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Finding faith
It had been so long since I saw that picture of Ramana Maharshi that I couldn't remember who he was ["Minds Without Bodies," Oct. 2]. "I know that guy, the Indian, what's his name?" I wouldn't read the article until I remembered, which I did by recalling that there was a picture of him with Swami Yogananda in that guy's softcore spiritualography book "Autobiography of a Yogi." While I was looking for the picture the name came to me. Then I read the article.

I was amazed, amused and saddened. I had exactly the same response as Mr. Trammell to that picture, probably from the same book by Paul Brunton, about 30 years ago. After reading about half of the book I found myself in perhaps the most complete state of clear-minded joy I have ever experienced, before or since. It was infectious--everyone I spent any time with got happy. Lasted about 2-3 weeks.

At the time I conceptualized what had happened to me thus:

1. The guy (Ramana Maharshi) had gone beyond the normal human limitations of personality and something "bigger" or "more essential" was clearly coming through. This though the guy was "dead" and I was reading a book about him. Somehow his "essence" was projecting through the book more powerfully than that of any live person.

2. That if he could "do" it anyone could.

3. That the fact that he had done it in a sense made it irrelevant whether or not any other personality ever did it, because he had demonstrated that the "personality" had no more significance than a window, and that the light that comes through is the point of it all.

4. That my joy was temporary, being a reflection of the event on my personality.

5. That the ephemerality of the joy was unimportant because the thing that caused it was real, more real in fact than my reaction to the event, that the "thing" was eternal, so it didn't matter what I felt.

Well, it didn't last, but the concept did. I've never forgotten it, it's my "faith."

But it has nothing to do with Ramana Maharshi the guy, and it didn't make me into a missionary. In fact it pretty much killed any missionary impulses I thought I might have had.

Ramana Maharshi, as I learned in the book, never did much of anything. When he was found in the jungle he was pretty much starving blissfully to death. His finders, smitten by his aura, had a hard time getting him to eat at first. They built an ashram around him but he never participated in the running of it. He just hung around and smiled. At the end of his "life" he was in great pain from cancer, his "disciples" wanted to treat him, but he replied "Don't bother, who cares? It's just a body."

Mr. Trammell has chosen to build a church around his concept of that guy. Churches do not necessarily have anything to do with spiritual growth, never mind breakthrough. Churches are bureaucratic organizations. Like all organizations their purpose is the accumulation and allocation of power, which means, essentially, the ability to command the energy of humans other than one's own self.

All human organizations generate a hierarchical structure of insiders and outsiders. The insiders are under extreme pressure to think of themselves as privileged because they know more, or have been there longer. People who like that feeling of superiority tend to seek administrative position. The outsiders get the wonderful feeling of belonging, which is one of the great human emotions, so wonderful that many or most people would gladly trade their autonomy to be in the "in crowd." They will put up with the pecking order as long as they can be in.

Some people (like me) are goats and can't put up with the hierarchy games and the conventional deceits that go with the play (e.g. "It's for your own good"). They remain in the outer darkness, which maybe is not actually so dark.

Mr. Trammell's group's telephone meditations might be fun, but fun is not the point. Ramana Maharshi did not practice. He just "was." Practice is good in the sense that it reduces "bad behavior," but it doesn't "produce enlightenment." Nothing does, it happens or it doesn't. In the end, results are the only thing that matter.

(And, from the Ramana Maharshi point of view, "beyond the end," as it were, results don't matter either.)
–bob reis, raleigh

More, more, more
I just read Doug Reed's letter bashing News of the Weird [Back Talk, Oct 2]. He needs a sense of humor. I'm just as intellectual and progressive as the next guy in Chapel Hill, and I love that column. It was the only reason why I picked up a copy of the Spectator. I had actually been meaning to write you before the first merged issue to encourage you to keep it on in the new paper. So, now that you've granted that request, I have a couple more! When I lived in Chicago, we had the Chicago Reader, which is a GREAT weekly. Two other columns I loved: The Straight Dope science fascination column and Dan Savage's love advice column, Savage Love. I'd love to see them both in print again. But be forewarned: If you put Savage Love in The Independent, you'll probably get another letter from Doug Reed.
–greg meyer, chapel hill

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