Face to Face with Sri Ramana Maharshi - Major AW Chadwick


Major A.W. Chadwick O.B.E. (1890-1962) was in the British army serving in South America. After getting captivated by Brunton’s A Search in Secret India (no.1), he resigned his post, came to Sri Ramanasramam in November 1935, and remained there for good. He became Sadhu Arunachala and lies buried in the Ashram campus. He rendered into English all the original works of Sri Ramana, which were perused by the Maharshi himself. He authored A Sadhu’s Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi (1961).

When I first entered the Hall, he greeted me with his lovely smile and asked if I had my breakfast, and then told me to sit down. Bhagavan talked to me the whole morning and asked me many questions about my life and myself. All this seemed quite natural. He was very interested to hear about Brunton whom I had met in London. I felt the tremendous peace of his presence, his graciousness. It was not as though I was meeting him for the first time. It seemed that I had always known him. In spite of being entirely new to India and its customs, nothing that happened in the first days of my stay at the Ashram seemed strange to me; it was all quite natural.

Whenever people came to Bhagavan with their family stories he would laugh with the happy, and at times shed tears with the bereaved. He never raised his voice. He would never touch money because he never had need of it and was not interested in it. He preferred every sort of simplicity and liked to sit on the floor, but a couch had been forced upon him and this became his home for most of the twenty four hours of the day.1 He would never, if he could help it, allow any preference to be shown to him. If any attachment to anything on earth could be said of him, it was surely to the Hill.2 He loved it and said it was God itself.

Bhagavan was invariably kind to all animals. Snakes and scorpions were never allowed to be killed. For dogs he always had a tender spot. At one time a small puppy would always relieve itself near the office.The sarvadhikari got furious and tried to drive it out of the Ashram. Bhagavan came to its rescue saying that if some child did the same thing nobody would be angry, and the puppy was only a child and knew no better. He seemed specially to love monkeys and often said that in many ways they were better than human beings. He would often give directions that they should be fed, and encouraged them in many ways to the annoyance of the management to whom they were a great nuisance. He also told us how, at times, people would reincarnate in the body of some animal just for a chance to be near him. There is, of course, the famous example of Lakshmi, the Ashram cow.3

Bhagavan was a very beautiful person; he shone with a visible light or aura. He had the most delicate hands I have ever seen with which alone he could express himself, one might almost say talk. His features were regular and the wonder of his eyes was famous. His forehead was high and the dome of his head the highest I have ever seen. His body was well-formed and of only medium height, but this was not apparent as his personality was so dominant that one looked upon him as tall. He was always scrupulously clean and his body gave off a faint perfume, though he never used any scented soap.

Bhagavan always radiated tremendous peace, but on those occasions when crowds were attracted to the Ashram such as Jayanti and Deepam,4 this increased to an extraordinary degree. The numbers seem to call up some reserve of a hidden force, and it was a great experience to sit with him at such times.5

Bhagavan had a great sense of humour, and when talking a smile was never far from his face. He had many jokes in his repertoire and was a magnificent actor; he would always dramatize the protagonist of any story he related. When the recital was very pathetic he would be filled with emotion and could not proceed.6

On the question of attaining Self-realisation, Bhagavan told me that in the early stages a person who was regularly meditating would usually at first go into a trance which would probably last for some thirty minutes, and if he continued with his tapas properly, such samadhi would become more frequent. A person can still carry on with the ordinary day-to-day business but he no longer identifies himself with the activities, but watches them like a dreamer watching a dream.

While knowing Bhagavan’s teaching, that all is only an appearance and a creation of mind, I found his teaching on dreams hard to understand and would often question him on the subject. The waking state seemed to me continuous, going on from day-to-day. I awoke into the same world each day whereas my dreams were always different, they were distinct. However, Bhagavan never accepted this distinction and repeated that the criticism only arose in the waking state and never in that of dreams. Then I myself had a dream:

I was having an argument with somebody on the subject of dreams and in the course of this I said, “Whatever you say, Bishop Berkeley was right, things are only in the mind, there is no reality outside that. Things do not exist; so dream and waking experience must be exactly the same. They are only mental concepts.” “You say that now”, the other replied, “but you would not talk like that in a dream.” And then I woke up. The whole thing was intensely vivid.

Some people would fail to see how this applies to the above. But the point is that the dream was so real that I never questioned it to be anything but the waking state. The two were exactly the same.

Bhagavan said that the mind was like a monkey, never still for one second, it was an almost hopeless task to try and quieten it; the best thing to do was to give it a productive employment and never allow it to fritter itself away. Let it concentrate on ‘Who am I’? And then there will be no room for any other thought.

Many people identified Bhagavan with Dakshinamurthi, the silent Guru,7 who gave the instruction to four Kumaras in silence; because no word can express that which is beyond all words and no mind can grasp that which is beyond mind. How eloquent silence could be for the seeker can be illustrated by the following episode, which I witnessed personally.

A gentleman from Kashmir came to the Ashram with his assistant who could not speak a word of any other language except his native Kashmiri. One night when the Hall was almost dark except for the pale glimmer of a single hurricane lantern, the assistant came into the Hall and stood before Bhagavan in a respectful manner jabbering something rapidly in his language. Bhagavan said nothing but lay quietly gazing at him. After a while, the assistant saluted and left the Hall. Next morning his master came to Bhagavan and complained: Bhagavan, you never told me you could speak Kashmiri, was it fair? When Bhagavan asked how he thought so, he said: Last night my assistant came to you and asked several questions in his language. He tells me that you answered him in the same language and cleared all his doubts. “But I never opened my mouth”, replied Bhagavan.

Bhagavan never initiated by touch. He always refused to place his hands on a person’s head though very many besought him to do so. However, in one case he made an exception. An old sannyasi, who was an exstationmaster, came from Mysore. Bhagavan seemed from the first very sympathetic and unusually kind towards him. When he was leaving the Ashram, he entered the Hall, which happened to be empty at the time. The sannyasi prayed to Bhagavan to place his hands on his head and knelt quite close to the couch, resting his head against it. Bhagavan turned towards him and placed both his hands on his head for a few minutes without saying anything. Then the sannyasi rose and left the Hall showing great emotion.

The Taylors, an American couple, came to the Ashram. Taylor was a retired postmaster. They became much attached to Bhagavan. One day, Mrs.Taylor suddenly said in the Hall, “Bhagavan, I want Selfrealisation.” “Wait”, replied Bhagavan, “it will come in due time.” “No”, she answered, “that is no good. I want it here and now.” Bhagavan tried to explain to her that when she was ready everything would work out all right. But she insisted: she must have it here and now and it was up to him to give it to her. Bhagavan said nothing but gazed at her steadily in the eyes for some minutes or so. She suddenly burst into tears and rushed out of the Hall, but would never tell anybody what had happened.8

One evening I asked permission to go to Pondicherry. Bhagavan asked, “Why?” I replied that I was having trouble with one of my teeth and wanted to consult the dentist. As he kept quiet, I did nothing. Later he asked me, “I thought you were going to Pondicherry, you are still here.” “But you never gave me leave”, I replied. Bhagavan kept quiet. It turned out that my trouble righted itself; something that had jammed against the gum became loose and there was no need for a dentist. A few months later I again had trouble, this time with another tooth. On asking permission and telling Bhagavan the reason why I wanted to go, he immediately said, “Yes, go.” This time the journey did prove necessary.

Bhagavan said that the principal sadhanas we should practise were to eat only sattvic food and observesatsanga. He laid no other rules. He said that the mind was entirely created by the food we ate.

Bhagavan never taught morals, and had no special abhorrence to sex. He once said in answer to troubled disciples in my hearing, “It is better to do it than to be always thinking about it.” This reminds one of the Gita, “Thoughts are acts in their infancy.”

One day Bhagavan said, “Why do you think that you are the doer? It is absurd, as it is obvious that ‘I’ does nothing. ‘I’ is always the witness. Concentrate on being the witness and let things take their course, they will go on anyhow, you cannot prevent them.”

Bhagavan was insistent on ‘means’ and taught that we should leave the ‘ends’ to look after themselves.

Bhagavan said, “Don’t worry about what other people are doing or saying, you have quite enough to do in worrying about yourself. First reform yourself and then it will be time enough to think about the world. How can you help the world until you have helped yourself?”

If asked about Self-realisation, what it was like, or what would be our state in future, he would always reply, “Why worry about something in future? It is here and now which are important. You are always Selfrealised, but only ignorant of the fact.”

Bhagavan was deeply interested in the construction of the shrine built on his mother’s samadhi. He attended every function connected with it. At night, when no one was about, he would walk round and round the construction consecrating it. That he should take such a demonstrative part in anything has a very deep significance. It was extremely rare and has been doubted by many, but I myself was an eyewitness to these things and can vouch for their truth.

The philosophy of this greatest sage can be summed up in just three words, “There is nothing.” So simple yet so supremely difficult. This entire world that we see, this mad rush of people after money and ‘existence’ is just a fabricless thought. We are like the shadow of a leaf cast by the moonlight, intangible and unsubstantial. You may justly turn to me and ask, “Who wants this purely negative state?” I can only reply, “It is just a question of taste.”9 But this being nothing, there must obviously be a state which is something. That state is Self-realisation. Not only it is something but it is everything.

An Australian journalist in the course of his visit to the Ashram, came to my room. It was obvious from the first moment that I was a tremendous problem to him. Why a European should shut himself away in a place like this was beyond his comprehension! He asked many questions but none of my replies satisfied him. At length he could not contain himself and bluntly asked me what I was doing here. I just said that here I found peace of mind. I know it was an inadequate answer but hoped it would stave off further enquiries. He looked at me seriously for a few minutes and then said pityingly, “Oh, I see, I have never been troubled in that way myself.” All I had succeeded in doing was confirming his conviction that I was insane.

But let us return to the question and admit straightaway that even now I am unable to reply satisfactorily. I can only say, I came because I wanted to. And why do I stay? Because I want to. To my metal Bhagavan was a magnet and as yet his magnetism has lost none of its forces. I am helpless.

I see him sitting in the Hall completely detached, entirely unmoved by the happenings which seem so momentous to me, his face wreathed in the most lovely of smiles, and an expression of serenity and beauty on it which is impossible to describe, or even believe unless you have seen it yourself. No books written in the past, no stories of former saints can convey the same message: after all there is always the chance that they may have been frauds. But this is absolutely genuine and I am unable to doubt any longer even if I want to. Here we are on the bedrock of certainty in an ever-changing and uncertain world.

I doubt if we realise how lucky we are. One is inclined to get used to things and take them for granted. But there is no taking Bhagavan for granted, he is always surprisingly different, and that is one of the greatest wonders of his presence.

Extracts from his poems: Surrender

I say that I have surrendered But what have I given up?

It’s easy to talk in this fashion Though it’s nothing but empty words, Which came from the tongue too glibly In a sentimental way.

It is all just show and pretending, Prostrating and that sort of thing. Quoting of texts and of shastras,

Perfect in word not in deed. I’am sick, sick, sick of this business, I want to start fresh but I can’t.

Transmute me until I am blended With you so that both are as One. When there’s no longer the talk of surrender Then alone has surrender begun.

Will You Not Let Me Go?

Will you not let me go?

Here, in an alien land I pass my hours, Far from my country and all former ties. A restless longing slowly me devours That me all wordly happiness denies. And so, will you not let me go?

Will you not let me go?

I am a fool that I should try to flee; For here, there is a peace I’ll never find When I the least am separate from Thee, Then I’ll be but a slave to caitiff mind. And so, I do not wish to go.

1. David Godman says: Sometime in 1928-29, Rangaswami Gounder brought a sofa and asked Bhagavan to sit on it. When Bhagavan refused, he started crying. For three successive days he was crying in the hall, begging Bhagavan to accept the gift. Finally, on the night of the third day, Bhagavan got off the bench (on which he had been sitting till then), and occupied the sofa. Living By The Words Of Bhagavan, p. 40.

2. Refer annexure-I, Mountain Arunachala, p. 410.

3. Refer annexure-IV, The Cow Lakshmi, p. 414.

4. Refer annexure-II for Deepam festival, p. 411.

5. Annamalai Swami also says: “Many devotees, including myself, felt that he radiated more than the usual amount of power and grace on jayanti days.” Living By The Words Of Bhagavan, David Godman, p.77.

6. This, for example, happened when Sri Ramana was narrating a story from the Periapuranam to the devotees in the hall. Refer last three paras, p. 286.

7. Refer annexure-V, p. 415.

8. Refer paras 3 to 5 at p. 71 for a similar incident.

9. ‘It is a question of taste’, reminds us of a Hindi couplet, according to which: The lust and attachment to the world, renounced by saints and hugely sought after by fools, is the same as the dog eating with relish what a human being vomits.