2. The Origins of Sri Ramanasramam
3. Films from Sri Ramanasramam, Part 7
4. Thambiah Navaratnam
As I Saw Him, No.9
In December of 1941, Arthur Osborne, a university lecturer in Siam, was imprisoned by the Japanese. After three and a half long years, the Japanese were defeated and he was released. He then travelled to India and settled near Sri Ramanasramam, where his wife and children were waiting for him.
He had heard of Ramana Maharshi, read his teachings and seen pictures of him, but doubts remained whether the Maharshi was an actual Guru who actively guided seekers to salvation. It wasn't long before this doubt was cleared. He ultimately founded the ashram journal, The Mountain Path, and left a unparalleled legacy of literature on the Maharshi and his teachings.
Let us follow him as he tells how his heart and mind were joined to the silent Sage of the holy Arunachala Mountain.
I ENTERED THE ASHRAM hall on the morning of my arrival, before Bhagavan had returned from his daily walk on the hill. I was a little awed to find how small it was and how close to him I should be sitting; I had expected something grander and less intimate. And then he entered and, to my surprise, there was no great impression; certainly far less than his photographs had made. Just a white-haired, very gracious man, walking a little stiffly from rheumatism and with a slight stoop. As soon as he had eased himself on to the couch he smiled to me and then turned to those around and to my young son and said: "So Adam's prayer has been answered; his Daddy has come back safely." I felt his kindliness, but no more. I appreciated that it was for my sake that he had spoken English, since Adam knew Tamil.
During the weeks that followed he was constantly gracious to me and the strain of nerves and mind gradually relaxed but there was still no dynamic contact until the evening of Karthikai when, each year, a beacon is lit on the summit of Arunachala.
There were huge crowds for the festival and we were sitting in the courtyard outside the hall. Bhagavan was reclining on his couch and I was sitting in the front row before it. He sat up, facing me, and his narrowed eyes pierced into me penetrating, intimate, with an intensity I cannot describe. It was as though they said: "You have been told; why have you not realized?" And then quietness, a depth of peace, an indescribable lightness and happiness.
Thereafter love for Bhagavan began to grow in my heart and I felt his power and beauty. Next morning, for the first time, sitting before him in the hall, I tried to follow his teaching by using the vichara, 'Who am I?'. I thought it was I who had decided. I did not at first realize that it was the initiation by look that had vitalized me and changed my attitude of mind. Indeed, I had heard only vaguely of this initiation and paid little heed to what I had heard. Only later did I learn that other devotees also had had such an experience and that with them also it had marked the beginning of active sadhana under Bhagavan's guidance.
My love and devotion to Bhagavan deepened. I became aware of the enormous grace of his presence. Even outwardly he was gracious to me, smiling when I entered the hall, signing to me to sit where he could watch me in meditation. His face was like the face of water, always changing and yet always the same. He would be laughing and talking, and then he would turn graciously to a small child or hand a nut to a squirrel that hopped on to his couch from the window, or his radiant, wide-open eyes would shine with love upon some devotee who had just arrived or was taking leave. And then, in silence, a moment later, his face would be rock-like, eternal in its grandeur.
He was unperturbed whatever happened; the majesty of his countenance was inexpressible; and yet it is no less true that he was swift and spontaneous in response and that his face was the most human, the most living, one had ever seen. He attained Realization without learning and never displayed erudition, and yet he made himself better versed in the scriptures than the pundits who came to him for elucidations. He was all compassion, and yet his countenance might appear immovable, like stone. He was all love, and yet for weeks together he might not favor a devotee with a single look or smile. He replied to all graciously, and yet many trembled and feared to speak to him. His features were not good and yet the most beautiful face looked trivial beside him. He often appeared scarcely to notice devotees, and yet his guidance was as unremitting then as it is now.
One day a sudden vivid reminder awoke in me: "The link with Formless Being? But he is the Formless Being!" And I began to apprehend the meaning of his Jnana and to understand why devotees addressed him simply as 'Bhagavan', which is a word meaning God. The vichara, the constant 'Who am I?', began to evoke an awareness of the Self as Bhagavan outwardly and also simultaneously of the Self within.
Bhagavan sought to free us from psychic as well as physical desires, and he therefore disapproved of all freakishness and eccentricity and of all interest in visions and desire for powers. He liked his devotees to behave in a normal and sane way, for he was guiding us towards the ultimate Reality where perceptions and powers which men call "higher" or "miraculous" are as illusory as those they call "physical". A visitor once related how his Guru died and was buried and then, three years later, returned in tangible bodily form to give instructions. Bhagavan sat unheeding. It was as though he had not heard. The bell rang for lunch and he rose to leave the hall. Only at the doorway he turned and quoted:
"Though a man can enter ever so many bodies, does it mean that he has found his true Home?"
I observed that he shunned theoretical explanations and kept turning the questioner to practical considerations of sadhana, of the path to be followed. He never encouraged any to give up life in the world. He explained that it would only be exchanging the thought "I am a householder" for the thought "I am a sannyasin." Whereas what is necessary is to reject the thought "I am the doer" completely and remember only "I am"; and this can be done by the means of the vichara as well in the city as in the jungle. It is only inwardly that a man can leave the world by leaving the ego-sense; it is only inwardly that he can withdraw into solitude by abiding in the universal solitude of the heart, which is solitude only because there are no others, however many forms the Self may assume.
Daily I sat in the hall before him. I asked no questions for the theory had long been understood. I spoke to him only very occasionally, about some personal matter. But the silent guidance was continuous, strong and subtle. It may seem strange to modern minds, but the Guru taught in silence. This did not mean that he was unwilling to explain when asked; indeed, he would answer sincere questions fully; what it meant was that the real teaching was not the explanation but the silent influence, the alchemy worked in the heart.
I strove constantly by way of the vichara according to his instructions. Having a strong sense of duty or obligation, I still continued, side by side with it, to use other forms of sadhana which I had undertaken before coming to Bhagavan, even though I now found them burdensome and unhelpful. Finally I told Bhagavan of my predicament and asked whether I could abandon them. He assented, explaining that all other methods only lead up to the vichara.
Early in 1948 constant physical proximity had ceased to be necessary and professional work had become urgently necessary. Work was found in Madras. Thereafter I went to Tiruvannamalai only for weekends and holidays, and each visit was revitalizing.
I was there at the time of one of the operations that Bhagavan suffered and had darshan immediately after it, and the graciousness of his reception melted the heart and awoke remorse to think how great was the reward for so little effort made.
Toward the end, Bhagavan was aged far more than his years. He looked more like ninety than seventy. In one who had a strong constitution, who had scarcely known sickness except for the rheumatism of his last years, and who was impervious to grief of worry, anxiety, hope or regret, this would appear incredible; but it was the burden of his compassion. "He who taketh upon himself the sins of the world."
Devotees came and sat before him, burdened with sorrows, tormented with doubts, darkened with impurities, and, as they sat, felt themselves free and lightened. How many have come and sat there weighed down with the grief of failure or bereavement, and the light of his eyes has dissolved their pain until they have felt a wave of peace flood their heart. How many have come primed with questions which seemed to them all-important and which their thought and reading has failed to solve; it might be in desperate hope or as a challenge that they brought the questions, but as they sat there the questioning mind itself was brought to tranquility and the questions faded out, no longer needing to be asked. And then, if they opened their hearts, a deeper understanding was implanted there. Those who sought refuge in him felt the burden of their karma lifted; and it was he who bore the burden.
I was there that fateful April night of the body's death and felt a calm beneath the grief and a wonder at the fortitude Bhagavan had implanted in his devotees to bear their loss. Gradually one after another began to discover in his heart the truth that Bhagavan had not gone away but, as he promised, is still here.
Since that day his presence in the heart has been more vital, the outpouring of his Grace more abundant, his support more powerful. I have been to Tiruvannamalai since then also, and the Grace that emanates from the tomb is the Grace of the living Ramana.
I have not given a clear picture of the man who was Ramana, but how can one portray the universal? What impressed one was his complete unself-consciousness like that of a little child, his Divinity and intense humanity.We shall not see the Divine Grace in human form or the love shining in his eyes, but in our hearts he is with us and will not leave us. His Grace continues to be poured out, not only on those who knew the miracle of his bodily form, but on all who turn to him in their hearts, now as before.
Origins of Sri Ramanasramam
In our last issue, Sri Kunju Swami described the final hours of Mother Azhagammal and how, by the special touch of Bhagavan, she was led to emancipation. He also went on the explain how her body was carried down near the Pali Tirtham and buried with all the ceremony and solemnity due to a Jnani.
Near the end of the same year, 1922, the Maharshi came down from Skandashram and settled at the Mother's grave. He explained it thus: "It was not of my own volition that I moved from Skandashram. Something brought me here and I obeyed. It was not my decision but the Divine Will."
The Maharshi's total submission to the Divine is unquestionable. The move from Skandashram was not a calculated decision. But how was it observed by the inmates from Skandashram? Sri Kunju Swami was there, and below he relates the chain of events that led to the origin of Sri Ramanasramam after the burial of Mother Azhagammal.
After completing the day's work [the Mother's burial] we, along with Bhagavan, all came back to Skandashram. Some of those who had assembled there felt building a samadhi was not enough. They felt that a Linga should be placed over the Mother's grave with daily puja performed there and that Mandala Abhishekam should also be done on the 48th day. This was discussed and then decided upon.
Chinnaswami began doing puja and a Linga was erected. After Chinnaswami and others did the puja in the morning, they would all come up to Skandashram for lunch. More construction was completed over the samadhi before the 48th day, the day of the Mandala Abhishekam. Bhagavan and all of us came down to Pali Tirtham for that ceremony.
There was no place for Bhagavan to rest, as there was only one small room at the Ganapati temple that was used for making garlands. So Bhagavan rested at Kumbhakonam. Rangaswami Aiyangar made many different kinds of prasad for that day, and, in this way, Mandala Abhishekam was celebrated on a grand scale. After this ceremony, some of us felt a more elaborate and proper shrine should be built over the Mother's grave.
Chinnaswami and Dandapaniswami (a new arrival and excellent cook) used to go to the site, do puja, cook, eat and then come away, and the plans for construction were postponed.
In those days, some devotees from town used to send tapal peti (a bag of daily rations) to Skandashram. Chinnaswami and Dandapaniswami used to take most of it down to the Mother's grave site, leaving little for people at Skandashram. Vasudevaswami, who used to send the food, received a complaint from someone regarding this. He sent a written message saying the food sent up is for Vasudeva and not for Vasudeva. Meaning the food was sent for Bhagavan at Skandashram and was to be used there. Bhagavan, who happened to see this note, remarked, "How did Vasudeva come without Vasudeva? Vasudeva is Krishna's father." Bhagavan's remark made it known that he wanted the provisions to be sent down, so all kept quiet.
Eventually Chinnaswami and Dandapaniswami began making elaborate food preparations, and also the morning coffee at the Pali Tirtham. Sri Ramakrishnaswami and others were then tempted to come down. One day Chinnaswami invited me to come down and eat the special Mulagutami Dosai that he was making. He said, "Tomorrow morning you come. We will make enough. After you eat, you can then take some for Bhagavan at Skandashram." I went down the same night, thinking that way I could take dosai to Bhagavan early in the morning.
It seems that night Bhagavan had asked Ramakrishnaswami, who was attending on Bhagavan in my absence, where I went. He was told where I had gone and why.
At that time, it was Bhagavan's habit to come down the Hill to answer the call of nature, and also to visit Mother's samadhi. That day, early in the morning, he covered himself with a shawl, as it was the cold season, and came down. He quietly came up beside me and said, "Is there anything for Atithi (guest)?" When I looked up I was surprised and thrilled to see Bhagavan standing there. Observing this, Chinnaswami and others came over and requested Bhagavan to stay and eat the dosai and then promised to send some up for the devotees at Skandashram.
There used to be a stream running near the Pali Tirtham. I gave Bhagavan a neem stick to brush his teeth after which he washed in the stream and then came and sat down for dosai. He was offered hot dosai and coffee made with goat's milk. He jokingly remarked, "Now I understand why everyone, one after another, is tempted to come away from Skandashram."
Shaday Shettiyar, the trustee of Draupadi koil, and the younger brother of the lady who had the thatched shed built over Mother's shrine came to know that Bhagavan had come down. Shettiyar's sister, now an old lady, could not go up to Skandashram to visit Bhagavan. So Shettiyar decided to bring her for Bhagavan's darshan. He went to town to get her. She came with a cart load of provisions and wished to cook and offer Bhiksha (food offering) to Bhagavan. She pleaded with him to stay and accept her Bhiksha.
Ganapati Muni, who was at Skandashram, heard about this. After having lunch, he also came down. Whenever he came, he used to have at least an hour long discussion with Bhagavan on various subjects. Hearing that Nayana had come, others also came. All of them were seated in front of Bhagavan and Nayana. It became dark. There were no torch lights and, as a general rule, Bhagavan did not go up the hill through town. We therefore decided to spend the night near the Mother's shrine and go up the next morning.
In the morning, when we were preparing to go up, Bhagavan's sister and her husband arrived. They had also brought with them provisions for cooking, and wanted to offer Bhiksha to Bhagavan. So, not to disappoint them, he stayed on.
Ramakrishnaswami, realizing Bhagavan had not come up, brought down Bhagavan's kaupina and other things. Since Bhagavan used to bathe in cold water in those days, he took a bath in the stream nearby. Consequently, for the next six to ten days, someone or another was offering Bhiksha, and Bhagavan stayed on down at the foot of the hill.
Chinnaswami asked me and Gopala Rao to go and stay at Skandashram to guard the property there. We stayed up there for those eight to ten days and food was daily sent up to us. I began thinking that I had come here to be near Bhagavan and not to guard property. As soon as this thought came, Gopala Rao and I came down that very evening.
Chinnaswami wanted to know why we had left Skandashram and I told him what I felt, but also agreed to go back the next morning. Now, the next morning, before I could go back up, someone came down and told me that all of the things at Skandashram were stolen. Bhagavan made the remark, "Now there is no more need for anyone to go and protect the property." This remark made it clear to us that Bhagavan approved of staying on at the Mother's samadhi near the Pali Tirtham, and now there was no need for anyone to invite Bhagavan to stay on. It all happened in the most natural, automatic way.
Films from Sri Ramanasramam
IN OUR LAST issue we explained how, in 1947, the first film of K.K.Nambiar's happened to be taken. As we go on to describe the details of this color film, you will discover why Mr. Nambiar cherished it till his dying day.
It begins with several shots of the Maharshi walking through the ashram with his attendant, Sivanandaswami, following close behind.
With a walking stick in his right hand and a clean white towel hanging over his left shoulder, Bhagavan makes his way to the lavatory next to the goshala (cow shed). T.P.Ramachandra Iyer is standing near the lavatory door and stares at the camera.
Then appears Chinnaswami looking tall and vigorous and walking straight toward the camera. The scene suddenly cuts to where we see Bhagavan standing to the right of his beloved cow Lakshmi; Chinnaswami stands to her left and both are stroking her. There are children standing about. The camera pans to the right where Bhagavan's sister and Nambiar's wife and son are standing; the camera pans back and forth several times and each time new faces appear: T.N.Venkataraman, his sons, his wife holding a infant, and a dozen others.
All the while Bhagavan stands close to Lakshmi, petting her with affection. She, the centerpiece of the show, looks on with calm dignity. Then the whole group, about twenty in all, casually walk with Bhagavan toward the dining hall.
This whole episode has an air of what we in the West call 'home movies'. Although there are many relatives of Bhagavan in this sequence - perhaps half of the group - we sense an equality and intimacy of a single family unit, gathered under the sole shelter of their benign Father, the Maharshi. And the cow Lakshmi is no less a member, but rather an equal recipient of affection, loyalty and friendship. This footage, the only of the cow Lakshmi, is a fitting tribute to that rare soul who took the shape of a cow, surrendered to a Master in human form, and was forever merged in the formless Reality. Her remarkable story will live on as long as the memory of Sri Ramana Maharshi lasts.
Then a short scene of the flower garden is followed by that of the white peacock. K.K.Nambiar mentions in his writings that the Maharshi pointedly requested him to film this peacock.
Sri Bhagavan is then seen walking out of the dining room and makes his way to near the men's dormitory. There, Mr. Nambiar's memorable plan, now on film, begins to unfold: Mrs. Nambiar quickly approaches Bhagavan, stands in front of him with joined palms, immediately drops to her knees and touches the Maharshi's feet three times, returning her hands to her forehead after each touch. Bhagavan seems surprised, steps back slightly, rubs his thigh with apparent unease and looks on. It all happens so fast he has no time to react. But that is not the end of it. Mr. Nambiar must have immediately handed over the camera to his wife, for in the next scene we see Mr. Nambiar on his knees with his head firmly planted on Bhagavan's right foot. He then lifts his head up and turns to the camera to be sure everything was recorded. Uncertain, he repeats the act and then stands.
A glimpse at the Maharshi's face indicates that he is humoured by this whole affair, though he wastes no time making his escape once Nambiar stands.
This film ends with a close-up of a consenting and cheerful Major Alan Chadwick; then one of a steady, stoic Professor Syed.
We are sad to announce the sudden demise of Thambiah Navaratnam, a senior devotee of Bhagavan who has been residing in Oakville, Ontario for the last two years.
Born in Celyon, he came under the direct influence of the Maharshi in 1943 when, while sitting in the Old Hall, the Master's gracious eyes turned on him and he found himself absorbed in the Absolute.
He was a quiet man, blessed with many deep spiritual experiences. The local community of devotees will miss his inspiring company.
We extend our sincere consolation to his wife, Srimati Ratna who, in her long, fruitful life, has been equally blessed by Sri Bhagavan.