In 1907 he resigned his position as teacher in Vellore and returned to Tiruvannamalai at the time of the Kartikai festival, in order to practise mantra japa more intensely. He was driven by a deep dissatisfaction about his knowledge and abilities and overcome by gnawing doubt. He had achieved nothing concrete, despite the numerous extreme spiritual exercises and sacrifices he had performed and his intense study of the Holy Scriptures. He was unsure if he had understood the essence of the scriptures at all and if his tapas was correct. Then he thought of the Swami.
It was on the ninth day of the Kartikai festival, 18th November 1907 at about half past one, when, in the midday heat, he climbed up the hill to the Virupaksha Cave. He was trembling with emotion. The young Swami was seated alone in front of his cave. Although, because of the festival, there were crowds of people everywhere, there was nobody at all near the Swami. Even Palaniswami was not there. Ganapati Muni fell prostrate on the ground, grasped Sri Ramana’s feet with both hands and uttered trembling, “All that has to be read I have read. Even Vedanta Sastra [the holy scriptures of Vedanta] I have fully understood. I have performed japa to my heart’s content. Yet I have not up to this time understood what tapas is. Hence have I sought refuge at thy feet. Pray enlighten me about the nature of tapas.”
For 15 minutes the Swami kept silent and looked at Ganapati, who sat at his feet full of expectation. Then he answered, “If one watches whence this notion of ‘I’ springs, the mind will be absorbed into that. That is tapas. If a mantra is repeated, and attention directed to the source whence the mantra-sound is produced, the mind will be absorbed in that. That is tapas.”37
This was the first time that Sri Ramana gave a verbal answer to a question. Until then he had kept silent and had always written the answers down. It is remarkable how he led the mantra practice of his new disciple back to the method of Self-enquiry. For Ganapati Muni this was a real revelation. His heart was filled with ecstatic joy and he meditated at the feet of his new master until the evening.
The following day Ganapati Muni wrote full of enthusiasm to his family and his disciples, “I have found my Master, my Guru. He is the Sage of Arunachala known as Brahmanaswami. He is no ordinary Swami. He is a great Seer, a mighty spiritual personality. To me and to you all he is Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi [elevated great Seer Ramana]. Let the whole world know him as such.”38
From that moment on the Swami became known as the Maharshi, Bhagavan or simply Ramana. Ganapati Muni and his followers made Sri Ramana known to a wide circle in India.
From January to March 1908 he stayed with Ramana and a number of disciples in the Pachaiamman temple. There the recently finished masterpiece of 1000 verses to Uma (Umasahasram) was solemnly recited.
Ganapati Muni strove earnestly to deepen his meditation and to practise Self-enquiry, as the Maharshi had taught him. But he still believed in his mission to renew India and also in the effectiveness of mantra japa. So, he once again felt restless and drawn to leave. At the end of March he went to Sri Ramana and asked him in parting, “Is the seeking of the source of ‘I’ thought, sufficient for the accomplishment of all my aims, or is mantra dhyana [mantra meditation] needed?” Ramana answered, “The former would suffice.” Then he gave him the following advice for his future life, “Place your burden at the feet of the Lord of the universe who is ever victorious and accomplishes everything. Remain all the time steadfast in the heart, in the Transcendental Absolute. God knows the past, present and future. He will determine the future for you and accomplish the work. What is to be done will be done at the proper time. Don’t worry. Abide in the heart and surrender your acts to the Divine.”39
First Ganapati Muni returned to Tiruvottiyur near Madras, where he used to live. There the world of learning reserved for him an enthusiastic reception. Then he withdrew to the Ganapati temple to practise his spiritual exercises, where he one day had a strange experience. It was the eighteenth day of his tapas when he had a vision of the Maharshi, who suddenly came in, sat near him and placed his hand on his head. He felt a strong stream of energy flooding through his body. It is interesting that at the same time Ramana also had a strange experience, which he later described to Ganapati Muni as follows, “I lay down, but I was not in samadhi. I suddenly felt my body carried up higher and higher till all objects disappeared and all around me was one vast mass of white light. Then suddenly the body descended and objects began to appear. … The idea occurred to me that I was at Tiruvottiyur. I was on a high road which went along. On one side and some distance removed from it was a Ganapati temple. I went in and talked, but what I said or did, I do not recollect. Suddenly I woke up and found myself lying in Virupaksha Cave.”40
Ganapati Muni spent his whole life moving around and was often accompanied by his wife Visalakshi, who also led a spiritual life. At many places he gave lectures about Sanskrit literature and explained his ideas on social reforms (which he considered to be very progressive), gave interpretations of the Vedas, spoke about spiritual matters and was invited to various events, as he was very much in demand as a speaker. But again and again he would withdraw to Tiruvannamalai for short periods. On these occasions he would mostly live in the Mango Tree Cave, where he performed tapas and visited his master frequently.
Ganapati Muni's handwriting. The quote says: "I worship the lotus like feet of the Teacher Sri Ramana Rishi, who revealed to me the resplendent Lord transcending darkness." (transl. Miles Wright)
During his absence he wrote letters to the Maharshi, which testify to his deep devotion. On 31st March 1931 he said in his letter from Sirsi, “Boongiver! Though I may have a thousand desires, they all are set at rest within the cave of the Heart scorched by the effulgence of your benevolent look. Only one of them sprouts forth raising its head even now. Let my impure ego perish. My Lord, grant me the fulfilment of my aspiration.” And on 14th April 1931 his letter ended as follows, “I know that the perfect fulfilment of all my aspirations is to be accomplished only at the proximity of Bhagavan’s Feet. I am awaiting that auspicious hour. For the present, may this devotee, staying at some distance, appear very near to Bhagavan’s Heart. Lord you reside within my heart and I at your Feet. You are my Master and Director. I am your servant, your instrument to do your work.”41
The relationship between them remained close all their lives. Sri Ramana called Ganapati Muni by the pet name Nayana, which his disciples also used. The Telugu word Nayana is used to address one’s father as well as one’s disciple and one’s child.
In return Ganapati Muni’s erudition made much literature, in particular Sanskrit literature, accessible to the Maharshi. Ramana relied totally upon Nayana in the matter and finally himself started to learn Sanskrit by reading Shankara’s Vivekachudamani in Tamil and Sanskrit in parallel. In 1915 he wrote his first verse in Sanskrit. This verse contains the essence of his teaching and was included in Ganapati Muni’s ‘Ramana Gita’, “In the interior of the Heart-cave Brahman alone shines in the form of the atman with direct immediacy as I, as I. Enter into the Heart with questing mind or by diving deep within or through control of breath, and abide in the atman.”42
Two years later Ramana composed his ‘Five Stanzas to Sri Arunachala’ (Arunachala Pancharatna) in Sanskrit. In 1927 he rendered his own work of 30 verses Upadesa Undiyar (The Essence of Instruction) into Sanskrit as Upadesa Saram. He sent his translation to Ganapati Muni to be checked and corrected and Ganapati wrote a commentary on it. Upadesa Saram is one of the most important of the Maharshi’s works. Ramana also translated it into Telugu and Malayam. His famous ‘Reality in Forty Verses’ (Ulladu Narpadu) is also one of his most important works and was translated into Sanskrit by Ganapati Muni. Again the English translations can all be found in ‘The Collected Works’.
Ganapati Muni died in 1936, aged 58, in Kharagpur, West-Bengal, where his devotees had built an ashram for him. When Ramana was informed about his death by telegram, he said, deeply moved and with tears in his eyes, “Where can we find another like him?”
37 Narasimha Swami: Self Realization, pp. 89ff The source of the mantra is not primarily the vocal organs, but rather the mind, which creates the idea of the sound and whose source is the Self.
38 Shankaranarayanan: Bhagavan and Nayana, p. 5
39 dto., p. 14
40 Narasimha Swami: Self Realization, pp. 94ff
41 The Guru and the Disciple, pp. 26 and 2842 Sri Ramana Gita, p. 11. In the Ramana Gita, the famous teaching poem, which Ganapati Muni wrote upon the model of the Bhagavad Gita, he gives the Maharshi’s answers to his disciples, classified by theme.