Ch.40 - The Unfinished Game
"On account of ill-health I had been feeling weary and melancholy for quite some time, and this had made me shun company and become disinterested in life. I tried my best to overcome this feeling, but the weariness did not abate and the burden of life continued to grow heavier.
Worried, my family accepted my doctor's suggestion that a change of place and climate might do me good, and soon I was transported to Mahabaleshwar. On reaching this holiday resort, I started a routine of morning and evening walks. Mahabaleshwar at that time looked splendid in its natural unspoiled forest beauty and its dozens of rivers flowing down the mountain to the plains.
One day, during one of my early morning walks, I found myself on a narrow footpath. I kept happily walking on until, feeling tired, I sat down on a rock and gave myself up to a reverie encouraged by the murmur of the river. I woke up from this reverie to find that I had slept through the day and it was evening. Puzzled, and feeling slightly disoriented, I tried to walk back the way I had come but soon found myself hopelessly lost in the forest. Then suddenly, at a distance, I saw a man sitting on a big rock. I went towards him intending to ask him the way out of the forest, but he rose and walked away. Confused as to what to do, I simply followed him.
A half-hour's walk brought us to a thatched hut with two dogs tied outside. When on seeing me the dogs started barking, a well-built man who seemed European came out of the hut. In his left hand was a lantern and in his right, a book with the title, Maha Yoga.
The stranger seemed astonished to see me and stood still for a moment. I walked forward and offered my respects to the gentleman. He smiled a very sweet, encouraging smile, embraced me and took me into the hut. "I shall make a bed for you," he said. "You must rest."
He rolled out a mattress on one of the two cots in the room, arranged the pillow and sent the old man away with some instructions. I lay down thankfully. My host then lit the stove and heated some water. Soon the old man returned with two others, one of them holding a kamandalu (pot made of dried gourd) of milk and the other, a fruit-laden mango branch. My host boiled the milk, washed my hands and feet with hot water and offered me the mangoes. The fruits, ripened on the tree itself, were small but delicious. After giving me a large cup of hot milk to drink, he advised me to go to sleep. I just went on doing what I was told, like an automaton.
As I slowly sank into a deep and peaceful sleep, I noticed that my benefactor was wearing the Saivite symbol of three horizontal lines drawn in ash on his forehead and that he himself was gradually going into meditation. It was already bright morning when I awoke to the sounds of a low-pitched prayer. It was my friend, still sitting at the head of my bed and watching over me with concern. I tried to sit up but was gently pushed down again and told in an anxious voice, "You have a high fever. You were delirious last night. Please do not get up yet. Continuous prayers are being offered for you at the shrine of Bhagavan. He will soon make you alright."
Seeing me comfortably back into bed, my friend resumed his chanting. I listened carefully to the sounds and syllables. He was chanting Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya. Suddenly, I clearly perceived Bhagavan Ramana's benevolent figure in the bright rays of sunlight entering the hut. Soon the hut seemed to be filled with effulgent images of Bhagavan. It was as if each time "Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya" was chanted, the words created yet another image of Bhagavan. It was an unforgettable, supernatural experience.
I looked at my host. Tears were pouring from his eyes. I looked at his tears and felt them washing away my troubles, doubts, and sins. I felt clean, liberated. And without any volition on my part, the story of my life poured out of me. My host sat listening quietly. At the end of the narrative, he said calmly, "Now you will be alright. Your treatment is in the able hands of an expert doctor. You took the correct decision when you made up your mind to come here."
Then, in his courteous and gracious manner, he told me his story. He was Arnold Sedderling, a Polish citizen. On May 21, 1935, he had left home when his doctor told him that he was suffering from a malignant growth in the intestines and that he had only another eight months to live. "One of my greatest desires was to meet Sri Ramana Maharshi before the end came, and I wanted to learn from Him all about birth and death," said Sedderling. Upon reaching India, he disembarked at Bombay since his health had deteriorated even further. He then came to Mahabaleshwar from Bombay, unable to make the long trip to Sri Ramanashramam. One day, feeling extremely weak and tired, he came out of his hotel and entered the Mahabaleshwar Temple. He stood in a corner, leaning against a pillar, watching the Shiva Linga being bathed continuously by the waters from sacred rivers.
"Suddenly," said Sedderling, "I saw Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi Himself standing in the place of the Shiva Linga. Was it a hallucination? I wondered. Rubbing my eyes again and again, I looked intently at the spot. It was true. It was indeed Ramana Maharshi for whose darshan I had come all the way from Poland in my helpless physical condition. I also saw his extended hand of protection and heard Him say, "Stay here. I shall come here for your sake."
That was his experience.
For another two days, I stayed with Sedderling. Then as soon as my fever subsided, I returned to my hotel in Mahabaleshwar. In the next three weeks, I regained my old vigor and felt fit and happy. I went to see Sedderling once again, but missed him as he had gone out to distribute medicines to the tribals, a service he had dedicated himself to. Coincidentally enough, that day was May 21 which was both his 75th birthday as well as the day he had left his home in Poland - the great "out-going day" of his life. With all his other activities, however, he had promised himself that he would visit Sri Ramanashramam every year to have darshan of Bhagavan. "And I return every time," he had said to me, "with a fresh understanding of life."