Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

An Interview with
Ramesh Balsekar

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Ramesh Balsekar Ramesh Balsekar book

Ramesh S. Balsekar (born May 25, 1917 - died September 27, 2009) was a disciple of the late Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. From early childhood, Ramesh was drawn to Advaita, particularly the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and Wei Wu Wei. He wrote more than 20 books, was president of the Bank of India, and received guests daily in his home in Mumbai until shortly before his death.

Publication: Confusion No More
(Watkins Publishing, 2007)
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Visit for more information about his life and work.

The Godfather of Soul Part I

You can see Elephanta Island, home of cave sculptures depicting Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, whilst sitting in the Sea Lounge of the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel on P J Ramchandani Marg in the Colaba district of Mumbai. In front of the island is a much smaller one, Mandwa Island, and when they are viewed together from the hotel's first-floor window, the islands give the impression that they are equidistant from the shore - like two almond-shaped eyes peeping over the horizon's edge.

I can hardly believe I am in India. Having dreamed of coming for so many years, here I am, finally � tired, bewildered and yet utterly exhilarated. Although I am staying at an old colonial-style guest house, I have come to the Taj, only a minute's walk away, for afternoon tea. After my arrival in the early hours of the morning at Mumbai's international airport, I am taking the opportunity to relax and acclimatize myself to the sweltering heat, the bittersweet smells and the flamboyant madness that is India. The Taj is the most exclusive hotel in Mumbai - it reminds me of the Savoy Hotel on the Strand in London, an edifice of great opulence and grandeur, all the while haunted by tramps and beggars in the arcades around the building's rear entrances. And here at the Taj, amidst its ground-floor arches running around the perimeter of the hotel, prostitutes and dope fiends skulk in doorways, peering out of the shadows ready to offer you sentient pleasures and all at a very good price. Such are the contradictions of India - luxury and poverty, the privileged and the dispossessed, all within a hair's breadth.

So, this is nearly the end of the journey, the dénouement of my journey in the peripatetic quest for some kind of understanding, the understanding of who I am. I look out to sea again. Tourist pleasure boats bob in line along the quayside; garlands of yellow flowers and detritus float nonchalantly on the grey-green sea. Towards the horizon, a milky mist veils the view; urban pollution has become a permanent fixture of nature here. In the street below life carries on regardless - taxis and rickshaws, bicycles and horse-drawn traps, tourists and beggars, children and stray dogs - these are the dramatis personae of Mumbai.

Even though I prefer to travel on my own, arriving alone in India can be a gruelling experience. The first thing that hits you as you walk out of the airport terminal � bleary-eyed and physically drained from your eight-hour flight � is not only the stifling heat, despite it being well after midnight, but a sea of men in their white cotton uniforms awaiting your arrival, who seethe towards you, shouting and haggling for your attention. I find the queue of small, black taxis and I squeeze onto the rear seat of one of them, my rucksack still strapped to my back. I daren't take it off � not for fear of having it stolen but for fear of someone kindly offering to carry it for me ... and very cheap at the price. As we pull away, the dark brown face of a young boy pops into the open window. He starts lamenting, 'English lady, English lady,' then thrusts out one small hand towards me, pointing to his mouth with the other. This is something I'm going to have to get used to, I realize � the signs of poverty shoved right up in front of my face.

The ride to the Colaba district takes about an hour. It is probably the most disturbing car journey of my life. The road winds its way through a shanty town of such abject poverty that I can barely look through the window. Ramshackle and ragged shops and buildings prop each other up, clamouring for attention from the passer-by with their bright neon signs, all written in what looks like Sanskrit. As we drive along to the constant tooting of the taxi's horn with the warm wind in my face, there is an indescribable smell � a sweet faecal odour that seems to get right up inside my nostrils and down to the pit of my stomach. On the pavements, people are lying asleep only a few feet from the wheels of passing cars, oblivious to the traffic. I start to wonder whether there can be the luxury of Self Enquiry in the face of so much suffering? Would you truly be wondering about the complexities of Advaitic theory when having to deal with the prospect of not knowing where your next meal was coming from?

We arrive at my hotel at about two in the morning. I pull out wads of notes from my purse to pay for the journey - I must seem like a millionairess as I fumble with the alien currency. Dealing with money is going to be something else I am going to have to get used to. The hotel proprietor stumbles half asleep out of a small room, I apologize for waking him and he takes me up to the third floor in an antiquated lift that groans all the way up its shaft. The room is nondescript, except for the green-black mould creeping across one wall. I disentangle my rucksack from my body, hang up my mosquito net and settle into bed.

But I cannot sleep. I am far too excited, as well as feeling incredibly vulnerable. What if something happens to me - what if I get attacked or I catch some awful disease? The hours pass by ... Eventually dawn breaks. The first thing I notice are the birds - but this is not the birdsong of European daybreaks, sweet and harmonious and heralding the new day; it is the dirge of rooks and crows, screeching over the rooftops, proclaiming their carrion meals under the sweltering heat of the sun.

It is now just before nine in the morning, the day after my arrival. A Dutchman staying at my hotel is also going to see Ramesh and he escorts me to the bus stop just around the corner. Bus 83 is a huge long white coach, which stops for barely longer than is absolutely necessary for the waiting passengers to leap on. I am last in the queue and my companion scoops me up from the street as the bus sets off. We sit at the back and pay our fare to the Breach Candy district - the princely sum of six rupees. The bus is packed and the journey is physically agonizing � it lumbers on at an alarming pace, with no attempt to avoid the potholes in the road, each trench sending its passengers inches from their seats. Because I am still tired and dazed by the heat and jetlag, the funfare ride makes me laugh at every jolt. But India is not unlike any other commuter city in rush hour � people turn around and stare at my giggles and wonder what all the fuss is about.

We journey through a densely populated and overdeveloped, sprawling metropolis. Remnants of former British rule in India are visible everywhere. The architecture is the city's living history. The bus takes us into the 'better' end of town, where we get off� Ramesh's street leads downhill to the ocean's edge. Near the end of the road, a small crowd of people have gathered on the left-hand pavement - this is the drill, I discover. At nine-thirty, a slim jolly Indian man with a sleek black moustache joins us. Called Murthy, he is in his early forties and puffs seductively on a cigarette, greeting everyone by name. 'A new face,' he chuckles. I explain who I am and the reason why I have come. He nods enthusiastically. 'All your questions will be answered by Ramesh,' he laughs. 'There's no need to go to anyone else.' Murthy has been coming for many years, shepherding devotees in and out of Ramesh's house, knowing that he, at least, needn't go anywhere else. At twenty to ten, we all cross the road and enter Sindhula Building. We go up in the lift which jolts to a halt outside Ramesh's apartment. There are shelves for our shoes and I dutifully place my Dr Marten's on the rack.

We file in through the hallway which leads into a large bright room furnished with ornately carved occasional tables covered with photographs of Ramesh and his family, vases of flowers and a beautiful bronze carriage clock, its crystal weights rotating back and forth � an ambience more akin to the bourgeoisie of Europe than the home of an Indian sage. On the other side of the room there is a hammock, where a young woman is swinging back and forth with such a look of glee on her face that she reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. My heart is beating like a drum. This is it! I am really going to meet Ramesh Balsekar. I have a card from the Ramana Maharshi Foundation in London, signed by some of its members, and wait nervously to give it to him. And then here he is ... and how small and delicate he is! I offer the card to him as a way of introduction. 'Oh, thank you,' he says, with the sweetest smile that makes my heart break. He has such an aura of purity and innocence, he reminds me of a choirboy in his white Indian clothes. He places his hand on my cheek and says, 'How lovely to see you. What is your name? Paula? Please, come.' He escorts me to a small room off the hallway. He then disappears whilst Murthy reappears, explaining to me that new visitors must sit in the 'hot seat'.

The room fills with about 20 people, sitting either on chairs or on the floor. The window looks onto the Arabian Sea � from the street the sounds of taxi horns and people's voices can be heard. A crow sits in the open window, peering in and wondering what we are all doing. On the walls are pictures of Ramana, Nisagardatta and Ramesh. On the window sill are quotes by Ramesh, etched onto wooden plaques. 'All there is is Consciousness and Consciousness is all there is,' declares one. 'It is not an action � it is a happening,' says another. Through windows looking into the next room, I see a tall wiry Indian man, Singh, who is plugged into recording equipment through bell-shaped earphones, lending him the appearance of a nightclub DJ.

At ten o'clock, Ramesh appears. He walks briskly into the room and sits in a chair in the corner. He puts his hands together in namaste and looks around the room acknowledging everyone as old friends. Immediately, Ramesh picks up the conversation with an Indian man where he presumably left off. Has he understood what was being discussed yesterday? Ramesh reiterates his points to the man and then turns to me. 'So, Paula, you come from London?' Now it's my turn to be under the spotlight. I am handed a microphone. Ramesh proceeds to ask me questions about my personal life, my interest in the spiritual path. Talking about my history makes me feel uncomfortable, however I soon lose any nervousness. Ramesh makes you feel nothing other than interesting and special.

First Satsang

Ramesh: So, Paula, what is your understanding now of what Paula is seeking? Would you use the word salvation?

Paula: Well, not even that. Just peace.

R: That's right. Salvation is just a word.

P: I used to think I was looking for God. It seemed that Advaita was the end of the road and the end of concepts. That kind of seeking has quietened down but, in my heart, I don't feel I am any closer to any kind of understanding.

R: So, it seems to me that the answer is very clear. What you are seeking is to be rid of frustration. That's what the spiritual seeking comes down to. 'I don't like being frustrated.'

P: Yes. I wish it were more holy, my search!

R: I know! The real problem with the spiritual seeking is that it has certain words, which are astonishingly misleading. What does one mean by salvation, Paula?

P: Salvation from frustration?!

R: Frustration! And what does frustration mean? Frustration means not being able to be comfortable with myself and not being able to be comfortable with others. You cannot be comfortable with yourself if you are not comfortable with others. So, what is the end of frustration? The absence of frustration means being comfortable with myself and comfortable with others.

P: But this teaching says that everything is Consciousness. So that means that this frustration is as God wills it. Is even the fact that I cannot accept my frustration also God's will?

R: Yes.

P: So why am I here?!

R: Because God does not want that frustration to remain for the rest of your life.

P: But he put it there.

R: Yes.

P: So why doesn't he get rid of it?

R: You will be rid of it only when God wills it, Paula. Therefore if God put the frustration there, what makes you think he has put it there for all time? What makes you think that he does not intend to get rid of the frustration in the next two or three days?

P: Well, I'd have nothing to worry about then would I?!

R: That's my point! Now, we are talking about Paula being comfortable with herself. What is Paula? Paula who wants to be comfortable with herself is a personality, is an ego, isn't it? An identification with a particular body-mind organism and a form and the name Paula. Identification with this name and this form. This identification means really a persona, personification, a personality. So what is Paula? A personality which has identified itself with a particular body and a name. Now, what is that personality?

Personality is based on the body-mind organism and my basic concept is that Paula, the ego, is based entirely on the programming in this body-mind organism. And by programming I mean you have no choice in being born to particular parents, in a particular environment.

Therefore you have no choice about the genes, the unique DNA, in this body. And by the same token, the conditioning that this body has received in the environment in which she was born and raised, every moment from day one, at home, in society, from school, in church. All the time, the conditioning being this is right, that is wrong, if you do this you commit a sin, if you do that you will earn a merit in the eyes of some computer, which is keeping a very close watch of all your sins and good deeds.

P: I can understand that we are products of conditioning but something in me says isn't each individual person a glorious manifestation of God? I'd like to think that I am something more than just mind-body programming.

R: Think of it, Paula. Is it truly anything other than the programming? As a stranger, you walk into a party, you look around, you stand for a while with a drink in your hand and listen to the conversation. Have you yourself not felt drawn to a particular group rather than to another group?

P: Yes, definitely.

R: And then Paula says, 'I like this group more than another group.' So how has that happened? Why does Paula feel inclined to go to a particular group? Because, my answer is, what she sees is approved by the conditioning.

P: But what if there is a beautiful sunset outside the window? Is that still a form of conditioning? If I'm drawn to something beautiful?

R: What you think is beautiful is according to your conditioning. You may consider watching the sunset as something beautiful. What someone else considers beautiful, and is drawn to, is because the conditioning is different.

P: Why is there conditioning then?

R: The conditioning is because of the programming in the mind-body organism. Every human being is a unique individual, is a unique instrument or computer - the DNA is unique. My point is that science accepts that the DNA in each individual is unique. There are no two human bodies with the same DNA. That is why I am saying that God has created each human being as a unique creature, as a unique instrument.

P: So the conditioning is the way that that person has been shaped?

R: That's right. And my point is, why has God created each human being as a unique instrument or computer? So that he can function through each of the six billion human instruments and bring about such actions or events or happenings as there are supposed to happen. The instrument, because of the ego and the conditioning, thinks that it is his action or her action. But my point is that, at any moment, any action that happens through any body-mind organism is something which is supposed to happen at that moment at that time and place through that particular body-mind organism, according to God's will. Or if some people don't like the words God's will, according to the cosmic law.

In other words, what I am saying is, all actions happening through all the body-mind organisms at any one time is exactly what is supposed to be, according to the cosmic law. No human being does anything � that is my basic point. All actions through all human beings are happenings, created by God according to the cosmic law.

P: Scientists think that there is a spiritual gene.

R: Quite right. So, for Paula to be interested in spiritual seeking, the programming in this mind-body organism, the genes and conditioning, is such that this kind of seeking can happen. And there are thousands of mind-body organisms, the programming of which simply prevents this kind of seeking happening.

P: So from the point of view of Consciousness, it doesn't matter if you are ignorant or awake. It's just the way it is?

R: From the view of Consciousness, there is no 'you' at all because you would be something existing apart from Consciousness, if we truly accept that all there is is Consciousness, all there is is the source, the One without a second, by whatever name it is called.

P: But I do appear to exist.

R: Indeed, indeed. You appear to exist.

Whatever I say at any time is a concept, it is not the truth. So, if you keep listening to me, the thought will keep on coming, 'I like what Ramesh has to say, it gives me a sense of freedom but how do I know it is the truth?' Therefore I make it perfectly clear that whatever any sage has said at any time is a concept � a concept being something that some may accept and some may not. It may appeal to some intellects, it may not appeal to other intellects. Anything that any scripture or any religion has said is a concept and that is why we have religious wars. Concepts of one religion are not acceptable to concepts of another religion. If everything that everybody has said is a concept, is there such a thing as truth at all, which nobody can deny? Can there be any truth that no one can deny? What do you think, Paula? It's difficult to find, isn't it, and yet no human being can deny that he or she exists! I am. I am. Not as Paula but I am, irrespective of the body, irrespective of anything. I am, which is the impersonal awareness of being. The impersonal awareness of being, which no one can deny, is the only truth. So Consciousness that was not aware of itself, Consciousness at rest, became Consciousness in movement and at that moment, the manifestation came into being � this impersonal awareness of being, I am. Then this impersonal 'I am' identified itself with each mind-body organism and the ego came into being � the ego with a sense of personal doership. We use the word ego so easily. What do you mean by ego, Paula? Have you ever thought about it? What would your answer be?

P: Identification with a body-mind organism?

R: Merely identification with the body-mind organism? When the ordinary man or woman is called by their name, he or she responds but so does the sage! If a sage were called by name, whether it is Jesus Christ or Moses or Ramana Maharshi or Mohammed, he would respond. That means that, even in the case of the sage, identification with a particular form and a particular name must be there for that body-mind organism to function. So what is it that distinguishes the sage from the ordinary being?

P: He believes he is not the doer?

R: That is the point. So, that which distinguishes the sage from the ordinary man is the sense of doership in the identification of that particular name and form. So, to me the ego is identification with a particular name and form as a separate entity.

P: But as long as I believe I am the doer, which God put there in the first place, it doesn't matter if the ultimate truth is to believe that I am not the doer because I am thinking the way that God wants me to think.

R: That is correct.

P: So it's irrelevant whether truth exists or not, or whether the sage exists or not. In my own experience, in my own programming, I think I am the doer and that's the way it is until it's changed.

R: So, in the programming of a limited number of body-mind organisms, God has created this kind of spiritual seeking. What I am also saying is that there is no seeker of any kind of seeking, whether the seeking happens for money, for fame, for power, for God or truth or whatever you call it.

When this is truly understood, that there is no doer, how can there possibly be any pride or arrogance? When something nice happens, the news about it is the input and a sense of pleasure arises both in a sage and an ordinary man. Where is the difference then? The difference is for the ordinary man, along with the sense of pleasure, is the enormous amount of pride. My life's ambition has been fulfilled! I'm a Nobel Laureate! The sage finds it amusing that he should be considered Nobel Laureate at all. He knows he hasn't done anything. So, in the ordinary mind, a sense of pleasure is accompanied by pride and arrogance. In the case of a sage there is no pride or arrogance even for something nice that has happened.

Then something that is not so nice happens. The news comes in that an action done by a particular mind-body organism is not acceptable to society, for whatever reason � that is the input. A sense of regret arises. In the case of the sage, as with an ordinary being, a sense of regret arises and a wish that it had not happened but the understanding is that it is not his or her act, which has been disapproved by society. Therefore there might be a sense of regret but there will not be a sense of guilt or shame. Why should I feel guilt or shame if I know deep down that it is not my action? Even if the result is of a punishment, then I accept that punishment.

Therefore, basically what I am saying, Paula, is that if understanding happens by the grace of God that I am not the doer, that no one is the doer, then for all actions happening to this body-mind organism, I can have neither pride or arrogance, nor guilt and shame, you see. Now, what happens in life? I have to accept pleasure or pain, reward or punishment � that is the price one has to pay for having to live in this world, whether you want it or not. But what is absent is pride and arrogance, guilt and shame. So if there is an absence of pride and arrogance, guilt and shame, would you not say that you are comfortable with yourself? And if you also accept that no one else is the doer, then action that happens to some other mind-body organism that hurts you � even if that other person wanted to hurt you and is happy that you have been hurt � he doesn't know what you know. He would not have been able to hurt you if it were not God's will according to the cosmic law. So the hurt is accepted as part your destiny or God's will. Knowing that no one can hurt you, there cannot be any sense of malice or hatred. Whom will you hate when you know that no one can do anything? Nobody is the doer. Therefore how can you have a feeling of malice or hatred, of jealousy or envy? So not having a sense of malice or hatred or jealousy or envy for anybody in the world makes you comfortable with others.

P: Certainly, my life is not about doing actions but how I feel about doing action.

R: That is exactly the point. What have we been looking for? Not having frustration. That's where we started. Not having frustration means being comfortable with myself and being comfortable with others. If I know that I am not the doer, then I accept whatever happens as part of the cosmic law, without pride and arrogance, guilt and shame. So accepting of that, without pride or arrogance, guilt or shame, means I am comfortable with myself and therefore I am comfortable with others. And all that just by being able to accept nothing can happen unless it is God's will! So, no frustration, comfortable with myself, comfortable with others, all because of one's acceptance - 'Thy will be done'. And even that acceptance can only happen with the grace of God! And for that to happen, God has already created the programming in certain body-mind organisms, which makes that possible at some time or other, when it is supposed to happen. That is the whole teaching, Paula.

Part II

[Extract taken from The Teachers of One: Conversations on the Nature of Nonduality
by Paula Marvelly]

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