After breakfast we say our farewells to Brother John Martin and others at Shantivanam Ashram. To be honest, I would have liked to stay on here a few more days, as this has been such a rich and rewarding time for both contemplation and re-awakening. Today’s long drive is to Tiruvannamalai, which takes more than three hours. Armed with six books I've purchased from the ashram's bookstore to help me continue mapping the intersections of Christian, Hindu and Andean cosmologies, I board our bus.
As we approach Tiruvannamalai, Andrew tells us that this is one of the most sacred cities of Tamil Nadu. — the home of Shiva and his consort Parvati. It was also the home of Sri Ramana Mararshi, who lived and meditated here for 54 years.
Arunachala Hill — the Red Mountain — forms a backdrop to the town and is considered the holiest of mountains for Shivarites, who believe this is where Shiva appeared as a column of fire (sthavara linga) to assert his supremacy over Brahma and Vishnu.
Tiruvannamalai is a city island in an otherwise agricultural area. The most conspicuous structure is Arunachaleshvara Temple, which encompasses 25 acres and is one of the largest temple complexes in India. Portions of the temple complex date back to the 11th century. Unfortunately, only Hindus are permitted in the temple itself, so we will not get to see it’s linga, which is encased in gold and not surprisingly represents the element of fire.
The guest rooms are in building blocks with two upper and two lower rooms made of stucco and granite blocks. Lovely stone staircases lead up to the upper rooms. Babe’s and my room is on the ground floor at the very far edge of the property — very quite —except for the chirping of birds and chatter of local monkeys playing in the lush landscaping.
After freshening up, we head to the dining room for a very late lunch that includes mango lassi, garlic naan, vegetable biriyani and coconut and cauliflower curry. Afterwards, we head to the spa to make appointments for the next afternoon, explore the grounds, including the beautiful pool, and rest.
- Ramana Maharshi was born in Tamil Nadu in 1879. He made his way to Mount Arunachala at the age of sixteen, after a near-death experience, where he spent 20 years in silence and isolation living in caves.
- Like other spiritual traditions, there are three ways of receiving spiritual initiation in India: through touch from a realized person; through teachings from a guru; and through silence, which is generally considered the most potent way.
- During Sri Ramana’s time living in isolation and silence, he underwent a deep inquiry into the nature of being and revealed the direct path to Self-inquiry and awakened mankind to the immense spiritual power of Mount Arunachala, the spiritual heart of the world. Ramana is recognized as India’s most revered guru of the modern age and is acknowledged as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.
- The upadesa or spiritual guidance given by Sri Ramana was secret, in the sense that it was given personally to each disciple, and was directed and adapted to their character.
- Sri Ramana was so intensely active and yet so subtle was his activity that casual visitors generally failed to perceive or believe that he gave them upadesa at all.
- Like other Masters, Sri Ramana understood that submission to a guru was not submission to any outside oneself, but to the self manifested outwardly in order to help one discover the Self within. “The Master is within; meditation is meant to remove the ignorant idea that he (she) is only outside.” In this way, as long as you think you are separate or are the body, an outer Master is also necessary and will appear bodily. When one no longer identifies oneself with the body, the Master is found to be none other than the Self.
- Similarly, when a guru realizes his identity with the Absolute, there is no need to say so, as there is no ego left to affirm the identity. Also, there is no need to say that he/she has disciples, for being beyond otherness, there can be no relationship for him/her.
- Sri Ramana did not leave the Mount Arunachala until his spirit united with the holy mountain in 1950; many people witnessed his light enter the sacred mountain as the life in his body expired.
After leaving our shoes at the entrance of the Ashram, we make our way as a group into the main building. I am immediately struck by how peaceful the ashram’s energy is though there are hundreds of people. Walking past the bookstore, which is presently open, and up some steps, we make our way into a large building. Here, we are immediately confronted with a huge painted portrait of Sri Ramana sitting on top of a tiger skin.
At some point, the sound of singing draws me into the main hall. Surrounding Sri Ramana’s samadhi there are a dozen or more young boys singing in a fashion that evokes a deep longing within me. It brings up memories of my mother singing and cooing to me at bedtime. I have no idea how long I stood there listening. Mesmerized. In time, I become aware of a processional of people circling around me and others standing along the barrier surrounding Sri Ramana’s samadhi. I fall in line and circumambulate with others until I reach an exit to outdoors. In another much smaller room there are scores of photographs of Sri Ramana and even more in a connecting room of about the same size. I also see the room where he attained Mahasamadhi (left his mortal coil), and the Samadhi shrine of his mother that is known as the Matribhuteshwara Temple.
Back at the Sparsa Resort, after a hot shower and light dinner during which Babe and I exchange thoughts and personal insights from throughout the day, it is time to slip between the veils and process the day’s experiences. I am so blessed to be sharing this pilgrimage with someone who knows me so well having been a part of each other’s healing journeys.