Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi – Dr. Paul Brunton

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Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi – Dr. Paul BruntonBack

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Dr. Paul Brunton (1898-1981), a British journalist, attracted by Indian mysticism first visited India in 1930. Author of eleven books, he has emphasized the value and importance of the Self within us. He is generally considered as having introduced meditation to the West. He once wrote: “Sri Ramana was a spiritual torch carried to the waiting souls in the West. I was only the unimportant ‘link-boy’, the humble carrier.” The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation, New York, has posthumously published his post-1952 writings (the year when his last book The Spiritual Crisis of Man was published), in 16 volumes. He was awarded a doctorate in philosophy by the Roosevelt College, USA.

During his first visit, among many saints and yogis, Brunton also met Sri Ramana. He stayed for a few weeks in an improvised shelter very close to Sri Ramana’s Ashram.The number of full-time devotees being limited at that time, Brunton had ample opportunity of observing the Maharshi at close quarters and interacting with him. He provides a dispassionate, illuminating and intimate account of the Maharshi’s divinity and its impact in his A Search in Secret India published from London in 1934. In his inimitable way he says:

There is something in this man which holds my attention as steel filings are held by a magnet. I cannot turn my gaze away from him. I become aware of a silent, resistless change, which is taking place within my mind. One by one, the questions which I prepared with such meticulous accuracy drop away. I know only that a steady river of quietness seems to be flowing near me; that a great peace is penetrating the inner reaches of my being, and that my thought-tortured brain is beginning to arrive at some rest. I perceive with sudden clarity that intellect creates its own problems and then makes itself miserable trying to solve them. This is indeed a novel concept to enter the mind of one who has hitherto placed such high value upon intellect.

I surrender myself to the steadily deepening sense of restfulness. The passage of time now provokes no irritation, because the chains of mind-made problems are being broken and thrown away. And then, little by little, a question takes the field of consciousness. Does this man, the Maharshi, emanate the perfume of spiritual peace as the flower emanates fragrance from its petals? I begin to wonder whether by some radioactivity of the soul, some unknown telepathic process, the stillness which invades the troubled water of my soul really comes from him.The peace overwhelms me.

The Maharshi turns and looks down into my face; I, in turn, gaze expectantly up at him. I become aware of a mysterious change taking place with great rapidity in my heart and mind. The old motives which have lured me on begin to desert me. The urgent desires which have sent my feet hither and thither vanish with incredible swiftness. The dislikes, misunderstandings, coldness and selfishness which have marked my dealings with many of my fellows collapse into the abyss of nothingness. An untellable peace falls upon me and I know that there is nothing further that I shall ask from life.

The Sage seems to carry something of great moment to me, yet I cannot easily determine its precise nature. It is intangible, imponderable, perhaps spiritual. Each time I think of him a peculiar sensation pierces me and causes my heart to throb with vague but lofty expectations.

I look at the Sage. He sits there on Olympian heights and watches the panorama of life as one apart. There is a mysterious property in this man which differentiates him from all others I have met.

He remains mysteriously aloof even when surrounded by his own devotees, men who have loved him and lived near him for years. Sometimes I catch myself wishing that he would be a little more human, a little more susceptible to what seems so normal to us.

Why is it that under his strange glance I invariably experience a peculiar expectancy, as though some stupendous revelation will soon be made to me? This man has freed himself from all problems, and no woe can touch him.

The Sage seems to speak not as a philosopher, not as a pandit trying to explain his own doctrine, but rather out of the depth of his own heart.

I am not religious but I can no more resist the feeling of increasing awe which begins to grip my mind than a bee can resist a flower in all its luscious bloom. The [Maharshi’s] hall is becoming pervaded with a subtle, intangible and indefinable power which affects me deeply. I feel, without doubt and without hesitation, that the centre of this mysterious power is no other than the Maharshi himself.

His eyes shine with astonishing brilliance. Strange sensation begins to arise in me. Those lustrous orbs seem to be peering into the inmost recesses of my soul. In a peculiar way, I feel aware of everything he can see in my heart. His mysterious glance penetrates my thoughts, my emotions and my desires; I am helpless before it.

At first, his disconcerting gaze troubles me; I become vaguely uneasy. I feel he has perceived pages that belong to a past, which I have forgotten. He knows it all, I am certain. I am powerless to escape; somehow, I do not want to, either.

I become aware that he is definitely linking my own mind with his, that he is provoking my heart into that state of starry calm, which he seems perpetually to enjoy. In this extraordinary peace, I find a sense of exaltation and lightness. Time seems to stand still. My heart is released from its burden of care. Never again, I feel, shall the bitterness of anger and the melancholy of unsatisfied desire afflict me. My mind is submerged in that of the Maharshi and wisdom is now at its perihelion. What is this man’s gaze but a thaumaturgic wand, which evokes a hidden world of unexpected splendour before my profane eyes?

I have sometimes asked myself why these disciples have been staying around the Sage for years with few conversations, fewer comforts and no external activities to attract them. Now I begin to understand -not by thought but by lightning like illuminations – that through all those years they have been receiving a deep and silent reward.

Hitherto, everyone in the hall has been hushed to a death-like stillness. At length, someone quietly rises and passes out. He is followed by another, and then another, until all have gone. I am alone with the Maharshi! Never before has this happened. His eyes begin to change; they narrow down to pinpoints. The effect is curiously like the ‘stopping down’ in the focus of a camera lens. There comes a tremendous increase in the intense gleam which shines between the lids, now almost closed. Suddenly, my body seems to disappear, and we are both out in space! It is a crucial moment. I hesitate – and decide to break the enchanter’s spell. Decision brings power and once again I am Backin the flesh, Backin the hall. No word passes from him to me. I collect my faculties, look at the clock, and rise quietly. The hour of departure has arrived. I bow my head in farewell and depart.

The following relates to Brunton’s second visit and stay near Sri Ramana, a few months later:

Whatever I am doing I never fail to become gradually aware of the mysterious atmosphere of the place, of the benign radiation which steadily percolates into my brain. I enjoy an ineffable tranquility merely by sitting for a while in the neighbourhood of the Maharshi. By careful observation and frequent analysis, I arrive in time at the complete certitude that reciprocal inter-influence arises whenever our presences neighbour each other. The thing is most suitable. But it is quite unmistakable. A force greater than my rationalistic mind awes me until it ends by overwhelming me.

The realisation forces itself through my wonderment that all my questions are moves in an endless game, the play of thoughts which possess no limit to their extent; that somewhere within me there is a well of certitude which can provide me all waters of truth I require; and that it will be better to cease my questioning and attempt to realise the tremendous potencies of my own spiritual nature. So I remain silent and wait.

I am perfectly aware that the sublime realisation which has suddenly fallen upon me is nothing else than a spreading ripple oftelepathic radiation from this mysterious and imperturbable man.

The Maharshi once told me, “The greatest error of a man is to think that he is weak by nature, evil by nature. Every man is divine and strong in his real nature. What are weak and evil are his habits, his desires and thoughts, but not himself.” His words came as an invigorating tonic. They refresh and inspire me. From another man’s lips, from some lesser and feeble soul, I would refuse to accept them at such worth and would persist in refuting them. But an inward monitor assures me that the Sage speaks out of the depth of a great and authentic spiritual experience and not as some theorizing philosopher on the thin stilts of speculation.

Not a few Western minds will inevitably consider that the life of the Maharshi is a wasted one. But perhaps it may be good for us to have a few men who are apart from our world of unending activity, and survey it for us from afar. It may also be that a jungle Sage, with self lying conquered at his feet, is not inferior to a worldly fool who is blown hither and thither by every circumstance.

Day after day brings fresh indications of the greatness of this man. His silence and reserve are habitual. One can easily count up the number of words he uses in a single day.

I am learning to see that the Maharshi’s way of helping others is through unobstrusive, silent and steady outpouring of healing vibrations into troubled souls. Science will one day be required to account for this mysterious telepathic process.

It is clear that his mere presence provides many with spiritual assurance, emotional felicity and, most paradoxical of all, renewed faith in their creed. For the Sage treats all creeds alike, and honours Jesus no less than Krishna.

During daily meditation in the potent neighbourhood of the Sage, I have learnt how to carry my thoughts inwards to an ever-deepening point. Again and again, I become conscious that he is drawing my mind into his own atmosphere during these periods of quiet repose. And it is at such times that one begins to understand why the silences of this man are more significant than his utterances.

There are moments when I feel this power of his so greatly that I know that he has only to issue the most disturbing command and I will readily obey it. But the Maharshi is the last person in the world to place his followers in the chain of servile obedience, and allows everyone the utmost freedom of action. In this respect he is quite refreshingly different from most of the teachers and yogis I have met in India.

The gist of his message is: “Pursue the enquiry, ‘Who am I?’ relentlessly. Analyse your entire personality. Try to find out where the ‘I’ thought begins. Go on with your meditations. Keep turning your attention within. One day the wheel of thought will slow down and an intuition will mysteriously arise. Follow that intuition, let your thinking stop and it will eventually lead you to the goal.

I struggle daily with my thoughts and cut away slowly into the inner recesses of the mind. In the helpful proximity of the Maharshi, my meditations and self-soliloquies become increasingly less tiring and more effective. A strong expectancy and a sense of being guided inspire my constantly repeated efforts.There are strange hours when I am clearly conscious of the unseen power of the Sage being powerfully impacted on my mentality, with the result that I penetrate a little deeper still into the shrouded border land of being, which surrounds the human mind.

I study him intently and gradually come to see in him the child of a remote past when the discovery of spiritual truth was reckoned of no less value than is the discovery of a gold mine today. It dawns upon me with increasing force that, in this quiet and obscure corner of South India, I have been led to one of the last of India’s spiritual supermen.

The serene figure ofthis living Sage brings the legendary figure of this country’s ancient rishis nearer to me. One senses that the most wonderful part of this man is withheld. His deepest soul, which one instinctively recognises as being loaded with rich wisdom, eludes one. At times he still remains curiously aloof, and at other times the kindly benediction of his interior grace binds me to him with hoops of steel. I learn to submit to the enigma of his personality, and to accept him as I find him.

I like him greatly because he is so simple and modest, when an atmosphere of authentic greatness lies so palpably around him;

because he makes no claim to occult powers and hierophantic knowledge to impress the mystery-loving nature of his countrymen, and also because he is so totally without any traces of pretension and he strongly resists every effort to canonize him during his lifetime.

It seems to me that the presence of men like the Maharshi ensures the continuity down history of a divine message from regions not easily accessible to us all. It seems to me, further, that one must accept the fact that such a sage comes to reveal something to us, not to argue anything with us. At any rate, his teachings make a strong appeal to me.

He brings no supernatural power and demands no blind faith. He avoids the dark and debatable waters of wizardry, in which so many promising voyages have ended in shipwreck. He simply puts forward a way of self-analysis which can be practised irrespective of any ancient or modern theories and beliefs which one may hold, a way that will finally lead man to true self-understanding.

Again and again, I am aware that the Maharshi’s mind is imparting something to my own, though no words may be passing between us.

Spiritually my life is nearing its peak.

I enter the hall and straight away assume my regular meditation posture. An intense interiorization of consciousness comes with the closing of eyes. The Maharshi’s seated form floats in a vivid manner before my mind’s eye. Then the picture disappears leaving me with nothing more than a strongly felt sense of his intimate presence.

Tonight I flash swiftly to a pin-point of concentration. Some new and powerful force comes into dynamic action within my inner world and bears me inwards with resistless speed. In the next stage, I stand apart from the intellect, conscious that it is thinking, and watch thoughts with a weird detachment. The power to think, which has hitherto been a matter for merely ordinary pride, now becomes a thing from which to escape, for I perceive with startling clarity that I have been its unconscious captive.

It is strange enough to be able to stand aside and watch the very action of the brain as though it were someone else’s and to see how thoughts take their rise and then die, but it is stranger still to realise intuitively that one is about to penetrate into the mysteries which hide in the innermost recesses of man’s soul. I feel like some Columbus about to land on an uncharted continent.

Finally it happens. Thought is extinguished like a snuffed candle. The mind takes its rise in a transcendental source. I remain perfectly calm and fully aware of who I am and what is occurring.Yet my sense of awareness has been drawn out of the narrow confines of the separate personality; it has turned into something sublimely all embracing. Self still exists, but it is a changed, radiant self. With it arrives an amazing new sense of absolute freedom, for thought is like a loom-shuttle which always is going to and fro, and to be freed from its tyrannical motion is to step out of prison into the open air.

I find myself outside the rim of world consciousness. The planet, which has so far harboured me, disappears. I am in the midst of an ocean of blazing light. The latter, I feel rather than think, is the primeval stuff out of which worlds are created, the first state of matter. It stretches away into untellable infinite space, incredibly alive.

I, the new I, rest in the lap of holy bliss. I have drunk the Platonic Cup of Lethe, so that yesterday’s bitter memories and tomorrow’s anxious cares have disappeared completely. I have attained a divine liberty and an almost indescribable felicity. My arms embrace all creation with profound sympathy, for I understand in the deepest possible way that to know all is not merely to pardon all, but to love all. My heart is remoulded in rapture.

With the fall of dusk I take my farewells of everyone except the Maharshi. I feel quietly content because my battle for spiritual certitude has been won, and because I have won it without sacrificing my dearly held rationalism for a blind credulity. Yet when the Maharshi comes to the courtyard with me a little later, my contentment suddenly deserts me.

This man has strangely conquered me and it deeply affects my feelings to leave him. He has grappled me to his own soul with unseen hooks that are harder than steel, although he has sought only to restore a man to himself, to set him free and not to enslave him. He has taken me into the benign presence of my spiritual self and helped me, dull Westerner that I am, to translate a meaningless term into a living and blissful experience. My adventure in self-metamorphosis is now over.

The following are a few of the many anecdotes recorded in A Search in Secret India:

(i) Among the strangely diversified company of human beings who pass through the hermitage, a pariah stumbles into the hall in some great agony of soul or circumstances and pours out his tribulation at the Maharshi’s feet. The Sage does not reply, for his silence and reserve are habitual. Instead he gazes quietly at the suffering man, whose cries gradually diminish until he leaves the hall two hours later a more serene and stronger man.

(ii) A cultured Brahmin, college-bred, arrives with questions. One can never be certain whether the Sage will make a verbal response or not, for often he is eloquent enough without opening his lips. But

today he is in a communicative mood and a few of his terse phrases, packed with profound meanings as they usually are, open many vistas of thought for the visitor.

(iii) A peasant and his family have travelled over some hundred miles to pay a silent homage to the Sage. He is totally illiterate, knows little beyond his daily work, his religious rites and ancestral superstitions. He sits on the floor quietly after having prostrated himself three times. The family stays for a few hours, hardly speaking, and gaze in reverence at the Maharshi. It is clear that the Maharshi’s mere presence provides them with spiritual assurance and emotional felicity.

(iv) A large group of visitors and devotees are in the hall when someone arrives with the news that a certain man, whose criminal reputation is a byword in the town, is dead. Immediately, there is some discussion about him, and as is the wont of human nature, various people get engaged in recalling some of his crimes and the more dastardly phases of his character. When the discussion appears to have ended, the Maharshi opens his mouth for the first time and quietly observes, “Yes, but he kept himself very clean, for he bathed two or three times a day!

Brunton records in his second book The Secret Path:

In the Maharshi I discovered the last remnants of that ‘Mystic East’ about which most of us often hear, but which few of us ever find. I met an unusual man who quickly earned my humble veneration. For although he belonged by tradition to the class of Wise Men of the East, a class which has largely disappeared from the modern world, he avoided all record of his existence and disdained efforts to give him publicity.

The world wants its great men to measure their lives by its puny foot-rule. But no rule has yet been devised which will take their full height, for such men, if they are really worth their name, derive their greatness, not from themselves but from another source. And that source stretches far away into the Infinite. Such sages dwell outwardly apart, keeping alive the divine secrets, which life and fate have conspired to confide in their care.

The Maharshi interested me much despite the fact that his wisdom was not of a kind which is easily apparent and despite the strong reserve which encircled him. He broke his habitual silence only to answer questions upon such recondite topics as the nature of man’s soul, the mystery of God, the strange powers which lie unused in the human mind, and so on, but when he did venture to speak I used to sit enthralled as I listened to his soft voice and inspiration gleamed in those luminous eyes. Each phrase that fell from his lips seemed to contain some precious fragment of essential truth.

In the presence of the Maharshi one felt security and inward peace. The spiritual radiations that emanated from him were allpenetrating. I learnt to recognise in his person the sublime truths which he taught, while I was no less hushed into reverence by his incredibly sainted atmosphere. He possessed a deific personality which defies description. I might have taken shorthand notes of the discourse of the Sage, I might even print the record of his speech; but the most important part of his utterances, the subtle and silent flavour of spirituality which emanated from him, can never be reported.

One could not forget that wonderful pregnant smile of his, with its hint of wisdom and peace won from suffering and experience. He was the most understanding man I have ever known; you could be sure always of some word from him that would smooth your way a little, and that word always verified what your deepest feeling told you already.

The words of the Maharshi flame out in my memory like beacon lights. “I pluck golden fruits from rare meetings with wise men”, wrote trans-Atlantic Emerson in his diary, and it is certain that I plucked whole basketfuls during my talks with this man. Our best philosophers of Europe could not hold a candle to him.

Brunton writes in his fourth book A Message from Arunachala:

I found my own good fortune and needed no other, for I discovered one of the last of India’s spiritual supermen, the

Illuminated Sage of Tiruvannamalai. I ‘sat at his feet’, as the ancient Indian phrase of pupilship poetically terms it, and thereby learned, through a dynamic experience, of what divine and deathless stuff man is really made. What higher fortune than that can we, pitiful mortals, require?

He sat as immobile as a rock in the ocean, cross-legged in meditation. We foolishly imagine that such a man has failed to put up with the bustling procession of life; it never occurs to us that he may have far out-stepped it.

The Maharshi said, “Suffering turns men towards their creator.Such simple words – yet what a whole philosophy is congealed within the phrase. You may think them to be platitudinous, and they would be, did they not derive from a man who knew what he was talking about because he ascended to spiritual regions beyond our ken, to regions where God is.

The following is from The Note Books of Paul Brunton (vol.10):

Ramana Maharshi was one of those few men who make their appearance on this earth from time to time and who are unique, themselves alone – not copies of anyone else. Face to face with the Maharshi, sometimes one felt in the presence of a visitor from another planet, at other times with a being of another species.

Gazing upon this man, whose viewless eyes are gazing upon infinity, I thought of Aristotle’s daring advice, “Let us live as if we were immortal.” Here was one who might not have heard of Aristotle, but who was following this counsel to the last letter.

The following is from The Silent Power: 1

(i) A Pure Channel for a Higher Power: Forty years have passed since I walked into his abode and saw the Maharshi half-reclining, half-sitting on a couch. After such a long period most memories of the past become somewhat faded, if they do not lose their existence altogether. But I can truthfully declare that in this case nothing of the kind has happened. On the contrary, his face, expression, figure and surroundings are as vivid now as they were then.What is even more important to me is that – at least during my daily periods of meditation – the feeling of his radiant presence is as actual and as immediate today as it was on that first day.

So powerful an impression could not have been made, nor continued through the numerous vicissitudes of an incarnation which has taken me around the world, if the Maharshi has been an ordinary yogi. I have met dozens ofyogis, in their Eastern and Western varieties, and many exceptional persons. Whatever status is assigned to the Maharshi by his followers, my own position is independent and unbiased. It is based upon our private talks in those early days when such things were still possible, before fame brought crowds; upon observations of, and conversation with those who were around him; upon his historical record; and finally upon my own personal experiences. Upon all the evidence one fact is incontrovertibly clear that he was a pure channel for a Higher Power.

No physical phenomenon of an occult kind was ever witnessed then; nothing at all happened outwardly. But those who were not steeped too far in materialism to recognise what was happening within him and within themselves at the time, or those who were not congealed too stiffly in suspicion or criticism to be passive and sensitive intuitively, felt a distinct change in the mental atmosphere. It was uplifting and inspiring: for the time being it pushed them out of their little selves, even if only partially.

(ii) A Spiritual Torch: Since the day when I first found him, absorbed in the mysterious trance of samadhi, I have travelled in many lands but always my thoughts turned towards Tiruvannamalai as the Muhammedan turns his face during prayer towards Mecca. I knew that somewhere in the wilderness of this world there was a sacred place for me.

At the Sage’s feet, I picked up a spiritual torch and carried it to waiting souls in the lands of the West. They welcomed the light with eagerness. There should be no virtue to be accredited to me for that, for whatsoever benefit has accrued to Western seekers comes from the torch which was lit by the Maharshi himself. I was only the unimportant ‘link boy’ the humble carrier. [ See Paul Brunton in photograph no.13 in the book.] 1. An anthology published by Sri Ramanasramam.

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