A Sadhu's Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi
By Sadhu Arunachala (A. W. Chadwick)
Sadhu Arunachala of Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai, is a good example of perfect devotion to our Guru, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Some twenty-five years ago the name and fame of Bhagavan Sri Ramana dragged him from England to India, and having come to Bhagavan's Supreme Abode he never returned. (Yath Gathva Na Nivartanthe tath Dhama Paramam Mama. That is My Supreme Abode whence none returns, Bhagavad Gita XV-6). So naturally he has much to tell us not only of Bhagavan and his teachings, but also of many things that happened in Bhagavan's presence. The Ashram has given the English-knowing world the diaries of Swami Ramanananda Saraswathi, Sri Devaraja Mudaliar and Mr. S. S. Cohen. While the diary of Sri Ramanananda Saraswathi is a record of talks with Bhagavan through several years, the latter two chronicle day to day incidents. In the same vein Sadhu Arunachala gives us in this book what he saw happening in Bhagavan's presence but only such as have for the most part been unrecorded in the books of others. Thus A Sadhu's Reminiscences of Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi seeks to supplement the previous publications.
I first came to Sri Ramana Ashram on November 1st 1935. I had heard of Bhagavan through Brunton's book, "A search in Secret India," and immediately decided that here was my Guru. Directly I could settle up my affairs I left my house and possessions in Majorca and went home to England for a short stay with my sisters before finally leaving for India.
In the Ashram I was given a room newly built at the side of the store-room, which I shared with Annamalai Swamy; here I remained for three and half months until a room had been built for me at the Ashram grounds. This room I have occupied ever since.
To try and describe my reactions when I first came into the presence of Bhagavan is difficult. I felt the tremendous peace of his presence, his graciousness. It was not as though I were meeting him for the first time. It seemed that I had always known him. It was not even like the renewal of an old acquaintanceship. It had always been there though I had not been conscious of it at the time. Now I knew.
After I had been here a day or two Bhagavan asked somebody to give me a copy of Who am I? and told me to read it. Here is contained the essence of his teaching, though given by him as a youth of only 21 it never needed to be changed.
This wonderful little book comprises one of the first set of instructions given by Bhagavan in about 1902 in writing as he was not speaking at the time.
The second book he told me read was Self-realization by B.V.Narasimhaswamy. In spite of its amateurish style and the way it is written, this is the standard and principal text book on the life and teachings of Bhagavan.
Bhagavan was a very beautiful person; he shone with a visible light of aura. He had the most delicate hands I have ever seen with which alone he could express himself, one might almost say talk. His features were regular and the wonder of his eyes was famous. His forehead was high and the dome of his head the highest I have ever seen.
He used to chew betel regularly just after meals and before he went for his stroll on the Hill; he would thoroughly wash out his mouth immediately afterwards.
Bhagavan always radiated tremendous peace, but on those occasions when crowds were attracted to the Ashram such as Jayanthi, Mahapooja, Deepam and such functions, this increased to an extraordinary degree. The numbers seemed to call up some reserve of hidden force, and it was a great experience to sit with him at such times. His eyes took on a far-away look and he sat absolutely still as if unconscious of his surroundings, except for an occasional smile of recognition as some old devotee prostrated.
When talking about Bhagavan and the various things that he said, there will always appear contradictions in his teachings, but this is solely because he had to speak from two points of view. His real teaching which never wavered was that there is nothing but the SELF. He saw everything as just That and nothing else. But most people were unable to accept this. They wanted it to be expanded, so some explanations were necessary and to make such explanations he had to speak from the questioner's limited point of view.
In the Indian spiritual vocabulary you find the terms Manolaya, Savikalpa Samadhi, Nirvikalpa Samadhi and Sahaja Samadhi, and these are apt to cause some confusion to those not familiar with the terminology.
Manolaya is just a blank mind. Advaitins are often accused of trying to achieve this, which is quite absurd.
Savikalpa Samadhi is the state of deep meditation when one is sunk in peace but still retains the consciousness of one's identity. One knows that one is meditating and can still consciously continue one's Sadhana.
In Nirvikalpa Samadhi one has attained to a state where the identity has been lost and sunk entirely in the highest Self. However long it may last it is only temporary, one must return eventually to one's normal state of consciousness. One is unable to function in this state and so long as it lasts one is in a state of trance. It is usually preliminary to the final state. But Bhagavan attained Sahaja Samadhi directly without any intermediate state. Many people consider that Nirvikalpa Samadhi is final, and once having attained it they seek no progress further.
Sahaja Samadhi is the final and most blessed state, the goal of all Yogis. In this state the individual has become completely merged in the Supreme Self. His identity which became lost in Nirvikalpa Samadhi has become enlarged and is now the Supreme Self and knows itself as such.
One night in the Hall there was some talk about re-incarnation. Just as Bhagavan was getting up from his couch to go for his evening meal, I, as a joke, said, "But Alan Chadwick has not been born before." "What, what did he say?" asked Bhagavan sharply. "He said that he had never been born before," someone wrongly interpreted. Of course I had not said that at all. I had meant that whatever form the ego took formerly it had never had the name and form Alan Chadwick, but had been some entirely different person. But Bhagavan replying to the wrong interpretation quickly replied, "Oh, yes he had been, for what has brought us all together here again?"
He took a personal interest in the cutting of the Sri Chakra Meru in granite which was installed in the completed temple and is regularly worshipped. This is about one and half feet square and proportionately high. At the time of the Kumbabhishekam, on the penultimate night before the sacred water was poured over the images, he personally superintended the installation in the inner shrine. It was an extremely hot night with three charcoal retorts for melting the cement adding to the heat, it must have been intolerable inside the airless cave of the inner shrine, but for about an hour and half Bhagavan sat there telling the workmen what to do.
On the last night of the function he went in procession, opening the doors of the new Hall and temple and passing straight up into the Inner Shrine, where he stood for some five minutes with both hands laid on the Sri Chakra in blessing. I happened that night to be at his side the whole time; this was unusual as I deliberately avoided taking prominent part in such things, preferring to watch from the back. Strangely, something made me keep by him on this occasion and on account of this I was able to understand his deep interest in the Temple especially in the Sri Chakra. It was because of this knowledge that I was instrumental after Bhagavan's passing, in persuading the Ashram authorities to institute the Sri Chakra Poojas six times a month.
I do not think that anyone who has written about Bhagavan and the Ashram has remarked on the extraordinary fact that here we have a Temple dedicated by a Jnani; there cannot be very many such, and there must be some very deep meaning in it. A great many devotees who come to the Ashram have only time for the Samadhi where Bhagavan was interred. I do not pretend myself to understand why he did it or what will be the consequence, but it is certain that having been consecrated in this way it must for ever be a very sacred spot and from it spiritual power must radiate all over India.
Many people identified Bhagavan with Dakshinamurti, the silent Guru. For though he was not so taciturn as many people made out, he did have profound silences when he spoke to his disciples in their hearts. People would come to him bursting with doubts, would sit in his presence and go away without asking a single question, all their doubts cleared.
Dakshinamurti is known as the silent Guru, the Guru of all Gurus. Though he is daily worshipped in every Siva temple in the South he has few temples of his own. Dakshinamurti is an aspect of the ascetic Siva.
As an example of how eloquent silence can be for the sincere seeker, the following episode which I personally witnessed in the old Hall some years ago will illustrate:
A gentleman from Kashmir came to the Ashram with his servant who could not speak a word of any other language except his native Kashmiri. One night when the Hall was almost dark except for the pale glimmer of a single hurricane lantern, the servant came into the Hall and stood before Bhagavan in a respectful manner jabbering something rapidly in his own language. Bhagavan said nothing, but lay quietly gazing at him. After a while the servant saluted and left the Hall. Next morning his master came to Bhagavan and complained. "Bhagavan, you never told me you could speak Kashmiri, was it fair?"
'Why, what do you mean?" asked Bhagavan. "I know not a single word of your language."
Bhagavan asked the gentleman how he had got hold of this absurd idea and the latter explained:
"Last night my servant came to you and asked you several questions in his language. He tells me that you answered him in the same language and cleared his doubts."
"But I never opened my mouth." Bhagavan replied.
Bhagavan said that the principal Sadhanas we should practise were to eat only Satvic food and observe Satsanga. He laid down no other rules.
As regards Satsanga, since we obviously take on the colour of the Company we keep, the ideal is to live with a Realized Sage; but if that is not possible, then we should choose our company in the best way we can, avoiding undesirable company. He never taught morals, and had no special abhorrence of sex. He once said in answer to troubled disciples in my hearing, "It is better to do it than to be always thinking about it."
D.:" Bhagavan says that he has no disciples."
B.: (Looking at me suspiciously): "Yes."
D.: "But Bhagavan also says that for the majority of aspirants a Guru is necessary?"
D.: "Then what am I to do? I have come all this distance and sat at Bhagavan's feet all these years, has it all been a waste of time? Must I go off and wander about India in search of a Guru?"
To go on with Bhagavan's reply the gist of which was as follows;
For the Jnani (Realised Soul) all are one. He sees no distinction between Guru and disciple. However, for the seeker the differences between persons is very real. For him there is undoubtedly the relationship of Guru and disciple. If such does not exist "why has he come all these thousands of miles to this place and remained here?" For the seeker, God in his Grace takes a form of in order to lead him to the formless state. "has he any doubt about it?" "Ask him, does he want me to give him a written document? Go and call Narayanaier, the Sub-Registrar, and tell him to make one out for him." Then later he added humorously, "Go and get the office stamp and put it on him. Will that convince him?"
Someone said one day to Bhagavan, "Is it true that the jnani is conscious in all the three states, even when he is sleeping?"
"Yes," replied Bhagavan.
"Then why does Bhagavan snore?"
Bhagavan replied, "Yes, I know that I snore, I could stop it if I wished, but I like it."
Is this not perfect acceptance!
I cannot do better than conclude with an article I wrote for the celebration of Bhagavan's eightieth birthday which fell on December 17th 1959:
I feel I should not let the occasion pass without saying a word to those who doubt the continued presence of our beloved Guru amongst us. Though we talk as though he were dead, he is indeed here and very much alive, as he promised, in spite of appearances.
It is distinctly stated in the Upanishads that the life-force of a Brahmanishta never leaves his body, but inheres in the heart itself. If the Samadhi (tomb) is properly maintained and approached it will confer inestimable bliss on the devotee, granting him boons. This view is supported by Tirumular's "Tirumantram", a Tamil classic, which states that the jnani, whether in the embodied or disembodied state, is Brahman Himself and, as the Guru of all his children, personally takes care of them and blesses them. This authoritative work also proclaims the omnipresent character of the jnani after giving up his body. Again, the Agamas state that, even if the Brahmanishta has decided to cast off his coat and take up his abode elsewhere, he leaves in his body one of his sixteen kalas, which is all-powerful, to shed forth his blessing.
If it is felt that Sri Ramana is still actually in our midst and his presence is to be found most easily at the spot where he lived so long and his body is buried, surely this is only natural. Is it not the tradition amongst all great religions of the world, with no exception? Even the Muslims revere the graves of accredited saints, while the Buddhists go on tiresome pilgrimages just to pay reverence to some relic. People do not take all this trouble unless they feel there is a very good reason.
When Sri Ramana lay dying, people went to him and begged him to remain for a while longer as they needed his help. His reply is well known.
"Go! Where can I go? I shall always be here."
The power of Sri Ramana, who gave up his physical form has not diminished. He is everywhere, like the light in a room shed by an electric bulb. But the light is found to be far stronger near the bulb, the source of light, than in any other part of the room, though no spot is in darkness. What wonder, then, if the power of our Guru is found near the place where his body is interred?
There is no need for me to lay down the law, even though my personal experience can vouch for the truth of what I say. I am satisfied to rely on the words of the Scriptures. Or, if you prefer it, on your own testimony after you have visited the Ashram and found out for yourself.