This article was originally posted in my blog on 12 May 2008.
Two days ago I posted some verses by Muruganar that reduced one reader to a state of despair:
Reading these verses suggests a state of indescribable peace and yet, for some, like me, who have had no glimpse of that non-dual state, who have never lost the feeling of doership except in deep sleep, it leads to despondency because we’ve tried practicing the teachings but have failed miserably and as a result have to continue to go through suffering wondering if we’ll ever get redemption. Have you ever been despondent to get out of the scorching state of duality David?
Well, yes, now that you mention it. However, pining for liberation, wanting it, and despairing over not getting it, are all good indications that you are serious about liberation. Ramakrishna once said that you had to want it the way a drowning man who is having his head held under water wants air. You have to want it to the exclusion of all else. Ramakrishna used to go to his chosen deity every evening in a state of despair, wondering and questioning why the great revelation hadn’t happened to him that day.
Papaji pointed out once, if your clothes are on fire and you are racing to a river bank to jump in the water, you don’t get distracted by invitations on the way. When your hunger for liberation and your despair that you are not getting it are both acute, and nothing else matters to you, that’s the time something is likely to happen.
Today, by way of encouragement, I want to post some verses by Sadhu Natanananda. Those who have read his story in the various biographies of Bhagavan will know what a rough time he had in his early years at Ramanasramam. I have spoken to a few people who knew him well, and they all said that his spiritual life was a grim and prolonged struggle against his ego. Finally, as the following verses indicate, he made the breakthrough.
He was my neighbour when I first lived in Tiruvannamalai. Though he lived less than fifteen metres from me, he never acknowledged my existence in the year and a half I lived in that particular house. One day I was walking down my street with Viswanatha Swami, an old friend of Sadhu Natanananda who had known him almost sixty years. Sadhu Natanananda was walking in the opposite direction, his gaze, as usual, firmly placed on the ground just ahead of his feet.
Viswanatha Swami whispered to me, ‘Don’t look at him, don’t acknowledge his presence on the road, and don’t say “Hello”. He doesn’t like people to notice him.’
After we were out of earshot Viswanatha Swami added, ‘He has attained everything there is to attain. His work is over.’
So, it wasn’t personal. Sadhu Natanananda ignored everyone, even old devotees, and preferred it that way. I often think of this example of self-effacement and self-abnegation when I see the rash of newer ‘devotees’ advertising their satsangs. Sadhu Natanananda wore his self down to nothing through a fierce and determined struggle against the vagaries of his mind. Then, without seeking attention or acclaim, he spent his remaining years in solitude, avoiding company wherever possible and abiding as the Self.
Bhagavan had recognised his potential early on, as the following anecdote reveals:
On one Vyasapurnima day [a festival that is celebrated on the day of the July-August full moon], Ganapati Muni, Kapali Sastri, along with a group of Sanskrit scholars, were walking around the mountain. They stopped off at the ashram to pay their respects to the Maharshi. When they were seated in the old hall they started discussing philosophy in Sanskrit. I was listening to the discussion, and I knew that they were discussing philosophy, but I could not follow the meaning. Because of this my mind began to wander and I became quite agitated, wondering when the day would dawn when I would have the experiences that they were talking about. My longing for these experiences was so intense that I lost all consciousness of the body. I was not sure how long I remained in that state, but suddenly a voice brought back my normal consciousness. All the others had left and only Bhagavan remained in the hall.
‘Why are you so dejected?’ said the voice. ‘If you were really unfit to realise the Self in this life, then you could not have come to this place at all. The power that drew you here will make you realise the Self. If not today, it is bound to fulfill its commitment. There is no reason why you should feel dejected.’
It was these gracious words that brought me back to life, and peace entered my soul immediately.
Sadhu Natanananda’s despair and despondency were so acute, he actually passed out from frustrated longing. This story was recorded by V. Ganesan and reported in The Mountain Path, 1981, p. 235. A version of it also occurs in Self Realization (7th ed. 1968) p. 223, but that account does not explicitly state that Natanananda was spiritually mature enough to realise the Self before he died.
The following verses that Sadhu Natanananda wrote are from Tiruvarut Selvam (The Wealth of Divine Grace). They were found in one of his notebooks long after he passed away. An English translation of the whole poem appears on pages 131 to 142 of Sri Ramana Darsanam.
On that day when I caught hold of your feet, saying, ‘You are my refuge,’ you granted me freedom from fear by saying, ‘Fear not’.
I rid myself of burdens by surrendering my life to the guardianship of Sri Ramana. Responsibility for my life became his, and I attained salvation.
When I realised that no actions were ‘my’ actions, and that all actions were actions of the Lord, I was freed from ego.
Only the thought of Siva Ramana made my mind clear, dispelling completely the fear of birth and death.
The ghost of tamoguna [mental sloth] was only chased away by the good and beneficial mantra Namo Ramanaya [Obeisance to Ramana].
For me who was like a worm in excreta, engrossed in a false life, that was the only mantra that saved me, giving me eternal true life.
By getting rid of oppressive attachments, ‘I’ died. What is now animating the body is being-consciousness, that which abides as my Lord.
When, though bad company, I slipped from my real nature, it [being-consciousness] placed me in good company and corrected my error.
I jumped into the ruined well, family life, but he [Bhagavan] lifted me out and freed me from misery. He completely saved me.
To me who had the conceit that I knew everything, my Lord, dispelling ignorance, gave the eye of jnana.
I was extremely eager to become mature, before I was really ready. You weeded out the root of this fault before I got into trouble by transgressing all [accepted] limits.
When I posed as a Guru, deceiving devotees without compunction, you put an end to my stupid behaviour.
You declared that to be humble, to become as tiny as an atom, is extremely great. In this way you kept me under the shade of your feet, making me, a contemptible person, humble.
When, even after external renunciation, I found that the mind had not been renounced, you made me renounce my [physical] renunciation and tested my slackness.
[The ‘slackness’ refers to Natanananda not adhering to Bhagavan’s teachings on taking sannyasa.
In the early 1920s Natanananda asked Bhagavan to give him the orange robes of a sannyasin. Natanananda had brought the cloth to the old hall but Bhagavan refused to touch it. Natanananda then put the cloth on the stool in front of Bhagavan that visitors put their offerings on. After a few minutes he took it away and began to wear it. A few months later, when Natanananda decided to give up his life as a sannyasin, he presented the orange robes to Bhagavan. For the rest of his life he only ever wore white clothes.]
O Sadguru! Is it easy to enter the expansive Heart and shine as consciousness if the ego is not destroyed?
The desire for fame, which deludes a mind merged in darkness, will not approach anywhere near a mind that has the light of jnana.
I did not realise that you eternally dwelt as the god of dharma in my heart. Through your chastening grace you made me suffer, and in this way corrected me.
Like a mother who does not show harshness towards her son, even if he commits wicked deeds, you possess a great and cool compassion.
Since it was suffering that developed into dispassion and redeemed me, misery became more beneficial than joy to poor me.
Consciousness, manifesting within and becoming my Guru, perpetually prevented me from identifying with sense perceptions.
Losing Self-awareness, I was chained in the body by the vile senses. I was liberated by consciousness that manifested in my Heart as the soul of my soul.
When I was surrounded by illusory darkness, remaining in a state in which I was unable to bloom, the sun of truth-grace made me blossom.
Formerly the Supreme Self was like an atom in me, but through love it [truth-grace] made it into the vast expanse and made me see it.
My Lord said, ‘The foremost mystery among all those that are called mysteries is “To shine as the Self”’.
What excellent deeds did I, a dog, perform in the past that enabled me to come into contact with him who has no equal, and by doing so attain salvation?
Acting through ego-consciousness, the mind used to suffer by jumping out through the five senses, but now, through being-consciousness, it remains as sat [reality].
The soul that grew weary in the causal body [the unaware state of the ego during deep sleep ] through not having the eye of grace has now attained the good fortune of shining as perfect and complete being-consciousness.
The body was formerly an abode for disease, the enjoyment of sense perceptions and the ego ghost. Now it has become the dwelling place of the Lord.
Like breath, which remains continuous and unchanged even in sleep, the state of perfection, which is devoid of coming and going, became natural even in dream.
In this world is there anything to equal the love of my father who manifests himself [within devotees] even before they begin to worship him.
As desires ceased through the blessings of my Master, the mind, which was never previously satisfied, now attained fullness and completeness.
Having succeeded in getting the good fortune of practising devotion to the feet of the Lord in whom grace is abounding, the soul, which was merged in dark delusion, attained the Heart state.
To my eye of jnana, which has seen the truth, the Self appears everywhere. The illusory objects perceived by the senses, which I saw when I was deluded, no longer appear.
When the glittering sun appears, no stars are seen. Similarly, when my godliness arose, no thought appeared.
Jnana did not shine as long as the ego manifested. When the Self appeared, ego disappeared by itself.
My teacher said, ‘It is the “I am the body” viewpoint that leads to differences of “I” and “you”. If that viewpoint goes, non-differentiation will shine.’
In dispelling my ignorance that made me regard him as a human being like me, he whose love is equalled by none was more kind than a mother.
By thinking without thought of the one [Bhagavan] who, like Arunachala, abides without movement, I sank into the Heart.
Explaining the experience of the Self, which is ‘remaining still’, by remaining still himself, is a great feat indeed.
Because he admitted me, a useless person, to the group of true devotees, the fame of my Lord flourished throughout the world.
Even after seeing that I did not have the fitness to approach his feet, he redeemed me through his sweet ambrosial teachings.
Appearing as the Guru outside and as consciousness within, he weeded out the illusory mind and revealed my real nature.
Even if they [devotees] are lacking in maturity, if they see the grace-emanating lustrous countenance of the one who is the embodiment of jnana, their liberation is certain.
By redeeming helpless ones such as me, he became foremost among saviours, with none to equal him.
The true devotees of the king of munis, who is admired even by the three gods, will live and attain a greatness that even devas find difficult to acquire.
[The three Gods are Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. The devas mentioned in this verse are dwellers in the Hindu heavenly realms. Many Hindu teachers state that devas will have to be reborn on earth if they want to get enlightened.]
Like the Ganga that removes the sins of those who bathe in it, our Lord will completely destroy the infatuation of those who have come to him.
Those who offer themselves as dakshina, becoming the slaves of our Lord, are certain to get redeemed, becoming blessed ones even in this very life.
[Dakshina is the traditional fee that one gives to a Guru for instruction. Natanananda is saying here that those who offer their minds as dakshina get enlightened.
Around 1990 I attended a December 25th darshan in Lakshmana Swamy’s house. That’s the date of his birthday and, coincidentally, Christmas Day. There were only a few of us there.
He looked at us and said, ‘Where’s my Christmas present? It’s Christmas day today.’
We were all a bit embarrassed because no one had thought to buy anything. He had never bothered with Christmas celebrations before.
Seeing our discomfiture, he laughed and said, ‘People give me all sorts of things that I don’t want, don’t need and never use. The only thing I ever want from a devotee is the gift of his or her mind. I never get what I want for Christmas because devotees don’t know how to hand over their minds.’]
People of the world! In order to get salvation by taking refuge in Ramana, who bestows grace constantly and ungrudgingly, come before your days on this earth are finished.
If you take shelter under Sri Ramana, the celestial wish-fulfilling tree, you will live effortlessly as the enjoyer of bliss.
Those who have devotion to the feet of our Lord, the great Lord who is praised by everyone, will become, in their true nature, members of a group that are established in grace.
Those who come in the lineage of [my Lord] who bestows ‘That’, which is not reached through books, will shine as noble jnanis.
He who does not look at faults, performed the divine dance, taking even my imperfect heart as chitrambalam.
[Chitrambalam is the ‘expanse of consciousness’. It is a term that is particularly associated with the manifestation of Lord Nataraja, the dancing Siva, who performed his divine cosmic dance in Chidambaram. Siva’s divine dance is also mentioned in the next verse.]
Becoming the Heart-space where my Lord dances, I remained permanently sunk in the ocean of bliss.
Surrounded by devotees who have eaten and are now sleeping blissfully, he is the storehouse of compassion, serving ambrosia to the hungry.
[This means that Bhagavan has given his spiritual ambrosia to many devotees who, fully satiated, are now blissfully sleeping the sleep of enlightenment.]
Those who have had the divine fortune a getting the blessings of his divine tongue, which is full of love, will become capable of eradicating the mind, which is full of misery.
My Lord said, ‘When you abide in the Heart as “I am”, as that which is, the illusory ego will get destroyed.’
The Lord of the world of tapas said, ‘The mere thought “I am Siva” will not by itself constitute jnana tapas’.
[Many teachers of Vedanta advocate affirmations such as ‘I am Brahman’ or ‘I am Siva’ as sadhanas. Bhagavan maintained that these practices were intellectual activities that would not lead one to the source of the mind. Sadhu Natanananda had a strong background in Vedanta and may well have been following such a practice when he first came to Bhagavan.]
Your great and wonderful statement – those who are caught in the net of the gracious glance of the sword-like eyes of the Guru will never escape – has now become true.
By getting the rare-to-attain human birth, and the longing for supreme bliss and the difficult-to-find grace of the Guru, I arrived at true life.
This is a brief clip of Sadhu Natanananda talking in his garden in 1969. It was part of a French documentary, directed by Louis Malle, that featured several ashrams and spiritual places in India.