Annamalai Swami: Final Talks
Edited by David Godman
Publisher: Boulder, CO: Avadhuta Foundation, 2006.
In 1928, at the age of 22, Annamalai Swami came to the ashram of his guru Sri Ramana Maharshi, affectionately known as Bhagavan. For ten years he served his guru and the community at the ashram. In 1938, he was instructed to stop his service and devote himself to solitary meditation.
By the 1980s, thirty years after the death of Bhagavan, many devotees had begun to seek out Annamalai for instruction on Bhagavan’s teachings. Then, during the last six months of his teaching, just before his death in 1995 at the age of 89, audio recordings were made of Annamalai Swami’s talks. David Godman, a leading expert on the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, transcribed and edited those recordings to produce this book.
As Godman points out, Annamalai Swami’s “deep experience of the subject matter enabled him to communicate it with rare authority.” His years of constant meditation had brought him to “a continuous awareness of the Self.” But he always saw himself as simply conveying what he had learned from his guru, whose instructions served as guidelines for his entire life. He would say, “Bhagavan often used to say: The physical Guru is outside, telling you what to do and pushing you into the Self. The inner Guru, the Self within, simultaneously pulls you towards the Self.”
Although Annamalai had received almost no formal education, he was able to express his guru’s teachings in a way that was simple, clear, and even elegant. The Self, he said, is the one single reality behind all the diverse forms. To illustrate this point he used a vivid metaphor: “There may be different varieties of light bulbs but the current that activates and sustains them is the same. You must learn to become one with this activating current, the unmanifest Self, and not get caught up in all the names and forms that appear in it.”
Annamalai offers many enlightening descriptions of the state of Self-awareness.
When you have become one with the Self, a great power takes over you and runs your life. It looks after your body; it puts you in the right place at the right time; it makes you say the right things to the people you meet. This power takes over you completely, you no longer have the power to decide or discriminate. The ego that thinks “I must do this” or “I should not do that” is no longer there. The Self simply animates you and makes you do all things that need to be done.
Describing the spiritual seeker’s search for the Self, he said:
When you are not aware that your glasses are resting on your nose, you may look for them all day long, thinking that they are lost. As a consequence, you believe that they are an object to be found. Eventually you realize that you were wearing them all the time. While the search was on, that which was being sought was, in reality, that through which the seeing was taking place. You were looking for an object that finally turned out to be the subject that was doing the seeing. So it is with the mind and the Self. Mind sets up a notion that the Self needs to be found, and then proceeds to hunt for it as if it were some object that could be located in some interior place.
If the Self is not some object to be located somewhere within, how then is one to find it in the darkness?
If there is darkness, you remove it by bringing light. Darkness is not something real and substantial that you have to dig out and throw away. It is just absence of light, nothing more. When light is let into a dark room, the darkness is suddenly no longer there. It did not vanish gradually or go away piece by piece; it simply ceased to exist when the room became filled with light.
He explained that we put ourselves in an “imaginary darkness”:
The Self is not an object that you either see or don’t see. It is there all the time shining as our own reality. If you refuse to acknowledge its existence, if you refuse to believe that it is there, you put yourself in an imaginary darkness. It is not real darkness. It is your own wilful refusal to acknowledge that you are light yourself. This self-inflicted ignorance is the darkness that has to be banished by the light of Self-awareness. We have repeatedly to turn to the light of the Self within until we become one with it.
He described the Self as manifesting through spiritual light and sound. “The light of the Self cannot be extinguished. It is eternal and immanent. It is not like ordinary lights that can be switched on and off. Once it is discovered within, it will be on all the time.” About the sound of the Self, he said,
The sound is happening in the Self… The soundless sound of the Self goes on all the time. It doesn’t make a sound – it is the subtle sound. If you tune into this sound – you can’t actually listen because it is not physical noise – that tuning in will lead you to the peace of the Self.
On mind, Annamalai explained how Bhagavan taught that “Mind is just a shadow. Attempts to catch it and control it are futile. They are just shadows chasing shadows. You can’t control or eliminate a shadow by chasing it or putting a shadow hand on it. These are just children’s games.” Therefore, Bhagavan did not teach his students to fight with the mind in meditation:
Usually when you sit in meditation, you are struggling to achieve something, fighting to gain control over the mind. Bhagavan did not advise us to engage in this kind of fight. He told us that there is no need to engage in a war against the mind, because mind does not have any real fundamental existence.
The mind, he says, projects an unreal mirage. “If you want to see with the eye of the Self – switch off the projector of the mind. The infinite eye of the Self will then reveal to you that all is one and indivisible.” He hints that there is no need to go on stumbling in the darkness. “You stumble around in the darkness of your mind, not knowing that you have a torch in your hand. That light is the light of the Self. Switch it on and leave it on and you will never stumble again.” Fundamentally, it is a matter of what we choose to be aware of. “In every moment you only have one real choice: To be aware of the Self or to identify with the body and the mind.”
While the idea of simply switching the attention to the Self sounds as if enlightenment should be instantaneous and even effortless, Annamalai Swami recognized that for most people it entailed many years of steadfast effort. He said,
If you leave your house and start walking away from it and you continue this habit over many years, you will be a long, long way from home when you finally decide you’ve had enough and that you want to go back to where you started. Don’t be discouraged by the length of the journey and don’t slacken your efforts. Turn 180 degrees and face the source of your outward journey and keep moving back to where you started. Keep moving back to your source and don’t let anything distract you on the way.
In one vivid image, he conveyed both that we need relentless perseverance in our spiritual journey and also that this journey is utterly natural, following the course of our own higher nature:
Be like a river on its journey back to the sea. It doesn’t stop, take diversions, or decide to flow uphill for a while. It just moves slowly and steadily back to the place from where its waters originated and when the river dissolves in the ocean, the river is no more. Only the ocean remains.
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