T.K.Sundaresa Iyer


By T. K. Sundaresa Iyer

IN 1908, when I was 12 years old, Bhagavan was living in Virupaksha cave. My cousin, Krishnamurty, used to go to Bhagavan every day and sing songs of devotion and worship before him. One day I asked him where he went everyday. He told me, “The Lord of the hill himself is sitting there in human form. Why don’t you come with me”? I too climbed the hill and found Bhagavan sitting on a stone slab, with about ten devotees around him. Each would sing a song. Bhagavan turned to me and asked, “Well, won’t you sing a song for me”? One of Sundaramurti Nayanar’s songs came to my mind and I sang it. Its meaning was: No other support I have except thy holy feet. By holding on to them, I shall win your grace. Great men sing your praise, Oh, Lord. Grant that my tongue may repeat thy name even when my mind strays. “Yes, that is what must be done”, said Bhagavan, and I took it to be his teaching for me. From then on I went to him regularly for several years without missing a day.

One day I wondered why I was visiting him at all. What was the use? There seemed to be no inner advancement. Going up the hill was meaningless toil. I decided to end my visits on the hill. For a hundred days exactly I did not see Bhagavan. On the hundred and first day I could suffer no longer and ran to Skandashram, above Virupaksha cave. Bhagavan saw me climbing, got up and came forward to meet me. When I fell at his feet, I could not restrain myself and burst out in tears. I clung to his feet and would not get up. Bhagavan pulled me up and asked, “It is over three months since I saw you. Where were you”? I told him how I thought that seeing him was of no use. “All right”, he said, “maybe it is of no use, so what? You felt the loss, did you not”? Then I understood that we did not go to him for profit, but because, away from him there was no life for us.

Once I wrote two verses in Tamil, one in praise of the Lord without attributes, the other of the Lord with numberless forms. In the latter I wrote, “From whom grace is flowing over the sentient and insentient”. Bhagavan asked me to change one letter and this altered the meaning to, “Who directs his grace to the sentient and the insentient”. The idea was that grace was not a mere influence but could be directed with a purpose where it was needed most.

Whenever I went up the hill to see Bhagavan, I used to buy something to eat and take it with me as an offering. One day I had no money. I stood before Bhagavan in a dejected mood and said, “This poor man has brought nothing”. Bhagavan looked at me enquiringly and remarked, “Why, you brought the main thing. All else is unimportant”. I wondered, not knowing what I had brought. “Don’t you understand? You have brought yourself”, laughed Bhagavan.

Once I got an offer of a job at Sholapur to teach Jewish refugees. It carried a good pay. I intimated my consent and received an appointment order by wire. I showed the wire to Bhagavan. “All right, go”, he said. Even before I left the hall, I felt gloom settling over me and I started shivering. My heart wailed, “What are you doing? You are going away from the presence of your Guru”! I went back, fell at Bhagavan’s feet and cried, “I cannot go, I cannot leave you”. Bhagavan laughed, “Look at the man! He has been here for twenty years and look at the result. He thinks there are places where Bhagavan is not and he refuses to go there”! He ridiculed me mercilessly and told me to pack off to Sholapur. I was getting ready to start. A very rich Seth came to the Ashram with a hundred questions, all on paper. Bhagavan replied to them all, but in Tamil. The Seth noted down the oral translation of the answers. The next day a big car appeared before my school and I was told that I was wanted in the Ashram. Bhagavan told me to see the Seth and see that there were no mistakes in his translation. This work took me six hours. I was offered thirty rupees for my trouble. I refused the money, saying that it was Bhagavan’s work and no money should be offered for it. He referred the matter to Bhagavan. Bhagavan ordered me to accept and added, “Now you have enough money to go to Sholapur”. On my way I fell ill at Bangalore with high fever. It was increasing from day to day. I wired to Sholapur expressing my inability to start work and the fever disappeared the next day! I was without a job and without money when I returned, repentant, to Bhagavan’s feet.

The bitter lesson was learned: I should not have been tempted by the job in the first instance. Years passed. I was married and led a well-ordered family life as laid down in the scriptures, studying the Vedas, worshipping ancestors and deities in the prescribed way, and feeding the five kinds of living beings. I was associated with political and religious activities and used to go from village to village teaching the Periya Puranam; yet I would find time to visit Bhagavan quite often.

About 1920, Kavyakanta Ganapathi Shastri came to reside at Tiruvannamalai. Everyone used to address him as ‘Nayana’ (father). He became the President of the Tiruvannamalai Town Congress Committee. From my early days I was in Tilak’s movement and did not see much future in Mahatma Gandhi’s programme. One day I said to Nayana, “I do not expect much from political activities; without God’s grace no action will prosper. To ask for grace is our main task. People like you, who are blessed with grace in abundance, should use your spiritual powers for the uplift of the world and liberation of the country and not waste your time in speeches”. He liked the idea and asked me to stay with him and pray to God for grace. He made me study the Vedas and taught me verses from the Rig Veda, with their meaning. Mahendra societies were started all over India and I was made the General Secretary. Their object was to win freedom for our country by purely devotional means, like rituals, prayers, and personal and collective penance. We managed to register about ten thousand members.

Nayana mainly stayed in the Mango Tree cave on Arunachala and used to visit Bhagavan off and on. Nayana used to discuss sastras with him and get his doubts cleared. He was a mighty scholar, while Bhagavan was just literate, yet Nayana would say, “Without Bhagavan’s grace, the intricacies of the scriptures are beyond one’s power of understanding. One word from him makes everything clear”. When Nayana would see someone sitting in front of Bhagavan, meditating with his eyes closed, he would scold the devotee saying, “When the sun is shining in front of you, why do you need to close your eyes? Are you serious or do you only want to show what a pious fellow you are”? Those were happy days indeed, and I was blessed with many visions of deities and divinities. It was all due to Nayana’s powers and Bhagavan’s grace.

At Skandashram a peacock would follow Bhagavan everywhere. One day a huge black cobra appeared in the Ashram and the peacock attacked it fiercely. The cobra spread its hood and the two natural enemies were poised for a fight to the death, when Bhagavan came quite near the cobra and said, “Why did you come here? That peacock will kill you. Better go away at once”. The cobra immediately lowered its hood and slithered away.

There lived at that time a great Vaishnava guru, Vilakshanananda Swami. He was well advanced in yoga and had the power of attracting crowds. I went to see him one day and he asked me to take him to Bhagavan. With thirty disciples, he appeared before Bhagavan and just stood, neither bowing nor joining his palms in greeting. For ten minutes he stood motionless, and then fell flat at Bhagavan’s feet. Tears were flowing from his eyes and he said, “This head of mine has never bowed before a human being. This is the first time and bless me that it may also be the last”. Coming down the hill he met Nayana. They started talking and during the discussion Nayana told the swami that divine powers should not be used for public shows and propaganda. This must have had its effect, for Vilakshanananda Swami never left his residence again.

Once Nayana was composing his magnum opus called Uma Sahasram, a thousand verses in praise of Uma, the power aspect of Shiva. He had written seven hundred, and three hundred still remained. Nevertheless, he had already fixed the date for the book to be offered to the Goddess and had sent out invitations to friends and devotees all over India. Hundreds of people had gathered, but on the eve of the day fixed, the three hundred verses had yet to be written. In the evening Bhagavan asked Nayana whether he would postpone the function. Nayana replied in the negative and said that he would, by the grace of God, have the verses written before the next morning. He had four people sit before him with pen and paper and started dictating a verse to each in turn. Bhagavan was present, sitting with eyes closed, apparently quite oblivious to all that was going on. Nayana appeared possessed with some tremendous fervour; he was dictating without break and without hesitation; the verses were flowing from his mouth in a torrent. By midnight the work was completed. Bhagavan, who until then was sitting motionless with his eyes closed, opened them and asked whether all had been written down. Nayana, who seemed unconscious of his surroundings when he was dictating, instantly replied that he had dictated everything exactly as inspired by Bhagavan. When he later read what was dictated by him, he was amazed and exclaimed, “Oh, how wonderful! Only Bhagavan could produce such beauty. I was only his mouthpiece”. They were so perfect that no improvement was possible.

In 1926 Nayana went to some place near Belgaum for a course of austerities and, when leaving, he handed me over to Bhagavan’s care. Later he wrote, “Sundaresa must be feeling lonely and sad since I left him. May Bhagavan be especially kind to him”. Showing this letter to me, Bhagavan said, “Better keep near me. You see, I must be able to produce you and hand you over to Nayana when he comes back and claims you”.

Since then I lived in the Ashram. I would teach at school everyday, and at the end of the month, hand over my salary to my wife. This was my only contact with my family. In 1929 I got tired of the relative shaplessness of my inner life and asked Bhagavan to give me some clear instructions as to what direction I should proceed in my spiritual practice. He gave me Kaivalyam to read and explained to me the inner meaning of some sacred verses. From that time until 1938 I gave myself completely to spiritual life. I did my duty at school and supported my family, just as something that had to be done, but it was of no importance to me. It was wonderful how I could keep so detached for so many years; it was all Bhagavan’s grace.

On my thirtysixth birthday I wrote a poem in which I complained that the vision of the glory of God had not yet been given to me and gave the poem to Bhagavan. He read the whole of it very slowly and carefully, as he usually did, and then asked me to sit down and go within myself. I did so and soon the physical world disappeared and in its place I saw an allpervading white light. An inner voice told me to ask what I would like to see. I wanted to see the divine Ramachandra, and suddenly I saw the coronation of Rama as king in the minutest detail, with shapes and colours, clear and alive beyond description. It lasted for about an hour and then again everything was normal. Some time later, Bhagavan asked me whether I had read Dakshinamurti Asthotharam. I said I had not, and was told to read the last few verses in the book. Bhagavan added that Rama and Dakshinamurti are the same Great Being.

One day Bhagavan was explaining to me the meaning of some abtruse Vedantic verse. It was half past ten by the clock in the hall. But I was completely absorbed in the subject and forgot all about my school. Suddenly Bhagavan reminded me that it was getting late. “But no school today”, I exclaimed, “today is Sunday”. Bhagavan laughed, “Is this the way you work? Today is Monday. Hurry, your headmaster is waiting for you at the gate”. I ran to the school and, to my surprise, I found the headmaster waiting for me at the school gate, looking towards the temple. When I came near, he said, “Well, probably you forgot that it is Monday and perhaps Maharshi had to remind you about it”. I admitted that that was exactly what had happened and we both had a hearty laugh!

There was a proposal to print all that Bhagavan had written in Tamil. A preface was needed but nobody came forward to write it. Even learned pandits did not feel confident and backed out under some excuse. The talk was going on in the hall all day long and Bhagavan was watching. At about half past ten in the night he called me and asked me why I should not take up the preface. I said that with his blessings I would do it. “It will be all right”, said Bhagavan. Immediately I started writing and finished the preface in an hour. While writing I felt a silent influence as if someone was guiding my pen. At two in the morning Bhagavan was up and I showed him the preface. He was quite pleased and asked me to go to sleep. From the door he called back and asked me to revise the last sentence which said, “It is hoped that those who go through this book will attain divine salvation, which gives peace and happiness”. Bhagavan said, “There is no question of hoping. The reader will definitely attain salvation”, and told me to correct the sentence accordingly.

A couple from Peru, husband and wife, came to the Ashram once and were telling Bhagavan their story; how after reading about him, they felt that he was Christ Himself reincarnated, and wanted above everything else to meet him. They were not rich and had to save from their wages, a little every week. After a few years struggle they sailed to India in the cheapest possible way. The journey lasted some months and gave them a lot of trouble, but at last they had arrived. Bhagavan listened carefully to the very end, and then said, “You have travelled a long distance and experienced so many hardships. You could have meditated on me there with the same result, and the added satisfaction of seeing me in Peru”. Bhagavan’s words sounded strange to them and they could not get their meaning. In the evening Bhagavan was inquiring about Peru and her people, how they looked, lived, and worked. The Peruvian couple were telling him about the capital, the seaports, the industries and commerce of their countrymen.

When they were describing a place on the seashore, Bhagavan asked, “Is not the beach paved with marble slabs, with coconuts planted between”? The two were astonished and asked Bhagavan how he came to know such details. He replied, “Why do you ask how I came to know? Understand once and for all that time and space do not exist apart from the mind and that the heart is not bound by them”. Then they understood that, with Bhagavan’s grace they could have him at their own place.

A devotee of Bhagavan, one Mahadeva Ayyar, was suffering from hiccups in Madras for over a month. His daughter wrote to Bhagavan praying that he should help her father. Bhagavan told us to write to Mahadeva that dry ginger, powdered, and mixed with brown coloured sugar, would cure the disease. At the same time he enquired of Madhavaswami, his attendant, whether this mixture was available at the Ashram.

Madhavaswami brought the bottle with the ginger and sugar mixture in it. Bhagavan took a pinch and gave a little to each of the people present in the hall. I said, jokingly, “Well, there is no need of writing to Mahadeva Ayyar. He must be free of hiccups by this time”. The letter with the prescription was sent the same day. The next day, a letter came from Madras saying that Mahadeva’s hiccups had vanished at 1.00 p.m. the day before.

It was exactly the time when Bhagavan was taking his share of ginger powder! On a Shivaratri day, after dinner, Bhagavan was reclining on the sofa surrounded by many devotees. A sadhu suggested that since this was a most auspicious night, the meaning of the verses in praise of Dakshinamurti could be expounded by Bhagavan. Bhagavan gave his approval and all were eagerly waiting for him to say something. He simply sat, gazing at us.

We were gradually absorbed in ever deepening silence, which was not disturbed by the clock striking the hour, every hour, until 4 a.m. None moved or talked. Time and space ceased to exist. Bhagavan’s grace kept us in peace and silence for seven hours. In this silence Bhagavan taught us the Ultimate, like Dakshinamurti. At the stroke of four Bhagavan asked us whether we had understood the meaning of silent teaching. Like waves on the infinite ocean of bliss, we fell at Bhagavan’s feet.

One day when Bhagavan was staying at Pachiamman Temple, Rangaswami Ayyangar, a devotee from Madras, arrived on a hot noon and went to bathe in the pond in front of the temple. It was at that time a forest area and rather lonely. Bhagavan, who was talking with his devotees, suddenly got up and went towards the pond. A cheetah was drinking water on one side of it, unnoticed by Rangaswami. Bhagavan looked at the cheetah for some time and said, “Now go away and come later. The man may get frightened if he sees you”. The cheetah looked at Bhagavan, looked at the devotee, and went away. One Mr Knowles came to pay his respects to Bhagavan. Being well versed in Eastern and Western philosophy, he used to have long discussions with Bhagavan. One day the discussion was about the condition of a realised person. In the heat of the discussion Mr Knowles asked whether the Bhagavan who was talking to him was a reality or not.

Everybody was eagerly waiting for a reply. Clearly and loudly Bhagavan said, “No, I am not talking”. Mr. Knowles was quite satisfied. He said, “Yes, Bhagavan is not talking to me. He never talks. He only exists. That is all”. An optician from Madras visited the Ashram. Chinnaswami wanted him to examine Bhagavan’s eyesight and prescribe glasses. The optician found that his own glasses suited Bhagavan well and offered them to him. They were bifocals for near and distant vision, a beautiful and costly pair. Bhagavan said that he only needed reading glasses and that a simple pair of spectacles would do. Chinnaswami wanted the best for Bhagavan and insisted that Bhagavan accept the bifocals. I took them again to Bhagavan, but he refused to touch them. I was rather anxious to please Chinnaswami and pleaded with Bhagavan to use the bifocals. He looked at me intently and said, “When I do not want them, why do you press it”? I went away disheartened. This happened just before Bhagavan’s birthday celebrations.

From the moment I left Bhagavan I felt a burning sensation inside, and although I was busy with preparations, I was racked with pain. On the third day it became so unbearable that I ran into the hall, packed at that time with devotees, and fell flat on my face before Bhagavan and cried, “Bhagavan, forgive me. I blundered when I tried to force those glasses on you. You got angry with me and it burns like fire. I can bear it no longer. I know it is my karma and not your will that punishes me, but have mercy and help me”.

Bhagavan, who was gazing into space immersed in bliss, turned his luminous eyes on me and said calmly, “What is all this? Who is angry? Sit down quietly; everything will be right with you”. I wept like a child, and within a few minutes the pain disappeared. One day I asked my wife to prepare some rice pancakes and added in fun that all the broken ones should be offered to God. It is not difficult to make rice pancakes and usually they come out whole. My wife was a good cook, yet when I came home I found all the cakes in pieces. To please my conscience I took them to Bhagavan and told him the story of Lord Shiva who took the shape of a coolie and undertook to work and be paid in crumbled rice cakes. From that time there were no whole cakes to be had until he had been worshipped. Bhagavan enjoyed the story, tasted some of the cakes and had the remainder distributed to all. The attendant, Madhavaswami, used to dry Bhagavan’s towel on a bamboo tied between two trees. On one end of this bamboo a bird had built a nest.

One day, while removing the towel,Bhagavan dislodged the nest, which fell down. One of the three eggs rolled out and cracked but did not break. Bhagavan told Madhavan that a grievous sin had been committed and examined the egg with pity and repentance. “The poor mother will think that the egg is broken and will weep bitterly. She will surely curse me for having broken her egg. Can this egg be mended to hatch a young one”? He wrapped the damaged egg in a piece of cloth and put it back in the nest, and every few hours he would take the egg in his hands, look at it for some time and then put it back, wrapped in its piece of cloth. All the time he was murmuring to himself, “Will the crack heal? Will the egg hatch”? With such care and compassion Bhagavan nursed the egg for a week. On the eighth day Bhagavan exclaimed like an excited child, “Look, the cracks have gone. The mother will be glad. Let us watch and see when the little one will come out”. The egg was watched all the time and the little thing finally appeared. Bhagavan took it in his hand tenderly beaming with joy, showed it to everybody and finally gave it back to its mother. One Amavasya (new moon day) all the Ashram inmates were sitting down for breakfast in the dining room. I was standing and looking on. Bhagavan asked me to sit down for breakfast. I said that I had to perform my late father’s ceremony on that day and would eat nothing (Usually the ceremonies are performed to enable the ancestors to go to heaven). Bhagavan retorted that my father was already in heaven and there was nothing more to be done for him. My taking breakfast would not hurt him in any way. I still hesitated, accustomed as I was to age-old tradition. Bhagavan got up, made me sit down and eat some rice cakes. From that day I gave up performing ceremonies for ancestors. Once Chinnaswami got very cross with me and I felt quite nervous about it. I could not eat my dinner and the next morning, feeling unreconciled and yet hungry, I told Bhagavan, who was preparing rice cakes,that I was in a hurry to go to town as some pupils were waiting for me. “The cat is out of the bag”, said Bhagavan. “Today is Sunday and there is no teaching work for you. Come, I have prepared a special sambar for breakfast and I shall make you taste it. Take your seat”. So saying, he brought a leaf, spread it before me, heaped it with iddlies and sambar and, sitting by my side, joked and related funny stories to make me forget my woes. How great was Bhagavan’s compassion! My wife used to prepare some food every afternoon and bring it to the Ashram. Bhagavan often asked her to break this habit, but she would not. One day he said, “This is the last time I am eating your food. Next time I shall not”. The same day Bhagavan was telling us how a certain dish should be prepared. The next day my wife brought it all ready. Bhagavan remembered what he had told her, but what could he do against her imploring look? He tasted her dish and said that it had been prepared very well. Such was his graciousness towards his devotees.

My second son was lazy and not at all good at school. The time for his final high school examinations was rapidly approaching and the boy’s sole preparation was the purchase of a new fountain pen! He brought it to Bhagavan and asked him to bless the pen with his touch so that it would write the examination papers well. Bhagavan knew his lazy ways and said that having hardly studied, he could not except to pass. My son replied that Bhagavan’s blessings were more effective than studies. Bhagavan laughed, wrote a few words with the new pen and gave it back to him. And the boy did pass, which was a miracle indeed!

In those days I was attending to the foreign correspondence of the Ashram. I used to show Bhagavan the draft of every reply, get his approval, give it the final shape and despatch it. We used to receive some very intelligent and intricate questions. These questions and the answers would have formed a very enlightening volume. One day an office copy of such a reply was used for wrapping some sweets and it fell into Bhagavan’s hands. He raised a storm, sent for me and told me plainly what he thought about such misuse of spiritual records. I was very frightened and at the same time sorry for the condition of the foreign correspondence files. I tried to find out who took the old files to the dining hall, but nobody would confess. All blamed me, the last man in the chain!

Chinnaswami started building something and needed money to complete the work. He made a plan that the Maharaja of Mysore should be approached by some senior members of the Ashram, introduced by Sri Sundaram Chettiar, the retired Judge. I was asked to put the matter before Bhagavan and obtain his blessings. Knowing Bhagavan’s dislike of such things, I was very much afraid of him, but still more of Chinnaswami. Finally I did it indirectly, by drafting a letter to the Judge and explaining the matter to him. This draft I took to Bhagavan for perusal. Bhagavan read it and threw it away, saying with scorn, “Always asking for money. We think of money every moment and waste our lives for it. What have I to do with money”?

The town municipality was divided in its attitude towards the Ashram. There was a group supporting the Ashram and another group vilifying the Ashram and creating trouble. A tax was imposed on the Ashram and we protested. At every meeting of the municipality the matter was raised, hotly discussed and left undecided. One day when the subject of the tax was to come up again for discussion, I was asked to attend and defend the Ashram’s interests. I could only pray to Bhagavan, “You are the ruler in the hearts of all including those who abuse the Ashram”. To my surprise not a single person opposed me at the meeting and the tax was repealed.

Individually these incidents may appear trivial and insignificant, but collectively they are impressive. They created the atmosphere in which he lived, in which every day would bring new mircales of power, wisdom and love. Bhagavan gave us a tangible demonstration of God’s omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. Our sense of ‘I’ would burn up in wonder and adoration on seeing his unconditional love for all beings. Though outwardly we seemed to remain very much the same persons, inwardly he was working on us and destroying the deep roots of separateness and self-concern, the greatest obstacles on our way to him. A day always comes when the tree of the ‘I’, severed from its roots, crashes suddenly and is no more.