How the Maharshi got his name
Ganapati Sastri quivered with emotion as he walked up to the Virupaksha cave. Luckily for him the Swami was seated alone on the outer pial. Sastri fell flat on his face and held the Swami’s feet with both hands and his voice trembled with emotion as he cried: “All that has to be read I have read. Even Vedanta Sastra I have fully understood. I have performed japa (repetition of a holy name) to my heart’s content. Yet I have not up to this time understood what tapas is. Hence have I sought refuge at thy feet. Pray enlighten me about the nature of tapas.” For fifteen minutes the Swami silently gazed at Sastri as he sat at his feet in anxious expectation. None came to interrupt them at the time. Then the Swami spoke in short and broken sentences in Tamil: (translation)
“If one watches whence this notion of ‘I’ springs, the mind will be absorbed into that. That is tapas. If a mantra is repeated, and attention directed to the source whence the mantra-sound is produced, the mind will be absorbed in that. That is tapas.”
This instruction filled Sastri’s heart with joy. He stayed for some hours and ascertained the Swami’s name from the attendant Palaniswami to be Venkatarama Ayyar. Sastri immediately composed five stanzas in praise of the Swami in which he contracted his name to Ramana which has stuck to the Swami ever since. In the letter which Sastri wrote next day he added that he must henceforth be called ‘Maharshi’ since his teaching was quite original.
From: Bouquet of Spiritual Instruction by Viswanathan Sri Ramanasramam