Margaret Sanger Meets Ramana Maharshi


Chapter Thirty-eight


Margaret Sanger


Meeting Ramana Maharshi

“When I came into the Maharshi’s presence it was as though electricity had passed through my body I felt when I bowed I would be calmed, yet when I looked into those eyes, he was like a flame “

p. 485 –

………………That settled the situation in Madras

Since I was no more than an hour by motor from Adyar, the former home of Annie Besant, who had been such an influence in the movement, I made a pilgrimage there As I walked down winding pathways under huge banyans, cocoanuts, and bananas, ever and again glimpsing the lovely water of the Bay in the distance, I imagined I caught an echo of her words reaching across the decade since I had heard her explain the philosophy of reincarnation the more you have evolved here on earth, the less certain it is that you will have to return to undo your mistakes—best clear them up as you go along

Annie Besant, as soon as she had become a Theosophist, had withdrawn her books on population I was interested to find out the attitude of present Theosophists towards birth control, and discovered that those at Adyar were persuaded of its importance Among their beliefs was that great souls did not reincarnate unless the bodies of parents, their vehicles for birth, were perfect If they were to perform their missions, they must wait for purity in their physical vestures

I had determined to take advantage of Paul Brunton’s offer and visit Sri Ramana Maharshi, the sage of Arunachala, the quondam Hermit of the Hill of the Holy Beacon, and one of the last of Hindustan’s race of noble rishis Consequently, one evening a little after six, the train came around the bend and I beheld the sacred mountain, according to ancient lore the heart center of the god Siva and, therefore, of the world I knew it must be the mountain even without being told so The sun had just set, and the afterglow gave a lovely, serene effect

The Maharshi’s secretary, Shastri, met me, and we walked through the gathering dusk to the guest house about a half-mile away, a simple room with veranda in front Paul Brunton had not been able to come because it was the Maharshi’s birthday and thousands of devotees had to be fed Shastri was very loquacious, and wanted me to realize that the apparent success I was having was only with the educated classes, the masses knew nothing of it This, I said, would come in time

After breakfast I looked out at the great tamarind trees on the lawn, up and down which monkeys ran Often twenty, from babies up to grandparents, were in sight all at once The windows had to be barricaded at night to shut them out of your room, they especially loved bananas but did not disdain cakes of soap

While I was watching them scamper about, Paul Brunton pedaled up on a bicycle accompanied by a tonga for me The driver cried out continually, “Haiee I Haiee i” which seemed to mean both for people to get out of the road and for the white bullock to move faster, he shouted himself hoarse at other drivers, who went higglety-pigglety this way and that through the streets We stopped at the market for a few bananas as a gift for the Maharshi, he preferred food to flowers, because this he could give away Then we trotted along through the thickly settled village, always hearing far and near the rumbling of the carts and the screeching of the drivers, “Haiee Haiee !”

At last we reached the ashram at the bottom of the Hill Shastri gathered up the bananas in his hands, but no sooner had he turned to help me out of the tonga than a temple monkey leaped from a neighboring tree, snatched two of them, and as quick as a flash had the skins off and had gobbled them down with no concern whatsoever as to the ethics of his conduct Instead, he peered around for another grab

Shoes and sandals were left outside the ashram, and Shastri went ahead to announce my arrival I bowed in the entrance and took my place on the floor just within, crossed my legs under my skirt, and looked about me to feel and sense the atmosphere The Maharshi, naked save for a loin cloth, was sitting cross-legged on a silk-covered couch, pillows behind him and a leopard skin thrown over the foot A small charcoal fire and incense, which attendants kept burning all day, sweetened and made heavy the air The Maharshi’s luminous eyes were fixed in a trance, although sometimes his fan lifted a bit and his stare widened

At first it was nicely quiet, then some women began to sing in a high-pitched tone, much through the nose and head, doubtless good for the pineal gland, once supposed to be the seat of the soul The men chanted aloud and someone played a stringed instrument

Towards eleven the Maharshi shared his gifts among those who sat in reflection, and shortly afterwards a man from Kashmir, six feet tall and massively built, entered, prostrated himself as hundreds had done already, falling full length, hands outspread above him on the floor, touching his brow three times As he rose again his whole body shook, tears streamed down his cheeks To see women cry from excess of emotion did not bother me, but when a man of such a type as this, in no sense a weakling, went into paroxysms of ecstasy, it was beyond my comprehension With no critical intent, but curious to know why he had been so moved, we asked what had happened to him

“When I came into the Maharshi’s presence it was as though electricity had passed through my body I felt when I bowed I would be calmed, yet when I looked into those eyes, he was like a flame “

This pilgrim had come with financial problems, illness in his family, and other troubles, but two or three hours of contemplation had wiped them out, he knew they were insignificant and trivial in contrast to his regeneration In faith, the people in the ashram were comparable to those who cast away their crutches at some miracle-working shrine, except that they had come for inner illumination rather than healing for bodily ailments They visited the Maharshi to receive the radiance of his soul, just as we sought the sun to be warmed

Only when children or babies were made to prostrate themselves did the Maharshi smile, somewhat skeptically it seemed to me He appeared amused when a boy of three or four began a prayer in Tamil but forgot the rest Otherwise he remained apart from it all He was gradually withdrawing himself and letting go material things He wanted spiritually to fade away, leaving the shell behind

The second day the Maharshi slept, nothing save an occasional singer broke into the hush, or a monkey had the temerity to dash in and seize an orange

For the third day I attended the ashram Now the meditation was like a linking up of mind and emotion, where even breathing was stilled I could understand why the yogis went into the silence Even the noises next door, the clatter of dishes, sounded remote and very far away It was a state of consciousness rather like that which precedes sleep

I regretted that I did not feel the Maharshi’s power His utter indifference—sitting all day in a semi-trance, engaging in no activity—seemed to me a waste Nevertheless, I was most grateful to Paul Brunton for the experience, and understood the Indians better thereafter They saw within and beyond the external appearance, this was at the very basis of their character, akin to the sensitivity of the grapevine telegraph All people in the Orient spoke of it Something happened to you or to me and before you could get to another place by the fastest conveyance it was known Perhaps it was a primitive function of mind, this form of thought transference, but it existed there.

Dr Sundaram, who popped up again when I returned to Madras, was still insistent that I go to Calicut, and I finally gave in I was glad I had done so, because this city of forty thousand, ringed around a bay on the Malabar Coast and caressed by gentle breezes, was a beautiful spot with forests of palms The almost-black women wore saris of van-colored blues and greens, violets and yellows, with garlands of jasmine about their necks, plump, formal bouquets of roses in their hands, and in the center of every forehead was a circular red caste mark.