Impressions And Reminiscences

Paris 1937-38. A small group of Ommenites meeting weekly to discuss Krishnamurti’s and other teachings. All of us had read Paul Brunton’s In Search of Secret India, so all knew the Maharshi by name and we had discussed his teaching too, but one of us, Pascaline Mallet had actually visited him in his Ashram and been much impressed. One day, she received from a friend whom she met there, a copy of his daily diary kept while at the Ashram, and this she brought to read to us. A little later, Pascaline asked me to help her to translate Who am I? into French. All this made so deep an impression on me that upon returning to India, and touring the South with a friend who was equally curious to see the great man so eulogised by Brunton, we decided to visit Tiruvannamalai to see him for ourselves.

That was in 1939, thus just twenty years ago, [written in 1959] Bhagavan drew me to Tiruvannamalai. All was new to me. I had known Krishnamurti, and Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, but never any Hindu Sage of the Advaitic tradition, yet, from the first moment in his presence he made me feel at home, and the peace of the little hall drew me as nothing had before. We had planned to stay for two days and my friend left as arranged, but still having two more days free before returning to the north, I stayed on. When finally I had to leave, I knew that sometime I should return.

The return came only about two years later, and from then on, for five consecutive years, I visited the Ashram each summer to sit in Bhagavan’s presence. Then in 1944, my work in the north coming to an end, I came to live permanently near him.

In the early days of my visits, the entrance door to the little hall, where Bhagavan lived day and night, was opposite to his couch and diagonally to the exit doorway on the opposite side. Later it was moved down the hall and is now directly opposite the exit. In the early days, the women sat on either side of the entrance, facing the couch, while the men sat down on the other side at the foot of the couch. Every sort, and kind of caste, creed and nationality came for darshan. To each and everyone, from maharajah to sweeper, Bhagavan was the same gentle, twinkling-eyed friend; no one, from the tiniest child, seemed awed by him. Newcomers, including myself, would begin by asking him questions, but soon found no necessity to voice them; in one way or another, without asking, the questions would be answered and the problems solved.

Once I had been mulling over a problem for three days without finding the solution. The fourth day, sitting opposite to Bhagavan, and still harassed by the problem, Bhagavan suddenly turned his eyes upon me. After a moment, he asked one of his attendants to find him a certain book of puranic stories; he turned over the pages until, finding the passage he wanted, he handed the book to one of the men who knew English and told him to read the story aloud. That story gave me the answer to my problem.

At other times, from the gaze of his eyes alone, one’s question would be answered. Only on rare occasions would he give advice audibly, and even then, mostly indirectly. Thus, in the following case of a young devotee from Bombay:

This young devotee was in the habit of sitting day after day in Bhagavan’s presence contorting himself, twisting and turning and groaning aloud, obviously using yogic practices in his endeavour to attain moksha. This had been going on for some weeks, the young man was getting thin and was so clearly in danger that meeting him one day just outside the hall, I asked him why he took that path, that it was not Bhagavan’s way, and that without a Guru it was very dangerous. The young man replied that he did not care, even if he died doing the practices, so long as he got moksha at the end. Whereupon we entered the hall, prostrated before Bhagavan and sat down on our respective sides of the gangway. The doorways of the little hall had by this time been altered and we women sat on the exit side at Bhagavan’s feet. I sat down just behind Mrs. T. Bhagavan was reading his mail. The young man had started on his contortions as usual, oblivious to everything around him. Presently Bhagavan began to read aloud from a letter from Paris in which the writer asked the value of asanas and yogic practices. Addressing himself to Mrs. T., Bhagavan with a smile said: “She asks the value of such practices,” and he nodded towards the young man contorting, “Those sort of practices have absolutely no value. At very best, the only thing that might happen is that, perhaps, after some twenty five years of going on and on with them, you might wake up sufficiently to realize the futility of what you are doing!” The young man did not even hear the advice given, and although Bhagavan’s words were repeated to him later by several people, he paid no attention but continued with his practices. As a result, he soon fell very ill and had to leave Tiruvannamalai.

Sometimes one could feel Bhagavan communicating voicelessly with someone in the hall; it was as though there were a strong current or pulsation flowing from him to the person down the hall. I had felt the like with Gurdjieff. But one special occasion in the hall where the current was reciprocated, is an unforgettable experience.

It was in the days when the door was still opposite Bhagavan’s couch, and I was sitting to the right of the door opposite to him. Suddenly a shadow fell through the doorway and a fair, elderly sannyasi stepped over the threshold. Bhagavan, who was reading, dropped his book immediately and looked straight up at the man who took two strides forward and stood near Bhagavan’s feet, returning his gaze.

In Bhagavan’s gaze was such love and joy that one could almost hear him say: “So you have come at last, my beloved brother!” The two went on gazing at each other, without a word spoken aloud, but I could literally feel them speaking to each other, the flow of the current going back and forth between them. They talked thus voicelessly for some ten or fifteen minutes, then suddenly the sannyasi dropped to the floor and passed into samadhi for the next two hours. Bhagavan quietly took up his book again and went on, remaining as though nothing had happened, as doubtless indeed for him it had not. But for us it was an unforgettable experience.

During the last years of Bhagavan’s life in the body, many were the lessons we learned from him, but one, and perhaps the chief one, he never ceased, especially during the last six months, to hammer into us, namely, that he was not the body; the body might go, but he would not go, for where should he go to? He always was and always would be there, with us, as now. So true did he make this for us that when I saw his sacred frame being carried out into the big hall after his Maha Samadhi, I felt that Bhagavan was still there. He was still present, ready to be questioned and talked with as before. And so well had he prepared us to realize this, that in all the crowd of some 1,500 people present, many of them devotees, I only saw three people cry as we spent the night in vigil. We just knew that Bhagavan had not gone, so what need to cry for him, or rather, to cry for our nonexistent loss?

We who knew him in the body are not the only ones to feel his presence, even after he left the body. People in England who never knew him in the flesh, have told me that, after reading about him, they have had experiences of his actual presence near them, even of his touch, ready with his Grace to help.

May we be worthy to receive that Grace, as he so freely offers of it!