James Schwartz, also known as “Ram,” offers Advaita Vedanta classes for several weeks each winter in Tiruvannamalai. Many Westerners who visit Tiruvannamalai are interested in the various classes and satsangs offered by the many teachers who come here during the winter season. I have known Ram for several years, first meeting him six years ago when I was lost on Arunachala’s Inner Path. As I was searching for the way, I saw him sitting with another person on top of a big rock. We talked for a bit. When I told him that I studied with Nome, he knew who Nome was, and said, “Nome, the person who introduced Ramana Maharshi in America.” I was interested to hear this. (Nome himself would never make any such claims.)
A few months ago I published on this blog an article of Ram’s about Neo Advaita. There was much interest in the article, with some readers claiming that he went too far in his criticism, and others saying he was very much on target. At least Ram has an opinion that he has considered deeply and is willing to express it.
This year I heard from another visitor that she had been going to Ram’s Vedanta class, and had been getting real benefit from it. So Carol and I decided to attend, even though the class had been going for several weeks and was about 2/3 of the way into the material.
The class is held on top of a building near Tasty Cafe, under a thatched roof. Many chairs are provided, so we could sit comfortably for the two hours. There were about 45 people attending. This is a pretty good crowd for Tiruvannamalai, though not nearly as big as the 300-or-so that are drawn to Mooji’s satsangs. going on at the same time. The crowd here seemed a bit older than Mooji’s, and a bit more serious.
The session starts with a few minutes of silent meditation.
Then Ram starts the talk for the day. He uses a chart he has made to diagram key ideas of Advaita – that the Self is Awareness, and the ‘Not-self’, operating in Maya, is made up of Vasana-s (tendencies), the Intellect, Ego, Mind, and all the organs of the gross body.
He has given each attendee a book, with verses extracted from the Bhagavad Gita, and uses the Gita as the basis for his teaching, reviewing it from the first to the last chapter as the class proceeds.
Ram’s classes provide a useful and comprehensive view of Advaita Vedanta. This is very good for many seekers, as these teachings can open the door to a deep spiritual practice. Some of the other teachers may provide a good experience, and perhaps even a glimpse of the Self, but do not really teach any spiritual practice to those who come to them.
After Ram has read the Gita verses for the day, and said what he had to say, he will open the class up for questions.
My wife and I both enjoy Ram’s Vedanta class, though we are very familiar with the subject. I think his teaching is probably a good way to learn about Advaita Vedanta, and to develop and deepen one’s Self-inquiry. After all, what Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi taught fits well into the Advaita framework.
Ram has a website, http://www.shiningworld.com/ , and I believe will respond to questions by email. These classes will continue to mid-February of 2011. Each class starts with a summary of what has been presented so far, so one can come any time and start to learn more of Advaita.