THERE WAS A TIME when the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi would frequently roam the holy hill of Arunachala, as well as climbing to the summit and making Pradakshina (circumambulation), so that in the end, he knew every part of it. And then one day, when he was wandering alone, he passed an old woman gathering fuel on the hillside. She looked like a common outcast woman, but she addressed the young Swami fearlessly, as an equal. Beginning with the rough cursing common to such people, she said: "May you be put on the funeral pyre! Why do you wander about in the sun like that? Why don't you sit quiet?"
"It can have been no ordinary woman," Sri Bhagavan said when he told the devotees about it; "Who knows who she was?" Certainly, no ordinary outcast woman would have dared to speak to a Swami like that. The devotees took it to be a manifestation of Arunagiri Siddha, the Spirit of Arunachala. From that time Sri Bhagavan gave up roaming the hillside.
When Sri Bhagavan first went to Tiruvannamalai he sometimes moved about in a state of trance. This did not completely end until about 1912 when there was a final and complete Experience of Death. He set out from Virupaksha Cave one morning for Pachaiamman Koil, accompanied by Palaniswami, Vasudeva Sastri and others. He had an oil-bath there and was nearing Tortoise Rock on the way back when a sudden physical weakness overcame him. He described it fully afterwards.
"The landscape in front of me disappeared as a bright white curtain was drawn across my vision and shut it out. I could distinctly see the gradual process. There was a stage when I could still see a part of the landscape clearly while the rest was covered by the advancing curtain. It was just like drawing a slide across one's view in a stereoscope. On experiencing this I stopped walking lest I should fall. When it cleared I walked on. When darkness and faintness came over me a second time I leaned against a rock until it cleared. The third time it happened I felt it safer to sit, so I sat down near the rock. Then the bright white curtain completely shut off my vision, my head was swimming and my circulation and breathing stopped. The skin turned a livid blue. It was the regular death hue and it got darker and darker. Vasudeva Sastri, in fact, took me to be dead and held me in his arms and began to weep aloud and lament my death.
"I could distinctly feel his clasp and his shivering and hear his words of lamentation and understand their meaning. I also saw the discoloration of my skin and felt the stoppage of my circulation and breathing and the increased chilliness of the extremities of my body. My usual current of awareness still continued in that state also. I was not in the least afraid and felt no sadness at the condition of the body. I had sat down near the rock in my usual posture and closed my eyes and was not leaning against the rock. The body, left without circulation or respiration, still maintained that position. This state continued for some ten or fifteen minutes. Then a shock passed suddenly through the body and circulation revived with enormous force, and breathing also, and the body perspired from every pore. The colour of life reappeared on the skin. I then opened my eyes and got up and said, 'Let's go.' We reached Virupaksha Cave without further trouble. This was the only fit I had in which both circulation and respiration stopped."
Later, to correct wrong accounts that began to be spread, he added: "I did not bring on the fit purposely, nor did I wish to see what this body would look like after death, nor did I say that I will not leave this body without warning others. It was one of those fits that I used to get occasionally, only this time it took a very serious form."
What is, perhaps, most striking about this experience is that it was a repetition, heightened by actual physical demonstration, of that certainty of endurance through death which had constituted Sri Bhagavan's spiritual awakening. It recalls the verse from Thayumanavar, the Tamil classic which Sri Bhagavan often quoted: "When overpowered by the wide Expanse which is without beginning, end or middle, there is the realization of non-dual bliss."
It may be that this marked the final completion of Sri Bhagavan's return to full outer normality. It is hard to give any impression of how normal and how human he was in his mode of life and yet it is necessary, for the description of his previous austerity may leave the idea of someone grim and forbidding. On the contrary, his manner was natural and free from all constraint and the newcomer immediately felt at his ease with him. His conversation was full of humour and his laughter so infectious, so like that of a child, that even those who did not understand the language would join in.
In an elaboration and/or for clarification or additional insights into what Osborne has presented in the above article regarding the Maharshi's second death experience, the following, from the works of Peter Holleran titled The "Lost Years" of Ramana Maharshi, is offered:
"In 1912, when he was thirty-two, he(the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi) went through a lesser-known second death experience which seemed to mark his complete return to normal outward activity. He remarked numerous times that the current of the self he had realized at aged sixteen had never changed, but while this new experience may not have upstaged his previous realization it did serve to reintegrate him with his bodily vehicle and with life. This is how he described what happened. While walking back from Virupaksha Cave one day he was suddenly overcome with physical weakness. He lay down and the world disappeared as if a bright white curtain was drawn across his vision. His breathing and circulation stopped and his body turned a livid blue. For fifteen minutes he lay as if in a state of rigor mortis, although still aware of the Self within. The current of awareness that was his daily experience persisted even with the shutdown of all bodily systems. Then suddenly, he explained, he felt a rush from the Heart on the right to the left side of his chest and the re-establishment of life in the body. After this he was more at ease in everyday circumstances, and began to increasingly associate with those seekers who gathered around him."
AND NOW THIS:
It is often said that when you truly need a teacher, one will appear. This may due to some inexplicable serendipity. It may be due to the fact that the seeker has searched deeply within himself or herself and determined what sort of instruction seems to be required. It could be swept over him or her like the two death experiences of Sri Ramana, above, a spiritual desperation on the part of the seeker, or no more than a successful sales pitch by a teacher (sincere or not). It may be a combination of the previous factors, or some intuitive awareness beyond expression. For whatever the reason, the saying often applies and the coming together of the results of inner and outside forces, some within one's control, some without, can be found most eloquently as they all come together in the following:
SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
RECOUNTING A YOUNG BOY'S NEARLY INSTANT TRANSFORMATION INTO THE ABSOLUTE DURING HIS ONLY DARSHAN WITH THE MAHARSHI
It should be noted that Adam Osborne, who, as a young boy grew up at the Ramana ashram and the son of Arthur Osborne the author of this article and one of the foremost Ramana biographers, played a prominent role in the Last American Darshan as linked above.
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
AWAKENED TEACHERS FORUM
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL
THE AWAKENING EXPERIENCE IN THE MODERN ERA
FIVE QUALITIES OF A DHARMA TEACHER
SPIRITUAL GUIDES: PASS OR FAIL?
FALSE GURU TEST
ON THE RAZOR'S
From: Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self Knowledge
And as reprinted in The Maharshi, September/October 1994 Vol. 4 � No. 5