Swami Madhavatirtha (1895-1960) was a prolific writer on a wide variety of spiritual topics. He had studied Vedanta and found himself increasingly attracted to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, which failed to satisfy him. His first and only visit to the Ashram for two weeks took place in 1944. In his book The Life and Teachings of Ramana Maharshi (original in Gujarati), he wrote that the visit substantially changed the course of his life.
I should like to refer to a somewhat mystical experience I had during my visit. It is rather difficult to describe such an experience but I shall try to convey some idea about it by borrowing an analogy from the Bhagavatam. Sometime before the birth of Lord Krishna, it is said, the Lord entered the heart of Vasudeva, who then shined like the sun. Later, that light passed into Devaki through a mere look of Vasudeva, after which she shined like the moon.
On the very first day of my darshan of the Maharshi in the dining hall, I found in the look of the sage the dazzling brilliance of the sun. On a subsequent day, while in the presence of the Maharshi in the hall, I recognised the same brilliance in the look of the sage. It seemed to pierce me to the core of my being, even as the light of the Lord passed into Devaki through the look of Vasudeva. My breath seemed to stop for a while and my mind was elevated into some spiritual realm of unutterable peace and happiness.
I had authored a small book entitled Maya in which I had attempted to relate certain ideas on the reality of the world to those propounded by Einstein in his theory of relativity. I had sent the Maharshi a copy of my book prior to my visit. It was a revelation to me that the Maharshi could judge offhand, as it were, such modern theories as that of relativity, proceeding entirely on the basis of his own experience of the Absolute.
While sitting in the hall, I observed the Maharshi resting on his couch wholly unconcerned with what was taking place in his presence. From the constant flow of visitors who prostrated before him and moved one after the other, I could easily discern in him the attitude of oneness with all. I can confidently say that it was through his abhinnabhava (feeling of parity for all) that he touched the inner being of visitors, who were then able to feel within themselves the presence of the universal spirit, transcending thought.
Having realised that the Maharshi was radiating the power of the Self in this way, I decided to ask how I could best prepare myself to receive the transmission of grace while sitting in his presence. He said, “You will get spiritual help sitting in this hall if you keep yourself still. The aim is to give up all practices. When the mind becomes still, the power of Self will be experienced. The waves of Self will be experienced. The waves of the Self are pervading everywhere. If the mind is at peace, one begins to experience them.“
The reciprocal relationship between the Maharshi and his abhinnabhava and the aspirant sitting in his presence is analogous to that of a radio transmitter and a receiver. If the visitor is anxious to receive the fullest benefit of the benign influence radiating from the silent presence of the sage, he must attune his mind, which according to the analogy will be the receiving set tuned to proper wavelength.
The silence of the sage is constant and exercises uninterruptedly its benign influence, whether the sage appears to be outwardly aware of the world or not. Reverting to the analogy of the transmitter, I may say that so far as the sage is concerned, his spiritual influence is transmitting unceasingly. But from the point of view of the seeker, who is still subject to the veiling power of maya, the continued beneficent influence exercised by the sage will have no apparent effect unless the seeker is ready to receive it.
When I enquired whether I should gaze at his eyes or his face, or should close my eyes and concentrate on a particular object, he replied, “Gaze at your own real nature. Everywhere there is one, so it is all the same whether you keep your eyes open or closed. If you wish to meditate, do so on the ‘I’ that is within you. It is atman.”
When asked about the required sitting posture, the sage’s view was that stability in Self was the real posture. The compulsion of having a particular kind of posture could make the mind agitated.
Regarding the swaadhyaya (personal study) he said, “Self is the real book. You can glance anywhere in that book; nobody can take it away from you.Whenever you are free turn towards Self.Thereafter you may read whatever you like.”
About the problem of weariness, fear and anxiety, he said, “Find out to whom the problem occurs. By conducting this inquiry these things will disappear. If you direct your mind towards Self, fear and anxiety will go away.“
The Maharshi told me that ‘I’ (ahamkara) feeling is the root of all thoughts. If you destroy the root, the leaves and branches will wither away. Having put the question ‘Who am I’? before the mind, one should search for the root of the ‘I’ and make very sincere and persistent efforts to stop other thoughts. In all sadhanas the mind has to be kept quiet. Further, to get the experience one should not rely on buddhi alone, but should combine it with a firm conviction (bhavana) about one’s success through continued effort against all odds.
The Maharshi said that when camphor bums nothing remains afterwards. In the same way, while searching the Self all efforts must be made to ensure that the mind is burnt out. So long as the world is not realised to be false, thoughts of the world will keep on coming. Without the mind there is no world. In sleep, since there is no mind, there is no world. The world exists in relation to the mind. It is not a thing independent and existing by itself.
Once a visitor asked, why does God allow so much injustice to go on and why there is so much insufficiency among us?The Maharshi replied, “Go to God and ask Him about it. If you cannot go to Him as you are admitting, how to ask the question? Weak people do not get liberation.” In answer to another question, the Maharshi said, “So long as the body is there, some activity is bound to happen. Only the attitude ‘I am the doer’ has to be given up. The activities do not obstruct. It is the attitude ‘I did’ that is the obstruction. Further, so long as an external object is required [for happiness], incompleteness is felt. When it is felt that atman alone is there, permanent happiness stays.“
The Maharshi disagreed with Sri Aurobindo’s view that getting established in the Self in a perfect manner is not possible through a normal human body. For this, according to Sri Aurobindo, it was necessary to have a vignanamaya sarira, that is, a body which will not be attacked by disease and not die without one’s desire.
The Maharshi’s replies were always very cogent. Every word seemed to have a force that made disputation entirely out of place.
Although the Maharshi gave forthright answers to questions, at no point of time did he insist that he alone was right.
During one conversation that I noted down, he pointed out that the evangelical fervour that can be found in many religious zealots is merely a manifestation of their egos.
The Maharshi never wanted to impose Hindu ideas on those who would not appreciate them. If Christians, Muslims and others came to him for advice, he would propound the essential mystical teachings of their own religion and ask them to strive for union with their own particular chosen God.
The Maharshi never encouraged worship of his form. He refused to let himself be garlanded and would not permit any one to do puja to him.
Whether the Maharshi spoke in order to clear the doubts of an earnest aspirant, or whether he sat in perfect silence, one received a fresh illumination, a new angle of vision and sometimes a very inspiring reorientation of one’s spiritual outlook.
Embodying the Advaitic truth, the one universal spirit transcending the bounds of time and space, the Maharshi truly represents in himself the University of Spiritual Education.