[Advaita-l] The Jnani's feeling of physical pain

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Tue Sep 21 02:26:03 CDT 2010

Srigurubhyo namaH

The lives of Jnanis is replete with instances where there is occasion for a
jnani to undergo suffering, as a part of prarabdha bhoga, in the form of
disease of the body.  Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa's throat cancer and
Bhagavan Ramana's tumour of the hand are some popular examples.  A question
arises as to whether they experience pain at all and how they remain
unperturbed mentally in the face of the undisputably great pain/trauma the
disease causes.  Here is a short study of an episode pertaining to Bhagavan
Ramana's tumour in the light of what scripture and Shankara have said on the
topic of the Jnani's pain and his attitude to the pain.

One may study the Bhagavad gita 4.22 and the bhashya too.  Some of the
points to be noted in this connection are:

1.    The doership, kartRtva, of the Jnani is what is superimposed on him by
the loukika-s, uninitiated.  He does not say anywhere that the actions
themselves, karma, are so superimposed by the ignorant.

2.    In this bhashya Shankara comments for the word: dvandvAteetaH thus:
dvandvaiH sheetoShNAdibhiH hanyamAno api aviShaNNa-chittaH .  This
means: //Dvandva-atitah,having
transcended the dualities-one is said to be beyond dualities when his mind
is not distressed even when afflicted by such opposites as heat and cold,

3.    This ability of the Jnani, to remain undistressed in the face of the
afflictions is impossible unless the affliction is felt, perceived, first of
all, through the appropriate indriya, the sparshendriya, the skin.  While a
stone, a log of wood and a living human are all exposed to heat and cold
alike, the scripture credits only the man of wisdom with the virtue of
equanimity only because he is able to feel the afflictions and yet remain

4.    Shankaracharya has given an extreme example of the Yogi/Jnani
remaining unaffected even in the event of being hit by a lethal weapon (BGB
6. 22) ‘shastrapAtAdi …mahataa .duHkhena..     This teaching will be of no
power unless it is admitted, as Lord Krishna and Shankara have, that the
Jnani basically feels the pain, thru the sense organ of touch, skin.

5.    It is the nature of the sense organ, if it is not defective, to feel
the pain / heat / cold /input.  It is the greatness of the sadhana of the
Jnani that the mind remains calm.

6.    This teaching of the Jnani Tattva by Shankara based on the Lord’s
teaching finds complete application / verification in this incident of
Bhagavan’s Ramana’s life.  Although many incidents from the lives of Jnani-s
corroborate the ShAnkaran teaching about the jnani tattva, this one incident
is presented here as a representative sample:

This is the conversation between Bhagavan and a disciple in the presence of
Dr.Karamchandani, the physician who attended Bhagavan when HIS body was
suffering from cancer.

"The tumour that Bhagavan was bearing must have given him the most
excruciating, nerve wracking pain. Such writhing pain would make the
toughest man wince and moan. But Bhagavan's face was serene, smiling and
radiant. All of a sudden a disciple accidentally touched only the fringe of
the thin bandage that was covering Bhagavan's tumour.  *Bhagavan gave an
involuntary start.* The disciple felt bewildered and mumbled, “Bhagavan, did
I hurt you? It was only the fringe of the bandage that my hand touched.”
Bhagavan smiled his benign smile and softly said, “You do not know the
enormous weight as of a mountain that this fringe bears!” That chance
exclamation of Bhagavan indicated the severity of his pain. But his godly
face did not bear the slightest sign of his agony. It reflected only joy and
peace. He seemed to have switched off his mind from the body to the divine."

This report brings to the fore the following:

   - The Jnani feels and reacts to pain.  This is known from Bhagavan’s
   reaction.  Before the attendant’s accidental touch of the fringe of the
   bandage there was no ‘involuntary start’ from Bhagavan.  This is the
   vyatireka.  When the fringe was touched Bhagavan gave that involuntary
   start that left the attendant bewildered.  This is the anvaya.  By this
   anvaya-vyatireka logic it is established that the hand to which the bandage
   was attached consists of the pain-sensing sense organ of touch.  And that
   this organ was perfectly working in the Jnani Bhagavan’s body.  Bhagavan
   even acknowledges the fact that the touch did cause him pain. This proves
   Shankaracharya’s statement in the above quoted Gita 4.22 bhashya: the Jnani
   is afflicted by pain and pleasure (heat and cold).
   - That Bhagavan remained unperturbed mentally is brought out in that
   incident. What Shankara has said ‘anirviNNa chittaH’ is demonstrated in
   Bhagavan’s above incident.
   - The pain-feeling-mind-remaining- calm feature of the Jnani tattvam is
   eminently brought out in this incident.
   - Shankara’s teaching of the ‘loukika-s superimposing the kartRtva on the
   jnani’s action,which can legitimately be extended to cover its counterpart,
   bhoktRtva, is also proved in this clarification of Bhagavan Ramana:
   - On 2.8.1939, Sri Annamalai Swami himself asked Bhagavan Ramana:
   "Bhagavan! You have said that once a person abides in Jnana, he
   has no three karmas, Prarabdha, Agami and Sanchita. But Kaivalya
   Navaneetam says that even a Jnani has to undergo the effects of
   Prarabhda. How is it?"
   Bhagavan Ramana replied:
   "Since Prarabdha has been declared to a person even before his
   attaining Jnana, the onlookers say that a Jnani should also undergo
   the effects of Prarabdha. There are several examples given in
   1. Like an arrow that had left the bow upon a direction.
   The arrow will hit even a cow in place of a tiger, even though the cow
   was not at all to be injured.
   2. Like an electric fan, which revolves a few rotations, even after the
   electric connection is switched off.
   3. The burnt rope also looks like a good rope, but is not useful.
   4. Even the trunk of the tree which remains after being cut off,
   looks green but will not grow.
   5. The roasted seeds look like any other seeds, but will not grow
   when planted on the soil.

   "The Jnani's Prarabdha is also like these five examples. In Jnani's
   look, there is no prarabdha for him, but onlookers observe that he
   is experiencing prarabdha."

   (Source: Sri Ramana Ninaivugal, Sri Annamalai Swami.
   Sri Annamlai Swami Asramam, Palakottu, Tiruvannamalai.)
   - This last comment of Bhagavan about the ‘Jnani’s look’ and the
   ‘onlookers’ observation’ is what is discriminated between by Shankara in BGB
   4.22 as: The Jnani knows that he (Self) does not perform any actions even as
   the loukika-s superimpose kartRtvam (bhoktRtvam) on him.
   - Even this comment of Shankara finds complete correspondence /
   verification in Bhagavan’s ‘tumor’ phase.  When someone (Palaniswamy?),
   not able to stand the sight of the pain Ramana was bearing, wept and ran out
   of that room, Ramana said to those remaining: ''When will he realize that
   this pain is not for Me (the Self)?'' .  Thus Ramana is exactly echoing
   Shankara’s teaching:  The Self does not undergo any experience but the
   body-aggregate undergoes all kinds of experiences and that the uninitiated
   who do not have any idea of the discrimination between the Self and the
   not-self think that the person there is undergoing the 'bhoga', experience.

   - Shankara has given a comprehensive manner of the Jnani’s realization in
   the BSB: pUrva siddha kartRtva bhoktRtva vipareetam hi akartRtva abhoktRtva
   svarUpam brahma aham asmi.  Na itaH pUrvam kartA bhoktA vaa aham aasam. na
   idaaneem, nApi bhaviShyatkAle iti brahmavid avagacchati.
   - The gist of the above quote is: Formerly one *thought* that doership
   and enjoyer/experincer ship belonged to oneself.  Upon Self-realization
   one *knows * that the Self is not the doer/experience in all the three
   periods of time.

Om Tat Sat

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