I brought a large amount of spiritual samskaras into this life. I was born into a family of clergymen. All interest in our household was focused on matters of religion. I must have been taught how to pray almost before I could talk. During a despairing phase of my life, I read Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda. It caused something of an explosion in me. There, in those pages, I finally found someone who had been able to put into words what I had been feeling intuitively. It was a relief to discover that countless seekers, throughout the ages, had shared my own problem and spiritual hunger.
Not long after, I came across The Secret Path by Paul Brunton. When I read, in those pages, that there was a living sage in India with whom one could talk, blue patches returned to my sky. There was a photo of Bhagavan in the book. I used to focus on it during my meditation and I also began to concentrate on the heart-center that Bhagavan had stated was on the right chest. It took a lot of effort and practice to become fully absorbed in these objects of meditation, but I persevered because I felt at the time that these were tools that had been given to me by Bhagavan.
I concentrated on Bhagavan more and more. Sometimes, I was almost fighting with him, begging him to help me in my efforts to come and see him. I know it sounds absurd to make such a claim, but there came a point when I could confidently say “I won.” One day, I looked at Bhagavan’s photo and knew with a calm unshakable certainty that I would be travelling to India. And the opportunity came in the beginning of 1950.
Roda Maclver, a Bombay devotee who had been living near Bhagavan for several years, took me to the Ashram and pointed out Bhagavan to me. The mere sight of him made me tremble all over because I had come face to face with the divine. This recognition affected me so much that my body shook involuntarily. As I gazed at Bhagavan, I felt I saw God himself sitting there.
When I was very young, I had believed that God was some magnificent being having a human form that radiated light and goodness. I had long since abandoned this childhood belief, believing it to be a fairy story that was told only to credulous children. Yet now, this childhood belief turned out to be true. Here, before me, was a human form that seemed to be made of light itself. God became manifest before my eyes announcing his presence to me by radiating a blazing, penetrating light—a light that went right through me like x-rays.
When I had time to reflect on this first darshan, it seemed amazing that such an air of normality could prevail around someone who was radiating so much light and energy. Perhaps other people were not seeing and feeling what I was experiencing. I asked Roda about this later that day. She laughed and said, “Many people do have special experiences when they see Bhagavan. For most of the time we all see him as a normal, elderly person sitting on a sofa, but once in a while he graces us with an experience, such as you had today, that convinces us of his greatness and his divinity.”
There was a radiant power and energy in Bhagavan’s presence that effortlessly swept through both mind and matter. His grace silenced my mind, filled my heart, and took me to realms that were way beyond the phenomenal. The light radiating from Bhagavan filled my being, sweeping away all my darkness in one stroke. Effort seemed redundant when his presence alone was enough to evaporate the usual mental flow of thoughts, ideas, and problems.
For me, Bhagavan’s immediate presence was overwhelmingly potent and nothing could distract or disturb me there. However, I began to notice that the exalted state of experience in his presence gradually wore off when I returned to my little house opposite the Ashram. Sitting in Bhagavan’s presence I felt a quiet lucidity. All thoughts and problems would be swept away, burnt in the raging fire of his potent presence. But after a few hours of being alone in my room, I would realize that these states were only temporary because my old thoughts and problems would eventually rise up again. I felt I had to confront Bhagavan with this problem. I had not come to him for blissful experiences; I had come to him to seek a permanent end to my mind and all its problems.
That day, when I passed in front of him, a quick smile passed over his face. I somehow felt that he knew what I had come for. Was he smiling at the audacity of my demand? I sat down among the crowd, close to Bhagavan, and began to bombard him with thoughts. With all the mental energy I could summon up, I shot out my complaint to him: “Bhagavan, of what use is all your radiance to me if I cannot solve these mental problems the moment I leave you?” This, with minor variations, I repeated again and again. Bhagavan took no notice. He continued to go through his everyday routine. Frustrated, I concentrated on him even more. I tried to shake his indifference to my thoughts. I felt I was shaking him the way I would shake a tree to get a fruit to fall off. The whole force of my will was focused on one thought, “I must have an answer; I must have an answer.” Finally, my mental persistence paid off. He turned in my direction and looked at me with a smile of utter amazement on his face. Then his expression changed and its new configuration exclaimed, “You are looking for your glasses and they are on your nose!” No words passed his lips, but the message came to me with unbelievable clarity. There was no doubt or conjecture or imagination. Bhagavan continued to gaze at me. Perhaps he was waiting for some kind of response.
Suddenly, his eyes emitted light and spat fire at me. I can think of no other way of describing that sudden explosion in his gaze. His powerful look went straight into me, boring away at everything that made me think I was different and separate from him. I felt the right-hand-side heart getting warmer as he continued to gaze at me, until I felt it to be a hot, fiery ball glowing inside me. I felt as if he was charging it with some immensely powerful spiritual electricity because, as he continued to look at me, I had the unmistakable feeling that my heart-center was some kind of spiritual dynamo that was emitting sparks of light and energy. I felt as if some enormously potent electrical apparatus had been suddenly transplanted into my chest.
I sat rigid and straight, my eyes glued to his. Fire flowed from his glowing eyes and drilled into the core of my being. How long this transmission lasted, I cannot say. Time and space had no meaning in that never-ending moment when our eyes were locked together. At some point, I realized that my body could no longer stand the strain. The fire in my chest had expanded to the point where I felt that I was about to explode. Mentally, I asked Bhagavan to let me go.
I had received what I had come for. There was a complete transformation, inside and out, and it all happened without a word being spoken. That communication through silence was clearer and more direct than any explanation that could be given in words.
Having received the blessings and initiation, I gave my place in the crowd to those who might still have been seeking their own final benediction. Back in Bombay, where I stayed in a friend’s flat, I was amazed to discover to what extent changes had occurred. Something had clearly and demonstrably transformed my mind and my understanding.
My two months’ stay with Bhagavan had turned me inside out and upside down. My mind and heart had been illuminated by his grace, but I also knew that the time I spent with him had been too short to remove all obstacles. Being with Bhagavan had given me the unshakable conviction that he was looking after me. I knew that he was supervising my spiritual welfare. I also knew that his guidance would not cease simply because he had shed his body. Three months after his physical departure I had a vision of Bhagavan that amply justified my faith that he would continue to guide me.
I used to imagine myself in the hall speaking with him. During one of these imaginary exercises, I suddenly found myself transported back to Sri Ramanasramam, and once more I was sitting opposite to him. He smiled at me. How can that smile ever be described? It contained the whole world. On this occasion I felt I was being bathed in a radiant glow of love and light. I asked him what I should do about all the various mental problems. He told me to spend time with another venerable teacher whose name was mentally given to me. I spent several years with this man until I felt that all my problems had been overcome.
I still find myself being with Bhagavan. Sometimes it is with form and sometimes it is without form. It is a kind of deep visitation that touches and overwhelms me when it suddenly descends. When Bhagavan’s presence makes itself known to me, I feel tears beginning to flow. Deep emotions arise. I glow with happiness and my heart leaps into the sky.
The first time I saw Bhagavan, I immediately recognized that this was the being I had been looking for all my life. My immediate experiences in his presence cemented that conviction. The problem I always encounter when I start to speak or write about Bhagavan is that the real Ramana Maharshi is unimaginable and therefore indescribable. Who, for example, can really describe happiness? My experience of Bhagavan was pure happiness. The pure radiance of his real, egoless state is unimaginable, beyond any verbal description.
I was inclined to compare him with Jesus or Buddha. But they were images in my head, formed by the beliefs in which I had been brought up and on the stories I later heard and read. Sri Ramana Maharshi, from the second I saw him, was anything but an image in my head. He was a bomb that exploded the myth of my life. His look blasted away years of accumulated wrong ideas.
In his presence, reality manifested itself, revealing to me how stupid I had been all my life. I came to Bhagavan for help to climb a mountain, but after smiling at my idea of help, he showed me that the mountain did not exist. I regarded myself as a poor man in need of help; he revealed to me that I was more than a millionaire. He showed me that I was the source of all things. He enabled me to realize the timeless, unimaginable, unthinkable “I Am.”
Simply by abiding in his luminous natural state, he made me experience myself as light. I will not say that in his presence my sense of “I” vanished completely; it simply diminished in significance. It took me three or four years for the full impact of Bhagavan’s silence to settle in me and become, if I may use such a phrase, “my own.”
Bhagavan encouraged us to examine, through self-enquiry, questions such as, “Who wants to realize? Who feels exalted or miserable? Who feels angry, desired, or shunned?” The purpose here is not to track down the person who had these feelings or emotions; it is to discover that such a person does not and never did exist.
By sitting in Bhagavan’s presence there was a confrontation between illusion and truth, and in that confrontation illusion could not sustain itself. Whatever transformation took place in his presence happened of its own accord, not because he desired it or willed it. Darkness was exposed to light and ceased to be dark. Light did not orchestrate it in any way. It simply expressed its inherent nature. If you ask me how all this worked, my answer is, “I don’t know.”
From Face to Face with Sri Ramana Maharshi. Originally published in 2005 by Sri Ramana Kendram. Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India.