Author Topic: At the Gates of Sri Ramana's Ashram - Mountain Path article - July - Sep. 2014.  (Read 1701 times)

Subramanian.R

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This article is by Kenneth Rose.

On a January morning in 2007, we set out from Sri Ramanasramam from Puducharry. It was during Pongal.
This is a four day harvest festival, people make bonfires to burn old clothing while wearing the new clothing
that they have brought in a frenzied shopping in the days before the holiday begins. Burning the old and putting
on the new is a suitable metaphor for what I hoped would happen to me at the Sri Ramana Maharshi's Asramam.

As we turned a corner in the road a couple of hours in the ride we had our first glimpse of Arunachala as it suddenly
appeared like a gently curving wave of reddish stone slowly undulating across the horizon.  Although Arunachala is
believed to represent Siva as the Light of pure consciousness, it also projects a motherly presence, which promises
refuge and restful contemplation to the mind that for too long  has been tossed about upon the sea of samasara             ,
the world of cyclical rebirths and deaths, of alternating delight and despair.

The first sight of the holy Hill is considered auspicious, or spiritually beneficial , and for the devotee of Sri Ramana
Maharshi, seeing Arunachala for the first time or after a long absence is like having darshan, or an audience, with
the great Sage himself who so loved this Hill.

Slowly as we rode along the road, the lush countryside gave to the urban sprawl of Tiruvannamalai.  The town had
grown from a quiet town to a bustling city since I had last been here in 1994, seemed similar to me to other
South Indian towns until we came upon the district surrounding the vast complex on the eastern base pf Arunachala.
As I looked at the western tower of the temple against the tall backdrop of Arunachala, I was inwardly stilled by the
Shakti, the energy of the mother goddess, which radiates through India's holy places. I felt happy to be here again.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.             

Subramanian.R

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A few minutes's drive beyond the temple, the taxi slowed, and we turned into the simple but elegant entrance to
Sri Ramanasramam. On the sign arching above the gate of the Asramam, a stylized sun with streaming rays encircles
the sacred Sanskrit Symbol OM, which for Hindus symbolizes the central teaching of the Upanishads that the visible
and invisible dimensions of the cosmos are expansions of the universal spirit, Brahman.  The courtyard was
busier than I had remembered it. When I had been here last, it was in very hot July before the monsoon and there were
virtually no guests at the Asramam. Now we are arriving in the cool days of winter immediately after Sri Bhagavan's birthday
celebrations, so that the Asramam  was full of devotees and tourists.

We were welcomed to the Asramam and directed to our room   in a whitewashed guest house beside the Asramam's post
office.  After quickly settling into the room, we went back to the Asramam to pay our respects to Sri Ramana Maharshi
at His Samadhi.  What had once been a tree lined, sandy path between the post office and the Asramam was now a busy
backdrop road crowded with pilgrims.

The Asramam itself, however, was unchanged. As we walked through the gate, the hot asphalt of the busy road gave to
the cool sand of the shaded courtyard, and we surrendered our shoes at a booth just inside the entrance. With bare feet,
we walked under the iluppai tree toward Sri Ramana Maharshi's tomb in the Samadhi Hall.  A boisterous troop of monkeys       
patrolled the courtyard and strutting peacocks eyed us with cool appraisal.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.             
     

Subramanian.R

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Inside the entrance of the large hall, where Bhagavan is interred a crowd of devotees was chanting in Tamizh in front of a
platform on which a representation of Nandi, Siva's gentle and devoted bull, sits and lovingly gazes upon the Lingam, a black
granite cone, which marks the place where Bhagavan's body was buried in the lotus position. At first sight of Bhagavan's
Samadhi, I fell to the cool, stone floor in a full prostration and chanted Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya.

I was still agitated from the small challenges of adjusting to being in a new place, and I could not enter right away into
meditation, so, after paying my obeisance to Bhagavan, I sat against a wall and soaked in the gentle, calming atmosphere
of the Asramam. Soon I felt more relaxed, and my mind began to turn away from minor logistical issues like what to do
for lunch since we had missed the noon Asramam meal and how to get laundry done at the Asramam.  These thoughts
began to think out and subside, revealing an inner plain of golden awareness of nothing in particular except the mind itself.
It was a happy feeling, and I stayed with it for a quarter hour or so until it broke and dissolved.

In the hot off season, the Asramam can be a quiet place, but now it was bustling, though most of the activity was created
by the crowds of people passing through the Asramam and not the Asramam's relaxed hands off administration.  As I
glanced around the crowded Samadhi Hall, I noticed that many visitors passed through the spacious hall in a matter of
minutes, taking a quick and glimpse at the shrines but others were not so quick to leave.

The flow of pilgrims through the gate of Sri Ramanasramam shows that Bhagavan has, in the lengthening decades since
He left His mortal coil, turned into a universal guru for religiously uprooted Westerners, for Indians from all over the Subcontinent
and throughout the Indian diaspora, and for the other Asians, all of whom mix with discord while sitting in quiet meditation
around His Samadhi. As they linger there, they enter into the old, holy spirit of the Upanishads, which pervades Brahma:
'All this -- everything visible and invisible -- is actually nothing but Brahman, the eternal spirit'.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.       
                                         

Subramanian.R

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These words from  the Chandogya Upanishad have been scripture for me for forty years and have often spoken to me across
the decades like like words made of sunlight with the power to outshine all the lesser thoughts that my mind creates.  For me,
these words are revelation and offer me a new way of experiencing life in the light of them.  Something more than only a desire
to understand Indian culture has drawn me and countless others to this and other Ashrams in India, something hard to find
at home, but as tangible here as bread and milk and the cool stone floor upon which I am sitting -- the living, palpable
presence of a saint whose body had left the world over fifty years ago.

My wife Beate and I walked out of the open and airy Samadhi Hall  into the sun-washed courtyard connecting to the dining hall
and the Old Hall, where Sri Bhagavan gave darshan until just a year before His leaving the mortal coil.  We stopped for a moment
to look over a low whitewashed wall into the Asramam's well.

A couple of steps behind the well is the Old Hall, the most sanctified and beloved spot in Sri Ramanasramam. The Old Hall
is easy to miss, since it looks from outside like just another part of the Samadhi Hall, and its door is indistinguishable from
the doors of the Asramam' offices.  Beate seemed puzzled about my eagerness to show her what was behind the simple
door, but when we got inside, she looked at me with surprise at the unexpected scene that stands hidden behind the door.
It is a modestly furnished room and not very large, measuring only about 15 by 40 feet, yet it was here that Bhagavan
reclined and slept on a brown sofa for more than twenty four years, with occasional breaks for walks, meals and bathing.
At His frame drew over larger crowds to the Asramam, He hesitated to spend more than the briefest periods away from the
sofa for fear that a pilgrim in search of His darshan would miss Him and go away disappointed.

A few people were sitting in the meditation posture in the Hall and we found a couple of cushions and sat down directly
in front of Bhagavan's soifa to have His darshan.  This room had been my favorite place in the Asramam when I last
was there in 1994, but now my mind was restless. I was distracted by the constant coming and going in and out of the room
of guests and devotees, so I left after a short attempt at meditation.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                       

Subramanian.R

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I soon settled into a routine of sitting for hours at a time in the tranquil atmosphere of the Asramam, where pilgrims sit
quietly in the halls and along side the buildings while engaging in in a quiet form of personal satsangh with Bhagavan.
Over the course of a few days of sitting in the Asramam, I began to notice a pleasant and completely unexpected sensation.
My mind spontaneously slowed down and I felt centered and gently blissful. This was a pleasant sensation, which seemed
to be a gift of the Asramam to the spiritually sensitive visitor.

One afternoon, I was sitting on the veranda outside the book depot near the spacious courtyard at the entrance of the
Asramam watching the flow of people in and out of the gate of the Asramam, I described what I was experiencing to an an
Indian devotee of Bhagavan who said that people who come to Arunachala and Sri Ramanasramam naturally enter into
Savitarka Samadhi, which is the gentle state of pleasant concentration, or low level Samadhi.  This explanation made sense
for at the Asramam my mind becomes calm, although not completely still, as it does in deeper levels of Samadhi, or meditative
absorption. I found that I had entered, without any effort on my part, into what an editorial that I had just read in the latest
edition of the Asramam journal, Mountain Path, called the low key spacious awareness we associate with Bhagavan.
(Mountain Path, Volume 44 No.1)

contd.

Arunachala Siva.     

Subramanian.R

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Although I did not want to engage in any strenuous thought and the usual inner dialogue about this and that had stopped.
I was completely alert to my environment.  This was not a state of dullness and stupor but a state of clarity and precision.
I did not want anything or fear anything, and my mind, was unmarred with anxiety about the future or death.

To my surprise, this mood did not vanish after a few minutes.  Although it ebbed and flowed throughout the day, it did not
completely dissolve. On my previous pilgrimage to Sri Ramanasramam I had been unable to sense this divine presence for more
than a few moments.  Now, it flowed majestically through my mind like the waters of a wide river flowing under a spring sun
into the shining sea.  I felt as if I had come to the portal of a greater and more enduring awakening than I had previously
experienced.

One night under a bright moon, as if to confirm that the pleasant new sensation that I had been experiencing over the last
few days was a gift of His grace, a vision rose from my mystical depth within me of the spirit of Sri Ramana Maharshi and illumined
me inwardly, like the sudden bright lightning within a cloud. Bhagavan's spirit was bright, wide, magnanimous, and electric
with intelligence compassion, and bliss. I felt myself united with Him, and I sensed that I need only to look to Him and the goal
of all these lives will in right time be achieved.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.               

Subramanian.R

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As I stood there, exulting in this encounter with the spirit of Bhagavan, I realized that I had entered into an awareness of
deathlessness. I felt the eternality of life. I saw that life has no real breaks, and that I have never been born and have never
died. There is no death, but only episodes, with fade outs and fade ins, that were book ending each of my individual and
successive lives. Now I am Kenneth Rose from New York, a religious study professor in Virginia. Before I was....? In the future
will be...? And finally the stream of individual lives will blend, like a river into the ocean, into the One, into Brahman.  And awareness
then will be complete.

Now it became clear to me that Bhagavan is my Guru, that the tie between us is eternal and unbreakable. Thoughts like this were
surprising to me since I had thought that I had grown beyond he need for any spiritual affiliations external to my own inner awareness,
my own inner guru. But the deeper truth is that from a non dual perspective, there is only one Guru -- the Self. And now, for me,
the face that the one, the inner guru was revealing to me was Bhagavan's. I realized Bhagavan is the Self, which is the undying
heart of all that exists.

There is an ancient debate in Hinduism about whether one needs a physically living guru or not.  This can become an issue for
contemporary disciples of a guru like Bhagavan, who died physically in 1950.  Followers of physically living gurus will sometimes
say that a physically living guru can test and try his or disciples in ways that a physically dead guru cannot, which allows the
disciples of a physically dead guru to get away with things that a physically living guru wouldn't allow.  But this criticism does not
apply to my relationship with Bhagavan, since Bhagavan is not dead. Twice He summoned me to India, and His presence remains
with me inwardly as a bright, warm mass of intelligence and compassion, which is identical to the Self witnessed to in the Upanishads
and which is Bhagavan's true Self. The increasing awareness and freedom from desire, anger, and fear, the vision of divine fullness,
and the delight in the light of the Self that I received through the darshan of Bhagavan is no different from what I would get
from a physically living guru.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                                 

Subramanian.R

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Bhagavan Himself seemed to have anticipated this objection. When devotees lamented the days when He would no longer
be physically present as the Asramam, He would say that they placed too much emphasis on the body.  'They say I am dying.
I am not going away. Where could I go. I am here.' These were not idle words, for I was beginning to experience their verification
in the gift of His deathless presence, which is the gift of Arunachala to pilgrims who journey there --- or just think about it.
Bhagavan remains a vivid presence at Sri Ramanasramam that is best encountered in silence.

One clear bright morning, as I walked up to Arunachala to Skandasramam, I sensed the divine is infinite compassion with no
degree of enmity and that all divisions dissolve the moment one sees the divine unity. When I got to the Cave, I gazed for a while
down at the vast temple complex with its multiple towers shining in in the sun, symbols of solidarity and reality of an ancient
and integral religious tradition and culture completely independent of one in which I was raised. I felt now that I had come home
spiritually. Then I began to meditatively reading Sri Ramana Gita, a book based on Bhagavan's teachings, which closes with
Bhagavan's bold promise.

The magnitude of the realm of the Siddhas is difficult to understand. They are similar to Siva, with the form of Siva, and they
are able to grant every wish. (Sri Ramana Gita, 18.26)

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.

Subramanian.R

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My reflections were greeted with a vision of a delicate golden light which arose in my mind and suffused it with unifying knowledge
and bliss. It occurred to me that this was Arunachala's true, inner form or Self - it is Siva, the supreme, divine awareness revealing
itself as a shaft of revelatory light congealed into the disguise of this revered Hill.  Arunachala had compelled Bhagavan to come to
live in its caves and slopes, and now, again, it had summoned me to walk on its slopes and to sleep in its shadow. 

In the days remaining for us in Tiruvannamalai, I entered more deeply into awareness of the Self. Occasionally, I entered into a gentle
eyes-open degree of Samadhi in which I felt as if I were dying to myself and awakening to the true Self. Then I began to notice
that my mind was swimming in an ocean of light and peace -- the realm of the deathless.

This abiding sense of deathlessness waxes and wanes but often when I look  beneath the skein of thoughts that is my mind, it is
there like a coin at the bottom of a pocket or like the sun behind the clouds.  This sense of conscious immortality washes away
the pain of life and reveals life as a play of radiant forms against a background of light. There is no death, and there is no birth,
it proclaims, for there is only this deathless, blissful moment. This secret, nutritive knowledge is the gift that I received at the
gate pf Sri Ramanasramam, even though it was always mine.  I had just forgotten it for a while.

concluded.

Arunachala Siva.