Ramana Maharshi

David Godman explains his memories about Nisargadatta Maharaj

Harriet: Were the translators all good? I have been told that some were better than others.

David: Yes, there were good ones and not-so-good ones. I think everyone knew who was good and who was not, but that didn’t result in the good ones being called on to do the work if they happened to be there. There seemed to be some process of seniority at work. The translators who had been there the longest were called on first, irrespective of ability, and those who might have done a better job would have to wait until these more senior devotees were absent. When I first went a man called Sapre did most of the morning translations. He was very fluent and seemed to have a good grasp of Maharaj’s teachings, but he interpolated a lot of his own stuff in his English answers. Two sentences from Maharaj might turn into a two-minute speech from Sapre. Even though most of us didn’t know any Marathi, we knew that he must be making up a lot of his stuff simply because he was talking for so long. Several people complained to Maharaj about this, but he always supported Sapre and generally got angry with the people who complained about him. That was the cause of the outburst I just mentioned. Maharaj thought I was yet another person complaining about Sapre’s translations.

Mullarpattan was next down the pecking order. I liked him because he was very literal. Possibly not quite as fluent as some of the others, but he scored points with me because he stuck to the script both ways. I once asked Maharaj a question through him, and when the answer came back, it made absolutely no sense at all. Mullarpattan, though, was beaming at me as if he had just delivered some great pearl of wisdom.

I thought about it again and it still made no sense, so I said, somewhat apologetically, ‘I don’t understand any of that answer. It doesn’t make any sense to me at all.’

‘I know,’ replied Mullarpattan, ‘it didn’t make any sense to me either. But that’s what Maharaj said and that’s what I translated.’

Somewhat relieved, I asked him to tell Maharaj that neither of us had understood what he had said and requested him to explain the topic a little differently. Then we got on with the conversation.

I really respected Mullarpattan for this. He didn’t try to put some sense into the answer, and he didn’t tell Maharaj that his answer didn’t make any sense. He just translated the words for me in a literal way because those were the words that Maharaj had intended me to hear.

Right at the bottom, in terms of seniority anyway, was Ramesh Balsekar. He didn’t come to see Maharaj until some point in 1978. I thought this was unfortunate because in my opinion, and in the opinion of many of the other foreigners there, he was by far the most skilful of all the translators. He had a good understanding of the way foreign minds worked and expressed themselves, and a good enough intellect and memory to remember and translate a five-minute rambling monologue from a visitor. He was so obviously the best, many of us would wait until it was his turn to translate. That meant there were occasionally some long, embarrassing silences when the other translators were on duty. Everyone was waiting for them to be absent so that Balsekar could translate for them.

Read full conversation: Remembering Maharaj



“Who am I?” is the title given to a set of questions and answers bearing on Self-enquiry. The questions were put to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi by one Sri M. Sivaprakasam Pillai about the year 1902. Sri Pillai, a graduate in Philosophy, was at the time employed in the Revenue Department of the South Arcot Collectorate. During his visit to Tiruvannamalai in 1902 on official work, he went to Virupaksha Cave on Arunachala Hill and met the Master there. He sought from him spiritual guidance, and solicited answers to questions relating to Self-enquiry. As Bhagavan was not talking then, not because of any vow he had taken, but because he did not have the inclination to talk, he answered the questions put to him by gestures, and when these were not understood, by writing. As recollected and recorded by Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai, there were fourteen questions with answers to them given by Bhagavan. This record was first published by Sri Pillai in 1923, along with a couple of poems composed by himself relating how Bhagavan’s grace operated in his case by dispelling his doubts and by saving him from a crisis in life. ‘Who am I?’ has been published several times subsequently. We find thirty questions and answers in some editions and twenty-eight in others. There is also another published version in which the questions are not given, and the teachings are rearranged in the form of an essay. The extant English translation is of this essay. The present rendering is of the text in the form of twenty-eight questions and answers.

Along with Vicharasangraham (Self-Enquiry), Nan Yar (Who am I?) constitutes the first set of instructions in the Master’s own words. These two are the only prose-pieces among Bhagavan’s Works. They clearly set forth the central teaching that the direct path to liberation is Self-enquiry. The particular mode in which the enquiry is to be made is lucidly set forth in Nan Yar. The mind consists of thoughts. The ‘I’ thought is the first to arise in the mind. When the enquiry ‘ Who am I?’ is persistently pursued, all other thoughts get destroyed, and finally the ‘I’ thought itself vanishes leaving the supreme non-dual Self alone. The false identification of the Self with the phenomena of non-self such as the body and mind thus ends, and there is illumination, Sakshatkara. The process of enquiry of course, is not an easy one. As one enquires ‘Who am I?’, other thoughts will arise; but as these arise, one should not yield to them by following them , on the contrary, one should ask ‘To whom do they arise ?’ In order to do this, one has to be extremely vigilant. Through constant enquiry one should make the mind stay in its source, without allowing it to wander away and get lost in the mazes of thought created by itself. All other disciplines such as breath-control and meditation on the forms of God should be regarded as auxiliary practices. They are useful in so far as they help the mind to become quiescent and one-pointed.

For the mind that has gained skill in concentration, Self-enquiry becomes comparatively easy. It is by ceaseless enquiry that the thoughts are destroyed and the Self realized – the plenary Reality in which there is not even the ‘I’ thought, the experience which is referred to as “Silence”.

This, in substance, is Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi‘s teaching in Nan Yar (Who am I?).

===> Read Complete Text of “Who Am I” <===

  • We are the creators and creatures of each other, causing and bearing each other’s burden.

  • I find that somehow, by shifting the focus of attention, I become the very thing I look at, and experience the kind of consciousness it has; I become the inner witness of the thing. I call this capacity of entering other focal points of consciousness, love; you may give it any name you like.
    Love says “I am everything”. Wisdom says “I am nothing”. Between the two, my life flows. Since at any point of time and space I can be both the subject and the object of experience, I express it by saying that I am both, and neither, and beyond both.

  • Unless you make tremendous efforts, you will not be convinced that effort will take you nowhere. The self is so self-confident that unless it is totally discouraged it will not give up. Mere verbal conviction is not enough. Hard facts alone can show the absolute nothingness of the self-image.

  • A quiet mind is all you need. All else will happen rightly, once your mind is quiet. As the sun on rising makes the world active, so does self-awareness affect changes in the mind. In the light of calm and steady self-awareness, inner energies wake up and work miracles without any effort on your part.

  • The world is like a sheet of paper on which something is typed. The reading and the meaning will vary with the reader, but the paper is the common factor, always present, rarely perceived. When the ribbon is removed, typing leaves no trace on the paper. So is my mind – the impressions keep on coming, but no trace is left.

More ==> More Quote of Nisargadatta Maharaj

Harriet: What was Maharaj’s attitude to Ramana Maharshi and his teachings? Did you ever discuss Bhagavan’s teachings with him?

David: He had enormous respect for both his attainment and his teachings. He once told me that one of the few regrets of his life was that he never met him in person. He did come to the ashram in the early 1960s with a group of his Marathi devotees. They were all on a South Indian pilgrimage tour and Ramanasramam was one of the places he visited.

With regard to the teachings he once told me, ‘I agree with everything that Ramana Maharshi said, with the exception of this business of the heart-centre being on the right side of the chest. I have never had that experience myself.’

I discussed various aspects of Bhagavan’s teachings with him and always found his answers to be very illuminating.

He asked me once, ‘Have you understood Ramana Maharshi’s teachings?’

Since I knew he meant ‘Had I actually experienced the truth of them?’, I replied, ‘The more I listen to Maharaj, the more I understand what Bhagavan is trying to tell me’.

I felt that this was true at both the theoretical and experiential levels. His explanations broadened and deepened my intellectual understanding of Bhagavan’s teachings and his presence also gave me experiential glimpses of the truth that they were all pointing towards.

I have to mention Ganesan’s visit here. V. Ganesan is the grandnephew of Ramana Maharshi and in the 1970s he was the de facto manager of Ramanasramam. Nowadays, his elder brother Sundaram is in charge. Ganesan came to visit Maharaj for the first time in the late 1970s. As soon as he arrived Maharaj stood up and began to collect cushions. He made a big pile of them and made Ganesan sit on top of the heap. Then, much to everyone’s amazement, Maharaj cleared a space on the floor and did a full-length prostration to him.

When he stood up, he told Ganesan, ‘I never had a chance to prostrate to your great-uncle Ramana Maharshi, so I am prostrating to you instead. This is my prostration to him.’

Harriet: That’s an extraordinary story! Were you there that day?

David: Yes, I was sitting just a few feet away. But the truly extraordinary thing for me was what happened next. Maharaj and Ganesan chatted for a while, about what I can’t remember.

Then Maharaj made an astonishing offer: ‘If you stay here with me for two weeks, I guarantee you will leave in the same state as your great-uncle Ramana Maharshi.’

Ganesan left that day and didn’t come back. I couldn’t believe he had turned down an offer like that. If someone of the stature of Maharaj had made an offer like that to me, I would have immediately nailed myself to the floor. Nothing would have induced me to go away before the time was up.

When I returned to Ramanasramam I asked Ganesan why he hadn’t stayed.

‘I didn’t think he was serious,’ he replied. ‘I just thought he was joking.’

It was during this visit that Maharaj asked Ganesan to start giving talks in Ramanasramam. ‘I have been to Ramanasramam,’ he said, ‘and you have wonderful facilities there. Many pilgrims come, but no one is giving them any teachings. It is a sacred and holy place but people are leaving it and coming here because no one is teaching there. Why should they have to travel a thousand miles to sit in this crowded room when you have such a great place? You need to start giving talks there. You need to start explaining what Ramana Maharshi’s teachings are.’

Ganesan was unwilling to follow that advice either, or at least not at the time. There is a strong tradition that no one is allowed to teach in Ramanasramam. Ramana Maharshi is still the teacher there and no one is allowed to replace him. It is not just a question of having a new Guru there; the ashram management does not even encourage anyone to publicly explain what Ramana Maharshi’s teachings mean. Ganesan didn’t want to rock the boat and incur the ire of his family and the devotees who might object, so he kept quiet. It is only in the last few years that he has started teaching, but he is doing it in his own house, rather than in the ashram itself. The ashram is still very much a teacher-free zone.

I talked to Ganesan recently about Maharaj and he told me a nice story about a Frenchwoman whom to he took there.

‘When I started to visit Maharaj some of Bhagavan’s devotees criticized me for abandoning Bhagavan and going to another Guru. Many of them seemed to think that going to see Maharaj indicated that I didn’t have sufficient faith in Bhagavan and his teachings. I didn’t see it that way. I have visited many great saints, and I never felt that I was abandoning Bhagavan or being disrespectful to him by going on these trips. A Frenchwoman, Edith Deri, was one of the women who complained in this way. We were in Bombay together and I somehow convinced her to accompany me on a visit to Maharaj. She came very reluctantly and seemed determined not to enjoy the visit.

‘When we arrived Maharaj asked her if she had any questions. She said that she hadn’t.

‘”So why have you come to see me?” he asked.

‘”I have nothing to say,” she replied. “I don’t want to talk while I am here.”

‘”But you must say something,” said Maharaj. “Talk about anything you want to. Just say something.”

‘”If I say something, you will then give some reply, and everyone will then applaud because you have given such a wonderful answer. I don’t want to give you the opportunity to show off.”

‘It was a very rude answer, but Maharaj didn’t show any sign of annoyance.

‘Instead, he replied, “Water doesn’t care whether it is quenching thirst or not”.

‘And then he repeated the sentence, very slowly and with emphasis. He often repeated himself like this when he had something important to say.

‘Edith told me later that this one sentence completely destroyed her skepticism and her negativity. The words stopped her mind, blew away her determination to be a spoilsport, and put her into a state of peace and silence that lasted for long after her visit.’

Read Full Conversation here..