NON-RESISTANCE may seem impracticable in an established religion, since every country must have its law
courts and police and, at least in modern conditions, its army. However, a religion has two levels of obligation: the minimum obligation upon all who follow it and upon countries where it is established, and the full obligation upon those who devote their lives to following the path laid down, regarding all worldly advantages as nothing in the search for blessedness. It is only in this second and higher sense that Sri Bhagavan established a path, and therefore, for himself and his followers, he could say, "resist not evil". It was no social law for a whole community that he was proclaiming but a way of life for those who followed him. It is possible only for those who have submitted to God's
Will and accept whatever comes as right and necessary even though it may be a misfortune from worldly standards. Sri Bhagavan once said to a devotee, "You thank God for the good things that come to you but you don't thank Him for the things that seem to you bad; that is where you go wrong."
It may be objected that this simple faith is very different from the doctrine of Oneness that Sri Bhagavan taught, but it is only on the mental plane that such theories may conflict. He said, "Submission to God, Guru or Self is all that is needed." As will be shown in a later chapter, these three modes of submission are really not different. It is enough to say here that for one who can hold to the view that there is only the One Self all outer activity appears a dream or cinema-show enacted on the substratum of the Self, so that he will remain an impassive witness. This was the attitude of Sri Bhagavan on the few occasions when evil or molestation threatened.
There were tamarind trees outside Gurumurtam and when he was living there he would sometimes sit under one of them. One day, when no one else was about, a party of thieves came to carry away the ripe tamarind pods. Seeing the young Swami sitting silent at the foot of a tree, one of them said, "Get some acid sap and put it in his eyes; let's see if that will make him speak." It is a sap that might blind a man, apart from the fierce pain it would cause, but he sat motionless, equally unconcerned about his eyes and about the tamarind fruit. Another of the party answered: "Oh, don't bother about him! What harm can he do? Let's get along."
There was occasional interference or opposition during the early years on the Hill. In the strange world of sadhus, where some are frauds and some have striven on the way and developed psychic powers without burning out their lower passions, it was to be expected that the radiance of Divinity recognised by devotees in one so young in years should awaken resentment in a few, though most bowed down and sought his Grace.
Living in a cave on the hill was an elderly sadhu who had shown great reverence for Sri Bhagavan as long as he was at Gurumurtam. After coming to Virupaksha, Sri Bhagavan would sometimes visit him and sit in silence with him. He led a life of austerity and had followers; nevertheless so far was he from having overcome human passions that he could not endure to see the number of the young Swami's followers increase and his own diminish. Deciding to kill Sri Bhagavan or frighten him away from the hill, he took to hiding on the hillside above Virupaksha after sundown and dislodging rocks and stones so that they would roll down there. Sri Bhagavan sat unperturbed although one stone came quite close to him. Always observant, he knew well what was happening and on one occasion he quickly and silently climbed the hill and caught the old man in the act. Even then the latter tried to laugh it off as a joke.
Having failed in this attempt, the sadhu enlisted the aid of
Balananda, a plausible scoundrel, handsome and well read, who imposed on people under the guise of a sadhu. This person decided to make profit and prestige out of Sri Bhagavan. Rightly deeming that the young Swami would be too saintly to resist evil, he started posing as his Guru. He would say to visitors: "This young Swami is my disciple," or "Yes, give the child some sweets"; and to Sri Bhagavan, "Here, Venkataraman, my child, take the sweets." Or he would keep up the farce by going into town to buy things for his so-called disciple. Such was his effrontery that he would say blatantly to Sri Bhagavan when alone with him: "I will say I am your Guru and get money from the visitors. It is no loss to you so don't contradict me."
This man's arrogance and offensiveness knew no bounds and one night he went to the length of relieving himself on the veranda of the cave. Next morning he went out early leaving his spare clothes some of them silk with lace borders in the cave. Sri
Bhagavan said nothing. He went on a long walk to one of the sacred tanks that morning with Palaniswami and before they started Palaniswami washed the veranda, threw out Balananda's clothes and locked up the cave.
Balananda was furious when he returned. He stormed at
Palaniswami for daring to touch his clothes and ordered Sri Bhagavan to send him away immediately. Neither of them answered or paid any attention. In his fury Balananda spat on Sri Bhagavan. Even then Sri Bhagavan sat impassive. The disciples who were with him also sat quiet without reacting. However, a devotee from a cave lower down heard of it and rushed up shouting: "You! You dare spit on our Swami!" and could barely be restrained from setting upon the rascal. Balananda decided that he had gone farther than was safe and had better leave Tiruvannamalai. He pronounced the hill not a proper place and departed with his usual arrogance. Going to the railway station he entered a second-class compartment without a ticket. A young couple were in the same compartment. He began to lecture the young man and order him about and when the latter took no notice he became offensive and said: "What! you don't listen to me? It is because of your infatuation with this girl that you don't show me due respect." The incensed young man thereupon took off his sandal and used it to give him the thrashing he had so long needed.
After some months Balananda returned and again made himself a nuisance. On one occasion he insisted on sitting looking fixedly into the eyes of Sri Bhagavan in order, as he averred, to give him nirvikalpa samadhi (spiritual trance), but what happened was that he himself fell asleep and Sri Bhagavan and his disciples got up and walked away. Soon after this the general attitude towards him became such that he once more deemed it safer to depart.
There was another `sadhu' also who tried to gain prestige by posing as the young Swami's Guru. Returning from Kalahasti, he said: "I have come all this way just to see how you are getting on. I will initiate you into the Dattatreya mantra."
Some time later, when this sadhu was in meditation, a vision of Sri Bhagavan appeared before him and said, "Don't be deceived!" Frightened and thinking that Sri Bhagavan must possess powers which he was using against him, the sadhu hastened to Virupaksha to apologise and begged to be set free from the apparition. Sri Bhagavan assured him that he used no powers and the sadhu saw there was no anger or resentment.
Another such attempt at interference was by a group of drunken sadhus. Appearing one day at Virupaksha Cave, they solemnly declared: "We are sadhus from Podikai Hill, the sacred hill on which the ancient Agastya Rishi is still doing tapas (practising austerities) as he has for thousands of years. He has ordered us to take you first to the Siddhas' Conference at Srirangam and from there to Podikai to give you regular diksha (initiation) after extracting from your body those salts that prevent your attaining higher powers."
Sri Bhagavan, as on all such occasions, made no response.
However, on this occasion, one of his devotees, Perumalswami, outbluffed the bluffers. He said, "We have already received intimation of your coming and have been commissioned to
put your bodies in crucibles and heat the crucibles over a fire." And turning to another devotee he bade him, "Go and dig a pit where we can make a fire for these people." The visitors left in a hurry.
In 1924, when Sri Bhagavan was already living in the present Ashram at the foot of the hill, some thieves broke into the shed that at that time housed his mother's samadhi and carried away a few things. A few weeks later three thieves robbed the Ashram itself.
It was on June 26th, at about half past eleven. The night was dark. Sri Bhagavan had already retired to rest on the raised platform in the hall in front of the Mother's samadhi . Four devotees were sleeping on the floor near the windows. Two of them, Kunjuswami and Mastan, the former an attendant, heard someone outside say, "There are six persons lying down inside."
Kunju shouted out, "Who's there?" The thieves replied by breaking a window, apparently to frighten those inside. Kunjuswami and Mastan got up and went to the dais where Sri Bhagavan was. The thieves thereupon broke a window at that side, but Sri Bhagavan sat unperturbed. Kunjuswami then left the hall by the north door, as the thieves were on the south side, and brought Ramakrishnaswami, a devotee who was sleeping in another hut, to help them. When he opened the door the two Ashram dogs, Jackie and Karuppan, ran out. The thieves beat them and Jackie and ran away while Karuppan ran back to the hall for refuge.
Sri Bhagavan told the thieves that there was very little for them to take but they were welcome to come in and take what there was. Either considering this a trap or being too stupid to depart from routine, they took no notice but continued their efforts to dislodge a window-frame so as to get in that way. (According to the usual Indian practice, the windows had iron bars to prevent anyone getting in). Angered by their wanton
destruction, Ramakrishnaswami sought Bhagavan's permission to challenge them, but Bhagavan forbade him, saying: "They have their dharma (role), we have ours. It is for us to bear and forbear. Let us not interfere with them."
Though Sri Bhagavan invited them to enter by the door, the thieves continued their violent methods. They let off crackers at the window to give the impression that they had firearms. Again they were told to enter and take what they wanted but they only replied with threats. Meanwhile Kunjuswami had left the hall and set out for town to get help.
Ramakrishnaswami again spoke to the thieves and told them not to make unnecessary trouble but simply to take what they wanted. In reply they threatened to set fire to the thatched room. Sri Bhagavan told them they should not do that but offered to go out and leave the hall to them. This was just what they wanted, perhaps still fearing that the others might set upon them while they were at their work. Sri Bhagavan first told Ramakrishnaswami to carry the dog, Karuppan, to a safe place in the other shed for fear the thieves would beat it if it were left there. Then he with the three others, Mastan, Thangavelu Pillai and Munisami, a boy who performed puja or worship at the Ashram, left by the north door. The thieves stood at the doorway with sticks and beat them as they went out, either hoping to disable them or to frighten them from any thought of resistance. Sri Bhagavan, receiving a blow on the left thigh, said, "If you are not satisfied you can strike the other leg also." Ramakrishnaswami, however, got back in time to ward off further blows.
Sri Bhagavan and the devotees sat in the thatched shed
(later demolished) that stood to the north of the hall. The thieves shouted to them to stay there. "If you move away we'll break your heads!"
Sri Bhagavan told them, "You have the entire hall to yourselves; do what you like."
One of the thieves came and demanded a hurricane lamp and Ramakrishnaswami, on Sri Bhagavan's instructions, gave him a lighted lamp. Again one of them came and asked for the cupboard keys but Kunjuswami had taken them away with him and he was told so. They broke open the cupboards and found there a few thin strips of silver for adorning the images, a few mangoes and a little rice altogether worth about Rs.10. A sum of Rs.6 belonging to Thangavelu Pillai was also taken.
Disappointed with their small takings, one of the thieves returned, brandishing his stick and asking: `Where is your money? Where do you keep that?"
Sri Bhagavan told him, "We are poor sadhus living on charity and never have cash," and the thief, despite his continued blustering, had to be satisfied with that.
Sri Bhagavan advised Ramakrishnaswami and the others to go and put ointment on their bruises.
"And what about Swami?" Ramakrishnaswami asked. Sri Bhagavan laughed and replied, "I also have received some puja," punning on the word that could mean either `worship' or `blows'.
Seeing the weal on his thigh, Ramakrishnaswami felt a sudden wave of anger. He picked up an iron bar that was lying there and asked for permission to go and see what the thieves were doing, but Sri Bhagavan dissuaded him. "We are sadhus. We should not give up our dharma . If you go and strike them some may die and that will be a matter for which the world will rightly blame not them but us. They are only misguided men and are blinded by ignorance, but let us note what is right and stick to it. If your teeth suddenly bite your tongue do you knock them out in consequence?"
It was two o'clock in the morning when the thieves left. A little later Kunjuswami returned with a village officer and two police constables. Sri Bhagavan was still sitting in the northern shed, speaking to his devotees of spiritual matters. The constables asked him what had happened and he simply remarked that some foolish persons had broken into the Ashram and gone away disappointed at finding nothing worth their trouble. The constables made an entry to this effect and went away together with the village officer. Munisami ran after them and told them that the Swami and others had been beaten by the thieves. In the morning the Circle Inspector, Sub-Inspector and a Head Constable came to investigate and later the Deputy Superintendent came. Sri Bhagavan spoke to none about his injury or about the theft except when asked. A few days later some of the stolen property was recovered and the thieves were arrested and sentenced to terms of imprisonment.