1st February, 1946
One morning in 1944, a disciple approached Bhagavan with an air of supplication and said, “Bhagavan, I would like to read books and find out a path whereby I can attain mukti, but I do not know how to read. What shall I do? How can I realise mukti?” Bhagavan said, “What does it matter if you are illiterate? It is enough if you know your own Self.”
“All people here are reading books, but I am not able to do that. What shall I do?” he said.
Stretching out his hand towards the disciple, Bhagavan said, “What do you think the book is teaching? You see yourself and then see me. It is like asking you to see yourself in a mirror. The mirror shows only what is on the face. If you see the mirror after washing your face, the face will appear to be clean. Otherwise the mirror will say there is dirt here, come back after washing. A book does the same thing. If you read the book after realising the Self, everything will be easily understood. If you read it before realising the Self, you will see ever so many defects. It will say, ‘First set yourself right and then see me.’ That is all. First see your Self. Why do you worry yourself about all that book learning?” The disciple was satisfied and went away encouraged.
Another disciple who has the courage to ask questions on such matters, took up the thread of the conversation and said, “Bhagavan, you have given him a peculiar interpretation.” Bhagavan replied, “What is peculiar in it? It is all true. What books did I read when I was young? What did I learn from others? I was always immersed in meditation. After some time, Palaniswamy used to bring from various people a number of books containing Vedantic literature and used to read them. He used to make many mistakes in reading. He was elderly and was not well-read.
He was however anxious to read. He used to read with tenacity and religious faith. Because of that I used to feel happy. So, when I took those books in order to read them myself, and tell him what was in them, I found that what all was written therein had already been experienced by myself.
I was surprised. I wondered, ‘What is all this? It is already written here in these books about myself.’ That was so in every one of those books. As whatever is written there has already been experienced by myself, I used to understand the text in no time. What took him twenty days to read, I used to finish reading in two days. He used to return the books and bring others. That was how I came to know about what was written in the books.”
One of the disciples said, “That is perhaps why Sivaprakasam Pillai, while writing Bhagavan’s biography, referred to Bhagavan even at the outset as ‘One who is a Brahma Jnani without knowing the name of Brahman’.” Bhagavan said: “Yes, Yes, that is right. That is why it is said that one should first know about oneself before reading a book. If that is done, it will be known that what is written in the book is only an epitome of what is really experienced by oneself. If one does not see one’s Self but reads a book, one finds a number of defects.” “Is it possible for all to become like Bhagavan? The use of a book at least helps one to set right one’s defects,” said the disciple. “That is so. I did not say that reading is no help. I merely said that there is no need for illiterate people to think they can never attain moksha on that account and thereby feel disheartened. See how depressed he was when he asked me. If the facts are not explained properly, he will feel still further depressed,” said Bhagavan.