Each year, SAT offers four retreats to assist Ramana devotees in their quest for Self-Knowledge through the practice of Self-Inquiry as taught by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. All of the retreats at SAT are not only profound opportunities to deepen one’s practice, but they are immensely fun, too!
The atmosphere is high at these retreats as participants are experientially immersed in the very depths of Ramana’s teaching of Self-Inquiry and Advaita Vedanta through in-depth commentary and dialogue with Nome upon the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi as they appear in numerous texts. There is always ample time for meditation and joyful sharing with other Ramana devotees as well.
Retreat participants with Nome in the Satsang Hall. Everyone listens attentively. Some have brought the text which is being focused upon for the retreat so that they can read along and take notes if they wish. There is always the opportunity to asks questions throughout the retreat.
Of course, retreats are always joyful events!
The following is an excerpt (verse 1) with commentary by Nome from Saddarshanam and an Inquiry Into the Revelation of Truth and Oneself. This book is the focus during the Truth Revealed Retreat held each year in November.
Ramana: Can there, indeed, be the belief (faith, firm conviction, idea) of existence without that which exists?
In the Heart, free from (devoid of) thoughts, this is called the Heart.
How to think of (remember) (lit., How can we remember) that immeasurable one?
Remembrance of that, therefore, is, indeed, firm abidance (alone).
(Or: Remembrance of that is firm abidance therein alone.)
Nome: Always, for everyone, there is the very firm belief, the unshakeable conviction, of Existence. This firm belief in, or conviction of, Existence manifests whenever you have the idea, “I know this,” or “This is.” In every experience, regardless of the form of the experience, be it subtle or gross, there is the underlying, firm conviction of Existence. The forms of the experience are illusory and are according to the conceptions of the mind, but the existence aspect has a deeper root.
Whenever there is an experience of any kind, behind it is the conviction, “I exist.” Always, you feel that you exist. It is indicative of absolute, invariable, imperishable Being. Without this basis of Existence, or Being, the very idea, “I am,” could not appear, and, without the idea, “I am,” there could not be the idea, “This is.” The existence of “I” and the existence of “this” depend on Existence. What is it that exists? We must know that and not merely the idea of existing. Examine your own experience. Always, there is this conviction, this firm, unshakeable faith that there is existence. It is not “nothing,” but existence. What is this existence?
Sri Bhagavan begins to describe the Existence as free from or devoid of thoughts. Both interpretations are correct. Existence is inconceivable. Being is innately free from thought. Being is formless and indivisible, and so it is innately devoid of thought. If we assume that thought has any kind of existence, the Self is free from it, and an inquiry as to who you are reveals your thought-free nature. Your nature is pure Consciousness and not a thought; your nature is pure Existence and not the conceived. You are free from thought. It is delusion when, through imagination only, you connect yourself with a thought. Thought alone constitutes bondage. Thought alone constitutes illusion.
The problems with thought and the nonexistence of thought are brought out clearly in the Ribhu Gita. Ribhu expounds this point to the extent that there cannot be a thought that remains about the matter. If we transcend a thought of Existence and abide just as the Existence, itself, we find that Existence is devoid of thought. What actually is it that we call thought? What is its nature? What is its substance? If we assume that thought exists, do we assume that by way of another thought about it?
Without thought, there is no duality. Existence is nondual. Similarly, without duality, there can be no possibility of thought. The Self is free from thought, and the Self is devoid of thought. Without thought, where is illusion? Where is bondage or limitation? Without thought, where is samsara?
“Free from (devoid of) thoughts, in the Heart, it is called the Heart,” signifies that Existence, which is beyond thought, is your quintessential Being. In your Being is to be found the Truth about Existence, and your Being, itself, is the Truth regarding Existence.
Sri Ramana poses a question, “How, then, to think of, or to remember, that immeasurable One?” Which one? The pure Existence, the One that is called the Heart; that is, your own Self. How are we to think of it if it is devoid of thought? Or, how are we to remember it, if it is beyond thought? We cannot really forget the Self, because that Existence is always present, underlying the firm conviction in it; nor can it be remembered as if it were an object. The Self can neither be forgotten nor remembered. It is not an object, and it is not apart from the one who seeks to know it.
Then, how is one to think of it or to remember it? All want to know it, because to do so is to be awake to Reality. Not to do so is to dream in illusion. To dream in illusion is to fabricate bondage and suffering. To be awake to Reality is to be blissful and at peace. All want to know it. All want to recall it or to remember it. It was originally there, so we want to remember it. It is always there, but interior to, and beyond conception by, the mind. So how can you think of it?
Consider this deeply in your own inquiry. Do you expect to apprehend with the mind what the Self is? If you do, the Maharshi poses the question regarding how this is going to occur. Quite naturally, there is the desire to know the Self. All those who are wise seek to know the Self because of its Bliss and peace, but how is this going to be accomplished? It is the immeasurable One, so it is not to be conceived by the mind. Infinite, it is beyond thought’s grasp.
Sri Ramana says, “The remembrance of that, therefore, is, indeed, firm abidance therein, alone.” To abide as That, as pure Being, as that very Being which is free of all thought, is the proper way to know it. It is the only way to remember it. We can interpret the last line as, “Remembrance of That is firm abidance therein alone.” The meaning is the same: to abide in That as That.
What is the abidance? It is pure Knowledge. Knowledge is never what you think. What is the Knowledge? It is your sense of identity firmly and irrefutably established as just the Existence. This Existence is what we always are. It is eternally the same. Only imagination gives rise to contrary conceptions. Those are the limited views of being something else, such as an “I,” an object, and the assumption that somehow the Existence is divided. To have the darshanam, or vision, of Truth, you must, therefore, know your Self. Your very sense of identity, your very sense of existence, should abide as, or be absorbed in, that Existence, which is absolute. No longer think of yourself in any manner whatsoever. No longer imagine yourself to be limited by, or defined by, anything conceived in the mind. You are the Existence. You are the Heart. You are the immeasurable One. Let there be no mistake about this.
In one sense, with this one verse, the Maharshi has begun and concluded the teaching. He has masterfully summed up, in a very pithy form, the whole essence of the Realization of the Truth.
Some of the terms employed in this verse have multiple nuances of meaning. The first line of the text is: “Can there, indeed, be the belief of Existence without That which exists?” The same word for belief can be interpreted as faith, firm conviction, or an idea. Can there be the idea of existence, the faith of existence, or the conviction that there is existence without That which exists?
Always, you feel that you exist. Always, you know that you exist, with a conviction, a faith, or a belief that cannot be broken. This conviction is continuous. How could there be the idea of, or belief, in your existence, however conceived, unless there is Existence? Whether apparently wise or deluded, there is the firm conviction of Existence, always, regardless of the state or condition of the body or the mind. The Maharshi begins his spiritual instruction by posing a question. Can there be such conviction of existence without That which exists?
We can interpret the belief, or idea, of existence to mean the existence of all things, as well. Can there be the belief or idea that something exists, whatever may be your experience of it at any time, without Existence? The conclusion should be obvious. Every idea of “This is,” and every idea of “I am,” is utterly dependent on That which exists. You could not even have the idea that “something is,” if it were not for that Existence.
The marvel of marvels is that, in illusion, although that Existence is the single most important thing, the only real thing that there is, it is overlooked, and the ideas, “I exist,” and “I exist like this,” seem predominant. Could any of those things that appear to exist even appear to be without the Reality that exists? Could there ever even be an idea? Could there be an idea of “you” without That which exists, which is the Reality? The conclusion to draw is that the Reality is ever present and never at a distance. Even if we say that it is veiled from view, so a revelation, or darshanam, is necessary to unveil it, still, it is not at a distance but is ever present. “Can there, indeed, be the belief of existence without That which exists?” Could the ideas of “I,” “the world,” “God,” or anything else be, without That which exists?
“In the Heart, free from thought (devoid of thought), this is called the Heart.” In the first phrase, the Maharshi shows that the ideas of existence, however interpreted, subjectively or objectively, are utterly dependent on That which exists, apart from which, such ideas cannot stand at all, not even in imagination. Now, he says, that That which exists is free from thought. We may also interpret this as devoid of thought.
The declaration is indicative of two aspects of the Knowledge of Reality. The first is that, by inquiry into your nature, you should know yourself as free from thought. That is, thought does not determine your nature. It does not provide a definition for you in any way whatsoever. The second aspect of this is that we should understand that thought has no existence, and so That which exists is devoid of thought. Generally, the understanding of your Self to be free from thought would come first, prior to the comprehension that there is no such thing as thought.
The Heart should be understood as the core of your Being. It is the Center, to which there is nothing interior. “In the Heart, free from thought,” realizing that it is devoid of thought, is where we should abide. This, your very Existence, is, thus, called the Heart.
How can you possibly be bound by what is thought of? How could thought ever be a definition for your own Existence? The ideas depend on Existence. Existence, which is the Self, does not depend on ideas. How could ideas, or thought, in any form, be a definition for what you are? If thought is never a definition for what you are, what remains to be called “your Existence”? What boundary does it have? What form does it have? What division does it have? It is none and has none of such things. In this Existence, where is the space for thought? Where is the cause of thought? Examining your own nature, know that it is unthinkable. You are the inconceivable Existence. How is it possible for thought to arise for you, in you, at all? Examine your own experience to perceive what it actually is that you refer to as thought.
If you, as Existence, abide free from any idea, free from thought, as the Existence that you are, this, he says, is called the Heart. You are, then, no longer one who abides in the Heart, for you are the Heart, itself.
The idea of an existent object, the idea of an existent perceiver, the idea of “I” without the subject and object division or attributes, and the idea of the existence of the Supreme Self are entirely dependent on the one Existence. The one Existence, which is, indeed, the Self, and which is the only “I,” transcends all of the ideas.
Saddarshanam and an Inquiry Into the Revelation of Truth and Oneself is available from SAT. Please visit our website at: <www.satramana.org>
Each talk and dialogue during the retreat is followed by meditation.
During break time, there is the opportunity to visit the SAT bookstore for more treasures for the buddhi! Or…
Perhaps fly a kite with the children.
Gnana Prakash prepares the kite for flying with Shruti and Advait.
The kite is flying high just like the mind’s of those devotees engaged in Self-Inquiry!
It is difficult to determine who is having more fun…humm!
“All living beings desire to be happy always, without any misery. In everyone there is observed supreme love for oneself. And happiness alone is the cause of love. In order therefore, to gain that happiness which is one’s nature and which is experienced in the state of deep sleep, where there is no mind, one should know oneself. To achieve this, the path of Knowledge, the enquiry in the form of “Who Am I?”, is the principal means.”
– Who Am I?, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Published by Sri Ramanasramam, available from SAT. Please visit our website at: <www.satramana.org>
There is always ample time for quiet meditation. Here, Bob takes advantage of this time in the satsang hall.
“I shall proclaim in truth the quintessence of the established conclusions of the entire Vedanta. Know that when the ego dies and the Self is That, only That remains which is Consciousness Absolue.”
– Sad-Vidya, Truth Revealed Supplement, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Published by Sri Ramanasramam, available from SAT. Please visit our website at: <www.satramana.org>
During break time, devotees prepare meals together for the retreat. Prasad preparation is always a wonderful opportunity to share Ramana’s teaching with each other as well as trade recipes!
Here, Myra happily prepares the broccoli for evening prasad.
While the evening prasadam is being prepared, setup for the night’s Ramana puja is taking place in the satsang hall.
Ganesh and Dhanya arrange the kirtans and stotrams for the puja.
“The illuminator of Existence is Consciousness. Where is there another? As Existence is, indeed, Consciousness, as Consciousness, indeed, is “I.”
– Upadesa Saram, The Essence of the Spiritual Instruction, verse 23, Published by SAT and available from SAT in summer 2011.
Prasadam is served.
The following is verse 39 from “Essence of Inquiry,” Vichara Sangraham, published by Ramana Maharshi Centre for Learning, Bangalore, available from SAT. Please visit our website at: <www.satramana.org>
Disciple: If it is true that the jiva has forgotten itself, how does the “I”-experience arise for all?
The Maharshi: The veil does not completely hide the jiva; it only hides the Self-nature of “I,” and projects the “I am the body” notion; but it does not hide the Self’s existence, which is “I” and which is real and eternal.
Commentary by Nome:
Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya
The disciple poses a question concerning how, if the jiva is immersed in ignorance characterized by forgetfulness of its own true nature, can it come to know itself at all? How does the “I-experience” arise for all, when the jiva is steeped in delusion’s darkness? How can the light of Knowledge shine at all, even in the form of “I,” since the shadow of ignorance is prevailing? Is not maya’s veil impenetrable? How can the Self’s light shine in the midst of illusion?
The Maharshi’s reply reveals the Self’s unveiled Existence. This Existence is real and eternal. The unreal cannot hide the real; the nonexistent cannot obscure Existence itself. It is, for all eternity, unmodified, unobscured, shining as the “I” in all beings. It has already been declared by Sri Bhagavan that the jiva is nothing other than Siva. The veil of forgetfulness, manifesting as ignorance in the form of misidentifications, merely projects the false “I-am-the-body” notion. It does nothing at all to the Existence, which is the true nature of the jiva.
The Self is the “I” in each being. “I” is undeniable. Existence is doubtless. If one inquires “Who am I?”, the misidentification with the body is destroyed, as well as any other definitions attributed to the “I,” such as were described in the context of the five sheaths, the three states, etc. That which stands self-revealed upon this inquiry is the real Self.
Since the jiva is nothing at all in its jiva-ness and is the Self in its true nature, the forgetfulness offers no actual obstruction. The darkness of ignorance is insubstantial, and, in truth, it never prevails. Maya’s veil is composed of nothingness. In light of this, the question is not how can the Self come to know itself, but rather how can the Self not know itself? There is no valid reason. The forgetfulness and illusion are merely ignorance, and ignorance has no real cause. Explanations of ignorance are taught in order that one might inquire and discover its unreal nature.
One may think one’s position is on one side, the Self on the other, with the veil of illusion between. The pure Truth of Advaita causes that perspective to utterly evaporate without leaving so much as a trace. “Is the Self apart? Am I a jiva? What is the veil, and for whom is it? Who am I? Who has forgotten what?” By wisely inquiring in this way, one realizes the Self, the sole-existent Reality. One realizes that there is no veil, no bondage, no one to be bound, and nothing veiled. The Self is real and eternal. That, itself, is the “I”—the only “I” that exists. The sages and scriptures declare it, direct experience proves it, and the Sadguru reveals it.
Therefore, in Adi Sankara’s Vivekacudamani, we find these verses correlating to the nondual Truth revealed by Sri Bhagavan: verse 570: mayaklrptau bandhamoksau na stah svatmani vastutah / yatha rajjau niskriyayam sarpabhasavinirgamau //, which may be translated as: Conjured (contrived) by illusion are bondage and liberation, which do not exist in the Self, the Reality, just as the mere appearance and disappearance of the snake in the inactive rope. Verse 571: avrteh sadasattvabhyam vaktavye bandhamoksane / navrtirbrahmanah kacidanyabhavadanavritam / yadyastyadvaitahanih syadvaitam no sahate srutih //, which may be translated as: If there is the existence and nonexistence of concealment, bondage and liberation may be spoken of. There is no concealment of Brahman whatsoever, for there is no other existence (thing) to conceal it. If there would be, Nonduality would be destroyed (obstructed, damaged), yet the Veda-s (Sruti-s) do not allow (endure) this.
If there is an individual “I” who is bound, there is Liberation to be sought. Inquiring, as the Maharshi instructs, as to who is bound, no individual is to be found. Liberation remains as the natural, innate state, the only state there is, for the Self is one without a second. Without any duality of states, the Self alone is, the only Reality for all eternity. No other has ever come to be. Thus, Sri Bhagavan declares the Existence, the Self, to be “real and eternal.”
Whoever absorbs this teaching realizes the true nature of “I,” and with the disappearance of the veil of the unreal, abides as the Self, which is the eternal, sole-existent Reality, in infinite Wisdom and Bliss.
Om Sri Ramanarpanamastu
Om May this be an offering to Sri Ramana
After prasadam, devotees share their experiences of the retreat.
Here, Jim and Steve discuss Ramana’s blissful wisdom and the instruction they are receiving from Nome as well as tomorrow’s breakfast menu, since they will be the cooks.
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi puja begins.
Disciple: Is it possible for everyone to know, beyond all doubt and by direct and immediate experience, that what he knows is really the natural and primal state?
Maharshi: Most certainly. For everyone, it is undoubtedly possible.
D.: How can it be said that such indubitable experience is within the reach of everyone?
M.: It is the common experience of everyone that he never ceased to exist—even while the entire universe, sentient and insentient, became wholly nonexistent during deep sleep, swoon and such other states involving loss of consciousness. In other words, one’s own existence at all times and in spite of everything else is a matter of indubitable, direct, and immediate experience. Therefore, that pure Being alone, which is the same for one and all, and which is known by direct and immediate experience as ever present, is one’s natural and primal state. Everything else that may be described now for the first time as the experiences of enlightenment or of ignorance is merely a modification of the mind. That every one of these experiences is entirely alien to one’s true and natural Being is the final conclusion.
– Origin of Spiritual Instruction, Published by SAT and available from SAT. Please visit our website at: <www.satramana.org>
Devotees sing Kirtans and recite stotrams during the puja.
Camphor offering to Bhagavan.
Ganesh and Gnana Prakash recite from the Tamil Ribhu Gita, The Song of Ribhu, while devotees listen and meditate.
In which all yoga is obliterated,
In which all ignorance is dead,
In which all knowledge is nullified,
In which there are no interactions involved,
And which is the state of Absolute Truth–
By the very firm conviction that “I am That,”
Be in the Bliss of ever being That itself.
- The Song of Ribhu, Chapter 26, verse 33, Published by SAT.
Merging in which one attains happiness always,
Merging in which one never experiences sorrow,
Merging in which one perceives nothing,
Merging in which one never takes birth at all
Merging in which one never experiences a sense of being separate,
By this deep conviction of “I am That,”
Be in the Bliss of ever being That itself.
- The Song of Ribhu, Chapter 26, verse 34, Published by SAT.
Another blissful retreat comes to a close and devotees clean up and put things away carrying their meditations with them.
“Free from “I,” the innate Light, This is great tapas; this is the saying of Ramana..”
– Upadesa Saram, The Essence of the Spiritual Instruction, verse 30, Published by SAT and available from SAT in summer 2011.
May all deeply meditate upon the Truth revealed by the Maharshi and, abiding in His Grace and in that Truth revealed, dwell in perpetual Bliss and Peace. Whoever deeply inquires as instructed by the Maharshi realizes the true nature of the Self to be ever bodiless and, liberated from bondage and its consequent suffering, abides in infinite Wisdom and Bliss.
- Nome, Essence of Enquiry, excerpt from verse 1 commentary, Published by Ramana Maharshi Center for Learning, available from SAT.
To find out more about SAT Retreats and to attend them, please visit our website at: <www.satramana.org> or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya!