This part is written by Dilip Kumar Roy

This is an extract from Kumbha, pp. 170-176, published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, and reprinted with their permission.

I first heard of Sri Ramana Maharshi while I was a member of the Yoga Ashram of Sri Aurobindo. I asked Sri Aurobindo about the Maharshi and he wrote back that he was a Yogi of remarkable strength and attainments and that his tapasya had won glory for India. On another occasion he characterised him as a ‘Hercules among the Yogis’. So I longed to pay a visit to Ramanasramam, situated at the foot of the hallowed Arunachala Hill.

When I arrived at the small house where the Maharshi lived, I felt a deep malaise. How could I hope to get peace and inspiration from him if I had failed to get it at the feet of my own Guru, who was surely no less great? Yet I felt sincerely that I had done well in coming to seek inspiration from the great Yogi who was venerated by spiritual aspirants of every category. At the same time, I wondered whether this was the proper frame of mind in which to seek peace from a mighty Illuminate!

I entered the room of the great sage in the afternoon. It was just a bare hall in which I found him reclining on a couch. A handful of devotees were sitting on the floor. Some were meditating, while others were gazing wistfully at the sage, who sat stone still, staring in front at nothing at all, as was his wont. He never spoke unless somebody first spoke to him or asked a question. For fifty years he had been living on this Hill and had felt no inclination to leave it. In the earlier years he had lived in a cave on the Hill for many years in silence. In the Ashram, which had subsequently been built around him by a few of his devotees, he had now been living a singular life, blessing all, but belonging to none, interested in everything but attached to nothing, answering questions but hardly ever asking any.

He gave the impression of Siva, the great God of compassion, who was there to give but not to ask anything of anybody, living a blissful, free and open life, with no walls of the ego to cabin the summit vision. I had, indeed, read what Paul Brunton had written about him and had heard a lot about his lovable ways from a dear friend of mine, Duraiswami, who had known him for years. Some other devotees had told me that he had been living ever since his abandonment of worldly life in a state of sahaja samadhi (superconscious in the ordinary wakeful consciousness). What I saw with my own eyes impressed me deeply, though I find it far from easy to portray what I saw, or rather experienced. Here was a man who lived like a god, supremely indifferent to all that we worldlings clamour for without cease. Dressed in a bare koupin (loin-cloth) he yet sat ensconced in a grandeur of plenary peace and egoless bliss which we could but speculate upon, yet never fathom. Kings had come to him with all sorts of rich offerings, but in vain; he had blessed them, but never accepted any gifts. He said one day to a disciple with an ironic smile as he pointed at a huge pandal which his devotees were building to honour him at the Golden Jubilee celebrations (1946): “Just fancy, they insist on erecting this for me when all I need is the shade of a tree to sit under.”

Modern man may criticise him for his lack of initiative and argue that humanity has little use for one who lives thus aloof and isolated. But was he isolated — he who radiated peace which hundreds of visitors experienced by just sitting near him in silence? Did not the lineaments of his serene face, his beautiful smile, his tranquil glance, convey to all a message of liberation? Did he not blossom like a flower stemming from the earth, yet alien to all that was earthly? Did not his frail frame embody a strength that was not human, his life attest to an invisible anchorage which made him utterly secure and free from the last vestige of fear? Yes, as he told me later, the Maharshi put a premium on two things: inaccessibility to fear and to flattery, however subtle. Once a snake passed over his body while he lay in his dark cave at night. His friend and attendant (a doctor who related this to me) jumped up as it passed over his chest. “Why, what is the matter?” the Maharshi asked him. “A snake!” he answered. “I know” acquiesced the sage. “It passed over my body previously.” “It did?” asked the doctor. “And how did you feel? “Cool” came the rejoinder.

About flattery he told me this story: “A man may go very far,” he said, “but not till he has travelled beyond the reach of all flattery can he be said to have arrived. Listen. There was once a rich man who wanted God. He gave up his family, home, comforts, everything, and repaired to a forest where he practised untold austerities for years till he arrived at the Golden Gate. But alas, the portals did not open to his repeated knocking – he did not know why!

“One day an old friend of his came upon him in the forest while he was meditating. When he opened his eyes, the friend fell at his feet in an ecstasy of adoration. ‘Oh blessed one! How great you are, how heroic your austerities and sacrifice! Accept my homage.’ The holy man had, indeed, practised all the austerities and made all the sacrifices attributed to him. Nevertheless he was pleased when the other paid him homage. And that was why the Golden Gate had not opened to his knocking.”

I heard of many other traits of his supremely lovable personality, amongst which must be counted his sense of humour and love of laughter. He coveted nothing, but loved to joke freely with those who came to him. One day, while I was sitting near him and some visitors were putting questions to him, a Muslim friend of mine asked: “Tell me, Bhagavan, why is it that God does not answer my prayer even when I petition Him for nothing earthly? I only pray to Him to make me humble and pure and selfless so that I may serve Him as I ought but He simply does not listen. Why doesn’t He?”

“Probably because He is afraid that if He did, you wouldn’t pray any more,” answered the sage readily, with a merry twinkle in his eye! And we all laughed in chorus.

Many a time he was asked, even challenged, to prove what he had seen. “Ah!” he would reply placidly. “I will answer that question if you answer mine: who is it that is asking this question?”

“Who? Surely, I – so and so.” “I know. But who are you?” “Me? I, I, I.” And the Maharshi would laugh.

“So you see, you do not even know such a thing as your own identity, yet you presume to challenge others and their experiences. I would suggest you find out first who is the challenger and then the truth you challenge will be made manifest to you.”

True to our great tradition, the Maharshi did not relish answering merely intellectual questions or the queries of the curious who were content with more wordy answers to words. Again and again, he used to stress that information was not knowledge, and that all true knowledge stemmed from Self-knowledge. So sometimes, when he was asked about the worlds beyond, of the life hereafter, he would simply evade the question. “Why put the cart before the horse?” he was wont to say. “Why this itch to know about the other worlds? Do you know even the crucial and basic things about this one? If not, why not wait till you do before you start delving into the next? Why do you want to know what happens after death? Do you know what is happening before your eyes? Why go to an astrologer to be told what you will be twenty years hence? Do you know – truly know – what you are today this moment?” And so on.

Once the matters came to a head. A disciple of his was puzzling a good many members of the Ashram, for he was living in perfect bliss in a tiny room, sitting all day on a bare mat, hardly taking the trouble even to eat unless somebody brought him food. Speculation was rife; some thought that he had gone mad; others that he had gone far, while others again said with bated breath that he was living in that superconscious state which the Gita describes as Brahmee sthithi (situated in the Absolute). In the end a regular deputation waited upon the Maharshi who heard them with his usual patience. Then he gave the leader of the deputation a quizzical smile. “You want to know his inner state, do you?” he asked pointedly.

The man fidgeted beneath his scrutiny. “Well, yes. I. . .”

“Wait,” the Maharshi interjected. “First tell me this: do you know your own state?”

The other was unnerved: “No, no,” he faltered.

“Right!” The Maharshi rejoined, in a pleased tone. “First find out your own state and then you will know his.” The whole Ashram enjoyed it, except the leader of course.

This outstanding Yogi and his holy life have exercised a deep influence upon hundreds of spiritual seekers all over the world, although he had done hardly anything of a spectacular kind to enlist the attention of the multitude.