Sonntag, 14. September 2008

16.1. The Fatal Illness

They take this body for Bhagavan and attribute suffering to him. What a pity! They are despondent that Bhagavan is going to leave them and go away; where can he go, and how?

When in early 1949 Sri Ramana was diagnosed as having an incurable cancer, the long death struggle started, not for Sri Ramana, but for the devotees, because the people who really suffered and struggled to maintain his body were his devotees, not he himself. Although there was pain, it was not his pain. The fear of death had left him completely with his experience of enlightenment in Madurai. The death of the body was for him nothing more than the laying down of a burden. For his devotees, however, the thought of losing their master was unbearable. They therefore did everything in their power to try and prolong his life. They begged him repeatedly to heal himself and for a long time refused to accept that his end was near. The conflicting emotions of hope and despair alternated within them, until even the most reluctant was forced to accept that Ramana would soon die.

In this tumult of emotions he acted as a calming influence, repeatedly explaining to his devotees that they were the victims of a misconception, as he was not the body, but the eternal and unchanging Self. So where could he go? What change could there be in his presence and under his guidance? Why this desperate struggle for the body, which was in any case destined to be relinquished at the allotted hour? The full understanding of this truth could only develop within them gradually. As testimony to this we have the deeply moving accounts of those disciples who were in close contact with him and who experienced first-hand the last months of his life, such as S.S. Cohen, Suri Nagamma, Major Chadwick and Arthur Osborne, to name but a few.

The first signs of Ramana’s illness appeared in early 1949, when he would often rub his left elbow. An attendant who examined the spot found a boil the size of a pea, which rapidly grew and was soon as big as a marble. Although it seemed to be harmless it was nevertheless removed on 9th February by the Ashram doctor Dr. Shankar Rao and the retired surgeon Dr. Srinivasa Rao, without consulting any other doctors. The operation was performed in the bathroom before breakfast.

Suri Nagamma reports that Sri Ramana would have preferred it if there had been no operation and the ulcer had been left as it was. He said, “It does not give me any pain. Let it be as it is. Why meddle with it?” When the doctor explained, that the problem would be over if the growth was removed, he commented meaningfully, “Oh! Will it be over?”

After the operation Ramana did his best to hide the wound with his towel. When people asked what he had on his arm, he joked, “I am wearing a bracelet” or “A lingam is born.” The wound took about ten days to heal.

It was not long, however, before another, larger and more painful growth appeared. Renowned doctors from Madras were consulted and they diagnosed it as a malignant tumour.

At the beginning of April 1949 Sri Ramana was again operated upon, this time by Dr. Raghavachari from Madras, in the dispensary. He cut more deeply than was done during the first operation. A detailed examination revealed that it was a sarcoma. The decision was taken to try radium treatment. This second wound had not had time to heal before a third growth appeared.

Samuel S. Cohen120 was keeping a detailed diary at the time. On 20th April his entry was, “Sri Maharshi’s health is causing grave anxiety to the three doctors, who have been in constant attendance on him, as well as to the devotees. A lady devotee wept much and went to him in tears and asked him to give her his disease and be cured of it, saying: ‘Bhagavan, you who are curing others must cure yourself and spare your life for us, your devotees.’ Once, twice he waved her off, and, seeing her great concern finally replied with great tenderness: ‘Why are you so much attached to this body? Let it go.’”121

People came to him repeatedly to request that he should heal himself. He used to console them with the answer, “Everything will come right in due course.” He also liked to explain to his devotees through metaphor why the continuation of the body meant nothing to him. Thus he used to say, “When a man goes to market with a basket and fills it with purchases and then carries it home on his head, does he not long to put down the load?” And, “When we have finished a meal do we keep the leaf-plate on which we have eaten it?” He also said, “You people talk of the tumour and name it Sarcoma Cancer. But believe me when I tell you that in my view there is no tumour, no Sarcoma Cancer at all.”

On 1st May Dr. Raghavachari declared that amputation of the arm was unavoidable. But Ramana refused, “There is no need for alarm. The body is itself a disease. Let it have its natural end. Why mutilate it? Simple dressing of the affected part is enough.”

This is the only instance when Ramana refused to accede to the wishes of the doctors. As a result the arm was not amputated.

The radium treatment finally had to be abandoned, as it was burning the skin and the wound frequently bled. As Ramana was becoming weaker, it was decided that a blood transfusion was necessary.

The doctors also thought that the sun would be beneficial for the sick arm. So they would arrange a seat for Ramana outside behind the cow shed, remove the bandage there and clean the wound. The affected part was then exposed to the sun’s rays for some time. On one occasion devotees again expressed their worries and fears, but he merely joked about his bleeding ulcer, “See how nice it is! It is like a precious ruby. It has become an ornament to my arm. See how red it is! It is glowing brilliantly with the sun’s rays falling on it. Look at it!”

The ayurvedic healer who had successfully treated Ramana’s broken collarbone, tried a treatment using a poultice of healing green leaves. One evening Ramana returned from his walk shivering with fever and, walking with an extremely unsteady gait, was barely able to reach his couch. Shantamma, who could not control her grief at this sight, cried out, “Oh! Your body….”, but before she was able to complete the sentence the Maharshi interrupted her, “Oho! The body? What about it? What has happened? Shivering? What if it is shivering? What you want is that there should be life in this body. Life is in it. Are you satisfied?” Finally he managed to control the shivering, and looking at the people around him, said, “This is Nataraja’s dance. Daily it is a stationary darshan. Today it is tandava darshan [dancing darshan]. Why should there be any worry on that account?” Then he kept silent. The suspicion was that the shivering was caused by an infection brought on by the green leaves. So this treatment was stopped.
120 S.S. Cohen’s spiritual search brought him from Iraq to India. In 1936 he came to the Maharshi and built a hut at Palakothu.
121 Cohen: Guru Ramana, p. 108

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