Dear Seekers of Truth
You may think that proximity to a powerful Avadhoota like Atmananda meant that we got to discuss deeper levels of spirituality all the time. On the contrary, we hardly spoke spiritual matters. I found the same when Atmananda met other powerful masters. They discussed nothing – literally nothing spiritual. To me, the meeting of two masters felt like two suns merging to give more light. No words (medium) were needed. Whenever you get a chance to stay with liberated masters, make sure that you observe, but not imitate them. Imitating them will only give us certain character traits or habits. Observing them will give us detachment and awareness of perfect love in action.
It is beautiful to watch someone who wants nothing from earth, walking the earth. We start to look with total detachment and even indifference towards every desire of every person who we see around us, or who have come to our Guruji for blessing them with a quick fix solution for some of their favourite dimensions of “glorious” lusts such as money, name, fame, possessions etc. Guruji, detached as he was from himself, would sometimes look at them, sometimes ignore them. He deliberately wore the robe of a powerless, often eccentric, ordinary sadhu. This must have saved him from various greedy bodies.
Rarely, we get to speak something spiritual with Guruji. Usually, it happened as a reflection of someone’s visit. Here are a few glimpses. Once he said. “Buddha has said ‘Human tongue is more dangerous than a sword. It leaves lasting wounds. It injures people more than a sword. The injuries that tongues create are hard to heal.’ ” We could understand that most calamities of life are created by relative truths or partial truths translated by prejudiced and speculative minds and articulated by our boneless tongues. This reminds me of various beautiful things that Buddha has said which perfectly suited our Guruji’s level of existence.
“The most distant place for us is our past. No amount of money or time can take us there.”
“The biggest, highest and tallest mountain in this world is human lust. Nothing is more difficult to conquer for the human mind than lust.”
“The hardest thing to keep in this world is a tiny promise. Things are easier said than done. If promises are not delivered, man takes more lives too, to complete it. Hence promises are quite detrimental. If unfulfilled, it increases karmic weight.”
“The quality that makes one feel lightest in this world is humility which comes out of maturity and awareness. There is nothing lighter to mind than humility. When man chases name, fame and fortune, this is lost.”
“The closest to us is death. Death is closer to us than any human relationship and is the only unavoidable relationship.”
“The easiest thing to do for liberating oneself in this world is to spread the message of our loving Guru while spreading love with our very existence unconditionally. Your personal wealth has nothing to do with it. If you are afraid to talk about your Guru who gave you himself, you are a hypocrite. Grace will not enter your doorway. Hypocrisy prevents grace.”
One “holy day”, after he spent time with a seemingly aloof wandering sadhu, Guruji said. “We all are liars. We are lying all the time. Whenever I say I am Atmananda, I am lying. This body is called Atmananda. I am not. Whenever people talk with identifications, which are all temporary, they are lying because whatever is temporary is not the ultimate truth. Look around, no animals will tell you that they are a bull or a monkey. They are unbound by their incarnations. We are so eager to maintain our ego and identifications. Whenever we begin to articulate who we are in terms of terrestrial existence, we are further and further detaching from the original truth. Hence, we must realise that we are all liars. Glorious liars who love to maintain those lies and are even proud of it. I am not an Avadhoota or even Atmananda. These are all identifications that the society has given me for their sake about my state and form. This is their need and not mine. I am free.” He continued “Likewise, we identify ourselves with fleeting emotions and make them ours. We are not the emotions either. We are free. Unless this is understood, there are will be pains.
“Desires are traps. One spontaneously leads to the other. They also change forms and nature. Desires cause illusions and hallucinations. It takes us further and further away from liberation”.
This story is about some of Guruji’s followers like Ramappa, Srinath and my own self as well as some experiences of Guruji that I would like to share that provide a window into his glorious stature. Guruji was like a flowing river. Before joining Guruji, each disciple had traveled a good distance on their spiritual journey along their own paths based on their constitution. Guruji facilitated their orientations – bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, etc – and, subsequently, they moved on and carried forward in their chosen path.
Once a middle-aged person named Ramappa walked with us while we walked with Gurudeva. Gurudeva did not have the habit of acknowledging, welcoming or receiving anybody who chose to walk with him. He probably would not even notice.
Guruji did not like conversations. We have seen Guruji watching cows or other animals intently for hours on. We used to say amongst ourselves that Guruji is liberating them through his eyes. In fact, he looked at animals with more attention than he ever looked at people. One such occasion, which is about a week after Ramappa joined us, Guruji was witnessing a pack of cows in a field. Ramappa went close to him and told him “Gurudeva, my desire of this life is higher levels of Samadhi. Bless me and help me”. Guruji did not answer for some time. Later, he said, “Watch and witness cows.” That was it. He said nothing else. He got up and started walking. Ramappa sat there and continued what Gurudeva was doing and had asked him to do. When we were leaving with Gurudeva who walked quite fast, we saw Ramappa totally absorbed in observing cows.
Many years later, after Guruji attained his mahasamadhi, (a saint’s conscious exit from the body), I had the good fortune of seeing Ramappa, quite unknowingly, who by that time had attained great spiritual heights. I did not recognise him. I was coming back with a few companions towards my abode from the north of Bharat, after our annual dips in Ganga during Kumbh Mela. We happened to spend the evening and night at the ashram of a saint whom we had not known before. Most ashrams host people going or returning from Kumbh Mela without expectations. This is still the tradition. The chief of that ashram had a flowing white beard and bald head. He hosted us with kindness and elegance.
In the evening, after dinner at sunset, he gave a discourse to his disciples. It flowed somewhat like this, “Gurudeva asked me to observe cows and walked away. (this is when I felt he could be Ramappa) I considered this as a diksha (initiation) and sat at the same place that Gurudeva sat and started practicing. In the beginning, I saw only the bodies of cows. I saw only their activities. Every day, I did this one practice which Gurudeva had initiated me with. A few days later, I could recognise each and every cow that grazed in that field. Soon, I started seeing their character and the difference between them. I started noticing how they behaved. I saw their behavioural differences as well as their hierarchies and mannerisms.
They showed no hurry at any time. They were peaceful always. They ate only what they needed. They were very patient. They never complained or even made an unnecessary sound. They accepted the surroundings and realities without any complaints. They were tolerant. They never complained of rain or sunshine. They were consistent in what they did. They never got bored with the environment. I learned many things from them. Concentration, Acceptance, Consistency, Commitment, No anxiety or comparisons, No complaints, and more than anything stable mind, peaceful to the core. I realised that samadhi states need these qualities. Samadhi itself is a stillness of mind. And these animals taught me that.
Day and night, I sat near that grazing ground and as these gentle beings wandered, I followed them. They became my gurus. I learned the great secrets of life from them. Everything begins with acceptance. I understood why my Gurudeva always watched animals and sat in meditative state. He was witnessing the states of samadhi that nature displays through every plant, tree, leaves, and all beings of nature. I also realised that they do not eat after sunset and will start eating only after sunrise. They followed the sun. I also surrendered myself to the sun and the sun became my guru too. Ramappa continued.
Ramappa’s explanation ascertained to me that he was referring to my Guru too – Avadhoota Atmananda Chaitanya! He has given enlightenment to many through a casual word or sentence which became a piercing command that time proved later. Here I would like you to understand one important point. My Gurudeva in his usual unassuming way, taught Ramappa and through Ramappa to all of us, one important practice – Practicing Awareness. Usually all gurus initiated their disciples into contemplation (manana) or Meditation (dhyana) or some rituals to reach levels of samadhi. Here, Atmananda taught “Awareness” through observing the cows which is neither manana or dhyana. Cows had no anxiety over future nor much visible hang ups over past. No prejudices and fears as explained by Ramappa. They were in the present always, in tune with their body as well as nature in total acceptance. This is an important lesson in spirituality. Being in NOW. Being in awareness. This is a space between manana and dhyana.
When Ramappa paused his narration, I introduced myself to him and told the audience that I was there when this incident happened. Ramappa could not contain his tears. He got up and tried to prostrate at my feet in deep reverence for my Guru. I did not allow that. Instead, I embraced him. We both could not contain our tears of happiness. We held each other for some time. Then I spoke “Ramappa, I am so happy to see you not only because you have attained higher levels of Samadhi as per your wish, with the grace of our Gurudeva, but because you are imparting and explaining the unorthodox methods of our Gurudeva to your students too. You are keeping his memories alive.
Not many understood our Gurudeva. He has given such guidance to thousands. Perhaps a word, a glance, a sentence or physical demonstration through his own life. But not even five percent of people who came to him understood it or caught that thread and moved on in life as you did. He gave the rope to everybody in a casual way.
Our Guru has left his body and he insisted that his body should not become a burden to earth. He was formally cremated. (Hearing about the death of Atmananda, Ramappa’s smile vanished and tears filled his eyes.) Also, He has written nothing except what he wrote in our hearts and minds. Ramappa, today I am happy. When I hear our Guru’s words through you, I feel so happy and proud. He allowed us to walk with him and through his own life, he taught us invaluable lessons. A perfect Avadhoota. He had no emotions. He never complained. He never cried. He existed without existing. He lived without living. He was always and is always with us.”
Ramappa said with tears “I just wish that I will not fall again into the lures of this world.”
I said, “When you are under the protection of a master like Atmananda, you never need to worry about any fall in spirituality. There won’t be a state of Yoga Bhrashta (fall from grace). Atmananda as a guru will never permit that. Our Guru was seldom understood because he hardly expressed himself. His life was his message. If people did not understand his life, they did not understand his message also. I have always observed his habit of observing animals keenly. He spent lots of time doing just that. He often forgot his own body, time, hunger, weather and sat watching animals and birds. Now, with your narration, I got a clear insight as to why he was observing them as well as what he was seeing with such interest. He was teaching us the greatest of philosophies, of acceptance and surrender. Thank you”. We embraced each other again with deep and heartfelt emotions.
I was genuinely happy to see Ramappa, especially because of the stage in spirituality that he had achieved and also was grateful towards our Guruji who made all this possible. We stayed the night and left after consuming the fresh breakfast that Ramappa’s disciples served to us. Ramappa did not consume anything after sunset or before sunrise. We did the same and we decided that we will not consume any food after sunset hereafter. We decided to follow the teachings of the sun.
We bid good bye to Ramappa with this comforting thought, “A true teacher never dies. He stays as a thought, teaching or reminder through various minds well beyond his death”.
Another disciple of Guruji was Srinath who was like a shadow to Guruji. He joined Gurudeva before my time and was with Guruji until his mahasamadhi. He never mentioned about his past but someone had mentioned that one of his parents remarried and his step parent was not very happy with him. He would be stting quiet all the time, not doing any work and always in a meditative state. His parents thought that he was wasting his life and will have no food to eat after their death. So they threw him out of the house so he could find a job and support himself. Having left the house, he did not really care much and would be sitting by the side of a shop or in the park or in some other place in isolation.
Sometime later, an avadhoota passed him by and told him only one thing, “Your path is the sky!” Since he did not have any initiation, he would keep sitting and staring at the sky. His whole meditation was being the sky, nothing else! He only needed one sentence as a means to connect. His mind was connecting to the sky continously. Sky means full of expansion – blue sky, cloudless sky. Over time, he spontaneously shifted into shyambhavi mudra and he expanded beyond the body.
Nothing mattered to him anymore and that was when he met his Guru, Atmananda. He was sitting by the side of a shop staring at the sky, as was his usual practice, when Atmananda was walking past him. Atmananda just looked at him, didn’t say a word and gestured with his eyes to join him. Srinath immediately followed Atmananda and never left him. He saw the sky in Atmananda i.e., his Guru had the form of the sky (his body was as vast as the sky). All his life, Atmananda, except for his presence, did not give him anything – no guidance. When he found the Master, he realized that his Master was the sky i.e., he had no boundaries. That was what the avadhoota meant when he told him that his path was the sky.
He would be sitting like a statue almost like Guruji. He was an introverted person and hardly spoke. Whenever somebody asked him something like,”When would Guruji wake up? Is there something you can do?”, he would just stare back blankly at them. Hence, he was completely ignored by people since there was no point in talking to him. People would tease him and make fun of him. But that never bothered him. Whatever Guruji said, he immediately did blindly without thinking whether it is right time, right place, right situation, etc. No questions asked and absolutely no thinking or reasoning before carrying out the command – that kind of attitude. If Guruji had asked him to jump off a mountain, he would jump. That kind of perfect obedience.
Guruji usually never did rituals for the most part. However, sometimes he would light a fire and make some offerings to the fire. It would be for somebody probably in some part of the world (or universe) but he would never explain why he was doing it. Like he would take food in his hand and offer it to the fire because someone was probably hungry somewhere or something was meant to happen elsewhere. Once, during the rare occasions that Guruji was doing some ritual, he asked Srinath to take a bath in the river and come back immediately. The river was overflowing and it was extremely dangerous to enter the river since one would just get swept away by the swelling waters.
That did not deter him at all. He just jumped into the river and was pulled into the river by the gushing waters. The river dragged him a a couple of kilometers away before he could manage to swim and somehow get to the river bank. From there, he ran all the way to reach Atmananda just in time as he was finishing his ritual. People asked him if he was gone mad to jump into a river in spate. He did not answer and just smiled.
When Atmananda was sitting under the tree before taking mahasamadhi, he was also sitting under the tree. Their consciousness merged and he became like a shadow of Atmananda by the time Atmananda left the body. Atmananda had taken over, removed whatever karma was left in balance and dissolved him. Soon after Atmananda took mahasamadhi, he also left his body in a week’s time. Just as Atmananda had done before taking samadhi, he also sat under the tree and stopped eating and drinking. By that time, he must have reached high levels of samadhi. But no one knows. Since he never articulated. He never displayed himself. He never tried to prove.
Atmananda neither had any kind of habits nor was he concerned about food. He mostly ate whatever he got in hand. Otherwise he never cared. He never went in search of food or to gather bhiksha (alms). There are some places where bhiksha was provided, but he would just say, “Let’s walk”. Some of his followers would want to stay back and have bhiksha. For e.g., like there were certain places pockets where the king used to ensure bhiksha. Atmananda never cared so people seldom brought food for him. Even if they brought food, he would take a look at it and then just feed birds or cows – he will feed whoever is around and not take the food himself. There was nothing much to do for Atmananda. He didn’t need any service. Basically, we can’t serve a Master.
My Gurudeva, Atmananda, was an epitome of freedom. Listen to him in deep silence. You will hear his words echoing from deep within us.
“When you think you are something, it is ridiculous. When you say you are nothing, it is ridiculous too. When you realise you are NO THING, you start experiencing FREEDOM.”
“Beyond personal identifications and frames lies the TRUTH of existence.”
Atmananda said, “No hearts connected to consciousness will starve for presence.” I have experienced this many times. One time, before I started wandering with my Gurudeva, I was stuck in an argument with a group of people over a small matter, I was about to get beaten up because of my aggression. I had only met Guruji once or twice at that time, that too within a few years gap. As usual, He had shown indifference to me. My ego considered it as “indifference”, instead of a test of endurance, and decided to not to meet him anymore.
When this incident happened, the young ruffians was almost getting ready to beat me up. Suddenly, I saw Guruji walking in and with a firm voice said “Stop. He is my follower. Leave him alone.” The people who were trying to beat me froze and then retreated. Guruji looked into my eyes and said, “Mahendra, come”. I have no idea how he knew my real name. We never spoke let alone give details of where I was from. Anyway, he started walking and I followed him. That is the beginning of my journey with him. I never left him ever again. And it surprises me to no ends when I wonder how he reached the spot that I was at during that moment of crisis. Later, I realised that his seeming indifference is only a mask. He is well aware and well in control of everything that is happening around him and beyond him, especially in the lives of people who connect with him with love and honesty.
I shall conclude this by one more narration. Some glimpses of his stature or state. As I mentioned earlier, he was unbound and free; he was not attached to anything nor detached from anything. He was in everything. He treated a human and non-human with equal respect. He had command over weather and the elements which he seldom displayed. He would walk in rain and thunder while we know that he could either choose a shelter or stop the frenzy of rain. When we pester him to stop until the weather clears, he would say “Do not disturb the elements”. I later realised that we should not interfere in the eternal flow of nature even if we have the power as well as we should keep our internal elements in harmony for a good life without excesses.
I looked upon Gurudeva as the likeness of the water element – always going with the flow. After his mahasamadhi, I endeavoured to create a likeness of his image to allow me to keep him in memory. My sincere love and respect for him created this unselfish desire. However, I was mindful of the fact that Gurudeva had clearly told us that he did not want any trace of his existnce to remain on earth. That prompted his final wish to be cremated and the ashes to be dispersed in the holy rivers. Despite the doubts, I used all of my sculpting skills to create the statue and installed it on the bathing ghat where I used to take my daily bath. This allowed me to be in his presence and worship him every day. A few years later, the river was in spate and the flooding waters came by and took the statue away leaving no traces of my Gurudeva’s existence as he had desired.
Following this incident, I consecrated a set of padukas (holy sandals) in his name and installed them at the ghat. My Gurudeva’s power was evident by the fact that the water from the river would gently touch the padukas and recede. The same river that washed away the much taller statue never flown over the padukas. In hindsight, I feel that my doubts relating to his final wish while creating the statue resulted in it being washed away. If my unselfish desire was resolute, I would still have had the good fortune to worship his physical form in the form of the statue. Doubts shake the foundation that is cemented strongly by faith.
I was also very fortunate to get a glimpse that he existed well beyond the boundaries of earth. That left me in awe. One evening at a sanctuary near a forest clearing, when all were asleep, I had left Gurudeva near the fire that he always kept burning whenever we could. He would sit there the whole night looking into the fire. Fire is a symbol of existence in nonexistence as it easily converts any matter into ash. It was a mild fire. Where Gurudeva was sitting there, I saw that it was just fire. There was no form of my beloved Gurudeva. Just fire. I realised at that moment that Gurudeva is definitely not the finite body that we are used to. He could easily convert himself into any of the elements that constituted the body. That time he had dissolved all elements and became just fire to talk to the external fire.
On another occasion, when a village head came to see him with some dakshina (offerings), he asked him to talk about his Guru. Guruji just looked blankly at the sky and said, “How can I ever praise the glory of my Guru? I can never fathom him. Nobody can know him. My limited intellect cannot measure his dimensions. It is only his grace that gets revealed within me as an awareness of his presence, let alone his stature. I am far too small to know his stature. Nothing can describe him. He is truly unfathomable.”
He stopped, thought for a while and continued “He is hotter than the raging fire. Cooler than the coolest breeze. Brighter than a million suns. Faster than the swords of lightning. Louder than the drums of a thousand thunder. He is more innocent than a newborn child. He is purer than the purest. He is action in inaction. He is my mother and father and all relatives put together. He has no father, mother, beginning or end. The whole manifested universe is nothing but a mole on his glorious face. He is unfathomable. He is free. He is not bound by the universe and the universe is not bound by him. He is freedom. He is bliss. He is myself.”
That sums up the stature of my Gurudeva. I humbly submit this at His lotus feet.
Atmananda is a fictional character created by Mohanji to explain the Tradition. Any resemblance to the living or dead is purely coincidental.