Upamanyu said: (Mahadeva) Thou art he who imparts instruction in utter silence. Thou art he that observes the vow of taciturny (for Thou instructest in silence).
[Source: Mahabharata--Anusasana Parva, Section XVII]
Below in question and answer format is an enlightening discussion between the Guru and devotee on the nature of satsang. Ramana Maharshi said the most important element in satsang is the mental connection with the Guru; satsang takes place not only in the presence of the Guru but whenever and wherever one thinks of him.
Question: How can silence be so powerful?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: A realised one sends out waves of spiritual influence, which draw many people towards him. Yet he may sit in a cave and maintain complete silence. We may listen to lectures upon truth and come away with hardly any grasp of the subject, but to come into contact with a realised one, though he speaks nothing, will give much more grasp of the subject. He never needs to go out among the public. If necessary he can use others as instruments.
The Guru is the bestower of silence who reveals the light of Self-knowledge that shines as the residual reality. Spoken words are of no use whatsoever if the eyes of the Guru meet the eyes of the disciple.
Question: Why does not Bhagavan go about and preach the truth to the people at large?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: How do you know I am not doing it? Does preaching consist in mounting a platform and haranguing the people around? Preaching is simple communication of knowledge; it can really be done in silence only. What do you think of a man who listens to a sermon for an hour and goes away without having been impressed by it so as to change his life? Compare him with another, who sits in a holy presence and goes away after some time with his outlook on life totally changed. Which is the better, to preach loudly without effect or to sit silently sending out inner force?
Again, how does speech arise? First there is abstract knowledge. Out of this arises the ego, which in turn gives rise to thought, and thought to the spoken word. So the word is the great grandson of the original source. If the word can produce an effect, judge for yourself how much more powerful must be the preaching through silence.
Question: Does Bhagavan give diksha (initiation)?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Mouna (silence) is the best and the most potent diksha. That was practised by Sri Dakshinamurti. Initiation by touch, look, etc., are all of a lower order. Silent initiation changes the hearts of all.
Dakshinamurti observed silence when the disciples approached him. That is the highest form of initiation. It includes the other forms. There must be subject-object relationship established in the other diksha. First the subject must emanate and then the object. Unless these two are there how is the one to look at the other or touch him? Mouna diksha (silent initiation) is the most perfect; it comprises looking, touching. It will purify the individual in every way and establish him in the reality.
Question: Swami Vivekananda says that a spiritual Guru can transfer spirituality substantially to the disciple.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Is there a substance to be transferred? Transfer means eradication of the sense of being the disciple. The master does it. Not that the man was something at one time and metamorphosed later into another.
Question: Is not grace the gift of the Guru?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: God, grace and Guru are all synonymous and also eternal and immanent. Is not the Self already within? Is it for the Guru to bestow it by his look? If a Guru thinks so, he does not deserve the name.
The books say that there are so many kinds of diksha, initiation by hand, by touch, by eye, etc. They also say that the Guru makes some rites with fire, water, japa or mantra and calls such fantastic performances diksha, as if the disciple becomes ripe only after such processes are gone through by the guru.
If the individual is sought he is nowhere to be found. Such is the Guru. Such is Dakshinamurti. What did he do? He was silent when the disciples appeared before him. He maintained silence and the doubts of the disciples were dispelled, which means that they lost their individual identities. That is jnana (knowledge) and not all the verbiage usually associated with it.
Silence is the most potent form of work. However vast and emphatic the sastras (scriptures) may be they fail in their effect. The Guru is quiet and peace prevails in all. His silence is vaster and more emphatic than all the sastras put together. These questions arise because of the feeling that, having been here so long, heard so much, exerted so hard, one has not gained anything. The work proceeding within is not apparent; In fact the guru is always within you.
Question: Can the Guru’s silence really bring about advanced states of spiritual awareness?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: There is an old story, which demonstrates the power of the Guru’s silence. Tattvaraya composed a Bharani, a kind of poetic composition in Tamil, in honour of his Guru Swarupananda, and convened an assembly of learned pundits to hear the work and assess its value. The pundits raised the objection that a Bharani was only composed in honour of great heroes capable of killing a thousand elephants in battle and that it was not in order to compose such a work in honour of an ascetic. Thereupon the author said, "Let us all go to my Guru and we shall have this matter settled there."
They went to the Guru and, after they had all taken their seats, the author told his Guru the purpose of their visit. The Guru sat silent and all the others also remained in mouna (silence). The whole day passed, the night came, and some more days and nights, and yet all sat there silently, no thought at all occurring to any of them and nobody thinking or asking why they had come there. After three or four days like this, the Guru moved his mind a bit, and the people assembled immediately regained their thought activity. They then declared, "Conquering a thousand elephants is nothing beside this Guru’s power to conquer the rutting elephants of all our egos put together. So certainly he deserves the Bharani in his honour!"
Question: How does this silent power work?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Language is only a medium for communicating one’s thoughts to another. It is called in only after thoughts arise. Other thoughts arise after the "I"-thought rises and so the "I"-thought is the root of all conversation. When one remains without thinking one understands another by means of the universal language of silence.
Silence is ever speaking. It is a perennial flow of language, which is interrupted by speaking. These words I am speaking obstruct that mute language. For example, there is electricity flowing in a wire. With resistance to its passage, it glows as a lamp or revolves as a fan. In the wire it remains as electric energy. Similarly also, silence is the eternal flow of language, obstructed by words.
What one fails to know by conversation extending to several years can be known instantly in silence, or in front of silence. Dakshinamurti and his four disciples are a good example of this. This is the highest and most effective language.
Question: Bhagavan says, "The influence of the jnani (self-realised) steals into the devotee in silence." Bhagavan also says, "Contact with great men (mahatmas) is one efficacious means of realising one’s true being".
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes. What is the contradiction? Jnani, great men, Mahatmas - do you differentiate between them?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Contact with them is good. They will work through silence. By speaking their power is reduced. Silence is most powerful. Speech is always less powerful than silence, so mental contact is the best.
Question: Does this hold good even after the dissolution of the physical body of the jnani or is it true only so long as he is in flesh and blood?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Guru is not the physical form. So the contact will remain even after the physical form of the Guru vanishes. One can go to another Guru after one’s Guru passes away, but all Gurus are one and none of them is the form you see. Always mental contact is the best.
Question: Is the operation of grace the mind of the Guru acting on the mind of the disciple or is it a different process?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: The highest form of grace is silence. It is also the highest upadesa (teaching).
Question: Vivekananda has also said that silence is the loudest form of prayer.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: It is so for the seeker’s silence. The Guru’s silence is the loudest upadesa. It is also grace in its highest form. All other dikshas (initiations) are derived from mouna (silence), and are therefore secondary. Mouna is the primary form. If the Guru is silent the seeker’s mind gets purified by itself.
Question: Sri Bhagavan’s silence is itself a powerful force. It brings about a certain peace of mind in us.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Silence is never-ending speech.Vocal speech obstructs the other speech of silence. In silence one is in intimate contact with the surroundings.
The silence of Dakshinamurti removed the doubts of the four sages. Mouna Vyakhya Prakatita Tattvam means the truth expounded by silence. Silence is said to be exposition. Silence is so potent.
For vocal speech, organs of speech are necessary and they precede speech. But the other speech lies even beyond thought. It is in short transcendent speech or unspoken words (Para Vak).
Question: Can everyone benefit from this silence?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Silence is the true Upadesa (teachings). It is the perfect upadesa. It is suited only for the most advanced seeker. The others are unable to draw full inspiration from it. Therefore they require words to explain the truth. But truth is beyond words. It does not admit of explanation. All that it is possible to do is to indicate it.
Question: It is said that one look of a Mahatma is enough, that idols, pilgrimages, etc., are not so effective. I have been here for three months, but I do not know how I have been benefited by the look of Maharshi.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: The look has a purifying effect. Purification cannot be visualised. Just as a piece of coal takes a long time to be ignited, a piece of charcoal takes a shorter time, and a mass of gunpowder is instantaneously ignited, so it is with grades of men coming into contact with Mahatmas. The fire of wisdom consumes all actions. Wisdom is acquired by association with the wise (Satsang) or rather its mental atmosphere.
Question: Can the Guru’s silence bring about realisation if the disciple makes no effort?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: In the proximity of a great master, the vasanas (subtle impressions that lead to desires) cease to be active, the mind becomes still and samadhi results. Thus the disciple gains true knowledge and right experience in the presence of the master. To remain unshaken in it further efforts are necessary. Eventually the disciple will know it to be his real being and will thus be liberated even while alive.
Question: If the search has to be made within, is it necessary to be in the physical proximity of the Master?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: It is necessary to be so until all doubts are at an end.
Question: I am not able to concentrate by myself. I am in search of a force to help me.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes, that is called grace. Individually we are incapable because the mind is weak. Grace is necessary. Sadhu seva (serving a sadhu or a mendicant) will bring it about. There is however nothing new to get. Just as a weak man comes under the control of a stronger one, the weak mind of a man comes under control easily in the presence of strong minded sadhus. That which is only grace; there is nothing else.
Question: Is it necessary to serve the Guru physically?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: The Sastras (scriptures) say that one must serve a Guru for twelve years in order to attain Self-realisation. What does the Guru do? Does he hand it over to the disciple? Is not the Self always realised? What does the common belief mean then? Man is always the Self and yet he does not know it. Instead he confounds it with the non-Self, the body, etc. Such confusion is due to ignorance. If ignorance is wiped out the confusion will cease to exist and the true knowledge will be unfolded. By remaining in contact with realised sages the man gradually loses the ignorance until its removal is complete. The eternal Self is thus revealed.
Question: You say that association with the wise (satsang) and service of them is required of the disciple.
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes, the first really means association with the unmanifest Sat or absolute existence, but as very few can do that, they have to take second best which is association with the manifest Sat, that is, the Guru. Association with sages should be made because thoughts are so persistent. The sage has already overcome the mind and remains in peace. Being in his proximity helps to bring about this condition in others, otherwise there is no meaning in seeking his company. The guru provides the needed strength for this, unseen by others.
Service is primarily to abide in the Self, but it also includes making the Guru’s body comfortable and looking after his place of abode. Contact with the Guru is also necessary, but this means spiritual contact. If the disciple finds the Guru internally, then it does not matter where he goes. Staying here or elsewhere must be understood to be the same and to have the same effect.
Question: My profession requires me to stay near my place of work. I cannot remain in the vicinity of sadhus. Can I have realisation even in the absence of satsang?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Sat is Aham Pratyaya Saram, the Self of selves. The sadhu is that Self of selves. He is immanent in all. Can anyone remain without the Self? No. So no one is away from satsang.
Question: Is proximity to the Guru helpful?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Do you mean physical proximity? What is the good of it? The mind alone matters. The mind must be contacted. Satsang will make the mind sink into the Heart. Such associations both mental and physical. The extremely visible being of the Guru pushes the mind inward. He is also in the Heart of the seeker and so draws the latter’s inward-bent mind into the Heart.
Question: All that I want to know is whether satsang is necessary and whether my coming here will help me or not?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: First you must decide what is satsang. It means association with Sat or Reality. One who knows or has realised Sat is also regarded as Sat. Such association with Sat or with one who knows Sat is absolutely necessary for all. Sankara has said that in all the three worlds there is no boat like satsang to carry one safely across the ocean of births and deaths.
Satsang means sanga (association) with Sat. Sat is only the Self. Since the Self is not now understood to be Sat, the company of the sage who has thus understood it is sought. That is satsang. Introversion results. Then Sat is revealed.