Author Topic: Final Part - The Recollections of Ramana Maharshi Devotee N. Balaram Reddy  (Read 1991 times)


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The Maharshi was available to all. The management may have put limits on length of stays in the ashram, but anyone could live outside the ashram and daily come and visit the Maharshi. The women devotees did that. Since no women were allowed in the ashram at night, they all had to leave after the evening meals.

One day about 7 P.M., when it had already turned dark, an indiscreet incident between a man and woman occurred. When Bhagavan came to know of it, he said that the woman devotees should be fed their evening meal by 6:30 P.M. and then sent home.

In Bhagavan's Hall

Once T. M. P. Mahadevan had just returned from a trip to the West. He delivered lectures wherever he went and a number of those lectures were about Bhagavan and his teachings. A few of the resident devotees wanted to hear an example of how he lectured on Bhagavan. He offered to give one right then and there. But before he could do this, permission had to be taken from the office. Without undue delay it was given. T. M. P. Mahadevan then gave a lecture. Except for this lecture I don't ever remember anyone giving a lecture in the hall, although there were those whose very questions were the equivalent of a lecture. Usually, such visitors wanted to show off their knowledge.

There was one Daivarata, a devotee of Bhagavan who had been living in the north for some years and who had just returned to the ashram for a visit after a long absence. Among other things, he was known for his enthusiastic kirtan and dancing. He used to do it in earlier years before the Maharshi and while doing pradakshina of Arunachala. Some of the devotees expressed a desire to see him perform. It was arranged in the dining hall. Bhagavan sat where he usually did at mealtime and we all sat in rows. Daivarata began singing and dancing up and down the rows with great enthusiasm. He also sang Ganapati Muni's "Chatvarimsat" in his own melody, dancing with the tune.

The attendants used to spread various sheets over Bhagavan's couch, changing them frequently. Occasionally they would place a tiger's skin on the couch and Bhagavan would sit on that too, just like it was any other sheet. Once I was sitting near the end of Bhagavan's couch facing him. That day a tiger's skin had been spread on the sofa and the head of the tiger was hanging over the armrest and, seemingly, staring straight at me.

Chadwick was also sitting in the hall at the west end. He would usually follow a punctual schedule and at exactly 7 P.M. he rose to leave. On his way out he walked up behind me and whispered in my ear, "Do you see? There is Chinnaswami, the ashram tiger, staring straight at you." We both chuckled at the joke. When Chadwick went out, Bhagavan asked me what Chadwick had said to me. When I repeated it, Bhagavan enjoyed the humor and we both laughed.

Gandhians and Service

On one occasion, a prominent leader for the advancement of the lower classes came on a visit. She asked Bhagavan a number of questions concerning her work and ideals. Bhagavan simply listened and remained silent. The lady left. Shortly after her visit, an article written by this lady was found in a Madras newspaper. She wrote that she had discussed all her plans with Bhagavan and he agreed with them. When Bhagavan saw this, he commented, "What can I do? Even if I am silent, such statements are printed in the newspapers."

Adi Shankaracharya writes that karma yoga is useful for purifying the mind. But the purified mind has to be harnessed to some technique of spiritual practice. Only then will the sadhana be effective. Bhagavan has said that only a true jnani can be a true karma yogi. It is not that doing good works and giving to others is wrong. But only a jnani knows that there are no others; there is only the Self. Who is to give to whom?

Bhagavan's whole life was simply an offering to the world. Everything he did was for others only. The scriptures say that a jnani has no will of his own and whatever he does is prompted by Ishwara, or God. Bhagavan knew that social service could temporarily relieve suffering to some extent. He also knew that the same person who was helped, would some day come to grief again, not only later in this life but in life after life. To remove all suffering, to completely extinguish the cause of all suffering, the Maharshi was born. He wanted to liberate us from the mistaken belief that we are this frail body, mind and ego. To do this he gave the method of Self-Enquiry, showed us how to practice it and effectively aided seekers by his powerful presence and grace.

But even with all that he taught us, there were many who came to him, stayed for some time and then went astray. Such was the case with the pious attendant of Bhagavan, Madhava.

He worked in the ashram for about ten years, mostly serving Bhagavan as a personal attendant. At one point he seemed to have become restless, or perhaps he felt that he required rest somewhere away from the ashram. At this juncture, he came to me one day and asked if I could help him with the travel fare to Yogi Ramaih's ashram in Andhra Pradesh.

Up to this point Madhava was considered a model devotee. Everyone praised his virtues of steadiness, devotion and service to Bhagavan. So I was a little surprised when he told me he desired to leave the ashram. I asked him what Bhagavan and Chinnaswami said about his plans. He told me that they both approved of them. Later I discovered it was not so. Bhagavan had recommended that he simply cease working for some time, take his meals in the ashram and rest, free from all responsibilities. Apparently he did not heed Bhagavan's advice and as a result had to suffer.

Madhava left the ashram as planned, but returned after a short time. His job as one of Bhagavan's attendants had already been given to someone else. Consequently, he had nothing to do when he returned and I would often see him sitting in Bhagavan's hall. His restlessness persisted and it wasn't long before he left the ashram again. When he returned a second time he was wearing ochre robes, which means he must have been initiated into sannyas by some swami during his travels. Yet he was still unsettled and he went away again. Then, all of a sudden, we heard he had died in Kumbhakonam under strange circumstances.

It is not altogether uncommon for aspirants to deviate from the prescribed path after coming to Bhagavan. It is only those who persist to the end with their spiritual practice, devotion and faith that succeed. Of course, Bhagavan's helping hand is always there for those sincere sadhakas who strive and reach out for it.

Once the Sarvadhikari asked me to set my alarm so I could wake up at 2 A.M. It was discovered that Bhagavan was rising at this time every night and walking to the latrine near the goshala. The attendants were sleeping right through this and, of course, Bhagavan probably took special care not to disturb their sleep when he rose. When the Sarvadhikari discovered what was happening he became concerned that if Bhagavan should fall, or some other mishap should occur, there would be no one to help him.

So at 2. A.M. I awoke and walked over and stood near Bhagavan, who was then reclining on the couch outside on the verandah. When Bhagavan saw me standing there he quietly slipped off the couch and walked to the latrine with the aid of a flashlight. I followed. No words passed between us. There is no doubt that Bhagavan understood why I was there and who requested me to come at this hour of night, yet everything transpired in silence.

On such occasions, when silence prevailed, we would assume that Bhagavan approved or was pleased. When he was displeased, we could easily know, for he did not hesitate to correct us. In this way, we were always on our guard and alert to his will.

One day I received a letter from my family informing me that they were traveling to Thirupati. They requested me to leave the ashram and meet them there. When Bhagavan was returning from his walk and was near the well, I mentioned the details of this letter to him. He made no reply. Now, how could I just leave? Normally he would indicate his approval of the plan by asking questions or commenting, and in some manner make it clear to me that it was all right to go ahead. In this instance he said nothing and just kept walking.

The very next day I received another letter from my family informing me that the trip was cancelled. How can we explain this? Is it a siddhi, a miracle, or what? Everything happened naturally in Bhagavan's presence, and he was always so unassuming.

IT WAS IN FEBRUARY of 1949 that a small growth was noticed just below the elbow on Bhagavan’s left arm. When it was first noticed it looked similar to the size, color and shape of a black gram (pigeon pea).

The Maharshi was vigilantly watched and attended to twenty-four hours a day. Therefore, any irregularity in his health was closely scrutinized by his cadre of devoted attendants. But how and why the tumor began where it did cannot be established with any certainty.

When it was first noticed by the attendants, Dr. Shankar Rao, a retired district surgeon who was then serving as the ashram doctor, was summoned to examine it. Dr. Srinivasa Rao, another devotee living near the ashram, was also called. After consultation these two doctors decided that surgical removal of the small growth should be performed. Without much fanfare, and without the use of an anesthetic, the growth was removed. Perhaps everyone thought that this minor nuisance was now eliminated. The doctors did not realize then that they were tampering with a fatal type of cancer called sarcoma.

In March of 1949, the wound from the surgery seemed to be healing satisfactorily when another growth, a little higher up the arm, appeared. Dr. Raghavachari, an eminent surgeon from Madras, came to the ashram with all his instruments and removed the new growth on March 27. A local anesthetic was used. About a month after this surgery, when the doctors realized that the tumor was sarcoma cancer, radium treatments began. Also, in May, herbs prescribed by an ayurvedic physician were applied to the wound. During all these treatments Bhagavan’s health was slowly deteriorating.

Bhagavan moved into the New Hall, which is connected to the Mother’s Temple. What is now called the Nirvana Room had been built near the New Hall for Bhagavan to rest between darshan periods. A bathroom was also built onto the Nirvana Room, alleviating the strain he experienced by walking all the way to the latrine near the goshala. After his final surgery in December of 1949, the Nirvana Room became his full-time residence.

As time passed, Bhagavan was becoming increasingly weaker. Sometimes after getting up from the couch he would shake violently and everyone feared he would fall. At such alarming times, Bhagavan would make a light comment, such as, "Oh! Look at me. I am dancing." In this manner, he would soothe the anguish of his devotees. Never would he take his illness or weakness seriously, even though most of us did.

Once the doctors were about to cut some tissues from the tumor so that testing could be done on them. When they were about to inject a local anesthetic to dull the pain, Bhagavan refused it and told the doctors to simply cut and take what they wanted. The doctors protested, explaining to Bhagavan that the pain would be severe without the use of the injection. But Bhagavan again refused and told them just to do it. They cut into the tumor and Bhagavan winced in pain. The doctors said, Bhagavan, we told you it would be painful.

Bhagavan replied, "Yes, the body experienced pain. But am I the body?"

There was a large team of physicians attending to Bhagavan’s needs during this surgery and throughout his illness. When so many specialists came to certain conclusions about his illness and took up procedures, surgical or otherwise, to cure him, Bhagavan normally went along with the treatment. But when the tumor appeared again after the third surgery, and the doctors concluded that only by amputating the entire arm would there be any hope of a cure, Bhagavan flatly rejected the option.

On the evening of December 19th, I was one among a group of devotees standing north of the Nirvana Room waiting to hear news about Bhagavan’s condition. The fourth and final operation had been executed on that day, once again in the dispensary.

Doraiswamy Iyer, who had been influential in bringing together prominent physicians for the two major surgeries on Bhagavan, came to where we were standing and informed us about his condition. "Whether or not the surgery was successful, can be determined only after three months," he said. Bhagavan remained in the dispensary for eighteen days recovering from the operation. Then around midnight, he shifted to the Nirvana Room.

When Bhagavan was in the last stages of his illness he insisted on giving darshan twice a day. A reclining chair was placed in the small passage in front of the Nirvana Room. He would repose there facing west towards the verandah of the Mother’s Temple, and the devotees would sit or stand on the verandah silently looking at him, or sit meditating with closed eyes. Those devotees who were permitted to have a bedside meeting with him would come around from east of the Nirvana Room and enter. At this time, because of the severity of his illness, the Sarvadhikari rarely gave permission for separate meetings with Bhagavan.

In February of 1950, a new cancerous growth appeared. Many devotees began to lose all hope that his life would be spared. On the other hand, there were others that resolutely declared that Bhagavan would never die from this disease, as if it was inadmissible that a sage like Bhagavan could succumb to a common mortal affliction.

One day I received a message from the office that I should accompany the doctors to Bhagavan’s room when they go again to clean his wound and change his bandages. I do not know why I was asked to do this. Perhaps Bhagavan didn’t see me at darshan time and inquired about me, or possibly for some other reason the Sarvadhikari felt I should go to Bhagavan in his room.

When I walked into the Nirvana Room Bhagavan simply rested his benevolent gaze on me and said nothing. Then he slowly stretched out his left arm and the doctors began their work. The bandage was drenched with blood; the wound was large and pitiful to look at; the pain must have been extreme. Bhagavan calmly turned his head to the side and the doctors went about their business. I was amazed to observe his total detachment. It seemed to me that he looked on this painful affair as if it was happening to a body other than his own. I can never forget that sight. Bhagavan always told us that he was not the body. During his last days, in the midst of tremendous suffering, he demonstrated it.

Bhagavan’s tumor had grown to the size of a cauliflower, blood was oozing between the buds and his whole arm was blackened. A doctor friend, who was experienced in all aspects relating to this type of cancer, told me that the pain associated with it at this stage of Bhagavan’s illness would be similar to the suffering experienced if a fully-loaded lorry ran over your arm.

Doctors also decided that Bhagavan should be allowed to eat whatever food he desired. Throughout the course of his treatments, each discipline of medicine he was under had certain dietary restrictions. Often Bhagavan was required to consume items he would not ordinarily eat, or prefer to eat. But in spite of the doctors’ decision about his diet, Bhagavan was not allowed to eat the iddlies and chilly powder he requested during the last month of his life.

Out of all the doctors attending on Bhagavan, it was only the allopathic doctors that didn’t boast they could cure Bhagavan. The doctors from other disciplines would confidently announce that Bhagavan could be cured. Of course, during the final stages of his illness, when all hope was lost, there was little boasting. All the different systems of medicine, all the best doctors and surgeons and all of the latest medical treatments and technologies failed. Throughout it all, Bhagavan remained what he always was: a spectator in this world drama, ever reveling in the Self.

On April 14th, a bulletin was released to the news service from the office, stating that Bhagavan was no longer giving darshan. By broadcasting this information the management thought the pressing throng of devotees would disperse. When this news reached Bhagavan, he immediately ordered the Sarvadhikari to withdraw the bulletin. In no way would he discontinue giving darshan. Even on this last day, when Bhagavan was in the throes of death, he insisted on giving darshan as usual between the hours of 5 and 6 p.m. He demanded that the devotees should not be prevented from seeing him.

After the Mahasamadhi

ON APRIL 16, the day after Bhagavan’s body was buried, I gathered all my belongings and left on the noon train for Madras. At that time, I didn’t know when, or if, I would be returning to the ashram. Many prominent devotees also began leaving Tiruvannamalai. Everybody was selling off their properties, the ashram’s income dramatically fell and the Mauni, Srinivasa Rao, was scheming to seize control of the ashram; even before Bhagavan’s demise he was scheming.

After one year, I again returned to the ashram to attend Bhagavan’s aradhana celebration. The ashram was struggling to stay afloat financially. I remember Chinnaswami informing me that the ashram would be unable to serve me breakfast and I should go to town and eat.




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Daivarata is one of the questioners in Sri Ramana Gita.  On  7th
July 1917, he had conversation with Bhagavan Ramana, on Mukhya-
karavyanirupanam, the Paramount Task.  This has been recorded
as the 3rd chapter in Sri Ramana Gita.

Arunachala Siva.