Thursday, July 3, 2008

Face to Face with Sri Ramana Maharshi

Three years ago Sri Ramana Kendram Hyderabad brought out a book entitled Face to Face with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Enchanting and Uplifting Reminiscences of 160 persons. The title, I hope, is self-explanatory. It was compiled and edited by Professor Laxmi Narain, the editor of Sri Ramana Jyoti, the monthly journal of the Hyderabad centre. Copies of the book are available from the Sri Ramanasramam Book Depot, Motilal Banarsidass ( and the Hyderabad centre. The next edition is apparently going to be distributed by Jaico Publishing House in India.

A few days ago Prof. Narain sent me forty additional reminiscences that he planned to include in the forthcoming edition of the book. Here are some of the new stories that are due to appear. Thanks to Prof. Narain for giving permission to post extracts from the new edition before it has even been printed.

Ramakrishna Madhavpeddi, a Telugu, was an attorney in the Madras High court. He visited Sri Ramana in April 1948.

I was twenty-four years when I first visited Sri Ramanasramam. At that time I was very much depressed owing to the sudden death at the age of twenty of my closest relative. My father had been urging me to visit the Maharshi. He had already visited him twice with a list of doubts, all of which had been cleared, without a single word being spoken by him. He had also experienced complete peace in the Maharshi’s presence.

It was about 9 a.m. when I first reached the Ashram. I was asked to stay in the Guest House for Gents. I entered the guest house and placed down my bedding. As fate would have it N. Balarama Reddy was occupying the space next to me. In addition to my work in the courts I also wrote articles for various journals on Telugu literature, and I dabbled in poetry. This helped in striking up a conversation with him.

He took me to where Sri Ramana was reclining on a sofa and asked me to sit with my eyes closed. Although there was absolute silence in the hall, I could not sit with my eyes closed. I was restless and felt as if the time was dragging. Slowly, my mind began to reflect on all my miseries, one after another. Every day, for three days, I accompanied Reddy garu to the hall, and every time I sat down my thoughts would take off at high speed, increasing my misery. So, on the evening of the third day, I told Reddy garu that I had come to the Maharshi for peace but was only experiencing an increase of pain and misery. He asked me to stay on for one more day.

On the morning of the fourth day I was sitting in the hall with my eyes closed. At one point I happened to open my eyes and saw the Maharshi looking at me intently. Suddenly, all thoughts vanished from my mind and I experienced a delightful blank, or void. Then a resplendent light enveloped me fully. I was empty of thoughts but full of immense happiness. I was one with some indefinable peace and resplendent glory.

After some time I again became aware of my body. This experience made me believe in God for the first time. In spite of all my theories of Marxism, dialectic materialism and atheism I could not deny the truth of this wonderful experience. This condition continued for three days. I witnessed my body go through its daily activities but I remained fixed in that immense peace. The Maharshi’s look pierced into me when I sat before him and even when I was not before him. The eyes of the Maharshi are the kindest and most powerful energy of the universe, and it brings me to ecstasy remembering those first days with him in the Ashram. I left the Ashram after six days, but even after leaving I would suddenly go into meditation. Such was the effect of the sage’s presence.

(Source: Internet, ‘Ramana Maharshi – Stories and Teachings’)

J.C. Molony, ICS, was a district collector in Madras Presidency. He writes:

I was strolling with my dogs on the hill when I stumbled upon an ashram, a hermitage set in a cleft of the rocks and overhung by trees. Water bubbled from a spring and gathered in a stone basin. I spied the hermit within, and my dogs spied him too; and in a second three of them were all over him, while the fourth plunged with a splash into the coolness of his small well. I looked for a tempest of anger; hurriedly I prepared the best apology that I could think of on the spur of the moment. There emerged a tall, lean ascetic, smiling on me and my yelping companions.

‘You like dogs?’ he asked. ‘I love them myself, but I have sent my own dogs away from the summer heat. Why should a dog not like clean, cool water? No harm is caused by the dog jumping in the well. Ten minutes after she is gone, the basin will have emptied and filled itself afresh.’

So we sat together on the parapet of the ashram and looked down on the hot, dusty, town far below. When I reached my camp one of my dogs was missing. In the evening the holy man arrived, leading the truant on a string.

‘He came back to me, and I should have liked to keep him,’ he said, ‘but why should I steal him from you?’

As I write these lines, the fields before my eyes are white with frost; but my thoughts travel back to the kindly recluse on the sun-baked hill.

(Source: Ramana Manjari, a souvenir produced in aid of the building fund for Ramana Kendra, New Delhi.)

C. R. Rajamani, associated with the printing business at Madras, first visited Sri Ramana in early 1940s.

I was in my early twenties when I first had darshan of the Maharshi. I saw him seated on a couch. A cast-iron charcoal brazier was radiating a comfortable warmth, and a pleasing aroma of incense, thrown into it at regular intervals, was pervading the entire hall. About thirty people were seated on the floor facing the Maharshi. None spoke or even whispered. What struck me was that no one seemed to show even an inclination to talk. Some were meditating with closed eyes.

Sri Ramana’s body was luminous like burnished gold. He was clad in his usual kaupinam, with a small towel across his chest. He appeared to be occasionally dozing off and had to steady his head often. He frequently stretched his palms over the fire and massaged his long fingers. In spite of his apparent dozing, his eyes did not look drowsy. On the contrary, they were extraordinarily bright and alert. He was not looking at anybody in particular. I felt I was in the presence of an extremely affable person with a lot of natural grace, at perfect ease and without any pretension whatsoever.

I saw a white-skinned boy, about ten years old, sitting a couple of feet to my left. Next to him was a white man, presumably his father. Further to my left, was a white woman, whom I thought was the boy’s mother. I then saw Sri Bhagavan’s eyes alight on the boy for a brief minute. I thought it was just a casual look. The boy was all the time looking at Sri Bhagavan with a sort of fixation, as if on the verge of asking a question. But, no! He broke into tears. A cascade of tears came gushing out of his eyes. They were not tears of pain, for his face was radiant with joy. I could see that Sri Bhagavan’s glance, though only resting on him for a brief moment, had opened in the boy’s heart a veritable reservoir of pure joy.

Whenever I recall this incident, it creates a feeling of being very near to something truly divine. Of course, I have had my own share of Sri Bhagavan’s grace in my later years. I have also had some ever-fresh visions which I dare not devalue as creations of a fevered imagination for they have strengthened my faith in Sri Bhagavan. Some of them occurred decades after Sri Bhagavan’s mahanirvana. They have been firm confirmations of his continued Presence and reassurances of his immortal words, ‘They say I am going! Where can I go? I am always here!’

I learned that the boy had come along with his parents, who had come to attend the Theosophical Society’s world convention which is usually held at Adyar, Madras. The boy’s parents arranged a trip to Tiruvannamalai, but he stoutly refused to accompany them. However, he changed his mind at the last moment and did make the trip. Within an hour of his face-to-face meeting with Sri Bhagavan, his mental barriers were reduced to nothingness.

He shed tears for quite some time and later said to his mother, ‘I am so happy. I don’t want to leave his presence. I want to be always with him!’

His mother was most upset. She pleaded with Sri Bhagavan, ‘Swami, please release my son! He is our only child. We will be miserable without him.’

Sri Bhagavan smiled at her and said, ‘Release him? I am not keeping him tied up. He is a mature soul. A mere spark has ignited his spiritual fire.’

Turning to the boy, the Maharshi said, ‘Go with your parents. I will always be with you.’

He spoke in Tamil throughout, but the boy understood him fully. He bowed to Sri Bhagavan and reluctantly left with his parents.

(Source: Ramana Maharshi – Stories and Teachings, Collection 3.)

Rajalakshmi was the granddaughter of Venu Ammal, the younger sister of Echammal who had served food to Bhagavan for about forty years. The following is based on her video interview and an article contributed by her son, with whom she lives at Chennai. She says:

On the death of my mother, my grandmother was completely devastated, unable to bear the loss of her only daughter. She walked all the way from Tiruvannamalai town to then distant Ramanasramam at 11 p.m. on a dark, lonely night. She cried uncontrollably and fell at Bhagavan’s feet. Chinnaswami, Bhagavan’s younger brother, objected to her falling at the feet of Bhagavan for a worldly reason. To this Bhagavan countered by asking Chinnaswami if he would have objected to his sister Alamelu doing the same thing in a similar circumstance. Bhagavan shared her grief in his inimitable way and consoled her.

I first saw Bhagavan in 1923 when I was three years old. My grandmother, who was serving at the Ashram, took me along with her every morning, returning home in the evening. Once, I was playing a ‘cooking’ game by offering small pieces of stones as cooked rice to Bhagavan and asking him to eat them. Bhagavan readily put those stones into his mouth and pretended to eat them. When my grandmother objected, Bhagavan replied that the child was happily offering him the stones as food and he did not want to disappoint her.

On another occasion, when seated next to Bhagavan in the dining hall, I asked my grandmother to serve me more of a particular preparation. She declined. When she was about to serve more of the same preparation to Bhagavan, he refused to have it on the grounds that what was applicable to the child was also applicable to him.

Bhagavan taught me Tamil, Telugu, and Sanskrit, starting from the alphabets. He also taught me arithmetic. The first Sanskrit sloka he taught me was from Upadesa Saram. Eventually I learnt all the thirty slokas and recited them before Bhagavan, who was very pleased. Bhagavan presented to me a copy of the book Ramana Vijayam by Suddhananda Bharati after writing my name on it. The book includes the story of Bhagavan’s stay at Pathala Lingam. Being curious, I visited the place in the Arunachaleswara Temple, but I could not go inside due to bats flying around and the stinking smell coming from inside. I told Bhagavan about my experience and asked how he could stay inside a place like that for such a long time. His reply was that he was not aware of his stay there and that he came to know of it from others. This shows he was completely oblivious of time and space while inside Patala Lingam.

In my school, children used to play kolattam [a game using two wooden sticks]. I did not have the sticks to play. My grandmother was not willing to spend one and a half paisa for the sticks. When I told Bhagavan of my problem, he asked his attendant Madhava Swami, to get two wooden sticks, out of which he made two beautiful kolattam sticks and presented them to me.

Somebody told me not to address Bhagavan as ‘Thatha’ [grandfather]. Bhagavan replied that as I was at the Ashram since childhood, there was nothing wrong in calling him ‘Thatha’.

In the early months of 1950, when Bhagavan was very ill, I was at Lucknow. My grandmother, who was working at the Ashram, asked his permission to visit me and then go to Kasi. Bhagavan told her that when she took a dip in the Ganges at Kasi, she could perform the ceremony on his behalf too. After a few days with me she went to Kasi and while taking a dip in the evening, thinking of Ramana, somebody told her to look up. She saw a large star trailing its light across the sky. And this happened at the exact time of Bhagavan’s mahanirvana.

(Source: Mountain Path, April-June, 2008.)


Subramanian. R said...

Dear David, 'Face to face' is an
interesting post. I would like to
read the experiences of all the 160 plus 40 people.

David Godman said...

The first edition (160 people)is available from all the places I mentioned in the post.

Jupes said...

David, do you know if the book is available in the U.S.? It sounds like all the sources you mentioned are in India. I enjoyed this post very much and would love to read more.

David Godman said...

I just checked the book and there are no distributors listed outside India. If you contact me by email and send your name and address, I can send you a copy and you can pay by Paypal.

Subramanian. R said...

Dear David, While reading again
'Face to Face" today, I thought I could write this, which happened this morning. My wife, who mostly reads Sanskrit and Tamil
bhakti songs and do not prefer Bhagavan saying, 'he is dry',
took my Power of Presence -Vol 1
and read Akhilandamma's story.
She became emotional and told me that she would read further
chapters in that book and also indicated her eagerness to read
"Who am I?". I think, this is 'face to face with' and the Power of Presence of Bhagavan.

Anonymous said...

Yes, to be honest, even I find that Bhagwan's teachings go over my head. But he has such a beautiful expression, his eyes smile with such understanding, that I am drawn to his books like a magnet.

Anonymous said...

Dear David,

When I first read similar stories twenty years ago I used to cry almost every time. Now they still my mind most of the time but still cause occasional tears. That stillness is now the most important part of my life so keep up your wonderful work.


maha mantra blogger said...

But dear godman , I read soemwhere that bhagwan objects when soembody calls him an avatar and calls himself a gnani and not an avatara-purushan

Unknown said...

Dear David, I have been following your blog for the past few months, but this is my first comment on your blog. I read this post few days ago, and upon reading it I ordered Face to Face from flipkart which was delivered to me today. This seems to be the second expanded edition you had mentioned in your post and it contains 202 reminiscences.

One observation. In one of your earlier posts called Bhagavan and the politics of His day you had talked about Mahatma Gandhi's attempts to meet Bhagavan and how C Rajagopalachari prevented him from doing so. You had mentioned that Rajagopalachari was critical of Bhagavan. This book however contains a reminiscence from Rajagopalachari (no 192 at page 399). I was just wondering if he expressed his negative opinion after meeting Bhagavan or before?

Thanks as always for your wonderful blog and your books.

David Godman said...

The short account in Face to Face seems quite favourable, but there are many other sources that indicate that Rajagopalachari didn't have a high opinion of Bhagavan.

In the first edition of Living by the Words of Bhagavan, the following three paragraphs appeared on pages 103:

'Rajagopalachari opened expressed his disapproval of Bhagavan. When one of Bhagavan's devotees called Amrithanatha Yatendra once paid a call on Gandhi, Gandhi made a few polite enquiries about Bhagavan.

'Rajagopalchari, who was also present, turned to Nehru, the future prime minister, and said, "What is the point in sitting in a cave in a kaupina when the country has so many problems and Gandhi is being put in jail for struggling for independence."

'Gandhi turned to him and put his finger to his lips to indicate that he should not criticise in this way.'

I can't remember the source, but I read once that when Ragagopalachari heard that Bhagavan had made a will and saw a copy of it, he said that it 'proved' that Bhagavan was a not a jnani.

When he was persuaded to open the Patala Lingam Shrine in 1949, as a personal favour to Mrs Taleyarkhan, he decided not to come to see Bhagavan, saying that he was busy with Government work in his private train.

When Gandhi tried to meet Bhagavan on his visit to Tiruvannamalai in the 1930s, Ragagopalachari prevented him from entering the ashram. Bhagavan told Annamalai Swami afterwards, possibly as a joke, that Gandhi's followers were afraid that if Gandhi came to see Bhagavan, he might go into samadhi and forget about his political work.

That could not have been used as an excuse in 1949, after Gandhi had passed away.

I don't know when Rajagopalachari formed his negative opinion of Bhagavan, or why he came to that conclusion. He came to the ashram in 1936 and seems to have had a good experience there, but this did not seem to change his overall views on Bhagavan.

Anonymous said...

Ghandi did indeed struggle. Whilst Ramana Maharshi was a divine witness to the unfolding events, he was aloof and above politics. Gandhi said he was totally against partition;
but then Pravin Togadia indicated an excessive weakness on Gandhi's part. Gandhi did weaken and the result was partition.

David Godman said...

I just checked the book and there are no distributors listed outside India. If you contact me by email and send your name and address, I can send you a copy and you can pay by Paypal.