Swami Abhishiktananda earlier in his life was a Christian monk called Father Henri Le Saux, who felt that Christian priests, as sannyasis would find acceptance in India. He studied Hindu scriptures and experimented with the devotional and meditational practices they recommend. He authored Sacchidananda, Guru and Disciple and The Secret of Arunachala.
Sri Ramana’s devotee Purusha [Fr. J. Monchanin] and I entered the hall, saluted the Maharshi respectfully and sat among the crowd. I concentrated on looking with attention at the Maharshi, of whom I had read and heard so much. However, despite my fervent expectation – or rather perhaps because of it – I felt let down, and in my disappointment, sadness filled my heart. I continued to gaze intently at the Maharshi.
At eleven O’clock the gong sounded for meal. Following the Maharshi, we all made our way to the dining hall. Purusha and I, as this was our first meal, had the privilege of being seated exactly in front of the Maharshi. All the time while I was eating, my eyes scarcely ever left the Maharshi; so eager was I to discover his secret. He was sitting on the floor just like us, ate with fingers from a plantain leaf as we did, and had exactly the same food as ours. This was a principle that he maintained inflexibly; since the beginning ofhis tapas he had always vehemently refused to touch anything that could not be shared freely with all and sundry.
Once again and without doubt, I could see him as an excellent grandfather. But the halo? In vain I strained my eyes trying to see it; all my efforts were useless.
After the midday meal, Purusha took me to meet Ethel Merston [No.77] whom he had met on a previous visit. She asked for my impressions, and as I did not wish to conceal the truth, I told her of my disappointment. She said, “You have come here with far too much ‘baggage’.You want to know, you want to understand. You are insisting that what is intended for you should come to you by the path which you have determined. Instead you should make yourself empty and be receptive.“
Did I really try to make myself empty on the lines suggested by Ethel? Or rather, was it the fever itself that got the better of all my efforts to meditate and reason? When the Vedas began again,1 their spell carried me off much further from things and from myself than had been the case on the previous evening.
The fever, my sleepiness, a condition that was half dreaming, seemed to release in me zones of para-consciousness in which all that I saw or heard aroused overwhelmingly powerful echoes. Even before my mind was able to recognise the fact and still less to express it, the invisible halo of the Sage had been perceived by something in me deeper than any words. Unknown harmonies awoke in my hearts In the Sage of Arunachala I had discerned the unique Sage of the eternal India, the unbroken succession of her sages; it was as if the very soul of India penetrated to the very depths of my own soul and held mysterious communion with it. It was a call which pierced through everything, and opened a mighty abyss.
By the evening I knew that I had to leave. The fever was getting worse. Again, the half-hour of jolting in the bullock cart, an exhausting night on the railway in crowded compartments. Next morning I simply fell into bed and stayed there for three days, unable to move.
But if the body was there, stretched out under the bedclothes, the spirit was still at Sri Ramana’s Ashram. The Vedic chants, as I had heard them there, still continued to sound in my ears. Before my eyes still danced the picture of the old man stretched out on his couch and of the crowd, which pressed devotedly, round him. In my feverish dreams, when I was neither fully awake nor fully asleep, it was the Maharshi who unremittingly appeared to me.When I came to myself again after those days of fever, I realized to what a depth in myself this first meeting with Sri Ramana had penetrated as part of the mystery of Arunachala.
1. The usual recitation from the Vedas at the Ashram.