Here Lies the Heart



Da Articles

The author’s initial contact
with Ramana Maharshi

Here Lies
The Heart

Mercedes D’Acosta

..I used to go constantly to
Adrian’s. When we came from the studio we often had dinner
by ourselves in his house or he would give parties and ask
me to help him arrange the table or receive his

At one of these dinners I met Paul
Brunton who had written a book called A Search in Secret
India. When I read this book it had a profound influence on
me. In it I learned for the first time about Ramana
Maharshi, a great Indian saint and sage. It was as though
some emanation of this saint was projected out of the book
to me. For days and nights after reading about him I could
not think of anything else. I became, as it were, possessed
by him. I could not even talk of anything else. So much so,
that as a joke, Adrian made a drawing of me peering out from
behind a group of Indians and wrote under it A SEARCH IN
SECRET INDIA. But nothing could distract me from the idea
that I must go and meet this saint. From this time on,
although I ceased to speak too much about it, the whole
direction of my life turned toward India and away from
Hollywood. I felt that I would surely go there although
there was nothing at this time to indicate that I would.
Nevertheless, I felt I would meet the Maharshi and that this
meeting would be the greatest experience of my life.

Voyage to India – Conversations
with Meher Baba and Sri Aurobindo

And this time I wanted most of all
to go to India to see the great Indian sage and saint,
Ramana Maharshi, and I felt that I must go at

I had very little money, far too
little to risk going to India, but something pushed me
toward it. I went to the steamship company and booked myself
one of the cheapest cabins on an Indian ship, the S.S.
Victoria sailing from Genoa to Bombay toward the beginning
of October. In the meantime I flew to Dublin to see my
sister Baba and her husband, Freddie Shaw, and their two
children Frederick and Mercedes. Like many youngest sons,
Freddie had no money, but he was a remarkably good and fine
man. They were living in a modest little house and I never
saw a family so devoted to each other or so happy

Alfredo Sides’ wife sailed with me
to India. She intended to stay there several years with Sri
Meher Baba, but Alfredo, when he came to the station to see
us off to Genoa, said, “Don’t let Consuelo do anything
foolish and please take care of her.” Before Alfredo,
Consuelo had been married to Charles Nungesser, the aviator
who tried to fly west over the Atlantic at the same time
that Lindbergh flew east. Nungesser was lost on the flight.
But it was not until she married the unmarriageable Alfredo
that we became close friends. I will never know what made
Alfredo suddenly marry. He was out of character in doing so
and was certainly not the husband for Consuelo.

I had booked passage to Ceylon
intending from there to cross over to southern India and go
directly to Tiruvannamalai where Ramana Maharshi lived. But
when the ship called at Bombay, Norina Matchabelli came on
board to see me with a message from Meher Baba saying that
Consuelo and I must get off the ship and come to see him in
Ahmednagar, about two hours from Bombay. I did not want to
do this as my real purpose in India was to see the Maharshi,
and I was impatient to get to him. But Consuelo was going to
Baba and she and Norina pressed me to do the same. It was an
appallingly hot day and I had a migraine headache, so I let
them pack my things and, in a daze, followed them off the
boat. I remember edging my way through masses of people
whose dark faces stood out in the brilliant sunlight against
the white which the men wore. There was also a great deal of
color among the crowds — turbans and saris of brilliant
pinks, blues, greens, every imaginable color, and after the
incessant black one sees worn in occidental countries,
Bombay gave me the impression of a gay festival.

The next day we motored to Baba’s
ashram in Ahmednagar. This a place he had built a number of
years ago, even before he had European disciples. He had
built it for what are called in India “God-mad men and
women” These are people who become possessed by God and the
spiritual life, and go out of their minds. A great many of
them had become insane at an early age. Thousands of them
wander all over India, sleep in the fields and are fed by
anyone who gives them food. Most of them are harmless, but
their physical condition becomes tragic. Although they are
considered holy and like the Sacred Cow allowed privileges,
down through the ages nothing had been done about them by
the government or by individuals. 

Meher Baba is the first person in
India who has taken care of them and attempted to cure them.
He sends his Mandali (men disciples) throughout India to
bring as many of them as they can to his ashram. Here he
puts them in order physically, and then works spiritually
and psychologically to cure them. He has cured hundreds of
them and many of them, after coming to their senses, have
become his Mandali and helped to cure others. When I arrived
in Ahmednagar, Baba had a great compound where about five
thousand of these mad people lived. I saw him bathe many of
them, a technique he uses to work spiritually through water,
which seems to calm a great many of them in an extraordinary
fashion. I was very much impressed by these

I was, however, not at all happy my
first night in the ashram. Baba had many times spoken to me
about it, and he had always promised me that if I ever went
there I would have a room or a cabin of my own. This point
had been brought up because Norina had told me that all the
women slept in dormitories. I am a poor sleeper and I knew
that under these conditions I would not be able to sleep.
Also I have a horror of a lot of women herded together. This
is one of the reasons why I have always hated convents and
the life of nuns and any kind of dormitory school life. So I
was extremely upset when I was told I would have to sleep in
a dormitory. I mentioned this to Norina, who brushed my
objections aside and said that I had to be “like everyone
else.” Looking back on it now I realize that I had no right
to expect special treatment. Baba was possibly teaching me a
lesson, but I felt that a man who was a spiritual teacher
should not break his word.

In any case I spent a miserable
night. The heat was terrific, many of the women snored, and
all of them had pots under their beds which they used during
the night. This was about the last straw for me. I arose at
five and I was in no good mood when Norina told me that Baba
expected Consuelo and me to stay with him for five

Five years!” I cried. “Are you out
of your mind? I came to India to see the Maharshi and I am
leaving here today.”

I went to Baba’s cabin. He was
sitting on the floor in the Buddha posture with bare feet
and a garland of flowers around his neck. He embraced me
warmly and I sat down on the floor before him. He spelled
out on his board, “I see you have slept badly.” I shrugged
my shoulders. I was not going into all that again. He
continued. “I want you and Consuelo to stay here with me for
five years. I hope you will agree to this.”

“I regret terribly to have to refuse
you this request. I could not possibly remain here and I
must not deceive you, Baba – In case you don’t already know
it, I must tell you I came to India to see Ramana

He asked on the board, “Do you
consider the Maharshi a Perfect Master?”

“I don’t know anything about such
things. I am no judge of Masters or of the fact that they
exist. I only know that I long to see the Maharshi with all
my heart, and I must go to him.”

“When do you want to

“I would like to leave

“There is no car to take you to
Bombay today. You will have to go tomorrow. But Consuelo
will remain.”

“I hope she will not. Alfredo put
her in my care and I think after a few months she should go
back to Europe.”

Baba made no comment on this and I
felt dismissed. Suddenly I knew I was no longer within the
inner circle. The European disciples withdrew from me and
their attitude strengthened my wish to leave. I did not feel
any spirituality in such a lack of understanding.

That night Norina walked up and down
with me in the compound. She made one more effort to change
my mind and used all her charm and force of personality–and
she had an abundance of both–to accomplish this. When
Norina spoke of Baba or God she became ferocious. She told
me laughingly once that Professor Jung had called her a
“God- beast” because, he said, he feared she might devour
God. It was a dark night and as we walked she swung a
lantern back and forth in her hand. She told me that by
refusing Baba’s request I would face ten terrible
incarnations. I laughed and said, “I’ll take my chances.”
She said, “Surely you are not thinking of going back to that
horrible Western world and to that terrible Hollywood!” I
told her that after I had seen the Maharshi it was quite
likely I would return to Hollywood. She threw her hands up
in disgust. “There is nothing to be done with you. You are

The next day I had a battle with
Consuelo. Norina had persuaded her to stay. But I won out.
As we were leaving, Meher Baba was very gracious to us,
which was more than the others were. He kissed us both
good-by and enacted a promise from me that I would not go to
see either Gandhi or the Maharshi before sightseeing all
over India. I afterwards regretted this because it caused me
to miss meeting Gandhi.

When we left Bombay, Consuelo and I
kept our promise to Baba and went on quite an extensive tour
of India. Among the many places we saw I was most charmed,
in a worldly sense, by the little city of Jaipur built
entirely of pink stone. Here was a fairy tale world–a world
from a Bakst ballet. In front of the pink palace with its
ornate door of gold stood Indian guards wearing only short
white skirts and white jaipurs, and the most beautiful green
turbans draped in a very special manner. I saw a string of
elephants belonging to the Maharajah sauntering past the
palace. Thrown over their backs were blankets of the most
exquisite gold material, while on their heads sat naked boys
in the Buddha posture wearing brilliantly colored turbans,
and directing the elephants with sharp

Because of the paintings and
photographs I had seen of the Taj Mahal I had expected to
dislike it. But we had the good fortune to arrive in Agra by
full moon, and as I stood in front of the Taj I was overcome
by its white beauty. It seemed to me a living thing, and
when I touched it the stone was warm and lifelike. The heat
of the sun on the stone did not cool off at

Benares, of course, is an
unforgettable experience. There too we were fortunate, as we
arrived for an eclipse of the moon, an event considered
sacred by the Indians who are tremendously influenced by
astrology and the heavens. Millions of people crowded down
to the Ganges and plunged into it, many of them carrying
their sick and dead. Regardless of the consequences they
were determined to submerge in the river at the moment of
the eclipse.

We went to Ellora, and Ajanta. Here,
in the caves of Ellora, and especially Ajanta, I felt art
transcended beyond art. Here was some blending of mysterious
forces that went beyond the human. Here was the testimony of
the divine heights man can reach. This was an experience for
me beyond Greece and beyond the greatest Gothic

Meher Baba wired us to go to Poona,
and when we got there he sent us a message to go to a
certain cave and meditate for several weeks. This I flatly
refused to do. I told Consuelo she could do so if she
wished, but that I was on my way to southern India and the
Maharshi. So she came along with me. We went to Bangalore,
Mysore, and Madras and then to Pondicherry, hoping to see
Aurobindo Ghose in his ashram

Oddly enough, we arrived in
Pondicherry on November 21 not knowing that Aurobindo always
held darshan on the 22. This word, in a sense, means what
Christians would call a blessing or benediction. It is
derived from the Sanskrit darshana, meaning cognition or
even sight. And yet it is not exact to say it is a blessing
or a benediction because darshan is neither given nor
received–it occurs. It may appear to be given by a saint or
a sage, but it is not. It is really an experience. An
experience which may occur at the sight of the river Ganges,
or at the sight of a holy temple, or at the sight of a
sacred hill such as Arunachala –any one of these may give
darshan as well as a person. The thing to understand is that
any spiritually-minded Indian will travel hundreds of miles
and put up with any discomfort if at the end he is to
receive darshan. Thousands of people had already arrived;
many of them had been walking for six months from villages
in the north to arrive in time for darshan. The town was
already crowded and masses of people were sleeping in the
fields. Consuelo and I, not knowing what the crowd was
about, went to the ashram and rang the bell. A disciple,
dressed in a sort of monk’s costume, opened the door. I
asked if it would be possible for us to see Aurobindo. He
could not have been more surprised. He explained that no one
ever saw Aurobindo and that he lived in complete seclusion
except on the day of the darshan, which happened to be the
next day and was the reason for the great crowds in the

It would seem now that Consuelo and
I should have known all this, but twenty years ago very few
people outside of India knew much about the great Indian
sages such as Aurobindo and the Maharshi. I had read
everything that Aurobindo had written, although it had not
always been easy to get his books in Europe or America. But
I did not actually know about his habits as I did about
Ramana Maharshi’s, in whom I was intensely interested and
had taken the greatest pains to find out every- thing about.
I do not wish to attempt a comparison between these two
sages. Aurobindo was an intellectual and in his early years
he had been in politics. In his later years, in his years of
seclusion, he had, I believe, allowed himself to be
dramatized by the Mother, a Frenchwoman who ran the ashram
and had an enormous influence on him and who under stood the
value of creating the legend around him that he never saw
anyone but her, except at darshan, which he gave twice a
year–November 22nd and March 22nd.

When I understood that I could not
see Aurobindo alone and would have to wait till the next day
to see him with thousands of other people, I asked if we
might see President Wilson’s daughter Margaret, who was
living in the ashram and whom Consuelo and I both knew. She
was, of course, surprised to see us but immediately said she
could arrange for us to go to darshan and would also find a
place for us to spend the night, as the ashram and the
hotels were already crowded. As we passed through corridors
I had an unpleasant sensation. To me it seemed like another
convent and I have always wanted to forget my convent
experiences. Women in nunlike costumes were whispering in
corners and the whole place had a deadly atmosphere as well
as a theatrical one. This was not surprising, as the Mother,
who was the supreme influence there, had been on the stage
in France. She had evidently not lost her sense of theatre
over the years.

I asked Margaret Wilson if she was
happy. She said she was and that not for anything would she
want to leave the ashram. She said she hoped to die there
and only a few years later she got her wish.

That night Margaret arranged for us
to stay in the house of a French lady–a Madame Yvonne
Gaebele. Darshan was to be at five o’clock in the morning.
Madame Gaebele graciously served us tea and cakes at three
o’clock in the morning and around four we went to the ashram
with our garlands and fell into line with the many people
who had been holding their places all night. Madame Gaebele
was well known at the ashram and because of her and Margaret
Wilson we were allowed to go almost to the front of the
line. There was great tension and an extraordinary silence
as everyone waited for Aurobindo to appear and take his
place on a huge chair on a high platform. Everything was in
readiness when suddenly a disciple appeared and made the
astounding announcement that Aurobindo would not give
darshan. He explained that Aurobindo had sprained his ankle
and was in too much pain to give it. He said the Mother
would give darshan in his place. I could hardly believe my
ears. Thousands of poor people who had traveled hundreds of
miles, many Of whom had been journeying for months, were to
be disappointed because of a sprained ankle. There was a
hush, and a wave of depression ran through the crowd that
was almost staggering. Many people wept, but I was angry.
“If a spiritual leader can disappoint so many people how can
one find fault with a government leader or a politician?” I
asked out loud–but no one answered me.

The Mother appeared and mounted the
platform. Made up within an inch of her life, her lips
scarlet and her hair brightly dyed, she wore a trailing
chiffon dress, and as she took her place on the chair I
wondered if anyone in that crowd could experience darshan.
But we all filed past her, placing our garlands at her feet.
I felt like a first-class hypocrite. Some years later
Vincent Sheean told me that when he was in the similar
position before the Mother she had slyly winked at him. I
was glad to hear this. It at least made me feel better to
know she had some humor. But strangely enough, opinions
differ. Consuelo was impressed by the Mother and by the
whole place. She wanted to stay there. I, however, said
good-by to Margaret, and sadly enough it was really a last
good-by. As I left the ashram I wondered how such a great
man as Aurobindo could have allowed himself to be so
exploited. He is now dead, but the Mother still carries on
in the ashram even though the Light has gone out.

Meeting The Great Sage Ramana

I left Pondicherry and spiritually
turned my heart toward Tiruvannamalai where the Maharshi
lived. To get there, however, I had to return to Madras. On
my way to Madras I had an amusing experience. This
particular day I traveled third class in order to study the
native types, but the only occupants of the coach besides
myself were an old Indian (wearing a loincloth) and a
well-dressed young Indian barrister. Presently the conductor
appeared and began to talk very excitedly to me in the
language of southern India–Tamil. I shrugged my shoulders
and said in English that I did not understand Tamil, at the
same time displaying my ticket and making signs that I hoped
there was nothing wrong with it. The old man leaned forward
and, in the most scholarly English, asked if he might
translate for me and explain what the conductor was saying.
I was delighted and asked if anything was wrong with the
ticket. “It is not your ticket he is asking about. He is
asking if you believe in the unity of the Divine and the
individual soul.”

Not a little staggered by this
question, I tried, however, to appear as though such an
inquiry from a railroad conductor was the most natural in
the world. I then replied that I was of the opinion that
there is no separation between the Divine Source and the
individual soul. My interpreter conveyed my sentiments to
the conductor who beamed at me and nodded and bowed, making
me understand that he, too, held these same views. He then
mumbled something and rushed off into the other coach. “He
says he is going to collect the tickets,” the loinclothed
one remarked, “but he will soon return for further
conversation.” He not only returned, but he settled himself
down next to me, peering into my face, and until I reached
my destination we four discussed the Vedas, the old man
translating from time to time to the conductor.

In Madras I hired a car and, so
anxious was I to arrive in Tiruvannamalai that I did not go
to bed and traveled by night, arriving about seven o’clock
in the morning after driving almost eleven hours. I was very
tired as I got out of the car in a small square in front of
the temple. The driver explained that he could take me no
further as there was no road up the hill where Bhagavan
could be found. I learned then to call the Maharshi
“Bhagavan,” which means Lord and is a title by which he was
always addressed. A religious ceremony was in progress, and
men wearing bright-colored turbans and women in their
festive saris were already surging into the square, carrying
garlands of flowers and images of Siva. I did not linger to
watch them, but turned toward the hill of Arunachala and
hurried in the hot sun along the dust-covered road to the
abode about two miles from the town where the Sage dwelt. As
I ran those two miles up the hill, deeply within myself I
knew that I was running toward the greatest experience of my
life. I was no longer tired and I was unaware of the
distance and of the heat of the sun on my uncovered head. I
ran the whole way and when I reached the ashram I was not
even out of breath.

Though only 2,682 feet high,
Arunachala dominates the landscape. It looks as though a
giant hand had quietly opened and dropped it into place.
From the south side of the ashram it is just a symmetrical
hill with two almost equal foothills, one on either side.
But its aspect changes as the sun moves and the light
varies. It has many faces and early in the morning a white
cloud often drapes what seems to be its brow–in reality its

The ashram was a small place. I
remember only a stone hall where day and night Bhagavan sat
on a couch. Not far from this hall, scattered around the
hill, were small houses where some of the disciples lived
including his brother. I am told that all this has greatly
changed. Once the Sage’s great spiritual reputation began to
spread, the ashram grew larger. In my time comparatively few
people journeyed to see Bhagavan and only a few Western
women had ever been there. In 1943 Heinrich Zimmer, the
famous authority on Indian spiritual thought, wrote a book
about the Maharshi called The Way of the Self for which Jung
wrote a preface. In recent years, and especially since his
death in 1950, Bhagavan has become widely known all over the

The Sage in Somerset Maugham’s book
The Razor’s Edge is supposed to be Ramana Maharshi. It is
possible that this is so as a few weeks before my visit to
the ashram, Somerset Maugham had been there. I was told that
an English author had come to see Bhagavan and had fainted
when first coming into his presence. I asked his name but
they did not know how to pronounce it. One of the disciples
retired and came back with Somerset Maugham written on a
piece of paper. A few years later I saw Mr. Maugham in New
York and inquired if he had actually been to see the
Maharshi. He said he had, but I did not feel I should
trespass on a possible spiritual experience by asking if it
was true that he had fainted.

When, dazed and filled with emotion,
I first entered the hall, I did not quite know what to do.
Coming from strong sunlight into the somewhat darkened hall,
it was, at first, difficult to see. Nevertheless, I
perceived Bhagavan at once, sitting in the Buddha posture on
his couch in the corner. At the same moment I felt overcome
by some strong power in the hall as if an invisible wind was
pushing violently against me. For a moment I felt dizzy.
Then I recovered myself. To my great surprise Isuddenly
heard an American voice calling out to me, “Hello, come in.”
It was the voice of an American named Guy Hague, who
originally came from Long Beach, California. He told me
later that he had been honorably discharged from the
American Navy in the Philippines and had then worked his way
to India, taking up the study of Yoga when he reached
Bombay. Then he heard about Sri Ramana Maharshi and, feeling
greatly drawn to him, decided to go to Tiruvannamalai. When
I met him he had already been with the Maharshi for a year,
sitting uninterruptedly day and night in the hall with the

He rose from where he was sitting
against the wall and came toward me, taking my hand and
leading me back to a place beside him against the wall. He
did not at first speak to me, allowing me to pull myself
together. I was able to look around the hall but my gaze was
drawn to Bhagavan who was sitting absolutely straight in the
Buddha posture looking directly in front of him. His eyes
did not blink or in any way move. Because they seemed so
full of light I had the impression they were gray. I learned
later that they were brown, although there have been various
opinions as to the color of his eyes. His body was naked
except for a loincloth. I discovered soon after that this
and his staff were absolutely his only possessions. His body
seemed firm and as if tanned by the sun, although I found
that the only exercise he ever took was a twenty-minute walk
every afternoon at five o’clock when he walked on the hill
and sometimes greeted Yogis who came to prostrate themselves
at his feet. The rest of the time, day and night, and for
over half a century, he had been sitting on his couch. He
was a strict vegetarian, but he only ate what was placed
before him and he never expressed a desire for any kind of
food. As he sat there he seemed like a statue, and yet
something extraordinary emanated from him. I had a feeling
that on some invisible level I was receiving spiritual shock
from him although his gaze was not directed toward me. He
did not seem to be looking at anything, and yet I felt he
could see and was conscious of the whole world.

“Bhagavan is in samadhi,” Guy Hague

Samadhi is a very difficult state to
explain. In fact I do not think anyone has ever explained
it. Doctors have tried to analyze it from a medical and
physical point of view, and have failed. I have heard it
described as “a state of spiritual ecstasy in which
consciousness leaves the body.” But this is not the whole
phenomenon, as the breath stops and so does the beating of
the heart. But it is not a form of trance as in the trance
state both of these continue. It is claimed that samadhi is
a state attained only by highly enlightened people–people
who have reached Spiritual Illumination. It is a state where
the spirit temporarily leaves the body and goes into one of
bliss. All the Enlightened Ones who have attained samadhi
describe it as Bliss. In the last century the great saint
Ramakrishna often went into samadhi. The Maharshi would go
into it for hours at a time, and often for days. When I
arrived at the ashram he had already been in it seven

I looked around. Squatting on the
floor or sitting in the Buddha posture or lying prostrate
face down, a number of Indians prayed– some of them
reciting their mantras out loud. Several small monkeys came
into the hall and approached Bhagavan. They climbed onto his
couch and broke the stillness with their gay chatter. He
loved animals and any kind was respected and welcomed by him
in the ashram. They were treated as the equals of humans and
always addressed by names. Sick animals were brought to
Bhagavan and kept by him on his couch or on the floor beside
him until they were well. Many animals had died in his arms.
When I was there he had a much-beloved cow who wandered in
and out of the hall, and often lay down beside him and
licked his hand. He loved to tell stories about the goodness
of animals. He was very fond, too, of snakes and many came
into the hall to pay their respects. He always had a little
milk for them. It was remarkable that none of the animals
ever fought or attacked each other.

The story of the Bhagavan is a
simple but unique one. Born into a poor Brahmin family of
South India, at the age of seventeen he asked himself “Who
am I?” He said, “I am not this changing body, nor am I these
passing thoughts.” Then he tried to imagine death. He
stretched out and so vividly visualized himself dead that
his body became cold and lifeless. This convinced him that
the body was not he, but only a cloak that would be cast off
at death. He decided that the goal of every life should be
to find the Self and that nothing else was important. He had
heard of the sacred hill of Arunachala and had long been
attracted to it. He decided to go there and start the quest
for the Self. He first went to the temple in Tiruvannamalai.
There he meditated for several months with such spiritual
absorption that the temple priest began to wonder about him.
But people, sensing his holiness, became his devotees.
Feeling that he was attracting too much attention in the
temple, he left it and one night wound his way up the hill
of Arunachala. At this early time he took up his abode in a
cave and, until his death fifty-four years later, he never
left the hill. Devotees found him and asked his help and
guidance. Out of compassion he allowed them to live near him
and from then until his death he allowed anyone–poor and
rich, great and humble–to come freely to see him. He
himself, through the quest of the Self, found Enlightenment,
living out his long life in the egoless state but subject,
nevertheless, to all the conditions of human pain and
sickness. Bhagavan was asked many times about his egoless
state. He explained it and said, “The Gnani (the
Enlightened) continually enjoys uninterrupted,
transcendental experience, keeping his inner attention
always on the Source, in spite of the apparent existence of
the ego, which the ignorant imagine to be real. This
apparent ego is harmless; it is like the skeleton of a burnt
rope–though it has form, it is of no use to tie anything

After I had been sitting several
hours in the hall listening to the mantras of the Indians
and the incessant droning of flies, and lost in a Sort of
inner world, Guy Hague suggested that I go and sit near the
Maharshi. He said, “You can never tell when Bhagavan will
come out of samadhi. When he does, I am sure he will be
pleased to see you, and it will be beneficial for you, at
this moment, to be sitting near him.”

I moved near Bhagavan, sitting at
his feet and facing him. Guy was right. Not long after this
Bhagavan opened his eyes. He moved his head and looked
directly down at me, his eyes looking into mine. It would be
impossible to describe this moment and I am not going to
attempt it. I can only say that at this second I felt my
inner being raised to a new level–as if, suddenly, my state
of consciousness was lifted to a much higher degree. Perhaps
in this split second I was no longer my human self but the
Self. Then Bhagavan smiled at me. It seemed to me that I had
never before known what a smile was. I said, “I have come a
long way to see you.” He said, “I knew you were coming and I
have been guiding your steps.” There was a silence. I had
stupidly brought a piece of paper on which I had written a
number of questions I wanted to ask him. I fumbled for it in
my pocket, but the questions were already answered by merely
being in his presence. There was no need for questions or
answers. Nevertheless, my dull intellect expressed

“Tell me, whom shall I follow–what
shall I follow? I have been trying to find this out for
years by seeking in religions, in philosophies, in teachers
and teachings.” Again there was a silence. After a few
minutes, which seemed to me a long trine, he

“You are not telling the truth. You
are just using words–just talking. You know perfectly well
whom to follow. Why do you need me to confirm

“You mean I should follow my inner
self?” I asked.

“I don’t know anything about your
inner self. You should follow the Self. There is nothing or
no one else to follow.”

I asked again, “What about
religions, teachers, gurus?”

“If they can help in the quest of
the Self. But can they help? Can religion, which teaches you
to look outside yourself, which promises a heaven and a
reward outside yourself, can this help you? It is only by
diving deep into the Spiritual Heart that one can find the
Self.” He placed his right hand on my right breast and
continued, “Here lies the Heart, the Dynamic, Spiritual
Heart. It is called Hridaya and is located on the right side
of the chest and is clearly visible to the inner eye of an
adept on the Spiritual Path. Through meditation you can
learn to find the Self in the cave of this

It is a strange thing but when I was
very young, Ignacio Zuloaga said to me, “All great people
function with the heart.” He placed his hand over my
physical heart and continued, “See, here lies the heart.
Always remember to think with it, to feel with it, and above
all, to judge with it.”

But the Enlightened One raised the
counsel to a higher level. He said, “Find the Self in the
real Heart.”

Both, just at the right moment in my
life, showed me the Way.

Bhagavan was not a philosopher and
he did not set himself up as a teacher, a master or a guru.
He made the same statement all through his life–that there
is no use knowing anything if one does not know the Self. He
said, “Without knowing the Self, of what avail is it to know
anything else? And, knowing the Self, what else remains yet
to know? all else but the Self is ignorance.” He pointed out
a path to Liberation through the practice of “Self Enquiry”
and the question “Who am I?” If this question is pursued and
narrowed down, the questioner will arrive at understanding
that there is no “I” because I am not my hands, my feet, my
body, my so-called personality, or even my brain. I am
certainly not my physical sum total, because, when I am
dead, where am l? Does some success flatter me? I must ask
the question “Who is flattered?” Am I sad? I ask the
question “Who is sad?” By remembering that I am not the doer
it is possible to understand the illusion of the world.
Bhagavan gave as an example a bank clerk who handles money
daily, but without agitation because he knows it is not his
money. So, too, it is not the Real Self that is affected by
changes of states or fortunes.

People said to Bhagavan, “I would
like to find God.” His answer was: “Find the Self first and
then you won’t have to worry about God.” And once a man said
to him, “I don’t know whether to be a Catholic or a
Buddhist.” Bhagavan asked him, “What are you now?” The man
answered, “I am a Catholic.” He then said, “Go home and be a
good Catholic and then you will know whether you should be a
Buddhist or not.”

Bhagavan pointed out to me that the
Real Self is timeless. “But,” he said, “in spite of
ignorance, no man takes seriously the fact of death. He may
see death around him, but he still does not believe that he
will die. He believes, or rather, feels, in some strange
way, that death is not for him. Only when the body is
threatened does he fall a victim to the fear of death. Every
man believes himself to be eternal, and this is actually the
truth. This truth asserts itself in spite of man’s ignorant
belief that the body is the Self.”

I asked him how to pray for other
people. He answered, “If you are abiding within the Self,
there are no other people. You and I are the same. When I
pray for you I pray for myself and when I pray for my- self
I pray for you. Real prayer is to abide within the Self.
This is the Meaning of Tat Twam Asi–I Am Thou. There can be
no separation in the Self. There is no need for prayer for
yourself or any person other than to abide within the

I said, “Bhagavan, you say that I am
to take up the Search for the Self by Atman Vichara, asking
myself the question Who Am I? I say I ask Who Are

Bhagavan answered, “When you know
the Self, the ‘I’ ‘You’ ‘He’ and ‘She’ disappear. They merge
together in pure Consciousness.”

I understood then that Bhagavan,
being egoless, could not speak for himself in terms of “I”
or “We.” His nearest approach to a direct answer was “Pure
Consciousness” which to a discriminating mind did not answer
the question, though it could not be answered in any other
way. Bhagavan, abiding in the egoless state, was awake only
to Truth and the Real Self. He was asleep to the world, the
appearance of which is false, being born out of and
sustained by ignorance.

Noticing one time what I thought
were some evil-looking priests who had come from the temple,
I remarked on them to Bhagavan. He said, “What do you mean
by evil? I do not know the difference between what you call
good and evil. To me they are both the same thing just the
opposite sides of the coin.” I should have known this.
Bhagavan was, of course, beyond duality. He was beyond love
and hatred, beyond good and evil, and beyond all pairs of

To write of this experience with
Bhagavan, to recapture and record all that he said, or all
that his silences implied, is like trying to put the
Infinite into an egg cup. One small chapter cannot in any
way do him justice or give an impression of his
Enlightenment, and I do not think that I am far enough
spiritually advanced–if at all–to try to interpret his
Supreme Knowledge. On me he had, and still has, a profound
influence. I feel it presumptuous to say he changed my life.
My life was perhaps not so important as all this. But I
definitely saw life differently after I had been in his
presence, a presence that just by merely “being” was
sufficient spiritual nourishment for a lifetime. It may have
been that when I returned from India undiscerning people saw
very little change in me. But there was a change–a
transformation of my entire consciousness. And how could it
have been otherwise? I had been in the atmosphere of an
egoless, world-detached, and completely Pure

I sat in the hall with Bhagavan
three days and three nights. Sometimes he spoke to me, other
times he was silent and I did not interrupt his silence.
Often he was in samadhi. I wanted to stay on there with him
but finally he told me that I should go back to America. He
said, “There will be what will be called a ‘war,’ but which,
in reality, will be a great world revolution. Every country
and every person will be touched by it. You must return to
America. Your destiny is not in India at this

Before leaving the Ashram, Bhagavan
gave me some verses he had selected from the Yoga Vasishta.
He said they contained the essence for the Path of a Pure

Steady in the state of fullness
which shines when all desires are given up, and peaceful in
the state of freedom in life, act playfully in the world, O

Inwardly free from all desires,
dispassionate and detached, but outwardly active in all
directions, act playfully in the world, O

Free from egoism, with mind detached
as in sleep, pure like the sky, ever untainted, act
playfully in the world, O Bhagava!

Conducting yourself nobly with
kindly tenderness, outwardly conforming to conventions but
inwardly renouncing all, act playfully in the world, O

Quite unattached at heart but for
all appearance acting as with attachment, inwardly cool but
outwardly full of fervor, act play- fully in the world, O

I sorrowfully said farewell to
Bhagavan. As I was leaving he said, “You will return here
again.” I wonder. Since his physical presence has gone I
wonder if I shall. Yet often I feel the pull of Arunachala
as though it were drawing me back. I feel the pull of that
Sacred Hill of which he was so much a part, and where his
mortal body lies buried.

Guy walked with me down the hill
into the town. We went to the temple and saw the spot where
Bhagavan had first attained samadhi. Then I went by car to
see the beautiful temple in Madura, stopping on the way to
see other temples in southern India. From Madura I went to
Ceylon, stopping first at Colombo. I went, of course, to
Kandy and to a number of places and temples throughout the
island sacred to Buddhists. In Anuradhapura I had a deeply
spiritual experience. I sat beneath the sacred Pipal or
Bo-Tree under which Buddha often sat and preached his
sermons. It was transplanted from Buddhgaya, in India, to
Anuradhapura by the Princess Sanghamitta around 288 B.C. It
is the oldest historical tree existing. To me it was more
than a tree. It was the living essence of Buddha himself. It
had sheltered the Tathagata and surely drunk into its very
roots the Supreme Holiness of the Blessed One. I touched its
trunk and leaves and felt purified. And I sat beneath its
shade and meditated.

While visiting a Buddhist monastery,
a monk asked me if I came from America. When I told him that
I did he said there was a monk in the monastery who was an
American, but that, unfortunately, she was in India on the
road with the begging bowl. In Buddhist monasteries no
distinction is made between men and women. They both wear
the yellow robe, shave their heads, are considered monks and
are known only by the name they take when they enter the
order. When I inquired this monk’s name, he said he would go
and look it up in the book. He came back with it written on
a slip of paper. It was Constant Lounsbery. This was a great
surprise to me as I had been looking for Constant Lounsbery
since Rita’s death in 1929. I had wanted to thank her for
the very touching piece she had written about Rita then in
the Paris Herald Tribune. I left a note for her there in

And there in Ceylon I received word
from Gandhi that he would see me. I had written him before
coming to India, but his answer had followed me around from
one place to another and now, sadly enough, I did not have
the money or the energy to retrace my steps and go north to
him. Besides I felt that having seen the Maharshi, my cup
was already filled and, in a sense, brimming over. I wired
my regrets, thinking I would see him the next time I went to
India. Alas. Had I known I surely would have made the

Consuelo was there in Ceylon with
me. Together we sailed on the S.S. Victoria from Colombo,
the same ship we had arrived in India on. Two days later it
stopped in Bombay. Consuelo couldn’t make up her mind
whether or not to get off and stay on in India a few weeks
longer. At the last minute she got off and I sailed alone
back to Europe. 

Before leaving the ashram I wrote
down several questions for Guy to ask Bhagavan that I had
not had a chance to ask myself. I had been bothered by the
fact that so many saints and enlightened people had been ill
and suffering physically. I asked, should they not have
perfect bodies and why do they not cure themselves? In
Europe I got a letter from Guy saying he had discussed my
question with Bhagavan. He wrote, “Bhagavan told me to tell
you that the spiritually perfect person need not necessarily
have a perfect body. The reason, as he explained it, is very
simple- You see, the ego, the body and the mind are the same
thing. The spiritually perfect person, like Bhagavan, is
above these three things. Consequently he has no body to
heal, neither a mind–or ego–to heal it with. He is beyond
all this because it is illusion. He is living in Reality.
Christian Scientists can take the mind and heal the
body–for they are the same thing. American Indians heal,
too, in this manner. It is faith healing. But if the
spiritually perfect person is sick in body it is because the
bodyis working out its Karma. Bhagavan gave an illustration
of Karma, which he says is like an electric fan and must
just run its course, only gradually ceasing even after it
has been turned off. He says the mind is born into illusion
and builds a body and a world to suit it–that is, a world
that it has earned and deserves (by its Karma). Bhagavan,
knowing the body and the mind to be illusion, cannot
experience any bodily ailment or discomfort. We make him
suffer pain, loss of weight, etc. It is in our minds not
his. He is bodiless, actually is, though you and I cannot
realize this as a fact.”

In another letter Guy answered my
questions, which led to others. He wrote down my questions
and Bhagavan’s answers.

Question: Is reincarnation a

Bhagavan: You are incarnated now,
aren’t you? Then you will be so again. But as the body is
illusion then the illusion will repeat itself and keep on
repeating itself until you find the Real Self.

Question: What is death and what is

Bhagavan: Only the body has death
and birth, and it [the body] is illusion. There is,
in Reality, neither birth nor death.

Question: How much time may elapse
between death and rebirth?

Bhagavan: Perhaps one is reborn
within a year, three years or thousands of years. Who can
say? Anyway what is time? Time does not exist.

Question: Why have we no memory of
past lives?

Bhagavan: Memory is a faculty of the
mind and part of the illusion. Why do you want to remember
other lives that are also illusions? If you abide within the
Self, there is no past or future and not even a present
since the Self is out of time–timeless.

Question: Are the world, the mind,
ego and the body all the same thing?

Bhagavan: Yes. They are one and the
same thing. The mind and the ego are one thing, but there is
no word to explain this. You see, the world cannot exist
without the mind, the mind cannot exist without what we call
the ego [itself, really] and the ego cannot exist
without a body.

Question: Then when we leave this
body, that is when the ego leaves it, will it [the
ego] immediately grasp another body?

Bhagavan: Oh, yes, it must. It
cannot exist without a body.

Question: What sort of a body will
it grasp then?

Bhagavan: Either a physical body or
a subtle-mental-body.

Question: Do you call this present
physical body the gross body?

Bhagavan: Only to distinguish it–to
set it apart in conversation. It is really a
subtle-mental-body also.

Question: What causes us to be

Bhagavan: Desires. Your unfulfilled
desires bring you back. And in each case–in each body–as
your desires are fulfilled, you create new ones. You must
conquer desire to be absorbed into the One and thus end

Question: Can sex change in

Bhagavan: Oh, surely. We have all
been both sexes many times.

Question: Is it possible to

Bhagavan: Having a body, which
creates illusion, is the only sin, and the body is our only
hell. But it is right that we observe moral laws. The
discussion of sin is too difficult for a few

Queston: Does one who has realized
the Self lose the sense of “I”? 


Question: Then to you there is no
difference between yourself and myself, that man over there,
my servant, are all the same?

Bhagavan: All are the same,
including those monkeys.

Question: But the monkeys are not
people. Are they not different?

Bhagavan: They are exactly the same
as people. All creatures are the same in One

Question: Do we lose our
individuality when we merge into the Self?

Bhagavan: There is no individuality
in the Self. The Self is One–Supreme.

Question: Then individuality and
identity are lost?

Bhagavan: You don’t retain them in
deep sleep, do you?

Question: But we retain them from
one birth to another, don’t we?

Bhagavan: Oh, yes. The “I” thought
[the ego] will recur again, only each time you
identify with it a different body and different surroundings
around the body. The effects of past acts [Karma]
will continue to control the new body just as they did the
old one. It is Karma that has given you this particular body
and placed it in a particular family, race, sex,
surroundings and so forth.

Bhagavan added, “These questions are
good, but tell de Acosta [he always called me de
Acosta] she must not become too intellectual about these
things. It is better just to meditate and have no thought.
Let the mind rest quietly on the Self in the cave of the
Spiritual Heart. Soon this will become natural and then
there will be no need for questions. Do not imagine that
this means being inactive. Silence is the only real
activity.” Then Guy added, “Bhagavan says to tell you that
he sends you his blessings.”

This message greatly comforted me.

On my way back to Europe my boat
stopped at Port Said. I landed there and motored across the
desert to Cairo where I stayed three days and then caught
the ship again when it docked at Alexandria.

In Cairo I stayed at the old famous
Shepheard’s Hotel. I spent one day in the museum seeing the
Tut-Ankh-Amon collection, and the second day I rode out by
camel to see the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid. When I
reached the Pyramid it was nearly sunset. There was no one
around except my own dragoman and one or two Arabs sleeping
against their kneeling camels. I decided to climb to the top
of the Pyramid. Although it towered above me, tapering off
into the sky, and looked terribly high, I did not realize
how high it was until I started climbing. I started out
briskly but after a certain distance I grew tired and my
pace slackened. The steps of the Pyramid are very narrow and
eroded, but I was determined to reach the top. Thoroughly
exhausted, I finally did. The sun had already gone down. I
turned and looked down the steep and awesome slope of the
Pyramid. Suddenly I was overcome by the most frightful
vertigo. My head swam and I felt that I was going to plunge
to my death. I crouched on the narrow steps and clung to the
top of the Pyramid so fiercely that my nails broke against
the stone and my fingers bled. I could not bring myself to
look down again. An agonizing fear took hold of me. I felt
cold sweat pouring over my face, neck, and back. I became
hysterical. What was I to do? I knew if I let go I would
fall, but I also knew I could not hold on much longer. I
closed my eyes. I remembered what the Maharshi said – to
dive deep into the Spiritual Heart. I summoned every faculty
and all power within me and concentrated on the Heart.
Suddenly I saw it, like a great light, in my mind’s eye. In
the center I saw the Maharshi’s face smiling at me.
Instantly I felt calm. I turned and looked down. Far below I
saw a man waving at me. I loosened one hand and held it over
my head, then I waved back. The man began calling someone
else. Another man ran to him. Swiftly they began to climb.
They climbed expertly and fast but it seemed hours to me.
Probably it took them about thirty-five minutes to reach me.
One man had a rope. He tied it around my waist and gently
stroked my face. He mumbled some words that I could not
understand, but I knew they were kind words to encourage me.
Between them, each one holding the rope as though we were
mountain climbing, we began to descend. Eventually we
reached the bottom safely. 

Some time after this I was told by
an enlightened person that climbing the Great Pyramid was
considered in ancient Egypt one of the “fear tests” which
students had to pass in order to be initiated into the great
religious mysteries. Aspirants were required to climb to the
very top of the Pyramid, and if on reaching the top of it he
or she could conquer fear, this particular test was

de Acosta
was born in 1898
and died in 1968.


Reprinted from The Maharshi, Vol. 4
Nos. 5 and 6 (Sept./Oct. and Nov./Dec. 1994), which in turn
reprinted it from Here Lies the Heart, De Acosta’s
autobiography published in 1960. Copyright 1960 Mercedes De
Acosta; other copyrights may also apply.

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