Lakshmana Swami belonged to Gudur, Andhra Pradesh. When he arrived at the Ashram in the later half of 1949, he was fully ready for the divine spark.
I was brought up in my paternal grandfather’s house at Gudur. My father had died when I was less than two years old. In my seventeenth year, while still at school, an inexplicable incident changed my life.While sleeping in my family’s house, an unknown malevolent force appeared to descend on me. I woke up with a tremendous pressure bearing down on my chest. I felt that some unknown evil force was trying to kill me. Immediately and spontaneously the words ‘Rama’ ‘Rama’ erupted from within me with a great roaring sound. I did not decide to say these words; they just naturally burst out of me with great force. The evil presence vanished. I had never repeated this mantra before, nor had it occurred to me that this mantra had any power. Concluding that there must be some power in the mantra, I began to repeat it on a regular basis. At the same time I also started doing pranayama.
Soon after this strange incident my lifestyle began to change. I started getting up at 3 a.m. and spend many hours in meditation. After I passed my final school exam, I decided to go for higher studies at Nellore, about 24 miles from Gudur. In the summer vacation of the college I returned to Gudur, where I had my first major spiritual experience. Here I had found a dried-up lakebed as a good place for my pranayama.
One evening, while I began my usual pranayama sitting in padmasana, the mind suddenly became concentrated and utterly still. There was a flash of light which encircled and engulfed me and within a few seconds I lost all consciousness of the body. The effulgence of atman within impressed on me the fact that atman is God Himself in the physical body. My joy knew no bounds. The experience was brief . I tried on many occasions to repeat the experience but failed. I came to the conclusion that a guru in human form was necessary to bring about realisation.
On the last day of my second year at the college, I saw a large crowd congregated in the main lecture hall. I was not able to enter the hall as it was crowded. But looking over the heads of the students from the Backof the hall, I could see the lecture being given by my English professor [G.V. Subbaramayya, no.41]. He was pointing to a portrait on the platform and saying that the sage in the picture was Ramana Maharshi. Up till that moment I had never heard of the Maharshi. However, as soon as I heard the name, I felt an irrepressible longing to see him.
While returning home by train the following day, I saw a small booklet Sri Ramana Maharshi at the bookstore on the platform. I eagerly purchased it. On the first page of the book I read the famous verse composed by the Maharshi himself, the first line of which was: “In the interior of the Heart cave the one Supreme Being Brahman shines as ‘I-I’, verily the Atman“” This verse made a deep and immediate impression on me.
Towards the end of 1948, I worked as a clerk-typist for about five months in a local mica company because my family needed money. I had no interest in the job, from which I resigned in the beginning of 1949 after persuading my mother to accompany me on a trip to Sri Ramanasramam.
While waiting to board the train to Tiruvannamalai, my mother started talking to two women and discovered that they were also heading for the Ashram accompanied by Satyananda Swami, a long-time devotee of the Maharshi.We were invited to join the party. Because we had arrived with a devotee well-known to the Ashram management, there was no problem in getting accommodation; but speaking to Bhagavan proved to be difficult due to a large number of people always around him.
One day I saw Bhagavan sitting on a bench outside the hall, listening to a group of Brahmins chant from the Vedas. As I looked at the scene in front of me, the world completely lost its solid, substantial reality. I became aware that everything I perceived in that scene was nothing more than a dream-like projection. As I gazed at the scene I had the knowledge and the experience that the real Ramana Maharshi was not the body I saw before me, it was the formless effulgent Self that I had experienced on the dried-up lakebed in Gudur.
I stayed only for three days on this first visit, but it was enough to convince me that in the Maharshi I had found the guru I had been seeking. I decided to change my japa from “Hare Rama’ to “Hare Ramana’; since I felt that I could avail of my guru’s grace by chanting his name. After three days, I left my mother at the Ashram and went Backto Gudur to devote myself wholly to meditation.
I decided to go to a village about 15 miles from Gudur, where my relatives helped me to build a small hut in a quiet spot. The constant repetition of the guru’s name made my mind very quiet. On a few occasions it became absolutely still. When this happened, the question ‘Who am I?’ would spontaneously arise inside me, and, as if in answer to the question, my mind would automatically sink at its source, the Heart, and I experienced the bliss of the Self.
At the end of about five months in the village, I was down with severe malaria and had to be taken to Gudur, where the doctor declared that I was likely to die. I, however, had a strong determination that I would not die until I had seen my guru again. I placed a picture of Bhagavan by my bedside and meditated on it throughout the ordeal. Whenever I looked at the picture I felt as if Bhagavan was laughing or smiling at me. I am convinced that it was the power and grace of Bhagavan that kept me alive and enabled me to make a full recovery within two months.
I arrived at Sri Ramanasramam during the navaratri celebrations of 1949. In the afternoon of the Vijayadasmi day, I stood in front of the Mother’s shrine [See photograph no. 16 in the book], waiting for Bhagavan to appear. He came accompanied by Swami Satyananda, entered the new hall [Attached to the Mother’s shrine], and took his seat on the stone sofa. I went up to him and made a full prostration. When I stood up, he looked intently at me for a few moments. I withdrew and sat near a pillar outside the hall where I could do Self-enquiry undisturbed.
Bhagavan could still see me from where he was sitting. Shortly afterwards, I saw Muruganar taking a seat close to Bhagavan. After a few minutes Muruganar came and sat down next to me. A few other devotees came and sat near us. I closed my eyes and began meditation on ‘Who am I?’
Within a few minutes, the gracious smiling face of Bhagavan appeared within me on the right side of the chest. There was something like a lightning flash that resulted in a flood of divine light shining both within and without. Bhagavan’s face was still smiling on the right side of the chest. It seemed to be lit up with radiance that exceeded innumerable lightning flashes rolled into one. The bliss and joy these experiences gave brought tears to my eyes. Finally, the internal picture of Bhagavan disappeared and the Self absorbed my whole being.
I remained in that state without body consciousness for about three hours. The experience was so intense that even when I opened my eyes I found myself incapable of either speaking or moving. I remained where I was for another three hours because I was incapable of movement of any kind. At about 9 p.m. I rose to my feet and very slowly made my way Backto my allotted place in the men’s dormitory of the Ashram.
Next day afternoon I went up to Sri Bhagavan, prostrated before him and handed him a note via his attendant Venkataratnam. The note,
which I had written in Telugu said, “Bhagavan, in your presence and by the quest [Who am I?] I have realised the Self.” He read the note, looked at me for a moment, and then his face lit up in a radiant smile. For sometime we looked at each other. Then he broke the silence by asking me where I had come from. “Gudur”, I replied. “That is in Nellore district, isn’t it?” Enquired Bhagavan. “Yes!” I answered. This was the only conversation I ever had with Bhagavan. After giving him those two brief replies, I didn’t speak again for another 13 years.1
As accommodation was in short supply at the Ashram, I found a small thatched house about 250 yards from the Ashram. I shared it with a boy called Raghavan, who was already living there. Since I had money and he didn’t, he agreed to do all the cooking for me.
One of the first people to visit my new house was Venkataratnam, Bhagavan’s attendant. On his first visit he said, “In all the years I have been Bhagavan’s attendant, I have never seen anyone present a note like this. I am experienced enough in the ways of Bhagavan to know that the beaming smile he immediately gave you was proof that the claim was genuine. He made no comment to me about your note and the message it contained, but he did ask me to check up on you to make sure that your needs are being taken care of and that you are properly looked after.” From that day on, Venkataratnam became a regular visitor. He would come and sit with me whenever his services were not required in the Ashram.
Though I never sought to attract Bhagavan’s attention, he always seemed to know if I was in vicinity, even if he couldn’t see me. On one occasion, when he was giving darshan in the new hall, his view of me was completely blocked by a newspaper that one of his attendants was holding. He asked the attendant to remove the newspaper and then beamed his usual smile at me.
On the evening of April 14, 1950, I was cleaning my room in Palakottu 2 when a picture of Bhagavan kept on a stool in the corner of the room fell to the ground. I put it Backin its usual place, making sure that it did not fall again. A few minutes later it fell to the ground for a second time. I intuitively felt it as a sign that Sri Bhagavan was dead or dying. I had a strong urge to go to the Ashram, but could not leave as I became wholly absorbed in the Self for a period of about two hours. Consciousness returned shortly before 9 p.m., when I heard a great noise coming from the Ashram. I knew for certain that Bhagavan was no more. I rushed to the Ashram only to find that Bhagavan had attained mahasamadhi.
I had seen Bhagavan for the last time earlier that day. On that occasion, as we looked into each other’s eyes, I experienced a strong wave of ecstatic bliss and I became completely oblivious of my surroundings.
I spent a total of seven months in Palakottu, mostly just sitting quietly in my room. Towards the end of this period my skin turned yellow. Around November 1950, I finally decided that I would accept my brother’s offer to go Backto Gudur to let my family look after me.3
1. David Godman says that once he asked Lakshmana Swami why he had remained silent for so long. He replied, “The experience of Self is beyond words and speech. It is impossible to explain it or talk about it. Since there was nothing I could say about it, I kept quiet.” (The Power Of The Presence, part-II, p.222.)
2. A colony abutting on the Ashram.
3. David Godman states that Lakshmana Swami spent most of his next three years (after November 1950) in samadhi living in a small hut his family built for him. Because of his ascetic lifestyle, sitting inpadmasana for 20 hours a day and rarely eating, he attracted a large following. From the mid 1950s on, he lived a secluded life in a house near Gudur that had been provided for him by a devotee. He began meeting people on a regular basis in the 1960s, but always preferred to live a private, solitary life. Around 1990 he moved Backto Tiruvannamalai. His biography Yogeeswara Sri Lakshmana is written by Ramana Das.