The Final Question, “Who Am I?”

My thoughts turned once more to the Maharshi in Tiruvannamalai.

‘This man,’ I thought, ‘came all the way to the Punjab in some form, appeared at my door and directed me to come and see him at Tiruvannamalai. I went there and got a very good experience when I sat with him. This man must be qualified to advise me. He also appeared to me in Madras. There must be a strong connection between us for him to appear twice like this. I will go there and see what he has to say.’

The following weekend I was scheduled to have a half-day holiday on Saturday afternoon. Sunday, of course, was a holiday every week. I took the train on Saturday and made my way once more to the hall where the Maharshi sat. As on my first visit, I felt that my business was private, so I looked for another opportunity to talk to him when no one else was around. Resorting to the same ruse I had used on my first visit to the Maharshi, I went to see him after lunch. I knew the hall would be empty then. As on my earlier trip, the attendant tried to persuade me to come back later, but but again the Maharshi intervened and gave me permission to enter and speak to him.

I sat in front of the Maharshi and began to tell him my story.

For twenty-five years I have been repeating the name of Krishna. Up till fairly recently I was managing 50,000 repetitions a day. I also used to read a lot of spiritual literature. Then Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman appeared before me. After they left, I couldn’t carry on with my practice. I can’t repeat the name any more. I can’t read my books. I can’t meditate. I feel very quiet inside but there is no longer any desire in me to put my attention on God. In fact, I can’t do it even if I try. My mind refuses to engage itself in thoughts of God. What has happened to me and what should I do?

The Maharshi looked at me and asked, ‘How did you come here from Madras?’

I didn’t see the point of his question but I politely told him the answer: ‘By train.’

‘And what happened when you got to the station at Tiruvannamalai?’ he enquired.

‘Well, I got off the train, handed in my ticket and engaged a bullock cart to take me to the ashram.’

‘And when you reached the ashram and paid off the driver of the cart, what happened to the cart?’

‘It went away, presumably back to town,’ I said, still not clear as to where this line of questioning was leading.

The Maharshi then explained what he was driving at.

‘The train brought you to your destination. You got off it because you didn’t need it any more. It had brought you to the place you wanted to reach. Likewise with the bullock cart. You got off it when it had brought you to Ramanasramam. You don’t need either the train or the cart any more. They were the means for bringing you here. Now you are here, they are of no use to you.

‘That is what has happened with your chanting. Your japa, your reading and your meditation have brought you to your spiritual destination. You don’t need them any more. You yourself did not give up your practices; they left you of their own accord because they had served their purpose. You have arrived.’

Then he looked at me intently. I could feel that my whole body and mind were being washed with waves of purity. They were being purified by his silent gaze. I could feel him looking intently into my Heart. Under that spellbinding gaze I felt every atom of my body being purified. It was as if a new body was being created for me. A process of transformation was going on – the old body was dying, atom by atom, and a new body was being created in its place. Then, suddenly, I understood. I knew that this man who had spoken to me was, in reality, what I already was, what I had always been. There was a sudden impact of recognition as I became aware of the Self. I use the word ‘recognition’ deliberately, because as soon as the experience was revealed to me, I knew, unerringly, that this was the same state of peace and happiness that I had been immersed in as a six-year-old boy in Lahore, on the occasion when I had refused to accept the mango drink. The silent gaze of the Maharshi re-established me in that primal state. The desire to search for an external God perished in the direct knowledge and experience of the Self which the Maharshi revealed to me. I cannot describe exactly what the experience was or is because the books are right when they say that words cannot convey it. I can only talk about peripheral things. I can say that every cell, every atom in my body leapt to attention as they all recognised and experienced the Self that animated and supported them, but the experience itself I cannot describe. I knew that my spiritual quest had definitely ended, but the source of that knowledge will always remain indescribable.

I got up and prostrated to the Maharshi in gratitude. I had finally understood what his teachings were and are. He had told me not to be attached to any personal god, because all forms are perishable. He could see that my chief impediments were god’s beautiful form and the love I felt towards him. He had advised me to ignore the appearances of these ephemeral gods and to enquire instead into the nature and source of the one who wanted to see them. He had tried to point me towards what was real and permanent, but stupidly and arrogantly I had paid no attention to his advice.

With hindsight I could now see that the question ‘Who am I?’ was the one question which I should have asked myself years before. I had had a direct experience of the Self when I was six but had not appreciated it or valued it. My mother had convinced me that it was an experience of Krishna and had somehow brainwashed me into undertaking a quest for an external god whom she said could supply me with that one experience that I desired so much. In a lifetime of spiritual seeking I had met hundreds of sadhus, swamis and gurus, but none of them had told me the simple truth the way the Maharshi had done.

None of them had said, ‘God is within you. He is not apart from you. You alone are God. If you find the source of the mind by asking yourself “Who am I?” you will experience Him in your Heart as the Self.’

If I had met the Maharshi earlier in my life, listened to his teachings and put them into practice, I would probably have saved myself years of fruitless external searching.

Excerpt From Nothing Ever Happened Volume One, pages 120-123
By David Godman