Letter 70

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25th August, 1946
The Europeans whom you sent with a letter of introduction came here by car the day before yesterday. An American lady also came with them. Yesterday morning they went round the town and after visiting Skandasramam, reached the Ashram by midday. After making all arrangements for the return journey they came into the hall by 3 p.m. and sat down. Unaccustomed to squatting on the floor, that poor American lady somehow managed to sit by my side but stretched out her legs towards Bhagavan’s sofa.

I myself felt it unmannerly but kept quiet as she was to go away presently. One of the attendants, Rajagopala Iyer, could not however put up with it and so respectfully suggested to her to sit cross-legged. Bhagavan saw that and said smilingly, “When they find it difficult even to sit down on the floor, should you force them to sit cross-legged also?” “No, No! As they do not know that it is disrespectful to stretch their legs towards Bhagavan, I merely told them so, that is all,” said the devotee. “Oh, is that so? It is disrespectful, is it? Then it is disrespectful for me to stretch my legs towards them. What you say applies to me as well.” Saying that in a lighter vein, Bhagavan sat up cross-legged. All of us laughed but we felt a bit troubled in our minds. Those foreigners stayed there for about half an hour and then went away, taking leave of Bhagavan.

Bhagavan spent the whole of yesterday stretching out his legs from time to time and then folding them, saying that it might be deemed disrespectful. His legs get stiff in ten minutes if he folds them and the stiffness will not disappear unless the legs are stretched out for at least half an hour afterwards, not to speak of the pain that results.

This afternoon when I went into the hall, there were not more than two or three persons there. Bhagavan began stretching his legs saying, “I do not know if I can stretch them. They say it is not good manners.” Poor Rajagopala Iyer was standing there crestfallen and with a repentant look.

Bhagavan is, after all, full of compassion! He stretched out his legs as usual. We all felt happy. Looking at me seated in the hall, he began telling us the story of Avvaiyar.

“Seeing that Sundaramurthi was going away on a white elephant which had come from Kailas, the Rajah of Chera whispered in the ear of his horse the panchakshari mantra and got upon it to go to Kailas. Avvaiyar, who was at the time doing puja to Lord Ganesar, saw them both going to Kailas and so tried to hurry up her puja as she too wanted to go to Kailas. Seeing that, Ganesar said, ‘Old woman, don’t hurry.

Let your puja be performed as usual. I shall take you to Kailas before they reach it.’ Accordingly, the puja was performed in due course. Waving his hand around, he said, ‘Old lady, close your eyes.’ That was all. When she opened her eyes, she found herself seated in Kailas in front of Parvati and Parameswara. By the time Sundaramurthi and Chera Rajah reached the place, they found her already seated there.

Surprised at that, they asked her how she had gotten there.

She told them how Lord Ganesar helped her. They were overjoyed to hear how her bhakti was rewarded ultimately.

She was very old and so she sat opposite to Parameswara with her legs stretched out like me. Parvati could not bear that sight. She was worried because to sit with legs thus stretched out towards Swami, she felt, was a great insult. She respectfully suggested to Parameswara that she should be permitted to tell the old lady about it. ‘Oh, don’t speak, don’t open your mouth. We should not say anything to her,’ said Ishwara. Even so, is not Parvati His better half? How could She put up with that insult? She therefore whispered into the ear of her maid to tell the old lady about it. That woman approached the old lady and said, ‘Grandma, Grandma, don’t keep your legs outstretched towards Ishwara.’ ‘Is that so? Tell me on which side Ishwara is not present. Shall I turn this side?’ said Avvaiyar. So saying, she turned her outstretched legs to another side when Ishwara got turned that side; and when again she turned to a different side, He also got turned the same side. Thus Swami got turned to whichever side she turned her legs. Looking at Parvati, Ishwara said, ‘Do you see now? You would not listen to me. See, how she turns me this side and that. That is why I told you not to open your mouth.’ Then Parvati requested the old lady to excuse her. It is similar to that when people are asked not to stretch their legs towards Swami. Where is He not present?” That devotee then said, “There is a similar incident in the story of Namadeva, is it not?” “Yes, that is so,” said Bhagavan and began relating that story thus: “Namadeva used to pride himself on the fact that Vittal was always more fond of him than others and so once Jnanadeva and others took him to the house of Gorakumbhar for a feast. After food, all of them sat in a row and, during conversation, one of them said in an allegorical manner to Gorakumbhar, ‘You are used to making good pots, aren’t you? Now tell us which amongst these pots are good and which are bad?’ Gorakumbhar thereupon took a potter’s testing rod and began hitting them on the head, one by one.

“They all kept quiet out of regard for him and just kept their heads bent. When it came to the turn of Namadeva, he expressed his resentment at the procedure and refused to undergo the test. Kumbhar forthwith declared that that was an immature pot. All the others burst into laughter at that.

Poor Namadeva could not contain his anger. He began saying that they all had conspired together to humiliate him thus and went to Vittal with tears in his eyes to complain. ‘Well, what is the matter?’ asked Swami, and Namadeva related the whole story. ‘That is all right; but tell me what did the others say when they were tested?’ asked Swami.

Namadeva: They all shut their mouths and bowed when tested with the rod.

Vittal: And you? Namadeva: Am I like them? How intimate I am with you! Am I to be beaten like that for a test? Vittal: That is called ahankara (ego). All of them knew my real Self and had a contented mind. You are not so.

Namadeva: But you are kind to me; and what more is there for me to know? Vittal: That is not it. You must serve elders if you want to know the truth. What am I? If you dance, I dance. If you laugh, I laugh. If you jump, I jump. If you find out the truth, you will not have these jumpings and bumpings.

Namadeva: You say, elders. Who is there older than you? Vittal: Who? There is a temple in the nearby forest.

In that temple there is a sadhu. Go to him and you will realise the truth.

“When Namadeva went to that temple in the forest, he saw an unkempt man lying there. ‘How could this man be a sadhu?’ he thought and, when he went closer to that person, he found the legs of the man on a linga. Shuddering at the sight, he said with trepidation, ‘Sir, what is this? You are putting your legs on the head of God!’ That man said, ‘Oho! Nama, is that you? Vittal sent you, didn’t he?’ Taken aback at this and wondering how the sadhu could know about him, he asked again, ‘Sir, you are a sadhu, aren’t you? How could you put your legs on a linga?’ ‘Is that so, my dear son? I don’t know all that. I am unable to lift my legs. Will you please lift them for me and move them away from the linga?’ he said. Namadeva, agreeing to do so, lifted them and tried to put them elsewhere but found that there was another linga there also. Thus wherever he tried to put the legs, he found a linga there and so finally, he placed them on himself, when he himself became a linga. That is to say, by the touch of those holy feet, he had jnanodaya (dawn of knowledge of the Self). Namadeva stood up dazed. The sadhu asked, ‘Yes, do you now realise (the truth)?’ Saying, ‘Yes, I have realised,’ he bowed before Visobakesar, disciple of Jnaneswar, went home, sat in his room and got immersed in dhyana and stopped going to Vittal.

“After some days, Vittal came there running and asked him, ‘Nama, how is it you haven’t been coming to me of late?’, when Namadev said, ‘Oh, Prabhu (Lord)! Where is the place in which you are not present? I see you here at all times. I am you and you are me. That is why I do not go to you.’ ‘Oh, I see, that is good,’ so saying Vittal vanished.” Bhagavan concluded the story and simultaneously released the legs that were kept crossed.

Both photos taken inside Skandasramam, 2006

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