It was shortly before the second world war that some friends sent me pictures of Bhagavan Sri Ramana and copies of some of his books. Under the influence of the French writer René Guénon, who was re-interpreting forgotten spiritual traditions to the West, I had already understood that all beings manifest the One Self or Pure Being and that I, in my essence, am identical with the Self. This means that it is possible to realize this Supreme Identity and become One in very fact and that the purpose of life is to do so. Until this is achieved, the illusion of separate life in one form or another must continue and, with its sufferings and frustration, obscure the radiance of Pure Being. I knew that this task was the great, heroic quest, the quest of the Sangrail and the Golden Fleece, and that it required constant effort on a prescribed path under the guidance of a Guru. I was making efforts to find and follow such a path, but people for whom I had the utmost respect had assured me that Bhagavan was not a Guru and that his teaching, however sublime, did not constitute practical guidance on a path that men could follow. I was enormously I by the books and pictures, by the spiritual power beauty in them, but classed them reluctantly as a rather than a utility.
In any case, I could not have gone to Tiruvannamalai, I was at the time a university lecturer in Siam. Soon, however, it became possible. In 1941 I had six months leave which I spent in India. And yet I did not go; I accepted the view impressed upon me that less aspiring effort was mole practicable, less illumined guidance more effective.
In September, when my leave ended, the war was already drawing near to Siam, so I left my wife and three children in India and went back alone. A friend had kindly opened to them his house at Tiruvannamalai, the only place where my wife wished to be. She was more concerned with reality than 1, less with theory. I went back without seeing Bhagavan.
In December the Japanese invaded Siam and I was arrested and interned. Just before that I had received a letter saying that my eldest daughter, then aged five, and my son, three years younger, had asked Bhagavan to keep me safe through the war and he had smiled and assented.
There followed three and a half long years of internment until the Japanese surrender in 1945. There was ample time for sadhana. More ad more Bhagavan became the support of my strivings, though I did not yet turn to him as to the Guru.
As soon as the evacuation could be arranged I went to Tiruvannamalai, arriving there at the beginning of October; and yet it was as much to rejoin my family as to see Bhagavan that I went. Perhaps it would be more true to say that I simply felt I had to go there.
I entered the Ashram hail 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. I was disappointed, as it seemed to show a lack of receptivity in me, and yet, at the same time, it confirmed the opinion I had accepted that he was not a Guru and did not give guidance on any path. And Bhagavan said nothing to change my view.
Until the evening of Karthikai when, each year, a beacon is lit on the summit of Arunachala, or it may have been Deepavali, I am not quite sure, there were huge crowds for the festival and we were sitting in the courtyard outside the hail. 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 hail, 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. 1 went about with a lilt of happiness in my heart, feeling the blessing and mystery of the Guru, repeating like a song of love that he was the Guru, the link between heaven and earth, between God and me, between the Formless Being and my heart. I became aware of the enormous grace of his presence. Even outwardly he was gracious to me, smiling when I entered the hail, signing to me to sit where he could watch me in meditation.
And then 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. So he began to prove in me what he declared in his teaching that the outer Guru serves to awaken the Guru in the heart. 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.
The specious theory that Bhagavan was not a Guru had simply evaporated in the radiance of his Grace. Moreover, I now perceived that, so far from his teaching not being practical guidance, it was exclusively that. I observed that he shunned theoretical explanations and kept turning the questioner to practical considerations of sadhana, of the path to be followed. It was that and that only that he was here to teach. I wrote and explained this to the people who had misinformed me and, before sending the letter, showed it to him for his approval. He approved and handed it back, bidding me send it.
Daily I sat in the hail before him. I asked no questions, the theory had long been understood. I spoke to him only very occasionally, about some personal matter. But silent guidance was continuous, strong and subtle. It y seem strange to modern minds, but the Guru taught 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, explained that all other methods only lead up to the vichara.
From the moment of my arrival at Tiruvannamalai there been no question of my leaving again. This was home — even at the very beginning when I was so mistaken about Bhagavan, even when material prospects seemed bleak.
Perhaps that was why Bhagavan in his graciousness stowed the initiation on one who sought but had not wit to ask.
This period of constant physical proximity lasted up to beginning of 1948. I had never been in a financial position to make me suppose I should be able to spend nearly three years at an ashram, but circumstances adapt themselves to the will of Bhagavan. Not only did his Grace keep there, but it enabled me to go through the long period unemployment and other trials and bereavement without Undue anxiety. Although he never spoke of my difficulties or misfortune he flooded my heart with peace.
Early in 1948 constant physical proximity had ceased to he necessary and professional work had become urgently necessary. Work was found in Madras.
I took with me a life size photographs of Bhagavan painted over in oils – a gift form Dr. T. N. Krishnaswamy, a devotee and photographer. I showed it to Bhagavan before leaving and he took it in his hands and returned it, saying : “He is taking Swami with him.” Since then it has looked at me with the love and composition of a Guru and spoken more profoundly than all the other portraits.
Thereafter I went to Tiruvannamalai only for week-ends 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. I was there that fateful April night of the body’ 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 emanate form the tomb is the Grace of the living Ramana.
During these years I had felt no urge to write about Bhagavan. After his body’s death and his reassurance : “I am not going away; I am here; where could I go? There was a dream in which he called me up to him and, as I knelt before his couch, placed his hands on my head in blessing.
At this time an impulse came to write about Bhagavan and especially to explain the accessibility of the path of Self-enquiry which he taught. Most of the chapters in this book were written first as articles in various papers during the months following the Mahasamadhi and they have now collected together and edited to form a book.
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