Walking up to Skandashram: By Richard Clarke

Here in Tiruvannamalai for many Westerners the focus is on Sri Ramana Maharshi and Ramanasramam. Many of these go up Arunachala to the caves where Ramana lived and taught and gave darshan.

One of these caves is Skandashram. It is perhaps one mile from Ramanasramam, up a well cared-for path, up the side of the mountain.

Ramana lived at Skandashram from 1915 to 1922. This is where his mother joined him, and started preparing meals at the ashram, rather than having prepared food carried up, as had been the case since the earliest years. After the mahasamadhi of Mother, and her subsequent interment at the base of the hill, Ramana then took residence at her samadhi, the location of the present day Ramanasramam.

I show here photos from a recent walk up the hill to Skandashram. We started about 7:15 in the morning, before it was too hot. We left out the back gate of Ramanasramam.

Getting started

Going through Sri Ramanasramam

Carol walking through Ramanasramam to path to Skandashram One of the guides who accompany newcomers The gate from Ramanasramam

Starting up the hill

Starting on the path

A woman working with gathered material

Village woman collecting plants

Up the path we go

Starting to climb up the path

The path is ‘paved’ with stone, from Ramanasramam all the way to Skandashram, stones set into the dirt, forming a path about three feet wide. In steep areas there are steps. Someday these stones will be smooth, after 100,000’s of feet have passed over them. Each stone was carried to the path and set into the ground by unnamed workers.

On both sides of the path you will notice tree plantings, done as part of the Arunachala reforestation project that has been going on the the last few years. Ramanasramam has increased interest in Arunachala both around the world, and in India. It is this increased interest in Arunachala that has brought this project about.

Take the right fork. To the left is an entry into the inner pradakshina path.

The path forfs, Skandashram to the right

Up the hill

Carol is barefoot. Arunachala, the whole mountain, is considered to be a temple, and in India you take off your shoes in a temple. Many Westerners do not do this, but Carol goes barefoot on the walk to Skandashram. I do wear sandals. Carol gets more ‘punya,’ spiritual merit.

Carol walks barefoot up the path

And up the hill …

Climbing stairs here

Often there are people sitting and meditating here

To the  left, a place to sit and meditate

Up the path

Up the path

View along the way down to the city

View to the right of the path

Keep going up

The path keeps going up

A Sadhu is usually here – “Sivo Hum,” he may say

Sadhu's spot

There are stone carvers along the way

Stone carver

Up to the top of the path

Up to the top

The view from the top of the path

View from the top - Aranachaleswara Temple

And now to Skandashram. Skandashram is the in clump of trees in the center of the photo.

Final leg of the path

Here we are, but the gate is locked

Skandashram Skandashram gate

Path down to Virapakshu Cave. It is pretty steep.

Aranachaleswara Temple from Skandashram

Opening the gate, walking in. The attendant unlocks the gates.

Opening the gate Entering Skandashram grounds

Skandashram

Skandashram

View from Skandashram

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Entering Skandashram

Entering Skandashram

The inner chamber, with the attendant getting ready for the morning chant. This chant is wonderful to listen to. The voice is resonant, and you can hear the love for the teaching in the voice. When we go up to Skandashram, we try to get there for this morning chant. We will sit in the outer chamber, and listen to the chant and meditate, and continue the meditation after the chant is finished.

Innter chamber

Looking out from the porch

Looking out

The Mother’s Quarters

Mother's room Altar in Mother's room

One last look around

Skandashram grounds

One last look at Skandashram

Skandashram

Back down the path

Path back to Ramanasramam

The walk down the hill was harrowing. A tree with a bees nest had fallen, and the bees chased some people down the hill. I was one of these. A swarm of bees circled around my head, stinging the back of my head several times. I was able to brush then out of my ears and off my mouth and face without getting stung there. Finally, about halfway down the hill, they stopped following me.

This is why the photos end with the one above.

The Guru Came As Ramu – Conclusion: By Michael Bowes

Michael Bowes is well known to us as an authentic and genuine and a very experienced yogi and a devotee of Sri Bhagavan Ramana. Internationally, he is well travelled and has been to India. He has visited various Ashrams and Gurus and Swamis in both the U.S. and abroad.Michael has an uncanny ability to see to the heart of the matter and his spiritual insights pierce through the veils of sentimentality and conceptual baggage. Michael is a long term member of the HarshaSatsangh community and his presence has been a gift.

Given below is the conclusion of a three part story from Michael about his visit to a Swami in India.

You can see Part I at the following link. https://luthar.com/2006/01/page/2/
Part II is at https://luthar.com/2006/01/

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By Sri Michael Bowes

In the first two parts of this story, I related some events that occurred during my association with a certain Swami. In part one, I told about the coming of a starving dog named Ramu, and how his presence began to unravel the Swami’s fragile facade. I wrote of the Swami’s callous statements that he made after Govindan’s wife, Mother, offered her heartfelt thanks for a small gift that I had given her.

I had planned to reveal more of the shameful actions of this Swami who initially had seemed to be a blazing spiritual light. But I realized that I cannot.

There are many blind guides in all religions and sects, persons who misuse their followers either intentionally or unintentionally. And there are many persons of faith who should carefully consider where they place their trust. And that is the question – In whom or in what may we trust?

We can trust in the ONE who sent Ramu to help me. Before I met this particular Swami, I already knew that the true Guru is always radiating grace through a myriad of ways, always guiding us through all beings and events. There is one immortal Being, unborn and undying, always providing the necessary grace to help us to recognize our own true nature. That is the message that I want to convey.

The surest spiritual path for one and all is to awaken to the love and grace of the sadguru. The Sanskrit word “sadguru” means different things to different people. Sadguru is a combination of two Sanskrit words, “sat” and “guru”. The basic meaning of “sat” is existence. It is also translated as “truth” because there is no truth apart from what exists. Of course the word “guru” is usually not translated; but refers to a spiritual guide or teacher. Some persons interpret the word “sadguru” to mean the “true guru”. But I interpret the word to convey the fact that all existence (sat) is the guru.

That is my experience.

The longer I live this life, the more I see that nothing whatsoever exists except for love, and bliss, and unimaginable communion with the sadguru as it manifests as all that we encounter. The wise spiritual aspirant will trust in the ever present sadguru and will not blindly follow any other guide.

Once I had been associating with a certain spiritual group for quite some time. I had benefited immensely from my exposure to their guru. I had developed close friendships with some of the members of the group, including the president of the organization. Occasionally, some of the members of the group would try to convince me to take initiation from their guru.

One day, my friend, the president, also tried to convince me to take initiation. He was trying to impress me with the necessity of accepting a spiritual authority. He was implying that his guru was such an authority.

He asked me, “Who is the final authority?” Suddenly, without consideration, I answered, “Me”. “I am my own final authority.”

It goes without saying. I am responsible for my own life and my own decisions. If I want to consider making a choice between different spiritual paths or spiritual teachers, I then become the ultimate authority. So do you. It’s easy to see. The buck stops with our own self, which is the same as the self of all.

But we don’t ever really need to decide between one teacher or another. The surest, most effective means to truth and happiness is to invoke the true guru, the ever present guru, which is the same as one’s own self.

When one makes that connection then there’s no doubt about the path or the method. After receiving initiation from the sadguru no spiritual or philosophical questions about life arise because life is revealed as a mysterious, blissful and wonderful existence for which there is no explanation.

Then there is nothing to accept and nothing to reject. After the touch of the sadguru one becomes free by always residing in the presence of the sacred ONE and its fantastic and mysterious manifestation.

The Guru Came As Ramu- Part II: By Michael Bowes

Michael Bowes is well known to us as an authentic and genuine and a very experienced yogi and a devotee of Sri Bhagavan Ramana. Internationally, he is well travelled and has been to India. He has visited various Ashrams and Gurus and Swamis in both the U.S. and abroad.

Michael has an uncanny ability to see to the heart of the matter and his spiritual insights pierce through the veils of sentimentality and conceptual baggage. Michael is a long term member of the HarshaSatsangh community and his presence has been a gift.

Given below is the second part of a three part story from Michael about his visit to a Swami in India. This is Part II.

You can see Part I at the following link.

https://luthar.com/2006/01/page/2/

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By Sri Michael Bowes

Many persons would love to meet their guru. Imagine meeting a Swami of the Shankara Order who was exuding peace, love, and siddhis. Imagine an unknown Swami who, on his first trip to the West attracted a very large following in a very short time. Many persons were convinced that the Swami was an exceptional spiritual beacon. A letter came inviting me to India.

Thinking that I had met a true guru, a person who seemed to be surrounded by mystical events, I traveled to the other side of the earth to be with him in India. But after being there for a short time, and through the grace of the guru, I had already become wary.

The Ashram was situated on a quiet, peaceful farm in South India. The farm was owned by Govindan and his family. There was Mother, his wife, and there were daughter and son. I never got their names – they were Mother and daughter and son.

Govindan had a nice room with a bed and a desk and some chairs. There was a ceiling fan and he had a water purifier there. I would often go there and visit. Mother lived in the kitchen. She slept on a mat on the bare concrete floor. I never did find out where daughter and son slept; but I think that it might have been in the cowshed.

Mother and daughter cooked for us on a wood fire. Sometimes there were many persons there. The food was great. In part one, I mentioned that Govindan, and Shyam and I went to Ramana Ashrama and some other locations; but before we did, I wanted to give Mother a small gift. I also wanted to give something to daughter. I had already given a significant sum to Govindan because they were feeding me and giving me a nice place to stay.

Mother didn’t want to take the money, so I had to leave it on the floor in the kitchen. I also left some money for daughter and then Govindan, Shyam and I left for Tamil Nadu. A couple days after our return, and after the grace of Ramu, the Swami’s attendant called me to his room. Swami was just finishing the morning puja when I walked in. Mother and daughter were there along with some others.

The Swami welcomed me and I paid my respects to all. Mother and daughter were standing and the Swami was seated near the shrine. Swami said, “Mother has something to tell you.” I looked at Mother and her eyes revealed the depth of her emotion. The Swami spoke and said, “Mother wants you to know that she used the money that you gave her and bought these earrings. I have blessed these earrings, and Mother wants me to give these earrings to you and then she wants you to hand the earrings to her.”

I was overjoyed. The Swami placed these teeney, tiny, gold and diamond earrings on a flower, and handed them to me. Then I handed the flower with the earrings to Mother. Mother put them in her ears immediately and she was nearly shining. Daughter had bought a gold nose-pin with her money and so the same process was repeated for daughter. She also seemed quite happy. It was fun for me.

Then Swami said, “Mother has something else to tell you.” I looked at Mother and it seemed that she was about to cry. Swami said, “Mother wants you to know that no one has ever done such a wonderful thing for her. Mother says that men have always cursed her and abused her. Mother says that this is the best thing that has ever happened to her.”

I was stunned. I looked at Mother and I’ll never forget the look on her face. Suddenly I realized – they don’t say her name. She lives on the concrete floor in this primitive kitchen. She and daughter don’t even eat with us. She got this little bit of money and she wants me to know that this is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to her. I was shocked. I could barely believe this. I can’t begin to explain how I felt.

As everyone was leaving, the Swami asked me to stay. I was really, really sad. I sat down next to him and he said: “Michael, don’t give these people anymore money.” If you want to give someone money, give it to me.”

My very limited patience began to wear thin. I tried to explain that I had given Mother and daughter just a little bit of money and that I gave money to Govindan because he had built a room and was feeding me and everything. Swami said, “Govindan is a retired railway station master. He gets Rupees 1800 every month. Don’t give them any money. If you want to give money, give it to me.” He went on to say that he had some kind of trust set up and that he already had $700 and that everything was all worked out. I told him that I understood, bowed and left the room. I knew that I needed to get away from this Swami; but I couldn’t go home just yet…