Spiritual Glossary – The Path of Self-Knowledge

Glossary of the biography Ramana Maharshi And The Path Of Self-Knowledgewritten by Arthur Osborne

Abheda  : No-otherness (see bheda).

Adi-Guru  : The ancient or primordial or original Guru.  The Divine Source from which the power of  initiation and guidance descends to a line of  Gurus. An epithet of Sri Shankaracharya and  sometimes also of Dakshinamurti.

Adina-Guru  : The founder of a line of Gurus. Except in the  case of the founder of a new path, initiation  (like ordination) is valid only when given by  one who is duly authorised and whose  authorisation goes back in an unbroken chain  to the founder of his line.

Advaita  : Non-duality, the doctrine that nothing exists apart from the Spirit, but everything is a form assumed by the Spirit Hindus is between the schools of Advaita and Dvaita. The Dvaitists or Dualists worship a Personal God separate from the worshipper.The Advaitists, while recognising the truth of this conception on its own plane, go beyond it to the conception of the Absolute in which a man is absorbed back into That which is his Source and real Self, surviving in the pure Bliss and boundless Consciousness of Being.

Ajnana  : Ignorance. The prefix ‘a’ (as in abheda) is anegative, so the word literally means ‘lack  of knowledge’.

Ananda  : Bliss, beatitude.

Anugraham : Grace.

Ardra Darshan : Ardra (Arudra) literally means ‘wet’. Siva’s birth star is Ardra signifying the Lord’s overflowing compassion for his devotees. Siva granted darshan to Patanjali, Vyaghrapada and others on this day. Hence its importance. Sri Bhagavan was born on the night of this day at 1 a.m. under the star Punarvasu — that is, the star next to Ardra, which was the presiding star during the day. Both the stars are under the constellation of Mithuna (Gemini).

Arunachaleswar : God in the form of Arunachala, a contraction of Arunachala-Iswara.

Ashram : The establishment or colony that grows up around a Sage or Guru; sometimes mistranslated as ‘monastery’.

Ashtavadhana : The ability to attend to eight different matters simultaneously.

Asramam : The Tamil form of ‘ashram’.

Asuric : Diabolical, evil.

Atma or Atman : The Spirit or Self.

Atmaswarupa : Literally the ‘form of the Spirit’; a term used for the universe to indicate that the universe has no intrinsic reality but exists only as a manifestation of the Spirit.

Avatar : An incarnation or manifestation or Vishnu, that is of God as the Preserver and Sustainer of the universe. Within the manvantara or cycle stretching (according to Christian symbolism) from the Earthly Paradise (the state of Adam before the fall) to the Heavenly Jerusalem (the consummation after the second coming of Christ) there are ten Avatars. The seventh is Rama, commemorated in the Ramayana, a Sanskrit epic; the eighth is Krishna, commemorated in the Bhagavad Gita; the ninth is described as the non-Hindu Avatar and is identified as Buddha or Christ or both, the tenth is Kalki, the destroyer of sin with whose coming the Kali Yuga or dark age is to be ended. He is still to come and is equivalent to the second coming of Christ awaited by the Christians and Muslims and the Maitreya Buddha of the Buddhists. Sometimes the term Avatar is used more loosely to indicate a divine manifestation.

Ayurveda : The traditional Hindu system of medicine.

Bhagavad Gita : Literally the ‘Divine Song’ or, more correctly, ‘God-Song’, since ‘Bhagavad’ is a noun used adjectivally. The scripture of Sri Krishna, the eighth Avatar, probably the most widely studied and followed Hindu scripture. It occurs as an episode in the Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata.

Bhagavan : The same word as ‘Bhagavad’ with a different case-ending; the commonly used word for ‘God’. Terms such as Iswara, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva and names for the various aspects of God are more technical or philosophical. In ordinary conversation a man says either ‘Bhagavan’ (God) or ‘Swami’ (the Lord).
The term ‘Bhagavan’ is used by general consent for those few supreme Sages who are recognised as being completely One with God.

Bhakta  : Devotee. Also one who approaches God through love and devotion.

Bhakti-marga  : The approach to God through love and devotion.

Bhakti  : Love or devotion.

Bheda  : Otherness. The difference between bheda and abheda is substantially the same as that between dvaita and advaita. The exponent of bheda regards himself as ‘other than God’, whereas the exponent of abheda regards God as the Absolute or Infinite apart from which there can be no other.

Bhiksha  : An offering of food to the Guru or to a sanyasin. In the case of Bhagavan this came to mean providing an ashram meal, since he would accept nothing that was not shared by all.

Brahma  : Iswara, Personal God, is conceived of under the threefold aspects of Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu, the Preserver, and Siva, the Destroyer. There are temples to Vishnu and Siva but not to Brahma, as man is concerned with God as Preserver or God as Destroyer of forms in the Bliss of Union rather than with God as Creator.

Brahman  : The highest and ultimate conception, the Absolute, about which nothing can be postulated, since any assertion would be a limitation. The first stage in the manifestation of Brahman is Iswara, the Personal God.

Brahmin  : The Hindus were divided traditionally into four castes, of whom the Brahmins were the highest, being devoted to a life of spirituality and study. Next came the Kshatriyas, who were the rulers, warriors and administrators. The Vaishyas were the middle classes and the Shudras the labourers. The castes were not at first exclusively hereditary, but since each caste married within itself, even the law of heredity made them so practically. In course of time they became strictly so and also subdivided into hereditary sub-castes, largely on a professional basis, like mediaeval guilds in Europe. Also they tended to abandon their caste functions and engage in those of other castes. Today caste has little functional meaning. The Indian government is trying to destroy it.

Chakra : The yogic and tantric paths (see marga) unfurl the spirit-force in man (kundalini) from its latency at the base of the spine and cause it to ascend through a series of spiritual centres in the body. Each of these is called a disc or chakra. Each represents a different stage of development which is franchised as the kundalini attains it.

Chela : Disciple.

Chit : Consciousness. (see Satchitananda)

Daivic : God-like or Divine. An English adjectival form from deva, meaning angel or holy spirit.

Dakshinamurti : Siva manifested in ancient times as a youth who taught in silence, initiating and guiding his disciples by direct transmission of the Spirit. He is particularly associated with Arunachala, the centre of silent and purely spiritual initiation and guidance, and therefore also with Sri Bhagavan, who was Siva teaching in silence.

Darshan : Literally ‘sight’. Since one speaks of a holy man giving darshan, it could best be translated as ‘silent audience’. To have darshan of a Sage could be translated as to enjoy the grace of his presence.

Dharma : Harmony, harmonious life or action. Also a man’s role in life, since what is harmonious conduct for one (say, a soldier) may not be so for another (say, a priest).

Dhoti : A white cotton cloth that Hindu men in South India wear. It is wound round the waist and hangs down like a skirt from waist to ankles.

Diksha : Initiation.

Giripradakshina: Pradakshina is the circuit that is made of any holy place, walking round with one’s right side inward, that is from south to west. Giri is a hill; so giripradakshina is used for circuit of Arunachala.

Guru : Spiritual guide or Master. For the various grades of meaning see page 165.

Jnana : Knowledge, Divine Wisdom or Understanding. Spiritual Enlightenment.

Jnana-marga : The Path of Knowledge. This does not mean a path requiring great theoretical elaboration but one based on intuitive knowledge or spiritual understanding (see Marga).

Jnani : A Man of Knowledge. It may be used to mean one who follows the Jnana-marga, but in its correct meaning it is one who has attained complete Enlightenment and is established in the Absolute Knowledge which is liberation from all illusion of duality. It thus means the same as Mukta, the liberated or perfectly realized man.

Iswara  : The Personal God. (see under Brahma)

Japa  : Invocation or incantation.

Jayanthi  : Birthday.

Kali Yuga  : The Dark Age, equivalent to the Iron Age of Graeco-Roman traditions, said to have begun in 3101 B.C. with the Battle of Kurukshetra, that is with the teaching of Sri Krishna recorded in the Bhagavad Gita and to be now approaching its end (see Yuga).

Karma  : The destiny that a man makes for himself by the law of cause and effect. There are three kinds of karma: prarabdha, or that which is to be worked out in this life, sanchitha, or that which existed at the beginning of this life but is held over, and agamya or the new karma which is  accumulated in this life and added to the sanchitha. The law of karma combines  the two theories of predestination and cause  and effect, since a man’s present actions  cause or predestine his future state. Karma also means action. It is sometimes used to mean ritualistic actions performed as a marga or path to salvation. Just as karma is accumulated by a man’s actions and desires, so it can be destroyed by divine love and knowledge and by renunciation of desires. Therefore it is said that karma is like a mountain of gunpowder that can be burnt up by a single spark of Jnana (Divine Knowledge).

Karma-marga : The approach to God through harmonious and disinterested actions, that is, as is said in the Bhagavad Gita, by acting without being attached to the fruits of one’s actions, doing one’s duty simply because  it is one’s duty, not for profit or ambition, and not being deflected from it by fear or favour. This is normally accompanied by ritualistic acts.

Kavyakanta  : One whose speech is like poetry. A brilliant improvisor of poetry.

Krishna  : The eighth Avatar. The Divine Teacher whose doctrine is contained in the Bhagavad Gita.


Lingam : An upright pillar of stone often used to represent Siva or the Absolute on the grounds that any image or idol is limiting and therefore misleading. The word comes from linga, to get absorbed, and the root meaning is ‘that in which all beings are absorbed’.

Maharshi : Maha Rishi, the Great Rishi or Sage. The name is used for one who opens a new path to Realization. It is also a name of Vishnu as the fountain-head of initiation and paths to Realization.

Mahasamadhi : The great or final or complete samadhi or absorption in the Self or Spirit. The term is sometimes used for the physical death of a great Saint, but for the Maharshi even this is inappropriate since he was already in Mahasamadhi while wearing a body, and the body’s death made no difference to him.

Mantapam : A shrine or bare stone hall, with or without the image of a God inside.

Mantra : A sacred formula used as an incantation.

Mantradhyana: Meditation or spiritual awareness induced or supported by the use of incantations.

Marga : Mode of approach in the spiritual quest. Basically, there are three margas: the Jnana­marga, bhakti-marga and karma-marga.

Jnana-marga is the approach through Knowledge or understanding, by which is meant not mental but spiritual knowledge. Physical knowledge is direct, as when you burn your finger and know pain; mental knowledge is indirect, as when you know that fire burns; spiritual knowledge is again direct, though quite different.

Bhakti-marga is the approach through love and devotion to God.

Karma-marga is the approach through harmonious and disinterested activity.

The three margas are not mutually exclusive. There can be no spiritual knowledge without love. Also, love and devotion to God leads to understanding and to Union, which is Knowledge. For activity to be perfectly harmonious and disinterested it must be inspired by love and understanding. Jnana­marga leads to disinterested activity free from the thought: ‘I am the doer of this and should have the praise or reward for it.’

Bhakti-marga leads to dedicated activity, seeing God manifested in all his creatures and serving him by serving them.

Nevertheless, although the margas merge and all lead to the same goal, they start from different points and their methods are different in practice.

Apart from the three basic margas, there are two less direct and more elaborate developments of Bhakti-marga, that is the yogic and tantric paths. They are very far from the teaching of Bhagavan and need not be described here.

Math : A private temple or shrine, something like the chantries of Mediaeval England. Matrubhuteswara: God (Iswara) in the form of the Mother.

Maulvi (Arabic):  A Muslim learned in Islamic doctrine and law. The Islamic equivalent of a pandit.

Moksha  : Liberation or Deliverance. Salvation is generally used in a dualistic sense to mean the salvation of a purified soul in the presence of God; Moksha is used in the complete and ultimate sense of liberation from all ignorance and duality through realization of identity with the Self.

Mouna  : Silence.

Mouna diksha :  Initiation through silence (see pp. 171-2).

Mouni  : One who has taken a vow of silence.

Mount Meru  :
The mountain which, in Hindu mythology, is the Spiritual Centre of the universe. Bhagavan affirmed that Arunachala is Mount Meru.

Mukta  : One who has attained Moksha or Deliverance. One who attains Moksha during the life on earth is sometimes called Jivanmukta, that is ‘Mukta while living’.

Mukti  : Deliverance; the same as Moksha.

Muni  : Sage.

Nataraja  : A name for Siva. Siva in the cosmic dance of creation and destruction of the universe.

Nirvikalpa samadhi: Samadhi in a state of trance, with suspension of the human faculties (see page 45).

Nishkamyakarma: Action without attachment to the outcome, that is without egoism. Action which does not create new karma.

OM : The supreme mantra, representing the substratum of creative sound which sustains the universe. It is written with the three letters AUM but pronounced OM.

Pandit : One learned in the Hindu scriptures, doctrines and law. Sometimes transliterated ‘pundit’.

Paramatman : The Supreme Atma or Spirit. Actually, the word Atma itself is often used in this sense and was so used by Bhagavan.

Parayanam : Singing or chanting.

Pial : A raised platform or stone or concrete couch often built outside a Hindu house or in the porch of it.

Pradakshina : See Giripradakshina.

Prana : Breath or vital force.

Pranayama : Breath-control, either regulating or suspending breathing.

Prarabdha : See karma.

Prarabdhakarma: See karma.

Prasadam : Some object given by the Guru as a vehicle of his Grace. When food is offered to the Guru it is usual for him to return a part of it as prasadam.

Puja : Ritualistic worship.

Pujari : One who performs puja.

Purana : Mythological scriptural story carrying a symbolical meaning.

Purusha : The Spirit. Atma is used in the pure sense of Spirit, whereas Purusha is used more in the masculine sense where Spirit is contrasted or coupled with Substance(Prakriti). In common speech it can be used for ‘man’ or ‘husband’.

Rishi : Sage, literally Seer.