The consciousness of rocks



By Sharon St Joan


No serious person in the modern world really believes that rocks are conscious. There are a few exceptions which we’ll come to in a moment.


Watching the TV series, The Universe, being shown on the H2 channel, one can absorb fascinating facts. Underneath the vast atmosphere of Jupiter, for example, lies an ocean – not an ordinary ocean, but an ocean of hydrogen that is brighter than the sun and intensely blue, also hotter than the surface of the sun.


In between the planets of the solar system lie immensely vast spaces, so large as to be incomprehensible – and far vaster distances separate the galaxies from each other. The universe is expanding. Not only is it expanding, but the rate of expansion, counter-intuitively, is speeding up, not slowing down. Our galaxy is zooming at an ever increasing rate of speed away from all other galaxies. Eventually they will be so distant that we will no longer see them. All light will go out, and the universe will come to a cold, dark end. Or so science tells us – unless we accept another theory, that the universe will collapse in on itself to end in a great crunch, and then expand outwards again.


In short, “modern science” presents us with what may seem to be a picture of the universe that is cold, dark, lonely, pointless, and doomed (albeit with flashes of the spectacular and dramatic, but doomed nonetheless).


Is it possible though that this is not so much a depiction of actual reality, as it is a reflection of the dysfunctional human psyche of the modern world — a condition towards which we have devolved over the past few thousand years? After all, is it impossible that the state of our collective psyche might color our collective perception of external reality? Just a thought.


So we are told that, in the midst of this desert of lifelessness called the universe, are tiny islands of awareness, we humans – and today, many scientists accept the concept that there may be alien life forms on other planets, who have evolved other civilizations. We may or may not ever be able to contact them, and if or when we do, we may find them to be either friendly or hostile. Or they may be all around us all the time in other dimensions, who knows?


As for the animals that share the earth with us, most humans, whether fond of animals or not, assume that they are a lower life form, and somewhat less important than ourselves. When wildlife biologists talk about the populations of birds increasing or decreasing, an individual bird with her own life and awareness, does not rank very high in the scheme of things as we see it from our human perspective. We do tend to care about species that teeter on the verge of extinction, especially the large charismatic ones, the tigers or the elephants, but the odd orange beetle or the obscure blue butterfly doesn’t really catch our attention.


As for plants, people who feel an affection for trees are generally considered quite odd. Though, on the other hand, when tall, old beautiful trees that line city streets are cut down one day by an insensitive city planner, the level of public outcry can be deafening.


In December, 2015, Nguyen The Thao, the head of the Hanoi People’s Committee, in Vietnam, was forced to step down following public outrage over his plan to cut down 6,000 famous, ancient trees lining the streets of the capitol. There have been similar incidents of public rage over felling trees in the U.S. and worldwide.


In the year 1730, the Bishnois, in India, often called the world’s first environmentalists, sacrificed their lives to protect the beloved trees of their village. The king had sent his soldiers to fell the trees to make way for a temple he was building. One by one, the people of the village stood between the soldiers and the trees, and one by one, they were killed defending their trees. Eventually, at the end of the day, the king arrived. Witnessing the numbers of people lying dead, he relented and ordered his soldiers to stop. By this time 363 brave men and women had heroically given their lives to protect their forest. To this day, the Bishnois, in northern India, are known for protecting trees and animals.


Where does this leave us? Well, basically, apart from a few “tree-huggers” and a much larger and growing number of animal activists, the predominant worldview – particularly in academic or scientific circles – is still that humans are important – and anything else may be moderately important in relation only to humans.


The planet Mars may be important because after we have destroyed the earth we live on, we may be able to colonize Mars by terra-forming it and making it suitable for us to live on. This seems to be an official view of NASA and a goal of space exploration.


On October 9, 2009, NASA bombed the moon by sending two rockets crashing into the moon’s south pole. The intent was for the impact to throw up clouds of debris in which water might be found. In terms of planning a future base on the moon, water would be very useful.


To all ancient peoples on the earth the moon is a divine, sacred being and bombing her is a sacrilegious act. NASA scientists and engineers did not seem troubled by this.




The ancient Mesopotamians worshipped Sin as the moon god. The Japanese called him Tsukyyomi. The ancient Egyptian god, Thoth, was a lunar deity. The Mayans revered Awilix as the goddess of the moon, although she was sometimes referred to as male. The Micmacs, a Canadian, Algonquian tribe, say that the dark spots on the moon are spots of clay left there when rabbit had caught the moon in a trap, then was forced to release him when the moon threatened him. Many Asian peoples see a rabbit in the moon, rather than a “man in the moon.” It seems that all neolithic and paleolithic peoples worshipped the moon, the sun, and the planets, seeing them as divine beings. One can find traces of this ancient worship today in living religions.


Of course, these days we all know better and do not believe such nonsense – or do we? How exactly has science been able to prove that the moon, the sun, the planets, and the galaxies are inert, unconscious, entirely physical, and totally non-spiritual beings that have absolutely not a grain of consciousness among them? Have you seen any proof of this? You haven’t, and neither have I. This assumption of a lack of consciousness on the part of heavenly beings is just exactly that – an assumption, nothing more.


There is simply nothing “scientific” about the assertion that only humans and maybe higher animals have consciousness.


All the world’s ancient systems of knowledge maintained the opposite – that indeed the great beings of the night skies are conscious and aware, that they have a real power and an identity, that they are beings, not things.


In Tamil Nadu, in southern India, at Thiruvannamalai, there is a mountain named Arunachala. The mountain has been worshipped as sacred for thousands of years and is said to be Lord Shiva. It is not that Lord Shiva lives within the mountain, but instead Lord Shiva is the mountain.




In Australia, a massive, one thousand foot high rock, rising straight up out of the plains in the central part of the country is called Uluru, and is known to the native peoples as a sacred mountain – which has been there since the dreamtime. To them, reality is a dream, and the ancient perceptions of their ancestors represented a higher, truer form of reality. Who is to say that they are wrong?


Inyan Kara is the highest peak of the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. To the Lakota Sioux and other nearby native peoples, all the Black Hills were sacred and were the home of the thunder gods and the Great Spirit. The destruction of these hills to create the Mount Rushmore carvings is seen by them as the desecration of a holy place.


It is difficult, even for modern humans, not to feel awestruck in the majestic presence of towering stone cliffs – or sometimes even in the presence of small little rocks that seem to invoke some special presence, that may seem to “speak.”


From where do we gather the impression that these are not great beings, when our instincts tell us that indeed they are sacred beings? Being sacred, are they not also conscious, are they not gods or goddesses? Is not the earth itself a living, sacred being – mother to all of us? There is a voice within us that calls to us to acknowledge and feel a sense of reverence towards these ancient ones – these great rock entities worshipped the world over by our ancestors, these rocks and mountains who perhaps know far more, with a knowledge and perception deeper and more profound, than we small humans could ever imagine or have any grasp of.




Top photo: Sakthiprasanna / Wikimedia Commons/ This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. / Arunachala at Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India.


Second photo: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team / NASA, public domain / Cluster and star-forming region Westerlund 2.


Third photo: E. A. Rodrigues / Wikipedia Commons / The Hindu god Chandra riding in his chariot.


Fourth photo: Mark Andrews / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / Uluru, the Northern Territory, Australia.




To read about the public outcry over the felling of 6,000 trees in Vietnam, click here.


To read about the world’s first environmentalists, the Bishnois, click here.


To read about NASA’s bombing of the moon, click here.





Ramana Maharshi – a twentieth century Indian saint, Part Three

sidepathnearSri Arunachaleswarar TempleIMG_6455 2
These and the photos below were taken at the Sri Arunachaleswarar Temple in the nearby town. They are not photos of the ashram.

Continued from Part Two, to begin reading with Part One, click here.

These days the Ashram Sri Ramanasramam is crowded with many visitors, mostly westerners.  The visitors are not boisterous or even conversational; instead they are quiet, respectful, and contemplative.

During Ramana Maharshi’s life, he had welcomed all people who came to him for guidance, speaking with great compassion and clarity with women as well as men, which was unusual at the time, and with people who came from the west as well as from India.

He is buried in a sarcophagus in the main hall, where there is an atmosphere of peace and tranquility.

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In a smaller hall, people sit in a lotus position, in prayer or meditation.  Visitors are encouraged to go and spend time there, since remaining a few minutes in calm and silence may bring about more understanding than many words.

In the dining hall people have a dinner of rice and vegetables, served on a palm leaf.

Outside there are the tombs of several of Ramana’s animals. His beloved cow, Lachshmi, who was with him for many years, is there; also a dog, a monkey, and a crow that he had rescued. He had always insisted that the animals must be treated with the same courtesy extended to humans. They were to be spoken with gently and allowed to wander wherever they wished.

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The way to enlightenment taught by Ramana Maharshi is called Self-Inquiry.  It is not in essence any different from traditional Hinduism, but is presented in a particular way. Ramana taught that a person seeking enlightenment must look within him or herself, asking the question, “Who am I?” The purpose in asking the question is not to discover what kind of person one is: wise or foolish, good or bad, or what one’s human personality may be like. Instead it is to come, eventually, to a realization that the true Self within each of us is not the human personality at all.

It is not our name, our profession, our identity, our life history, where we are from or what we look like, whether we are kind or cruel, truthful or deceitful, charming or impolite, world-famous or insignificant, confident or timid, rich or poor – none of these things is us.

The human personality, the “ego-sense,” is a construct, it is not the fundamental essence of an individual.

There is a Hindu chant, Shivoham, which means “I am Shiva”  or “I am God.” This and similar expressions of identity with God are often grossly distorted and made fun of, especially in the west, by people who do not understand what is meant. “I am Shiva” is not really a good translation.  A better way to put this would be, “I do not exist.  Only Shiva exists.” Or “I do not exist. Only God exists;” that is closer to the true meaning.

This perception that only God exists isn’t a linear, rational sort of truth.  It is a mystical awareness, which can be grasped to a limited extent intellectually, but which can only become a genuinely perceived reality through a direct experience, which comes about by the grace of God, and one puts oneself within reach of this divine grace only through diligently following a path.

Advaita Vedanta, one of the primary philosophies of Hinduism, teaches that the essence, or the soul, the Self or the “Atman,” of all beings is “Brahman,” the ultimate divine reality.

On an ultimate level, the soul of you or me, of a criminal or a saint, of a tree, a cloud, a flower, or a mountain, a monkey, a bumblebee, or a river, is the same soul.  There is only one soul, which is Brahman.

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Seeing this intellectually is a small step.  Seeing this as the only real truth occurs as a mystical experience, and cannot be reached by the wandering thoughts of the mind.

It was Ramana’s mission, and that of so many other Hindu saints over the millennia, to open the gates that will allow enlightenment, like the sun shining through the darkness.

After around fifty years of living a tranquil, inspiring life on the slopes of Arunachala, in November of 1948, he developed a malignant tumor on his left arm,  which was operated on four times by surgeons.  When they wanted to amputate his arm, he declined, feeling that his time on earth was meant to come to a close.

On the evening of April 14, 1950, as he lay dying, he shed tears of joy on hearing his devotees chanting, “Arunachala Shiva.” At 8.47 that evening, his breathing slowed and came peacefully to a stop.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French photographer, who had been staying near the ashram for a couple of weeks, was standing in front of his house that evening with a few friends when he saw a brilliant shooting star pass across the sky, disappearing behind Arunachala.  He looked at his watch, seeing that it was 8:47. Guessing the import of the shooting star, they rushed over to the Ashram, to learn, as they had suspected, that Raman had passed away. He was 71 years old.

In the days leading up to his death, he had said calmly to re-assure his worried disciples, “Where can I go?  I am here.”

Photos: © Sharon St. Joan / These are photos of the Sri Arunachaleswarar Temple in the nearby town, not of the ashram.

Top photo: A side path near the temple.

Second photo: A pillared hall, with peaceful sculpted cows on top.

Third photo: Sivagangai Vinayagar Sannathi, part of the temple.

Fourth phtoto: Gopuram of the Sri Arunachaleswarar Temple

Ramana Maharshi – a twentieth century Indian saint, Part Two

1000Hall-Meenakshi Temple

Continued from Part One. To read Part One first, click here.


After the experience of enlightenment which came upon him suddenly, at the age of seventeen, Ramana lost all interest in school, in his friends, and in his daily life.  He went every day to the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, where he spent hours lost in worship, with tears streaming from his eyes.  His older brother, Nagaswami, worried about him and, frustrated by his lack of interest in his schoolwork, spoke with him about it, saying that he was behaving like a sadhu, a Hindu holy man or wandering ascetic. He intended, with this comparison, to shake his younger brother out of a passing phase. Instead, Ramana thought to himself that there was more truth to his brother’s words than he knew, and shortly thereafter, he left home and set out on his train ride to Arunachala.

Ramana lived at several different sites near Arunachala over the years.  While he was living at Gurumurtam, a temple about a mile outside of Tiruvannamalai, his family discovered his whereabouts.  It is customary for a person who wishes to become a sannaysi (a holy man) to ask permission from his family, specifically his mother. Ramana had not done this.  His family had no idea where he was or what had become of him.  In the months after his arrival though, news spread, and people began to hear about the odd young monk who did not speak and who spent all his time in devotion.

at the foot of ArunachalaIMG_6401 2

When his family discovered his whereabouts, his uncle arrived one day to beg him to return home, saying that they would all respect his ascetic way of life.  Ramana did not reply. He sat still without moving or speaking, until after a while his uncle gave up and went away.

Asking permission from one’s mother before setting out to become a holy person isn’t just a custom, it’s an imperative.  India, historically, is a land of many saints, and so rules have grown up for becoming one. Obedience to one’s parents is taught in the earliest Hindu books, the Vedas, and it is a pillar of Indian society.  This strong thread of obedience has been the power at the root of Indian culture and civilization.

Ramana’s mother, who loved him, was not going to give him permission to leave home.  Her husband, Ramana’s father, who had died not long before, had been an attorney. Their family held a respected place in society, and if their son set out on his own, who knew where he might end up?  The young man might become a destitute wondering monk, living on the streets or in the forests.  Such a life couldn’t even be considered. She felt he must give up his wild, unrealistic dreams and settle down to lead a normal life and assume proper responsibilities.

Ramana, for his part, must have understood all too clearly that his family would oppose any request of his to leave home to embark on such an uncertain future. But, truly, his spirit had already left. He was no longer the student pouring over his lessons or the schoolboy on the sports field; his soul had been carried away and he was rapt in devotion to the Gods, for hour upon hour, day upon day. He inhabited another world, and he would never be able to turn back to occupy himself with the daily concerns of normal life. He had been called by God to live in a different world, a different universe.

For this reason, he had simply left, in silence.  Silence was to be his way for many years.  It is the chosen way of teaching by Lord Shiva in the form of Dakshinamurthy, the guru who teaches through silence.  Ramana was often likened to Dakshinamurthy.

In 1898, Ramana moved to the Shiva temple at Pavalakkunru, to the east of Arunachala.  There his mother, Alagammal and his older brother Nagaswami came to see him in December of 1898.  They stayed for several days, and every single day his mother pleaded with him to come back home.  She even appealed to his devotees, trying to enlist their help, and one of them asked Ramana to write down a reply to his mother, since he would not speak.  He wrote words to this effect:  “What will be will be, and what will not be will never be.  Therefore the wisest course is silence.”

near the slopes of ArunachalaIMG_6402 2

Saddened by this response, his mother and her older son left shortly afterwards to return home.

The next February, Ramana moved to live on the slopes of Arunachala itself, in the Virupaksha Cave where he lived for the next seventeen years.

The numbers of visitors grew and grew.  In 1911, a British visitor, who served as a policeman in India, wrote several articles about Ramana, which appeared in the International Psychic Gazette.  The numbers of western visitors and devotees increased greatly from that time on.

In 1916, both his mother, Alagammal, and his younger brother came to join him to live permanently at Arunachala. He moved to a larger cave, where he lived near them for the next six years.  His mother became a sannyasin (a holy person), and his brother a sunnayasi.  Alagammal took charge of the kitchen of the ashram, and Ramana spent many hours of his time with her, giving her spiritual instruction.

Alagammal lived only until 1920. On the day she was dying, Ramana stayed with her throughout the day, then after her death at around eight in the evening, Ramana said to everyone present that she had left to go beyond the bounds of earth, having achieved enlightenment.  She was buried in a shrine, and the word Matrbhuteshwara was written there, which means “Shiva as mother.”

The Ashram Sri Ramanasramam grew up around his mother’s tomb, and Ramana lived at that site until he died in 1950.

Sri Ramanasramam Ashram grew to include many buildings; a hospital, a library, and a post office, as well as others.  Ramana found that he had a natural talent for planning buildings; the building construction was supervised by Annamalai Swami following Ramana’s instructions.

It was there at the ashram that Ramana lived a simple life, sitting in the hall, teaching his disciples and visitors or walking along the hillsides.

To be continued in Part Three …

Top photo: Gopi Rajaseharan (Zingzoo at en.wikipedia) / Wikipedia Commons / “This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Zingzoo at the English Wikipedia project. This applies worldwide.” /1000 Pillar Hall at the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.

Second photo: © Sharon St Joan, 2013 / At the foot of Arunachala.

Third photo: © Sharon St Joan, 2013 / Near the slopes of Arunachala.

Ramana Maharshi – a twentieth century Indian saint, Part One


“Your college fees have not been paid, here are the two rupees.” Venkataraman’s older brother, Nagaswami, had given him five rupees, asking him to pay his school fees.  Instead, on September 1 of 1896, leaving his brother this brief note, Venkataraman Iyer, who would become known to the world as the Hindu saint, Ramana Maharshi, left his home near Madurai, in the south of Tamil Nadu, using the remaining three rupees to pay his fare to take a train north. He would never return.

He was just seventeen. Looking out the window of the speeding train, he watched the green countryside slip by, where men, and women in colorful sarees, worked in rice and vegetable fields.

After many hours, he reached his destination, the little temple town of Tirunnamalai. There overlooking the town was Arunachala, the sacred mountain, who is Lord Shiva.  Arunachala rises, a sheer rock towering above the surrounding plain that can be seen for miles. When he’d first heard of Arunachala, he had been mesmerized by the sound of the name. It sounded melodic and magical.

Long ago, it is said that the two great Gods, Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu, were having a dispute over which one was the greatest.  The argument went on and on with no clear winner.  Then the site where they stood was engulfed in a huge flame that reached from the center of the earth up to the tipmost top of the heavens. Witnessing this awesome display of Shiva’s cosmic power, Brahma took the form of a swan and flew up to try to reach the top of the flame, which stretched up to infinity. Vishnu, in his form as a boar, dug far down, to reach the bottom of the flame, but it too was out of reach. Both Brahma and Vishnu withdrew, conceding that Shiva was far more powerful than either of them.  Over time, the immense flame that had manifested cooled and formed the mountain that is Arunachala.

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Later on in his life, Sri Ramana Maharshi, who had been the boy Ventakaram, would write, “Arunachala is truly the holy place. Of all holy places it is the most sacred! Know that it is the heart of the world. It is truly Siva himself! It is his heart-abode, a secret kshetra (sacred place). In that place the Lord ever abides as the hill of light named Arunachala.”

When Ramana arrived at Aranachala, he soon sought out the deepest, darkest, and oldest part of the temple, the Patala Lingam.  This is a small dark ancient den, which was already there at least two thousand years ago; well before the temple that now surrounds it was built.  His time there was a time of penance and austerity.  As well as enduring the dark and the damp of this small place where he lived for a few weeks, he suffered greatly from insect bites and scorpions. Concerned about the young newly-arrived monk, one of the other monks brought him back up out of the Patala Lingam and found a cleaner, drier place for him to live.

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In those early days, Ramana lived in a state of trance or meditation.  Every day the other monks brought his food to him. He never spoke.

Since childhood, whenever he slept, he had slept so soundly that he could not be waken. A few months before traveling to Arunachala, he had attended the wedding of his older brother.  After the wedding, while staying at the home of the bride’s parents, as he was lying down on an upper floor of the house, he was overcome by an intense sensation that he was dying.  He felt himself becoming still and lifeless.  Feeling that he was dead, he had a striking moment of enlightenment, as the knowledge swept over him that, although his body was lifeless, his essential being was unchanged. Only the body dies; that which survives is the true being, who belongs to eternity and never dies. This enlightenment never left him.

To be continued. To read Part Two, click here.

Top photo: / G.G. Welling / Wikimedia Commons / Ramana Maharshi, around age 60 / “This work is in the public domain in India because its term of copyright has expired.” / Ramana Maharshi, around age 60.

Second photo: Sharon St Joan /Arunachala.

Third photo: Sharon St Joan / The slopes of Arunachala.