One morning he got tired of being spied on this way and exploded: ‘Why are you people cluttering up my floor like this? You are not meditating; you are just getting in the way! If you want to go and sit somewhere, go and sit on the toilet for an hour! At least you will be doing something useful there.’
Harriet: What about the other times of the day, when he was available for questioning? Did he ever sit in silence during those periods?
David: There were two periods when it was possible to question him: one in the late morning and one in the evening. Translators would be available at both sessions. He encouraged people to talk during these sessions, or at least he did when I first started going to see him. Later on, he would use these sessions to give long talks on the nature of consciousness. He never sat quietly if no one had anything to say. He would actively solicit questions, but if no one wanted to talk to him, he would start talking himself.
I only ever had one opportunity to sit with him in complete silence and that was at the beginning of the summer monsoon. When the monsoon breaks in Bombay, usually around the end of the first week of June, there are very heavy rains that bring the city to a standstill. The storm drains are generally clogged, and for a day or so people are walking round in knee-deep water. And not just water. The sewers overflow and the animals that live in them drown. Anyone brave enough to go for a paddle would be wading through sewage, waterlogged garbage and the corpses of whatever animals had recently drowned. Public transport comes to a halt since in many places the water level is too high to drive through.
One afternoon two of us waded through the floodwaters to Maharaj’s door. We were both staying in a cheap lodge about 200 yards away, so it wasn’t that much of a trek. We scrubbed off the filth with water from a tap on the ground floor and made our way up to Maharaj’s room. He seemed very surprised to see us. I think he thought that the floods would keep everyone away. He said in Marathi that there would be no session that afternoon because none of the translators would be able to make it. I assume he wanted us to leave and go home, but we both pretended that we didn’t understand what he was trying to tell us. After one or two more unsuccessful attempts to persuade us to go, he gave up and sat in a corner of the room with a newspaper in front of his face so that we couldn’t even look at him. I didn’t care. I was just happy to be sitting in the same room as him. I sat there in absolute silence with him for over an hour, and it was one of the most wonderful experiences I ever had with him. I felt an intense rock-solid silence descend on me that became deeper and deeper as the minutes passed. There was just a glow of awareness that filled me so completely, thoughts were utterly impossible. You don’t realise what a monstrous imposition the mind is until you have lived without it, completely happily, completely silently, and completely effortlessly for a short period of time. For most of this time I was looking in the direction of Maharaj. Sometimes he would turn a page and glance in our direction, and when he did he still seemed to be irritated that we hadn’t left. I was smiling inwardly at his annoyance because it wasn’t touching me in any way. I had no self-consciousness, no embarrassment, no feeling of being an imposition. I was just resting contentedly in my own being.
After just over an hour of this he got up and shooed us both out. I prostrated and left. Later on, I wondered why he didn’t sit in silence more often since there was clearly a very powerful quietening energy coming off him when he was silent. Ramana Maharshi said that speaking actually interrupted the flow of the silent energy he was giving out. I have often wondered if the same thing happened with Maharaj.
Harriet: And what was your conclusion?
David: I realised that it was not his nature to keep quiet. His teaching method was geared to arguing and talking. That’s what he felt most comfortable doing.
Harriet: Can you elaborate on that a little more?
David: I should qualify what I am about to say by stating that most of it is just my own opinion, based on observing him deal with the people who came to him. It doesn’t come from anything I heard him say himself.
When people first came to see him, he would encourage them to talk about their background. He would try to find out what spiritual path you were on, and what had brought you to him. In the face of Maharaj’s probing questions visitors would end up having to justify their world-view and their spiritual practices. This would be one level of the interaction. At a deeper and more subtle level Maharaj would be radiating an energy, a sakti, that quietened your mind and made you aware of what lay underneath the mind and all its ideas and concepts. Now imagine these two processes going o n simultaneously. With his mind the questioner has just constructed and articulated a version of his world-view. Underneath, though, he will be feeling the pull of his beingness, the knowledge of what is truly real, as opposed to the ideas that he merely thinks to be real. Maharaj’s energy will be enhancing awareness of that substratum all the time. At some point the questioner will become acutely aware of what seem to be two competing realities: the conceptual structure he has just outlined, and the actual experience that underlies it. There was a certain look that appeared on some people’s faces when this happened: a kind of indecisive ‘which way should I go?’ look. Sometimes the questioner would realise immediately that all his ideas and beliefs were just concepts. He would drop them and rest in the beingness instead. This, for me, was the essence of Maharaj’s teaching technique. He wouldn’t try to convince you by argument. He would instead make you argue yourself into a position that you felt to be true, and then he would undercut that position by giving you a taste of the substratum that underlay all concepts. If you were ready for it, you would drop your attachment to your concepts and rest in what lay underneath them. If not, you would blunder ahead, going deeper and deeper into the minefield of the mind. Some people got it quickly. Others, who were desperate for a structure to cling to, would come back again and again with questions that were designed merely to refine their understanding of his teachings.
Talking to visitors and arguing with them was an essential part of this technique. For it to work effectively Maharaj required that visitors talk about themselves and their world-view because he needed them to see that all these ideas were just concepts having no ultimate reality. He needed people to look at their concepts, understand their uselessness and then reject them in favour of direct experience.
I should mention here the limitations he put on the types of question that he was willing to answer.
He would sometimes tell new people, ‘I am not interested in what you have heard or read. I am not interested in second-hand information that you have acquired from somewhere else. I am only interested in your own experience of yourself. If you have any questions about that, you can ask me.’
Later, after you had had your initial dialogues with him, he would introduce an even more stringent test for questions: ‘I am not interested in answering questions that assume the existence of an individual person who inhabits a body. I don’t accept the existence of such an entity, so for me such questions are entirely hypothetical.’
This second constraint was a real conversation killer. You couldn’t say, ‘How do I get enlightened?’ or ‘What do I do?’ because all such questions presuppose the existence of an ‘I’, an assumption that Maharaj always used to reject.
I still have vivid memories of him listening as translators explained in Marathi what some questioner had said. As he understood the gist of what the question was, Maharaj’s face would sometimes turn to a scowl. He would clench his fist, bang it on the floor and shout ‘Kalpana! Kalpana!’ which means ‘Concept! Concept!’ That would sometimes be the only answer the questioners would get. Maharaj was definitely not interested in massaging visitor’s concepts. He wanted people to drop them, not discuss them.
When this second restriction effectively cut off most of the questions that people like to ask Gurus, Maharaj would fill the vacuum by giving talks about the nature of consciousness. Day after day he would continue with the same topic, often using the same analogies. He would explain how it arises, how it manifests and how it subsides. In retrospect I think he was doing what the ancient rishis of India did when they told their disciples ‘You are Brahman’.
When a jnani who is established in Brahman as Brahman says to a disciple, ‘You are Brahman,’ he is not merely conveying a piece of information. There is a power and an authority in the words that, in certain cases, makes the listener become and experience Brahman as he hears the words. This is a power and an authority that only jnanis have. Other people can say ‘You are consciousness,’ ‘You are Brahman,’ endlessly, but these will just be pieces of information that you can store in your mind. When a jnani tells you this, the full authority of his state and the full force that lies behind it are conveyed in the statement. If you take delivery of that information in the heart, in consciousness, then you experience that state for yourself. If you take delivery in your mind, you just store it there as an interesting piece of information.
When Maharaj told you endlessly ‘You are consciousness,’ if you received that information in utter inner silence, it activated an awareness of consciousness to such an extent that you felt, ‘He isn’t just telling me something; he is actually describing what I am, right now in this moment’.
Harriet: Did this ever happen to you?
David: Yes, and I think that this is what he was referring to when he talked about ‘getting the knowledge’. It wasn’t an intellectual knowledge he was talking about, and it wasn’t Self-realisation either. It was a state in which concepts temporarily dissolved leaving a simple awareness of the being that underlay them. While they lasted, the states were very useful; they gave you the conviction and the direct experience that there was something real and enduring that exists whether the mind is there or not.
Harriet: All this is very interesting, but as you have said, a lot of it is your own personal conjecture. Did Maharaj ever confirm himself that this is what he was doing, or trying to do, with the people who came to him?
David: Not directly. He never explained or analysed his teaching methods, or not while I was there. Most of what I have just said comes from my own experience and my own interpretation of what I saw going on there. Other people may have other theories to explain what was going on. However, the facts of the matter are indisputable. People came to Maharaj, had talks or arguments with him, and at some point dropped their accumulation of ideas because they had been convinced that a direct experience invalidated all the long-held cherished notions they had accumulated.
Let me tell you about one conversation I had with him because it gives some good circumstantial evidence for what I have just been trying to explain. Firstly, I should mention that I sometimes used to argue with Maharaj simply because I knew that he liked people to argue with him. He seemed to like the cut and thrust of debate, and if no one had anything to say or ask, I would pick up the ball and start a discussion with him.
I can’t remember any more exactly what we talked about on this particular day, but I do remember that we spoke for about five minutes, during which time I was ostensibly pointing out what I claimed were contradictions in his teachings. He, meanwhile, was doing his best to convince me that no contradictions were involved. It was all very good-humoured and I think he knew that I was only disputing with him because, firstly, we both liked talking and arguing about spiritual topics and, secondly, no one else had any urgent questions to ask. After about five minutes, though, he decided to bring the discussion to a close.
‘I don’t think you really understand the purpose of my dialogues here. I don’t say things simply to convince people that they are true. I am not speaking about these matters so that people can build up a philosophy that can be rationally defended, and which is free of all contradictions. When I speak my words, I am not speaking to your mind at all. I am directing my words directly at consciousness. I am planting my words in your consciousness. If you disturb the planting process by arguing about the meaning of the words, they won’t take root there. Once my words have been planted in consciousness, they will sprout, they will grow, and at the appropriate moment they will bear fruit. It’s nothing to do with you. All this will happen by itself. However, if you think about the words too much or dispute their meaning, you will postpone the moment of their fruition.’
All this was said in a very genial tone. However, at this point, he got very, very serious.
Glowering at me he said very sternly, ‘Enough talking. Be quiet and let the words do their work!’
End of conversation.
I always recollect this exchange with happiness and optimism. I feel I have been graced by his presence and further graced by the words of truth he has planted within me. I think those words will always be with me and I know that at the appropriate moment they will bloom.
Harriet: Have you obeyed his instructions? Have you stopped thinking about the teachings?
David: Until you showed up today I hadn’t really thought about the teachings for years. I haven’t even read many of the new books of dialogues that have come out about him. That answer I gave a few minutes ago, ‘The more I listen to Maharaj, the more I understand what Bhagavan is trying to tell me,’ is in one of the books but I didn’t find out until a few years ago.
My ex-wife Vasanta was reading the book and she said, ‘There is someone here from Ramanasramam. Do you know who it is?’
She read a few lines and I realised that it was me. I used to read I am That cover to cover about once a year, but I don’t even do that any more. Sometimes, if I am in the Ramanasramam library, I pick up I am That and read the opening sequence of chapter twenty-three. It is a beautiful description of the jnani’s state that I never tire of reading. Other than that, I rarely read or think about the teachings any more.
Having said that, I think it would be correct to say that I have more than enough other concepts in my head which are all acting as a herbicide on the words of truth that Maharaj planted within me. However, I have great faith in the irresistible power of Maharaj’s words. Sooner or later they will bear fruit.
Harriet: Ramesh Balsekar used to say, ‘The only effective effort is the immediate apperception of reality’. Some people would take that to mean that if you don’t get the direct experience as the Guru, in this case Maharaj, is talking to you, you are not going to get it at all. Are you sure you are not just suffering from a case of wishful thinking?
David: There is something in what you say. If you could keep your intellect out of the way when Maharaj was speaking, his words, and the authority behind them, would do their work. When he spoke he wasn’t asking you to join in the process at all. How could he be asking you to do anything when he knew that you didn’t exist? He wasn’t asking you to understand, and he wasn’t saying, ‘Do this and you will be enlightened’. He wasn’t addressing you at all. He was directing his words at the consciousness within you in an attempt to make you aware of who you really were. However, if his words didn’t immediately produce results, he knew that they might deliver the goods later on. Remember what happened in his own case. Siddharameshwar told him that he was Brahman. Nisargadatta struggled with this for three years until he finally dropped his doubts and realised it to be the truth.
There is a power in a jnani’s words, and that power does not dissipate two seconds after the jnani has uttered them. It lingers and it carries on being effective; it carries on doing its work.
Harriet: Did Maharaj himself corroborate this?
David: Yes. I can’t remember how the subject came up, but I heard him say, ‘The words of enlightened beings have a power that makes them endure. The great saints of the past gave out their teachings, and those teachings have survived because there is an inherent power and authority in them. Other people may have been saying the same thing at the same time, but the words of those people have disappeared because there was no power in them. The words of jnanis have endured because they have the power and authority of the Self behind them.’
I mentioned this answer to Papaji when I was interviewing him a few years ago. He gave it his whole-hearted endorsement.
Harriet: When you say that the words ‘have endured’ does that mean that they have simply endured in books, as remembered quotations, or do they still have the power to awaken people, even centuries after they were spoken? Is not the immediate presence of the Guru necessary for that?
David: I think I would have to say that a living human Guru is necessary for all but the most mature to realise the Self. However, once you have seen a real Guru and been with him, his presence is always with you. You can tune into his presence, his grace, and his power in any number of ways: through his photo, through thinking about him, and through reading his words.
Harriet: Again, I feel compelled to ask, ‘Is this your own opinion or do you have some support from Maharaj to back it up?’
David: I remember a conversation I had with Maharaj on my first visit. I can’t remember how we got round to the subject, but we ended up talking about the power of the Guru and the various channels it manifested through. I had been deeply impressed and deeply moved by I am That, and I told him so.
Me: For several months I have been reading I am That. Through those words I felt a very strong connection with you and the teachings. Can one have a connection with a Guru simply by reading his words, or is it necessary to come in person to see him?
Maharaj: The words will do their work wherever you hear or read them. You can come here and listen to them in person, or you can read them in a book. If the teacher is enlightened, there will be a power in them.
Me: In my particular case I read the words of a Guru who was still alive, and those words compelled me to come here and see you. Perhaps your words had such a strong effect because you are still alive and teaching. I made contact with a living teacher, a living presence. What about a hypothetical case of someone picking up I am That in fifty years’ time, and in a country several thousand miles away? That person will never have a chance to see you. Will those words still have the power to transform and awaken?
Maharaj: Time and space exist in your mind, not in the Self. There is no limit to the power of the Self. The power of the Self is always present, always working, always the same. What varies is the readiness and willingness of people to turn their attention to it. If someone picks up this book ten thousand miles away in a thousand years’ time, those words will do their work if the reader is in the right state to listen to and assimilate the words.
He didn’t actually say that one could get enlightened by reading the words of a dead Guru, but he was quite clear that the words of an enlightened being, even in book form, were charged with a power that future generations could tune into. I think I asked this particular question because of my relationship with Ramana Maharshi. I was the ‘hypothetical’ person in the question who had discovered the words of a great but deceased Guru. I suppose I really wanted to know whether Ramana Maharshi could be the Guru for someone like me who had been born years after he passed away. Maharaj didn’t really answer that question for me, but he did convince me that a considerable part of the power and the authority of the Guru could be found in his recorded teachings.