This book was written by T K Sundaresha Iyer
In 1908, when I was 12 years old, Bhagavan was still in Virupaksha Cave. My cousin, Krishnamurthy, used to go to Bhagavan every day and sing songs of devotion and worship before him. One day I asked him where he went daily. He told me: “The Lord of the Hill Himself is sitting there in human form. Why don’t you come with me?” I too climbed the hill and found Bhagavan sitting on a stone slab, with about ten devotees around him. Each would sing a song. Bhagavan turned to me and asked, “Well, won’t you sing a song?” One of Sundaramurthy’s songs came to my mind and I sang it. It’s meaning was: “No other support I have except Thy Holy Feet. By holding on to them, I shall win your grace. Great men sing your praise, Oh Lord. Grant that my tongue may repeat Thy Name even when my mind strays.” “Yes, that is what must be done,” said Bhagavan, and I took it to be his teaching for me. From that time on I went to him regularly for several years, never missing a day.
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 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 out in 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!
Years passed. I was married and led a well-ordered family life as laid down in the scriptures, studying the Vedas, worshipping ancestors and deities in the prescribed way, and feeding the five kinds of living beings. I was associated with political and religious activities and used to go from village to village teaching the Periya Puranam; but I would find time to visit Bhagavan quite often. About 1920 Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni came to reside at Tiruvannamalai. Everyone used to address him as ‘Nayana’ (father). He was already a dear disciple of Bhagavan. He became the president of the Tiruvannamalai Town Congress Committee. From my early days I was in Tilak’s movement and did not see much future in Mahatma Gandhi’s programme. One day I said to Nayana: “I do not expect much from political activities; without God’s grace no action will prosper. To ask for grace is our main task. People like you, who are blessed with grace in abundance, should use your spiritual powers for the uplift of the world and liberation of the country and not waste your time on speeches.” He liked the idea and asked me to stay with him and pray to God for grace. He made me study the Vedas and taught me verses from the Rig-Veda, with their meaning. Mahendra Societies were started all over India and I was made the General Secretary. Their object was to win freedom for our country by purely devotional means, like rituals, prayers, and personal and collective penance. We managed to register about ten thousand members.
Nayana mainly stayed in the Mango Tree Cave on Arunachala and used to visit Bhagavan off and on. Nayana used to discuss shastras with him and get his doubts cleared. He was a mighty scholar, while Bhagavan was just literate, yet he would say: “Without Bhagavan’s grace, the intricacies of the scriptures are beyond one’s power of understanding. One word from him makes everything clear.” When Nayana would see someone sitting in front of Bhagavan, meditating with his eyes closed, he would scold the devotee, saying: “When the Sun is shining in front of you, why do you need to close your eyes? Are you serious or do you want only to show what a pious fellow you are?” Those were happy days indeed, and I was blessed with many visions of deities and divinities.
At Skandasramam a peacock would follow Bhagavan everywhere. One day a huge black cobra appeared in the Ashram and the peacock attacked it fiercely. The cobra spread its hood and the two natural enemies were poised for a fight to the death, when Bhagavan came quite near the cobra and said: “Why did you come here? That peacock will kill you. Better go away at once.” The cobra immediately lowered its hood and slithered away.
In 1929 I got tired of the relative shapelessness of my inner life and asked Bhagavan to give me some clear instructions as to what direction I should proceed in my spiritual practice. He gave me Kaivalyam to read and explained to me the inner meaning of some sacred verses. From that time on I gave myself completely to spiritual life. I did my duty at school and supported my family, just as something that had to be done, but it was of no importance to me. It was wonderful how I could keep so detached for so many years; it was all Bhagavan’s Grace.
One Amavasya (new moon day) all the Ashram inmates were sitting down for breakfast in the dining room. I was standing and looking on. Bhagavan asked me to sit down for breakfast. I said that I had to perform my late father’s ceremony on that day and would eat nothing (Usually the ceremonies are done to enable the ancestors to go to heaven). Bhagavan retorted that my father was already in heaven and there was nothing more to be done for him. My taking breakfast would not hurt him in any way. I still hesitated, accustomed as I was to age-old tradition. Bhagavan got up, made me sit down and eat some rice cakes. From that day I gave up performing ceremonies for ancestors.
Once Chinnaswami got very cross with me and I felt quite nervous about it. I could not eat my dinner and the next morning, feeling unreconciled and yet hungry, I told Bhagavan, who was preparing rice cakes, that I was in a hurry to go to town as some pupils were waiting for me. “The cat is out of the bag,” said Bhagavan. “Today is Sunday and there is no teaching work for you. Come, I have prepared a special sambar for breakfast and I shall make you taste it. Take your seat.” So saying, he brought a leaf, spread it before me, heaped it with iddilies and sambar and, sitting by my side, started cutting jokes and telling funny stories to make me forget my woes. How great was Bhagavan’s compassion!
My wife used to prepare some food every afternoon and bring it to the Ashram. Bhagavan often asked her to break this habit, but she would not. One day he said: “This is the last time I am eating your food. Next time I shall not.” The same day Bhagavan was telling us how a certain dish should be prepared. The next day my wife brought it all ready. Bhagavan remembered what he had told her, but what could he do against her imploring look? He tasted her food and said that it had been prepared very well. Such was his gracious courtesy to his devotees.
My second son was lazy and not at all good at school. The time for his final high school examinations was rapidly approaching and the boy’s sole preparation was the purchase of a new fountain pen! He brought it to Bhagavan and asked him to bless the pen with his touch so that it would write the examination papers well. Bhagavan knew his lazy ways and said that having hardly studied, he could not expect to pass. My son replied that Bhagavan’s blessings were more effective than studies. Bhagavan laughed, wrote a few words with the new pen and gave it back to him. And the boy did pass, which was a miracle indeed!
In those days I was attending to the foreign correspondence of the Ashram. I used to show Bhagavan the draft of every reply, get his approval, give it the final shape and despatch it. We used to receive some very intelligent and intricate questions. These questions and the answers would have formed a very enlightening volume.
Once I got a job offer in another town which carried a good pay. I intimated my consent and received an appointment order by wire. I showed the wire to Bhagavan. “All right, go,” he said. Even before I left the
hall, I felt gloom settling over me and I started shivering and complained in my grief: “Forty years I have been with Bhagavan and now I am going away. What shall I do away from Bhagavan?”
“How long have you been with Bhagavan?” Bhagavan asked.
Then, turning to the devotees, Bhagavan said, “Here is someone who has been listening to my teaching for forty years and now says he is going somewhere away from Bhagavan!” Nevertheless, the job fell through.
Once I wrote two verses in Tamil, one in praise of the Lord without attributes, the other of the Lord with numberless forms. In the latter I wrote: “From whom grace is flowing over the sentient and insentient.” Bhagavan asked me to change one letter and this altered the meaning to: “who directs his grace to the sentient and the insentient.” The idea was that grace was not a mere influence but could be directed with a purpose where it was needed most.
Bhagavan gave us a tangible demonstration of God’s omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. Our sense of ‘I’ would burn up in wonder and adoration on seeing his unconditional love for all beings. Though outwardly we seemed to remain very much the same person, inwardly he was working on us and destroying the deep roots of separateness and self-concern. A day always comes when the tree of ‘I’, severed from its roots, crashes suddenly and is no more, this is Guru’s Grace!