Author Topic: Living with the Master - Reminiscences - Kunju Swami. - Mountain Path - July -  (Read 2003 times)

Subramanian.R

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(September - 2016)

*

The Asramam intends to publish in 2016, a new, more complete translation of Living with the Master,
the popular reminiscences of Kunju Swami, a close devotee of Bhagavan.  The first four chapters of the new
translation are given below:

A blessed bee am I to hover, ever in close proximity of the lotus that is verily the twin feet of Lord Annamalai,
and drink deep of the nectar therein.  Twice blessed indeed, to partake the ambrosial grace of my Bhagavan,
Guru Ramana, who ever abiding as the Atman-Self, and also led others on the path of deliverance. It
is my fortunate lot to have thus been twice blessed.

Endowed At Boyhood with God's Gracious Gifts:

I am the third child to my parents.  Raghavan and Ponnukutti, of a middle class farming community, born
in January 1897, in the village of Cherakodu that lies between Palakkad and Chittur towns in the Kerala
region.  Until my third year, I grew up like any other child, showing nothing to mark me as being different
from any other children.

After that I would, it seems, sit quiet in some place, neither joining other children of my age in play nor
crying or throwing those childish tantrums.  This uncharacteristic behavior of mine naturally puzzled my
father who then showed my horoscope to my maternal uncle, an expert astrologer.  My father wanted him
to divine the planetary influences that would account for my odd behavior.   
             
On perusing my horoscope this uncle of mine was struck with wonder and delight!  He said to my father,
'To beget a child such as this one, so full of the wealth of divinity, is more than what our family of modest
standing deserves!  Therefore, in bringing up this child, you should show every care in matters of food
and ceremonial cleanliness.'  My father was much pleased to hear this pronouncement.  He was well
learned in Vedantic texts such as Kaivalya Navaneetham.  On the other hand, he evinced a clean interest
in philosophic texts of Vedanta and, on the other, held a deep faith in God.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.             

Subramanian.R

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I was sent to the tinnai-school of my village,  (Tinnai school is the one where in the olden days,
the students were taught on the open raised veranda of the house of teacher.) when I was nearing six
where, to some extent, I managed to learn to read my vernacular Malayalam and to write it on palm leaves.
From my seventh year on, my father used to take me with him daily to bathe in the village pond.  There
I would see Vedic Brahmins bathing in the adjacent ghats (the pond's shoreline earmarked into exclusive
bathing segments for the various social groups of the village), chanting mantras while standing waist deep
in water.  Their sight kindled in me a keen desire to do it like them.

The desire persisted and soon turned into an obsession when one night Lord Siva appeared in a dream.
With matted tresses of hair, body smeared all over with sacred ash, wearing a sting of Rudraksha beads.
He pronounced the Panchakshari (the five syllabled na-ma-si-va-ya mantra) in my ears, three times
in succession.  On waking up, however, I was unable to recall the syllables, being too young to remember
it.  The whole of the next day I felt grieved, as though I lost a treasure that I had obtained.  I went to
bed that night overcome by disappointment and longing.  The Lord again came that night in my dream                     
and repeated the Mantra!  This time I listened with attention and, from then on, I took up ceaseless mental
chanting of the Panchakshari Mantra.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2016, 11:27:56 AM by Subramanian.R »

Subramanian.R

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While so, I  began to feel a compulsive desire to possess a Vibhti pouch.  In those times, only Brahmins
and ascetic sadhus used to carry their pouch.  I was now in a dilemma  - on the one hand not daring
to ask anyone for a Vibhuti pouch, and on the other, being unable to overcome my longing to possess one.
Once again, the compassionate Lord Siva, as Gangadhara, came forward to quench the burning thirst
of a tender child.

Again appearing in my dream, He informed me that there were a few coins lying underneath a particular
huge tree, by the very shore of the pond where I bathed daily. The Lord Siva advised me to pick them up
and use them to buy the cloth pouch.  Telling no one, I rushed to the pond next morning immediately
on waking and made a search under the tree.  And what wonder!  I did find three quarter ana coins
lying amidst its twisted roots.  Grabbing them with delight, I washed them clean of mud and took them
home.  To avoid being caught shopping  by anyone I waited until dark, then visited a store and inquired
the price of a Vibhuti pouch.  It came as a surprise when I was told that it would cost three quarter anas!
The exact amount I had unearthed from under the tree!  I tendered the change, bought the pouch and
kept it with devout care at home.

Contd.,

Arunachala Siva.       

Subramanian.R

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It was a divine miracle that the Lord God thus made me His vassal even at that tender age.  He deigned to
fulfill my wish yet did not provide more than what I required!  No doubt it was a portent of things to come -
a monastic, frugal living all through my life. Since those distant childhood times to this day, Bhagavan continues to protect me from the desire to possess more than what is essential for my minimal needs.
One day my father chanced to see my Vibhuti pouch and wanted to know how I came in possession of it.  When I told him what had happened he was amazed. His affection and care towards me grew me all
the more for it.

A year went by when yet another desire sprang up in me.  This time it was to express to no one.  This wish of
mine too was fulfilled by the Lord Almighty thus;  it was my daily habit at that time to go to bathe in the pond
along with a playmate of mine.  One particular day, while on our way to the pond, my friend exclaimed, 'Oh, I forget to do something which my father had asked me to to!'  So saying, he left me.  As I continued my walk alone, I saw a large sized lotus lying on my path.  When I picked it up with curiosity, I was astounded. A
rosary of Rudraksha beads, strung in gold, lay aglitter in the hub of the unusually large flower, the largest one
could have ever seen.  Filled with tears of ecstasy, I looked around but could discover no one who would be
a likely claimant to it.

With pious fervor,I brought it home and showed the rosary to my father telling him how I had chanced upon it. My parents and others were just awe struck.  I began to wear the string of Rudraksha always around my neck.  Later on my brothers deposited it amidst other articles of worship in the family prayer room.  My heart swells with piety whenever I recall Lord Siva's boundless compassion, which had been a veritable Kalpaka
tree to me.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.     
                     

Subramanian.R

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I was around ten then.  In the neighboring village a mile away, some Tamizh pandits had arrived.
They were reading out the celebrated Tamizh religious epic Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam written by
Saint Paranjyoti and discoursing in Malayalam language.  My father, coming to know of it, took me
with him to attend their discourses. I fervently listened to them. After returning home, my father said,
'All right, recount to your mother now what you have heard!'  And I could relate the entire thing free of
errors too.  My mother was happy and proud of her little son. 

This recounting became a daily practice for the duration of those discourses.  It also resulted in my father
taking me to several other venues of such discourses.  Hearing about the faculty of my accurate memory
and verbatim retelling, people from nearby villages began inviting me to their place to listen to my narrations.

Some years went on like this, when one Kodumudi Swami, a celebrated saint,  came on a visit to the Kerala
region.  All that he wore was a loin cloth. He belonged to the sectarian worshippers of Bhairava (Lord Siva
in his fear some aspect). This Kodumudi Swami could perform feats of occult powers.  Crowds of people
thronged to have his darshan.  My father wanted to go and take me alone to see this godman, but I did
not go as I was not interested. I felt that when the Almighty Siva himself appeared to me as my Guru,
giving me initiation by Mantra, what need have to go visit godmen.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                   

Subramanian.R

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A few years went by.I had turned sixteen at that time.  Some three miles away, an ascetic had come to
stay and was teaching Vedanta to a few elderly persons.  My father, who had happened to go there on some
personal work, came to hear of it.  He thought that it would not do for me to go on delivering discourses and
chanting sacred Mantras. He felt that, like siddhis, these exercises of mine too would not endure.  What would
stand me in good stead, he thought, would be to listen to explications of Vedanta, ponder over them, and then
turn myself to unremitting meditation. But he was apprehensive that I would refuse to go to see the master,
even as I was earlier unwilling to meet Kodumudi Swami. 

So, he met this scholar ascetic, briefed him about me, said that he shall somehow persuade me to meet him,
and requested the Swami to prevail upon me to attend his Vedantic discourses.  Without telling me what had
transpired. he then asked me merely to accompany him where he was proceeding on some business.
Taking me to the Swami and after sitting with me for a while he left, saying, 'You just wait here. I am going out now and shall return in a while.'  I waited, unwilling though. Some minutes elapsed when the Swami,
turning towards me slowly, inquired about myself.  He then tactfully sent away all the others sitting there.
Addressing me now, he said, 'To go on delivering discourses and earning others' appreciation would be
of no avail. Yogic siddhis might give you Mukti. Instead, you would do well to listen to lessons on Vedanta,
study them and master their essence. That alone would lead you to the experience of the Reality that is the
Atman. So, what do you intend to do?'   he asked.  I replied, 'You decide whatever you deem fit for me.'
To this, the Swami said, 'I will not thrust anything upon you.  I shall  teach you what you, on your own,
desire to learn!  I am well versed in the sacred epics, reading the future, supernatural art, medicine and
Vedanta.  Of these,  I would impart to you what you choose to learn.'

When I still could not make up my mind, the Swami decided to draw lots. Miraculously, 'Vedanta' fell to my lot!
He was greatly pleased and said he would forthwith start his instructions, that day, being an auspicious period.  He then wrote out the following six verses from Kaivalya Navaneetam on a palm leaf and asked me
to read them aloud.  He listened and then asked me to return home, learn the verses by heart and come again
next day at the same time.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                             

Subramanian.R

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Kaivalya Navaneetam:

Prologue:

2.  I worship ever shining Pure Consciousness, which manifests as Brahma, Vishnu, or Mighty Siva,
according as He creates, preserves or withdraws the universe, and also as the countless individual
beings; yet I remains ever free and perfect, as the blazing sun over the ocean of Bliss.

6.  All the ancient sages drew from the boundless ocean of milk, namely Vedanta and filled their pitchers,
their works.  I boiled them all (on the fire of the Master's words), churned them with the churn of inquiry
into the Self) and I present this Cream of Emancipation to all.

The Exposition of the Truth:

8.  These sages say that there are four prerequisites for realization of the Truth.  (1) Viveka: discrimination
between the temporary, therefore unreal phenomena and the permanent (therefore the Reality, i.e
the noumenal); (2) indifference to the enjoyment of pleasures here or hereafter; (3) the group of six qualities
and (4) the longing for Liberation. The six qualities are Sama, Dama, Uparati, Titiksha, Samadhana and Sraddha. Of these, Sama is the control of activities (relating to the caste, creed, family etc.,); Titiksha
is the control of passions, includes endurance, Samadhana, according to the sages, the settling down of the mind to reflect on the Truth, as revealed by the scriptures and the sages);  Sraddha denotes faith in the
Master and the scriptures. Such are the meanings of the six terms of this category.

11.  No one can achieve anything in the world without being properly equipped for the task. For the same reason, only those who are equipped with these four categories of prerequisites can gain illumination.
A novice cannot get it so readily. If so gained, it follows that the person has been successively purified in countless incarnations, in the past.  (Kaivalya Navaneetam: The Cream of Emancipation. An Ancient
Tamizh Classic by Tandavarya Swami.  Trans. Swami Ramananda Saraswati.)

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                             

Subramanian.R

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I began memorizing the verses even during my walk back home.  When my father asked me
what had happened I reported everything to him and then recited those verses from memory.
I could in this way learn a hundred verses by heart within a fortnight of attending class. 
My pointed out that memorizing the verses not enough and advised me to learn their meaning too
from my Master. Thus I learnt the entire text of Kaivalyam along with its meaning.

A visitor came to see my Swami during that time.  He was Rangaswami Gounder, known to all as
SamiarGounder, from the village of Pudupalayama in the Pollachi taluk.  Seeing me with my guru
and coming to know from my father of my spiritual leanings, he took me, along with my Guru, to his
home in Pudupalayam, where we remained for a period as his guests. One day there, I asked my Guru
when he was alone, 'I am unable to experience yet the samadhi state that is described in Yoga
Vasishtam.  Should I just go on with my reading of texts of Vedanta, or is there something more that
I should do?'   The Swami replied that reading and understanding those texts was not enough, and
that I would have to start practicing certain disciplinary mental exercises.  He instructed me how to
practice those drills. Accordingly, I started practice of meditation exercises, simultaneous with listening
to Vedanta lessons. Some time went by in this manner but I could still not get any spiritual experience.
Again, I asked the Swami what I had to do.  He advised me to continue with more intensity and by
maintaining silence of speech. He assured me that i would be certainly be rewarded with exalted states.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                   

Subramanian.R

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By now a few months had gone by since my stay at Pudupalayam. I decided to return home and continue
my practice back there, so took leave of the Swami.  Back home, observing silence, I practiced rigorously
but could make no progress.  I continued in a state of limbo for a couple of years, losing my earlier poise,
but not gaining any new ground.  While so, my Guru after taking a tour of several places in Tamizh Nadu,
now returned. In his entourage came some wealthy, influential persons, with them the Gounder of Pudupalayam
too.  The Swami now made pronouncement that he shall enter into Jeevasmadhi on a particular month a year
from hence.  He added that these wealthy folk had come to erect, in advance, a cave like tomb at the
proposed samadhi site.

The building of a large tomb was afoot, at a site three miles from my village.  The Swami, obtaining my
father's permission, took me to be with him.  There he declared that I was his prime disciple and that after
his Jeevasmadhi, I would succeed at the head of his mutt.  I was put off by this ostentation and publicity
mongering.  My mind was restless.  A few months passed and I could no longer stand it.  In anguish,
I blurted out to the Swami, 'So much time has gone but I am unable to experience Self Realization.
Are there no realized souls living today, like the the great sages of yore  who had lived during the ancient
time of the Yoga Vasishtam?'

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.     
       

Subramanian.R

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To my query, the Swami replied, 'Oh yes! There lives a Sage in
Tiruvannamalai whose name is Ramana Maharshi. He attained the experience
of Jnana (the ultimate spiritual knowledge) at the age of sixteen and abides ever
in that state.  I visited Him and had His darshan.' I was amazed at this news,
and felt as though struck by a surge of electric current.  It was an exhilaration that
likes of which I had never before felt.  So excited was I, I wanted to fly to Tiruvannamalai at once.

Instantly I sought the Swami's permission to proceed there, much to his annoyance.
'I shall be entering Jeevasamadhi six months from now.  You ought to be present
here to take care of things then.  After that, you are at liberty to go where you please,' he admonished me.  I was in a state of despair when a friend of mind from
my neighboring village came to see me.  His name was Ramakrishna, a year or two
older than me.  He had a special affection and regard for me on account of my
spiritual disciplines, which he too was after.  He was of a wealthy family and arrangements by his elders were under way to conduct his wedding.  But he was
least inclined towards matrimony and one day he came to seek a way our of this
imminent tangle.

I immediately told him, 'I hear there is a Sage in Tiruvannamalai known as
Ramana Maharshi. I myself feel an intense longing to go to Him but I am tied up
for the next six months by my Guru's orders.  Therefore, you set forth for Tiruvannamalai. Later on I shall join you.  As soon as you reach there, write to me
all about the Sage and the spiritual teaching you receive from him.'

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                   

Subramanian.R

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With these words I put him on the train myself.  Two days later his relatives came to
me looking for him and asked, 'Where is he gone?  Only you must have sent him away.'  I replied, 'I did not send him on my own.  He asked me for directions and I told him. He has gone only to Tiruvannamalai.'  A week later I received a letter from Ramakrishna accompanied by a portrait of Bhagavan and a copy of Bhagavan's Arunachala Akshara Mana Malai.  Seeing Bhagavan's portrait filled me with joy and peace.

The predetermined day of my guru's entombment was nearing.  There was an increasing swell of people and uproar and excitement of all around.  Beginning three days prior to the event predicted, the Swami partook only a diet of milk.  D-day came, and policemen had to be deployed to control the surging crowd of onlookers.
Afternoon at three, the Swami marched down the samadhi-cave.  At close proximity
were myself, his foremost disciple, members of his family and others intimate with
him.  The Swami now said, 'My head will keep shaking for a while. When the shaking stops, close the tomb with his huge stone lab.'  We waited to carry out his instructions. Half an hour went by and then an hour. Still nothing happened. The Swami, who could no more bear to sit in, rose up and came out, took to his heels,
and vanished into the mass of onlookers.  Abusing him and calling him a fraud, the disappointed crowd dispersed.   
                   

contd,

Arunachala Siva.

Subramanian.R

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Along with some others I went in search of him and discovered him under a tree
in a nearby grove.  He was rattled and visibly in distress.  He said that it was not
his intention to dupe the public.  He has duped himself with the conviction that he would
bury himself in Jeevasamadhi.  'Now the untoward has happened' he said ruefully.
He said he was now proceeding on a visit to Samiar Gounder of Pudupalayam after
which he would go on a pilgrimage to Palani, and return after dust settled down.
'You all go back to your respective homes. We shall meet later on', he told us.

He advised me to continue with my listening to Vedanta teachings and practicing
meditation.  He departed early the following morning.  Thus ended the misadventure
of the Jeevasamadhi of Elapulli Kuppandi Swami.  Though the Swami's attempts at
pre-planned interment ended in a fiasco, it was from him that I came to know
of Bhagavan Ramana's spiritual stature.  I am thus indebted to Kuppandi Swami for the opportunity of reaching out to Bhagavan and basking in spiritual bliss.

Miraculous Coincidences During My Trip to Tiruvannamalai:

My parents were happy to have me back home.  A couple of days passed but
my thoughts were ever fixed on reaching Tiruvannamalai. The wherewithal to undertake the trip was still a question when my father called me all of a sudden
and queried, 'Do you owe money to anyone, expenses incurred for boarding,
during your stay with the Swami?'  Well, that was it!  I lied saying that some
amount was due. At once he handed me five rupees and asked me to settle the due.
Thus came the resources to undertake my longed trip!

Arunachala Siva.                 

Subramanian.R

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I justified to myself that uttering a harmless lie did not matter hen it came to
attaining a lofty goal.  With my conscience thus put at ease, I rested for the night,
but the night went by wakeful expectation.  At three am. I left home informing no
one.  It was the month of January 1920.  Obsessed with an intense desire to have
darshan of my Bhagavan, I just packed one extra set of dhoti and a towel for change
of dress.  I felt certain that I would never step back into that erstwhile home of mine.
So I felt prostrate - by way of salutation to my home and my parents -- rose and departed.

To avoid being spotted by any known persons at the Palakkad railway station,
I headed for a nearby small station of Kanjikode. There I was informed that the train
towards Tiruvannamalai would arrive only in the evening. I waited with anxiety lest
I be spotted by someone known.  So keen was I to see Bhagavan I felt no thirst
or hunger.  I bought nothing to eat, in case all of the five rupees was needed for
train fare.

When I demanded a ticket to Tiruvannamalai, I was issued instead a ticket only
up to Katpadi Junction (some fifty miles short of Tiruvannamalai).  I was told that
tickets to Tiruvannamalai station were not being issued. I took my seat in the train
when all thoughts forsook me and I was not aware of even the passing of the night,
as my mind was transfixed on the single thought of Bhagavan's darshan.  The train
reached Katpadi Junction at 4 am.

On alighting I was informed that the train to Tiruvannamalai was at 6.30 am.  I waited, watching trains come and go.  At 6.00 am. I went to the ticket counter for
buying my ticket. It was a jolt to me when they said that my train had already departed, half an hour ago.  The next train was only at six in the evening!  It was
a moment of depression.  After a while my mind calmed down and I came to terms with the situation.  I had eaten nothing since the previous day's morning.  I now bought some elandhai fruit (jujube or zizyphus) for half an anna, getting more than
a quarter of a large measure for the price.  The whole day went by, alternating
between consuming a few fruits and drinking water from the tap. That took care of
the problem of my meal!

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                           
               

Subramanian.R

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When the evening came, I approached the ticket counter half an hour in advance
-- only to be told that the tickets to Tiruvannamalai station would not be issued!
This information, the reason for which I could not guess, let me stunned.  An
elderly man by my side, seeing my plight, called me and queried the reason for
my despair, and came out with a solution.  He said, 'There has been an outbreak
of plague in Tiruvannamalai, but the epidemic has lost its intensity.  Still, the railways
have not resumed issuing tickets to that station.  You can, instead, buy a ticket to
Tirukoilur (which was some twenty miles beyond Tiruvannamalai) and board the train.
On the way, this train would anyhow halt at Tiruvannamalai to unload mail bags.
You too can detrain under cover of darkness.'         

This piece of information cam as a great relief.  I tendered all the change I had
asked for a ticket to Tirukoilur, but the amount was still a quarter ana short for
the price of ticket.  Thoroughly vexed, I retired to a corner of the platform thinking
only of Bhagavan.  And Oh!  What compassion! I spotted a quarter ana coin
lying nearby between the tracks.  Grabbing it with haste I rushed again to the ticket
counter.  My train steamed into the station just as the ticket fell to my hand.
I was wonderstruck at Bhagavan's act of grace towards this poor boy. It was
undoubtedly a miracle that I had been meted out with the exact amount I needed,
no more, no less!  May be it was a ruling from Bhagavan that those coming under
His grace would be provided with just the barest necessities!

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.       

Subramanian.R

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Around nine that night the train puffed into Tiruvannamalai station.  No lights were
burning and only from conversation of passengers I knew which station it was.
I watched if anyone was alighting from train.  A  person opposite descended into
darkness and I followed suit. It now came as a revelation to me that missing the
morning train was itself an outcome of Bhagavan's grace!  Had I taken the train,
I could not have disembarked at Tiruvannamalai in broad day light. I simply
followed the other passenger not knowing where he was heading. Nor had I any
idea the distance I covered following him.

At last, my 'guide'  stopped when he came by a mantapam (road side resting halls,
open on the sides, built to provide shelter to travellers in transit). With his towel,
he whisked the floor clean of dust and lay down to sleep.  I too followed suit
and instantly fell blissfully asleep.  Two days without food and overcome by
exhaustion, I was thrilled at having arrived at my destination. When I awoke,
it was about 5 am.  There was no sign of my 'guide'.  Ahead stood the Hill
Arunachala, in full view.

Recalling to mind the letters of Ramakrishna Swami, the friend whom I had
earlier dispatched here, which described landmarks to reach Bhagavan's
Asramam.  I reached the foot of the Hill immediately  behind the Arunchaleswara
temple. There I saw steps leading up the Hill, but at three different spots.
They left me puzzled. Taking a chance, I ventured up the steps on the right side.
A little way up I could see a building and approached it.  There I saw a person,
(the well known Jadai Swami) attired in ochre with tresses of hair reaching down
to the floor.  Having seen Bhagavan's photograph before, I knew that this man
was not he and bolted back from down the steps.  I believed at that time  that
ascetics wearing long tresses would throw curses at you when disturbed.
I now took the flight of steps in the middle.  A little way up I came across
a tank (the Paadairtham) and saw two people standing by its bank (later I that
two were Tambiran Swami and Kamakshi, Mudaliar Patti's son and daughter in
law).

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.