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 l


     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 o

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.


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