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My pilgrimage to Ramanasramam began at the local train station in Gudur. While I was waiting for the train to arrive, my mother started talking to two women who were also waiting for the same train. It was soon discovered that they too were heading for Ramanasramam. They were accompanying Sathyananda Swami, a long-time devotee of Ramana Maharshi. When this swami was informed that we were on our way to Tiruvannamalai and that we were planning to visit Ramanasramam for the first time, he invited us to join his party. I was delighted by this fortunate turn of events. I felt that Bhagavan himself had sent one of his devotees to guide us to his ashram.
The journey took all day and it was well after dark when we finally arrived in Tiruvannamalai. We spent the night at a choultry and the following morning we walked to Ramanasramam in the company of Swami Sathyananda. Instead of approaching the ashram by the main road, we ended up arriving through the back gate, located between the kitchen and the storeroom. As we were climbing the steps that led up to the gate, we saw Bhagavan walking slowly in the direction of the cow shed. Bhagavan noticed us, stopped for a few seconds to look at us, and then carried on with his walk. Entering through the back gate had thus proved to be very lucky because it enabled us to have a brief and almost private darshan of Bhagavan at a time when the ashram was immensely crowded.
I soon discovered that we had arrived at an inconvenient time. The ashram was overflowing with visitors who had come from all parts of the country to attend the consecration and opening ceremony of the temple that had been constructed over the samadhi of Bhagavan’s mother. The main consecration ceremony was due to take place a few days after our arrival.
Because we had arrived with a devotee who was well known to the ashram management, there was no problem in getting accommodation, but speaking to Bhagavan proved to be more difficult. I wanted to speak to him about the experience of the Self I had had in the dried-up lake in Gudur, but I never got a chance because there were always large crowds of people milling around him. I had to be content with having darshan in a large crowd of other devotees.
On one of the days of my visit I was standing by the main ashram well. Bhagavan was sitting nearby on a bench outside the hall where he usually slept, listening to a group of brahmin boys chant extracts from the Vedas. As I looked at the scene in front of me the world completely lost its solid, substantial reality. I became aware that everything I was perceiving in that scene was nothing more than a dream-like projection. This experience gave me the certainty that everything in the world, including the body of Bhagavan that I was concentrating on, was unreal. As I gazed at the scene I had the knowledge and the experience that the real Ramana Maharshi was not the dream body I saw before me, it was the formless, effulgent Self that I had experienced on the dried-up lake bed in Gudur. This experience soon passed away though, leaving me in my former state.
I divided my time between sitting with Bhagavan at the times he was available and sitting in solitary meditation on the hill. I only stayed three days on this first visit, but that short period of time was enough to convince me that in Bhagavan I had found the Guru I had been seeking. I decided to change my japa from ‘Hare Rama’ to ‘Hare Ramana’ since I felt that I could avail myself of my Guru’s grace by chanting his name. I read the Telugu version of Who Am I? that was on sale at the ashram bookstore while I was there, but I didn’t feel inclined to take up the practice of self-enquiry at the time because I was more accustomed to doing japa.
After three days I left my mother at Ramanasramam and went back to Gudur. I wanted to devote myself full time to meditation but the atmosphere in my house was too oppressive for proper concentration. I decided instead to go to a village called Govindapalli, which was nearer the coast and about fifteen miles from Gudur. Some of my relatives lived in this village but I didn’t want to stay with them. I just wanted a quiet place where I could meditate without being disturbed. I selected a quiet spot, away from the village and about three miles from the sea. My relatives helped me to build a small hut, which I paid for out of my own funds.
I moved into this hut and spent most of my time in meditation. Milk was sent once a day from the village, but I prepared the rest of my food myself, cooking it on a small fire that I would build by the side of my hut. I still kept up with the habit of getting up at 3 a.m. and going for a swim. Sometimes I swam in a tank near my hut and sometimes in a small river that flowed nearby. In the evenings I often walked to the beach and swam in the sea.
The local people had been very cooperative in the matter of building the hut, but many of them had advised me not to live on the spot I chose because there was supposed to be an evil spirit that inhabited the area. I wasn’t worried about things like that, so I settled down to do my sadhana. After staying there for a few days I heard a great noise that sounded as if all the trees in the vicinity were being blown down by a great wind. I went out of the hut and looked around me. I saw that the trunks of all the local trees were bending down to the ground and then springing back up again. Since there was no obvious natural explanation, I decided that it was this local spirit that was trying to frighten me. These spirits are harmless so long as you do not fear them, but if you become afraid, some of them are so strong, they can easily kill you. I ignored it and went back to my meditation.
David Godman Books
Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings
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