Recently I’ve been reading a small book called Strange Facts about a Great Saint by Dr Raj Varma. The curiously titled book was written by a student of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati. The Swami was a renowned renunciate who became the first qualified Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath in some 150 years. In the Shankara tradition of India, this is somewhat like the pope. Only he was a profoundly living embodiment of the teaching. His very presence made spirit real for the average person.
You may best know the Swami as the teacher of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the one who brought TM to the west. If you ever learned TM, you saw a picture of the Swami in the guru puja. Or perhaps you’ve heard the Beatles song Across the Universe? This is the Guru Dev they sung about. That song was literally beamed across the universe.
I’ve also mentioned him periodically on the blog, such as this article, The Value of a Life. I cannot begin to describe the profound impact he has had on my own journey and that of many others. They may not even realize it. He left the body in May of 1953.
The book was quickly printed on newsprint in 1980 with a run of only 2000 copies. The introduction apologizes for the condition of the writing itself – it is sorely in need of a good editor. Much of it is stories of his travels and the crowds who came to see him at various stops (including myself). But there are some nuggets mixed in.
This little bit from a conversation with a small group of famous philosophers, for example. “Those means are there [in Vedanta], not to illuminate the Absolute, but their object is to vanish ignorance. Means destroy ignorance, they do not illuminate the Absolute. That which is self illuminated needs no other light to illumine it. For instance the Sun is a self illuminated body. It needs no other light to illumine it. Before Sunrise, Dawn comes, but the Dawn only vanishes the darkness of night. It does not enlighten the Sun. The sun is self illuminated. All the means narrated in Vedant Shastras are simply to get rid of ignorance. They never enlighten the Absolute, the Atma. The Atma, the Absolute is self-lit and viewer of all.” (1951)
Another way to put this is techniques purify and prepare the vessel but they don’t in themselves create enlightenment. They prepare the ground for it to happen more easily and clearly. Knowledge, in the highest sense, is also a great purifier, a technique in itself. Thus, the sages recommend the study of the Shastras (texts).