By ShantammaMY search for a Master who would lead me to salvation began when I was 40 years old. It was ten years later, in 1927, that I went to Tiruvannamalai in the company of three ladies. When I went to Ramanasramam, Bhagavan was seated on a cot in a grass-thatched shed. As soon as I saw him I knew that he was God in human form. Muruganar, who was a native of Ramnad like me, was by his side. I bowed to Bhagavan and said, "Today I am blessed. Please grant that my mind does not trouble me any more". Bhagavan turned to Muruganar and said, "Ask her to find out whether there is such a thing as mind. If there is, ask her to describe it". I stood still, not knowing what to say. Muruganar explained to me, "Don't you see? You have been initiated in the search for the Self.
We stayed for forty days. We would cook some food, and take it to the Ashram. Bhagavan would taste it and the rest was given to the devotees. In those days, Bhagavan's brother Chinnaswami was cooking in the Ashram. Often there were no curries or sambar, only plain rice and pickles. Though I wanted to stay on until Bhagavan's birthday, my companions had to leave. When I went to Bhagavan to take his leave, He asked me to wait a day longer for the newly printed Upadesa Saram . The next day he gave me a copy with his own hands. The thought of leaving him broke my heart and I wept bitterly. Bhagavan graciously said, "You are going to Ramnad, but you are not leaving Arunachala. Go and come soon".
Fortunately by his grace I was able to attend the next jayanti. It was the experience of every devotee that he who is determined to visit him, finds that all obstacles somehow vanish. This time Bhagavan was seated on a sofa in a newly built hall. He was explaining something from Ulladu Narpadu to Dandapani Swami. When he saw me his first question was, "Have you a copy of this book? I asked them to post one to you." How my Lord remembers us by name and how loving is his personal attention to our needs. From dawn to dusk I stayed at the Ashram and engaged myself in its chores.
After the celebration, the guests were leaving and I felt that I too would have to go. I gathered sufficient courage and told Bhagavan about my deep desire to stay on. "As long as I am with you Bhagavan, my mind is at peace. Away from you, I am restless. What am I to do"? He said, "Stay here until your mind gets settled. After that you can go anywhere and nothing will disturb you". It seemed miraculous when minutes later I was asked to stay and cook for two months, as Chinnaswami who was cooking for the Ashram was sick and had to leave for Madras for treatment. Thus I came to stay -- not for two months, but forever.
During that period in the history of the Ashram, Bhagavan used to be active working both in the kitchen and outside. He would clean grain, shell nuts, grind seeds, stick together the leaf plates we ate from and so on. We would join him in every task and listen to his stories, jokes, reminiscences and spiritual teachings. Occasionally he would scold us lovingly like a mother. Everything we did, every problem we faced, was made use of in teaching the art of total reliance on him.
The EuropeanOne morning a European came in a horse carriage to the Ashram and went straight to Bhagavan. He wrote something on a piece of paper and showed it to Bhagavan. Bhagavan did not answer, instead he gazed at the stranger steadily. The stranger stared back at him. Then Bhagavan closed his eyes and the stranger also closed his. Time passed and the whole atmosphere was silent and still. Lunch hour struck but Bhagavan would not open his eyes. Madhavaswami, the attendant, got Bhagavan's water pot and stood ready to lead him out of the hall. Bhagavan would not stir. We felt afraid to go near, such was the intensity around him. His face was glowing with a strange light. Chinnaswami was talking loudly to attract Bhagavan's attention. Even vessels were banged about, but all in vain. When the clock was striking twelve Bhagavan opened his eyes. They were glowing very brightly. Madhavaswami took up the water jug; the European got into the carriage and went away. It was the last we saw of him. Everybody was wonderstruck at the great good fortune of the man, to have received such immediate initiation from Bhagavan.
Maharaja of MysoreOnce the Maharaja of Mysore visited the Ashram. He asked for a private interview. Of course, Bhagavan never allowed such a thing. Finally it was decided that Maharaja be brought in when Bhagavan was having his bath. Trays and trays of sweets and other costly presents were laid at Bhagavan's feet. For ten minutes the Maharaja just stood looking and then prostrated before Bhagavan. Tears flowing from his eyes made Bhagavan's feet wet. He told Bhagavan, "They made me a Maharaja and bound me to a throne. For the sin of being born a king, I lost the chance of sitting at your feet and serving in your glorious presence. I do not hope to come again. Only these few minutes are mine. I pray for your grace".
Lakshmi in samadhiOnce the cow Lakshmi came into the hall. She was pregnant at that time. It was after lunch time and Bhagavan was reading the newspapers. Lakshmi came near and started licking the papers. Bhagavan looked up and said, "Wait a little Lakshmi", but Lakshmi went on licking. Bhagavan laid his paper aside, put his hands behind Lakshmi's horns and put his head against hers. They stayed thus for quite a long time. All of us watched the wonderful scene. After sometime Bhagavan turned to me and said, "Do you know what Lakshmi is doing? She is in samadhi". Tears were flowing from Lakshmi's eyes. Her eyes were fixed on Bhagavan. After sometime Bhagavan asked her, "Lakshmi, how do you feel now"? Lakshmi moved backward, reluctant to turn her tail towards Bhagavan, and went out of the hall. On the fourth day she gave birth to a calf. The man with whom she was staying in town brought her with her three calves and left them in the Ashram for good. Lakshmi and her three calves came into the hall and lay down beside Bhagavan's sofa. He said, "All these days Lakshmi had to go back in the evening and she used to be in tears. Today she is delighted for she need not go away anymore. She knows that her home is here now. We have to look after her. Look at her with what self- assurance she has stretched herself out"!
The HarijanIn the early days of the Ashram, a harijan used to stand near the well and accompany Bhagavan whenever he went up the hill. One day Bhagavan called him near and said, "Go on repeating `Shiva, Shiva'". It was very unusual for an untouchable to receive this kind of initiation. He could never have secured it without Bhagavan's infinite grace. After that the man disappeared.
VisionOnce I related to Bhagavan some vision I had and he said:
Yes, such visions do occur. To know how you look you must look into a mirror, but don't take that reflection to be yourself. What is perceived by our senses and mind is never the truth. All visions are mere mental creations, and if you believe in them, your progress ceases. Enquire to whom the visions occur, who is their witness. Free from all thought, stay in pure awareness. Out of that don't move.
Kitchen and other storiesA visitor while taking leave of Bhagavan expressed a wish that Bhagavan should keep him in mind as he was going very far away and would probably not come back to the Ashram. Bhagavan replied:
A jnani [?] has no mind. How can one without a mind remember or even think? This man goes somewhere and I have to go there and look after him? Can I keep on remembering all these prayers? Well, I shall transmit your prayer to the Lord of the Universe. He will look after you. It is his business.
After the devotee departed, Bhagavan turned towards us and said:
People imagine that the devotees crowding around a jnani [?] get special favours from him. If a Guru shows partiality, how can he be a jnani? Is he so foolish as to be flattered by people's attendance on him and the service they do? Does distance matter? The Guru is pleased with him only who gives himself up entirely, who abandons his ego forever. Such a man is taken care of wherever he may be. He need not pray. God looks after him unasked. The frog lives by the side of the fragrant lotus, but it is the bee that gets the honey.
When I cooked, Bhagavan would come to the kitchen to taste the food and see whether the seasoning was just right. Once he said, "The Maharajas employ special taste experts and pay them huge salaries. I wonder what will be my pay". "I am a beggar Bhagavan, and all I can offer is my life", I said, to which Bhagavan nodded his head lovingly.
In the kitchen there were no proper jars for storing foodstuffs and everything was kept in tins and pots which would leak and spill and render the floor slippery. Once I scrubbed the kitchen floor carefully. Bhagavan on seeing it congratulated me on the neatness in the kitchen. I sighed, "What is the use Bhagavan? People will come, spill oil, scatter flour and the kitchen will be the same again. We must have proper jars and containers". Ten days later they called me to the hall. Attendants were opening wooden boxes and there were six beautiful jars. "You wanted jars, now you have them", said Bhagavan. On enquiry it was found that some railway station master had booked them in the name of our Ashram for no ostensible reason. Such mysterious coincidences occurred almost daily, both at the Ashram and in the homes of devotees.
One day, when I was still new in the kitchen, I served Bhagavan with a few more pieces of potato than the rest. Bhagavan noticed it and got very angry with me. He turned his face away and did not look at those who were serving food. In the evening the women working in the kitchen would take leave of him. Usually he would exchange a few words with us. That evening he called me near and asked:
"What did you do today"?
"I don't know Bhagavan. Have I done something wrong"?
"You served me more curry than you served others".
"What does it matter. I did it with love and devotion".
"I felt ashamed to eat more than others. Have you come all this way to stuff me with food? You should always serve me less than the others. Do you hope to earn grace through a potato curry"?
"Out of my love for you I committed a blunder. Forgive me Bhagavan".
"The more you love my people, the more you love me", said Bhagavan.
A good lesson was learned and never forgotten. Many mundane occurrences in the kitchen and in the dining hall during meal times showed us the silent ways in which Bhagavan pointed out to us the path of realization. Bhagavan was a stern task master and one had to implicitly obey him. Each day was a day of trial and lesson in spirituality. Those who have not lived through it cannot appreciate the deep spiritual effect of these anxieties and conflicts. Our `I' would hurl itself against the rock of truth and the rock would not yield. The `I' had to yield and in that yielding was the highest blessing. His anger would sometimes seem to shatter us to pieces, and blessed are they indeed who have seen in His wrath His utmost grace.
One day there was talk about a devotee having come under the influence of another Swami. Bhagavan said:
Once a man has surrendered his life here, he belongs here. Wherever he may go, he shall return. For him this is the door to liberation.
Referred Resources: Ulladu Narpadu / Reality in Forty Verses
Upadesa Saram/Essence of Instruction