Ramana Maharshi on Suffering in the World

Visitor: There are widespread disasters spreading havoc in the world e.g., famine and pestilence. What is the cause of this state of affairs?
Ramana Maharshi: To whom does all this appear?
Visitor: That won’t do. I see misery around.
Ramana Maharshi: You were not aware of the world and its sufferings in your sleep; you are conscious of them in your wakeful state. Continue in that state in which you were not afflicted by these. That is to say, when you are not aware of the world, its sufferings do not affect you. When you remain as the Self, as in sleep, the world and its sufferings will not affect you. Therefore look within. See the Self! There will be an end of the world and its miseries.
Visitor: But that is selfishness.
Ramana Maharshi: The world is not external. Because you identify yourself wrongly with the body you see the world outside, and its pain becomes apparent to you. But they are not real. Seek the reality and get rid of this unreal feeling.
Visitor: There are great men, public workers, who cannot solve the problem of the misery of the world.
Ramana Maharshi: They are ego-centred and therefore their inability. If they remained in the Self they would be different.
Visitor: Why do not Mahatmas help?
Ramana Maharshi: How do you know that they do not help? Public speeches, physical activity and material help are all outweighed by the silence of Mahatmas. They accomplish more than others.
Visitor: What is to be done by us for ameliorating the condition of the world?
Ramana Maharshi: If you remain free from pain, there will be no pain anywhere. The trouble now is due to your seeing the world externally and also thinking that there is pain there. But both the world and the pain are within you. If you look within there will be no pain.
Visitor: God is perfect. Why did He create the world imperfect? The work shares the nature of the author. But here it is not so.
Ramana Maharshi: Who is it that raises the question?
Visitor: I – the individual.
Ramana Maharshi: Are you apart from God that you ask this question? So long as you consider yourself the body you see the world as external. The imperfections appear to you. God is perfection. His work also is perfection. But you see it as imperfection because of your wrong identification.
Visitor: Why did the Self manifest as this miserable world?
Ramana Maharshi: In order that you might seek it. Your eyes cannot see themselves. Place a mirror before them and they see themselves. Similarly with the creation. “See yourself first and then see the whole world as the Self.”
Visitor: So it amounts to this – that I should always look within.
Ramana Maharshi: Yes.
Visitor: Should I not see the world at all?
Ramana Maharshi: You are not instructed to shut your eyes from the world. You are only to “see yourself first and then see the whole world as the Self”. If you consider yourself as the body the world appears to be external. If you are the Self the world appears as Brahman.

(Source: Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 272)

From Talk 487:

Visitor: What is that Self-Realisation which removes the discontent? I am in the world and there are wars in it. Can Self-Realisation put an end to it?

Ramana Maharshi: Are you in the world? Or is the world in you?

Visitor: I do not understand. The world is certainly around me.

Ramana Maharshi: You speak of the world and happenings in it. They are mere ideas in you. The ideas are in the mind. The mind is within you. And so the world is within you.

Visitor: I do not follow you. Even if I do not think of the world, the world is still there.

Ramana Maharshi: Do you mean to say that the world is apart from the mind and it can exist in the absence of the mind?

Visitor: Yes.

Ramana Maharshi: Does the world exist in your deep sleep?

Visitor: It does.

Ramana Maharshi: Do you see it in your sleep?

Visitor: No, I don’t. But others, who are awake, see it.

Ramana Maharshi: Are you so aware in your sleep? Or do you become aware of the other’s knowledge now?

Visitor: In my waking state.

Ramana Maharshi: So you speak of waking knowledge and not of sleep-experience. The existence of the world in your waking and dream states is admitted because they are the products of the mind. The mind is withdrawn in sleep and the world is in the condition of a seed. It becomes manifest over again when you wake up. The ego springs forth, identifies itself with the body and sees the world. So the world is a mental creation.

Visitor: How can it be?

Ramana Maharshi: Do you not create a world in your dream? The waking state also is a long drawn out dream. There must be a seer behind the waking and dream experiences. Who is that seer? Is it the body?

Visitor: It cannot be.

Ramana Maharshi: Is it the mind?

Visitor: It must be so.

Ramana Maharshi: But you remain in the absence of the mind.

Visitor: How?

Ramana Maharshi: In deep sleep.

Visitor: l do not know if I am then.

Ramana Maharshi: If you were not how do you recollect yesterday’s experiences? Is it possible that there was a break in the continuity of the ‘I’ during sleep?

Visitor: It may be.

Ramana Maharshi: If so, a Johnson may wake up as a Benson. How will the identity of the individual be established?

Visitor: I don’t know.

Ramana Maharshi: If this argument is not clear, follow a different line. You admit “I slept well”, “I feel refreshed after a sound sleep”. So sleep was your experience. The experiencer now identifies himself with the ‘I’ in the speaker. So this ‘I’ must have been in sleep also.

Visitor: Yes.

Ramana Maharshi: So ‘I’ was in sleep, if the world was then there, did it say that it existed?

Visitor: No. But the world tells me its existence now. Even if I deny its existence, I may knock myself against a stone and hurt my foot. The injury proves the existence of the stone and so of the world.

Ramana Maharshi: Quite so. The stone hurts the foot. Does the foot say that there is the stone?

Visitor: No. – ‘I’.

Ramana Maharshi: Who is this ‘I’? It cannot be the body nor the mind as we have seen before. This ‘I’ is the one who experiences the waking, dream and sleep states. The three states are changes which do not affect the individual. The experiences are like pictures passing on a screen in the cinema. The appearance and disappearance of the pictures do not affect the screen. So also, the three states alternate with one another leaving the Self unaffected. The waking and the dream states are creations of the mind. So the Self covers all. To know that the Self remains happy in its perfection is Self-Realisation. Its use lies in the realisation of Perfection and thus of Happiness.

Visitor: Can it be complete happiness to remain Self-realised if one does not contribute to the happiness of the world? How can one be so happy when there is a war in Spain, a war in China? Is it not selfishness to remain Self-realised without helping the world?

Ramana Maharshi: The Self was pointed out to you to cover the universe and also transcend it. The world cannot remain apart from the Self. If the realisation of such Self be called selfishness that selfishness must cover the world also. It is nothing contemptible.

Visitor: Does not the realised man continue to live just like a non-realised being?

Ramana Maharshi: Yes, with this difference that the realised being does not see the world as being apart from the Self, he possesses true knowledge and the internal happiness of being perfect, whereas the other person sees the world apart, feels imperfection and is miserable. Otherwise their physical actions are similar.

Visitor: The realised being also knows that there are wars being waged in the world, just like the other man.

Ramana Maharshi: Yes.

Visitor: How then can he be happy?

Ramana Maharshi: Is the cinema screen affected by a scene of fire burning or sea rising? So it is with the Self. The idea that I am the body or the mind is so deep that one cannot get over it even if convinced otherwise. One experiences a dream and knows it to be unreal on waking. Waking experience is unreal in other states. So each state contradicts the others. They are therefore mere changes taking place in the seer, or phenomena appearing in the Self, which is unbroken and remains unaffected by them. Just as the waking, dream and sleep states are phenomena, so also birth, growth and death are phenomena in the Self which continues to be unbroken and unaffected. Birth and death are only ideas. They pertain to the body or the mind. The Self exists before the birth of this body and will remain after the death of this body. So it is with the series of bodies taken up in succession. The Self is immortal. The phenomena are changeful and appear mortal. The fear of death is of the body. It is not true of the Self. Such fear is due to ignorance. Realisation means True Knowledge of the Perfection and Immortality of the Self. Mortality is only an idea and cause of misery. You get rid of it by realising the Immortal nature of the Self.

3rd May, 1938

The same lady continued: If the world is only a dream, how should it be harmonised with the Eternal Reality?

Ramana Maharshi: The harmony consists in the realisation of its inseparateness from the Self.

Visitor: But a dream is fleeting and unreal. It is also contradicted by the waking state.

Ramana Maharshi: The waking experiences are similar.

Visitor: One lives fifty years and finds a continuity in the waking experience which is absent in dreams.

Ramana Maharshi: You go to sleep and dream a dream in which the experiences of fifty years are condensed within the short duration of the dream, say five minutes. There is also a continuity in the dream. Which is real now? Is the period covering fifty years of your waking state real or the short duration of five minutes of your dream? The standards of time differ in the two states. That is all. There is no other difference between the experiences.

Visitor: The spirit remains unaffected by the passing phenomena and by the successive bodies of repeated births. How does each body get the life to set it acting?

Ramana Maharshi: The spirit is differentiated from matter and is full of life. The body is animated by it.

Visitor: The realised being is then the spirit and unaware of the world.

Ramana Maharshi: He sees the world but not as separate from the Self.

Visitor: If the world is full of pain why should he continue the world-idea?

Ramana Maharshi: Does the realised being tell you that the world is full of pain? It is the other one who feels the pain and seeks the help of the wise saying that the world is painful. Then the wise one explains from his experience that if one withdraws within the Self there is an end of pain. The pain is felt so long as the object is different from oneself. But when the Self is found to be an undivided whole who and what is there to feel? The realised mind is the Holy Spirit and the other mind is the home of the devil. For the realised being this is the Kingdom of Heaven. “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” That Kingdom is here and now.

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