The earlier posts have been about the story of how a boy named Venkataraman came to be known as the sage Ramana Maharshi. Ramana is now in his 30’s and has reached a spiritual state where he is freed from the burden of having to meditate all the time to remain in divine communion.
His ability to talk and interact with people, and his total access causes Ramana Maharshi’s fame to spread. The flow of disciples slowly grew from a small trickle to a steady flow. Many of these came from the west. A few of his devotees from the west wrote books about him or mentioned him in their books and the resulting fame further increased the flow of devotees. Throughout his life Ramana Maharshi never called attention towards himself nor did he ask for or allow anybody else to collect money in his name. Anybody could come and see him at any time, including late at night. He was totally accessible at all times.
In 1916 his mother and younger brother joined Ramana Maharshi as disciples. They all moved from the smaller Virupaksha cave to the larger Skandashram cave. Ramana began giving his mother intense spiritual instructions and she made rapid spiritual progress. In 1920 his first disciple Palaniswami died and his mother’s health began to deteriorate. Two years later she was near death. Ramana sat next to her for the entire day with one hand on her heart and other on her heart. When she died, he pronounced her liberated, having experienced all her future births in rapid succession as she lay dying. His mother was buried at the foothill and in 6 months Ramana moved down to the site and began the process of building a simple hut nearby where he and a few other disciples began staying. Ramana never gave any reason why he moved down to this site other than saying that he never got the urge ever to go back to his cave dwelling. The initial structure that was built was a very frail looking hut that probably leaked when it rained and could barely accommodate two or three persons.
By 1924 there were two additional huts and slowly the entire complex today known as Sri Ramanasramam came around these structures to accommodate a steadily increasing stream of visitors and a growing number of disciples who began staying with Ramana. The new structures included a post office, a library, a hospital, etc. The construction of many of these structures was personally supervised by Ramana himself.
Ramana hated waste because he felt that everything was a gift from God. He felt that everything should be properly utilized. He would pick up stray mustard seeds or other seeds he found on the floor and insist that it be stored away for later use. He would cut the white margins off proof copies of ashram books and stitch them together to make little notebooks out of them. When in the kitchen he would cook those parts of the vegetables that were normally thrown away. He once remarked, “It is a good thing that I never married. No woman would have put up with my habits!” Ramana loved to do hands-on work and he loved to cook. He would get up at 2 am every morning, cut vegetables, and supervise cooking. He was the head cook of the ashram for 15 years in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Since he was established in a permanent connection with the Absolute he no longer needed to meditate, so he preferred to do hands-on work as he simply hated sitting around. The only reason he meditated in this period was to serve as a personal example for others.
At the age of 69, in late 1948, a tiny cancerous lump was found on Ramana Maharshi’s arm and was removed by a doctor. Next year more lumps appeared and were removed. The doctors were alarmed at the rapid spread of the cancer and recommended amputation of the arm to the shoulder but he refused. By early 1950 he was quite weak and in considerable pain. Many of his devotees begged him to cure himself by using his considerable spiritual powers, but he refused. His usual reply was, “Why are you so attached to this body? Let it go!”
On the evening of 14th April 1950 the end was near. At about 5 pm he asked help to be seated. Devotees began praying and chanting while Ramana Maharshi seemed in peace and joy. An attempt to administer artificial respiration was waved away by him. Slowly his breathing became slower and slower and at 8.47 pm it subsided completely.
Henri Cartier Bresson, a French photographer, who had been staying at the ashram for a fortnight recounted the following: “It is a most astonishing experience. I was in the open space in front of my house, when my friends drew my attention to the sky, where I saw a vividly-luminous shooting star with a luminous tail, unlike any shooting star I had before seen, coming from the South, moving slowly across the sky and, reaching the top of Arunachala, disappeared behind it. Because of its singularity we all guessed its import and immediately looked at our watches – it was 8:47 – and then raced to the Ashram only to find that our premonition had been only too sadly true: the Master had passed into parinirvana at that very minute.” Ramana Maharshi was 71 years old at the time of his death.”
In November of 1935 Paramahamsa Yogananda visited Ramana Maharshi. In the ensuing conversation Yogananda asked Ramana, “Why so much suffering?” The reply he got, “What suffers?” Yogananda was silent and did not reply. He immediately understood that it was the ego that was suffering and not our deeper Self. The deeper Self was always in bliss and the only reason we may not be aware of this is because of the obstruction created by the ego. Ramana Maharshi was not trying to minimize or trivialize suffering. All he was doing is try and point out the root of suffering. It is because of the unfullfilled desires of the ego that we take birth with a mind-body system and we are bound to suffer physical afflictions and other sufferings arising from a mortal existence. Ramana Maharshi was the foremost non-dualist of modern times. His life was an example of what an egoless being should look like and his teachings were always aimed at the idea of realizing the Self to end suffering.