The year was 1919, and in commemoration of the victory of World War 1, the British declared all schools in India closed for a month. The mother of this eight-year-old child, Harivansh, decided it was the best time to take all her children to visit her relatives in Lahore. On reaching there someone decided to make mango and almond milk. Though Harivansh eagerly waited for the drink, when it was handed it to him, he could make no movement to grasp it.
Harivansh had suddenly fallen into a deep mystical trance. So deep was the trance that all attempts to shake him out of it failed. Harivansh stayed in this state for two full days. Thinking that he was possessed the panicked family took him to the local mosque and asked the mullah to perform an exorcism. But nothing worked. Eventually when he came out of his trance, he was unable to say much about it except that he had an “intensely happy” experience and he had experienced “unfathomable beauty and peace”.
Harivansh’s mother was an ardent devotee of Krishna and she came up with the theory that her son’s trance was somehow related to Lord Krishna. Harivansh was shown pictures of Krishna but he denied that he had seen anyone resembling Him. Yet somehow the young boy’s mom convinced him that his experience was the result of Krishna. Harivansh longed to repeat his experience and his mother convinced him that this would happen if he meditated on the name of Krishna. So strong was his desire to return to the state he had experienced, Harivansh began to meditate intensely on the child form of Krishna.
From the moment he woke up he would begin his intense meditation by constantly invoking the name of Krishna. Soon the child-Krishna began appearing before Harivansh when he was alone at night. As soon as he closed his eyes the form of child-Krishna would be before him. The experience was so intense that he could physically touch Him and play with Him and talk to Him. Of course Harivansh was so young that he thought that the child-Krishna appeared before everyone and there was nothing novel in what he experienced. Sometimes child-Krishna came to him so frequently that it tired him as he needed to get some sleep! But when child-Krishna was not with him he always longed for His presence. He lost all interest in schoolwork and play and he was always thinking of or meditating on Krishna’s name. Sometimes waves of bliss would surge inside him but the experience was never as intense as the one he had the first time when he was eight.
Growing up, Harivansh’s yearning for God was so intense that he needed some outlet to express it. Once he ran away with wandering monks. When he was thirteen he saw the picture of Buddha in his history book. He was so enamored by this image he began imitating Buddha. He wore an orange colored robe that monks wear and wandered the streets begging as Buddha did. He sat under a tree and meditated, and he also fasted and become thin to resemble the image of Buddha he saw in his textbook. He also went out in his orange rob and stood under the clock tower of the town and attempt to give a sermon just as he thought Buddha did. Eventually somebody reported his antics to his mom and all his Buddha impersonations were bought to an end. However his mom also had strong spiritual tendencies and she encouraged him to check out spiritual books from the local library. He soon began reading many spiritual texts including Yoga Vasistha. She also took him to her spiritual guru. Her guru was so enamored by Harivansh that he offered to train him and take him under his wings. He offered to make the child his successor, but his mom was not willing to let go of her child.
When Harivansh was 15 he had an unusual experience. This came about as the result of ingesting cannabis leaves [known in India as Bhang]. In India during the festival of color [Holi] these leaves are widely ingested and Harivansh had them by accident. At midnight he woke up and began meditating. When his parents saw this, it did not bother them as they thought that this was the result of the Bhang he had ingested. But at 3 am he was still meditating and began uttering some strange sounds. His uttering woke up his parents and they tried to get him out of his meditative state, but were not successful. Alarmed, father rushed out and got a doctor who found nothing wrong. He said that the child would come out of this state on his own and should be left alone. The whole night and the entire next day, Harivansh sat in this state. A priest passing by the house happened to hear the sound he was making. To his shock he realized that Harivansh was uttering Yajur Veda in Sanskrit. Harivansh did not know the language and had never read Yajur Veda, but somehow in this state he seemed to be reciting it!
At sixteen Harivansh had another deep mystical experience, similar to the one he had when he was eight. This time the experience was triggered by the invocation of the prayer: Om Shanti, Shanti! [Om Peace, Peace!] This happened when he was at school and it left him completely immobile. His schoolmates made fun of him and carried him around in his paralyzed state, and when they tired of it, they dumped him at his home. All through this experience, Harivansh was in a deep state of bliss but unable to move or respond. Harivansh was now convinced that his experience was as a result of his devotion to Krishna and his devotion considerably deepened as a result.
Because of his deep spiritual tendencies and his ardent devotion to Krishna, Harivansh did not do well at school and as a result he could not go to college. Instead at the age of eighteen he became a traveling salesman and got married at the age of twenty. Though he was not interested in marriage he got married on insistence of his father who also selected the bride for him. In due course Harivansh became the father of a son and a daughter. Eventually to meet his family obligations Harivansh joined the British army and became an officer. But army life was not compatible with his devotion to Krishna and after a few years just as the World War II was raging he somehow convinced his commanding officer to relieve him of his duties and he resigned from the army. He returned home to face his furious father who was angry that his son had given up such a lucrative job. But the spiritual pull was quite intense and compelled Harivansh to begin wandering the country in search of Gurus who could help him. He met many great spiritual stalwarts but none could help him and he returned home empty handed.
Shortly after he returned home a wandering monk [Sadhu] appeared at his home. Harivansh invited him in and offered him food. He then asked him, “Can you show me God? If not, do you know anyone who can?” To his surprise the monk told him that he should go to meet the sage Ramana Maharishi and he would show him God. He then gave him explicit directions how to get there. Unfortunately he had to travel to the southern part of the country to meet him and had no money.
Harivansh had already spent all his money wandering all over the country. His father was already furious at him for quitting a good job with the army and then blowing away all his money. He refused to lend him any money. As luck would have it, Harivansh soon spotted an ad with a job opening for an ex-army man to be located in South India near where he wanted to go! He got the job and they paid him money to relocate and gave him enough time so that he could make the visit to Ramana Maharishi and then report for work.
The story continues next week: Enlightenment.