Parable told by Maharshi
I liked this parable and teaching from Ramana Maharshi that is
touching and funny. It is also a profound statement about the veil
of ignorance. It starts from a question being asked to Ramana
Maharshi and he answers with a parable.
Not having realized the Truth that the Self alone exists, should I
not adopt bhakti(devotion) and yoga-margas(yogic paths) as being more
suitable for purposes of sadhana(spiritual practice) than vichara
marga(path of inquiry)? Is not the realization of one's absolute
Being that is, Brahma-jnana(realization of one's absolute being)
something quite unattainable to a layman like me?
Brahma-jnana is not a knowledge to be acquired, so that acquiring it
one may obtain happiness. It is one's ignorant outlook that one
should give up. The Self you seek to know is verily yourself. Your
supposed ignorance causes you needless grief, like that of the ten
foolish men who grieved the "loss" of the tenth man who was never
The ten foolish men in the parable forded a stream and on
reaching the other shore wanted to make sure that all of them had in
fact safely crossed the stream. One of the ten began to count, but
while counting the others he left himself out. "I see only nine;
sure enough, we have lost one. Who can it be?" he said. "Did you
count correctly?" asked another, and did the counting himself. But
he too counted only nine. One after the other, each of the ten
counted only nine, missing himself. "We are only nine," they all
agreed, "but who is the missing one?", they asked themselves. Every
effort they made to discover the "missing" individual
failed. "Whoever he be that is drowned," and the most sentimental of
the ten fools, "we have lost him." So saying, he burst into tears,
and the rest of the nine followed suit.
Seeing them, weeping on the river bank, a sympathetic
wayfarer inquired for the cause. They related what had happened and
said that even after counting themselves several times they could
find no more than nine. On hearing the story, but seeing all the
ten before him, the wayfarer guessed what had happened. In order to
make them know for themselves that they were really ten, that all of
them had come safe from the crossing, he told them, "Let each of you
count for himself one after the other serially, one, two, three and
so on, while I shall give you each a blow so that all of you may be
sure of having been included in the count, and included only once.
The tenth 'missing' man will then be found." Hearing this, they
rejoiced at the prospect of finding their "lost" comrade and accepted
the method suggested by the wayfarer.
While the kind wayfarer gave a blow to each of the ten in
turn, he that got the blow counted himself aloud. "Ten," said the
last man as he got the last blow in his turn. Bewildered, they looked
at one another. "We are ten," they said with one voice and thanked
the wayfarer for having removed their grief.
That is the parable. From where was the tenth man brought
in? Was he ever lost? By knowing that he had been there all the
while, did they learn anything new? The cause of their grief was not
the real loss of any one of the ten; it was their own ignorance,
rather their mere supposition that one of them was lost (though they
could not find who he was) because they counted only nine.
Such is also the case with you. Truly there is no cause for
you to be miserable and unhappy. You yourself impose limitations on
your true nature of infinite Being and then weep that you are but a
finite creature. Then you take up this or that sadhana to transcend
the nonexistent limitations. But if your sadhana itself assumes the
existence of the limitations, how can it help you to transcend them?
Hence I say know that you are really the infinite, pure
Being, the Self Absolute. You are always that Self and nothing but
that Self. Therefore, you can never be really ignorant of the
Self; your ignorance is merely a formal ignorance, like the
ignorance of the ten fools about the "lost" tenth man. It is the
ignorance that caused them grief.
Know then that true Knowledge does not create a new Being for
you: it only removes your "ignorant ignorance." Bliss is not added
to your nature; it is merely revealed as your true and natural
state, eternal and imperishable. The only way to be rid of your
grief is to know and be the Self.