A few moments with Paramacharya

Dr. Raja Ramanna

In recent years I have been interested in the philosophy of science. This approach to knowledge has been neglected and is only now becoming an essential part of science. The fact that the various components of science like Physics, Chemistry, Biology have merged into one, makes a philosophical approach inescapable, as it used to be in the past, and in fact the old name for science is Natural Philosophy. It is indeed an anomaly that many of the Doctors of Philosophy as fabricated in our Universities each year, know little of philosophy as an integrated approach to knowledge.

It was in this frame of mind that I accepted an invitation from the Theosophical Society at Adyar to contribute an article for their Centenary celebrations. I chose the title "Physical Reality- Is there any other?" I chose the title "Physical Reality- Is there any other?" and stressed the strength of the scientific method of analysis-both ancient and modern-and the paradoxes we face in understanding consciousness on the basis of scientific postulates.

I made a passing reference to Adi Shankara and Advaita, on the need to throw to our materials constraints to understand a higher reality. The paper was reprinted in the Journal Dilip.

This Journal, I believe, was inaugurated with the blessings of Shri Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. I had heard of the Acharya from various people but many of them went to him to get relief from the usual disappointments of life-family disagreements, injustices promotions, solace from persecutions from unsympathetic and sadistic bosses. But whoever it was, whenever mention was made of the Acharya, it was always in connection with his erudition and his simple life. I, in my cynical ignorance, presumed the people designate others as learned only when they are unable to understand what is being said.

I was indeed greatly surprised when one day, someone who had seen the Acharya came to me saying that the Acharya would like some answers to questions he had, concerning my paper reprinted in Dilip. After looking at the question, I replied that the answers could not be transmitted through an intermediary but if I were permitted, I would seek darshan of the Acharya during one of my visits to the Reactor Research Center at Kalpakkam.

On arrival at Madras airport, I asked my friends if they had fixed a day and time with the Acharya. They seemed bewildered for they did not know how they could `fix a day and time' as there was no one is the Ashram who could do this, I, soon, began to realise my smallness in expecting to get a time and place from an Acharya who had realised the vastness of Advaita. In our stupidity we try to transform the entire universe into our own small world restricted to seeing the Acharya as though I was seeing a Minister or Secretary in Delhi. This itself was a lesson in higher philosophy.

I soon realised that I just had to go to the Ashram to imbibe the atmosphere and sink into the vastness of something beyond the material world around us. In Advaita what after all are time, place and the material aspects of life? If one has to realise something of Advaita from the feet of the Acharya himself, the atmosphere around must be consistent with the aim of acquiring supreme knowledge. I had not understood the need to such consistencies and this was my second lesson.

It was on the morning of July 5 that I set out to Kanchi. I was accompanied by Sri Krishnamurthy, an Accounts Officer, who is also in his spare time a Veda lecturer. (How much greater is his spare time activity!) I requested that I be accompanied by a Sanskrit scholar in case the Acharya led me to difficult discussion on ancient knowledge and science, again assuming that it was going to be like a meeting or one of the so called learned bodies at Delhi, Bombay or Calcutta. How ignorant I again was!

We arrived at the Ashram at about 8.30 a.m. The place encloses a small temple with a building to its side which is no more than a glorified hut. This serves as the residence of the Swamiji. There were several devotees waiting for the Acharya to give darshan, and in one corner a student was being assisted by one of the inmates in the recitation of the Rig Veda. At another spot, there was somebody reciting Sanskrit Stotras with an excellent intonation. For all this, I was grateful as I had not yet come to resonate with the atmosphere and was not sure why I was there at all.

The worship, at the small but ancient temple, raised in me the usual doubts and questions as to why worship must be like this at all.

To add to my questioning state, I noticed some policemen around, not at all in consonance with the surroundings. Somebody said the Governor of Tamil Nadu was coming and hence the bandobust. One of the aides of the Acharya spoke to us and suggested we wait for the appropriate time as the Acharya was busy reading something inside.

On a raised platform adjoining his room is a small window barely a square foot wide through which devotees people in to get darshan. I also looked in and saw in the somewhat dim light the Acharya deeply engrossed turning the pages of a book. At this moment, the Governor arrived and we all moved back. The Governor also went towards the window for a short time and left soon after, but all the while the Acharya continued his search among the books irrespective of what was happening outside.

A little while later, a strange peace seemed to envelop us and I felt as though we were in a space where the devotees, the temple and everything around us were some minor objects in a great enactment. Everything around was simple to the extreme, and nobody seemed aware of one another's presence except as objects created for some purpose to disappear soon into nothingness. In spite of this feeling of negation, it seemed to me that we were all there trying to get at something which was yet beyond our reach. It was nothing that this world could provide. Even as I was meditating about why we- an odd assortment of people- were there at all it began to appear that the strains of the Rig Veda was the only material thing of value in that atmosphere.

Suddenly, one of the aides of the Swamiji called us to the window, as the Acharya wished to see us. He then asked his aides in his very weak voice in Tamil to open the pages of a book. After selecting the page with his finger, from a distance, he asked me if I knew enough of Sanskrit. I was happy that I had Krishnamurthy with me.

The translated version of the page, I give below:

Katyayana, in one of his Vartikas, also shows himself in favour of Advaita The meaning of the aforesaid Vartika is as follows:

Truth is Brahman, knowledge is Brahman. Brahman is endless. We can understood Brahman by experience. So what is the use of the sentence taken from philosophy, etc., which tell about God?

It is repetition only. Is it not?

No. The scholars know Brahman well. Others will have confusion. In order to avoid if these sentences repeat the same frequently. Even the Bhaskyakara (Patanjali) while commenting on the Sutra opines in favour of Advaita. How can we see the mark of (Non-existent)?

Yes, We can see it. It is like mirage.

Explanation: The thirsty deers see the mirage and think it to be existing. So they run towards the place where they saw the mirage which actually does not exist. It is due to illusion only.

Similarly we see a beautiful place called Gandharva Nagara in the clouds. Really it is not there. Due to (illusion) one thinks non-existing thing to be real. Really only one is there. That is Brahman. While commenting on the Sutra the Bhashyakara quotes others in support of Advaita as follows:

For example, Kala (time) is one. But for our convenience we have divided it into three such as past, future, present.

It does not exist, move and is not pushed. Even the waters that seem to flow towards the sea, really do not flow. Moreover, the world is one and nothing moves. The things that we are unreal. They are visible because of illusion.

Here, Katyayana, the commentator of Mahabhashaya, says, a person who understands the world and Brahman in this way is not blind. `He alone sees really'. Further he says. "He who implements the idea that is, translates the idea into practice is a real Yogi."

Meaning of the above verse:

To the person whose ignorance is destroyed by real knowledge, God gives light equal to the light of the sun.

As I do not know Tamil except in the form of a crude dialect, the aide translated all that the Swamiji had to say into Kannada and I replied in Kannada. Even the aide had difficulty in understanding the Swamiji as his voice was very feeble. I referred to my talk on Reality and the questions the Swamiji had raised and gave my answers. The Acharya pointed to the page of the book again. Though Krishnamurthy tries, we had to admit that we could not understand the sloka just at the moment.

The Swamiji suggested to us to study it and return again.

The Acharya then made a mention of my contributions to science and asked whether I knew of Krishna Iyengar. After thinking of all the Krishna Iyengars I knew, it then occurred to me that he was referring to Dr. K.S. Krishnan, the great physicist and philosopher.

Dr. K.S. was well known to me during my early years in the Atomic Energy Commission and I had listened to his discourses on Philosophy.

The Swamiji then asked me to study the philosophy of Nagarajuna. I said that it is remarkable that the Swamiji should refer to Nagarjuna, as I was reading at the very moment his philosophy through the book of the late Prof. Hiriyanna (Mysore University) on Indian Philosophy, which I believe, is the best book on the subject. I said, Nagarjuna was the greatest scientific philosopher of all times. The Swamiji nodded his head and asked me to send him a copy of Hiriyanna's book, a book which fortunately had been recently reprinted.

The Swamiji then lifted his hand in benediction and we did our Sashtanganamaskaras and receded to the background. In the spareness and austerity of things around, we seemed smaller materially than anything we could think of and yet the power of the consciousness of the spirit was enhanced by the darshan. The Acharya's message to me was clear. `To the person whose ignorance is destroyed by real knowledge. God gives light equal to the light of the Sun.'

What better inspiration can there be for the pursuit of science and philosophy? The material world has its laws but human consciousness has a higher reality which can be understood only when ignorance is destroyed by the real knowledge, even as the great Adi Sankara himself achieved.

I must have been in direct contact with the Swamiji for less than half an hour, but in regions outside material time, I must have been with him always Here at last I knew I had been in the presence of a learned man and an inspired man.

Physicists have always wondered if there is a direct interaction between two conscious human beings without the aid of the sense organs. I believe I have some verification of its possibility.