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To counter this doubt I decided to correspond directly with Sri Bhagavan. Over the next few months I wrote several letters to him, all of which were answered by his ashram with a rare punctuality. However, although they breathed the teachings of the Master, they hardly gave me a glimpse into the nature of the daily life lived by him. Because of this I began to be haunted by a desire to visit the ashram to see for myself what went on there.
To fulfil that desire I paid my first visit to Sri Ramanasramam in the Christmas holiday of 1939. At first I was terribly disappointed because nothing seemed to strike me in the way I had expected. I found Sri Bhagavan seated on a couch, as quiet and unmoving as a statue. His presence did not seem to emanate anything unusual, and I was very disappointed to discover that he displayed no interest in me at all. I had expected warmth and intimacy, but unfortunately I seemed to be in the presence of someone who lacked both. From morning till evening I sat waiting to catch a glimpse of his grace, of his interest in me, a stranger who had come all the way from Bombay, but I evoked no response. Sri Bhagavan merely seemed cold and unaffected. After pinning such hopes on him, his apparent lack of interest nearly broke my heart. Eventually, I decided to leave the ashram, knowing full well that if I did so, I would be more sceptical and hard-headed than before.
The Veda parayana was chanted every evening in Sri Bhagavan’s presence. It was considered to be one of the most attractive items in the daily programme of the ashram, but in my depressed state it fell flat on my ears. It was the evening of the day I had decided to leave. The sun was setting like a sad farewell, spreading a darkness over both the hill and my heart. The gloom deepened until the neighbourhood disappeared into the blackness of the night. In my sensitive state the electric light that was switched on in the hall seemed like a living wound on the body of the darkness. My mind, which was deeply tormented, felt that the psychic atmosphere in the hall was stuffy and choking. Unable to bear it any longer, I walked outside to get a breath of fresh air.
A young man called Gopalan came up to me and asked me where I had come from.
‘Bombay,’ I replied.
He asked me if I had been introduced to the Master, and when I replied that I had not, he was most surprised. He immediately led me to the office, introduced me to the sarvadhikari [manager] and then proceeded with me to the hall where he introduced me to Sri Bhagavan. When he heard my name Sri Bhagavan’s eyes turned to me, looked straight into mine and twinkled like stars. With a smile beaming with grace he asked me if I were a Gujarati. I replied that I was. Immediately he sent for a copy of the Gujarati translation by Sri Kishorelal Mashruwala of Upadesa Saram, a few copies of which had only just arrived. He then asked me to chant the Gujarati verses from the book.
‘But I am not a singer,’ I answered, hesitating to begin. But when it became clear that I was expected to perform, I got over my initial hesitation and began to chant verses from the book. I had sung about fifteen when the bell for the evening meal rang. All the time I was chanting I could feel Sri Bhagavan keenly observing me. It seemed that the light of his eyes was suffusing my consciousness, even without my being aware of it. His silent gaze brought about a subtle but definite transformation in me. The darkness, which a few minutes before had seemed heavy and unbearable, gradually lightened and melted into a glow of well being. My erstwhile sadness completely disappeared, leaving in my heart an inexplicable emotion of joy. My limbs appeared to have been washed in an ocean-tide of freedom.
That evening I sat close to Sri Bhagavan in the dining room. In my exalted state the food I ate seemed to have an unusual and unearthly taste. I quite literally felt that I was participating in some heavenly meal in the direct presence of God. After having such an experience I of course abandoned all thought of leaving the ashram that night. I stayed on for three days longer in order to widen the sacred and extraordinary experience that had already begun, an experience of divine grace that I felt would lead me in the direction of spiritual liberation.
During the three days of my stay in the proximity of the Divine Master, I found my whole outlook entirely changed. After that short period I could find little evidence of my old self, a self that had been tied down with all kinds of preconceptions and prejudices. I felt that I had lost the chains that bind the eyes of true vision. I became aware that the whole texture of my mind had undergone a change. The colours of the world seemed different, and even the ordinary daylight took on an ethereal aspect. I began to see the foolishness and the futility of turning my gaze only on the dark side of life.
In those few days Sri Bhagavan, the divine magician, opened up for me a strange new world of illumination, hope and joy. I felt that his presence on earth alone constituted sufficient proof that humanity, suffering and wounded because of its obstinate ignorance, could be uplifted and saved. For the first time I fully understood the significance of darshan.
While I lay in bed in the guest room of the ashram, the encounter that had taken place on the train in Bombay replayed itself in my mind. I recalled the blind audacity that had prompted me to drop the thrice-holy vibhuti in contempt onto the floor of the railway carriage. Today, even one speck of such vibhuti is treasure to me, for prasad received from the Master is a form of grace that no wealth on earth may buy. Sometimes I even feel that I am not worthy enough to raise it to my eyelids and streak my forehead with it.
‘O Master,’ I thought to myself, ‘what a miracle of transformation! Why did it take half a lifetime before I could meet you? Half a lifetime of blundering, of failing and falling. But I suppose, my Master, that you would say that time is a mental concept. For I feel that in your sight your bhaktas [devotees] have, throughout all time, always been with you and near you.’
David Godman Books
Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings
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