J.P. Vaswani is Head of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission, Pune.
It was my great good fortune to have had darshan of Sri Bhagavan – to have sat in his purifying presence – to have gazed into the liquid depths ofhis mystic, luminous, compassion-filled eyes – to have listened to his words of wisdom, which centred around the question, which indeed is a question of all questions – the one eternal question, which if you once answer you will have no more questions to answer, namely, ‘Who am I?’ ‘Who am I?’ ‘Who am I?’
This happened in 1939. He sat in the Ashram hall on a couch. As I went and sat in the midst of the devotees I recalled to my mind the picture of Dakshinamurthi – the eternal youth, seated on a raised platform, and at the feet of this young teacher, sat a number of old rishis with white flowing beards and underneath the picture were written the words: “The teacher sits in silence. His teaching is silence and the disciples’ doubts are cleared.”1
Sri Bhagavan sat in silence. His teaching was silence. Many came to him – many from the East and some from the West. They came bringing a hundred questions and a hundred doubts in their hearts, but no sooner did they enter into his purifying presence than their minds were stilled. They were filled with a strange feeling of peace. They forgot their questions and their doubts. His silence was so profound. His silence was so sublime. His silence was so unique. Sri Bhagavan says, “The guru’s silence is more vast and more emphatic than all the scriptures put together.” Sri Bhagavan’s silence was not passive. His silence was utter and complete. It was the silence of the head and the heart put together. It was the silence of feelings and emotions and thoughts. We may stand in silence, but our minds are scattered and within us there is all the time the noise of unruly passion. Within us there is the clamour of conflicting desires. The master’s silence was deep. It was the silence which is the depths of the realised soul.
Sri Bhagavan had realised God. But he did not forsake humanity. He came and lived in the midst of men to share with them the treasures of the spirit. He spoke in the language of the masses. He lived as the simplest, clad in but one loincloth, barely enough to hide his utter nakedness. From morn till eve and sometimes late in the night the people thronged around him. Everyone was welcome. He was a friend of all who came to him. He took personal interest in their matters – matters such as the train by which they came, the food they ate, the deaths or marriages that had occurred in their families.
Sri Bhagavan said all spiritual paths could be brought together under two main categories. The first being Self Enquiry – atma vichara. Sitting in silence, entering into the silence of your Being, put to yourself the question again and again, ‘Who am I?’ As you sit in silence you find that there is a seemingly endless procession ofthoughts. They come and crowd into your mind.
An effective method of slaying the entire army of thoughts, according to Sri Bhagavan is – whenever a question arises within you ask yourself, ‘to whom does this question arise?’ The answer naturally will be, ‘to me’. Then ask yourself again ‘who is that me?’ ‘who is that ‘I’?’ Every time that you put this question you will find that a thought which has come to lead you astray will itself slink away. In this way you will be able to strike down thoughts until one blessed day you will find that the mind is merged in the Heart, where shines the true Self – the divine Self. Through persistent practice and sincere efforts the mind can be merged at its source.The ego will vanish and the true Self alone will remain. This is the path of atma vichara.
The other path is saranagati – self surrender. “Surrender yourself fully and whole-heartedly to the One Universal Force,” said Sri Bhagavan, “and you will become one with that Force.”
In one of his most moving songs there are words on which I have meditated and as I meditated on those words my eyes were touched with tears. Sri Bhagavan says: “I came to swallow you, but you have swallowed me. Now there is peace between us, Arunachala!”2
Sri Bhagavan was a jnani of the highest order that the world has ever known. But remember, every true jnani is at the same time a bhakta and a karma yogi. Sri Bhagavan said, “Cast all your cares on the Lord. Throw all your burdens at His lotus feet. Remember, the Lord of the Universe is one who carries all burdens, why must you carry your burden yourself?” These are the words of Sri Bhagavan and every word that he uttered came out of the depths of his own realisation.
You may read all the sastras that are in the world. But what you gain by studying them will be nothing as compared to the gain you get through hearing a few words sitting at the feet of the self-realised guru like Sri Ramana Maharshi.
What wondrous love Sri Bhagavan had for the poor, forsaken and forlorn! When he was staying on the Hill, he once found that some low caste women returning from their work everyday in the heat of the mid-day sun, with throats parched with thirst, wanted to drink water. But as they belonged to a low caste they were not allowed to draw water from the well. Sri Bhagavan himself – Sri Bhagavan – Sri Bhagavan – what was his stature! But he himself would come out and wait for them. With his holy hands he drew water and when they said, “Samy, Samy, we are thirsty, give us a little water”, he gave them the water. I sometimes feel that I am like those low caste women and again and again turning to the gracious face of the Maharshi, I say to him “Samy, Samy, give me the water of life!”and he will give it to every aspiring heart.3
1. Refer annexure-V on Dakshinamurthi, p. 415.
2. A 108-verse poem addressed to mountain Arunachala. Refer Akshara-manamalai, p. 425.
3. This episode was mentioned by Sri Ramana himself to Suri Nagamma, refer pp. 93-4.