Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi – Souris, daughter of Chalam
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Souris, daughter of Chalam (preceding entry), bore a Westernised name and her family’s way of living was also Westernised. Her father had rejected Indian systems and traditions.
When I saw Bhagavan’s [Ramana Maharshi's] photo for the first time in The Sunday Times, I wondered who that ugly person could be. I thought, ‘not only does he get himself photographed half-naked, he also gets the picture printed in newspapers’. At the same time I loathed him and what he stood for. I discovered that his name was Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, which sounded harsh and artificial to my ears. Bhagavan, Ramana and Maharshi: I did not see any relation between these names. I felt that he had added these titles merely for the sake of self–advertisement, to show himself off.
My aesthetic feelings were so hurt that if I ever saw the Maharshi’s photo in a newspaper I used to turn the page as quickly as possible. At that time, when I was fourteen years old, I couldn’t stand the sight of him. But now, today, I know no other beauty is comparable to the beauty of the Maharshi. It is not merely a feeling; it is a conviction, a sure knowledge. His enchanting smile, his melodious voice, the nod of his head, his wonderful look that splits through the maya of the world, these are found nowhere else in the world.
When my father returned from his first visit to the Ashram in 1936, I was lying down with a headache. Everyone except me crowded round father to listen to his account of the visit. I initially ignored him, but when I heard him say the name of Arunachala my heart got filled with joy. I got up from my bed and sat near father because his story had begun to fascinate me. As I joined him, father was describing Bhagavan’s philosophy of Self-knowledge. He was explaining that Bhagavan teaches that the mind, the intellect, the five sensory organs and the body are not real, and we should know the real ‘I’.
Everyone was listening, but except for me, none of us could grasp or understand the ideas that father was trying to explain. Since my childhood I had wondered: Is the world real or is it a dream? I had known since childhood that behind my mind there is an ‘I’ that has no connection with the mind. I had tried unsuccessfully to reach and know this ‘I’ many times. I knew that the mind was a barrier that prevented the goal from being reached, but I had no idea how to bypass it. When I heard Bhagavan’s teachings, I felt that they were pointing me in the direction of the truth I was seeking.
I went to bed and stretched myself out. Father came and sat near me. He applied some vibhuti he had brought from the Ashram to my forehead and uttered Bhagavan’s name twice. I felt a cool power flowing from my father’s fingers into my forehead. Immediately my headache disappeared. Later I read the booklet Who am I? and started to practise the technique.
At the beginning, each time I tried to banish thoughts one by one, ten thoughts would arise in place of each one I banished. This made me feel depressed. But about ten days after I started my practice, the figure of Bhagavan appeared before me. Till then I had never seen him, except in photos. Immediately all the thoughts in my mind subsided of their own accord, filling my heart with joy and love. I would have stopped such a difficult sadhana on account of my young age, but I soon discovered that the headache that had troubled me since childhood vanished if I meditated.
Ever since I read Brunton’s A Search in Secret India [No.1], the desire to see Bhagavan became intense. His name constantly filled my mind. I spent a whole year yearning to go to Bhagavan before I got a chance to see him. I went along with my parents. We entered Bhagavan’s hall at 8 a.m. As soon as he saw me, Bhagavan smiled as if I were an old acquaintance. It seemed to me that he had been expecting me for a long time. I sat before him and almost immediately fell into a trance. It was so natural; it was like a fish being put into water.
I went to see Bhagavan again with my father in the late 1930s. Though I was often in ecstasy in Bhagavan’s presence, I could not escape from some difficulties. The behaviour, traditions and methods of worship at the Ashram continually grated on me. One evening, while I was sitting in a trance, the person distributing prasad came up to me and said loudly, “Take it.” I stretched out my left-hand because by birth I am left-handed. He responded by rebuking me. I was unhappy since I did not like being shouted at by the attendants.
I did not see meaning in many of the rituals. Whenever the priest brought arati after puja, Bhagavan would stretch out his hand to the flame and then apply vibhuti and kumkum to the forehead. I never understood why Bhagavan behaved in this way like an orthodox Brahmin. I thought that since he was a jnani who always saw the whole world as a foolish game, he should not behave like this. There were many other occasions when I saw him behaving in a way that seemed opposite to his teachings, as I then understood them. I was confused. This confusion was so great that I felt my love for him would diminish. But then I began to correct my attitude.
I said to myself, “What are we before him? If Bhagavan takes arati very devoutly, why should I have any objection?” Because of all these thoughts about Bhagavan and arati, my meditation used to get disturbed. Then, one day, I saw Major Chadwick [No.42] take arati very devoutly and apply vibhuti and kumkum to his forehead. It moved me very much. If, for a Hindu by birth like me, there does not appear much meaning or rationale in the arati, it should appear even more meaningless to a foreigner such as him. From that day on I saw beauty in whatever Bhagavan did.
For me, being in Bhagavan’s presence was like being in heaven. If I am to write how Bhagavan has impressed me, all the vocabulary I can command in the three languages I know would not suffice. When a word issued forth from his lips – generally he did not speak much at all – it was just as astonishing as it would be if words had come forth from an inanimate idol. Above all else I noticed his sparkling eyes; even in the dark one could see them sparkle. And when he looked at us, his sight, like an arrow, pierced right into the deepest recesses of the heart.
At the Ashram I felt that apart from this place the entire world is non-existent. I didn’t like to go away, leaving Bhagavan. I only wanted to stay there.When I came Backfrom the Ashram in 1939, home seemed like a jail to me. But whenever I thought strongly of going Backto Arunachala, Bhagavan would appear in a dream and counsel me, “Why do you worry? I am always with you.“
In one of my dreams Bhagavan appeared and asked me, “Will you choose a writing career or Self-realisation?” I replied in the dream that I would choose Self-realisation. After this dream, people who had read my published stories used to ask, “What are you writing nowadays?” When I answered, “Bhagavan told me to stop,” they would look at me in disbelief.
I continued my sadhana at home. If Bhagavan had not guided me through my dreams during that long period (before I moved to Arunachala permanently in 1950), I would have gone astray many times and would have been deceived by many.
In January 1950, when Bhagavan was in the last stages of his life, I, along with my father, packed up all our belongings and moved to Arunachala, our only refuge, to take up permanent residence there. Within a few weeks of our arrival, Bhagavan gave up the body. We had come to die in his presence, but instead he passed away before our very eyes. We stayed on near his samadhi. For us, there was nowhere else to go.
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