Chapter V – Born Anew
The crisis of Venkataraman’s life, the great awakening that converted his listlessness and dull life into one of lofty realisation and devotion to ideals, came about in the middle of the year 1896, when he was in his seventeenth year – the age at which the greatest number of religious persons have experienced their ‘conversion’ or started a new life. Long after this event, he was often queried by his devotees as to how he was transformed, and the following is substantially what he himself said:
“The shock of fear of death made me at once introspective, or ‘introverted’. I said to myself mentally, i.e., without uttering the words – ‘Now, death has come. What does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.’ I at once dramatised the scene of death. I extended my limbs and held them rigid as though rigor-mortis had set in. I imitated a corpse to lend an air of reality to my further investigation, I held my breath and kept my mouth closed, pressing the lips tightly together so that no sound might escape. Let not the word ‘I’ or any other word be uttered! ‘Well then,’ said I to myself, ‘this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body, am “I” dead? Is the body “I”? This body is silent and inert. But I feel the full force of my personality and even the sound “I” within myself -apart from the body. So “I” am a spirit, a thing transcending the body. The material body dies, but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. I am therefore the deathless spirit.’ All this was not a mere intellectual process, but flashed before me vividly as living truth, something which I perceived immediately, without any argument almost. ‘I’ was something very real, the only real thing in that state, and all the conscious activity that was connected with my body was centred on that. The ‘I’ or my ‘ self’ was holding the focus of attention by a powerful fascination from that time forwards. Fear of death had vanished at once and forever. Absorption in the self has continued from that moment right up to this time. Other thoughts may come and go like the various notes of a musician, but the ‘I’ continues like the basic or fundamental sruti note which accompanies and blends with all other notes. Whether the body was engaged in talking, reading or anything else, I was still centred on ‘I’. Previous to that crisis I had no clear perception of myself and was not consciously attracted to it. I had felt no direct perceptible interest in it, much less any permanent disposition to dwell upon it. The consequences of this new habit were soon noticed in my life.