THERE IS A ruggedness about the scene. Boulders lie as though scattered by a giant hand. Dry thorn and cactus
fences, sun-parched fields, small hills eroded into gaunt shapes; and yet huge shady trees along the dusty road, and here and there, near tank or well, the vivid green of paddy fields. And rising up out of this rough beauty the hill of Arunachala. Though only 2,682 feet high it dominates the countryside. From the south, the side of the Ashram, it is deceptively simple -- just a symmetrical hill with two almost equal foothills, one on either side. To make the symmetry more perfect, it wears most mornings a crown of white cloud or haze about the summit. But it is astonishing how the aspect changes as one treads the eight-mile road around it, going the prescribed way, from south to west, with one's right side to the hill; and each aspect has its character and symbolism --
that where it flings back an echo, that where the peak barely shows between two foothills, like the Self in the interval between two thoughts, that of the five peaks, that of Siva and Sakti, and others.
Sacred tanks mark the eight directions of space and
mantapams (simple stone halls) stand at various significant points. Pre-eminent among these is the Dakshinamurti Mantapam at the southern point, for Dakshinamurti is Siva teaching in silence, and that is Arunachala.
"Who is the seer? When I sought within I watched the disappearance of the seer and what survived it. No thought of `I saw' arose, so how could the thought `I did not see' arise? Who has the power to convey this in words when even Thou couldst do so in ancient days by silence only (appearing as Dakshinamurti)? Only to convey by silence Thy State Thou standest as a Hill shining from heaven to earth."1
Sri Bhagavan always encouraged pradakshina (circuit) of the hill. Even in the case of the old or infirm he would not discourage it but only tell them to go slowly. Indeed, the pradakshina is supposed to be made slowly, "like a pregnant queen in her ninth month." Whether in silent meditation or with singing or blowing of conch, it is to be made on foot, not in any conveyance, and in fact barefoot. The most auspicious times are Sivarathri, the Night of Siva, and Kartikai, the day when the constellation of kartikai (pleiades) is in conjunction with the full moon, falling usually in November. On these occasions the continuous stream of devotees has been compared to a garland around the hill.
An elderly cripple was once hobbling on crutches along the road that skirts the hill. He had often done so in pradakshina but this time it was to leave Tiruvannamalai. He felt himself an encumbrance to his family; quarrels had broken out and he had
decided to leave them and somehow make a living in a village. Suddenly a young Brahmin appeared before him and snatched away his crutches saying, "You don't deserve them." Before the anger that flushed him could find words he realized that his limbs were straight and he needed no crutches. He did not leave Tiruvannamalai; he stayed and was well known there. Sri Bhagavan told the story in all detail to some devotees and remarked on its similarity to that told in the Arunachala Sthala Purana . He was a young Swami on the hill at the time but he never said that it was he who appeared as the Brahmin youth.
Arunachala is one of the oldest and most sacred of all India's holy places. Sri Bhagavan declared that it is the heart of the earth, the spiritual centre of the world. Sri Shankara spoke of it as Mount Meru. The Skanda Purana declares: "That is the holy place. Of all, Arunachala is the most sacred. It is the heart of the world. Know it to be the secret and sacred Heart-centre of Siva." Many Saints have lived there, merging their sanctity with that of the hill. It is said, and confirmed by Sri Bhagavan, that to this day Siddhas (Sages with supernatural powers) dwell in its caves, whether with physical bodies or not, and some are said to have seen them as lights moving about the hill at night.
There is a puranic story about the origin of the hill. Once
Vishnu and Brahma fell to disputing which of them was the greater. Their quarrelling brought chaos on earth, so the Devas approached Siva and besought him to settle the dispute. Siva thereupon manifested himself as a column of light from which a voice issued declaring that whoever could find its upper or lower end was the greater. Vishnu took the form of a boar and burrowed down into the earth to find the base, while Brahma took the form of a swan and soared upwards to seek its summit. Vishnu failed to reach the base of the column but "beginning to see within himself the Supreme Light which dwells in the hearts of
all, he became lost in meditation, oblivious to the physical body and even unaware of himself, the one who sought." Brahma saw a screw pine flower falling through the air and, thinking to win by deception, returned with it and declared he had plucked it from the summit.
Vishnu admitted his failure and turned to the Lord in praise and prayer: "You are Self-knowledge. You are OM. You are the beginning and the middle and the end of everything. You are everything and illuminate everything." He was pronounced great while Brahma was abashed and confessed his fault.
In this legend Vishnu represents the ego or individuality and Brahma the mentality, while Siva is Atma, the Spirit.
The story continues that, because the lingam or column of light was too dazzling to behold, Siva manifested himself instead as the hill Arunachala, declaring: "As the moon derives its light from the sun, so other holy places shall derive their sanctity from Arunachala. This is the only place where I have taken this form for the benefit of those who wish to worship me and obtain illumination. Arunachala is OM itself. I will appear on the summit of this hill every year at Kartikai in the form of a peace-giving beacon." This refers not only to the sanctity of Arunachala itself but also to the pre-eminence of the doctrine of Advaita and the path of Self-enquiry of which Arunachala is the centre. One can understand this meaning in Sri Bhagavan's saying, "In the end everyone must come to Arunachala."
It was more than two years after his arrival at Tiruvannamalai before Sri Bhagavan began to live on the hill. Up till then he had stayed constantly at some shrine or temple. Only towards the close of 1898 did he take up his abode in the small temple at Pavalakunru, hallowed centuries ago by the presence of the great Saint Gautama Rishi, where his mother found him. He never left
Arunachala again. Early next year he moved into a cave on the hill itself and thereafter he stayed in one cave or another until 1922 when he moved down to the foot of the hill. There the present Ashram grew up and there he spent his remaining years on earth.
While on the hill, he lived nearly all the time on the eastern slope. The Ashram stands at the south, just beside the Dakshinamurti mantapam (stone hall). `The Southward-Facing' is one of the 108 Names of Bhagavan that are now chanted daily at his samadhi shrine. It is a name symbolical of spiritual authority in general, as the Sadguru is the Pole round which the world revolves, but it is in particular a name of Dakshinamurti. Dakshinamurti is Siva teaching in silence. In the verse quoted at the beginning of this chapter Sri Bhagavan identifies Arunachala with Dakshinamurti; in the following verse he speaks of Ramana and Arunachala as one:
"In the recesses of the lotus-shaped heart of all, from
Vishnu downwards, there shines as Absolute Consciousness, the Paramatman (Supreme Spirit) who is the same as Arunachala or Ramana. When the mind melts with love of him and reaches the inmost recess of the heart wherein he abides as the Beloved, the subtle eye of Absolute Consciousness opens and he reveals himself as pure Knowledge."
The cave to which Sri Bhagavan went first and in which he stayed longest is on the eastern slope. It is called Virupaksha after a Saint who dwelt and was buried there, probably in the sixteenth century. It is curiously shaped to resemble the sacred monosyllable OM, the tomb being in the inner recess, and it is said that the very sound OM can be heard within.
The trustees of the Virupaksha math (shrine) in town had also property rights over the cave and used to levy a small fee on pilgrims who visited it at the annual festival of Kartikai. At the time when Sri Bhagavan went there this practice had fallen into
abeyance because two parties were disputing the ownership and a lawsuit was pending between them. When the case was decided the successful party resumed the levy, but by that time the stream of visitors had grown much larger and was continuous throughout the year, not merely at Kartikai; and since it was the presence of Sri Bhagavan that drew them there the fee had become, in effect, a tax on access to him. In order not to sanction this, he moved out of the cave to a level patch of ground in front of it and sat under the shade of a tree there. The agent thereupon shifted his place of collection to the outer perimeter to include access to the tree also. So Sri Bhagavan left and went to the Sadguruswami Cave lower down and then, after a short stay there, to another cave. The stream of visitors to Virupaksha Cave ceased, and the proprietors, finding that they had only inconvenienced the Swami without benefiting themselves, asked him to return and undertook not to levy the fee so long as he occupied the cave. On this condition he returned.
In the summer months Virupaksha Cave becomes oppressively hot. There is a cave near Mulaipal Tirtha tank near Virupaksha Cave, that is cooler and has a supply of pure water for drinking. A mango tree stands over it, giving shade, from which it has acquired the name of Mango Tree Cave. Two brothers, devotees of Sri Bhagavan, blasted away the overhanging rock and put up a front wall with a door and he occupied it during the hot months.
In the year 1900, shortly after Sri Bhagavan went to live on the hill, a devotee named Nalla Pillai from Kumbakonam came to Tiruvannamalai and took a photograph of him, the earliest portrait we have. It is the face of a beautiful youth, almost a child, yet with the strength and profundity of the Bhagavan.
During the early years on the hill Sri Bhagavan still maintained silence. His radiance had already drawn a group of devotees around him and an Ashram had come into being. It was not only seekers after Truth that were drawn to him but
simple people, children, even animals. Young children from the town would climb the hill to Virupaksha Cave, sit near him, play around him, and go back feeling happy. Squirrels and monkeys would come up to him and eat out of his hand
He occasionally wrote out explanations or instructions for his disciples, but his not speaking did not really impede their training because, both now and later when he had resumed speech, his real teaching was through silence, in the tradition of Dakshinamurti, the tradition exemplified also in China by Lao Tsu and the early Taoist Sages. "That Tao which can be named is not the Tao" -- the knowledge which can be formulated is not the true Knowledge. This silent teaching was a direct spiritual influence which the mind absorbed and later interpreted according to its ability. The first European visitor has thus described it:
"On reaching the cave we sat before him at his feet and said nothing. We sat thus for a long time and I felt lifted out of myself. For half an hour I looked into the Maharshi's eyes, which never changed their expression of deep contemplation. I began to realize somewhat that the body is the Temple of the Holy Ghost; I could feel only that his body was not the man: it was the instrument of God, merely a sitting, motionless corpse from which God was radiating terrifically. My own feelings were indescribable."1
Another, Paul Brunton, who arrived more a sceptic than a believer, has given the following account of the first impact the silence of Sri Bhagavan made upon his mind.
"It is an ancient theory of mine that one can take the inventory of a man's soul from his eyes. But before those of the Maharshi I hesitate, puzzled and baffled. . . .
"I cannot turn my gaze away from him. My initial bewilderment, my perplexity at being totally ignored, slowly fade away as this strange fascination begins to grip me more firmly. But it is not till the second hour of the uncommon scene that I become aware of a silent, resistless change which is taking place within my mind. One by one, the questions which I prepared in the train with such meticulous accuracy drop away. For it does not now seem to matter whether they are asked or not, and it does not matter whether I solve the problems which have hitherto troubled me. I know only that a steady river of quietness seems to be flowing near me, that a great peace is penetrating the inner reaches of my being, and that my thought-tortured brain is beginning to arrive at some rest."
It was not only to the restless mind of the intellectual that the Grace of Bhagavan brought peace but to the grief-stricken heart also. Echammal, as she was called at the Ashram (her previous name had been Lakshmiammal), had been a happy wife and mother in the village of Mandakolathur, but before the age of twenty-five she lost first her husband, then her only son, then her only daughter. Stunned by her bereavement, tortured by memory, she could find no rest. She could no longer endure the place where she had been happy, the people among whom she had been happy. Thinking it might help her to forget, she travelled to Gokarnam in Bombay State to serve the holy men there, but she returned as grief-stricken as she went. Some friends told her of a young Swami at Tiruvannamalai who brought peace to those who sought. At once she set out. She had relatives in the town but did not go to them as the very sight of them would bring back her bitter memories. With a friend she climbed the hill to the Swami. She stood in silence before him, not telling her grief. There was no need. The compassion shining in his
eyes was healing. A whole hour she stood, no word spoken, and then she turned and went down the hillside to the town, her steps light, the burden of her sorrow lifted.
Daily she visited the Swami thereafter. He was the sun that had dispersed her clouds. She could even recall her loved ones now without bitterness. She spent the rest of her life in Tiruvannamalai. She was able to take a small house there -- her father left her a little money and her brothers helped her out -- and many visiting devotees enjoyed her hospitality. She prepared food for Sri Bhagavan daily -- which meant for the whole Ashram, because he would accept nothing that was not shared equally among all. Until age and failing health kept her away, she used to carry it up the hillside herself and would never eat until she had served them. As they grew in numbers her contribution came to be only a small addition to the general meal, but if ever she was delayed Sri Bhagavan would wait till she came so as not to disappoint her.
With all the grief she had passed through and the peace she had found, she was still mother enough to form a new attachment, and she adopted a daughter, not without asking Sri Bhagavan's permission. When the time came she arranged her marriage and rejoiced at the birth of a grandson whom she named Ramana. And then one day, utterly unprepared, she received a telegram that her adopted daughter had died. The old grief broke upon her again. She rushed up the hill to Sri Bhagavan with the telegram. He read it with tears in his eyes and, appeased but still sorrowful, she left for the funeral. She returned with the child Ramana and placed him in the arms of Sri Bhagavan. Once more there were tears in his eyes as he held the child and his compassion brought her peace.
Echammal used to practise Yogic concentration into which she had been initiated by a North Indian Guru. She would fix her gaze on the tip of her nose and sit in ecstatic contemplation of the light that appeared before her, sometimes for hours together
motionless, oblivious of the body. Sri Bhagavan was told of this but did not reply. Finally she herself told him and he discouraged the practice. "Those lights you see outside yourself are not your real goal. You should aim at realizing the Self and nothing short of it." Thereupon she discontinued her former methods and placed her reliance in Sri Bhagavan alone.
Once a Sastri from North India was talking with
Sri Bhagavan at Virupaksha Cave when Echammal arrived with food, looking agitated and shivering. When asked what was the matter she said that as she was passing Sadguruswami Cave she thought she saw Sri Bhagavan and a stranger standing beside the path. She continued on her way but heard a voice, "Why go farther up when I am here?" She turned again to look and there was no one there. She hastened on to the Ashram in fear.
"What, Swami!" Sastri exclaimed. "While you are talking to me here you manifest yourself to this lady on the way here and do not show any such sign of Grace to me." And Sri Bhagavan explained that Echammal's visions were due to her constant concentration on him.
She was by no means alone in having visions of Sri Bhagavan though I know of no other case when the vision caused fear. Years later a Western visitor, an elderly gentleman, had come to the Ashram at the foot of the hill. After lunch he set out to explore the hill, but in doing so he lost his way. Tired with the heat and exertion, not knowing which way to go, he was in a desperate plight, when Sri Bhagavan came past and showed him the way back to the Ashram. People were already anxious when he got back and asked him what had happened. "I just went out for a stroll on the hill," he told them, "and got lost. The heat and exertion were a little too much for me and I was in a bad way. I don't know what I should have done but for the fact that Bhagavan happened to come that way and directed me to the Ashram." And they were astonished because Bhagavan had never left the hall.
Rudra Raj Pande, Principal of the Tri-Chandra College at
Katmandu, Nepal, went with a friend to worship at the great temple in town before leaving Tiruvannamalai.
"The inner temple gates were thrown open and my guide took us into the interior, which was rather dark. A small oiled wick-flame was flickering a few yards in front of us. The young voice of my companion shouted `Arunachala'. All my attention was directed to the one purpose of seeing the Image or Lingam (which symbolises the Supreme Lord, eternal and unmanifest) in the Sanctum Sanctorum. But, strange to say, instead of the Lingam I see the image of Maharshi Bhagavan Sri Ramana, his smiling countenance, his brilliant eyes looking at me. And what is more strange, it is not one Maharshi that I see, nor two, nor three -- in hundreds I see the same smiling countenance, those lustrous eyes, I see them wherever I may look in that Sanctum Sanctorum . My eyes catch not the full figure of the Maharshi but only the smiling face, from the chin above. I am in raptures and beside myself with inexpressible joy -- that bliss and calmness of mind I then felt how can words describe? Tears of joy flowed down my cheeks. I went to the temple to see Lord Arunachala and I found the living Lord as he graciously revealed himself. I can never forget the deep intimate experience I had in the ancient temple."1
Nevertheless, Sri Bhagavan never encouraged interest in visions or desire for them, nor did they occur to all devotees or disciples.
One of the most devoted adherents of Sri Bhagavan at this time was Seshadri Swami, the same Seshadri who had kept schoolboys away when he first came to Tiruvannamalai. He now
lived on the hill, lower down than Virupaksha Cave, and paid frequent visits there. He had attained a high spiritual state and had grace and beauty, which shows in the surviving portraits. There was something bird-like and aloof about him. He was not often accessible; he would not always speak, and when he did his speech was often enigmatic. He had left home at the age of seventeen and had received initiation into mantras (sacred formulae) and japa (invocations) that develop occult powers, sometimes sitting up the whole night in a cemetery invoking the Sakti (creative energy).
Not only would he always encourage devotees to go to
Ramanaswami, as he called him, but he would on occasion identify himself with him. He could read thoughts and if Sri Bhagavan had told a devotee anything he would say: "I told you so and so why do you ask again?" or "Why don't you do it?" It was only rarely that he would give initiation into some mantra and if the supplicant was already a devotee of Ramanaswami he would always refuse, bidding him remain there where was the supreme upadesa , the silent guidance.
On one rare occasion he actually exhorted a devotee to undertake active sadhana , the quest for enlightenment. It was a certain Subramania Mudali who, together with his wife and mother, used to spend most of his income preparing food for sadhus who had renounced the world. Like Echammal, they took food daily to Sri Bhagavan and his Ashram, and to Seshadri Swami too when they could find him, and yet at the same time Subramania was a landowner and was involved in litigation and trying to increase his property. Seshadri Swami, grieving that one so devoted should be so attached, advised him to give up such cares and devote himself entirely to the service of God and to striving for spiritual development. "You see," he said, "my younger brother has an income of Rs.10,000 and I have an income of Rs.1,000; why shouldn't you try to get an income of at least a hundred?" The
`younger brother' was Ramanaswami and the `income' spiritual attainment. When Subramania still held back, Seshadri Swami became insistent and warned him that he was committing the mortal sin of slaying a Brahmin. Having more faith in Sri Bhagavan, Subramania asked him whether this was true, and Sri Bhagavan interpreted, "Yes, you can be said to commit the murder of Brahman by not realizing that you are Brahman."
Seshadri Swami once sat in the Mango Tree Cave gazing fixedly at Sri Bhagavan in order to read his thoughts; however the mind of Sri Bhagavan, merged in the tranquillity of the Spirit, showed no ripple of thought, so he was baffled and said, "It is not clear what this person is thinking."
Sri Bhagavan remained silent. After a pause Seshadri
Swami added, "If one worships the Lord Arunachala he will grant salvation."
And then Bhagavan asked, "Who is it that worships and who is the worshipped?"
Seshadri Swami broke into a laugh, "That is just what is not clear."
Then Sri Bhagavan expounded at length the doctrine of the One Self manifested in all the forms of the universe and yet unmanifested and utterly unchanged by manifestation, the one Reality and the Self of him who worships. Seshadri Swami listened patiently and at the end he rose and said: "I can't say. All this is dark to me. At any rate I worship."
So saying he turned to the crest of the hill and prostrated himself to it again and again and then departed.
And yet Seshadri Swami also would sometimes speak from the standpoint of Unity, seeing all things as manifestations of the Spirit: but from whatever point of view he spoke it was liable to be with a dry, disconcerting humour. One day a certain Narayanaswami found him standing staring at a buffalo and asked, "What is Swami looking at?"
"I am looking at this." "Is it the buffalo Swami is looking at?" he persisted. And then, pointing at the buffalo, Seshadri Swami bade him, "Tell me what this is."
"It is a buffalo," he answered innocently, whereupon
Seshadri Swami burst out: "Is it a buffalo? A buffalo? You buffalo! Call it Brahman!" So saying he turned and went away.
Seshadri Swami died in January 1929. As is the accepted practice in the case of a Saint, his body was not cremated but buried. Sri Bhagavan stood by silently watching. He is still revered at Tiruvannamalai and on the anniversary of his death his portrait is taken in procession through the town.
During the early years that Sri Bhagavan spent on the hill the process of return to outer activity was gradually proceeding. He began to walk about and explore the hill, to read books and write interpretations. A certain Padmanabha Swami, known also as Jatai Swami on account of his matted hair, had an ashram on the hill and kept there a number of Sanskrit books on spiritual knowledge and on applied sciences with a spiritual basis, such as ayurveda (traditional Hindu medicine). Sri Bhagavan would visit him and glance through them, immediately mastering their content and so fixing it in his memory that he could not merely repeat it but give chapter and verse. Padmanabha Swami would often appeal to him as an authority when any point of doctrine was raised.
It is said in the Puranas that on the northern slope of
Arunachala, near the summit, a Siddha Purusha (Sage with supernatural powers) known as Arunagiri Yogi sits beneath a banyan tree, in an almost inaccessible spot, teaching in silence. There is a shrine or mantapam dedicated to him in the Great Temple of Tiruvannamalai. The story indicates that the Grace of Arunachala, guiding men through mouna diksha (silent initiation) on the path of Self-enquiry to Liberation, though ever potent, had become inaccessible to the people of this
spiritually dark age. Nevertheless, the symbolical meaning of the story does not make it any the less true literally. It happened one day, about 1906, that Sri Bhagavan was wandering on the northern slope of the hill when, in a dry watercourse, he saw an enormous banyan leaf, large enough to serve a meal on. Presuming that it must have been carried down by the water and wishing to see the tree which bore such leaves, he set out on a later occasion to climb the water-course up the hillside. After climbing steep and rugged parts of the hill, he reached a place whence he could see a large flat rock and on it the banyan tree he was seeking, enormous and a deep green. He was amazed to see such a tree growing on what looked like bare rock. He continued to climb but, as he was drawing nearer, disturbed a hornets' nest with his leg. The hornets flew out and attacked the offending leg in a fury of revenge. Sri Bhagavan stood still until they had finished, meekly accepting their just punishment for having destroyed their home; but he took this as a sign not to proceed and so returned to the cave. The devotees were getting anxious as he had been out so long. When they saw him they were appalled at the state of his leg, swollen and inflamed. He has since pointed out the position of the almost inaccessible banyan tree but he never again set out to reach it and he discouraged any of his devotees who wished to do so.
A group of devotees, among them an Englishman,
Thomson by name, did once set out determined to find it. After climbing rather recklessly for some time they found themselves in so precarious a position that they dared proceed neither up nor down. They prayed to Bhagavan for help and somehow got back to the Ashram safely. They never tried it again. Others also have made the attempt but without success.
Even though Sri Bhagavan might disapprove of an action it was very seldom that he would explicitly forbid it. Understanding as to what was appropriate or inappropriate had
to come from within. In the present case, it was clearly not appropriate for his devotees to attempt what their Master had refrained from.
There was a time when Sri Bhagavan used to roam the hill frequently as well as climbing to the summit and making pradakshina (circuit), so that he knew every part of it. And then one day, when he was wandering alone, he passed an old woman gathering fuel on the hillside. She looked like a common outcaste woman, but she addressed the young Swami fearlessly, as an equal. Beginning with the rough cursing common to such people, she said: "May you be put on the funeral pyre! Why do you wander about in the sun like that? Why don't you sit quiet?"
"It can have been no ordinary woman," Sri Bhagavan said when he told the devotees about it; "who knows who she was?" Certainly, no ordinary outcaste woman would have dared to speak to a Swami like that. The devotees took it to be a manifestation of Arunagiri Siddha, the Spirit of Arunachala. From that time Sri Bhagavan gave up roaming the hillside.
When Sri Bhagavan first went to Tiruvannamalai he sometimes moved about in a state of trance, as already described. This did not completely end until about 1912 when there was a final and complete experience of death. He set out from Virupaksha Cave one morning for Pachaiamman Koil, accompanied by Palaniswami, Vasudeva Sastri and others. He had an oil-bath there and was nearing Tortoise Rock on the way back when a sudden physical weakness overcame him. He described it fully afterwards.
"The landscape in front of me disappeared as a bright white curtain was drawn across my vision and shut it out. I could distinctly see the gradual process. There was a stage when I could still see a part of the landscape clearly while the rest was covered by the advancing curtain. It was just like drawing a slide across one's view in a stereoscope. On experiencing this I stopped walking lest I should fall. When it cleared I walked on. When darkness and faintness came over me a second time I leaned against a rock until it cleared. The third time it happened I felt it safer to sit, so I sat down near the rock. Then the bright white curtain completely shut off my vision, my head was swimming and my circulation and breathing stopped. The skin turned a livid blue. It was the regular death hue and it got darker and darker. Vasudeva Sastri, in fact, took me to be dead and held me in his arms and began to weep aloud and lament my death.
"I could distinctly feel his clasp and his shivering and hear his words of lamentation and understand their meaning. I also saw the discolouration of my skin and felt the stoppage of my circulation and breathing and the increased chilliness of the extremities of my body. My usual current of awareness still continued in that state also. I was not in the least afraid and felt no sadness at the condition of the body. I had sat down near the rock in my usual posture and closed my eyes and was not leaning against the rock. The body, left without circulation or respiration, still maintained that position. This state continued for some ten or fifteen minutes. Then a shock passed suddenly through the body and circulation revived with enormous force, and breathing also, and the body perspired from every pore. The colour of life reappeared on the skin. I then opened my eyes and got up and said, `Let's go'. We reached Virupaksha Cave without further trouble. This was the only fit I had in which both circulation and respiration stopped."
Later, to correct wrong accounts that began to be spread, he added:
"I did not bring on the fit purposely, nor did I wish to see what this body would look like after death, nor did I say that I will not leave this body without warning others. It was one of those fits that I used to get occasionally, only this time it took a very serious form."
What is, perhaps, most striking about this experience is that it was a repetition, heightened by actual physical demonstration, of that certainty of endurance through death which had constituted Sri Bhagavan's spiritual awakening. It recalls the verse from Thayumanavar, the Tamil classic which Sri Bhagavan often quoted: "When overpowered by the wide Expanse which is without beginning, end or middle, there is the realization of non-dual bliss."
It may be that this marked the final completion of
Sri Bhagavan's return to full outer normality. It is hard to give any impression of how normal and how human he was in his mode of life, and yet it is necessary, for the description of his previous austerity may leave the idea of someone grim and forbidding. On the contrary, his manner was natural and free from all constraint and the newcomer immediately felt at his ease with him. His conversation was full of humour and his laughter so infectious, so like that of a child, that even those who did not understand the language would join in. Everything about him and about the Ashram was clean and tidy. When a regular Ashram had been established, life in it followed a timetable as exact as work in an office. The clocks were kept right to the minute, the calendars were up-to-date. And nothing was wasted. I have seen an attendant reproved for bringing out a new sheet of paper to bind a book when one already cut into
could be made to do. And with food too: not a grain of rice remained on his leaf-plate when he finished eating. Vegetable peelings were saved for the cattle, not thrown away.
There was a spontaneous simplicity and humility about him. One of the few things that aroused a show of anger in him was if those who were serving food gave more of any delicacy to him than to others. He did not like people to rise when he entered the hall but would make a little gesture to them to remain seated. He was walking slowly down the hillside to the Ashram one afternoon, tall, golden-hued, white-haired already and frail, stooping a little and leaning heavily on a staff on account of rheumatism, with him a short, dark attendant. A devotee was coming behind so he drew to the side of the path, saying, "You are younger and walk quicker; you go first." A little courteous action, but so much from Master to disciple.
One could go on endlessly. Some of these points will come up more fittingly later, but now that there is mention of full return to a normal mode of life it has to be indicated how normal, how intensely human and how gracious that mode of life was.
Eight Stanzas to Sri Arunachala