Many visited Ramana. Few received initiation
Here is an account of initiation
**** Arthur Osborne ***
Arthur Osborne came to Ramana Maharshi only in 1945. He stayed with the master for only five years. But years do not matter.
Though Bhagavan‟s spiritual message was meant for the whole world, Arthur Osborne was the English voice, the western voice, you may even call him the modern voice, to carry and spread Bhagavan‟s direct teaching of atma vichara – Self Enquiry all over the world. Arthur Osborne played a most important part in this. We are going to share how Bhagavan chose him and pointedly matured him in the direct teaching of Self Enquiry. While in the body, Bhagavan matured Osborne spiritually through his look, presence and various other ways. After Bhagavan dropped the body, he made Osborne carry on this mission through dreams. From the beginning, Bhagavan, in his own mysterious, mystical, but simple and natural way, drew Arthur Osborne from his childhood for the sole purpose of spreading his direct teaching. In this whole drama of Arthur Osborne and Ramana Maharshi, I too had a part to play though I was not aware that I had been chosen. Arthur Osborne single-handedly shouldered the responsibility of upholding the direct teaching of Bhagavan through his life and his brilliant writing.
He had the rare combination of intellectual clarity, intuition and poetical ability to express what he had already experienced. It was as though the direct teaching of Bhagavan was broken and simplified in the prism of this chosen direct disciple‟s true understanding and handed down to all those who have a lesser capacity to grasp it. Arthur Osborne‟s devotion to Bhagavan was complete and he gave to Bhagavan his whole life together with his many and varied talents. All these he gave without any reserve and without any thought of himself.
It was in 1960 that I came to Arunachala to stay permanently. After an illness of three months I completely recovered and said that I am dedicating myself totally to Ramanasramam. In the 1960s, there were only ten people or so living in the whole ashram. When I arrived, Osborne was standing with open arms under the illupai tree. It felt as if Bhagavan himself was receiving me with a smile of appreciation and acceptance of my decision. That one look, that one smile of Arthur Osborne, made my life flower into total dedication to spiritual life. He said “Welcome, Ganesan! We all knew that you will return here to your home. Arunachala is our home and Bhagavan is our mother. Ask Arunachala, ask Bhagavan, only one boon, „Give me Self realization.‟ Do not ask for mundane things because he will certainly give whatever you ask for. He is a great giver. If you ask for a wife, house, property, power and position he will most assuredly give it to you, in greater measure as well. But then, he will send you away from Arunachala. If you ask for Self realization and nothing else, he will retain you here and give himself to you. Arunachala is Self realization, the pinnacle of jnana. Welcome home, Ganesan! Be happy.” Who uttered these words? Not just an ordinary person, a westerner and an intellectual, but one who had stayed unmoved from Arunachala, keeping Arunachala in his Heart. Of course, all these are true!
These are glorious words and we must preserve it in our Heart. Great men‟s words are true all the time, to all, under all conditions. Who was Arthur Osborne? He was born in London in 1906. His father was a school head master and his mother was a simple, pious lady interested in poetry and gardening. Osborne inherited these two traits from his mother. He wanted to be a gardener, a farmer, all his life. But his father put him in Oxford and he came out brilliantly with ten gold medals. He fulfilled his parent‟s desires. But all his life he remained a lover of poetry and gardening. All his spiritual experiences, apart from those that happened in the presence of Bhagavan, took place in his garden. From his childhood, he sought the deeper and higher purpose, the meaning of life.
He told me that even as a small child playing in the grounds, he felt worldly living was meaningless. He could not share this feeling with anybody. The words of Jesus Christ were his only support: “He who seeks shall find.” He told me this made him a seeker after truth all his life. At a particular stage, he came across the writings of the French philosopher Rene Guenon and he was thrilled because Rene Guenon‟s teaching was, “Being is one.” He immediately felt that this teaching was the truth. His restlessness and discontent over the futility of worldly living dropped off with the realization that life has, after all, a meaning. This is what he shared, “If being is one and there is no other, then I cannot be any other than that one being. Therefore, to realize one‟s true being is to realize the identity with that absolute one being. It was the beginning of my quest, a quest from which I never swerved or turned aside.” This was even before he knew anything about Bhagavan.
Then he met Lucia, fell in love with her and married her. Both of them had similar aspirations in life as she was also searching for the truth. They were guided by Rene Guenon to another guru who gave them a very rigorous sadhana of chanting incantations which they followed meticulously. During that time, being a keen intellectual in addition to being a seeker, Osborne studied and even practiced simultaneously, the tenets of Sufism, Buddhism, Christianity and Vedanta, gaining mystical erudition in all of them. And look at the beauty – all this prepared him for the finale.
He then got a job in the University of Bangkok in Thailand and took his wife and three children there. Wherever he went, he was always in contact with members of Rene Guenon‟s group. One of the members, David McIver, sent them a photograph of Ramana Maharshi and two of Bhagavan‟s books. He also cautioned them that Ramana Maharshi was not a guru as he did not give initiations or accept anyone as a disciple.
But Arthur and Lucia Osborne were captivated by the picture of Bhagavan and desired to go to India and meet Ramana Maharshi. Being a very hot summer, they first went to Kashmir where they were met by David McIver who also owned a cottage opposite to Ramanasramam. After spending a few weeks, Osborne had to go back to Bangkok. Fortunately, David invited Mrs. Osborne and the three children and took them to Tiruvannamalai. When Osborne went to Bangkok, the Second World War broke out and the Japanese arrested him and put him in jail. For three and a half years he was in jail. Arthur Osborne‟s only solace was Bhagavan‟s picture and the two books. When the Japanese came to arrest him from the university campus, some urge prompted him to take these three things. While in the prison camp, he created and tended to a very nice garden. His personality, and his talks there, drew many people to him.
One among them was Louis Hurst, who came to Bhagavan after the Second World War. Far away in Tiruvannamalai, Mrs. Osborne had by then already got Bhagavan‟s darshan. The moment she saw Bhagavan‟s eyes – Bhagavan gave her a pointed look – she felt absolutely transformed. Bhagavan took care of Mrs. Osborne and the children and paid special attention to them. To her husband in prison, Mrs. Osborne wrote about how Bhagavan‟s eyes had the innocence of a small child together with the unfathomable wisdom and immense love of a sage. Meanwhile, the children prayed to Bhagavan, “Bhagavan, we are writing letters to our father but we do not know whether he is alive or not. Please keep him alive and bring him back soon.” Osborne told me that when he was in the prison, prominent British prisoners were sometimes taken away and executed. When the special force came to take Osborne, everyone knew that he was going to be shot.
Osborne told me, “The last thing I looked at was Bhagavan‟s picture and the two books. When I was taken in front of the firing squad, I closed my eyes. I did not pray to Bhagavan but Bhagavan‟s picture came to my mind and for some unknown reason they released me and put me in a concentration camp.” While he was suffering, his children back in Tiruvannamalai were going on praying to Bhagavan for their father‟s safe return. Bhagavan never gave an answer until the war ended. The day when Osborne was released along with the first batch of forty prisoners, his son Adam‟s prayers were answered by Bhagavan: “Yes, Adam‟s father is coming back.” When he came to Arunachala, Osborne was in a debilitated mental state because of the torture in the concentration camp. Intellectuals were tortured to brainwash them.
When Bhagavan was told about Osborne‟s imminent return by train, his attendant, T. P. Ramachandra Iyer, on seeing Bhagavan‟s concern, asked, “May I also go?” Bhagavan replied, “Yes, you also go.” So, Bhagavan‟s representative was also there when Osborne was brought back. The only person he could recognize in his poor mental condition was his wife. She came crying to Bhagavan. Bhagavan told her, “Please bring Osborne here morning and evening and make him sit where I can see him.” This happened till he became completely alright and even afterwards. Osborne told me, “Bhagavan saw to it that I sat where he could see me. One day, when two or three people came and sat between me and Bhagavan, he even asked those people to sit elsewhere so that he could see me, which was very, very unusual for him.”
However, Bhagavan did not reveal himself to Osborne on the very first day. Some days later, on a festive occasion, Bhagavan concentrated his attention on Osborne and the change came with all its immensity. This is how Osborne describes it: “Bhagavan sat up facing me and his luminous eyes pierced into me, penetrating intimately with an intensity which I cannot describe. Then arose from within, a quietness, a depth of peace and an indescribable lightness and happiness.” This is what is written in the book. What Arthur Osborne himself told me was, “Two search lights came into my body and then divinized every cell in it and that was the first initiation and the first realization”.
After this, Osborne began to understand what the grace and blessings of a guru could be. It was this initiation by look that vitalized him and made him follow Sri Bhagavan‟s teaching of Self Enquiry, a quest for which his intellectual bent of mind was perfectly suited. Bhagavan poured his love and attention continuously on him. Osborne was very meticulous and regular, coming every morning and evening as he went deeper and deeper within. He fully understood what Bhagavan meant by saying that the only purpose of the outer guru was to invoke the inner guru. When he came to Bhagavan, he was again told by McIver that Bhagavan was not a guru and he never gave initiation or accepted disciples. Osborne now felt that if Bhagavan was not a guru there was no meaning for the word guru at all. Bhagavan had given him initiation by look which transformed him and made him a disciple. So, there was no question about Bhagavan not having disciples. The constant practice of Self Enquiry began to awaken an awareness of the Self as Bhagavan outwardly and simultaneously as the Self within.
Osborne understood, and said, that the specious theory that Bhagavan was not a guru simply evaporated in the full radiance of his grace. This intiation and its consequences changed the course of his spiritual life. He could no more practice his earlier methods of sadhana. He was a little disturbed about this and sought Bhagavan‟s permission to drop them. Bhagavan gave it immediately saying, “Yes, all other methods only lead to Self Enquiry.” The moment for the final decision came. He was staying with Bhagavan when the British government announced that all the released British prisoners of war in India would be accommodated in Britain with all comforts. The British High Commission sent letter after letter to the Osbornes about this. They did not even show these letters to Bhagavan to ask him his opinion. They were certain that they did not want to leave Bhagavan and go anywhere else. When the last ship was to leave India for Britian, the British High Commissioner sent a telegram to alert them. Mrs. Osborne told me that she did not even feel like taking this telegram to Bhagavan because it was already confirmed for them that Bhagavan was their sole refuge and that there was no other worldly life than staying with Bhagavan. But, Osborne was a family man and had to earn a little money. So he got a job in Chennai as an editor in a reputed daily newspaper.
Though he did not want to go, he had to. Before he left for Chennai, one of his friends gave him an oil portrait of Bhagavan. He took it to Bhagavan who holding it in his hands said, “Osborne is taking swami with him.” That portrait, Osborne told me, looked at him with the love and compassion of a guru and spoke more profoundly than all the other pictures of Bhagavan. This adorned his room and whenever he wanted to make any decision, he would first look at that portrait and only then decide. Every holiday and free day, he would rush back to Tiruvannamalai – to Bhagavan and his family. When he came, Bhagavan used to pay special attention to him. Once, after Bhagavan‟s second operation on his arm, Osborne came unexpectedly in some friend‟s car. Bhagavan was taking rest in the dispensary verandah. Usually, Bhagavan was discreet in showing outward signs of his grace. But this time, surprised by Osborne‟s unannounced visit, Bhagavan gave himself away. His face lit up with pleasure and love on seeing Osborne. He looked at him for quite a while with indescribable tenderness and grace. Mrs. Osborne and Bose, standing immediately behind Osborne, felt that they had never seen Bhagavan look at anyone in such a way. Osborne himself felt transformed. The graciousness of Bhagavan‟s reception melted Osborne‟s heart and awoke a feeling of guilt and gratitude as to how great was the reward for such little effort made. It strengthened even further, the bond between this wonderful disciple and his guru.
Bhagavan continued to bless Osborne to be deeply and steadily rooted within the Heart. The purpose of the outer guru is to awaken the inner guru. The fateful day when Bhagavan passed away, Osborne was there. It did not fill him with sorrow. Instead, it only made him plunge within. He felt Bhagavan‟s grace more abundantly and his support more powerfully. Some days after Bhagavan dropped the body, Bhagavan appeared to him in his dream. In the dream, Osborne was in the Old Hall and Bhagavan asked him to come near the couch. Osborne went and knelt before Bhagavan and Bhagavan put his hands on Osborne‟s head in blessing. When Bhagavan put his hand on his head, he had a feeling that Bhagavan was asking him to write about his direct teaching. He then wrote seven articles. They were brought out later as a book titled Ramana Arunachala. Every one of us, every seeker should read this book. That was the beginning. Soon, a cascade of books started coming from Osborne: Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self Knowledge, The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, The Teachings of the Maharshi in His Own Words, The Incredible Sai Baba, Rhythm of History, Buddhism and Christianity in the Light of Hinduism, Gautama the Buddha, The Question of Progress and a few more.
After working in Chennai for some time, Osborne had to take a job in Calcutta in 1952. During the holidays, he would come rushing from Calcutta to stay in Arunachala and be at Bhagavan‟s shrine. Osborne had his second awakening in Calcutta. This is how he described it: “I was alone in my Calcutta room when I woke up and sat up in bed and I just was my Self, the beginningless immutable Self, and I thought that nothing has changed. There was no excitement, no joy or ecstasy. In the wholeness of simple being, there was the thought that it was impossible ever to be bored. The mind seemed like a dark screen that had shut over consciousness and was now rolled up and pushed away. It is the mind that craves activity and feels bored when it does not get it. The Self is untouched by activity and abides in its pristine state of simple happiness. I do not know how long the experience lasted, and in any case, while it lasted it was timeless and therefore eternal. Imperceptibly, the mind closed over again but less opaque, for a radiant happiness continued.
The afterglow continued for several weeks only gradually fading out.” When he was in Calcutta, his friends were all talking about the Sai Baba of Shirdi. He had read one or two articles about him. Some of his friends wanted him to write an article on Sai Baba, but he was reluctant to do so. That night, Bhagavan appeared to him in a dream and commanded him to write on Shirdi Sai Baba.
When in the dream Osborne confessed that he did not know much about him, Bhagavan instructed him to go to the shrine and that Sai Baba would himself tell him what to write. Bhagavan specifically said, “Sai Baba should be known to the western world so you have to write.” This was the inspiration for him to go to Shirdi and write the book, The Incredible Sai Baba.
~ From Ramana Periya Puranam Book