Residual Reminiscences of Ramana
S. S. Cohen
These few pages are the remnant of the memories which have been preserved by the author from his contact with his divine Guru, Sri Ramana Maharshi, who passed intoMahanirvana a little more than 25 years ago. The perspicacious reader will not wonder at their fewness but rather at their largeness, taking into consideration the author’s age of 80, the long period that has elapsed between the time they were imprinted on his mind and the time (now) he was asked to write them down.
S. S. Cohen,
Residual Reminiscences of Ramana
On the second or third day of my arrival at Sri Ramanasramam at Tiruvannamalai in February 1936, I visited the only other foreigner resident in this place. Still standing on the threshold of his temporary lodging, I spoke loudly to the big, hulking gentleman seated at the table writing. “Good morning, Mr. Brunton” I said, “I bring you greetings from Mr. A. Bose”. His answer came booming that he was not Mr. Brunton but Major Chadwick and that nevertheless I could come in, pointing to a chair, and himself turning round in his chair to face me. I entered and addressing him straightaway, I said that I had come for about a week to study the Maharshi’s teaching and if I find it skull-racking like the Western philosophy which is all theory and not an ounce of experience, BackI go. Major Chadwick answered: “The Maharshi is entirely different: if he is not all experience and practice, he is nothing. Brunton, I hear, is expected in a day or two”.
That night in our stroll after dinner, Brunton advised me not to be in haste to judge, the Maharshi’s influence and teaching and that the answer the Maharshi had given me in the morning about the Veda Parayanam clearly indicated that I should wait. So I waited.
The dust of time gathered round me and I found myself settled down to the quiet life of the Ashram in my newly-built mud hut in Palakottu. Four, five, six months have elapsed since my arrival. I wanted, but began to notice a new turn in the working of my mind, a thing which I had not felt before, a peculiar slow but extremely subtle movement was taking place within my consciousness and I wondered what it could be and whether the Maharshi was aware of it as well.
The strict aloofness which appeared to me at first as sheer callousness on the part of the Maharshi, standing against the traditional concern said to be shown by the gurus to promote the spiritual advancement of their disciples, turned out across the years to be more potent in its action to purify, reform, guide and mature the disciples’ consciousness than the guru’s conscious interference. Without this detachment, the guru is bound to grow partial and discriminative which is fatal to the intention of help, for it ends by dissipating the special concentrated power inherent for the purpose in him.
Renunciation or surrender is the cornerstone of sadhana, leading directly to Mukti itself, and with the Maharshi it was the most complete. No doubt there have always been a number of deluded devotees who tried to ingratiate themselves with him in this Ashram, not less than in other Ashrams, but Bhagavan never deviated from the neutrality in his spiritual attitude towards them, in their own interest and benefit. Answering spiritual questions he always did, but he never attempted consciously to give Self-Realization to any in all the fourteen years of my contact with him, either by touch, mental projection or any other means. Unconscious siddhis, the divine powers which are inherent in the Self, follow the Jnani-Guru like his shadow, and work out the miraculous transformation in the consciousness of the disciples at the right time, without a call for them by the Jnani himself. I do not speak of the conscious siddhis which are claimed by the “clairvoyant”, “clairaudient”, “occultist”, “initiate” and their fraternity, for I know nothing about them. The unconscious siddhis are all the divine powers which adhere to the Self-Realized man who has surrendered himself completely to God or absolute Reality, and which act of their own accord without an appeal from the Jnani himself. The Jnani had already divested himself of the personal will and had merged it into that of the Divine, which alone henceforth acts until the end of the lifetime of the Jnanfs body.
My attitude towards staying or departing was now settled. I stayed and made the aim of my future life clear to myself without planning it and in spite of myself, so to say. The die is cast, as they say, and cannot be uncast. I am not going to be again a part of a world which wallows in the mucky madness after the glittering pleasures of life, even by people who appear to be same and respectable situated.
One day, I got my opportunity and told him that I always understood that Realisation was sudden. He answered that it must not be forgotten that before the suddenness there must be the maturation, which is a slow process, like the ripening of an apple on a tree. It became thus plain to me that it was of this process that I had become simply aware; that was all.
I told him that since some weeks I have been feeling a bit jaded; does Bhagavan advise me to go for a change? He answered that it was the monotony to which I had not been used which was responsible for my tiredness; I had better go for a change. And within a week I was in Bombay. It was as if I was in Ramanasramam. Yet, it was not the same. The nostalgia for Bhagavan after that period grew daily and so, soon after, I returned “home”.
Tiruvannamalai at last, after 2U years of residence is noisy Babylon, godless Bombay, I returned home on the 5th June 1948, at 8 a.m.
25th June 1948, 8-30 a.m.
I am in a mood for meditation. The hall is quiet and the devotees present are very few. The morning is fresh and Bhagavan seems cheerful. I dip – once, twice, thrice. I look at my wrist watch: it is 9-10 a.m.; Bhagavan is observing. I hear him saying something in English. It must be to me, I look at him. Yes, he is addressing me: “Grant Duff has passed away.” I said, “At the age of 87?” “no, 83”, he corrected. “Where, in the United States?” “Yes”, he answered and fell into silence. I remarked: “I am sorry if he had to suffer before his death”, to which Bhagavan answered “I don’t know”. As there was no further talk I dipped again till 9-40 when I left.
I hear someone from the centre of the hall raise his voice and say, “the whole trouble lies with the fact that the Self is not perceptible and the body is. We cannot even make a conception of the Self except that it is my “being”, whereas we see the body move, talk, think, etc. etc. We learn from the guru that all this is illusion, but we cannot deny our senses which speak the opposite.” Bhagavan answered that that is why a trusted Guru is necessary. To the Guru all what I said is crystal clear; hence, he is in a position to teach the right way – from his experience, and you have not to believe your eyes, you have to believe him.
On this 16th day of December 1949 I was passing by the Ashram’s office when I saw Maj or Chadwick entering it. Contrary to his habitual reticence, he was heard speaking about Bhagavan’s fourth operation which was fixed for the 19th. After a few preliminary words, he grew heated at the news. Raising his gigantic voice, he admonished the authorities: “How long are you going to cut Bhagavan? Let him go without this torture. So many times you operated, what good did it all do? Let him, let him, let him go….” gathering his vocal momentum at each ‘let him’. He stunned all the people present; even the hardy Sarvadhikari was numbed into silence till the Major left after a few minutes.
My sympathy was all with Chadwick, but nobody’s advice was worth anything before that of the advisory inner Council which was paying the allopathic piper.
Those who visited the Ashram after the Mahanirvana of Bhagavan know that the old hall had since become the most holy meditation hall of the Ashram, due to its longest association with the Master as his reception hall, bedroom, office, study, and the receptacle of his sublime teaching.
And when one raises one’s eyes and see his life-sized photograph installed on the very couch he had used, leaning on the very cushions which had supported his Backand limbs for a good number of years, one transcends the illusion of time and space and feels as if the physical presence is actually there too, and, so, one cannot but respond in love and adoration of him who used to be called Bhagavan Ramana Arunachala, the Guru of Gurus and Supreme Consciousness and Grace personified.