By David Godman
When I appeared before him, the Maharshi asked, ‘Where have you been? Where are you living?’
‘On the other side of the mountain,’ I replied.
‘And what were you doing there?’ he enquired.
He had given me my cue.
‘I was playing with my Krishna,’ I said, in a very smug tone of voice.
I was very proud of my achievement and felt superior to the Maharshi because I was absolutely convinced that Krishna had not appeared to him during that period.
‘Oh, is that so?’ he commented, looking surprised and interested. ‘Very good, very nice. Do you see Him now?’
‘No, sir, I do not,’ I replied. ‘I only see Him when I have visions.’
I was still feeling very pleased with myself, feeling that I had been granted these visions, whereas the Maharshi had not.
‘So Krishna comes and plays with you and then He disappears,’ said the Maharshi. ‘What is the use of a God who appears and disappears? If He is a real God, He must be with you all the time.’
The Maharshi’s lack of interest in my visionary experiences deflated me a little, but not to the extent that I was willing to listen to his advice. He was telling me to give up my search for an external God and instead find the origin and identity of the one who wanted to see Him. This was too much for me to swallow. A lifetime of devotion to Krishna had left me incapable of conceiving the spiritual quest in any other terms than that of a quest for a personal God.
Though his advice did not appeal to me, there was still something about the Maharshi that inspired and attracted me. I asked him to give me a mantra, hoping thereby to get his sanction for my own form of spirituality. He refused, although later, when I was back in Madras, he did give me one in a dream. I then asked him if he would be willing to give me sannyasa since I was not very keen to take up my new job in Madras. I had only taken it because it had offered me a way of getting to see the Maharshi. He refused that request too. Having therefore got, in my own jaundiced opinion, nothing from the Maharshi except a good experience and some bad advice, I returned to Madras to take up my new job.
I found a nice house to live in, big enough to accommodate my family, and began my work. The job itself did not interest me much but I did it dutifully and to the best of my ability because I had a wife and children to support. All my spare time and energy were devoted to communing with Krishna. I made a puja room in my house, informing my wife that when I was in it, I was never to be disturbed. At 2.30 each morning I would get up and begin my reading and chanting. Sometimes I would read the the various Krishna stories or the Upanishads or the Gita, but mostly I would do japa of the name. I synchronised the japa with my breathing. Calculating that I breathed about 24,000 times a day, I decided that I should repeat the name of God at least once for every breath I took. I cultivated the idea that any breath I took that was not utilised in uttering the divine name was a wasted one. I found this a relatively easy target to meet.
Then the thought occurred to me: ‘There have been years of my life when I did not chant the name at all. All those breaths were wasted. If I increase my recitations to 50,000 a day, I can make up for all those breaths I wasted when I was young.’ I soon achieved this new target, managing all the time to synchronise the chanting with some part of the breath.
I would stay in my puja room, chanting the name, from 2.30 a.m. to 9.30 a.m. and then leave to go to the office because work started there at ten. I always took my mala to work with me. While I was walking to the tram stop or sitting inside the tram on the way to the office, I would carry on with my japa. Even at work I would secretly be revolving my japa mala if there was nothing else that demanded my attention. There was a Krishna temple in Royapettah that was near my house. I would often go there in the mornings and evenings as I was going to and from the office. At the end of each working day I would return home, lock myself in my puja room again, and carry on chanting the name of Krishna until it was time for me to go to sleep. I also slept in the puja room, thus effectively cutting myself off from all interaction with my family. I even stopped speaking with them.
After some time in Madras Papaji had a vision that forced him to re-evaluate his previous, prejudiced conclusions about the Maharshi:
From my childhood on, from about the age of six, I had been in love with Krishna. I knew about Krishna bhaktas and how they behaved, but I had never heard of saints who just sat quietly. In the Punjab people showed their devotion by singing bhajans, not by sitting quietly. With this background I didn’t appreciate what I saw when I first encountered the Maharshi.
On my first visit I had some good experiences and I felt attracted to the Maharshi in some way, but I didn’t have much love for him. Nor did I trust him.
One day, though, all this changed. The Maharshi himself appeared before me in Madras and said, ‘Krishna bhakti alone is true. Krishna bhakti alone is true.’ By this time I knew that he never left Tiruvannamalai for any reason, so I had to assume that it was some kind of vision.
I went back to Tiruvannamalai to get confirmation of this manifestation. I wanted to ask him if he really had appeared before me and said these things about Krishna bhakti. I had had some disagreement with him on my first visit and this disagreement had somehow stuck in my mind. If someone always agrees with you, you don’t think much about him. But if you have had a quarrel with someone, that person and the quarrel you have had are always surfacing in your mind. That was what was happening to me in Madras. Thoughts of the Maharshi would often come to me because I didn’t agree with his views on God.
I went back to Ramanasramam and asked the Maharshi, ‘Are you the person who appeared to me in Madras and told me, “Krishna bhakti alone is true”?’ He heard my question but he didn’t give me a reply.
While I was waiting for an answer, a group of devotees came from Vrindavan. They were on a tour of pilgrimage places in the South. On their visit to Tirupati they had heard that there was a swami in Tiruvannamalai who was worth visiting. So, they all came along to have darshan. The leader of the group presented the Maharshi with a picture of Krishna playing the flute for Radha. It was a beautiful picture. As the Maharshi was looking at the picture, tears started trickling down his cheeks. When you have intense devotion for Krishna, you can easily pick out other devotees who have that same passion. I could see that these were real tears of devotion and that they came from the heart and not from the mind. As I watched the tears trickling down his cheeks, I felt them trickling into my own Heart. It was a divine shower that filled my own Heart with love. He was so happy looking at that picture, and I felt so happy looking at him appreciate it.
I thought to myself, ‘This man has been hiding his devotion from me. He doesn’t like to show it publicly, but now I have found out his secret. He is just as much a bhakta as I am.’
A bird cannot fly without two wings. After this revelation I saw that the Maharshi was soaring on the twin wings of bhakti and jnana [devotion and transcendental knowledge]. From that moment on, my doubts evaporated and I had immense faith in him.
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.