Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Annamalai Swami Interview

Back in July (http://sri-ramana-maharshi.blogspot.com/2008/07/annamalai-swami-interview.html) I announced that by September I would be making available a DVD of an interview with Annamalai Swami that was filmed by a friend of mine in 1993. I had planned to put English subtitles on the DVD, and also have options of subtitles in different languages. Since this will take longer than I thought, I decided to make it available now to anyone who wants a copy without subtitles.
The interview is 73 minutes long and consists of an interview between Jim Lemkin and Annamalai Swami. English translations are provided by Sundaram, Annamalai Swami's attendant. If you are not a native English speaker or are not familiar with Indian accents, you may find the translations hard to follow.

Jim asked that the distribution be done at cost price, and that no one should make any money out of the film. I weighed sample packages at the Post Office yesterday. The total cost (blank DVD, copying, packaging and posting) are as follows:

Within India: Rs 30
Outside India: $1 US

Purchasers in India should send the money by MO. No DDs please. I don't want to spend hours at the bank filling in separate deposit slips for each DD. Customers outside India should pay via Paypal.

My email address is: david_godman@yahoo.co.uk.

My postal address for the MOs is:

David Godman
Sri Ramanasramam
Tiruvannamalai 606603
Tamil Nadu

Friday, September 19, 2008

Discovering Mastan

As I was driving home from a shopping trip this morning I suddenly remembered the story of Mastan, and how I managed to find out information about him. The memories grabbed me so strongly, I felt an urge to write them down as soon as I reached my house. So, here they are…

I first heard about Mastan from Sadhu Om in the late 1970s. He had gone to Mastan’s home village around 1960 to interview Akhilandamma, one of Bhagavan’s earliest devotees. At that time she was over eighty years of age. Among the many stories she told him was one about Mastan Swami, and how she first took him to Bhagavan in the Virupaksha Cave era. I didn’t read Sadhu Om’s account, which had been published in Tamil, but he did tell me that Mastan was such a great devotee, people today still went to his samadhi shrine because they felt that it was a place where one’s wishes could be fulfilled. Years later I read Kunju Swami’s reminiscences, and these included the story of how Bhagavan sent him to Desur (Mastan’s home village) when Mastan passed away there with instructions to make him a special samadhi shrine that is usually reserved for Saiva saints. I did a little checking and discovered that Bhagavan had only commissioned or requested samadhis of this kind on four occasions: for his own mother, for Seshadri Swami, for Lakshmi the cow, and for Mastan Swami. This put Mastan Swami in very elevated company.

In the early 1980s I came across an account by the editor of Arunachala Ramana. He too had gone to talk to Akhilandamma, and she had obliged him with the moving story of how Mastan Swami had passed away. In his final hours he had seen Siva ganas and Apeetakuchamba (the Sanskrit name of the consort of Siva in the Arunachaleswara Temple), and spoken excitedly of how they had all come to collect him to him home.

This was definitely someone I wanted to find out information about, but where to start? Mastan himself had passed away in 1931, and he had received little more than passing mentions in the ashram books I had read. He was present on the famous occasion when the ashram was robbed in 1924, and also on the occasion when the golden mongoose visited Bhagavan at Skandashram, but he didn’t appear to have a major role to play in either incident. I took the relevant information from Sadhu Om’s Tamil account of Akhilandamma, and then began to hunt for any extra tidbits that might have escaped the attention of earlier writers. I only began this work in 2001, so I didn’t have access to devotees such as Kunju Swami, Ramaswami Pillai and Annamalai Swami who would, undoubtedly, have been able to provide me with useful information.

I knew the English and Tamil sources of information on Bhagavan well enough to know that there was not much to be found in the literature of either language, but I thought there might be something in Telugu I had overlooked. Several of my friends were devotees of Sri Sainaathuni Sarath Babuji, an Andhra householder and Guru, who had thousands of devotees in Andhra Pradesh. He was in Tiruvannamalai at the time and my friends had all told me that he had a great respect for Bhagavan and an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the stories about him. I asked one of his devotees to ask him if he could remember reading anything in Telugu about Mastan Swami.

Sri Sainaathuni Sarath Babuji is a great devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba. His first teacher had been Acharya E. Bharadwaja, a man who had done much in the 1960s and 70s to spread the teachings of Shirdi Sai Baba. In his youth Sainaathuni Sarath Babuji had spent quite a lot of time in and around Ramanasramam, and he had also spent time with Poondi Swami, an eccentric yogi who lived about 20 km from Tiruvannamalai. In later years his devotion focused exclusively on Shirdi Sai Baba, although he does acknowledge that Poondi Swami played a major part in his spiritual development.

Sainaathuni Sarath Babuji’s devotion to Shirdi Sai Baba became so intense, he began to acquire some of the wish-fulfilling powers that Sai Baba was famous for. People began to flock to him when these powers became public knowledge, so much so, he found it hard to live a normal life in Andhra Pradesh. If he ever went anywhere by train, hordes of people would descend on him at each place the train stopped, each hoping to have his or her desire fulfilled. Sainaathuni Sarath Babuji never did anything consciously to help these people; he always said that if people brought a problem to him, as often as not Sai Baba would attend to it. He never claimed to be doing any of these things himself.

He moved to Shirdi, in Maharashtra, in 1989, and at the time of this story he had small houses in both Chennai and Tiruvannamalai where he would occasionally meet with the many people who wanted to see him. Mostly, though, he lived a reclusive life, and his public appearances were severely rationed. I sent my request via an old friend of mine who was lucky enough to be attending satsangs with him on a regular basis. She asked my question – ‘Do you know any Telugu sources of information on Mastan Swami?’ – but Sainaathuni Sarath Babuji (who is known as ‘Guruji’ to all his followers) made no reply.

Later that evening his attendant asked him privately, ‘What answer should I give to David? You didn’t say anything during the satsang.’

Guruji replied, ‘Tell him that Baba is taking care of it’. The next day my friend reported this to me in a very excited tone of voice. When I asked her why she was so excited – it didn’t seem to me to be much of an answer – she told me that this was what Guruji said when he knew that Sai Baba had intervened in some way and was taking care of a request or a problem.

‘Just wait,’ said my friend. ‘If any information exists, it will all end up in your hands, probably from the most unlikely sources.’

The first improbable event occurred soon afterwards when I was standing in the Ramanasramam library, looking at a shelf of books. A. R. Natarajan came up to me and asked what I was working on.

‘I’m looking for information on Mastan,’ I replied, 'but I am not getting very far. ‘Did you ever turn up any information on him?’

‘No,’ he replied, ‘but I do have the notes that B. V. Narasimha Swami wrote when he was interviewing devotees for Self-Realisation. There is a one-and-a-half page Tamil account there by Mastan Swami. I can send you a copy.’

A. R. Natarajan had taken all of Narasimha Swami’s notes to Bangalore several years before, so I was not aware that there existed an account by Mastan himself of his time with Bhagavan. I thanked Natarajan for the offer and waited to see what would turn up.

A few days later I received a xeroxed copy of the information that Mastan had given to Narasimha Swami. Though brief, it was a fascinating account of his early life and the questions he had asked Bhagavan.

Next, I went to see Sri V. Ganesan, since I knew he had spoken to many of Bhagavan’s devotees about their time with him. I was aware that Kunju Swami had briefly mentioned that Mastan Swami had gone into samadhi on first meeting Bhagavan, but details of the event were frustratingly sketchy. I asked Ganesan if anyone had given him more details of this incident.

He looked surprised. ‘Didn’t I mention that in one of my books? That’s a great story. Viswanatha Swami told me all about it. I can’t imagine why that one hasn’t been printed before.’

Then he proceeded to tell me the extraordinary story of how Mastan Swami had come to see Bhagavan in Virupaksha Cave. He told me how, on one occasion, even before seeing Bhagavan, Mastan had, while opening the gate to the cave compound, fallen into a deep samadhi that had lasted about eight hours. More remarkable still, Ganesan remembered Viswanatha Swami telling him that Bhagavan had said that Mastan was ‘in an entirely different category to most of the people who came’. High praise indeed from Bhagavan, who rarely made public comments on the differing levels of maturity that he saw in the devotees in front of him.

Next, I organised, via Ramanasramam, a trip to Desur, the village 40 miles from Tiruvannamalai where both Akhilandamma and Mastan Swami lived. One of the ashram’s office workers came from that area, so we took him along to make use of his local knowledge. Chandramouli also came with the ashram’s video camera in case we turned up any interesting stories.

We had a highly productive day. The pujari who looked after the samadhi shrine had made a point of collecting stories about Mastan Swami from the local people. He had recorded these in Tamil in a notebook that he allowed me to copy. The shrine itself contained a very blurry photo that I assumed to be Mastan. I took a photo of it and found out later that it had been taken from a group photo which had been taken at Skandashram. I believe that this is the only surviving photo of Mastan. There is no one else who looks like him on any of the other group photos of this era.

As we were traveling around Desur we tracked down two old men who had actually known Mastan Swami; both were happy to share their memories with us. And as we were sitting next to the shrine, reflecting on a good day’s work, an old man wandered past who not only knew Mastan, he had actually been part of the group that had dug the samadhi pit in 1931. This was all most extraordinary. We had gone to a village to find information about a man who had died seventy years before and unexpectedly found a group of ninety-year-olds whose memories were still working well enough to give us illuminating details of Mastan’s Swami’s life.

Around the time I was doing this research Venkatasubramanian, Robert and I were working on the translation of Padamalai. I can’t remember exactly what we were looking for, but at one point Sankaran, who looks after all of Muruganar’s papers, opened his trunks to find something for us and accidentally brought out a poem that had been written by one of Mastan’s devotees. The devotee had sent the poem to Bhagavan; Bhagavan had passed it on to Muruganar; and Muruganar had decided there was enough merit in it to keep it and store it along with all his other papers. In addition to descriptions of the beauty of Desur and praise of Mastan Swami, the poem includes the only known ‘teachings’ of Mastan.

When I began my research, the known published material on Mastan Swami amounted to a couple of pages at most. A few weeks later I had managed, somewhat miraculously, to assemble enough material to write a twenty-page chapter for part three of The Power of the Presence. Was this due to ‘Baba taking care of it’? I am inclined to say ‘yes’ simply because too many seemingly fortuitous things happened in too short a space of time for them all to be attributed to chance or good research. I didn’t go to Guruji for a miraculous intervention; I just hoped he would pass on any knowledge he had. Now, having had this experience, I can see why so many people flock to him with their problems and requests.

The president of Ramanasramam read my account while he was on holiday in the US. He immediately called the ashram and asked the people there to take steps to renovate Mastan’s shrine and make sure that it was looked after properly. The place was depressingly unkempt on the day I went there. We had to hunt around for half an hour to find the key to open the front door, and once we had gained access, we found the interior to be dusty and filled with cobwebs. Unfortunately, there seems to be some sort of village feud over who owns or controls the shrine, so for the moment, none of the renovation plans have been executed. However, I hope all this gets settled and the shrine restored in some way. It marks the final physical resting place of one of Bhagavan’s most extraordinary devotees.

Here, just to remind you of what a great man he was, is what I wrote in the Power of the Presence chapter.


Mastan, who appeared in Ramanatha Brahmachari’s chapter as the weaver who made the cloth for Bhagavan’s clothes, was born in 1878 in Desur, a small village about forty miles from Tiruvannamalai. He came from a Muslim family but was drawn to Bhagavan by Akhilandamma, a widow of the village who made regular trips to Tiruvannamalai to see Bhagavan and cook for him. A document preserved in the shrine where Mastan is buried states that at a very early age he would spontaneously fall into a samadhi-like state while he was working on the family loom. His hands and feet, which were plying the machinery of his trade, would stop and he would become absolutely still. His parents, Hussain and Salubi, thought that he was falling asleep on the job. Whenever they saw him in this condition, they would hit him, bring him back to his waking state, and tell him to get on with his work. These episodes seem to have been a recurring feature of his childhood. The notebook in which this story is recorded says the ‘he plunged into jnana’ on these occasions, making it clear that they were not just fainting fits.

Mastan himself made no mention of these dramatic experiences when he described his early years:

I came under the spell of bhakti before the age of twenty. During the Muharram festival I would put on the garb of a pandaram [a Saiva monk], smear vibhuti on myself, carry a begging bowl and roam around.

I discovered and read the verses of Gunagudi Mastan [a Muslim saint who probably lived during the early 19th century]. It occurred to me that at the following Muharram festival I should dress up as a pandaram and sing these verses. I obtained a copy of this book, read the portion entitled ‘Ecstatic Joy’ and tried to learn it by heart.

While I was doing this, it occurred to me that I should never again put on this pandaram outfit.

‘It is of no use,’ I thought. ‘I should, instead, seek liberation.’

For one year after this decision I didn’t sleep either during the day or the night. Most of the time I was going through Gunagudi Mastan’s verses. I also went through the poems and songs of Thayumanavar and Pattinathar.

There is one verse of Gunagudi Mastan that says: ‘O mind, is it possible to speak of the misery and desolation experienced by those who get wedded to women?’
This impressed me very much. There would be no marriage for me. When I became aware that my elder brothers, who were employed in the army, were making arrangements to get me married, I shuddered.

At the age of fifteen I lost my father, and when I was twenty-five my mother died. After these deaths I gave up the family weaving business. I had a Rs 100 debt from this work, but a devotee paid it off for me, freeing me from this occupation.
This information came from the interview that Narasimha Swami had with him in 1930. Nothing more is known about Mastan until the day he accompanied Akhilandamma on his first visit to Tiruvannamalai in 1914. This is how Mastan described the meeting when he spoke to Kunju Swami:

When I came to Bhagavan, he was seated like a rock…. [His unwavering gaze] was filled with grace, compassion and steady wisdom. I stood by his side. After giving me a look, he opened the gate of my Heart and I was also established in his state. I stood like that for eight hours, absolutely without fatigue, but filled with total absorption and peace. Bhagavan in those days used to open our Heart with a simple gracious look, and it transformed us. There was no need for any questions since he made us, by his look, like himself. (The Mountain Path, 1979, p. 154.)

The version of this first meeting that Mastan gave to Narasimha Swami was far less dramatic. It completely omitted the spectacular experience that Mastan had there:

The first time I saw him he was near the mango tree that is adjacent to Jada Swami’s ashram. Afterwards I had his darshan in many caves. I often spent about a month in his presence.
Having gone through Mastan’s brief interview with Narasimha Swami, I am convinced that Mastan was deliberately downplaying the experiences he had had with Bhagavan. The accounts of Mastan’s life that have come from people who knew him well indicate that he was a quiet, humble man who went out of his way to avoid attracting attention to himself. The following story, narrated by Viswanatha Swami, shows that Bhagavan himself was less restrained when he spoke of Mastan’s early visits to Virupaksha Cave.

Many of Sri Bhagavan’s activities, utterances and reactions were to some degree predictable. When you live in close proximity to a great being such as Bhagavan, becoming drenched in his presence and teachings, you start to believe that you understand him, at least to a certain extent. However, once in a while Bhagavan would spontaneously say things that astounded us all, making us realise how little we really knew and understood him. I remember one such statement very well.

Bhagavan once told me, ‘All sorts of beings gravitate towards the presence of a jnani devas [inhabitants of the heavenly realms], rishis [sages], Brahmanishtas [those established in Brahman], siddhas [perfected beings with supernatural powers] and yogis. Some come in a normal human form, but others turn up in their subtle, astral bodies. Some of these great beings show up in the guise of beggars or madmen, and some of them even manage to appear in the forms of birds and animals.

‘Among those who show up in a normal human body, and who subsequently stay on and become devotees, there is a huge range of spiritual attainment: complete beginners mix with highly advanced souls. The most advanced are ripe fruits, just waiting to fall. They only have to come into the presence of a jnani in order to plunge into a deep experience of the Self. One such devotee was Mastan.

‘He was such a ripe soul, when he came to Virupaksha Cave to see me he would sometimes go into a deep samadhi before he had even entered the cave. As soon as he touched the railings of the gate, he would have a paralysing experience of the Self. He would stand, rooted to the spot, unable to move, for six or seven hours. This happened several times. Usually, these experiences would happen before he had even seen me since I would be inside the cave, unaware of what was going on at the gate.

‘Mastan was in an entirely different category to most of the people who came. He was highly spiritual, although outwardly he looked like an ordinary man. He was a kind generous man who was always looking for an opportunity to help other people. He never showed any self-importance. On the contrary he liked to stay in the background, unnoticed and unappreciated by ordinary people.’ (Unpublished story narrated to V. Ganesan by Viswanatha Swami in the 1970s)

These samadhi states did not give him a full and permanent experience of the Self. When his mind reasserted itself, he went to Bhagavan for advice:

Once, while I was on my way to see Bhagavan, I prayed for his grace.

On my arrival at Virupaksha Cave he asked, ‘Do you like saguna upasana [meditation or worship of form], or do you like nirguna upasana meditation or worship of the formless]?

I replied, ‘I only want nirguna upasana’.

Bhagavan then told me, ‘Fix the mind in the Heart. If you keep your attention at the source from where all thoughts arise, the mind will subside at the source and reality will shine forth.’

I had already come across similar teachings in Maharaja Turavu, Mastan’s verses and Sukar Kaivalyam. I had also seen these instructions in several other books. I took a firm decision that this was the way for me. After this meeting with Bhagavan I had no further doubts about this. No doubts at all. (From B. V. Narasimha Swami’s interview)

In a brief, unpublished account of Mastan’s life Kunju Swami made the following comments on Mastan:

‘Mastan had a very peaceful disposition.…After [his] first visit he used to come to Arunachala whenever he felt like it and have Bhagavan’s darshan at Virupaksha Cave for long periods, but standing at a distance. He would not speak anything to anybody… He did not get married and remained a brahmachari. He was leading a peaceful life, practising his weaving profession and having Bhagavan’s darshan.’ (Taken from Ramana Bhakta Vijayam, an unpublished manuscript Kunju Swami was working on when he passed away. It was going to be an account of all the major devotees of Bhagavan whose stories were known to him.)

Though Mastan was clearly an outstanding devotee, very little information is available about him or his years with Bhagavan. The few stories that exist come from people who were associated with him. Akhilandamma, who probably knew him better than anyone else, has described how they used to come to Tiruvannamalai together:

Mastan and I would come to Arunachala from our village to have the pleasure of serving Bhagavan. Mastan, a weaver, belonged to our village, but he did not stick to his craft. A man of whims, he would suddenly suspend his weaving and go to live with Bhagavan for months on end. During this time he would keep his body and soul together on alms that he begged.

In those early days we had no buses. I would make a bundle of provisions, such as rice and pulses, and put them on his head. Loaded in this way, we would start on our journey of forty miles to Arunachala. We would walk slowly and leisurely, telling each other stories of Bhagavan.

Mastan occasionally made towels and kaupinas and offered them to Bhagavan, who accepted them with deep regard.

Bhagavan once remarked, with great joy, ‘Mastan’s craft, though it did not give food either to him or his parents, gives me clothes’.

On full moon nights we would go round the hill in the divine company of Bhagavan. In those days there would be about ten of us – Perumal, Mastan and a few others. On those moonlit nights we would walk in rapture, forgetting the entire universe, except for the sacred mountain. I don’t think those enchanting days will ever come again!

On one of those occasions Mastan began to sing at the top of his voice. I had never heard him singing so loudly.

‘Mastan, what happened to you today?’ asked Bhagavan as soon as the pradakshina was over. ‘You never ever sing, so why did you sing like that?’

‘It was nothing,’ replied Mastan, casually. ‘Perumal instructed me that I had to sing in order to ward off your drowsiness. To raise my spirits and to equip me for the job, he made me take a drink containing ganja.’

‘So that’s what happened. Ganja intoxication was behind your wild singing. How many times have I told you that I need no external help to keep me awake? Also, I have told you before not to do anything for my sake. Don’t listen to other people who tell you differently.’

Though Bhagavan rebuked Mastan in this way, I don’t think he took the criticism very seriously. Mastan was a very innocent man, and events like this didn’t touch him.

I remember one incident that took place when Bhagavan lived at Skandashram. A golden mongoose entered the ashram premises and made straight for Bhagavan. It sat on his lap for a while. Later, it wandered around and closely inspected all the different parts of the cave. When the inspection was over, it disappeared into the bushes on the hill. While all this was happening, Mastan was the only devotee with Bhagavan.

Some time later Perumal came back to the ashram and Mastan told him about the visit of the mongoose. One can get a glimpse of Mastan’s state of mind at the time from the remarks he made.

‘I was afraid that the mongoose might harm our peacocks,’ he said, ‘so I kept myself ready in case it made an attack. I had a big stick handy. Fortunately, it moved away without making any move towards the peacocks.’

Perumal told him, ‘Mastan, you should have caught it. If you had managed to capture it, we could have brought it up here and kept it as a pet.’

Bhagavan was listening to this conversation.

Addressing Mastan, he said, ‘Whom do you think he was? Do you think you could have caught him, and do you think that this other man could have domesticated him? This was a sage of Arunachala who took on this form to come and visit me. He wanted to pay his respects to me. How many times have I told you that sages come to see me in various forms?’

Mastan never told me about this mongoose. Bhagavan himself mentioned the incident to me on one of my later visits. (‘My Reminiscences’ by Akhilandamma, Arunachala Ramana, May 1982, pp. 5-9)

The story of the visit of the golden mongoose has been narrated in many accounts of Bhagavan’s life, but this is the only version I have found which states that Mastan was the only devotee with Bhagavan at the time of the visit. Since the unusual visit took place on a busy festival day, other people were visiting Skandashram, but none of the other ashram residents of Skandashram was present. The mongoose had earlier visited Palaniswami, Bhagavan’s long-time attendant, in Virupaksha Cave before coming up the hill to see Bhagavan. This would place the incident in 1915, the year that Palaniswami died. When Bhagavan moved to Skandashram that year, Palaniswami stayed in Virupaksha Cave, where he passed away a few months later. This is Bhagavan’s own account of the visit of the mongoose:

I was living up the hill at Skandashram. Streams of visitors were climbing up the hill from the town. A mongoose, larger than the ordinary size, of golden hue (not grey as a mongoose is) with no black spot on its tail as is usual with the wild mongoose, passed these crowds fearlessly. People took it to be a tame one belonging to someone in the crowd. The animal went straight to Palaniswami, who was having a bath in the spring by Virupaksha Cave. He stroked the creature and patted it. It followed him into the cave, inspected every nook and corner and left the place and joined the crowd coming up to Skandashram.

I noticed it. Everyone was struck by its attractive appearance and its fearless movements. It came up to me, got on my lap and rested there for some time. It went round the whole place and I followed it lest it should be harmed by the unwary visitors or by the peacocks. Two peacocks of the place looked at it inquisitively. The mongoose looked nonchalantly from place to place and finally disappeared into the rocks on the southeast of the ashram. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 82 dated 16th October 1935)

Some writers who have mentioned this incident have speculated that the visiting mongoose was Arunachaleswara, the presiding deity of Arunachala, who had come to visit Bhagavan in this form. Bhagavan never confirmed or denied this speculation when it was mentioned to him. This account by Akhilandamma is the only one in which Bhagavan seemed willing to commit himself to a definite identification of his visitor.

In 1914, shortly after Mastan had become a devotee, he and Akhilandamma decided to open a math in the village of Desur that would function as a choultry, a place where visiting sadhus and pilgrims could be accommodated and fed. Akhilandamma had been feeding sadhus prior to this date for many years, but her operations had been based in her own house. Her relatives had not approved of the amount of time, energy and money she was devoting to sadhus, so she left her family home and found a separate house in Desur. For many years this was the base of her charitable activities.

Around 1914 an opportunity arose to have a proper math in the village. Kannappa Mudaliar, a long-time resident of Desur, has described how the math came into existence:

I started going to Bhagavan around 1930, having been influenced to do so by Mastan and Akhilandamma, who both came from my village. In those days there were only about ten families in Desur. We all got on very well. We were like one big family. Mastan never married, but the descendants of his family are still living in the village. I met Akhilandamma at the Sri Ramanananda Mathalayam, the math in our village that was dedicated to Bhagavan. Akhilandamma once told me about the early days of the math.

Mastan, she said, helped in the construction of the math. He cleared the ground and did some of the building work himself. The math functioned as a choultry, offering food and accommodation to visiting pilgrims and sadhus. Many of the sadhus from Ramanasramam came to stay here, particularly when they were sick and needed someone to look after them. We also had visitors from other places.

When the building was completed, Mastan regularly did parayana of Bhagavan’s works there. By this time Mastan had more or less abandoned his career as a weaver. He lived as a sadhu and usually went out to beg his food, although sometimes Akhilandamma fed him. Akhilandamma would cook in the math. If no food was available there, Mastan would go out to beg. Whenever devotees would come to visit, Mastan would take them to the math and talk to them about Bhagavan.

In 1928 Nandagopal Mudaliar, a local man, gave some money that was used to construct a new building on the north side of the math. A plaque was placed on the wall stating that Nandagopal Mudaliar had given the money for its construction. Mastan, it seems, wasn’t happy with this plaque. He didn’t want to live in a place that had a name other than Bhagavan’s on the wall. He was so offended by this plaque, he decided to leave the math and live elsewhere.

Muniswami Gounder, a man who lived a few kilometres away, heard about this development and invited both Akhilandamma and Mastan to come and stay in his village at his expense. He lived in Matam, a small village about four kilometres from Desur. Muniswami Gounder was sponsoring a math in his own village that was named after Appar and he expected Mastan and Akhilandamma to live in this place. Mastan, though, had already made it clear that he didn’t want to stay in any place that was named after anyone other than Bhagavan, so he also refused to stay in this second math. As a compromise, Muniswami Gounder built him a small hut near the math. Akhilandamma decided to stay in Desur. Both of them would occasionally leave and go to visit Bhagavan in Tiruvannamalai. Sometimes they walked there and sometimes Mastan would drive a cart loaded with provisions for the inmates of Bhagavan’s ashram. (From a personal conversation with Kannappa Mudaliar, September 2001)

When Akhilandamma told Bhagavan that she had opened a math in her village to serve his devotees, he said to all the devotees present:

'Now our name and fame will spread over the entire country. You see this Desuramma has girded up her loins. She has set up Ramanananda Mathalayam.’

Saying this, he laughed loudly. (‘My Reminiscences’ by Akhilandamma, Arunachala Ramana, June 1982)

‘Desuramma’ means ‘the mother from Desur’. Since Bhagavan was known to dislike publicity, his first sentence can definitely be taken to be ironic.

When Bhagavan heard at a later date that Mastan had moved to the village of Matam, he asked Akhilandamma to move there as well to look after him. She took this as a direct command.

Saying, ‘Wherever he is I will serve him,’ she went to the math in Matam. (Taken from the notebook that is preserved at Mastan’s shrine.)

Mastan himself has recorded only one other encounter with Bhagavan: a conversation that took place shortly after Bhagavan had moved down the hill from Skandashram.

For some time, while I was meditating at night for about an hour, I used to hear the sound of a big bell ringing. Sometimes a limitless effulgence would appear. In 1922 when I visited Bhagavan at his new ashram at the foot of the hill, I asked him about this.

He advised me, ‘There is no need to concern ourselves about sounds such as these. If you see from where it rises, it will be known that it arises on account of a desire [sankalpa] of the mind. Everything appears in oneself and subsides within oneself. The light, too, only appears from the same place. If you see to whom it appears, mind will subside at the source and only reality will remain.’ (From Narasimha Swami’s interview.)

Mastan continued to visit Bhagavan throughout the 1920s, although his visits were less frequent than in earlier years. He was present in Ramanasramam, along with a small number of other devotees, on a famous occasion in 1924 when Bhagavan was attacked by a gang of robbers who were under the mistaken impression that a large amount of money was kept there.

Bhagavan received a severe blow on his leg during the robbery, but in a characteristic response he told the robbers, ‘If you are not satisfied, you may strike the other leg also’.

Ramakrishna Swami, one of the devotees present, was so outraged by the assault on Bhagavan’s person, he took up an iron bar with the intention of attacking the intruders.

Bhagavan restrained him, saying, ‘Let these robbers play their role. We shall stick to ours. Let them do what they like. It is for us to bear and forbear. Let us not interfere with them.’

Mastan appeared to follow Bhagavan’s advice during this attack since there is no record of him reacting in any way to the violent invasion. In one of his rare recorded statements, Mastan is reported to have said, ‘Even if the sky falls on your head, or even if a sword is firmly driven through your chest, do not slip from your true state.’ (See verse five of the concluding poem.) The final clause, which can equally well be translated as ‘do not get agitated’, seems to sum up Mastan’s response to this event.

Akhilandamma rushed to Tiruvannamalai when she heard the news. This is her report of how Bhagavan reacted to the assault:

What one could not imagine had happened: Bhagavan was beaten up by thieves. The news took wing and many like me ran to the ashram in great anxiety.

Seeing me Bhagavan expressed surprise and said, ‘Oh, Desuramma, you have come as well. Kunju Swami is telling the story over there. Go and listen.’

It was as though Bhagavan had directed some children to go and listen to a story that was being told some distance away. I learned that Bhagavan had appointed Kunju Swami to relate all the incidents surrounding the robbery. From his reaction I gathered that the persistent questioning by devotees annoyed Bhagavan more than even the beatings of the thieves.

Sitting at the feet of Bhagavan and stroking the wounded leg, I expressed surprise and sorrow, saying, ‘How unjust! What injustice!’

Bhagavan contradicted me. ‘What injustice is there in this? As you feed me sweets, so they have fed me blows, and I have received them too. However many times I tell you that I am not the body, it never goes into your head.’ (‘My Reminiscences’ by Akhilandamma, Arunachala Ramana, June 1982, pp. 23-4)

When Bhagavan described the incident, he sometimes said that he had received poosai from the thieves, a Tamil term that denotes both beating and worship. Though Mastan had only the tiniest of roles in this drama, I have included the whole story here since it has not been told by any of the narrators in the Power of the Presence series.

The math that Mastan and Akhilandamma ran in Desur had been established to serve travelling sadhus, particularly those who were devotees of Bhagavan. The following story, narrated by Viswanatha Swami, indicates that Mastan took this responsibility very seriously:

In those days [the 1920s] some of Bhagavan’s devotees used to travel on foot to nearby towns such as Polur and Desur. We used to undertake these trips to visit devotees who lived in those areas. Bhagavan always gave us his permission before we undertook any of these trips. The members of the group would vary from trip to trip but we could usually count on devotees such as Kunju Swami, Ramaswami Pillai, ‘Nondi’ Srinivasa Iyer, Ramanatha Brahmachari and Ranga Rao to be enthusiastic about these adventures. I also went on many of these trips. Some of our expeditions would be to Cuddalore or Vellore, but most of them would be to locations in the Polur and Chengam areas.

When we travelled we would never stay in houses. When night came we would shelter in mantapams or caves. Sometimes we would just sleep under trees. We would beg for our food on the way. Sometimes people would give us provisions for a meal. If that happened we would stop and cook. If we received cooked food in our bowls, we would share it out equally among all the members of our group. Although we had a lot of fun, we were also aware that we were sadhus on a pilgrimage. As we walked we would chant scriptural works or meditate in silence.

On some of these trips Mastan would somehow find out in advance where we were going. We would arrive at a town, Polur for example, and find him waiting for us. Once he had discovered our whereabouts, he would make us sit while he went out begging for us. We didn’t want to be served in this way, but Mastan was very insistent. He told us on these occasions that he was the ‘devotee of devotees’, a role and a title that he took on himself.

He would say, ‘I want to serve the devotees of Bhagavan. You must stay here while I find food for you.’

Mastan would generally return with a huge amount of food, far more than we could possibly eat. After we had eaten as much as we could, we would share the leftovers with any local people who lived nearby. If we were living in caves or other out-of-the-way places, we would give the leftovers to monkeys.

As he fed us Mastan would make one persistent request: ‘Please tell me some stories about the glory of our Master. Tell me everything he has said during the time I was not with him. To me, every word Bhagavan speaks is holy. The words that come out of his holy mouth are so powerful, merely listening to them can give liberation to ripe souls.’ (Unpublished story narrated to V. Ganesan by Viswanatha Swami)

Mastan continued to be based in Matam until 1931, the year he passed away. He was aware well in advance of the date and time of his death, for he gave full details to Muniswami Gounder, the man who was looking after him there. Muniswami Gounder, though, paid no attention to the prediction. The day before he died Mastan sent a message to all the devotees of Bhagavan who lived in his vicinity, asking them to come to see him as soon as possible. Most of them failed to arrive in time, either because they lived too far away, or because they did not receive the news before it went dark. Akhilandamma was present when Mastan died. This is her description of his final moments:

He was sick and bedridden for about a week. During those days he spoke of many things not of this world, as if he were actually seeing them.

He said, ‘There, Nandiswara [Nandi the bull, the vehicle of Siva] is descending. He is very affectionately licking all over my body! Look! The Siva ganas [celestial followers of Siva] are dancing here! See! They are beckoning me to come to their world. Look at those lotus ponds where celestial swans are swimming!’

We thought that this was nothing but delirium, but on the last day a very strange thing happened, and we cannot lightly dismiss it as delirium. On this day he suddenly got up from his bed and stood up, looking as if someone, face to face, had been calling him.

Then, in great excitement, he exclaimed, ‘Mother Apeetakuchamba, [the consort of Siva in the Tiruvannamalai temple] have you come yourself to escort me?’

The next moment he fell down dead. I immediately sent a message to Bhagavan.

When Bhagavan learned of Mastan’s passing away, he sent Kunju Swami to our village with full instructions on how to make a samadhi for Mastan. There is a Tamil book [Tirumular’s Tirumandiram] that faithfully gives the details of how saints who have followed Lord Siva have to be buried. In accordance with these details Bhagavan drew up a plan of the dimensions of the samadhi and sent it along with Kunju Swami. It seemed very strange to us that a Muslim should be given a Saiva saint’s burial and stranger still that Bhagavan, who did not generally encourage ceremonial rites, actually laid down in the minutest detail the rites to be followed in the samadhi of Mastan.

Whatever the reason, just as Bhagavan stipulated, we made a tomb for Mastan in our village. It is a village whose population is predominantly Jain. These inhabitants of the village felt that having a Hindu samadhi in their midst would be very inauspicious. When they first heard of it, there was even talk of their abandoning the village completely. However, in the time that has passed since Mastan’s samadhi was constructed, the village has thrived and grown rich. Nowadays the samadhi is a visible deity to all people from the village, whatever their caste or religion. What a wonder! (‘My Reminiscences’ by Akhilandamma, Arunachala Ramana, May 1982, pp. 5-9.)

There are several points in the last two paragraphs that deserve some comment. First, so far as I am aware, Bhagavan only ordered this type of samadhi for three of his devotees: his mother, Lakshmi the cow, and Mastan. Since Bhagavan publicly declared that the first two realised the Self, one can make a strong case for saying that Bhagavan felt that Mastan was also in this state at the time of his death. If this is true, the final realisation must have occurred sometime between 1922, when Mastan was still asking questions about his sadhana, and 1931, the year he passed away.

Tirumular (verse 1916) recommends that the samadhi pit of a jnani be five feet by five feet on the surface and nine feet deep. Within this pit triangular walls three feet long are built. The body is placed inside the triangular structure in the full-lotus posture. The inner chamber is then filled with large amounts of vibhuti and camphor. When Bhagavan sent Kunju Swami to Matam with detailed instructions on how to build the samadhi, he also sent enough vibhuti and camphor from Ramanasramam to take care of all the necessary rituals. Kannappa Mudaliar, who was present during the construction of the samadhi, told me that he remembered helping to build the inner triangular walls. Tirumular states (verse 1913) that if the ‘body of the jnani’ is properly buried according to these instructions, ‘the rulers and the people of the land will receive the blessings of infinite grace’.

The funds for the samadhi were provided by Simhakutti Nayanar, a local Jain. It is a remarkable feature of Mastan’s life that people of all religions revered him as a saint. This may be partly explained by the fact that Mastan didn’t like or indulge in any rituals that would mark him out as a follower of any particular religion. The manuscript at his samadhi states that he disliked, ‘pujas, drums, prostrations, delicious food and garlands’. He did, though, like smearing his face with vibhuti. Kunju Swami has reported that he always showed up at Ramanasramam with vibhuti on his forehead, and in the one surviving photo, taken at Skandashram with Bhagavan, his forehead is liberally smeared.

When news of Mastan’s death spread, a nearby Siva temple lent a chapram so that Mastan’s body could be taken in procession through the local villages prior to its burial. A chapram is a four-wheeled wooden trolley that temples use to parade deities through the streets. This particular one was brand new. It had only just been completed and it had never been used by the temple. I find it an astonishing testimony to Mastan’s holiness that a Hindu temple would allow one of its vehicles to be used to carry a Muslim’s body on a funeral procession.

Mastan passed away on 8th November 1931. That year this was also Deevali day. With Mastan’s body on board, the chapram was pushed and pulled through three of the local villages in a torrential downpour. One man, whose uncle built Mastan’s samadhi, told me that at times the devotees had to manoeuver the chapram through waist-deep water. Neither the weather nor the difficulties of pushing the vehicle seemed to dampen the spirits of the funeral procession. At each place the chapram visited, local people joined the funeral and helped to push. When the procession returned to the site of the samadhi, a funeral feast was arranged. Muniswami Gounder, who had looked after Mastan’s needs for many years, donated 200 kg of rice and fed everyone who attended. For the rest of his life Muniswami Gounder organised a similar-sized meal on Mastan’s samadhi day. The practice stopped when he died.

I asked Chockalingam, a local resident, about the tradition that the samadhi has wish-fulfilling powers, something that Akhilandamma referred to in the final paragraph of her account.

He replied, ‘In the years that followed his samadhi everyone noticed that the family affairs and businesses of people who had helped Mastan prospered, whereas those who were opposed to him found that their fortunes declined. Everyone could see what was happening, so people started coming to the samadhi to ask for blessings. Even today, many people still come here to pray for their desires to be fulfilled.’

Some days later Akhilandamma went to Tiruvannamalai to tell Bhagavan about Mastan’s passing away:

I went to Bhagavan and described the final days of Mastan.

Upon hearing about them Bhagavan commented, ‘Maybe the universal mother, Apeetakuchamba, personally came to take him. All his descriptions tally with the world of Siva. Mastan was an unassuming devotee. He had a wealth of hidden spiritual experiences. It is a matter for gratification that he passed away in your care and under your supervision.’ (‘My Reminiscences’ by Akhilandamma, Arunachala Ramana, May 1982, pp. 5-9.)

Desur Mastan Swamigal Bhakti Rasa Patigam (Eleven Verses of Tasty Devotion on Desur Mastan Swami)

Though Mastan never wrote about any of his experiences with Bhagavan, an associate of his, Sambandan, did record a few of his spiritual sayings in an eleven-verse poem that was composed after Mastan passed away. The language and sentiments of the verses indicate that Sambandan was a disciple of Mastan. The verses clearly show that Sambandan regarded him as an enlightened being who was fully qualified to give out spiritual instructions. Mastan had originally encouraged Sambandan, who must have resided somewhere in the Desur area, to compose some verses extolling Bhagavan’s greatness. Since Mastan knew that he had a talent for composing Tamil verses, he asked him to put it to good use. Sambandan subsequently filled a notebook with about 200 verses that praised Bhagavan. This manuscript found its way to Ramanasramam. Muruganar, who was shown the poems, made many corrections and improvements to the verses. Inside this notebook was a small printed leaflet that contained eleven verses by Sambandan that praised both Bhagavan and Mastan and included brief teachings that both of them had given out. It seems that these eleven verses were composed and published to commemorate one of Mastan’s death anniversaries. The notebook and the printed poem come from the collection of Muruganar’s papers that was passed on to Sadhu Om in the 1970s shortly before Muruganar himself passed away.

The term I have translated as ‘liberated one’ that occurs at the beginning of each of the first ten verses has several other meanings such as ‘sun’, ‘light’ and ‘consciousness’.


Mastan, the liberated one who shines in Desur! Divine one! Holy one praised by the lotus-born Brahma and other devas such as Indra! Through grace you told me, a sinner, to sing in the language of poets the divine glory of Ramana Guru, the much-famed God who shines and abides at Arunachala, where forests flourish.


Mastan, the liberated one who shines in Desur, where many tanks are filled with fragrant lotus flowers! Shining one! You told me, ‘This great world, which is a painting drawn by Brahma, is only “us”. It is not different from us. If you give up name and form, delusion will go.’ [Without attempting to realise this,] I wasted much time.


Mastan, the liberated one who shines in Desur! Liberated one whose renunciation was firmly established, who is praised by devas beginning with Brahma, and who spoke only of the glory of Ramana, that peerless God who, like the vast ocean, abundantly bestows his cool grace! You said, ‘Destroy ignorance. If you restrain the mind within, then that itself will be the blemishless swarupa.’ In this way you destroyed your own ignorance and reached the village of Matam.


Mastan, the liberated one who shines in beautiful Desur, which is surrounded by honey-rich groves! Good Guru who gave me the teaching, ‘Abide blissfully at the source from where the world rises’. Precious gem who obtained the cool grace of Sadguru Ramana, praised by the noble! You renounced this worldly life, which is like vomited food, and attained the life of true jnana.


Mastan, the liberated one who shines in beautiful Desur, you are like my own mother! [You told me,] ‘This body composed of flesh and so on will certainly cease to exist one day. Knowing this, always abide in your Heart. Even if the sky falls on your head, or even if a sword is firmly driven through your chest, do not slip from your true state.’ Though my ears consumed this delightful teaching of yours, I am not following it in practice.


Mastan, the liberated one, who is praised in beautiful Desur, which is surrounded by ponds of flowing water! Good and pure renunciant who remained forever like a child, who roamed like a ghost, and who lived without associating with women. One who showed much grace to those devotees who came to your feet! Lamp shining in the bright mind of Akhilandamma, whose shoulders are like bamboo!


Mastan, the liberated one who lives in Desur, which has the greatness of being surrounded by fortified walls over which clouds hover! You said to me, ‘Wherever you may be physically, always remain and abide in your Self’. Guru who possesses the wealth of grace and who stroked me with his hand, showering grace like a rain cloud! I did not obtain the cool grace of staying with you and serving you. What will I do now?


Mastan, the liberated one who lives in Desur, where swans with reddish legs walk through the water channels. Ocean of satchitananda who realised truth without any obstruction, and became that reality! You said, ‘If the vishaya vasanas [the tendencies of the mind that make it move towards objects of the five senses] are destroyed, the mind will also be destroyed. Then, the incomparable reality, whose own nature is tranquillity, will shine of its own accord. That reality is not apart from you.’


Mastan, the liberated one who shines in Desur, which is rich in water resources! Immaculate one who travels in the path of renunciation in every way, without ever forgetting the lotus feet of jnani Ramana, he who teaches by abiding in the truth declared in the Upanishads: ‘Knowing consciousness is true knowledge; all knowledge of non-Self is knowledge born of delusion.’ When will my agitating mind subside?


Mastan, the liberated one who shines in Desur, which is rich in honey-bearing groves. One who excelled in mauna and who showed in practice the devotion of not forgetting the fragrant lotus feet of the peerless primal Guru Ramana Maharshi, who is praised by the world and who declared, ‘Not to allow any thought to arise is mauna’.


Praise be to the purna! Praise be to the jnana Guru! Praise be to the light shining in our minds, showing the heart of the Vedas! Lord, undo this misery-causing bond of samsara. Accept these poor words of this devotee-slave, which are addressed to your beautiful divine feet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Muruganar on self-enquiry

I have started to compile a post that deals with Bhagavan’s attitude to meditation on names and forms, but it is turning out to be a long and complex one that will take several more days to complete. Here, meanwhile, is another installment from Sri Guru Ramana Prasadam, composed by Muruganar and translated by Robert Butler. The book will go to the press in the next few days and I hope that copies will be available sometime in December.

The enquiry that leads to true jnana


The network of thoughts that fills the mind branches out from the perception ‘I am the body’. The proper course of action is to ask the question, ‘What is the place in which this I-am-the-body idea has its source?’ and thus reach and become established within the Heart.


Know that the method of teaching which goes straight to the Heart is that of self-enquiry. When the question is asked, ‘Who in reality is this flawed “I”?’, the truth is revealed in a sudden inward illumination, like sunlight flashing in crystal.


Ignorance – ajnana – is the state of forgetting the Self, jnana, and becoming intoxicated with the mind’s propensity to differentiate. This ignorance is a delusion that will be dispelled by the enquiry that leads to jnana.


The Self dwells inseparably within every incarnated soul, shining out as the ‘I’. Thus, even if we merely repeat it over and over again as a mantra, it will transport us to the seat of the Heart that is union with that Self.

Muruganar’s comment: ‘God, the Atma Swarupa, dwells and shines within all jivas as ‘I’, its authentic name. Therefore, even if we meditate upon it in name only, that meditation will take the mind and establish it within the Heart, in which that Atma Swarupa shines.’


The Self, revealed as our true nature within the Heart through the power of self-enquiry, is none other than the peerless reality of the Supreme, which alone remains after this worldly illusion has faded into nothingness.


Taking refuge within the Heart, all conditional awareness will be eradicated. Thus the knowledge of the Real, the summit of the Vedas, will illuminate the Cave of the Heart like the rising sun at dawn, shining forth as ‘I-I’.


When through self-enquiry the ‘I’ suddenly expands to embrace the infinite fulfilment of the Supreme, the mind, previously weakened by suffering, will be revived, as it experiences its natural state, the peace of being merged in the Heart.


If the nature of the mind is closely investigated, the mind will be resolved into consciousness, and give way to the mauna of final liberation in the unalloyed clarity of the Self.


‘Who am I?’ is the source of all acts of questioning. If in stillness we direct our attention inward to the place of its arising, so that its truth is known, the dispute that gave rise to the question will be ended completely.


When we examine all the objects we hold onto, rejecting them one after the other saying, ‘not this’, ‘not this’, until none are left, the one rare thing that remains is the truth, reality, the ‘I’ that is merged in the Divine Hall of the Heart.


The nature of vasanas [inherited dispositions] is such that we take them to be ourselves. This propensity of the mind [to identify with objects of habit and desire] is like that of bees that instinctively rise up and rush towards nectar the moment they see it.


That which reveals the truth in which there is no room for duality, and shines as the inner Sadguru within the hearts of the superior ones [jnanis] so that they have merged with it, is the ‘I’, reality, the supreme reality that is without equal.


To realise through investigation that the nature [of reality] is beyond the reach of thought, and to slough off that treacherous mental imagination, making the Heart our permanent place of abode – that indeed is the pellucid state of supreme jnana.


Due to its false understanding, the mind perceives as foreign to itself that which is in fact not different from it. The practice of abidance in the Self is to firmly hold the mind in abeyance within the Heart. It is not an act of thinking.


Shining within the ‘I’ and inseparable from it, the reality of Brahman is the light which illumines mind-consciousness. To control that mind-consciousness, so that it is checked and restrained within that Brahman, is the true mark of Sivahood.


The truth of the Self will become established through that powerful state in which the mind subsides in samadhi. This occurs when consciousness, severing all connection with the outward-going mind, is firmly rooted within the Heart.


When the devotion accumulated over many births from ancient times fills our hearts and a clear understanding arises there through the power of his grace, so that we become one with the Self, never leaving its embrace, then indeed have we attained the sublime reality of union with God.


The fitting form of worship to the Lord who bears a third eye in his brow is to immerse oneself in the Heart. This state, in which the Heart is kept free from the taint of thoughts, is the straight path for those who seek the highest fulfilment.


In performing the sacrificial rituals contained in the sastras, the final oblation most worthy of praise and which brings joy to Lord Siva whose judgment is unerring, is to offer up in fitting manner one’s own self.


Know that those who have fully accomplished that one thing have fully accomplished all their religious duties, because its greatness far exceeds that of any other offering, and after it nothing whatsoever remains to be done.


That which is spoken of as the Life of life itself is the true life. That other ‘life’ is merely the body. That illusory knowledge mediated by the senses [suttarivu] is nothing but delusion. The pure consciousness that underlies it alone is true consciousness.


All that is perceived as separate from consciousness is insentient. It will ultimately prove to be a mere error and cease to exist. Therefore, since the indivisible Reality that dwells within is consciousness itself, you should firmly reject as unreal anything which appears separate from that consciousness.


The Self shines through its very nature as a beautiful radiance within the Heart, as all thought subsides. Realising that the power of thought could never truly grasp it, you should abandon all such conceptualisation.


Is it fitting that we should seek to embrace our own Self by means of intellectual effort mediated by the senses, rather than by becoming a prey to the supreme reality that shines as that Self, and being annihilated through merging with its non-dual nature?


Whatever it is that attracts the mind will always cause a disturbance within it, giving rise to the cycle of pleasure and pain. Will this happen if, turning inward, the mind attains the realisation of the reality which lies within the Heart?


The enduring attainment is to become established in the Heart, abiding as the pure ‘I’, unruffled by the fierce gale whipped up by all the various [conflicting] branches of knowledge that are apprehended through the mind and senses, and cause us [only] agitation.


All universes are contained in that infinitesimally subtle awareness, without marks, without qualities, without any attributes whatsoever and free of all defect: the all-pervading and indivisible Sivam.


All dualistic concepts such as ‘this world’ and ‘the next world’ are merely unreal mental creations. Know that when these fall away and are no more, the one true reality underlying all worlds is none other than the unalloyed supreme intelligence of Sivam.


The supreme reality – in which the noble nature of pure grace flourishes, and which merges with us so that all the many false appearances such as ‘this birth’ and ‘the next birth’ cease to exist – shines out as the truth-imbued and flawless ‘I’.


In the unreal state where our true nature is veiled, the creations of the mind that swirl about are mere names and forms. But even these will be revealed to be of the nature of pure consciousness in the state of peace that prevails as Sivam, the Self.


The world is apprehended as separate from Sivam due to the error of sense-mediated perception [suttarivu]. This is caused by fruitlessly occupying oneself with mental concepts – which are the cause of birth – and failing to engage in the spiritual practice of turning inward.


The soul is nothing other than the Siva lingam itself. It is a grievous error for those who are unable to concentrate their attention and realise this through the subtle awareness that enters the Heart and asks, ‘Who am I? to wail and lament as if they were sinners.


Those who pursue the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ until the last vestige of identification with the physical body is eradicated from their hearts will gain the treasure that, like the sky itself, pervades all things as the Self, Sadasiva, shining as itself alone.


The correct expiation for living beings who feel they have erred is to abide steadfastly in the reality of the Heart, the unwritten lore of the Vedas, through the self-enquiry that asks, ‘For whom is the sin?’

Friday, September 12, 2008

An Interview with Prof. T. M. P. Mahadevan

Arvind posted a comment this morning in which he cited Prof. T. M. P. Mahadevan as saying that there was no difference between Bhagavan’s and Sankara’s teachings. He also cited the verses in which Bhagavan identified himself with Sankara. This reminded me of an interview that Prof. Mahadevan gave in the early 1980s to the editor of Arunachala Ramana, a magazine that briefly flourished in that era. I am reproducing the whole interview here since I doubt that many readers of this blog have ever seen it before. It appeared in the January 1982 issue.

Prof. Mahadevan was a natural orator who spoke elegantly and articulately on Indian philosophy and Bhagavan’s teachings. In the 1940s he went to America and gave a series of lectures on Bhagavan’s teachings. With Chinnaswami’s permission, he was allowed to give one of these lectures in Bhagavan’s presence after he returned from his trip.

For me, the most astounding revelation in this interview is that Prof. Mahadevan sat for years in Bhagavan’s presence without ever asking a single question. Here was an enlightened being, Bhagavan, who embodied the experience and the knowledge that Sankara had, who even identified himself with Sankara on occasions, yet Prof. Mahadevan, whose specialty was advaita philosophy, felt no inclination to quiz him on any of the hot topics that he doubtless discussed and wrote about when he was not at the ashram.

Prof. Mahadevan had one of the greatest philosophical minds of his generation, but he chose to remain silent in Bhagavan’s presence in order to absorb his non-verbal teachings. What a great testimony to the power of Bhagavan’s silence! It also indicates that Prof. Mahadevan knew the limits of the intellect and also knew that the treasure of Bhagavan’s silence was more valuable than any intellectual answers he might give out.

To sit before him was itself a deep spiritual education

Dr T. M. P. Mahadevan talks to Arunachala Ramana

[Dr T. M. P. Mahadevan was for a long time the head of the department of philosophy, Madras University, and went to foreign countries to expound Indian philosophy. He is a great exponent of the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. We are grateful that he has kindly answered our question on Bhagavan – Editor]

Arunachala Ramana: When was it that you first heard about Bhagavan?

Mahadevan: In Madras, when I was about eight years old (1919).

Arunachala Ramana: What was your experience in the presence of Bhagavan when you later met him?

Mahadevan: As I recall the days when I spent basking in the sunshine of Sri Ramana’s glorious presence I have no words to express the benefit I derived from that experience. To sit before him was itself a deep spiritual education. To look at him was to have one’s mind stilled. To fall within the sphere of his beatific vision was to be inwardly elevated.

Arunachala Ramana: How did he look on Arunachala?

Mahadevan: Bhagavan’s teaching about Arunachala is that it is Brahman, which is sat-chit-ananda (A-ru-na) and also Iswara as endowed with maya.

Arunachala Ramana: What were the questions you put to Bhagavan?

Mahadevan: There was not even a single occasion when I put a question to Bhagavan. My habit was to sit silent before him.

Arunachala Ramana: Would you give us a word about his humour?

Mahadevan: To Bhagavan the entire world is a humorous manifestation.

Arunachala Ramana: What is your appreciation of Bhagavan’s works? And what is his masterpiece in your opinion?

Mahadevan: Bhagavan did not write any book. His revelations are all equal. What we call his compositions were inspired utterances like the Upanishads. Naturally, I am attracted to all of them. If a single piece is to be selected as the quintessence of Vedanta, I would say it is Upadesa Saram.

Arunachala Ramana: Please tell us something about his affection for animals.

Mahadevan: Every moment of his earthly existence was filled with kindness to all beings. To him the so-called animals were as much human as humans. They conversed with him and he understood their language and moods.

Arunachala Ramana: What was the relationship between you two – Bhagavan and yourself?

Mahadevan: The relationship was both human and spiritual. I accepted him as my spiritual Master. I have already said that I never asked him any questions. Silence was his mode of communication. Every time I had his darshan he used to enquire after my welfare, and this was evidence to show that he had extreme affection for me. I am not unaware that this was the feeling of everyone.

Arunachala Ramana: What is his special teaching?

Mahadevan: What is special in Bhagavan’s teaching is that he does not intend to be special.

Arunachala Ramana: What is his greatest poem?

Mahadevan: Bhagavan himself is the greatest poem.

Arunachala Ramana: How did Bhagavan regard spiritual powers?

Mahadevan: The so-called powers (siddhis) are so low that, according to me, Bhagavan gave no importance to them.

Arunachala Ramana: What are the main points of difference between the teachings of Sri Sankara and Bhagavan?

Mahadevan: In my opinion there is no difference. The path of vichara was simplified by Bhagavan so that everyone in the modern world can practise it.

Arunachala Ramana: At least what is the difference in their techniques?

Mahadevan: There is no significant difference in procedure. Refer to the anvaya vyatireka method (rule of co-presence and co-absence as taught by advaita teachers like Suresvara).

[Anvaya-vyatireka is a method of arguing in Vedanta which distinguishes cause and effect, or relationships. Suresvara was a disciple of Adi-Sankara. Both of them used this approach to demonstrate the validity of the identity established in the mahavakya
‘Tat tvam asi’.

anvaya-vyatireka analysis is generally used to establish cause-effect relationships between two events or things. If a thing ‘A’ is present when the other thing ‘B’ is present then it is called anvaya. If ‘B’ is absent when ‘A’ is absent then it is called vyatireka. when anvaya and vyatireka are there then ‘A’ becomes the cause of ‘B’. For example clay is present when the pot is present. This is anvaya. Also when clay is absent, the pot is absent. This is vyatireka. From anvaya and vyatireka it is concluded that clay is the cause of the pot.

Anvaya means ‘concordance’ or ‘agreement’ while vyatireka means ‘discordance’ or ‘difference’. In another vedantic example the beads strung to form a necklace are used to explain these two words. The fact that without the string which holds together the beads, there is no necklace of beads is anvaya. The fact that, however, the string is separate from the beads is vyatireka. The all-pervasiveness of the Absolute is anvaya. The distinctness of the Absolute is the vyatireka.

The analysis is often used to establish what is real and enduring and what is not. The procedure has been used by some teachers, for example, to establish that since the world and the mind cannot exist without the Self, they cannot be regarded as real in the vedantic sense of the word.

Having said all that, I am not really sure what point Prof. Mahadevan is trying to make here. He discusses Sankara’s and Suresvara’s views on
anvaya-vyatireka in Gaudapada, a Study in Early Advaita (pp. 362-65) but I am not sure how his arguments there explain his remark in this interview: ‘There is no significant difference in procedure [between Bhagavan’s and Sankara’s techniques]’. If anyone has an opinion on this, please post it in the ‘responses’ section.]

Arunachala Ramana: Did Bhagavan initiate you as a Guru?

Mahadevan: Bhagavan himself did not claim to be a Guru. His experience is valid for all times and for all climes.

Arunachala Ramana: What is the main difference between Sankara and Ramana?

Mahadevan: This has already been answered. Ramana himself has stated explicitly that there is no difference between himself and Sankara.

Arunachala Ramana: In view of the fact that Bhagavan granted moksha to his mother, then would it not be the right way to pray for his divine grace rather than take to the path of vichara?

Mahadevan: Moksha is not what is given. It is the realisation of the non-dual Self which is eternal. Grace and vichara are not contradictory.

Arunachala Ramana: Is bhakti opposed to jnana?

Mahadevan: There is no conflict between eka bhakti and jnana.

Arunachala Ramana: Bhagavan’s teachings, are they spreading in foreign countries?

Mahadevan: For Ramana, no country is foreign.

Arunachala Ramana: Was there any sign for us to conclude that Bhagavan was really Bhagavan, God Himself?

Mahadevan: When Bhagavan was jnana itself, where is the need of showing any sign at any particular time?

Arunachala Ramana: Were you present at the time of Bhagavan’s mahanirvana?

Mahadevan: I was not in the ashram then. I went there only the next morning. I was there throughout the day. It was in the evening of that day that there was samadhi of his mortal remains.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Relations with the Guru

In the previous post I laid out my views, and the views of various teachers I have been with, on the phenomenon of temporary glimpses of the Self. The posting arose in response to an account by Broken Yogi on an experience he had had in the presence of one of his former teachers. Here is an extract from the experience he narrated, followed by a query abut the nature of the Guru-disciple relationship when such experiences take place.

I have had exactly one such experience in my life, back when I was a teenager. It occurred during my first meeting with the teacher who was to be my Guru for many years thereafter. I came into a small room with him, very nervous, waiting I thought for the “big moment”. I kept chastising myself for being so crassly craving of having “something happen”, but before I could control myself he was looking me right in the eye, and it was as if he could see everything I was doing. I felt caught red-handed, and I could hear his inner voice speaking to me, saying, “Well, here we are. I’m looking at you, and you’re looking at me, and nothing is happening.” I felt crushed, but then all of a sudden he repeated the words “Nothing is happening!” and it was as if I was suddenly slapped in the face. I saw instantly that nothing was happening, that the universe wasn’t happening, that there was nothing happening anywhere, at any time, in any place. The only thing that was real was the Guru, and I was in eternal relationship with the Guru….

Which is my other question. In my experience, the Guru was the only thing “present”. Is that only because I was not truly realised, or is there something in the experience of ajata that leaves the Guru untouched as eternal Presence?

I would say that the goal is to arrive at the state wherein there is no difference whatsoever between the Guru and the disciple. If any sense of distinction or separateness remains, then one’s sadhana is not complete. After realisation, one may maintain outer respect and reverence for the form of the Guru, but internally there will be no awareness that the abiding true nature of the Guru is different from one’s own. The following three verses from Guru Vachaka Kovai emphasise this same point:


Guru and disciple are only described as different through the imaginary feeling of upadhi
[limitation]. In the mauna union, the summit of jnana in which these two ideas [Guru and disciple] merge through the true experience of the Self, is there even a trace of speech and breath? As the ego, the cause that creates the sense of difference, is destroyed, the minds of the two become one through their real nature, pure being, and cease. In such a situation the talking and listening that consist of spoken words, which take place between the two, are of no use.


What is the place where the minds of the two [Guru and disciple] merge once they have reached and dwelt there? When one investigates this, the arrival and the abidance in that place [the Heart] is the true conversation that goes on, without a break, between the two who converse through auspicious and extremely sharp consciousness.


The state of being the best among the noble disciples is this: a constancy of mind whence springs forth the feeling of supreme devotion [parabhakti] that manifests when the ‘I’ is lost in the radiance of the state of silence, the Supreme. Know and keep in your mind that this is itself the state of being the Guru.

* * *

The following sequence of verses from Guru Vachaka Kovai comes from a section entitled ‘Worshipping the Guru’. The theme of the verses is that true worship of the Guru necessitates becoming indistinguishably one with him:


You may, through body, speech and mind, perform, without leaving any out, all the possible varieties of worship to the jnana Guru, he who is the walking Supreme Siva who has accepted with delight the disciple. However, [for the disciple,] losing the idea that he exists as a distinct entity, separate from that Guru who shines as the soul of his soul, completely dissolving, like ice in water, his individuality in his [the Guru’s] supreme swarupa, and becoming one with him as love alone – this is the perfect and complete worship that he should perform.


Bear in mind that the true puja to the jnana Guru is only the Self-abidance in which the vasana-free mauna surges once the disciple-consciousness that proclaimed itself as ‘I’ is destroyed by the raging fire of the consciousness of the jnana Guru, he who is God Himself.


The true puja performed to the Guru by worthy disciples is the complete destruction of the false ‘disciple-consciousness’. This is brought about by firm abidance in the state of ‘Guru-consciousness’, the experience of fullness that arises through the Heartward enquiry, ‘Who is the “I” who has been accepted as a disciple?’


The limitless perspective, Guru-consciousness, sees everything that appears as ‘I’ and ‘this’, which are dependently interlinked, as the swarupa of one’s own jnana-Guru. Gaining this perspective through the way of virtuous conduct is indeed the puja that is worthy of being performed by the true disciple.


When the ice of the ego-consciousness that is limited to the form of the body dissolves in the ocean of Guru-consciousness that is the experience of the Self which exists and shines as the one savour of love, know that this is Guru-puja.


The polluting ego-view causes the fullness of the Guru, which is present everywhere, without any absence, to be limited. Only the behaviour in which this does not appear is the shining puja to the Guru who stands out like a mountain in a plain.

* * *

A few years ago I wrote a commentary on Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham verse 39 in which I pointed out that while Bhagavan taught that oneness with the Guru was the experiential goal, in one’s outer behaviour one should always treat him with respect and reverence. This article has been on my site for several years but I am reproducing it here, with a few minor modifications and additions, because it discusses in some detail the distinction between the experience of the Guru’s true nature and the attitude one should have towards his physical form. This is the verse as it appears in the current edition of Collected Works. The translation is by Prof. K. Swaminathan:

Keep advaita within the Heart. Do not ever carry it into action. Even if you apply it to all the three worlds, O son, it is not to be applied to the Guru.

Annamalai Swami has given an account of how this particular verse came to be written. It began with the following remarks by Bhagavan:

Advaita should not be practised in ordinary activities. It is sufficient if there is no differentiation in the mind. If one keeps cartloads of discriminating thoughts within, one should not pretend that all is one on the outside.

‘Westerners practise mixed marriages and eat equally with everyone. What is the use of doing only this? Only wars and battlefields have resulted. Out of all these activities, who has obtained any happiness?

‘This world is a huge theatre. Each person has to act whatever role is assigned to him. It is the nature of the universe to be differentiated but within each person there should be no differentiation.’

I [Annamalai Swami] was so moved by this speech that I asked Bhagavan to summarise these ideas in a written Tamil verse. Bhagavan agreed, took a Sanskrit verse from Tattvopadesa [by Adi-Sankaracharya, verse 87] which expresses a similar idea, and translated it into a Tamil venba. When he was satisfied with his translation, I also managed to persuade him to write the first fair copy in my diary. This verse was eventually published as verse thirty-nine of Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham. (Living by the Words of Bhagavan, 2nd ed. p. 99)

Maurice Frydman, the compiler of I am That and Maharshi’s Gospel, questioned Bhagavan about the first half of this verse and received the following explanation:

Question: Sri Bhagavan has written [Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham, verse 39] that one should not show advaita in one’s activities. Why so? All are one. Why differentiate?

Bhagavan: Would you like to sit on the seat that I am sitting on?

Question: I don’t mind sitting there. But if I came and sat there the sarvadhikari [the ashram manager] and the other people here would hit me and chase me away.

Bhagavan: Yes, nobody would allow you to sit here. If you saw someone molesting a woman, would you let him go, thinking, ‘All is one’? There is a scriptural story about this. Some people once gathered together to test whether it is true, as said in the Bhagavad Gita, that a jnani sees everything as one. They took a brahmin, an untouchable, a cow, an elephant, and a dog to the court of King Janaka, who was a jnani. When all had arrived King Janaka sent the brahmin to the place of brahmins, the cow to its shed, the elephant to the place allotted to elephants, the dog to its kennel and the untouchable person to the place where the other un­touchables lived. He then ordered his servants to take care of his guests and feed them all appropriate food.

The people asked, ‘Why did you separate them individually? Is not everything one and the same for you?’

‘Yes, all are one,’ replied Janaka, ‘but self-satisfaction varies according to the nature of the individual. Will a man eat the straw eaten by the cow? Will the cow enjoy the food that a man eats? One should only give what satisfies each individual person or animal.’

Although the same man may play the role of all the characters in a play, his acts will be determined by the role that he is playing at each moment. In the role of a king he will sit on the throne and rule. If the same person takes on the role of a servant, he will carry the sandals of his master and follow him. His real Self is neither increased nor decreased while he plays these roles. The jnani never forgets that he himself has played all these roles in the past. (Living by the Words of Bhagavan, pp. 216-7, 2nd ed.)

One can have the idea that everything is a manifestation of the Self, and one can attempt to incorporate this idea into one’s daily life by treating other people in an egalitarian way. However, all this would all be theoretical since it would be based on an idea of reality instead of stemming from a direct experience of the Self. From the standpoint of the Self ‘practising advaita’ is an oxymoron since in that state there is no longer an entity who can make choices about what should or should not be done. In that state action arises spontaneously from the Self, unmediated by the I-am-the-doer idea. Sadhu Om has elaborated on this important point in his commentary on this verse:

Advaita is the experience of clearly apprehending that, in reality, the Self, being-consciousness, shining continuously as ‘I am’, alone exists, and that all that appears in duality, consisting of the body, mind and world, is entirely unreal. Therefore, since doing belongs to the dualistic state, where the mind and body appear to be real, non-duality cannot be expressed through doing. On the contrary, should anyone think that non-duality might be expressed through doing, they would [be showing themselves to] be bereft of the experience of the truth of non-duality. (Sri Ramanopadesa Nul Malai – Vilakkavurai, pp. 314-15, 1987 ed.)

If, as Bhagavan instructed in the first quotation I gave from Living by the Words of Bhagavan, ‘Advaita should not be practised in ordinary activities,’ how is the sadhaka to relate to the world, which he still sees as separate from himself? Lakshmana Sarma, who received personal lessons from Bhagavan on the meaning of the Ulladu Narpadu verses, answers this question in his own comments on this verse:

... it is established that, until the I-am-the-body sense is removed, advaita cannot exist. It is fitting then that all the behaviours that occur in this state should respect the rules of duality, and one should act accordingly. It is not possible to implicate advaita in these behaviours. If any such attempt is made, impurities will arise through the power of the ego, and man’s dvaitic vasanas will wax greater. We observe that even a jnani who is established in the advaitic state will not, in his conduct, infringe the rules of dvaitic respect. Bhagavan’s view is that advaita is the direct experience of the jnani, whilst for the ajnani, it is useful for meditation and so on. (Ulladu Narpadu, p. 162, 1979 ed.)
It may be difficult to make out the reason for these injunctions [not to attempt to put advaita into practice]. But if we remember the power of the ego to pervert and frustrate even honest efforts to realise the truth – which would mean its own death – we need not be puzzled. Reflection on the truth of advaita tends to dissolve the ego and develop devotion to the truth. But action from the advaitic standpoint is suicidal because the enemy [the ego] would be in charge of such action. While ignorance is alive, duality persists in appearing as real, because of the ego sense, and truly advaitic action is impossible. The sage alone can put advaita into action, because he is egoless. Hence the sacred lore and also the sage advise us to restrict our activities and not to extend them, so as to give as little scope as possible for the ego to frustrate our efforts. (Maha Yoga, pp. 175-6, 2002 ed.)

... theoretical knowledge of the truth of non-duality does not avail to destroy the primary ignorance, so as to raise one to the egoless state in which wrong action would be impossible. So, until that state is won, the ego would be in command of actions, and this warning is therefore necessary. (This is a comment by Lakshmana Sarma that he appended to verse 416 of Sri Ramana Paravidyopanishad. This particular verse was a translation of Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham, verse 39. )

That is to say, one should strive for advaita in the Heart, but in outer activities one should adhere to the dualistic rules of dharma. There are two ideas present in this Anubandham verse: the first, which has just been dealt with, is that one should not attempt to practise advaita in the day-to-day activities of one’s worldly life; the second is a much more specific injunction that one should never practise advaita towards one’s Guru. That is to say, one should never think, ‘All is one. My Guru is the same as I am. Therefore, I don’t have to treat him as someone special since in essence he is just the same as everything and everyone else.’

Before I begin to deal with this topic I should like to discuss what the phrase ‘three worlds’ might mean in ‘Even if you apply it [advaita] to all the three worlds...’.

Sadhu Om, in his Tamil commentary, has equated the ‘three worlds’ with the heavenly realms of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Having raised this possibility, he then elaborates on its implications:

Though we might speak of a man going to Brahma Loka and addressing Brahma with the words, ‘You and I are one,’ or going to Vishnu Loka and addressing Vishnu saying, ‘You and I are one,’ or going to Siva Loka and addressing Siva saying, ‘You and I are one,’ yet it would never be permissible to address one’s Sadguru, saying, ‘You and I are one’. Why? Because someone in the individualised state, though he might, through the power of his austerities, acquire even the powers of creation, preservation and destruction exercised by the Trimurtis, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, it would be an entirely impossible task for him to obtain the power that belongs [only] to the Sadguru, that of destroying the ignorance of others. Thus, the action of destroying ajnana ... is vastly more powerful than those three operations that are present in [the state of] ajnana. Thus, the power of the Sadguru’s grace is vastly superior to the powers of the Trimurtis. (Sri Ramanopadesa Nul Malai – Vilakkavurai, p. 315, 1987 ed.)

While I agree with the sentiments expressed in this commentary by Sadhu Om, I am not convinced that the term ‘three worlds’ used in this verse really does denote the realms of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. The three worlds are generally taken to be the physical one that we live in and the two spirit worlds that are held to exist above it and below it. In a more general sense the phrase ‘three worlds’ is just an emphatic way of saying ‘everywhere’, or ‘in all possible places that exist’. Consider, for example, verse 167 of Guru Vachaka Kovai:
The jivas, who are all bound to total ignorance, experience the ego life in the three worlds. This is nothing but the dance of a zombie who has possessed a corpse on a funeral pyre in the cremation ground.
Here ‘the three worlds’ clearly means all the places that the ignorant jiva can manifest in and suffer. Saying that these three worlds, these three places of suffering, can be equated with the realms of the gods seems highly inappropriate.

However, while I feel that Sadhu Om may not be justified in saying that the three worlds are the realms of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, I do accept his central premise that the Guru is more powerful than the gods on account of his having the power to destroy the ignorance of devotees. The greater power and authority of the Guru was alluded to by Bhagavan in verse 800 of Guru Vachaka Kovai:

If a person offends against God, it is possible to rectify the matter through the grace of the Guru, but it is impossible even for God to nullify an offence committed against the Guru. This is what the declarations of the great ones assert.
Muruganar’s comment on this verse states, ‘Devotion to the Guru is therefore more powerful than devotion to God’. The ‘declarations of the great ones’ in the final sentence of the Guru Vachaka Kovai verse may be a reference to famous verses from the Guru Gita that express the same sentiments. The Guru Gita is a portion of the Skanda Purana. Here are two of its verses on this theme:

79 If Siva is angry, the Guru will protect you, but if the Guru is angry, no one can save you. Therefore, with all your efforts, take refuge in him.

106 Even gods and sages cannot save one who has been cursed by the Guru. Such a wretch soon perishes, without the least shadow of doubt.
The preceding verse of Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 799, has a similar theme:

Even if those great ones who have firmly embraced the means to redeem themselves from the miseries of samsara happen to deviate from conduct enjoined by the Vedas, either due to forgetfulness or any other reason, they should on no account transgress the command of the Guru who has told them about the ultimate truth.

Muruganar’s comment on this is: ‘To those who deviate from vedic conduct, there is [a possibility] of atonement, but for those who transgress the command of the Guru, there can be no atonement. It has therefore been said, “Though one may transgress the Vedas’ commands, one should never transgress the Guru’s command”.’

Lakshmana Sarma has noted that there is another important reason why one should revere the Guru as a living manifestation of the Self, and as an embodiment of the divine power that can bestow liberation.

Only that devotion to the Guru is good which is rendered to a sage-Guru, and which regards him as identical with God. Only by such devotion does one attain freedom from delusion. Truly the sage is not other than God.

[Also] there is the text of the Upanishads, that one who wants deliverance must worship the knower of the Self. If he thinks of him [the sage, who is the Guru] as other than God, that thought will obstruct his path. (Sri Ramana Paravidyopanishad, verses 25 and 237)

In a comment on one of these two verses Lakshmana Sarma wrote: ‘The sage who is accepted as one’s Guru must not be regarded as just a human being, a person, but as an incarnation of God Himself, because that is the truth of the sage, and because, if the Guru be so regarded, the goal will be reached soon.’

The point of the second half of the Anubandham verse thus becomes more clear. One goes to a Guru for liberation, but if one has the belief or attitude that he is one’s equal, or just an ordinary person, one is unlikely to receive it.

Having a strong conviction that one’s Guru is God Himself can help one to retain, as well as gain, an experience of the Self. This was brought home to me a few years ago when I interviewed Sharad Tiwari, a devotee of Papaji who had had an experience of the Self within a few days of meeting him in the 1970s. When I spoke to him in the mid-90s, about twenty years after the experience had happened, he told me that the experience had never left him. I have met many people who claim to have had a direct experience of the Self in Papaji’s presence, but the vast majority of them seem to lose the experience later. When I interviewed him in 1996, I asked Sharad why other people were losing the experience whereas he had managed to keep it.

David: Papaji shows people who they are. Sometimes, though, he says that it is up to the person concerned to recognise it and not throw it away. From what you have told me, in your case the experience never went away. Why do some people like you stay in that state while others appear to go back to their limited viewpoint again?

Sharad: Anyone who recognises Papaji as God and who never wavers in his conviction that Papaji is God will keep the experience naturally and effortlessly. That is my firm conviction. When the glimpse comes, it is God revealing Himself as God within you. If you treat Papaji as God, and if you treat the experience he has given you as an experience of His divine nature, it will never go away. If you allow the ego to arise again and cover up the experience, it means that you have thrown away your previous knowledge that Papaji is God, along with your belief that the experience he gave you is God Himself shining within you. It all comes down to having the right attitude.

David: How do you yourself hold onto the absolute conviction that Papaji is God? Is it through awareness of his form, his formlessness, or a combination of both?

Sharad: There is no difference between form and the formless. Form itself is formless and the formless is the form. To know Papaji as God is to know that there is no difference between the two. (Nothing Ever Happened, volume three, pp. 127-8)

Later in the interview Sharad, who is something of a mystic visionary, told me, ‘Quite often I see the gods dancing around him in mid-air, paying obeisance to him. When I see the gods themselves bowing before him with my own eyes, how can I doubt that I am in the presence of the Supreme Lord?’

This injunction in the Anubandham verse – that of not displaying advaita towards the Guru – seems to apply even after full liberation, when both Guru and disciple, abiding in the natural state, effortlessly know and experience the truth of the non-dual Self. Bhagavan used a colourful but apt image to convey this. He said that even though a Hindu wife may have enjoyed sexual union with her husband, in public she will still show him deference and respect.

Formal respect is only for external show. When the husband and the wife are in bed, where is all this [formal respect]? (Sri Ramana Pada Malai, by Sivaprakasam Pillai, cited in The Power of the Presence, part one, p. 63)
If it is properly understood, the tradition of intimate and true disciples showing external deference to the Guru, who has accepted them as rightfully his, is similar to the respect shown by a wife to her husband, which is limited to outward behaviour only. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 304)
Extending this analogy into the spiritual realm, the disciple may have attained oneness with his or her Guru, but the behaviour he or she exhibits is always reverent and deferential. This is what Sadhu Om has to say on this point in his commentary on this verse:

When the Sadguru has destroyed the ajnana that is his disciple’s individual consciousness; when he has graciously bestowed upon him the experience of non-duality; and when he has made him one with himself in the state where duality is no more; even then, such a disciple will always serve his Sadguru and show for him a fitting respect, and will continue to venerate his name and form. Although, in an inner sense, it is not possible to show a reverence that is dualistic in the state of oneness where duality is not present, still, that disciple will show respect outwardly, just as a wife acts respectfully toward her husband.

... as long as the Guru and disciple appear in the perceptions of others as separate individuals, possessing individual minds and bodies, it will always appear to others that they are, in reality, separate from each other. Therefore, even when this perfected disciple who knows reality attains the non-dual state in which, in his Heart, he and his Guru are one, he will always conduct himself in a subservient and deferential manner toward his Sadguru, such that other disciples, taking him as an example, will follow him and behave in a fitting manner. (Sri Ramanopadesa Nul Malai – Vilakkavurai, pp. 315, 1987 ed.)

I have found this to be true with all the great teachers and enlightened beings I have been associated with. Nisargadatta Maharaj, for example, did an elaborate Guru puja every day of his life, long after he had realised the Self. One morning, just before he started, he paused to give an explanation of this daily ritual. ‘I don’t need to do this at all. There is nothing that I can gain from it because I know who and what I am, and what I am cannot be added to in any way. My Guru asked me to do bhajans and puja every day, and even though I no longer use them to attain a spiritual goal, I will continue to do them until the day I die because my Guru asked me to do them. In carrying out these orders I can show not only my respect for his words but also my continuous, undiminishing gratitude to the one who gave me the knowledge of who I really am.’

Muruganar wrote thousands of verses in which he thanked Bhagavan for bestowing the state of liberation on him, but he still did elaborate full-length prostrations whenever he came into Bhagavan’s presence. Sometimes he would remain lying on the floor after his namaskaram was completed and talk to Bhagavan while he was still prostrate at his feet. Viswanatha Swami used to make fun of Muruganar for this, calling the resulting conversations ‘lizard talk’. (Moments Remembered, pp. 56-7)

Once, while I was sitting with Papaji, someone asked him if he had any regrets about his life. At first he answered ‘no,’ but after a few seconds’ reflection he added, ‘Actually, I do have one regret. Because my legs are now almost paralysed, I can no longer throw myself full length on the floor at the feet of my Master.’ In his later years he had to be content with a standing ‘namaste’ whenever he wanted to pay his respects to Bhagavan’s image.

And what about Bhagavan himself? His respect and veneration towards Arunachala, his Guru, were legendary. However, I will just mention one interesting point. When he composed his philosophical works such as Upadesa Undiyar and Ulladu Narpadu, his tone was non-dualistic. The verses were an uncompromising expression of what the Anubandham verse calls ‘advaita within the Heart’. However, when Bhagavan wrote about his Guru, Arunachala, in his devotional poems, he often adopted the pose of the loving, grateful devotee, a standpoint that enabled him to show proper respect and veneration to the form and power of the mountain.

One final story about Bhagavan: when Arunachaleswara (the God Arunachala who is the principal deity in the Tiruvannamalai temple) was being taken in procession around the hill in the 1940s, the procession stopped outside the gate of Sri Ramanasramam. Bhagavan noticed it as he was taking a walk to the cowshed. He sat on a bench to watch, and when devotees brought him vibhuti as prasad, he applied it reverently to his forehead and remarked, ‘The son is beholden to the father’. (Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 21st November, 1945)

Postscript, 30th September 2008

I was going through my Word files on Living by the Words of Bhagavan yesterday, making sure they were in order, because a publisher has agreed to bring out a Russian edition. I noticed that the final conversation in the book (pp. 353-6) was a highly relevant discussion of the relationship between the Guru and the disciple, which is the main theme of this post. I am adding it here:

Is the relationship between the Guru and the disciple a real relationship or a maya relationship? If it is a maya relationship, how can it help us to transcend maya?

Annamalai Swami: Bhagavan used to give, as an example, the story of an elephant that dreamed it was being attacked by a lion. The shock of seeing the lion in the dream was sufficient to wake the elephant up. The Guru, according to Bhagavan, is the roaring lion who appears in our maya dream and shocks us so much that we wake up into jnana. While the dream is in progress the lion is very real for us, but when we wake up there is no lion and no dream. In the state of jnana we become aware that there was no Guru and no disciple; there is only the Self.

But we should not have that attitude prior to realisation. While we are still trapped by maya we must accept the Guru-disciple relationship as being real because this relationship provides the only way of transcending all the wrong ideas we have about ourselves. Even though we may know intellectually that all is one, we should revere the form of the Guru because it is only through his grace that our ignorance can be dissolved. We should respect the Guru and his teachings at all times. We cannot do this if we start treating him as an ordinary person who is no different from any other manifestation of the Self. Respect for the Guru and faith in his teachings are essential for all those who want to make progress.

The outer Guru appears to tell us about the reality of the Self, who is the inner Guru. With our defective vision we cannot see or experience for ourselves that this is true. The inner Guru pulls us towards the Self and establishes us there. The inner Guru is waiting at all times to perform this function but he cannot begin until we turn our attention towards him.

It is the outer Guru who tells us, ‘Turn within. Put your attention on the inner Guru and let him pull you back into your source.’

In addition to giving these instructions, the outer Guru trans­mits his grace to us, cleans our minds, and pushes them towards the inner Guru, the Self. All Gurus are the Self.

All Gurus are formless. And all Gurus are ultimately one and the same. The outer forms of the Guru may appear differently to different people but there is really only one Guru, and that Guru is the Self. When we reach spiritual maturity, the Self manifests to us in the form of a Guru in order to help us to make further progress with our sadhana.

The relationship with the outer Guru lasts as long as it is necessary. It lasts until the sishya [disciple] knows from direct experience that the Self alone exists. In my case a time came when it was no longer physically possible for me to be with the form of the Guru. Bhagavan severed the physical relationship because he wanted me to be aware of him as he really is. When you pass your exams at school, you graduate to the next class. We cannot enter the same class again. I graduated from regarding Bhagavan as a form and came to regard him as the formless Self. After that I was never given the chance to have a relationship with Bhagavan’s physical form again.

Other disciples were treated differently. The Guru does not give the same treatment to all. He looks at the maturity and the predilections of each disciple and gives an appropriate sadhana to each one. For example, Bhagavan encouraged some of his devotees to sing devotional songs because that was an appropriate path for them. In my case he encouraged me to be aware of the formless Self.

When a calf is very young its mother gives it milk whenever it is hungry. But after it has learned to eat grass the mother gives it a kick whenever it tries to drink milk again. After I had learned to make contact with the formless Self, Bhagavan gave me a kick when I still tried to carry on drinking the grace from his physical form. He wanted to wean me from his form. He wanted me to get all my spiritual nourishment from the formless Self.

One should not leave the Guru thinking that one has learned everything from him. That is a very arrogant attitude. One should only leave the Guru if he tells us to go. Until then we have to stay and learn our lessons from him.

Each of us will meet a different form of the Guru. The form we meet depends on our maturity and our spiritual ripeness. Each Guru gives out different teachings, and often one Guru will give different teachings to different disciples. It is a question of maturity and temperament. The disciples in the kindergarten class will get kindergarten lessons while the disciples in the college class will get college-level teachings. And within each class there will be different lessons for each disciple. Some may be told to follow a bhakti path while others may be told to do meditation on the Self.

The many different paths that are taught are really only preparations for Bhagavan’s path. Ultimately, one must learn to abide in the Self by meditation on the Self or by self-enquiry or by complete surrender. Unfortunately, there are very few people who are spiritually mature enough to follow Bhagavan’s highest teachings. Most people have to follow other paths until they are ready for the final path.

Your original question was, ‘Is the Guru-disciple relationship real?’ From the standpoint of the Self one would have to say that it is all maya, but one could add that it is the best kind of maya. One can use a thorn to remove another thorn. Similarly, one can use the maya-like Guru-disciple relationship to root out maya in all its manifestations. Maya is so firmly established in us that only the illusory Guru-lion in our dream can give us a big enough shock to wake us.