Thursday, June 26, 2008

Narayana Iyer

When I was compiling the three volumes of The Power of the Presence, I considered devoting a chapter to Narayana Iyer, a devotee who moved closely with Bhagavan for many years. In the end I decided against it because there wasn’t quite enough material to make a substantial chapter. In today’s post I have assembled all the material he contributed to The Mountain Path in the 1960s. The first piece, in italics, is a 1960s article by the editor of The Mountain Path in which he was ‘introduced’ to readers. Except for one brief editorial interpolation, all the other contributions are Narayana Iyer’s writings, either under his own name or his pen name ‘Vishnu’.

Sri R. Narayana Iyer, an old devotee, a retired Sub-registrar, is one of the, senior-most devotees of Sri Bhagavan, and one who enjoyed some special privileges. Soon after he came to Sri Bhagavan, he began to move with him more like a resident of the ashram than a casual visitor. Initially, he was an out-and-out sceptic with ultra-modern views and ways, but very soon he became a staunch follower and devotee of Sri Bhagavan.

The familiarity and freedom with which he moved with Sri Bhagavan can be understood from the fact that he was chiefly responsible for eliciting a good deal of information about the family in Tiruchuzhi, their financial difficulties which necessitated borrowings and alienation of family properties. He also assisted the ashram management to redeem these properties and to preserve them as sacred monuments at Bhagavan’s birthplace and the place of his education under the names of Sundara Mandiram and Ramana Mandiram. He likewise played a prominent part in the execution of the will of Sri Bhagavan – a document about the propriety of which later on there was a good deal of controversy.

There were occasions on which Sri Bhagavan took special notice of him, for instance, when a cinema picture was about to be shown in the dining hall at 5 p.m., Bhagavan declined to go there till Sri Narayana Iyer, who was expected at 7 p.m. arrived, consequently a large number of people who had gathered in the hall had to wait for a long time. There were other instances also. Though deeply involved in the affairs of the ashram and having different views, he continues to visit the ashram regularly and is well known to one and all.

It was he who asked for a clarification of the state of a family man who follows the path of jnana, and to whom Sri Bhagavan said: ‘Remaining as a family man you can certainly engage in spiritual practice. Even better than the man who thinks “I have renounced everything” is one who does his duty but does not think “I do this” or “I am the doer”. A sannyasi who thinks “I am a sannyasi” cannot be a true sannyasi, whereas a householder who does not think “I am a householder” is truly a sannyasi.

Sri Narayana Iyer was the first person to construct a house in Ramana Nagar colony. He still lives here and narrates, to those who seek, the grace, love and splendour of Sri Bhagavan.

It was in the year 1928 or may be 1929. I was employed at Chetpet, a township 30 miles from Tiruvannamalai. My only friend and constant companion there was Dr V. Ramakrishna Iyer, a versatile man of parts, rather religious but not of the orthodox type, very genial and entertaining, one whom I would now deem a purushottama [best of men], a friend, philosopher and guide as he subsequently proved to be. I was just the opposite in my make-up, an out-and-out sceptic with no religion in me, scoffing in my references to sadhus, sannyasis and swamis, whom I considered impostors and parasites on society, who exploited the credulous folk for personal ends, and accepted their homage and hero-worship as though they were superior to ordinary men.

Dr Ramakrishna Iyer is the son of the late Lakshmi Ammal, a friend and playmate of Sri Bhagavan in his boyhood days at Tiruchuzhi, to which place she also belonged. He was therefore well acquainted with Bhagavan and was an occasional visitor to Sri Ramanasramam. He once asked me to go to Tiruvannamalai with him during the festival of Karthigai Deepam. Although I disliked the crowds, and the unsanitary condition of the town and the pomp and pageantry of the temple festival had no attraction for me, I agreed, not wishing to hurt his feelings, but requested to be left with my parents who had gone for the festival and were staying in the town while he went to the asramam in search of his favourite pursuits.

He agreed and took me to the place where they were staying, but on seeing the number of families huddled in a small house, I told my friend: ‘Doctor, I cannot stay here. There is not even breathing space. Your asramam will have plenty of open air and sunshine and shade of trees. I would rather go there and stay outside while you go in and have your way.’

He said ‘yes’ and took me to the asramam a mile or so from the town. On the way I repeated my opinion of the so-called holy men and said to him: ‘I will not come in or join in any of your “‘tomfoolery”. If by chance I meet your swami, I will not prostrate before him. I mean no insult but cannot do what is against my conviction. I don’t believe that any man, however great, has a right to accept the homage of others just because he has learned to memorise and quote scriptures or sacred lore.’

With this warning to my friend we came to the asramam. It then comprised just three thatched sheds, a little away from the road, which one could reach by a narrow foot-path amongst thorns and bushes.

We walked in. A man in a white loincloth, a towel suspended on his shoulder, a kamandalu [water pot] in one hand and a walking stick in another, stopped in his walk in the opposite direction on seeing us. The doctor hastened his steps and I slowly followed. The doctor was greeted very kindly and was asked about the welfare of his mother and brother. It must be the Maharshi, thought I, but I didn’t look up as he was a complete stranger to me. Then I heard my friend saying: ‘This is the Sub-registrar of Chetpet’. Out of courtesy I looked at him. What a wonderful face and what a welcoming smile! Bewitching, fascinating and a powerful look too!

In a moment I was at his feet on the gravel ground! I soon regained my self-possession and felt ashamed. ‘I should not have been so hasty in expressing my views to the doctor,’ thought I.

Two persons whom I had seen before had impressed me with their powerful personality – Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. ‘This person surpasses them,’ said I to myself, ‘not bogus, looks genuine. Yet I must find out from him about his greatness and how he is entitled to the homage of others, and how he accepts it. Has he solved the mystery of life, the universe that we see around? If not I withdraw my homage and go my way.’

With a pleasing smile he said: ‘You have a couple of days’ leave, is it not so? You can stay in the asramam. I will be there in a few minutes.’

I dared not say anything. I was dazed. Soon I recovered and wanted to find out if he had written any book. I got a copy of Reality in Forty Verses in Tamil, just published. I tried to read the first stanza. I could not follow it. The words ulladu seemed too closely packed and somehow jumbled together to form a stanza. I was flabbergasted.

‘What,’ thought I, ‘can he not say what he has to say in some intelligible language?’

Someone nearby said that it had been arranged that the Maharshi himself would explain to us the Forty Verses that night. I prevailed upon my friend to prolong our visit. This time it was his turn to be flabbergasted.

In anxious and eager suspense I waited for the night. The Maharshi sat on a raised pial or dais inside a shed containing his mother’s samadhi. Apparently he used to remain most of the time there. Night came. About half a dozen of us were seated on the ground before him. A solemn stillness pervaded the air. There was absolute silence, except for an occasional chirping of a bird or the hooting of an owl. The Maharshi read the first stanza. The mere reading of the stanza made the meaning as simple as simplicity itself! The word ulladu was just used in the sense of being or reality, as noun, verb and adjective. Stanza by stanza he read and explained in a voice that was so sweet and melodious and coming as though from ‘somewhere’. The climax came. Explaining one verse he said ‘God cannot be seen with our eyes or known by our sense perceptions. This is what is meant by saying: ‘To see God is to become God.’

One man from the small audience, a stalwart person with a severe expression named Dandapani Swami, interposed: ‘Is Bhagavan saying this out of personal experience?’

The question asked bluntly with such naiveté was answered with equal candour: ‘Else would I dare to say so?’

Enough. It set me furiously thinking and putting two and two together; what takes so much time to think flashed upon me in a moment. ‘To see God is to become God.’ God cannot be known by our sense faculties. The only way was to become God. If He whom all religions acclaim to be God were to appear before one in flesh and blood, here He is. My body experienced a thrill from somewhere deep down in me. Yet another – again and again, thrill after thrill quivered and shook my frame. I went out to compose myself.

I came, he saw, he conquered.

* * *

At first it was not thirst for Self-realisation or spiritual development that impelled me and drew me to Sri Bhagavan. In fact there was a background of scepticism and incredulity. The first impression was more or less a mental conviction, something like that which we have towards a deity in a temple symbolised by an idol. It gave me no spiritual insight.

‘Somehow or other he appears to have discovered some truth, perhaps like Buddha under the bodhi, tree,’ I thought.

But I loved him and longed to be in his company as much as possible. I felt a rapturous delight in hearing him talk. I was in the prime of youth, recently married and placed in a respectable government job, and I was happy and satisfied with life as it was. I was in no need of the solace of religion or spirituality. Yet I could not leave him and the first impression of his beaming face, sweet smile and endearing talk always danced before my eyes drawing me from my usual routine and pursuits. I arranged with the doctor who first took me to Sri Bhagavan to pay monthly visits to the ashram of three days, namely the penultimate Saturday, Sunday and a day’s casual leave out of the fifteen days available to me in a year.

This arrangement worked for a few years. Then this doctor friend, who was so free and familiar in the ashram as to move about and to conduct himself as a regular inmate, doing work in the kitchen and elsewhere, introduced me also to the same privilege and the opportunities it gave to be in close contact with Sri Bhagavan, who presided over and participated in all kinds of kitchen work with the proficiency and ease of an expert – a regular nala in the culinary art!

Well, I seemed caught in a net! The more I was with him, the more I wanted to be with him. But I was shortly transferred to Arni, another town within the same radius of thirty miles. Here I missed the company of the doctor friend. Losing delight in all other things, I turned the monthly visits to the ashram to weekly ones, coupling Sundays with other holidays. And I was always welcome to the ashram.

I used to translate from Tamil to English Sri Bhagavan’s replies to letters received by him. On one occasion, when Bhagavan was talking very fast, I asked him to wait a little and took up a paper and pencil to write down what he was saying.

Upon this he said: ‘Well, well, you write what you are able to. If I begin to dictate they would want to print it. There will be no end to it.’

Like an ass carrying a load of camphor, I had no idea of all that I wrote or listened to.

By this time I had made friends with the attendants, Sri Madhavaswami, Sri Satyanandaswami, Sri Krishnaswami, Sri Rangaswami and others, and they did not protest when I gradually introduced personal services to Sri Bhagavan, such as massaging his legs, fomentations, etc. There were occasions when his muscles became rigid or painful. His physical work, like cutting vegetables and directing the work of the kitchen, was generally confined to the early hours of the morning when only the residents were present. After 5 a.m., during the Vedaparayanam, or when visitors came from the outside, he would be on his couch in the hall, sitting there or just reclining like a statue cut in alabaster, or like one posing for a painter or sculptor. Sitting and sitting like this all day made his muscles hard and inflexible and required some massage. Thus, by slow degrees, a sort of familiarity and intimacy grew up between me and Bhagavan.

During one of my visits I stayed outside the hall for about half an hour and when I entered the hall, Sri Bhagavan remarked: ‘What is this? You are not at all to be seen.’ Although it was I who chose to render personal service, he seemed to have assumed the role of a master with complete control over my programme and to decide what I should do and how I should spend my time. Anything out of the way, like a stroll into the town, etc., was done only after seeking his permission. Although I had not bargained for this surrender of freedom, I yielded to him as there was such love, love unmistakable.

One morning at about 5 a.m. I prostrated before Bhagavan and took leave of him. There had been some function like jayanti or mahapuja the previous day and all were tired and asleep.

Sri Bhagavan said ‘Wait’ and went into the kitchen. I followed. He searched and found nothing to give me. He then put his hand inside a pot and found some almonds. He immediately lit the fire, put a pan on it, fried the almonds in ghee and gave them to me. Though I protested, he gave me a big packet of them and asked me to eat them on my way and to give some to the children at home! Is this not divine love?

Sometimes when I came and prostrated before him an attendant would run up and fetch me a packet of some dish of groundnuts or something special served during the midday meal. I would be told by the attendant that Bhagavan wanted ‘a little of it to be kept for Narayana Iyer who would be coming in the evening’. Oh! What have I done to deserve such kindness and attention? Tears trickle down my cheeks as I write this at such a distance of time.

Once I asked Bhagavan: ‘Bhagavan, you left your home in Madurai where your relatives had been treating you with love and kindness and spending money upon your education. You misappropriated their money for your train fare to Tiruvannamalai. You sneaked your way to the railway station so as not to be noticed by anyone. You posed yourself as a pilgrim who had lost his kit. Then you saw at Tirukoilur the Holy Hill and burst into a wave of sobbing. Was all this straightforward and proper?’

Sri Bhagavan was silent for a while and then replied: ‘This can be explained. It is said in the Kural: “‘Even falsehood is akin to truth when it is unblemished good and harms none.”’ This shows the freedom I enjoyed with Bhagavan.

I once told Bhagavan: ‘I have been here for many years. People meditate and get into samadhi. I close my eyes for a minute and the mind travels round the world ten times and so many long-forgotten things come up.’

Upon this Bhagavan said: ‘Why do you concern yourself about others? They may meditate or sleep and snore. Look to yourself. Whenever the mind goes astray, bring it back to the quest. There is a verse in the Bhagavad Gita which says: “To whatever side the restless, unsteady mind wanders away, one should check it and bring it back controlled to the Self.”’

But I was not satisfied and Sri Bhagavan said: ‘The child, who was woken up and given its milk after it had gone to sleep, says to its mother the next morning: “Mother, you never gave me milk last night.” Even so you had your fill.’

His analogy and assurance was convincing and consoling. I cannot even imagine what I would have been but for my contact with Sri Bhagavan. Countless have been the incidents which gripped my heart in bonds of ecstatic love to Him. The contact and impact that I have had with Bhagavan have been such as to make me feel that knowingly or unknowingly I must have done something in the course of my lives to deserve this unique blessing.

The lamp has been lit and ‘not all the darkness of the world can extinguish the light of the burning candle’. The contact and impact will and must lead me to the right goal, the ‘Be all and end all of human birth’.

* * *

One day when I was sitting by the side of Sri Bhagavan, I felt so miserable that I put the following question to him: ‘Is the sankalpa [wish] of the jnani not capable of warding off the destinies of the devotees?’

Bhagavan smiled and said: ‘Does the jnani have a sankalpa at all? The jivanmukta can have no sankalpas whatsoever. It is just impossible.’

I continued: ‘Then, what is the fate of all of us who pray to you to have grace on us and save us? Will we not be benefited or saved by sitting in front of you or coming to you? What use is there then for family men like me to gain by coming here to you?’

Bhagavan turned graciously to me and said: ‘Just as a trouble (or arrow) that comes to destroy the head goes away carrying with it only the turban, so a person’s bad karma will be considerably reduced while he is in the presence of a jnani. A jnani has no sankalpa but his sannidhi [presence] is the most powerful force. He need not have sankalpa but his presiding presence, the most powerful force, can do wonders, save souls, give peace of mind, even liberation to ripe souls. Your prayers are not answered by him but absorbed by his presence. His presence saves you, wards off the karma and gives you the boons as the case may be, involuntarily. The jnani does save the devotees, but not by sankalpa, which is non-existent in him, only through his presiding presence, sannidhi.’

I was filled with joy. Even today his presence is the most powerful thing and that alone, I am confident, saves me!

* * *

Bhagavan is God Himself and in saying this I do not refer to any of the personal gods of any religion but to the universal principle or pure consciousness. I dislike comparing him with any past personage, for there is no meaning in comparing incarnations of that one principle which has no second; but yet for our understanding, if at all we want to compare, it can only be with Christ or Buddha.

I never forgot, whenever I was talking with him or sitting in his presence, that here was God sitting and talking. It is our greatest fortune that the supreme consciousness appearing in the garb of a human body graciously undertook to come down to our level of understanding and bore the tremendous task of imparting to us the truth of Atma vidya. Such a thought always made me understand him and his talks better and more clearly.

Once a few very learned Sanskrit scholars were sitting in the old hall, discussing portions of the Upanishads and other scriptural texts with Bhagavan. Bhagavan was giving them proper explanations and it was a sight to remember and adore! At the same time I felt genuinely in my heart, ‘Oh, how great these people are and how fortunate they are to be so learned and to have such deep understanding and be able to discuss with our Bhagavan. Compared with them, what am I, a zero in scriptural learning?’

I felt miserable. After the pundits had taken leave, Bhagavan turned to me and said: ‘What?’, looking into my eyes and studying my thoughts. Then, without even giving me an opportunity to explain, he continued: ‘This is only the husk! All this book learning and capacity to repeat the scriptures by memory is absolutely no use. To know the truth, you need not undergo all this torture of learning. Not by reading do you get the truth. Be quiet, that is truth. Be still, that is God.’

Then, very graciously he turned to me again, and there was an immediate change in his tone and attitude.

He asked me: ‘Do you shave yourself?’

Bewildered by this sudden change, I answered, trembling, that I did.

‘Ah, for shaving you use a mirror, don’t you? You look into the mirror and then shave your face; you don’t shave the image in the mirror. Similarly, all the scriptures are meant only to show you the way to realisation. They are meant for practice and attainment. Mere book learning and discussions are comparable to a man shaving the image in the mirror.’

From that day onwards the sense of inferiority that I had been feeling vanished once for all.

One more assurance from Bhagavan which also he gave as a personal instruction is of absolute value for me in my sadhana. I cried to him that I knew nothing about Vedanta nor could I practise austerity, being a householder; so I prayed to him to help me by showing the reality or the way to it. I also frankly admitted that Bhagavan’s own method of self-enquiry was too hard for me.

He then graciously said: ‘You know Ulladu Narpadu [Reality in Forty Verses]. It imparts pure truth, deals with it and explains it. Go on reading it verse by verse. The words of the verses will, in course of time, vanish and pure truth [sat] alone will shine, like the snake relinquishing its skin and coming out shining.’ This is now my sadhana.

One day I was sitting near Bhagavan’s couch. I felt puzzled by the ancient teaching that everything that appears in the world is maya or illusion. I wondered how it could be when I saw Bhagavan, the couch on which he sat, the barrier separating me from Bhagavan and myself. How could all these be false? I asked Bhagavan, explaining my doubt.

‘Bhagavan, can all of us be unreal and non-existent? Please enlighten me.’

Bhagavan laughed and asked me whether I had had any dreams the previous night. I replied that I saw several people lying asleep.

He said: ‘Suppose now I ask you to go and wake all those people in the dream and tell them they are not real, how absurd it would be! That is how it is to me. There is nothing but the dreamer, so where does the question of dream people, real or unreal, arise? Still more of waking them up and telling them that they are not real? We are all unreal, why do you doubt it? That alone is real.’

After this explanation I never had any doubt about the unreality of the objective world. I constantly feel the reality in its unreal nature.

On another occasion he said: ‘Everything is unreal, like dream objects. However at a certain stage there exists truth, the reality, and world, the unreality; and a jnani’s job is to awaken the ignorant to the fact that what they see and feel is unreal and that the reality is their own being. This can be compared to an elephant dreaming of a lion and suddenly waking up and finding that the lion is unreal and that itself alone is real. The elephant is the jiva or individual, the dream is the unreal world and the lion, the jnani or Guru. The Guru is the link between the unreal and the real.’

On another occasion he said: ‘There is no jnani [realised man], jnana [knowledge] alone is.’

About the jivanmukta, realised while still living, Bhagavan said: ‘The jivanmukta is one without any thoughts or sankalpas [inherent tendencies]. The thought process ceases completely in him. Some power makes him do things. So he is not the doer but the one, who is made to do.’

* * *

Bhagavan Sri Ramana taught that Vedas and Upanishads are not mere book-lore or dry script, that moksha or liberation is not something to be attained in a distant future or after death, but that it is our ever-present nature, to be known and experienced here and now, that we are ever realised and that the simple and direct method is introspection and self-enquiry.

I once asked him: ‘Bhagavan, it is said that all roads lead to Rome. All religions lead to the same goal. How, can it be said that the quest “Who am I?” is the only way and the direct way?’

He replied: ‘Yes, all roads lead to Rome. But, on reaching Rome, you have to go to the citadel – the sanctum. What I say is just that.’

* * *

Sri T. Viswanatham was posted as Sub-registrar of Tiruvannamalai. He wrote to me about his good fortune to spend the closing period of about six months of his official career at this holy place and of the much-yearned-for opportunity he hoped to have the darshan of Sri Bhagavan and intimated to me that he would take up duty in about a week. I showed letter to Sri Bhagavan and the subject went out of my thoughts. About a week or so afterwards, at about 7-30 p.m., a person who looked orthodox was prostrating before Sri Bhagavan. Evidently he had read the notice board put up by the ashram management forbidding the devotees from touching Sri Bhagavan’s feet. This person, obviously wishing to avoid being objected to, but unwilling to forego his heart’s desire, observed the letter of the rules by clasping his hands behind him, away from Sri Bhagavan while he prostrated like a gymnast, and rubbed his head over the feet of Sri Bhagavan, as a calf would do when fondled, and Sri Bhagavan allowed full scope for this indulgence!

Then he turned towards me and said: ‘Sri T. Viswanatham.’ Who had told him so? The newcomer hadn’t spoken a word! Perhaps Sri Bhagavan had a sixth sense to scent a devotee!

* * *

The reactions of Sri Bhagavan to physical pain were always a mystery to me. I asked him if it was true that he once had (as I was told by a friend) boiling rice gruel (kanji) spilt over his posterior and that Sri Bhagavan knew about it only some time after.

He narrated the incident thus: ‘I was straining the kanji from a vessel in which rice was boiled. I was sitting on the floor. The boiling kanji was to be collected in a smaller vessel on the floor, but I was talking to some one and without my noticing the kanji fell on the floor, not in the vessel. As the floor sloped towards me, it got under my posterior. I knew about it only afterwards when it got cool!

‘Of course I got blistered and Zam Buck was later applied. No doubt there was pain after it was noticed, but who cares?’

The bliss of Self-realisation perhaps drowns any other experience!

* * *

Sri Bhagavan was not always the same. Most of the time he was a very pleasing person with a fascinating welcome smile. However, on occasion, he could be stern and look forbidding. At such moments people were struck with awe and deep searching of the heart.

One hot Sunday afternoon an old devotee placed before Sri Bhagavan some palmyra fruits [nongu].

Bhagavan severely remarked: ‘Why do you do this daily? You are a sannyasin. You must beg of others the wherewithal to procure these. You must say that they are for me. You know that I cannot eat them without others present sharing them and so you have to get some quantity, and this you do using my name, as though I desire it! Can’t you keep quiet and mind your business? You prostrate before me and think that you have won me over. Every prostration is like a blow on my head. All sorts of things are done outside these four walls with impunity, as though these walls hide and protect them. Who likes these prostrations?’

And on and on he went in a tirade against all and sundry who posed like pious men but were hiding a lot of impurity. It was not one individual that was attacked. The atmosphere in the hall was tense, and one by one, the devotees sneaked out. But such moods were only momentary, and he could switch on to his wonted geniality the next instant.

* * *

Once Sri T. P. R. and I decided to ask Sri Bhagavan for an explanation of the sixth stanza of Arunachala Ashtakam, and went to the hall after Sri Bhagavan returned from his usual walk on the Hill. In the meanwhile something moved us. Sri Muruganar prostrated before Sri Bhagavan and went out on his usual round for begging food from the town. We had just then ground in the mortar jack fruit for a sweet dish in the midday meal and Sri Muruganar had given some donation for bhiksha since it was his mother’s death anniversary. He was not there to taste the dish and we were sorry. The fact that he was going out after giving something for a bhiksha in honour of his mother was taken to the notice of Sri Bhagavan. Instantly there was a change in the face of Bhagavan. He knew that Sri Muruganar was not a favourite with the ashram management.

‘Who has to invite him to stay for meals? Chinnaswamy does not like him. He is the master here.’

There was tension in the atmosphere. T. P. R. and I whispered to each other that we would choose some other time for the closed our books. Sri Bhagavan saw us doing so and asked us what the matter was. We told him what we had come for.

Instantly Sri Bhagavan said, ‘Why not now?’ and started explaining. It was wonderful! Every sentence started a mighty current. It didn’t stop there. Wave after wave of the same exposition came to us for a day or two more whenever we sat before him.

* * *

Sri Bhagavan had his head shaved once a month on the full moon day. Natesan was the barber who used to do this service. Bhagavan sat on a stool and Natesan would stand and shave him. Once Sri Bhagavan suggested to Natesan in all seriousness that it would be more comfortable for the barber to sit on the stool while he himself would sit on the floor!

* * *

It was past 8-30 one night the ashram on one of my visits. Everyone had retired to rest after the night meal. I went to the office. Chinnaswamy was sitting in his place talking to some ashramites.

When he saw me enter he said, ‘Narayana Iyer, don’t go near Sri Bhagavan’s couch. He is resting on the verandah near the wall. He had had a fracture of his collar bone and a plaster has been put on it. He should not be disturbed. Prostrate at a distance and come away noiselessly.’

I was shocked to hear the news. If any other reason had been given it could have restrained me, but the mention of a ‘fracture’ made me anxious to see Sri Bhagavan. I went on tiptoe and prostrated quietly.

He evidently saw me and said, ‘Narayana Iyer, come and sit by my side on the couch. Only then can I see you and talk. Otherwise the bandage they have put might be disturbed and there might be pain.’

Implicitly I obeyed when he said this, notwithstanding my fear of Chinnaswamy’s reaction if he should happen to see me there.

He said, ‘I was going up the steps. A dog was chasing a squirrel. I barred its way by putting my walking stick in front of it. The stick slipped and I fell down and got hurt on the collar bone. They say it is a fracture and the native bone-setter of the village, an old devotee, was sent for. He has put this bandage with some green leaves and black gram paste and I am enjoined not to move lest it be disturbed.’

He narrated the incident as though it was someone else’s body that was injured and was suffering!

* * *

One day in the last weeks of Sri Bhagavan’s illness a devout lady prostrated herself him with her two children, and entreated: ‘Bhagavan, you must not leave the body. You must continue to give us darshan.’

Bhagavan smiled and said: ‘Yes, see there.’ He pointed to the sculptor at on a statue of the Maharshi in granite. ‘They are chiselling a Bhagavan who will give you darshan always.’

Then he to the rest and said: ‘Now these have become my gurus. I have been saying “give up your dehatma-buddhi [identification with the body].” They now want me to cling to the body.’

After a pause, he continued: ‘You see what it means? I must not leave this body so that I can give her darshan always. To have darshan she too must not die. And what about her children? They too must always have darshan. So, nobody should die.’

The truth was grimly portentous, and told in his own unique way.

* * *

[V Ganesan recorded an incident in which Bhagavan and Narayana Iyer discussed giving up the ‘I am the body’ idea:

Sri R. Narayana Iyer, retired Sub-registrar, once told me that he asked Sri Bhagavan about too much emphasis being given by Ramana-devotees to the discarding of the I-am-the-body idea and said that this was impossible for him since he was always aware of this body and its creature comforts. Sri Bhagavan graciously remarked: ‘Yes, yes. You cannot give up the I-am-the-body consciousness without being first aware of it. There is nothing wrong with that. The giving up of the idea should take place by the grace of God, for by our own effort it will be very difficult.’

The final extract in this post was written by Narayana Iyer a few months after Bhagavan passed away in 1950.]

‘Before some stars appear, light appears. After they vanish from vision, light alone remains. That is the state of a jnani - his birth and death.’

These were the words of Sri Bhagavan in a talk about jnanis. The exact import of the words is as puzzling as the strange phenomena that occurred on the 14th April, 1950 and passed vividly before our eyes. It was about a quarter to nine at night. I was sitting in the open space in front of my house facing east. The sky was clear, the air still. A grave and subdued solemnity pervaded the atmosphere as though reflecting the anxiety of so many sincere devotees of the Maharshi who had come to Tiruvannamalai on account of his illness.

Suddenly a bright and luminous body arose from the southern horizon, slowly went up and descended in the north somewhere on Arunachala Hill. It was not a meteor as it was bigger than what Venus looks to our vision, and its movement was slow. It was so lustrous that, as it was at the zenith, the light shed by its trail stretched as far as the horizon, like an arc. The sight dazed me. Instinctively as it were I jumped to my feet and ran as fast as I could to the ashram a hundred yards off. There was a crowd of people moving about and quite a hustle and bustle. It didn’t strike me to enquire of anyone what it was about. Access to the Maharshi was naturally then select and restricted to a few. I cared not for the ashram rules and regulations, but like a tethered calf let loose and running to its mother, I took a short cut, jumped into the garden, scaled the parapet and rushed into the room where the Maharshi, Bhagavan, my Ramana, Guru, Father, God in flesh and blood was lying.

Lo! My heart thumped. Breath choked. He was no longer in the flesh and blood. He had just breathed his last. As the star descended on the Hill, he had left the body. It was held in padmasan position by the attendants. I touched the body. There was no warmth. I clasped in frenzied hold the hand, the mere touch of which used to give the thrill of eternity. Coldness of death frenzied my nerves. All was over like a dream. Sobs and hymns and chanting filled the air, and my head reeled with dizzy thoughts. We will no longer see our dear Bhagavan in that beautiful form of molten gold in which he charmed and enchanted us for decades! We will no longer see those compassionate eyes that gleamed like twin stars and peered into our innermost depths and dispelled the shadows that blurred our vision and understanding! No more that kind and godly look of grace that solaced our wearied souls and inspired our depressed hearts in speechless silence with peace unbounded, or that bewitching and enchanting radiant smile that fascinated us and drew us to him to heights of bliss, far far above this world. No more could we hear that sweet and ringing voice, the talks of sparkling wit and humour, or those words of profound wisdom from the depths of deep realization which intellect could not fathom! Tears gushed forth from my eyes as from a fountain. ‘Roll! Roll! You beads of love, from the fountain of love to the ocean of love!’ It is not fruit and flowers, nor sweets and savoury dishes that can be offered at your feet anymore. The only oblation that would reach you are tears of love from that perennial spring that is the core of our being of which you are the source in your disembodied fullness. The divine leela is over.

So his leela was really over on that momentous fourteenth day of April, 1950. No one was kept in doubt or suspense or taken by surprise. It was a prolonged ailment, and abundant opportunity was afforded to one and all from far and near to come and see him. It was one of the worst maladies that could afflict the human frame, and the way he bore it was an object lesson to all. Not once did his face reveal agony or suffering, but he carried on the normal routine with his majestic smile of supreme bliss on his face, and the mirthful repartees and sallies of wit. It was also plain that he used no mysterious yogic or superhuman powers to alleviate or conquer pain as the following remark he made about the disease would show: ‘Appah! Who could conceive that such a disease as this could be in this world? When a hiccough comes, the whole body splits like the flashes of lightning in a cloud!’ This remark was made by him in such a cool and composed way as though it was not his body that was suffering.


Jupes said...

This is just delightful to read. Thank you for posting it. I love the personal accounts of devotees who knew and spent time with Bhagavan and who remember the little things that happened, what Bhagavan said, how He was to be with, how He treated people, how He related to animals, all the things that made Him human yet God at the same time. There is such richness in it. Narayana Iyer writes with incredible honesty, love and devotion. It is inspiring.

David, I wonder when Narayana Iyer died and whether he was alive when you first came to Tiruvannamalai. Did you know him personally?

Thank you!

David Godman said...

I think he passed away in the early 1970s. I arrived here in 1976, so I just missed him.

One person who did know him well was Kanakammal. She stayed in his house in the 1940s. She wrote a long article about her memories of him which was printed in The Mountain Path earlier this year in a much abbreviated form. I have asked for permission to reprint the whole of the original article here. If I receive permission, I will add the whole piece.

Anonymous said...

Dear David
It was a wonderful account by Sri Narayana Iyer .It must have really been a blessing to have heard the commentary of "Ulladhu Naarpadu" from Bhagawan itself .
I have the following questions David:
1)Do you know whether anyone preserved the Commentary of "Ulladhu Naarpadhu" of Bhagawan ?

2) Was this text "Ulladhu Naarpadhu" the most preferred text of Bhagawan i.e suggesting others to read in case they asked for which text to be read etc ?

Chennai ,India

David Godman said...

Bhagavan explained Ulladu Narpadu on several occasions, but no one, to my knowledge, wrote down what he said.

Questions about key statements are asked in books such as 'Talks' and Bhagavan's replies recorded, but there was never a systematic attempt to record what Bhagavan had to say about the whole text.

The nearest we have to an authorised commentary is the Tamil one by Lakshmana Sarma. In the late 1920s Bhagavan gave Lakshmana Sarma private lessons on Ulladu Narpadu. To test his understanding Lakshmana Sarma then translated each verse into a Sanskrit sloka with a slightly longer metre to make sure that he had fully understood the original. Usually, Bhagavan made him recast these verses several times until he was satisfied that the full meaning had been conveyed.

Later on, Lakshmana Sarma wrote a commentary on Ulladu Narpadu that was derived from the lessons Bhagavan had given him. It was serialised in a Tamil magazine. Bhagavan cut out the articles from this magazine and pasted them into a scrapbook that he kept in his private library. If people asked him about the meaning of Ulladu Narpadu verses, he would often take out this book and show the visitor the relevant page in the book.

Initially, Lakshmana Sarma published this work privately, but Bhagavan decided it should be an ashram publication. He went to see Chinnaswami in the ashram office and said, 'Everyone is saying that this is the best commentary on Ulladu Narpadu. Why don't you print it?' Chinnawami took the hint and all subsequent editions have been published by Ramanasramam.

I don't know anyone else who was asked to do parayana of the whole text as a sadhana. If people came to Bhagavan and asked for an explanation of his teachings, he would usually direct them to read Who am I? rather than Ulladu Narpadu since it is in prose and therefore much more accessible to the average reader.

Seeker said...


I just discovered your blog...thank you so much for offering up this important ministry. It really means a lot to me at this point in my life.

I've been feeling more and more spiritually adrift the longer I'm in seminary. Much of what used to reach me just does not do the trick any longer. Lately, I have taken great comfort in Vedanta in general and the teachings of Ramana Maharshi in specific. But, it is proving to be a difficult row to hoe without some sort of connection to a community of like-minded folks. What you have created here seems to by just what the doctor ordered.

Yours in Peace and Friendship,
Wm Haines

Subramanian. R said...

Dear David, The post on Narayana
Iyer made an excellent reading. The last few paragraphs describing 14th April 1950 were
quite painful.

Subramanian. R said...

Dear David, article on Narayana Iyer should have been included in the Power of Presence, even though it might not have formed a
long chapter.

RichardArunachala said...

David, thank you for this posting. As I read such descriptions of those close to Bhagavan, I see again that the words of Ramana's are not the words of some person, but it really is God speaking directly, Siva's own voice.

Om Arunachala,

Anonymous said...

David, let me join the queue and express my joy about the report on and of Narayana Iyer. It is so obvious that in personal contact with Bhagavan his sannidhi (that part of the article is extra special)brought out true love in devotees and love seems the only organ of receptivity towards such a miracle. And we are nourished even now...
Hope the rest will come soon?

sdmurthy said...

Thanks for posting a very touching account by Narayana Iyer

sdm said...

Thanks for posting a very touching account by Narayana Iyer

Vish said...


This is a delayed response to your blog on Narayana Iyer. Thank you for compiling this material. RNI was my grandfather, and it was delightful to read his articles in one place. VKV

David Godman said...


I am planning to add a chapter to each of the three volumes of The Power of the Presence in the next printing. The story of Narayana Iyer will be in one of the volumes. Do you have any additional information on Narayana Iyer that is not in the material in this blog post? I would love to hear from me if you can supply extra details about your grandfather's relationship with Bhagavan. Also, do you have any photos of him in the ashram or with Bhagavan? the ashram archives has two portrait photos of him.

If you have any additional information, you can contact me at: