Piers is about my age. A few years ago a thought suddenly popped into his head: ‘What’s going to happen to me when I get old?’ He had a job that required physical stamina; he had no pension, no savings, and no home of his own. A sudden thought such as this might have induced some sort of panic in most people, but Piers decided that he would just tell Ramana that he had had this thought and leave it to him to deal with it. He wrote out his story and posted it in his box.
Meanwhile, his mother Annie, who, incidentally, is also a Ramana devotee, was visiting a friend of hers in Hampstead, the same area where my art professor had had his house. This woman was in her early eighties and had no family. She asked Annie if she could leave her flat to her since she had no one else to pass it on to. Annie, knowing nothing about Piers’ letter, said that it might be better to put it in her son’s name since she had a house already, whereas he didn’t. Then she added, ‘He’s fifty years old and still living at home. It will be good for him to have a place of his own.’ The friend, who had never met Piers, agreed.
So, after posting his letter to Ramana, a complete stranger left him a valuable flat in a very expensive area of London. Since the place needed major renovations, when the woman passed away, Piers took a loan, fixed it up, and paid for the improvements by renting it out for a few years. I suppose the moral of this story is: if you really can hand over all your burdens to Ramana, he will be more than happy to take responsibility for them.
Piers, incidentally, was instrumental in launching my professional writing career. In 1983, around the time I lived in the millionaire’s house, I was unemployed and eagerly looking for work that would give me enough money to go back to India and live in Tiruvannamalai. I thought myself to be reasonably well educated and qualified, but I couldn’t find anyone who was interested in hiring me. I wasn’t aiming too high: I was, at one point, turned down for a job picking up litter in the London Zoo, apparently because I laughed at the wrong moment during the interview. My application letters were all ignored except for one, for which I received a reply that said, ‘Dear Mr Godman, Thank you very much for your very entertaining letter. However, we would prefer to employ someone who is qualified to do the job.’ It was for a position in a private library; I had just spent five years running a library in Tiruvannamalai.
I was living in a millionaire’s mansion in Hampstead, and getting turned down for litter-picking jobs, along with every other kind of job I applied for.
At some point during that summer Piers introduced me to the owner of the house that was next to his mother’s. I was staying in this house at the time, camping out in a sleeping bag in the basement. The owner was a lecturer in philosophy at Leicester University, and so was his wife. He had come to London to hand in a manuscript on philosophy that his wife had written. When her editor discovered that he too was a philosopher, she said, ‘Why don’t you write a philosophy book as well? We are always interested in new books on philosophy.’
My ears pricked up when I heard this. I had at that time already written No Mind – I am the Self and had had a brief period as editor of The Mountain Path. Writing a book on Ramana was something I felt I was more than qualified to do. I obtained the editor’s phone number from the philosophy lecturer and called it, but with not much expectation of success. I had spent most of that summer being turned down for menial jobs, and my limited experience of authors was that, after writing your first book, you then spent the next year having it turned down by a succession of publishers.
However, far from being given the cold shoulder, the woman whom I gave my pitch to got very excited and said, ‘Put the phone down and come here at once! We want you. Don’t go anywhere else. Come and talk to me as soon as possible.’
Having been laughed at or been ignored by potential employers for several months, I have to say that this made a very pleasant change. I went, was ushered into her office, and emerged half an hour later with a contract to come to back to India and write Be As You Are. I know that the book has been a commercial and critical success – continuously in print for twenty-five years and translated into at least fifteen languages – but in retrospect I know the woman took a gamble on me. I was an unknown author, with no experience. I didn’t even have a synopsis of the book I wanted to write. I just made it all up on the spot as I sat in her office.
All I can say now is that I was destined to come back to India and write about Bhagavan, and whatever power had organised this script had also determined that this woman would say, in defiance of all sound commercial judgement, ‘Here’s a contract. Sign here. Go to India and write your book.’
I leave the last word on this to Bhagavan:
The feeling ‘I work’ is the hindrance. Ask yourself ‘Who works?’ Remember who you are. Then the work will not bind you; it will go on automatically. Make no effort either to work or to renounce; your effort is the bondage. What is destined to happen will happen. If you are destined not to work, work cannot be had even if you hunt for it; if you are destined to work, you will not be able to avoid it; you will be forced to engage yourself in it. So, leave it to the higher power; you cannot renounce or retain as you choose. (Maharshi’s Gospel, page 5)