"He bore himself with naturalness and at the same time with dignity. His mien (i.e., bearing, appearance) was cheerful, smiling, polite. His eyes with a gentle benignity rested on my face. His body was absolutely still. He smiled and said, 'Silence is also conversation.' "
WILLIAM SOMERSET MAUGHAM recalling meeting the Maharshi for the first time.
"This young American boy, without any formal religious background or training, according to Ramana himself and the scribes recording it, was Enlightened to the same degree as found in the spiritual Awakenings attributed to the ancient classical masters and is now fully grown and living in the United States today."
THE MEETING: An Untold Story of Sri Ramana
Sri Ramana Maharshi was born on the 30th of December, 1879 and entered mahasamadhi on the 14th of April, 1950, over 60 years ago. The Maharshi's first devotees started showing up as early as 1900. In 1911 Frank H. Humphreys was Sri Ramana's first western disciple. Now, all these years later, out of all of the hundreds of devotees and disciples who interacted with the Maharshi, both east and west, few remain who actually met and interacted with him. Of the western disciples, only one, an American, mentioned in the above quote, is still alive that studied under the grace and light of the Maharshi in his ashram.(see)
The destiny and fate of the other numbers of disciples, devotees, or followers who knew or met him in the flesh, although known for some, is not known for all, having played out for each in a myriad of ways. As for the Maharshi himself, the date of the his birth coincided with an auspicious day for the Hindus, December 30th, Ardra-darsanam day. On this day every year the image of the Dancing Siva, Nataraja, is taken out of the temples in procession in order to celebrate the divine grace of the Lord that made Him appear before such saints as Gautama, Patanjali, Vyaghrapada, and Manikkavacaka. In the year 1879 on the Ardra day the Nataraja Image of the temple at Tirucculi was taken out with all the attendant ceremonies, and just as it was about to re-enter, the future Maharshi, given the name Venkataraman, was born.
There was nothing markedly distinctive about Venkataraman's early years. He grew up just as an average boy. He was sent to an elementary school in Tirucculi, and then for a year's education to a school in Dindigul. When he was twelve his father died. This necessitated his going to Madurai along with the family and living with his paternal uncle Subbaiyar. There he was sent to Scott's Middle School and then to the American Mission High School. He was an indifferent student, not at all serious about his studies. But he was a healthy and strong lad. His school mates and other companions were afraid of his strength. If some of them had any grievance against him at any time, they would dare play pranks with him, only when he was asleep. In this he was rather unusual : he would not know of anything that happened to him during sleep. He would be carried away or even beaten without his waking up in the process.
It was apparently by accident that Venkataraman heard about Arunachala when he was sixteen years of age. One day an elderly relative of his called on the family in Madurai. The boy asked him where he had come from. The relative replied "From Arunachala". The very name 'Arunachala' acted as a magic spell on Venkataraman, and with an evident excitement he put his next question to the elderly gentleman, "What! From Arunachala! Where is it?" And he got the reply that Tiruvannamalai was Arunachala.
Referring to this incident the Sage says later on in one of his hymns to Arunachala : 'Oh, great wonder! As an insentient hill it stands. Its action is difficult for anyone to understand. From my childhood it appeared to my intelligence that Arunachala was something very great. But even when I came to know through another that it was the same as Tiruvannamalai I did not understand its meaning. When, stilling my mind, it drew me up to it, and I came close, I found that it was the Immovable.'
Quickly following the incident which attracted Venkataraman's attention to Arunachala, there was another happening which also contributed to the turning of the boy's mind to the deeper values of spirituality. He chanced to lay his hands, on a copy of Sekkilar's Periyapuranam which relates the lives of the Saiva saints. He read the book and was enthralled by it. This was the first piece of religious literature that he read. The example of the saints fascinated him; and in the inner recesses of his heart he found something responding favourably. Without any apparent earlier preparation, a longing arose in him to emulate the spirit of renunciation and devotion that constituted the essence of saintly life.
The spiritual experience that Venkataraman was now wishing devoutly to have came to him soon, and quite unexpectedly. It was about the middle of the year 1896; Venkataraman was seventeen then. One day he was sitting up alone on the first floor of his uncle's house. He was in his usual health. There was nothing wrong with it. But a sudden and unmistakable Fear of Death took hold of him. He felt he was going to die. Why this feeling should have come to him he did not know. The feeling of impending death, however, did not unnerve him. He calmly thought about what he should do. He said to himself, "Now, death has come. What does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies." Immediately thereafter he lay down stretching his limbs out and holding them stiff as though rigor mortis had set in. He held his breath and kept his lips tightly closed, so that to all outward appearance his body resembled a corpse. Now, what would happen? This was what he thought : "Well, this body is now dead. It will be carried to the burning ground and in the tradition of Sarira burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death, of this body am I dead? Is the body I? This body is silent and inert. But I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the 'I' within me, apart from it. So I am the Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit". As Bhagavan Sri Ramana narrated this experience later on for the benefit of his devotees it looked as though this was a process of reasoning. But he took care to explain that this was not so. The realization came to him in a flash. He perceived the truth directly. 'I' was something very real, the only real thing. Fear of death had vanished once and for all. From then on, 'I' continued like the fundamental sruti note that underlies and blends with all the other notes. Thus young Venkataraman found himself on the peak of spirituality without any arduous or prolonged sadhana. The Death of the Ego invoked a flood of Self-awareness. All on a sudden the boy that used to be called Venkataraman had flowered into a sage and saint.
There was noticed a complete change in the young sage's life. The things that he had valued earlier now lost their value. The spiritual values which he had ignored till then became the only objects of attention. School-studies, friends, relations - none of these had now any significance for him. He grew utterly indifferent to his surroundings. Humility, meekness, non-resistance and other virtues became his adornment. Avoiding company he preferred to sit alone, all-absorbed in concentration on the Self. He went to the Minaksi temple every day and experienced an exaltation every time he stood before the images of the gods and the saints. Tears flowed from his eyes profusely. The new vision was constantly with him. His was the transfigured life. 
Venkataraman's elder brother observed the great change that had come upon him. On several occasions he rebuked the boy for his indifferent and yogi-like behaviour. About six weeks after the great experience the crisis came. It was the 29th of August, 1896. Venkataraman's English teacher had asked him, as a punishment for indifference in studies, to copy out a lesson from Bain's Grammar three times. The boy copied it out twice, but stopped there, realizing the utter futility of that task. Throwing aside the book and the papers, he sat up, closed his eyes, and turned inward in meditation. The elder brother who was watching Venkataraman's behaviour all the while went up to him and said : "What use is all this to one who is like this?" This was obviously meant as a rebuke for Venkataraman's unworldly ways including neglect of studies. Venkataraman did not give any reply. He admitted to himself that there was no use pretending to study and be his old self. He decided to leave his home; and he remembered that there was a place to go to, viz. Tiruvannamalai. But if he expressed his intention to his elders, they would not let him go. So he had to use guile. He told his brother that he was going to school to attend a special class that noon. The brother thereupon asked him to take five rupees from the box below and pay it as his fee at the college where he was studying. Venkataraman went downstairs; his aunt served him a meal and gave him the five rupees. He took out an atlas which was in the house and noted that the nearest railway station to Tiruvannamalai mentioned there was Tindivanam. Actually, however, a branch line had been laid to Tiruvannamalai itself. The atlas was an old one, and so this was not marked there. Calculating that three rupees would be enough for the journey, Venkataraman took that much and left the balance with a letter at a place in the house where his brother could easily find them, and made his departure for Tiruvannamalai. This was what he wrote in that letter : "I have set out in quest of my Father in accordance with his command. This (meaning his person) has only embarked on a virtuous enterprise. Therefore, no one need grieve over this act. And no money need be spent in search of this. Your college fee has not been paid. Herewith rupees two."
There was a curse on Venkataraman's family - in truth, it was a blessing - that one out of every generation should turn out to be a mendicant. This curse was administered by a wanderling, an ascetic who, it is said, begged alms at the house of one of Venkataraman's forbears, and was refused. A paternal uncle of Sundaram Aiyar's became a sannyasin; so did Sundaram Aiyar's elder brother. Now, it was the turn of Venkataraman, although no one could have foreseen that the curse would work out in this manner. Dispassion found lodgement in Venkataraman's heart, and he became a parivrajaka.
It was an epic journey that Venkataraman made from Madurai to Tiruvannamalai. About noon he left his uncle's house. He walked to the railway station which was half a mile way. The train was running fortunately late that day; otherwise he would have missed it. He looked up the table of fares and came to know that the third-class fare to Tindivanam was two rupees and thirteen annas. He bought a ticket, and kept with him the balance of three annas. Had he known that there was a rail-track to Tiruvannamalai itself, and had he consulted the table of fares, he would have found that the fare was exactly three rupees. When the train arrived, he boarded it quietly and took his seat. A Maulvi who was also travelling entered into conversation with Venkataraman. From him Venkataraman learnt that there was train-service to Tiruvannamalai and that one need not go to Tindivanam but could change trains at Viluppuram. This was a piece of useful information. It was dusk when the train reached Tiruccirappalli. Venkataraman was hungry; he bought two country pears for half an anna; and strangely enough even with the first bite his hunger was appeased. About three o'clock in the morning the train arrived at Viluppuram. Venkataraman got off the train there with the intention of completing the rest, of the journey to Tiruvannamalai by walk.
At daybreak he went into the town, and was looking out for the sign-post to Tiruvannamalai. He saw a sign-board reading 'Mambalappattu' but did not know then that Mambalappattu was a place en route to Tiruvannamalai. Before making further efforts to find out which road he was to take, he wanted to refresh himself as he was tired and hungry. He went up to a hotel and asked for food. He had to wait till noon for the food to be ready. After eating his meal, he proffered two annas in payment. The hotel proprietor asked him how much money he had. When told by Venkataraman that he had only two and a half annas, he declined to accept payment. It was from him that Venkataraman came to know that Mambalappattu was a place, on the way to Tiruvannamalai. Venkataraman went back to Viluppuram station and bought a ticket to Mambalappattu for which the money he had was just enough.
It was sometime in the afternoon when Venkataraman arrived at Mambalappattu by train. From there he set out on foot for Tiruvannamalai. About ten miles he walked, and it was late in the evening. There was the temple of Arayaninallur nearby, built on a large rock. He went there waited for the doors to be opened, entered and sat down in the pillared hall. He had a vision there - a vision of brilliant light enveloping the entire place. It was no physical light. It shone for some time and then disappeared. Venkataraman continued sitting in a mood of deep meditation, till he was roused by the temple priests who were wanting to lock the doors and go to another temple three quarters of a mile away at Kilur for service. Venkataraman followed them, and while inside the temple he got lost in Samadhi. After finishing their duties the priests woke him up, but would not give him any food. The temple drummer who had been watching the rude behaviour of the priests implored them to hand over his share of the temple food to the strange youth. When Venkataraman asked for some drinking water, he was directed to a Sastri's house which was at some distance. While in that house he fainted and fell down. A few minutes later he rallied round and saw a small crowd looking at him curiously. He drank the water, ate some food, and lay down and slept.
Next morning he woke up. It was the 31st of August, 1896, the Gokulastami day, the day of Sri Krishna's birth. Venkataraman resumed his journey and walked for quite a while. He felt tired and hungry. So he wished for some food first, and then he would go to Tiruvannamalai, by train if that was possible. The thought occurred to him that he could dispose of the pair of gold ear-rings he was wearing and raise the money that was required. But how was this to be accomplished? He went and stood outside a house which happened to belong to one Muthukrishna Bhagavatar. He asked the Bhagavatar for food and was directed to the housewife. The good lady was pleased to receive the young sadhu and feed him on the auspicious day of Sri Krisna's birth. After the meal, Venkataraman went to the Bhagavatar again and told him that he wanted to pledge his ear-rings for four rupees in order that he may complete his pilgrimage. The rings were worth about twenty rupees, but Venkataraman had no need for that much money. The Bhagavatar examined the ear-rings, gave Venkataraman the money he had asked for, took down the youth's address, wrote out his own on a piece of paper for him, and told him that he could redeem the rings at any time. Venkataraman had his lunch at the Bhagavatar's house. The pious lady gave him a packet of sweets that she had prepared for Gokulastami. Venkataraman took leave, of the couple, tore up the address the Bhagavatar had given him - for he had no intention of redeeming the ear-rings - and went to the railway station. As there was no train till the next morning, he spent the night there. On the morning of the 1st of September, 1896, he boarded the train to Tiruvannamalai. The travel took, only a short time. Alighting from the train, he hastened to the great Arunachaleswarar Temple. All the gates stood open - even the doors of the inner shrine. The temple was then empty of all people - even the priests. As Venkataraman entered the sanctum sanctorum he experienced great ecstasy and unspeakable joy. The journey had ended.
The rest of what is regarded as Ramana's life - this is how he shall be called hereafter - was spent in Tiruvannamalai. Ramana was not formally initiated into sannyasa (see). As he came out of the temple and was walking along the streets of the town, someone called out and asked whether he wanted his tuft removed. He consented readily, and was conducted to the Ayyankulam tank where a barber shaved his head. Then he stood on the steps of the tank and threw away into the water his remaining money. He also discarded the packet of sweets given by the Bhagavatar's wife. The next to go was the sacred thread he was wearing. As he was returning to the temple he was just wondering why he should give his body the luxury of a bath, when there was a downpour which drenched him.
The first place of Ramana's residence in Tiruvannamalai was Arunachaleswarar Temple. For a few weeks he remained in the Thousand-pillared Hall. But he was troubled by urchins who pelted stones at him as he sat in meditation. He shifted himself to obscure corners and even to an underground vault known as Patala Lingam. Undisturbed he used to spend several days in deep absorption. Without moving he sat in samadhi, not being aware of even the bites of vermin and pests. But the mischievous boys soon discovered the retreat and indulged in their pastime of throwing potsherds at the young Svami. There was at the time in Tiruvannamalai a senior Swami by name Sri Seshadri Swamigal. Those who did not know him took him for a madman. He sometimes stood guard over the young Swami, and drove away the urchins. At long last he was removed from the pit by devotees without his being aware of it and deposited in the vicinity of a shrine of Subrahmanya. From then on there was some one or other to take care of Ramana. The seat of residence was changed frequently. Gardens, groves, shrines - all were chosen to keep the Swami. The Swami himself never spoke. Not that he took any vow of silence; he had no inclination to talk. At times the texts like Vasistham and Kaivalyanavanitam used to be read out to him.
A little less than six months after his arrival at Tiruvannamalai Ramana shifted his residence to a shrine called Gurumurtam at the earnest request of its keeper. Shortly after that a Malayalee named Palaniswami (sometimes spelled Palani Swami) joined him as his permanent attendant. Anyone who is familiar with the life story of Sri Ramana would feel nothing but indebtedness toward Palaniswami for the lifetime of care and protection he provided Ramana. As days passed and as Ramana's fame spread, increasing numbers of pilgrims and sight-seers came to visit him. After about a year's stay at Gurumurtam, the Swami - locally he was known as Brahmana-swami - moved to a neighbouring mango orchard. It was here that one of his uncles, Nelliyappa Aiyar traced him out. Nelliyappa Aiyar was a second-grade pleader at Manamadurai. Having learnt from a friend that Venkataraman was then a revered Sadhu at Tiruvannamalai, he went there to see him. He tried his best to take Ramana along with him to Manamadurai. But the young sage would not respond. He did not show any sign of interest in the visitor. So, Nelliyappa Aiyar went back disappointed to Manamadurai. However, he conveyed the news to Alagammal, Ramana's mother.
The mother went to Tiruvannamalai accompanied by her eldest son. Ramana was then living at Pavalakkunru, one of the eastern spurs of Arunachala. With tears in her eyes Alagammal entreated Ramana to go back with her. But, for the sage there was no going back. Nothing moved him -- not even the wailings and weepings of his mother. He kept silent giving no reply. A devotee who had been observing the struggle of the mother for several days requested Ramana to write out at least what he had to say. The sage wrote on a piece of paper quite in an impersonal way thus : "In accordance with the prarabdha of each, the One whose function it is to ordain makes each to act. What will not happen will never happen, whatever effort one may put forth. And what will happen will not fail to happen, however much one may seek to prevent it. This is certain. The part of wisdom therefore is to stay quiet."
Disappointed and with a heavy heart, the mother went back to Manamadurai. Sometime after this event Ramana went up the hill Arunachala, and started living in Virupaksa Cave after a saint who dwelt and was buried there. Ramana stayed in Virupaksa Cave sixteen years (1899-1916), then moved from Virupaksa Cave to Skandasramam Cave, a little higher up the hill (1916-1922). Here also the crowds came, and among them were a few earnest seekers. These latter used to put him questions regarding spiritual experience or bring sacred books for having some points explained. Ramana sometimes wrote out his answers and explanations. One of the books that was brought to him during this period was Sankara's Vivekacudamani which later on he rendered into Tamil prose. There were also some simple unlettered folk that came to him for solace and spiritual guidance. One of them was Echammal who having lost her husband, son, and daughter, was disconsolate till the Fates guided her to Ramana's presence. She made it a point to visit the Swami every day and took upon herself the task of bringing food for him as well as for those who lived with him.
In 1903 there came to Tiruvannamalai a great Sanskrit scholar and savant, Ganapati Sastri, who became famous as Ganapati Muni because of the austerities he had been observing. He had the title Kavya-kantha (one who had poetry at his throat), and his disciples addressed him as nayana (father). He was a specialist in the worship of the Divine Mother. He visited Ramana in the Virupaksa Cave quite a few times. Once in 1907 he was assailed by doubts regarding his own spiritual practices. He went up the hill, saw Ramana sitting alone in the cave, and expressed himself thus : "All that has to be read I have read; even Vedanta sastra I have fully understood; I have done japa to my heart's content; yet I have not up to this time understood what tapas is. Therefore I have sought refuge at your feet. Pray enlighten me as to the nature of tapas." Ramana replied, now speaking, "If one watches whence the notion 'I' arises, the mind gets absorbed there; that is tapas. When a mantra is repeated, if one watches whence that mantra sound arises, the mind gets absorbed there; that is tapas." To the scholar this came as a revelation; he felt the grace of the sage enveloping him. It was he that proclaimed Ramana to be Maharshi and Bhagavan. He composed hymns in Sanskrit in praise of the sage, and also wrote the Ramana-Gita explaining his teachings.
Ramana's mother, Alagammal, after her return to Manamadurai, lost her eldest son. Two years later, her youngest son, Nagasundaram paid a brief visit to Tiruvannamalai. She herself went there once on her return from a pilgrimage to Varanasi (Benares), and again during a visit to Tirupati. On this occasion she fell ill and suffered for several weeks with symptoms of typhoid. Ramana showed great solicitude in nursing her and restoring her to health. He even composed a hymn in Tamil beseeching Lord Arunachala to cure her of her disease. The first verse of the hymn runs as follows : 'Oh Medicine in the form of a Hill that arose to cure the disease of all the births that come in succession like waves! Oh Lord! It is Thy duty to save my mother who regards Thy feet alone as her refuge, by curing her fever.' He also prayed that his mother should be granted the vision divine and be weaned from worldliness. It is needless to say that both the prayers were answered. Alagammal recovered, and returned home to Manamadurai. Not long after she returned, her youngest son, Nagasundaram, wife died, and a mutual decision was made between he and his mother to both join Ramana in Tiruvannamalai. That was in the beginning of 1916, and she resolved to spend the rest of her life with Ramana. The mother received training in intense spiritual life. She donned the ochre robe, and took charge of the Ashrama kitchen. Ramana's younger brother, Nagasundaram, then became a sannyasin, assuming the name Niranjanananda. Among Ramana's devotees he came to be popularly known as Chinnaswami (the Younger Swami). In 1920 the mother grew weak in health and ailments incidental to old age came to her. Ramana tended her with care and affection, and spent even sleepless nights sitting up with her. The end came on May 19, 1922, which was the Bahulanavami day, in the month of Vaisakha. The mother's body was taken down the hill to be interred. While the ceremonies were being performed, Ramana himself stood silently looking on. Niranjanananda Swami took up residence near the tomb and Ramana, who continued to remain at Skandasramam, visited the tomb daily. After about six months he came to stay at the tomb, and as he put it, not out of his own volition but in obedience to the Divine Will. Thus was founded the Ramana Ashram, which has continually grown expanded since the early days and presently located between two of the Eight Cardinal Point Lingams, Angi Lingham and Yama Lingham, southeast and due south respectively, on the holy hill's circumabulation route known as Giri Valam. In 1928 a young man, age 22, became the Maharshi's personal attendant and given the name Annamalai Swami (Annamalai is another name for Arunachala). Swami Annamalai's duties, after being directed to do so by Sri Ramana, was to oversee the ongoing construction at the ashram, including the goshala (cow shed), dining hall, dispensary and other projects. A temple was raised over the tomb and was consecrated in 1949. As the years rolled by the Asramam grew steadily, and people not only from India but from every continent of the world came to see the sage and receive help from him in their spiritual pursuits. In 1938, ten years after his arrival, under the grace and light of the Maharshi, Swami Annamali Awakened to the Absolute.
Ramana's first Western devotee was Frank H. Humphrys. He came to India in 1911 to take up a post in the Police service at Vellore. Given to the practice of occultism, he was in search of a Mahatma. He was introduced to Ganapati Sastri by his Telugu tutor; and Sastri took him to Ramana. The Englishman was greatly impressed. Writing about his first visit to the sage in the International Psychic Gazette, he said : '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.... The Maharshi is a man beyond description in his expression of dignity, gentleness, self-control and calm strength of conviction.' Humphry's ideas of spirituality changed for the better as a result of the contact with Ramana. He repeated his visits to the sage. He recorded his impressions in his letters to a friend in England which were published in the Gazette mentioned above. In one of them he wrote, 'You can imagine nothing more beautiful than his smile.' And again, 'It is strange what a change it makes in one to have been in his Presence!'
Ramana had only just moved from the caves on the side of the mountain to it's base and taken up residency at his newly constructed ashram, which was not much more than a thatched hut in those days, when he was visited by Swami Ramdas, a person on the cusp of great spiritual renown. About his experience Ramdas has said:
"The Maharshi, turning his beautiful eyes towards Ramdas, and looking intently for a few minutes into his eyes as though he was pouring into Ramdas his blessings through those orbs, nodded his head to say he had blessed. A thrill of inexpressible joy coursed through the frame of Ramdas, his whole body quivering like a leaf in the breeze."
In that ecstatic state he left Maharshi's presence to spend nearly a month in a cave on the slopes of Arunachala. It was his first occasion to go into solitude. After twenty-one days, when he came out of the cave he saw a strange, all-pervasive light: everything was Ram and only Ram (God).
A nearly disguised young American traveller that gained fame anonymously in the novel titled The Razor's Edge (written by the famous British playwright W. Somerset Maugham) travelled to India in the mid 1920s, and after meeting Swami Ramdas in a temple one night in Madura, following his advice, went to the ashram of Sri Ramana. It has been written that from his experience with Sri Ramana the anonymous American, called Larry Darrell by Maugham in the novel, also Awakened to the Absolute. (source)
Scores of people poured into the Maharshi's ashram as his fame spread, fueled by word of mouth and publicity generated by books and articles of various supporters and authors. Paul Brunton was a writer, mystic, and philosopher. Through his books and writings about Sri Ramana and others, he is credited with almost singlehandedly opening up to the west to the experience and knowledge of Enlightenment, Awakening, the Absolute, and things Zen. Another equally important "early-on" chronicler was Julian P. Johnson. There was W. Somerset Maugham, of course, and Mercedes De Acosta as well as the American Guy Hague, thought by many as possibly being the actual real life role model for the Larry Darrell character in Maugham's The Razor's Edge.
SRI RAMANA AND SOMERSET MAUGHAM
THE HOLY MAN, LARRY DARRELL, AND THE RAZOR'S EDGE
There is a massive 1749 page two volume book set titled "Ashrams of India" that explores over 500 ashrams, temples, and other significant sites of eastern religious and spiritual interest located throughout the Indian sub-continent. The compilers have backed up their explorations with reems of classical, historical, and recent background information. In a section regarding westerners known to have historically visited the ashram of the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi the following is presented:
"(S)ometime in the late 1920s a young traveller from America bumped into Swami Ramdas one night at the Meenakshi Temple in Madura, the two of them had previously met in the caves of Elephanta three years earlier. The young American would eventually gain fame, albeit anonymously, in W. Somerset Maugham's 1944 novel The Razor's Edge. Given the name Larry Darrell by Maugham in the book, that same American, in real life following the advice of Ramdas, went to see Ramana Maharshi. Through the grace and light of the Maharshi, the anonymous American awakened to the absolute."
Besides authors and writers of varying degrees there were legions of just plain folk from the likes of the avowed Ramama devotee C.R. Rajamani who himself wittnessed a young American boy that within an hour of his face-to-face meeting with Sri Bhagavan his mental barriers were reduced to nothingness, to teacher after teacher, gurus, mystics and sadhus of every religious stripe and persuasion that paid homage. Besides the ones mentioned previously, some of the more notable included Sri Yoga Ramsuratkuman, Shunyata (Alfred Sorensen), and Wei Wu Wei (Terence Gray).
It was not all good people that went to the ashrama. Sometimes bad ones turned up also - even bad sadhus. Twice in the year 1924 thieves broke into the Asrama in quest of loot. On the second of these occasions they even beat the Maharshi, finding that there was very little for them to take. When one of the devotees sought the sage's permission to punish the thieves, the sage forbade him, saying : "They have their dharma, we have ours. It is for us to bear and forbear. Let us not interfere with them." When one of the thieves gave him a blow on the left thigh, he told him : "If you are not satisfied you can strike the other leg also." After the thieves had left, a devotee enquired about the beating. The sage remarked, "I also have received some puja," punning on the word which means 'worship' but is also used to mean 'blows'.
The spirit of harmlessness that permeated the sage and his environs made even animals and birds make friends with him. He showed them the same consideration that he did to the humans that went to him. When he referred to any of them, he used the form 'he' or 'she' and not 'it'. Birds and squirrels built their nests around him. Cows, dogs and monkeys found asylum in the Asrama. All of them behaved intelligently - especially the cow Laksmi. He knew their ways quite intimately. He would see to it that they were fed properly and well. And, when any of them died, the body would be buried with due ceremony. Contemporary Ramana adherent and author Duart MacLean says it best in his praise of the Maharshi:
"He never touched money and never asked for it. He owned no property -- not even the ashram. He never so much as flirted with any of the many women who came to his ashram. He never verbally attacked a single soul, or spoke harshly against those who created mischief for him. Every one who came to his ashram as a guest was offered food upon arriving. He had an amazing relationship with animals -- similar to St Francis Assissi. He never promoted himself. In his fifty years as a recognized guru, he wrote no more that two hundred pages of which one hundred pages where translations he had done of other great masters. He never offer miracles or claimed special powers, although miraculous things (such as spontaneous healings, etc) occurred spontaneously around him all the time. He never claimed to be the author of these occurrences and yet it was evident that somehow he was the source of them. He treated high and low with equal respect -- he would take time for beggars who came to him and he would pay equal respect to the famous as well."
So said as to the above, little known to most, Sri Ramana himslef was actually taken to court over the ownership or non-ownership of the ashrama, with a final decision being determined not by means spirituality but through the courts.(see)
The life in the ashrama flowed on smoothly. With the passage of time more and more of visitors came - some of them for a short stay and others for longer periods. The dimensions of the ashrama increased, and new features and departments were added - a home for the cattle, a school for the study of the Vedas, a department for publication, and the Mother's temple with regular worship, etc. Ramana sat most of the time in the hall that had been constructed for the purpose as the witness to all that happened around him. It was not that he was not active. He used to stitch leaf-plates, dress vegetables, read proofs received from the press, look into newspapers and books, suggest lines of reply to letters received, etc. yet it was quite evident that he was apart from everything. There were numerous invitations for him to undertake tours. But, except for a few possible and not always recorded Supernormal Perceptual States called Siddhis similar to the highly unusual case related to Ganapathi Muni for example, he never left Tiruvannamalai, and in the later years, the ashrama. Most of the time, every day, people sat before him. They sat mostly in silence. Sometimes some of them asked questions; and sometimes he answered them. It was a great experience to sit before him and to look at his beaming eyes. Many did experience time coming to a stop and a stillness and peace beyond description.(see)
The golden jubilee of Ramana's coming to stay at Tiruvannamalai was celebrated in 1946. In 1947 his health began to fail. He was not yet seventy, but looked much older. Towards the end of 1948 a small nodule appeared below the elbow of his left arm. As it grew in size, the doctor in charge of the Asrama dispensary cut it out. But in a month's time it reappeared. Surgeons from Madras were called, and they operated. The wound did not heal, and the tumour came again. On further examination it was diagnosed that the affection was a case of sarcoma. The doctors suggested amputating the arm above the affected part. Ramana replied with a smile : "There is no need for alarm. The body is itself a disease. Let it have its natural end. Why mutilate it? Simple dressing of the affected part will do." Two more operations had to be performed, but the tumour appeared again. Indigenous systems of medicine were tried; and homeopathy too. The disease did not yield itself to treatment. The sage was quite unconcerned, and was supremely indifferent to suffering. He sat as a spectator watching the disease waste the body. But his eyes shone as bright as ever; and his grace flowed towards all beings. Crowds came in large numbers. Ramana insisted that they should be allowed to have his darsana. Devotees profoundly wished that the sage should cure his body through an exercise of supernormal powers, but even though there were several instances of bilocation experiences by the Maharshi for example, mostly throughout his life the he never exhibited even the slightest interest in Siddhis, so it is not out of character that he would elect to continue to do so even at the end. He is on record as saying that a Realized person may not necessarily have Siddhis initially, but may later seek or acquire them after realization (i.e., Queen Chudala in the Yoga Vasishtha). He also said that some Realized persons need not have any siddhis. Some of them imagined that they themselves had had the benefit of these powers which they attributed to Ramana. Ramana had compassion for those who grieved over the suffering, and he sought to comfort them by reminding them of the truth that Bhagavan was not the body : "They take this body for Bhagavan and attribute suffering to him. What a pity! They are despondent the Bhagavan is going to leave them and go away - where can he go, and how?"
The end came on the 14th of April, 1950. That evening the sage gave darshan to the devotees that came. All that were present in the Asrama knew that the end was nearing. They sat singing Ramana's hymn to Arunachala with the refrain Arunachala-Siva. The sage asked his attendants to make him sit up. He opened his luminous and gracious eyes for a brief while; there was a smile; a tear of bliss trickled down from the outer corner of his eyes; and at 8-47 the breathing stopped. There was no struggle, no spasm, none of the signs of death. At that very moment, a comet moved slowly across the sky, reached the summit, of the holy hill, Arunachala, and disappeared behind it.
"By the time the 1960s rolled around and vast numbers of westerners were assaulting India for Spiritual prowess, etc., the absolute top dog in all the Maharshi stuff, the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi had long since departed his earthly paradise. Of the high profiles floating or climbing to the top, basically only Sri H.W.L. Poonja or Neem Karoli Baba remained, the two of which most downstream eastern religious types in the U.S. currently hang their hats on. Neem Karoli Baba died in 1973 effectively ending the flow of direct disciples. Poonja, however, didn't pass until 1997, in turn releasing on society a whole slew of Poonja clones that have, like protozoa and amoebas, gone off and split and re-split so many times there are more of them, with a few exceptions, than there are recruits to be under them."
Neem Karoli Baba
Not everybody that that count themselves as followers, advocates, or devotees, or who find themselves interested in the history, background, and accomplishments of the Bhagavan Sri Ramana, spiritually or otherwise, appreciate the sacredness of the ashram and the grounds within which it stands. Nor do they know, possibly because of that sacredness, that the Ramana Ashram grounds was once the focal point and major destination for one of the most fascinating aspects to ever unfold. That "aspect" was multifold in behavior in that it flowed within the singularity of the grounds of the ashram and recorded for having done so by two separate sources and two separate authors. The problem arises because, even though they are by separate authors in separate books writing about separate incidents, they are talking about the exact same person as well as the exact same time, place, and time period at the ashram with Sri Ramana. In the first incident as it is written, Ramana saw the boy as a boy, in the second as it is written, again, at the same time and place, he saw the boy as a man. See:
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
THE AWAKENING EXPERIENCE IN THE MODERN ERA
THE SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI TIMELINE
FALSE GURU TEST
In an interesting tid-bit of information regarding Sri Ramana's transformantion, the following by J. Glenn Friesen:
"I have come to see how Ramana's own story needs to be reinterpreted, based on what he himself says. One area that requires change is this distinction between For an inter-related comparison to Friesen's comments see:
THE BEST OF THE MAUGHAM BIOGRAPHIES:
SPIRITUAL GUIDES, GURUS, AND TEACHERS INFLUENTIAL IN DARRELL'S LIFE OTHER THAN THE MAHARSHI:
RAMANA'S FIRST DEATH EXPERIENCE
RAMANA'S SECOND DEATH EXPERIENCE
Good biography. Lots of Maugham graphics, from early childhood to late adult.
Everybody knows Hemingway drove an ambulance during WWI, nobody knows Maugham did.
In an interesting tid-bit of information regarding Sri Ramana's transformantion, the following by J. Glenn Friesen:
"I have come to see how Ramana's own story needs to be reinterpreted, based on what he himself says. One area that requires change is this distinction betweenNirvikalpa and Sahaja Samadhi. It is said that Ramana achieved liberation as a 16-year-old boy when he went into trance. But that story cannot be reconciled with Ramana's own later teachings repudiating trance and meditation as methods of enlightenment. Furthermore, Ramana's enlightenment has been regarded as being immediate during this experience. But this does not sufficiently take into account Ramana's study and of books like the Yoga Vasistha and the Vivekacudamani. Ramana studied these books and translated the Vivekacudamani while living in the caves of Arunachala. It must be remembered that Ramana lived in these caves for about 20 years prior to the ashram developing around him. That occurred only after Ramana's mother died, and Ramana moved down from the mountain to be near her tomb."
For an inter-related comparison to Friesen's comments see:
THE BEST OF THE MAUGHAM BIOGRAPHIES:
SPIRITUAL GUIDES, GURUS, AND TEACHERS INFLUENTIAL IN DARRELL'S LIFE OTHER THAN THE MAHARSHI: