The Maha Swami and The Maharishi
Two reports I heard from the servitors of the Maha-Svami relating him to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharishi I could myself easily attribute to their creative artistry in elevating their own Master over every other holy man. Yet I wanted to get confirmation from His Holiness himself for certain reasons.
The Maha-Svami, ever bubbling with wit and witticism had a unique way of saying things. He said he did not want to give the same judgment on both reports and so would call one of them as pettal (colloquial for pitatral) and the other as ularal. The fun of it si that both the words mean the same, viz., talking nonsense!
To come to the two reports. One of them was that when the Maha-Svami was circumambulating the Holy Hill during his camp at Tiruvannamalai, Sri Ramana Maharishi purposely came out of his living room in the Ramana-Asrama and walked to a particular spot from where he could see the Maha-Svami at a distance.
Even as I heard it I could write it off, because Maharishi was to me surely one to whom the triad of the seer, seen and sight had dissolved in the oneness of the only Self. (So it was to His Holiness. But he donned the role of the Teacher exemplifying the ideal to the humans, and therefore was ever on the move to see people and holy places.)
Decades back, a lad of sixteen, the Maharishi fled home to Tirvannamalai, afire with the raging ardor to see the Fire-Linga of lord Arunachalesvara. He took darsan, just one darsan, and with that the very idea of an object to be seen apart from the self was burnt out! Though he lived in the very temple precincts for the next five or six months, he did not visit the sanctum sanctorum again. To assert that, contrary to what the Asrama sources say, he did come out to see that Maha-Svami is, as the Svami himself said, nothing but pettal (nonsense).
Our Acharya Maha-Svami visited Tiruvannamalai twice, once in 1929 and again in 1944, both for the Kartika Deepam festival (when the holy beacon is lighted atop the Hill). On both the occasions he also made the customary Giri-pradakshinam (circumambulation of the Hill). The Ramanasraman lies on the route. I have heard reports from two very reliable and respected persons attached to the Asramam, Sri Kunju Svamigal and Mme. Suri Nagmma about what transpired when the Maha-Svami passed along the route. Kunju Svami must have been present on both the occasions and Nagamma on the latter one.
Bhagavan had already prepared the asramites not to take it amiss if the Acharya did not enter into the Asramam and see him; because, according to one tradition, one in the Jagadguru Peetham (Seat of the World-teacher) must not call on another holy man on his own. As for himself, though he did not say it, he would not extend an invitation to anyone for the simple reason that he did not have any desire or need to see any body, anything. As for the asramites, they could, if they so wished, gather outside and have darsan of the Acharya as he moved along.
And most of them did.
The asramites had great respect for the Acharya, especially by the forties, because it was he who almost compelled Paul Brunton the Maharishi’s feet, and it was Brunton’s soulful account of the Maharishi that threw open the window of the West of the light of the Illumined Master. The book clearly shows that the Acharya considered the Maharishi as “a high master” who can give “initiation into the real yoga of the higher kind”.
In one of his discourses in Madras in the early thirties, the Acharya had raked the Maharishi, whom he referred to as Ramana Svamigal, among the jivan-muktas (liberated even while living in a body). The asramites were naturally happy that the respected head of a Sankara Math, uncompromising in such matters, gave such praise to the Maharishi in public.
On both the occasions of his visit to Tiruvanna malai, the Acharya turned his eyes towards the entrance of the Asrama, stopped for a few seconds looking round and continued to walk, a still picture in motion!
Reminiscing the second visit Nagamma said, while all the other asramites went out and waited at the gate for His Holiness, she alone was left with the Maharishi.
“Why have you not joined them?” he asked her.
“Because the Svami does not see Brahmin widows who have not shaved their heads”, Nagamma replied.
Though mature and tolerant not to denounce the orthodox custom, she felt a tinge of sadness.
The Maharishi just nodded his head and looked at her with compassion, The compassion assuaged her sadness. The simple nod too conveyed a lot to the discerning disciple. It signified the Maharishi’s acceptance of both the Acharya’s adherence to the institutional customs, and Nagamma’s wisdom in not following the other such windows who used to peep at the Acharya from a hidden place.
Here comes something antipodal between the Maha-Svami and the Maharishi. the former stood foremost in strictly observing all the distinction laid out by the Dharma sastras and orthodox traditions, whereas the latter stood foremost in practicing equality. Even to merit the glance of the Maha-Svami one had to fulfil conditions; a millionaires Brahmin widow was disqualified if she was not tonsured! On the other hand, even an untouchable beggar could sit right by the side of the Maharishi and eat along with him. Nay, if he so felt, there was no restriction to his feeding the Maharishi from out of the alms in his begging bowl! How rude, crude and cruel does the one appear and how suave, soft and sweet the other? How is it that the Sweet gives his nod of approval to the Cruel?
If the Sweet cannot appreciate the Cruel, equally true is the vice versa. But whereas the Sweet’s appreciation of the Cruel came out in `just nodding,’ the Cruel’s appreciation of the Sweet came out in a verbal flow. That was in the public discourse given by the Maha-Svami the very night. To quote Nagamma, “The Swami spoke at great length saying that every head of a religious organisation has to observe established traditions while one who is an Athyasramite (one transcending the four stages of life prescribed by the Dharma Sastras) has no such inhibitions… (To) attain that state is very difficult and that had been possible only for a great soul like Ramana Maharishi.”
The devotees of the Maharishi exulted at this unstinted tribute the Acharya paid to their Master in their home-town.
But close on it wake the Acharya gave a rude shock to them. They felt that he had dealt a direct blow on what they held in worshipful respect in the Asrama, viz., the temple over the spot where the body of the mother of the Maharishi was buried. When she passed away, the Maharishi favoured the idea of putting up such a structure because in his view (which was not just a view, but perception of truth) she was a Sannyasini who attained the Jnani’s liberation of Oneness. Vedic priests offered their chants and ritualistic services at the temple as they did in any other `regular’ temple. But, to their dismay when they went after one such service there to participate in the evening Puja at the Acharya’s Math, they were asked to enter only after taking a purificatory bath. Because, first of all opinion was divided among the orthodoxy on first of all, opinion was divided among the orthodoxy on the very question of the eligibility of women for sannyasa; and even if that was accepted, the mother of Maharishi was not initiated to that order in the formal, scriptural way. So the place of her burial was just a grave-yard (which pollutes the entrants).
The directive of the Acharya to the priests struck the asramites as a bigoted, book-learnt judgement over the intuitive judgment of their enlightened master. As most of the priests were also devoted to the Maharishi, they were deeply perturbed when the Pontiff, who was the bulwark of the priestly tradition in the changing world, pronounced the stricture.
Early next morning the asramites and priests went to the Maharishi. In spite of the asramites’ efforts to restrain themselves before their august Master, they could not keep their tempers. They complained about what all `that Svami’ was doing with his differentiating outlook in contrast to what `this Bhagavan’ was doing in his all-embracing outlook. “The priests want to give a reply to him. (They actually wanted to teach him a lesson!) Bhagavan should give the reply.”
As ever unruffled, the Maharishi heard it all and in his stately composure gave his judgement on the judgement of the Svami on his previous judgment. It was Neutrality itself that spoke!
“Why say that person, this person? Say there, here. That is the correct expression. Viewed so, what all has happened will also be understood as correct. (For the benefit of the Tamil-knowing readers, let me give the original simple, concise and powerful words of the Maharishi as faithfully conveyed by Sri Kunju Svami: That is an orthodox Peetham, and this an independent ashram. Who ever is here would be like this. So long as that svami is the head of that Peetham he must only follow (more precisely, `demonstrate’, because the Maharishi said not the ways and rules of the Peetham. He had therefore issued that directive.
“Why reply? Then there will be a counter to it, a counter to the counter and it will go on like that. (Looking at the asramites) Let us carry on in our way silently here, come. The others may withdraw. let not anybody raise questions and arguments.”
Is it not clear that Maharishi considered the Maha-svami to be a Brahma-jnani in reality who was just `demonstrating’ certain ways because he happened to be in a certain place! The Brahma-jnani alone can take the colour of any surroundings. Chameleon-like? But the chameleon does that to save itself; the jnani, to save the surrounding! The particular surrounding of our Brahma-jnani conferred on him the uniqueness of being the only Maha-Purusha of the recent times to apparently bind his state of unbound freedom with shackles of the strictest codes of the orthodox tradition. Much in it would be rude, crude and cruel in the eyes of the changing free world. But in Nature’s order freedom too must be balanced by discipline, which is another name for restraint. When almost the whole world plumbed in for freedom and its consequent break from the past to its rude, crude and cruel extreme, it was as though Nature threw up the Single Entity on the Acharya to counter balance it by his total adherence to the past tradition in its extreme form. Though noble motives and ideals are not lacking n the Modern Movements, in actually it has only `helped its adherents in self-pampering in various ways. In contrast, however base orthodoxy appeared to be, people saw with open eyes in its Ace-adherent the living example of self-paupering. They realised that he was more `cruel’ in his self-denial than in denying them the many rights they clamoured for. It was the power of this self-abnegation, added to that of his unbounded love deep within, which knew no differentiation, that gained universal respect for him.
But human nature being what it is, respect gives way to remonstration when personally picked. That happened with the Ramana-asramites too. But the Maharishi, who had no person to be pricked, dissolved it by counseling sympathetic acceptance.
These are various systems of medicine. In the Unani system we have sweet and soft drugs, in the Ayurveda bitter and pungent ones. Does that mean the hakim only is kind an the vaidya cruel? Whatever the patient may think, the hakim and vaidya, if open-hearted, will acknowledge the merit of each other. That was what our vaidya Maha-Swami and hakim Maharishi did. That was the secret of the mutual appreciation between the `Cruel’ and the `Sweet’.
(It is also generally accepted by the Masters that when we are in the initial stages of cleansing the mind the Ayurveda of (the Karma-marga of) the Dharma Sastras is more called or, and only afterwards the Unani of Jnana Marga.)
According to my sure understanding, the orthodox interpretation the Maha-Svami gave of touching the place of burial of Maharishi’s mother must have changed later on.
For nearly a decade from the early seventies I often felt an irresistible urge to visit Ramanasrama. At that time I had asked the Maha-svami about my going to what was said to be the Mother’s temple there.
He said with a smile, “I think you say `what is said to be’ because you have heard about my pronouncement (uttravu) on that”, he continued, “That was before the Kumbhabishekam (formal consecration of the structure as a temple) was performed there quite elaborately. Among the many santi karmas (expiatory rites) in that, what was necessary in the particular matter was also carried out, perhaps without the knowledge of the people of the Asramam themselves.”
Though this may appear rather scrappy to the readers, the eloquent sannidhya (divine personal radiation) of the Maha-Svami added to his verbal statement gave me, personally, the full answer. I could construe with certainty that by `what was necessary in this particular matter was carried out’ he meant tat what was scripturally ordained for conferring the status of a temple to a structure that had come up in a burial ground was carried into effect. “Perhaps without the knowledge of the people of the Asramam themselves”: my sure guess is that somebody on behalf of the priests to perform the Kumbhabishekam, evidently having in mind the Maha-Svami’s previous stricture, had independently sought his advice before taking up the consecration and the Maha-svami must have told him to see if any rite to formally authorise a temple that had come up in a graveyard was given in the Sastras, and if found, that must be carried out in the present case. Actually finding some such, the priests must have duly fulfilled that. Not a raise any unpleasant thoughts among the asramites, the Maha Svami must have, in his abounding sympathy, advised the priests to keep this back from them.
Apart from this `sure guess’, it is a fact that the Maha-Svami permitted me, who may be said to be on the side of the orthodox, to visit the place as a temple. That applies to all others of the same persuasion.
Deep within, the sweet water and tender pulp of love and compassion, but on the outside, the hard shell and the husky rind of the orthodox cannons and customs such a coconut the Acharya was. If we acknowledge that he did also partake of the dualism of the world in this Avataric semblance to humanity, we will realise that his loving heart would have undergone more pain than the `victims’ of his stringent strictures – as in the present had to veto the verdict of the very person whom he respected as the perfect example of non-dual perfection. Who knows the number of times something akin to the episode of Sri Rama banishing his beloved and spotless Sita for the sake of upholding his dharmic duty happened in the life of the Acharya! The imperceptible influence of this spirit of sacrifice enhanced the unexceptional respect he elicited.
We come to the second of the reports, the ularal one.
What the whole world came to know as the unique `aspect’ of the Maharishi was his total indifference to whatsoever happened to the body. Even in his teens he was thoroughly obvious of the worms and insects eating into his thighs and nates when he was absorbed in the Self in a subterranean cavern. When at the end of his life, sarcoma was perforating his arm, the world wondered at his perfect unconcern over it. But my Math friends belonged to a different world, the world of the Maha Svami’s one-up manship over all other holymen! So their Maharishi sent word to their Maha-Svami about his protracted suffering, asking why it should be so. (Thank God the friends did not go to the extent of saying that the Maharishi prayed for the Maha-Svami’s grace for relief) the Maha-Svami in return sent the message, “It is will known to you that the body is not you. (It was gracious of the friends to accept this!) Then what is there except keeping on to it?”
Even as I heard it, it struck me as stark absurd. But when I saw even knowledgeable people believing in it, I took the matter t the Maha-Svami’s ears.
And he just dismissed it as ularal.
He went on, brimming with his admiration for the Maharishi. “We have read in the books about the Atma Nishthas (those absorbed in the Self), Braha-Jnanis (knowers of Brahman) and Jivan-Muktas (those liberated even while living in the body), to whom the existence and extinction of the body made no difference and who, fully one (with the Self) did not have an inkling of desire to see or hear anything. Ramana Rishi was among the few extra-ordinary (apurva) persons of the recent times who have demonstrated all that as true. He is the one who has brought, for the world to see, the hoary Jnani-tradition down to the present day.”
“Authentic saint?” I said, partly in the affirmative, partly as a question.
“And a jnani at that. Authentic jnani” he amended.
(Many, perhaps most, of the saints do not have the non-dual realisation of the jnani.)
On another occasion the Maha-Svami said that it was a matter of pride for us (of Tamilnadu) that such one as Ramana Rishi lived among us in the present (degenerate) day. This was in private.
But there was a public occasion when he lauded the Maharishi’s spiritual power in a moving way in his staggering humility. That was at the farewell gathering at the end of his eighteen-month-long stay in Madras, from Sep. 1957 to March 1959. He said that though he moved from place to place and lived in the midst of the people them back to the sastraic way of life. In contrast, he cited the Maharishi and Sri Aurobindo who did not move out of their asramas and yet drew even foreigners to their respective paths.
But there is a world of difference here. Whereas the Maha-Svami’s path of the Dharma Sastras is for the world at large, the Maharishi’s Jnana and Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga are only for the little minority with the required competence and inclination. Such people also have the antenna to discover their master even if they live in the distant corner of the world, and also the diligence to steadfastly follow the master’s path to the end. But the masses are very hard to reclaim, and the more so, to a path to which they are not attracted by native choice.
Though in his humility Maha-Svami under-rated his influence, we must underscore the fact that he too had turned many a mod and agnostic to the sastraic path, sometimes even in a instant. Not only that. He has turned many to the paths of Jnana and Yoga too. Especially in the last decades of his life his influence spread the world over and drew considerable number of foreigners to the paths of Jnana and Yoga, which included the initiates of Paul Brunton himself.
It did not end up with the mutual esteem each had for the other. Higher above each has unmistakably indicated his very identify with the other.
Smt. Kanakamma was born in a family deeply attached to the Kanchi Math and its Acharya. But she took to the Maharishi with fervour. Her relatives were against it. Her grand-mother took her to the Acharya, made the complaint and petitioned to him to wean her from the Maharishi and take her into his fold.
Pat, yet soft, came his reply: “What if it is here or there?’
The judgement from their very Court silenced the members of the family.
We saw before the Maharishi saying that the different prescriptions were due only to the two places and not to the two persons. Even there, the perceptive reader would have heard in undertone a hint to the non-difference between the two persons. Now, when the Maha-Svami referred by `here’ and `there’ not the two places, but the two persons, we have a more audible indication of their non-differences. We are blessed to have a more explicit expression of this identity from the lips of the Maharishi. I quote from Sri. G.V. Subbaramayya*:
Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham was now (end of Oct. 1947) camping near Tiruvannamalai. Someone asked whether His Holiness and Sri Bhagavan ever met. Sri Bhagavan replied:
“When were we separate that we should not meet? We are always together.”
Actually, `togetherness’ was only `oneness to that Advaita Jnani.
Their unity in the sublimity of Advaita may be out of our comprehension. Both are identical in their utter simplicity born of that very sublimity. Her we can certainly understand, admire and adore the oneness of the Maha-Svami and the Maharishi and exclaim “O sancta simplicitas ! (O holy simplicity!)”