This chapter is taken from The Silent Power – Selections from The Mountain Path and The Call Divine
Dr.Shankar Rao, a retired D. M. O., who was attending on Sri Maharshi almost from the start of his illness, details in this article an intimate and vivid picture of the Maharshi’s ailment and the way he bore with it.
To have served Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi as a doctor for over a year is no ordinary privilege and no ordinary experience. It was an education of the highest type, a training of a unique character. It provided me with vivid glimpses into the human as well as the superhuman and godlike personality of Sri Maharshi.
For one whole year I watched the ailment sapping the strength and vitality of the physical frame of Sri Maharshi with cruel success. It failed to affect his detachment and composure and I found for the first time that this disease with its brood of pain and suffering had somehow met with an ignominious defeat. This will be borne out in the following account of the history of the ailment which culminated in the Maharshi shaking off the mortal sheath.
I first came to Sri Ramanashram in the second week of December, 1948. At that time Sri Bhagavan had a small nodule under the skin behind the elbow about the size of a split pea. When I asked him about it he said that it might have been due to a fall he had some three months back. On pressing, it used to be painful. Within a month it grew to the size of a small marble. Sri Bhagavan used to feel pain whenever he put his elbow on any hard surface and so I suggested its removal. It was removed on 9th February 1949. The wound completely healed up during the course of a week.
In the first week of March, it was again noticed to be growing. About the middle of March, Dr. Raghavachari of Madras came with his assistants and removed it completely, together with a good deal of surrounding tissues and also the skin over it. A microscopic examination revealed that it was a sarcoma.
Sarcoma is a malignant tumour of the flesh which occurs generally in young people, while older ones get cancers which are growths from the skin or mucous membranes. These malignant tumours are not enclosed in sheaths or capsules like simple tumours. Even small microscopic cells anywhere in the tissues surrounding the tumour could start to grow into another tumour. Some cells may be carried through the blood vessels to other parts of the body and produce similar secondary tumours.
The wound, after the second operation, did not heal and after a few days, a new growth appeared and this started bleeding profusely. Doctors and radiologists came from Madras and applied radium to afford temporary relief. They advised that amputation of the limb, a couple of inches above the tumour alone could cure the disease. The consensus of opinion amongst the devotees of Sri Bhagavan was against amputation. Sri Bhagavan also said that it was not necessary. The idea of amputation was given up.
The tumour growth subsided a little as a result of radium treatment but in July 1949 it again began to grow. Some of the devotees wished that ayurvedic treatment should be tried and a local ayurvedic physician started treatment. Sri Bhagavan’s health deteriorated, sepsis set in and the tumour continued to grow very rapidly.
Surgeons from Madras were again requested to come. They advised an operation as the only remedy and the tumour together with the white area of tissues all around were removed with a diathermic knife. Radium was then applied. This was on 14th August.
The result appeared to be very favourable in as much as no tumour growth appeared for three months and even scrapings taken from the raw surface of the wound were reported to be negative. Early in December 1949 however, there was a suspicion of a small nodule appearing in the middle of the arm, several inches away from the site of the original tumour growth. Then again doctors from Madras came and having diagnosed it as a secondary growth and that too a very small one, they expected to remove it easily.
On 19th December the growth was operated on but when the deeper tissues were cut into, for removing the tumour, it was found that the growth had spread deep into the muscles. A much larger operation became necessary and in spite of this, the surgeons felt that the chances of recurrence could not be ruled out.
As the surgeons had given up hope of a cure, homeopathy was tried. By about the middle of February, the tumour again started growing on the upper end of the operation wound and as the homeopath who was treating Sri Bhagavan was unable to prevent recurrence, an ayurvedic physician from Malabar was sent for and he started treatment. This too having been unsuccessful, Kaviraj Jogendranath Sastry from Calcutta was invited by one of the devotees to treat Sri Bhagavan. During all this period the general health of Sri Bhagavan continued to deteriorate and the tumour growth increased rapidly.
By about the 2nd of April I felt that the end was near. On the night of Sunday the 9th of April the pulse became very feeble and gradual deterioration of the functions of the heart brought about exhaustion. Sri Bhagavan who, until that day, had been able to walk to the adjoining bathroom could not do so and was confined to bed.
Since February the blood pressure of Sri Bhagavan started dropping. A fortnight before the end it was 88/48, the lowest point reached being 66/36. The expected end came at 8.47 pm on 14th April.
Sri Bhagavan’s attitude towards his body was one of complete detachment. Disease and pain left no impression on his mind. If he allowed himself to be treated for the ailment, it was more because his devotees wanted it than because he desired relief. His attitude was always supreme indifference to bodily ailments.
So he was an ideal patient implicitly undergoing any treatment that was decided upon by his devotees. Whenever he allowed any change in treatment his only concern was that there should be an agreement amongst his devotees about which particular type of treatment should be given a trial. As far as he personally was concerned, he did not care.
To everyone who was by his side, the way in which he bore with pain, which was at times of an extremely excruciating nature, without even showing the signs of suffering on his face, was a wonder. On one occasion during the later stages of the ailment when he was having shooting pains down his limb, a gentlemen who had come for his darshan bowed down and said that he was leaving Tiruvannamalai. Sri Bhagavan gave him his usual gracious look and smile as if there was nothing wrong with him at the time. And it was only after the gentleman left that Sri Bhagavan admitted that the pain was severe and allowed himself to be treated for it.
The tumour in the later stages of his illness grew to such proportions that even medical men who were used to those sights were shocked when they saw it. When it was being dressed, Sri Bhagavan used to look at it and often make jokes about it. He even helped the doctors to adjust the bandage.
On one occasion when the skin around the tumour was being cleaned with rectified spirit, some of it bathed the rest of the arm and fell on the body also. Sri Bhagavan jokingly said that he was having a spirit bath and quoted the last stanza of Atma Bodha by Sri Shankaracharya. It was not only a joke but also carried with it a profound spiritual teaching.
One night when there was heavy bleeding from the tumour as it was being dressed, two or three bhaktas couldn’t conceal their emotion. He looked at them and said, “Where will l go? And where can I go?” And whenever he said ‘I’, with emphasis, he always meant the Atman.
Some time ago when treating the tumour it was suggested that Sri Bhagavan should have a sun bath and the tumour was exposed to the sun for a few minutes. To prevent flies, some incense was put in an oven and placed just below the chair upon which he sat. Sri Bhagavan jokingly said that we were offering worship to the tumour to go away by burning incense and waving lights (dhoopam and deepam) before it.
One of my friends took photographs of Sri Bhagavan one afternoon. During the night when we both went together and I was dressing the wound, Sri Bhagavan referred to the photos and gave a profound spiritual discourse using the science of photography as an illustration. Said Sri Bhagavan, “When taking a picture the silver salts are coated over a film in the dark and when the film is exposed in the camera, you get an impression caused by light outside. If the film is exposed to light before you put it in the camera there can be no impression on it. So is it with our jiva. When it is still in darkness, impression can be made on it by the little light that leaks in. But when the light of knowledge has already flooded it, there is no impression of external objects to be obtained.” In a similar fashion, he used to entertain his medical attendants with jokes interspersed with profound spiritual education.
Throughout the period of illness, his desire not to embarrass his medical attendants in whatever system of medicine they belonged, resulted in a perfect code of medical etiquette that could not be excelled. When he was having treatment of a particular system of medicine such as ayurveda or homeopathy, if any one suggested a remedy for the intense pain he was having, he would always refer him to the doctor that was in attendance and ask him to get his consent. On one occasion when the surgeons who operated on him had confessed that nothing short of an amputation could cure Sri Bhagavan, a devotee of many years’ standing, brought an eminent physician of another system of medicine. This gentleman saw Sri Bhagavan and had a talk with him. Sri Bhagavan received him with his usual gracious smile and the new physician believed that Sri Bhagavan wished him to treat him.
It was characteristic of Sri Bhagavan — and this was observed by many of his devotees — that when each individual went to him, he returned with a feeling that the Master had poured his grace on him alone and that he was the most loved amongst his devotees! I knew this and therefore took this physician to Sri Bhagavan and asked him to obtain his consent for the treatment. Sri Bhagavan smiled at this and said, “Do you know doctor so and so who is now treating me? Have you had a talk with him and what did he say?” The gentleman was nonplussed and had to go.
To watch Sri Bhagavan and listen even to his day-to-day talk was an education to those who were near him. There was no need to read books on religion or philosophy. His whole philosophy and the philosophy of ages were in Sri Bhagavan’s life. For his life was an exposition of the highest philosophy. He did not lecture. He did not write books for the edification of learned scholars outside but by living the life of perfection, he gave to those that came in contact with him, a greater education than any books could provide. With the passing of the greatest spiritual personality of modern times, the world has lost a living teacher, a guru in its highest sense.