In this book excerpt, Papaji is speaking.
SHORTLY AFTER MY RETURN [home] a sadhu appeared at our door, asking for food. I invited him in, offered him some food and asked him the question that was uppermost in my mind. ‘Can you show me God? If not, do you know of anyone who can?’
Much to my surprise he gave me a positive answer. ‘Yes, I know a person who can show you God. If you go and see that man, everything will be all right for you. His name is Ramana Maharshi.’
Not having heard of him before, I asked where he lived and was told, ‘Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai’. Since I had never heard of the place either, I asked him for directions to get there.
He gave me detailed instructions: ‘Take a train to Madras. When you get to Madras, go to Egmore station. That is where the metre gauge trains leave from. Take a train from there to a place called Villupuram. You have to change trains there. Then catch a train from there to Tiruvannamalai.’
I wrote all these details down with mixed feelings. I was very happy to hear that there was at least one man in India who could show me God, but I also knew that I had no means of getting to see him. I had spent all the money I had saved from my spell in the army on my unsuccessful pilgrimage, and I knew that my father would not give me any assistance. He disapproved of my spiritual trips, feeling, with some justification, that I should be devoting my time instead to supporting my family.
When I told my father that I wanted to go to the South to see yet one more swami, he exploded with anger.
‘What about your wife and children?’ he demanded. ‘Was it not enough to leave the army that you must now rush to the other end of India, indulging in your mad search for spiritual adventures?’
Obviously, no help would be forthcoming from that quarter.
Shortly afterwards I went into town and happened to meet one of my old friends. He was running a tea stall.
‘I haven’t seen you for a long time,’ he remarked. ‘I heard a story that you resigned your commission in the army.’
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I have given it up for good.’
‘So what are you doing now?’ he enquired.
‘Nothing,’ I answered. ‘I am looking for some sort of job.’
‘Well, sit down,’ he said. ‘I will give you some milk to drink. Since you are not employed at the moment, you don’t need to pay.’
I sat down and began to glance through a newspaper that was lying on one of the tables. Having just been reminded of my unemployed state, I turned to the page that listed all the job advertisements. One vacancy seemed to be tailor-made for me: ‘Ex-army officer required in Madras.’ The British army was looking for an ex-officer to manage all the stores in a canteen that was being run for British servicemen. I looked for the address to apply to and found that the contractor who had placed the advertisement was based in Peshawar, a nearby city. I sent my application there, along with a photo of myself in army uniform, and was immediately engaged. Not only that, the contractor gave me money to get to Madras and told me that I need not report for duty for one month. I thus got money to go to the Maharshi and an opportunity to spend time in his presence before I reported for work.
It was 1944 and I was thirty-one years of age.
I followed the sadhu’s advice and travelled by train to Tiruvannamalai. On disembarking there I discovered that the Maharshi’s ashram was about three kilometres away, on the other side of the town, so I engaged a bullock cart to take me and my belongings there. As soon as we reached the ashram, I jumped out of the cart, put my bags in the men’s dormitory, and went off to look for this man who could show me God. I peeped in through his window and saw, sitting on a sofa inside, the same man who had visited my house in the Punjab. I was disgusted.
‘This man is a fraud,’ I said to myself. ‘He appears in my house in the Punjab, tells me to go to Tiruvannamalai, then hops on the train so that he can get there before me.’
I was so annoyed with him I decided that I wouldn’t even go into the hall where he was sitting. Mentally adding him to the long list of frauds I had met on my first pilgrimage around India, I turned on my heels and went off to collect my bags.
As I was preparing to leave on the same cart that had brought me to the ashram, one of the residents accosted me and asked, ‘Aren’t you from the North? You look like a North Indian.’
I found out later that he was called Framji and that he owned a cinema in Madras.
‘Yes, I am,’ I replied.
‘Haven’t you just arrived?’ he asked, noting that I was making preparations to leave. ‘Aren’t you going to stay here for at least a couple of days?’
I told him the story of how I had come to be in Tiruvannamalai, and concluded by saying, ‘This man has been travelling around the country, advertising himself. I don’t want to see him. I came here because he said there was a man here who could show me God. If this man really does have the capacity to show me God, why did he not do it in my house in the Punjab when he came to see me? Why did he make me come all this way? I am not interested in seeing such a man.’
Copyright © 1998 Avadhuta Foundation. This article is reprinted from Nothing Ever Happened, Vol. 1. Used by permission.
David Godman (b. 1953) has written many books about Sri Ramana Maharshi, his disciples, and related subjects. He was the librarian at Sri Ramanasramam for eight years.
By David Godman
This massive three-volume biography of H.W.L. Poonja, widely known as Papaji, is one of the most comprehensive attempts ever made to document the life and teachings of a self-realized person. Papaji was a direct disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi. He is largely responsible for the satsang movement in the West because he helped hundreds of Westerners attain glimpses of the Self and then sent them home to teach.
This page was published on September 23, 2001 and last revised on May 25, 2017.