Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi – Duncan Greenlees, M.A.

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Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi – Duncan Greenlees, M.A.Back


Duncan Greenlees, M.A. (Oxon.), a scholar and a Theosophist, visited India on a teaching assignment in the 1930s.

The writer who first felt repelled after reading about the greatness of Sri Ramana in A Search in Secret India by British journalist Brunton (no.1), says:

The book struck me somehow as a piece of journalism of the lower kind. For a few days it almost dissuaded me from going to Tiruvannamalai. Had the Maharshi stooped to allow this kind of vulgar advertisement for himself, almost like a quack doctor seeking testimonials? Of course, I soon threw this foolishness off my mind, and went to see for myself.

I saw the Maharshi. It did not take long for me to be sure that I was in front of one who had, in that very body, solved life’s problem for himself. The radiant peace around him proved it beyond all cavil. The calm, like that of the midnight sky, was something too real to question for a moment. The part of my search thus was over, even at the first glimpse. In a flash I had seen a ‘Master’. I knew he was what the books call a jivanmukta. Please don’t ask me how I knew for I cannot answer that. It was just as one knows that water is wet and the sky is blue. It could not be denied – self-evident is the word.

I had brought the usual list of questions to be asked. Shyness kept me silent while sitting in the Hall during those first days. And before I broke that silence, the unspoken questions had solved themselves in their own irrelevance. It was a common experience; I only add my own testimony to that of many others. Before I left that hallowed spot, I did put questions to the Maharshi, which were answered in a wonderful way that was new to me. I was wholly satisfied and filled with joy.

The four days I had planned were soon over. But I could not tear myself away before the last date of the vacation [of the educational institution where he was teaching], and stayed on, delighted, enthralled and pacified. That stillness of eternal depths had somehow seeped itself into my heart. I had met a Master who could quell the waves with a silent word, ‘Peace, be still!’ I knew myself to be absolutely one with that incarnate Peace on the sofa, and therefore to be one equally with the Unmanifest in whose stillness he was so obviously poised.

God’s grace is such that He gives at His will what He likes to give to any soul. We cannot earn His grace, even by crores of years of effort. One can never be worthy of His blessings, but receives it purely out of His mercy. His darshan can never be the fruit of sakama tapasya, whatever certain books may say. It is only the overflowing love of the Lord that brings Him to us.

The peace that Bhagavan had put upon me remained in my heart, like a shining cloud oftransparency through which all things passed dreamlike for about three weeks. The mind was caught and held in that peace in a blissfulness it had never known before. It is a pity I cannot bring about this mood at my own will: it can come only from the touch of the real Teacher of souls, as I have found.

One day in the Hall I was browsing a notebook of extracts on yoga. Bhagavan hardly ever spoke to me first (indeed there was very little actual talking between us during the years; it did not seem necessary, somehow), but that day he spoke to me in English: “What is that book?” I answered him. He said quietly, “Read Milarepa”.1 I read the book; it thrilled and stirred deep places in my heart. Somehow, I feel Bhagavan had seen that it would be so and therefore gave me the only order of the sort he had ever given me.

I have taken all the descriptions of the jivanmukta I could find in any scripture – Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Christian, Muslim, Jain etc. I have watched Bhagavan under all kinds of circumstances, and checked up what I have seen with those descriptions. I have not the smallest doubt that he alone, of the men I have seen, dwells always in sahaja samadhi. Of course, I am not qualified to judge, for none but the saint can know the saint.

I have seen him in a humorous mood. I have seen him play the host with delicate grace that seemed almost awkward at times. I have seen him quickly, motionlessly, challenging and defeating injustice or unkindness. I have seen him cutting vegetables for the Ashramites long before the dawn. I have seen again and again how he solved the doubts, the agonies, the loss of faith of people of many types – often with a word, often with his healing silence and a soft distance in his unmoving gaze. I have looked at his perfect handwriting in many scripts, all a model ofbeauty and care. I have heard him correcting the singers of hymns in his own glory, with an absolute impersonality that was obvious.

I have watched his reactions to the noisy devotee, the lazy worker, the mischievous monkey, the crazed adorer, the over-bold flatterer, the one who would exploit his name. I have seen how totally impervious he was to all considerations of power, place, prestige, and how his grace shined equally on prince and peasant. Then, can I doubt that here indeed we have, if not God Himself – for He is omnipresent – at least Greatness incarnate, the majesty of the ancient hills blending with the sweetness of the evening star?

Sit before him, as we used to sit those summer evenings, and we knew that we were not that foolish excited little person sitting there, but the eternal Self out of whom this world has spun its cobweb yarn of forms.

I know no other man whose mere presence has thus enabled me to make the personality drop down in the abyss of nothingness, where it belongs. I have found no other human being who so emanates his grace that it can catch away the ordinary man from his stillness and plunge him deep in the ecstasy of timeless omnipresent being.

His grace, which of course is the grace of God whose representative and messenger he is, has been enough to give brief glimpses even to me of that infinity, wherein he always seemed to live.

He will brush away all this nonsense of my talk with a wave of hand and a smile, while saying as he once did, “It is the same in this and in another place. That bliss you feel is in the Self, and you superimpose it upon the place or environment in which you are bodily set.” But, Bhagavan, we say what we like about you and the blessings we have received from you; we shall not let you interrupt our foolish words. It is our chance to publicly proclaim our debt to the silent Teacher of Tiruvannamalai.

Those who are in the Ashram are very gentle, considerate and kindly. The generous services were given by a friend who used to translate for me the Tamil answers to my English questions and got translations approved by Bhagavan himself before giving them to me. Even the human hospitality of Bhagavan himself, though sometimes a little embarrassing to my innate shyness perhaps, was always a delightful thing.

His very presence among us is a benediction. His attaining a clear and unflickering vision of the Self has raised the whole world a little nearer to the Truth. His words have been an unfathomed ocean of comfort and inspiration to thousands. His silent peacefulness has revealed the Eternal in human form, as mountains, seas and skies above can usually reveal It.

The following was written after the Maharshis mahanirvana:

Can we say he is dead? Bhagavan dead? The word could have no meaning. How can he who lives in the entire universe ever taste of death? “You think I am going away? But where am I to go? I shall remain here with you.” That was his promise while he was preparing us for separation. And those of us who lived in Tiruvannamalai hold firmly to the faith, which we feel confirmed by continual experience, that he has kept that promise and is still to be contacted here in the Ashram as of old.

Like Surdas2 darkening the physical sight so that he might see clearly the light within, he has dimmed our outer sight so that the inner vision might be filled with his eternal light. He has veiled the outer form we loved so well, that its beauty might no longer draw our gaze away from the everlasting presence enthroned in our inmost Heart. His Light shines, with the everlasting clarity of God’s own Light.

Extracts from his poem:

Sri Arunachala Ramana

Crowds gather always at His flower-feet, The fragrant blossom does not seek the bee, Its essence floats upon the waiting air, And fainting creatures hasten to the Source, To lose themselves within the sweetness hid Deep in its resting Heart, and there to swoon Away in all-transcending endless bliss.

O Siva-Yogi, Mighty God, to Thee, Incarnate in this Silent One, whose gaze Can shrivel at a glance dark Passion, and The clouds of ignorance that swirl around.

The ever-blissful and all-seeing Self,

To Thee we offer flowers of our desire. Inspire within our hearts the soaring Flame That burns each Kartik on this Glory-hill.

Oh Arunachala, Reveal the one The only Being Immanent, the Self Within the dreaming self. Strike down our fears, And in our eager souls drop quietly The fragrant dews of the One Guru’s grace, Till at their magic touch all bonds decay, -Sivatma reigning, Sea of motionless Peace, Still as the rocks of Arunagiri.

Stayed in Heart of Arunachala Is Lord of Silence and Self of all.

1. Dr. Evans-Wentz’s book Tibets Great Yogi Milarepa.

2. Famous Hindi poet who is reputed to have made himself blind.

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