The Maharshi of Arunachala (Surpassing Love And Grace)

This part is written by Sadhu Ekarasa (Dr.G.H.Mees)

Translated from the Dutch in “Mens en Kosmos” Vierde Jaargang, No. 2, March1948.

When Kon-Fu-Tse met Wen-Poh-HsuchTse, a sage from the South, he first did not speak a word. Then his companion, Tse-Lu, said, “Master, for a long time you have wished to see Wen-Poh-Hsuch-Tse. Why is it that you don’t speak, now that you see him?” Kon-Fu-Tse answered, “One only needs to look at someone like him, and Tao is. There is no need for speaking.” (From Chuang-Tse, Chap. XXI).

In the presence of the Maharshi, the same thing happened to me twelve years ago when I saw him for the first time and during the many years that I visited him again and again, especially during the three years that I stayed near him almost without interruption. It is for this same reason that I find it ever so difficult to speak or write about the Maharshi, as I am often asked to do. It is not so very difficult to write about the course of the Maharshi’s life or about his teachings. Both of them differ very little from those of the earlier great sages that Hinduism has produced, although in some respects the Maharshi himself is unique. It is certainly much easier to invent the image of a great sage and write a story about his life and works than to give a description of a living sage. Such a creation is produced by emotional, intellectual, moral and cultural forces, whereas the important element which makes a human being a sage does not lie within these aspects of the human soul, but deeper in the essence which forms the ground of the spiritual. As long as attention is fixed on emotional, intellectual, moral and cultural life, there is a permanent contradiction which expresses itself in a duality of life and works, of that which is introvert and that which is extrovert, of theory and practice, of speaking and doing. However, as soon as the essence has become the basis, which is only the case with a real sage, who is Holy (which means “wholly”), there can no longer be any question of a contradiction. The essence is the unity of these contradictions that rule the lives of ordinary mortal beings, and in it these contradictions simply disappear. For visitors who have enough insight to perceive something of this essence, this unity of contradictions in the sage is exactly that element that makes such a mighty impression on them. Anybody who is honest with himself is aware of a contradiction between his being and his actions, between his inside and the outside which he shows to the world by his actions. With a sage he experiences that being and doing, that spiritual aspirations and practical life can be one, and this cannot but make a mighty impression upon him. Others, who are less honest with themselves and consequently are not disturbed by these contradictions, are probably more struck by a novel in which the life of some historical saint is set out in detail, written from the emotional and moral points of view but lacking the essence.

However, what has been said above is nothing but words – for the essence is just that which is beyond words and can’t be put into words. It is exactly that factor which one cannot describe, which one can only feel for oneself. One must see a sage in order to experience him – if only his eyes are able to see!

For a sage who lives in the realization, “I and my Father are One,” St. Dionysius’s words hold good: “All that you may say about God is untrue, for God is beyond speech and therefore what you say about God relates to something else.” Therefore, if in India someone asks me to speak or to write about the Maharshi, I am inclined either to answer that the questioner ought to visit the Maharshi and see for himself, or to do what Sri Sankaracharya did when somebody asked him to describe the real ecstasy. Sri Sankara sat quietly down and communicated the ecstasy by merely getting absorbed in it without any further word.

In Europe, however, neither of these answers will do. Under the circumstances, it would be unfair to suggest to people to go to India to see the Maharshi. Those very few to whom it is given by destiny to see him will be led to him of themselves. As for the demonstration, it would in almost all cases produce no effect, since it would be understood as a mere pose, meaningless in itself, for in Europe people go to each other to talk. The speechless absorption in some spiritual or super-spiritual state is so little known that to do so in the company of other people would be entirely misunderstood. Even in church “talking” is going on nearly the whole service; the mind is kept busy without interruption with sentimental, moral and spiritual images. A sage, however, possesses the calm of the Seventh Day of Creation: “God blessed and hallowed the Seventh Day by having rest on that day, after creating all things to perfection.”

It is in this way that sages advise their disciples to do nothing – a state of mind reflecting the calm of the Seventh Day. Read, for instance, what was said by Lao-Tse 2,500 years ago and by Chuang two centuries later and you find it is just the same as what the Maharshi teaches now. This “doing nothing” does not at all mean that one should do nothing! On the contrary, divine inactivity is the opposite of laziness, one of the “seven deadly sins” which kill a man’s spirit or keep him dead. Laziness is the sin of not striving upwards, of indifference to higher life, and it brings spiritual death with it.

The inactivity of the sages of China, the rest on the Seventh Day of Creation, is that which the Maharshi calls the “Natural State”. This Natural State has nothing to do with the state of relation to the natural world propagated by the “back-to-nature” supporters, but is rather the state of mind in which no Fall is possible. It is a state of perfect inner rest and equilibrium, in which there is no striving whatever, and which in normal life may include the greatest activity. This comes to light in the six verses chosen by the Maharshi from Yoga Vasishta. They contain instructions given to Prince Rama by his Guru, Vasishta, and are found in Upasanthi Prakarana, in “The Story of Punnya, and Pavana.

“Having enquired into (the nature of ) all the states, (waking, dreaming and deep sleep), and ever holding steadfastly at heart to that state supreme, which is absolute and which is free from illusion, play in the world, O Raghava, the Hero! You have realized That in the heart which is the Substratum of truth of all appearances. Therefore, without ever abandoning that (right-perspective), play in the world just as you like.” (Forty Verses, Supplement 26).

“As one with feigned enthusiasm and joy, with feigned excitement and hatred, as one taking feigned initiative and making a feigned effort, play in the world, O Raghava, the Hero!” (Forty Verses, Supplement 27).

It is one of the wise traditions of Hinduism to look upon life as a Divine play – lila. For the sage, in whom maya, the world of appearances, and God-Reality have become one, who experiences God-in-Action and God-in-Being as a Oneness of which he himself forms a natural part, maya becomes lila, or Divine play. To engage in this play consciously and to enjoy it from the centre of peace, described above as inactivity and rest and the natural state, is recommended by the sages. As a matter of course one should know and follow the rules (the conditions mentioned by Vasishta) in order to be able to play and enjoy the play.

I am often asked, mainly by Westerners, what exactly does the Maharshi do?

One should in fact answer, “The daily occupation of the sage is to be himself.” Because he really succeeds in doing so, the Maharshi makes such a great impression on many of his visitors. Not only does he demonstrate the Natural State, but in doing so he is perfectly natural – a man without any pose, without a mark. The Maharshi effects drastic changes in the lives of many like me. That’s what he does, and he does so by doing nothing at all. In no way does he force anything on anyone, he doesn’t even offer me advice regarding any problem of life. The world bristles with advisors, but with all their advice they are unable to solve world problems or personal difficulties. Their method is to try to get improvement from outside, which is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The method of the sage, on the other hand, is to let improvements come from within, from the essence that is the supreme quality and to let the improvements manifest themselves outwardly quite spontaneously and naturally, without any interference.

Concerning the Maharshi’s daily life, until recently it was entirely public. Visitors surrounded him night and day and he was ever inclined to pay attention to them and to answer their questions, provided they were sincere and their questions lay in the sphere of the spirit. In fact he was never alone. At night people slept in his room on mats on the floor, as is the Indian custom. Now that he has become old, the administrative head of the Ashram community that has grown up around him has made some rules, so that Maharshi is to be left alone for some hours after lunch and during the night. The Maharshi himself has never asked for such protective measures. He is one with all people in a very real way. Until a few years ago, the Maharshi got up at 3 a.m. to cut vegetables in the Ashram kitchen. Day now begins in Ramanasramam before dawn with the recitation of some part of the Yajur Veda by brahmins, whose hereditary occupation it is to do so. This recitation is done in the hall where the Maharshi spends the day on his couch. By this chant orthodox Hinduism honours the sage, who himself is beyond any sectarianism or religious differences. Before sunset the recitation is repeated together with other texts. People in great number – usually hundreds, and even thousands during the time of temple festivals in town – are always present at the recital. Every day the Maharshi reads the incoming and outgoing mail. Letters from Ramanasramam are written by a secretary and signed by the administrative head of the Ashram. The Maharshi never signs anything. More than fifty years ago he gave up his name and possessions. He answers questions when they arise; glances through Tamil and English newspapers; he corrects translations of writings and reads proof sheets. All the while many people sit cross-legged in the hall, men on one side, women on the other. Small children walk about. Visitors – among them are nearly always a few Europeans – sit quietly meditating or in their own way profiting by the presence of the Maharshi. Frequently visitors or inmates of the Ashram sing devotional songs and sometimes concerts are given, all as offerings to the Maharshi. Occasionally the Maharshi gets absorbed in contemplation. The usual expression “getting absorbed” is actually not correct, for there is no question of getting into and later returning from a special state. There is but one state for him, the natural state, and he appears to be in this state continuously. He is usually addressed as ‘Bhagavan’, which means “Divine Being.” He takes little notice of the crowd that surrounds him. Peacocks, dogs, monkeys and other animals go to him; even an old cow visits him at regular intervals. There is always something in store for them, the offerings of fruit, nuts and cakes which are put at his feet and which are always distributed amongst those present. The Maharshi refuses to take anything special or more than what others get.

Sometimes “important” visitors arrive – learned men, Maharajas, men of name, well-known politicians, globetrotters, captains of industry and so on. The management will, perhaps, for the most “distinguished” amongst them, put some extra carpet on the floor or pay special attention to them. Not so the Maharshi; he treats all the same way. At best he may be somewhat friendlier to those who come from far away. Often “the great of this earth” feel like small schoolboys while standing before him. They get quite new experiences which radically alter their understanding of the sage. The late Maharaja of Mysore, the biggest State of South India, a very devout and orthodox Hindu, kneeled humbly before the Maharshi and stood motionless for a long time with tears in his eyes. He kneeled once more and departed without a word.

Once a visitor asked the Maharshi what he thought about the ignorance and sufferings of the modern world. The Maharshi answered, “The world is but an ocean of delight,” though he went through much suffering during his early years in Arunachala. He remained for some time in a dark cave with his body covered with vermin, and was almost always alone, exposed to the teasing of mischievous youngsters.

Moralists sometimes think of sages as escapists who avoid their social duties. It is not so. A sage is not one who has been put on the defensive by the difficulties of life, but one who has bidden farewell to the world, not because of its sorrow and crudity, but because it is not true life! Even the joys of worldly life are painful in comparison with the beatitude of real life.

The average man is inclined to pity the sage, whom he regards as having foregone the pleasures of life. The sage, however, pities his commiserating fellow human beings, because the latter does not know what real happiness is. The average man either thinks that a sage is one who has strayed from the path and is abnormal and unnatural, or else sees him as a fairly harmless lunatic. In either case, it is clear to him that there is something wrong with the sage’s mind. A few people humbly admit that they have not as yet progressed as far as the sage, and that it will be a long time before they acquire the same wisdom. The sage, on his part, considers all his fellow human beings as potential sages; he is aware of no difference between others and himself. The mystic Hui Neng of the eighth century, A.D., made the remark that the only difference between a Buddha and the average man is that the one realizes what the other discards. The Maharshi has often said the same. When someone asked him, as Swami Vivekananda asked Ramakrishna, “Have you seen God?”, the Maharshi replied, “Is there anybody who hasn’t seen him?” To the sage, God is the only Reality. He is the Beginning and the End.

If we don’t see him in the midst of all experiences, and consequently lose our natural state – symbolized in the Holy Bible as the garden with the Arbor Vitae (Tree of Life) wherein Adam walked with God by his side – it is our own fault. The prodigal son may at any time return to his Father.


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