Glimpses of The Life and Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi described by Frank H. Humphreys.
Frank H. Humphreys is a name quite familiar to the devo- tees of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Sri Bhagavan’s bi- ography, Self-Realization by B. V. Narasimha Swami, has two chapters on Humphreys, giving a brief sketch of his life and Sri Bhagavan’s instructions to him.
When Humphreys visited Sri Ramana Maharshi in 1911, he conveyed to Felicia Scatcherd, who was then editing the International Psychic Gazette, London, his impressions of Sri Maharshi and His instructions. These were compiled into a booklet in 1925 and the chapters in Self-Realization are only extracts from this.
Humphreys’ narration of his experiences with Sri Bhagavan is so simple and arresting that the readers find in it an excellent presentation of Bhagavan’s teachings.
S. Narasimhayya who wrote the introduction that follows was a Telugu Munshi in Vellore. He was a disciple of Sri Kavyakanta Ganapathi Muni and Sri Bhagavan. It is he and Kavyakanta that brought Humphreys to Sri Bhagavan.
A brief reference to Humphreys’ visit to Sri Bhagavan and the teachings, in Mr. Osborne’s Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self Knowledge concludes thus:
“Police service did not prove congenial to Humphreys. Sri Bhagavan advised him to attend to his service and meditation at the same time. For some years he did so and then he re- tired. Being already a Catholic and having understood the essential unanimity of all religions, he saw no need to change, but returned to England, where he entered a monastery.”
MAJOR CHADWICK ON HUMPHREYS
“He was the first European to visit Bhagavan as far as is known or at least the first to record his visit. He has given a beautiful picture of him in the Virupaksha Cave. The teachings are definite and are a guide to all who came after. Of whom else is it recorded that Bhagavan said: ‘I am giving these instructions as a Guru gives them to a disciple?’ Certainly there was some special tie between these two.”
— A Sadhu’s Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi
I do not like to stand between the earnest reader and this interesting piece of religious literature. But weak as I am, I shall do what little I can, being asked to do it. This is an impressive and instructive description by a young man (eager in search of Mahatmas for enlightenment) of his visit to, and experiences with Mahatma Sri Ramana Maharshi, a living Saint of South India who is known and revered as having attained the goal of the Vedantic religion, and who is the fountainhead of the soul-force to humanity in these days of rampant materialism. The description is concise and vivid and needs, in my opinion, no preface or introduction. In the Master’s presence, what a great vibration there is in the body, and how elevated the mind and invigo-rated the spirit are, a man can only feel but cannot express. The Master’s teaching is just what is needed in these times, when men are short in life, weak in body, and feeble in spirit, their entire attention being drawn to things material — apparent and temporal — in preference to what is spiritual — real and eternal. The whole teaching of Mahatma Sri Ramana Maharshi turns on the only pivot: “Knowest thou thyself, thou wilt know everything and wilt have no more to know.” He advocates a very simple process of enquiry, viz. “Who am I?” A pure and constant thought of Atman — devoid of form, name and attribute — takes the thinker to the source of all thoughts — the heart, where the enquirer and the enquired are merged, or in a way lost in the enquiry, which is Mukti, liberation or Self- realization. This realization is the real worship of Atman — God within and without.
The author of this attractive booklet seems to have gathered information about Sri Ramana Maharshi from various sources and at different times. A word or two as to how it was that Mr Frank H. Humphreys chanced to hear of our Maharshi and visit him and be brought into the roll of his admirers, may interest the reader.
F. H. Humphreys came to India as Assistant Superintendent of Police in January 1911. When he reached Bombay he was so bad in health that he had to be taken to the Bombay hospital where he remained up to the middle of March. He arrived at Vellore on the 18th of that month. When I went to him that day to begin Telugu alphabets, the first question he put me was: “Munshi! Do you know astrology?” I said I did not. The next question was: “Can you get me an English translation of some book on astrology?” I complied with his request by getting him a copy from the George Union Club, Vellore. On the morning of the next day, the 19th, while returning the book to me, he asked me: “Do you know any Mahatmas here?” I feigned not to know any sage and denied the knowledge of any such great men. On the morning of the third day, the 20th, he came upon me with a searching and vehement question: “Munshi!You said yesterday you did not know any Mahatma. I saw your Guru this morning in my sleep. He sat by my side. He told me something which I did not understand nor did he, what I said to him. The first man in Vellore whom I met in Bombay was you.” When I questioned him how it was that he saw me in Bombay, though I had never travelled beyond Guntakal, he said that when he was lying with high fever in the hospital at Bombay, he, in order to be free from pain for a while, diverted and directed his mind (attention) to Vellore and, in his astral body, the first man he met there was I. I left him saying I knew not anything about the astral body or any body for that matter save the physical one. Curiosity however tempted me to test him, and in the afternoon, I took to him a bundle of photographs of great men including those of our Maharshi and Ganapathi Muni. I silently placed the bundle before him on his table and quietly went to Mr L. Clift, another police gentleman whom I was then teaching. When I returned to the writer of this booklet an hour later, he invited me with the words: “There is the likeness of your Guru. Is he not your preceptor? Tell me.” Thus saying, he pointed to me the photograph of our Ganapathi Sastriar, separated from others. This act of his surprised me. I was caught and I could not hide me or my master. I had regarded (and I do still regard) Ganapathi Sastriar as my Guru. In 1906 he taught me how to concentrate and directed me to divert and fix my attention on Paramatma, known as Sri Ramana, a name dear to my heart. Sastriar’s instruction is not different from that of our Maharshi. Mr Humphreys again became ill and was advised by a doctor to go to Ootacamund which he did on 1st April 1911. While there, he wrote to me about his meeting a strange person, poorly clad but well-built, with bright eyes, matted hair and a long beard. The gentleman with whom Mr Humphreys was staying on the hills said to him that he had never seen that strange man, though he had been living there for several years. Mr Humphreys asked me who that man could be. I simply answered that, judging by the description he gave me, I thought he ought to be a siddha.
His second letter from that hill-station was a request to teach him hatapranayama. Considering the weak state of his health, I did not think it right to speak to him about the voluntary and forced restraint of breath but simply told him that constant and pure thought of Paramatma in our heart would bring about the natural kumbhakam, absorption of mind in the heart — the ultimate stage and state which sages long for.
His third question from the Nilgiris was: “Will flesh- eating be a help or hindrance to the progress of meditation?” In answer to this, I wrote to him some five or six pages on “Ahimsa paramo dharma” explaining that harmlessness or non-killing is the greatest of the virtues and concluded the letter with words: “Flesh-eating does not help the meditator in meditation.” He replied that what he saw in a dream that morning was confirmed by what was written in my letter received a few hours later, that it would be hard for him to give up at once his long accustomed habit of flesh-eating and that he would slowly do it. In one of his letters from England during later years I remember he wrote to me that he had become a vegetarian.
His fourth letter from that cool and salubrious health resort sought my advice as to whether he could join a mystic society, as he was then about to complete 21 years of age. He added that the members of that society had the privilege of meeting and talking with Mahatmas face to face and that, in one of his former births he had been connected with that society. As I am neither a believer nor a non-believer in mysticism and as what I wanted was a simple shanthi — peace of mind and oneness with the Atman within — and as it was my conviction that pure, simple and ceaseless thought of Brahman, with no form, no name and no attribute would secure me this sublime state — a blessing — I only wrote to him that things would be done according to one’s own prarabdha and if it was his karma that he should become again a member of that mystic society nothing could prevent him and for that reason I could give him no advice.
About the end of 1911, he returned from the hills. One day, when I was teaching him Telugu in Vellore, he asked me for paper and pencil and drew a picture of a mountain cave with some sage standing at its entrance and a stream gently flowing down the hill in front of the cave. He said he saw this in his sleep and asked me what it would be.
Immediately the thought of our Maharshi, then dwelling in the Virupaksha cave came to my mind and I told him about Sri Ramana Paramatma. From the day he saw Ganapathi Sastrigal in his dream, he had been asking and urging me to take him to the Sastriar. How he happened to meet Ganapathi Sastriar and how he was taken to the Maharshi, he has himself clearly explained in his book. Subsequently he took several independent trips to our Master whenever there was a doubt to be cleared or a question to be asked.
Now I shall relate what transpired in the presence of the Maharshi during his first visit to him. He saluted the Mahatma and remained in silent prayer and meditation for a few minutes. When permitted to talk, the first question he asked was, “Master, will I be helpful to the world?” The Mahatma’s answer was, “Help yourself, you will help the world.” The same question repeated had the same reply with observation that he was in the world but not different (separate) from it, nor was it different from him, and that therefore by helping himself, he would help the world — (meaning thereby the one-ness of jiva with Atman).
The next and the last question was: “Master, can I perform miracles as Sri Krishna and Jesus did?” This question was met by a counter question: “Were they, at the time when they performed miracles, aware that they were performing miracles?” Mr. Humphreys, after a minute’s silence, replied: “No, Master. They were only the media through which God’s power did its work.” How much importance can be attached to things mystic in nature is vividly explained in this book.
Dear Brethren! When a man is lost in God, he becomes a mere tool in the hand of God, and is one with God, having become a part and parcel of God; he gets that peace and happiness (unaffected by joys and sorrows) which can only be enjoyed but never described. May we aim at this state of mind’s rest and peace in heart which the holy ones are ever after!