Ramana Maharshi, Sri (1879–1950)
An important twentieth-century Indian spiritual teacher,
whose life and teachings have been cited as an example of the
classic God-realized sage. Born December 30, 1879, in the village
of Tiruchuzhi, near Madura, South India, he was the second
son of a pleader or solicitor. The boy attended elementary
school at Tiruchuzhi and Dindigul, and went on to Scott’s Middle
School, Madura, and the American Mission High School.
As a boy, he was impressed by a casual remark from a visitor
that he had come from Arunachalam, a holy place in Tiruvannamalai,
and his mind was directed to study of the lives of
Tamil saints. At the age of seventeen, he had a strange mystical
experience following a period in a trance-like condition. He
felt that he was going to die, but perceived that only the body
could die, the true self being independent. He lost interest in
his studies and felt an intense desire to go to Arunachalam.
On August 29, 1896, he renounced his everyday life and set
out for Arunachalam, where he spent the rest of his life in a
condition of mystical meditation which transformed his understanding.
Impervious to physical or mental discomforts, he remained
in ecstatic spiritual meditation, at first in complete silence,
living under a tree, or in temples, accepting minimum
food which he ate mechanically.
In the course of time, the young renunciate attracted the attention
of devotees, who found that he was able to answer the
most abstruse metaphysical questions with wit and incisive wisdom.
Eventually a religious settlement grew up around him,
and he was visited by devotees from all over India and even
from western countries.
He gave no formal teaching as such, but merely answered
questions put to him in such a way that traditional Hindu metaphysical
teachings had personal relevance to the questioner.
His constant theme was the discovery of the essential Self present
in all beings, summarized in the formulation ‘‘Who Am I’’
His statements combined metaphysical subtlety and simplicity,
while his gentle and perceptive presence was inspiring to
his devotees. Even the local creatures (monkeys, cows, peacocks,
birds) were attracted to him as if to a latter-day St. Francis
of Assisi. He was also visited by leading Western scholars and
seekers, including Paul Brunton and W. Y. Evans-Wentz.
In his later years, he developed various illnesses and a cancerous
tumor on his left elbow, but remained indifferent to intense
physical pain. He passed into the mahasamadhi (great
sleep) of death on April 14, 1950, after assuring devotees of
continued presence. He stated ‘‘I am not going away. Where
could I go I am here.’’ This implied the omnipresence of the
Universal Self. At the precise moment of death a large star was
seen to trail slowly across the sky. It was witnessed by the famous
French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was
visiting the ashram at the time.
The ashram is still in existence and has published a number
of books dealing with the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi.
A biography by Arthur Osborne was published in London,
1957, and reissued by Jaico paperbacks, Bombay, 1958. The
ashram is located at Sri Ramananasramam, Tiruvannamalai,
South India.
A North American branch, the Arunchala Ashrama, with
centers in Canada and the United States, has been founded
with headquarters at 72–63 Yellowstone Blvd., Forest Hills, NY
Brunton, Paul. A Message from Arunchala. 1936. Reprint,
New York Samuel Weiser, 1971.
Melton, J. Gordon. Religious Leaders of America. Detroit Gale
Research, 1991.
Osborne, Arthur. Ramana Maharshi and the Path of SelfKnowledge.
New York Samuel Weiser, 1970.
———, ed. The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi. 1963. Reprint,
New York Samuel Weiser, 1978.
Raman, Bangalore Venkata Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Ramana Maharshi. The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi.
20 vols. London Rider, 1970.