It is customary to reduce Maharshi’s teaching to Advaita, on the principle of “to understand is to simplify.” It simply never enters the heads of the majority of Maharshi’s admirers that a mystic may not be one-dimensional. In the same way, many seekers find it hard to understand the multidimensionality of the Truth, the different positions and manifestations of which seem mutually exclusive to them. Then their minds begin to protest against the linking of what, from the perspective of their one-dimensional experience, is not linkable, and then the zealous seekers look for the “correct” explanation of those positions of the teaching which cause them misunderstanding and discomfort. This was the case not only with Maharshi; this is the case with almost all Masters and Teachers who consciously do not flatten their message in order that it may be perceived by the flattest minds.
This is how people behaved with Maharshi: everything that he said about God or gods was considered a manifestation of his mercy regarding the latest illiterate Tamil follower who asked him a question. That is to say, an answer which wasn’t about God would not be understood anyway by the hapless Tamil; here the beloved Bhagavan was speaking to him on his level. Indeed, the greater are the egos of the pupils, the greater is the renown of their teacher. It is hard to accept the fact that there are different levels of perception of both God and Reality. It is much easier to concentrate only on one of them, having declared for greater simplicity the aspect of the Truth chosen by you as absolute, final, and the only correct one. And then our beloved Ramana tells stupid people stupid things worthy of them, and to us, the smart and all-comprehending students, he preaches the pure Truth in the form of the Advaita.
There is another approach as to how to simplify and distort the words of the Master. Here is a wonderful example of how this is done, taken by me from the book Guru Vachaka Kovai. In it, the verbal instructions of Ramana are collected, and in fact the text was checked and corrected by Maharshi himself. But people thought this was insufficient, and they made up their own commentary in which they seemingly make the text more understandable.
“512. Despite the fact that non-dual knowledge is difficult to apprehend, the task is eased when the true love for the Feet of the Lord (Shiva) is strong, since then His Grace flows, the Light dispersing ignorance.
513. With love having strengthened in the Heart the Feet of the Lord, it is possible to break the shackles of misconception and thus, having put an end to constraint, to contemplate the true Light of higher knowledge, the flowering of one’s own Heart-lotus.”
And here is how a certain Michael James comments on this excerpt: “Here the readers should recall that in the teachings of Sri Bhagavan, the words “the Feet of the Lord,” “Grace,” and so on mean only the true ‘I.’” That is, in his opinion, Maharshi was either so mysterious, so out of touch, that he could not speak directly about the true “I,” and therefore brings in the God Shiva? But of course, how can a great Advaitist speak of God; after all, this is a violation of the principle of non-duality! And a sin, a terrible sin. Therefore, all words that do not relate to the higher “I,” we will consider as relating to the higher “I,” in order to confuse all meanings, but preserve the bright image of Maharshi, the Advaitist. Meanwhile, the meaning of the above-cited quotation is rather simple – it is very hard (I would say even impossible) to come to non-duality without having received the transforming impulse of God’s Grace. Therefore, through humility and acceptance, through striving toward God, it is possible to receive “the Light dispersing ignorance.” But it is impossible for the Advaitists to accept the presence of the Heart, of love and everything else, because they are obsessed with the idea of non-duality. And that is why the majority of them are not fated to become mystics, nor even real Advaitists, either.
Modern followers of Advaita simply cannot understand that the state of experiencing non-duality is only one of the stages on the Way of interaction with God and knowledge of His Truth. On the Sufi Way, the stage of experiencing non-duality corresponds to the stage of disappearance into God – the stage of internal fana. During it, what is experienced is what the current Advaitists strive for – disappearance of the difference between external and internal, a merging with the endlessness of Being, the absence of distinction between oneself and God, and as a result – the absence of both God and oneself. One whole Being, one common space, without any divisions. But then in Sufism, the stage of internal baqa begins – the acquiring of divine attributes – but the Advaitists have never heard of it and therefore are inclined to consider the non-dual perception of the world as the highest possible achievement for a human. In time, everything degenerates – and Advaita has not become an exception to that rule.