The first two experiences remembered as having occurred in the third of fourth year of my life, are dreadful to think, as they were interwoven with temptation, a greed avarice, deceit, groaning, loss lamentation and the like.
A 'mara naai' as they call it in Tamil or teddy cat (an animal which generally climbs on trees and destroys the fruits during nights) somehow got into a room in the house and thrust its head into a small copper pot containing jaggery. The animal was not able to pull out its head and was running here and there in the room all through the right with its head stuck in the pot.
People in the house and neighbours were aroused by the noise and thought that some thief was at his job. But, the incessant noise continued even till morning hours, and some bravados armed with sticks opened the door of the room and found the greedy animal. It was then roped and tied to a pillar. Some experienced men were brought and after being engaged in a tug-of-war, they ultimately succeeded in removing the vessel from the head of the animal. The animal was struggling for life. It was at last taken to some spot and set free, I presume. The first experience of my life was this dreadful demonstration born of greed causing all out neighbours to spend an anxious and sleepless night.
The next experience relates to a main in the street who entered the house seeing me alone with tiny golden bangles upon which he began to lay his hands. I asked him to tighten the hooks of the bangles which had become loose and gave a peremptory and authoritative direction to him to bring them back repaired without delay.
The man took my orders most obediently and took leave of me with the golden booty. In glee of having arranged for repairs to my ornament, I speeded to inform my people inside of the arrangement made by me with the man in the street who gave his name as Ponnusami. The people inside hurried to the street to find out the culprit. But the booty had become his property true to his assumed name, Ponnusami (master of gold).
These two experience at a tender innocent age are recurring successively in some form or other even at this tottering age, nearing seventy, reminding me of being liable to be duped or eagerness to get by some short cut some material gain.
In attempting to judge the objective world with this rod of selfishness and superficiality of mine which has rightly earned for me the reputation of being a clever Swami, I am prone to come to the conclusion that there lives none without predominantly selfish motives.
But with years rolling on, an impression, that too a superficial one true to my nature, is dawning upon me that there breathe on this globe some souls firmly rooted in morals and ethics who live exclusively for others voluntarily forsaking not only their material gains and comforts but also their own sadhana towards their spiritual improvements.
In the beginning of the year 1907, when I was studying in a Christian Mission School at Tindivanam, a town in the South Arcot District, I heard one day that the Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Peetha who was amidst us in our town in the previous year, attained siddhi at Kalavai, a village about 10 miles from Arcot and 25 miles from Kanchipuram. Information was received that a maternal cousin of mine who, after some study in Rig Veda, had joined the camp of the Acharya offering his services to him, was installed on the Peetha.
He was the only son of the widowed and destitute sister of my mother and there was not a soul in the camp to console her. At this juncture, my father who was a Supervisor of Schools in the Tindivanam Taluk, planned to proceed with his family to Kalavai, some 60 miles from Tindivanam in his own bullock cart. But on account of an educational conference at Trichinopoly, he cancelled the program.
My mother with myself and other children started for Kalavai to console her sister on her son assuming the Sannyasa Asrama. We traveled by rail to Kanchipuram, and halted at the Sankaracharya Mutt there. I had my ablutions at the Kumara Koshta Tiratha. A carriage of the Mutt has come there from Kalavai with persons to buy articles for the Maha Pooja on the 10th day after the passing away of the late Acharya Paramaguru. But one of them, a hereditary maistri of Mutt, asked me to accompany him. A separate cart was engaged for the rest of the family to follow me.
During our journey, the maistri hinted to met that I might not return home and that the rest of my life might have to be spent in the Mutt itself. At first I thought that my elder cousin having become the Head of the Mutt, it might have been his wish that I was to live with him. I was then only 13 years of age and so I wondered as to what use I might be to him in the institution.
But the maistri gradually began to clarify as miles rolled on, that the Acharya, my cousin in the Poorvashram, had fever which developed into delirium and that was why I was being separated from the family to be quickly taken to Kalavai. He told me that he was commissioned to go to Tindivanam and fetch me, but he was able to meet me at Kanchipuram itself. I was stunned by this unexpected turn of events. I lay in a kneeling posture in the cart itself if shocked as I was, repeating Rama Rama, the only spiritual prayer I knew, during the rest of the journey.
My mother and the other children some time later only to find that instead of her mission of consoling her sister, she herself was placed in the state of having to be consoled by someone else.
My robes of Sannyasa were not the result of any renunciation on my part, nor had I the advantage of living under a Guru for any length of time. I was surrounded from the very first day of Sannayasa by all the comforts and responsibilities of a gorgeous court.
But, it so happened that Tummuluru Rama Krishnayya and Adayapalam Pasupati Iyer both of them serving in the District Court of South Arcot and ardent disciples of my Gurus, were there in Kalavai when I took Sannayasa Asrama. Later, It became clear that they were determined to help me to mould my life in my youth.
Ramakrishnayya being worried by a lot of family burdens, in spite of his detached mentality, it fell to the lot of Pasupati to shoulder the task. Pasupati devoted most of his leisure to solitary meditation and reading Vedanta Prakaranas of Treatises of Sri Sankaracharya.
Such a man retired from Government service soon after my ascending the Gadi and lived with me always, watching my every action, speech and twinkling of the eye. He even curtailed his mediation in order to devote some time to the supervision of the secular administration of the Mutt.
He would meet me in private periodically, point out every item of weakness he had observed during the intervening period and implore me to heed to his suggestion to overcome them. When he had sometimes to be very harsh, he would tell me that for all these aparadhas he was committing towards one of a higher Asrama, he would make amends when I grew up as a full-fledged saint.
He used to persuade everyday every friend of his to turn his mind to self-introspection and would argue with him freely as to what permanent values he had gained by being materialistic and would bluntly point out to every one of them his points of weakness and ask him to ponder whether the remedies contained in the Upanishads and Sankara's Prakaranas might not be given a trial.
He would meet even unacquainted persons in the street and enquire into their worries and woes and would succeed in transforming them into true devotees of God, true followers of Vedanta and true sishyas of Sankara.
He lived close by me partaking in my Sankara Bhashya Patha till 1926, or a period of 18 years. He lived for my sake in Kumbhakonam famous for its mosquitoes and elephantiasis and became a victim of filariasis and fever. Nevertheless, he would not leave me.
When he was bed-ridden in his house at Cuddalore for some months, it so happened that I was received in Cuddalore in the course of my tour and when my procession was going on in the town, he patted the Mutt elephant. He breathed his last the same night.
His was a life lived with intense love for others without the least reaction of fear or favour.
On tour in Trichinopoly District in 1923, I halted at a village when I heard a girl of about 12 admonishing her younger brother for his having uttered an untruth. Her advocacy of truth and her love for her brother which prompted her to see that he was not spoiled, far surpassed a saint's direction. I cannot forget this incident after the lapse of so many years.
When touring in Kerala, I happened to camp in a public halting place where in one room some elderly Namboodri Brahmins were talking together. One of them opened his Puja box in order to begin his Puja, but, nevertheless, took part in the gossip. After some time he realized his mistake the turned his attention to the Puja, but would up the box and exclaimed that owing to his having taken part in the gossip, his inner efforts to secure the mental equilibrium required for God's Puja had failed and rather than making a show of Puja without inner equilibrium, he would not perform the Puja that day.
This incident which is fresh in my memory spells the need for honesty of purpose in one's own religious pursuits.
In 1929, I met a Sannyasi in a border village of North Arcot. He knew neither Tamil nor Telugu. He knew only Marathi and Hindi. He told us that he traveled to Rameswaram by Mail and lost his danda during the journey. He probably fasted till the taking of a new danda. He was duly given a consecrated danda. From that time he regarded me as his guru, because I saved his Asrama Dharma. He was then more than 80 years old. He refused to leave me till 1954 when he attained siddhi.
Soon after he joined us during the Chaturmasya of 1929, I was laid up with malaria fever for bout 40 days. Till then none was in the habit of touching me. But then I was not able to stand or walk without help. This old man, being a Sannyasi, took upon himself the duty of helping me.
He was a very hot-tempered man. His voice was authoritative. He was dread to all in the vicinity. He had been in the Revenue Department in the Dewas State in Central India. Neither Nanasaheb nor Jhansi Rani Could complete with him in his authoritativeness.
On no day would he fail to do Puja to my feet and none would deter him from his purpose. Tears would roll down his cheek during this Puja.
Once in Kanchi, a relative of his, who had been on yatra, came to me and after talking to him returned to me and took me to task. He expressed wonder how I could be so cold without the least reciprocity towards one, nearing the 100th year, who regarded me as his sole spiritual refuge high above any God. My natural superficiality did not react even to this admonition. Once we had been to Tirupati. The aged Swami was then in our camp. I went up the hill to worship Balaji. Just as I was returning from the temple after Balaji darsan, the aged Sannyasi who had managed to arrive at the top of the hill confronted us. The temple authorities, in deference to his old age, Asrama and connection with out Mutt, offered to arrange for his darsan of Balaji. he fell at my feet and exclaimed: "This is Balaji. Pardon me. I cannot accept your offer". He returned without Balaji's darsan.
I came into contact with two other persons, both of them quite in contrast with this old man. They were not acquainted with each other and were removed by 30 years of time; but they thought and acted on the same lines.
They were full of ecstasy in the adoration of my feet, absorbed in thought of me all day and night, which, they told me, gave them immeasurable strength to bear any calamity or temptation very lightly. But when they came to know of my shortcomings and natural unsteadiness, not only did they discontinue their worship of my feet but also did their best to prevent anyone from gaining access to my feet as they thought that adoration of my feet by devotees contributed in a degree to my limitation. They too renounced all other responsibilities of their life and resolved to spend the rest of their life in either entreating and imploring me or being engaged in austerities and prayers for my correction.