Archive for ‘Tamil Mystics’

May 6, 2018

The Letters of Ramalingam (2)

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.

 

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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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.

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