Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In the Service of Sri Bhagavan

It seems to be a week for new books here. In addition to the two books by Sadhu Om and Michael James that I featured here a few days ago, Sri Ramanasramam has brought out a small book (In the Service of Bhagavan) that details the lives of Niranjanananda Swami (Chinnaswami) and his son T. N. Venkataraman. The book was brought out to commemorate the linga pratishta on the samadhi shrine of Swami Ramanananda (Venkataraman’s name after he took sannyasa) on May 23rd 2008.

Here is a story from it that I had never heard before. The Nagasundaram who is mentioned here in Chinnaswami. That was his family name before he took sannyasa:

In or around 1902, Nagasundaram came up to Bhagavan, who was then [staying] in Sadguruswami Cave (Banyan Tree Cave) in silence. He hugged Bhagavan and wept aloud, while Bhagavan was smiling all the while. He stayed a while and noticed that a quantity of sugar candy offered to Bhagavan by his visitors was in the cave. Concluding that it was his ‘brother’s property’ and would be excellent prasadam for distribution back home among his relations, he bundled up some candy. When this was brought to Bhagavan’s attention by Palaniswami, his attendant, he wrote down his advice to Nagasundaram which became his first upadesa to him. He advised that the offerings of devotees did not belong to any one person and there was no question of relationship in this matter. Everyone who visited him was equally entitled to a share in the offerings made to the ashram. This upadesa went home deeply and Nagasundaram lived by it to the end.

A similar upadesa came to his son, T. N. Venkataraman, eighteen years later. This is how he describes it:

Near the grilled window of a thatched room on the eastern slopes of Arunachala, some sweets and fruits are kept on a plate. In a corner a tired old lady is lying down. Near her a five-year-old boy is squatting, looking here and there. Then he slowly rises, walks with measured steps towards the plate, picks up a sweet in his tender hand and puts it in his mouth.

Suddenly a monkey opens a window, limps towards the boy and slaps him. He then snatches the sweet and bites it. The boy is stunned, retreats in fright and screams. The old lady gets up startled and shouts, ‘O Nondy! He is our baby, don’t harm him!’

Just as he is saying these words, a sadhu in a loin cloth enters the room with a loving smile on his face. Looking at the boy the sadhu says, ‘He slapped you eh? This is a good lesson for you. The fruits and sweets on the plate are Nondy’s share. We should not covet others’ property, do you understand? Learn this lesson.’

These were words of admonition but they were full of love. This was the simple upadesa that the boy received that day.

This incident happened in 1920 in Skandashram. The sadhu was none other than Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, then forty-one years old, and worshipped as a great jnani the world over. The little boy who got the instruction from him is his only nephew – Venkitoo – whose full name is Venkataraman. That Venkitoo was myself and the old lady was Bhagavan’s mother, my grandmother Alagammal. I vividly remember that little incident. But I could not understand the deep meaning of that lesson when I received it from the Maharshi who was my periappa (father’s elder brother). But later, as years passed on, when I became the president of Sri Ramanasramam, I could understand that through that incident Bhagavan had blessed me with the resolve to be steadfast in living that upadesa.

Skipping another generation, here is Venkitoo describing how his son Ganesan managed to get on Bhagavan’s sofa in the old hall.

My wife Nagu would sit in the old hall with two-year-old Ganesan on her lap. The child would get off her lap, stand up, walk to Bhagavan’s couch where his feet were and try to climb on to the couch. Bhagavan’s attendant would lift the child and drop him into Nagu’s lap, saying, ‘Do you seek to establish your right as Bhagavan’s relation?’ This would happen every time the child Ganesan was brought into the old hall.

As luck would have it, when one day child Ganesan was brought to the old hall, the dictatorial attendant was not around. Ganesan, after several futile attempts, finally climbed on to the couch and sat beside Bhagavan’s feet. In order that the child may not fall down, Bhagavan held him by his left leg and with his right leg gently rubbed his head, saying, ‘He was trying this for several days. Today, there was none to stop him, so he had had his way.’

Nagu kept recounting this gracious act of Bhagavan till her last days.

When Ganesan was about five years old, he became very attached to Eleanore Pauline Noye, an American devotee. All the children were fed in the kitchen before lunch time. One day he kept close to her, holding her hand, and entered the dining hall with her. He sat in front of her on the other side of the leaf and insisted on eating from the same leaf. When someone tried to lift him up and take him to the kitchen, he cried aloud, drawing the attention of Sri Bhagavan who was sitting at his usual eating place.

Turning towards him with a questioning look, he was told, ‘Ganesan refuses to eat in the kitchen. He insists on eating from Noye’s leaf.’

Bhagavan watched for a while, smiled and said, ‘He is not refusing to come in and eat. He has not till now seen anyone eat with a spoon. He is fascinated by Noye’s spoon. Serve him food on a leaf, keep a spoon on it, and then call him. See if he comes or not.’

The kitchen people did as Bhagavan said. Ganesan quickly walked into the kitchen.

And finally, here is Venkitoo describing his wife’s benevolence towards beggars:

Nagu was a hostess par excellence. He face would light up at the sight of a guest. She never turned away a beggar, and thereby hangs a tale. A casual remark by Bhagavan in regard to alms-giving had a great impact on her and she had told my son Ganesan about it. At one period of time local widows refrained from entering the old hall where Bhagavan always sat, and they would do some service at the ashram kitchen. Perhaps out of compassion towards them, or for other reason, Bhagavan would often go to the kitchen, talk to them about this or that, and also give some upadesa in very simple words. On one such occasion when Nagu was also in the kitchen, she heard an upadesa which had a life-long effect on her. Bhagavan seems to have told someone in the kitchen, ‘Whenever somebody comes begging, give him whatever is handy, be it even an Indian gooseberry. For who knows who comes in such guise?’

Bhagavan had had his own experience of this phenomenon. He once said that great mahatmas sometimes came to pay their respects to him on the major festival days, but they turned up as begging sadhus at the gate and were fed there. On these days Bhagavan made a point of supervising the feeding of the beggars himself in case any of them should turn out to be an incognito saint.

The book, In the Service of Sri Bhagavan, is available from the Sri Ramanasramam Book Depot.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting stories..