Sri Ramana’s Tears

Anyone with a big heart can’t help but cry when reading this story about Echammal from Arthur Osborne’s Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-knowledge. It must be noted that Ramana is not crying for “himself” (whatever this could possibly mean); he is only crying on behalf of Echammal, whose sorrow runs deep.

The following is an excerpt from pp. 53-4 of the aforementioned book. The prose is Obsborne’s. My brief remarks follow the second “* * *.”

* * *

It was not only to the restless mind of the intellectual that the Grace of Bhagavan brought peace but to the grief-stricken heart also. Echammal, as she was called at the Ashram (her previous name had been Lakshmiammal), had been a happy wife and mother in the village of Mandakolathur, but before the age of twenty-five she lost first her husband, then her only son, then her only daughter. Stunned by her bereavement, tortured by memory, she could find no rest. She could no longer endure the place where she had been happy, the people among whom she had been happy. Thinking it might help her to forget, she travelled to Gokarnam in Bombay State to serve the holy men there, but she returned as grief-stricken as she went. Some friends told her of a young Swami [Sri Ramana] at Tiruvannamalai who brought peace to those who sought. At once she set out. She had relatives in the town but did not go to them as the very sight of them would bring back her bitter memories. With a friend she climbed the hill to the Swami. She stood in silence before him, not telling her grief. There was no need. The compassion shining in his eyes was healing. A whole hour she stood, no word spoken, and then she turned and went down the hillside to the town, her steps light, the burden of her sorrow lifted. 

Daily she visited the Swami thereafter. He was the sun that had dispersed her clouds. She could even recall her loved ones now without bitterness. She spent the rest of her life in Tiruvannamalai. She was able to take a small house there — her father left her a little money and her brothers helped her out — and many visiting devotees enjoyed her hospitality. She prepared food for Sri Bhagavan daily — which meant for the whole Ashram, because he would accept nothing that was not shared equally among all. Until age and failing health kept her away, she used to carry it up the hillside herself and would never eat until she had served them. As they grew in numbers her contribution came to be only a small addition to the general meal, but if ever she was delayed Sri Bhagavan would wait till she came so as not to disappoint her. 

With all the grief she had passed through and the peace she had found, she was still mother enough to form a new attachment, and she adopted a daughter, not without asking Sri Bhagavan’s permission. When the time came she arranged her marriage and rejoiced at the birth of a grandson whom she named Ramana. And then one day, utterly unprepared, she received a telegram that her adopted daughter had died. The old grief broke upon her again. She rushed up the hill to Sri Bhagavan with the telegram. He read it with tears in his eyes and, appeased but still sorrowful, she left for the funeral. She returned with the child Ramana and placed him in the arms of Sri Bhagavan. Once more there were tears in his eyes as he held the child and his compassion brought her peace.

* * *

The highest teaching is silence (mauna)–and silence heals.

“Yet why,” we might ask, “would there be tears in Ramana’s eyes?” He is, after all, the Sage for whom all is basically right. Because, being Peace Itself, Ramana can nonetheless feel the seemingly inconsolable depths of suffering that Echammal, apparently mired in ignorance, is feeling. He has “no filter”; he is sensitivity itself.

We’ve all had experiences in which the intensity of others’ emotions have touched us so thoroughly, so resonantly that we can barely contain ourselves. At these moments, the purity of emotion shines forth, a purity that comes out of–because it is none other than–Love.

(It’s still astonishing to me how Ramana was not only a true jnani but also the rarest of bhaktas.)