Harriet: What was Maharaj’s attitude to Ramana Maharshi and his teachings? Did you ever discuss Bhagavan’s teachings with him?
David: He had enormous respect for both his attainment and his teachings. He once told me that one of the few regrets of his life was that he never met him in person. He did come to the ashram in the early 1960s with a group of his Marathi devotees. They were all on a South Indian pilgrimage tour and Ramanasramam was one of the places he visited.
With regard to the teachings he once told me, ‘I agree with everything that Ramana Maharshi said, with the exception of this business of the heart-centre being on the right side of the chest. I have never had that experience myself.’
I discussed various aspects of Bhagavan’s teachings with him and always found his answers to be very illuminating.
He asked me once, ‘Have you understood Ramana Maharshi’s teachings?’
Since I knew he meant ‘Had I actually experienced the truth of them?’, I replied, ‘The more I listen to Maharaj, the more I understand what Bhagavan is trying to tell me’.
I felt that this was true at both the theoretical and experiential levels. His explanations broadened and deepened my intellectual understanding of Bhagavan’s teachings and his presence also gave me experiential glimpses of the truth that they were all pointing towards.
I have to mention Ganesan’s visit here. V. Ganesan is the grandnephew of Ramana Maharshi and in the 1970s he was the de facto manager of Ramanasramam. Nowadays, his elder brother Sundaram is in charge. Ganesan came to visit Maharaj for the first time in the late 1970s. As soon as he arrived Maharaj stood up and began to collect cushions. He made a big pile of them and made Ganesan sit on top of the heap. Then, much to everyone’s amazement, Maharaj cleared a space on the floor and did a full-length prostration to him.
When he stood up, he told Ganesan, ‘I never had a chance to prostrate to your great-uncle Ramana Maharshi, so I am prostrating to you instead. This is my prostration to him.’
Harriet: That’s an extraordinary story! Were you there that day?
David: Yes, I was sitting just a few feet away. But the truly extraordinary thing for me was what happened next. Maharaj and Ganesan chatted for a while, about what I can’t remember.
Then Maharaj made an astonishing offer: ‘If you stay here with me for two weeks, I guarantee you will leave in the same state as your great-uncle Ramana Maharshi.’
Ganesan left that day and didn’t come back. I couldn’t believe he had turned down an offer like that. If someone of the stature of Maharaj had made an offer like that to me, I would have immediately nailed myself to the floor. Nothing would have induced me to go away before the time was up.
When I returned to Ramanasramam I asked Ganesan why he hadn’t stayed.
‘I didn’t think he was serious,’ he replied. ‘I just thought he was joking.’
It was during this visit that Maharaj asked Ganesan to start giving talks in Ramanasramam. ‘I have been to Ramanasramam,’ he said, ‘and you have wonderful facilities there. Many pilgrims come, but no one is giving them any teachings. It is a sacred and holy place but people are leaving it and coming here because no one is teaching there. Why should they have to travel a thousand miles to sit in this crowded room when you have such a great place? You need to start giving talks there. You need to start explaining what Ramana Maharshi’s teachings are.’
Ganesan was unwilling to follow that advice either, or at least not at the time. There is a strong tradition that no one is allowed to teach in Ramanasramam. Ramana Maharshi is still the teacher there and no one is allowed to replace him. It is not just a question of having a new Guru there; the ashram management does not even encourage anyone to publicly explain what Ramana Maharshi’s teachings mean. Ganesan didn’t want to rock the boat and incur the ire of his family and the devotees who might object, so he kept quiet. It is only in the last few years that he has started teaching, but he is doing it in his own house, rather than in the ashram itself. The ashram is still very much a teacher-free zone.
I talked to Ganesan recently about Maharaj and he told me a nice story about a Frenchwoman whom to he took there.
‘When I started to visit Maharaj some of Bhagavan’s devotees criticized me for abandoning Bhagavan and going to another Guru. Many of them seemed to think that going to see Maharaj indicated that I didn’t have sufficient faith in Bhagavan and his teachings. I didn’t see it that way. I have visited many great saints, and I never felt that I was abandoning Bhagavan or being disrespectful to him by going on these trips. A Frenchwoman, Edith Deri, was one of the women who complained in this way. We were in Bombay together and I somehow convinced her to accompany me on a visit to Maharaj. She came very reluctantly and seemed determined not to enjoy the visit.
‘When we arrived Maharaj asked her if she had any questions. She said that she hadn’t.
‘”So why have you come to see me?” he asked.
‘”I have nothing to say,” she replied. “I don’t want to talk while I am here.”
‘”But you must say something,” said Maharaj. “Talk about anything you want to. Just say something.”
‘”If I say something, you will then give some reply, and everyone will then applaud because you have given such a wonderful answer. I don’t want to give you the opportunity to show off.”
‘It was a very rude answer, but Maharaj didn’t show any sign of annoyance.
‘Instead, he replied, “Water doesn’t care whether it is quenching thirst or not”.
‘And then he repeated the sentence, very slowly and with emphasis. He often repeated himself like this when he had something important to say.
‘Edith told me later that this one sentence completely destroyed her skepticism and her negativity. The words stopped her mind, blew away her determination to be a spoilsport, and put her into a state of peace and silence that lasted for long after her visit.’