Author Topic: In the Heart There is No Near and Far - Mountain Path, Jan.-Mar. 2009  (Read 1522 times)

Subramanian.R

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This article is by one Sharon Maas:

*

The year was 1972.  The place was Guyana, South America, a small country wedged between Venezuela and Brazil,
a nation 99.99% of the world had never heard of, and which we Guyanese self deprecatingly labelled Behind God's Back.

I was 22 years old and slowly dying of thirst.

I felt like an outsider, an outcast.  The things normal people ran after so happily, and which I too had once happily chased,
now bored me to death.  I had no goal.  I did not fit anywhere.  I had longings that seemed silly at best, narcissistic at worst,
and the everyday world I lived in seemed like a crazy dream, in which I only realized I was dreaming.  Or may be I was sick.

A few months previously I had read a book which had caused that sickness, or at least given it a name.  The book was
The Book of Mirdad, by Mikhail Naimy.   It  was a sort of a group of monks whose world was revolutionized by the appearance
of Mirdad, a man who arrived naked, hungry and homeless.  A man with a message:  Man is a God in Swaddling Bands.
Naimy's writing was exquisite, the message sublime, and like those monks of my life turned around by it, and brought on
this disease, this thirst.  Mirdad had a name for my sickness; He called it The Great Nostalgia.  All the symptoms were present
in me.

Since reading Mirdad, I knew what I wanted and needed.  A guide, someone to lead me out of my despair.  I had read somewhere:
When the pupil is ready, the Guru will appear, but I was so far from ready. I felt worthless, awkward and ignorant -- how
could I ever find my own Mirdad?  Especially as I knew that he would be from India -- a country about as far away from Guyana
as you could get.

Previous to this precarious state of mind, my stormy life had now and then be interrupted by moments where the Truth I was
looking for had slipped in.  Even as a child, I had been a seeker. I distinctly remember sitting quietly once while questioning mind
was fully engaged with its grand project.  The questions I asked myself were prophetic pointers to my future, or echoes from a
previous life: Who am I?  Why am I constantly thinking?  What are thoughts made of?  Where do they come from?  What is
behind them?  What is in the space between two thoughts?  Can I ever stop thinking and do I then cease to exist?  Do other
people have have the same sense of 'Me' that I have?  But I found no answers, and soon gave up this exercise as futile.  I was
all of eight years old at the time.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                       

Subramanian.R

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Continues.....

During this period I was granted a brief glimpse of what I was seeking.  I was sitting on a beach in Trinidad, gazing out at
the exquisite turquoise waters of the Caribbean, when I was overtaken by a sense of utter peace, complete bliss and supreme
fulfillment.  It lasted only a few seconds.  But I never forgot it.

Later on my life grew stormy.  I hit my teens and came out of my introversion with a bang.  I tried out all kinds of lifestyles:
the political revolutionary (my hero was Che Guevara), the party girl,l the hippie.  As a party girl I was least successful, as
I was still socially inept, an awkward bundle of misery.

By that time I was 19 and working as a journalist at a local newspaper, writing feature articles for the Sunday edition. 
My editor usually sent me out to interview interesting visitors to the country and so it came to pass that i met a certain
Margaret Cohen, a Swiss lady who came to give a talk on yoga.  She was staying at the home of an Indian Pharmacist
called Mr. Persaud. 

I should add that India and Indians were not really remote.  Like India, Guyana was once a British colony, and when
the British planters were forced to free the African slaves who kept the sugar estates running, they imported indentured
servants from India.   They came in their thousands, bringing their religion and culture with them, soon outnumbering the
freed Africans.  By the 20th century, Guyana's population was 52% Indian, 34% Hindu.  Everyone knew about Krishna and
Lakshmi and Hanuman;  you could buy brilliantly colored pictures of them at the local market.  Diwali and Phagwa (Holi)
were national holidays, and a cinema called Hollywood showed nothing but Bollywood movies.

And when there was my very best friend, Pratima; her historian father, Dwarka Nath, was a first generation Hindu from
Uttar Pradesh, and he could doubtless have told me much about gurus and answered many of my questions about
Hinduism if I were not so terrified of him.  He was a strict disciplinarian, disapproving of modern ways.  But through her
I had attended Hindu ceremonies and knew the general direction I wanted to go.  I had always found Hinduism far more
attractive than Christianity, and certainly more so than atheism, the religion of my parents.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                       

Subramanian.R

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continues.....

But back to Margaret Cohen.  The moment she opened her mouth and spoke yoga, I was riveted.  I knew this was for me.
Mr. Persaud happened to be teacher of yoga and so I joined his class.  After the first lesson I felt I was walking on air;
I had never in my life felt so light, so free, and so happy.  I began practicing yoga regularly and within a month I had lost
all my excess weight, and had stopped both drinking and smoking --- without even trying.  The empty craving had stopped
-- all by itself. 

But after a while Hatha Yoga no longer satisfied me. I wanted more, and that was when I began to slowly die of thirst.  Because
Guyana, it seemed, had no more to offer.  far away from the source, our version of Hinduism seemed watered down and shallow.
I wanted to wade into deeper waters. drink from the purest fountain.

The only thing I could do was to read books, but I had read them all.  I knew the Hinduism section of the local library almost by
heart. But after that one little teaser, The Book of Mirdad, there was no more offerings. 

And then a previously unnoticed little book fell into my hands from the library shelf.  It was a plain hardback, and looked old and
weary and not particularly inviting.  It had been sitting there it seemed for several years without being borrowed by anyone,
for five years, according to the stamp, but something in the title intrigued me. IN DAYS OF GREAT PEACE by Mouni Sadhu.

From the very first page I was electrified.  By the time I had finished it -- in about 24 hours -- I knew: This is It. Sri Ramana Maharshi
is my Guru. This is the One I have been waiting for all my life.

But there were problems.  For one:  all the photos in the book had been torn out.  I was desperate to know what my Guru looked
like.  For although I had felt His call in my heart, I needed to look into His eyes to know that the call was genuine, that I was not
hallucinating. 

Furthermore, He was dead.  How could one have a dead Guru?  I had asked for a living Master !  But the knowledge of my heart
was stronger than even that objection.  He was not dead, but living right here inside me!  I knew it !             
           

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.

Subramanian.R

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continues.....

The next problem was: how to progress ?"  If he were dead, what was I to do?  The Ashram described in the book was
probably dissolved and even if it wasn't,  how could  I ever get there?  It was so far away -- India !  I had no money;
my job paid me a pittance, and there was no way I could save for a flight, and to live there for a while. However, I had
to make an effort.  I wrote a letter asking for a photograph and whether I could come to stay.  I addressed it to
'Ramanashram, Tiuvannamalai, India'  and sent it by airmail, beset by doubts.

I was quite certain that my letter would never arrive.  I would never get an answer.  It was all a silly dream, a fantasy.
I was far away from having a Guru of my own, and certainly not one of such caliber.

I was so uncertain by now that I asked for God a sign.

That evening at my yoga class Mr. Persaud, quite unexpectedly began speaking about Gurus.  He said it was so important
to find a genuine one, a Sadguru.  The out of the blue, he spoke the words that sealed the tentative pact:  'RAMANA MAHARSHI
IS A SADGURU,'  he said, and I knew it was not a dream.  I had received my sign.  Mr. Persaud had never mentioned this name
before and never did so again. 

Now I began to pine and worry in earnest.  Surely my letter would never reach the ashram if indeed thee was an ashram,
and if there was, why should they accept me?  The ashram would be filled with highly advanced disciples.  I, a mere beginner,
would not have a chance,  I'd be turned away at the gate.  Or, if, by some chance,  they did accept me, how would I ever
get there?

All in all, I did not an expect an answer, if any, to come within a month, as in those days even airmail was slow.  And if I
did get an answer, then it would be negative.  I braced myself , expecting the worst.  I did not deserve better.

The answer came within a week, a time period in which it seemed physically impossible for a letter to get to India and back.
But there it was. 

My hands trembled as I opened the airmail envelope.  A photo fell out, I picked it up, looked at it, --- and burst into tears.
A grey haired old man with eyes that looked straight through me, saw my wretchedness  --- and loved me all the same. 
WHY ME?  I wept, and the clear answer came through those eyes:  BECAUSE YOU ASKED.

When I could I read the letter.  The very first sentence drew me more tears:  'YOU ARE VERY WELCOME TO COME TO THE ASRAMAM.'   
It was signed by V. Ganesan. 

The miracle had taken place.

Against all the odds, my Guru had found me !

continued..

Arunachala Siva.                       

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continues......

The next few weeks were filled with such joy I could dance.  I wanted to tell the world about Sri Ramana -- as I called Him
then -- but was surprised at the lack of reaction from other people, so after a while I stopped showing people the photo,
and kept my Guru as my own delicious secret. 

My mother had noticed the positive change in me since I had started yoga, and it was she who provided the solution. 
An insurance policy she had been paying into for years suddenly came to maturity,  and she offered me a gift of money.
Enough for a plane fare to England, and beyond..... For me, another miracle, and yet so fitting.  For according to Mirdad,
" The way that does not provide for the wayfarer is no way to fare upon."

I had been corresponding with a Swiss friend who told me that he and his girlfriend were traveling overland to India, and
that I could join them, so that is what I did.  I flew to England and from there hitchhiked to Bern where my friend helped me
get a job locally.  For four months I worked as a maid cleaning rooms at the Bahnhof Buffer in Bern.  It was not work that
appealed to me, especially since there was no challenge to it.  But though the work was boring, I brought it to life by
imagining that every room I cleaned was occupied by Sri Ramana  -- that I was doing it for Him, for Love's sake.

It was in Switzerland that I made my first acquaintance with Arunachala.

I was sitting in meditation hall when all the darkness of my soul washed up and threatened to drown me.  It was as if a
mountain of inner rubbish erupted inside me, drowning out every last bit of light, every hope, and every sense of being.
Utterly smothered by this darkness there was nothing I could do by cry for help, and out of the depths of despair I cried
out the word: ARUNACHALA !  It came only as a thought, but the effect was immediate:  the darkness parted, and a ray
of light shone through by being.  I repeated it:  ARUNACHALA ! ARUNACHALA ! ARUNACHALA !  And with every repetition
the darkness receded more and more, until all that was left was a glorious, scintillating jewel of clearest light.

contd,,

Arunachala Siva.                             

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continues.....

Later I read Sri Bhagavan's Marital Garland of Letters and recognize what had happened.  'Fiery Gem, shining in all
directions, do Thou burn away my lowliness, O Arunachala!

I had read the chapter about Arunachala in Mouni Sadhu's book, of course, but paid less attention to it than to the
chapters on Ramana, considering it to be just one holy place among many others in India.  From that day on, I knew
of the power of Arunachala, and that it is indeed unique. 

Finally in early October 1973. a group of us left for India.

The overland journey was the ultimate lesson in patience  This was the hippie trail, and thing to do was to travel slowly.
We hitchhiked, traveled by cheap trains and buses, through Europe and Turkey, then on through Iran, Afganistan and
Pakistan.  Fascinating cultures for my friends but not for me.  I was in a hurry.  I wanted only to move on, on, on to
Arunachala.  Homewards !  I was an iron filing drawn by a magnet.  I pushed them on, but being in the minority, mostly
had to take delays with fortitude.  There was no way I could leave them and travel on my own, as a young woman traveling
alone through these Muslim countries would be asking for trouble.  So I stuck it out, and one day towards the end of
November I crossed the border into India.

It happened to be the day on which a treaty with Pakistan --- with whom India was at war -- had been signed and a tentative
peace arrived at.  As the border, the Indian laid out a red carpet ad happy people strew flowers on those crossing into India.
I have no idea for whom this reception was, but we were part of it.  And so I entered India on a red carpet ! There could
not have been a more auspicious  start to a new life !

We traveled south and at last, after all the diversions, the final morning of my journey to Tiruvannamalai dawned. Just as
I left the hotel room, an Indian woman came up to me in the hallway and out of the blue placed a new born baby girl in
my arms.  I felt that too to be a sign.  A new beginning, a new birth, the start of the rest of my life. 

On the third of December 1973, I walked through the arch of Sri Ramanasramam, for the very first time.  I had finally come
home !

concluded.

Arunachala Siva.