A question was asked about the Upanishadic passage, ‘The Supreme Spirit is subtler than the subtlest and larger than the largest’.
Bhagavan: Even the structure of the atom has been found by the mind. Therefore the mind is subtler than the atom. That which is behind the mind, namely the individual soul, is subtler than the mind. Furthermore, the Tamil saint Manikkavachagar has said of the specks dancing in a beam of sunlight, that if each represents a universe, the whole sunlight will represent the Supreme Being. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 15.)
The origin of the universal sphere,
composed of its [various] elements;
its immeasurable nature;
its vast and rich array of visible forms –
if one were to describe the beauty
of how these appear in manifestation,
each connected one to the other,
[one would find] that they expand
to a thousand million and more.
So great He is that all the worlds
appear like tiny specks, floating
in a sunbeam as it falls into a house. (‘Tiruvandappahudi’, lines 1-6)
Manikkavachagar’s passing away
Manikkavachagar eventually settled down in Chidambaram and spent his final years in that town. The Tiruvadavuradigal Puranam, chapter six, records a remarkable episode that took place there.
The story begins with a devotee of Siva going to Sri Lanka and singing the praises of Chidambaram and its Golden Hall where Siva resides. The king of Sri Lanka heard about him and summoned him to appear in his court. The sadhu went and gave a speech to the king in which he extolled the greatness of Chidambaram. A Buddhist scholar who was present became angry and said that he would travel to Chidambaram, convert all the Saivas there and install a statue of the Buddha in the temple. The king, who had a daughter who was dumb, decided to travel to Chidambaram as well in the hope that she might be cured there.
On their arrival, the Buddhist scholar challenged the devotees of Siva to a debate, saying that he would defeat them in argument and prove that their beliefs were wrong. His challenge was accepted and it was agreed that the debate would take place in the presence of the king of Sri Lanka and the king of the territory that contained Chidambaram.
On the night before the debate Siva appeared in the dreams of all the temple priests and told them that they should go to Manikkavachagar’s hut and ask him to be their representative in the debate. Manikkavachagar agreed to come the next day and refute the Buddhist’s arguments. When the debate got under way, both the Buddhist scholar and Manikkavachagar severely criticised and ridiculed the other’s point of view.
At one point Manikkavachagar grew angry with what he said were the lies coming out of the Buddhist’s mouth. He called on Saraswati, the goddess of speech, to leave the Buddhist’s tongue so that he could no longer utter any falsehoods. When Saraswati complied with this request, the scholar and his associates were all struck dumb. The Sri Lankan king, impressed by this performance, prostrated before Manikkavachagar and informed him that his own daughter was dumb. He added that if Manikkavachagar could cure her, he himself would convert and become a Saiva.
Manikkavachagar called the daughter and asked her to give a public refutation of all the arguments that the Buddhist scholar had propounded. The daughter obliged and, speaking for the first time in her life, gave an erudite lecture that refuted the Buddhist position. The king, overjoyed, became a Saiva and requested Manikkavachagar to cure the dumbness of the Buddhist scholars. Manikkavachagar agreed to this and the Buddhists, after acknowledging their erroneous views, also converted to Saivism.