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 a three part story from Michael about his visit to a Swami in India. This is Part I.
By Sri Michael Bowes
In the spring of 1992 I met a Swami who was making his first trip to the United States. By the time I met him he had been in the States for about two months and had already developed quite a following. It was easy to understand why so many people were following him because wherever he was many unusual things would occur. I myself witnessed several mystical events.
In late June he returned to India and several of us wanted to go there to see him. About a year later, I received a letter from the Swami. I knew that he had been living an itinerant life, often moving from one place to another; but the letter stated that he had established an ashram in the countryside of South India and he invited me to come and spend some time. I began making arrangements and in early October of 1994 I was on my way.
I landed in Madras where I was going to spend about a week before going to the Swami’s ashram in the interior. And even though I had many Indian friends who had given me a lot of advice about negotiating my way through this foreign culture, I soon realized that nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered. I was truly shocked by the situation.
Anytime I left my hotel room I was besieged by beggars, scam artists, rickshaw wallas, lepers, guides and touts. No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to make any of them happy. If I paid an outrageous amount to a rickshaw walla to try to help, they responded by begging for more. The hassles and troubles went on and on and on.
I decided that I needed to get out of Madras earlier than planned and I called my contact in the interior. I explained what was happening and he told me to take the train to the town that was closest to the ashram. The hassles continued; but in a couple of days I was on the train to the interior.
I was greeted at the train station by my contact. His name was Shyam. He had a car and driver and we went to the ashram that was on a farm owned by a wonderful old man named Govindan and his family. It was a beautiful, peaceful place and they had just built a new room for me. They showed me my room and then we ate.
It was a tremendous relief to be there with these kind and gentle people. I had arrived earlier than planned and the Swami wasn’t there; but he was coming in a few days. While we were waiting for the Swami, we decided to take a trip and we went to Ramana Ashram, Aurobindo Ashram, and Auroville. It was a great trip and I wasn’t nearly as hassled because I was always surrounded by three or four Indians.
When we returned to the farm, the Swami was there and it was really great to see him. We talked and he gave me some instructions and I just settled into the daily routine. Govindan had built a small temple, complete with a tank and flower gardens. Every day we would arise and Govindan would go around the farm picking flowers for his morning puja (worship). The Swami also performed a very elaborate morning puja in his room. I didn’t talk to the Swami much. He was a man of few words. He didn’t even eat with us. But I would visit with him a little every day.
After a few days the word spread that an American was staying at the ashram and people started coming from all around to see me. On some days there were people lined up outside of my door to talk to me. They were curious about a lot of things. Primarily they wanted to know how to make money. But they also wanted to know how they could move to America, or they wanted to know how to sell goods in America. Some of them just wanted to talk to an American. And occasionally someone would ask about how to reach God-realization.
I couldn’t help them with any of that; but I listened and talked and generally found everyone to be quite pleasant. One day a whole group of children came and they couldn’t speak any English; but they had brought me a gift of some peanuts and they just hung out with me staring and laughing and giggling. They were very sweet.
About the time that the crowds of people thinned out, a new visitor, a starving dog arrived. A medium sized, starving black dog parked himself outside my door and didn’t leave for a couple of days. Govindan had three dogs and the Swami had a dog; but this dog didn’t hang out with the other dogs. Somehow this dog must have known that I was a Westerner and he must have thought that I could help him. But actually, he was there to help me.
When I would leave the room he would just lay there and look at me, and when I would come back – there he was. He would never leave and he was in very bad shape. His condition was very distressing. But he never bothered me. He never tried to come into the room. He just hung out at my door like a statue. His condition was so bad that I had to do something. So I told Govindan that a starving dog was hanging out at my door and that it was disturbing to me. Govindan laughed and said, “That’s not a starving dog. That is Ramu. He’s a dog from the village.”
I said that Ramu looked like he was starving to me and I told Govindan that I was going to talk to the Swami about using his car to go to a nearby large town to buy dog food for him.
I found the Swami and I asked him to come to see Ramu. I showed the dog to him and asked if he would allow his driver to take me to town to buy food for the dog.
The Swami said, “This dog is not starving”.
I said, “How can you say the dog isn’t starving? Just look at him you can see every bone in his body”.
The Swami said, “If the dog is starving then it is his karma to starve.”
“If the dog’s karma caused him to starve, then it is my karma to feed him”, I said.
The Swami relented and allowed his driver to take me to town. Shyam and Govindan went with me. I scoured the town for dog food. I found out that they didn’t really sell dog food; but I managed to find three big boxes of dog biscuits that were made of very nutritious ingredients. By the time we got back to the ashram, dinner was being served. I grabbed a few dog biscuits out of the box, left the rest in the car, ran to my room and gave them to Ramu. Then I ate supper.
After I ate, I went to get the dog biscuits out of the car; but they weren’t there anymore. I asked Govindan what happened to the dog biscuits and he said that the Swami had taken them and put them in his own room. I was dumb struck. The Swami had taken the dog biscuits – what kind of deal was that? His dog was nice and fat. They fed his dog every day like a king and yet he had appropriated the dog biscuits that I had bought for Ramu.
I was not happy. But it was too late that night to do anything about the situation, so I went to my room to meditate and sleep.
When I got to my room Ramu was gone. In fact, I never saw Ramu again. I guess it was a good thing because I didn’t have to confront the Swami about the dog biscuits. I didn’t need them anymore because Ramu was gone. This whole incident began to show me what the Swami was really like. I thought that it was very strange that Ramu should have come and gone in such a mysterious way. Why did he come and hang out at my door? And why did he just suddenly leave? I came to believe that the guru had come in the form of Ramu to begin to unmask the Swami. But I can assure you that it was only the beginning of the unmasking…..
To be continued……….
Love to all,