Duncan Greenlees


Duncan Greenlees, M.A., (Oxon)

I suppose all men and women, unless plunged too deeply in the mad struggle for unthinking livelihood, have had times when they had to stand still and ask themselves: “Well, what is the meaning of it all? What am I doing in this world at all? And who am I, any way? Where do I come from, and where do I go after this is all over?” They ask, and they receive many answers. The trouble is that the answers are all different, and their confusion is so much the more confounded that most of them have to give it up with a shrug of the shoulders, and turn to more “practical” things with a sigh.

Many can then forget the doubt, or when it next lifts its head they just give it a pat, as it were, and send it obediently to sleep once more. But there are some, the really lucky ones, who do not find it so easy. Their longing, still unsatisfied, will not go to sleep again. It gnaws away at them, and gives them no rest by day or night. At times they even ask themselves why they should put up with the wretchedness of this life unless they can find the real cause and purpose of it all. The dogmas of the creeds, the empty conceit of priest and pundit, the insolent ignorance of pseudo-scientist, alike fail to pacify their need. It grows into an unsleeping restlessness, and drives them till they make a personal enquiry into the Truth.

There are some who call such an individual search for God mere intellectual pride; they tell the seekers to submit to authority and just swallow the theological pills given them by ignorant but well-meaning teachers. But even the most homoeopathic dose of theology or philosophy may upset some spiritual digestions, and they can find no cure that way. The Truth is never found by using somniferent sedatives, and the want remains burning in the seeker’s empty heart.

Yes, this is also personal. It was somewhat like that with me for a number of years. In a sense it still is that way, for the want cannot be satisfied by anything short of the Fullness, and naturally I have not yet made that “my own”. I came out to India more than twenty years ago in the hope and full faith that I would find here in visible form one of those great Masters of spiritual realisation to whom my Theosophy had led me in the inner worlds of thought and feeling. Sent by Dr. Beasant and her workers to be a teacher in the school at Madanapalle, I first had there a hint of one direction in which I ought to look.

I remember it was some time in 1926 when we read in the paper of the passing away of a great Saint, known as “Pagal Haranath”, whom they were comparing with Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. One of the College lecturers there told me he had heard of another Saint like that, who lived at Tiruvannamalai, he thought in some temple. Now I had already learned that unclean foreigners like myself were not allowed into temples. (Is it for fear they defile the allpure perfection of God, or that they may not give offerings to the priest? Others must say!). So I was assured that if I went to see this supposed Saint of the Tamil land, I should only be driven away with rudeness and abuse, such as most of us foreigners (for the sins of our countrymen) have to meet with at times unless protected by Government employment. So I left the matter just there. I went on, rather half-heartedly, I must confess, with my own inner search for those Masters who live only in the inner worlds. The search was not wholly unsuccessful. To be honest, I must admit that I was at last convinced, by overwhelming evidences, that they do exist, that they take pupils, that they have vast love and wisdom. But the contact with them was very hard, and only rarely could their grace be won enough to be of much real use in my own daily life. So my discontent remained.

Then, about 1928-1930, came the great mental crisis for most of us Theosophists. J. Krishnamurti proved himself a world teacher indeed, but not in the way we had been encouraged to expect. He taught, certainly, but his teaching clashed with most of that of his precursors. I suppose we all felt much as the disciples of John the Baptist did when Jesus, to whom their own Master had sent them, began attacking the established religion of his people. I could not reconcile these differences. “Serve in a Master’s name and be taken as his pupil,” said one voice, and the other replied, “Masters and Gurus are crutches; you must stand on your own feet, and establish your own goal for yourself.” The first voice retorted, “Try to enter the Path of Initiation, and join the Great White Lodge of world-servers!” But the reply came back, “There is no Path; initiations and spiritual labels and organisations are created by your exploiters; find the Kingdom of Happiness in your own heart.” I could not reconcile these two voices, and I had to choose between them. It does not matter now which I chose. It is enough to say that I am still a keen Theosophist and that I have sat at the feet of our Maharshi. Years passed. There was a political interlude. It was followed by my failure, despite close personal contact with Mahatma Gandhi, to recapture the old discarded ideal of service before self-realisation, as a way to it. And then came nearly two years in the forests of the Central Provinces, with only one human neighbour.

One evening of that time came suddenly a startling experience in full wakefulness. It startled, because it seemed to belie much that our Theosophical books declared about the remoteness of Self-realisation from the lives of us “ordinary men”. I could not deny the experience. It was a flaming reality of bliss, that burned away much of the heaped-up dross in my mind. Nor could I explain it myself, for it should come to only very advanced souls, according to our books. And none knew better than myself how little I could fit into such a category! My one neighbour told me that as the Self is always there, it can be contacted at any moment by anyone, no matter how unworthy he might seem. That would explain the experience, of course, but it seemed too good to be true. I remembered how Krishnamurti had said, “The path can be trodden in a flash even by the savage,” but that too seemed to make nonsense of evolution and to destroy the very basis of rebirth, which had always been for me an established scientific fact. I was left to puzzle it out for myself, in vain. The wheels of time turned round, and in 1935 they brought me back to Madanpalle. There, an old friend told me one day that he thought of visiting the Ashram of Ramana Maharshi, and was willing to take me with him. That re-awakened my desire, which shyness and the fear of rudeness had put to sleep again in 1926. I at once agreed, and it was settled that we should go together in the next holidays, which fell in October 1936. He lent me a copy of Narasimha Swami’s great Life of the Sage. I cannot tell you how that thrilled me. The account of the boy Ramana’s leaving home (I have always loved young folk, and the idea of a child saint has always haunted my mind), of his entranced journey to the unknown Arunachala, of his long and intense absorption in God when he reached that place, just lit something in my heart that has not quite gone out again. God bless the writer of that book! A fever of eagerness grew in me till the holidays commenced. But somehow there was to be a little check in the even flow of events. The same friend advised me to read Paul Brunton’s book. I read it. It repelled me with a sense of the writer’s insincerity. The adulation shown in it to one Saint went very ill with the scoffing criticism of others, and the book struck me somehow as a piece of journalism of the lower kind. I am speaking quite frankly, and apologise to any whom these words may seem to hurt; that is how the book seemed to me personally. For a few days it almost dissuaded me from going to Tiruvannamalai at all. Had the Maharshi stooped to allow this kind of vulgar advertisement of him, almost like a quack doctor seeking testimonials? Of course, I soon threw this foolishness off mind, and went to see for myself.

The kind welcome given by the Ashram people was my first impression. There was none of that arrogant and ignorant contempt for foreigners as such that I had met at times elsewhere, but rather an eager kindliness and anxiety to make me feel at home in what must be a strange environment. I had already an old Theosophical friend living in Pilakottu next door, and it was with him I could speak of my impressions from day to day.

I saw the Maharshi. It did not take long for me to be sure that I was in front of one who had in that very body I could see before me solved life’s problem for himself. The radiant peace around him proved it beyond all cavil. The calm, like that of the midnight sky, was something too real to question for a moment. That part of my search, then, was over, even at the first glimpse. In the flesh I had seen a “Master”.

I told my friend that night that I knew he was what the books call a Jivanmukta. Please don’t ask me how I knew for I cannot answer that. It was just as one knows that water is wet and the sky is blue. It could not be denied,self-evident is the word. But I could not go as far as my friend went in asserting that the Maharshi is God Himself. Of course, in one sense, all are God, as the poem is its creator, but I am not by temperament a worshipper of human forms. God is transcendent as truly as he is immanent in his creation. “With one fragment of Myself......and I remain,” says the Gita, truly indeed. I had brought the usual list of questions to be asked, of course,philosophical they were, and mostly about rebirth and spiritual evolution. As they were never asked, they do not matter. Shyness kept me silent while sitting in the Hall those first days. And before I broke that silence, the unspoken questions had solved themselves in their own irrelevance. It is a common experience; I only add my own testimony to that of many others.

The four days we had planned were soon over, and my friend went home to Madanapalle. But I could not tear myself away before the last day of the vacation, and stayed on alone, delighted, enthralled and yes, to some degree also pacified. That stillness of eternal deeps had somehow osmosed itself into my heart. The stormy nature I brought into life with me had met a Master who could quell the waves with a silent word, “Peace, be still!” like Him of Galilee. I was brought face to face with the eternal being who had entered and thrown off personalities in an unbroken chain through long ages on the earth. I knew myself to be absolutely one with that incarnate Peace on the sofa, and therefore to be one equally with the Unmanifest in whose stillness he was so obviously poised. “The mind is a wonderful thing!” as Bhagavan once said to one who talked to him in this strain and spoke of dreams and miracles. Before I left that hallowed spot, I did after all put questions to the Maharshi, to solve that problem which had arisen in the forest. He answered it in a wonderful way that was new to me. He defined the real meaning of each word in the question itself, from the standpoint of Advaita. Applying these definitions to the question threw the answer clearly before the mind. I was wholly satisfied, and filled with joy.

God’s grace is such that He gives at His will what He likes to give to any soul. The actual state of the soul then is of little importance, if it be but earnest and sincere in its desire for Him; it cannot earn His grace, even by crores of years of effort. It can never be worthy of His blessing, but receives it purely out of His mercy. His darshan can never be the fruit of sakama tapasya, whatever certain books may say. It is only the overflowing love of the Lord that brings it to us. I now find that Santa Teresa, the great Spanish mystic, says the same in her “Way of Perfection.” God sometimes tries to lure, attract, even “wicked souls” to Him by one or two rare glimpses of His beauty, a sip or two of His loveliness, just to see if they rouse a thirst in the blissful soul to drink deep of that one Fountain of Life and Sweetness, or if they pride themselves on His goodness and think that they are somebody and should henceforth be respected by the world.

This has now come to be a true fundamental of spiritual philosophy in my mind. The day came, and I had to drag the body, like a load, away with me on a dreamlike journey to Madanapalle. But the peace that Bhagavan had put upon me remained in my heart, like a shining cloud of transparency through which all things passed dreamlike for about three weeks. The mind was caught and held in that peace, in a blissfulness it had never known before, while the body went on with its work in English Grammar classes and the like, almost as if unrelated with the Self. It is a pity I cannot bring about this mood at my own will: it can come only from the touch of the real Teacher of souls, as I have found.

I went again, several times. I went for swarming birthday functions. I went when all was quiet, and a single Ashramite was drowsily pulling a pankha over the silent Maharshi, and the only sound the faint hum of summer flies. One whole summer vacation passed there in great happiness, while visitors came and went, and the pet rabbit amused our meditators, and disturbed a few of them, even the most distinguished. There are two incidents of that summer I would like to tell you, for they may be typical, and they have taught me much.

I was sitting one day in the Hall, more or less sleepily browsing in the heat over a notebook of extracts on Yoga. Now Bhagavan hardly ever spoke to me first (indeed there has been very little actual talking between us during the years; it did not seem necessary, somehow), but that day he spoke to me, in English: “What is that book?” I told him. He said quietly, “Read Milarepa.” I got up at once, and asked the friend in charge of the little library if he had a “Milarepa”. He gave me Dr. Evans- Wentz’s life of the Tibetan Yogi Saint. I read it, there in the Hall. I read it again. It thrilled and stirred deep places in my heart. Somehow, I feel Bhagavan had seen that it would be so, and therefore gave me the only order of the sort he has ever given me.

There was a young lawyer from North India. He was a passionate lover of the Divine Child of Brindavan, athirst for heart-food and longing for some human soul to worship as a form of the Lord of Love. We slept next to each other under the stars, and talked nightly for hours of Mira and her Divine Spouse. This friend stayed in the Ashram restlessly for about two weeks. Each evening he told me he would go away next day, he had nothing to do with Advaita or with this cold lifeless statue on a sofa. I only told him he had come so far, he should wait a little longer. At last I failed to keep him there any more. He told me he was off that night, to go straight to Brindavan and there merge himself, if he could, in his Giridhari Krishna.

He bought some fruit for his farewell offering. Bhagavan was just going in for supper when this friend came up with his bag of oranges. Bhagavan stood and waited for him. He did not speak. His body was thrilled through and through. He ran and fell on Bhagavan’s feet in a simple ecstasy of love, tears flowing from his eyes. The oranges rolled here and there unnoticed. Bhagavan stood silently. The friend got up with difficulty and stood there trembling.

He could not speak the words of leave-taking. Bhagavan made a little gesture, with a smile and very gently said, “Sari...Po!” I had almost to bundle that friend into his waiting jutka and send him off without a word. He had seen his Lord, in a flash, and he left us in a daze of joy and emotion. I think he never returned to the Ashram, but I have never forgotten that scene. Even now the memory thrills me. Yes, Bhagavan can suddenly appear to us as the Beloved of our heart, even when we have dreamt that he would work such a miracle for us. I have neither space nor time to tell of all the many incidents I have watched in that Ashram. I have taken all the descriptions of the Jivanmukta I could find in any scripture,Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Christian, Muslim, Jain etc. I have watched Bhagavan under all kinds of circumstances, and checked up what I have seen with those descriptions. I have not the smallest doubt but that the impression of my first day there is the truth. He alone of all the men I have seen seems to dwell always in Sahaja-samadhi. Of course, I am not qualified to judge, for none but the saint can know the saint. Yet I can only give my word that so it has seemed to me.

I have seen him in a humorous mood; I have seen him play the host with delicate grace that seems almost awkward at times. I have seen him quickly, motionlessly, challenging and defeating injustice or unkindness. I have seen him cutting vegetables for the Ashramites long before the dawn. I have seen again and again how he has solved the doubts, the agonies, the loss of faith, of people of many types,often with a word, often with a movement of healing silence and a soft distance in his unmoving gaze. I have looked at his perfect handwriting in many scripts, all a model of beauty and care. I have heard him correcting the singers of hymns in his own glory, with an absolute impersonality that was obvious. I have watched his reactions to the noisy devotee, the lazy worker, the mischievous monkey, the crazed adorer, the over-bold flatterer, the one who would exploit his name. I have seen how totally impervious he is to all considerations of power, place, prestige, and how his grace shines equally on prince and peasant.

Then, can I doubt that here indeed we have, if not God Himself,for He is omnipresent,at least Greatness incarnate, the majesty of the ancient hills blending with the sweetness of the evening star?

Sit before him, as we used to sit those summer evenings, and as the echo of the Vedic chantings dies away in silence, see the lines of crows fly home in front of that great holy hill of Arunachala. Let the thoughts, worries, aspirations of the mind subside. A blissful glow of transparent unreality creeps across the scene, and you know you are not that foolish excited little person sitting there, but the eternal Self out of whom this world has spun its cobweb yarn of forms.

I know no other man whose mere presence has thus enabled me to make the personality drop down into the abyss of nothingness where it belongs. I have found no other human being who so emanates his grace that it can catch away the ordinary man from his stillness and plunge him deep in the ecstasy of timeless omnipresent being.

I cannot speak much of the method of Atma-vichara that he recommends. No doubt this kind of conscious search is the natural way for many, but frankly I failed to make it my way even after several attempts. But I found no need for the conscious search while in his actual presence. His grace, which is of course the grace of God whose representative and messenger he is, has been enough to give brief glimpses even to me of that Infinity wherein he always seems to live.

He will brush away all this nonsense of my talk with a wave of the hand and a smile, while saying as he once did, “It is the same in this and in another place. That bliss you feel is in the Self, and you superimpose it upon the place or environment in which you are bodily set. It has nothing to do with that.” But, Bhagavan, this book is our kingdom; in it we say what we like about you and the blessings we have received from you; we shall not let you interrupt our foolish words just now. It is our chance to publicly proclaim our debt to the silent Teacher of Tiruvannamalai.

What, then, have I learned from him? That the Self we seek is indeed, as books have said before, the nearest thing to every one of us, that it can therefore be known at once by anyone who cares to look within deeply enough, that every kind of happiness is a reflection of the eternal Bliss which is the very nature of the Selfin other and, to Westerners born, more familiar words, that God dwells in our very heart as the Life of our life, the Joy of all our joys, and that if we but devote ourselves to Him He will soon reveal to us His love and hold us to Him for ever in the close embrace of perfect Union.

His message comes in many forms, according to the needs of those who come to him. Once a party of Muslims came. They asked him, “Sir, what is the highest goal of human life?” In one word he gave the whole essence of spiritual truth, the heart of their great religion as of every other. He said, “Islam,” That is the secret of his greatness, perfect simplicity. Islam, selfsurrender to the Supreme Being, whom we delight in knowing and loving as God; Islam alone can bring Salam, or Peace. The only real Peace, which is eternal, infinite, divine, is that which flows in upon, wells up from, floods and floats the soul that throws itself away in loving surrender to the Good Father, from whom and in whom all are, to whom all shall return at last. Statesmen try to build a world at peace in vain while they ignore the only possible foundation for true peace. Volumes could be written as commentary upon that perfect one word answer of his, without adding anything to its beauty and its self-sufficiency. Those Muslims sat for a while before him silently, then saluted deeply and left, satisfied that this was no mere Hindu saint, but a true Prophet of God, one who knows Him and lives always in His presence according to His will.

Of course, living in the Ashram has its strains and stresses. I have known moods of black despondency and disgust, of quick irritation, of what seemed at the moment like disillusionment. When the body’s impurities are stirred up by a fast ready for elimination, there is a time when they seem to rule the body and pains of every kind increase. So when the mind is to be purged by a great Soul like this Maharshi, many dark things of the past are stirred to life again before they can be expelled. But I must add that those who are in the Ashram are very gentle, considerate and kindly when they see us dropping into such a mood. The generous services of one friend who used to translate for me the Tamil answers to my English questions, and get his translations approved by Bhagavan himself before giving them to me, did far more than he dreamed of service to this “foreigner,” as he appears. The kindliness of the Sarvadhikari has also
been unfailing in my several visits; no one should forget the help given to his darshan of the Master by the very existence of an efficiently run organisation on the spot, where he can stay, take food, and sleep. For that, we are almost entirely indebted to the work of our Swami Niranjanananda. Even the human hospitality of Bhagavan himself, though sometimes a little embarrassing to my innate shyness perhaps, has always been a delightful thing.

Fifty years! Some have asked him why he does not come out and serve the world. For fifty years he has served the world as not a man whose name is loudly shouted by the crowds can ever dream of serving it. His very presence among us is a benediction. His attaining a clear and unflickering vision of the Self has raised the whole world a little nearer to the truth. His words have been an unfathomed ocean of comfort and inspiration to thousands. His silent peacefulness has revealed the Eternal in human form, as mountains, seas and skies alone can usually reveal It. Would that we all could serve the world as he has done! A French writer has written, “Every soul that uplifts itself uplifts the world,” and the divine Chinese Sage Confucius said the same thing as the Elizabeth Leseur.

Salutations, therefore, to him though he is beyond such childishness, as also to the hallowed place Arunachala! Salutation on this happy Jubilee day to the people of South India, honoured and blessed by his being their companion! Salutation to those who have been wise enough in their day to bask in his grace, unrepelled by the almost frightening non-personality that broods around him!

This is a golden opportunity to come in touch direct with one of our Earth’s greatest children. May it be used by more and more thousands during the coming years! And may some who see this happy Golden Jubilee of his attainment be present to celebrate the centenary in his visible presence at Tiruvannamalai!