This chapter ‘Reminiscences-I’ is written by Viswanatha Swami

After the devotees who had gathered for the birthday celebration of Bhagavan left the Ashram, I approached him with my problem: “How am I to rise above my present animal existence? My own efforts in that direction have proved futile and I am convinced that it is only a superior might that could transform me. And that is what has brought me here.” Bhagavan replied with great compassion: “Yes, you are right. It is only on the awakening of a power mightier than the senses and the mind that these can be subdued. If you awaken and nurture the growth of that power within you, everything else will be conquered. One should sustain the current of meditation uninterrupted. Moderation in food and similar restraints will be helpful in maintaining the inner poise.” It was this grace of Bhagavan that gave a start to my spiritual career. A new faith was kindled within me and I found in Bhagavan the strength and support to guide me forever.

Another day, questioned about the problem of brahmacharya, Bhagavan replied: “To live and move in Brahman is real brahmacharya; continence, of course, is very helpful and indispensable to achieve that end. But so long as you identify yourself with the body, you can never escape sex-thought and distraction. It is only when you realise that you are formless Pure Awareness that sex distinction disappears for good and that is brahmacharya, effortless and spontaneous.”

A week after I arrived, I got the permission of Bhagavan to live on madhukari, i.e., begged food. In that context, Bhagavan spoke as follows: “I have experience of it; I lived on such food during my stay at Pavalakkunru (A small hillock, a spur of Arunachala on the east) to avoid devotees bringing for me special rich food. It is altogether different from professional mendicancy. Here you feel yourself independent and indifferent to everything worldly. It has a purifying effect on the mind.”

Four months after my arrival at Arunachala, my parents came there to have darshan of Bhagavan and take me back home. Though they did not succeed in this latter intention they were somehow consoled by Bhagavan before they returned. He asked them if it was possible to wean one from a course one had taken with all one’s heart and soul. Parents might as a matter of duty try it if it was a wrong course that one had taken. The problem did not arise if the course taken was intrinsically good.

My father was a cousin of Bhagavan, four or five years older than he, and knew him very well as Venkataraman before he left home for Tiruvannamalai. Though he had heard from others about Bhagavan’s spiritual greatness and had also gone through his teaching in Sri Ramana Gita and verses in praise of him by his (scholar-poet) disciple, Ganapati Muni, he was not sure of what his reaction would be on seeing Bhagavan. He decided to go to him with an open mind and see for himself what he was. But the moment he sighted him in the stone mantapa (on the other side of the Ashram), he was overpowered by a sense of genuine veneration, fell at his feet in adoration and said: “There is nothing of the Venkataraman whom I knew very well in what I see in front of me!” And Bhagavan replied with a smile: “It is long since that fellow disappeared once and for all.”

My father then explained that he had not visited him for so long because he did not have enough of dispassion and non-attachment to approach him. Bhagavan replied, “Is that so? You seem to be obsessed by the delusion that you are going to achieve it in some distant future. But, if you recognise your real nature, the Self, to what is it attached? Dispassion is our very nature.”

As the Ashram cottage was being repaired, Bhagavan stayed in the huge stone mantapa on the other side of the road during daytime and devotees had darshan of him there. Bhagavan used to dine with others under the shade of a huge mango tree within the Ashram premises. The cool, clear water of the Ashram well was kept in big pots at the foot of the tree. We enjoyed the shade of the tree and the grace of Bhagavan which like a cool breeze blew off man’s torments.

As advised by Bhagavan I engaged myself in nonstop japa, day and night, except during hours of sleep. And I studied Sri Ramana Gita in the immediate presence of Bhagavan drinking in the import of every sloka in it. Bhagavan explained to me his own hymns in praise of Arunachala. Even during his morning and evening walks I used to follow him, hearing his explanations of his inspired words. Early one morning there was none else near Bhagavan and he suggested that we both might go round Arunachala and return before others could notice his absence and begin to search for him. He took me by the forest path and suggested that Sankara’s “Hymn in Praise of Dakshinamurti” might be taken up for discussion on the way. And within three hours we reached Pandava Thirtham on the slopes of Arunachala, a little to the east of the Ashram, where he used to bathe on a few former occasions.

I shall not pretend that I understood everything that Bhagavan said in explaining the import of the hymn, but there was the spiritual exhilaration of his company in solitude and that was enough for me.

I had learned by heart, even before coming to Bhagavan, the three vallis of the famous Taittiriya Upanishad, which is being chanted every morning before Bhagavan at his Ashram even today. When I expressed to Bhagavan my aspiration to learn the import of the Upanishad, he directed me to Ganapathi Muni, familiarly known as Nayana, who was then living in the Mango Tree Cave on Arunachala which had been Bhagavan’s summer residence during his stay at the Virupaksha Cave. It was a cool spot under a big mango tree with a spring of crystal- clear water a little above it. I went to the cave and waited at its outer precincts. Within a few minutes Ganapati Muni came out. There was the fragrance of tapas in his presence and in the whole atmosphere. After sitting in silence before him for a few minutes, I asked him for the explanation of a passage in the Taittiriya Upanishad embodying the experience of Sage Trisanku, beginning aham vrikshasya rariva, meaning, ‘I am the Force operating behind the Tree of Existence’.

Nayana gave such a lucid and illuminating explanation of it that I decided that there was no need to ask him further questions; every word coming out of his mouth had scriptural clarity and sanctity. And yet he used to direct to Bhagavan those who went to him, saying: “To learn from him first-hand has a special effect.” And Bhagavan, on his part, used to send those who approached him in connection with traditional worship to Nayana, as he was the authority on the subject. Such was the relationship between the Master and his famous disciple. We have had opportunities of noticing the special regard Bhagavan had for this learned poet-disciple who from his early youth had dedicated his whole life to tapas.