Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bhagavan Ramana on surrender, free will and Divine Grace

Forwarded by a kind reader:

Referring to Sri Krishna's telling Arjuna: "Deluded by Maya you refuse to fight, but your own nature will force you to fight;" a devotee asked Bhagavan whether we have no free will at all. Bhagavan replied: "You always have freedom not to identify yourself with the body and the pleasures and pains that come to it as its prarabdha."
One summer afternoon I was sitting opposite Sri Bhagavan in the Old Hall with a fan in my hand and said to him: "I can understand that the outstanding events in a man's life, such as his country, nationality, family, career or profession, marriage, death, etc., are all predestined by his karma, but can it be that all the details of his life, down to the minutest, have already been determined? Now, for instance, I put this fan that is in my hand down on the floor here. Can it be that it was already decided that on such and such a day, at such and such an hour, I would move the fan like this and put it down here?"
Bhagavan replied: "Certainly." He continued: "Whatever this body is to do and whatever experiences it is to pass through was already decided when it came into existence."
Thereupon I naturally exclaimed: "What becomes then of man's freedom and responsibility for his actions?"
Bhagavan explained: "The only freedom one has is to strive for and acquire the Jnana which will enable him not to identify himself with the body. The body will go through the actions rendered inevitable by prarabdha (destiny) based on the balance sheet of past lives, and a man is free either to identify himself with the body and be attached to the fruits of its actions or to be detached from it and be a mere witness of its activities."
From various other talks that I had with him, I am convinced that this was Bhagavan's teaching. I will only refer here to the classic reply he gave to his mother when, as a young Sage, he rejected her tearful request to go back home with her. "The Ordainer controls the fate of man according to his prarabdha. What is destined not to happen will not happen, try as you may. What is destined to happen will happen, try as one may to prevent it. This is certain. So the best course is to remain silent."
However, if the law of karma as pure cause and effect is so supreme as to be absolutely inviolable and inexorable, one may ask of what use is religion, God or prayer. There seems to have been no time when man did not turn to an all-powerful and all-loving God who could save him from his sins and suffering and give him peace and bliss. Starting from the Vedic times and passing through the period of the great bhaktas, both Saivite and Vaishnavite, and down to comparatively recent times, there is a great mass of religious literature which states quite clearly that whatever sins a man may have committed, God in His mercy can save him. They have also stated that all karma, including prarabdha, can be destroyed by the Grace of God, like cotton by fire. Western saints and mystics have said the same thing and have ridiculed the idea that because God is just, impartial and righteous He cannot save the sinner but must punish him first for his transgressions. For if that were so, what would become of the other attributes of God such as Mercy, Love, Fatherhood and Motherhood? The Vaishnavites stress the quality of Vatsalya or loving-kindness in God and illustrate it by the vatsalya of a cow which, as soon as its calf is born, begins to lick it all over, oblivious to the fact that it is unclean. They say God does not wait for the sinner to become pure before He can save him, but saves him just as He finds him if only the man desires, cries out for and supplicates salvation. If a man who is suffering turns to God for help and relief in full faith that God can save him he is sure to be saved. That is what the scriptures say and what countless saints have declared. Christ said: "Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Fear not." Lord Krishna said almost the same thing. When Arjuna, after hearing what Krishna had to say about all the different kinds of yoga which could secure Liberation, complained that he was confused by all these instructions and felt that he could not follow them, Krishna said: "Then give up all dharmas and take refuge only in Me. Grieve not. I will save you from all your sins.
What is demanded here is total surrender to God by throwing oneself completely on God's Mercy and not desiring anything for oneself. Leaving everything to God the all-loving and all-knowing is not so easy as it may sound. However, the point I want to make here is that Grace is all-powerful and that even the law of karma by which, they say, a man must reap what he has sown, with no exception whatsoever, can be overcome. I am strongly inclined by temperament to believe this, and I believe that Bhagavan has confirmed it for me. I will quote here what I wrote on the subject on pages 100 and 101 of my little book My Recollections of Bhagavan Sri Ramana
"Another point on which I more than once argued with Bhagavan is the extent to which Grace can override prarabdha or destiny. My main line of argument throughout was (and my conviction now as ever is) that God is all-powerful and that nothing is impossible for Him, and that if one got and could get only what one had worked for and merited, there would be no place at all for Grace. Most often Bhagavan remained silent when I indulged in such arguments either by myself or with others, some of whom took my side and others the opposite side; but from various remarks and observations that he made on different occasions I have come to the conclusion that the following is his attitude in the matter: 'Of course, nothing is impossible to God, but everything happens according to the order established by God's will or plan and exceptions are very few. How many Markandeyas, are there in our Puranas?'
"On the other hand, many authoritative books have clearly said (and Bhagavan has quoted them with approval) that one look from a Jnani can save us from the effects of all our karmas, past or present, prarabdha included. And Sri Janaki Matha has published in her Tamil journal that when she discussed this question once with Bhagavan, maintaining that His Grace can help one even to overcome prarabdha, he told her: 'If you have such faith it will be so.' "
I find that I cannot usefully add anything to this quotation, but I should perhaps explain the reference to Markandeya. It is said in the Puranas that Markandeya was destined to live for only sixteen years and that he prayed to Siva and received the boon that he would be perpetually sixteen. Bhagavan mentioned it to stress his point that the obvious and spectacular intervention of Divine Grace is very exceptional.
It is said in the Upanishads that one cannot say when or why or to whom Grace will come. It is said that it will fall only on him whom it chooses. A hundred might make the effort and yet only one or two of them might be chosen. No one can predict anything about Grace except that it is unpredictable.
It will be interesting here to turn to the following quotations from Paul Brunton given in my book Day by Day with Bhagavan.
"Divine Grace is a manifestation of the cosmic free will in operation. It can alter the course of events in a mysterious manner through its own unknown laws, which are superior to all natural laws, and can modify the latter by interaction. It is the most powerful force in the universe.
"It descends and acts only when it is invoked by total self-surrender. It acts from within, because God resides in the heart of all beings. Its whisper can be heard only in a mind purified by self-surrender and prayer."
The above two quotations were contained in a book called Divine Grace Through Total Self-Surrender by one D. C. Desai, and Bhagavan himself, on going through the book, read them out to us.
My saying that God's Grace is unpredictable and has power to remit sins and erase karma should not be taken to mean that this Grace can be obtained without effort. On the contrary, great effort is necessary. A man, recognising that he cannot raise himself by himself, must fall at the feet of God and cry: "Lord, I am weak and powerless. You alone can save me. I take refuge in You. Do what You will with me." This is the effort that must be made: an effort towards attainment of effortlessness after realizing the uselessness of our own puny efforts.
Bhagavan has strongly commended the path of total self-surrender as a sure way to salvation and has called devotion the 'Mother of Jnana'. That well-known early devotee of Bhagavan, Sivaprakasam Pillai, for whom Who am I? was written, says in one of his poems: "To everyone you give only this instruction: 'Find out who you are.' If, after that, they humbly ask for more guidance, you tell them as your final word: 'There is a power which moves you and me and all others. Lay your ego at the feet of that Mother.' "
From various actions and remarks of Bhagavan I have not the slightest doubt that he regards the path of surrender as the best way for me. It is true that he maintained quite definitely that final Liberation is only possible through Knowledge of the Self, which is being the Self, because Knowing is Being; but that comes inevitably to one who has completely surrendered.
-- The Mountain Path, 1967, Vol. 4, No. 2