A View of Santhigiri Ashram

A View of Santhigiri Ashram
Lotus Parnasala and Sahakarana Mandiram , Santhigiri Ashram, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sishyapoojita: Her Ordeal of Fire

Gurucharanam Saranam

Sishyapoojita: Her Ordeal of Fire

by Sreenilayam G. Phalgunan

Year 1992: The respected MLA, who represented Vamanapuram constituency, invited the members’ attention in the Legislative Assembly through a submission. The subject in short was this: ‘A girl named Radha is locked up in Santhigiri Ashram by the Swami there. The Swami’s intention is to grab the wealth of her parents’.

The honorable MLAs responded, some in support while some disagreed. There were allegations that the MLA who brought up the question , had close relations with the Swami, and that his house was crow’s cry away from Santhigiri Ashram, and that the Swami used to buy hay and paddy from the MLA who was a good farmer, for the use of the Ashram. At the end of the discussion, the Minister announced that necessary action would be taken after an enquiry. The MLA was happy. He arranged a party for his media friends and ensured the news in the next day’s newspapers.

The truth of the case was something else. Radha was born as the eldest daughter of Sri Chellappan Pillai and Ratnamma at Kallar Pattam Colony, Idukki. Her birth was marked by unique incidents. Both the mother and child were affected by long periods of ill-health and associated difficulties. Medical science as well as remedies under Vedic tradition had failed. Today, on reflection, it could only be said that it was God’s Grace that both the mother and child survived.

Radha looked like an ordinary child but had exceptional qualities which could not be found in other children. She tended to keep a distance from everyone. Radha’s spotless character and innocence added to the joy of her God fearing grandmother.
Radha has early memories of a unique kind of vision. In sleep and waking state she saw some forms and lights. She saw deities, celestial beings, great souls like Rishis and Gurus. Some of them touched her gently and spoke to her. An energy of love, compassion and joy always filled her heart. She did not know its meaning, but knew it was something special.

Radha started going to school. She was seven years when one day her parents and other family members went on a pilgrimage to Palani (the temple town famous for its Subrahmanian temple). Radha and her younger uncle stayed back in the house.
At dawn, Uncle asked Radha: ‘Child, light the fire and boil water for tea. I am going to milk the cow’. Radha started removing the ashes from the fireplace. She briefly glanced through the windows and her eyes fell on the ground at the far end of the courtyard. Noticing some movement there she looked intently - the earth came loose and a beam of light emerged from the ground. While she looked on, the light changed itself into many colors, blue, red and yellow and the full figure of Muruka (Subrahmanian), the family deity appeared. The deity was blessing her. Radha kept looking, with rapt attention. Uncle came to the kitchen with milk and called her out and the vision broke. Radha realized that she had just been through a big experience. She did not feel like telling this to others.

When Radha stepped out holding a broom to sweep the courtyard, she saw a white light from which a human face looked at her affectionately smiling. She shifted her eyes and she saw the same vision. Radha could see it even on the bags of spices which her father stored in the shed adjacent to the house. She experienced extraordinary joy and elation. The more she saw it, the greater was her desire to see it again and again.

One evening, when the father returned home after his work, he talked about a meeting he had with a Swami. When Radha heard the description of the Swami, she said suddenly, ‘I have seen the Swami’. The father took it to be the prattle of a child. But next morning he realized that she spoke the truth.

Radha, along with her parents and other members of the family went to see the Swami, at the Ashram nearby. While the others were looking for water to wash their feet, Radha went straight to the ‘Swami’.(in seventies people addressed Guru as ‘Swami’). She prostrated, and got up and stood there with folded hands. She was elated that the face she saw in her visions was that of the ‘Swami’. ‘You have seen me, isn’t it’? Guru asked her with deep affection. Radha nodded her head, saying ‘yes’. When he asked how she had seen him, she briefly described her experience. Guru sank in meditation for a while, and then, calling the parents near, gave them some advice.
From that day Guru was in Kallar.

Radha spent her day in the Ashram and returned home at night. On the third day a family came to see Guru. Guru called Radha and directed her to call upon the ‘face’ she always saw in her visions and seek information about this family, their intention and the deities they worshipped. Radha prostrated before Guru and sat down with her eyes closed. Within seconds, she got up and told Guru what she got from that light. The details Guru found out after that from the family tallied with what Radha got. The matters revealed by them were the same that Radha had got revealed from the light. Some other children, who were with Guru in those days also had this type of experience. This unique faculty is the most exalted aspect of Santhigiri’s Guru-Disciple order. It is true that several other Gurus and Acharyas had the experience of receiving intimations from the Light. But their disciples, especially small children were not known to have this. To a lesser degree many householders who pray to Guru as well as small children, grown up or old people have had the faculty of vision kindled in them. The others are filled with joy when they get one word or look from Guru. The greatness of Guru is revealed just by this experience.

Two years passed. Radha, guided by her inner light, wrapped up a pair of clothes in a piece of paper intending to go with Guru to the Ashram at Thiruvananthapuram. Even Guru’s devotees discouraged her, saying that Guru is in the habit of beating and scolding children. They said that she would not get enough to eat. And worst of all, she would not get a place to sleep even. The child listened to all this smiling, without uttering a word.

While Guru trained Radha to live in the ashram he also sent her to school. After school she was sent to college for further studies and when she completed pre-degree (now the plus two) she realized that she need not spend any more time in college. Such worldly pursuits were a waste of time for her as she had some other work ordained by the Will of Brahmam. She was born for that. God, in the form of Guru had willed her birth for that purpose. With this awareness she concentrated totally on Guru. She was convinced that whatever belonged to Guru was also hers and that she belonged to Guru. The childhood tendency to be aloof from parents and relatives grew stronger and all attachment receded.

Initially the parents were happy and proud of the child, but now they were beginning to feel unhappy. Some differences of opinion cropped up. The other side of the story relates to the subtle laws of spiritual evolution. As a great poet in Malayalam said:

‘Bondage indeed is Karma to Man,
Cut the Bondage, Salvation Sure.

A devotee can progress in the path of realization only when he or she is free from all bondage. The deserving soul shall make itself free from worldly fetters. Otherwise, God will intercede. In other words, it is ordained by God. The incidents that took place in Radha’s life also support this truth, for the world to see it. But Radha was unmoved. Her vivid mystical visions and experiences from childhood, the will to self- sacrifice and the great attachment towards Guru stood support to her faith.

In the year 1984, Radha received ‘Sanyasam’ (vow of renunciation) from Guru and became a member of the Guru Dharma Prakasha Sabha – the association of sanyasis, which Guru formed. The new identity given to her by Guru was Janani Amrita Jnana Tapaswini. She lived like the shadow of Guru, carrying out the spiritual work given to her by Guru and caring, observing and attending to his well being. Life was going on like this through realizations when there was an unfortunate turn of events as mentioned earlier.

A woman estranged from the Ashram misinformed Janani’s parents that their daughter was imprisoned, and was being tortured and starved. The parents, already distanced from the Ashram, were totally misled and approached the area MLA. It was thus, the subject came up in the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly appointed an Enquiry Committee. Officials of different police departments were deputed for investigating the case. The intervention and influence of the MLA added vigor to the police investigation. The police questioned the Ashram inmates. They returned, shaken by the experience, saying, ‘Please send away this Janani from here, it is risky otherwise’. Janani was present when they said this. She remained calm. Ashramites were disturbed. ‘Why don’t you leave?’ some asked Janani straight in the face. Others were visibly troubled, thinking of the problems Guru might have to face. Some persons loathed seeing Janani thus in agony. In this turbulence, Guru silently suffered.

Janani accepted all - the cruel arrows of words, slander and slights without any complaint. Even when these crossing limits she did not react. Her attention was riveted to receiving Guru’s instructions and obeying his words. Such was her faith in Guru and His Word and Grace.

The enquiry commission appointed by the government visited the Ashram. They met Janani. She truthfully and courteously presented her version of things - her spiritual experiences from the age of three and her faith. The members of the committee who heard her folded their hands in reverence and love. Then they put some customary questions to her. “I came here along with Guru with the consent of all. My relationship with the family ended then and there. The moment I saw Guru, I realized that Guru was everything to me. That realization has grown as wide as the universe. What is the use of a life to me forsaking Guru?’ She answered.

The members of the commission bowed again with respect and got up. Some among them asked her ‘If a court decision comes after the case? I would have only one appeal; provide me a dark cell, befitting one sentenced to death. I shall sit there in the Light of my Guru. The government wouldn’t have to spend even a paisa on me’.

‘Is your faith that strong?’ One among them asked.

‘With a pure mind, forsaking eightfold attachment, you also come here with faith and seek guidance from Guru. Know Guru through your experience. Then you will understand me and about my thoughts’, the Janani replied.

On July 22nd, 1992, keeping the report of the enquiry commission on his table, the then Home Minister informed the Legislative Assembly to this effect: ‘From the age of ten, the girl Radha was staying in the Ashram on her own volition and with the permission of her parents. She became a Sanyasini in the year 1984. Now she is around 30 years and is matured with experience. The enquiry commission could not find out even a single incident in the Ashram proving the allegations mentioned by the Honorable Member through his submission in the Assembly. The Sanyasini has nothing of that sort to say. She has proved to be a staunch believer. No one has the right to question an individual’s freedom of faith’.

The newspapers reported this the next day. A few inmates in the Ashram could not get over the controversy and continued to mortify Janani. ‘She should be turned out, they maintained, she tarnished the Ashram’s name to the extent possible. Why isn’t she leaving?’

All this reached Guru. Some of them directly told Him. ‘Janani shouldn’t be allowed to continue here. This is the majority opinion’. Questions came from persons sitting in important positions too. ‘Why is she being fed and kept here still?’ This all deeply distressed and pained Guru. Guru called everybody. He told Janani, ‘Your father filed this case against the Ashram saying that you are kept as a prisoner. You can go with your father. This is the majority opinion here. I don’t want you here. You may leave’.

The Janani prostrated before Guru and went out of His room. She seated herself under the mango tree, where the Sahakarana Mandiram stands today. She went into deep meditation. Then she received Words from the Light of Guru: ‘You should not leave, it would be risky’. Empirically Guru orders her to leave. On the subtle plane – as Radiance - He asks her not to leave, warning her of danger. Janani, who knew who Guru was, who she was and what her mission was, did not have to think further. Her parents had come prepared to take her away. She approached them and said, ‘No, I am not coming’. With determination Janani re-entered Guru’s room.

Guru lay there in bed not getting up even once. He had not taken any food either. Janani prostrated, and said softly, ‘Guru, please get up; get up and take food’. Guru did not respond. Janani said again, ‘Guru should take food’. There was no response still. She went close to Him, ‘Guru, why do you distress yourself’? She continued, halting a while. ‘Didn’t you tell me about this, years ago? Whatever you said then, is taking place today’.

It was years ago. Janani was a mere child at that time. She had just joined the Ashram. She was accompanying Guru, who was going for a bath to the nearby stream. On the way Guru asked her, ‘Did you see anything when you prayed’? ‘Yes, I saw’, the girl said. She spoke about the vision. After listening to what she said, Guru sat on a stump by the roadside. After a while Guru addressed everybody and said, ‘No one would receive such a vision so easily. She got this luck through her abundant virtue. Once, all people, including her parents will forsake her. If, on that occasion, she could survive it, she would be saved’.

The scene flashed simultaneously in the mind of the Guru and disciple. Guru sat up at once, ‘Hum, she has come to teach me Vedanta! Go get the food. I am very hungry’. Guru was suddenly full of happiness. A disciple has come, who knows His mind, to take His mission forward. What else does a Guru need?

While having His meal, Guru occasionally glanced at the disciple as if to say; ‘So, you outlived it.’ He moved the plate towards the disciple with a little food in it. With a nod of the head, He gestured to her to eat it. The disciple took it sitting there on the floor, brimming with love and utmost satisfaction. Several people witnessed the scene, which reflected the closeness of Guru-disciple relationship. Many had tears of joy in their eyes. She had emerged as a true renunciate, firm in determination and courage.

That Disciple has evolved to inherit the great legacy of Guru. She has become the Sishyapoojitha, the most venerated among the Guru’s disciples -- the spiritual head of Santhigiri and the Parampara, carrying out the Will of Guru in the world.

(Translated from Malayalam by Mukundan P.R.)
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