A Selection of Stories from the book Spiritual Stories as told by Ramana Maharshi
A family came from a distant place to seek solace from the grief of losing six sons; the last child had recently died. As though Bhagavan had inspired the question, a devotee asked about using pranayama and other practices to prolong life to enable them to become realized souls, Jnanis.
Bhagavan gently replied, “Yes, people do live life long if they do these practices, but does a person become a Jnani, a realized soul, by living long? A realized soul has really no love for his body. For one who is the embodiment of bliss, the body itself is a disease. He will await the time to be rid of the body.”
A devotee said, “Some people say we have lived for fifty years, what more is needed? As though living so long were a great thing!”
“Yes”, said Bhagavan with a laugh, “that is so. It is a sort of pride and there’s a story about it.”
It seems that in the olden days, Brahma once felt proud of the fact that he was long lived. He went to Vishnu and said, “Do you not see how great a person I am! I am the oldest living person (chiranjeevi).” Vishnu told him that was not so and that there were people who have lived much longer than he. When Brahma said that could not be, since he was the creator of all living beings, Vishnu took him with him to show him people older than him.
They went along until, at a certain place, they found Romasa Mahamuni. Vishnu asked him his age and how long he expected to live. “Oho!” said Romasa, “you want to know my age? Alright, listen then and I will tell you. This era (yuga) consists of so many thousands of years. All these years put together make one day and one night for Brahma. It is according to these calculations that Brahma’s life is limited to one hundred years. When one such Brahma dies, one of the hairs of my body falls out. Corresponding to such deaths as have already occurred, several of my hairs have fallen out, but many more remain. When all my hairs fall out, my life will be over and I shall die.”
Very much surprised at that, they went onto Ashtavakra Mahamuni, an ascetic with eight distortions in his body. When they told him all about the above calculations, he said that when one such Romasa Mahamuni dies one of his own distortions would straighten, and when all the distortions have gone, he would die. On hearing this, Brahma was crestfallen. Similarly, there are many stories. If true realization is attained, who wants this body? For a Realized Soul who enjoys limitless bliss through the realization of the Self, why this burden of the body?
Kamal, son of Saint Kabir
A devotee asked, “Can the place between the eyebrows be said to be the seat of the Self?” Bhagavan replied, “The fact is that a sidhaka may have his experience at any centre or chakra on which he concentrates his mind. But, that particular place of his experience does not for that reason become ipso facto, the seat of the Self. There’s an interesting story about Kamal, the son of the Saint Kabir, which serves as an illustration to show that the head (and a part of the space between the eyebrows) cannot be considered the seat of the Self.”
Kabir was intensely devoted to Sri Rama, and he never failed to feed those who sang the praise of the Lord with devotion. On one occasion, however, it so happened that he had not the wherewithal to provide food for a large gathering of devotees. For him, however, there could be no alternative except that he must somehow make every necessary arrangement before the next morning. So he and his son set out at night to secure the required provisions.
The story goes that after the father and son had removed the provisions from a merchant’s house through a hole they made in the wall, the son went in again just to wake up the household and tell them, as a matter of principle, that their house had been burgled. When, having roused the household, the boy tried to make good his escape through the hole and join his father on the other side, his body got stuck in the aperture. To avoid being identified by the pursing household (because, if detected, they would be no feeding at all of the devotees the next day), he called out to his father and told him to sever his head and take it away with him. That done, Kabir made good his escape with the stolen provisions and his son’s head, which on reaching home was hidden away from possible detection.
The next day Kabir gave a feast to the bhaktas, quite unmindful of what had happened the previous night. “If it is Rama’s Will,” said Kabir to himself, “that my son should die, may it prevail!” In the evening after the feast, Kabir set out with his party as usual in procession into the town with bhajana, etc.
Meanwhile the burgled householder reported to the king, producing the truncated body of Kamal, which gave them no clue. In order to secure it’s identification, the king had the body tied up prominently on the highway so that whoever claimed it or took it away (for no dead body is forsaken without the last rites being given to it by the kith and kin) might be interrogated or arrested by the police, who were posted secretly for the purpose.
Kabir and his party came along the highway with the bhajana in full swing when, to the astonishment of all, Kamal’s truncated body (which was considered dead as a door-nail) began to clap its hands marking time to the tune sung by the bhajana party.
This story disproves the suggestion that the head or the place between the eyebrows is the seat of the Self. It may also be noted that when in the battlefield the head of the soldier in action is severed from the body by a sudden and powerful stroke of the sword, the body continues to run or move its limbs as in a mock fight, just for a while, before it finally falls down dead.
A devotee protested: “But Kamal’s body was dead hours before.”
Bhagavan replied: “What you call death is really no extraordinary experience for Kamal. Here is the story of what happened when he was younger still.”
As a boy Kamal had a friend of equal age with whom he used to play games of marbles etc. A general rule they observed between themselves was that if one of them owed the other a game or two, the same should be redeemed the next day. One evening they parted with a game to the credit of Kamal. Next day, in order to claim “the return of the game”, Kamal went to the boy’s house, where he saw the boy laid on the verandah, where his relatives were weeping beside him. “What is the matter?” Kamal asked them. “He played with me last evening and also owes me a game.” The relatives wept all the more saying that the boy was dead. “No,” said Kamal, “he is not dead but merely pretends to be so, just to evade redeeming the game he owes me.” The relatives protested, asking Kamal to see for himself that the boy was really dead, that the body was cold and still. “But all this is a mere pretension of the boy, I know. What if the body be still and cold? I too can become like that.” So saying laid himself down and in the twinkling of an eye was dead.
The poor relatives who were weeping till then for the death of their own boy were distressed and dismayed, and now began to weep for Kamal’s death also. But up rose Kamal on his back, declaring, “do you see it now? I was as you would say dead, but I am up again, alive and kicking. This is how he wants to deceive me, but he cannot allude me like this with his pretensions.”
In the end, the story goes, Kamal’s inherent saintliness gave life to the dead boy, and Kamal got back what he was due to him. The moral is that the death of the body is not the extinction of the Self. The Self is not limited by birth and death, and its place in the physical body is not circumscribed by one’s experience felt at a particular place, as for instance between the eyebrows, due to practice of dhyana made on the centre. The supreme State of Self – awareness is never absent; it transcends the three states of the mind as well as life and death.