Varanasi Subhalakshmiamma


By Varanasi Subhalakshmiamma

ONCE we went on a pilgrimage to Kaveri Pushkaram and on our way back we stopped at Arunachala. We were told that a young Brahmin saint was living on the hill for the past ten years. The next morning we went up the hill along with the others. We found the young swami near Virupaksha cave. As soon as I saw him I was convinced that God Arunachala Himself had come in human form to give salvation to all who approached him.

The next time I visited Bhagavan he was living at the foot of the hill. He was seated on a couch and about a dozen devotees were sitting on the bare floor. We sat in silence for ten minutes and returned to the town. Bhagavan’s presence gave me the experience of inner silence and mental stillness, but away from him I could not regain it and I spent a year vainly trying to free myself from all thought. But soon I got a chance to visit Tiruvannamalai. I met Bhagavan the same day. The next day after the midday meal Bhagavan was explaining a verse from the Bhagavad Gita to Sri Yogi Ramaiah. As no one else was in the hall, I gathered courage and asked, “What is Atma? Is it the limitless ether of space or the awareness that cognizes everything”? Bhagavan replied, “To remain without thinking this is Atma and that is Atma, is itself Atma”. He looked at me and I felt my mind melt away into nothing. No thought would come, only the feeling of immense, unutterable peace.

Several times I was invited to work in the kitchen, but I felt that the Ashram ways were not orthodox enough for me. One day Bhagavan’s own sister asked me to take her place in the Ashram kitchen as she had to leave for some time. I could not refuse. Though I was very happy to work in the kitchen directly under Bhagavan’s supervision I wanted to go home. I left and after a year returned to Ramanasramam to discover that I belonged there. Yet I would feel restless, thinking that I should spend my time in meditation. One day Bhagavan looked at me intently and said “It looks as if you are still hankering after meditation”. I replied, “What have I got except endless work in the kitchen”? Bhagavan said with deep feeling, “Your hands may do the work but your mind can remain still. You are that which never moves. Realise that and you will find that work is not a strain. But as long as you think that you are the body and that the work is done by you, you will feel your life to be an endless toil. In fact it is the mind that toils, not the body. Even if your body keeps quiet, will your mind keep quiet? Even in sleep the mind is busy with its dreams”.

Regarding the need to fast as enjoined by scriptural texts Bhagavan explained, “It does not mean that you should starve. You need not torture the body. It only means not giving the body more than it needs. With your mind, hold on to enquiry and just keep the body going so that it does not become a hindrance. For this, pure and fresh food, simply prepared and taken in moderation is a great help”. Once I prepared curds and served it to Bhagavan alone while all the others were served buttermilk. The moment he saw the curds on his leaf he looked at me. That look scorched me to the very depths of my soul! When we went to take leave of him in the evening he turned away his face from me. He stopped taking buttermilk. I suffered agonies and remorse for disobeying Bhagavan. At last I got a chance to ask for his forgiveness and prayed that he should start having his buttermilk again. He said, “No, no, why do you worry? I happened to have a cold and is not buttermilk bad for colds”? That very afternoon Echammal brought some curds and Bhagavan said, “Tell Subbalakshmi not to suffer. I shall have my buttermilk”.

Once five or six devotees sat down before Bhagavan and sang a hymn in praise of the Guru. He got up in the middle of the recitation and went away, saying, “Prayers and praises will not take one far. It is the merciful look of the teacher that bestows true knowledge”. I felt elated. But the next day he said, “Unless one becomes a six-month old baby, there is no hope for him in the realm of Self-knowledge”. My heart sank. Although I lived in the presence of Lord Arunachala Himself, I was far from becoming an infant.

I made a habit of offering him a few dry grapes whenever I came from the town. He disliked all formal devotion. One day when I gave him the grapes, he started scolding us, “Why all this show of respect and devotion? Who taught you all this hypocrisy? Can’t you just be natural? What is needed is a heart, pure and sincere. How can you please me with a show”? It went on for quite a long time. Addressing Muruganar, he complained that our devotion was shallow and its expressions cheap. He told some stories about false disciples, “They take their Guru in procession and parade him before the crowd. When they have done with him, they dig a pit and ask him, ‘Will you get into the pit yourself or shall we push you in’”? That day even Muruganar was afraid to do the usual prostrations to Bhagavan, who continued, “When people come here they are quite sincere, but as soon as they settle down they become the masters of this place. The swami must do their bidding and ignore their mischief; in return for their prostrations the swami has to put up with all the mess they create around him. They think it is his duty to carry them on his head”.

During the meal I would pour rasam (soup) into Bhagavan’s hands. He would sip it slowly and when his palms were empty I would fill them again. One day he asked me to pour rasam over the rice and go. He would not cup his hands as before. I thought I had offended him in someway and asked Santammal to find out the reason. Bhagavan told her, “When she serves me, she makes others wait”. Despite my remonstrations he never took rasam again in his palms. Bhagavan wanted us to learn well the lesson that God is present in every being in all his glory and fullness and must be given equal reverence. He would ruthlessly sacrifice the little comforts we so loved to provide for him, as soon as he noticed a trace of preference. The law that what cannot be shared must not be touched was supreme in his way of dealing with us.

Separative and exclusive feelings are the cause of the ‘I’ and therefore the greatest obstacles in the realization of the One. No wonder he was exterminating them so relentlessly.

One day I saw him grinding black gram. We always felt ashamed when we saw him working, but when we offered to take over, he would get cross and stop coming to the kitchen, which would make us sad; for in the hall he belonged to everybody but in the kitchen he was our own. That day I summoned courage and asked him to let me grind the gram. To my astonishment he got up and said, “Yes, finish it. I was waiting for you to come”. When I finished grinding and went back to the kitchen I saw him boiling pumpkin in a huge cauldron. The day was hot, the fire and the steam rising from the cauldron were hot and Bhagavan was bathed in perspiration. So it was to save me from this tiresome work that Bhagavan invited me to grind for him! The stew was boiling vigorously and a piece of pumpkin fell on Bhagavan’s finger. The next day we saw a big blister and when somebody asked about it he replied, “Oh, it is only a ring. I wanted some jewellery”. Thus I learned not to interfere.

Nothing brought to the Ashram could be wasted, not even when it was obviously useless. In this Bhagavan was adamant. A pious offering was Arunachala’s own property and had to be looked after. Even the water in which bitter gourd was boiling could not be thrown away. With salt added it would be taken to the cows.

One had to live and work with him to know what a great teacher he was. Through the trifles of daily life he taught us Vedanta in theory and practice. He led us with absolute wisdom and infinite kindness and we were changed to the very root of our being, not even knowing the depth and scope of his influence. Sri Krishna in his mercy became a cowherd to teach simple milkmaids the way to salvation. Similarly Bhagavan, the same supreme being in another form, took to cooking in order to save a few ignorant women.

The Lost Sheep

Poovan, a shepherd, says that he knows Sri Bhagavan since thirty years ago, the days of Virupakshi cave. He used at times to supply milk to the visitors in those days.

Some six years ago he had lost a sheep, for which he was searching for three days. The sheep was pregnant and he had lost all hopes of recovering her, because he thought that she had been set upon by wild animals. He was one day passing by the Asramam, when Sri Bhagavan saw him and enquired how he was. The man replied that he was looking out for a lost sheep. Sri Bhagavan kept quiet, as is usual with Him. Then He told the shepherd to help in lifting some stones, which he did with great pleasure. After the work was finished, Sri Bhagavan told him, “Go this way”, pointing the footpath towards the town. “You will find the stray sheep on the way”.

So he did and found the lost sheep with two little lambs. He now says, “What a Bhagavan is this! Look at the force of his words! He is great! He never forgets even a poor man like me. He remembers my son Manikkam also with kindness.

Such are the great ones! I am happy when I do any little work for Him, such as looking to the cows when they are in heat”.

- From Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, No.296, 16th December 1936.