Viswanatha Swami_ A Hidden Gem: By Murray Feldman
Viswanatha Swami first came to stay with Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi when he was about 19 years old. His father, Ramaswamy Iyer, was a first cousin of Bhagavan.
I had the good fortune to spend considerable time with this great devotee of Ramana Maharishi from April 1976, until he became ill and passed away at 75 years of age on the 22nd November, 1979. How he came to Bhagavan has been written about elsewhere. Here I attempt to show how he exemplified, so wonderfully and devotedly the teachings of Bhagavan.
When I first came to the Ashram in 1976, I sought out Mrs. Osborne to hear about Bhagavan and to discuss his teachings and their practical application. She told me that I should visit an unassuming older devotee by the name of Viswanatha Swami who, except for his work on The Mountain Path, was living quietly at the back of the Ashram in a side room of the old dispensary.
I found his room near the dispensary the next day and went to visit him around 4 pm. Timidly approaching his open door, I saw a grey-bearded man sitting quietly on his bed with his legs dangling and staring straight ahead. I asked him if he was Viswanatha Swami. He nodded and gestured for me to enter and sit on the bench opposite him. I asked him a question about the application of ‘Who Am I’. He did not look at me but said very tenderly, “Bhagavan’s teaching is one of the Heart.” At that moment, he closed his eyes and a beautiful delicate silence filled the room. I too closed my eyes and we sat together in this stillness. Time passed very quickly and after about an hour, he opened his eyes and gestured for me to leave. He said that I could come the next day around the same time if I wished to.
This was the beginning of an extremely beautiful and important period in my life. I had planned to stay at the Ashram for only four days but nothing pulled my heart elsewhere during the next couple of years. I am sure it was to a large degree Viswanatha who made Bhagavan come alive for me. It is very true that Bhagavan’s presence is profoundly felt at the Ashram but Viswanatha brought Him alive as a Guru in the flesh.
After that remarkable first day, I went to visit Viswanatha daily. For two months, he hardly spoke another word to me. But after that, he told me many stories of being around Bhagavan. He represented Him in such a beautiful and true way. His love for Bhagavan and His teachings were evident in his words and his manner and he often mentioned how still and beautiful Bhagavan was.
During those two months effortless peace became my constant companion and I had the opportunity to sit with Viswanatha daily and to watch him with other people. Ashram workers, old devotees and others would come in and talk to him about their problems. He gave advice, medicine, money, food and patience to all those who came for help. He was always surrounded by a wonderful peace. Even his movements seemed silent. I began to feel that he embodied a culmination of the three yogas; deep devotion for Bhagavan, jnana (wisdom) and effortless selfless service. He constantly gave to others in such a kind way without any hesitation.
After a period he allowed me to spend more time with him and we started to do pradakshina together. These were wonderful times as he brought Ramana so alive on these walks. He would point out the places where Bhagavan would sit and it was easy to imagine Ramana in these places.
Once when we were walking he said, “People say that Parvati walked here. This I don’t know about but what I do know is that Bhagavan Himself walked along this very place where we are walking now.” Words cannot explain the love that was in his voice as he said this.
When Viswanatha walked, he was so quiet. He walked perfectly straight, rarely looking to the left or right: just silently walking. One time when we did a pradakshina in the rainy season we got soaking wet. When the rain started to come down, even here, he showed his love for Ramana by reminding me of the gift of this beautiful rain that Bhagavan was giving us. We laughed and laughed with joy at this gift. When we arrived late at the Ashram we went in to get food and Balu served us with equal joy. Viswanatha spoke with great affection about Balu and how he loved to serve the devotees.
Once he told me how Bhagavan came to his room in the middle of the night knocking on his door. Bhagavan said to him, “Quick, quick, let’s go for pradakshina before anyone else finds out.” The two of them walked together and Bhagavan gave him teachings along the whole circumambulation of the hill. Viswanatha had such a beautiful smile when he told me about this. He did not smile a lot but when he did his whole face beamed and when he laughed his whole body laughed.
Viswanatha always encouraged me to visit the places in the area that were associated with Bhagavan. He would ask me if I had visited places like Mango Tree Cave, Pavazhakkunru, and Turtle Rock (where Bhagavan had his second death experience).
Once I did not visit Viswanatha for two days as I had dysentery. I was staying in a small hut at Saraswati Nilayam and was shocked and very touched when, who should I see approaching me at 4 pm but Viswanatha Swami! He said, with a smile and a chuckle, “Mohammed has not come to the mountain, so the mountain has come to Mohammed.” He gave me some chyavanaprash he had brought. Viswanatha was very fond of chyavanaprash as a general tonic. After that, he said, come, we are going for a walk. I said that I had dysentery but he replied that I would be fine. Needless to say, I was fine. After walking for a while, I asked where we were going. He told me, “It’s a secret and you will like it.”
We walked out of the town to a small shrine. This was Gurumurtham one of the places where Bhagavan had stayed in His early days. Viswanatha showed me the indentation in the wall where Bhagavan had sat for long hours. Viswanatha was always ready to talk about Bhagavan and his teachings.
During one period, I became very sluggish and dull. I decided to do a retreat in Hyderabad with the well-known Buddhist meditation teacher Goenkaji. When I returned from this retreat several people were critical of my need to go away. This disturbed me so I thought I would ask Viswanatha about it. I went to the Ashram in the morning planning to see him in the evening. As I started walking up the steps by the bookstore I met Viswanatha as he was coming out of the Ashram office. He looked at me, smiled, and asked if I wanted to go for tea. It was a hot summer’s day and he was carrying his umbrella. As we were walking out of the Ashram, bells started to ring. Viswanatha said, “Sound comes out of silence, sound is sustained in silence and sound returns to silence, silence is all.” We drank the tea and I thought this was a perfect time to talk with him, but I felt shy.
We walked back to his room and he said, “Come into my room, there is an article I want you to look at for The Mountain Path.” He gave me the perfect opportunity but I still felt shy to do so. After I had read the article, he asked for my thoughts on it. He then asked me if I had anything else to say and I said no. He said to come back around four.
As I left however, he called me back and said, “Hey you, what do you want?” I was amazed at how Bhagavan had so wonderfully set the whole thing up to help remove my doubts and worries. I told Viswanatha about the Goenka meditation that I did and how the meditation emphasizes the purification of the latent (unconscious) mental tendencies. He looked at me so sweetly and slowly started to lie down on his bed. As he was lying down he said, “I know nothing about the mind or its tendencies. All I know is, be asleep to it all.” I am sure to this day that his face changed complexion, almost becoming grey, and he started to snore.
I was sitting there and he was snoring. At that moment, an Ashram worker came in to see Viswanatha. He saw Viswanatha sleeping there and he promptly lay down on a bench as well and started to snore. I decided to lie down too on the bed beside Viswanatha and went into a deep deep stillness. After a while, I became aware of the noises around us and looked. Viswanatha was rising from the bed and staring at me. He said very pointedly, “Do you understand?” The Ashram worker was still snoring. Viswanatha laughed and said, “He does.”
As I read over these few words, I see that they just cannot convey the beauty of this great devotee of Bhagavan. His love for Bhagavan and his gratitude to Him shone in every action he did and in every word he uttered. It is strange that we never spoke about Viswanatha’s initial meeting with Bhagavan, but everything he said and did reflected his love and devotion. Sitting quietly at the back of the Ashram in his room, he truly was a hidden gem.
From: Mountain Path Oct 2012