From Chapter 10 “Some Early Devotees” of the biography “Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge” written by Arthur Osborne.
Not all comers understood the silent upadesa (instruction) of Sri Bhagavan. Natesa Mudaliar did eventually but it took him a long time. He was an elementary school teacher when he read Vivekananda and became fired with eagerness to renounce the world and find a Guru. Friends told him of the Swami on Arunachala Hill but added that it was well-nigh hopeless to seek upadesa (guidance) of him. Nevertheless, Mudaliar decided to try. It was in 1918 and Sri Bhagavan was already at Skandashram. Mudaliar went there and sat before him, but Sri Bhagavan remained silent and Mudaliar, not presuming to speak first, came away disappointed.
Having failed in this attempt, he travelled about visiting other Swamis but found none in whom he felt the Divine Presence and to whom he could surrender. After two years’ fruitless search he wrote a long letter to Sri Bhagavan imploring him not to be selfishly indifferent to the fate of longing souls and asking permission to come again, since his first visit had been ineffective. A month passed with no reply. Then he sent a registered letter, acknowledgement due, and this time he wrote: “However many rebirths I have to go through, I am determined to receive upadesa from you and you alone. So you will have to be reborn for that purpose if you give me up in this life as too unprepared or immature to receive your upadesa. I swear to this.”
A few days later Sri Bhagavan appeared to him in a dream and said: “Do not think continually of me. You must first obtain the Grace of God Maheswara, the Lord of the Bull. First meditate on him and secure his Grace. My help will follow as a matter of course.” He had a picture in his house of God Maheswara riding upon a bull and he took this as a support for meditation. A few days later he received an answer to his letter, “The Maharshi does not reply to letters; you can come and see him in person.”
He wrote once more to make sure that the letter was written at Sri Bhagavan’s bidding and then set out for Tiruvannamalai. Following the course prescribed in his dream, he went first to the great temple in town, where he had darshan (enjoyed the presence) of Lord Arunachaleswar and spent the night. A Brahmin whom he met there tried to dissuade him from his purpose. “Now listen, I have spent sixteen years near Ramana Maharshi trying in vain to obtain his Anugraham (Grace). He is indifferent to everything. Even if you break your head there, he will not be interested to ask why. Since it is impossible to obtain his Grace there is no point in your visiting him.”
This is a remarkable illustration of the understanding that Sri Bhagavan required of his devotees. Where those whose hearts were open would find him more solicitous than a mother and some would tremble with awe, one who judged by outward signs would find none. Natesa Mudaliar was not the sort of man to be put off. Since he insisted on going, the other told him: “Anyhow, you can find out in this way whether you will have the good luck to obtain his Grace. There is a Swami on the Hill by the name of Seshadri who mixes with none and generally drives away people who try to approach him. It you can obtain some mark of favour from him it will be a good augury for success.”
Next morning Mudaliar set out with J.V. Subrahmanya Iyer, a colleague in his profession, in quest of the elusive Seshadri Swami. After much searching they saw him and, to Mudaliar’s relief and astonishment, he himself approached them. Without needing to be told their errand, he addressed Mudaliar: “My poor child! Why are you grieved and anxious? What is Jnana (Knowledge)? After the mind rejects objects, one after another, as transient and unreal, That which survives this elimination is Jnana. That is God. Everything is That and That alone. It is folly to run hither and thither in the belief that Jnana can be attained only by going to a hill or a cave. Go without fear.”
Thus did he give not his upadesa (instruction) but that of Sri Bhagavan, in the very words Bhagavan might have used.
Buoyed up by this propitious augury, they proceeded up the hillside to Skandashram. It was about noon when they arrived. For five or six hours Mudaliar sat before Sri Bhagavan and no word passed between them; then the evening meal was ready and Sri Bhagavan rose to go out. J.V.S. Iyer said to him, “This is the man who wrote those letters.” Sri Bhagavan thereupon looked fixedly at him and then turned and went out, still without speaking.
Month after month Mudaliar came back for a day and sat there, mutely imploring, but Sri Bhagavan never spoke to him, nor did he presume to speak first. After a full year had elapsed in this way he could endure it no longer and at last he said, “I wish to learn and experience what your Grace is, as people differ in their accounts of it.”
Sri Bhagavan replied: “I am always giving my Grace. If you can’t apprehend it what am I to do?”
Even now Mudaliar did not understand the silent upadesa (guidance); he was still confused as to what path he should follow. Shortly afterwards Sri Bhagavan appeared to him in a dream and said: “Let your vision be unified and withdrawn from objects, both external and internal. Thus, as differences disappear you will progress.” Mudaliar understood this to apply to his physical sight and replied: “This does not seem to me the right way. If such a superior person as you gives me advice like this who will give me true advice?” However, Sri Bhagavan assured him that it was the right way.
The next development Mudaliar himself has described: “I followed this dream upadesa for a while, then I had another dream. This time Sri Bhagavan appeared to me while my father was standing by and asked, pointing to my father, “Who is this?” With some hesitation about the philosophical accuracy of the answer I replied, “My father”. Maharshi smiled at me significantly and I added, “My answer is in accordance with common parlance but not with philosophy”, because I remembered that I was not the body. Maharshi drew me to him and placed his palm first on my head and then on my right breast, pressing his finger over the nipple. It was rather painful, but as it was his Grace I endured it quietly. I did not know then why he pressed the right breast instead of the left”1
Thus, having failed to receive the silent initiation, he was given, even though in a dream, the initiation by touch.
He was one of those whose eagerness and desire to make every effort drove them to the idea of renouncing home life and going forth as a penniless wanderer. As in other cases, Sri Bhagavan discouraged this. “Just as you avoid the cares of home life when you are here, go home and try to be equally unconcerned and unaffected there.” Mudaliar still lacked the full reliance and conviction of a disciple towards his Guru and he made the renunciation despite Sri Bhagavan’s clear injunction. He found, as Sri Bhagavan had predicted, that the difficulties on his path grew greater, not less, and after a few years returned to his family and took up work again. After this his devotion deepened. He composed Tamil poems in praise of Sri Bhagavan. And at last he received, more fully than most others, the verbal instructions that he had so longed for, for it was he who was the recipient of a large part of the expositions contained in A Catechism of Instruction in which is most beautifully set forth the doctrine of the Guru and his Grace.