From Chapter 10 “Some Early Devotees” of the biography “Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge” written by Arthur Osborne.
Altogether outstanding among the devotees was Ganapati Sastri, known also as Ganapati Muni (i.e. ‘the Sage Ganapati’) and given the honorific title of Kavyakanta (one who has poetry in his throat i.e, an extempore poet) for his pre-eminence in Sanskrit extempore verse disputation. He was a man of towering ability that would have placed him in the very forefront of modern writers and scholars had he had the ambition and that would have made him a great Spiritual Master had he totally lacked ambition, but he fell between the two. Too much turned to God to seek success or fame, he was nevertheless too anxious to aid and uplift mankind to escape from the I-am-the-doer illusion.
At the time of his birth in 1878 (one year before that of Sri Bhagavan) his father was at Benares before an image of the God Ganapati and beheld a vision of a child running up to him from the God; therefore he named his child Ganapati. For the first five years of his life Ganapati was dumb and subject to epileptic fits and seemed anything but a promising child. Then he was cured, it seems, by branding with a red-hot iron, and immediately began to display his marvellous ability. By the age of ten he had written Sanskrit verse and prepared an astrological almanac besides mastering several Kavyas (Sanskrit works) and grammars. At fourteen he had mastered the Panchakavyas and the chief books on Sanskrit prosody and rhetoric, read the Ramayana and Mahabharata and some of the Puranas. He could already speak and write fluent Sanskrit. Like Sri Bhagavan, he had a phenomenal memory. Whatever he read or heard, he remembered and, again like Sri Bhagavan, he had the ability of ashtavadhana, that is of giving his attention to a number of different things at the same time.
The stories of the ancient Rishis fired him with emulation and from the age of eighteen, shortly after his marriage, he began travelling about India, visiting sacred places, repeating mantras (sacred phrases) and performing tapas (asceticism). In 1900 he attended a meeting of Sanskrit pandits at Nadiya in Bengal, where his extraordinary facility in impromptu versification and brilliant philosophic disputation won him the title of Kavyakanta already referred to. In 1903 he came to Tiruvannamalai and twice visited the Brahmana Swami on the Hill. For awhile he took a job as school teacher in Vellore, a few hours railway journey from Tiruvannamalai, and there he gathered round him a group of disciples who were to develop their Sakti (power or energy) by the use of mantras to such an extent that the subtle influence would permeate and uplift the whole nation, if not all mankind.
The life of a teacher could not hold him for long. By 1907 he was back again in Tiruvannamalai. But by now doubts began to oppress him. He was approaching middle age and with all his brilliance and vast learning and all his mantras and tapas he had not attained success as yet either with God or the world. He felt that he had come to a dead end. On the ninth day of the Kartikai festival he suddenly remembered the Swami on the Hill. Surely he must have the answer. As soon as the impulse came he acted on it. In the heat of the afternoon sun he climbed the hill to Virupaksha Cave. The Swami was sitting alone on the veranda of the cave. Sastri fell on his face before him and clasped his feet with outstretched hands. In a voice quivering with emotion, he said: “All that has to be read I have read; even Vedanta Sastra I have fully understood; I have performed japa (invocation) to my heart’s content; yet have I not up to this time understood what tapas is. Therefore I have sought refuge at your feet. Pray enlighten me as to the nature of tapas.”
The Swami turned his silent gaze upon him for some fifteen minutes and then replied: “If one watches whence the notion ‘I’ arises, the mind is absorbed into That; that is tapas. When a mantra is repeated, if one watches the Source from which the mantra sound is produced the mind is absorbed in That; that is tapas.”
It was not so much the words spoken that filled him with joy as the Grace radiating from the Swami. With the exuberant vitality that he put into everything, he wrote to friends of the upadesa he had received and began composing praises of the Swami in Sanskrit verse. He learned from Palaniswami that the Swami’s name had been Venkataramana and declared that henceforth he must be known as Bhagavan Sri Ramana and as the Maharshi. The name ‘Ramana’ immediately came into use; so also did the title Maharshi (Maha-Rishi, the Great Rishi). It long remained customary to refer to him in speech and writing as ‘the Maharshi’. However, the practice gradually prevailed among the devotees of addressing him in the third person as ‘Bhagavan’, which means ‘the Divine’ or simply ‘God’. He himself usually spoke impersonally, avoiding the use of the word ‘I’. For instance, he did not actually say, “I did not know when the sun rose or when it set,” as quoted in Chapter Five, but “Who knew when the sun rose or when it set?” Sometimes also he referred to his body as ‘this’. Only in making a statement in which the word ‘God’ would be appropriate did he say ‘Bhagavan’ and speak in the third person. For instance, when my daughter was going back to school and he was asked to remember her while she was away, the reply was, “If Kitty remembers Bhagavan, Bhagavan will remember Kitty.”
Ganapati Sastri also liked to refer to Sri Bhagavan as a manifestation of Lord Subrahmanya; however in this the devotees rightly refused to follow him, feeling that to regard Sri Bhagavan as a manifestation of any one divine aspect was to attempt to limit the illimitable. Nor did Sri Bhagavan countenance the identification. A visitor once said to him, “If Bhagavan is an avatar of Subrahmanya, as some people say, why does he not tell us so openly instead of leaving us to guess?”
And he replied, “What is an avatar? An avatar is only a manifestation of one aspect of God, whereas a Jnani is God Himself.”
About a year after his meeting with Sri Bhagavan, Ganapati Sastri experienced a remarkable outflow of his Grace. While he was sitting in meditation in the temple of Ganapati at Tiruvothiyur he felt distracted and longed intensely for the presence and guidance of Sri Bhagavan. At that moment Sri Bhagavan entered the temple. Ganapati Sastri prostrated himself before him and, as he was about to rise, he felt Sri Bhagavan’s hand upon his head and a terrifically vital force coursing through his body from the touch, so that he also received Grace by touch from the Master.
Speaking about this incident in later years, Sri Bhagavan said: “One day, some years ago I was lying down and awake when I distinctly felt my body rise higher and higher. I could see the physical objects below growing smaller and smaller until they disappeared and all around me was a limitless expanse of dazzling light. After some time I felt the body slowly descend and the physical objects below began to appear. I was so fully aware of this incident that I finally concluded that it must be by such means that Siddhas (Sages with powers) travel over vast distances in a short time and appear and disappear in such a mysterious manner. While the body thus descended to the ground it occurred to me that I was at Tiruvothiyur though I had never seen the place before. I found myself on a highroad and walked along it. At some distance from the roadside was a temple of Ganapati and I entered it.”
This incident is very characteristic of Sri Bhagavan. It is characteristic that the distress or devotion of one of his people should call forth an involuntary response and intervention in a form that can only be called miraculous, and it is also characteristic that Sri Bhagavan, with all powers at his feet, should be no more interested to use powers of the subtle than of the physical world, and when some such thing happened in response to the appeal of a devotee should say with the simplicity of a child, “I suppose that is what Siddhas do.”
It was just this indifference that Ganapati Sastri failed to attain. He asked once, “Is seeking the source of the I-thought sufficient for the attainment of all my aims or is mantra dhyana (incantation) needed?” Always the same: his aims, his ambitions, the regeneration of the country, the revitalisation of religion.
Sri Bhagavan replied curtly, “The former will suffice.” And when Sastri continued about his aims and ideals he added: “It will be better if you throw the entire burden on the Lord. He will carry all the burdens and you will be free from them. He will do his part.”
In 1917 Ganapati Sastri and other devotees put a number of questions to Sri Bhagavan and the questions and answers have been recorded in a book entitled Sri Ramana Gita, more erudite and doctrinal than most of the books. Characteristically, one of the questions that Ganapati Sastri asked was whether someone who attained Jnana (Self-realization), as it were, by the way while seeking some specific powers would find his original desires fulfilled. And nowhere is Sri Bhagavan’s swift and subtle humour better illustrated than in the reply he gave, “If the Yogi, though starting upon Yoga for the fulfilment of his desires, gained Knowledge in the meantime he would not be unduly elated even though his desires were likewise fulfilled.”
About 1934 Ganapati Sastri settled down in the village of Nimpura near Kharagpur with a group of followers and from then until his death some two years later devoted himself wholly to tapas (asceticism). Sri Bhagavan was asked once, after Sastri’s death, whether he could have attained Realization during this life, and he replied: “How could he? His sankalpas (inherent tendencies) were too strong.”