This post used to appear on realization.org but since I’ve removed most of the content from that website, I’ll publish it here.
V. Ganesan, Ramana Maharshi’s grandnephew, has written an extraordinarily wonderful book called Ramana Periya Puranam.
Please don’t be put off by the Tamil title. The book is an easy, enjoyable read in English and it’s a free download. Unlike many books in the Ramana literature, it’s full of ordinary human feeling.
In the quotation below Ganesan is writing about Sadhu Natanananda who was an adult devotee of Ramana when Ganesan was a child growing up at the ashram.
The day he understood his realization, he went incognito. The outward symbol of his becoming Self-realized was his obscurity. He lived alone — happy to be immersed in the Self all the time. After Bhagavan’s mahasamadhi in 1950 and until 1967, many did not even know if Natanananda was still alive. Though he stayed in a cottage in Tiruvannamalai, no one knew where he was. Like most of the old devotees, I too thought that he had passed away.
I had spent seven years in the ashram when suddenly one day my friend Dorab Framji asked me, “Do you know Sadhu Natanananda is alive?” I jumped with joy because I loved his book, Spiritual Instruction, also known as Sri Ramana Darsanam. I paid him a visit. He was an austere man with nothing in his room except for a few loincloths. He blessed me and asked, “What are you doing? Are you practicing Self-Enquiry?”
I replied, “I am not capable of doing Self-Enquiry. I only chant Arunachala Siva, Arunachala Siva.” His face was red with rage. I was taken aback because this was my very first meeting with him and I was accustomed to people indulging me whenever they met me. Not Natanananda! He was a stern and serious man. He raged, “What a fool you are! What do you think you have come to Bhagavan for? For what function has he chosen you? It is only to make you [be] like him! Read his Forty Verses on Reality [Ulladu Narpadu], practice Self-Enquiry, be the truth. That is why you have been chosen!”
I was stunned in disbelief.
I added the word “be” in brackets to the penultimate paragraph of the quotation because without that word, the sentence is ambiguous. This is unfortunate because that sentence states the point of the story, and it’s a very important point. This illustrates one of the reasons why editors are useful. When Ganesan wrote that sentence, he probably didn’t notice the ambiguity because he knew what he intended the sentence to say. In that state of mind, Ganesan (or any writer) looks to see whether the intended meaning is there. But that’s not what an ordinary reader does. The ordinary reader looks to see whatever meaning may be there. Therefore the author often fails to notice alternative meanings that he or she didn’t intend to convey. Only somebody else who didn’t write the sentence sees ambiguities easily. An editor is that “somebody else.”
All writers are susceptible to this phenomenon, although some are better than others at compensating for it. I write these posts without an editor, and God knows how many ambiguous things I write that are invisible to me. You probably know too. 🙂
One of the reasons I bother to discuss this here is that (perhaps surprisingly) it’s a special case of the important moral rule that we should make an effort to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, i.e., we should see things from other people’s points of view. If Ganesan had been able to read that sentence from his reader’s point of view, he would have seen the ambiguity.
I also added the emphasis in the penultimate paragraph.