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Late one afternoon when I was staying for a while with Srimati Rani Bhan and her family in Delhi she told me that we (Rani, her son and I) would be going to see a Kashmiri saint in a nearby neighborhood. The length of the walk belied the description of “nearby” but I trusted Raniji’s respect for the saint who was simply named Swami Rama.
He was not a Shankara swami but one who had taken what Ma Anandamayi in a conversation with me called “shukla sannyas,” white sannyas. In such a sannyas there are no formal rites of any kind. Rather, from deep within the impulse to declare oneself a sannyasi arises and the person does so spontaneously, adopting a name and henceforth leading the sadhu life. Some, such as Swami Paramananda the chief sannyasi of the Anandamayi Ashram, wore gerua clothing and others dressed in white. It all depended on their intuition. Rani had not told me which Swami Rama was.
The swami was staying in a fairly large house, but it was filled with people. Because of the universal respect Rani had in Delhi both for her personal spiritual character and the fact that Prime Minister Nehru was her cousin, we were taken to the front row of the room where the swami would be when he appeared. It was a good bit of a wait, so I meditated until Rani touched my shoulder and said, “He is coming.”
A fiery swami
I stood up and turned around and knew that the radiant man in simple white with no trappings of religion whatsoever coming toward us was The One. He brought with him an atmosphere of inner spiritual fire. He smoldered. Looking at him I thought: “The Pope has to be dressed in great finery and carried into Saint Peter’s on a throne to let people know who he is, but this man needs none of that.” I was impressed and meant no disrespect to the Pope. But I was glad I was there instead of in Saint Peter’s.
Swamiji spoke in Hindi, of which I knew little, but I can tell you from later conversations that he always spoke directly and simply yet profoundly. People came from all over India to spend time in spiritual study with him. The last time we met there were some pandits from Maharashtra staying with him in Hardwar for several weeks. Yet he adamantly refused to play the guru game. He gladly taught yoga of various sorts to aspirants, but would not pretend to empower them with some kind of initiation. Instead he assured them that by drawing on their own inner resources they could gain realization.
There was personal motivation, too. “If I allow you to claim you are my disciples you will not do what I tell you, but you will tell people that I teach what I do not teach, and deny that I teach what I do teach. And you will try to control me at the same time.” Buddha said much the same.
Swami Rama’s teacher
Whether Swami Rama considered he had a guru, I do not know, but he definitely had a teacher. When he was only nine years old, playing in the streets of his village in Kashmir, an old yogi came walking through and said to him: “Boy! Come with me.” So he followed him out of the village. When they were out of anyone’s sight, the yogi taught him the japa and meditation of a mantra, telling him to say the mantra always. Then the sadhu walked on and disappeared. That was it. He had not even told the boy his name.
Many years later in the Himalayas Swamiji was in great danger. The yogi suddenly appeared, saved his life and disappeared. These two times were his only contact with him. But I can tell you that the sadhana given him by the yogi certainly worked. Swami Rama was one of the greatest yogis I have met. When he quietly intoned Om everyone’s hair would stand on end. No one could be more unassuming in outer behavior and demeanor, yet he was impressive beyond description and his wisdom was profound.
There must have been an intuitive element to his conversations. Because of his very thick Kashmiri accent I was always about three sentences behind when he spoke to me, but I never lost a word.
I visit Swami Rama in Hardwar
My last visit with him took place in Hardwar at his very simple and tranquil ashram by the Ganges. I had been with Anandamayi Ma at Bhagat House most of the morning, and when she went to her room for a few hours I walked over to Swamiji’s ashram, having just learned earlier that day that he was in Hardwar.
With me was a young Austrian man who had arrived just that morning to meet with Mataji. He figured that his parents would never agree to his coming to India, so when they left for a vacation in Spain he looted his bank account and sped to India. Arriving in Delhi, he went to the Swiss embassy (there was no Austrian embassy there) and asked them: “Where can I meet someone who is like those written about in the ancient books of Indian spirituality?” Rather a tall order, but it so happened that the entire embassy staff was devoted to Ma Anandamayi, and they told him she was now in Hardwar. So there he was, too. So also was the telegram from his parents telling him to return immediately. (Wisely, he did not. And later visited India again and kept in touch with Brahmacharini Atmananda, also an Austrian. I always asked for news about him when I saw her, and it was always good, I am glad to say.)
Walking into Swami Rama’s ashram was a beautiful revelation. Most of the buildings were thatch huts and those that were not were simple and plain. Not the lair of a glitter guru, but the abode of a genuine yogi. And there sat the yogi on the ground in his usual white attire, reading. It was a happy meeting indeed. Swamiji was a jewel, perfected by the Master Jeweler, and just to sit near him was refreshing and joy. He and I caught up on what each had been doing since our last visit.
What is Kundalini, Swamiji?
Swami Rama was very pleased to meet with Thomas, who right away asked about Kundalini. He was fortunate (as was I), since Swamiji understood the subject as few did. His main teacher had been his own yoga practice, but he had spent some years with the great Kashmiri yogi Swami Lakshmanjoo, who I am sure perfected his understanding of Kundalini.
“First,” said Swami Rama, “kundalini is not shakti. Nor is it prakriti or even mulaprakriti. It is beyond power; it is consciousness–primal consciousness: mulachaitanya. This has to be understood. Anything other than this is not kundalini, but an illusion. You cannot ‘awaken’ kundalini; it awakens you! The ‘rise of kundalini’ is the rise of consciousness from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to the Light, from death to Immortality. Kundalini bestows of Self-realization, which has nothing to do with energy but everything to do with consciousness, the consciousness of Brahman that is our inmost Self. Kundalini is Self-realization.” As usual, Swamiji had said volumes in a few sentences. (I learned early on in my time in India that simplicity is a hallmark of the wise, the Brahmajnanis. Complexity is a trait of samsara.
The true nature of Om
Next was my turn and I asked about Om. “Om is not a mantra,” announced Swami Rama. “It is Brahman. Realizing that is moksha. It is slightly a vibration, but almost totally is Divine Consciousness: Brahmachaitanya. We can even say that it is moksha, the embodiment of moksha. We must become Om. Then we will be God.” Now I knew.
Like good friends we talked about a lot of things, some trivial, some sublime, but always in contentment with one another’s company. With Swami Rama you never felt any distance or difference because he was one with everything, and that included you.
In this world good things always come to an end, and so did this, my last meeting with Swamiji. Thomas and I walked back into Hardwar very silent and very satisfied.
Om Swami Rama.
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