Swami Chidbhavananda


By Swami Chidbhavananda

IT was in the year 1921 that a few of us, religiously inclined college students, undertook a pilgrimage from Madras to Tiruvannamalai for a darshan of Sri Ramana Maharshi. The Ashram was then in its initial stage. An august person was seated on a raised platform, and it was evident he was the sage whom we had come to see. Around him on the floor were seated a number of devotees, all intently looking at him, and we found our places among them. Silence reigned supreme. The presiding deity of the Ashram was the author of that silence - hence its perfection. This was a novel experience for us, but we took to this congenial environment quite happily.

There was no such thing as the formal introduction of newly arrived devotees. As others did, we sat quietly. Sri Maharshi turned his penetrating gaze at us off and on. We felt ourselves highly blessed by his benign look. Occasionally he spoke a word or two, which were always pertinent and to the point. But his silence was more eloquent. An occasional smile revealed his bliss.

Visiting devotees often brought packets of sugar-candy or some such thing and offered them to him. He would help himself to a tiny piece from the packet and pass it on to the assembled group. Then and there it would be shared by the entire lot.

I made deeper personal contact with the Maharshi in the year 1928. I had renounced the world in 1923 and joined the Ramakrishna Math. In 1926 I entered the Order of sannyasa. From 1926 to 1940 I was in charge of Sri Ramakrishna Ashram at Ootacamund. During that period, when I travelled between Ootacamund and Madras I took as many opportunities as possible to go to Tiruvannamalai in order to see the Maharshi. I was not inclined to talk much with him; being seated in his presence was more than sufficient. Occasionally he spoke, but his silence was what I sought and prized every time I went to him. A purified enquirer makes a rich harvest of the blissful calmness that prevails in his presence.

The Maharshi occupied a couch in a corner of a middle sized hall in the Ashram. Barring this corner the entire hall was at the disposal of the visiting public, and anybody could go into the hall at any time of day or night. Visiting devotees would quietly steal in, sit for awhile in quiet meditation, and then leave unobtrusively. One day a man following the path of devotion came in and occupied a place very near the sage. Then he unburdened all that lay buried in his heart. His speech was choked with feeling. He poured forth, “I have gone on pilgrimage all over the land. I have been regular in my spiritual practices. Many a sleepless night have I passed in prayer. Still to this day I have had no mercy from the Lord. I am forlorn”. He cried bitterly, but the Maharshi sat unconcerned. Eventually all his suppressed feelings were worked out, and then in a measured voice the sage said, “Funny man. He cries - what is there to sob about? Instead of being poised in the blissful Self, he goes on wailing”.

This observation had a telling effect. He saw that his problem was self-created, and a new chapter in his life started.

On another occasion a talkative man made his appearance in the hall. He chose to sit near the sage and unceremoniously raised a question, “Bhagavan, what is your view on birth control”? There was no answer, so the man explained at length the importance of the topic. Again getting no reply, he continued until he could say no more, and then fell silent. Silence reigned supreme in the hall. In the midst of this silence, the Maharshi asked, “Do you know death control”? There was no response.

One day it was suggested to Sri Maharshi that no spiritual progress could ever be made without sadhana, or discipline.

After a pause he made these observations:

Mind it is that binds man, and the same mind it is that liberates him. Mind is constituted of sankalpa and vikalpa - desire and disposition. Desire shapes and governs disposition. Desire is of two kinds - the noble and the base. The base desires are lust and greed. Noble desire is directed towards enlightenment and emancipation. Base desire contaminates and clouds the understanding. Sadhana is easy for the aspirant who is endowed with noble desires.

Calmness is the criterion of spiritual progress. Plunge the purified mind into the Heart. Then the work is over. This is the essence of all spiritual discipline!

During one of my visits I was seated at some distance from the Maharshi. There were many devotees in the hall and the usual silence prevailed. I remembered his injunction, “Plunge the pure mind into the Heart”, and decided to practise it then. I gazed at him and he gazed back at me. What followed was indescribable. His body seemed a glass case from which a blissful brilliance streamed out. More than half an hour passed this way. It was an experience unique and unforgettable. It confirmed Sri Ramakrishna’s statement that spiritual experience can be transmitted from one person to another in the manner in which material things are handed over.

Bharata Varsha is ever the bestower of spirituality on mankind. Sri Ramana Maharshi is verily a true spiritual son of this holy land, who spontaneously and impersonally showered benediction on mankind.