To Nanagaru’s Ashram: By Richard Clarke
Ho hum, just another ordinary day in Tiru. We got up really early, 5am, to walk to see Nanagaru, one of the spiritual teachers who maintains an ashram here and comes several times a year. We have a friend who is a devotee of Nanagaru, and was certain that we would find his darshan meaningful. Now, Nome has been my teacher for many years, and after coming to Tiruvannamalai I realize that Arunachala is the Guru of us all. But, they say that it is good for an aspirant to keep company with jnanis, Self-realized beings, so I’ll always want to sit with masters like Nanagaru.
It was dark when we started out, a little difficult to walk up our dirt-and-rock road, but we made it to the paved “main” road with no difficulty, not even having to negotiate the barks of the four dogs who live between our house and the road. Soon after we arrived on the road, a bullock cart stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. The cart was piled with large, stuffed burlap bags, so simply hopping on wasn’t possible. The driver pulled me up to his level “at the helm,” and I climbed over the sacks from there. Richard followed me. I made my way to the back of the cart and dangled my legs over, but the driver said something that meant that wasn’t safe. I climbed back to the center of the pile of lumpy sacks.
So here we are at 5:45 in the morning, dawn breaking, and we’re riding down the road pulled by two bony male cattle who had to be constantly prodded by the driver, who talked to them, made clicking sounds, touched a stick to them, and, oddly, kept cupping his hands under their anuses, goosing them on.
When he let us off he said “Arunachalam,” which is code around here for “give me some money.” Richard gave him a 10-rupee note, worth about a quarter, which is a lot to give for an Arunachalam request. We walked down the side road that our driver, Rajan, told us to take, but got stymied by an apparent dead end near a brick “factory.” (The way bricks are made is that the clay is molded and dried, then the pieces are stacked up into an eight-foot cube. Pieces of wood are inserted into the center of the cube, set on fire, and the bricks are fired from the inside.) Some people saw us and waved us toward the right direction. After crossing a ditch and a field, we found Nanagaru’s ashram.
We were pointed to the rooftop meeting space, where we joined a group of about 60, mostly older Indian women, seated on the floor. Nanagaru was just being seated on a plastic chair in front of the group.
He’s quite old, and looked slightly shaky. He sat in silence, looking towards the mountain, which seemed very close. He said something to a young man sitting at his feet, and the man started to shake and cry, I thought, although his back was to me. This guy is pretty powerful, I thought, to cause the young man to react like that. Reminded me of those “Christian” spiritual teachers on TV in the States, where they approach a follower and the follower falls down in a swoon. Then Nanna Garu seemed to be shaking slightly. Turns out the man at his feet was giving Nanna Garu a foot massage, and the shaking was from the vigorous effort.
The massage stopped, and a woman up front stood and gestured to a certain western woman to come forward and sit at Nanagaru’s feet. The woman seemed surprised, but she went there. No fainting or swooning for her, but she sat silently facing the Master. The Master, meanwhile, stayed silent, looked around the group several times, and then said to the woman, in English, that she should go around the mountain at 3 o’clock today. She didn’t reply, and he said no more to her.
More silence, more looking at the mountain, and I could see clearly that Nanagaru had forgotten to put his teeth in. We sat like this for a while, then he stood up, gestured a pranam to the group, and was escorted down the stairs. It was a very peaceful session. Richard remarked that he was surprised that we had been sitting for an hour, a phenomenon that happens when one’s meditation is deep. I agreed that the time went by quickly, but I suspect that I would have been way more rapt sitting on a chair on MY rooftop looking at my real guru, Arunachala.
Down in the courtyard of the ashram they had metal dispensers for coffee and chai. Having the ever-scrumptious sweetened Indian milk coffee did give me a taste of nirvana, though, and it completed the peaceful experience of being with a Master. We walked back home, pleasantly spiritual, as always. And, as I write, the day is still young!