Friday, 31 August 2018

The Alchemy of Generosity

I would like to share with you a true story that was told to me by someone directly involved in this incident.

Yogi Ram Surat Kumar

It is interesting to note that the Ashram of Yogi Ram Surat Kumar, (an Indian saint and mystic)  is one of the largest of its kind in the small city of Tiruvannamalai, which is situated in the state of Tamil Nadu in the South of India.

Yet he lived as a supremely humble being, appearing as little more than a simple beggar for the greater part of his life (1918 - 2001).

Yogi Ram roamed around India for many years aimlessly as a wandering sadhu. During these years he had the great good fortune to visit Tiruvannamalai while Sri Ramana Maharshi was still alive. On his very first visit, he had the definitive experience of recognizing his true nature in the presence of the great Sage.

Thinking that he had achieved his goal, he left the Maharshi to resume his wanderings.
Many years of hardship followed until one day he realized that he
needed to return to the Maharshi's blessed presence in order to
achieve complete stability in his realization.

He made the long and arduous journey back to Arunachala. But sadly, it was too late. It was a horrible shock for him to discover that the Maharshi had already left his body. However, he stayed on in Tiruvannamalai, living mainly at the big temple of Arunachala in the town and often visiting the Maharshi's samadhi at Ramana Ashram.

During the nineteen sixties Sri Ganesan, one of the great grand nephews of Ramana Maharshi was overseeing the running of the Ashram. At that time he was a bright, young sprig who had just completed his studies at one of India's top schools. After some subsequent travels, he had come to Tiruvannamalai where he was requested to preside over the ashram and administer to the needs of a few of the older devotees who had remained after the Maharshi passed away.

In those days, Ramana Ashram was extremely poor. Often there was barely enough food to feed the inmates, let alone anyone dropping by for a meal.

Although Ganesan had grown up bathed in the brilliant light of the Maharshi's compassion and wisdom, as a young boy he could not appreciate just how extraordinary the Maharshi really was. Despite his childhood years being blessed to be in the Maharshi's near presence, to him at that time, he was just a sweet old man, his tata, (grandfather).

Many years later and after the Maharshi had passed away, Ganesan had returned to Tiruvannamalai in a very different state of mind.
He was now all grown up. Lifes 'slings and arrows of misfortune' had given him to contemplate his existence and place in the world and he was ready to hear the precious teachings of the Maharshi. He was also keenly aware of how important were those who were still living and who had enjoyed a close association with the great Sage.

During this time, therefore, Sri Ganesan was developing a great affection and respect for Bhagawan's old devotees, and they, in turn, took him under their wing, uncovering for him, in the most skillful ways, the simple and yet profound truths that they had themselves imbibed at the feet of the Master. Deeply moved by their tenderness towards him, and the wisdom that they revealed, he vowed to always try to do whatever they advised him, at least to the best of his ability.

One day as Ganesan was going about the business of the ashram and passing from the Samadhi Hall to the office, he was called aside by one of these old devotees. To his surprise and then dismay, the man gave him a most peculiar and uncomfortable command. After pointing out a scruffy sadhu who was leaning untidily against a wall nearby, he told him to go over and make a prostration to him. Not stopping there, however, he also added that Ganesan should then go to the dining hall and try to find something for him to eat.

Being president of Ramana Ashram at that time, Sri Ganesan was not given to prostrating himself to anyone, let alone some beggar who had wandered in off the street, very likely, he thought, to try to bum a free meal. Not only was he the president, but also a proud Brahmin, well educated and very much alive to all the etiquette, that one in his elevated station, would expect to receive from others. That aside, lunch was well and truly over, and it had been a meager meal. That he should have to scrounge a few morsels of whatever little was left behind did not give him cause to hope for a positive outcome.

However, such was his determination to stick by his former lofty
resolve, that he swallowed his initial feelings and went and
prostrated himself before the lounging form of the unkempt sadhu. The person in question drew noisily from a half-smoked bidi but showed no other sign of recognition, or response.

Somewhat embarrassed and put out, Ganesan dusted himself off and went to the kitchen to see if he could scrape together something in the way of a meal to offer to the sadhu. He
managed to produce a humble serving of rice and sambar with a dab of mango pickle. During the years that followed and on three separate occasions, this same beggar came to Ramana Ashram and Sri Ganesan was requested to do the same each time.

Many years later, when Yogi Ram was at the center of a large and
thriving ashram of his own, Ganesan became an avid devotee. One day quite out of the blue the Yogi beckoned to him to come near. As Ganesan was often in the Yogis company he thought nothing of it and crept in close expecting to hear some request or remark. Instead, he was to hear the words; 'on three occasions Ganesha, you fed this beggar!'

It should be mentioned, that until that moment Ganesan never
realized their previous connection. Never, for a moment, had he
linked the beggarly sadhu to the gracious Yogi whom he now venerated. Many years had passed since the previous incidents and they were forgotten, well and truly.

Yogi Ram was, for two-thirds of his life ignored, mistreated and
turned away by many, many people, because he looked like an ordinary ragged beggar. He had spent many days without food, and he had suffered untold hardships, and yet he was later to become a benevolent 'Father' to many.

Yogi Ram made it his business, when circumstances permitted, to feed hundreds of sadhus, and ordinary lay people every day.  In
fact anyone who happened to walk through the gates of his ashram was welcomed in, treated kindly and fed with great affection and respect.

Such is the magical alchemy of generosity. As a humble outpouring of the heart, selfless generosity transcends all boundaries and can manifest itself with the most remarkable and unexpected outcomes...

Thursday, 23 August 2018

When Mountains Move


I spent many months on end in the mountains just south of Mount Everest in the late 1980s and remember well, that there were several earthquakes during the time when i stayed just below the towering summit of Kumbila, the peak which is revered as the 'protector' of the region by the local Buddhist folk who reside there. Each quake was accompanied by landslides on the neighboring mountain slopes. Each quake was a sobering reminder of just how fragile life is.

At that time, i stayed in a tiny wooden hut that clung to the side of the mountain. From this perch, at 12,000 feet, whenever i looked out of my window, i felt as though i were looking out the window of an airplane.

In the 1990s under the guidance of the Tibetan Dzogchen Master, Chadral Rinpoche, i spent numerous summers camped out in a tent in the mountainous regions north of Kathmandu in an area now completely decimated by the impact a series of devastating earthquakes which hit Nepal in 2015. This area is known as Sindupalchowk. Rinpoche had several retreat centers dotted around the precipitous slopes of this mountainous region.

By the time i started to make the pilgrimage up there each year, he was already well into his eighties and no longer able to make the long and arduous climb up into the mountains by foot. However, he would come via helicopter, stay a few days or weeks, instruct those undergoing their long retreats and the few of us stragglers who had come to spend the summer months in the high alpine pastures far from the crowded, noisy and polluted marketplaces and valleys of Kathmandu.

It has been a dramatic and unnerving time watching the effects of the recent massive quakes, in two areas that i had come to know and love well.

Through the ages, since time immemorial, massive cataclysmic events have taken place on our planet yet when measured next to the span of our human lives, they seem far and widely spread apart. We measure our lives by the days, weeks, months and years that we witness passing by. Our tunnel vision gives us a feeling of continuity and safety even as we live and move within the tremendous and ever-shifting forces of the natural world which surrounds us.

The concept of the Earth as our 'Mother' is not by any means a new one. Since time immemorial people have felt that this earth upon which we 'live, move and have our being,' is in some profound and absolutely fundamental way connected to, not only our physical existence but also our emotional and mental well being.

Yet despite this ancient and known interconnection, we are now, perhaps more than ever, sadly disconnected from our 'Mother' Bhumi, routinely treating her with disregard and disrespect.

When the earth wakes up, stretches. When the earth sighs and heaves; all life upon it must take heed.

When mountains move, the very foundation and stability of all that we may have associated with steadiness and continuity comes into question. We are thrown back into ourselves, to find there, the truth of Who and What we REALLY are...