What is the highest teaching, the one that is the shortest path to Awakening and total Freedom?
Answer: Spiritual Growth!
Read what Ramana Maharshi, one of India’s most revered saints who Awakened in one historic day has to say about it. Then compare his experience with that of Lester Levenson, who awoke in a period of 3 months in New York City, discovering in the process a method similar to that of Ramana, but much easier to do, not only for people in Western culture, but for others as well.
The parallels in spiritual growth between Lester Levenson and Ramana Maharshi are quite remarkable. The main difference is the age at which their awakening occurred. Ramana was 17, Lester 42. They both achieved spiritual growth without the aid of prior spiritual training. For Ramana, it occurred in a period of one day, for Lester it took 3 months.
After Lester’s awakening, he documented the process of spiritual growth he developed and called it the Release Technique. He devoted the remainder of his life to help others discover what he had discovered. He often referred to the teachings of Ramana as compatible and consistent with what he had discovered.
The main difference is that Lester awakened in the West, in the bustling streets of New York City. The process of spiritual growth he developed is for the Western mind that lives in a different culture from that of Ramana. The process is consistent with working and living in the West, and is consistent with being, doing and having one’s heart’s desire without attachments and without aversions.
For the young Ramana (then called Venkataraman, his birth name), his awakening came unexpectedly. One day he was sitting up alone on the first floor of his uncle’s house. He was in his usual health. There was nothing wrong with it. But a sudden and unmistakable fear of death took hold of him. He felt he was going to die. Why this feeling should have come to him he did not know. The feeling of impending death, however, did not unnerve him.
He calmly thought about what he should do. He said to himself, “Now, death has come. What does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.” Immediately thereafter he lay down stretching his limbs out and holding them stiff as though rigor mortis had set in. He held his breath and kept his lips tightly closed, so that to all outward appearance his body resembled a corpse. Now, what would happen? This was what he thought : “Well, this body is now dead. It will be carried to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death, of this body am I dead? Is the body I? This body is silent and inert. But I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the “I” within me, apart from it. So I am the Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit”.
As Bhagavan Sri Ramana narrated this experience later on for the benefit of his devotees it looked as though this was a process of reasoning. But he took care to explain that this was not so. The realization came to him in a flash. He perceived the truth directly. “I” was something very real, the only real thing. Fear of death had vanished once and for all. From then on, “I” continued like the fundamental sruti note that underlies and blends with all the other notes. Thus young Venkataraman found himself on the peak of spiritual growth without any arduous or prolonged sadhana. The ego was lost in the flood of Self-awareness. All of a sudden the boy that used to be called Venkataraman had flowered into a sage and saint.
In the following section, a Devotee asks Ramana about the highest path to spiritual growth. Ramana and his devotee refer to the process of awakening as Release. The Release Technique as developed by Lester Levenson makes this process achievable for all who are committed to spiritual growth in this lifetime.
Devotee: Why should the path to release be differently taught? Will it not create confusion in the minds of aspirants?
Ramana: Several paths are taught in the Vedas to suit the different grades of qualified aspirants. Yet, since release is but the destruction of mind, all efforts have for their aim the control of mind. Although the modes of meditation may appear to be different from one another, in the end all of them become one. There is no need to doubt this. One may adopt that path of spiritual growth which suits the maturity of one’s mind.
The control of prana which is yoga, and the control of mind which is jnana*—these are the two principal means for the destruction of mind. To some, the former may appear easy, and to others the latter. Yet, jnana is like subduing a turbulent bull by coaxing it with green grass, while yoga is like controlling through the use of force. Thus the wise ones say: of the three grades of qualified aspirants, the highest reach the goal by making the mind firm in the Self through determining the nature of the real by Vedantic enquiry and by looking upon one’s self and all things as of the nature of the real; the mediocre by making the mind stay in the heart through kevala-kumbhaka and meditating for a long time on the real, and the lowest grade, by gaining that state in a gradual manner through breath-control, etc.
The mind should be made to rest in the heart till the destruction of the “I”-thought which is of the form of ignorance, residing in the heart. This itself is jnana; this alone is dhyana also. The rest are a mere digression of words, digression of the texts. Thus the scriptures proclaim. Therefore, if one gains the skill of retaining the mind in one’s Self through some means or other, one need not worry about other matters.
The great teachers in spiritual growth also have taught that the devotee is greater than the yogins** and that the means to release is devotion, which is of the nature of reflection on one’s own Self***.
Thus, it is the path of realizing Brahman that is variously called Dahara-vidya, Brahma-vidya, Atma-vidya, etc. What more can be said than this? One should understand the rest by inference.
The Scriptures teach in different modes. After analyzing all those modes the great ones declare this to be the shortest and the best means.
* Seeing everything as Real according to the Scripture: I am Brahman—one only without a second.
** Of all Yogins, only he who rests his unwavering mind and love in me is dear to me. ~ The Bhagavad-gita.
*** Of the means to release only bhakti (devotion) may be said to be the highest. For, bhakti is constant reflection on one’s own Self. ~ Vivekachudamani.