This part is written by S.S.Cohen
F all places in the world an ashram is the one place where, for various reasons, many illusions flourish without one being aware of them; so that he who is not careful or mentally well-balanced runs the risk of moving counter to the purpose for which he has taken all the trouble to meet a great Rishi and benefit by his holy presence. The most common illusion which has come to my notice during my long residence in Sri Ramanashram, at Tiruvannamalai, is that of the person, who professedly comes to learn, soon begins to teach, being firmly convinced that he has more fundamentally grasped the Master’s teaching, and has made quicker progress than his neighbour, a much older disciple. What is worse, he does not shrink from loudly drumming his easy victory and disparaging the other devotees on every occasion that offers.
The ‘Seekers’ do not seem to have learned the meaning of humility, which is the foremost virtue of a sadhaka. For the mind turned bright by its own purity cannot but rightly assess the difficulties of the task ahead and the relentless fight to be put up in the ups and downs of the long and arduous road. A pure seeker allows no outward appearance to cloud his judgement, but gratefully seeks the help of senior and more experienced sadhakas. For what depths of suffering these may not have touched, and what crucifixion they may not have endured to spiritual heights of which they cannot speak, nor the newcomer has an inkling. Sane outlook, the strongest weapon in the battle of ordinary life, is much more so in the life of the spirit, wherein no landmarks nor measuring rods enlighten the yogi for his direction, the distance he travelled and the progress he made, and where any slip may lead to dismal failure and regret.
It is not for nothing that the blessed ancients laid down the ashtangas as the eight stages or expedients to Perfection. The very first anga, yama, consists of the ten virtues to be acquired, of which fortitude, which combines humility with patience, is one of the foremost, before the next anga, niyama, the stage of practice, is entered. So, entering an ashram with the sincere determination of realising God, involves a process of self-denudation of everything that smacks of the ego, which does not end in a month or two, a year or two, but which may take a lifetime, and absorbs all one’s faculties and concentrated energy. Those who are not prepared to make the spiritual path their sole life occupation and become sadhakas, and sadhakas only, should not dream of being able to snatch Self-Realisation from the Guru in matter of hours or weeks and quickly return to their old haunts and pet habits and avocations. They who fancy themselves being singled out by God Almighty for the gift of a touch-and-go ripeness, which enables them to leap with one jump over the path, simply delude themselves.
It is but natural that, coming as they do from the blazing world of competitive business and the ego-ridden, modern social life, they should get much peace, and even a glimpse of the Reality, in the presence of the Master, and the holiness which emanates from him. But they should not mistake that will-o’-the-wisp experience as the final Realisation and start looking down upon the “dull-witted, blank-faced old disciples”. They do well to study the Master’s teaching and the standard Advaitic literature on the subject of Self-realisation and mukti to know what it fundamentally means. Besides, true seekers always minimise their attainments and virtues, and ever-and-anon check them with those of the Guru to gauge the efforts they have yet to make. I know a great devotee of Sri Bhagavan who ended by attaining the highest state by no other means than filling his mind and heart of the Master’s Divine qualities. For years he daily sat inside and outside the darshan Hall in rapt contemplation of the Master till he reached the mental purity which is the permanent state of the Liberated man. In 1938, I had the inestimable privilege of spending three days with him in his small ashram in Kumbakonam, in the South, to which he had since retired and heard from his own lips his fervent adoration of Sri Bhagavan and the details of his sadhana. Unfortunately, he is no more in the flesh to tell his tale, but a few years before the Master’s illness he passed into Mahanirvana. When on his deathbed he was brought to Tiruvannamalai at his own request to have a last look of Sri Bhagavan, the Master was exceedingly kind to him. He went to his bed in Palakottu and filled him with the bliss of his Grace, which he richly deserved.
The Guru of the mighty magnitude of Sri Bhagavan is not here only to teach, but also to be a model of Perfection and a touchstone by whom the disciples test their virtues and progress. And that requires a long residence with him. All the yogic scriptures enjoin a protracted company of the Guru (Guru sangha) for these and many other advantages. The ingenuity which after a flying visit claims ability to dispense with this sangha and succeeds must be very unique and extraordinary, indeed. But when it becomes so common it gives rise to the suspicion of some fundamental, common inhibition, which impedes rather than quickens. Everywhere in the Scriptures enlightened guidance is given to him who is a genuine striver for release, and everywhere emphasis is laid on constant practice, on solitude and on surrender of all activity, etc., which reveal the spiritual life to be one of incessant efforts and vigilance.
When after the great battle of Kurukshetra, the victorious Pandava Princes returned to Indraprastha, their capital, Arjuna confessed to Sri Krishna that the Supreme teaching which the Lord had given him on the battlefield had gone out of his “degenerate mind” and begged of him to repeat it now that his (Arjuna’s) mind was free to listen, attentively. The Lord was displeased with him, yet repeated the same teaching in the form of a parable with extensive advice on “the best line of conduct” of a wise man saying among others:
“He who wishes to apply himself to the final Emancipation should give up all action, restrain his senses, and abstain from earning and from parading his asceticism. . . He should not live by any occupation or perform any action which involves expectation of profit . . . He should resort to concealed piety and adopt the mode of life necessary for experience (of the Brahman) . . . Though undeluded he should act in the manner of these other so that deluded may have no special respect for him.” (Anugita) And Sri Shankara says in verse 367 of his Vivekachudamani: ” The first steps of yoga are control of speech, non-receiving of gifts, no entertaining of hopes, freedom from activity, and always living in a retired place.”
This is the advice of mighty Beings, and genuine seekers should heed it, and meditate over all its implications and learn to be less loud about their achievements, and little more considerate towards those who, out of great devotion and detachment, had the patience and endurance to sit infinitely longer than they at the sacred Feet of the Master.