Guru Vācaka Kōvai
- Printed Version of the English Translation
- PDF Version for Free Download
- Spanish Translation
Guru Vācaka Kōvai (குருவாசகக் கோவை: guru-vācaka-k kōvai) is the most profound, comprehensive and reliable collection of the sayings of Sri Ramana, recorded in 1255 Tamil verses composed by Sri Muruganar, with an additional 42 verses composed by Sri Ramana.
The title Guru Vācaka Kōvai can be translated as The Series of Guru’s Sayings, or less precisely but more elegantly as The Garland of Guru’s Sayings. In this title, the word guru denotes Sri Ramana, who is a human manifestation of the one eternal guru — the non-dual absolute reality, which we usually call ‘God’ or ‘brahman’ and which always exists and shines within each one of us as our own essential self, our fundamental self-conscious being, ‘I am’ —, the word vācaka means ‘saying’, and the word kōvai is a verbal noun that means ‘threading’, ‘stringing’, ‘filing’ or ‘arranging’, and that by extension denotes a ‘series’, ‘arrangement’ or ‘composition’, and is therefore also used to denote either a string of ornamental beads or a kind of love-poem.
Sri Muruganar first came to Bhagavan Sri Ramana in September 1923, and the next year he settled permanently in Tiruvannamalai. So close was he to Sri Ramana that he came to be known as the ‘shadow of Bhagavan’, but his closeness was not only a closeness in terms of physical proximity. He was truly close to the spirit of Sri Ramana, because he had surrendered himself entirely in the perfect clarity of non-dual self-consciousness, which is the true form of Sri Ramana, and thus he had merged and become one with him.
However, though he was inwardly one with Sri Ramana, outwardly he always behaved as a humble disciple, and thus he exemplified the teaching that Sri Ramana has given us in verse 39 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Anubandham:
Always experience advaita [non-duality] in [your] heart, [but] do not ever [attempt to] practise advaita in action. O son, [practising] advaita in the three worlds [that is, before the three forms of God, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, in their respective worlds] is [perhaps] acceptable, [but] know that displaying advaita with guru is not acceptable.
That is, even though we may act as if we are one with Brahma, Vishnu or Siva, whose respective functions are to create, sustain and dissolve this world-illusion, we should never act as if we are one with guru, whose function is to destroy our self-ignorance, which is the root cause of our primal illusion that we are this object-knowing consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, because even though our mind may have the power to create, sustain or dissolve an entire world (as it does in dream), it does not have the power to destroy its own self-ignorance, without which it cannot exist. Moreover, advaita can never truly be practised in action, because it is an action-free state of being. Action is possible only in a state of duality, because we can do action only when we mistake ourself to be a body or mind, which are the instruments through which we seem to do action.
In accordance with this teaching of Sri Ramana, Sri Muruganar exemplified the humble state of being a true disciple, and hence (as I have explained elsewhere) he never allowed anyone to consider or treat him as guru. Even after Sri Ramana had left his physical body, Sri Muruganar discouraged devotees from considering either himself or any other disciple of Sri Ramana as guru, saying that for devotees of Sri Ramana no other guru is necessary, because he is always living within each one of us as our own self, guiding us unfailingly towards our final goal, the egoless state of true self-knowledge.
All of us who sincerely wish to understand and practise the teachings of Sri Ramana have to be grateful to Sri Muruganar not only for recording many of his precious teachings in Guru Vācaka Kōvai, but also for eliciting most of his finest verses of upadēśa or spiritual instruction, including all of Upadēśa Undiyār, Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu and Āṉma-Viddai, and many of the verses of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Anubandham, Ēkātma Pañcakam and Upadēśa Taṉippākkaḷ.
During the twenty-six years that he lived as the shadow of Sri Ramana, Sri Muruganar composed thousands of verses recording his oral teachings, but unfortunately about a thousand verses were accidentally lost, so we are now left with only 1255 of these precious verses. Of these extant verses, about 850 were published in 1939 under the title Guru Vācaka Kōvai.
After this first edition of Guru Vācaka Kōvai was published, Sri Muruganar continued to compose verses recording the oral teachings of Sri Ramana, so in 1970, when Sri Ramanasramam decided to publish a second edition, Sri Muruganar asked Sri Sadhu Om to gather and incorporate in it all such verses that were not in the first edition. Therefore, when the second edition of Guru Vācaka Kōvai was published in 1971, it contained 1254 verses composed by Sri Muruganar and 28 verses composed by Sri Ramana (which are numbered B-1 to B-28).
Subsequently Sri Sadhu Om found one more verse composed by Sri Muruganar (now numbered verse 592-a) with a note indicating that it was to be included in Guru Vācaka Kōvai, so he added it in the appendix of his Tamil prose rendering, Guru Vācaka Kōvai – Urai, which was published first in 1980 and again in 1997. In the same appendix, he also included eleven other solitary verses composed by Sri Ramana (now numbered verses 114-a, 224-a, 492-a, 603-a, 603-b, 1027-a, 1127-a, 1141-a, 1147-a, 1172-a and 1173-a), which were not included in Śrī Ramaṇa Nūṯṟiraṭṭu, the Tamil ‘Collected Works of Sri Ramana’. Still later, in 1984, when he compiled all the twenty-seven solitary verses composed by Sri Ramana that contained spiritual teachings but were not included in Śrī Ramaṇa Nūṯṟiraṭṭu into a collection that he entitled Upadēśa Taṉippākkaḷ, Sri Sadhu Om decided that three more of these verses should also be included Guru Vācaka Kōvai, and these are now numbered verses 227-a, 420-a and verse 603-c.
Therefore the third edition of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, which was published in 1998 (along with Sri Muruganar’s own Tamil prose renderings and explanatory notes for many verses), contains a total of 1297 verses, of which 42 were composed by Sri Ramana and 1255 were composed by Sri Muruganar. Though some of the 42 verses composed by Sri Ramana were not composed specifically for inclusion in Guru Vācaka Kōvai, many of them were, because when Sri Bhagavan read the verses composed by Sri Muruganar, he occasionally decided to compose a verse of his own expressing the same idea in an alternative form that was more compact, clear or beautiful.
Sri Muruganar showed all or at least most of the verses of Guru Vācaka Kōvai to Sri Ramana as and when he composed them, and Sri Ramana read each of them carefully and often modified them, changing some words or the manner in which some ideas were expressed. Therefore, except Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?), which he rewrote as an essay, Guru Vācaka Kōvai is the only record of his oral teachings that he checked and modified with so much care and attention.
Thus we can confidently rely upon each verse of Guru Vācaka Kōvai as being an accurate record of a teaching that Sri Ramana expressed orally. Moreover, Guru Vācaka Kōvai is not only a completely reliable record of many of his oral teachings, but is also a very comprehensive one. Though many of the verses that Sri Muruganar composed recording the sayings of Sri Ramana were unfortunately lost, and though there are no doubt many important ideas that Sri Ramana expressed orally but Sri Muruganar did not have the opportunity to record, this work nevertheless records a very significant proportion of the most important teachings that Sri Ramana gave on a broad range of subjects, and hence it is truly comprehensive both in terms of the breadth of subjects that it covers and in terms of the depth of the teachings that it contains on each of those subjects.
However, though Guru Vācaka Kōvai contains such a vast wealth of important teachings of Sri Ramana, for a long time it was a treasure-house that was accessible only to relatively few of the many devotees who sincerely wished to understand and practise his teachings. Not only was it recorded in Tamil, which is a language that most of Sri Ramana’s followers unfortunately do not understand, but it was composed in a classical style of Tamil poetry that many Tamil-speaking people find difficult to understand. Knowing this difficulty, Sri Muruganar himself wrote Tamil prose renderings and explanatory notes for some of the verses, all of which have now been included in the third edition of the original Tamil text.
However, Sri Muruganar wrote explanations in Tamil prose for only some of the many verses of this important text, and since the style of his Tamil prose is as classical as the style of his poetry, even well-educated Tamil-speaking people find that his prose is almost as difficult to understand as his poetry. Therefore in the 1960’s, when some Tamil devotees of Sri Ramana asked Sri Muruganar to explain to them the meaning of the verses of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, he advised them to ask Sri Sadhu Om to explain their meaning, because he knew that Sri Sadhu Om clearly understood his Tamil poetry and was adept in explaining the teachings of Sri Ramana in a simple style of Tamil that any Tamil-speaking person could easily understand.
Thus at Sri Muruganar’s request Sri Sadhu Om began to explain the meaning of all the verses of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, and those who heard his explanations found them so valuable that they asked him to dictate a prose rendering for each verse. In this way over a period of several years Sri Sadhu Om’s Tamil prose rendering and explanatory notes for the whole work came to be written.
In the meanwhile Prof. K. Swaminathan had begun to translate Guru Vācaka Kōvai into English for serial publication in The Mountain Path, but since he had difficulty understanding many of the verses, he often wrote to Sri Sadhu Om asking for clarification, particularly with regard to the meaning of rare words or words that Sri Muruganar used in a special sense. Therefore, to assist him in his translation, Sri Sadhu Om began to send him gradually his Tamil prose rendering for each verse, along with a padacchēdam (a splitting of each verse into individual words) and an arumpadavurai (a note giving the meaning of each rare word) 1.
During the last eighteen years of Sri Muruganar’s bodily life, Sri Sadhu Om worked with him very closely, helping to copy, preserve, copy-edit and classify all his unpublished verses, and assisting him in the editing and proof-correction of several of his books. Finally, before he passed away in 1973, Sri Muruganar said that all the manuscripts of his unpublished works should remain in the care of Sri Sadhu Om, and that if any of them were to be published, they should be published only under his supervision.
Knowing the great value of Sri Muruganar’s verses and of Sri Sadhu Om’s Tamil prose rendering of Guru Vācaka Kōvai, Prof. Swaminathan wanted all of them to be published, so he managed to obtain a grant of financial assistance from the Government of India, Ministry of Education, to enable Sri Ramana Kendra, New Delhi, to publish both Śrī Ramaṇa Jñāna Bōdham , a nine-volume collection of all the previously unpublished verses of Sri Muruganar, edited and arranged by Sri Sadhu Om, and Guru Vācaka Kōvai – Urai, Sri Sadhu Om’s Tamil prose rendering of Guru Vācaka Kōvai.
The printing of Guru Vācaka Kōvai – Urai and the nine volumes of Śrī Ramaṇa Jñāna Bōdham took more than ten years to complete, because Sri Sadhu Om had to do most of the editing, copy-editing and proof-correction without any assistance. The printing of Guru Vācaka Kōvai – Urai was completed in 1980, and most of the volumes of Śrī Ramaṇa Jñāna Bōdham were printed by 1985, when Sri Sadhu Om suddenly passed away. Fortunately, however, he had finished editing the remaining volumes in preparation for print, so the entire project was completed a few years later.
When I first met Sri Sadhu Om in 1976, I found that much of his time was taken up by a steady stream of visitors, who came to ask him questions about the teachings of Sri Ramana, but whenever he was on his own he would take the opportunity to work either on the editing of Śrī Ramaṇa Jñāna Bōdham or on the revision of Guru Vācaka Kōvai – Urai in preparation for print. If I came to him during such quiet moments, I would ask him about the verses he was reading, and he would explain to me their meaning. I was fascinated by the wealth of profound ideas expressed in the verses of Guru Vācaka Kōvai and Śrī Ramaṇa Jñāna Bōdham, but I hesitated to visit Sri Sadhu Om too often, because I did not wish to interrupt the rare moments that he had to attend to his work on these texts.
Therefore I began to read Prof. Swaminathan’s translation of Guru Vācaka Kōvai in old issues of The Mountain Path, but as I read it I found many verses that I wanted to understand more clearly, so I occasionally went to Sri Sadhu Om to ask him for clarification. He patiently answered all my questions, and eventually one day in May 1977 he suggested that since I was so interested in the meaning of each verse, we could begin to make a fresh translation together.
From that day onwards I visited him every day, and he would explain to me the meaning of the verses one by one. At first I would write the meaning as he explained it to me, but after a few days he began to write the meaning on a slate in his own style of English, and I would ask for more clarification, and would then rewrite his translation in clearer English. Unfortunately in those earlier days I was only just beginning to learn a little Tamil, and my understanding of Sri Ramana’s teachings was still quite superficial, so my rewriting of his rough English translations produced a less than perfect result. However we continued to work on our translation for several years (alongside various other translations that we commenced in the meanwhile), and as time went by my understanding both of Tamil and of Sri Ramana’s teachings improved, so our translation of the later verses is more accurate than our translation of the earlier ones.
Printed Version of the English Translation
Sri Sadhu Om and I intended to revise the first draft of our translation, but unfortunately we never had time to do so. Therefore I hope that one day I will have time to revise it thoroughly and to bring out a new and more accurate translation. In the meanwhile, however, many people who read the existing first daft of our translation found it to be very useful and sufficiently clear, so they suggested that it should be published as it is. Therefore a few years ago, when David Godman asked me if he could post our translation on his website, I agreed, but asked him to mention that it is only a rough first draft, and that I hope to revise it thoroughly in future.
I am grateful to David for taking the initiative to post it on his website, because this made it available to much wider audience, and eventually lead to its publication in print. After reading it on his website some Australian devotees of Sri Ramana offered to finance the printing of it, so it was first published as a book in 2005 by Sri Arunachalaramana Nilayam in Tiruvannamalai.
Copies of this printed book can be obtained from Sri Ramanasramam Book Stall, Sri Arunachalaramana Book Trust or the Buy Books page of David Godman’s website, as explained in more detail in the How to buy books by Sri Sadhu Om and Michael James section of the Books page of this website. Other information about this book is given by David on the Guru Vachaka Kovai book page of his website.
PDF Version for Free Download
The PDF copy of Guru Vācaka Kōvai that I have posted here was created by John Manetta in 2004 (before it was printed as a book) for the use of the members of the Ramakrishna-Vedanta Study Circle in Athens. John created this neatly formatted PDF copy from the six PDF files2 of this translation that David posted on his website, and he compiled a hyperlinked table of contents and bookmarks for each chapter. He also included in it a copy of David’s introduction.
In order to download this e-book, you can either left-click on the following link to open it in your web browser, after which you can save a copy, or you can right-click on this link and select ‘Save Target As…’ from the pop-up menu:
This English translation by Sri Sadhu and me has been translated into Spanish by Pedro Rodea, and his translation is available as a printed book from Guru Vachaka Kovai (La Colección de Enseñanzas de Sri Ramana Maharshi), and a PDF copy of it is available here: Guru Vācaka Kōvai — Spanish PDF.
- This padacchēdam and arumpadavurai for each verse are now included in the third edition of the original Tamil text of Guru Vācaka Kōvai. [To return to text, click here.]
- Guru Vachaka Kovai 1-153, Guru Vachaka Kovai 154-265, Guru Vachaka Kovai 266-383, Guru Vachaka Kovai 384-501, Guru Vachaka Kovai 502-877 and Guru Vachaka Kovai 878-1254. [To return to text, click here.]