In this ongoing series of postings of spiritual encounters, I am happy to give below the story of the first encounter of SS Cohen with my paramaguru Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Cohen subsequently became an inmate of Ramanasramam and lived in the presence of the Maharshi for fourteen years.
The third of February 1936, early morning, saw my horsecart rolling on the uneven two-and-a-half-mile road from Tiruvannamalai railway station to Ramanashram. Two sleepless nights in the train from Bombay found me tired in body and mind. My head was swimming and my senses were confused. I had hoped for some rest in the Ashram, but when I arrived there at last, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Presently, a corpulent man with a giant rugged head and scarlet-red lips from perpetual chewing of betel-nuts appeared. He was, I later discovered, “the legal adviser” of the Ashram, who sometimes acted as the de facto sarvadhikari (manager) as well.
“Is that Mr. Cohen? Follow me quickly before the Maharshi goes out for his walk,” he called out. I obeyed, extremely eager to see the great Sage, who had haunted me night and day for three long months. I was led to a small dining room, at the door of which I was asked to remove my shoes. As I was trying to unlace them, my eyes fell on a pleasant-looking middle-aged man inside the room, wearing nothing but a kaupin, with eyes as cool as moonbeams, sitting on the floor before a leaf-plate nearly emptied, and beckoning me with the gentlest of nods and the sweetest smile imaginable.
He was the Maharshi himself. My mind, which was already in a state of haze, grew now more confused in my haste to enter. But the shoe lace resisted. So I tugged at and broke it.
Just then my guide appeared again and said: “If you have any fruits to offer, bring them now.” “They are in my suit case,” I replied, and plunged my hands into my pockets for the keys. But the keys had gone: I had dropped them in the train or at the station, I did not know where, in my hurry to race to the Ashram. I told this to the legal adviser and immediately forgot all about them and entered the room.
It was then the Ashram’s custom to honour the newcomer by giving him his first meal in a line directly opposite the Maharshi’s seat and at hardly four feet distance from it. My leaf-plate was thus placed there with two rice cakes on it. I took no notice of the cakes, although my hand fingered them, but directed my whole look at the peaceful countenance of Sri Bhagavan. He had by then finished eating and was slowly rolling a betel-leaf for a chew, as if deliberately to give me a little more of his company, when a man entered from the back door, which was the passage to the small kitchen, and, in a low voice, said something in Tamil to him, from which I understood the single word “keys.” Then Maharshi rose, looked at me by way of farewell, and left the room. I hastily swallowed half a cake, gulped the cup of tea, and went out in search of the room to which my luggage had been taken. But alas, I could not have a bath or a change of clothes – everything was locked up in the suit cases. I was greatly embarrassed, and started thinking of breaking them open, when someone announced that Sri Maharshi was coming to the Darshan Hall. I stopped thinking and rushed straight to the Hall with my hat and full suit on. Behind me calmly walked in the tall, impressive figure of the Maharshi with leisurely though firm steps.
I was alone in the Hall with him. Joy and peace suffused my being – never before, had I such a delightful feeling of purity and well-being at the mere proximity of a man. My mind was already in deep contemplation of him – him not as flesh, although that was exquisitely formed and featured, but as an unsubstantial principle which could make itself so profoundly felt despite the handicap of a heavy material vehicle. When after a while I became aware of my environment, I saw him looking at me with large penetrating eyes, wreathed in smiles rendered divinely soothing by their child-like innocence. All of a sudden I felt something fall in my lap and heard the jingling of keys – my keys! I looked up at the Maharshi extremely puzzled. The man – Sri Ramaswami Pillai – who had dropped them through the door behind me came in and explained that he had gone to the railway station on a bicycle and found the station master waiting for him. It appears that during the few minutes that the train had stopped at the station a passenger had providentially entered the very compartment I had vacated, and, seeing the keys on the seat, he picked them up, and, wonder of wonders! ran up to the station master and handed them over to him. The latter by an unusual flash of intuition surmised that the keys belonged to an Ashram visitor, whom he might have seen detrain in the morning, and awaited a claim for them.
It was a series of miracles which occurred on my behalf in the short space of barely ninety minutes, of which I was blissfully ignorant, absorbed as I was in the entrancing personality of this magnificent human magnet – Sri Ramana Bhagavan.
It is needless to say that from that day Ramanashram became my permanent home.
Days melted into weeks, and weeks into months and the foreigner impatiently awaited the Great Experience: each day was the day, and each moment the moment. The Indian is never in a hurry: he knows his work well, and, looking wistfully ahead, continues his practice, full of unshakeable confidence. But the foreigner, being used to work on a timetable, fixes hour and date, as if for an interview. As the clock strikes, he buckles on his belt, sits stiff, shuts his eyes, and waits for the interview. The clock strikes again, he opens his eyes, unbelts himself, and rises, postponing his hope to the evening or the next morning, and so on and on he goes. When many months thus rolled by and nothing startling happened, he cried with all the fervour of his soul:
“How long, O Lord, how long?” But lo! what had happened to him! He looked back at his old self and looked at the present one – what a change, Good God! And he wondered what could have happened in six short months. Then the Great Secret dawned on him – the secret influence of the Divine Man in whose radiant ocean he had been daily bathing: the interview, after all, did take place, although the foreigner was not aware of it.
Guru Ramana: Memories and Notes, by SS Cohen
Courtesy: Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai