Letter # 13  -  Faith

Inevitably when we enter the spiritual path there are blockages, despair, disappointments, and frustration. These emotional responses alternate with brief moments of lucidity and joy. It is a topsy-turvy world. What I came to learn after some time at Tiruvannamalai was that the environs of the ashram were a singular world with a different set of values from the outside world. It is the same if one enters a monastery, the military, or even a family with its quirks, atmosphere and rules. To survive in each of these environments one quickly adapts to the guidelines or else suffers unnecessarily. An ashram is no different and the example of the guru sets the tone and establishes the precedents of the right and the wrong ways to apply the teachings.

In Sri Ramanasramam the emphasis was on inner silence and a relentless pursuit of, for want of a better expression, one’s true self. The result of such a successful search was a profound sense of peace. Each ashram has its characteristics. Someone who believes in Lord Krishna, practices a mantra based on his sacred name and worships his image will evolve differently from someone who follows Lord Siva.

When I first arrived, the ashram was quiet with few people. There was a physical serenity and also after some time, I felt the incipient beginnings of an inner quiet. Initially, it seemed rather boring and lacked a certain attractive pizazz so necessary if, in conventional daily life, one was to continue freely on a specific course of action. The inmates were quiet and seemed so ordinary. I remember walking past a senior devotee of Bhagavan, Visvanatha Swami and didn’t in my all-knowingness think much of him, but on reflection later I recalled a twinkle in his eyes as he watched me. This was the case for many who were long-time devotees.

Nothing special. It took years to appreciate this quality. And to grasp how naive and pompous I was with my unrealistic expectations.

Why did it take so long before the true scale of my deluded self-estimation emerged and why did I stay if the early rewards were so meagre?

It could be summed up in one word, faith. Deep within us, there is, let us say, a code engrained on our soul. It is common to all of us. In some, the pulse is strong. In others, it is murky and largely ignored. For those in which the throb is robust, they cannot ignore its insistence and however much we struggle to avoid its demands, in the end, we succumb to its persistence.

There are numerous stories of saints who tried to evade the call but, in the end, reluctantly acceded to the summons. Think of Jonah in the Old Testament. There is the well-known English poem The Hound of Heaven:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears  

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.          

Up vistaed hopes I sped;


Try as we might if we are true to ourselves, we cannot resist that inner voice. In many respects, it becomes the story of our lives. We cannot oppose that call in any of its manifestations be it even in minor incidents such as turning around to help someone we passed who was in trouble. In the major trends of our lives, those life-changing moments happen when we are radically open to change because we intuitively consent to that mysterious call.

And to those who ignore the demand, their life is spent lamenting in some small corner, the missed opportunity. Shakespeare said it well:

There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat;

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.

The start of that change is not necessarily dramatic or racial. It may start with the cover of a book that intrigues us in a bookshop which we find ourselves browsing through for some unknown reason.  And then another small seemingly inconsequential incident, until there is built up a substantial motive to investigate and commit oneself to satisfy that longing. A curiosity that can soon turn into an imperative. By being true to our inner encouragement, life conspires to help us. It may at first seem like blindly jumping off a cliff but soon to our astonishment, it appears to be the most normal thing in the world because we find out that we are not alone. There are others just like us, restless about knowing why and willing to risk an adventure that leads who knows where.

This is faith.

It is as if there is a higher self within us who gently…or not so gently leads us. One explanation is angels who watch over us. Another is our prarabdha karma, that is, the results of our past actions in another life which cannot be erased but must be fulfilled.  

Sri Ramana Maharshi is a prime example of faith. As a boy, he heard about Arunachala, the sacred hill situated at Tiruvannamalai from a relative who had just returned from a pilgrimage there. He was astonished that Arunachala existed and thereafter the thought of Arunachala lived in the back of his mind. Later after the epochal death experience at Madurai, Sri Ramana frequented the famous Meenakshi Temple and prayed to the various gods. Come the time when he could no longer endure his family life because that death experience had irrevocably transformed his inner being, his thoughts turned to Arunachala and he left home never to return. What drove him to leave the security of his family and enter the unknown? And this too at a time when long-distance travel was a rare event in the lives of people?

It was faith. Faith in a higher power. Faith that all will be well if one dares to believe and act on that enigmatic prompting. Though in Sri Ramana’s case, he did not just believe, he knew.


1. The schoolboy Venkataraman had read no religious theory. He knew only that Arunachala was a very sacred place and it must have been a presentiment of his destiny that shook him. One day he met an elderly relative whom he had known in Tiruchuzhi and asked him where he was coming from. The old man replied, “From Arunachala.” And the sudden realization that the holy hill was a real, tangible place on earth that men could visit overwhelmed Venkataraman with awe so that he could only stammer out: “What! From Arunachala? Where is that?” The relative, wondering in his turn at the ignorance of callow youth, explained that Arunachala is Tiruvannamalai.

Arthur Osborne, Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge. Chapter one.

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