Lakshmana Swamy realised the Self in Ramana Maharshi’s presence in 1949. Mathru Sri Sarada realised the Self in Lakshmana Swamy’s presence in 1978. This book contains fascinating details from both their lives, along with teaching instructions that were given out to devotees in the early 1980s.
What follows is actually an extract from The Power of the Presence, part two, in which Lakshmana Swamy narrates his experiences with Bhagavan. The story is almost identical to the version told in No Mind – I am the Self, except that this is a first-person account. I converted the original third-person account in No Mind – I am the Self into this first-person account and then had it checked and corrected by Lakshmana Swamy himself.
On the last day of my [Lakshmana Swamy’s] second year at college my attention was drawn to a large crowd that had congregated in and around the main lecture hall. I was not able to enter the hall itself because it was crowded with students, but looking over the heads of the people at the back of the hall I could see that the lecture was being given by my English professor, G. V. Subbaramayya. I was at a great distance from the platform so I could not hear clearly the words of the lecturer, but when he pointed to a portrait that was standing next to him on the platform and said that the sage in the portrait was Sri Ramana Maharshi, the words rang in my ears. Up till that moment I had never heard of the Maharshi. However, as soon as I heard the name, I felt an irrepressible longing to see him. Since no details of his location were given, I was not then aware of how I could go about finding him and seeing him. I should have asked Professor Subbaramayya, but I missed my chance, and since this was the last day of the academic year, I returned home to Gudur with no useful information about the Maharshi and his whereabouts.
I didn’t have to wait long to discover the information that I desired. As I was returning to Gudur by train the following day I saw a small booklet entitled Sri Ramana Maharshi on sale at the bookstore on the station platform. I eagerly purchased it, opened it at the first page and read the following verse that had been composed in Sanskrit by Ramana Maharshi himself:
In the interior of the Heart-cave the one Supreme Being, Brahman, shines as ‘I-I’, verily the Atman. Entering into the Heart with a one-pointed mind either through self-enquiry or by diving within or by breath control, abide thou in Atmanishta [the state of being firmly established in the Self].
I had already learned enough Sanskrit to understand the meaning. This one verse made a deep and immediate impression on me. There was no question of memorising it. As soon as I read it, all the lines were immediately imprinted on my heart.
I learned from this small booklet that Ramana Maharshi lived in an ashram just outside Tiruvannamalai. I located this town on a map, but at this time in my life I wasn’t in a position to make a pilgrimage there.
My laziness at college finally caught up with me and I twice failed my second-year exams. I went back to staying with my family in Gudur, but life there was far from congenial. I was under renewed pressure to get married and spent a lot of time arguing with my family over this issue. I stood firm and again refused to consider marriage. To avoid the quarrels at home I spent most of my time in solitary places where no one could find me or speak to me. Most of my time was spent in meditation. There was no necessity of finding a job because I had a small private income that had come from inheriting a share in my grandfather’s house. My portion of the house was rented out and I gave the income to my family.
A year went by in which I did little except meditate. Towards the end of 1948 my mother insisted that I must make a larger contribution to the family’s budget. A job was found for me in a local mica company where I worked as a clerk-typist for about five months. I had no interest whatsoever in the work. I did it only because my family insisted that they needed more money. At the beginning of 1949 I resigned my position and persuaded my mother to accompany me on a trip to Sri Ramanasramam. One of my aunts had already been to see Bhagavan, and she reported to me that he was an old man who wouldn’t live much longer. She described him as ‘a ripe fruit about to drop off the tree’. This report spurred me into action, making me realise that I didn’t have much time if I wanted to see Bhagavan.
My pilgrimage to Ramanasramam began at the local train station in Gudur. While I was waiting for the train to arrive, my mother started talking to two women who were also waiting for the same train. It was soon discovered that they too were heading for Ramanasramam. They were accompanying Sathyananda Swami, a long-time devotee of Ramana Maharshi. When this swami was informed that we were on our way to Tiruvannamalai and that we were planning to visit Ramanasramam for the first time, he invited us to join his party. I was delighted by this fortunate turn of events. I felt that Bhagavan himself had sent one of his devotees to guide us to his ashram.
The journey took all day and it was well after dark when we finally arrived in Tiruvannamalai. We spent the night at a choultry and the following morning we walked to Ramanasramam in the company of Swami Sathyananda. Instead of approaching the ashram by the main road, we ended up arriving through the back gate, located between the kitchen and the storeroom. As we were climbing the steps that led up to the gate, we saw Bhagavan walking slowly in the direction of the cow shed. Bhagavan noticed us, stopped for a few seconds to look at us, and then carried on with his walk. Entering through the back gate had thus proved to be very lucky because it enabled us to have a brief and almost private darshan of Bhagavan at a time when the ashram was immensely crowded.
I soon discovered that we had arrived at an inconvenient time. The ashram was overflowing with visitors who had come from all parts of the country to attend the consecration and opening ceremony of the temple that had been constructed over the samadhi of Bhagavan’s mother. The main consecration ceremony was due to take place a few days after our arrival.
Because we had arrived with a devotee who was well known to the ashram management, there was no problem in getting accommodation, but speaking to Bhagavan proved to be more difficult. I wanted to speak to him about the experience of the Self I had had in the dried-up lake in Gudur, but I never got a chance because there were always large crowds of people milling around him. I had to be content with having darshan in a large crowd of other devotees.
On one of the days of my visit I was standing by the main ashram well. Bhagavan was sitting nearby on a bench outside the hall where he usually slept, listening to a group of brahmin boys chant extracts from the Vedas. As I looked at the scene in front of me the world completely lost its solid, substantial reality. I became aware that everything I was perceiving in that scene was nothing more than a dream-like projection. This experience gave me the certainty that everything in the world, including the body of Bhagavan that I was concentrating on, was unreal. As I gazed at the scene I had the knowledge and the experience that the real Ramana Maharshi was not the dream body I saw before me, it was the formless, effulgent Self that I had experienced on the dried-up lake bed in Gudur. This experience soon passed away though, leaving me in my former state.
I divided my time between sitting with Bhagavan at the times he was available and sitting in solitary meditation on the hill. I only stayed three days on this first visit, but that short period of time was enough to convince me that in Bhagavan I had found the Guru I had been seeking. I decided to change my japa from ‘Hare Rama’ to ‘Hare Ramana’ since I felt that I could avail myself of my Guru’s grace by chanting his name. I read the Telugu version of Who Am I? that was on sale at the ashram bookstore while I was there, but I didn’t feel inclined to take up the practice of self-enquiry at the time because I was more accustomed to doing japa.