Below is a very interesting narrative written by Swami Tapasyananda, an eminent disciple of Sri Ramakrishna and previously vice president of the Ramakrishna Mission, of his meetings and opinion of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Its most interesting and illuminating to read the opinions and evaluations of a non-devotee, who was also a senior spiritual personage of an eminent spiritual organisation.
The photograph accompanying this narrative is a painting made in 1949 by the South Indian artist, S. Rajam, for the Himalayan Academy, and rarely seen outside their Kauai Hindu Monastery located in Hawaii. I reproduce it below with their kind permission
“The Maharshi impressed me as a rare type of man. I do not know whether he is a Jnani, or what he is. For as the Vedanta says, a Jnani can be known only by a Jnani, and I am certainly not one. But this person, anyone can feel, is not of the ordinary run of men. We nowadays come across men everywhere whose one thought is world-reform and things of that kind. But here is a man who is perfectly aware, as one can see from his conduct and movements, who has no such idea, who has in his opinion nothing to add to the sum-total of human happiness. He simply seems to exist, without waiting for anything, without being anxious about anything. On watching him I was powerfully reminded of the Gita passage beginning with “Udasinavad” (Like one that is unconcerned). He seems to take, as far as I can see no interest even in the Ashrama that has sprung up around him. He simply sits there; things are going on as events and other men shape them. The only activity of the Ashrama in which he seems to take active interest is cooking. He cuts vegetables in the kitchen, and if there is any special cooking any day he is sure to try his hand at preparing some of the dishes for that day. Spicing and other processes of the culinary art are performed there under his directions.
Another point that struck me is his silence. We used to ask in fun among ourselves why eminent professors who crossed the seas did not deliver their Vedantic lectures through silence. But here is a person who actually does this as far as his teaching of the Vedanta is concerned. When I asked him to tell me something of spirituality, the first thing he said was that silence is the highest teaching! The beauty of the man is that he remains faithful to that idea to the utmost extent possible. His idea is that the Advaitin has no position to state, no Siddhanta to propound. He regrets that in these days even Advaita has become a Siddhanta, whereas it is really not meant to be so.
|Painting by S. Rajam, 1949|
The reason for the existence of so much Vedantic literature is this: When doubts arise in the mind as our intellects are quickened, such literature is helpful in dispelling them. In other words, the Advaitin speaks only to dispel a doubt that might have arisen in himself or in another. Our saint remains faithful to this idea. He is mostly silent, and speaks but a little if questioned on any point. Of course he jokes and speaks occasionally on other things, but he has no dogmatic teaching on Vedanta to deliver.
He told me he says ‘yes, yes’ to everyone who interprets Advaita, even to some of his followers who interpret his ideas in the books published under his name. When I asked, regarding a book that I purchased in the depot there, how far the ideas stated therein are his teachings, he told that it is very difficult to say that, as he had no definite teaching. As people have understood they have written, and they may be right from certain points of view. He himself, he said, has absolutely no idea or inclination to write a book; but due to the entreaties of some people about him he has written some verses, and he told me that he is often troubled by men who take a fancy to translate them into this language and that, and ask him about the faithfulness of the translation.
So mostly the Maharshi remains silent, and people come, make prostrations, sit before him for some minutes to hours and then go away, perhaps without exchanging even a single word! I have got my own doubts as to whether people benefit by this teaching through silence. But yet people come from long distances to hear this dumb eloquence and go back satisfied.
Though he speaks but little, it is very instructive to watch his face and eyes. There is nothing every prepossessing about his personality, but there is a beam of intelligence and unruffled calmness in his eyes that are unique. His body is almost motionless except when he occasionally changes his position or wipes his sweat in that hot place. I was carefully observing his face; I found him seldom winking and never yawning. I say this to show that I am sufficiently satisfied that the absence of activity in him is not due to inertness.
The third point that struck me was the absolute absence of vanity or self-importance in him. Except for his toilette confined only to a kaupinam a visitor man not find it possible to make out Ramana Maharshi. He eats the same food as everyone else there; there is not even a single extra item or special dish for him. I specially noticed that in conversation he is not averse to using the first person pronoun, unlike some other Vedantins who use ‘he’ and things of that kind. I point out this to show how unostentatious he is. His silence, I am convinced, is not to assume a gravity of disposition calculated to keep people at a distance. And when he breaks that silence, as he does when questioned, he appears to be the sweetest and most friendly of men.
He makes no distinction between man and man for their wealth or position in society. I saw peasants and gentlemen in motor cars coming and being greeted with the same silence. They all sit on the floor and receive the same hospitality . . . I stayed in the Ashrama for three days. The Maharshi talked with me very kindly and quite freely on the several questions I asked him. Although his manner of replying was not so impressive as I expected, his thoughts are always clear, concise and free from all ideas of narrowness. Though he has not read much, as he himself told me in some context, he has a good grasp of all the difficult points in Vedanta.
My impression is this: Whether he is a Jnani or anything else I do not positively know. But I am convinced that he is a sweet and lovable person who is indifferent to all things about him, who has no end of his own to gain, who is always alert even when he seems to be most deeply absorbed, and who may be said to be perfectly free from greed and vanity. In seeing him I do believe I have seen a unique personage.”
Swami Tapasyananda (1904-1991)