It happens sometimes like this: You send off an intention, strongly -- like a seed planted deeply -- but then more-or-less forget about it, so that when the fruit of that intention manifests, it’s a bit of a surprise.
So it was with David Godman’s No Mind, I Am The Self -- a book that I had heard about several months back, and felt inspired to order. Since the order was placed directly from a personal website, I had no idea from where it would be coming, nor how long it would take to arrive. Two or three weeks after ordering it, I had the thought one day that it hadn’t yet arrived, and that perhaps I should try to contact the author, but never quite followed through with that, and instead forgot about it again.
And then, one day last week, there was a strange-looking package in my mailbox which, when I saw the postmark from India (along with Indian customs declaration papers -- according to which the book was a “gift” -- folded and taped to the outside), realized must be the long-awaited book. And so it was.
A while back I reviewed Radhanath Swami’s The Journey Home: an autobiographical account of the author’s long and winding (and frequently harrowing) search for a spiritual guide. The book ends with the author formally entering into such a guru/disciple relationship -- though offers no details about the actual subsequent unfolding of that relationship.
No Mind, I Am The Self, on the other hand, devotes much less time to describing the events leading up to the meeting of the disciples with their spiritual mentors, than it does to describing the dynamics of the relationships themselves, and the insights that flowed forth from the awakened state that both were able to realize.
Though the book is authored by David Godman -- an Englishman who’s lived for decades now in India -- its subjects are Sri Lakshmana and Mathru Sri Sarada: two contemporary teachers, and Self-realized sages, within the Advaita Vedanta lineage of Ramana Maharshi. It’s one of eleven books that Godman has authored and/or edited -- all of which are highly-regarded and deeply appreciated by practitioners affiliated with Ramana’s teachings.
Like The Journey Home, I found No Mind, I Am The Self to be a fascinating account, as rich for its personal details as it was for its clearly articulated formulations of the core teachings of this particular lineage of Advaita Vedanta. Lakshaman Swamy is a direct disciple of the esteemed Ramana Maharshi, and Sarada his principle disciple and adopted daughter. Both were unique in having relatively short sadhanas: Sri Lakshmana woke up to his True Nature during one of his first several visits to Ramana; and Sri Sarada at the tender age of 18, three years after being accepted as a disciple of Lakshmana.
As described, Lakshmana’s relationship with Ramana was an unreservedly sweet and friendly (if largely impersonal) one: they reveled in each other’s presence, and all unfolded smoothly from that. The relationship between Lakshmana and Sarada, on the other hand, was fraught with difficulties, in large part due to the antagonistic attitude held toward Sarada by Lakshmana’s mother, who was a manager of sorts of his ashram, and was perpetually attempting to evict Sarada from the grounds.
While I would never wish such difficulties upon anyone, I must admit to taking a certain kind of comfort in these reports of interpersonal challenge as an aspect of the process: a good reminder that any notion one might have that entering a spiritual path somehow guarantees one a trouble-free life is a notion not grounded in reality. If anything, a commitment to Truth seems not infrequently to begin a mental-emotional dredging process, inviting challenging situations to appear as mirrors to the practitioner’s stuck-places.
Though No Mind, I Am The Self is authored by Godman -- so technically speaking is a biography -- it includes extensive passages that are direct quotations of Lakshmana and Sarada’s teachings and question-and-answer periods, as well as passages from Sarada’s diary. As such, it very much has the feel of an autobiography, which I enjoyed. One of my favorite passages is the following, in which Lakshmana reflects upon the relationship between organized religion and Truth:
”The followers of different religions quarrel about truth because they have never experienced it. Most of them don’t even try to experience it; they are much happier quarreling, fighting and killing each other. The truth is actually very simple: when the individual self dies in the Heart, which is what happens if one successfully follows the quest, ‘Who am I?’, the Self alone remains, one without a second. That Self is truth, that self is God. What can be simpler than that? But people don’t want simplicity, they want something complicated so that they can argue and fight over it.”
So what exactly is this ‘Who am I?’ quest referred to in this quote? One thing that I really appreciated about this book was the clarity with which it presented this technique -- which allowed then for some interesting comparisons with what seem to be similar techniques within other contemplative traditions, Taoism included.