Muz Murray (Ramana Baba)
 

Seeking the Master by Muz Murray

Seeking the Master by Muz Murray

 

Available to purchase in our online shop.

This book was the first ever guide to the Ashrams of India. First published in 1980, it became renowned as the "Bible of India-bound spiritual seekers." - Neville Spearman Press Ltd.

    Although the information about Ashrams has not been updated since 1980, it is still contains useful information about Ashrams, many of which still exist, and is a valuable compendium for Seekers and their Search.

Muz Murray’s acclaimed ashram guide of India Seeking the Master is now available as a facsimile version from our online shop as a download in PDF format.

"And as Seeking the Master—my first ever comprehensive Guide to the Ashrams of India and Nepal (the ‘Bible of India-goers in the 80’s) has been out of print for over 30 years (except for a pirated edition in Nepal in 1998), this has now been made available by popular request in a downloadable PDF facsimile version for a fraction of the original price. Of course, the Gurus and their teachings explored in this work have long left this worldly plane, but the ashrams are still there with new teachers and the directions of how to find them are invaluable."

"The book is virtually a historical record of Indian spirituality in this century. It contains information on over 300 ashrams and monasteries, their daily programmes and teachings, with the impressions of Western seekers of both the Masters and the Ashrams of the time, plus a wealth of geographical and travel information, tips on keeping healthy in India and much more. It’s worth taking a look."

- Muz Murray

Contents

Introduction

Acknowledgements
A Kabir Poem
A Foreword is Forewarned
Using the Book

Part Two: The Guide

Andhra Pradesh
Assam
Bengal
Bihar
Delhi
Goa
Gujarat
Haryana
Himachal Pradesh
Karnataka
Kashmir
Kerala
Madhya Pradesh
Maharashtra
Orissa
Punjab
Rajasthan
Sikkim
Tamil nadu
Uttar Pradesh
Nepal
Glossary
Labour of Love

Part One: Preparation

The Ashram tradition
Sri Ramamurti
How to Recognise a Guru
Customs and Manners
Hints on Health
Remedies
Handy Items to Take
Religions in India
Festivals and Holidays
Transport

The following is a single example of the treatment and layout for each town and ashram; in this instance, Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. There are many other ashrams in Tiruvannamalai which are covered in the guide, but in this sample we have chosen just one of the most famous ashrams in the area.

Tiruvannamalai

A hot, dusty and decidedly scruffy pilgrimage town on the plains, set at the foot of Sri Arunachala, reputedly the most ancient hill in the world. Fossils have shown Arunachala to have existed before the Himalayas arose and before the advent of prehistoric monsters. Its name is variously translated as ‘The Hill of Fire’ or ‘The Hill of The Holy Beacon’, the ‘Red or Rose (aruna) Mountain’ and ‘The Hill of Attainment’. Mythology has it that in this mountain Lord Shiva become a tejolingam or ‘Column of Fire’ without top or bottom, in order to end a quarrel between Brahma and Vishnu as to who was the greatest of the gods. To commemorate this event, a beacon of fire is lit on the peak on the night of Karthigai Deepam (Festival of Light: about 7th December or the nearest full moon) when thousands of pilgrims gather for circumambulation of the peak. The many-spurred mountain is 8 miles around and it takes about three hours to walk it (properly barefoot), for which, Salvation is said to be assured.

The ancient Sthalapuranam says: ‘To be born in Tiruvarur, to die in Kashi (Benares), to worship in Chidambaram, or to merely think of Arunachala is to be assured of Salvation.’

How to Go: Direct buses from most southern cities. About 140 miles south—inland from Chennai/Madras (five hours by bus). Or by train via Villupuram Junction.

Temple at Arunachala

Arunachala is the southern ‘Spiritual Pole’ of India (Mount Kailas being the northern) and is considered to be the abode of a powerful disembodied Jnana Siddha (Wisdom-Enlightened Sage) or Lord Shiva himself. The great hill does have a very powerful vibration which has called sages to reside on its slopes since time out of mind. It is now irrevocably linked with the greatest sage of our time—Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, who identified himself with Arunachala-Shiva and whose Samadhi-Shrine is housed in the ashram at the foot of the Hill. Bhagavan spent many years at Skandashram, a tranquil, green oasis, halfway up the bare rocky hillside (a favoured meditation spot) and also at the Virupaksha Cave some way below, previously inhabited by a long line of great sages. There are many other caves and sanctuaries still in use on the slopes and there are many ashrams around the area.

Below the Hill is the vast and ancient Sri Arunachaleswara Temple, dedicated to Shiva, with immense fort-like walls and gopuram-towers and five inner rounds for circumambulation. It contains many shrines to Shiva (as Sri Arunachaleshwarar) and his consort in her many forms. Under the ‘Thousand-Pillared Hall’ is the tiny Sri Pathala Linga Temple where Sri Ramana Maharshi’s body was eaten by ants and moth-grubs whilst absorbed in samadhi for weeks on end.

Hotel: My choice here is Trishul Hotel—Kanagaraya Mudali Street. (Phones: 22219 / 25550 / 25549). Very convenient and quiet, mid-range hotel in the middle of town. Close to the Temple. See Mr. Jayalaksmi the helpful Manager. How to Go: Coming out of the main gate of the Temple, down the aisles between the the knick-knack stalls, turn left onto the main road, then right at Hotel Deepam on the corner, and take first left for Hotel Trishul.

Excursions: to Padaiveedu—a village of temples (35 km. from Tiruvannamalai) where the old palace of the Sambuvayars (Chieftains of the Chola Empire) has been excavated nearby.

Pavazha Kundru—has a temple to Subramanya Swami on a hillock above the town and a Durga Temple at the foot of the hill.

Jawadu Hills—here is a Gandhian Community Foundation, RTSSS (KVIC), JAWADU HILLS, T.V.Malai District—635 703 (via Vellore). One of the most active communities running on Gandhian principles, teaching self-help and country crafts, such as weaving, bee-keeping (honey-making) dairy, etc. “Javadu Honey” comes from this foundation. How to Go: About 1½ - 2 hours north of Tiruvannamalai, in the North Arcot region.

Sri Ramanashram

c/o The Manager, Sri Ramanashramam, Ramana Nagar, TIRUVANNAMALAI, North Arcot, Tamil Nadu 606 603. (Phones: 04175 -23 292/27200 & Fax: (91) 4175-22 491) E-mail: alagamma@vsnl.com Ashram Office Hours: 8 a.m.-11 a.m./2 p.m. - 6 p.m.

Ramana Maharshi

‘The Self is known to every one but not clearly. You always exist. The Be-ing is the Self. ‘I am’ is the name of God. Of all definitions of God, none is indeed so well put as the Biblical statement ‘I AM THAT I AM’ in Exodus (Chap.3). There are other statements, such as Brahmaivaham, Aham Brahmasmi and Soham. But none is so direct as the name JEHOVAH = I AM. The Absolute Being is what is—It is the Self. It is God. Knowing the Self, God is known. In fact God is none other than the Self.

‘...Bliss is not something to be got. On the other hand you are always Bliss. This desire [for Bliss] is born of the sense of incompleteness. To whom is this sense of incompleteness? Enquire. In deep sleep you were blissful. Now you are not so. What has interposed between that Bliss and this non-bliss? It is the ego. Seek its source and find you are Bliss.

‘There is nothing new to get. You have on the other hand, to get rid of your ignorance, which makes you think you are other than Bliss. For whom is this ignorance? It is to the ego. Trace the source of the ego. Then the ego is lost and Bliss remains over. It is eternal You are That, here and now... This is the master key for solving all doubts. The doubts arise in the mind. The mind is born of the ego. The ego rises from the Self. Search the source of the ego and the Self is revealed. That alone remains. The universe is only expanded Self. It is not different from the Self...

‘The seat of Realisation is within and the seeker cannot find it as an object outside him. That seat is Bliss and the core of all beings. Hence it is called the Heart. The only useful purpose of the present birth is to turn within and realise it. There is nothing else to do.’ [1]

Founder-Guru: Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi (1880-1950) was one of India’s greatest sages, whose profundity, simplicity and living influence has been a growing message for our time, since his Mahasamadhi on 14th April 1950.

He was born in Tiruchuzhi, an ancient pilgrim centre near Madurai, on 31st December 1879, the second son of Sundaram Iyer (a prominent Vakil—or court pleader) and his pious mother Azhagammal. They named him Venkataraman. He grew up with his elder brother Nagaswami and his younger brother Nagasundaram and little sister Alamelu. At school he was renowned for his phenomenal memory, perfect handwriting and his knowledge of Tamil grammar. In his free time, like any youngster, he greatly enjoyed boisterous games such as swimming and football.

His father died when he was only twelve years old. This event made a great impression on him and he pondered long on the mystery of death. He came to the conclusion that it was the sense of ‘I’-ness which had quit his father’s body. Without a father, Venkataraman and his elder brother were sent to live with their paternal uncle Subba Iyer in Madurai. There he continued his studies. But as his inner awakening unknowingly began to develop, outwardly he became a disinterested and sleepy scholar. At times, he would fall into a deep samadhi-like sleep, whereupon his schoolmates took mischievous delight in thumping him around and carrying him from one place to another, without him ever waking up. One night he inadvertently locked his relatives out of the house and after they finally succeeded in breaking in, he was beaten soundly for his forgetfulness. But to their annoyance, he knew nothing about it until they told him about it next morning.

It was on 17th July, 1896, when still only a boy of sixteen, Venkataraman had the unique and unlooked for experience of spontaneous enlightenment, which stayed with him for life. It happened in the upper room of his uncle’s house. Although in perfect health, he was suddenly overcome by a violent fear of death. He felt that he was immediately about to die. Fatalistically accepting the situation, he lay down on the floor, holding his breath and stiffening his limbs as if in rigor mortis, ready to acutely observe the process of death. As this extraordinary condition crept over him, he was overcome by a deeply intuitive understanding of Reality.

‘“Well then,” I said to myself, “this body is dead... But with the death of this body am I dead? Is this body I?”’ [2]

And with this perception, his previously illusory identification with the body vanished. At the same moment his sense of ego and the fear of death evaporated. There arose instead a realisation of his true identity-being that of the deathless Spirit, or Self (the true ‘I AM-ness’) which underlies all phenomena. This was the highest yogic experience known as Sat-Darsanam-or ‘abidance in the heart’.

For two months after this momentous event—of which he said nothing to anyone—he quietly continued his life of a schoolboy, with few outward signs of change. There were to be several months of consolidation before the inner glory was visible to others. However, from that moment he withdrew from the boisterous and competitive games he once enjoyed. Neglecting his studies he would frequently lapse into the state of samadhi while poring over his schoolbooks. On one such occasion, his brother sarcastically remarked “What is the use of study for such a one?” intimating ‘one who is obviously destined to be a yogi.’ Venkataraman immediately perceived the truth of this remark. Shortly after he slipped away from home in answer to an inner call.

Only three weeks before, a relative announced that he had just come from Arunachala. It was a revelation to the boy, who had thought it a legendary place. The magic of this name filled his being with an irresistible longing to be there. With only three rupees to his name, he took the first train towards Tiruvannamalai and the mysterious holy hill of Arunachala. And after three days of problemmatical journeying, on 1st September 1986, he arrived in Tiruvannamalai. There he threw away his sacred thread, had his head shaved and went directly to the inner sanctum of the Great Shiva Temple at the foot of Arunachala. For many weeks he lived in the temple precincts, absorbed in the blissful rapture of the Self. He was unmindful of food or bodily needs, not even taking a bath for over four months.

His immobile, dust-covered figure attracted the local urchins, who began to torment him and pelt him with stones. Finally he awakened sufficiently to move down into a dank cellar hole below the temple. Weeks later, a devotee named Venkatacha Mudali, saw a group of street urchins throwing stones down the cellar steps. On investigation, he discovered the young Brahmin boy in a state of samadhi. When he was carried out, still deep in samadhi, it was found that vermin had eaten into his legs, which were covered in sores and pus and had been matted to ground with blood.

Since no one knew his name, for the next few years, he was known as ‘Brahmana Swami’. As an illumined and silent boy-sage, he lived in various caves and shrines on and around the Hill. In spite of his unkempt appearance, long matted hair and long curling fingernails, his radiant features attracted a considerable following. Growing numbers of holymen and householders alike slowly became aware of his inner achievement. At the age of twenty, he moved into Virupaksha cave (named after Virupaksha Deva, a 13th century saint who lived and was buried there) on the slopes of Arunachala. For the next sixteen years he lived in this hot, womb-like rock. He called it the ‘Mother’ or the ‘Heart-cave’ of Shiva. Here his family came and discovered him again. His mother made several tearful and futile attempts to persuade him to return home. Without breaking his silence, he wrote his first teaching message on a piece of paper:

‘The Creator, remaining everywhere, makes each one play his role in life according to their karma. That which is not destined will not happen, despite every effort. What is destined is bound to happen. This is certain. Therefore the best is to remain silent.’ [3]

Eventually, Azhagammal and his younger brother Niranjananda came to live with him at Skandashram, a small dwelling further up the hill. They became his devoted disciples, organising food and cooking proper meals. This was the beginning of ashram life around the sage.

One of the most advanced Sanskrit scholars, poet and spiritual preceptor—Kavyakanta Ganapati Shastri (otherwise known as Narayana Muni) who had many followers of his own—was overwhelmed to recognise the greatness of the boy’s spiritual stature. The Muni had read every book worth reading and met every Guru worth meeting. But on encountering ‘Brahmana Swami,’ he immediately recognised that the young man’s attainment surpassed all others he had known. Due to the Muni’s heart-burning desperation and spiritual agony, for the first time the boy-sage compassionately broke his silence of eleven years, in order to instruct him. This blessing to the world occurred on 18th November 1907. Their ensuing ‘father-son’ relationship over the years became a legend. On learning Venkataraman’s name, the Muni revived the diminutive pet name of his youth—‘Ramana.’ One meaning of Ramana is ‘dear darling’ and another is ‘he who revels in the Self.’ In recognition of his stature, Ganapati declared that the young man should henceforth be known by all as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.

After moving in to Skandashram, for the rest of her life Bhagavan’s mother Azhagammal stalwartly accustomed herself to the rough life of a sadhu. She knew hundreds of devotional songs and would constantly sing or recite mantrams. All fondly knew her as ‘Amma’ the ashram ‘Mother’. On the day of her decease (19th May, 1922) after a long illness, Bhagavan perceived that she was processing her karma and her future lives. At her last breath, she finally attained enlightenment when expiring in his arms. He later recalled: “When mother had her liberation, her body was put in the sitting posture. There was no mark of death on her face. She was like one seated in deep samadhi, divinely lustrous.” [4]

To commemorate this event, the powerful Matrabhuteswara Temple was built around her samadhi-tomb at the foot of the hill. It took nearly ten years to complete. Bhagavan supervised the building work, eventually moving down to a hut beside the temple (in December 1922) where he remained until the end of his days. The present ashram gradually grew up around the temple, managed by Niranjananda Swami from 1929 to 1953.

Bhagavan’s quality of answering seeker’s questions—mostly in radiant silence—and bringing peace to their minds (as did the great sage of antiquity, Dakshinamurthi) brought visitors flocking from all over the world. Those who were too full of themselves to appreciate and absorb the silent teaching rebuked him, asking why such a Self-Realised sage did not go about and preach the Truth to suffering mankind at large. He replied:

‘How do you know that I am not doing it? Does preaching consist in mounting a platform and haranguing to the people around? Preaching is simple communication of knowledge. It may be done in Silence too.

‘What do you think of a man listening to a harangue for an hour and going away without being impressed by it so as to change his life? Compare him with another who sits in a holy presence and leaves after some time with his outlook on life totally changed. Which is better: To preach loudly without effect or to sit silently sending forth intuitive forces to play on others?’ [1]

However, he was also always ready to answer the questions of sincere seekers who needed verbal answers to their problems. Generally he turned their questions back on themselves, leading them away from inessentials towards a profounder sense of Self-enquiry. He enjoined them to ask instead: ‘Who am I who is asking the question? Know that, and there will be no more questions.’

When asked for a spiritual sadhana (practice) to follow, he advised four basic methods: firstly, for those capable of it, the best was to simply abide as the Self, untouched by the movements of mind, ego and intellect. If that proved too difficult, the next best was to enquire ‘Who am l?’—by constantly eliminating thought and seeking the arising place of the ‘I’ concept. If thoughts were still too insistent, then mantra japa (verbal or mental repetition of sacred syllables) was prescribed, or temporary control of the breath. Otherwise he suggested surrendering oneself in loving devotion to ‘God’ however personally conceived—whether as Brahman, Shiva, Krishna, the Higher Power or Self. The path of wisdom and enquiry (Jnana) and that of devotion (Bhakti) were considered equal, complementary and ultimately one and the same.

‘He who is in the jaws of the tiger cannot be rescued; so also a person who has fallen into the grace of a guru cannot escape from it… The greatest service to the guru is to be engaged in self-enquiry and meditation in all sincerity.’ [5]

Early in February 1949, during the final year of his life, a small growth was found on Bhagavan’s elbow, which was surgically removed by the ashram doctor. The growth later returned and was diagnosed as a cancerous sarcoma. Pressed by the doctors, Bhagavan patiently underwent three more operations. But his flesh was gouged out to the bone to no avail, as the sarcoma came back again each time. When amputation of his whole arm was proposed as the only remaining solution, he finally refused further treatment. Yet although in excruciating pain, right up until the moment of his passing, Bhagavan insisted that all visitors should be allowed his darshan whether by day or night. When asked if it was hurting, he replied with a soft voice and a beatific smile: “If you know the pain of a scorpion bite, then imagine a thousand scorpion bites—it is somewhat like that.”

On the evening of 14th April 1950, as the devotoees began to sing ‘Arunachala Shiva,’ Ramana’s face lit up with joy and tears flowed down his cheeks. Shortly thereafter, at 8.47 pm his breath quietly subsided and he entered Mahanirvana. At that precise moment, a brilliant light like a huge comet slowly rose from the south to north over Arunachala in a vast arc, witnessed by thousands all over India from Madras to as far away as Bombay. Hundreds of devotees understood the meaning of this portent and immediately flocked to the ashram for a last glimpse of the Divine sage.

Bhagavan was a rare jñani whose spiritual attainment and eminence is a beacon for all. His photograph is still reverentially displayed in ashrams of all persuasions all over India. He inspired such writers and illuminati as Carl Jung, Paul Brunton (who first brought his teachings to the West), S.Radhakrishnan, Arthur Osborne, Dilip Kumar Roy, Douglas Harding, T.M.P.Mahadevan, Narayana Guru, Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Sivananda, who all wrote tributes to his transcendence:

“Beautiful beyond dreams, the most enthralling inner life of the divine sage Sri Ramana, its spiritual adventures and its divine achievements quicken higher aspirations and upward urges in the depths of being…The very thought of Sri Ramana in a noble heart induces an attitude of adoration and beckons it to his view and way of life. Sri Ramana is an eternal invitation to consummate Perfection: he is the call Divine.”

“Sri Ramana is the spiritual Destiny of every man.”

Swami Sivananda (Rishikesh)

Ashram President: V.S. Ramanan. (Ganeshan’s brother Sundaram became President in 1956.)

Ashram-in-charge: Mr. Muni.

Studies: Today the ashram activities are basically of a traditional nature only. There is no teacher, other than the continuing radiation of Bhagavan’s presence—for on his deathbed he assured troubled devotees: ‘I am not going away. Where could I go? I am here’. Early morning pujas are held in the Samadhi Mandir, with Vedic chanting, bhajans and also a pre-lunch puja, and evening Arati.

Special days for celebration are Poornam (full moon) with the Sri Chakra Puja, the Fire Ceremony (homam) and circumambulation of the holy Hill; Jayanthi (Bhagavan’s birthday) on 10th or 13th January (with a 12-hour homam); and Deepam (lighting the beacon on Arunachala) on 7th December or nearest full moon. Attendance at any function is optional and visitors are left to their own devices, free to meditate in the Samadhi Mandir, or the Darshan room (which contains a large photographic portrait of Bhagavan set on the couch on which he used to lie), or in the small curio-shrineroom, where some of his effects are kept.

An important practice of devotees is giripradakshina—or circumambulation of the Holy Hill, a three—hour walk around its base. Of this practice, Bhagavan said:

‘There is nothing better than giripradakshina. That alone is enough. If you do japa or meditation sitting in one place, the mind may wander. But during giripradakshina, the limbs move but the mind will be still. Doing japa or meditation without any other thoughts while walking is called samadhi in movement...There are several siddhas and sages on the hill even now, though we cannot see them. They also go round the hill unseen by us.

‘When we go round the hill we should walk on the left side of the road, otherwise we shall be obstructing their movement. We will also have the benefit of walking around them. We will get their blessings also.

‘For everybody it is good to do pradakshina. It does not matter of one has faith in the pradakshina or not…whether they believe it or not, the hill will do good to all those who go around it.’ [6]

Daily Programme: 6.45 a.m. Milk offering at the Shrine of Sri Bhagavan (then distributed as prashad to the devotees). 7 a.m: Breakfast. 8.00 - 9.30 a.m: Vedaparayanam—Chanting of the Vedas in front of Sri Bhagavan’s Shrine, followed by Puja at the Shrine of his Mother. 11 a.m: Narayana Seva—Feeding the poor. 11.30 a.m: Lunch. 12 noon: Rest period. 4 p.m: Tea/hot milk served. 4.30 - 5.00 p.m: Readings from works by, or on, Sri Bhagavan. 5.30 p.m: Puja at the Shrine of Sri Bhagavan. 6 p.m: Puja at the Shrine of the Mother. 6.30 p.m: Tamil Parayana (chanting) on all days except Sunday. 7.30 p.m: Supper is served. 8.30 p.m. Temple closes.

Sadhus awaiting meal

Sri Chakra Puja is performed between 5.30 p.m. and 8.30 p.m. every Friday, also on full moon day and on the first day of each Tamil month. A special puja to Dakshinamurthy is held on the first of every month.

In the Tamil month of Margazhi (Jan-Feb) Bhagavan’s Jayanti—or birthday, is celebrated on a grand scale. The celebrations occur variously on dates between 30th December and 13th January. (If you wish to stay at the ashram in this period it is necessary to book well in advance). His Nirvana day and his mother’s Mahasamadhi day, as well as Niranjananda Swami’s samadhi day are also celebrated in the Tamil month of Thai (January).

Sri Ramanashramam Gate

The Ashram: is set at the foot of a spur of Arunachala. It was once hidden in the jungle beyond the town, but is now engulfed by the noisy suburbs and busy main road. The Ashram has grown enormously since the days of Bhagavan. It now comprises a huge, modern, glossy marble-walled fan-cooled temple (Samadhi Mandir) with ornate pillars and wrought-ironwork around the tomb (which replaces the original open-air and flower potted simple samadhi-shrine). The ornate temple-shrine dedicated to Bhagavan’s mother, is now partly converted into managerial offices and a small Tamil-Hindi library. The original old dining hall and kitchens remain basically as they were in Bhagavan’s day; beside stores, cowsheds, a hot-water washhouse and a vedapatasala (a school for young Brahmacharyas); magazine and publications offices; housing for residential ashramites; several small samadhis of ashram pets (animals and birds) and the curio-shrineroom, amid flowering bushes and a palm grove inhabited by scores of monkeys and peacocks.

The small Liberty Hall beside the Samadhi Temple and well—where devotees had the ‘liberty’ of free access to darshan of Bhagavan—is the most charged of all spaces. Here, facing his couch, the devotees sit to imbibe his inward-drawing energy, which seems to emanate from the large half life-size photograph of the Master resting on the cushions.

The Ashram premises extend over the road from the main gate. A Guest Compound houses more modern single and double rooms and private bathrooms with showers, toilets and fan cooling. Other complete house-and-garden dwellings for long-term visitors, are set back beyond this area.. In the Ashram itself, for casual visitors and sadhus, there are long bare rooms known as the ‘Ladie’s and Gentlemen’s Dormitaries.’ Here hardy Hindu devotees sleep in rows on floor mats. This block shares communal washing cubicles and flush squat latrines.

If you turn left on going out of the Ashram gate, and cut diagonally across the road, after about twenty yards, you come to another compound, housing several dormitory quarters. Here also is The Sri Ramana Centenary Library, which has a valuable collection of spiritual books in English, and in all major European and Indian languages. The librarians are generally knowledgeable and very helpful. The Library is open daily from 8.30 a.m.-11 a.m. and from 2. p.m.- 5 p.m.

Ashram food is typically South Indian vegetarian. Early breakfast offers iddly and chutney, tea or coffee. Lunch comprises boiled vegetables and rice (without chillies) and chapati, buttermilk or curd and a banana. There is a milk or coffee break in the mid-afternoon and supper is as lunch. Water from the ashram well (with huge carp in it) is drinkable: pull your own in a bucket, or use the Municipal tap on the wall outside the main gate. Outside the Manager’s Office and Bookstore, there is usually a large pot of boiled water for the use of visitors. A toilet may be found on the veranda behind the bookstore.

The Ashram also runs a Free Dispensary, open between 3 - 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Bhagavan’s two retreats on the hill are usually kept open for part of the day; Skandashram from 7 a.m. - 5.30 p.m. and Virupaksha Cave, from 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. Visitors are cautioned not to make any offerings to the many so-called ‘Guides’ on the hill and around the Ashram.

It is preferable to write ahead to be sure of accommodation. There are no fixed charges for stay, but donations are expected. Best time of year is from October to February, after which it becomes exceedingly hot and sticky. Mosquitoes and thieving monkeys abound (so keep your doors and windows closed). There may also still be a few scorpions around.

Publications: The Mountain Path is a world-distributed quarterly English magazine, open to all paths, but basically devoted to Bhagavan. It was developed by Arthur Osborne whose introductory books, Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge, The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi and The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, brought so many to the Master. After his ‘Absorption into Arunachala’ in 1970, it was continued for six years by his wife, Mrs. Lucia Osborne. During the last year before her retirement in 1976, it was also co-edited by your intrepid author. My friend, Sri V.Ganeshan, became the next excellent editor for the following twenty years. He now teaches Bhagavan’s message from his home in the country. (See: ‘Ananda Ramana’)

The Ashram has a large publications department. It has produced many books by and about Bhagavan, the most noteworthy being Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi—the bible of Bhagavan’s teachings—Swami Ramananda Saraswati; Letters from Sri Ramanashramam—Suri Nagamma, Conscious Immortality—Paul Brunton (all containing questions and answers recorded at his feet over the years). Also Bhagavan’s own succinct works: Who Am I? and Upadesa Saram. Another more recent book of note is Be As You AreThe Teachings of Ramana Maharshi (Arkana 1985) by David Godman—who was long time librarian of Sri Ramanashramam. He also wrote Poonaji (Avadhuta Foundation, 1993) and the excellent biography of Annamalai Swami, Living by the Words of Bhagavan (Sri Anammalai Swami Trust).

In the Ashram Book Depot, there is an excellent video cassette in English, on the life of Bhagavan, entitled The Sage of Arunachala. Also many audiocassettes of the music and pujas performed at Ashram functions. Book Depot Hours: 7.30 a.m.-11 a.m./2 p.m.-5 p.m.

Impressions: (Gathered between 1972-1980): ‘I love the place. I come back every year to rest in Bhagavan’s presence. The staff always treat me well.’—Frenchwoman. ‘There is something magic and magnetic about Arunachala, which makes staying worthwhile, but sadly the Ashram is not exactly mellow, unless one can tune in to Ramana’s presence (in the Darshan room especially) and forget ashram politics and policy.’—Canadian. ‘The management seem only interested in guests with fat wallets, and many, including myself, who come with pure intention and much devotion, but little money, are turned away under the pretext of no room!’—American girl. ‘The staff are generally friendly, but often appear curt and abrupt (an Indian characteristic?) which is unpleasant, and nobody seems really concerned for the welfare of guests.’—Englishman. ‘Girls, beware of elderly groping attendants.’—Dutch girl. ‘Arunachala holds my heart. For me, I have found among the true devotees of Maharshi, the most sincere, sane and open seekers that I have ever met. The ancient disciples at the ashram (those that are left) are strong, quiet presences: but you have to seek them out. It is a privilege to be here among them, and also with others in the surrounding area.’—Londoner.

From 2000 onwards: ‘A much warmer atmosphere now prevails at the Ashram; so devotees are increasing by the year. Bhagavan’s energy has not diminished in any way. In the Liberty Hall meditation room, the atmosphere around his couch is still charged with subtle vibrations, plunging one effortlessly into the deep space of the Self.’—Author.

‘The Ashram would be a haven of peace, if it were not for the environmental noise pollution. What with the speaker-systems of nearby schools, institutions and dwellings, and the incessant cacophony of blaring horns from passing trucks and buses, screeching peacocks, barking dogs and noisy Tamil workers, it makes it seem sometimes as if we are living in the middle of hell.’—Long-term Ashramite.

‘The management, in its peculiar Indian fashion, alternates between being charmingly helpful and totally disinterested in turn. I was welcomed cordially when I arrived, but the next day when I reported some clothes gone missing, the manager just laughed and said I should be more careful with my things.’—Lakshmi (Norwegian girl).

‘Keep your door shut at all times, as it only takes a moment for the monkeys to get in and ransack your room. Also there is a lot of thieving going on. We don’t hold the night-watchman in much confidence.’—Dutch couple.

‘I prefer to come in to the ashram for the atmosphere, good organisation and cleanliness. But there is always an implied pressure to toe the party line, to have no interest in any other than Ramana, and to attend all the Pujas. Only if this is the case, will you be well-received next time.’—American.

‘The man who was cleaning the area around Bhagavan’s couch, did it with such meticulous care and loving devotion, that watching him was a meditation in itself.’—Englishman.

‘Deeply spiritual teachings, intensely practical. Enquiry into the nature of the Real Self. I felt the immanent presence of the Guru in Self and surroundings, especially in the meditation room.’—Englishwoman.

‘I loved the mountain—especially Virupaksha cave. I liked the ashram’s physical layout and enjoyed the evening puja sessions. The whole western “scene” at the ashram and all the adjunct-type places that are around was intriguing, but a bit distracting. I found myself looking outward rather than inward.’—American.

‘I have to say that after a long hard journey my first impression of this Ashram was not of unmitigated joy. We “girlies” had to share our concrete hut, seven to a six-bedded room. But a new day dawned and life was wonderful: excellent pure food, lovingly served, peace-perfect peace prevailed; peacocks strutted, monkeys, beautiful gentle dogs, chipmunks all roamed around us. The cold water tap and bucket washing facilities were bliss in the heat. Peace, tranquillity, love and the joy of living entered my heart and I could have remained there forever.’ —Gill Jennings (U.K.).

‘My first ever ashram. The atmosphere was filled with peace, with children and animals all around, giving a lovely family feeling: a feeling of belonging.’—Jessie Trueland (Scotland).

How to go: Trains from Bangalore or Madras change at Vellore; or buses from all over the region. Take taxi, tonga or cycle-rickshaw from either the railway, bus or coach stations in Tiruvannamalai, through the town, past the temple (15 minutes by cycle-rickshaw) to the northern outskirts.

Co-Centres: India: The house in which Bhagavan was born in Tiruchuzhi is owned by the ashram and open as a place of pilgrimage. Daily pujas are held there. Also the house of his uncle in Madurai, where he attained realisation, is similarly kept. U.P: Ramana Kendra, New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh. England: The Ramana Maharshi Foundation, Studio E, 49 The Avenue, Brondesbury Park, LONDON NW6 7NR, U.K. USA: Arunachala Ashrama, New York (address?) France: c/o Eric Tolone, Association Maieutique Transcendante, 13 Rue du Vieux Moulin, 77220 GRETZ, France.

[1] Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi—Swami Ramananda Saraswati (Sri Ramanashramam Press).

[2] Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge—Arthur Osborne, (Rider & Co. Ltd, 3 Fitzroy Square, London WlP 6JD).

[3] Bhagavan Ramana and the Mother—A.R.Natarajan.

[4] Letters from Sri Ramanashramam—Suri Nagamma (Sri Ramanashramam, 1970)

[5] Reminiscences—Kunjuswami (Sri Ramanashramam, 1992)

[6] My Recollections of Bhagavan Sri Ramana—A. Devaraja Mudaliar (p.p. 69-70. SRA, 1992)

© Copyright 2001 MUZ MURRAY

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