Memoirs and Notes
By S. S. Cohen
The third of February 1936, early morning, saw my horse-cart rolling on the uneven two-and-a-half-mile road from Tiruvannamalai railway station to Ramanashram. I was led to a small dining room, at the door of which I was asked to remove my shoes. As I was trying to unlace them, my eyes fell on a pleasant looking middle-aged man inside the room, wearing nothing but a kaupin, with eyes as cool as moonbeams, sitting on the floor before a leaf-plate nearly emptied, and beckoning me with the gentlest of nods and the sweetest smile imaginable.
I was alone in the Hall with him. Joy and peace suffused my being - such a delightful feeling of purity and well-being at the mere proximity of a man, I never had before. My mind was already in deep contemplation of him - him not as flesh, although that was exquisitely formed and featured, but as an unsubstantial principle which could make itself so profoundly felt despite the handicap of a heavy material vehicle. When after a while I became aware of my environment, I saw him looking at me with large penetrating eyes, wreathed in smiles rendered divinely soothing by their child-like innocence. All of a sudden I felt something fall in my lap and heard the jingling of keys - my keys! I looked up at the Maharshi extremely puzzled. The man - Sri Ramaswami Pillai - who had dropped them through the door behind me came in and explained that he had gone to the railway station on a bicycle and found the station master waiting for him. It appears that during the few minutes that the train had stopped at the station a passenger had providentially entered the very compartment I had vacated, and, seeing the keys on the seat, he picked them up, and, wonder of wonders! ran up to the station master and handed them over to him. The latter by an unusual flash of intuition surmised that the keys belonged to an Ashram visitor, whom he might have seen detrain in the morning, and awaited a claim for them.
It was a series of miracles which occurred on my behalf in the short space of barely ninety minutes, of which I was blissfully ignorant, absorbed as I was in the entrancing personality of this magnificent human magnet - Sri Ramana Bhagavan.
It is needless to say that from that day Ramanashram became my permanent home.
Three years, I said, had passed since that grihapravesham day, years of great soul-searching, of incessant attempts to penetrate the Master's mind, of reflection, study, meditation, and what not; years of extreme efforts to adjust myself to the entirely new conditions of life, of physical and psychical strain. They were admittedly intense years, in fact so intense, that I then felt that I must quit immediately, and informed the Master accordingly.
"Bhagavan,'' I said on a day then near my hut, "I feel a strong urge to go on a yatra (pilgrimage) to the South - Chidambaram, Srirangam, Rameshwaram ....,'' but lo! a look on Bhagavan's face struck me forcibly with the thought "Yatra! what for? Are you still in doubt?'' I instantly remembered his words of long ago: "Where is the room for doubt? and, as if in reply to a verbal question from him, I continued: "No, Bhagavan, now I feel that I need a change for some months, which I intend spending in Hindu holy places.'' He smiled approval and enquired about the date and time of my starting, and whether I had made arrangements for my stay in the various places I was to visit. Extremely touched by his solicitude, I answered that I was going as a Sadhu, trusting to chance for accommodation.
For three months thereafter I lay on a mat in Cape Comorin, immensely relieved of the mental tension which the Master's physical form had caused me. In solitude I plunged in reflections of his blissful silence and calm response. The stillness of his mind haunted me everywhere I went - in the beautiful, gem-like temple of the youthful Virgin Goddess, on the shores of the vast blue ocean around me and the sand dunes, in the fishing villages and the endless stretches of coconut groves, which ran along the seashore and the interior of the Cape. I felt his influence in the depths of my soul and cried: "O Bhagavan, how mighty you are and how sublime and all-pervasive is the immaculate purity of your mind! With what tender emotions do we, your disciples, think of your incomparable qualities, your gentleness; your serene, adorable countenance; your cool, refreshing smiles; the sweetness of the words that come our of your mouth; the radiance of your all-embracing love; your equal vision towards one and all, even towards diseased stray animals.
In the first year of my stay I was a keen and close questioner, mainly on the technique of meditation. Bhagavan's answers to these questions I recorded particularly carefully. Some of them appear here under my own initial C., or Mr. C. as that of the questioner. I have classified most of the notes subject-wise and, as far as possible, in chronological order, beginning with the light ones, for the convenience of the reader.
Of all the aspects of Advaita philosophy that of Maya is the most difficult to understand, still more to explain. Some interpret it as ignorance, others as dream, others still as illusion, and nothing but experience can explain it satisfactorily. In the meantime considerable misunderstanding is created by explanations - the more it is explained, the more obscure it becomes.
C. - It is hard to conceive of God, the formless, giving rise to form.
Bh. - Why hard? Does not your mind remain formless when you do not perceive or think, say, in deep sleep, in samadhi, or in a swoon? And does it not create space and relationship when it thinks and impels your body to act? Just as your mind devises and your body executes in one homogeneous, automatic act, so automatic, in fact, that most people are not aware of the process, so does the Divine Intelligence devise and plan and His Energy automatically and spontaneously acts - the thought and the act are one integral whole. This Creative Energy which is implicit in Pure Intelligence is called by various names, one of which is Maya or Shakti, the Creator of forms or images.
C. - I suppose efforts have to be made in the waking state, which implies that moksha can be gained only in jagrat.
Bh. - Quite so, awareness is necessary for mind control; otherwise who is to make the effort? You cannot make it in sleep or under the influence of drugs. Also mukti has to be gained in full awareness, because the Reality itself is pure awareness.
C. - There seems to be nothing but awareness, for to know anything there must be knowledge - we cannot get over that.
Bh. - Certainly. Subjective knowledge - knowledge knowing itself is jnana. It is then the subject as the knower, the object as the known and the knowledge which connects them.
C. - This last is not clear to me in this case.
Bh. - Why so? Knowledge is the light which links the seer to the seen. Suppose you go in search of a book in a library in pitch darkness. Can you find it without light, although you, the subject, and the book, the object, are both present? Light has to be present to unite you. This link between the subject and the object in every experience is chit, consciousness. It is both the substratum as well as the witness of the experience, the seer of Patanjali.
C. - Is the vibratory movement of the Centre felt simultaneously with the experience of Pure Consciousness, or before, or after it?
Bh. - They are both one and the same. But Sphurana can be felt in a subtle way even when meditation has sufficiently stabilised and deepened, and the Ultimate Consciousness is very near, or during a sudden great fright or shock, when the mind comes to a standstill. It draws attention to itself, so that the meditator's mind, rendered sensitive by calmness, may become aware of it, gravitate towards it, and finally plunge into it, the Self.
C. - Is the I-I Consciousness Self-Realisation?
Bh. - It is a preclude to it: when it becomes permanent (Sahaja), it is Self-Realisation, Liberation.
The years 1948-50 saw the evening shadows gathering and closing on the mortal coil of the Master. Advancing age brought a series of mishaps to it - a fall, a nervous hiccup lasting many days, a clinging rheumatism, and lastly a malignant tumour, which inch by inch ate up the flesh of his left arm, poisoned his blood and, finally, rang down the curtain on a life, purer than which there has never been nor will ever be.
24 June 1949
"On the 24th instant at 10-30 a.m. the Master was dozing. A female squirrel leapt on his couch and bit his thumb which he quickly pulled back and stroked, remarking, 'I'll not feed her.' Other squirrels crowded on his couch and for half an hour he continued to feed them with cashew nuts, one nut at a time to each. Then he turned to us and, pointing to one of them, said: 'This She-squirrel has been trying to fool me, thinking I do not recognise her, and so shall feed her. Once she comes from this side, once from the other, once from under the couch and once from above it. But I recognise her very well. She shall not have anything,' and laughed. At that the following vague thought crossed my mind: 'Where is the Christ's injunction that if a man slaps you on one cheek offer him the other?'
"Today a squirrel jumped from the window to the couch. The Master looked at it intently. He gave it a nut, then another and addressed it: 'Now go. Have you come to bite me again?' I quickly guessed that that was the guilty squirrel of four days ago and wondered how Sri Bhagavan recognised it and relented. Nevertheless, I asked him if my guess was right, and he confirmed it. After a while the same squirrel came back for more nuts. Usually the Master continues to feed the animals till of their own accord they cease to come. But to this one he refused to give again and, seeing it persisting, he lifted his fan in threat, which made it disappear at once. Then he sat with a pensive look and a faint smile on his face. After a while he turned to my direction, broadened his smile and softly spoke in Tamil in his usual telegraphic brevity to my neighbour:
'Even animals understand a rebuke and, if it is repeated a sufficient number of times, they learn to behave. Some of them are more sensible than some others...' This was immediately translated to me. I laughed, frankly admitted the vague thought I had had on the first day, and added that although I had never doubted Sri Bhagavan's wisdom, that thought needed the explanation, which made the Master nod approvingly.''
15 July 1949
Even in a solemn moment like that, when life hung by the flimsiest thread, Sri Maharshi's solicitude for the guests and devotees occupied the first place in his mind; for he hardly rested than he called attendant Satyananda, who had supported his hip-joints in his journey to and from the bathroom, and whispered something to him, which was later explained as his declared desire that the dining routine should not be altered, which implied that he would not have his dinner alone in the darshan hall, as he had suspected such a plan was afoot, but as usual in the dining hall with others. The dining hall is situated at a great distance from the darshan hall and its southern entrance, by which the Maharshi usually enters, is preceded by seven steep steps. To go there for dinner would compel Sri Bhagavan not only to make the distance on foot, but also cross the terrible threshold of the hall, as well as climb all the seven steps, which is far more than his state of health would permit. A few of his important disciples went to him one after another and begged of him to consent to dine alone in the darshan hall where he sat, but he refused. Our hearts were in our mouths when the dinner bell rang at 7-30 p.m. and we saw him preparing to get down and walk. Walk he did, and with firm steps too, but in order to make him avoid the southern entrance, he was requested to enter by the northern one, which had only two easy steps, but he turned down the request by moving to the southern door and climbing the steep steps. He tottered for a while and, seeing the attendants ready to hold him, he stopped, turned to them and said: "If you leave me alone, I would walk far steadier,'' and entered the dining hall unaided.
14 April 1950
At about 9 p.m., Monsieur Cartier-Brassen, the French photographer, who has been here for about a fortnight with his wife, related an experience of his to me. "It is a most astonishing experience,'' he said. "I was in the open space in front of my house, when my friends drew my attention to the sky, where I saw a vividly-luminous shooting star with a luminous tail, unlike any shooting star I had before seen, coming from the South, moving slowly across the sky and, reaching the top of Arunachala, disappeared behind it. Because of its singularity we all guessed its import and then raced to the Ashram only to find that our premonition has been only too sadly true: the Master had passed into Mahanirvana at that very minute.'' Several other devotees in the Ashram and in the town later told me that they too had seen the tell-tale meteor.
15 April 1950
At 6-30 p.m., the body, which by then had received the homage of not less than 40,000 persons was carried in a decorated palanquin reserved for the Deity of the temple to the samadhi. Here it was placed in the same yoga-asana into a bag made of the finest khaddar, which was then filled with pure camphor and lowered into the small area reserved for it. Then the pit was filled to the brim with camphor, salt, and sacred ashes to protect the body from worms and rapid disintegration, and closed with masonry work.
All the English and Tamil papers which arrived this morning (16th April, 1950) from Madras gave wide publicity in banner headlines to the passing of the Maharshi. They also referred to the meteor which had been seen in the sky all over the State of Madras, hundreds of thousands of square miles, at 8-47 on the night of April 14, by a large number of people in different places and reported to the Press. These eye-witnesses had been struck by its peculiar look and behaviour, which led them to ascribe the strange phenomenon to the passing of a great spiritual soul. Such a mass of evidence speaks for itself, if evidence need be.