Sometimes in life there is a clash between two competing obligations, especially if both seem to be equally important. At such times it is rather difficult to arrive at the right decision. It has been my experience that at such times our gracious Master leads us to the proper decision. I will give an example from my own life.
At one time I felt that my political duty as a Gandhian demanded that I should court arrest, but my domestic duties bade me otherwise. As I was eager to go to jail as part of the Independence struggle, it pained me that, out of regard for my family, I was not able to do so. I found myself in a dilemma and I could not of my own accord see the way out. The situation was so unbearable for me that I had to turn to the Master for help and relief. I therefore set out for Tiruvannamalai.
After reaching there I went and sat in the holy presence of the Master. While I was sitting there, I began to wonder how I should place my difficulty before him because I did not feel like broaching the subject verbally. I finally decided to pour forth my prayer from my heart in silence in the form of a plea for Sri Bhagavan to extend his benign help to me. I began to pray and while I concentrated on my mental plea I watched his radiant face and his sparkling eyes that were full of love and kindness. And then, astonishingly, something like a miracle began to happen. Sri Bhagavan’s face transformed itself into that of Mahatma Gandhi, while his body remained the same. As I stared at it with awe and wonder, the two faces, those of Sri Bhagavan and Gandhiji, began to appear to me alternately in quick succession. I felt my heart filling with joy and yet at the same time I was wondering whether what I saw was real or not. I turned my eyes away from Sri Bhagavan and looked around me to see if others were seeing what I saw. Seeing no sign of wonder on their faces, I concluded that what I saw was a picture from my own imagination. I closed my eyes and sat quietly for some time. Then, as I began again to look at Sri Bhagavan’s face, the vision immediately reappeared, but this time with a slight change. In addition to the two faces of Sri Bhagavan and Gandhiji, those of Krishna, Buddha, Kabir, Ramdas and a host of other saints began to show themselves in quick succession. Now all my doubts vanished and I began to enjoy this grand and divine show. The vision lasted about five minutes. My mind dropped all its worries and I found myself able to hand over my problem to the capable hands of the Master. Though he spoke no words to me, it came to pass that the problem was solved without infringing either of my two duties. In fact, both duties were fulfilled satisfactorily.
I had another vision of Sri Bhagavan in 1943. During my visit to Sri Ramanasramam that year, I visited the temple of Sri Arunachaleswara with my family and a friend who was a devotee from Madurai. This is the main temple in Tiruvannamalai, the same one that Sri Bhagavan stayed in when he first came to Arunachala.
While we were walking through the spacious courtyards I did not have any inkling of the wonderful experience I was to pass through when I finally saw the deity.
On reaching the innermost shrine we discovered that we were early, for the doors of the shrine had not been opened. We decided to wait there till someone came to unlock them. I leaned back against a pillar and began to think about Sri Bhagavan’s early life. Suddenly my thoughts began to materialise physically as scenes from his early life began to appear before my eyes as vividly as if I were watching a cinema film.
The film had the following scenes, all of which I saw very clearly: Venkataraman is writing the imposition in his uncle’s house in Madurai. Leaving it aside, he sits bolt upright, closes his eyes and becomes absorbed in the more congenial practice of meditation. His elder brother Nagaswami is watching him and rebukes him for neglecting his lessons. Venkataraman then decides to leave the house. He takes three rupees from his brother’s college fees and departs after leaving a short note. He reaches the railway station. He buys a ticket to Tindivanam, gets into the train and sits quietly in one corner. A moulvi [Muslim scholar] who is discoursing to other passengers notices him and asks him where he is going. On learning that Venkataraman has got a ticket to Tindivanam but wants to go on to Tiruvannamalai, the moulvi directs him to break his journey at Villupuram. I see Venkataraman getting down at Villupuram and walking through the town in search of food. He waits near a hotel whose meals are not yet ready. Meanwhile he loses himself in samadhi. When the meal is ready, he takes it, offers to pay for it, but the hotel owner refuses payment. He then goes to the railway station and buys a ticket to Mambalapattu. From there he walks for about ten miles and reaches the temple of Ariyanainallur. In the temple he sees a vision of dazzling light and goes into samadhi again. He then goes to Kilur, where he pledges his earrings and gets four rupees for them. With this money he goes to the railway station and buys a ticket to Tiruvannamalai.
While I was enjoying this wonderful divine vision, the doors of the shrine opened and my vision was interrupted by the loud blowing of pipes and the beating of drums. The people who were waiting with us stood up to get the Lord’s darshan. I too mechanically stood up with the others. After this short interruption, my vision continued. Though the idol of Sri Arunachaleswara was before my eyes, I could clearly see Venkataraman getting out of the train at the Tiruvannamalai station. He then ran towards the temple. As he was coming nearer and nearer, the noisy music rose to a higher and higher pitch. Venkataraman entered the temple, ran to the shrine and embraced the lingam with both his hands. My feelings were ecstatic. My whole body experienced a divine thrill and tears of joy rolled down my cheeks. This state of sublime joy lasted a long time and was both indescribable and unforgettable.
I am not the only person to have had a vision of Sri Bhagavan in the inner shrine of the temple. When I printed The Golden Jubilee Souvenir for the ashram in 1946, I discovered that a devotee from Nepal, Sardar Rudra Raj Pande, had had an equally spectacular experience there. This is how he described it:
[When I reached the centre of the temple,] all my attention was directed to the one purpose of seeing the image or lingam in the sanctum sanctorum. But, strange to say, instead of the lingam I see the image of the Maharshi, Bhagavan Sri Ramana, his smiling countenance, his brilliant eyes looking at me. And what is more strange, it is not one Maharshi that I see, nor two, nor three – in hundreds I see the same smiling countenance, those lustrous eyes. I see them wherever I may look in that sanctum sanctorum. My eyes catch not the full figure of the Maharshi, but only the smiling face from the chin above. I am in raptures and beside myself with inexpressible joy…. That bliss and calmness of mind I then felt, how can words describe [it]? Tears of joy flowed down my cheeks. I went to the temple to have darshan of Lord Arunachala and I found the living Lord as he graciously revealed himself. I can never forget the deep intimate experience I had in the ancient temple.
The vision I had of Sri Bhagavan in the temple strengthened my faith in him. The other vision I had in the hall assured me that the help of all spiritual Masters, including Sri Bhagavan, was available to me all the time. Having been blessed with these visions, I now knew that I was on the right path, and I knew that my Master was guiding me in everything I did.