One of Bhagavan Ramana's favourite traditional spiritual works was the Ribhu Gita. It is an important text in the history of his instruction for those close devotees who gravitated to him. Bhagavan's first attendant, Palaniswami, brought a copy to Bhagavan's attention while he was residing at the mango grove near Gurumurtham in 1898. Later in life Bhagavan related how surprised he was at the time to hear an exact description of his own state recited in the Ribhu Gita and that it had been experienced by others and was the bliss of the Self sought after by all true seekers.
"I had read no books other than Periapuranam, my Bible lessons and bits of Tayumanavar or Tevaram. My notion of God i (Isvara) was similar to that found in the Puranas. I had not heard then of Brahman i i, samsara, etc. I had no idea that there was an Essence or Impersonal Real underlying everything, and that myself and Isvara were both identical with it. At Tiruvannamalai, as I listened to Ribhu Gita and other works, I picked up these facts and discovered that these books were analysing and naming what I had previously felt intuitively without analysis and name. In the language of the books, I could describe my mental or spiritual condition after awakening, as suddha manas or vijnana, i.e., the Intuition of the Illumined". (Self-Realizationi by B.V. Narasimhaswami, Ch.5) ...
The text itself is contained in a Sanskrit epic, the Sivarahasya, which is primarily devoted to the glory of Lord Siva. It describes renowned Saivite centres of pilgrimage, holy rivers, religious observances, spiritual instruction and other topics in the manner of the Puranas. In the sixth Amsa or Part VI of this twelve part work of about 10,000 verses, there occurs on the slope of Mount Kedara in the Himalayas a dialogue on the Supreme Brahman between the sage Ribhu and the sage Nidagha. This exposition in the form of a dialogue is typical of the Upanishads. The sage Ribhu figures in such ancient texts as the traditional anthology of 108 Upanishads such as the 37th , the Tejobindupanishad of the Krishna Yajur Veda. H.H. Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasavati, the Paramacharaya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha declared the Ribhu Gita is to the Sivarahasya what the Bhagavad Gita is to the Mahabharata.
The book was translated into Tamil by Sri Lokanatha Swamigal in the 1880's and was praised by the Paramacharya who said it excelled the original Sanskrit. The final verse of each of the forty-four chapters differs dramatically from the Sanskrit version. The concluding verse also encapsulates the meaning of the entire chapter. It was this version which was often read before Bhagavan. He would in later life speak about the Ashtavakra Gita and Ribhu Gita as being the two principle texts which enunciated in great detail the nature of the Self (Brahma swarupa). (Letters and Recollections by Suri Nagamma, 24th April 1948)
The concept of Brahman is covered in the Ribhu Gita by 1,924 verses contained in 44 chapters. The text is uncompromising Advaita i. It is adamant and unremitting in the assertion that the Supreme Brahman, "That", is all that exists. That there is nothing else which exists apart from the Self which is Brahman. Brahman is the Self (atman), our true indisputable being. This awareness is moksha or liberation, which is attained by the way of knowledge (jnana) and the conviction that I-am-Brahman. That Brahman is all is stressed again and again in a plethora of positive affirmations.
On the other hand the Ribhu Gita also explains the truth about Brahman by the removal of every possible theory about Brahman and the elimination of all fictitious identification or thought (sankalpa) about oneself. The intention of the Gita is the removal of all false ideas and thus there is an awakening from all the illusions which bind us to the ignorance of our true nature. Self alone is; it is without beginning and thus never-ending, since it exists outside our concepts of time and space.
In describing the Self or Brahman, the Ribhu Gita in verse after verse employs negation as a means of revelation. Since the Self can never be objectified it is not possible to say what is the Self. It cannot be perceived or even conceived of as a thing because that would make it an object of the senses or the mind, both of which are limited. Thus Brahman is beyond the reach of the senses and is the witness (sakshi) of all things. It can never be an object of
knowledge for "Who can know the knower" (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 2.iv.14).
Ignorance (ajnana) consists in the misapprehension of the Self with what is not the Self. Ignorance confuses the Self with what is unreal. In the external world ignorance is the obscuring of the bliss (ananda) of the 'Conscious Existence' with the transient objects of perception. The resultant identification causes suffering. It is this misidentification and attachment which creates bondage. Ribhu advocates the use of repeated negation in the enquiry as to what is real (satya) and what is the Self (atman) and affirms that this destroys our ignorance. It is not a question of seeking what is real but destroying the illusion that the unreal exists. We do not seek to identify truth (satya) but rather we seek to negate the superimposition of illusion and by this, the true nature of our being (sat) is revealed. When the clouds of ignorance are dispersed the sun which is always present can shine.
The Gita is so emphatic because Ribhu is reputed to have obtained this knowledge (jnana) from the Supreme Lord Siva Himself. He then was said to have taught it to several disciples, principal among was Nidagha.
There is an amusing and instructive story which relates how Ribhu revealed to his disciple Nidagha the secret that totally transforms him. There are two versions of the story, one in the Agni Purana and the other in the Vishnu Purana. Based on the latter Purana, Bhagavan related the story in Maharshi's Gospel, Book Two, Chapter I.
D. Instead of enquiring 'Who am I?', can I put the question to myself 'Who are You?', since then, my mind may be fixed on You whom I consider to be God in the form of Guru. Perhaps, I would be nearer the goal of my quest by that enquiry than by asking myself 'Who am I?'
M. Whatever form your enquiry may take, you must finally come to the one I, the Self.
All these distinctions made between the 'I' and 'you', Master and disciple etc. are merely a sign of one's ignorance. The 'I-Supreme' alone is. To think otherwise is to delude oneself.
A Puranic story of Sage Ribhu and his disciple Nidagha, is particularly instructive in this context.
Although Ribhu taught his disciple the supreme Truth of the One Brahman without a second, Nidagha, in spite of his erudition and understanding, did not get sufficient conviction to adopt and follow the path of jnana, but settled down in his native town to lead a life devoted to the observance of ceremonial religion.
But the Sage loved his disciple as deeply as the latter venerated his Master. In spite of his age, Ribhu would himself go to his disciple in the town, just to see how far the latter had outgrown his ritualism. At times the Sage went in disguise, so that he might observe how Nidagha would act when he did not know that he was being observed by his Master.
On one such occasion Ribhu, who had put on the disguise of a village rustic, found Nidagha intently watching a royal procession. Unrecognised by the town-dweller Nidagha, the village rustic enquired what the bustle was all about, and was told that the king was going in procession.
"Oh! it is the king. He goes in procession! But where is he?" asked the rustic.
"There, on the elephant" said Nidagha.
"You say the king is on the elephant. Yes, I see the two" said the rustic, "But which is the king and which is the elephant?"
"What!" exclaimed Nidagha, "You see the two, but do not know that the man above is the king and the animal below is the elephant? Where is the use of talking to a man like you?"
"Pray, be not impatient with an ignorant man like me", begged the rustic. "But you said 'above' and 'below', what do they mean?"
Nidagha could stand it no more. "You see the king and the elephant, the one above and the other below. Yet you want to know what is meant by 'above' and 'below'?" burst out Nidagha. "If things seen and words spoken can convey so little to you, action alone can teach you. Bend forward, and you will know it all too well".
The rustic did as he was told. Nidagha got on his shoulders and said "Know it now. I am above as the king, you are below as the elephant. Is that clear enough?"
"No, not yet", was the rustic's quiet reply. "You say you are above like the king, and I am below like the elephant. The 'king', the 'elephant', 'above' and 'below', so far it is clear. But pray, tell me what you mean by 'I' and 'you'?"
When Nidagha was thus confronted all of a sudden with the mighty problem of defining the 'you' apart from the 'I', light dawned on his mind. At once he jumped down and fell at his Master's feet saying, "Who else but my venerable Master, Ribhu, could have thus drawn my mind from the superficialities of physical existence to the true Being of the Self? Oh! benign Master, I crave thy blessings".
Therefore, while your aim is to transcend here and now these superficialities of physical existence through atma-vichara, where is the scope for making the distinctions of 'you' and 'I', which pertain only to the body? When you turn the mind within, seeking the source of thought, where is the 'you' and where is the 'I'?
You should seek and be the Self that includes all.
The importance of the Ribhu Gita can be gauged from the fact Bhagavan right from the days at Virupaksha Cave, often recommended its recitation and sat with his devotees on many occasions when they chanted it. He encouraged devotees to regularly read and study the Ribhu Gita. He also affirmed that its repetition was a powerful aid to Self-enquiry, and said, "These readings from the Ribhu Gita are as good as samadhi" (Self-Realization by B.V. Narasimha Swami, Ch. 26. First edition).
By chanting the Gita the mind becomes more and more attuned with the Reality. And when the mind becomes purified by this practice, it is easier to take it back to its source and remain there.
There is one recorded instance where Bhagavan presented a devoteei, Sampurnamma with a copy of the Ribhu Gita and asked her to study it. When she declined to do it on the grounds she did not understand the Gita's import, Bhagavan persisted and asked her to read it all the same. "It doesn't matter that you do not understand it," he said, "still it will be of benefit to you". (The Mountain Path, June 1993, p.103) .
Now thanks to the extensive work and co-operation of the Society of Abidance in Truth, Santa Cruz, California, USA, we too have the chance to read and recite the complete Ribhu Gita in English translated by Dr H. Ramamurthy. The ashram has now published and has on sale a limited number of copies for those devotees visiting Arunachala and Sri Ramanasramam.
Teaser / Excerpts from Essence of Ribhu Gita
11. There never was a mind nor any of its countless forms like world, jivas, etc. There isn't the least doubt that all these are the form of the eternally undifferentiable Supreme Brahman Self. This is the Truth. The one who hears this great secret diligently and understands completely, abides as Brahman-Self (Ch.5, v.28)
25. The firm denial of the existence of the mind and the firm belief in the existence of Brahman-Self, is the sure way to the conquest of mind, leading to the experience of the sole effulgent Self. (Ch.15, v.11)
26. If one gives the slightest room for the thought that the mind exists, pure Awareness itself will vibrate as the ruffled mind, which is the parent of all trouble and illusions. Therefore, one should ever abide in the conviction that there is no mind, and that the pure Awareness-Self is the sole Existence. This is the easy way to conquer the mind with all its vagaries. (Ch.15, v.12)
42. All worlds and creatures are only thought forms. They are nothing but the mind, which is a bundle of thoughts, which again are nothing more than ripples in the still ocean of Awareness-Self, and certainly nothing apart from that Self. Therefore, one should abide in the firm conviction that all objects are only I Am Self-Brahman . (Ch.22, v.24)
46. The illusion that one is the body and that the world is the basic reality has remained soaked over a long, long time, and cannot be got rid of by the casual reading and mere understanding of the truth. The basic illusion can be effaced only by a long and unremitting practice of the bhavana that all
this is 'I-am-Brahman-Self'. (Ch.24, v.28)
59. In the conviction that 'I am the Self' in which no thought, ego, desire, mind or confusion can exist one should abide still, free from trace of thought. (Ch.26, v.31)
62. Having gained the experience that there is no creator, no maya, no duality, and no objects at all, and that pure Awareness-Self alone exists, one should ever remain still and peaceful in that state of Selfhood. (Ch.27, v.34)
72. Enquiry should be made this wise: With the kind help of the Sat Guru, one should enquire 'Who am I? what is this world? what is the reality behind all these?' (Ch.32, v.21)
75. Only by those strong willed persons who make earnest and persistent Self-enquiry, will the turbulent mind be controlled and fixed still in the practice of firm bhavana (feeling). In due course all thoughts and nescience will disappear, yielding place to the effulgent Awareness-Self of mukti. (Ch.32, v.26)
77. It is only the mind which appear as the world and bondage; there is no world other than the mind. On enquiry this mind turns out to be nothing more than a group of ripples (thoughts) in the
still ocean of pure Awareness-Siva-Self. I am that Siva-Self only and there is nothing apart from me, one should ever abide in the conviction born of this experience. (Ch.32, v.33)
78. There is no world apart from the mind. What appears as the world is only the mind. If this mind is investigated, it turns out to be nothing more than a bundle of thoughts, based on the primary thought of 'I am the body' called the ego. If this ego—I is enquired into and its identity searched, it gets
swallowed up without a trace in the pure Awareness-Being-Siva- Self. One should maintain this firm bhavana 'I am Self-Siva' until that state of being the Siva-Self — becomes the spontaneous
experience free from the effort of bhavana. (Ch.32, v.34)
96. One is solely responsible for one's own liberation or bondage, since the choice of destroying the restless mind or allowing it to roam at large rests with that one only. Therefore, one should conquer the restless mind by steady abidance in the pure thought-free Alert-Awareness-Self only. This steady
abidance is moksha. (Ch.38, v.7)
97. You are the sole supreme Godhead, the Self. There is nothing apart from you. This, we declare to be the ultimate truth after a complete analysis of all the scriptures. By the holy feet of Siva, we swear this to be the truth beyond all doubt. By the feet of the Sat Guru, we swear again that this is the truth declared by the Upanishads. (Ch.38, v.9)