Om Sri Ram

Letter # 4  -  Neither Here nor There


“The time spent in the ashram at first was random and unfocused. I felt

nothing spiritual either in myself or the ashram temple or the samadhi (burial

site) of Sri Ramana Maharshi. It was all rather odd and disconcerting. There

was a momentary thought to move on to Goa which I had heard about as a

tourist spot, and it was in the general direction of where I had previously

intended, but that thought vanished almost immediately and what I was left

with was a blank space from which no thoughts could arise. That momentary

thought happened on the third night while I lay on the lumpy bed in the cell.

I felt interrogated by some unknown presence and found myself suddenly in

despair at the awfulness of my situation, the unresolved conflicts left behind

in my homeland, and my sense of inadequacy. There was no way I could

dismiss the sudden avalanche of negative emotions and thoughts which

vied for attention.”


     Little did I realise that after stepping outside the ashram gates, the next months

would test my resolution to persevere with this seemingly precipitous change of

direction. Though I was calm and meekly accepted all that happened to me, it was

not what was originally planned in the greater scheme of events. My initial plan on

departing from Australia was to travel to England on the then-popular overland route

through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. Yet here I was in a rural setting far

from the vistas of the Taj Mahal among other famous sites.

     It only got worse with the accommodation which was found for me by Raja, the

ashram postman, God bless him. Raja had been a fixture at the ashram for many

decades. From Bhagavan’s day, he was a constant presence who helped those

visitors who arrived disorientated and needing practical guidance.

Raja brought me to Marpillai Bungalow some ten minutes’ walk from the ashram. It

was a dark place with some small rooms but at least it had a bed, a toilet, and

running water. Raja also found me a place to eat one meal a day with Rajapalayam

Ramani Ammal, an extraordinary person. It was all well and good to locate a place to

stay but what to do with each day as it passed?

     I am not sure how most people managed who first came to Arunachala. The

days passed in a combination of bewilderment (what am I doing?) and ennui, coupled

with small excursions into town some two kilometres away to eat tiffin of idli and

dosa or a meal of rice, at the Udipi Hotel or Vasanta Bhavan Hotel. Food at other

times generally consisted of porridge made on a small kerosene stove which I

bought.

     The time spent in the ashram at first was random and unfocused. I felt nothing

spiritual either in myself or the ashram temple or the samadhi (burial site) of Sri

Ramana Maharshi. It was all rather odd and disconcerting. There was a momentary

thought to move on to Goa which I had heard about as a tourist spot, and it was in

the general direction of where I had previously intended, but that thought vanished

almost immediately and what I was left with was a blank space from which no

thoughts could arise. That momentary thought happened on the third night while I lay

on the lumpy bed in the cell. I felt interrogated by some unknown presence and

found myself suddenly in despair at the awfulness of my situation, the unresolved

conflicts left behind in my homeland, and my sense of inadequacy.

There was no way I could dismiss the sudden avalanche of negative emotions

and thoughts which vied for attention. The next moment I found myself flat on the

floor in full prostration towards Arunachala on the cold cement floor, crying the tears

that evidently had been pent up over the past years when my life and behaviour were

far from perfect. What a mess I seemed to have made of my life!

     Eventually, the tears dried and I got up, the tumultuous mixture of emotions

wiped clean, and calmly lay down on the bed again, There comes a moment in all our

lives when we hit a brick wall. Our past seems to catch up with us and the future

appears bleak and uncertain. On our journey through life, these are major thresholds

where our physical appearance, emotional responses and mental attitudes undergo a

transformation if we are open to the possibility of the change that is actively seeking

us. Or they can harden if we refuse to heed the potential that life opens for us. Life

gives us all types of hints and warnings through dreams, words someone incidentally

speaks that happen to resonate with us, and events that compel us into action,

sometimes kicking and screaming.

     At the age of twenty-two, I faced a new crisis precipitated by the proximity of

Arunachala – though I was not aware of the power of this sacred hill until much later

– and it appeared on reflection, the hidden presence of Sri Ramana Maharshi. From

an escapee of the atmosphere in Australia that I could no longer make sense of, to a

tourist on the hippie trail to Europe enjoying the new sights, to a beginner in

meditation and the spiritual life, to a dazed occupant of a dingy room wondering what

would happen next, I was on the verge of a commitment to an unknown future over

which I seemingly had no say, let alone control. And what of that strange moment on

arrival a few days before when my heart murmured, “I have come home’? Was there

another ‘person’ inside me of whom I was not in the slightest bit familiar? Who said

that and just as pertinently, who is this everyday person I call ‘I’?

     Though we may think we are alone in the world I cannot but conclude after so

many years on the path of Sri Ramana Maharshi, that there are higher forces at

work in our lives, guiding, cajoling and protecting us. In the Christian world, we call

them angels. In Hinduism and Buddhism, there is an emphasis on lineage. Once a

soul has been accepted into an authentic lineage that bond is never broken, birth

after birth. This in part explains why we may be drawn to a particular tradition or

teacher. It may happen that we ‘accidentally’ come across a book in a library or

bookshop that catches our eye, which starts us off on the path.

     We may see a photograph of a teacher who immediately holds our attention

which has often been the case with respect to Sri Ramana Maharshi. These are not

accidents but deliberate, inevitable encounters. Our dream life too precipitates new

physical conditions conducive to the enrichment of our lives. But this can also be

haphazard and can lead to nothing significant as I discovered on reflection after

puzzling about events in my past. There were opportunities that were lost because of

not paying proper attention or being wilfully stubborn. It seems a miracle at times

that we ever do make the right decision and embrace the opportunity presented to

us. However, that higher power, or whatever you may wish to name it, is patient and

insistent. There is no sense of failure and like water that runs down a mountain, that

power will find a way to reach us even in the darkest moments of our lives. In fact, it

is in those moments that our best opportunity arises, for with all the suffering we

endure, we ask that fundamental question, why? This single question can open the

gates.

           'Why’ is that knock on the door which will spontaneously open if we but ask

with our whole, sincere heart. It is when we are so full of ourselves that we arrogantly

think we can do it without help. We cannot. And until we realise this, we will go round

and round in circles repeating the same mistakes again and again. For a moment I  

had stopped running around on the treadmill and that made all the difference.