At the Feet of Bhagavan
Leaves from the Diary of T. K. Sundaresa Iyer
Edited by Duncan Greenless
Sri Bhagavan's Birth Centenary Offering, 1980



It is my proud privilege to write about my teacher, Sri T. K. Sundaresa Iyer. He was not only a bhakta of the highest order but also an erudite scholar, though he did not possess any academic qualifications. His knowledge of English, Sanskrit and of course Tamil, was vast and deep. Added to these, Sri T.K.S., as he was addressed affectionately by all, acted as an interpreter to English-speaking visitors in their conversations with Sri Bhagavan. He also replied to correspondence received by the Ashram on spiritual matters, consulting Sri Bhagavan every time he had to reply to specific spiritual questions. Thus he acquired a full and comprehensive knowledge of Sri Bhagavan's teachings which have been incorporated in this book. His reminiscences of the Master, portray the beauty, tenderness and compassion of Sri Bhagavan's personality. The narration of Sri Bhagavan taking care of the cracked egg is, perhaps, the standing example for this. His language is simple but in content its richness does not lag behind any similar spiritual literature.


He has helped many seekers, including myself, in clarifying the path of Ramana. There are still many who unhesitatingly express their deep debt to Sri. T.K.S. for their spiritual maturity. I can, without hesitation, affirm that he was not only a Rishi in appearance but also in experience.


September 1, 1980
Holy day of Sri Bhagavan's
Advent at Arunachala
Sri Ramanasramam


V. Ganesan
Managing Editor
The Mountain Path


Part One - Guru's Grace


1. Introduction - 'A Lifetime with Bhagavan'


One day I wondered why I was visiting him at all. What was the use? There seemed to be no inner advancement. Going up the hill was meaningless toil. I decided to end my visits on the hill. For one hundred days exactly I did not see Bhagavan. On the hundred and first day I could suffer no longer and I ran to Skandasramam, above Virupaksha Cave. Bhagavan saw me climbing, got up and came forward to meet me. When I fell at his feet, I could not restrain myself and burst into tears. I clung to them and would not get up. Bhagavan pulled me up and asked: "It is over three months since I saw you. Where were you?'' I told him how I thought that seeing him was of no use. "All right,'' he said, "maybe it is of no use, so what? You felt the loss, did you not?'' Then I understood that we did not go to him for profit, but because away from him there was no life for us.


Whenever I went up the hill to see Bhagavan, I used to buy something to eat and take it with me as an offering. One day I had no money. I stood before Bhagavan in a dejected mood and said: "This poor man has brought nothing.'' Bhagavan looked at me enquiringly and remarked: "Why you brought the main thing. All else is unimportant.'' I wondered, not knowing what I brought. "Don't you understand? You brought yourself,'' laughed Bhagavan.


Part Two - Reminiscences


(4) Sri Ramana gives Rama Darsan


In May 1933, on my 36th birthday, after the usual bath and prayers, I sat in Sri Bhagavan's presence in a pensive mood. I addressed a prayer in the Tamil Viruttam style to Sri Bhagavan, complaining: "O Bhagavan, I have completed three and half decades, and yet have not had the experience of the real You. Pray let me have this day the touch of Your Grace.'' Handing over this slip of paper I prostrated Him.


Bhagavan bade me sit down and gazed steadily at me; I was still in a pensive and meditative mood. All of a sudden I lost body-consciousness, and was absorbed in Sri Maharshi. I was turned inward, and the voice of Sri Bhagavan bade me see whatever I desired. I felt that if I could have the darsan of Sri Rama my life would have been fruitful, as I was very much devoted to Sri Rama. I had then immediately a darsan of Sri Rama, with Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Satrugna and Hanuman. The ecstasy of the vision defied description; I simply sat on, with Maharshi perhaps gazing on me without my being aware of His gaze. Two hours may thus have passed in pin-drop silence, lost in the vision, until it vanished. I prostrated at the feet of Sri Maharshi, with tears of ecstasy in my eyes and my hairs standing on end. To Bhagavan's enquiry I replied that I of course had seen my dear Rama.


(7) Introduction to the Collected Works


It was about 1927 when Sri Bhagavan's Nool Thirattu in Tamil was under preparation to be published. At about 10-30 in the night, as I was passing beside the Hall, Sri Bhagavan looked at me and said, "Why not you write the preface yourself?'' I was taken aback at His proposal, but meekly said, "I would venture to write it only if I had Bhagavan's blessing in the task.'' Bhagavan said, "Do write it, and it will come all right.''


But as I had taken the written sheets of paper only a few steps away, Sri Maharshi beckoned me to show them to Him once again. I had concluded the Preface in the following way: "It is hoped that this work in the form of Bhagavan's Grace will give to all who aspire to eternal Truth, the Liberation in the form of gaining supreme Bliss shaped as the taking away of all sorrow.'' Maharshi said, "Why have you put 'It is hoped'? Why not say 'It is certain'?'' So saying, He corrected with His own hands my 'nambukiren' into 'tinnam'.


Thus Sri Maharshi set His seal of approval to the book, giving to His devotees that great charter of Liberation, in the form of His Teaching (upadesa) which leaves no trace of doubt about it in the mind.


(8) Bhagavan Tells of Kannappar the Saint


Bhagavan began to read the life of Kannappar, the great devotee-saint. He went on reading incidents in his early life, and how he went to the forest and found Kudumi Dever, the Sivalinga, his Lord, up the Kalahasti Hill in the Chittoor district (of Andhra State). Then he told how Kannappar worshipped the Sivalinga with water carried in his mouth, flowers taken from his own hair, and the well-cooked and tasted beef prepared from his own meal - knowing no better and having no better to offer his beloved Lord. The way in which the ordained priest, Siva Gochariar, resented the intruding defiler of the sacred Sivalinga was so characteristically brought out by Bhagavan, who with his own explanations of the rites and the meaning of the mantras used in the worship, that it enriched the recital greatly to the benefit and admiration of the devotees.


Then came the scene of scenes, when the Lord in that Sivalinga tested Kannappar and incidentally revealed to Siva Gochariar the intensity of the forest hunter's love. Lord had directed him to witness Kannappar's worship from a place of hiding. He saw the unexpected trickling of blood from one of the eyes on that Sivalinga; he saw Kannappar running to and fro for herbs, and treating the Lord's eye with them. Then he saw how, finding them all useless, Kannappar plucked out one of his eyes and applied it to that in the Sivalinga; then, seeing the treatment was effective, he ran into ecstasies of joyful dance.


When Bhagavan came to the story of how Kannappar was plucking out his second eye to heal the second of the Lord, and of how the Sivalinga extended a hand to stop him, saying "Stop, Kannappar!'' Bhagavan's voice choked, His body perspired profusely, His hairs stood on end, tears gushed out from his eyes;


He could hardly utter a word, and there was silence, pin-drop silence in the Hall. All there were dumbfounded that this great jnani could be so much overpowered by emotion and ecstasy at the great hunter-saint's devotion. After a while Sri Bhagavan quietly closed the book, dried his tears in His eyes with the ends of His towel, and laid aside the book, saying, "No, I can't go on any further.''


Then we could realise the import of His words in the Aksharamanamalai: "Having become silent, if one remains like a stone, can that be called real silence?'' His blossomed Heart had in it the perfect warmth of devotion, no less than the supreme light of Knowledge.


(15) Thought Travels Too


Mr. and Mrs. S. were visitors from Peru to the Ashram:


The couple narrated all their story to Bhagavan, all the privations they had undergone to have a look at Sri Maharshi. Bhagavan was all kindness to them; He heard their story with great concern, and then remarked: "You need not have taken all this trouble. You could well have thought of me from where you were, and so could have had all the consolation of a personal visit.'' This remark of Sri Bhagavan they could not easily understand, nor did it give them any consolation as they sat at His feet like Mary. Sri Maharshi did not want to disturb their pleasure in being in His immediate vicinity, and so He left them at that.


Later in the evening Sri Maharshi was enquiring about their day-to-day life, and incidentally their talk turned to Peru. The couple began picturing the landscape of Peru and were describing the sea-coast and the beach of their own town. Just then Maharshi remarked: "Is not the beach of your town paved with marble slabs, and are not coconut palms planted in between? Are there not marble benches in rows facing the sea there and did you not often sit on the fifth of those with your wife?'' This remarks of Sri Maharshi created astonishment in the couple. How could Sri Bhagavan, who had never gone out of Tiruvannamalai, know so intimately such minute details about their own place? Sri Maharshi only smiled and remarked: "It does not matter how I can tell. Enough if you know that in the Self there is no Space-Time.''


(21) "Who Am I, Nayana?''


Sri Bhagavan was in the Virupaksha Cave on the Hill. One evening after 7 p.m. they were all coming down the Hill to go round Arunachala. The other devotees had all gone in advance; only Sri Kavyakanta Ganapati Muni was in the company of Sri Maharshi, and they were slowly climbing down the steps from the cave.


Whey they had walked a few steps, all of a sudden Sri Maharshi stopped, and with Him Sri Kavyakanta as well. The full moon was shining bright in the East in the starry sky. Pointing to the moon and the beautiful sky, Sri Bhagavan said: "Nayana! If the sun, the moon, and all the stars have their being in ME, and the Sun himself goes round my hip with his satellites, who am I? who am I?''


This remark of Sri Maharshi made His blessed disciple envisage the Master as the Great Person of the Vedas, as described in 'Sri Rudra,' the 'Purusha Sukta,' and the 'Skamba Sukta,' of the Atharva Veda. He is verily all these, and That beyond; there is nothing that is not He. Sri Kavyakanta later made this revelation known to all the devotees.


(22) Bhagavan as a Classical Sanskrit Poet


Sri Kavyakanta had composed 700 stanzas on Uma in some thirty different metres, and had announced to his devotees in various parts of the country that this poem would be dedicated on a certain Friday in the Shrine of Sri UMA in the great Temple of Sri Arunachaleswara. Over a hundred persons gathered at the Pachaiamman Temple so as to be present on the occasion. Now these Sanskrit verses were not a mere intellectual display by Sri Kavyakanta, great as he was in Sanskrit composition. Proof of his great intellectual capacity may be had from the very fact that in the presence of the heads of the Udipi Maths he composed extempore in a single hour the hundred verses of the 'Ghanta sataka,' giving the cream of the teaching of the three main schools of Hindu Philosophy.


His 'Uma Sahasram' is different from other compositions in that it is pasyanti vak, i.e., revealed by the Divine Mother to one who is adept in the Kundalini Yoga and in her own words.


At about 8 p.m. on the evening before the dedication day, after supper, Sri Maharshi asked Sri Kavyakanta whether the dedication would have to be postponed to some other Friday as 300 verses were still to be composed to complete the thousand. But Sri Kavyakanta assured Bhagavan that he would complete the poem immediately.


The scene that followed can hardly be believed by one who did not actually witness it. Sri Maharshi sat silent and in deep meditation like the silent Lord Dakshinamurthy. The eager disciples watched in tense admiration the sweet flow of divine music in Sanskrit verse as it came from the lips of the great and magnetic personality of Sri Kavyakanta. He stood there delivering the verses in an unbroken stream while disciples eagerly gathered the words and wrote them down. Oh, for the ecstasy of it all! Life is indeed blessed if only to experience those divine moments.


The 'Sahasram' was finished in several metres - Madalekha, Pramanika, Upajati, Aryagiti, etc. For a while the disciples present enjoyed the deep ecstasy of the silence pervading the atmosphere, as Sri Kavyakanta concluded with the normal type of colophone. Then Sri Bhagavan opened His eyes and asked, "Nayana, has all I said been taken down?'' From Sri Ganapati Muni came the ready reply and grateful response: "Bhagavan, all that Bhagavan inspired in me has been taken down!''


It is thus clear that Sri Bhagavan inspired the final 300 verses of the 'Uma Sahasram' through the lips of Sri Kavyakanta, without speaking a word, as usually understood, or rather in the silence characteristic of the Silent Sage of Arunachala. It is noteworthy that whereas Sri Kavyakanta revised the first 700 verses of this monumental work some six times; he did not revise any of the last 300. This being Sri Bhagavan's own utterance, there was no need to "polish them.'' These 300 verses are to be considered as Sri Bhagavan's unique contribution to Sanskrit poetry.


Part Three - The Guru's Teaching


(34) The Ribhu Gita


An anecdote about the translation by Bhikshu Sastri is worth relating. Deeply struck by pure Advaita of the teachings in this Gita, the translator held so steadfastly to that glorious doctrine that he denied the truth or reality of all phenomena, including the Gods themselvea; he said their existence is as true only as that of the barren woman's son, the hare's horn and the flowers seen in the sky. Teased too much by his atheism, the manifest Gods put the translator to the test, and he lost his eye sight; only when he wrote verses in praise of Lord Nataraja was his sight restored to him. To have this punishment for daring to defy the Form-aspect (saguna) of the Formless (nirguna) Divine excused, he had to write a verse in praise of Sri Nataraja at the end of each of the 44 chapters of the Ribhu-Gita.


This is the essence of the teaching of this precious Gita, so often referred to by Sri Bhagavan:


"The Self is one and whole, Self-awareness. This is the Divine (brahman) the Indestructible, the Existent, Beginningless and Endless Many. There is nothing apart from the Self (atman), nor anything else worthy of meditation. All that is manifest - the 'I', the 'you', the 'he', the Lord, and the all - all is the Divine. There is not even an atom apart from the Self that IS, the Single Unbroken Essence (akhanda eka rasa). Therefore the surety "I am the Divine'' (aham brahmasmi) is the endless True Knowledge. Know: 'I am Being-Awareness-Bliss, of the nature of my own Self. I am without any differentiation of caste, clan, birth, and the like. I am the Divine Absolute shining eternally in all splendour as the All, the Full, spotless, intelligent, ever unbound, true and still. Beyond the body, senses, life-current, thought, intellect, mind and ego-sense; unattached to the five sheaths (kosa), unaffected by the incidents of birth and death, void of a world that is lifeless and animate, you are That. This is experienced as 'I am the Divine' by negating through stainless enquiry the whole concept of individual, the world and beyond.


"The maya of the world is not for you; you are the bliss of spotlessness, without either purpose or uncertainity. You are the purport of Vedanta. You are the indivisible form beyond the three clouds. You are yourself the One Self, without attributes or changes, which cannot be experienced by mind or speech. Here, there, this, that, I and he - all such thoughts convey is only mind; the elements and their compounds are only mind. The concepts of time, space, objects, the triads and their appearances, celestials and men, Hari and the Creator Brahma, the Guru and the disciple - all are mind alone.


"Here is the true form of worship: 'I am the ocen of Bliss that is ever full!' - this beatitude is the true bath in holy water (abhisheka) for the divinity of the Supreme Lord. 'I am the unbounded Expanse!' this beatitude is the offering of cloth to the Supreme Lord Siva. 'I am the Self!' - this beatitude is the real offering of ornaments to the Supreme Lord Siva. Discarding the thought-form leading to the qualities (guna) - this is the offering of the boundless to Siva the Supreme Lord. The annihilation of all sense of difference between the Self, the Guru, and the Lord - that is the offering of bel-leaves to Siva, the Supreme Lord. Casting away the tendencies of the past (vasana) - this is the burning of incense to Parasiva, the Supreme Lord. 'I am the attributeless Parasiva, the Supreme Lord!' - this beatitude is the waving of Light (arati) befor the Supreme Lord, Siva. The realising that the Divine and the Self are one - is the burning of the fragrant gums before Siva, the Supreme Lord. That alone is the offering of flowers, in which one abides as the Self, the Supreme Bliss. That alone is the singing of the Name in harmony (namasankirtan), wherein one conceives himself as being without names and forms.


"I am the Supreme Knowledge determined by the scriptures on spiritual wisdom (vedanta). I am the solid Bliss abiding as in the universal Great Silence. I am the single impartible Own Form (swarupa).


"Abidance in the Void is firmness; that itself is wisdom (jnana), liberation, Siva and the Alone (kaivalya). The forms of thought are impurity, creating time-space and the differentiation of the world and individual, very harmful. Mind takes the form of intention and uncertainity. The egoic self does not really exist; the Truth is "I am the Divine (ahambrahmasmi)''. Meditate on this, practise the wisdom-yoga, destroy all sense of difference, be freed from the disease of mind, obtain the Stillness of the tangible experience, and come to realize the release from bondage. Abiding in the Self as "I am the Divine'' is the real ablution; the determination of the Self as the ever-realized Divine is the real heaven.


"He is freed while alive (jivanmukta) who, motionless like the Hill, is still and immaculate, the Self in Itself, absolute Existence experienced as Bliss. Rid of individuality, rid of all concepts, he who is still, as pure Light, immaculate, peaceful solid Bliss is free without a body (videhamukta). Knowing, feeling, thinking, praying, determining, mingling, abiding - all these must be in the Self Itself. Meditate incessantly on 'Aham brahmasmi' until it becomes permanent; later on, be freed from even this thought and be the Self Itself alone.


"Seeing any thing apart from the Divine is the cause of the sense of difference and so of fear. The thought-waves that rise in the mind are the cause of bondage. When there is no mind, there is neither world nor individual soul. The conquest of the mind is the greatest of all conquests. It is the Divine Himself who appears as world, individual and the beyond. So abidance as the Divine all times and in all places will result in conquering the mind. Then will you come to realize "All is the Divine; I am that Self;'' and you will attain the natural state.


"The view 'That am I' is the surest way to conquer the mind. "There is nothing apart from me; the three states, the five sheaths, the three qualities, the separate and the crowd (vyashti, samashti) - all these are not apart from me. All that is seen is the Seer, the Self; be at peace by the feeling "That am I''. Cast off the idea 'I am the body'; be firm in the feeling 'I am' - the Self.


"The conclusions of the Four Vedas - Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva - are all the same; the 'well known Divine,' the 'I am the Divine', the 'That art thou', and 'I am the Self Creative Brahma, you are the Divine Knowledge'. He who teaches you thus is the real Guru. After obtaining this teaching (upadesa), throw off all other books and be firm in meditating on 'I am the Divine.'


"Let the Pure Existence of the Divine alone be realized; if the sun of this Knowledge arises, how can the darkness of ignorance prevail? The mind of him who is certain that the Divine is one and whole cannot be shaken by the Great Illusion (maya) even if the vast Mount Meru be shaken by tying it to a thread. Practice "That am I'' (soham); the experience 'I am Siva' (Sivoham) will make you into Siva. Therefore sing 'Sivoham, Sivoham, Sivoham!''


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