Saturday, January 3, 2009

Swami Ramanagiri

I recently received the following email from a Sri Kannadasan:

There is a samadhi of one European devotee of Bhagavan near Vadippatti village, which is about 25 km from Madurai. His name is Ramana Giri. There is a Shiva Lingam installed over his samadhi and a small temple built around it. I used to visit this place on my way to Madurai, which is located in quiet spot, at the foot of a small mountain range. The manager of the place gave the following information about Sri Ramana Giri:

His original name was Per Westin. He belonged to the royal family in his native Sweden. He came to India to study Sanskrit at Banaras Hindu University. He met Bhagavan and did not return to his native place. Bhagavan gave him a small begging bowl made by Himself, out of coconut shell. In the following days, he could not get sufficient quantity of food as bhiksha, and complained to Bhagavan about it. Bhagavan told him that thereafter he need not go in search of food as it would come to him. From that time he did not have to bother about his food. He then moved to different places and settled at this place, which is near a jungle stream. The coconut shell begging bowl, made by Bhagavan, is kept safely in a jewel box, along with other belongings of Sri Ramana Giri. They gave it to me see it. It has been made by cutting the coconut vertically. Though small in size, it is in perfect oval shape, and nicely polished. Holding it in my hands, I was overwhelmed by emotion. As a souvenir, I was given an old visiting card of Sri Ramana Giri with his original name. The card has his old name and address as ‘Djursholm’. I have not come across Sri Ramana Giri in Bhagavan’s literature so far. If you have any info on him, kindly share with me.

A few hours before I received this email I had been going through one of my old trunks, looking for a document I hadn’t seen for years. As I was searching, I found an article on Swami Ramanagiri I had written many years ago. I put it to one side, thinking that I could post it here. I took the subsequent email on the same topic to be a sign that I should take up the work immediately.

In the last couple of days I have been doing some research on this article, and on Swami Ramanagiri in general, and I discovered that it was published in The Mountain Path in 1994 (pp. 144-8), although my name did not appear on it there. A little more research revealed that I had taken most of the information in the article from one that had been written by Prof. K. C. Sashi and published in The Mountain Path in 1986, pages 71-4. Prof. Sashi knew Swami Ramanagiri personally. His account has the most biographical details of any I have so far come across.

I decided to update and expand my original article by adding to it all the other information on Swami Ramanagiri that I have been able to locate elsewhere. In addition to the articles I have already cited, the following sources have been utilised:

(a) An article entitled ‘Guru’, written anonymously by ‘A Chela’, and published in The Mountain Path, 1980, p. 229. This was written by a disciple of Swami Ramanagiri.

(b) About twenty years ago I was given a seventeen-page manuscript about Swami Ramanagiri by Michael James, who had received it from a devotee of Swami Ramanagiri. Much of the material in this manuscript appears in the other sources I have cited, but there is an interesting section after the biographical details that contains Swami Ramanagiri’s thoughts on a variety of spiritual topics. It is entitled ‘Cold Fire’, which seems to be a reference to the way he perceived the Divine Mother’s grace working on him. In one of his notebook entries he wrote: ‘Your steps are so gentle, Your voice so sweet, and Your touch so tender. Mother’s nature is that of a cooling fire.’

(c) Dancing with the Void, by Sunyata. Bhagavan once described the Danish devotee Sunyata as a ‘natural born mystic’. In chapter ten (pp. 59-63) of this book he gives a brief description of his association with Swami Ramanagiri.

(d) I went to the Ramanasramam Archives two days ago to see what material might be available. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that John Maynard, who works there, had visited the samadhi shrine of Swami Ramanagiri and taken some photos. I have included a few of them in this post.

(e) There is a site about Swami Ramanagiri ( that contains, almost verbatim, the 1994 article I wrote, with little extra information. However, it does have photos of Swami Ramanagiri and his samadhi shrine that do not appear in this post. There is also some information on how to reach the village that contains Swami Ramanagiri’s samadhi shrine, and how to contact the people who are in charge of it.

In his email Sri Kannadasan mentioned that he had not come across any information on Swami Ramanagiri in the Ramana literature. There have been a few articles in The Mountain Path, but Sri Kannadasan is right in suggesting that Swami Ramanagiri has been completely ignored by those who have written books on Bhagavan. You will find no mention of him in any of the biographies, nor will you find his story in any of the books about devotees. He failed to make the editorial cut for the 160 devotees who appeared in Face to Face with Bhagavan; his story did not appear in the eight volumes of Arunachala’s Ramana; I did not select him as a subject for the three volumes of The Power of the Presence; V. Ganesan didn’t mention him in Moments Remembered, his collection of devotees’ stories; and he didn’t even make an appearance in A. R. Natarajan’s book on western devotees. Cumulatively, these omissions seem to be perverse and inexplicable since Swami’s Ramanagiri’s story is astounding and unique: it is a great personal odyssey combined with a vivid demonstration of Bhagavan’s power and grace. I hope today’s post will go some way towards bringing a knowledge and an appreciation of Swami Ramanagiri to those devotees who have not so far encountered his story.

* * *

Swami Ramanagiri was born into an aristocratic Swedish family in June 1921. Though he was related to the king of Sweden, it was the ‘royal’ yoga of Patanjali that finally claimed him. In his youth he came across Swami Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga and found he had an immediate affinity with the subject matter, so much so that he began to develop yogic siddhis soon after beginning the practices.

The earliest available photo of Peer Wertin

He came to India in 1945 on a two-year scholarship to study philosophy at Banaras Hindu University, but the principal aim of his journey was to find a competent teacher who could help him to make progress with his yogic practices. The Danish devotee Sunyata recalls meeting him soon after his arrival:

It was on a sunny, winter day in holy Benares, in the 1940s, that I met Peer A. Wertin. He came gliding along by the shore where the washermen were busy splashing the dirty linen of respectable egojis [Sunyata’s affectionate name for all embodied jivas]. I was sharing my leftover food with donkey friends, as human friends would always give me too much to eat. Peer seemed touched by my donkey friendship. Birds of a feather and kindred asses flock together! Peer was in a body of some twenty-five summers – tall, dark and slim. He was studious looking, civilised, respectable and balanced. His upper lip had been slightly damaged by some explosion [he had received] during military duty. I detected a slight stoop… We went together to see some sadhus, gurus and learned pandits in the holy Benares. One Guru fastened on Peer the name ‘Sri Hanuman’. I was not much impressed by the competence of that guru nor with the name he gave to Peer. Since Peer had been in holy Bharat only a short while then, I felt he would eventually find his due path. ‘Step by step as thou goest, the Way will open unto three.’

The two soon became friends. When summer came Sunyata invited Peer to stay with him in Almora:

Peer came to my Himalayan retreat in the spring when the heat came upon the plains. He stayed in my upper Sunya cave on the hill’s crest. It had vast scenic views and a vaster expanse of silence. He imbibed the gracious solitude in the pure, Krishna-blue azure realm, while Paramahamsa wings grew and unfurled. He had the psychological urge towards stark openness and nudeness. It was the need of being natural, without the rags of ego deceit, artificial respectability or artistic hiding. In this purity, the mental fig leaves become positively indecent or a kind of vulgar prudery.

Peer felt right in that Himalayan setting with nature, with books and a rich inner life. In the outer play there was the ringing self-radiant Silence, the winds in the pines below, and the crescending of Aums. I left Peer alone except for an occasional service and chat. Sometimes we played naturally, nakedly together, raking pine needles, or cutting grass or wood – all part of our Himalayan contemplation.

Peer Wertin had been awarded a two-year scholarship in India to study religious and philosophical lore, but he renounced it all when he took to yoga and intensive self-enquiry. I later introduced him to Maharshi Ramana in Tiruvannamalai. In and through Maharshi, he eventually came to full ‘awakening’, conscious ‘Self-awareness’, or ‘advaita experiencing’. Hanuman, the name given to him in Varanasi dropped off and ‘Ramanagiri’, conferred on him by Ramana Maharshi, emerged. Comparisons are odious, yet Maharshi Ramana is Himalayan to many current molehills and tinpot, claptrap gurus.

Peer was blessed in Maharshi’s grace and sahaja recognition. When I met him first I asserted nothing. Himalaya and Sunyata have no need to assert. I could sense in him a certain Swedish occultism and an intense longing to realise the truth. Ramanagiri later came through an ancient road, a homeward way, frequented by the wholly awakened ones. Here all mental concepts and ideals vanish. Only awareness remains, bereft of all theories and ideal abstractions. It is the serene state of exalted calm in absolute Silence. It has been called nirvana, or turiya or sunya.

Ramanagiri was in this state of ‘advaita experiencing’. I did pranam to Ramanagiri in glad homage, in karuna love and in Himalayan ananda gratitude. Upon leaving my place he went on a pilgrimage. His Jiva Yatra [soul’s pilgrimage] was lived mostly in South India, by seashores, in jungles and at the grail-glowing holy mountain, Arunachala.

At some point, when he was still living in Benares, Peer took sannyasa via a formal initiation. I don’t know the name of his diksha guru; he is simply referred to as a ‘holy man of Benares’. On taking sannyasa Peer renounced both his academic studies and his personal fortune, which apparently amounted to over eight million dollars.

At the time of his initiation his diksha guru stipulated that he should never ask for anything, and only accept what was offered to him. On the day following his initiation he passed by a friend’s house, but his friend failed to recognise him because of his shaved head and orange robes.

When he saw the sannyasin, he shouted to his wife, ‘A mendicant is going by! Give him the rotten bananas!’ This was his first bhiksha.

On the following day he was walking in front of the palace of the Raja of Benares when a soldier accosted him and asked him to step inside.

‘Why?’ asked the swami.

The soldier replied that it was the practice of the raja to offer food daily to the first sannyasin he saw walking in front of the palace gates. So, on that day, he was taken in, accorded a royal reception, and given a feast, personally served by the raja himself.

When he later narrated both of these incidents to his diksha guru, he was told that both should be treated with equal indifference, as food is only for physical sustenance. For the rest of his brief life he never asked for anything and never handled money.

In early 1949 he came to Tiruvannamalai to meet Bhagavan for the first time. Though he had a natural inclination for raja yoga, having practised it for years, Swami Ramanagiri felt an immediate attraction to atma-vichara, the path of Sri Ramana. Since this was a departure from the practical teachings he had been taught by his diksha guru, Swami Ramanagiri felt that he should consult him about this change of direction. The diksha guru let him know that Bhagavan was his true Guru, and he encouraged him to follow the teachings he was being given at Ramanasramam.

Swami Ramanagiri did self-enquiry intensively for forty days in Bhagavan’s presence and was rewarded, on Sivaratri day 1949, with a direct experience of the Self. When asked later about what had happened on that momentous day, he would usually say, ‘On that day I became a fool’. For the rest of his life he referred to himself in the third person as ‘this fool’.

Speaking of the effect this experience had had on him, he wrote in one of his notebooks:

I don’t know anything,
and that ‘I’ which knows is nothing but an ignorant fool.
I think, when I don’t think,
that I have no end and no beginning.
That which thinks has to take thousands of births.
When there is ‘I’ He is not; when He is, I am not.

How did he practise atma vichara? Certainly not in the way prescribed by Bhagavan. It was his own idiosyncratic method, combining classical vichara, pranayama, a little neti-neti, and some imaginative visualisations. Some interesting insights into his method can be gleaned from the following long letter that he wrote to Prof. K. S. Sashi. He began by saying:

In the course of sadhana, maya first comes to the sincere soul in the form of worldly troubles; second in the form of desires, and third in the form of dear friends who keep him away from the quest.

He had had his own experiences of ‘dear friends’ who kept him away from the quest. In one of his notebooks he wrote: ‘Three years ago I found that letters from my previous family became an obstacle on the spiritual quest, so whenever any letter came, I never opened it or read it. I experienced that the divine was on my side in spite of my improper action.’

He continued with his spiritual advice with the following words:

Our own mind is the greatest cheater in the world. It will make thousands of different reasons to go its own way. There are three ways of handling this cheat, who is nothing but a bundle of thoughts creeping into the conscious mind.

First, to treat him as a friend and give him full satisfaction. This is a very long and tiresome way because he is never satisfied.

Second, to treat him as an enemy and with all force try to get rid of him. This is only possible by the grace of the divine because the mind has got two very powerful weapons – the discriminating intellect and the imaginative faculty. These two fellows can convince even God himself that black is white.

The third way is the way taught by Sri Ramana in the days of silence at the foot of sacred Arunachala. This way, which has been adopted by this fool, is to treat the mind as a patient, or rather several patients who are coming to a doctor to complain about their various ailments.

Just as a doctor sits in his room receiving different kinds of patients, this fool imagines himself sitting in the sacred cave of the Heart and receiving the different thought-patients. You know that a sick person likes to babble for hours about his complaint. In the same way a thought likes to multiply itself, but the doctor always cuts it short, saying, ‘Very good. Take this medicine. Thank you very much.’ And then he calls for another patient. This is how this fool decided to meditate.

First the fool slows down his breath as much as possible, but only to the point where there is no discomfort. To this fool, two breaths per minute is the proper speed, but that may not be possible for you because this fool has practised for a long time. You may be able to decrease your breathing to 8-10 per minute in the beginning. Don’t get to a level where you are uncomfortable, because that discomfort will give rise to thoughts.

This fool decided to receive twenty patients before closing the dispensary of the Heart. He calls out ‘Number one!’ and he waits for thought patient number one to come. The thought patient may say, ‘Smt such-and-such is not well. Sri so-and-so is worried.’

Then this foolish doctor says, ‘Oh, you are number one. Very good. The name of Lord Murugan will cure you. Thank you very much.’

Then he calls for number two, and he waits till the second patient is entering the room. ‘Mr so-and-so may get mukti this life,’ he says.

Very good. You are number two. The whole world is benefited if one soul gets liberated. Thank you very much.’

Numbers three, four, five, and so on are dealt with in the same way. When all the twenty thought patients have come and gone, the doctor closes the room to the Heart, and no one else is allowed to come inside. Now he is alone. Now there is time for atma-vichara.

He asks himself, ‘To whom have all these thoughts come?’

Three times he slowly repeats the same question, along with the outgoing breaths.

Then he, in that same slow manner, answers, ‘To me, to me, to me’.

Then who am I? Then who am I? Then who am I?’

All questions and answers are repeated three times, very slowly.

‘This “I” is not a thought. This “I” is not a thought. This “I” is not a thought.’

‘Then who is the receiver of the thought? Then who is the receiver of the thought? Then who is the receiver of the thought?’

‘”I” – “I” – “I”’ Now the mind is centralised in the source itself. ‘

Then who am I? Then who am I? Then who am I?’

Now the breath comes to an end and the attention is concentrated 100% on the sound caused by the palpitation of the heart, as if the sound would give the answer to our questions. This is nothing but the pranava itself. If, during this time, the sakti which was static is converted to movements or becomes dynamic, trance will occur. If the primal energy reaches the space between the eyebrows, savikalpa samadhi will occur. If the energy rises up to the top of the head, nirvikalpa samadhi will occur, which is nothing but the Self itself.

However, you should also know that even if the doctor has closed the dispensary door, some patients may come and peep in through the window to complain about their ailments. At the beginning of atma-vichara, the patients at the window are many. In the same way, although the door to the cave of the Heart is closed, some thoughts may occur at the time of dhyana.

For example, a thought may come: ‘Mr Iyer’s sushumna nadi has opened up.’

Since the patient has not come at the proper time, the doctor doesn’t attend to him.

Instead, he continues the quest: ‘To whom has the thought of Mr Iyer come?’ ‘To me, to me, to me.’

‘Then who am I? Then who am I? Then who am I?’

Dearest ‘S’. In all humility this fool has babbled something about how he tries to establish himself in the experience of ananda, which is no different from the Self itself.

With all my love to you.

Ramanagiri in Him


I don’t know how long Swami Ramanagiri stayed with Bhagavan. At some point he returned to Almora, for it was there, in March 1950 that he had a premonition that Bhagavan was about to pass away. The narrative is now taken up by an anonymous writer (the ‘A. Chela’ I referred to in my introduction) who later became a devotee of Swami Ramanagiri:

At the time Bhagavan Ramana’s nirvana was approaching, Swamiji was staying in Almora in the Himalayas. About two weeks before the event Swamiji had a psychic message from Bhagavan, his Guru, about his impending nirvana. Swamiji made haste to reach Tiruvannamalai and the ashram.

Swami Ramanagiri made it to Ramanasramam in time. On the black-and-white film that was taken around the time of Bhagavan’s passing away he can be seen paying his respects to the body of Bhagavan shortly before it was interred. There is a line of people filing past the body; he is the tall, thin foreigner with long hair.

A photo of Swami Ramanagiri that hangs in his samadhi shrine

A. Chela continues with his story:

After the Mahasamadhi of Bhagavan he [Swami Ramanagiri] wanted to go back to the Himalayas. En route he was persuaded by a friend to spend a few days at Madras with him.

One day, as he was walking along the beach, he had a vision of Bhagavan who, signalling with his hand, directed him to proceed further south and stay there. This led him to Tiruvanmiyur, then a fishing village, but nowadays [this was written in 1977] a part of the fast-growing city of Madras.

Here he sat on the beach immersed in samadhi. His host, not knowing where his revered guest had gone, grew anxious. A search was organised and Swamiji was at last located sitting on the beach under the scorching sun, deep in samadhi.

When he came back to the physical plane, he was requested to return to his host’s residence. However, Swamiji said that Bhagavan had directed him to stay there at the seaside, and so stay there he would. So, his host decided to put up a hut of coconut palm leaves for him on the beach. Arrangements were made by his host for food to be sent to him daily.

Often, when the fishermen would swarm around Swamiji, he would give the food meant for himself to them. On other occasions he would be in samadhi, totally unaware of the needs of his body. It was this continued neglect which brought on the tuberculosis which ultimately consumed his body. At first he refused treatment but was persuaded by his host, whom he treated as his father, to go back to the city for treatment.

During his time on the beach he began to attract devotees. He always refused to play the role of the Guru, saying that this was not a mission that Bhagavan had given to him, but nevertheless, he did attract disciples and he did end up advising them on spiritual matters. In the next story A. Chela describes how he ended up becoming a devotee:

At this time in 1950, I was stationed in Delhi. One day in September or October my immediate superior paid a visit to Delhi and stayed with me as my guest. On the first morning of his visit, he finished his ablutions early and took out from his bag a photograph of Swamiji, placed it on the table, lighted a few incense sticks and sat down for meditation. One look at the photograph and my heart seemed to stand still. I was absolutely captivated by the radiant personality in the photograph, and I wanted to know all about him.

My guest, after completing his meditation, told me the story of Swami Ramanagiri.

I then asked him eagerly: ‘Will you take me to him?’ To this, he replied: ‘Yes, when you next come to Madras.’

Most unexpectedly, and to my great good fortune, I was transferred to Madras in January, 1951. On reporting for duty there, almost the first thing I asked my superior was when he would take me to the Swamiji. He said he was going to him that very evening, and that I could come with him.

Hardly able to contain my excitement, I went through the work of the day and immediately rushed to the officer’s chamber. Imagine my consternation when I found it empty. And imagine too my feelings when the watchman told me that my superior officer had left early. Feeling sullen and angry, I waited around restlessly, not knowing what to do in this predicament. And then, slowly, a question formed in my mind. Why should I not go and see the Swamiji by myself? After all, to meet a sannyasi, no formal introduction is necessary. Having convinced myself of the rightness of my proposed action, I started off. Fortunately, my destination was within walking distance.

I came to know later that when my superior reached the Swamiji, the latter, who was observing a vow of silence at that time, wrote on a slate: ‘Someone wanted to come with you. Why did you not bring him?’

My superior, also an ardent devotee of the Swamiji, then realised that in his eagerness to meet Swamiji he had forgotten all about poor me.

He therefore offered to fetch me, but the Swamiji wrote on the slate: ‘Don’t worry. He will come by himself.’

A little later I walked in. When I saw Swamiji, I felt so thrilled that my head began to reel, and I became confused. ‘My God, I am in the presence of Christ!’ were the words that formed in my mind (Swamiji had a really remarkable resemblance to Jesus in all aspects). This lasted for some minutes. I do not remember if I even made a namaskar.

I saw Swamiji write on the slate: ‘This is the person’ and show it to my boss. I didn’t know what all this writing was about and, frankly, I was not even interested. I just sat there in awe and reverence for some time and, after a time, I made a pranam and left. It was only during the next few days that I realised I had said or done nothing during my first visit to the Swamiji. What had I achieved? Nothing. I had to speak to him and be accepted as a disciple. This was imperative. So, a few days later, I went to see Swamiji again. This time I found he was not observing silence and that I could talk to him. However, there were already two other people there, and he was talking to them. But, strangely I found I was not feeling impatient, only indescribably happy to be in his presence.

As time passed and it grew dark, a sudden fear assailed me. Would this meeting also prove fruitless? I looked towards the Swamiji. He had suddenly become serious and was looking out of the window. Then I saw him close his eyes. I also closed my eyes. Everything became very still. I had not known such deep silence and calm before. Then, abruptly, I felt jolted by what I can only call a shock in my heart which shook me and, simultaneously, a tremendous pull from Swamiji like that of a jet engine sucking air. My whole being seemed to go totally still but I felt no panic, only a great peace enveloping me. My Guru had pierced my heart and taken my mind in very deep into it.

Mentally I asked Swamiji: ‘Will you please take me as your disciple?’ The answer ‘Yes’ was also an unspoken one. But it was a very firm and unhesitating ‘Yes’.

After this experience, it seemed as if Swamiji and I both opened our eyes simultaneously and looked at each other. Swamiji bent towards me with a bewitching smile and peered into my eyes, as if enquiring if I had received his message, and if I was happy and satisfied with it. What joy and relief that look gave me! I knew I had been accepted as a disciple. That was enough. I offered a pranam and left.

How he led me from then on is, of course, another story!

A painting of Swami Ramanagiri that hangs in his samadhi shrine

At the beginning of his account A. Chela described how Bhagavan had somehow commanded Swami Ramanagiri to stay on the beach. This ‘command’ followed a major experience that took place in the Theosophical Society in southern Madras. Swami Ramanagiri described the experience and its aftermath in a letter he wrote to Sunyata:

Dearest Sunya,

In this letter I must tell you that I have sailed away. I have sailed to a far-off place, a place which cannot be described by words. To describe it is to pollute it. The steamer on which I sailed is a very powerful one, but it rolls hard in the sea if the weather is stormy. The place is called by many names, but still no name can cover its reality.

Some used to call the place nirvikalpa, others satchitananda or nirguna Brahman – some call it God or Self, others call it pure consciousness or the egoless state. To describe it, I have to put up a big wall before it.

The name of the steamer is ‘mind’. With the help of prana one reaches the place that for the jiva seems so far away; but really speaking, is nearer than one’s own breath. If the sense-weather is stormy, the steamer will roll badly on the samsaric ocean. By now, you must understand the art of my sailing, and why I have been so silent. Let me tell you what happened and why I have been so silent.

The same day as I was going back to North India I visited the Theosophical Library at Adyar. And while walking in the garden, Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi appeared before me. He asked me to follow him. I went along the seacoast to a little place where I sat down for meditation. There Sri Bhagavan’s voice told me that my only duty (dharma) from now onwards was the Self. Further, he gave me some upadesa which I followed for some days.

One night, between 12 and 2, kundalini was aroused to sahasrara and the jiva merged into the Self. On account on the sound Om from the waves of the sea, I was brought back to body awareness; otherwise I would have left my body because in that state there is no one to come back, and no one to make any effort. After having regained body-consciousness, I discovered that I had lost all my memory. All events before the time of Sri Bhagavan’s appearance in the garden had gone out of my mind. Friends who had been very close to me looked like strangers. People whom I thought I had never met before came and told me that we had met in Madras only a few days before. Everyone and everything looked so new and strange and unreal.

Now I am getting back my memory, but mostly recollections connected with spiritual experiences and deep love. That is why I am writing to you, because those who are near my heart turn up again in this mind, which is so different from the previous one.

The village people have built a little hut for me, but there is no post office in this little fishing village, the name of which I do not even know, so I cannot give you any address yet. I don’t think any postman will take the trouble to come down to the sandy beach, but I shall let you know later.

With all my love

Ramanagiri in Him

The stay in Madras proved to be a short one. A few months later Swami Ramanagiri received another message from Bhagavan, telling him to go to Madurai. While he was there, wandering around in the countryside, Bhagavan appeared before him in a vision and directed him to go and stay in the Sirumulai Hills, about twenty miles from Madurai. He spent the rest of his short life there, continuing his practice of yoga and enquiry.

He frequently became absorbed in ecstatic or blissful states, so much so that he had little awareness of his body or its needs. Of one experience he wrote:

The whole night Nothing but fire, light, bliss and pranava.
O Father! O Father! What happiness!
No thought, only the enjoyment and the enjoyer
O Father! How near I was to losing myself completely in your embrace.
O Father, why do you turn me back to the state of the mind
where I suffer from thoughts and where I am tormented by an ego?

In a more sober and reflective mood he made the following assessment of the blissful states he was experiencing through his pranayama and atma-vichara:

Bliss is not a product of fantasy, but the most convincing experience we are capable of. If this experience would be a product of the imagination, the hair would not stand on end, nor would tears of happiness come in streams from the eyes, nor would the nose start flowing, nor would there be any shivering of the body, the skin would not turn red-hot, and there would be no levitation of the body. How many times have I found the body at another place in the room after having enjoyed Mother’s bliss. In padmasana the body is not capable of moving.

Swami Ramanagiri eventually contracted tuberculosis, a disease which claimed him at the young age of thirty-four, in 1955. He spent his final days in the Perunderai Sanitorium.

Though his body was lean and emaciated, his spirits were high.

‘It is the body which suffers,’ he told his visitors. ‘I am all right. Sakti is now stronger than ever before, and it is here [indicating a spot between the eyebrows].

It was summer and mangoes were just beginning to appear. Accepting some as an offering, he alluded to his forthcoming death by saying, ‘I will eat a nice mango now, but it will become garbage tomorrow morning’.

For more than an hour before his death he was completely withdrawn in a deep meditative state, with his hair standing on end. At his last moment he whispered
Let us go,’ and he left his body in true yogic fashion, through the fontanelle in the top of his head. Blood was seen to ooze out of a hole there.

His body was interred at the foot of the Sirumulai Hills, at a place he had named ‘Ramana Padam’, and a Siva lingam was installed over his samadhi. Twice a year there are gatherings at the shrine to commemorate the day of his great experience with Bhagavan, and the date of his final passing away. A poor feeding is conducted and crowds of over 2,000 assemble to pay homage to this foreign son of India.

The lingam installed over the body of Swami Ramangiri

The roof of the samadhi shrine

During his stay in the Sirmulai Hills a devotee called Ramachandran persuaded Swami Ramanagiri to write down a few words every day. Though he had little interest in writing or in recording his thoughts and experiences, Swami Ramanagiri agreed. This is how he began his notebook, which he entitled ‘Cold Fire’:

Beloved Ramachandran has asked this fool, at least for his sake, to write a word every day, and my dearest Ramu is deluded by maya, so he has given this big book.

The ‘Cold Fire’ manuscript that I was given contains statements and advice that other devotees say was sent to them by Swami Ramanagiri in letters. It is probably a mixture of advice given out through the post and stray thoughts written down in the privacy of his room. Here are some of the comments:

His Name, taken once with wholehearted love and a one-pointed mind, is worth more than the knowledge collected from every book all over the world.

Learning is learned ignorance. Unlearning is learning.

What you speak about others doesn’t reveal anything about them, but about you.

The power of listening attracts more than the power of speaking.

Jnana and bhakti are not separate from each other. One cannot know Him without loving Him, and one cannot love Him without knowing Him.

Non-attachment does not mean indifference; love does not mean attachment; attachment is that which takes; love is that which gives.

Shut the doors and the door will be opened.

Religion is experience. It should be practised, not studied or discussed, and at the very least not preached. Those who preach don’t know; those who know don’t preach.

About your worldly troubles: you must do as you think best yourself, but it is good policy to keep away from other’s plates, however sweet and inviting they look. Both sugar and arsenic are white.

When a soul turns his mind towards the divine, the following two things will happen. First, he will get some joyful experience, which shows that he is on the right path, and that he is progressing. Second, when the asuric forces see that he is progressing, they will put every possible obstacle before the sadhaka in the form of worldly troubles, mental botherations and sex urges. I think you have reached that second stage and will get further troubles. But don’t mind. They are good in so far as they make us fed up with the world.

If the ego is allowed to play with our emotions, it is capable of causing havoc. Only by drawing the ego to its source can the saddest feeling be converted into ananda.

Perfection in any form is the manifestation of the divine. The greatest service to humanity is self-enquiry, and the greatest remedy for this world is Self-realisation, but that does not mean that we should not do anything for others. As long as we have not got the power to withdraw the mind from the objects of sense perceptions, we should do, and must do, whatever we can for others. Selfless activity will soon give the power of introversion, but when the mind has become introverted, we should not spoil what we have gained by outward activity.

The main thing with worship is not what we worship, but that we worship, and if we have got love, we can easily surrender the feeling of ‘I’ which is the wall between ourselves and God.

The disciple’s love for the Guru is more important than the Guru’s power.

The behaviour of a fool and a wise man is the same. The only difference is that a fool goes from life to lives while a wise man goes from lives to Life. One leaves the ocean behind; the other returns.

To speak or write about Him is pollution. The only truth which becomes falsehood when expressed is aham Brahmasmi or Sivoham.

The best weapon of defence is ahimsa. The best weapon of offence is love.

The ego will cry like a mad man when he sees that he is going to be killed.

The human body is the greatest hindrance in realising the Self, but it is also the only means.

O Mother! What a painful bliss you gave this child! Mother is always the same, but we are different, depending on the purity of the body, mind and heart. That is why Mother’s bliss sometimes gives extreme pain, sometimes extreme joy.

Renunciation of that which renounces is renunciation.

In my father’s lap, Mother, Father and I are one; or there is none; but IT is.

To become bliss is very different from enjoying it. Last evening I could not get to sleep on account of some noisy music going on nearby. So, I was lying and mentally repeating the pranava. Suddenly everything became so quiet, so quiet that it gave me a surprise that it could ever be so quiet. Then I found myself floating on a most beautiful silvery ocean. Then the body started to move backwards on the surface as if taken away by some stream. I did not do anything to or for as I enjoyed the effortless moving like a little leaf in a big, big river. Then I regained the waking consciousness on account of a terrible shaking as if an earthquake had broken out and Mother started to climb the dreadful back of Mount Meru. My first thought was: ‘I had better be in a sitting position if samadhi occurs.’ Along with that thought I contracted the anus so that Mother might not return. That made the upper portion of the body swing up like a spring without the help of any muscular effort except for the contraction of the anus. The result was that the whole body [rose] into the air… As long as I was contracting the anus, the body was hanging self-suspended in the air. When I released the contraction, the body came down again in the bed. I felt very sad, and was on the point of weeping, because Mother returned and I did not get samadhi. Again I felt I was a prey to these rubbish powers, which do not make a person more spiritual. On the contrary it gives ego, and that too a very bad and strong one, which is very, very difficult to overcome.

[While this is clearly a description of a levitation experience, the cryptic language makes it hard to make out whether it is something that he indulged in (by ‘closing the anus’ to keep Mother away) and later regretted, or something that just happened spontaneously.]

We are imprisoned within the walls of our thoughts.

Out of all human beings, 108 are chosen. Out of these 108, nine are selected. Out of these nine, seven go mad. One goes knowingly back to maya, and one goes to the Supreme.

O Father, why have you taken me to this place? It must be the hall. I suffer badly here. Even the worst torture loses its grip in sleep, but here there is no sleep. I weep without tears, and I have lost even the last power: the power to pray. I feel like a dog running after its own tail, without getting tired. After an endless time of darkness, a little squirrel came and sat before me. I asked the little squirrel, ‘Have you also come to run after your tail? Or are you a messenger from my father?’ The little squirrel smiled and ran away. The appearance of the squirrel caused a thrilling sensation of joy and two tears came into the right eye. The first tear gave me back my faith; the other gave me the strength to pray.

O Father, let every human being be happy. Let every creature have peace and blessings. Help the parents who once gave me a gross form to realise You. Help every dear and near one. Father, father, do not give me ego or mind. Make me simple and humble and let me always speak the truth. Father, may I always shun money, and do not give me any sexual thought, desire or dream… OM SHANTI OM SHANTI OM SHANTI.

After days and nights in prayer, the little squirrel again came and sat before me and asked: ‘Who is suffering? Who is praying?’

There are no secret doctrines, no secret masters, no secret teaching, and no secret India, only secret authors. Their secret is fame and money. What is the use of giving food if it is not to be eaten? Would you call food not offered ‘secret’?

One doesn’t take to sadhana out of miseries, but on account of happiness. Only a happy person can become a good yogi. Nor does one take to sannyasa because one has lost something, but because one has gained something.

It’s a play with toys, but not a play for children. It is a mad play, and when one doesn’t know it’s a play, one suffers badly. Meditation is for the strong, not the weak.

I feel a boiling pressure in the region of the navel and a kind of nervousness as if I was going to appear in an important examination. I cannot sleep any more. As soon as I lie down I get electric shocks in different parts of the body, and when it occurs in the head, I go mad. As long as we try to balance on the razor’s edge, we are bound to fall and cut ourselves to pieces, but we have to try till we give up trying. It is not a question of balancing, but balancing without effort.

By the help of the intellect we get discrimination; by experience we get knowledge.

Mother’s bliss is just like a thrilling screw of boundless joy inserted into every cell of the body.

Discrimination is our destiny.

Lord Ramana, Lord Subramania, Lord Siva, my Father and the Self are one and the same. Mother is His tool, Arunagiri their child, and Ramanagiri this fool.