From Chapter 10 “Some Early Devotees” of the biography Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledgewritten by Arthur Osborne.

F.H. Humphreys

The first Western devotee of Sri Bhagavan was already grounded in occultism when he came to India in 1911. He was only twenty-one and had come to take up a post in the Police service at Vellore. He engaged a tutor, one Narasimhayya, to teach him Telugu and in the very first lesson asked him whether he could procure a book in English on Hindu astrology. It was a strange request from a white sahib, but Narasimhayya assented and got him one from a library. The next day Humphreys asked an even more astonishing question, “Do you know any Mahatma here?”

Narasimhayya answered briefly that he did not. This did not save him from embarrassment for long, for the next day Humphreys said: “Did you tell me yesterday that you don’t know any Mahatma? Well, I saw your Guru this morning just before I woke from sleep. He sat by my side and said something which, however, I did not understand.”

As Narasimhayya still seemed unconvinced, Humphreys continued, “The first man from Vellore whom I met at Bombay was you.” Narasimhayya began to protest that he had never been to Bombay, but Humphreys explained that as soon as he arrived there he had been taken to hospital in a high fever. In order to gain some relief from pain, he had directed his mind to Vellore, where he should have proceeded immediately on landing but for his illness. He travelled to Vellore in his astral body and saw Narasimhayya there.

Narasimhayya replied simply that he did not know what an astral body was, or any body but a physical one. However, in order to test the truth of the dream he next day left a bundle of photographs on Humphreys’ table before going to give a lesson to another police officer. Humphreys looked through them and immediately picked out that of Ganapati Sastri. “There!” he exclaimed when his teacher returned. “That is your Guru.”

Narasimhayya admitted that it was. After this Humphreys again fell sick and had to leave for Ootacamund to recuperate. It was several months before he returned to Vellore. When he did, he again surprised Narasimhayya, this time by sketching a mountain cave he had seen in a dream, with a stream running in front of it and a Sage standing in the entrance. It could only be Virupaksha. Narasimhayya now told him about Sri Bhagavan. Humphreys was introduced to Ganapati Sastri and conceived great respect for him, and the same month, November 1911, all three of them set out on a visit to Tiruvannamalai.

Humphreys’ first impression of the terrific silence of Sri Bhagavan has been quoted already in an earlier chapter. In the same letter from which it is taken he also wrote: “The most touching sight was the number of tiny children, up to about seven years of age, who climb the hill all on their own to come and sit near the Maharshi, even though he may not speak a word nor even look at them for days together. They do not play but just sit there quietly, in perfect contentment.”

Like Ganapati Sastri, Humphreys was eager to help the world.

Humphreys: Master, can I help the world?

Bhagavan: Help yourself and you will help the world.

Humphreys: I wish to help the world. Shall I not be helpful?

Bhagavan: Yes, helping yourself you help the world. You are in the world, you are the world. You  are not different from the world, nor is the world different from you.

Humphreys: (after a pause) Master, can I perform miracles as Sri Krishna and Jesus did before?

Bhagavan: Did any of them, when he performed them, feel that it was he who was performing a miracle?

Humphreys: No, Master.

It was not long before Humphreys repeated his visit.

“I went by motorcycle and climbed up to the cave. The Sage smiled when he saw me but was not in the least surprised. We went in and before we sat down he asked me a question private to myself, of which he knew. Evidently he recognised me the moment he had seen me. Everyone who comes to him is an open book, and a single glance suffices to reveal to him its contents.

‘You have not yet had any food,’ he said, ‘and are hungry.’

“I admitted that it was so and he immediately called in a chela (disciple) to bring me food — rice, ghee, fruit, etc., eaten with the fingers, as Indians do not use spoons. Though I have practised eating this way I lack dexterity. So he gave me a coconut spoon to eat with, smiling and talking between whiles. You can imagine nothing more beautiful than his smile. I had coconut milk to drink, whitish, like cow’s milk, and delicious, to which he had himself added a few grains of sugar.

“When I had finished I was still hungry and he knew it and ordered more. He knows everything, and when others pressed me to eat fruit when I had had enough he stopped them at once.

“I had to apologise for my way of drinking. He only said, ‘Never mind’. The Hindus are particular about this. They never sip nor touch the vessel with their lips but pour the liquid straight in. Thus many can drink from the same cup without fear of infection.

“Whilst I was eating he was relating my past history to others, and accurately too. Yet he had seen me but once before and many hundreds in between. He simply turned on, as it were, clairvoyance, even as we would refer to an encyclopaedia. I sat for about three hours listening to his teaching.

“Later on I was thirsty, for it had been a hot ride, but I would not have shown it for worlds. Yet he knew and told a chela to bring me some lemonade.

“At last I had to go, so bowed, as we do, and went outside the cave to put on my boots. He came outside too and said I might come to see him again.

“It is strange what a change it makes in one to have been in his Presence!”

There is no doubt that anyone who sat before Sri Bhagavan was an open book to him; nevertheless Humphreys was probably wrong about the clairvoyance. Although Sri Bhagavan saw through people in order to help and guide them, he did not use any such powers on the human plane. His memory for faces was as phenomenal as for books. Of all the thousands who came, he never forgot a devotee who had once visited him. Even though one returned years later he would be recognised. Nor did he forget the life story of a devotee, and Narasimhayya must have spoken to him about Humphreys. When any matter was best not talked about he showed the utmost discretion, but in general he had the simplicity and disingenuousness of a child and, like a child, would talk about somebody before his face, quite unembarrassed and without causing embarrassment. As for the food and drink, Sri Bhagavan was not only considerate but incredibly observant and would see whether a guest was satisfied.

Thaumaturgic powers began to manifest themselves in Humphreys, but Sri Bhagavan warned him not to indulge them, and he was strong enough to resist the temptation. Indeed, under the influence of Sri Bhagavan, he soon lost all his interest in the occult.

Moreover, he outgrew the fallacy, almost universal in the West and increasingly common in the modern East, that it is possible to help mankind only by outer activity. He had been told that by helping oneself one helps the world; this dictum which the laissez faire school falsely supposed to be true economically is in fact true spiritually, since spiritually the wealth of one does not detract from that of others but increases it. Just as he had seen Sri Bhagavan at his very first meeting as a “motionless corpse from which God is radiating terrifically,” so everyone, according to his capacity, is a broadcasting station of invisible influences. Insofar as anyone is in a state of harmony and free from egoism he is inevitably and involuntarily emitting harmony, whether he is outwardly active or not; and insofar as his own nature is turbulent and his ego strong he is emitting disharmony even though he may outwardly be performing service. Although Humphreys never stayed with Sri Bhagavan and only visited him a few times, he imbibed his teaching and received his Grace. A synopsis that he sent to a friend in English was published later in the International Psychic Gazette and remains an excellent presentation of the teaching.

“A Master is one who has meditated solely on God, has flung his whole personality into the sea of God, and drowned and forgotten it there, till he becomes only the instrument of God, and when his mouth opens it speaks God’s words without effort or forethought; and when he raises a hand, God flows again through that, to work a miracle.

“Do not think too much of psychical phenomena and such things. Their number is legion; and once faith in the psychical thing is established in the heart of a seeker, such phenomena have done their work. Clairvoyance, clairaudience, and such things are not worth having, when so much far greater illumination and peace are possible without them than with them. The Master takes on these powers as a form of self-sacrifice!

“The idea that a Master is simply one who has attained power over the various occult senses by long practice and prayer or anything of the kind, is absolutely false. No Master ever cared a rap for occult powers, for he has no need for them in his daily life.

“The phenomena we see are curious and surprising — but the most marvellous of all we do not realize, and that is that one, and only one illimitable force is responsible for:

  • All the phenomena we see; and
  • The act of seeing them.

“Do not fix your attention on all these changing things of life, death and phenomena. Do not think of even the actual act of seeing or perceiving them, but only of that which sees all these things — that which is responsible for it all. This will seem nearly impossible at first, but by degrees the result will be felt. It takes years of steady, daily practice, and that is how a Master is made. Give a quarter of an hour a day for this practice. Try to keep the mind unshakenly fixed on That which sees. It is inside yourself. Do not expect to find that ‘That’ is something definite on which the mind can be fixed easily; it will not be so. Though it takes years to find that ‘That’, the result of this concentration will be seen in four or five months’ time — in all sorts of unconscious clairvoyance, in peace of mind, in power to deal with troubles, in power all round, yet always unconscious power (Whether in powers or not depend on a man’s prarabdha (destiny). They are not signs of progress nor their absence of lack of progress).

“I have given you this teaching in the same words as the Master gives to intimate chelas. From now onwards, let your whole thought in meditation be not on the act of seeing, nor on what you see, but immovably on That which Sees.

“One gets no reward for Attainment. Then one understands that one does not want a reward. As Krishna says, ‘Ye have the right to work, but not to the fruits thereof.’ Perfect attainment is simply worship, and worship is attainment.

“If you sit down and realize that you think only by virtue of the one Life, and that the mind, animated by the one Life into the act of thinking, is a part of the whole which is God, then you argue your mind out of existence as a separate entity; and the result is that mind and body, physically (so to speak) disappear; and the only thing that remains is Be-ing, which is at once existence and non­existence and not explainable in words or ideas.

“A Master cannot help being perpetually in this state with only this difference, that in some, to us incomprehensible, way he can use the mind, body and intellect too, without falling back into the delusion of having separate consciousness.

“It is useless to speculate, useless to try and take a mental or intellectual grasp and work from that. That is only religion, a code for children and for social life, a guide to help us to avoid shocks, so that the inside fire may burn up the nonsense in us, and teach us, a little sooner, common sense, i.e. a knowledge of the delusion of separateness.

“Religion, whether it be Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Theosophy, or any other kind of ‘ism’ or ‘sophy’ or system, can only take us to the one point where all religions meet and no further.

“That one point where all religions meet is the realization — in no mystical sense, but in the most worldly and everyday sense, and the more worldly and everyday and practical the better — of the fact that God is everything, and everything is God.

“From this point begins the work of the practice of this mental comprehension, and all it amounts to is the breaking of a habit. One has to cease calling things ‘things’, and must call them God; and instead of thinking them to be things, must know them to be God; instead of imagining ‘existence’ to be the only thing possible, one must realize that this (phenomenal) existence is only the creation of the mind, that ‘non-existence’ is a necessary sequence if you are going to postulate ‘existence’.

“The knowledge of things only shows the existence of an organ to cognize. There are no sounds to the deaf, no sights for the blind, and the mind is merely an organ of conception or of appreciation of certain sides of God.

“God is infinite, and therefore existence and non­existence are merely His counterparts. Not that I wish to say that God is made up of definite component parts. It is hard to be comprehensive when talking of God. True knowledge comes from within and not from without. And true knowledge is not ‘knowing’ but ‘seeing’.

“Realization is nothing but seeing God literally. Our greatest mistake is that we think of God as acting symbolically and allegorically, instead of practically and literally.

“Take a piece of glass, paint colours and forms on it, and put the same into a magic lantern, turn on a little light, and the colours and the forms painted on the glass are reproduced on the screen. If that light were not turned on, you would not see the colours of the slide on the screen.

“How are colours formed? By breaking up white light with a many-sided prism. So it is with a man’s character. It is seen when the Light of Life (God) is shining through it, i.e. in a man’s actions. If the man is sleeping or dead, you do not see his character. Only when the Light of Life is animating the character and causing it to act in a thousand different ways, in response to its contact with this many-sided world, can you perceive a man’s character. If white light had not been broken up and put into forms and shapes on our magic lantern slide, we should never have known that there was a piece of glass in front of the light, for the light would have shone clearly through. In a sense that white light was marred, and had some of its clearness taken from it by having to shine through the colours on the glass.

“So it is with an ordinary man. His mind is like the screen. On it shines light, dulled and changed because he has allowed the many-sided world to stand in the way of the Light (God) and broken it up. He sees only the effects of the Light (God) instead of the Light (God) Himself, and his mind reflects the effects he sees just as the screen reflects the colours on the glass. Take away the prism and the colours vanish, absorbed back into the white light from whence they came. Take away the colours from the slide and the light shines clearly through. Take away from our sight the world of effects we see, and let us look only into the cause, and we shall see the Light (God).

“A Master in meditation, though the eyes and ears be open, fixes his attention so firmly on ‘That which sees’ that he neither sees nor hears, nor has any physical consciousness at all — nor mental either, but only spiritual.

“We must take away the world, which causes our doubts, which clouds our mind, and the light of God will shine clearly through. How is the world taken away? When, for example, instead of seeing a man you see and say, ‘This is God animating a body’, which body answers, more or less perfectly, to the directions of God, as a ship answers more or less perfectly to her helm.

“What are sins? Why, for example, does a man drink too much? Because he hates the idea of being bound — bound by the incapacity to drink as much as he wishes. He is striving after liberty in every sin he commits. This striving after liberty is the first instinctive action of God in a man’s mind. For God knows that he is not bound. Drinking too much does not give a man liberty, but then the man does not know that he is really seeking liberty. When he realizes that, he sets about seeking the best way to obtain liberty.

“But the man only gains that liberty when he realizes that he was never bound. The I, I, I’s who feel so bound are really the illimitable Spirit. I am bound because I know nothing that I do not sense by one of the senses. Whereas I am all the time that which senses in every body in every mind. These bodies and minds are only the tools of the

‘I’, the illimitable Spirit.

“What do I want with the tools who am the tools themselves, as the colours are the White Light?”

Needless to say, police service did not prove congenial to Humphreys. Sri Bhagavan advised him to attend to his serservice and meditation at the same time. For some years he did so and then he retired. Being already a Catholic and having understood the essential unanimity of all the religions, he saw no need to change but returned to England, where he entered a monastery.