[This article is reprinted from “The Mountain Path” July-September 2020 issue and is written by Kitty Osborne]
Kitty Osborne, daughter of Arthur Osborne, first came to Ramana Ashram in 1941. Though sent to boarding school in Kodaikanal she nonetheless spent much time at the ashram right up to Bhagavan’s mahasamadhi in 1950.
Sometimes I think about the New Testament in the Bible. It seems that the general opinion is that the first Gospel was written some forty years after the death of Jesus. The mind boggles! When one contemplates the extraordinarily imaginative sayings that have been attributed to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, and that is when people who knew him are still alive (me for instance!), then it seems unlikely that what Jesus Christ said is what has come down to us unmutilated by time. What Bhagavan actually said has, for the most part, been well documented. However there are those, who possibly to suit their own interest, just make up or misrepresent his words. I suppose that, provided nothing contrary to the spirit of Bhagavan’s teaching is advocated, then too much harm isn’t done…except to the perpetrators of these tricks. One should never forget the power of a true jñāni. He encompasses the whole universe and one plays games with him at one’s own peril. I don’t know whether the source of the information that people are seeking makes any difference to the recipient? The trouble is that many people who claim to be the channel
through which Bhagavan’s teachings are disseminated, really aim to be a sort of a guru by default! In point of fact Bhagavan’s words are, virtually in their entirety, available to anyone who can read. They were written down almost as they were spoken, and have been published by the ashram. It is the age of the Kali Yuga. The words of all the great masters of the past are now available to all. Perhaps it doesn’t matter whose mouth utters those words? For those who are seeking for a true guru, I suppose there are several criteria that more or less always hold good. If the one you approach asks for any sort of donation…money, cars, sex, whatever…look again. Bhagavan never accepted any gifts of any description, except for fruit, which was shared out amongst those around, or flowers which were offered in the temple. A lady who made some special pickle for him brought it as a gift and Bhagavan asked “Is there enough for everyone?” When told there was not, he refused to accept it. That story has gone down in the annals of ashram lore, as have many more. There was a definite protocol about the giving of gifts. Bhagavan sat on a couch, and beside it was a low table about 3ft. square. Devotees would place their gifts upon this table and an attendant would take them. If someone tried to sneak in anything valuable or personal these were returned by the attendant. Of the fruit or flowers a few were taken and given back to the donor as ‘prasād’ or a gift from the recipient, while the rest were used for puja if flowers, or sent to the dining hall to be shared out after lunch. Bhagavan never actually touched or handled any of these gifts…and he never ever gave an individual gift to anyone…ever. To do so might have caused the recipient to consider him or herself to be particularly favoured and special, and Bhagavan would never tolerate that. The closest I know that Bhagavan ever came to giving a gift was to my father! Some workmen were renewing the thatch somewhere in the ashram when, amongst the straw, they found a strange bit of metal. They took it to Bhagavan, as everyone did with everything in those days, and asked him what it was. Bhagavan studied it closely, turning it around and examining it and then came to the conclusion that it was a shoehorn…twisted and bent, but still recognizable. “Give it to Osborne,” he said. “He must wear western shoes sometimes.” That was as personal a gift as I ever heard Bhagavan gave. I have the shoehorn still.
Then there is the story about Bhagavan coming into Osborne House. Absolutely not. Bhagavan was an ascetic, he had an iron control and adhered in every way to the customs and religious observances of Hinduism. He is a turīyātīta, beyond all three states of consciousness, and in his daily physical existence, a sādhu, and that implied he did not enter the home of a householder (gṛihasta). To my knowledge, he never entered the house of a gṛihasta after the 1st September 1896. He held fast to all the restrictions of the state he assumed for daily life, and would never have broken even one of those rules. In days gone by he used to go for walks on Arunachala and often his path took him through Palākotthu, an enclave of sādhu-s who lived in huts or caves just beyond the ashram at the foot of the hill. Such a one was Cohen and Bhagavan sometimes stopped and sat on the ledge of his verandah. At that time Cohen was himself a brahmachari and not a householder, but nevertheless Bhagavan did not go inside his hut, he merely rested outside…until one day Cohen put a chair out so that Bhagavan should be more comfortable. Bhagavan never came back! He invariably refused special treatment just for himself. That is probably the origin of the story about Bhagavan going to visit people in their homes. However, back to the search for a guru… If the person you fancy as a ‘guru’ wants to be treated specially… look again. I don’t mean someone who is treated specially, but someone who wants it. That brings to mind another well-known Bhagavan story, but it bears repeating. The poor and the beggars etc. used to be fed in the ashram, then as now. They were fed first and then the inmates went to the dining hall for lunch. One day, Chinnaswami, Bhagavan’s brother and manager of the ashram’s daily business, lost his temper and said in effect enough is enough. From now on we eat first and outsiders eat afterwards. When the lunch bell went, no sign of Bhagavan anywhere. After much searching he was eventually found sitting on the ground with the waiting beggars. Shock horror! from all concerned, but Bhagavan gently explained that he too was originally from outside so he would wait for his turn with the rest. Needless to say that rule was immediately rescinded and to this day the poor are fed first and the inmates later. Just by quietly obeying the new rule, and not putting himself forward in any way, Bhagavan made sure that all were fed correctly and in their due time.
Anyone who gives special treatment to a particular devotee, whether by favours or gifts, or in any other way, is not a true guru…look again. A jñāni cannot lie. That is a purely human talent!…a jñāni, by definition is super-human. Bhagavan always spoke kindly of people. Another well-known story…A man known to be a thug and a rowdy died, and Bhagavan’s devotees came and told him, wondering somewhat mischievously I feel, what he could find to say about such a notorious hooligan, Bhagavan said that he had always kept himself and his clothes immaculately clean! I have a lot of trouble with that last precept. Suppose a fantasist comes to Tiruvannamalai, someone who seems to have fooled many people…after all that is what a good storyteller does…I feel so strongly about it that I need to speak out. Such a one I feel, was someone called Robert Adams, who claimed to have come to Ramanasramam first in 1947 when he was just 17 years old. No one saw him. That was in the days when every foreigner was noted and written about and talked about. However nobody apparently saw or spoke to Robert Adams. If he had come for a short visit of a few days to the ashram while I was in school I might never have known, but if he had stayed for even a month or two, never mind several years as he claimed, he would have been entirely memorable! He also claimed to have stayed in my family home without my father apparently knowing about it! This is according to one of his statements recorded on a website devoted to his teachings. He certainly could not have stayed in our house while we were there without us knowing, when we were not there the house was locked up and unused. What is even more extraordinary is that he claimed that Bhagavan used to come and visit him several times in our house and bring him fruit. They supposedly had long chats there. Who was their interpreter? That whole story is a fabrication. Bhagavan understood English pretty well, but he barely spoke it at all. As I have explained earlier, Bhagavan never went into any house, including ours. My goodness if he had, the whole street, town, country, would have known about it. It would have become a landmark day for our family and remembered for ever more. It would have been written about by the diligent scribes who religiously recorded every word Bhagavan uttered and everyone who came into his presence!
Bhagavan never left the ashram by the front gate or even crossed the road from the ashram (where our house is still) after 1928-29 when he stopped doing giripradakṣiṇā, except for two recorded occasions. Once when he went to look at a lake (Samudram) that had unexpectedly filled with water and secondly when he went to see a well in Ramana Nagar that never went dry. Every move he made was noted and recorded, and everyone who was associated with him, would have been noted. Bhagavan would never have cosy buddy, buddy chats with anyone, thereby showing favouritism. Whoever invented these stories was definitely indulging in a fantasy and not only had no idea of how Bhagavan behaved, nor the strict norms and hierarchy in the ashram, but apparently had not even met Bhagavan. Contrary to appearances, Bhagavan was not an easy-going pushover! Because he paid so little attention to his physical form people assumed he was a softie who could be easily manipulated. On the contrary, trying to envisage getting Bhagavan to do anything that he didn’t want to do is unimaginable! For goodness sake…Bhagavan could stop a charging elephant at 50 paces with one look if he so wished. Of course that was never necessary, of course no one told us so, we just knew…everyone knew. No one who lived in his ambit ever had any doubt as to the sheer power of Bhagavan. There was even a story put about, that my father had given Robert Adams our family car. Amazing! Our family never owned a car, neither of my parents drove and if we wanted to go anywhere we went by bus. Adams claimed he gave the ashram a jeep. The ashram, to this day, has never owned or was given a car or jeep. In 2018 it purchased for the first time, a mini-truck for ferrying cow dung and cattle feed. That is verifiable fact. In Tiruvannamalai we get more than our fair share of dodgy gurus. Admittedly most of them come with their hands out, so that eliminates them! Being worshipped is probably the biggest ego trip in the world and only the genuine can resist the allure. Many find the temptation of that kind of power absolutely addictive and they become corrupted by it. But how about those who are genuinely searching for guidance? Those who want a living voice to point them in the right direction? I have no special axe to grind regarding Robert Adams, I never met him and only heard his name mentioned for the first time a couple of years ago. I wish his admirers well and hope they find what they are searching
for…but please…not through fraud. Everyone should evaluate for himself/herself the nature of divinity and the worth of the one placed on a pedestal. I was incredibly lucky I now realise. I grew up from the age of five years at the feet of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Now when my time on this earth is coming to an end, I am sorry that not many voices will be left to correct flagrant faults in reporting the days when Bhagavan lived in Tiruvannamalai. The truth is so important to us all, now as then when we thought everything we knew would last forever. When not at school, my brother, sister and I saw him every single day. We told him our secrets, ran around and played in his presence and always recognized that he was Bhagavan…special and all knowing. The ashram was our playground. The rules that governed it we imbibed without conscious thought. Some things were done one way, some another. No one was ever shown favouritism, not even the poets that came and recited their verses to him. Not even his three devoted attendants, although I heard that they had been given special dispensation to enable them to touch him in the course of their care. He suffered from rheumatism, but nonetheless the touch of a jñāni is supposed to be devastating. Maybe that is why he normally never touched at all. Either that or perhaps he had imbibed the characteristics of a South Indian Brahmin; they usually never touch anyone nor do they encourage touching. His words alone were words of power. Let us not forget some other words of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. As he lay dying someone called out “Bhagavan don’t leave us. What shall we do without you?” And Bhagavan replied “You place too much attention on the body. I am not going anywhere, where should I go.” I feel that a genuine cry for help to Bhagavan will definitely be heard. He never performed ‘miracles’, at least not in a spectacular way; but things tended to happen around him that seemed entirely accidental, but had the desired effect of answering a supplicant’s prayers. Bhagavan is very subtle, but he surely hears…the question is can we ‘hear’ his response? As for Robert Adams, it seems to me that there are so many inconsistencies and downright impossibilities in his stories, such a total lack of verifiable fact or any credible witness, that I can only conclude that he never met Bhagavan at all.
Reprinted from The Mountain Path July – September 2020
Part 1 is now available here:
Part 2 is now available here:
Part 4 is now available here