Harriet: What took so long? What made you wait?
David: Something has just surfaced in my memory, something I haven’t thought about for years. After reading I am That a few times, I developed a great faith in Maharaj’s state and power. I knew he was the real thing. I knew that if I went to see him I would accept any advice that he gave me. Around that time I heard reports that a couple of foreigners I knew had been to see him, and that he had advised them both to go back to their respective countries. This alarmed me a bit. I was very attached to being in Tiruvannamalai, and I definitely didn’t want to go back to the West. Something inside me knew that if Maharaj told me to go back to England, I would go. I didn’t want to leave India, so I held off going to see him for a few months.
There was another unresolved issue. I wasn’t sure at that point whether or not I needed a human Guru. The Ramanasramam party line has always been that Bhagavan can be the Guru for everyone, even people who never met him while he was alive. I seem to remember having a knowledge of all the places in the Ramanasramam books and in I am That where the subject of Gurus came up. I would read them quite often, without ever coming to a final conclusion about whether I needed a human Guru or not.
Harriet: So what made you finally overcome your resistance to going to Bombay?
David: An Australian woman, who had been before, suggested we go, and I agreed. I always knew I would go sooner or later. I just needed a push to get me going, and this invitation was it. I am trying to remember when it was. I think it was the middle of 1978, but I can’t be more accurate than that.
Harriet: What were your first impressions? What happened when you arrived?
David: I remember sitting in his room, waiting for him to come upstairs. I was very nervous and apprehensive, but I can’t remember why. I recollect trying to start a conversation with the man sitting next to me, but he asked me to be quiet so that he could meditate.
Maharaj came in and a few minutes later I found myself sitting in front of him, telling him who I was and why I had come. It was an afternoon session and not many people were there. Since I was the only new person present, he called me up to find out who I was and what I wanted.
I explained that I had come from Ramanasramam, that I had spent two years there, and that I had been practising Bhagavan’s teachings on self-enquiry fairly intensively. At this period of my life I often used to meditate eight hours a day, although by the time I met Maharaj this was beginning to tail off a bit.
Maharaj eventually asked me if I had any questions and I replied, ‘Not now. I just want to sit and listen to you for a while.’
He accepted this and allowed me to disappear to the back of the room. I should say at this point that I had already felt the power and the peace of his presence in the room. It was something very tangible.
Question: Did you go there with questions that you wanted to ask him? Was there anything that you wanted to talk to him about?
David: I really can’t remember. I knew I would end up talking to him, but I didn’t have any particular burning question.
Harriet: How long did it take for you to summon up the courage to start a dialogue with him?
David: I think it was the next day, in the afternoon session. That means I must have sat through two full sessions, just listening to what other people had to say, and to what Maharaj had to say to them.
Eventually, when there was a lull in the conversation I asked, ‘I have been doing self-enquiry, trying to keep attention on the inner feeling of “I”, for several years, but no matter how intensively I try to do it, I don’t find that my attention stays on the “I” for more than a few seconds. There doesn’t seem to be an improvement in my ability to keep my attention on this inner feeling of “I”. Do the periods of being aware of the “I” have to get longer and longer until they become more or less continuous?’
‘No,’ he replied, ‘just having the strong urge to seek this “I” and investigate it is enough. Don’t worry about how well or how long you are holding onto it. The strong desire to know the “I” will keep taking you back to it when your attention strays. If something is important to you, it keeps coming up in your mind. If knowing the “I” is important to you, you will find yourself going back to it again and again.’
After that I think I talked to him almost every day, mostly about various aspects of his teachings on consciousness. He seemed to encourage questions from me, and I always enjoyed quizzing him. However, the exact details of the questions and answers seem to have slipped through the cracks of my memory.
Harriet: All this talk about Ramana Maharshi has reminded me of something else that I wanted to ask. We started off this afternoon with a question about why Maharaj isn’t the topic of memoirs, at least book length ones. A few people have written short accounts, but I have never come across a full-length book about living with him. Many of the Ramana Maharshi books are filled with stories of miraculous events that seemed to be taking place around him. Many of his devotees tell stories of how faith in Bhagavan changed their lives or somehow, in an improbable way, transformed their destiny. I know that Bhagavan himself disowned all personal responsibility for these events, but that didn’t stop people writing them down and attributing them to Bhagavan’s grace.
I suppose my question is, did similar things happen around Maharaj, and if they did, why did no one ever bother to write them down?
David: I don’t know how common such events were, but I know that they did happen. And if similar things did happen to other people, I really don’t know why those who know about these events don’t want to write them down.
Let me redress the balance by telling one very long and very lovely story.
At some point in the late 1970s I was asked to take a South American woman called Anna-Marie to Bombay and look after her because she hardly spoke a word of English. Her native language was Spanish and I think she lived in Venezuela, but I have a vague memory that this wasn’t her nationality. I was planning to go to Bombay anyway to see Maharaj, so I agreed to take her and look after her. Very early on in our journey – we were still in Madras – I realised that I had been given a bit of a basket case to look after. Anna-Marie was completely incapable of looking after herself, and was incredibly forgetful. Before we had even managed to get on the train to Bombay, she managed to lose all her money and her passport. By retracing our steps, we eventually tracked them down to a bookstore near the station. Miraculously, the manager had found the purse and had kept it with him in case we came back looking for it.
A few hours into our train journey from Madras to Bombay Anna-Marie went to the bathroom. On Indian trains that means a squat toilet which is just a hole in the floor with footrests on either side of it. Anna-Marie was sitting there, doing her business, when the train jolted on the tracks. Her glasses fell off and disappeared down the hole in the floor. It turned out to be her only pair, and without them she was more or less blind. I realised this later in the day when we stopped at a station further down the line. Anna-Marie was standing on the platform when the train started to pull out of the station. She made no move to get on. When I realised what was happening, I jumped off and pushed her onto the moving train. I had already realised that she was having trouble seeing things, but I didn’t realise how bad things really were until I discovered that she couldn’t see a moving train, with about twenty-five carriages, that was about ten feet in front of her. I knew that my first priority, once we got to Bombay, would be to get her a new pair of glasses. I remembered that there was an optician quite near to Maharaj’s house. I had noticed it on previous trips while I was waiting to catch a bus to go downtown.
Early the next morning, as soon as the shop opened, I took her in to get her eyes tested and to get her some glasses. The test took a long time, partly because of Anna-Marie’s deficiency in English, and partly because the optician couldn’t work out what her prescription was.
After about half an hour he came out and said, ‘She needs to go to a specialist eye hospital. I can’t find out with my instruments here what her prescription might be. There is something seriously wrong with her eyes, but I don’t know what it is. Take her to “Such and Such” Eye Hospital.’
Whatever the name was, I had never heard of it. He started to give me directions, but since I didn’t know Bombay, I wasn’t able to follow them. This was when the first ‘miracle’ of the day happened. It was to be the first of many.
‘Don’t worry,’ said the optician, ‘I’ll take you there myself.’
He closed his store – there were no assistants to man the counter while we were away – and we set off on a walk across Bombay. We must have walked over a mile before we finally arrived at the hospital. He took us to the office of an eye surgeon he knew there and explained that his instruments were not sophisticated enough to work out what was wrong with Anna-Marie’s eyes. He then left us and went back to his store. I have encountered many acts of kindness in all the years I have been in India, but I still marvel at this shop owner who closed down his store for a couple of hours and then went on a two-mile round-trip walk just to help us out.
The eye surgeon set to work on Anna-Marie’s eyes. Even he was impressed by how complicated her eyes were. He tried her out on several machines and gadgets, but like the optician before him, he failed to come up with a prescription.
‘What is wrong with this woman?’ he asked. ‘How did she end up with eyes like these?’
I shrugged my shoulders.
‘I have no idea. I barely know her and she hardly speaks any English.’