This was originally posted on my blog 18th March 2010.
This morning I was put on a Facebook list and sent a few paragraphs in which Osho spoke about Bhagavan and Lakshmi the cow. The stories narrated were extraordinarily inaccurate. This afternoon I received another offering from this list which purported to be an account of Bhagavan’s final days and hours. This was also narrated by Osho, and it was just as inaccurate as his earlier story on Lakshmi. Underneath both stories were many comments by people who had read them, saying (apart from my own dissenting voice) how much they had enjoyed and appreciated the narratives.
I would guess that in the spiritual bookstores of the world, books by Osho outsell those on Bhagavan by at least a hundred to one. This means that the vast majority of people who are interested in such matters are getting wildly inaccurate versions of Bhagavan’s life. There is not much that I or anyone else can do about this except to point out errors as and when they come to our attention. That is what I propose to do today by putting Osho’s version of Lakshmi the cow first, and then following it with the real version.
This is what Osho had to say about Bhagavan and Lakshmi:
Perhaps once in a while a rare animal uses the window. In Shri Raman Maharshi’s ashram… and he was one of the most significant people of this century. He was not a master; that’s why people don’t know him as they know George Gurdjieff or J. Krishnamurti. They don’t know him even as they know Sri Aurobindo or P.D. Ouspensky who were only teachers — profound teachers, but not mystics.
Raman Maharshi was a silent pool of energy. Every morning he used to sit for a silent satsang, communion. He never talked much, unless asked something. Then too his answer was very short — having profundity, but you had to look for it. There was no explanation in it. His literature is confined to two, three small booklets.
His teaching was mostly to be in silent communion with the disciples. Naturally, very few people were benefited by him. But every morning he was sitting, people were sitting, and a cow would come and stand outside, putting her neck through the window, and she would remain standing there while the satsang lasted. It must have continued for years. People came and went, new people came, but the cow remained constant… and at the exact time, never late. And as the satsang would disperse she would move away.
One day she did not appear, and Shri Raman said, “Today satsang cannot be held, because my real audience is absent. I am afraid either the cow is very sick or she has died, and I have to go and look for her.” He lived on a mountain in the south of India, Arunachal. The cow belonged to a poor woodcutter who lived near the ashram. Raman left the temple where they used to meet, went to the woodcutter and asked, “What happened? The cow has not come today for satsang.”
The woodcutter said, “She is very sick and I am afraid she is dying, but she goes on looking out of the door, as if she is waiting for someone. Perhaps she is waiting for you, to see you for the last time. Perhaps that is why she is hanging around a little longer.”
Raman went in and there were tears in the eyes of the cow. And she died happily, putting her head in the lap of Raman Maharshi. This happened just in this century, and Raman declared her enlightened, and told his people that a beautiful memorial should be made for her.
It is very rare for human beings to be enlightened; it is almost impossibly rare for animals to become enlightened, but the cow attained. She will not be born again. From the body of a cow she has bypassed the whole world of humanity, and she has jumped ahead and joined with the buddhas. So once in a while — there are a few instances only — it has happened. But that cannot be called the rule; it is just the exception.
What follows is the chapter I put together on Lakshmi’s life for The Power of the Presence, part three. It was assembled from many sources.
There will be nothing new here for the vast majority of people who read this blog. I am putting it here only because I want to provide a link on the Facebook page that will direct readers there to a more accurate version of Lakshmi’s life.
Devaraja Mudaliar: Sometime in 1926, four years after Sri Bhagavan came to live at the foot of the holy hill beside the samadhi of the mother, Arunachalam Pillai of Kumaramangalam, near Gudiyatham, entered the ashram with a cow and her young female calf and offered them to Sri Bhagavan in token of his devotion. Bhagavan tried to dissuade him, pointing out that there were no proper facilities at the ashram for looking after the cow and the calf. He told him that since he had already presented them to Bhagavan, that was enough, and he could now take them back with him and look after them not as his but as Bhagavan’s.
[The opening paragraph is taken from The Cow, Lakshmi, by Devaraja Mudaliar. Editorial comments that appear in italics, in brackets, are my own.
Shantammal (‘Eternal Bhagavan’ in Ramana Smrti Souvenir) has reported that the villager was prompted to do this by a dream. Viswanatha Swami (The Mountain Path, 1975, p. 207) also mentioned this motive.]
Shantammal: In the 1920s a villager had a dream in which he was told to offer his next calf to Ramanasramam. After its birth he brought both his cow and the calf to Bhagavan. At that time the jungle around the ashram was dense and extensive enough to contain leopards and panthers. The ashram people were therefore unwilling to accept the offer, but the villager took his dream very seriously and refused to take the calf away.
Devaraja Mudaliar: Seeing his insistence and the devotion behind it, Ramanatha Brahmachari, who was then living near Bhagavan and who passed away a few years before him after many years of his gracious company, declared energetically, ‘I will look after the cow and the calf’.
Now this Ramanatha Brahmachari was a frail, puny, insignificant-looking man from whom one would normally never expect any vehemence, but on this occasion he seemed like one inspired.
He cried out, smiting his chest, ‘Here I am! I make myself responsible for the upkeep of these animals.’
So it was that, owing to the insistent devotion of Arunachalam Pillai and the unusual vehemence of Ramanatha Brahmachari, the cow and the calf came to live at the ashram. (The Cow, Lakshmi, pp. 7-8)
[Bhagavan himself was not initially willing to accept the offering.]
Bhagavan: You know what happened when they came here with the cow and the calf?
‘Why all this for us?’ I asked.
Arunachalam Pillai replied, saying, ‘I have for a long time been thinking of presenting Bhagavan with a cow. I am now in a position to do so. I have brought it after a good deal of trouble by boat and rail. Please keep it, Swami.’
I said, ‘You have done your duty in presenting it to us. Who is there to look after it? Please keep it with you on our behalf.’
The owner of the cow replied, ‘I will not take it away even if you cut my throat!’
Hearing this Ramanatha Brahmachari was piqued and said with great zest that he himself would look after the cow.
‘All right. Hang it round your own neck!’ I said.
As the calf came to us on a Friday, we named her Lakshmi.
Ramanatha somehow tended the cow and the calf for two or three months. Lakshmi was very playful, jumping about as she pleased, and while so doing, she ruined all the vegetable plants we were growing. If anyone chided her, she used to come to me for protection. I used to tell the ashramites that if they so desired they could put up a fence to protect their plants. Poor chap! Ramanatha could not put up with all these troubles from the other inmates of the ashram and so handed over the cow and the calf to a keeper of cattle in the town with some stipulations. I do not remember his name.’
A devotee said, ‘His name is Pasupati. He is a Kannadaga [person from Karnataka]. Lakshmi’s mother passed away after a short time. The arrangement was that if Lakshmi gave birth to a male calf it should be given to the ashram, and if it were a female calf, he should retain it.’
Bhagavan said, ‘That might be so. About a year after that he came here with Lakshmi and her calf for a bath on an eclipse day. He saw me first, had a bath in the Pali tank along with the cow and the calf and then they went home together. At that time Lakshmi saw the whole of this ashram. Remembering the route carefully, she began coming here every day. Lakshmi used to come in the morning and go away in the evening. She used to lie down by the side of my couch. If food was available, she would insist that I alone should give it to her. She would not take anything other than the hill plantain.’
[A ‘hill plantain’ is an exotic banana that only grows above a certain altitude. I think that Bhagavan means that she preferred hill bananas to ordinary ones. As this chapter will reveal, she happily ate a wide variety of human and animal foods.]
Someone said, ‘Every evening before leaving she used to go round the hall, it seems?’ Bhagavan replied, ‘That is the thing. We had no bell in the dining hall then. We do not know how she did it but everyday exactly at the appointed time for meals she used to come and stand before me. We used to look at the clock and find that that was just the time for meals. Her coming was the signal for us. She used to return to town daily most reluctantly.’
On further enquiry I came to know that Lakshmi came away permanently to the ashram in 1930, and that she had had three calves by then, and that, as per the agreement, all the calves had been given to the ashram. When she was pregnant for the third time, one evening she was unwilling to leave Bhagavan and go home. Like Nandini of Vasishta, she was shedding tears and lay close to the couch.
[Nandini is the name of a divine cow in Indian mythology. She was the daughter of Kamadhenu, whose name is also mentioned later in the chapter. All cows are supposed to be descended from Kamadhenu and Nandini. Stories about Nandini and Kamadhenu appear in many Puranas and Yoga Vasishta.]
Bhagavan was visibly affected.
Softly passing his hand over her face he said, ‘What! You say you can’t go away. You only want to stay here? What am I to do?’
Looking at the others, he said, ‘Look, Lakshmi is weeping, saying she cannot go away. She is pregnant and may have confinement at any moment. She must go a long distance and again come here in the morning. She cannot refrain from coming here. What is she to do?’
At last Bhagavan somehow coaxed her and sent her away. That very night she delivered. At about the same time Pasupati had some domestic difficulties. Unable to bear the burden of this Lakshmi with all her vagaries, he brought her and her three calves and presented them to Bhagavan. Lakshmi lay at Bhagavan’s feet and would not rise. Placing his right hand on her head and pressing it, he asked if she would like to stay here permanently. She closed her eyes and lay still as if in a trance. Noticing that, Bhagavan pointed out to the others that she appeared as though her responsibility for her calves was over, for they had been placed in Bhagavan’s charge.
When I narrated this story to Bhagavan he agreed. ‘Yes,’ he said ‘that was so. After Mother came to stay with me regular cooking and meals started and after Lakshmi came, cattle and dairying became established. Subsequently, for three or four years Lakshmi was presenting us with a calf every year on Jayanti day. Afterwards, that practice stopped. Altogether she had nine deliveries. (Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, by Suri Nagamma, letter 50, 24th July, 1948)
[The oldest account of Lakshmi is the one written by B. V. Narasimhaswami in 1930. Even at that early stage of her life at Ramanasramam she had established herself as a favourite of both Bhagavan and the devotees:]
On a festive day two years ago both of them [Lakshmi and her mother] were brought to the ashram. Since then Lakshmi runs up every morning [from town] and gets the entire pasture of the ashram to herself. She certainly does not content herself with that. She knows meal and tiffin times and on both occasions she walks right into the hall and places her head on the Maharshi who strokes her with affection and calls out to the people in the kitchen to give her food.
She sometimes seizes an entire bunch of eight to ten plantains that someone has brought or dirties the hall with her excreta; perhaps a disciple in attendance threatens to beat her. Maharshi at once intercedes on her behalf. If she trespasses on the small vegetable garden, he objects to her being scolded or roughly treated.
‘You must fence your plot better. The fault is there and not with Lakshmi,’ he says.
On festive occasions she gets a good bath, turmeric paste and a little dot of vermilion powder on her forehead, with possibly one or more garlands of flowers round her neck. She goes up to the Maharshi and takes leave every evening before leaving the ashram for the town and before parting receives the presents that may be available. She is the Sakuntala [beloved adopted daughter] of the ashram now. (Self-Realization by B. V. Narasimhaswami, 1993 ed. pp. 165-6)