Om Sri Ram

Letter # 7  -  Reorientation


“Sri Ramana would not engage with questioners about free will and predestination. Though both theories appear contradictory, they do however reflect the truth to some degree. Sri Ramana would always bring the questioner back to the central point of our existence: Who is this who thinks they are predestined or who has free will?”


     In the weeks following the decision to stay at Sri Ramana Nagar, I was still unsure

and slightly dazed by the radical change in my plans such as they were. It never

again occurred to me to move from the tawdry small cell I was living in and seek

adventures elsewhere in India and beyond. Reflecting on it now, I see that my

immediate life at Arunachala was in some way fixed like that of a train on railway

tracks. Once that initial decision to stay crystalized in my mind, a whole slew of

future decisions was immediately lined up and fell naturally into place. There are

crucial moments in our lives which dictate the aftermath of what will happen to us. An

easy example is a student who decides to become a doctor rather than a lawyer. A

whole new chain of experiences will automatically be lined up as possibilities. There

may be differences in how it unfolds but the main theme may hold for the rest of

one’s life. I did not know then that that commitment to stay would dictate the

remainder of my existence in this world. One decision taken in one minute decided

the general course of my future.

     After about a week outside the ashram, I started to sporadically sit in the Old

Hall but for some reason one day in the late afternoon I climbed up the lower slopes

of Arunachala and saw two people, Rajapalayalam Ramani Ammal and an old

gentleman dressed in kasaya (orange cloth), who I later learned was Kunju Swami,

one of the senior swamis in the ashram who had been with Bhagavan since 1920.

They were sitting on a large flattish rock chatting. I sat down on a nearby rock and

watched them in the crepuscular light as it slowly died down on Arunachala. It was

sandhya, which happens four times a day. They are midnight, predawn, noon and in

the late afternoon as the sun sets. These times are especially conducive for

meditation, particularly early morning when our vital forces are naturally in balance.

On recollection, in that dying light, I sat feeling defeated in a way. It wasn’t

possible to go forward nor could I go back. I was stuck with myself with no means of

amusement or diversions to keep the dogs of depression away. A substantial

pressure slowly enveloped my brain until it felt like a dead weight. The emotional

pain was excruciating. There was nowhere to run and even if I could make a

decision, my body was numb as if it were deep underwater enduring a compression

of indefinable heaviness. The envelopment soon lifted and with it came the insight

that I was helpless in the face of superior forces of which I had almost no inkling let

alone control. The days when I thought I was captain of my fate seemed laughable.

It is hard, particularly for those educated with the Western attitudes that say

we freely make our own decisions and can do what we like to fulfil our ambitions, to

realise that we are pawns of fate. Sri Ramana said that our prarabdha karma (Fate

or the result of our accumulated past actions that bear fruit in this life) has already

been set in place when we are born. That everything is preordained. The one choice

we have is whether to identify with it or not. This is anathema to anyone who values

freedom, chance and endless possibilities.

     There is a famous incident in the life of Sri Ramana Maharshi when his

mother came to Tiruvannamalai to plead with him to come back to the family home in

Madurai. Sri Ramana Mahahsi was in silence and wrote in response the following

and I quote from Arthur Osborne’s book Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self

Knowledge. “The Ordainer controls the fate of souls in accordance with their

prarabdhakarma (destiny to be worked out in this life, resulting from the balance

sheet of actions in past lives). Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try

as you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent

it. This is certain.

     The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.”

Sri Ramana would not engage with questioners about free will and predestination.

Though both theories appear contradictory, they do however reflect

the truth to some degree. Sri Ramana would always bring the questioner back to the

central point of our existence: Who is this who thinks they are predestined or who

has free will?

     In Hinduism, there is the concept of twice-born (dvija). There is our natural,

physical life and then there is another life which opens up with the ceremonies of

what is called the upanayana initiation ceremony where the initiate is secretly given

the sacred Gayatri mantra. As a sign of that ceremony, the initiate is invested with a

multithread that loops next to the skin over the left shoulder and across the right hip.

This investiture is not limited to those of a certain religious caste who engage

in a public ceremony. All who enter a genuine spiritual life, experience a decisive

moment that divides their former life from the new chapter that opens. They are

invested with a mark that indicates that they are now members of a dedicated group

of seekers. Depending on whether one is a member of a formal religious order be it

say, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim or Christian, or if one is a solitary seeker who is

outside the purview of these institutions, the ‘mark’ will be appropriate to the school.

In recognized religions, there is the physical attire which conveys to others that the

person is nominated but there is also an invisible one which only another initiate can

‘see’.

     In the circle of Sri Ramana, those who had been initiated by Sri Ramana knew

who the others were. But they all kept quiet. There was no need to speak as it

served no purpose for others to know what would not be of help to them but would

create jealousy and bickering as to who was initiated and who was not. Unlike say

the outstanding Ramakrishna Math edifice, Sri Ramana’s ‘organisation’ is not strictly

structured. There is no rigid hierarchy, there are no certificates. But that does not

mean Sri Ramana does not oversee the progress of his disciples. Quite the contrary,

he does it in mysterious ways. Sri Ramana is not blatant but subtly exercises his

Grace. We are forever left with a slight doubt every time he works his miracles. Each

one he performs could be seen as a natural occurrence without any overt display.

That is Bhagavan’s style…nothing flashy.

     Returning to the question of free will and predestination, the question

becomes irrelevant once the authentic initiation occurs. The physical unfoldment will

not change, the body will still undergo the results of former actions but there is a

radical and dramatic shift of perspective. Life becomes meaningful. The suffering

which previously appeared gratuitous and unfair now becomes significant. The

anguish we endure becomes useful experience or knowledge that helps us see our

way free of the seemingly blind forces that inhabit our existence. We use the

difficulty to become free.