Ramana Maharshi (30 December 1879 – 14 April 1950) was an Indian sage. Born Venkataraman Iyer, he left home in 1896 at the age of 16 and landed at Thiruvannamalai. After years of deep tapas, he attained a state of jivanmukti (release from the bindings of the cycle of karma even when alive). An open-minded yet devout person, Ramana primarily focused on Self-inquiry as a means to exhaust ignorance and become one with the atman. Although he mostly remained silent, on occasion, he had discussions with visitors and disciples.
In their years of exile, the Pandavas lived in the picturesque Dvaitavana abounding in beautiful trees and delicious fruits. One day, a deer carried away – between its antlers – the fire-producing sticks of a poor priest who was performing an important yajña. The priest came to the Pandavas seeking help. The five brothers took up their arms and went looking for the deer. Even after exhausting all their knowledge in hunting and combat, they were unable to catch the deer.
In the Vana Parva (Book 3) of the Mahabharata, during the course of Yudhistira’s discussion with sage Markandeya, the latter narrates the story of Kaushika and Dharmavyadha. It is a wonderful episode of how a learned ascetic obtains life-lessons from an unlettered butcher in Mithila.
Following a series of incidents, Kaushika lands up at the shop of Dharmavyadha, who is busy selling deer and buffalo meat. Seeing the ascetic, Dharmavyadha rises from his seat and walks up to him. “Welcome, O holy one! Come, let us go to my house.”
Buried beneath and interspersed among the numerous layers of terse and detailed philosophical expositions are the thousands of amazing stories in the Upanishads. It is indeed a tragedy of our modern education system—that treats the human as no better than a component of economic production—that these stories have completely vanished from our school syllabi, supplanted instead by mindless Christian moral education.
We have long had a fascination for the final answer, the Holy Grail, the Grand Unified Theory, the ultimate solution, and the quintessential element. Douglas Adams mocks this tendency in his masterpiece Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by assigning a random number – 42 – to represent the answer to the meaning of life and everything else.
Krishna starts off the Gita by asking Arjuna not to grieve – “Don’t cry for either the living or the dead” (BG 2.11). And he ends his message by asking Arjuna not to grieve – “Just have faith in me. I will grant you the ultimate state. Don’t cry” (BG 18.66). In between these two persuasions of “Don’t cry,” he teaches the Gita. But what of Krishna’s life? Has he ever cried? While all the great warriors of the Mahabharata have shed tears at some point of time or the other, Krishna never sheds a tear. There are instances where he is sad, but he doesn’t show it.
Vijayadashami – the victory on the tenth day – is when Rama killed Ravana. While the victory of Rama over Ravana was a great one, greater still are the several personal battles he fought and emerged victorious. Being the elder son, he was the natural choice for being the king, but he was sent into exile. He took it in his stride. After Sita was kidnapped, he pined for her and did not rest until he fought and killed Ravana. Then circumstances forced him to abandon his beloved wife. Caring little for his personal feelings, he acted according to the ruling.
We can evade taxes but can we do about death? Many of us have seen death from close quarters in our lives and those who have not, are most definitely aware of the idea. But imagine when the earliest humans experienced the death of someone around them. They would have seen one of their own people fall down, never to get up again. Their recognition of the phenomenon of death would have suddenly given them a definition for life. Until that time, there was nothing to delineate life. With the cognition of the phenomenon of death, suddenly there arose the awareness of a life-span.