Prof. R.D. Ranade’s Philosophy of Rational Mysticism and morphic spiritual experiences. Guest Post by Charuta Kulkarni

Prof. R. D. Ranade, was a Mystic Philosopher, devoutly called ‘Gurudev’ by his disciples and followers. Born on July 3, 1886, at Jamkhandi village in Karnataka State of South India, Ramachandra Dattatray Ranade had theistic beliefs since childhood. In the year 1901, he was initiated by his Sadguru (Spiritual teacher) Sri. Bhausaheb Maharaj Umadikar of the Nimbargi sect in Karnataka. The peculiarity of this sect is that the Sadguru, a self-realized person in all aspects, grants a Sabeej-Mantra (the divine name) to his disciples to meditate upon. The word ‘Sabeej’ literally meaning a budding seed, is very indicative of the genesis of mystical experiences.

One can make out from Prof. Ranade’s writing that, his was not merely an armchair philosophy but verily a life-lived practice. In the preface of A Constructive Survey of Upanishadic Philosophy, he writes, ‘it would be a problem for the Philosophy of the Immediate Future to place Mysticism on a truly philosophical basis.’ Thus, the term ‘Rational Mysticism’ was brought into the stream of contemporary thought by him, which is not a contradiction in terms but a truism.[1].

In his scheme of thought, a complete self-realization with a sublime vision of the spirit is the raison d’être of man’s life. In the mystical knowledge of the Self, all the pramāṇas coalesce into one pramāṇa of ‘experience.’ That is why Rational Mysticism is the ‘experience acceptable to the reason’ as Prof. Ranade calls it. He emphasized two things namely, the loving contemplation on the name of God imparted to the disciple by the Sadguru, without letting a single breath go in vain and the divine grace. The grace of the Sadguru transpires from God, as Saints and Mystics of the divine community tell us. This fructifies into the Self-illumination of every God-aspirant. The book A Constructive Survey of Upanishadic Philosophy witnesses glorious mystical experiences of upanishadic seers from the last 6000 years. Kathopaniśad advises that “In every inhale and exhale one should remember God.”

ūrdhvaṃ prāṇam unnayati apānaṃ pratyag asyati /
madhye vāmanam āsīnaṃ viśve devā upāsate // (Kaṭhopaniṣad, 5.3.2)

Meaning- Between the upgoing breath and the downcoming breath there is a beautiful or dwarfish God, whom all the Gods adore.’

What are exactly spiritual experiences?
William James and his popular book Variety of Religious Experiences, wielded great influence on Prof. Ranade and he reconciled the phenomenal and noumenal elements of human experience, showing Man simultaneously to be a denizen of two worlds-one human and one divine. He had particularly selected devotional songs of Indian Saints in his book series of Pathway to God in Marathi, Hindi and Kannada literature respectively, which upholds his philosophical outcome. In the last one, he generously talks about yogic, biological, neurological, and psychological processes behind the experiences of morphic, phonic, photic, chromatic or colorist, motor, tactile, flavourist, odourist nature and those of conversation as well; which occur separately or collectively depending upon the temperament of God aspirant.

In a Presidential Address delivered at the 13th session of the Indian Philosophical Congress held at Nagpur in Dec. 1937, Prof. Ranade emphasized ‘how the recent discoveries in modern Physics, Biology, Neurology and so forth tend to prove that the spirit is the only reality, and how western thought can be brought in harmony with the conclusions of the great Indian sages and Philosophers.'[2] I have considered a passage from this brief extract where Prof. Ranade explained that the mystical experiences of some Indian saints have a biological basis too, based on Hans Driesch’s experiments in embryology.

Ranade_EF corrected

“Roux had disbelieved in the autonomy of life based on his experiment consisting in the destruction of one of the two cleavage-cells of a frog’s egg immediately after the first cleavage had been completed, because, he said, in such cases, the remaining cell develops only the left or the right side of the embryo. Driesch approaches this problem by a different method, based on his experiments on the sea-urchin’s egg, where the remaining cleavage-cell develops not half of the embryo but a complete embryo of half the size…From his experiments, Driesch concluded that life is an autonomous principle, which he calls the “entelechy.” Disarrange a part of a sea-urchin’s egg, and it will tight itself…take only a fragment and it will develop a complete embryo…Driesch suggests that in the case of the higher animals, and especially in man, it may be called a “psychoid.” (Ranade, 2013)

Ranade_EF corrected

Prof. Ranade’s other remarkable contribution to Philosophy is of the word that he coined as ‘Spiriton’ from this principle. This ‘Spiriton’ corresponds to the term ‘Biṇdulé’ (bin-duh lay) used frequently by Maharashtrian saints.

Morphic Experiences:

In line with what Prof. Ranade says in Pathway to God in Marathi Literature, the Maharashtrian Saint ‘Tukārāma was a photic as well as an audible mystic like all other great mystics in the world’[3]. In one of the devotional poems Saint Tukārāma writes that, Tilāituké hé Bindulé, téné tribhuvana koṇdātalé| Meaning, one tiny spiritual atom encompasses the entire universe. Prof. Ranade advocated that, to be able to identify ‘Biṇdulé’ visually is a kind of morphic experience, that marks the commencement of one’s spiritual life. It is believed to be the cause of the creation of the universe.

Ranade elaborates further as, this vision of ‘Biṇdulé’ is closely associated with the mental state of the Seer. The spiritual object will be steady and continuous if the seer is committed devotionally. Yogic scholars and practitioners significantly talk on Prānāyāma and Trāṭaka as ways to focus a mind on a certain object. Prof. Ranade states that ‘you must look at either tip or top of the nose (nāsikāgradṛṣṭi) to visualize the Bindu, but immediately he asserts that one need not necessarily fix his vision upon either of this, yet Biṇdulé and spiritual forms are experienced. The vision must be directed to the spiritual object but not physiologically. In his words, ‘any kind of poise of the brain and the eyes, in which you can concentrate your attention, is Mudra.’[4] Keeping the vision fixed at the nose tip intends to draw the mind away from sensory perception, although mystical experiences are sui generis and cannot be given by Āsanas alone.
Further to this Prof. Ranade highlights that only keeping one’s position steady and stationary is advisable while sitting for meditation. In the beginning, a God aspirant or sādhaka may need to fix his vision at the nose tip but progressively as the form of the vision gets steady in front of his eyes, he can side with these physiological ends. In Pathway to God in Kannada Literature he further adds to it that the Biṇdulé will be seen wherever he casts his sight.
A seer gets a microscopic vision of Spiritons when he looks at his nose tip and the same Spiritons are enlarged like a telescopic view when seen in an open sky. Prof. Ranade affirms that the ‘black spot’ or ‘Biṇdulé is visible on dark background as well. Physicists consider ‘darkness’ as the ‘excess of light’. This reminds us of Plato, saying that, light is the shadow of God.

There are various kinds of experiences that Prof. Ranade talks about; some which will be discussed in subsequent posts.

[1] Ranade, R. D. (2003, Fourth Edition) A Constructive Survey of Upanishadic Philosophy, Preface.
[2] Ranade, R. D. (2013) Philosophical and other essays, Pg. 113.
[3] Ranade, R. D. (2015, Second Edition) Pathway to God in Marathi Literature, Pg.393.
[4] Ranade, R. D. (2003). Pathway to God in Kannada Literature, Pg. 107.

[Minor edits in the Sanskrit by EF]

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog: elisafreschi.com, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

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