Why move to Tiruvannamalai and Arunachala? – Part One

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A reader suggested that I write about why we chose to move to Tiruvannamalai and Arunachala, and also how did we get to know and follow the teaching of Sri Ramana Maharshi. These seem like good questions, so I offer this posting as a way to respond.

How did we get to know Ramana?

I was born to a woman who had ‘visions of god’ since she was a young girl, and Jesus would come visit her by the Red River in Oklahoma. She says the experience of my birth was the first time she ever ‘stood in the light’, even though I was born in an ambulance, with no assistance, with the driver saying, “Lady, can’t you wait. You are making a mess and my boss will be mad.” So as a child and young adult I had ideas that there was something more to spirituality and religion than what was taught at the neighborhood Christian Church.

In my early twenties I read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha and was really taken by it. I started to read Buddhist material, starting with a small  book, Zen Flesh Zen Bones by Paul Reps (here is the first section of the book, 101 Zen Stories) . This book has Zen stories and koans, and introduced me to the Mumonkan, the ‘Gateless Gate,’ a famous collection of 48 koans from the Chinese Ch’an Buddhists, complied in the 1300s. One other thing that I got from this book that I carried with me for years is the metaphor of Self-realization contained in the ’10 bulls’ or ’10 ox herding pictures’ of ancient Chinese origin, and  modified for Zen by adding the last two pictures.  It took me more than one year to read this small book. Somehow I had the good sense to NOT read it like a novel or text, but to read one ‘story’ and stay with it until I had some deeper understanding of it. I am surprised now that I had such good sense.

The woodcuts used in this book are below. They tell the story of a seeker, first starting on the journey, then seeing footsteps, then seeing and catching the bull, and finally riding the bull with no effort. Then bull, world, individual self forgotten, the Source is reached, after which he comes down from the hills and enlightens everyone he comes into contact with.

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I compiled these woodcuts into a single drawing, and used this for my computer ‘wallpaper’ for many years.

On my own, I read and practiced to the extent I could with no teacher, for about 25 years. I had some great deep insights, but nothing more. This also gave me enough inner peace to handle some very difficult things that ‘life threw at me’ for which I am still grateful.

Then in 1990 a friend took me to hear a teacher in Santa Cruz, CA. The teacher was Nome of the Society of Abidance in Truth (SAT), and he taught about Ramana, Self-inquiry and Advaita Vedanta. I did not understand much of what I heard, but I knew it was the truth. I met my wife Carol the next year, and took her to see Nome, too. Since then she and I have been together and shared the greatest joy, practicing together, and a deepening of spiritual interest.

After several years with Nome where I used my mind in what was for me a standard approach, “I am  a smart guy. I can figure this out.” Again this brought insights, but nothing more. Except now I  had the real conviction that there was very much more than just these mental insights. So I did two things. I started a daily meditation practice first thing in the morning, which continues to this day. I also started using my mind in a different way. Rather that ‘figuring it out’ I would, when I heard the teaching, look within myself to see what the experience was for me. If it was not what was taught, then I tried to ‘go deeper’ to really see what is the truth, the reality, for me. I think t his is when ‘practice’ started for me.

Nome would give satsang weekly, starting with a discourse, and then would take questions. I think I asked hundreds of questions over the years. He also gave several retreats during the year. Each retreat focused on something from Ramana, like “Who am I?” or “40 Verses” (handled during a longer retreat). In these retreats it was like Nome was shining a spotlight on the terse words from Ramana, and they would then bloom in the heart.  I read everything from Ramana. I read all the books for devotees about life with Ramana that I could get my hands on. I read Sankara, especially his Crest Jewel of Discrimination and his Commentary of the Bhagavad Gita.  I read Yoga Vasishta. Again this reading might take months to go though a book, reading slowly, trying for the experience of the words, not just the ideas carried by them. I would ask questions of Nome if there was something read that I did not understand. I also used the approach, Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana – listen (or read), reflect, and deeply meditate. This takes the reading past mere mental concepts.

Journey to Tiruvannamalai and Arunachala

Bangalore and the Ramana Centre for Learning.

In 2004, Nome was setting up a trip to Tiruvannamalai for some of the members of the ashram. My wife Carol had always, since she was a young girl, wanted to go to India, so she said that she was going,no question. I did not care one way or the other about going to India, but I figured that going with Nome, who was well respected by the people at Ramanasramam, would be the best possible way to make such a trip, and Carol would go whether I did or not. So I signed up, too.

In January, 2005 we joined others from our sangha and Nome at San Francisco International for a Singapore Airlines flight to Bangalore. We got in about midnight, and A.R. Natarajan was there are the airport to meet us, with three vehicles to take us to Ramana Centre for Learning in Bangalore where we were to stay for the next three days.

We got to RMCL at about 1:30. We we housed all over the place. Beds were not set up and we had to attend to it. Maybe 2:30 Carol and I went to bed. I awaken early in the morning. It does not matter if I travel, I will still wake up at 4 or 5 AM. This morning I did as usual, and was able to explore the RMCL facility, and even go up to the roof and watch the dawn.  We had just arrived at RMCL in the photo below. Carol is standing to the left. exhausted from 30 hours traveling. 

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The next three days went buy in a flurry. We had group meals served at RMCL. That is me to the left. I had a moustache then.

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We spent a lot of time at the Ramana Shrine in Bangalore, which is funded and run by RMCL.

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Here A.R. Natarajan greets Nome at the door to the Shrine. (I am standing to the left wearing a hat).

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We would have satsang there. A.R. Natarajan would speak to us. He also would ask Nome to speak. He seem to have great respect and affection for Nome. He called Nome, “Ramana Prasad.”

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There is a wonderful bronze Ramana in the shrine, as well as the famous Ramana portrait. Here  is A.R. Natarajan paying his respect to Ramana. I learned later that after Ramana’s mahasamadhi, when all interest in Ramana and Ramanasramam had faded, that A.R. Natarajan was one of the few who was still vigorously supporting Ramanasramam. His support helped keep Ramanasramam going during the years where there was little public support.

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We also got to meet A.R. Natarajan’s wife, Smt. Sulochana Natarajan, and daughter, Dr. Sarada, pictured below.

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Here is the Ramana Centre in daylight.

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We enjoyed more meals there.  Here are Nome and A.R. Natarajan at one of the meals.

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Dr. Sarada operates a music and dance school (following in her  mother’s footsteps). She offered us a chance to see and hear her group. The ladies are singing below. In the center is A.R. Natarajan’s wife, Smt. Sulochana Natarajan, with Dr. Sarada to the right.   Smt. Sulochana Natarajan had intense training in Carnatic Classical Music in her early years, and learned Ramana music at Ramanasramam from Manavasi Ramaswamy Iyer who started teaching her in 1956. She has passed this  love down to  her daughter, Dr. Sarada.

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Here are some of the young singers in the group. The woman in black has a lovely voice.

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After the performance A.R. Natarajan took us out to a Ramana-themed restaurant in Bangalore. Here is he and Nome engaged in joyful conversation.

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A special event was also held in the book store before we left.

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Here is Sulochana Natarajan with a woman from SAT, Sarasvati. She now lives in Tiruvannamalai.

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A.R. Natarajan with his daughter, Dr. Sarada. He had made much effort to publish many books in the last few years before he passed away. I think he knew that the end of this body was approaching and wanted to get the books that were in his mind published. Dr. Sarada gave much support to these publishing efforts.

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The last morning we gathered in the parking lot to say our good byes and load up the cars.

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Dr. Sarada and Nome’s wife, Sasvati give each other a  big hug. You can see how close they are.

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A.R. Natarajan says goodbye to Raman, another member of SAT making this journey. SAT members include both Indians and Americans, all who love the teaching of Sri Ramana, and the practice of Self-inquiry.

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About time to get in the cars and leave.

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This fits my perception of the traffic getting out of Bangalore. The trip took about six hours, two to get out of Bangalore, and four to drive to Tiruvannamalai.

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Finally we approach Arunachala, clearly visible and recognizable from the road. We are almost to Tiruvannamalai.

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The next installment will cover Tiruvannamalai and Arunachala, and will talk more about the decision to relocate from California to Tiruvannamalai.

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5 Responses to “Why move to Tiruvannamalai and Arunachala? – Part One”

  1. cspacenz Says:

    Wow, interesting reading this. I have just booked my flights to India and am on my way to Arunachala. I have to be there, no question, there doesn’t seem to be any doubt about that at all. This sort of thing has happened before whereby it’s as if I have been “called” or “summoned” to appear in a particular place somewhere in the world and then it all just seems to happen, it fits together seemlessly and without bother.

    If you had asked me maybe two weeks ago whether I had plans of going anywhere in the next few months I would have absolutely and categorically said NO ! I would have told you that business-wise it’s been a tough year and there are no trips away this year for sure (from a guy who likes to travel several times a year mind you)

    This story starts maybe 18 years ago when I got hold of the Arthur Osborne book about Sri Ramana Maharshi. There were many other books over the years as well, about some the various great Indian saints but whilst I enjoyed the books and felt perhaps inspired it was never a lot different to reading about any other nice person who had dome some good in their life. And I never really “got it”, you know ?

    The thing about the Ramana Maharshi book is that even with several attempts over the years I could never understand all this “Who am I ?” and the “I” and the “Self”, I really didn’t get it at all.

    So the years ticked on by and whilst I’ve always been a searcher I was still missing something, I must have been because the suffering was not only there still but intensifying and becoming unbearable. World-wise I may have looked like a success, beneath the surface I was in terrible and growing pain.

    Then one day just 3 or 4 months ago I was reading something in a book and all of a sudden I “got it”, just like that ! It was the most simple moment but truly and deeply profound. In that moment something fell away, and yes, we know all the terminology, that it was this or that but the simple fact of the matter is “I got it”.

    I immediately walked to my bedroom, to the pile of books beside my bed, and picked up the Arthur Osborne book. I read it from cover to cover over maybe the next week or so and for maybe two weeks I was in absolute bliss. I was calm and peaceful like never before, there was this amazing feeling of….”ahhhhhh”

    I immediately started practicing the “who am I” and immediately started my downward spiral into what was the most awful, most terrible experience of my life (and I had been through some crap in my life, believe me) I could not believe the intensity and ferocity of what was coming up, to the point where for a few days I truly, truly begged to die. I was for a few days on the look out for ways to kill myself but of course in amongst all that I also felt quite safe and that there was something, somehow, somewhere keeping me going through that. Many years of meditation, asana, pranayama practice saw me through that as well so it’s not like I was completely in the dark. Whilst perhaps my ego didn’t die it took the most severe beating for sure and that’s a start.

    There’s plenty more to that story and some interesting experiences but perhaps you get the point. These last couple of months things have eased right up and having truly felt the warmth of the Master I felt so drawn to Arunachala. Every time I see some photos or a video on youtube I am instantly in tears with this overwhelming feeling that I am soon to visit a place that is very well known to me, like a place I have called home before and one I have to return to.

    So I have already sold part of my business off, I am selling my properties and simplifying my life. Why ? I can’t answer that question other than to say that it just feels right to do so. Whoever, whatever I was before means nothing to me anymore, none of that is who I am anymore but I can tell you that the suffering is no longer there, nor the desire to continue as I was. There seems to be a whole new life awaiting for me, the ambition has gone, I simply want more of what I now have and know that none of that stuff can give it to me.

    Who am I ? I really have no idea anymore and that’s a fantastic feeling, let me tell you.

    Hope you don’t mind me writing this on your blog, just felt appropriate after I read your story.

    Best wishes, might see you on the hill.

  2. natbas Says:

    Thanks for your wonderful posts which bring memories of Tiruvannamalai close home. Regards,

    Baskar

  3. rpodury Says:

    Dear Richard,
    Your birth and childhodd memories reminded me of Papaji’s childhood experiences and I could understand that your devotion to Ramana is not something of an accident but a logical destination to a spiritual journey started not just in this incarnation. I must thank you for deciding to share with us your journey to tiruvannamalai. Your way of narration of things with supporting photographs is something unique. what happened to you with buddhist books happened to me with Ramana’s teachings. It took several years for me to complete the ‘TALKS’ and to reaize that the correct way of doing self inquiry does not lie in ‘doing’

    When I mentioned during my earlier association with Dr. KS
    (founder of Hyderabad Ramana Kendram and a very great devotee of Ramana) that we were all very lucky to have been drawn by Ramana in to His fold he countered- ‘Do you think that all those who are not drawn are unlucky?-and added that we cannot comprehend why It happened. If you think of HIm it is His grace and even if you do not think of Him it is also his grace.

    I wish I could join you in your explorations of Arunachala and all your postings are gone through by many of us with great devotion. Thanking you once again for all the postings and eagerly waiting for the other parts

    Yours in Sri Bhagavan
    Ramana Sarma

  4. Gon Says:

    like you . i had many soul stiring, thoughts provoking incidences in my life that made me drawn towards ramana , shirdi sai baba and arunachala.since teenage i felt some kind of emptiness.i use to ask my self why do we exist? why cant everything be just black empty and void.i had visions of void two times while i was awake and consious. one day i had strange vision of very beautiful light while i am wide awake and happiness engulfed me. there was no world at all only that beautiful light.the world infront of me disappeared.this happened when i was very deeply sad(grieving) about loss my beloved pets(3 kittens).i was mentally disturbed.i was helpless. i never felt sad for any human death,but loss these three kittens made me to think about true nature of death. now i beleive the kittens that made me sad were arunachala himself who came to my house as little kittens. i started researching and i end up in ramana.all this happened before i came to know the teachings of ramana. arunachala has his own plans.

    story of mine may be funny strange weird for some. but i surely know those little kittens were arunachala himself.

  5. Gon Says:

    thank you richard !!! i enjoyed this post and very interesting indeed.

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