Dr Raja Ramanna D.Phil. (January 28, 1925 – September 24, 2004) was an Indian nuclear scientist and a prominent physicist, best known for his leadership directing the research integral for the development of Indian nuclear programme in its early stages.
He shares his divine moments with Maha Periyava…
A Dialogue with the Pontiff
THE LIGHT THAT DISPELS IGNORANCE
ERUDITION AND INSPIRATION
My parents had built a somewhat largish house in Mysore during the early part of the thirties expecting to benefit from it during the rest of their lives. But as chances would have it, my father was transferred out of Mysore, soon after it was ready for occupation and he never really returned to it till after his retirement. Mysore was in those days a sleepy old town and still is, except that in very recent years there are some signs of change, perceptible only to an old resident.
The activities of the city at that time were centered around the palace and the University and there was hardly any demand for houses on rent, and nay rent beyond Rs.40/- per month was unheard of. After a fairly long period, during which was hung up the sign “To Let”, which I am sure the younger generation has hardly seen, a request for house came from a fairly well-known religious Baba from Bombay for as much as Rs.100/-. While everybody at home was happy, there was a lurking fear that some unknown Sadhu was about to take possession of the house.
A few months later, a message came from the Sadhu’s secretary saying that the Baba would like to give us darshan, and asked if it would suit us to see him the next day. While my father felt there was nothing wrong about the darshan, my mother stood firm and said that she did not want any of the children exposed to a questionable Sadhu, who may not be beyond throwing holy ash and make mental defectives of us. After all, she said if the children needed religious instruction, the Ramakrishna Ashram which was just behind the corner, had many learned men among them and this was sufficient. So we never saw the Baba and later he disappeared from Mysore State in some state of ignominy.
The episode, though a minor one, had a lasting effect on me. Whenever I encountered a Swami, Baba or a religious one except from those from Ramakrishna Mission, I instantly avoided them. For me, a religious man was one to be respected only if he was a learned man. It was only later I came to know that for a learned man to be useful to his community, he must also be an inspired man.
PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE
In recent years I have been greatly 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 or 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 celebration. I chose the title “Physical Reality – Is there any other?” and stressed on 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 Sankara and Advaita on the need to throw off our material 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 Kamokoti Peetham. I had heard of the Acharya from various people but many of them I know went to him to get relief from the usual disappointments of life – family disagreements, injustices, promotions, and 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 of his simple life. I, in my cynical ignorance, presumed that 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 been with 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 questions, I replied that the answers could not be transmitted through an intermediary, but if I was permitted I will seek darshan of the Acharya during one of my visits to the Reactor Research Centre at Kalpakkam.
On arrival at the 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 in 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 and transform the entire universe into our small world, and my small world was restricted to seeing the Acharya as though I was seeing a Minister or Secretary in Delhi. It was a lesson in higher philosophy.
I soon realised that I just had to go the Ashram to imbibe the atmosphere and sink into the vastness of something way 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 of 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 Shri Krishnamurthy, an Accounts Officer, who is also in his spare time, a Veda Lecturer. He was so much greater in his spare time activity! I requested I be accompanied by a Sanskrit Scholar in case the Acharya led me to difficult discussions on ancient knowledge and science, again assuming that it was going to be like a meeting of 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 am. The place encloses a small temple with a building to its side which is no more than a glorified hut. This serves as a 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 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 surrounding. Someone said the Governor of Tamil Nadu was coming and hence the bandobast. One of the aides of the Acharya spoke to us kindly and suggested that 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 peep 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 be that we were all there trying to get at something which was as 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 a page with his finger from a distance, he asked me if I knew enough Sanskrit. I was happy that I had Krishnamurthy with me.
The translated version of the page, I give below:
Katyanana, 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 and Brahman is endless. We can understand Brahman by experience. So what is the use of the sentences taken from philosophy 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 it these sentences repeat the same frequently. Even the Bhashyakara (Patanjali) while commenting on the Sutra opines in favour of Advaita. How can we see the mark of (Non-existing)?
Yes. We can see it. It is like mirage.
Explanation: The thirsty deer 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. This is due to illusion only. Similarly we see a beautiful palace called Gandharva Nagara. Really it is not there. Due to illusion one thinks the non-existing thing to be real. Really only one is there. That is Brahman. While commenting on the Sutra the same 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.
Meaning of the verse given above:
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 see are unreal. They are visible because of illusion.
Here, Kaiyata, the commentator of Mahabhashya, says, “A person who understands the world and Brahman in this way is not blind. He alone sees reality.” Further he said, “He who implements the idea, that is, translates the idea into practice is a real Yogi.”
Further it is said by his Holiness…
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 the crude dialect the aide translated all that the Swamiji had to say in 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 tried, 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 Sir K.S. Krishnan, the great Physicist and Philosopher.
Sir 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 Nagarjuna. 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. Hirayanna (Mysore Univeristy) of 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 Hirayanna’s book, a book which fortunately has been recently reprinted.
The Swamiji then lifted his hand in benediction and we did our sashtanga namaskarams and receded to the background. In the sparseness and austerity of the 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 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.
After that we boarded the train. I took out a copy of Theivathin Kural to read. The gentleman sitting across introduced himself and said “Obviously you are very fond of Him”. For the rest of the journey he kept talking to us about his experiences with Sri Periaval spanning several years.
Once again proving to us that He was with us always, no matter where we are.