From "Practical Sadhana, from the Teaching of Sri Ramana Maharshi" by Swami Sadasivananda Giri

The Spiritual Enemy Within - Pramada

In the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita a description of the battlefield and the warriors thereon reveal that the Kaurava’s legions number eleven, while the Pandavas only amount to seven.

     Sri Krishna further declares in the Gita that the odds of victory for right discernment and effort by Arjuna (symbolizing each one of us), even with such a one as Sri Krishna Himself as mentor and guide, were against Arjuna by a ratio of eleven to seven. The foot soldiers of the ego simply outnumber our virtuous tendencies.

     As we are against bad odds and are creatures of bad habit, our ego can impel us, even against our own will, to make bad choices. In all honesty, such bad choices cause us critical damage, resulting in lives of sorrow and misery. All our suffering comes from vainly seeking to appease the ego, an enemy whose appetite is insatiable.

     We cannot maneuver and progress towards victory over an enemy that outnumbers us, in such an inimical battlefield called the human mind, without soliciting real help. Without an experienced guide as the General of our forces, we may even court a fatal consequence.

     For those who have sought and found the real help of Bhagavan Ramana as their experienced guide, they hear his first and foremost rule of engagement as a familiar declaration: “Practice makes perfect.” We are also told that this process is not a quick fix, which instantly heralds liberation. Once the Maharshi was asked by a devotee:

     Devotee: “How long is the practice to continue?”

     The Maharshi replied: “Till success is achieved and until yoga- liberation becomes permanent. Success begets success. If one distraction is conquered the next is conquered and so on, until all are finally conquered. The process is like reducing an enemy’s fort by slaying its manpower - one by one, as each issues out.” 1

     By legitimizing and even deifying our ego’s habitual heedless indifferent distraction to God, and by labeling its urges as the ‘inner guru’ or ‘voice of our spirit’, we inevitably fall into the death grip of pramada, literally defined as the root cause of all pains and problems afflicting human beings.

     In the Udyoga Parva of the Mahabharata epic, the blind King Dhritarashtra, who symbolizes the blindness of the ego, cynically asks the Sage Sanat Sujata: “What is death?” The Sage replies, “Pramada is death!”

     “Pramadam vai mrtyumaham bravimi”  

     (I call negligence itself death.) 2

     “Because fall by negligence is fall from one’s real nature, then forgetfulness arises, this ensues the sense of the “I” in the Anatman, the cause of all miseries. Sankara adds that forgetfulness confounds even a learned man through defects of intellect for Maya covers a man who is out-ward-bent even if he has annulled the Panchakoshas. Furthermore, if the mind, outward bent, strays away even in the least from its ideal, it will fall continuously; the one who has fallen comes to ruin then there is no going up. For a man of discrimination and in deep concentration on Brahman, there is no other death than Pramada or inadvertence.” 3

The actual conversations within the Mahabharata leave no doubt on this truth:

         Vaisampayana said: The wise and great-spirited King Dhritarastra

     Acknowledged the words that Vidura’d spoken,

     And wished to gain the highest insight

     He questioned in secret Sanat Sujata.

     Dhritarastra said: Sanat Sujata, I hear that you teach

     That indeed there is no death at all,

     Yet Gods and Asuras studied the Brahman

     To achieve non-death – so what is the truth?

     Sanat Sujata said: Some hold non-death comes about by the rite,

     While some maintain that there is no death.

     Now listen to me, king, while I explain,

     So that you may cherish no doubts about it.

     O King, both these truths are primordial!

     The death that the seers believe in is folly.

     I say to you distraction is death.

     It should be understood that the definitions of Sanskrit words are subject to philosophical intention, and thus are prey to individual bias. Therefore disagreement and even argument concerning proper meaning and usage are commonplace. Nevertheless, the most learned scholars agree that the ancient definition of the word pramada comes from its usage in this scripture. “Mada” means intoxication, when prefixed by “pra” it becomes intense intoxication to the degree of madness.

The ancient Saintly King Bartruhari, who became an enlightened Sage, used the word pramada in the correct spiritual sense indicated by the Sage Sunat Sujata. He proclaimed:

“Peetva mohamayeem pramada madiram unmatta bhootam jagat”

     “This world (its inhabitants therein) has become mad after having drunk the wine of negligence (pramada: laxity towards the spiritual goal), which being of the form of moha (delusion), has overwhelming power to delude you.”

     The Sage Sanat Sujata is indicating that the presence of pramada brings about a spiritual death. For the spiritual madness that at first manifests as a fever of willful and angry indifference to the consequences of inattention to and negligence of God, is rendered deadly when it becomes habitual. This madness and anger literally destroys our faculty of discrimination, which before our “disease of pramada” was our guiding light on the path to Godliness.

     Sri Krishna clearly states this truth in Chapter 2:63 in the Bhagavad Gita:

     “From anger comes delusion; from delusion the loss of memory; from loss of memory the destruction of discrimination; from the destruction of discrimination he perishes.”

     This is not to be defined as forgetfulness of the Self, unless one admits to a willful and belligerent forgetfulness. It is clearly distraction, willfully averting our attention from the consequences of bad habits.

     Realization of the Self, as declared by Sri Ramana Maharshi to be the sole goal of life, comes when we overcome and conquer the obstacles that stand before us as enemies in the guise of seemingly insignificant habits. Therefore Bhagavan declares in no uncertain terms:

     “The obstacles that hinder realization are habits of the mind (vasanas), and the aids to realization are the teachings of the scriptures and of realized souls.” 4


     The secondary meaning of pramada is procrastination and a distracted laziness, it means not taking any immediate action to rectify this most soul-stripping heedlessness.

     One may say: “God’s grace is always there, so somehow I will get back on my spiritual feet.” But the fatality of staying “dead level” without motivation to rise up comes upon us as pramada gives birth to its only-begotten son. This offspring of pramada is known in Sanskrit as duragraha. Duragraha means the adamant determination to do that which you know you should never do.

     The compound spiritual fracture of being indifferent to God and habitually partaking in negative action with utter disregard for the negative consequences creates a karmic bloodletting fatal even to the strongest constitution. 

     Regardless of whatever label we choose to call this effort of removing bad habits, whether it be deemed purification, removal of defilement, awakening, being in oneness or even becoming still, it should be known that Bhagavan said it is “effort that instills purity” and stressed that without it the goal of vichara (enquiry) will not be reached.

     In direct reference to this Sri Muruganar, one of the foremost direct disciples of Sri Ramana Maharshi, heard the following profound statement from Bhagavan and recorded it that our doubts might be cleared:

     “Know that the wondrous jnana vichara is only for those who have attained purity of mind by softening and melting within. Without this softening and melting away of the mind, brought about by thinking of the feet of the Lord, the attachment to the “I” that adheres to the body will not cease to be.” 5

     Can this “thinking of the feet of the Lord”, prescribed by Bhagavan, be anything other than exactly what it says? Therefore, should we not get busy here and now to “fight the good fight” for spiritual attainment?

     Let us leave our battle cry to the General of our forces:

     Devotee: “Are we to keep anything against a rainy day; or to live a      precarious life for spiritual attainments?”

     Maharshi: “God looks after everything.” 6


1. Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, recorded by Sri Munagala Venkataramiah, Sri Ramanashramam 2006, Talk 28, p. 29.

2.  Mahabharata 5.41-42.

3.  Sri Sankara’s Vivekacudamani, Sri Candrasekhara Bharati of Sringeri, Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan pp. 320-324

4. Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, recorded by Sri Munagala Venkataramiah, Sri Ramanashramam 2006, Talk 13, p. 5.

5. Padamalai, Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi Recorded by Muruganar, Avadhuta Foundation 2004, p. 186.

6. Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, recorded by Sri Munagala Venkataramiah, Sri Ramanashramam 2006, Talk 377, p 358.