DG: Sri Ramana is all things to all people. There is no standard Ramana
Maharshi who is the same for all people. People who approached him
brought their minds with them, and Bhagavan, being a non-person with no
mind of his own, magnified and reflected back all this incoming mental
energy. So, different people saw him and experienced him in many
different ways. If I wanted to write about Sri Ramana myself, I would
have to put my own editorial overlay on top of all these differing
experiences and impressions. So, I thought, 'Let people speak for
themselves. Let people explain who their particular Ramana is.'
There is a fictional detective, Hercule Poirot, who appears in many of
Agatha Christie's books. In one story, when he was completely stuck, he
just started talking to everyone who was involved, and spent many hours
just listening to what they had to say. Poirot's theory was, 'If you let
people talk about themselves for long enough, sooner or later they give
This was my approach. I didn't want to edit or shorten anyone's story.
On the contrary, I wanted to make it as detailed as possible. So, I just
let them talk and say what they wanted to say. If you give someone
thirty pages to talk or write about their relationship with Sri Ramana,
they have to reveal who they are in a very intimate way. This was my
aim: to have a gallery of intimate portraits of Sri Ramana, each one
drawn lovingly by a person who had a personal and very unique
perspective on this great being.
RS: Could you describe one of your favorite sections from either of
DG: When I made the first drafts of some of these chapters back in the
1980s, I circulated copies to all my friends in Tiruvannamalai. I asked
everyone to give marks out of ten on how interesting they found each
account. Some chapters that were given ten by one person would get zero
from someone else. This illustrates what I was just saying: everyone has
a different idea of who Sri Ramana is, and because people relate to him
in different ways, they react differently to stories about him. My
favorites were not so popular with many of my friends.
It's fashionable nowadays to be very positive about one's spiritual
experiences. People like to jump up and down and exclaim, 'I'm free! I'm
free!' I prefer the refreshing honesty of a devotee, Sivaprakasam
Pillai, who, after fifty years of being with Sri Ramana, was still
lamenting about his faults and his lack of progress. This is the person
who first got Bhagavan to record his teachings on self-enquiry in 1901. I
admired his honesty, his humility and his integrity in admitting that
he still couldn't control his mind.
I also enjoyed some of the teachings of Sri Ramana that were recorded by
Sadhu Natanananda, whose account also proved to be not too popular with
my friends. This is an extract that I particularly liked:
A certain lady who had a lot of devotion performed a traditional ritual
for worshipping sages whenever she came into Bhagavan's presence to have
darshan. She would prostrate to Bhagavan, touch his feet and then put
the hands that had touched Bhagavan's feet on her eyes. After noticing
that she did this daily, Bhagavan told her one day:
"Only the Supreme Self, which is ever shining in your heart as the
reality, is the Sadguru. The pure awareness, which is shining as the
inward illumination 'I', is his gracious feet. The contact with these
[inner holy feet] alone can give you true redemption. Joining the eye of
reflected consciousness [chitabhasa], which is your sense of
individuality [jiva bodha], to those holy feet, which are the real
consciousness, is the union of the feet and the head that is the real
significance of the word 'asi' ["are", as in the mahavakya 'You are
That']. As these inner holy feet can be held naturally and unceasingly,
hereafter, with an inward-turned mind, cling to that inner awareness
that is your own real nature. This alone is the proper way for the
removal of bondage and the attainment of the supreme truth."
I appreciate and applaud anyone who has devotion to Bhagavan's form, but
at the same time I love the purity of Bhagavan's advaitic response to
RS: Can we backtrack a little? Can you tell me something about your own
background... some details of your family and how you came to be
interested in Ramana Maharshi?
DG: I was born in 1953 in Stoke-on-Trent, a British city of about
300,000, located about halfway between Birmingham and Manchester. My
father was a schoolmaster and my mother was a physiotherapist who
specialised in treating physically handicapped children. Both of my
parents are dead. I have one sister who is a year older than me. She is a
former professional mountaineer who now teaches mountain and wilderness
skills and occasionally leads groups to exotic and inaccessible places.
My younger sister, now 43, used to teach in a college in England.
Nowadays, though, she apparently spends most of her time assessing the
quality of education on offer in different colleges.
I was educated at local schools and in 1972 won a place at Oxford
University, where I did very little academic work, but had an enormous
amount of fun. Sometime in my second year there I found myself getting
more and more interested in Eastern spiritual traditions. I seemed to
have an insatiable hunger for knowledge about them that resulted in
massive bookstore bills, which I couldn't really afford, but not much
satisfaction. Then, one day, I took home a copy of Arthur Osborne's The
Teachings of Ramana Maharshi in his Own Words. Reading Ramana's words
for the first time completely silenced me. My mind stopped asking
questions, and it abandoned its search for spiritual information. It
somehow knew that it had found what it was looking for. I have to
explain this properly. It wasn't that I had found a new set of ideas
that I believed in. It was more of an experience in which I was pulled
into a state of silence. In that silent space I knew directly and
intuitively what Ramana's words were hinting and pointing at. Because
this state itself was the answer to all my questions, and any other
questions I might come up with, the interest in finding solutions
anywhere else dropped away. I suppose I must have read the book in an
afternoon, but by the time I put it down it had completely transformed
the way I viewed myself and the world. The experiences I was having made
me understand how invalid were the academic techniques of acquiring
and evaluating knowledge. I could see that the whole of academia was
based on some sort of reductionism: separating something big into its
little component parts, and then deriving conclusions about how the 'big
something' really worked. It's a reasonable approach for comprehending
mechanical things, such as a car engine, but I understood - and knew by
direct experience - that it was a futile way of gaining an understanding
of oneself and the world we appear to be in.
When I went through my academic textbooks after having these
experiences, there was such a massive resistance both to their contents
and to the assumptions that lay behind them, I knew I could no longer
even read them, much less study them in order to pass exams. It wasn't
an intellectual judgement on their irrelevance; it was more of a
visceral disgust that physically prevented me from reading more than a
few lines. I dropped out in my final year at Oxford, went to Ireland
with my Ramana books, and spent about six months reading Ramana's
teachings and practising his technique of self-enquiry. I had just
inherited a small amount from my grandmother, so I didn't need to work
that year. I rented a small house in a rural area, grew my own food, and
spent most of my time meditating. This was 1975. At the end of that
year my landlady reclaimed her house and I went to Israel. I wanted to
go somewhere sunny and warm for the winter, and then return to Ireland
the following spring. I worked on a kibbutz on the Dead Sea and while I
was there decided I could have a quick trip to India and Ramanasramam
before I went back to Ireland. I figured out the costs and realised I
couldn't afford it unless another £200 appeared from somewhere. I
decided that if Bhagavan wanted me to go to India, he would send me the
money. Within a week I received a letter from my grandmother's lawyer
saying that he had just found some shares that she had owned, and that
my share of them would be £200. I came to India, expecting to stay six
weeks, and have been here more or less ever since.
RS: I've always wondered about your name. Is Godman your birth name or did you change it?
DG: It's my family name. I never had any desire to take a new name, and no one has ever tried to give me one.
RS: You said that you spent six months practicing self-enquiry based on
your reading of Sri Ramana's books. Were you able to get a good
understanding of the method from your reading? I ask because this seems
to be difficult for most people. Did you need to modify your
understanding later when you went to Sri Ramanasramam?
DG: I did find it hard to practise self-enquiry merely by reading books
simply because I did not have access to much material. I had at that
time only managed to find Arthur Osborne's three books on Ramana. Though
they explained most aspects of the teachings quite well, I don't think
that Osborne had a good understanding of self-enquiry. He seemed to
think that concentrating on the heart-center on the right side of the
chest while doing self-enquiry was an integral part of the process. When
I later read Bhagavan's answers in books such as Talks with Sri Ramana
Maharshi and Day by Day with Bhagavan, I realised that he specifically
advised against this particular practice. Overall, though, I got a good
grounding from these books. I had a passion to follow the practice and a
deep faith in Bhagavan. I think that this elicited grace from Bhagavan
and kept me on the right path. If the attitude is right and if the
practice is intense enough, it doesn't really matter what you do when
you meditate. The purity of intent and purpose carries you to the right
RS: If someone wants to learn self-enquiry, what should they read?
DG: I don't know what book I would recommend to new people who want to
start self-inquiry. Be As You Are is certainly a good start since it was
designed for Westerners who have had no previous exposure to Bhagavan
and his teachings. There is also a book by Sadhu Om: The Path of Sri
Ramana Part One. It is a little dogmatic in places but it covers all the
basic points well. Self-enquiry is a bit like swimming or riding a
bicycle. You don't learn it from books. You learn it by doing it again
and again till you get it right.
RS: Could you briefly describe what your life has been like in Tiruvannamalai? What work have you done at Sri Ramanasramam?
DG: I spent my first eighteen months just meditating, practising
self-enquiry, and occasionally walking round Arunachala. In 1978 I
began to do voluntary work for Sri Ramanasramam. I looked after their
library from 1978 to 1985, edited their magazine for a short period of
time, and from 1985 onwards did research for my various books. In the
later 1980s and early 90s I also devoted a considerable amount of time
to looking after Lakshmana Swamy and Saradamma's garden. They bought
land in Tiruvannamalai in 1988 and I ended up helping to develop it. In
1993 I went to Lucknow and spent four years with Papaji, where I wrote
Nothing Ever Happened. Since my return to Tiruvannamalai in 1997 I have
been writing and researching new books on Ramana.
RS: How have you supported yourself in India all these years?
DG: I didn't. Grace supported me. I have found that if you give all your
time to God and his work, then he looks after you. I came here with
$500 in 1976. I didn't earn money for twenty years, but I always had
enough to live on. Until I left Lucknow I gave the proceeds from all my
books to the various organisations that supported me while I was writing
When I first came to Arunachala I fell in love with the place and wanted
to stay as long as I could. I knew I didn't have much money, but I
wanted to make it last as long as possible. There was a meter ticking
away in my head: I have so much money, I am spending so much per day,
and that means I have so many more days here. Those numbers, those
equations were there all the time. Then, one day, as I was doing
pradakshina of Arunachala, it all dropped away. It wasn't a mental
decision. I stopped walking, turned, and faced the hill. I knew in that
moment that whatever power had brought me here would keep me here until
its purpose was finished, and that when it was time to go, it wouldn't
matter if I was a millionaire or not, I would have to leave. From then
on I stopped caring about money. In the period that I was worrying about
money, all I did was spend. When I stopped caring, complete strangers
would come up to me and give me money. Whenever I needed money, money
just appeared out of nowhere.
RS: Can you give me an example of how this worked?
DG: When I volunteered to look after Lakshmana Swamy's land in the late
80s, I had about $20 to my name. Somebody in Canada whom I had spoken to
for about ten minutes two years before got out of bed and suddenly felt
that he should give me some money. He sent me $1,000, which was enough
to get the garden going. I lived like that for years. When you work for
Gurus, God pays the bills. That's my experience anyway. It was Papaji
who encouraged me to start working for myself. He himself was a
householder who spent decades supporting his family. He generally
wouldn't let anyone give up his or her worldly life until retirement
age, which in India is around 55. When I started work on Nothing Ever
Happened, I assumed that all the proceeds would go to him, or to some
organisation that was promoting his teachings. At some point during the
research though, he let me know that he wanted me to accept royalties
from the sale of the book.
Nowadays, I am not supported by any institution, so I publish my own
books and live off the proceeds, which I have to say are minimal. I can
live fairly comfortably in a third world country such as India, but if I
tried to live in America on what I earn from my books, I would be
several thousand dollars a year below the poverty line.
RS: What effect do you feel in the presence of Arunachala?
DG: Arunachala brought me here in the same way it brought Ramana here.
And it has kept me here for most of the last 25 years. I have
occasionally left to be with teachers in other places: Nisargadatta
Maharaj in Bombay, Lakshmana Swamy in Andhra Pradesh, Papaji in Lucknow,
but Arunachala has always brought me back here afterwards. It's my
spiritual center of gravity. I can make an effort to be somewhere else
if I feel I would spiritually benefit from it, but when I stop making
that effort, the natural pull of Arunachala brings me back here again.
It's the only place in the world that I feel truly at home.
Arunachala has been attracting people for well over 1,500 years. Ramana
liked to quote a saint of about 500 years ago who wrote in one of his
verses, 'Arunachala, you draw to yourself all those who are rich in
jnana tapas' Jnana tapas can be translated as the extreme efforts made
by those who are in search of liberation.
There are dozens of teachers nowadays who tour the world touting their
experiences and their teachings. Many of them trace their lineage back
to Ramana Maharshi via Papaji. And where did Ramana Maharshi's power and
authority come from? From Arunachala, his own Guru and God. He
explicitly stated that it was the power of Arunachala that brought about
his own Self-realisation. He wrote poems extolling its greatness, and
in the last 54 years if his life, he never moved more than a mile and a
half away from its base. So, it is the power of Arunachala that is the
true source of the power that now appears as 'advaita messengers' all
over the world. For me, this is the world's great power spot. Arunachala
has brought about the liberation of several advanced seekers in the
past few centuries, and its radiant power remains even today as a beacon
for those who want to find out who they really are.
RS: Have there been living people whom you regarded as your Gurus, or who had an especially strong impact on you spiritually?
DG: I think the four key spiritual figures would be Lakshmana Swamy,
Saradamma, Nisargadatta Maharaj and Papaji. I have to include Ramana
Maharshi on this list, even though I never met him while he was alive. I
feel him as strongly as I have felt any other teacher. The Self that
took the form of Ramana Maharshi is my Guru. He lit the lamp of
enlightenment in the Heart of a few of his devotees, and when I sit in
the presence of these beings I am receiving the luster, the light of
Ramana Maharshi through them. So I will not say that my Guru has a
particular form. I will say that the light of Arunachala became manifest
in Ramana, and through him it was passed on to Lakshmana Swamy, Papaji,
and Saradamma. When I bask in their light, I am basking in the living,
transmitting light of Arunachala-Ramana.
Nisargadatta does not belong to this lineage, but he was an enormously
beneficial presence in my life in the late 1970s and early 80s. I used
to go and see him as often as I could. He repeatedly told me 'you are
consciousness' and on a few rare, glorious occasions I understood what
he was talking about. He was not simply giving me information; he was
instead describing my own state, my own experience in that moment. That
was his technique. He would talk endlessly about the Self until you
suddenly realised directly, 'Yes, this is what I am right now'.
RS: Have you used any practices in addition to those associated with Sri Ramana?
DG: No. From the moment I first encountered Bhagavan and his teachings
in the 1970s I have never found myself attracted to any other teachings
RS: I often wonder whether Westerners misunderstand Ramana Maharshi.
What are the most common misconceptions about his teachings?
DG: I am not sure how much understanding there is of Ramana Maharshi and
his teachings in the West. He is an iconic figure to a vast number of
people who are following some sort of spiritual path. I think that for
many people he epitomises all that is best in the Hindu Guru tradition,
but having said that, I think that very few people know much about him,
and even fewer have a good grasp of his teachings. Not many people read
books about him nowadays - I know that from trying to sell my own - and
even fewer would profess themselves to be his devotee. I find there is
very little interest in his teachings even among the people who come to
visit Ramanasramam. Nowadays, many of the people who come are spiritual
tourists, pilgrims who just travel round India, checking out all the
various ashrams and teachers. About twenty years ago I met a foreigner
here who had come to the ashram for advice on how to do self-enquiry
properly. For several days he couldn't find anyone who was practising
it, even in Ramanasramam. The people he asked in the ashram office just
told him to buy the ashram's publications and find out from them how to
do it. Eventually, he had what he thought was a bright idea. He stood
outside the door of the meditation hall at Ramanasramam, the place where
Sri Ramana lived for over twenty years, and asked everyone who came out
how to do self-enquiry. It transpired that none of the people inside
were doing self-enquiry. They came out one by one and said, 'I was doing
japa,' or 'I was doing vipassana,' or 'I was doing Tibetan
How can there be misunderstandings among people who have never even
bothered to find out the teachings in the first place, or put them into
RS: I think that some people who are now teaching in the West are
creating misunderstandings about his teachings. Some of them seem to
confuse glimpses of nonduality and feelings of relative selflessness
with Self-realisation. Since a number of these teachers trace their
lineage back to Sri Ramana, their students project the ideas of these
teachers onto Sri Ramana. What do you think about this?
DG: What are Sri Ramana's teachings? If you ask people who have become
acquainted with his life and work, you might get several answers such as
'advaita' or 'self-enquiry'. I don't think Sri Ramana's teachings were
either a belief system or a philosophy, such as advaita, or a practice,
such as self-enquiry.
Sri Ramana himself would say that his principal teaching was silence, by
which he meant the wordless radiation of power and grace that he
emanated all the time. The words he spoke, he said, were for the people
who didn't understand these real teachings. Everything he said was
therefore a kind of second-level teaching for people who were incapable
of dissolving their sense of 'I' in his powerful presence. You may
understand his words, or at least think that you do, but if you think
that these words constitute his teachings, then you have really
RS: There are some aspects of his spoken teachings that appear to be
unique. For example, his reference to the heart center on the right side
of the chest. He said that this was the source of the 'I' and the place
in the body where the sense of 'I' had to return in order for
realisation to take place. People who talk about his teachings in the
West rarely seem to mention this point.
DG: Ramana didn't mention it much either. On a few occasions when he was
asked about it, he said it was more important to have the experience of
the Self, rather than locate it in some part of the body. It is true
that no teacher who came before him ever mentioned this, but I would not
say that this is a major aspect of his teachings. Nor would I say that
it is necessary to have this knowledge in order to have an experience of
RS: How did you choose the subjects for your three biographical books?
DG: In two of the three cases the subjects chose me. When I went to
Lakshmana Swamy's ashram in the early 1980s, he asked me to write a
brief biography of Saradamma, a project that eventually turned into a
book-length account of both of them. A few years later, when I wrote a
fifty-page account of Papaji's experiences with Ramana, intending to use
it in a book about Ramana's disciples, Papaji liked it so much, he
invited me back to Lucknow to do a complete biography on him. As for the
third biography, I approached Annamalai Swami in the late 1980s, hoping
to interview him in order to get enough material for a chapter in the
same book that was going to feature Papaji's account. His story turned
out to be so engrossing, so detailed, so unlike anything I had come
across in the existing Ramana literature, it soon expanded into a
RS: All these people seem to be Self-realised. Did you pick them for this reason? How did you know that they are Self-realised?
DG: The simple answer is that no one who is not a jnani can really tell
who is in that state, and I would not claim to be in that state myself.
Ramana told people that the peace one feels in the presence of such
beings is a good indication that one is in the presence of an
enlightened being, but this is a sign not a proof.
When I first went to see Lakshmana Swamy in the late 1970s, I did not go
there with any intention of evaluating him. But as soon as I looked
into his eyes, something inside me said, 'This man is a jnani'. Nothing
has ever caused me to doubt that first impression. I don't know how I
came to that conclusion because I had never had that kind of thought
before with anybody else. Something inside me just knew. Up till the
time I first met him, I had been meditating intensively for most of the
day for a period of about eighteen months. My mind was fairly quiet most
of the time and I really felt that I was making good progress on the
road to Self-realisation. However, within a few seconds of being looked
at by Lakshmana Swamy, I was in a state of stillness and peace that was
way beyond anything that I had experienced through my own efforts. That
one darshan effectively demonstrated to me the need for a human Guru,
and it also demonstrated to me that there were still people alive in the
Ramana lineage who seemed to have the same power and presence that I
had read about in so many Ramanasramam books. Since that day a large
portion of my life and energy has been devoted to serving such beings
and writing about their life and teachings.
RS: What is Self-realisation? The terms 'glimpse' and 'waking-up
experience' appear in Nothing Ever Happened. Did you invent these terms?
What is the relationship between a glimpse or waking-up experience and
DG: I would say that Self-realisation is what remains when the mind
irrevocably dies in the Heart. The Heart is not a particular place in
the body. It is the formless Self, the source and origin of all
manifestation. Self-realisation is permanent and irreversible. I also
suspect that it is quite rare. Many people have had glimpses or
temporary experiences of a state of being in which the mind, the
individual 'I', temporarily stops functioning, but I don't think that
there are many people in the world in whom the 'I' has died.
Papaji used to say, 'What comes and goes is not real. If you have had an
experience that came and went, it was not an experience of the Self
because the Self never comes and goes.'
I think this is an interesting comment. If it is true, it means that
most waking-up experiences are merely new states of mind. It is only
when the mind dies completely, never to rise again, that the Self really
shines as one's own natural state.
The terms 'glimpses' and 'waking-up experiences' that you refer to are
temporary. They come and they go because the 'I' itself has not been
permanently eradicated. A powerful Guru may be able to give a glimpse of
the Self to just about anyone, but it is not within his power to make
it stick. If the person has a mind that is full of desires, those
desires will eventually rise again and cover up the glimpse.
RS: Do Westerners tend to have an exaggerated idea of the significance of these preliminary experiences?
DG: When these temporary no-mind states are being experienced, their
importance can be greatly exaggerated by people who think that they have
attained permanent enlightenment. But in most cases the feeling of
self-importance vanishes along with the experience.
RS: I think you quote Papaji as saying that he met only two
Self-realised people in his entire life, Sri Ramana and a Spanish
priest. But he also met Nisargadatta Maharaj. Does this mean that he
didn't think Maharaj was Self-realised? Can you shed any light on this?
DG: When I first talked to Papaji in 1992, I asked him how many jnanis
he had met in his life. He scratched his head and came up with three
names: Ramana Maharshi, a Sufi pir he met in Madras and Tiruvannamalai,
and a wandering mahatma who lived in the forests between Tiruvannamalai
and Bangalore. When I got to know him better, he would sometimes add
names to the list, and Nisargadatta Maharaj was one of them. He went to
see him many times in the 1970s and was very impressed with him. J.
Krishnamurti also made the list, although Papaji didn't think much of
him as a teacher. The Spanish priest never appeared on his list. Papaji
said he was the best Christian he had ever met, but he never said he was
This list might expand or contract according to his mood or memory, but
it never exceeded seven. These were all people he had met on his
travels. What I found curious about this was that he never ever included
any of his own disciples on this master list, an omission that might
lead one to infer that none of his disciples had actually attained the
final sahaja or natural state of the jnani. This is both interesting and
paradoxical since many of his disciples were told very categorically by
him, 'You are enlightened. You are free.' When I wrote his biography, I
recovered several thousand letters Papaji had written to devotees all
over the world. I would say that at least fifty of them could produce a
hand-written letter from Papaji congratulating them on their
In the vast majority of cases these experiences were temporary. I often
wondered why Papaji was so enthusiastic about these temporary
experiences, and many other people felt the same way. Lots of people
asked him about this, but I don't know anyone who got a straight answer,
including me. When I asked him about this phenomenon, he said that he
lived in the silence and that when silence spoke, it always said the
most appropriate thing, even though it might not be factually accurate.
He added, 'I have spent all my life in that silence. I have learned to
trust what it says.'
Implicit in this statement is a recognition that Papaji is sometimes
telling people that they are enlightened when he can see clearly that
they are not. He trusted the source of these statements, but he could
never give a good explanation of why the silence was making him say
RS: Here's a question from a reader which I pass along to you: 'Papaji
says that the only thing that needs to be done is to stop all effort.
When this happens, there is quiet and a sense of egolessness. But in
that state, it is possible to ask "Who am I?" and find an observer whose
source is yet to be found. In other words, in that state, it seems that
self-enquiry is still needed. Does this mean that Papaji is teaching
something different from Ramana Maharshi? What is the connection between
this effortless state and the state of abiding in the heart?'
DG: When Papaji said in satsang, 'Make no effort,' he was trying to put
the person in front of him into a state of no-mind in which no effort is
necessary or possible, since the 'I' has temporarily gone. He was not
trying to put the person in a halfway stage in which further effort is
Here is a paradox for you. Ramana Maharshi realised the Self without any
effort, without being interested in it, and without any practice, and
then spent the rest of his life telling people that they must make
continuous effort up till the moment of enlightenment. Papaji spent a
quarter of a century doing japa and meditation prior to his climactic
meetings with Ramana, but when he began teaching, he always insisted
that no effort was necessary to realise the Self.
Papaji's attitude to self-enquiry was, 'Do it once and do it properly'.
Ramana's was, 'Do it intensively and continuously until realisation
dawns'. Although you could never get Papaji to admit that there were
differences between his teachings and those of his Guru, they clearly
didn't agree on the question of effort.
With regard to the question of the difference between the effortless
state and the state of abiding in the Heart, I would refer to Lakshmana
Swamy. He agrees with Ramana that hard, continuous effort is needed up
till the moment of realisation. He also says that by effort the mind can
reach the effortless thought-free state, but no further. If that state
has been achieved, and if one has the good fortune to be with a realised
Guru, then the power of the Self will pull the mind into the Heart and
destroy it. In the effortless state, mind is still there, but when one
abides in the Heart it is gone.
Papaji conceded that meditation and effort had a limited use. He would
sometimes say that intense meditation would earn the punyas or spiritual
merit necessary to have the opportunity to sit with a realised being.
Once that has happened, effort is no longer necessary. In fact, it is
counter-productive. When one meets the Guru, the power of the Self that
is present in an enlightened being's satsang takes over and gives the
results and experiences that the mind is ready for.
All this probably appears to be confusing and contradictory. The
teachers I have written about disagree profoundly on the question of
effort and its role in Self-realisation, but they all agree that being
in the presence of a realised being is the greatest aid to
enlightenment. I can say from my own experience that when one is in the
presence of such beings, mind drops away of its own accord.
RS: In his book Relaxing Into Clear Seeing, Arjuna Nick Ardagh says,
'In the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the ease
with which Self-realisation can occur. Indeed, a kind of "epidemic" has
begun in the West whereby the awakened view is becoming increasingly
available.' It seems to me that Arjuna is referring here to glimpses,
not Self-realisation, and I wonder if they are any more common today
than they have been in India for millennia. Perhaps the real difference
is that Indians didn't regard these glimpses as particularly unusual or
DG: I don't think that there is an epidemic of Self-realisation in the
West or anywhere else. I think full realisation is a rare phenomenon.
There are certainly more people who think that they have realised the
Self, but I think that they are deluding themselves.
RS: According to some Western advaita teachers who claim to follow Sri
Ramana's teachings, Self-realisation is a two-part process. First, there
is an awakening, a temporary experience of non-duality and egolessness.
The second step is to stabilise the experience of this awakening, or in
other words, make it permanent. But when I read about Mathru Sri Sarada
in your book No Mind - I Am the Self, I seem to get a completely
different picture. In her case, a permanent awakening experience may
have been necessary, but by itself was not sufficient. For her,
Self-realisation happened only when her mind descended into her Heart
center and dissolved permanently. I get the impression that she could
have remained in the 'awakened state' indefinitely without this descent
into the Heart. Would you comment on this?
DG: When egolessness is there, there is no one left who can stabilise or
lose the experience. These experiences come and go. They go because the
vasanas of the mind reassert themselves. When they arise and take over,
you resume the practice again. This is the classic prescription of the
Gita, and it is also what Ramana taught. Stay awake, stay mindful, and
whenever you catch the mind straying, take it back to its source.
As regards Mathru Sri Sarada, I think you are referring to the
experience she had just before she realised the Self. She felt that her
mind had died because she was temporarily abiding in the Heart, but her
Guru, Lakshmana Swamy, could see that her 'I' was not dead, which meant
that this was a temporary experience. She was talking about her
experiences and genuinely felt that her 'I' was dead, but it was not a
real, permanent awakening.
A few minutes later, with the help of her Guru, the 'I' went back to its
source and died forever. There was no fully awakened state prior to
this experience. The final death of the 'I' in the Heart was necessary
to complete the realisation process
RS: Can you name any people who are teaching today who are Self-realised?
DG: I could hide behind my earlier statement and say that I am not
qualified to say who is enlightened and who is not. That is true, but I
have absolute faith that Lakshmana Swamy and Saradamma are in that
state. I don't want to make comments about anybody else.
RS: What plans do you have for future books and other works?
DG: I am working on a third volume of The Power of the Presence, and I
hope to see it published in a few months. After that, I have a project
to translate and publish some of Muruganar's poetry from Tamil into
English. He recorded many of Bhagavan's teaching statements in short
Tamil verses, and most of them have never been translated. This will be a
major undertaking that may take a year or two. I also hope to get back
to working on Papaji in the near future. I particularly want to edit the
Lucknow satsang dialogues from the early 1990s. That's a big job,
though, and would probably take years. I recently volunteered to make a
book of all Sadhu Natanananda's writings on Bhagavan for Ramanasramam. I
will fit that in between all my other projects.
When I sit down in front of my screen in the morning I often have no
idea what I will be working on ten minutes later. I might look at
something I have edited recently, move on to something else, and then
find another chapter of another book that suddenly grabs my attention
and interest. Or I might switch the machine off and go outside and do
some gardening instead.
I have come to the conclusion that Bhagavan brought me to Tiruvannamalai
to write about him and his disciples. I have learned this the hard way.
I went back to England twenty years ago, hoping to earn enough money to
come back to India and not do any work here. Nobody was willing to hire
me to do anything. I even flunked an interview for picking up litter in
the London zoo. But as soon as I had the idea of writing a book about
Bhagavan, everything fell into place. Though I had never written
anything in my life, I was given a contract by a major publisher and
sent back to India to write about him. That's how Be As You Are came
A few years before that I gave up editing the Ramanasramam magazine and
went to Andhra Pradesh to be with Lakshmana Swamy. My intention was just
to meditate there. I had had enough of writing, but within a few weeks
of my arrival he asked me to write No Mind - I am the Self. Whenever I
do work on Bhagavan or his disciples, everything goes well. Whenever I
try to do something else, so many problems come up, nothing ever gets
accomplished or completed.
Having learned this from experience, I have now surrendered to this
destiny. I enjoy the work, and many, many people seem to appreciate the
books. I asked Papaji years ago whether writing all these books on
Bhagavan was a distraction for the mind.
He replied, 'Any association with Bhagavan is a blessing'. I took that as an instruction to carry on with the work.
RS: Thanks very much for this interview, David. I learned a lot from it, and you have
been extraordinarily generous.
DG: You're welcome.