This chapter is taken from The Silent Power – Selections from The Mountain Path and The Call Divine – Part II – On Bhagavan
(An English professor in the purvasrama, Sri Krishnaprem was an orthodox devotee of Krishna and as such had no intention to follow Self-Enquiry. Yet he had a striking experience of the significance of the question, ‘Who am I?’, when he visited Bhagavan for his blessings.)
Sri Krishnaprem, formerly Professor Ronald Nixon from Cambridge in England, had taught literature at Varanasi and Lucknow universities before he gave up the life of the world, donned the gerua robes and became a sannyasin. He took as his guru the saintly woman Yashoda Mai who had been a leader of Indian social life before she became a sannyasini and established an ashram at Mirtola, about eighteen miles from Almora in the Himalayas. Here Krishnaprem took up his abode, soon performing the Vaishnava rituals in the temple, and, when the Brahmin cook left, doing the cooking also. When Yashoda Mai died in 1945 he was left in charge of the ashram, though he handed over the management to another in 1955, ten years before his own death.
He was an orthodox Vaishnava and worshipper of Lord Krishna, that is, of the personal aspect of the Supreme, and the last thing that would have entered his head would have been to find his goal through asking the question, ‘Who am I?’ However he regarded Maharshi as a living shining light of India and because of this in 1948, he made the long journey from Almora to the south to receive his blessing. The story of his visit is told by his friend, Dilip Kumar Roy, in his book about him. And as I do not seem to remember having read about this visit elsewhere, others may find it as illuminating as I do.
He entered the room where Maharshi was reclining with devotees before him, and sat down among them to meditate. As soon as he did so, he heard a voice saying over and over again, ‘Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?’ He tried to ignore it but eventually he replied silently, ‘I am Krishna’s servant.’ The voice still went on relentlessly. The question changed to, ‘Who was Krishna?’ He answered, ‘Nanda’s son’, and formulated various other answers, ‘He is an Avatar, the One-in-all, the resident in every heart’. The voice continued asking the former question. He became very disturbed, and finally he rose and left the room. He returned and the voice continued as before. Silently he prayed to Radha for guidance, but she shook her head. Then the answer was revealed, but how we are not told!
In the morning he again sat down with the other devotees. Maharshi gave him a lightning glance and smiled at him. He closed his eyes, then on a sudden impulse he found himself silently asking Maharshi his own question, ‘Who are you?’ Something made him open his eyes. Maharshi’s couch was empty, there was no Maharshi on it. He closed his eyes again but in a moment opened them. Maharshi was reclining in his usual place and he gave a fleeting smile and meaningful glance, after which he looked away. Maharshi did not ask Krishnaprem to cease from worshipping Lord Krishna and surrendering all to him.
He never did this, there are different ways for different temperaments. Some will perhaps be more direct than others, but in the end all will find the same answer, and that vacant couch gives the answer better than all.
And this is what I was taught when invisible cords drew me to the Maha Bodhi Meditation Centre near Mandalay in Burma. I was told there, that many are the ways of learning Vipasana or insight meditation, but that all end up with the experience of phyit pyet (come- go or ceaseless change) or the end of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ and ‘me’ — you are not the worrying thoughts that disturb you, you are not the mind, you are not the body. What are you then? phyit pyet. Whatever is your way or my way, it is always helpful to understand and appreciate the ways of others, as for example that of Krishnaprem, who found that ultimately all faded away and there was only Krishna.