Stories About Ramana Maharshi: By Harsha (Harsh K. Luthar, Ph.D.)
Image courtesy of Amanda (2001)
When I was 21-22, I first heard part of the song —
“Arunachala Shiva, Arunachala, Arunachala Shiva, Arunachala, Om Shakti, Om Shakti, Om Shakti Om –Om Shakti, Jnana Shakti, Para Shakti Om!”
I was sitting at the Jain Center quietly meditating. All of a sudden the singers started. Arunachala Shiva, Arunachala (in an American accent!). I had never heard it sung before! My body hair stood on end and it was as if a thousand volcanoes erupted on my skin everywhere. After that I always pleaded with the singers to sing that song first before all others. They would smile and comply most of the time feeling sorry for me. Sometimes they had to exercise their artistic prerogative and sing other things.
Love to all
T.K. Sundaresa Iyer (T.K.S) met Sri Ramana in 1908 when T.K.S was only a twelve year old boy. His cousin Krishnamurthy had been visiting Ramana Maharshi regularly and would sing songs of devotion to him. One day T.K.S asked his cousin where he went every day. Krishnamurthy told him about Ramana and said, “The Lord of the Hill Himself is sitting in human form, why don’t you come with me.” Both of them then climbed the Hill and went to Virupksha cave to visit the Sage.
Now the story in T.K.S.’s own words:
“I too climbed the Hill and found Bhagavan sitting on a stone slab, with about 10 devotees around him. Each would sing a song. Bhagavan turned to me and asked, “Well, won’t you sing a song also.” One of Sundramurthy’s songs came to my mind and I sang it. It’s meaning was, “No other support have I, except thy holy feet. By holding on to them, I shall win your grace. Great men sing your praise Oh, Lord. Grant that my tongue may repeat Thy name even when my mind strays.” “Yes. That is what must be done,” said Bhagavan, and I took it to be his teaching for me. From that time on, I went to see him regularly for several years without missing a day.
One day I wondered why I was visiting him at all. What was the use? There seemed to be no inner advancement. Going up the hill was meaningless toil. I decided to end my visits on the hill. For one hundred days exactly I did not see Bhagavan. On the hundred and first day I could suffer no longer and I ran to Skandasramam, above Virupaksha Cave. Bhagavan saw me climbing, got up and came forward to meet me. When I fell at his feet, I could not restrain myself and burst into tears. I clung to them and would not get up. Bhagavan pulled me up and asked: “It is over three months since I saw you. Where were you?” I told him how I thought that seeing him was of no use. “All right,” he said, “maybe it is of no use, so what? You felt the loss, did you not?” Then I understood that we did not go to him for profit, but because away from him there was no life for us.”
From “At the Feet of Bhagwan” by T.K. Sundaresa Iyer.
By Arthur Osborne
In December of 1941, Arthur Osborne, a university lecturer in Siam, was imprisoned by the Japanese. After three and a half long years, the Japanese were defeated and he was released. He then traveled to India and settled near Sri Ramanasramam, where his wife and children were waiting for him.
He had heard of Ramana Maharshi, read his teachings and seen pictures of him, but doubts remained whether the Maharshi was an actual Guru who actively guided seekers to salvation. It wasn’t long before this doubt was cleared. He ultimately founded the ashram journal, The Mountain Path, and left a unparalleled legacy of literature on the Maharshi and his teachings.
Let us follow him as he tells how his heart and mind were joined to the silent Sage of the holy Arunachala Mountain.
“I entered the ashram hall on the morning of my arrival, before Bhagavan had returned from his daily walk on the hill. I was a little awed to find how small it was and how close to him I should be sitting; I had expected something grander and less intimate. And then he entered and, to my surprise, there was no great impression; certainly far less than his photographs had made. Just a white-haired, very gracious man, walking a little stiffly from rheumatism and with a slight stoop. As soon as he had eased himself on to the couch he smiled to me and then turned to those around and to my young son and said: “So Adam’s prayer has been answered; his Daddy has come back safely.” I felt his kindliness, but no more. I appreciated that it was for my sake that he had spoken English, since Adam knew Tamil.
During the weeks that followed he was constantly gracious to me and the strain of nerves and mind gradually relaxed but there was still no dynamic contact until the evening of Karthikai when, each year, a beacon is lit on the summit of Arunachala.
There were huge crowds for the festival and we were sitting in the courtyard outside the hall. Bhagavan was reclining on his couch and I was sitting in the front row before it. He sat up, facing me, and his narrowed eyes pierced into me penetrating, intimate, with an intensity I cannot describe. It was as though they said: “You have been told; why have you not realized?” And then quietness, a depth of peace, an indescribable lightness and happiness.
Thereafter love for Bhagavan began to grow in my heart and I felt his power and beauty. Next morning, for the first time, sitting before him in the hall, I tried to follow his teaching by using the vichara, ‘Who am I?’. I thought it was I who had decided. I did not at first realize that it was the initiation by look that had vitalized me and changed my attitude of mind. Indeed, I had heard only vaguely of this initiation and paid little heed to what I had heard. Only later did I learn that other devotees also had had such an experience and that with them also it had marked the beginning of active sadhana under Bhagavan’s guidance.
My love and devotion to Bhagavan deepened. I became aware of the enormous grace of his presence. Even outwardly he was gracious to me, smiling when I entered the hall, signing to me to sit where he could watch me in meditation. His face was like the face of water, always changing and yet always the same. He would be laughing and talking, and then he would turn graciously to a small child or hand a nut to a squirrel that hopped on to his couch from the window, or his radiant, wide-open eyes would shine with love upon some devotee who had just arrived or was taking leave. And then, in silence, a moment later, his face would be rock-like, eternal in its grandeur.
He was unperturbed whatever happened; the majesty of his countenance was inexpressible; and yet it is no less true that he was swift and spontaneous in response and that his face was the most human, the most living, one had ever seen. He attained Realization without learning and never displayed erudition, and yet he made himself better versed in the scriptures than the pundits who came to him for elucidations. He was all compassion, and yet his countenance might appear immovable, like stone. He was all love, and yet for weeks together he might not favor a devotee with a single look or smile. He replied to all graciously, and yet many trembled and feared to speak to him. His features were not good and yet the most beautiful face looked trivial beside him. He often appeared scarcely to notice devotees, and yet his guidance was as unremitting then as it is now.
One day a sudden vivid reminder awoke in me: “The link with Formless Being? But he is the Formless Being!” And I began to apprehend the meaning of his Jnana and to understand why devotees addressed him simply as ‘Bhagavan’, which is a word meaning God. The vichara, the constant ‘Who am I?’, began to evoke an awareness of the Self as Bhagavan outwardly and also simultaneously of the Self within.
Bhagavan sought to free us from psychic as well as physical desires, and he therefore disapproved of all freakishness and eccentricity and of all interest in visions and desire for powers. He liked his devotees to behave in a normal and sane way, for he was guiding us towards the ultimate Reality where perceptions and powers which men call “higher” or “miraculous” are as illusory as those they call “physical”. A visitor once related how his Guru died and was buried and then, three years later, returned in tangible bodily form to give instructions. Bhagavan sat unheeding. It was as though he had not heard. The bell rang for lunch and he rose to leave the hall. Only at the doorway he turned and quoted:
“Though a man can enter ever so many bodies, does it mean that he has found his true Home?”
I observed that he shunned theoretical explanations and kept turning the questioner to practical considerations of sadhana, of the path to be followed. He never encouraged any to give up life in the world. He explained that it would only be exchanging the thought “I am a householder” for the thought “I am a sannyasin.” Whereas what is necessary is to reject the thought “I am the doer” completely and remember only “I am”; and this can be done by the means of the vichara as well in the city as in the jungle. It is only inwardly that a man can leave the world by leaving the ego-sense; it is only inwardly that he can withdraw into solitude by abiding in the universal solitude of the heart, which is solitude only because there are no others, however many forms the Self may assume.
Daily I sat in the hall before him. I asked no questions for the theory had long been understood. I spoke to him only very occasionally, about some personal matter. But the silent guidance was continuous, strong and subtle. It may seem strange to modern minds, but the Guru taught in silence. This did not mean that he was unwilling to explain when asked; indeed, he would answer sincere questions fully; what it meant was that the real teaching was not the explanation but the silent influence, the alchemy worked in the heart.
I strove constantly by way of the vichara according to his instructions. Having a strong sense of duty or obligation, I still continued, side by side with it, to use other forms of sadhana which I had undertaken before coming to Bhagavan, even though I now found them burdensome and unhelpful. Finally I told Bhagavan of my predicament and asked whether I could abandon them. He assented, explaining that all other methods only lead up to the vichara.
Early in 1948 constant physical proximity had ceased to be necessary and professional work had become urgently necessary. Work was found in Madras. Thereafter I went to Tiruvannamalai only for weekends and holidays, and each visit was revitalizing.
I was there at the time of one of the operations that Bhagavan suffered and had darshan immediately after it, and the graciousness of his reception melted the heart and awoke remorse to think how great was the reward for so little effort made.
Toward the end, Bhagavan was aged far more than his years. He looked more like ninety than seventy. In one who had a strong constitution, who had scarcely known sickness except for the rheumatism of his last years, and who was impervious to grief of worry, anxiety, hope or regret, this would appear incredible; but it was the burden of his compassion. “He who taketh upon himself the sins of the world.”
Devotees came and sat before him, burdened with sorrows, tormented with doubts, darkened with impurities, and, as they sat, felt themselves free and lightened. How many have come and sat there weighed down with the grief of failure or bereavement, and the light of his eyes has dissolved their pain until they have felt a wave of peace flood their heart. How many have come primed with questions which seemed to them all-important and which their thought and reading has failed to solve; it might be in desperate hope or as a challenge that they brought the questions, but as they sat there the questioning mind itself was brought to tranquility and the questions faded out, no longer needing to be asked. And then, if they opened their hearts, a deeper understanding was implanted there. Those who sought refuge in him felt the burden of their karma lifted; and it was he who bore the burden.
I was there that fateful April night of the body’s death and felt a calm beneath the grief and a wonder at the fortitude Bhagavan had implanted in his devotees to bear their loss. Gradually one after another began to discover in his heart the truth that Bhagavan had not gone away but, as he promised, is still here.
Since that day his presence in the heart has been more vital, the outpouring of his Grace more abundant, his support more powerful. I have been to Tiruvannamalai since then also, and the Grace that emanates from the tomb is the Grace of the living Ramana.
I have not given a clear picture of the man who was Ramana, but how can one portray the universal? What impressed one was his complete unself-consciousness like that of a little child, his Divinity and intense humanity.
We shall not see the Divine Grace in human form or the love shining in his eyes, but in our hearts he is with us and will not leave us. His Grace continues to be poured out, not only on those who knew the miracle of his bodily form, but on all who turn to him in their hearts, now as before.”
From “Ramana-Arunachala” by Arthur Osborne
Image courtesy of Dana Cochiarella (2002)
I posted this yesterday on HarshaSatsangh. The story has a brief reference to Sri Ramana’s view on the use of Ganja (even by some sadhus and yogis). Ganja has cannabis as the principle ingredient. The classical view of yoga is that the use of mind altering substances including alcohol and various forms of tobacco should be strictly avoided. I personally adhere to that view. Some years ago, there was a discussion on this on the list. There are many people who have come to the spiritual path after experimenting with mind altering substances. Ramdass, a former Harvard professor, being an example of that. Some highly learned people have even argued that certain “medicinal” plants found in nature have been responsible for the spiritual evolution of humanity in general! I am not an anthropologist and cannot comment on that. Although people have a diversity of views on this topic, it is true that for many people, mind altering drugs can lead to a premature kundalini awakening, release various fears and anxieties in the unconscious too suddenly, and can cause years of mental anguish and psychic suffering. In my view, relying on meditation, contemplation, and inquiry alone, following a simple nutritious Sattvic diet is the safest route in the long run. Here is the story of one of the great devotees of Ramana.
Love to all
Annamalai Swami, a lifelong devotee of Sri Ramana Maharshi, was absorbed in his Master on November 9, 1995. He was 89-years-old. The Swami’s remarkable story was edited by David Godman and published in 1994 by the Sri Annamalai Swami Ashram Trust.
Annamalai Swami came to the Maharshi in 1928 and, at the Sage’s behest, undertook the supervision in the construction of the Goshala (cow shed), Dining Hall, Dispensary and various other projects. In the mid-1940s, Bhagavan instructed him to leave the ashram and engage in intense sadhana. He would then occasionally meet the Maharshi on his walks, but never again in the fifty years that followed did he reenter Sri Ramanasramam, preferring to live a quiet, austere life in Palakottu. His small ashram borders the western boundary of Sri Ramanasramam and he was well known to many devotees and visitors to Tiruvannamalai.
In the passage below, excerpted from Living By the Words Of Bhagavan, Annamalai Swami relates the incidents preceding his departure from Sri Ramanasramam.
My days as an ashram worker were coming to a close, although I didn’t realize it at the time. In retrospect I can remember only one small incident which indicated that Bhagavan knew that my time in the ashram was coming to an end.
I was doing some digging with a crowbar when Bhagavan came and asked me, “Did you decide to do this work yourself or did Chinnaswami ask you to do it?”
I told him that Chinnaswami had asked me to do it. Bhagavan was not very pleased.
“So, he has given you work. So, he has given you work. Why is he giving you work like this?”
A little later Yogi Ramiah remarked to Bhagavan, “Annamalai Swami is working very hard. His body has become very weak. You should give him some rest.”
Bhagavan agreed with him. “Yes, we have to give him some rest. We have to give freedom to him.”
A few days later I went to Bhagavan’s bathroom to help him with his morning bath. Madhava Swami and I gave him the usual oil bath and massage.
When the bath was over Madhava Swami asked a question: “Bhagavan, the people who take ganja lehiyam (an ayurvedic preparation whose principal ingredient is cannabis) experience some kind of ananda (bliss). What is the nature of this ananda ? Is it the same ananda that the scriptures speak of?”
“Eating this ganja is a very bad habit,” replied Bhagavan. Then, laughing loudly, he came over to me, hugged me and called out, “Ananda! Ananda! This is how these ganja-taking people behave!”
It was not a brief hug. Madhava Swami told me later that he held me tightly for about two minutes. After the first few seconds I completely lost awareness of my body and the world. Initially, there was a feeling of happiness and bliss, but this soon gave way to a state in which there were no feelings and no experiences. I did not lose consciousness, I just ceased to be aware of anything that was going on around me. I remained in this state for about fifteen minutes. When I recovered my usual world-consciousness I was standing alone in the bathroom. Madhava Swami and Bhagavan had long since departed for breakfast. I had not seen them open the door and leave, nor had I heard the breakfast bell.
This experience completely changed my life. As soon as I recovered normal consciousness I knew that my working life at Sri Ramanasramam had come to an end. I knew that henceforth I would be living outside the ashram and spending most of my time in meditation. There was a rule that only those who worked for the ashram could live there full-time. Those who wanted to spend their time in meditation had to live somewhere else. I thus knew that I would have to leave the ashram and fend for myself, but the thought of losing my regular meals and my room never troubled me.
I made a belated appearance in the dining room to eat my last breakfast. As soon as I had finished eating I went up onto the hill to look for Bhagavan. I found him sitting on a big rock.
“I have decided to leave the ashram,” I said. “I want to go to Palakottu to live alone and meditate.”
“Ah! Very good! Very good! Very good!” exclaimed Bhagavan. The decision clearly had his approval. How could it be otherwise since it was Bhagavan himself who gave me the experience which precipitated the decision?
After getting Bhagavan’s permission I packed my possessions and locked my room. I also locked all the other places that were in my charge. I took the bunch of keys to Chinnaswami and told him, “I have decided to go and live in Palakottu. Please take these keys and keep them.”
Chinnaswami was, quite naturally, very surprised. “Why are you leaving?” he asked. “You have constructed all these buildings. You have done so much here. How can you go after doing all this work? Where will you sleep? How will you eat? You will have many troubles because you have no way of supporting yourself. Don’t go, stay here.”
I told him that I would not change my mind. I also tried to give him the keys but he refused to accept them. I didn’t want another argument with him so I just handed over the keys to Subramaniam, who was also in the office, and left.
It was an abrupt change in my life. Within a few hours of having the experience I was walking to Palakottu, knowing full well that I had left all of my old working life behind me.”