The Guiding Presence of Sri Ramana
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This act of perfect grace can be experienced anywhere, but it is especially palpable at his Ashram in South India at the foot of the holy Arunachala Hill, a hill that has attracted saints and sages for thousands of years. The goal is no heaven after death or a faraway ideal, but rather the removal of the ignorance that prevents us from knowing that we are eternally One with our Source, the Supreme Self, or God. It is an experience than can be had NOW! All that is required is a sincere effort, which earns us the necessary grace. You say I am going away, but where can I go?
I am always here. While I lay in bed in the guest room of the ashram, the encounter that had taken place on the train in Bombay replayed itself in my mind. I recalled the blind audacity that had prompted me to drop the thrice-holy vibhuti in contempt onto the floor of the railway carriage. Today, even one speck of such vibhuti is treasure to me, for prasad received from the Master is a form of grace that no wealth on earth may buy. Sometimes I even feel that I am not worthy enough to raise it to my eyelids and streak my forehead with it. Why did it take half a lifetime before I could meet you?
Half a lifetime of blundering, of failing and falling. But I suppose, my Master, that you would say that time is a mental concept. For I feel that in your sight your bhaktas [devotees] have, throughout all time, always been with you and near you. The next morning I arose in a rejuvenated state. There was a new vigour in my limbs and an awareness that my heart was permeated with light. On the third day of my visit I sadly took leave of Sri Bhagavan. I was still human enough, still caught in the sense of time and space, for the parting to leave me with a feeling of aching and emptiness in the heart.
But there was no despair. Something assured me that I would be returning to the feet of the Master sooner than I could imagine. My intuition turned out to be correct. In the following years repeated visits seemed to be miraculously and easily arranged by the Master. He seemed to know that I felt an occasional need to be close to him physically. In the years that followed each succeeding visit deepened the light within, toned up my nerves and suffused my senses with an increasing experience of exhilaration.
The subtle and subconscious manner with which the Master toils at his children is amazing. There were times without number when I distinctly saw his hand, his mighty hand, extended to me when I stood in need of guidance. These occasions continually reminded me of his famous comment in Who am I? In I decided to wind up my printing press in Bombay in order to go and settle at Sri Ramanasramam. I had no pre-arranged plan for closing down my business; I merely relied on Sri Bhagavan. And he in turn responded to my devout prayer.
In the early hours of the morning, while I was still in my bed and only half awake, I saw a vision in which Sri Bhagavan appeared before me. By his side stood a gentleman whom I recognised as a friend of mine. He had neither been to the ashram nor had he ever exhibited any faith in Sri Bhagavan. Me: Yes, Bhagavan, but I must find a buyer. Bhagavan: showing my friend standing by his side Here is the buyer. He will buy your press, so sell it to him. Me: Since Sri Bhagavan has been kind enough to show me the buyer, may he also favour me by stating the amount at which I should execute the sale?
Sri Bhagavan then showed me five figures on the opposite wall that were shining like a neon sign. The amount indicated to me was quite reasonable, neither low nor exorbitant. Sri Bhagavan and my friend then disappeared from my sight and the vision ended. By itself the vision was astonishing enough, but there was more to come.
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When I entered my press that day at 11 a. Of course, he had come to see me about some other work and had no idea that he had been singled out as a prospective buyer. Feeling that Sri Bhagavan had sent him to me, I told him about the vision that had come to me a few hours before. He listened to me very attentively.
There was no limit to my joy. My desire to sell was fulfilled by his grace and the sale was completed in less than a minute. My original plan had been to sell all my property in Bombay and move directly to Sri Ramanasramam. However, when the devotees heard what I was planning to do, it was suggested to me that I could be of more use to the ashram in Bangalore.
I agreed to the idea and soon found myself in Bangalore, looking for suitable premises. I began to suspect that Sri Bhagavan had assisted the sale of my original press because he had work for me to do in Bangalore. I was a stranger in the city but I soon located an old press that had been lying idle for the previous six months. It was for sale. I saw its proprietor and told him why I wished to buy his business. He agreed to sell it to me but we were unable to agree on a price. I thought that since Sri Bhagavan wanted me to do this work in Bangalore, his darshan might help to lubricate the wheels of the transaction.
The owner agreed to the idea, so we set off together for Sri Ramanasramam. Sri Bhagavan did not say anything; he just nodded his head. He approached me and agreed to sell his press for whatever price I was willing to pay for it. I stated a reasonable amount since I did not want to exploit him, and he happily accepted my offer.
When he had agreed to come and see Sri Bhagavan with me he had made a stipulation that no business talks should take place at the ashram. However, after seeing Sri Bhagavan, he proposed that we settle our business immediately. We drafted and signed a sale agreement in the ashram itself and within a week of our visit the press came into my possession.
Sri Ramanasramam (Tiruvannāmalai, India)
It was a fairly big press that enabled me to do all kinds of printing work in several languages. Because of the good facilities that were available there, I undertook to print ashram books in English, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Gujarati and Kannada. He had arrived on September 1st, , and on that same date in the ashram proposed to mark the occasion by a number of special events, one of which was the publication of a book entitled The Golden Jubilee Souvenir. The printing of this souvenir was entrusted to my press. Up till then, the press had only printed small books for the ashram.
Since this was going to be a big volume of several hundred pages, I was initially reluctant to accept the work because I felt that I would not have enough time to complete it. However, once I overcame my diffidence and accepted the commission, help and cooperation began to pour in. At first, my initial fears appeared to be justified. When only ten days remained before the publication date, I had still not managed to print more than a small part of the book.
I temporarily lost my courage and rushed off to the ashram. I then sat before him, enjoying his darshan , waiting for his reply. These three simple words had a magical effect on me. They fired me with fresh vim and vigour and there arose in my heart a strong belief that the volume would surely be out on the scheduled date.
I had received my orders from my Master. I had faith that all the other details would be looked after by him. I returned to Bangalore and told the story of my experience at Sri Ramanasramam to my co-workers in the press. For the next few days all of us worked day and night with full faith, zeal and enthusiasm. The amount of work turned out in those last ten days was, in retrospect, quite astonishing. Then, when three days remained till our deadline, a party of about ten devotees came to my house on its way to the ashram. They were going there to attend the golden jubilee celebrations. Three of them turned out to be expert bookbinders.
I immediately enlisted their aid and managed to complete the work of the souvenir a day early. Between and the Aruna Press printed all the publications of Sri Ramanasramam. The work was complex and I often found myself having to argue with the official at Sri Ramanasramam who had been put in charge of the publications there. The tension between us increased to the point where both of us decided that we should go to Sri Bhagavan to get our differences resolved.
The rest interval between noon and 2. We went to the hall at noon and waited outside for him to return from lunch.
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On his way back he saw both of us waiting for him. Sensing that we had some business to discuss, he took his seat on the big stone couch that stood outside the hall. My friend immediately started to present his side of the dispute. However, it soon occurred to him that Sri Bhagavan was not comfortable sitting outside on this stone bench.
He stopped in the middle of his plea, folded his hands in a respectful way, and requested Sri Bhagavan to go inside the hall. He said that the business should be conducted with Sri Bhagavan seated comfortably on his sofa. Was there a soft bed and a sofa when I was up there [pointing to the hill]? Up there the bare stones served as my bed as well as my seat. In an anguished voice I begged Sri Bhagavan to follow the advice. We will resume our talk only after you go into the hall and sit comfortably on the sofa. Neither of us knew why he finally agreed after rejecting the first appeal.
He got up, went inside and, as requested, sat on his sofa. Both of us then placed our cases before him. He quietly listened to us and gave his verdict in the language of silence. Smiling with great charm he maintained complete silence both during and after the presentation of the arguments. The judgement was the best possible one for both of us. As we emerged from the hall both of us had a spontaneous impulse to embrace the other.
In those few minutes our hearts had changed. We separated with the resolve to bury the past and to treat each other in future with love and friendship. The silken tie with which Sri Bhagavan bound us on that day has never snapped again.
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At such times it is rather difficult to arrive at the right decision. It has been my experience that at such times our gracious Master leads us to the proper decision. I will give an example from my own life. At one time I felt that my political duty as a Gandhian demanded that I should court arrest, but my domestic duties bade me otherwise. As I was eager to go to jail as part of the Independence struggle, it pained me that, out of regard for my family, I was not able to do so.
I found myself in a dilemma and I could not of my own accord see the way out. The situation was so unbearable for me that I had to turn to the Master for help and relief. I therefore set out for Tiruvannamalai. After reaching there I went and sat in the holy presence of the Master.
While I was sitting there, I began to wonder how I should place my difficulty before him because I did not feel like broaching the subject verbally. I finally decided to pour forth my prayer from my heart in silence in the form of a plea for Sri Bhagavan to extend his benign help to me. I began to pray and while I concentrated on my mental plea I watched his radiant face and his sparkling eyes that were full of love and kindness. And then, astonishingly, something like a miracle began to happen.
As I stared at it with awe and wonder, the two faces, those of Sri Bhagavan and Gandhiji, began to appear to me alternately in quick succession. I felt my heart filling with joy and yet at the same time I was wondering whether what I saw was real or not. I turned my eyes away from Sri Bhagavan and looked around me to see if others were seeing what I saw. Seeing no sign of wonder on their faces, I concluded that what I saw was a picture from my own imagination.
I closed my eyes and sat quietly for some time. In addition to the two faces of Sri Bhagavan and Gandhiji, those of Krishna, Buddha, Kabir, Ramdas and a host of other saints began to show themselves in quick succession. Now all my doubts vanished and I began to enjoy this grand and divine show. The vision lasted about five minutes. My mind dropped all its worries and I found myself able to hand over my problem to the capable hands of the Master.
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Though he spoke no words to me, it came to pass that the problem was solved without infringing either of my two duties. In fact, both duties were fulfilled satisfactorily. I had another vision of Sri Bhagavan in During my visit to Sri Ramanasramam that year, I visited the temple of Sri Arunachaleswara with my family and a friend who was a devotee from Madurai. This is the main temple in Tiruvannamalai, the same one that Sri Bhagavan stayed in when he first came to Arunachala. While we were walking through the spacious courtyards I did not have any inkling of the wonderful experience I was to pass through when I finally saw the deity.
On reaching the innermost shrine we discovered that we were early, for the doors of the shrine had not been opened. We decided to wait there till someone came to unlock them. Suddenly my thoughts began to materialise physically as scenes from his early life began to appear before my eyes as vividly as if I were watching a cinema film. Leaving it aside, he sits bolt upright, closes his eyes and becomes absorbed in the more congenial practice of meditation. His elder brother Nagaswami is watching him and rebukes him for neglecting his lessons.
Venkataraman then decides to leave the house. He reaches the railway station. He buys a ticket to Tindivanam, gets into the train and sits quietly in one corner. A moulvi [Muslim scholar] who is discoursing to other passengers notices him and asks him where he is going. On learning that Venkataraman has got a ticket to Tindivanam but wants to go on to Tiruvannamalai, the moulvi directs him to break his journey at Villupuram.
I see Venkataraman getting down at Villupuram and walking through the town in search of food. He waits near a hotel whose meals are not yet ready. Meanwhile he loses himself in samadhi. When the meal is ready, he takes it, offers to pay for it, but the hotel owner refuses payment. He then goes to the railway station and buys a ticket to Mambalapattu.
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From there he walks for about ten miles and reaches the temple of Ariyanainallur. In the temple he sees a vision of dazzling light and goes into samadhi again. He then goes to Kilur, where he pledges his earrings and gets four rupees for them. With this money he goes to the railway station and buys a ticket to Tiruvannamalai. While I was enjoying this wonderful divine vision, the doors of the shrine opened and my vision was interrupted by the loud blowing of pipes and the beating of drums.
I too mechanically stood up with the others. After this short interruption, my vision continued. Though the idol of Sri Arunachaleswara was before my eyes, I could clearly see Venkataraman getting out of the train at the Tiruvannamalai station. He then ran towards the temple. As he was coming nearer and nearer, the noisy music rose to a higher and higher pitch. Venkataraman entered the temple, ran to the shrine and embraced the lingam with both his hands.
My feelings were ecstatic. My whole body experienced a divine thrill and tears of joy rolled down my cheeks. This state of sublime joy lasted a long time and was both indescribable and unforgettable. I am not the only person to have had a vision of Sri Bhagavan in the inner shrine of the temple. This is how he described it: [When I reached the centre of the temple,] all my attention was directed to the one purpose of seeing the image or lingam in the sanctum sanctorum.