Robert Adams in the early 1990s
|Born||January 21, 1928|
New York City, US
|Died||March 2, 1997 (aged 69)|
Sedona, Arizona, US
|Guru||Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi|
|Literary works||Silence of the Heart: Dialogues with Robert Adams|
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Robert Adams (January 21, 1928 – March 2, 1997) was an American Advaita teacher. In his late teens, he was a devotee of Sri Ramana Maharshi in Tiruvannamalai, India. In later life Adams held satsang with a small group of devotees in California, US. He mainly advocated the path of jñāna yoga with an emphasis on the practice of self-enquiry.
Adams' teachings were not that well known in his lifetime, but have since been widely circulated amongst those investigating the philosophy of Advaita and the Western devotees of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. A book of his teachings, Silence of the Heart: Dialogues with Robert Adams, was published in 1999.
Robert Adams was born on January 21, 1928 in Manhattan and grew up in New York City, USA. Adams claimed that from as far back as he could remember, he had had visions of a white haired, bearded man seated at the foot of his bed, who was about two feet tall, and who used to talk to him in a language which he did not understand. He told his parents but they thought he was playing games. He would later find out that this man was a vision of his future guru Sri Ramana Maharshi. At the age of seven, Adams's father died and the visitations suddenly stopped.
Adams said that he then developed a siddhi whereby whenever he wanted something, from a candy bar to a violin, all he needed to do was say 'God' three times and the desired object would appear from somewhere, or be given to him by someone. If there was a test at school Adams would simply say 'God, God, God,' and the answers would immediately come to him; no prior study was necessary.
Adams claimed to have had a profound spiritual awakening at the age of fourteen. It was the end of term finals maths test and Adams had not studied for it at all. As was his custom he said 'God' three times, but with a phenomenal and unintended outcome:
Instead of the answers coming, the room filled with light, a thousand times more brilliant than the sun. It was like an atomic bomb, but it was not a burning light. It was a beautiful, bright, shining, warm glow. Just thinking of it now makes me stop and wonder. The whole room, everybody, everything was immersed in light. All the children seemed to be myriads particles of light. I found myself melting into radiant being, into consciousness. I merged into consciousness. It was not an out of body experience. This was completely different. I realised that I was not my body. What appeared to be my body was not real. I went beyond the light into pure radiant consciousness. I became omnipresent. My individuality had merged into pure absolute bliss. I expanded. I became the universe. The feeling is indescribable. It was total bliss, total joy. The next thing I remembered was the teacher shaking me. All the students had gone. I was the only one left in the class. I returned to human consciousness. That feeling has never left me.
Not long after this experience, Adams went to the school library to do a book report. While passing through the philosophy section he came across a book on yoga masters. Having no idea what yoga was, he opened the book and for the first time saw a photo of the man he had experienced visions of as a young child, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.
At the age of 16, Adams' first spiritual mentor was Joel S. Goldsmith, a Christian mystic from New York, who he used to visit in Manhattan, in order to listen to his sermons. Goldsmith helped Adams to better understand his enlightenment and advised him to go and see Paramahansa Yogananda. Adams did so and visited Yogananda at the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, California, where he intended to be initiated as a monk. However, after speaking to him, Yogananda felt that Adams had his own path and should go to India. He told him that his satguru was Sri Ramana Maharshi and that he should go to him as soon as possible because Ramana Maharshi's body was old and in ill-health. Sri Ramana Maharshi lived at Sri Ramanasramam at the foot of Arunachala in Tamil Nadu, South India.
With $14,000 of inheritance money from a recently deceased aunt, Adams set off for India and his guru Sri Ramana Maharshi in 1946:
When I was eighteen years old, I arrived at Tiruvannamalai. In those days they didn’t have jet planes. It was a propeller plane. I purchased flowers and a bag of fruit to bring to Ramana. I took the rickshaw to the ashram. It was about 8:30 a.m. I entered the hall and there was Ramana on his couch reading his mail. It was after breakfast. I brought the fruit and the flowers over and laid them at his feet. There was a guardrail in front of him to prevent fanatics from attacking him with love. And then I sat down in front of him. He looked at me and smiled, and I smiled back. I have been to many teachers, many saints, many sages. I was with Nisargadatta, Anandamayi Ma, Papa Ramdas, Neem Karoli Baba and many others, but never did I meet anyone who exuded such compassion, such love, such bliss as Ramana Maharshi.
Adams stayed at Sri Ramanasramam for the final three years of Sri Ramana Maharshi's life. Over the course of this time he had many conversations with Sri Ramana Maharshi, and through abiding in his presence was able to confirm and further understand his own experience of awakening to the non-dual Self. After Sri Ramana Maharshi left the body in 1950 Adams spent a further seventeen years travelling around India and stayed with well known gurus such as Nisargadatta Maharaj, Anandamayi Ma, Neem Karoli Baba and Swami Ramdas to name but a few. He also spent time with less well-known teachers such as Swami Brahmananda "the Staff of God" in the holy city of Varanasi.
In the 1960s Adams returned to the United States and lived in Hawaii and Los Angeles before finally moving to Sedona, Arizona in the mid 1990s. He was married to Nicole Adams and fathered two daughters. In the 1980s Adams developed Parkinson's Disease, which forced him to settle in one location and receive the appropriate care. A small group of devotees soon grew up around him and in the early 1990s he gave weekly satsangs in the San Fernando Valley, along with other surrounding areas of Los Angeles. These satsangs were both recorded and transcribed. After several years of deteriorating health, Adams died on March 2, 1997 in Sedona, Arizona, where he was surrounded by family members and devotees. He died at the age of 69 from cancer of the liver.
|“||The teacher is really yourself. You have created a teacher to wake you up. The teacher would not be here if you were not dreaming about the teacher. You have created a teacher out of your mind in order to awaken, to see that there is no teacher, no world - nothing. You've done this all by yourself.||”|
|— Robert Adams, The Mountain Path|
Adams did not consider himself to be a teacher, a philosopher or a preacher. What he imparted he said was simply the confession of a jnani. He said he confessed his and everyone else's own reality, and encouraged students not to listen to him with their heads but with their hearts. Adams' way of communicating to his devotees was often funny, and with interludes of silence or music between questions and answers. He stated that there was no such thing as a new teaching. This knowledge could be found in the Upanishads, the Vedas and other Hindu scriptures.
Adams did not write any books himself nor publish his teachings as he did not wish to gain a large following. He instead preferred to teach a small number of dedicated seekers. However, in 1992, a book of his dialogues was transcribed, compiled and distributed by and for the sole use of his devotees. In 1999, a later edition of this book, Silence of the Heart: Dialogues with Robert Adams, was posthumously published by Acropolis Books Inc. As conveyed by the title of these dialogues, Adams considered silence to be the highest of spiritual teachings:
The highest teaching in the world is silence. There is nothing higher than this. A devotee who sits with a Sage purifies his mind just by being with the Sage. The mind automatically becomes purified. No words exchanged, no words said. Silence is the ultimate reality. Everything exists in this world through silence. True silence really means going deep within yourself to that place where nothing is happening, where you transcend time and space. You go into a brand new dimension of nothingness. That's where all the power is. That's your real home. That's where you really belong, in deep Silence where there is no good and bad, no one trying to achieve anything. Just being, pure being.
Robert Adams - I Am That
Robert Adams talking to students at satsang (4 November 1990).
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Although Adams was never initiated into a religious order or spiritual practice, nor became a renunciate, his teachings were described by Dennis Waite as being firmly based in the Vedic philosophy and Hindu tradition of Advaita Vedanta. Advaita (non-dual in sanskrit) refers to the ultimate and supreme reality, Brahman, which according to Ramana Maharshi, as interpreted by some of his devotees, is the substratum of the manifest universe, and if describable at all, could be defined as pure consciousness. Another term for Brahman is Ātman. The word Ātman is used when referring to Brahman as the inmost spirit of man. Ātman and Brahman are not different realities, but identical in nature. Adams used a metaphor to explain this:
A clay pot has space inside of it and outside of it. The space inside is not any different from the space outside. When the clay pot breaks, the space merges the inside with the outside. It's only space. So it is with us. Your body is like a clay pot, and it appears you have to go within to find the truth. The outward appears to be within you. The outward is also without you. There's boundless space. When the body is transcended, it's like a broken clay pot. The Self within you becomes the Self outside of you ... as it's always been. The Self merges with the Self. Some people call the inner Self the Ātman. And yet it is called Brahman. When there is no body in the way, the Atman and the Brahman become one ... they become free and liberated.
Those in search of liberation from the manifest world will gain it only when the mind becomes quiescent. The world is in fact nothing other than the creation of the mind, and only by the removal of all thoughts, including the 'I' thought, will the true reality of Brahman shine forth. Adams taught self-enquiry, as previously taught by Sri Ramana Maharshi, in order to achieve this.
In his weekly satsangs Adams advocated the practice of self-enquiry (ātma-vichāra) as the principal means of transcending the ego and realising oneself as sat-chit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss). After acknowledging to oneself that one exists, and that whether awake, dreaming or in deep sleep one always exists, one then responds to every thought that arises with the question "Who am I?":
What you are really doing is, you’re finding the source of the 'I'. You're looking for the source of 'I', the personal 'I'. 'Who am I?' You're always talking about the personal 'I'. 'Who is this I? Where did it come from? Who gave it birth?' Never answer those questions. Pose those questions, but never answer them ... do nothing, absolutely nothing. You're watching the thoughts come. As soon as the thoughts come, in a gentle way you enquire, 'To whom do these thoughts come? They come to me. I think them. Who is this I? Where did it come from? How did it arise? From where did it arise? Who is the I? Who am I?' You remain still. The thoughts come again. You do the same thing again and again and again.
Adams rarely gave a sadhana to his devotees, however, he did often have visions, and in one such vision he gave a teaching as the Buddha. He visualised himself sitting under a tree in a beautiful open field with a lake and a forest nearby. He was wearing the orange garb of a Buddhist renunciate. All of a sudden hundreds of bodhisattvas and mahasattvas came out of the forest and sat down in a semi-circle around Adams as the Buddha. Together they proceeded to meditate for several hours. Afterwards, one of the bodhisattvas stood up and asked the Buddha what he taught. The Buddha answered, "I teach Self-realization of Noble Wisdom." Again they sat in silence for three hours before another bodhisattva stood up and asked how one could tell whether they were close to self-realization. In reply, Adams as the Buddha, gave the bodhisattvas and mahasattvas four principles, which he named The Four Principles of Self-Realization of Noble Wisdom: