This part is written by Viswanatha Swami
ON the topics of death and rebirth, of bondage and liberation, Bhagavan’s teaching was to prompt the enquiry,
“Who dies? Who is born? Who is to be reborn? Who is bound? Who is to be liberated?” This method leading to intensive self- enquiry, he explicitly taught or silently communicated to seekers who were capable of grasping the pure non-dual truth and they learnt soon enough that the questioner was the nonexistent ego and that the real self had no questions to ask and nothing to do with birth or death, bondage or liberation. But Bhagavan was also ready, on occasion, to adapt his teaching to the understanding of the seeker, to admit “the lower, contingent point of view” of those who were not yet ready for pure awareness. Like Sri Krishna who asserts in Chapter 11 of the Gita that no one is born and no one dies, and speaks in Chapter IV of “the numerous incarnations” of himself and Arjuna, Bhagavan too varied and adjusted his teaching to the mood and capacity of the listener. The general Hindu belief is that liberation from the cycle of birth and death is obtained by divine grace when one is ripe by virtue of one’s devotion and surrender to God. Three such instances are described in this article, which is written from a relative standpoint. Palani Swami was one of the earliest devotees of Bhagavan Ramana, noted for his non-attachment to anything worldly.
When Bhagavan was living in Gurumurtham (a samadhi-shrine situated near Keelnathur, a suburb of Tiruvannamalai on the east) immersed in samadhi day and night, Palani Swami heard of him and went and attached himself to Bhagavan as an attendant. He served Bhagavan till the end of his stay at Virupaksha Cave on Arunachala, for more than seventeen years.
When Bhagavan went up to Skandashram, a newly built abode for him, higher up, Palani Swami chose to continue at the Virupaksha Cave itself for solitude. Then Bhagavan used to visit him there off and on and found him growing weaker. When he fell ill and was unable to move out, Bhagavan began to visit him daily and help him in whatever way he could.
One day he saw a peacock flying up from Virupaksha Cave to Skandashram in great excitement and it struck him that Palani Swami could be in a critical condition. At once Bhagavan went down to the Cave and found his intuition correct. Palani Swami was in the throes of death gasping for breath. Bhagavan sat near him with his right hand on his chest. Palani Swami’s breath became soft and Bhagavan took his hand off when he felt a quivering within Palani Swami’s chest. This, Bhagavan has said, is the sign of life becoming extinct in the body. But when Bhagavan removed his hand, that very moment, Palani Swami’s eyes opened. “I thought he would subside at the heart, but he escaped!” Bhagavan remarked, adding, “That is said to be the sign of one going to higher states of spiritual experience, though not immediate merger at the Heart.”
The following passage from Sri Ramana Gita may be of interest here.
“There is no difference between the experience of one liberated here and that of one, who according to the scriptures, goes to Brahmaloka and gets liberated there.
“Identical with the experience of the above two is that of the Mahatma whose pranas merge into pure Being even here (at the time of death).
“Abidance in the Self is the same for all, the destruction of bondage is the same for all and there is but one kind of mukti. Difference between muktas appears only to the minds of others.
“The Mahatma who abides in the Self and gets release while yet alive, his life forces too get absorbed in the Self even here.” (Ch. XIV-5, 6, 7, 8.)
Next we take up the case of Bhagavan’s mother, Alagammal, on the last day of her life on earth. She was living in the immediate presence of Bhagavan at Virupaksha Cave and Skandashram for many years, evolving spiritually. On the last day of her life – May 19, 1922 – noticing signs of approaching death, Bhagavan sat near her with his right hand on her chest and the left on her head from eight in the morning till eight at night. What happened then has been described by Bhagavan himself: “It was a struggle between mother and myself. Her accumulated tendencies of the past (vasanas) rose up again and again and then and there got destroyed. Thus the process was over and peace reigned supreme. I felt the last quiver of the heart but did not take off my hand until it completely stopped. This time I was careful thanks to my experience with Palani Swami and saw that mother’s prana (life) got completely merged at the Heart. (It will be interesting to note here that many years before, when Alagammal was seriously ill at Virupaksha Cave, Bhagavan had composed four verses in Tamil, in one of which he prays to Arunachala, the Hill of Fire, to burn up his mother with the fire of jnana, so that there may be no need of cremating the body after death. Bhagavan being Arunachala himself, did what he had put in the form of a prayer years ago).
Here one is reminded of the following famous slokas of the Bhagavad Gita: “One who gives up his body remembering me alone even at his last moments gets merged in my Being. There is no doubt about it. When one leaves one’s body at the end, thinking of whatsoever, by dint of that last thought one attains that. This, Oh Partha! is the state of Brahman. Reaching this, one is no more deluded. Remaining in this state even during one’s last moments, one gets liberated as Brahman.” (Ch. VIII- 5, 6 and Ch. II-72.)
Bhagavan had not taken any food that day till then and so he took his meal peacefully after he had finished attending on his mother. The whole of that night there was devotional singing and Bhagavan himself participated in the chanting the whole Tiruvachakam (the collection of hymns in praise of Siva, composed in Tamil by Saint Manickavachakar.)
The body of Alagammal was brought down from the Hill to a place south of it the next morning and interred there. The body was not cremated as usual, not only because Alagammal was a sannyasini for many years, wearing kashaya (ochre cloth), but also because she was liberated by the remarkable grace of Bhagavan. A Linga was installed on her samadhi by Bhagavan himself. Ganapati Muni, who was present on the occasion, has sung six verses in Sanskrit about the liberation of Alagammal. Here is the translation of two of them:
The Light Supreme indicated by the texts of Vedanta,
The Light pervading all the worlds
That Light shone clear to mother
Alagammal by the grace of her son
And She herself shone as that Light.
May Maharshi’s holy mother shine forth,
May her shrine of grace shine forth
May the linga installed shine for ever
And may the fresh spring flow for ever.
(The reference here is to a crystal-clear spring of water which gushed forth on digging at a spot pointed by Bhagavan near his mother’s samadhi.)
True to the words of the inspired poet there stands now a beautiful temple constructed over the Mother’s samadhi with a granite Sri Chakra Meru installed at the sanctum sanctorum, along with Bhagavan’s shrine of grace adjoining it with its perennial spring of grace.
Next we come to the Cow Lakshmi. As a calf, she was presented to Sri Ramanasramam with her mother by a villager as directed in a dream. As a mark of acceptance Bhagavan fondled the calf, but due to lack of facilities at the Ashram for taking care of them, they were entrusted to a devotee living in Tiruvannamalai. He took care of them and brought the milk to the Ashram everyday. On the day of cow worship (gopuja) on the second day of the month of Thai, the devotee brought Lakshmi the calf and her mother to the Ashram. Lakshmi was fondled by Bhagavan and she was particularly attracted to him. Henceforth, when Lakshmi was not tethered to her post at home, she used to run to the Ashram by herself and go straight to Bhagavan and Bhagavan used to fondle her and give her fruits and eatables.
After some years, when proper arrangements were made at the Ashram to maintain cows, she was brought back to the Ashram. Even at the Ashram whenever Lakshmi was not tethered to her post at the cow shed (goshala) she used to run directly to Bhagavan’s hall and present herself to him. Whatever work Bhagavan had on hand, he would put it all aside to receive and fondle Lakshmi, looking deep into her eyes. Such was the attraction Lakshmi felt for Bhagavan and such was the response she received from him. As years rolled by Lakshmi gave birth to calves often on Bhagavan’s birthday itself.
Ultimately, Lakshmi grew old and fell ill. Bhagavan used to visit her daily in the cow shed. Then one day it seemed that she would pass away soon. Bhagavan sat near her, touching and looking at her with compassion. Soon after, she passed away. Arrangements were made to have Lakshmi’s body interred within the Ashram premises. She was given the customary sacred bath and after due rites, was buried near the northern compound of the Ashram, a few yards from Bhagavan’s hall. Bhagavan was sitting nearby on a chair watching all the proceedings. Fruits and puffed rice were distributed to all those present on the occasion.
That evening Bhagavan enquired about the date and constellation of that day. Devotees wondered why he enquired about them – it was so unusual. Next morning Bhagavan showed them a verse he had composed in Tamil stating the year, month, date, day and constellation on which the Cow Lakshmi got liberated. Devaraja Mudaliar asked Bhagavan if he meant mukti itself (final liberation from the cycle of birth and death) or whether he had used the term in a formal way. Bhagavan assured him that he had used the word deliberately in its real sense. It therefore became clear that Bhagavan had brought about her liberation. There is now a stone image of Lakshmi over her samadhi with the Tamil verse written by Bhagavan (on her liberation) inscribed on a stone-slab in the background.
Nearby there are the samadhis of a dog (Jackie), a deer (Valli) and a crow which had received Bhagavan’s attention during their last moments. These are but a few acts of Bhagavan’s grace known to us. The very proximity of a jnani is described as Brahmaloka (the region of Brahman) and fortunate indeed are those who have had the opportunity of being near such a one during their lifetime or last moments.
Though the ultimate truth is that there is neither bondage nor release, but only Pure Awareness, the One Self of all, the relative truth also has to be accepted and taken seriously, since it is from there that we begin and from that alone all sadhanas proceed. Bhagavan, it should be remembered, has dealt with all the steps, nishkamya karma, devotion, japa and dhyana in his Upadesa Sara. Later he comes to Self-enquiry, the result of which is the realization that there is no separate individuality as such and therefore neither bondage nor release.