By N. R. KRISHNAMURTI AIYER
I am now ninety-two years old and I first met the Maharshi in the summer of 1914, when I was just a boy of sixteen. We were then on a pilgrimage to Tirupati and had halted in Tiruvannamalai, from where my grandmother hailed. We were not strangers to this town.
In the pilgrim party there were half a dozen boys, all of whom were about my age. We all decided to go up to Virupaksha cave. The Maharshi was then residing there and was attentive to all the activities of us youngsters. I noticed his gaze particularly focused on me.
We were all playing with the conch shell. The sadhus used to blow this shell like a horn when they went into town to beg for alms.
One after the other, we attempted to blow the conch shell. No one prevented us from doing this, and I noticed an encouraging smile from the Maharshi. This was my first visit.
Some eight years later, I came to Tiruvannamalai to visit my sister, who was married there. One evening, two companions and I went to visit Kavyakanta Ganapati Muni up on the hill where he had his ashram. What can I say about that great seer of Mantra Sastra?
I was just then out of college after finishing my masters degree in physics. I presented to Kavyakanta the latest views of Einstein, Planck and others in regard to the constitution of matter and the universe. He gave a patient hearing, and then said, "Can you put it in a brief way?" Answering in the affirmative, I went on explaining that there is a continuum in which time and space are involved, wherein particles change into waves and waves change into particles and all can dissolve into a single unitary medium. That is the prospect of the future.
He listened patiently to all this and said, "The world picture is in that frame," and after a pause he exclaimed, "chitram, chitram!" These words mean ‘picture’ — you may call it a movie-picture. Those words sent a thrill through my body, through my whole frame. I suddenly felt disembodied. I was myself the whole space in which the pictures were placed — this body being one of the pictures. This experience lasted for a brief eternity. When I came round to myself we took leave of Kavyakanta.
The next day we had a meeting with Bhagavan. This was about the time he arrived at the present site of Sri Ramanasramam (1922). There were no buildings at all, except for a small shed covering the samadhi of the Mother. Bhagavan was seated on a bench under the shade of a tree, and with him, lying on the same bench, was the dog named Rose. Bhagavan was simply stroking the dog.
I wondered, among us Brahmins the dog was such an animal that
it would defile all purity. A good part of my respect for the Maharshi
left me when I saw him touching that unclean animal — for
all its apparent cleanliness and neatness it was unclean from the
Brahmin point of view.
had a question for the Maharshi. At that time I was an agnostic. I thought nature could take care of itself, so where is the need for a Creator? What is the use of writing all these religious books telling ‘cock and bull’ stories, which do not change the situation.
The I wanted to put to him straight questions: is there a soul? Is there a God? Is there salvation? All these three questions were condensed into one: Well sir, you are sitting here like this — I can see your present condition — but what will be your future sthiti? The word sthiti in Sanskrit means ‘state’ or ‘condition’.
Maharshi did not answer the question. "Oho," I thought, "you
are taking shelter under the guise of indifferent silence for not
answering an inconvenient question!" As soon as I thought
this the Maharshi replied and I felt as if a bomb had exploded
under my seat.
"Sthiti, what do you mean by the word sthiti!" he exclaimed.
I was not prepared for that question. "Oho, this man is very dangerous, very dangerously alive. I will have to answer with proper care," I thought.
So I said to myself, "If I ask him about the sthiti or ‘state’ of the body it is useless: the body will be burned or buried. What I should ask him was about the condition of something within the body. Of course, I can recognize a mind inside of me." Then I was about to answer "By sthiti, I mean mind," when it struck me what if he counter-questions with "What is mind?" This I am not prepared to answer.
As all this was passing through my mind he was sitting there staring at me with a fierce look.
I then questioned within me, "What is mind? Mind is made up of thoughts. Now, what are thoughts?" I landed in a void. No answer. I then realised that I could not present a question about a mind which did not exist!
Up to that point, the mind was the greatest thing that existed for me. Now I discovered it did not exist! I was bewildered. I simply sat like a statue.
Two pairs of eyes were then gripping each other: the eyes of the Maharshi and my eyes were locked together in a tight embrace. I lost all sense of body. Nothing existed except the eyes of the Maharshi.
I don’t know how long I remained like that, but when I returned
to my senses, I was terribly afraid of the man. "This is a
dangerous man," I thought. In spite of myself, I prostrated
and got away from his company.
MY NEXT VISIT to the Maharshi was in 1934 on a Jayanti Day. He was sitting on a raised platform under a pondal (thatched roof), specially constructed in front of the Mother’s Shrine. As the celebration was going on, all the devotees were seated around him.
While sitting there, my eyes were intensely fixed upon the Maharshi and I saw his form assume different manifestations. It first changed to the Avatar of Vishnu (Vahar Avatar). Then his form changed into that of Ganesha, the elephant God. Next it suddenly changed and I saw Ramana and Arunachala as one. Then I had the vision of the whole Arunachala Hill — the top of the Hill was transparent and inside it I saw a Shiva Lingam, similar to what we see in temples.
Devotees were singing the Marital Garland of Letters. When they began singing the last couplet, "My Lord let us exchange garlands — the devotee (the bride) garlands the Lord Arunachala (the groom), and the Lord garlands the devotee," I suddenly saw garlands of flowers all over the pondal. The Maharshi had a string of flowers garlanded around his neck, and all the devotees (including myself) had a string of flowers around their necks. I saw a large garland around the Shiva Lingam on the hill top. All these garlands were shining with a dazzling brilliance. This experience convinced me of the existence of the deities mentioned in our ancient scriptures.
Later that evening in the Old Hall I sat at the feet of the Maharshi. He was reclining on the couch gazing westward and I sat on the floor facing him. Our eyes fixed, one upon the other, were pinned together for quite a long time. I then saw the form of the Maharshi take the shape of Ardhanareswara.
Ardhanareswara is one aspect of Shiva — one half is the Mother and the other half is the Father; one half of the form had a breast and the other had a trident. Around us the pundits were reciting Sanskrit verses.
As it went on, I began to witness certain changes in my body taking place. I saw a pair of serpents rising from the base of my spine in a crisscross, spiralling manner. They rose to the crown of my head and spread their hoods. One was red; the other blue. The whole cranium became suffused with a bright light. My attention was fixed upon the point between my eyebrows where the serpents’ heads were pointed.
All of a sudden there was a splitting of the skull from the top front to the back. This was followed by an upward gush of a reddish flame shooting out from the top of my head. While this was flowing out, a stream of nectar issued from the single breast of the Ardhanareswara form of the Maharshi and a second stream of nectar flowed out from the top of Arunachala. Both streams landed on my head and sealed the break in my skull.
When the skull was sealed I experienced a brilliant light, like that of an arc lamp, and an indescribable joy and coolness filled my being. This light and joy continued for several hours. During this time I didn’t move about and I was unconscious of what was going on around me. You may have seen a light focused on to a concave mirror. Its light is reflected with a single beam onto a point. Well, sometime about midnight all the light, like a concave mirror, was focussed onto the Heart. Then all the light drained into the Heart. The Kundalini was completely sucked into the Heart and the Heart was opened — that is the seat of Arunachala Ramana.
The Heart is normally closed, but when it was opened — I never knew any of these things and never read any theory. These are all practical experiences — a flood of nectar gushed forth and drenched every pore of my skin, drenched my whole physical system. It poured out, went on coming out in a great flood. The whole Universe was filled with that Nectar.
The wonder of it was that my awareness was not in the body — my awareness was over the whole of the space filled with that Nectar. The whole Universe was Nectar. I call it Nectar; you could call it Ether, something very subtle, attached with awareness at every point. And everything living and non-living was like snow flakes floating in that ocean of Nectar.
If you ask me what my body was, my body was the whole universe of Nectar, attached to awareness at every point. No particular association from the one body from where it started — this body was like every other body.
By morning everything subsided, though the underlying experience remained. I was totally unconscious of my body. I was moving around like an automaton, unaware of my body. In that state I returned to Madurai where I was a physics professor.
This was during a Christmas vacation. For the next two weeks I remained in that state. With the opening of college I was scheduled to give lectures and my relatives became rather concerned, for my behaviour had changed considerably.
I then returned to Ramanasramam with the intention of returning to my regular mundane condition — I do not know what urged me to do this.
I went and sat before the Maharshi in the Old Hall. He gave no acknowledgement of my plight and sat, seemingly, unconcerned.
After a long time I said to myself, "Well, the son (Maharshi) seems indifferent to me. Let me go and seek refuge in my mother, Alagammal." I came and sat in the Mother’s samadhi room. It was then only a thatched room. I picked up the book Jnana Vashistha and began reading it from beginning to end with the hope of finding the solution to my dilemma. I continued reading without eating the whole day. In the evening the answer came: a stanza in Jnana Vashistha said, "Between two thoughts there is an interval of no thought. That interval is the Self, the Atman. It is pure Awareness only."
In those days I was repeating the mantra ‘Ram, Ram’. So I said to myself: "Ram — that is one thought; and Ram again — that is another thought. But in the interval between these two thoughts there is silence. That Silence is the Self." And so, I came to the conclusion that if I go on repeating ‘Ram, Ram’ it will resolve itself into that Silence.
I was very happy. I rushed home and found I was my normal mundane
self, teaching my classes in the usual way. But all the time, even
while the lectures were going on, ‘Ram, Ram, Ram’ went
on repeating in my Heart. For nine years it went on like that and
then stopped of its own accord. It ended in Silence.
Text copyright 1991 Arunachala Ashrama. This article originally appeared in The Maharshi as a two-part series entitled "Interviews: N.R. Krishnamoorthy Aiyer" in the issues of May/June 1991 and July/August 1991. Photos copyright Sri Ramanasramam and others. Used by permission.