Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi – Sadhu Natanananda (Natesa Mudaliar)

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Sadhu Natanananda (Natesa Mudaliar) (1898-1981) was a scholar. His dialogues with Sri Ramana are contained in Upadesa Manjari (Tamil). He authored Sri Ramana Darsanam.

In 1917-18, I was a schoolmaster. Being of a pious disposition, I used to go about from place to place frequently to have darshan of the deities in temples. A noble soul who saw this brought to me, of his own accord, two books in Tamil, namely, Sri Ramakrishna Vijayam and Vivekananda Vijayam. After reading them, I was seized with an intense longing for getting God’s vision and for finding a guru to show me the way. At this juncture, I heard about the extraordinary greatness of Bhagavan, whom I met in May 1918 for the first time at the Skandasram.

I beseeched him fervently saying, “It is my great desire that I should actually experience your gracious wisdom. Kindly fulfil my desire.In those days Sri Ramana was not speaking much. Still he spoke kindly as follows, “Is it the body in front of me that desires to obtain my grace? Or is it the awareness within it? If it is the awareness, is it not now looking upon itself as the body and making this request? If so, let the awareness first of all know its real nature. It will then automatically know God and my grace. All that you have to do hereafter is that you do not identify yourself with the body, the senses and the mind. You have to convert the state of ignorant deep sleep in which one becomes formless and unattached, into conscious deep sleep.You should never forget that this experience will come only through long practice. This experience will make it clear that your real nature is not different from the nature of God.”

Bhagavan never used to prescribe discipline for any one. His nature was to instruct by following himself the discipline of conduct enjoined upon spiritual aspirants. When someone complained that Bhagavan was not censuring the conduct of some devotees, he said, “Who is to correct whom? Is it not the Lord alone who has the authority to correct everyone? All we can do is to correct ourselves. That itself is correcting others.

Although Sri Ramana was adored by his devotees as Bhagavan, the Maharshi, and by some as a divine incarnation, to others he showed himself as an ordinary person. However, to see his external form was itself adequate to experience the bliss of peace. Not only was he aware of his own real nature, he clearly knew the truth of others. Even when he was in the midst of thousands of devotees, he always remained steadfast in the awareness of the Supreme Self, without swerving in the least from his state.

Even though Sri Ramana indicated the truth by ever abiding in the Self, he has, at the same time appeared to many in their visions as God incarnate. The story of a Polish lady who came all the way for Bhagavan’s darshan should serve as an example:

The lady once went alone to see the Skandasram. On her return she started feeling very thirsty. Not finding any way of quenching her thirst, she began to think, “If it is true that Bhagavan is the omnipotent, universal Self, why can’t he appear here and remove my thirst?” The next moment Sri Bhagavan appeared with water in his water pot and satisfied her thirst. When this took place Bhagavan was sitting in the Ashram in his usual place, completely unaware of the drama that was unfolding on the hill.

The Polish lady, who had both pure love and devotion, was a devout Christian who had the tendency of only believing that a person was Christ-like if he exhibited supernatural powers. The supremely compassionate Bhagavan, caught by devotion, appeared before her in conformity with her belief and fulfilled her wish.

Although incidents like these are a great help in increasing and intensifying the devotion and faith of devotees, Bhagavan always discouraged people from deliberately trying to produce such phenomena.

Bhagavan used to say, just as air, which is blemishless by its nature, has foul or good odour by virtue of what it associates with, association with the wise is the means for effecting transformation. Realising this truth, some devotees used to tell Bhagavan that the tranquility of mood experienced effortlessly in his presence could not be obtained elsewhere even by great effort. Bhagavan would say: Yes, Yes, just as the mother of pearl converts the raindrop it receives into pearl, the mature ones are redeemed by the divine look of the sadguru as his grace. But the immature ones, despite staying in guru’s presence even for a long time, do not realise anything. They are like a donkey that carries precious camphor without being aware of its value. The impure minds are not able to obtain the benefit of the guru’s grace.

Bhagavan took special interest in the spiritual welfare of the devotees spending their time serving him with the belief that service to Guru is the best form of tapas. Bhagavan would exhort devotees to try to attend to the Self all the time. He told a gentleman from the West who was sweeping up the leaf-plates that were lying near the dining room: “Is sweeping the used leaf-plates the means to get salvation? Is it to perform this tapas that you came here all the way? Go inside. The service of purifying your heart is the highest service. That alone can redeem you.

A certain lady would prostrate to Bhagavan, touch his feet and then put the hands that had touched Bhagavan’s feet on her eyes. After noticing that she did this daily, Bhagavan told her one day, “The pure awareness, which is shining as the inward illumination is guru’s gracious feet. The contact with these [inner holy feet] alone can give you true redemption.

Some of those who came for the Maharshi’s darshan used to perform ashtanga namaskaram. Bhagavan, addressing one such devotee said, “The benefit ofperforming namaskaram to the guru is only the removal of the ego. Self realisation cannot be attained by bowing of the body, but only by bowing of the ego”.

In August 1938, Rajendra Prasad (later first President of India) along with Jamana Lal Bajaj,1 visited the Ashram. [See photograph no. 17 in the book.] When taking leave of Bhagavan, the latter said, “Mahatmaji has sent me here. Is there any message that I can take to him?” Bhagavan replied, “What message is needed when heart speaks to heart? The same sakti (Superpower) that is working here is also working there.

Sarojini Naidu2 after having darshan of Bhagavan said, “There are two great persons living in our midst today. One of them never permits anyone to keep quiet even for a minute. The other does not allow anyone to raise one’s ‘I’ even for a moment.” This concise statement indicates the Mahatma’s life of self-sacrifice devoid of ‘mine’ and the Maharshi’s life of jnana devoid of ‘I'(ego).

Almost everyone who approached Bhagavan wanted to get some special upadesa from him. To one such seeker, Bhagavan said, “Jnana is given neither from outside nor from another person. It can be realised by everyone in his own heart. Since the meaning of the word upadesa (upa+desam) is only ‘being in the Self’ or ‘being as the Self’, so long as one is seeking the Self from outside, Self realisation cannot be attained.

Although this was the normal stance adopted most of the time, as an exception, Bhagavan once imparted a mantra to a harijan devotee, who was worshipping Bhagavan with great devotion and used to have his darshan everyday from a distance in conformity with the prevailing social custom. Bhagavan, who had noticed this for many days asked him one day to come near. Melting with great compassion because ofhis wonderful devotion, Bhagavan gave him a gracious look and told him, “Always keep meditating Siva, Siva. Never forget this even in your dreams. This itself will make you blessed.”

Once Bhagavan was putting together the proof pages of an Ashram publication to make them into a book. A rich devotee felt that the effort was unnecessary and said, “When I come next week I shall bring a new bound copy of the book.” Bhagavan replied with a smile, “Why is that necessary? What we need is only the contents, which will be the same in the book and these pages.

On one occasion, a maharaja came for Bhagavan’s darshan. When he was leaving, a resident devotee followed him in the hope of getting a donation for the Ashram. Bhagavan did not approve of this and said, “To a sannyasi even a king is mere straw,” and illustrated it by recounting a story : A Muslim saint, learning that Emperor Akbar very much liked to associate with sadhus, went to the palace to obtain a favour for his devotees. He saw Akbar in prayer, asking favours from God. Immediately he left the palace.When Akbar heard of the saint’s visit, he called him and asked why he left without seeing him.The saint replied, “To fulfil a small need of my devotees I thought of approaching you. But I found that you yourself have needs and were praying to God for their fulfilment. As the scene reminded me the truth that God alone can fulfil everyone’s needs, I left the palace.”

One night in 1924, some thieves came to the Ashram and were breaking windows to get inside. Bhagavan told them: Why are you taking trouble to enter the room, we will open the door for you to take whatever you want. And he then had the door opened. Despite this, the thieves physically abused Bhagavan. A devotee who could not bear this wanted to retaliate. Bhagavan intervened and said, “Patience! Patience! What kind of action is this? They are thieves. They have taken theft as their profession. To achieve their end, they are prepared to do whatever is necessary. If we sadhus also repeat the evil acts of those who do not pay attention to right and wrong, what then is the difference between them and us?” By such judicious advice he pacified the devotee, and said that sadhus should under no circumstance slip from their sannyasa dharma.^

Towards the end of Bhagavan’s life, a devotee who firmly believed in the omnipotence of the great ones, could not bear to see the Maharshi weak because of the disease. He appealed to the Maharshi with great feeling that he should transfer the disease to him and stay in the body for some more time to save many other helpless devotees. Wondering at the devotee’s childlike innocence, Bhagavan looked at him with compassion and replied graciously, “Who created this disease? Is it not He alone who has the freedom to change it? Is it not enough that I have borne till today all by myself this load of flesh that [once it is dead] must be carried by four persons? Should I continue bearing it henceforth?” Through these words he made it clear that in the physical world the law of destiny was inexorable. The jnani merely remains as a witness established in his natural state.

Bhagavan was never tired of telling the devotees that he was not the body and that they should not identify him with a physical form. A well-known incident illustrates this. A devotee came for Bhagavan’s darshan for the first time. Bhagavan was not in his usual seat and was engaged in some activity. Not knowing that he was Bhagavan, the devotee asked, “Where is Ramana?” Immediately, Sri Ramana replied with a smile, “Ramana? See, he is here”, and pointed out to a brass vessel on which the name Ramana had been engraved. When Bhagavan saw that the newcomer was puzzled by the remark, he pointed respectively to his body and the vessel and explained, “This is also a form like the vessel. At least the name Ramana is on that. Even that is not here.” Then he resumed his activity.

Bhagavan’s non-identification with the body was witnessed by those who saw him in the last few months of his life, when he was affected by cancer. He remained indifferent to the treatment arranged by devotees and allowed the doctors to do their job as wished by the devotees. He said, “Our job is to remain a witness to all that happens,” and added, “Thinking this body alone to be Bhagavan, they are grieved that Bhagavan is suffering because of illness. What to do? They are worried that Swami is going to leave. Where to go? How to go?”

1. He was treasurer of the Indian National Congress. Gandhiji shifted his ashram from Sabarmati to Wardha at his instance. He once mentioned to a close relation of the Compiler-Editor that all questions formulated by him somehow got answered even before they were put to the Maharshi.

2. She was deeply involved in the freedom struggle of India and was a member of the Congress Working Committee. A well-known poetess, she was referred to as the Nightingale of india.

3. The duty of a person who has renounced the world.

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