THE CROWDS DISPERSED and the Ashram seemed an abandoned place, like a grate with the fire gone out. And
yet there was not the wild grief and despair that has so often followed the departure of a Spiritual Master from earth. The normality that had been so pronounced still continued. It began to be apparent with what care and compassion Sri Bhagavan had prepared his devotees for this. Nevertheless, during those first days and weeks of bereavement few cared to remain at Tiruvannamalai, and some who would have cared to could not.
Some of those whose devotion sought expression in action formed a committee to manage the Ashram. Niranjanananda Swami consented to work with them, and they, for their part, consented to accept him as the permanent president of the
Committee. Others formed groups or sabhas in the various towns they lived in, holding regular meetings.
Unfortunately, it cannot be said that there were none who made trouble or tried to gain prominence for themselves; that always happens when a Spiritual Master leaves the body, but at least there were few such and most of the devotees remained steady.
Many years previously a will had been drawn up stating how the Ashram was to be run when the Master was no longer bodily present. A group of devotees took this to Sri Bhagavan and he read it through very carefully and showed approval, after which they all signed as witnesses. Briefly, it stated that puja (ritualistic worship) should be performed at his samadhi and that of the mother, that the family of Niranjanananda Swami's son should be supported, and that the spiritual centre of Tiruvannamalai should be kept alive. There were attempts later to draw up some different kind of will but Sri Bhagavan would never consider it.
It is the third item that is the great legacy and obligation.
The devotees are contributing thereto according to their nature and capacity. Some there are who do no more than sit in silent meditation or who merely come when circumstances permit to receive consolation and pour out the devotion and gratitude of their heart. They are disciples of the Master who said, "Lectures may entertain individuals for hours without improving them; silence, on the other hand, is permanent and benefits the whole of mankind." Even though their meditation falls short of the tremendous spiritual silence of Bhagavan, it not only receives but transmits his Grace and is bound to have effect. And if several worship or meditate together the effect is cumulative.
Others by speech or writing help to set in train an interest which may ripen into a deeper understanding.
Those who are drawn more to outer activity have the burden of organisation upon them, which also is a sadhana and acceptable to Sri Bhagavan only when performed as such. They hope eventually to erect a hall of meditation. At present there is a simple stone samadhi surmounted by a lingam and covered over with palm-leaf roofing, between the temple and the old hall.
Everywhere his Presence is felt, and yet there are differences of atmosphere. Morning and evening there is parayanam (chanting of the Vedas) before the samadhi, as there used to be before his bodily presence, and at the same hours. As the devotees sit there in meditation it is the same as when they sat before him in the hall, the same power, the same subtlety of guidance. During parayanam , puja is performed at the samadhi and the 108 names of Bhagavan are recited. But in the old hall is a softer, mellower atmosphere breathing the intimacy of his long abidance. Some months after the Mahasamadhi (leaving the body) this hall was damaged by a fire that broke out, but was fortunately not destroyed.
There is also the little room where the last days and hours were spent. A large portrait which hangs there seems to live and respond to devotion. Here are the various objects that Sri Bhagavan used or touched -- his staff and water vessel, a peacock fan, the revolving bookcase, many little objects. And the couch now forever empty. There is something infinitely poignant, inexpressibly gracious about the room.
In the new hall a statue of Sri Bhagavan has been installed.
It was one of the terms of the will that a statue should be set up, but no sculptor has yet been found to make one adequate. He would have to feel the mystery of Sri Bhagavan, to be inspired by him, for it is not a question of rendering human features but the divine power and beauty that shone through them.
Not only the Ashram premises are hallowed but all the neighbourhood around. The peace that abides there encompasses and permeates: no passive peace but a vibrant exhilaration. The very air is redolent with his Presence.
True, his Presence is not confined to Tiruvannamalai. It never was. The devotees, wherever they may be, find his Grace and support, his inner Presence, not merely as potent but even more potent now than before. And yet, now as before, the solace of a visit to Tiruvannamalai sinks into the soul and residence there has a beauty hard to describe.
There have been Saints who have promised to return to earth for the renewed guidance of their devotees in life after life, but Sri Bhagavan was the complete Jnani in whom there is not even that vestige of an ego that may indicate rebirth, and the devotees understood this. His promise was different. "I am not going away. Where could I go? I am here." Not even "I shall be here" but "I am here", for to the Jnani there is no change, no time, no difference of past and future, no going away, only the eternal `Now' in which the whole of the time is poised, universal, spaceless `Here'. What he affirmed was his continued, uninterrupted Presence, his continued guidance. Long ago he had told Sivaprakasam Pillai, "He who has won the Grace of the Guru shall undoubtedly be saved and never forsaken," and when devotees spoke during the last sickness as though he was forsaking them and pleaded their weakness and continued need of him he retorted, as already mentioned, "You attach too much importance to the body."
They quickly discovered how true this was. More than ever he has become the Inner Guru. Those who depended on him feel his guidance more actively, more potently now. Their thoughts are riveted on him more constantly. The vichara , leading to the Inner Guru, has grown easier and more accessible. Meditation brings a more immediate flow of Grace. The repercussion of actions, good and bad alike, is more swift and strong.
After the first shock of bereavement devotees began to be drawn back to Tiruvannamalai. It is not only the introspective type who feel the continued Presence. One devotee, Dr. T. N. Krishnaswami, believed himself to be bound to Sri Bhagavan only by personal love and devotion and said sorrowfully after the Mahasamadhi , "For people like me everything is finished." A few months later, returning from a visit to Tiruvannamalai, he said, "Even in the old days there was never such peace and beauty there as now." And it is not only the introspective type who feel the continued inner guidance; it is an immediate response to devotion.
The devotees were always like a large family, but now a stronger sense of fellowship grew (has grown) up among them. They met in the old hall and discussed the teachings of Sri Bhagavan and exchanged reminiscences, bringing to light their experiences and sayings of Sri Bhagavan which none felt the need to speak about formerly.
The mystery of Arunachala Hill also has become more accessible. There were many formerly who felt nothing of its power, for whom it was just a hill of rock and earth and shrubs like any other. Mrs. Taleyarkhan, a devotee mentioned in the previous chapter, was sitting once on the Hill with a guest of hers, talking about Sri Bhagavan. She said: "Bhagavan is a walking God and all our prayers are answered. That is my experience. Bhagavan says this Hill is God Himself. I cannot understand all that, but Bhagavan says so, so I believe it." Her friend, a Muslim in whom the courtly Persian traditions of culture still lingered, replied, "According to our Persian beliefs I would take it as a sign if it rained." Almost immediately there was a shower and they came down the Hill drenched to tell the story.
But from the time when the Spirit left the body and a bright star trailed towards the Hill devotees have felt more directly that it is holy ground; they have felt in it the mystery of Bhagavan.
Ancient tradition has it that Arunachala Hill is wish- fulfilling and pilgrims have gone to it through the centuries with prayers for boons; but those who feel its peace more deeply do not wish, for the way of Arunachala is the way of Bhagavan that sets one free from wishes, and that is the great fulfilment.
"When I draw near, looking upon Thee as having form,
Thou standest as a Hill on earth. He who seeks Thy form as formless is like one travelling over the earth in search of formless space. To dwell without thought upon Thy nature is to lose one's identity like a sugar doll immersed in the ocean. When I come to realize who I am, what else (but Thee) is this identity of mine. Oh Thou who standest as the towering Aruna Hill?" (from the Eight Stanzas to Sri Arunachala).
It is not only those who have been before and have seen the beauty of Sri Bhagavan in his bodily form who feel the attraction. Theirs is an inestimable fortune but others also are drawn to him, to Arunachala. It will be enough to mention two such. Miss Howes had been waiting fourteen years for a possibility of going, after reading Paul Brunton's A Search in Secret India. Circumstances made it possible only after the Mahasamadhi . She gave up her job and sold her effects to raise the necessary funds. She was able to stay only a few weeks; however, feeling the Grace of his Presence, she said: "I thought I should be disappointed when I knew he was dead, but I wasn't. It was worth it, every moment of it. Now I can only look forward to the day when I shall come back again."
Coming back is in the hands of Bhagavan. Now, as before, he draws to himself and to Tiruvannamalai whom he will. Miss Howes was confident from past experience that she would have no difficulty in finding a new job when she got back, but this time it did not happen so. Week followed week with nothing
suitable turning up. Then she heard of a good vacancy, was interviewed and told that she could have the job if she wanted but that it was in India. So her return was made easy.
Dr. D.D. Acharya retired after a long and successful practice in Central India and decided to dedicate the evening of his life to spiritual quest. He travelled over India, visiting one temple or ashram after another, without finding the peace he sought, until he came to Tiruvannamalai. Immediately he felt, `this is home', and he settled down there as the Ashram doctor.
After some time he fell into despondency, as others have done before, at seeing no improvement in himself and wept before the samadhi, "Why did you bring me here, Bhagavan, if you are not going to give me the peace I seek?"
That same night he saw in a dream Bhagavan seated on his couch and, approaching, knelt before him. Sri Bhagavan took the bent head in his hands and asked what he was grieving about. Then, in answer to the complaint, he replied, almost as he had to other devotees during his lifetime, "It is not true that you are making no progress; it is I who know that, not you."
Dr. Acharya pleaded eagerly: "But I must attain realization now, in this life! Why should I wait? Why should it go so slowly?"
And Sri Bhagavan laughed. "That is your destiny
In this dream by one who had never seen Sri Bhagavan in his lifetime, the replies were such as he would then have made. Just as formerly, it was less the words spoken that were reassuring than the indescribable charm of his solicitude.
Others also will come. Ananda Mayi Ma, a well-known woman Saint of North India, came to the samadhi and, refusing a seat of honour prepared for her, said: "Why all this fuss? I have come to pay homage to my Father and can sit on the ground with the others." A South Indian woman Saint was asked by
Mrs. Taleyarkhan about herself and others still living in the body and replied, "He was the Sun and we are its rays." The story is no more ended than the story of Christ was ended upon the cross. It is, indeed, not a new religion that Sri Bhagavan brought upon earth, but a new hope, a new path, for those who understand and aspire from every land and religion in this age of spiritual darkness. It was not for his body's lifetime only. To those who feared that the guidance might end with death he replied curtly, "You attach too much importance to the body." Now, as then, he guides whoever approaches him and whoever submits to him he supports. To all who seek, He is here.
Eight Stanzas to Sri Arunachala