Swami Chidbhavananda was Head, Sri Ramakrishna Ashram, Ootacamund from 1926-1940.
In 1923, a few ofus religiously inclined college students undertook a pilgrimage from Madras to Tiruvannamalai for a darshan of Ramana Maharshi. The Ashram was then in its initial stage. An august person was seated on a raised platform. Around him on the floor were seated a number of devotees, all intently looking at him. Silence reigned supreme. This was a novel experience for us.
We sat quietly. The Maharshi turned his penetrating gaze at us off and on. We felt ourselves highly blessed by his friendly and kindly look. Occasionally he spoke a word or two, which were always pertinent and to the point. But his silence was more eloquent.
As head of Sri Ramakrishna Ashram at Ootacamund, I took as many opportunities as possible to see the Maharshi. I was not inclined to talk much with him; being seated in his presence was more than sufficient. Occasionally he spoke, but his silence was what I sought and prized every time I went to him. A purified enquirer makes a rich harvest of the blissful calmness that prevails in his presence.
The Maharshi occupied a couch in a corner of a hall in the Ashram. One day a man following the path of devotion came in and occupied a place near the sage. Then he unburdened all that lay buried in his heart. His speech was choked with feeling. He poured forth, “I have gone on pilgrimage all over the land. I have been regular in my spiritual practices. Many a sleepless night I have passed in prayer. Still to this day I have had no mercy from the Lord. I am forlorn.” He cried bitterly, but the Maharshi sat unconcerned. When all his suppressed feelings were worked out, in a measured voice the sage said, “What is there to sob about? Instead of being poised in the blissful Self, you go on wailing.” This simple observation had a telling effect.The visitor saw that his problem was self-created; and a new chapter started in his life.
On another occasion, a talkative man made his appearance. He chose to sit near the sage and unceremoniously asked, “Bhagavan, what is your view on birth control?” There being no answer that man explained at length the importance of the topic. Again getting no reply, he continued until he could say no more and then fell silent. Silence reigned supreme in the hall. In the midst of this silence, the Maharshi asked, “Do you know death control?” There was no response.
One day it was suggested to the Maharshi that no spiritual progress could ever be made without sadhana or discipline. After a pause he made these observations: Mind binds man, and the same mind liberates him. Mind is constituted of sankalpa and vikalpa – desire and disposition. Desire shapes and governs disposition. Desire is of two kinds – the noble and the base. The base desires are lust and greed. Noble desires direct us towards enlightenment and emancipation. Base desires contaminate and cloud the understanding. Sadhana is easy for the aspirant who is endowed with noble desires. Calmness is the basis of spiritual progress. Plunge the purified mind into the Heart. Then the work is over. This is the essence of all spiritual discipline!
During one of my visits, I was seated at some distance from the Maharshi. I remembered his injunction, ‘Plunge the purified mind into the Heart’, and decided to practise it then. I gazed at him and he gazed Backat me. What followed was indescribable. His body seemed a glass case from which a blissful brilliance streamed out.
More than half an hour passed this way. It was an experience unique and unforgettable. It confirmed Sri Ramakrishna’s statement that spiritual experience can be transmitted from one person to another in the manner in which material things are handed over.