Biographies > Papa Ramdas: Embodiment of the Name

   by Peter Holleran

   "Forget not the central truth that God is seated in your own heart. Don't be disheartened by failures at initial stages. Cultivate the spirit of surrender to the workings of His will in you and outside you, until you have completely surrendered up your ego-sense and have known He is in all and He is all, and you and He are one. Be patient."

   Swami ("Papa") Ramdas (1884-1963) was one of the most beloved saints of modern India. As a child he often played truant from school and was averse to his studies. He was a voracious reader of books on his own, however. After failing to pass his matriculation he went on to take courses in drawing and engraving, and he eventually earned a degree in textile manufacturing. He joined his father-in-law in business but left after refusing to stoop to learning the "tricks of the trade." Ramdas started his own business dyeing fabrics and printing sarees, but not being a businessman at heart the venture failed. In 1908 he married and five years later became the father of a baby girl. His employment fluctuated with extended periods of unemployment: for one reason or another he could not keep a position for very long. Inspired by the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Swami Ram Tirtha, Papa became thoroughly convinced that God alone can give one eternal peace and happiness. The path of pure devotion and self-surrender shone forth for him with an irresistible appeal. Ramdas' sense of dispassion for conventional life grew and he began to chant "Ram" for relief from business and domestic difficulties. When his father taught him the mantra "Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram,” his spiritual fervor increased even more. He added the name “Om” to the beginning mantra and felt its power increase three-fold. He began sleeping only an hour or two a night and eating but one meal a day, the name of "Ram" forever in his lips during al of his activities.

   Soon afterwards, in 1922, after an unsuccessful worldly career, Ramdas left his home and family to becorne a wandering mendicant, without occupation or possessions. He wrote one letter to his wife and another to a friend who absolved him of all his debts. This period of his life is well described in his autobiography In Quest of God. His devotion and vairagya eventually led him to the feet of Ramana Maharshi. Papa Ramdas, in his characteristic third-person manner, spoke of his visit with the sage as recounted by Dilip Kumar Roy in The Mountain Path, 1965:

   “Papa," I said, "would you mind telling us about your final Realization which they call 'Vishvarupa Darshan'?"

   “He readily acquiesced and gave a long description of his burning aspiration and yearning which had led him to Arunachala Hill, hallowed by the tapas of the peerless saint Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. I can give here only the gist of his long narration...”

   “One day the kind Sadhuram took Ramdas for the darshan of a famous saint Sri Ramana Maharshi. His ashram was at the foot of  Arunachala. It was a thatched shed. Both the visitors entered the ashram and, meeting the saint, fell prostrate at his holy feet.

   “It was really a blessed place where the great Bhagavan Ramana lived. He was young then but there was on the face of  calmness and in his large eyes a passionless look of tenderness which cast a spell of peace and joy on all those who came to him. Ramdas was informed that the saint knew English, so he addressed Ramana thus: “Maharaj, here stands before thee a humble slave. Have pity on him. His only prayer to thee is to give him thy blessing.”

   “The Maharshi turned his beautiful eyes towards Ramdas and looked intently for a few minutes into his eyes as though he was pouring into Ramdas his blessing through those orbs, then shook his head to say he had blessed. A thrill of inexpressible joy coursed through the frame of Ramdas, his whole body  quivering, like a leaf in the breeze.”

   “Now at the prompting of Lord Rama, Ramdas desired to remain in solitude for some time. Sadhuram was ever ready to fulfil his wishes. Losing no time, he took Ramdas up the mountain behind the great temple. Climbing high up he showed him many caves. Of these, one small cave was selected for Ramdas, which he occupied next day. In this cave he lived for nearly a month in deep meditation of Ram. This was the first time he was taken by Ram into solitude for his bhajan. Now he felt most blissful sensations since he could hold undisturbed communion with Ram. He was actually rolling in a sea of indescribable happiness. To fix the mind on that fountain of bliss, Ram, means, to experience pure joy … He went on taking the Name (Ram) in an ecstasy of longing when, lo, suddenly his Lord Rama … appeared before him and danced and danced.”

   “Did you see Lord Rama with closed eyes or open?” I interjected.

   “With open eyes, as Ramdas is seeing you,” Papa answered. “But it was not this momentary vision that Ramdas’s heart craved. For he knew that a vision like this, was unlikely to last and so, when the Lord would vanish, Ramdas would revert to his darkness. Therefore he prayed for the great darshan, the Vision of visions, which comes to stay for ever so there is no more parting, namely the Vishvarupa Darshan, longing to see Rama always in everything; that is nothing less would satisfy Ramdas.”

   “Papa paused and then resumed with a beatific smile: “And it came one morning and the entire landscape changed: All was Rama, nothing but Rama – wherever Ramdas looked! Everything was permeated by Rama -vivid, marvellous, rapturous – the trees, the shrubs, the ants, the cows, the cats, the dogs – even inanimate things pulsated with the marvelous presence of the one Rama. And Ramdas danced in joy, like a boy who, when given a lovely present, can’t help breaking out into a dance.”

   “And so it was with Ramdas: he danced with joy and rushed at a tree in front, which he embraced because it was not a tree but Rama Himself! A man was passing by, Ramdas ran towards him and embraced him, calling out: ‘Rama, O Rama!’ The man got scared and bolted. But Ramdas gave him chase and dragged him back to his cave. The man noted that Ramdas had not a tooth in his head and so felt a little reassured: at least the loony would not be able to bite him!”

   “Papa laughed out and we swelled the chorus.

   “And then?” I asked, after the laughter had subsided.

   "Papa said,”The bliss and joy came to be permanent, like a torrent rushing downhill till it finds a placid level of limpid purling stream. This experience is called sahaja samadhi, in which you can never be cut off from the consciousness of being at one with the One who has become all, in which you feel you are one with all because you have perceived that all is He, the One-without-a-second.”

   “Finally we end with a comment made by Swami Ramdas – about forty years later.

   “Ramdas went to Ramana Maharshi in a state of complete obliviousness of the world. He felt thrills of ecstasy in his presence. The Maharshi made the awakening permanent in Ramdas.”

   “Some people told Ramdas: “You went to Maharshi and you got illumination. Give us illumination like that.”

   “Ramdas said, “You must come to Ramdas in the same spirit and in the same state as he went to Maharshi. Then you will also get it. Where was his heart? How intense was his longing? What was the world to him at that time ? If you come in that state it is all right.”

   One year after his meeting with Ramana, according to Ramdas, an absorption experience of nirvikalpa samadhi near Mangalore fully erased his personal identity, so that only Oneness prevailed. He went in and out of this state for some years until it became fully stabilized. His writings give the impression that he realized the permanent condition of Sahaj, the 'natural state', but this is not clear. Ramdas was not a philosopher, but a bhakta. He did say, however, "the only thing a man must renounce if he wishes to attain the Supreme Truth is the notion of individuality - nothing else."

   His great devotion and gratitude to Ramana is clear in this beautiful poem he wrote. He further taught:

   "One kind of samadhi consists in sitting down in a definite posture and, by meditation, merging oneself in the Infinite, entirely forgetful of the world outside. But one should not be satisfied merely by attaining the condition for oneself. One must impart the knowledge of it to humanity. This, one can do by moving in the world, realizing it to be the lila of God - in which all things and creatures are only forms assumed by God in His world-play...This realization which occurs when the ego is entirely obliterated constitutes the state of the other kind of samadhi.”

   “The former one is necessary for attaining this one. Realize God as love and the universe as God. Realize God both with form and without form and with and without attributes. Formless God without attributes is inexpressible. Formless God with attributes is Love, Light, Bliss, Truth, Wisdom and Consciousness. God with form is the universe and all in it."

   As his reknown expanded an ashram was formed in 1931 that is still in existence today.

   In practice Ramdas taught his disciples the path of devotional surrender to God accompanied by the repetition of the name of Ram, of which he was the living example. Perhaps only Papaji repeated the name of his chosen ideal for a longer period (twenty-five years) than Ramdas did prior to attaining realization through Ramana’s grace. For Ramdas, repetition of the Name was the most potent method for realizing God. He knew it was not the way for all, yet he said that even following some other way, the mantra can be used "as a fan to make the flame burn brighter" :

   "People do not know what the Name of God can do. Those who repeat it constantly alone know its power. It can purify our mind completely. No other sadhana can do that. While the other sadhanas can take us only to a certain stage, the Name can take us to the summit of spiritual experience.”

   To Ramdas nama-japa was not an isolated technique, however, but a central part of a comprehensive life of spiritual discipline. "It is not sufficient if you simply repeat the name of Ram," he said, "you must also be kind and loving to all." (4)

   One must "see Ram in all objects and things," and "undergo all difficulties and sorrows in a spirit of resignation and renunciation." (5) Further, "Ramdas does not want anybody to lead only a contemplative life. They must serve their fellow beings in a spirit of perfect selflessness in order to relieve their distress." (6) He also recommended a host of traditional observances, such as minimization of food, speech, and sleep, the cultivation of strict chastity (brahmacharya), elimination of all desires, and the avoidance of worldly associations. One need also be willing to weep and cry bitterly to God for the removal of obstacles that prevent one's receptivity to divine grace.

   Nevertheless, mantra-japa is a time-honored practice. Exactly what is it that makes it effective? One reason is in its potential to concentrate the mind, to slow it down and have it occupied, so to say, with only one thought instead of the thousands that it usually is plagued by (!) , and thereby creating the instrument of quiet mind capable of either deep concentration, discernment or enquiry into subtle truths and states of consciousness. Swami Rama further states:

   "The Svetesvatara [Upanishad] declares that the sages of ancient lore received these sounds in profound meditation and contemplation...The sounds are like seeds which contain all the potentials to become manifest. I sow a seed in the soil which you are, your job is to allow the seed to grow by nurturing it, that is, remembering it. Fifth percent of the work is the tradition's job, fifty percent is your job,"

   "Mantra is representative of the ultimate reality, it introduces you, no, it leads you, to the soundless sound, the very foundation of love and life. For all things in the universe have come from sound, even light. To grow into this state, you also need to embrace two qualities described in the scriptures. First, develop devotion to practice itself, abhaysa. Second, foster the attitude of non-attachment, "

   "Many things will come up in your meditation as they do in the world. Along the way, you will get hunches, ideas, symbols, fantasies often mixed together in your mind. You must stay centered in your mantra and go beyond name and form to the silence."

   "The sacred sounds of mantras are eternal; they are not invented and unless the initiator is truly linked with a living tradition, then any mantras dispersed are impotent."

   The name as a representation of sound in the lineage of the Sant Mat or the Kriya lineage of Paramhansa Yogananda will eventually resolve into transcendental sound or shabda-brahman, also acknowledged by Anandamayi-ma and other saints, which inner sounds will lead one to the greater Silence deep within and also a form of sahaja without.

   Ramdas made no bones of the fact that he was a vishista-advaitin, in other words, one who believed in maintaining duality so he could remain distinct from God and enjoy the worship of him. While he sometimes spoke advaita, he said it was better to joyously embody dvaita, or duality within unity, than a dry and pedantic non-dualism:

   Papa: Ramdas is not a pure advaitin. He believes in the co-existence of dvaita and advaita. The jivanmukta retains a higher subtle individuality; he moves about and acts in the world realising that he and God are one. Ramdas in this body is active in doing things. Whatever he may do, he is at the same time conscious that he is the eternal and all-pervading Reality. So, in that state there is separation and unity simultaneously."
   S.: Is there no state when the jivanmukta can lose his individuality in the One and be free of birth?
   Papa: That is possible. That is what the jnanis do. They do not believe in the existence of a higher individuality at all. As soon as the lower individuality is dissolved, they cease to exist as separate entities. There cannot be any rebirth for them. Adi Sankaracharya was one of that type.” (8)

   He may or may not have been aware that there is some debate over whether Sankara was actually a strict Advaitin or a lover of Krishna. Although known chiefly for the philosophy of non-dualism, Sankara built many shrines to the Divine Mother and produced a volumn of devotional poetry that comes close to exceeding that of his spiritual philosophy:

   "Adore the Lord, adore the Lord, O fool! When the appointed time (for departure) comes, the repetition of grammatical rules will not, indeed, save you." (9)

   He also said:

   "Among the contributary factors of liberation, devotion stands supreme, and it is the search for one's own true nature that is meant by devotion."

   And from his final message to a disciple in his Vivekachudamuni ("The Crest Jewel of Discrimination"):

   “Gurus and scriptures can stimulate spiritual awareness, but one crosses the ocean of ignorance only by direct illumination, through the grace of God.” (10)

   The case has been made by Vedantins that Sankara created the concept of higher and lower Brahman, and bhakti worship of a personal God, solely as a concession to the common folk; yet, on the other hand, there are those who maintain that Sankara was really a worshipper of Krishna himself, with the concept of an impersonal Brahman and the doctrine of maya taught only to drive out the 'atheistic' Buddhists. This alternate view holds that Sankara as a Krishna devotee really believed that the impersonal Brahman was only the outer effulgence of Bhagavan, the Supreme Person of God as the Vedas had taught, rather than the other way around. This debate has been raging for over a thousand years. Ramanuja and Chaitanya, both sages - the latter a great siddha who won many debates with the Buddhists of his time - refuted Sankara's mayavadin doctrine and propounded the teaching that absolute God was not the impersonal Brahman but the Supreme Person of the Vedas, with Brahman its attribute and the soul an eternal individual.


   Above all else, Ramdas affirmed the necessity for one to accept a human Guru:

   "God Himself comes in the form of the Guru to liberate you. lt is said that even God cannot grant Moksha, but only the Guru can. To give Moksha is the right of the Guru." (11)

   Even the Name gets its power from the Guru, and without his grace its effectiveness is limited:

   "When you get the Name from your Guru, the effect of it on the mind is marvellous. Guru infuses into the Name, when he gives it, his own spiritual power. In other words, he transmits his power through the mantra to the disciple." (12)

   The progression of events in the spiritual process was, for Ramdas:

   "First, the repetition of Ram's name; then the realization of his presence in all things and beings; lastly the state of samadhi, in which names and forms are dropped - a state of bliss and peace - and the Eternal is attained." (13)

   In the last two stages of this progression the mental vehicle must obviously be stilled and resolved into its source, and thus a means other than japa must enter the picture. Therefore, the use of the Name may only be useful up to a certain stage, even by Swami Ramdas' own admission. Further, while we can not know for certain, the stage of sahaja beyond the state of inner samadhi, where inner and outer are reconciled in a non-dual realization of the “natural state,” is not clear from Ramdas’ confession, which was one of “seeing God everywhere”. In itself this is a stage of devotional joy. However, his statement that “formless God with attributes is Love, Light, Bliss, Truth, Wisdom and Consciousness,” speaks of a very high state. (14) [It is not, however, exactly like the view of Ramanuja and Chaitanya suggested above, in that Ramdas does not seem to make a clean break with Sankara but only a provisional one: he essentially admits that Brahman without attributes is higher than Brahman with attributes, but was not entirely comfortable with the situation!].

   On the outward indication of a man of God, Ramdas said:

   “The signs of a man who has realized the Truth are six: (1) He is conscious that he is immortal, not subject to birth, growth, decay and death. This knowledge abides with him at all times. (2) He has no fears. Fear comes only when we think we are the body. When we know we are the Immortal Spirit, then fear leaves us automatically. (3) The sense of sin is absent in him. (4) He feels he is reborn in the Spirit and a new life has dawned in which there is only Peace, Bliss and Immortality. (5) He has no reason to be unhappy on any account. Bliss will be pouring out of him. (6) He attracts everybody towards him. He is ever gentle, cheerful, loving and smiling.”

   "He qualified his statement thus: “This is only the external sign. The other five signs are known to him only.”

   Ramdas had the habit of referring to himself in the third person, saying "Ramdas recommends this," "Ramdas believes that," "Ramdas observes this," etc. He was a God-intoxicated saint who spoke from the heart with ecstatic speech. Curiously enough, Rarndas was fond of reading detective stories in his afternoon rest period. In this he was similar to Swami Rudrananda who enjoyed reading Agatha Christie novels. Free of the inner self and its accompanying mortal seriousness, to Ramdas the world was divine play.

   Ramdas was a skillful and well-respected master. It was said of him that "Ramdas plays football with the planets." Some of his well known disciples includes Mataji Krishnabai, Swami Satchidananda, Swami Mudrananda and Yogi Ramsuratkumar (nice story of this reknown yogi-saint here).

   A wonderful biography of Swami Ramdas by his disciple Swami Satchidananda, concise and full of devotion, is a welcome accompaniment to this one.


   “The liberation and peace of an individual is surely based upon his or her contribution towards the collective human happiness and harmony.”


1. Dilip Kumar Roy, The Flute Calls Still (Poona : I. Niloy, (1964); also: The Mountain Path, Jan. 1965
2. Swami Ramdas, At the Feet of God (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1977), p. 52
3. Swami Ramdas, World is God (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1967), p. 162
4. Swami Ramdas, At the Feet of God, op. cit., p. 55
5. Ibid, p. 50
6. Swami Ramdas, World is God, op. cit., p. 51
7. Justin O'Brien, Walking with a Himalayan Master (St. Paul. MN: Yes International Publishers, 1998, 2005), p. 275-276
8. Swami Satchidananda, “My Beloved Papa, Swami Ramdas” (anandashram)
9. T.M.P. Mahadevan, The Hymns of Sankara, (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1986)
10. The authorship of the Vivekachudamuni has been disputed, with many scholars attributing to it a later date. 11. Swami Ramdas, World Is God, op. cit., p. 180
12. Ibid, p. 31
13. Swami Ramdas, At the Feet of God, op. cit., p. 49
14. Compare this with Swami Nikhilinanda's advaitic statement:

   "Samadhi is the last word of the Yoga mystics. According to Gaudapada [the teacher of Sankara's guru] this is an obstacle to the realization of truth. The seeking of pleasure in Samadhi shows an exhaustion of the inquiring mind. It is because the Yogis look upon mind as separate from Atman, that they seek to control it in Samadhi. But Gaudapada says that the mind is the non-dual Atman. Therefore there does not arise any question of controlling it. The mind and its activities are nothing but non-dual Brahman, ever-pure, ever-free and ever-illumined. It is only due to ignorance that one perceives the duality of the subject-object relationship in the activities of the mind. But a knower of truth perceives everywhere and in all activities only the non-dual Brahman...The Vedantic Samadhi does not signify the realization of Truth with closed eyes. It means the vision of Truth with eyes open on every object. A Vedantist thus describes the Samadhi: 'With the disappearance of the attachment of the body and with the realization of the Supreme Self, to whatever object the mind is directed, one experiences Samadhi.' "

   (Swami Nikhilinanda, trans., The Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada's Karika and Sankara's Commentary (Kolkata, India: Advaita Ashram, 2010), p. xix-xx)

   [We have already raised the possibility of other views than advaita vedanta being the final view of the great Sankara. Also see Why Did Sankara Speak - and Think - So Much? on this website].

15. Roy, op. cit., p.