Ramana Maharshi cleared their doubts:
An actor dresses, acts and feels the role which he plays, but he knows that in real life, he is not that role but someone else. The fact that the actor knows who he truly is, does not obstruct him playing his role well. In the same way, remaining in the Self will not be an obstruction to fulfil one’s duties with care.
Ramana took the analogy even further: in the same way, as the role of an actor is determined, so are the actions of a body. Does this mean the individual has no free will? He clarified: As long as one considers oneself to be an individual person, one has free will and has to use it well – and this concerns probably all of us. On the other hand, Ramana claimed, “the purpose of one’s birth will be fulfilled whether you will it or not.” And then intriguingly added: “Let the purpose fulfil itself.”
If this sounds confusing, he once explained that the whole discussion about free will is basically irrelevant, and gave an analogy of his times: people listen to a song from a radio. Then they discuss whether the person sitting in the radio can sing as he wants or whether he has to sing as the radio station decides….
Well, only small children will believe there is a person in the radio. There is no person. Similarly, there is only the one Consciousness, Atman, that shines through each person. So when there is in truth no separate individual, the question whether this individual has free will is indeed irrelevant.
Ramana Maharshi was once asked, whether he thinks. He replied that usually he does not think. “But I see you talk to people”, the questioner persisted. “When I talk, of course, I think. But usually I don’t”, he replied. “And I see you read newspaper”, the questioning continued. “When I read newspaper, I think, but normally I don’t”, Ramana answered.
The issue is basically for the ego with its myriad thoughts and feelings to get out of the way for Atman to shine through. How much light of Atman comes through in each bodily form depends mainly on the degree of egolessness. In some persons, the light is dim, in others bright.
Ramana Maharshi was certainly one of those rare cases through whom the light shone brightly. He did not identify with the body and was not compelled to think incessantly.
Shortly before he died he said, “People say that I am going. Where can I go? I am always here.” By ‘here’ he surely did not mean the place at the foot of Arunachala and by ‘I’ not to the person known as Ramana Maharshi.
By Maria Wirth