Upadesa Saram

(The Essence of Instruction)

(Translated by B.V.NARASIMASWAMI)

There is a legend that a group of rishis once lived in the Daruka forest together, practising rites by which they acquired supernatural powers. By the same means they hoped to attain final liberation. In this, however, they were mistaken, for action can only result in action, not in the cessation of action; rites can produce powers but not the peace of liberation which is beyond rites and powers and all forms of action. Siva determined to convince them of their error and therefore appeared before them as a wandering sadhu. Together with him came Vishnu in the form of a beautiful lady. All the rishis were smitten with love for this lady and thereby their equilibrium was disturbed and their rites and powers were adversely affected. Moreover their wives, who were also living with them in the forest, all fell in love with the strange sadhu. Incensed at this, they conjured up an elephant and a tiger by magic rites and sent them against him. Siva, however, slew them easily and took the elephant's skin for a robe and the tiger's for a wrap. The rishis then realized that they were up against one more powerful than themselves and they bowed down to him and asked him for instruction. He then explained to them that it is not by action but by renunciation of action that one attains liberation.

The poet Muruganar wanted to write a hundred verses on this theme but he could not readily proceed beyond seventy verses. It then occurred to him that Bhagavan was the proper person to write the verses relating to Siva's instructions. He therefore begged Bhagavan to compose them and Bhagavan accordingly composed thirty Tamil verses. He himself later rendered them into Sanskrit. These thirty verses were subsequently translated by Bhagavan into Telugu under the name of Anubhuti Saram first, and Upadesa Saram afterwards. Bhagavan likewise rendered them into Malayalam. The Sanskrit version, Upadesa Saram, was chanted before him daily together with the Vedas and continues to be chanted before his shrine; that is to say, it is treated as a scripture. He refers to the various paths to liberation, grading them in order of efficiency and excellence, and showing that the best is Self-enquiry.


kartur ajnaya prapyate phalam
karma kim param karma taj-jadam
Karma must ever yield its proper fruit,
For thus it is ordained by God, Himself,
Supreme Creator. Then is Karma God?
No, for it is itself insentient.

krti-mahodadhau patana-karanam
phalam asasvatam gati-nirodhakam
Of Karma the results must pass away,
Yet it leaves seeds which in their turn will sprout
And throw the actor back into the flood
Of Karma’s ocean. Karma cannot save.

isvararpitam necchaya krtam
citta-sodhakam mukti-sadhakam
But acts performed without attachment’s urge
And solely for the service of the Lord
Will cleanse the mind and indicate the way
Which leads at length unto the final goal.

kaya-vak-manah karyam uttamam
pujanam japas cintanam kramat
Worship, reciting of God’s Holy Name,
And meditation, mainly are performed
By body, voice and mind, and they excel
Each other in the order here set down.

jagata isadhi-yukta-sevanam
If we but recognise this Universe
Of eightfold form as form of God, Himself,
And serve in adoration all the world.
This is of God most excellent worship.

uttama-stavad ucca-mandatah
cittajam japa-dhyanam uttamam
Constant repeating of the Holy Name
Is more than praise, at length the voice will sink
To silent repetition in the Heart,
And in this way is meditation learnt.

ajya-dharaya srotasa samam
sarala-cintanam viralatah param
Better than meditation that recurs
In broken fits and starts is that which is
A steady ceaseless flow, like to the course
Of falling oil or a perennial stream.

bheda-bhavanat so’ham ity asau
bhavana' bhida pavani mata
Worship of God as in no way distinct
From him who worships, or in other words
Thinking that “He is I”, is better far
Than any other kind of worshipping.

bhavana-balad bhaktir uttama
To rest in the Real Being, that transcends
Our every thought, by reason of the strength
Of our devotion to some thing conceived;
This of supreme devotion is the truth.

hrt-sthale manah-svasthata kriya
bhakti-yoga-bodhasca niscitam
To be absorbed again into one’s Source (Heart)
Is Karma, Bhakti, Yoga, Jnanam, all
These things in truth. Or put in other words
Good works, Devotion, Union, Gnosis, too.

vayu-rodhanal liyate manah
jala-paksivat rodha-sadhanam
As by the fowler birds are caught in nets
So by the holding of the breath within
The mind can be restrained. This a device
That will effect absorption of the mind.

citta-vayavas cit-kriyayutah
sakhayor dvayi sakti-mulaka
For mind and life expressed in thought and act,
That is with thought and action as their function,
Diverge and branch like two boughs of a tree,
But both of them spring from one single stem.

laya-vinasane ubhaya-rodhane
laya-gatam punar bhavati no mrtam
Suppression of the mind in two ways comes,
Absorption and extinction; mind absorbed
Will live again, but mind which is destroyed
Will never more revive, for it is dead.

prana-bandhanal lina-manasam
eka-cintanan nasam etyadah
When, by the means of restraint of the breath,
The mind has been controlled, then make it flow
Along a single current, that achieved
Its form will then entirely disappear.

krtyam asti kim svasthitim yatah
For the Great Sage for whom all form of mind
Has disappeared and who is ever one
With the Reality, there is no Karma more,
For He, indeed, the True Self has become.

drsya-varitam cittam atmanah
cittva-darsanam tattva-darsanam
When mind has given the sense-objects up
Which are external and has drawn within,
And has perceived its own refulgent form,
Then verily alone True Gnosis is.

manasam tu kim margane krte
naiva manasam marga arjavat
When pondering with constant vigilance
Upon the actual nature of the mind
One finds that there is no such thing as mind;
This, of a truth, is the straight course for all.

vrttayas tvaham vrttim asritah
vrttayo mano viddhy aham manah
The mind is nothing but a lot of thoughts,
Of all these many thoughts ‘tis the thought ‘I’
That is the root. So we can see by that
The mind in truth is only the thought ‘I’.

aham ayam kuto bhavati cinvatah
ayi pataty-aham nija-vicaranam
Whence, therefore, does this ‘I-thought’ have its birth?
With vigilant and ever active mind
Seek this, and crestfallen the ‘I’ becomes.
The search, itself, the quest of Wisdom is.

ahami nasabhajy-aham-ahamtaya
sphurati hrt svayam parama-purna-sat
This search pursued till ‘I’ has disappeared
There now vibrates the ‘I-I’ all alone,
The quest is finished, there’s no more to seek.
For this is really the Infinite Self.

idam aham pada’bhikhyam anvaham
ahami linake' py alaya-sattaya
This is eternally the true import
Of the term ‘I’. For in the deepest sleep
We do not cease to be. We still exist
Even though here there is no sense of ‘I’.
naham eka-sat tajjadam hyasat
As I am pure Existence, I am not
The body nor the senses, mind nor life,
Nor even ignorance, for all these things
Are quite insentient and so unreal.

sattva-bhasika cit kvavetara
sattaya hi cic-cittaya hy aham
As there is not a second consciousness
To know Existence, it must follow that
Existence is itself that consciousness;
So I myself am that same consciousness.

isa-jivayor vesa-dhi-bhida
sat-svabhavato vastu kevalam
In their real nature as Existence both
Creatures and the Creator are the same,
The Unique Principle. In attributes
And knowledge only is a difference found.

vesa-hanatah svatma-darsanam
isa-darsanam svatma-rupatah
Realization of the Self alone,
Eliminating all its attributes;
Is God-Realization of a truth,
As it is He that shines forth as the Self.

atma-samsthitih svatma-darsanam
atma-nirdvayad atma-nisthata
To be the Self that is to know the Self,
As there is no duality in Self.
This is Thanmaya-Nistha, or the state
Of absolutely being That in truth.

jnana-varjita ' jnana-hina-cit
jnanam asti kim jnatum antaram
That knowledge is true knowledge which transcends
Knowledge and ignorance both equally.
And this alone is truth. For there is no
Subject or object there that can be known.

kim svarupam ity atma-darsane
avyaya' bhava’ ‘purna-cit sukham
If one can only realize at Heart
What one’s true nature is, one then will find
That ‘tis Infinite Wisdom, Truth and Bliss,
Without beginning and without an end.

bandha-mukty-atitam param sukham
vindatiha jivas tu daivikah
Remaining in this state of Supreme Bliss,
Devoid of bondage and of freedom too,
Is found to be a state in which one is
Rapt in perpetual service of the Lord.

aham apetakam nija-vibhanakam
mahad idam tapo ramana-vagiyam
By ardent quest and shedding ego’s veil
Realize the Self, the One that’s ego-less,
And function thus; the sole right penance this.
So teaches Bhagavan Sri Ramana,  Who is the SELF of everything that is.


Bhagavan’s Attendant Venkatarathnam

Sri Venkatarathnam lived with Bhagavan from 1944 to 1950. During the last year he served as one of his personal attendants. Neal Rosner came to Sri Ramanasramam from the USA in 1968, attached himself to Venkatarathnam and diligently served him until his passing in 1976. Neal’s immersion into the spiritual heritage of India under the guidance of Venkatarathnam is elaborately described in his book On the Road to Freedom: A Pilgrimage in India.  Neal now resides in Amritanandamayi’s Kerala Ashram and is known as Swami Paramatmananda.

In the following article, details regarding the life of Venkatarathnam have been extracted from a 25-page essay written about Venkatarathnam by Neal Rosner. He presented this manuscript to us thirty years ago at Sri Ramanasramam. We have also utilized some material from the above-mentioned book. 

THE following is what Sri Venkatarathnam personally told me about himself. He was born in Koduru, Krishna District on the 23rd of May 1921, and at the age of three months his father died of a diabetic carbuncle. At seven his Upanayanam was performed and from that day onwards he never failed to repeat the Gayatri mantra for even a day. Even when in Maharshi’s service, he would not come into his presence without having done some Gayatri beforehand. From his seventh year till his last he performed the yearly Sraddha of his parents. He had deep faith in this and believed that the pitrus (departed ones) would bless him with good health and Brahmajnana. Even when he was physically in a serious condition, he would somehow struggle and do it.

He went to school in Gudivada, Hyderabad and Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. At this time he was somewhat opposed to Hindu orthodoxy and even wrote a paper for the uplift of Harijans, about which he laughed while recalling later. He also now and then would go to see movies of the bhakti type only. He used these occasions at the cinema to test how his mind would react. A scorpion in Hyderabad once stung him, but being afraid to tell his elders, he simply bore the pain until they discovered it and sent him to a doctor. Whenever he had free time from his studies, he would either go to a temple or do japa, sometimes a lakh (100,000) in one day.

Unquenchable Thirst
For some unknown reason, when he was eighteen he started experiencing an intense, unquenchable thirst and was drinking nearly three buckets of water a day, although the quantity of urine passed remained normal. He went to many doctors and was even in the Madras Government Hospital for one month, but no one could find a cause or cure. Finally, when he went to Guntur, someone told him that there was a Hanuman Upasaka, named Sri Hanumadass Garu, and asked whether he would like to see him. He agreed and after going there, Hanuman spoke through Hanumandass’ garb saying that Venkatarathnam had come and that he should go round a Hanuman Temple in Guntur 108 times daily for one month and he would become all right. This he did, and on the night of the 29th day he woke up and on one side of his bed was standing Hanuman and on the other side was a thin, ghostly Muslim. From that time onwards he was free of the thirst. 

Marriage Proposal
After this, Dass Garu initiated him into Hanuman’s puja and japa. Later Hanumanji told Dass Garu that Venkatarathnam should go to Tiruvannamalai and serve Sri Ramana Maharshi.

After he graduated from school, he thought of using the money from a scholarship he was awarded to go and live in Tiruvannamalai, but his brothers wanted him to get married. A rich family who offered a big dowry and a lucrative post was arranged. Even though his mother knew his temperament she had to keep quiet since she was under the influence of her other sons. Venkatarathnam said that they should first ask his guru, Dass Garu, for permission. They searched him out and after finding him proposed their idea. Dass Garu said that it would be all right if Venkatarathnam got married. When the brothers returned thinking victory was in their hands, Sri Venkatarathnam objected, saying that according to Sastra, a brahmachari must first serve a Guru before entering into Grihastashrama (married life). No one accepted this evasive objection and so he told them that if such a thing is not written in the Sastras, he was ready to burn the Sastras. He asked them to immediately bring the Bhagavata and Ramayana and he would set fire to them. Naturally they did not want to be a party to this crime, and so they helplessly let him go to Arunachalam. He, however, told them that he would go only on an experimental basis and if it suited him there he would stay, otherwise he would return. At this time one of his brothers declared, “You will all see. He will become a sadhu for sure,” and this came out to be true.

At Ramanasramam
Accompanied by a friend, he came to Sri Ramanasramam in 1944. On arriving there he found that Siva Mohan Lal, an intimate brother bhakta from Hyerabad, was there. After showing him the Ashram, Lal brought him to the presence of the Maharshi and introduced him. Sri Venkatarathnam sat down to do japa, but strangely he could not remember his mantra even though he had repeated it so many lakhs of times.  Suddenly, there was revealed in his heart an infinite Expanse of Pure Consciousness, the Atma, and this experience lasted for some time. He stayed for a few days in the Ashram and then returned to his mother, but all the way back in the train this same experience occurred again and again.

He told his mother all this and she said, “Better you go back to Bhagavan. It is clear that he wants you there with him. Only promise me that you will not take sannyasa.” He promised and returned to Arunachalam with the blessings of his mother. He later said that it was only much later that he realized the depth of his mother’s wisdom in making him promise not to become a sannyasi.

At the Ashram he was put in charge of the book depot. He later laughed when telling this because it seems that one astrologer had told him that he would get married and do business and he really thought this is what happened because he had married Sri Ramana and was selling his books. Afterwards he became an assistant of Sri Niranjanananda Swami, Sri Ramana’s younger brother and the Sarvadhikari of the Ashram. Then he was put in charge of the Ashram library and the books that were kept for the personal use of Bhagavan. Bhagavan personally taught him to bind and stitch books and also to read and write Tamil. Once, while demonstrating to him how to stitch a book, Bhagavan caught hold of his hands to guide him. While making the stitch, Sri Venkatarathnam’s sacred thread got intertwined in the stitching thread and got stitched into the book by Bhagavan. It was an awkward situation and they both laughed.

Bhagavan’s Attendant
In 1949, Shiv Mohan Lal asked Bhagavan if Sri Venkatarathnam could join as one of Sri Bhagavan’s personal attendants. Bhagavan told that he had no objection but that the office people must give the permission, which they did.

Bhagavan was very strict in correcting him and if anything was done improperly it would be a matter of two days of continuous chiding in front of all the devotees.

One evening Sri Venkatarathnam came into the hall and quietly went behind the Maharshi and started fanning him. In the morning Bhagavan had told that nobody should fan him. Now he exploded and scolded him saying, “Oho, very good, very special, this fellow thinks he is doing a great service. He has so much bhakti, much more than the rest of the bhaktas here. Why doesn’t he go and fan all of them and get the punya (merit) of fanning the devotees of the Guru? He thinks that by his tapas he can make me bend to his will.” Bhagavan spoke like this on and off to every incoming devotee for nearly two days. Finally, when alone with the Maharshi, Sri Venkatarathnam broke down in tears and asked Bhagavan to forgive him for having made Bhagavan exert himself so much to correct his fault. Sri Bhagavan graciously said, “Never mind, everyone makes a mistake,” and that was the end of the matter.  Bhagavan then had about six or seven attendants who would serve him taking shifts. When it came time to choose shifts, they asked Venkatarathnam which shift he wanted. He told them that he would take that shift which remains after everyone else had chosen for himself. So he got the 10 P.M. to 4 A.M. shift, since everyone liked to sleep at that time. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because after 9.30 P.M. all the bhaktas would go away to sleep and Venkatarathnam and Sri Maharshi would be left all alone for the night. It was at this time that Sri Venkatarathnam got his heart’s desire to be intimately close to Bhagavan without others around fulfilled. Many nights were spent in spiritual talk or simply gazing on the Divine Face of the Maharshi.

Failing Health
By this time, Sri Bhagavan’s health was already serious with sarcoma cancer in the left arm. At the sight of the blood while dressing the wound, Sri Venkatarathnam would feel faint. Whenever he would come near Bhagavan, Maharshi would rebuke him thus, “Don’t come near me. You people come here thinking ‘0h, Bhagavan is sick. He is dying’. I don’t want you to come near me when your mind is full of such thoughts. Stay away.” Then Sri Venkatarathnam asked Bhagavan that without thinking that Bhagavan is sick or that such and such a thing must be done to relieve the suffering, how can he serve Bhagavan? Bhagavan told him that he should simply play his part as in a drama and do whatever is necessary without having any feeling and to have the mental attitude of a witness, attending to the work as the situation demands. After this, he again was permitted to attend on the Maharshi. Following Bhagavan’s instructions, he began to feel everything as Atma Vilasa (the Divine Play) and that Bhagavan was simply playing a role as a sick person, although in reality he was the Paramatma Himself. 

After Sri Maharshi’s Nirvana on 14 April 1950, Sri Venkatarathnam felt relieved rather than pained at his passing away. When I asked him why this was so, he said that until that time, he constantly had to be extremely alert to attend to Bhagavan externally but now he felt that he could devote his mind to Him and internally dive into Him. Nevertheless, he would feel sad when he thought of the love and concern that Maharshi had shown towards him and would sometimes weep. After the 10th day following Bhagavan’s Mahanirvana he left for Gudivada and then to Sri Sailem with a friend. 

In Sri Sailem he used to go to the forest for dhyana and thought he should stay there practicing what Sri Maharshi had taught him, i.e., Atma Vichara. One night he had a dream in which Maharshi appeared dressed in a gold cloth and chided him saying, “Why are you acting like this?” He understood that this meant he should not withdraw and that Sri Bhagavan was watching over him and protecting him, so he returned to Ramanasramam.

Serving Mother
In 1952 he went to serve his mother who was ailing with paralysis and wanted him nearby. She had already spent a year or two at Arunachalam with him in the presence of the Maharshi. When she first came to the Ashram, Sri Venkatarathnam went and prostrated to her and returned to the bookstall where he was working at that time. On seeing this, Niranjanananda Swamy chided him for not showing his mother round the Ashram and finding her a place to stay. He said, “Oho, I see, you are a gunatita (beyond all differences) and need not serve your mother, is it?” Then Sri Venkatarathnam went and got her settled in a room, since the Sarvadhikari had ordered him to do so.

Whenever his mother would sit in Bhagavan’s presence, she would become completely unconscious of the world. Even after everyone had gone out for food she would be sitting like that in trance. She told her son this and he suggested that she sit outside near a window facing Bhagavan. He later related that she really had the Grace of Bhagavan during her residence there. When others told her that it was a sorry thing that one of her sons had become a sadhu, she retorted and said that because she was a woman she could not live as a sadhu but her desire to do so had found its fulfillment in her son, Sri Venkatarathnam.

When he came to serve her in his home, she insisted on taking food only from his hands, even though he was not maintaining madi (orthodox procedures). He had personally served and touched the body of the Maharshi and that consecrated everything he touched afterward, she thought. She always kept a photo of the 21-year-old Maharshi by her head. Every day after bathing his mother, he would read to her Bhagavatam, as this was her favorite book.  As her end approached, Sri Venkatarathnam would everyday keep the Darbha Seyya (kusa grass mat) under her cot, as it was her only wish that she should die on the Darbha Seyya and not on the cot. On the last day he shifted her to the ground in spite of the cold and damp weather and the objections of Venkatarathnam’s brothers. Then he kept her head in his lap and plunged himself into dhyana. At that time the same experience of an infinite expanse of Grace in the heart, which he had had in Sri Ramana’s presence, occurred again, and it was while he was in this state that his mother expired in his hands.

Yatra (Pilgrimage)
After six months he and his eldest sister went on a yatra to North India and performed the karma for their mother in different holy places. He had gone to Sringeri to have darshan of H. H. Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati Swamiji who had recently come out of prolonged mouna. He asked the Swamiji for his ashirvadams (blessings) for Atma Sakshatkara. The Swamiji asked him if he wanted to take sannyasa and he answered that he did not know what was best for himself and that whatever Jagadguru says he was prepared to do. The Swamiji then gave him a song in praise of the Jivanmukti written by Sri Sadasiva Brahmendra Saraswati and told him to repeat it and to go to Badrinath. Because he had not taken leave of Bhagavan at his samadhi site, he returned to Arunachalam and then went north.

WANDERINGS AND COMPANY OF SAINTS DURING the subsequent ten years after Bhagavan’s Mahasamadhi, Venkatarathnam spent his time going on pilgrimage, meeting with devotees, mahatmas and saints, but always returing to Arunachalam and Bhagavan’s ashram.

In 1956 Sri Venkatarathnam went to Kerala on foot and took a vow not to ask anyone for food or water and to only accept whatever was given unasked. He also chose not disclose his identity as a disciple of the Maharshi to anyone during his travels in Kerala, and he did not carry money with him. He spent about six months like this, depending entirely on God, in order to test how deep his surrender actually was.

In 1967 the Mahakumbabhishekam of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Samadhi was performed and Venkatarathnam was then requested to serve in the Ashram. He continued this service until September 1969.

I first met Venkatarathnam [writes Neal Rosner] in September 1968. Venkatarathnam was returning to his room after completing the seva at Sri Ramana’s Samadhi. When I saw his face which was glowing with tejas and ananda a shock went through my being and I wondered who he might be. The next night I met him on the Hill where he was talking to some devotees about Divine Consciousness. Someone asked, “What is the flash of Divine Consciousness?” He replied that it is like a flash of lightning which illumines everything for a moment and then everything is dark again. Just then there was a brilliant flash of lightning, as if to demonstrate what he has just said.

At this time Sri Venkatarathnam was very busy with his daily routine which was roughly as follows: 3:30 a.m. got up, swept the room, went to the latrine, etc.; 4:30 a.m., finished bath, sandhya (puja), japa and cleaned his altar; 5:15, went to Bhagavan’s Samadhi, cleaned and swept it, and then arranged for the 6:15 puja. From 7 to 8:15 he performed his own Panchyatana puja, 8:15 to 9:15 he did Samadhi puja and from 9:30 to 11:30 did japa and studied the Srimad Bagavatam. Then he partook of food. From 12 to 2 p.m. he rested or spent the time in visiting and meeting devotees. 2 to 4 p.m., he wrote letters, etc; 4 p.m. bath; 4:30 to 6:30, Samadhi Shrine work, Veda Parayana and puja; 6:30 to 7 p.m., sandhya and japa; 7:30 was mealtime; and 8 to 11 p.m., miscellaneous activities or satsang; 11 p.m. sleep. It was at this time that I started assisting him in work, like picking flowers for puja, sweeping or any other service he might give me to do. While near Bhagavan’s Samadhi he would not speak to anyone unless it was regarding the immediate work at hand. He often said, “The Samadhi is the same as Sri Bhagavan. As I felt near his body during his lifetime, I feel the same near his Samadhi now. It is Him only.”

Frequently he would go on Giripradakshina during the nights after 8:30, usually returning only the next morning, and then again start the daily routine without even resting. I asked him how could bear the strain day after day.  He simply said that when there is love of God one doesn’t feel any strain however great it may be. It is only when the love and interest go away that boredom and strain are felt. If any new bhaktas would come to visit from outside he always made it a point to go and meet them and spend time with them, more so if they had real devotion and sincerity. He spent many sleepless nights like this in satsang. In 1967, on May 14th he met with H. H. Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati Swamiji, Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, for the third time and received from him mantra diksha of Siva Panchakshari mantra. He also received a Hayagriva Salagram from His Holiness. After this he used to daily repeat 2,000 - 3,000 Gayatri mantras and 5,000 - 10,000 Panchakshari mantras. By the middle of 1969 he had done 14 lakhs [1.4 million] of the Panchakshari mantra. In August 1969, he decided to somehow complete the minimum number of japa as recommended by His Holiness and proceed to Hyderabad to perform the yearly sraddha of his parents. To do this he had to sit for japa eight hours a day and after finally finishing it he had a physical breakdown. After some days bedridden, he left for Hyderabad in October 1969.

When I came to Hyderabad to meet him, I found him in Osmania General Hospital with a fractured right hip. Riding as a passenger on a scooter he was struck by a taxi. When I asked him how he had such an accident he said, “What accident? Is birth an accident? Is there any such thing as an accident for a bhakta? It is the sweet will of the Lord, that is all.”

The area around his hospital bed literally became an ashram, with photos of Sri Ramana and Arunachala, observance of occasional festivals like Ramana Jayanti and Karthik Deepotsavam. There seemed to be a continuous stream of devotees from 9:00 a.m. till midnight, or later. Usually in the nights I expected that I could get some rest, but at that hour the attending physician, who was a bhakta, used to come and enjoy the satsang till midnight or 1.00 a.m.

At this time, his revered friend Avadhutendra Saraswati Swamiji, came to Hyderabad to see him, and visited him every day for some time. Sri Gangeswarananda Swami, a great blind Vedic scholar, also came to the hospital and Sri Venkatarathnam did pada puja to him from the bed itself and then presented him with new clothes, etc. A number of other saints also came. At the time of going into the operation room, Sri Venkatarathnam suddenly experienced such a high state of Divine ecstacy that he felt that the operation could be done without the usual anaesthesia, as he was feeling completely devoid of identification with the body. Most of the people present mistook this ecstacy for either fear or insanity, but the real bhaktas recognized it as a very high state. After returning from the operation, the area around his bed was serene with the peace of Brahman radiating all round while bhajans went on for a long time. Afterwards Venkatarathnam used to say to the more worldly devotees, “See, you people say that I am a sadhu and that if I fall sick, who will look after me since everyone is so busy with his own family affairs and has no time to attend to a sick sadhu. Well, who sent this Nealu [the name he called Neal Rosner] here? I did not write to him or call him to come here. God has sent him here to look after me. It is said that God Himself takes on the responsibility to look after those devotees who depend entirely on Him. Now you can see the truth of it.”  After four months he was discharged from the hospital and stayed at Malakpet with Sri V. Srinivasan, who was the Inspector General of Prisons at that time. He and his wife treated Sri Venakatarathnam with the fullest hospitality and affection for more than two months. For the rest of his life he was grateful to them for the love and concern which they had showered on him at that time. This was May 1970.

From Hyderabad we traveled north with Swami Avadhutendra Saraswati and eventually reached Nepal in August 1970. After Swamiji left us in Kathmandu, we flew to Pokhara and from there walked seventy miles into the Himalayas to Muktinath, the Abode of Muktinarayana. This place is sometimes called Salagrama Kshetra and is the 107th Dham on earth, Vaikuntha being the 108th. This walk was extremely difficult. We often got lost in the forests and were caught in darkness before we could reach the next village. Because I was a foreigner and lacked security clearance, government officials made me stop about ten miles before reaching Muktinath, a politically sensitive area at the time. Venkatarathnam and his sister proceeded alone. The way was very dangerous and windy and they even turned back once or twice thinking that they would get blown into the rushing river far below. One night before reaching Muktinath, Sri Venkatarathnam suddenly got up and was loudly repeating ‘Vishnu Sahasranam’ at about 1 a.m. In the morning he told me that he had a vision of people with water pots on their heads, going from a river to a temple which had a big Chakra in front of it. He had woke to the loud sound ‘Narayana, Narayana’ ringing in his ears, as if someone were shouting it in the room. It was then that he started doing the ‘Vishnu Sahasranam’. He said that usually when he gets within a certain distance of the destination, he will have a dream about the deity of that place and the name Siva or Narayana will be ringing in his ears. When they finally reached Muktinath, sure enough there was a big chakra in front of the temple as he had seen in the vision. Proceeding to Durgapur, we accompanied his sister, her husband and daughter to Gaya, Kashi, and Prayaga, doing sraddha and puja in all the places. This took about three weeks. When we reached Jhunsi we unexpectedly found Swamiji there, and spent about two weeks at Brahmachariji’s ashram. From that time till mid 1972 we were either at Arunachalam or travelling with Swamiji to various bhajans and Saptahas [day and night bhajan programs]

Old Devotees' Interviews


The Kitchen Garden Party

By T.R.A. Narayana

The year was 1948. I was then in my thirty-ninth year and lived in Madras with my wife and four children. I was the branch manager of a large British firm and, in happy circumstances, felt no need for any religious practice or spiritual enquiry, and was content with enjoying the good things in life.

I was on a tour of small towns with one of the inspectors under me, Sri Parthasarathi. It was a hot April day. We were boarding the train at Villupuram to go to Tiruvannamalai, we noticed a young man of about twenty-five trying to enter the first class compartment by the next door. The man was so fat that he heaved his bulky body this way and that, while another man on the platform, obviously his servant, pushed him in through the door. He was also ashamed at the curious way the people on the platform, including Sri Parthasarathi and myself, watched his predicament. He got in somehow and occupied the cubicle next to ours.

When the train had run for some minutes, the man came to our cabin, introduced himself as Ratilal Premchand Shah and started talking.

Sri Ratilal was a Saurashtra Vaishya, born and brought up in Gondal and the only son of a rich merchant. He was married six years ago. Since his tenth year he has been cursed with so much body fat, that now, at twentyfive, he was a huge mass of flesh and misery. Oh how he wished to get rid of his fat and be a man!

In the last week of March, Sri Ratilal had had a vision in his sleep at night. He saw an ascetic smiling and beckoning him. The smile and the beckoning persisted for a long time and stood clearly before Sri Ratilal’s mental eye when he awoke. He did not speak to anyone about the vision. Two days later his wife was reading a Gujarati magazine. Looking over her shoulder he saw the picture of the ascetic he had seen in his vision. 

He came to know that the ascetic was Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. He at once went to his father and arranged for his journey to Tiruvannamalai with the trusted family servant. All he knew about Bhagavan was what that Gujarati article said. But he felt sure that his suffering would end as soon as he reached Bhagavan; the smile and the beckoning of his vision of Bhagavan had given him that firm faith.

Sri Parthasarathi had seen Bhagavan many times before and had also read a good deal about him. He and Sri Ratilal talked about Bhagavan during the whole twohour journey. I was apparently reading an English novel, but heard their conversation with interest and attention. At Tiruvannamalai station, Sri Ratilal was received by a local merchant with whom his father had arranged for his stay. Sri Parthasarathi and I proceeded to the travellers bungalow.

It was four when we had our bath and tiffin. Sri Parthasarathi knew that I was very businesslike and would not waste a single minute. He said we could visit the market. He was very surprised at my reply: “No, Parthasarathi! We shall go and have darshan of Maharshi first. Then, if time permits, we shall go to the temple. Let business wait!”

It was about five when Sri Parthasarathi and I entered the Ashram. Going round Bhagavan’s Mother’s samadhi, we came to the veranda by its side. About fifty people were sitting there, Sri Ratilal, his host and his servant included. Bhagavan was not on his couch as usual. The visitors talked in whispers, trying to find out where he was.

After waiting for some ten minutes and finding that Bhagavan had not come to his seat, Sri Parthasarathi suggested to me that we could in the meantime go around and see the goshala and other places.

Finishing our inspection we were returning to the veranda by another side, when we heard a childish voice say “Chee, asatthe! (Fie, you creature!).” We could see no children around, and, therefore, peeped to find out the source of the voice. We observed movement among the leaves of the brinjal, lady’s-finger and other plants in the kitchen garden near the veranda. Looking more intently, we saw a small goat, a little monkey and a squirrel and Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi! Bhagavan was sitting on his haunches with his legs folded up to his breast. The goat nestled between his knees; the monkey had its head resting on his right knee; the squirrel was perched on his left knee. Holding a packet of paper in his left palm, Bhagavan picked ground nuts from it with his right-hand fingers, one by one, and fed the goat, the monkey and the squirrel, and himself, by turns. His remarks appeared to have been addressed to the monkey which had tried to snatch the nut he was going to place between the squirrel’s lips. As we watched, the four companions went on enjoying the eating. All four seemed to be equally happy; the way they looked at one another and kept close together was touching. The goat, the monkey, the squirrel, and Bhagavan had obviously forgotten their differences in species! And we too, looking on, saw the four only as good friends despite the differences in their forms. No words could describe the feelings which passed through my being at the sight. The vision of the Transcendent appeared as a flash of lightning and revealed to me the essence of being, awareness and bliss, sat-chit-ananda.  The nuts were over. Bhagavan threw the paper away and said: “Pongoda! (Go away, you fellows!),” just like any old man speaking to his grandchildren. The goat, the monkey and the squirrel left. Bhagavan made to get up. Sri Parthasarathi and I hurried away, feeling guilty of trespassing into the Divine, but not sorry.

Soon after Sri Parthasarathi and I had resumed our seats in the veranda, Bhagavan came to his couch. I cannot say he looked at us. He stood facing us, his eyes fixed on something far above and beyond anything on earth. They were like screens which shut the material world off from the light which was burning behind them. Sparks of light shot out through the fibres of the screen at times, sparks which cooled the eyes on which they fell, pierced the gross coverings and lighted the wick inside them.

Bhagavan reclined on the pillows placed on the couch, supporting his head on his left palm. We all sat down to look at his face. We sat and sat, and looked and looked. No one spoke or made any noise. But the confrontation was not a dead silence; it was a very live experience in which the innermost being of each of us communed with the Supreme Consciousness which was Bhagavan.

I was numb with the realization that this Glory was the same that dwelt in the simplicity which I had just seen eating groundnuts in the intimate company of the goat, the monkey and the squirrel. My mind kept recalling that scene: how the goat had snuggled to Bhagavan’s breast in perfect confidence in his love for it; how the monkey had grinned in joy and how Bhagavan had returned the grin as both bit the nut; how the squirrel had peered with its pinhead eyes into Bhagavan’s dream-laden ones and scratched his nose tenderly with its tiny left paw. The splendor of the Supreme Spirit underlying and overlaying the sense perception was spiced with the lovely sight of the groundnut party in the kitchen garden. 

Bhagavan got up from the couch. We got up. It seemed tacitly understood that we were to leave. We left. I felt a hitherto-unknown peace and joy inside me; the faces of the others also showed a similar condition.

I saw Sri Ratilal, his host and his servant get into their bullock cart at the Ashram gate. There was a new spring in Sri Ratilal’s movements. Bhagavan’s promise in the lad’s vision appeared to be starting a fulfillment. Many things have happened in my life since that day. My material circumstances underwent changes for the worse, but my inner life has always been happy since that day, for I often had a vision of Bhagavan, particularly when I was most depressed in spirits.

In 1953, I was in Rajkot staying alone in a lodge. One day, while in the dining hall, a man of about thirty accosted me, “Don’t you recognize me, Sir?”

“No, I’m sorry,” I replied, truthfully.

The man continued: “I am Ratilal of Gondal, Sir! You remember the darshan of Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, five years ago?”

I looked at the man again. He was thin and wiry, his face aglow with health and happiness. I shook his hands heartily. He spoke again: “Sir, Bhagavan fulfilled his promise wonderfully well. You see me. I am now managing our family business, my father taking complete rest. I have a son two years old and expect my wife to give me another child in a month or two.”

My mind immediately went back to the goat, the monkey and the squirrel – and Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. I could never think of Bhagavan alone! So it has been all these years. The scene comes to my mind’s eye often. The kitchen garden with the four friends at the groundnut party. And, I thank Sri Ratilal and Sri Parthasarathi for guiding me to the Vision Beautiful!

— The Mountain Path, 1975, Vol. 12, No.2


From the Notebook of B. V. Narasimhaswami

14.10.1929 - Enter K. K. Ganapati Sastri, Kapali Sastri and his wife Parvathammal, who bow and seat themselves. Many others are present. 

Kapali: When after a long struggle and development (by sadhana) one attains siddhi, is the attainment due to his effort or to the action of the Spirit or Power which is the object of his upasana?

M: It is the action of the Current. 

Kapali: So it is not the aspirant’s actions that make him get siddhi but it is the act of the Current?

M: Yes.

Then Kapali Sastriar points to the Maharshi’s own case of quitting home, and being drawn to Tiruvannamalai as an instance of the above and asks: It is That which drew Bhagavan from Madurai to Tiruvannamalai?

M: Yes. You see in the letter left at home before leaving, I first wrote “By His command...” and then added above it “In search of my Father”. He drew me. I wrote that down and left. Finding funds was not due to my efforts. My brother, of his own accord told me, “You had better take five rupees and pay my school fees at the school,” and out of the five I only took three rupees for the train to Tindivanam. Judging the distance from an out-of-date atlas of India, Tindivanam was the nearest railway station to Tiruvannamalai.

Again, the train, which usually leaves at 11.45 a.m., was unusually late. I left home after 12 noon for the station and still reached there in time to catch it. The correct information about my destination was given to me by an old Muslim, with a silvery white flowing beard, one or two stations after we left Madurai. 

“Where are you going Swami?” he queried.
“To Tiruvannamalai and so I have got a ticket to Tindivanam,” I replied.
“You are a strange passenger to go to Tindivanam for Tiruvannamalai. I am also going there,” he said and added, “and we should change trains at Villupuram. You should not go to Tindivanam at all.” He informed me that he was going to Tirukoilur, but strangely, I did not find him when after some time I looked for him in the carriage. After that I did not think of him at all. 

Kapali continued: Did Bhagavan come straight to the temple?

Maharshi: Yes. The doors were all open then and I went straight to the garbhagraham (shrine). There was no one else present.

Kapali: And Bhagavan reported his arrival to Arunachaleswara.

M: As though Arunachala did not know of it otherwise!

Viswanatha Swami

Activity, Help Not Hindrance

THE earnest aspirant is endowed with onepointedness of mind. But others, whose minds are restless on account of their attachment to the outer world, are asked to practise certain simple spiritual disciplines in order to acquire the concentration of mind which is an indispensable step towards ultimate spiritual attainment.

The urge to be active is strong in man; it is extremely difficult to renounce action altogether and dedicate oneself entirely to spiritual sadhana, whatever be the mode of sadhana. Thus, of all the paths available for an aspirant, Karma Marga is the most suited to the modern age. By Karma Marga we do not mean the rituals of the orthodox or social service as generally understood nowadays. By Karma Marga we mean the performance of one’s svadharma as determined by one’s environment and circumstances. Since action is inescapable, the choice left for one is to follow one’s svadharma without undue attachment to the results.

What is this Karma Marga pursued merely as doing one’s svadharma? It is simply working in an
egoless spirit without identifying oneself with the doer. But such egolessness is impossible for the man of the world; he always identifies himself with the doer. Karma Marga then is the process of inner development which enables one to be active in the world and yet remain unattached to the credit or the results of the work. The sadhana consists in cultivating the attitude that it is not oneself that acts but a Power within. “ Doership pertains to the individuality; but you are not a separate individual and so you are not the doer. “Man is moved by some mysterious power but he thinks he moves himself,” says Sri Bhagavan. The same idea is conveyed in the Bhagavad Gita (XVIII, 61): “Mounted as on a machine in the heart of every being dwells the Lord whirling every being by His mysterious power.”

The urge for action is strong in most men; action is their svabhava; it is impossible for them to renounce all activity. But the distinguishing characteristic of the karma yogi is that throughout his activity he feels intuitively that he is not the doer, but that the higher power works through him. He is thus merely an instrument of the higher power working for the welfare of all. His work, therefore, is really worship. He asks nothing for himself, seeks nothing, but yet is active. 

He realizes that he is only an actor playing his role in the drama of life, the Lila of the Supreme. He does not forget his real Being nor does he overplay his role to win fame or personal success. There is no room for desires in him because of his non-identification with a petty individuality. Such a detached life frees him from the prison of ignorance, though he may be active like others.

Is action, without expectation of results, itself enough? Detached action (nishkama karma) is the means to achieve inner purity and therefore one has to strive further in the quest for perfection. The question still persists: who is engaged in such nishkama karma? As long as there is a doer there is the need for the experience of pure non-dual Awareness. Hence the karma yogi too has to tread the path of knowledge ultimately. But Selfenquiry comes naturally to him. The perfect karma yogi is spontaneously drawn to the path of jnana (knowledge).

The apparently contradictory paths of karma and jnana become complementary and inseparable from each other. The purity of mind brought about by selfless action points the way to jnana.

The identification of one’s true Being with the bodybound ego is the root cause of all selfishness and suffering. Such wrong identification ends only with the dawning of wisdom through the enquiry: ‘Who is bound?’, ‘Who am I?’. When, through uninterrupted experience of Being, the wrong notion of bondage (and liberation therefrom) is dispelled, the radiance of Pure Awareness alone remains. Sri Bhagavan has clarified for us the path of Self-enquiry starting from selfless action and culminating in the bliss of Pure Awareness. 

Inner search for jnana together with such disinterested karma is the most practical way for most of us under the present modern conditions. Leading such a life is fully approved by Sri Bhagavan when he says: “Leave your outward life to prarabdha and make intense effort within for illumination.” He has taught us that, while pursuing the path of Self-enquiry, we can carry on our occupation in life, without the least idea of ‘I am doing this’. The idea ‘I am the body’ is the only ignorance and bondage. Performing our work with detachment and enquiring ‘Who Am I?’ at the same time is the safest course for release from bondage. To do one’s work impersonally and to enquire intensely within ‘Who am I?’ is thus the essence of the teaching of all great Masters.

Bhagavan sums this up aptly: “A man need not give up his worldly duties; what he should give up is desiring things for himself.” The ideal to be aimed at, therefore, is a life of selfless activity accompanied by uninterrupted awareness. The mind that operates without attachment to its own past or future can efficiently attend to any kind of work in a truly scientific manner. Such a mind is well protected from all ignorance and distraction as it is free from petty, personal desire.

It should be remembered that Sri Bhagavan’s method is not a mere intellectual exercise, but a heuristic and holistic sadhana for self-integration and self-transcendence in which there can be no conflict between awareness and action. The only freedom we enjoy and the only obligation enjoined on us is to turn the searchlight inward and learn to look within. Having once set out on this quest of self-improvement through Self-enquiry, one can no more miss one’s way than a living plant firmly rooted in good soil in the open air can lose its rapport with sunlight. One’s very means of livelihood, the actions that one is called upon to perform, duty to family and role in society, will undergo the requisite change, either through one’s volition or by sheer force of circumstance. 

All things work together for good to them that love God, i.e., for those who have turned towards the Self. For turning to the universal Self is ceasing to be selfish, narrow, and personal. The more impersonal the worker, the more scientific and more efficient the work. If disinterestedness is an asset, surrender to the Lord, heightened awareness and empathy with one’s fellow workers, add a new dimension to one’s human relations. The spiritual aspirant who is honest and heroic can, therefore, use even worldly work as a means of selfpurification. This may even be easier than it is for an inmate of an ashram who fails to maintain the right attitude to activity, which can be a hindrance in the spiritual path.

There is a lurking fear in some people that their sadhana will be adversely affected by engaging in work or service. Even granting that sadhana becomes less intense if combined with work, can one honestly assert that one is engaged in sadhana all the time? Unfortunately the truth is far from this. People who are not prepared to be active in constructive work mostly indulge in casual or loose talk, controversial discussion or even outright gossip. Their own notions of piety also drive them to undertake minor or major jobs for others. The results of such undertakings of individual responsibility are unpredictable. Thus the problem comes through the back door and has to be faced. It is far better and safer to do allotted tasks than indulge in erratic activity. Rare is the sadhaka who can carry on sadhana on a whole time basis. And it is highly unlikely that such a person will refuse to do service when called upon to do so.

The human tendency that drives one to activity cannot be wished out of existence. This tendency can be sublimated by accepting work or service as a vital and recognized aspect of spiritual practice.

Work, particularly systematic work, has rich rewards. In the higher, spiritual sense, gradual purification results. Work in an impersonal and universal cause helps the erosion of the ego. The loss of individuality is easier here than in mundane activity where personal motives have wider and stronger play. The two types of activity are different. Work in the world without is a sadhana for the athletic spirit. Work in an ashram demands less of courage than humility.

Spiritual alertness and physical briskness go together. Spiritual laziness can lead to physical laziness and vice versa. Spiritually evolved persons prove the point conclusively. Sri Bhagavan was always an enthusiastic participant in the Ashram chores. He was the first to get up (from his apparent sleep) and attend to kitchen duties, like cutting vegetables. He did this for many years. He had done on numerous occasions jobs like brick laying and book binding. There was no task which he deemed beneath him. Apart from this personal example there was also his unmistakable admiration for those who worked hard for the Ashram. His own Ashram on the Hill he named Skandashram, because one Kandaswami cleared the ground and prepared the site for it single handedly. For the dignity of useful labor there could be no higher testimony than the example of Sri Bhagavan.

This does not mean that ashrams should be converted into workhouses and their activities expanded in a mechanical manner. But one should not attempt to escape work that needs to be done; one should do one’s share of it willingly. The kind and quantum of work done does not matter as much as the willingness and zeal one puts into it.

It should never be forgotten that awareness is our true Being and that action is only a ripple, a movement, a shadow in the ocean of awareness. We should not be in too great a hurry to become agents, we should for the most part be content to be patient. 

As Wordsworth says: 
Action is transitory, a step, a blow, The motion of a muscle, this way or that, ’Tis done, and in the after vacancy We wonder at ourselves like men betrayed. Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark And shares the nature of infinity.

Whatever action we do, and none of us can altogether escape action, whether in the world or in an ashram, should be surrendered to the Lord, should not boost the ego and should thus help inner purification.

In the words of Herbert:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws Makes that and the action fine. 
It is in this spirit that Appar, the saint who was ever busy tidying up our temples and thei environs, sang of the covenant between him and Siva It is His duty to sustain even this slave. My duty is Only to serve and be content.

— The Mountain Path, Vol. 13. No. 3