Sunday 3 June 2007

5. THE QUESTION OF RETURN

WHEN THE YOUNG Venkataraman left home it came as a complete surprise to his family. Despite his changed

manner and despite the family destiny, no one had anticipated it. Searches and enquiries were made without avail. His mother, who was staying at the time with relatives at Manamadura, was more distressed than any of them. She implored her brothers- in-law, Subbier and Nelliappier, to go out and search until they found him. A rumour was heard that he had joined a theatrical troupe playing traditional religious dramas in Trivandrum. Nelliappier promptly went there and made enquiries among the various dramatic companies, but of course without result. Still Alagammal refused to accept the failure and insisted on his going a second time and taking her with him. At Trivandrum she did

in fact see a youth of Venkataraman's age and height and with similar hair who turned his back on her and went away. Feeling convinced that it was her Venkataraman and that he was avoiding her, she returned home dejected.

Subbier, the uncle with whom Venkataraman had stayed in Madura, died in August 1898. Nelliappier and his family went to attend the funeral and it was there that they had their first news of the missing Venkataraman. A young man who was attending the ceremony told them that during a recent visit to a math [?] (private temple) in Madura he heard one Annamalai Tambiran speaking with great reverence of a young Swami at Tiruvannamalai. Hearing that the Swami came from Tiruchuzhi, he had asked for more details and learnt that his name was Venkataraman. "It must be your Venkataraman and he is now a revered Swami," he concluded.

Nelliappier was a second-grade pleader practising at

Manamadura. On hearing this news he at once set out for Tiruvannamalai with a friend to verify it. They found their way to the Swami but he was already staying in the mango orchard and its owner, Venkatarama Naicker, refused them entrance: "He is mouni (has taken a vow of silence); why go in and disturb him?" Even when they pleaded that they were relatives the most he would allow was to send in a note to him. Nelliappier wrote on a piece of paper that he had with him, "Nelliappier, pleader of Manamadura, wishes to see you."

The Swami showed already that keen perception of mundane affairs coupled with complete detachment from them, which was to characterise him later and which surprised so many devotees. He observed that the paper on which the note was written came from the Registration Department and had some office matter on the back of it in the handwriting of his elder brother, Nagaswami, from which he deduced that Nagaswami

had become a clerk in the Registration Department. Just the same in later years, he would turn a letter over and examine its address and postmark before opening it.

He gave permission for the visitors to enter, but when they did so, sat aloof and silent without a trace of the interest he had just shown in examining the note. Any sign of interest would only have encouraged the vain hope of his return. Nelliappier was deeply moved to see him in this state -- a Swami but unkempt, unwashed, with matted hair and long nails. Supposing him to be mouni, he addressed himself instead to Palaniswami and Naicker, explaining that it gave him great pleasure to find that one of his family had attained such a high state but that the creature comforts should not be ignored.

The Swami's relatives wished to have him near them. They would put no pressure on him to abandon his vows or mode of life; let him continue a mouni (silent) and an ascetic, but at Manamadura, near where Nelliappier lived, there was the shrine of a great saint, he could stay there and his wants would be attended to without disturbing him. The pleader pleaded with all his eloquence, but in this case without avail. The Swami sat motionless with no sign even of having heard. Nelliappier had no option but to accept his failure. He wrote to Alagammal the good news that her son had been found coupled with the distressing news that he was quite changed and would not go back to them. After five days at Tiruvannamalai, he returned to Manamadura.

Shortly after this the Swami left the mango orchard and went to a small temple of Arunagirinathar to the west of Ayyankulam tank. Always reluctant to depend on others for service, he decided now to go out daily and beg his food instead of letting Palaniswami provide for him. "You go one way to beg your food and I will go another," he bade him; "Let us not live together." To Palaniswami it was a terrible blow. Devotion to

the Swami was his mode of worship. He went out alone as bidden but nightfall found him back at Arunagirinathar Temple. How could he live without his Swami? He was allowed to stay.

The Swami was still maintaining silence. He would stop at the threshold of a house and clap his hands and if any food was given him would receive it in his cupped hands and eat it standing in the road. Even though invited, he would never enter a house. He went on a different street each day and never begged twice from the same house. He said later that he had begged in nearly all the streets of Tiruvannamalai.

After a month at the Arunagirinathar Temple he took up his abode in one of the towers of the great temple and the alari garden in the temple. He was already followed by devotees wherever he went. He stayed here only a week and then went to Pavalakunru, one of the eastern spurs of Arunachala, and stayed in the temple there. He would sit here as before, immersed in samadhi [?] (the Bliss of Being), and only leave the place to beg food while Palaniswami was away. It often happened that the temple priest would lock him in and go away after performing puja, not troubling to look and see whether he was inside.

It was here that Alagammal found her son. After receiving the news from Nelliappier, she waited until the Christmas holidays when her eldest son, Nagaswami, was free to accompany her and then went to Tiruvannamalai. She recognised her Venkataraman immediately, despite his wasted body and matted hair. With all a mother's love she lamented his condition and besought him to go back with her, but he sat unmoved, not answering, not even showing that he heard. Day after day she returned, bringing him tasty things to eat, entreating and reproaching, but without effect. One day, stung by his apparent lack of feeling for her, she burst into tears. He still did not answer but, lest his compassion should show and give her false hopes of

what could not happen, he rose and walked away. Another day she enlisted the sympathy of the devotees who had gathered around, pouring out her grief to them and beseeching them to intervene. One of them, Pachaiyappa Pillai, said to the Swami: "Your mother is weeping and praying; why do you not at least give her an answer? Whether it is `yes' or `no' you can reply to her. Swami need not break his vow of silence. Here are pencil and paper; Swami can at least write what he has to say."

He took the pencil and paper and, in utterly impersonal language, wrote:

"The Ordainer controls the fate of souls in accordance with their prarabdhakarma (destiny to be worked out in this life, resulting from the balance sheet of actions in past lives). Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try as you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent."

In essence, this is the same as Christ's saying to his mother:

"Woman, what have I to do with you? Don't you know that I have to be about my Father's business?" In form it is very typical of Sri Bhagavan, first that he should stay silent when the answer could only be negative, and then that when the silence was not accepted and, under further pressure, he did give an answer, it was couched in such general terms as to be an impersonal doctrinal utterance and yet at the same time an answer to the specific question according to the needs of the questioner.

Sri Bhagavan was uncompromising in his teaching that whatever is to happen will happen, while at the same time he taught that whatever happens is due to prarabdha [?], a man's balance sheet of destiny acting according to so rigorous a law of cause and effect that even the word `justice' seems too sentimental to

express it. He refused ever to be entangled in a discussion on free will and predestination, for such theories, although contradictory on the mental plane, may both reflect aspects of truth. He would say "Find out who it is who is predestined or has free will."

He said explicitly: "All the actions that the body is to perform are already decided upon at the time it comes into existence: the only freedom you have is whether or not to identify yourself with the body." If one acts a part in a play, the whole part is written out beforehand and one acts as faithfully whether one is Caesar who is stabbed or Brutus who stabs, being unaffected by it because one knows one is not that person. In the same way, he who realizes his identity with the deathless Self acts his part on the human stage without fear or anxiety, hope or regret, not being touched by the part played. If one were to ask what reality one has when all one's actions are determined, it would lead only to the question: Who, then, am I? If the ego that thinks it makes decisions is not real and yet I know that I exist, what is the reality of me? This is only a preparatory, mental version of the quest that Sri Bhagavan prescribed, but it is an excellent preparation for the real quest.

And yet, the apparently conflicting view that a man makes his own destiny is no less true, since everything happens by the law of cause and effect and every thought, word and action brings about its repercussion. Sri Bhagavan was as definite about this as other Masters. He said to a devotee, Sivaprakasam Pillai, in a reply quoted in Chapter Ten, "As beings reap the fruit of their actions in accordance with God's laws, the responsibility is theirs, not His." He constantly stressed the need for effort. It is recorded in Maharshi's Gospel that a devotee complained: "After leaving this Ashram in October, I was aware of the Peace that prevails in Sri Bhagavan's presence enfolding me for about ten days. All the

time, while busy in my work, there was an undercurrent of that peace in unity; it was almost like the dual consciousness which one experiences while half asleep at a dull lecture. Then it faded out entirely and the old stupidities came in instead." And Sri Bhagavan replied: "If you strengthen the mind that peace will become constant. Its duration is proportionate to the strength of mind acquired by repeated practice." In Spiritual Instruction a devotee referred explicitly to the apparent contradiction between destiny and effort: "If, as is said, everything happens according to destiny, even the obstacles that retard and prevent one from successfully carrying out the meditation may have to be considered insuperable, as being set up by such irrevocable destiny. How, then, can one ever hope to surmount them?" And to this Sri Bhagavan replied: "That which is called `destiny', preventing meditation, exists only to the externalised and not to the introverted mind. Therefore he who seeks inwardly in quest of the Self, remaining as he is, does not get frightened by any impediment that may seem to stand in the way of carrying on his practice of meditation. The very thought of such obstacles is the greatest impediment."

The concluding statement in the message he wrote out --

"The best course, therefore, is to remain silent" -- applied specifically to his mother, since she was asking what could not be granted. It applies to people in general in the sense that "it is no use kicking against the pricks", opposing destiny that cannot be averted; but it does not mean that no effort should ever be made. The man who says, "Everything is predestined, therefore I will make no effort," is intruding the false assumption "and I know what is predestined" -- it may be that he is cast in a part in which effort has to be made. As Sri Krishna told Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita [?], his own nature will compel him to make effort.

The mother returned home and the Swami remained as before.

And yet not quite. During the two and a quarter years that he spent in temples and shrines at Tiruvannamalai the first signs of a return to an outwardly normal life were already appearing. He had already begun to take food daily at a regular hour and then, so as not to be dependent on anyone, to go out in search of it. He had spoken a few times. He had begun to respond to devotees, to read books and to expound the essence of their teaching.

When he first came to Tiruvannamalai he sat immersed in the

Bliss of Being, utterly ignoring the world and the body. He would take food only if it was brought to his hands or mouth and even then barely enough to sustain the body. This has been described as tapas [?], but the word tapas [?] covers a very composite meaning. It implies concentration leading to austerity, normally in penance for past indulgence and to root out all desire for its repetition and restrain the outgoing energy which seeks a vehicle in the mind and senses. That is to say that tapas [?] normally means striving for realization by means of penance and austerity. In the case of Sri Bhagavan the elements of strife, penance and forcible restraint were completely lacking, since the false identification of the `I' with the body and the resultant attachment to the body had already been broken. There was even no austerity from his point of view, since he had utterly ceased to identify himself with the body that underwent austerity. He intimated this in later years by saying, "I did not eat, so they said I was fasting; I did not speak, so they said I was mouni." To put it quite simply, the seeming austerity was not in quest of Realization but as a result of Realization. He has explicitly said that there was no more sadhana [?] (quest or striving) after the spiritual Awakening at his uncle's house at Madura.

So also, Sri Bhagavan was not a mouni in the usual sense of observing a vow of silence in order to shut himself off from contact with others. Having no worldly needs, he simply had

no need to speak; moreover, he has explained that, on seeing a mouni, it occurred to him that not speaking would be a good defence against disturbance.

In the early months, immersion in Bliss often shut off perception of the manifested world. He has referred to this in his picturesque style:

"Sometimes I opened my eyes and it was morning, sometimes it was evening: I did not know when the sun rose or when it set." To some extent this continued, only it became rare instead of usual. In later years Sri Bhagavan once said that he often heard the beginning of the parayanam [?] (chanting of the Vedas) and then the end, but had been so absorbed that he had heard nothing in between and wondered how they had got to the end so soon and whether they had left anything out. However, even during the early months at Tiruvannamalai, there was often full observance of events and in later years he would relate things that had happened at this period, of which people at the time thought he was unaware.

Complete absorption in the Self with resultant oblivion to the manifested world is termed nirvikalpa samadhi [?]. This is a state of blissful trance but is not permanent. Sri Bhagavan has compared it (in Maharshi's Gospel) to a bucket of water lowered into a well. In the bucket is water (the mind) which is merged with that in the well (the Self ), but the rope and bucket (the ego) still exist to draw it out again. The highest state, complete and final, is sahaja samadhi [?], referred to briefly at the beginning of Chapter Two. This is pure uninterrupted Consciousness, transcending the mental and physical plane and yet with full awareness of the manifested world and full use of the mental and physical faculties, a state of perfect equilibrium, perfect harmony, beyond even bliss. This he has compared with the waters of a river merged in those of the ocean. In this state

the ego with all its limitations is dissolved once and for ever in the Self. This is absolute freedom, pure consciousness, pure I-am-ness no longer limited to the body or the individuality.

Sri Bhagavan was already in this supreme state although the outer awareness was not yet continuous. The return to outer activity that came later was only apparent and involved no real change. As he explained in Maharshi's Gospel:

"In the case of the Jnani [?] (Enlightened) the rise or existence of the ego is only apparent and he enjoys his unbroken transcendental experience in spite of such apparent rise or existence of the ego, keeping his attention always on the Source. This ego is harmless; it is like the skeleton of a burnt rope -- though it has a form it is no use to tie anything with."


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