In more recent times there is the famous incident in which Ramakrishna touched Vivekananda with his foot and gave him a powerful experience that almost resulted in the extinction of his individual self. I don’t think the full story of this encounter has appeared in a Ramanasramam publication, but the story was known by both Bhagavan and his devotees. Here is a version of it I found online. I will give Bhagavan’s comments on the incident afterwards:
Naren’s [Vivekananda’s] doubt about Ramakrishna would not disappear, and perhaps he feared that he would be drawn into the orbit of his lofty spiritual presence. Not until a month had elapsed did he return to Dakshineswar. Ramakrishna was in a strange mood, Naren was to relate, and he was apprehensive that Ramakrishna would once again enact something crazy. Indeed, no sooner had that thought passed through his mind than Ramakrishna placed his foot on Naren’s body, and Naren at once had a ‘wonderful experience.’
Naren was to add: ‘My eyes were wide open, and I saw that everything in the room, including the walls themselves, was whirling rapidly around and receding, and at the same time, it seemed to me that my consciousness of self, together with the entire universe, was about to vanish into a vast, all-devouring void. This destruction of my consciousness of self seemed to me to be the same thing as death. I felt that death was right before me, very close.
Unable to control myself, I cried out loudly, ‘Ah, what are you doing to me? Don’t you know I have my parents at home?’
When the Master heard this, he gave a loud laugh. Then, touching my chest with his hand, he said, ‘All right, let it stop now. It needn’t be done all at once. It will happen in its own good time.’
‘To my amazement, this extraordinary vision of mine vanished as suddenly as it had come. I returned to my normal state and saw things inside and outside the room standing stationary, as before.’
Bhagavan was asked about this foot-touching incident in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 252:
Question: Sri Ramakrishna touched Vivekananda and the latter realised bliss. Is it possible?
Bhagavan: Sri Ramakrishna did not touch all for that purpose. He did not create Atma. He did not create realisation. Vivekananda was ripe. He was anxious to realise. He must have completed the preliminary course in his past births. Such is possible for ripe persons only. The key to success is clearly maturity.
In the 1890s Achyutadasa, a mature sadhaka, felt the power of Bhagavan’s feet and warned his group not to touch them; Vivekananda, as Bhagavan explained, was ready for this experience of samadhi by virtue of spiritual work done in previous births; and Namadeva, despite his bouts of petulance, was a pure enough soul to be spending large portions of his time with Vittal. Bearing this in mind, I should like now to narrate two more modern and very dramatic stories that illustrate the power inherent in the Guru’s feet.
Jillellamudi Amma (1923-1985) was a modern-day Telugu Guru who had thousands of devotees in Andhra Pradesh in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. She received her title from the village of Jillellamudi where she spent the latter portion of her life. She claims to have been born in an enlightened state and said that she never needed to do any sadhana or attain any spiritual goals. Though she was a simple village woman who went through the usual life trajectory of marriage, children and family life, she knew throughout it all that it was just a body performing its allotted karma. Her daughter Hyma was also a highly evolved soul who died in a Guntur hospital of smallpox in 1968. After her death her body was brought back to the ashram, which was about sixty kilometres away. Jillellamudi Amma declined to have her cremated and instead made a samadhi shrine for her, a sign of her saintliness. This is a description of the burial rites, taken from Mother of All by Richard Schiffman.
Jillellamudi Amma first garlanded her daughter’s corpse, tied flower garlands to her hair, put kumkum on her forehead and placed the body in siddhasana, facing eastwards. For some time Mother stood at the edge of the pit with her foot placed squarely on the crown of Hyma’s head.
When Doctor Potluri Subba Rao prepared to take a photo of this, Amma gestured towards the pit and asked, ‘Should I also get in?’
Then she smiled and remarked somewhat wistfully: ‘How can I get in? Haven’t I got some more things to do? I won’t stay here.’
Mother gazed down at her foot on Hyma’s head and said, ‘My fire has entered her. My foot is getting roasted by the heat. The pulse may also return, but what would be surprising about that?’
Amma gestured for the doctor to check and he discovered, to his amazement, that Hyma’s body was indeed hot to the touch. Even more surprisingly, a slight breath had returned and her chest heaved visibly, as the doctors and several others who were nearby could easily observe. Mother placed her own gold bangles into the grave, picked up a hand fan and began to fan Hyma. Meanwhile, devotees were filing past with offerings of vibhuti, kumkum and flowers which they threw into the pit….
For some time Amma sits quietly at the edge of the pit with her eyes closed. When she opens them again, she looks towards Doctor Subba Rao and says jocularly, ‘If I sit like this, people will say that I am transmitting power’.
‘That is exactly what I am going to say,’ the doctor answers with a smile.
Then Mother offers another coconut and places some vibhuti on the top of Hyma’s head. At just this moment the electricity fails and the lights that have been placed on poles around the pit blink off, leaving the area in total darkness. When they come on again a few minutes later, Mother points to the flow of blood coming from the uppermost crown of Hyma’s head, the place where, according to yogic science the thousand-petalled lotus, the highest of all the chakras and the final barrier which must be punctured before the individual soul can merge with the infinite, is located. Then Mother covers the pit with a white silk sari of hers and turns to Doctor Subba Rao:
‘Doctorji, my work is over,’ she says, and together with her husband, waves a tray of burning camphor, a final arati before this covered pit.
This account came out in 1983, and I probably read it soon afterwards. On my next visit to Lakshmana Ashram I told Saradamma about this story of the Guru apparently reanimating the disciple’s body after it had been dead for quite some time, and then (my conjecture) making the jiva leave the body through the crown of the head. She told Lakshmana Swamy about it later that day. He was curious to learn more since transmissions of this kind were something that interested him very much. I obtained a copy of the book for him and marked the passage where this incident was recorded.
After he had read it, he made some interesting comments:
If the jiva leaves through the crown of the head, it indicates an advanced soul. Usually, it leaves through the mouth or the eyes. But leaving in this way does not indicate that liberation has happened, even though this is what the yogis claim. A jiva that leaves through the crown of the head will have to be reborn again. For liberation, the jiva has to go down the amrita nadi and die in the Heart. That is the place of its final liberation.
This Guru had power, and she was dealing with an advanced devotee. If she had kept her foot on the girl’s head, the jiva might have gone back into the Heart and died. Instead, she took it off and the jiva escaped to take another birth.
It is worth noting here that Ramana Maharshi also taught that liberation was not attained by causing the kundalini to reach and merge with the sahasrara. He said that for final liberation, it had to come back to the Heart through the channel that Lakshmana Swamy called the amrita nadi. Lakshmana Swamy had had his own experience of this phenomenon when Saradamma realised the Self in his presence through the power of his grace and, more specifically, the power of the Guru’s feet. This is the account I wrote of that event in No Mind – I am the Self:
The next morning she [Saradamma] came out of samadhi with a strong awareness that her ‘I’-thought was still existing. She remembered the peace of the previous day and night when she had been in samadhi, with the ‘I’-thought temporarily gone, and she decided to see if she could enter the same state again. She closed her eyes and within a few minutes her ‘I’-thought subsided into the Heart and she went back into samadhi again. The ‘I’-thought emerged from the Heart several times during the day, but each time it subsided Sarada was convinced that she had realised the Self. She was still able to talk and Swamy, thinking that her realisation was near, placed a small tape-recorder near her to record her words. Sarada spoke in short, quiet sentences, with frequent pauses as she was overwhelmed by the bliss of the Self.
‘I have no body. I have no “I”. I am not the body. How I am talking, I do not know. Some power is talking through me.’
Swamy asked her if she was looking, and she replied: ‘Even though I am looking, I am not looking. Where is the “I” to look. When the mind enters the Heart, there is no “I” to tell that there is no “I”. My “I” is dead.’
Swamy then asked her how she was feeling. ‘My whole body is filled with peace and bliss. I cannot describe it. Everything is filled with peace. The Self is pulling me towards it and I am not able to open my eyes. The whole body is weak.’
Swamy remarked, ‘It is like an elephant entering a weak hut. The hut cannot stand the strain. Is it beyond time and death?’
‘It is beyond time and death as there is no mind. As the “I” is dead I don’t wish to eat anymore. I am not able to eat. However tasty the food, I cannot eat. I have no desire to eat. Everything is filled with peace and bliss. I am content with my realisation. I have recognised my own Self, so I am content.’
Swamy then told her that her “I” was not yet dead and that she had not yet reached the final state.
Sarada replied: ‘As the “I” is dead, there is no you.’
‘Have you no mother or father?’ asked Swamy. ‘No father, no mother, no world, replied Sarada. ‘Everything is peace and bliss. Why do I have to eat when there is no “I”? The body is inert; it cannot eat. A corpse will not eat. It is like that because the “I” is dead. As I cannot eat, I cannot talk. Who is talking, I do not know.’
‘Then who is talking?’ asked Swamy.
Sarada remained silent, and so Swamy answered his own question. ‘The Self is talking.’
Sarada continued: ‘Even though I am seeing, I am not seeing. Even though I am talking, I am not talking. Whatever I do I am not doing it because the “I” is dead. I have no body. All the nerves are filled with peace and bliss. All is Brahman. All is bliss. In the veins instead of blood, love and bliss are flowing. A great power has entered into me.’
Three months before Swamy had told Sarada, ‘Even though I sleep I am not sleeping’. Sarada remembered this, repeated Swamy’s words and said that she was finally able to understand what he had meant.
Sarada continued to talk: ‘I have no thought of doing anything. I have no fear of death. Before, I feared death, but not anymore. I don’t care about death. I have nothing more to do. I shall give up the body.’
Swamy asked her to stay but Sarada answered: ‘What is death to die now? The body is inert, how can it die? My “I” is dead, what is there left to die? Why then fear death?’
Swamy then reminded her that her ‘I’ was not dead and that she was not yet in the final sahaja state. Swamy then stopped the tape we were listening to and talked a little about the state that Sarada was experiencing when she spoke these words.
‘Anyone whose mind completely subsides into the Heart for a short time can talk like an enlightened person. Their experience of the Self is the same as that of a realised person. However, their “I”-thought is not dead and it is likely to re-emerge at any time. Such an experience is not the final state because it is not permanent.’
He then played the final portion of Sarada’s comments on her experience.
‘I am everywhere. I am not the body. I have no body so I have no fear. I am immobile. Whatever I may do, I am immobile. I am shining as the Self. Everything is a great void [maha-sunya]. How can I describe the Self in words? It is neither light nor dark. No one can describe what it is. In the past, present and future no one can describe what it is. It is difficult to describe. Self is Self, that is all.’
Throughout that day Sarada’s mind kept sinking into the Self, but on each occasion it came out again. At 4 p.m. the ‘I’-thought went from the Heart to the brain and started to bang against the inside of her skull. Sarada said later that it was like an axe trying to split her head open from the inside. Since she was not able to bear the pain she came forward, took Swamy’s hand and placed it on her head. The ‘I’-thought went back to the Heart, but again it was only a temporary subsidence. Three minutes later it rose again and once again started to bang against the inside of her skull. Sarada came forward, placed her head on Swamy’s feet and a few seconds later the ‘I’-thought returned to its source and died forever. With her ‘I’-thought permanently gone, Sarada had realised the Self.
Swamy says that in the final few minutes her “I”-thought was trying to escape and take birth again, and that had he not been present, the “I”-thought would have killed her and escaped.
A few years later I asked Saradamma why holding Swamy’s hands on her head had not worked, whereas putting her head on his feet did. Her reply was short and to the point: ‘More power in the feet.’