This article appeared on my blog in 2008.
Today I am posting four accounts in which devotees narrate events that were going on around Bhagavan in the time they were with him. The common theme is that devotees should focus on Bhagavan and his teachings, rather than on the affairs of the ashram and the activities that are going on there. When devotees deviated from this, Bhagavan would sometimes give them a gentle reminder to return to the spiritual path by quoting a Tamil phrase that can be translated as ‘Attend to what you came here for’. Elsewhere in this post it is translated as ‘Mind the business for which you have come’.
In 1947 I went to Ramana Maharshi. I was only 18 years old. After spending around three days talking with him, I settled down with the devotees in the hall. I used to sit at the right side of the hall against the wall, watching all the people come in. There were devotees, disciples, and seekers. The devotees were always the same. They never said much. They were immersed in themselves. The disciples and the seekers often quarreled with each other. I recall a particular Indian who was very quarrelsome with the disciples, and he used to find fault with everybody.
He would go to Ramana and say, ‘So and so is doing this, so and so is doing that.’ And Ramana would tell him, ‘Remember the reasons why you came here and keep silent.’
The reason, of course, was to find the Self, and not to interfere with anybody else. But there were all kinds of incidents going on. Sikhs came, Hindus, westerners, Buddhists, Zen Buddhists. Some people were practicing hatha yoga. All these things were happening in front of Ramana. But it didn’t faze Ramana one bit. I recall a westerner, I’m trying to think of his name… Henry Wells, from Scotland. He apparently had read a lot of books about Ramana, and this was his first visit. He came into the hall and I watched his first encounter. He ran over to Ramana, prostrated himself on his stomach, and started going crazy. His feet were shaking, and he was chanting. The devotees wanted to pick him up, and Ramana said, ‘Let him stay’.
When he came out of it he told Ramana, ‘At last I have found you. You are my father, my mother, my son, my daughter, my friend.’ And Ramana just smiled at him.
I said to myself, ‘Someone this enthusiastic… let’s see what happens, if it lasts.’
The days went by and he kept prostrating himself every day for about a month. Then he finally stopped, and he just sat down like everybody else. After about two months or so he started looking around the room at everybody, and he began to complain: that this wasn’t right, that wasn’t right. After about four months of being there he donated $40,000 to the ashram. I just sat and watched all these things going on. After about six months of being there, he started to find fault with the management. At that time Ramana’s brother was managing the ashram. He started to whisper to the other disciples, but, of course, the devotees would have nothing to do with this. It was the disciples and the seekers. He started spreading rumors. He hardly ever talked to me. I guess I was too young. He was about forty-five years old.
Around the seventh month of his stay he came over to me one day and he asked me, outside the ashram, ‘Do you think Ramana is really enlightened?’
I just smiled at him. I didn’t answer. I walked away. This man started getting devotees to fight against each other and to rebel against the rules of the ashram.
Around the eighth month he saw me again and told me, ‘Do you think it is right for Ramana to stand naked like this? Let’s buy him some clothes and dress him up, so when some Westerners come they won’t be frightened.’
I told him what Ramana said: ‘Remember the reason for which you came.’
A couple of days later I didn’t see him in the hall. A second day passed and I didn’t see him. Then a third.
On the fourth day I enquired, ‘What happened to him?’
The person he was living with said, ‘Oh, Henry packed his suitcase and went back to Scotland’.
Nobody ever heard from him again. The point of the story is this. If you realise the reason why you came, you’ll be interested in one thing, awakening. That will dominate your life. Nothing else will. You will not be concerned with what somebody else is doing, and you will be at peace with yourself and everybody else. Everything is preordained anyway. Everything is karmic. So what’s going to happen will happen, whether you like it or not. So why get insulted? Why get your feelings hurt? Be at peace.
It’s interesting. This morning I was looking through a magazine and I found an article by a devotee who lived at the ashram for quite a while talking about the same subject. Mary, would you like to read it? Now listen carefully to this. It’s called ‘Mind the business for which you have come’.
All events in life are shaped according to the divine plan. What is bound to happen will happen. What is not to happen cannot be brought about by any human effort. On this point Ramana was quite categoric. When Devaraja Mudaliar questioned him as to whether only important things in one’s life, such as major occupation or profession, alone are predetermined, or even trifling acts, Ramana replied, ‘Everything is predetermined’.
One of the purposes of birth is to go through certain experiences which have been marked out in the karmic unfoldment of this life. The whole program is chalked out. This would apparently be a damper to all effort, for one would be puzzled as to what the responsibility of man is. Is he an automation of karmic forces? Where do his free will and effort come in? Ramana points out that there is another deeper purpose to life. That is to search and find out the truth for oneself. He would say that the only useful purpose of life is to turn within and realise there’s nothing else to do. Ramana would therefore constantly din into everyone the fact that the ultimate truth is sat-chit, immediately available here and now.
When Natanananda asked Ramana, ‘Is it possible for everyone to know directly without doubt what exactly is one’s true nature?’ prompt came the reply, ‘Undoubtedly it is possible. The ultimate truth is so simple.’
Ramana would say, ‘It is nothing more than abiding in one’s own state.’
This is the essential message of all religions and creeds. Leaving aside the automatic course of our lives regulated by the Creator, according to His law, one’s duty is to channel effort to be Self-aware. Steadfastness of purpose is in treading the inner path through vigilant self-enquiry. On such enquiry as to the source of the individual, the enquirer merges in the conscious source. The inner odyssey is seldom smooth sailing. Full many a delusion would wean one away. For instance, people who go to Sri Ramana Ashram to breathe its rarified atmosphere, while there, instead of surrendering to His flowing grace, would get involved in the business of the ashram management. Ramana used to jovially remark of some visitors on their first visit to Sri Ramana ashram, that they seemed to be alright. On the second visit they discovered that the ashram is not properly run. On the third visit they start giving advice. On the fourth they know best how to run the place. And on the fifth they discover that the management is not responsive. On the sixth they suggest that the present staff should walk out leaving the ashram to them. They would thus get bogged down in things which are irrelevant for the search.
When such people complained, Ramana would say: ‘Mind the business for which you have come.’
This would apply, of course, not only to their visit to Sri Ramana Ashram, but also to the purpose of human life itself. One has to constantly keep before the mind’s eye the liberating purpose, the only worthwhile one of freeing oneself from the karmic chain by discovering the hidden truth. Ramana would even seemingly chide if one failed to pursue one’s own sadhana, but spent time thinking and talking of others.
A devotee once told Ramana: ‘I have been here for many years. People go into samadhi. I close my eyes for a minute and my mind travels around the world.’
Ramana replied: ‘Why do you think about others? Let them meditate, sleep or snore. Look to yourself. Whenever your mind goes astray, bring it back to the quest.’
Once Bhagavan told a devotee [who wanted] to wake up, ‘Look at the mirror; it shows the growth to be got rid of [when you shave]. Instead of wasting time, start shaving.’
Similarly, heaven alone knows when one’s allotted time will end. Hence, not to seek the truth by vigilant self-enquiry is truly suicidal. Many would like to blame their circumstances for their indolence and laziness and failure to pursue self-enquiry.
Ramana would ask, ‘Why depend on that which is not in your hands. Go ahead with the business which is in your hands, under your control, leaving aside what you cannot do anything about.’
Proper utilisation of the God-given freedom of turning the mind [within] is what is needed all the time. As for adverse circumstances in life, of which everyone has a belly full, while sympathising, Ramana would at the same time say, ‘You are always free not to be affected by the pleasure and pain consequent on action.’ The teeth have to be taken out of an event by an attitudinal change which neutralises it.
Sometimes Ramana would advise leaving things to the sure hand of the Sadguru, and to stick single mindedly to the effort which will make one Self-aware. Ramana would say, ‘Why don’t you do what the first class railway passenger does? He tells the guard his destination, locks the door and goes to sleep. The rest is done by the guard. If you can trust your Guru as much as you trust the railway guard, it will be good enough to enable you to reach the destination.’
Again when someone pestered him for the darshan of Sri Krishna, he said, ‘Why don’t you leave the direct experience of Krishna to Krishna.’
We also have the pointed advice given by him to Ganapati Muni: ‘Remain all the time steadfast in the heart. God will determine the future for you to accomplish the work. What is to be done will be done at the proper time. Don’t worry. Abide in the heart.’
Life becomes meaningful if we joyously tread the inward path, remembering that our duty is to do the vichara; it is for the inner source to do the rest. Then, bliss is not the end product to be found on reaching the goal, but is felt all along the homeward, heartward journey.
One day, when I arrived at the Skandashram, I found that Bhagavan was living on a diet of green-gram soup and rice. A man who was posing as the ashram manager had prescribed this diet for Bhagavan. To ensure that Bhagavan complied, he was rejecting all the other food offerings that had been sent. I was a little disappointed because I had brought some bananas from Madras to offer to Bhagavan. Since it seemed that he would not be allowed to eat the bananas, I asked him what I should do with them.
‘Do exactly what you always do,’ replied Bhagavan.
I served the fruit to Bhagavan while he was eating his meal. When the ‘manager’ saw me offer the food, he started quarrelling with me, saying that I was spoiling the dietary restrictions he had imposed on Bhagavan.
Bhagavan intervened and asked him, ‘What is my ailment, and why am I on a diet?’
A man who had come from Madras joined in the quarrel. Addressing Bhagavan he asked, ‘For what price has this man purchased you?’
Bhagavan smiled and replied, jokingly, ‘Rs 5,000’.
Then he added, ‘The first time a person comes to see me, he stands respectfully at a distance and bows to me. On each succeeding day he will come a little closer. One day, when he has gained enough self-confidence, he will pick up a stick and begin to order around all those who come to see me. He will shout at them, “Come this way! Go that way!” etc. On the day after that he will appoint himself manager of the ashram.’
Within a week this ‘manager’ was thrown out of the ashram by some of the devotees. I should mention that anyone could stay in the ashram in those days so long as they did the work that was assigned to them. If they didn’t do the work, they had to leave.
It is inevitable, I suppose, that in an ashram some people will end up quarrelling with others. It is also inevitable that outsiders will find some pretext to quarrel with the ashram. Sri Bhagavan taught us all to stay away from disputes that were none of our business, and in particular, to avoid taking an interest in matters that were solely the concern of the ashram management. Once, for example, some awkward problems concerning the ashram management cropped up. Without being directly concerned, I was worried about them, as I felt that failure to solve them satisfactorily would impair the good name of the ashram. One day two or three devotees went to Sri Bhagavan and put some of these problems before him. I happened to enter the hall while they were talking about them, and he immediately turned to me and asked me why I had come in at this time and why I was interesting myself in such matters. I did not grasp the meaning of the question, so Sri Bhagavan explained that a person should occupy himself only with that purpose with which he had originally come to the ashram.
He asked me what my original purpose had been. ‘To receive Sri Bhagavan’s grace,’ I replied.
‘Then occupy yourself with that alone,’ he said.
After a pause he continued by asking me whether I had any interest in matters concerning the ashram management when I first arrived. I told him that I had not.
‘Then,’ he said, ‘concentrate on the original purpose of your coming here.’
Some of the devotees coming to the ashram from far off places to spend their holidays had a tendency to engage in ashram service. They were always directing their attention towards various activities. They would seize even the smallest opportunity to immerse themselves in activities throughout the day, as if they had surrendered their possessions, body and spirit to them. They felt satisfied that such service would alone be sufficient for their salvation. Whenever Bhagavan happened to notice their attitude, he would refer to them by saying:
In the name of service to the Guru, they should not waste their time in activities and become disappointed later. Such people will have cause to regret their ignorance in their last days. One should not forget, even for a moment, the aim of satsang. Having the belief that residence in the ashram will make Self-realisation, which is most difficult to achieve in other places, easy to attain, one should always remain intent upon the realisation of one’s true nature. There is no meaning in people who are not interested in that [Self-realisation] taking this place to be a special place. The spiritual service that devotees render to themselves by exerting themselves on the spiritual path for the attainment of their goal – that alone is sacred service to the Guru.
Through these words he made it clear that he cannot be pleased by anything other than a stilling of the mind.
The real benefit of coming to him was the subsidence of the mind. Because of this, he would exhort devotees to try to attend to the Self all the time. Some of the permanent residents of the ashram would make themselves responsible for ashram activities and, without realising their own defects, would then complain that they had no time for meditation.
Referring to those seeking cessation of activities, Bhagavan would remark humourously, ‘Is it that you have no time for meditation? Or is it that you are unable to remain quiet? If you can remain quiet, go ahead and do so! You will then see how all the ashram activities go on naturally of their own accord. If you do this you will be astonished to discover that the help you receive for your own tapas will be more than the help you are rendering for other people’s tapas.’
In this way Bhagavan would point out in a dignified manner their immaturity whenever the occasion arose.
A gentleman from the West was once sweeping up the leaf plates that were lying outside the ashram dining room. Bhagavan, who happened to come there at that time, asked the devotee what his aim was in undertaking that act.
The devotee replied, ‘Since my arrival at the ashram, until today, I have not had any opportunity to render any service to the ashram. Thinking that I may get redeemed by performing at least this humble act, which no one else has performed, I decided to do this.’
Looking at him with compassion, Bhagavan told him, ‘Is sweeping the used leaf plates the means to get salvation? Is it to perform this tapas that you have come here all the way from abroad. Go! Go! Enough of doing this kind of service! Go inside, sit to one side, turn your mind inward and find out he who wants to be redeemed. The service of purifying your heart is alone the highest service. That alone can truly redeem you.’
In this way Bhagavan explained the truth of tapas to him.
The ancient scriptures proclaim that those who have served a jivanmukta are deemed to have fulfilled all the vows to please Siva, Brahma and Vishnu, and have made their birth blessed. (Kaivalya Navaneeta)
O Supreme! If you make me fit to serve your devotees, the state of bliss will automatically be attained by me. (Thayumanavar)
When such statements extol service to the sages, what is the meaning of Bhagavan’s remarks that imply that the time spent in service is wasted? Service rendered with devotion to sages is also performed with an eye on the result. Its purpose is salvation, which can be obtained by the gracious look of the Guru. However, the grace of the Guru is earned by inner tapas and not by services rendered outside. Only worshipping the Self is worshipping the Guru. Service to the Guru in the form of reflecting on one’s true nature can be performed at all places and at all times. All one needs for this service is earnestness and devotion. It is true that Self-knowledge, which cannot be obtained elsewhere even through great effort, can be won in a trice in the divine presence of the Sadguru, either through a look or through a word. A devotee who performs great tapas to obtain a boon from his chosen form of God loses the fruit of his tapas if, through forgetfulness, he omits to ask for it when the deity appears. Similarly, if a devotee has been fortunate enough to come to the divine presence of a Sadguru – who unites the devotee with Brahman – he would waste his precious chance if he fails to make use of this rare opportunity to obtain eternal life.
Therefore, even when the limbs of the body are engaged in service, the mind must be naturally rooted in the Self. This, in truth, is what Bhagavan was indicating in his remarks. Some may ask whether it is not good to engage in the service of the Guru with a one-pointed mind, at least for some time, in order to purify the mind. However, even to engage in such service requires fitness. That is why Thayumanavar and others pray to the Lord to make them fit to serve his devotees.