Hello. This is Carol writing. Richard and I were planning to travel to the US together, but his departure was delayed for health reasons. So this is my report of my experience at SAT at the end of May.
Even though nothing beats meditating on the roof of our house with the loving darshan of Arunachala, I hadn’t been to a SAT retreat in over 2 years. I’m grateful to have been able to travel to California to attend the most recent one. Here’s how it is described on the SAT website:
The Self-Knowledge Retreat
May 28 – May 30, 2010 – Friday morning through Sunday afternoon
This retreat is based on the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi contained within Origin of Spiritual Instruction. The spiritual instruction focuses on the discernment between the Self and what is not the Self, between what is real and what is not. The Nondual Realization of the Unborn State of the Self and the Truth of No-creation (Ajata), as always in the teachings presented at SAT, are central to the instruction provided during this retreat.
I arrive at the SAT temple on Friday, before 9:00 AM.
Meditation begins at 9:30. I ascend the stairs to the Meditation Hall. Along the way I encounter my favorite picture of Ramana. He’s waiting for us to come up The Mountain.
First I enter the Shrine Room to pay my respects to Ramana. (Sorry, it’s difficult to photograph this room.)
Then I look into the main hall. I’m immediately reminded of my enjoyment of the peaceful vibe here.
I step into the hall.
I turn around to pay my respects to the Temple murthis: Ardinandiswara, the Lingobhava, Nataraja, and Dakshinamoorty.
Nome joins us for meditation shortly.
After the first meditation and a break, Nome began the first session of spiritual instruction. The text that Nome is using as the departure point for this retreat, Origin of Instruction, is the 2006 SAT re-publication of a 1939 English-language book entitled A Catechism of Instruction.
Nome began by reading a disciple’s question to The Maharshi, then Ramana’s answers, followed by Nome’s own commentary. People are free to comment or ask questions at any time.
Below, I’ve included some quotes that were particularly meaningful to me during the various sessions of the retreat.
Friday, Morning Session
Nome: “True knowledge is knowing the Self, your very own self. That is, your True Being.”
“This is knowledge of the Non-Objective, beyond perception and beyond conception. It cannot possibly be the knowledge of what is sensed or what is conceived in thought.”
“The Consciousness is itself the Knowledge. Being is the Knowing. There is no separate individual to be ignorant of this. Since Being and Consciousness are one in the same, this is Self-Knowledge. This supreme Knowledge is what Sri Ramana reveals. For this we have His Grace and His Spiritual Instruction.”
During a break, I checked out the bookstore, where I could buy a copy of Origin of Spiritual Instruction.
The store offers a wide variety of books by and about Ramana, Advaita Vedanta texts and translations, and works by Nome. This includes many books published by Sri Ramanasramam.
We recently learned that the official archivist at Ramanasramam recommends this edition of Origin of Spiritual Instruction as THE book for a seeker to read to learn about Ramana’s Teachings.
Friday, Afternoon Session
After lunch, we began the second session with more meditation and another instruction period.
Nome: “In the profound depths of pure consciousness, there is no other thing whatsoever: Neither I, or this, or any other kind of distinction.”
“Where individuality is not for oneself, it is likewise for all. In the knowledge of the self, one IS all.”
“If you understand where happiness is, deeply enough, you will find yourself naturally detached from everything in this entire world.”
Lunches and dinners at a SAT retreat are very special. Not only is the food vegetarian, delicious and creative, but you get a chance to connect with old and new friends, all of whom are serious seekers of the Truth. There is also the opportunity to sit at the table with Nome to talk and ask questions.
Friday Evening Session
After dinner on the first night was a reading of the Tamil Ribhu Gita. Ganesh and Sangeeta chanted the verses in Tamil.
Then Nome read the English translation, to some background veena music.
The nighttime events here at SAT are always a little magical, with the sublime candlelight setting the scene.
So our first retreat day ends after a short meditation following Nome’s reading.
Saturday Morning Session
After breakfast, we had another period of meditation, followed by spiritual instruction. This time it seemed especially meaningful to me for Nome to remind us that all that we are seeking is our Self. OUR Self.
Ramana: “The object of his [the seeker’s] quest is identical with himself.”
Nome: “Understand that you’re in search of yourself, not something else. Not something objective, removed from you, that exists somewhere else in the world, in some other set of sensations, even in some other state or mode of mind. You’re in search of YOUR Self. This profound recognition is truly the start of inquiry.”
By now I’m starting to feel the same deep peace that I get with The Mountain.
At lunch I had a wonderful surprise. Sangeeta had made idlis and vadas with sambar, chutneys, and curd rice. Yum! A taste of home! And I was afraid that I would be deprived of my beloved South Indian food for two whole months!
Below, Myra is helping out with idli production.
Sangeeta is serving her South Indian meal to us.
Saturday Afternoon Session
Ramana: “Knowledge is the utter annihilation of the mind, by meditating on the nature of the meditator.”
Nome: “When you actually turn the mind inward, and abide nonattached, and from there inquire as to the nature of reality, or ‘who am I?,’ the mind ceases to exist as such, and there remains only pure being. So the efforts in sadhana are simply to destroy the attachments and concepts in the mind, and the very idea that there is a distinct entity called the mind. That accomplished, no further effort is necessary. Nor is it possible. Because there is only one Being, one Consciousness, and no one distinct therefrom.”
After Saturday dinner was a puja.
Raman, Sangeeta, Dhanya, and Ganesh, on one side, provided chants and rhythms.
And they were joined at first by Advait, Ganesh and Dhanya’s precocious 5-year-old.
Advait has pretty much grown up at SAT. This is the first time he has contributed to the puja. He knocked everyone out with a stirring solo chant, very well performed. He’s at left in the photo below, with Sangeeta in the middle, and Dhanya, his mom, at right.
On the other side of the Hall, Sasvati, Nome, and Bob provided vocals and rhythm.
SAT pujas are a little different than those I’ve seen at Ramanashramam. A little quieter, a little gentler. Following the prescribed ritual order, Eric, pictured below, performs the first part of the Abhisheka–ceremonial bathing of the Siva Lingam. Ramana is benevolently attentive in the background.
The pujaris, pictured below, have begun the sacred offerings of flowers to the Siva Lingam.
Below, Sasvati and Nome during the puja.
In the photo below, Ganesh conducts Aarthi.
From this website, I learned more about the meaning of Aarthi:
The lighting of the lamp represents spiritual enlightenment through knowledge. The rotations of the lamp or plate represent a continuous link between the individual, the universe, and the divine. The plate is imbued with the divine essence, which subsumes each individual who participates in the ritual. The individual internalizes that essence by passing his hand over the flame and touching his eyes.
Below, Clark is “taking light,” receiving the divine, purifying illumination into his Being.
After the puja, the lights come up on the oiled and beflowered lingam.
(Jim is really doing an amazing job on those floral decorations!)
Sunday Morning Session
Another really peaceful meditation for me, followed by more instruction.
Ramana: “Meditation essentially consists in transcending one’s awareness of the idea or notion ‘I am in meditation.'”
Nome: “If there is the notion, ‘I am in meditation,’ what is the definition of that ‘I’?”
The retreat is coming to an end with the customary special meal on Sunday afternoon.
One more session, one more chance to soak up the glory of Ramana’s Teaching with Nome.
At about 3:00, the retreat was done.
But not the Self-inquiry.
I began to hear Ramana’s Teaching, illuminated by Nome, almost twenty years ago. And now I am blessed to live in Tiruvannamalai, right at the foot of Arunachala, where I can actually practice Ramana’s inquiry, just as He instructed, because I understand it better with Nome’s help.
There is another 3-day retreat at SAT at the end of August, and a 5-day retreat in November. I’ll be back in Tiruvannamalai then, with SAT and Nome in my heart, even if I won’t be at the SAT Temple.
For more information on upcoming retreats at SAT, you can go to www.SatRamana.org.