus, entertained doubts as to the existence of the Mahatmas (adepts), and, as to the fact of the Theosophical Society having been formed under their special orders; and having heard, moreover, of your recent work, in which much pains are taken to present the evidence about these Mahatmas pro and con—I wish to make public certain facts in connection with my late revered Guru. My belief is, that they ought effectually to remove all such doubts, and prove that Theosophy is no empty delusion, nor the Society in question founded on an insecure basis.”

It is not clear why TVM is intent on offering his account of Ramalingam and his teachings as a form of supporting evidence for the doctrines of theosophy. Instead, he ought to have offered his account as an introduction to Suddha Sanmargam, the new revolutionary path and teaching of Ramalingam.

1.Let me premise with a brief description of the personality of and the doctrines taught by the above-mentioned ascetic, Ramalingam Pillai. He was born at Maruthur, Chidambaram Taluq, South Arcot, Madras Presidency. He came to live at Madras at an early period of his career, and dwelt there for a long time. At the age of nine, without any reading, Ramalingam is certified by eyewitnesses to have been able to recite the contents of the works of Agastia and other Munis equally respected by Dravidians and Aryans. In 1849, I became his disciple, and, though no one ever knew where he had been initiated, some years after, he gathered a number of disciples around him.”

TVM fails to mention the year in which Ramalingam was born. It was 1823.

Ramalingam lived in Chennai (formerly Madras) from 1825 to 1855, from the age of two to the age of thirty-two when he left Chennai for good.

TVM’s reference to Ramalingam’s caste, his use of “Pillai” as a caste suffix to the name “Ramalingam”, tells us that he did not really imbibe Ramalingam’s insistent prescription to transcend caste identity and division.  The available originals of Ramalingam’s letters, the earliest of them written in 1858, show that Ramalingam signed these letters with the name “Chidambaram Ramalingam” eschewing the conventional avowal of his “Pillai” caste.

It is rather odd that in this very reminiscence TVM himself also says of Ramalingam that “As he preached against caste, he was not very popular. But still people of all castes gathered in large numbers around him.”

It is also misleading to refer to Ramalingam as an “ascetic”. He was certainly very simple and abstemious in his habits, but he was not one of those typical Indian ascetics who lived in caves and engaged in self-mortification and torture of the body. 

It is noteworthy that he wrote a short work consisting of prescriptions to regulate daily life and conduct. This work clearly advocates moderation and the avoidance of extremes in matters of food, sleep, work, sex, etc., with a view to preserving the health of the body and extending its longevity.

“At the age of nine, without any reading, Ramalingam is certified by eyewitnesses to have been able to recite the contents of the works of Agastia and other Munis equally respected by Dravidians and Aryans.”

Ramalingam was certainly a child prodigy and self-taught to a remarkable extent. Given his aversion to formal education and rote learning even in his childhood, his command of Tamil and his precocious knowledge of Tamil literature remains something of a mystery.

Equally mysterious is his early command of Sanskrit expressions and their apposite use in some of his Tamil poems, songs, and prose works. This also shows that he was not a Tamil purist, contrary to the attempts of  later Tamil purists to claim him as a forerunner of their ill-conceived movement.

Perhaps, even as a boy, Ramalingam had the opportunity to listen to, understand, and absorb the content of conversations his elder brother Sabhapathi and his teacher Kanchipuram Sabhapathi Mudaliar had with other Tamil scholars and Sanskrit pundits. 

Agastya (Tamil:  அகத்தியர், 700 BCE),  the foremost of the Tamil Siddhas, is considered the “father” of the Tamil literary tradition and the author of the earliest work on Tamil grammar, the Agathiyam. Numerous ancient Tamil works on medicine, alchemy, and astrology are attributed to him.

Agastya

Although in his boyhood and youth, Ramalingam looked up to Sambandar, a seventh century (CE) Saiva saint and poet as his model and teacher, he did not have any formal initiation from any living teacher of his time and did not belong to any religious tradition or lineage by way of an initiation from a Guru. He is, therefore, unique in the annals of Indian mysticism.

It is, however, noteworthy that in his magnum opus Arutperumjothi Agaval, Ramalingam praises Arutperumjothi as the supreme Guru or teacher who taught him all he needed to know despite a lack of formal education, study and recitation of “sacred scriptures”, etc.

2.He was a great Alchemist.” 

Ramalingam’s interest in alchemical experiments is evident in a letter (dated May 3, 1868) he wrote, at age 45, to his boyhood friend Irukkam Rathina Mudaliar who was living in Chennai. In this letter, the only one of its kind, Ramalingam asks his friend to send him implements for polishing gold and silver pieces and scales for weighing them.

Since Ramalingam was averse to carrying or keeping money or other valuables with him, this unusual request was probably made in the interest of his alchemical experiments. It must, however, be noted here that other than declaring that the path of Suddha Sanmargam leads to the acquisition of powers to bring about different forms of alchemical transformation, Ramalingam did not reveal any further information about his alchemical experiments and their outcomes in any of his writings.

3. “He had a strange faculty about him, witnessed very often, of changing a carnivorous person into a vegetarian; a mere glance from him seemed enough to destroy the desire for animal food.”

TVM’s claim that Ramalingam had a “strange faculty” or power to bring about in others an aversion to eating animal flesh and a preference to partake vegetarian food is not surprising in light of Ramalingam’s uncompromising commitment to vegetarianism.

In fact, Ramalingam acknowledged in some of his verses that it was Arutperumjothi who revealed to him that those who consume animal flesh and thereby encourage the slaughter of animals do not belong to the Sangha or Order of Suddha Sanmargam. It is a central principle of Suddha Sanmargam that we must consume only food produced or obtained without intentionally causing any avoidable destruction of plant and animal life.

In his great essay on “The Ethic of Compassion for Sentient Beings”, Ramalingam advocates a vegetarian diet which does not involve the destruction of plant life. He also points out that the harvesting of many fruits and vegetables does not involve the destruction of the plant or tree yielding those vegetables or fruits. Milk and products based on it are also permissible to the practitioners of Suddha Sanmargam on the condition that the cows or goats yielding the milk are treated compassionately.

It is also noteworthy that at the top of the entrance to the Sathiya Gnana Sabhai or the “Hall of Truth-Knowledge” he designed and helped to build in 1871, Ramalingam had  posted an edict prohibiting those indulging in the killing of sentient beings and the consumption of meat from entering the inner premises of the Hall. However, they were still permitted to remain in the outer area of the Hall and contemplate Arutperumjothi if they wished to do so.

Only Those Who Have Refrained from Meat and Murder Should Enter!” (Ramalingam’s edict in the entrance to the Sathiya Gnana Sabhai or “Hall of Truth-Knowledge”, Est. 1871)

4. “He had also the wonderful faculty of reading other men’s minds.”

In his Arutperumjothi Agaval, Ramalingam does make a claim to the possession of numerous “occult powers” or “Siddhis” bestowed on him by Arutperumjothi. Thought-reading is certainly among the minor “occult powers” or “Siddhis”. So, it is not surprising to have TVM’s testimony that Ramalingam had “the wonderful faculty of reading other men’s minds.”

5.In the year 1855, he left Madras for Chidambaram, and thence to Vadulur and Karingooli (sic), where he remained a number of years. Many a time, during his stay there, he used to leave his followers, disappearing to go no one knew whither, and remaining absent for more or less prolonged periods of time.”

Chidambaram is a famous Saiva temple city near the east coast of Tamilnadu, India.

Sacred Tank and Pagoda at “Chillambaran” (sic), India, 1870

Vadalur, a small town in Cuddalore district, state of Tamilnadu, India, is the location of Ramalingam’s architectural masterpiece, the Sathiya Gnana Sabhai, or “Hall of Truth-Knowledge“. Ramalingam designed and guided the construction of this unique building without any formal training in architecture or construction:

Sathiya Gnana Sabhai or “Hall of Truth-Knowledge”, Est. 1871

Vadalur is also the location of the “House of True Charity”, a “soup kitchen” built at Ramalingam’s behest and designed to feed the hungry poor with vegetarian meals. It has been doing so since its inception in 1867.

“Karingooli” (sic) or Karungkuzhi (the Tamil name “Karungkuzhi” literally means “Black Hole” and the symbolic contrast it provides to Ramalingam’s Illuminationism is striking!) is a small town about three miles from Vadalur in the coastal district of Cuddalore, Tamilnadu, India.

Ramalingam lived in Karungkuzhi for nine years (1858 – 1867) in a room in the house of a merchant devotee, Venkata Reddy. Reddy had met Ramalingam in Chidambaram and was deeply impressed by his character. He had then invited Ramalingam to stay in his house in Karungkuzhi.

On perceiving Reddy’s sincerity and depth of feeling, Ramalingam accepted his invitation. However, he still continued to periodically leave Karungkuzhi and visit Chidambaram and other celebrated temple towns in the region.

He left Karunguzhi for good in 1867 and moved to Vadalur to reside in the “Sathiya Dharma Salai” or “Abode of True Charity”, the “soup kitchen” he had helped to build with financial contributions from his friends and members of the local community.

The surviving letters of Ramalingam show that on many occasions he responded to entreaties by his associates to visit them, or to visit him, by stating that he was away on some important task and would become available to them after a specified time.

Even as a boy growing up in Chennai, Ramalingam would often wander off to visit the great temples in the city and its suburbs. He probably did the same thing in his later years in the Vadalur area to avoid the crowds of people who came to see him with a desire to witness a display of his “siddhis”.

This is consistent with his love of solitude, the vast and varied expanses of nature, and the many illustrious Saiva temples in the region in which he lived. There are verses in the Arutperumjothi Agaval celebrating oceans, lakes, mountains, groves, etc., and the grandeur of Arutperumjothi’s power in bringing about their existence. The coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal in eastern Tamilnadu were not far from his residence in the Vadalur area and were probably among his favorite haunts.

6. “His habits were excessively abstemious. He was known to hardly ever take any rest. A strict vegetarian, he ate but once in two or three days, and was then satisfied with a few mouthfuls of rice. But when fasting for a period of two or three months at a time, he literally ate nothing, living merely on warm water with a little sugar dissolved in it.”

This is extraordinary! Our medical doctors and scientists should take note! Here is a man who was “known to hardly ever take rest”, but was extremely abstemious in his habits of eating, and sometimes subsisted merely on “warm water with a little sugar dissolved in it”!

Note that TVM again draws our attention to Ramalingam’s uncompromising vegetarianism. What a contrast Ramalingam provides to our numerous “religious leaders” and “moral thinkers” whose entrails have become veritable processing plants of animal body parts!

It is important to note again in this context that Ramalingam did not advocate fasting or asceticism. In almost all of his letters to his friends, associates, and former students, he solicitously insisted that they take proper care of their bodies by means of regulation of food, sleep, work, and sex.

He advocated moderation because, for a vast majority of people, both excess and abstinence undermined the health, vitality, and longevity of the body, a precious instrument for attaining enlightenment and liberation. I have already pointed out that he also composed a short work of prescriptions for the regulation of daily life based on the principle of moderation in food, sleep, work, and sex.

Ramalingam’s own condition was unique, and, by his own testimony, the result of transformations wrought in his body, mind, and soul by the compassionate and omnipotent action of Arutperumjothi. Hence, it would be foolish to merely imitate him in matters of food, sleep, etc., without benefit of those transformations.

On the path of Suddha Sanmargam, practitioners must consistently follow his principle of avoidance of excess of indulgence and abstinence or deprivation in relation to the basic bodily needs. 

TVM mentions Ramalingam’s use of “warm water with a little sugar dissolved in it.” Ramalingam prescribed the use of hot or warm water at all times for purposes of drinking, preparation of food and medicine, and bathing. He held the view that water was maximally beneficial in its well-boiled state or condition. Needless to say, his prescription accords well with our scientific knowledge of the reality of water-borne germs and parasites and many of the fatal diseases caused by them.

7. “In personal appearance, Ramalingam was a moderately tall, spare man—so spare, indeed, as to virtually appear a skeleton—yet withal a strong man, erect in stature, and walking very rapidly; with a face of a clear brown complexion, a straight, thin nose, very large fiery eyes, and with a look of constant sorrow on his face.”

An artist’s rendering of Ramalingam’s appearance. However, it must be noted, in accordance with TVM’s reminiscence, that Ramalingam wore footwear and emphasized the importance of doing so.

Again, it is extraordinary that there was a fount of energy and strength in Ramalingam belied by his spare or thin body, “so spare, indeed, as to virtually appear a skeleton”. Perhaps, the source of this fount of energy and strength was not his physical body, but his radiant subtle body. Indeed, this idea receives an affirmation in one of the verses at the beginning of his great work Arutperumjothi Agaval:

ஊக்கமு முணர்ச்சியு மொளிதரு

மாக்கையும ஆக்கமு மருளிய

வருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி.

Vitality, intensity of perception and feeling,

a radiant body,

the inner wealth of powers of accomplishment,

bestowed on me,

by

Arutperumjothi!”  (Agaval 13-14, Trans.Thill Raghu)

TVM’s reference to Ramalingam’s “very large fiery eyes” is interesting. Certainly, those large eyes must have communicated the fire of spiritual and moral intensity in Ramalingam. His eyes may have looked into the very depths of the suffering of sentient beings and the heights of transcendence.

TVM has already mentioned Ramalingam’s strange power of suppressing, by a mere look, a person’s desire to consume animal flesh. It is worth recalling here a relevant verse in the Arutperumjothi Agaval:

கதிர்நல மென்னிரு கண்களிற் கொடுத்தே
அதிசய மியற்றெனு மருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி.

A luminescence,

beautiful and benign,

enabling the extraordinary,

imparted to my eyes,

by

Arutperumjothi!”  (AGAVAL 273 – 274, Trans. Thill Raghu)

What about TVM’s reference to “a look of constant sorrow” on Ramalingam’s face? What sense can we make of this feature of Ramalingam’s visage?

If we consider the pre-illumination or pre-enlightenment phase of Ramalingam’s life, then this feature of “a look of constant sorrow” probably and primarily expressed his intense longing for union with the ultimate being and his sorrow at not having attained this union. There is a great deal of evidence for this interpretation in the poems of his early and middle period.

However, we should also consider the autobiographical poems in which Ramalingam speaks of his suffering at the sight of withering plants, animals taken to the slaughterhouse, and the hungry poor. Certainly, his “look of constant sorrow” also stems from his all-embracing empathy and compassion for sentient beings undergoing harm and suffering.

Why would this “look of constant sorrow” remain in his visage after his enlightenment and liberation?

This is not personal sorrow, but a sorrow stemming from compassion for those still enmeshed in ignorance and the ensuing sufferings they are bound to undergo in endless cycles of birth and death expended in pursuit of the fulfillment of egocentric desires.

I will continue with TVM’s reminiscence on Ramalingam in the next post.

January 12, 2013

Ramalingam: A Life Without Death (1)

An artist’s rendering of Ramalingam’s appearance. However, it must be noted that Ramalingam wore footwear and emphasized the importance of doing so.
The “Abode of True Charity” (est. 1867, Vadalur, Tamilnadu, India), which provides free food for the hungry to this day, is on the left. The remarkable and original “Hall of Truth-Knowledge” (est.1871, Vadalur, Tamilnadu, India), a place of contemplation and worship of ARUTPERUMJOTHI, designed by Ramalingam without the benefit of any training in architecture, is on the right.

In this thread, I intend to make a series of posts on Ramalingam and his ascent to an immortal life and consciousness.

Chidambaram Ramalingam was born on October 5, 1823, at the hamlet of Maruthur, in the district of Cuddalore, and in the state of Tamilnadu, South India, to a pious Tamilian couple, Ramayya Pillai and Chinnamai. Ramayya Pillai was a school teacher. Ramalingam was their fifth and last child.

When he was five months old, they took Ramalingam to the great temple city of Chidambaram, Tamilnadu.

F. Swain, View of the Pagoda of Chelimbaram (sic), c. 1762

The temple (est. 12th century CE) in Chidambaram is the only one in which the Hindu deity Siva is represented anthropomorphically in the form of Nataraja (“Lord of Dance”) or the performer of the “cosmic dance”, the dance of the creation, regulation, and dissolution of the cosmos.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/81/Shiva_Nataraja_Mus%C3%A9e_Guimet_25971.jpg

There is a sacred place to the left of the sanctum sanctorum in the Chidambaram temple. This is the “Chidambara Rahasyam”, or “The Secret of Chidambaram”, and contains golden Bilva leaves, symbolizing the presence of Siva and Parvati, covered by a curtain. The Tamil Śaiva saint  Mānikkavācakar is said to have disappeared here in a blaze of light in the 9th century, CE.

The infant Ramalingam uttered a cry of delight and laughed when the curtain was drawn to the side. Instead of seeing the wall behind the curtain, he had a vision of the transcendent space in which all things have their origin! In a poem composed in his thirties, Ramalingam vividly recollected and celebrated this incident of his infancy.

In 1824, in Ramalingam’s infancy, the father, Ramayya Pillai, passed away. In 1825, the family headed by the elder brother Sabapathi Pillai relocated to the bustling city of Chennai, Tamilnadu, South India.

Ramalingam was a child prodigy. He was precociously inclined to devotional poetry. As a boy, he was drawn to the hymns of the Tamil Śaiva saints and showed a special fondness for Mānikkavācakar’s classic of devotional poetry, the Tiruvācakam, and the poems of Sambandar (7th century CE). At the age of nine, Ramalingam himself began to compose devotional poems on one of the chief deities of the Tamils, the ever-youthful Lord Muruga who is also the patron god of the Tamil poets.

His elder brother Sabapathi Pillai, a Tamil scholar who made a living by giving religious discourses, entrusted Ramalingam to the care of a well-known teacher, Kanchipuram Sabapathi Mudaliar (1792 – 1871), for purposes of his formal education, but Ramalingam, despite his precocious facility in the Tamil language, showed little interest in formal school studies and a complete indifference to rote learning of texts and scriptures.

In a poem composed later in his life, Ramalingam dismissed academic education, including, as a means of livelihood, the formal study of religious scriptures such as the Vedas, Āgamas, and Purāṇas, as “education merely for the marketplace”, or education merely for monetary gain in the marketplace, and urged the pursuit of the true education which leads to the conquest of death.

“The merchant has brought his ware safely ashore from far-away countries, and is counting his money. At this moment, his dangerous trip now a thing of the past, he is caught by Death.” (Hans Holbein the Younger: The Dance Of Death)

“As the sun sets, Death drags the Bishop away.” (Hans Holbein the Younger: The Dance of Death)

Sabapathi was disappointed and angry at Ramalingam’s indifference to academic study, and, having failed to persuade him to take his formal education seriously, resorted to the drastic punishment of expelling the boy from his house, and instructed his wife not to provide food should he visit the house surreptitiously.

This was Ramalingam’s earliest experience of suffering from hunger, a form of suffering he later classified as the worst form of pain and harm a sentient being can undergo. Indeed, the alleviation of the starvation, the suffering from acute hunger, of those who have failed to obtain food by their own efforts, is the moral act par excellence, the highest form of compassion, in the ethics of Suddha Sanmargam.

Sabapathi’s wife, Parvathi, was compassionate enough to unobtrusively feed Ramalingam whenever he visited the house desperately hungry. At her urging, Ramalingam agreed to pursue his studies, but on the condition that a separate room in the house was given to him for that purpose. Sabapathi eventually yielded to his wife’s entreaties on behalf of Ramalingam and a small room upstairs was given to him for his studies.

However, Ramalingam did not use his room for drab studies designed to fulfill the qualifications for a citizenship of the marketplace. Instead, he began to compose poems and songs in praise of the deities (primarily, Siva and Murugan) of the great temples he used to visit in the vicinity of Chennai in his frequent wanderings away from home. He also asked for and installed a lamp and a mirror in his room and began to worship the light reflected in the mirror as a symbol of ultimate reality.

It is remarkable that this conception and worship of ultimate reality in the form of JOTHI, or LIGHT, which Ramalingam embraced even as a boy, is exactly the one he was to prescribe decades later, in the maturity of his spiritual enlightenment, as the required form of contemplation and worship at the sublime “Hall of Truth-Knowledge” he designed, without benefit of any training in architecture, and established in Vadalur, Tamilnadu, in 1871. It should be noted that this remarkable building has no images or idols of any Hindu deity in its interior or exterior.  It is certainly not recognizable as a typical Hindu temple or place of worship.

Sathiya Gnana Sabhai or “Hall of Truth-Knowledge”, Est. 1871

This contemplation of ultimate reality in the form of JOTHI, or LIGHT, was also the practice he recommended to those who were with him shortly before his entry into a room in a house in the hamlet of Metukuppam near Vadalur, Tamilnadu, on January 30, 1874, and his subsequent mysterious disappearance from the ken of mortals.

All this suggests a striking continuity in the development of his understanding of ultimate reality. In his own account of some of his experiences in boyhood and youth, provided in his great tetralogy of “Petitions of Suddha Sanmargam“, Ramalingam praises ARUTPERUMJOTHI for guiding him away from the false paths based on anthropomorphic, mythological conceptions of divinity or ultimate reality, and setting him on the path of true theism even in his boyhood.

The fact that his early devotional poetry invoked the deities of some of the great temples of Tamilnadu is best explained in terms of his adherence, in these early stages, to the traditions of Tamil devotional poetry, and, particularly, the traditions of Tamil Śaiva poetry. It does not imply that he seriously espoused any anthropomorphic conceptions of divinity or ultimate reality even in these early stages of spiritual development.

(to be continued)

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