The Mother Divine
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Book review by Anupama Shukla
Published by Sri Annamalai Swami Ashram Trust
Price Rs.250/- (India only)
“Living by the words of Bhagavan” is the biography of Annamalai Swami who was a disciple of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi and is written by David Godman. It provides a window into Ashram life as it was between 1928 and 1938 and also contains extracts from a diary kept by Annamalai Swami once he moved outside the Ashram to spend his time in quiet contemplation. The final section contains queries on self-enquiry and other aspects of the Maharshi’s teachings, posed to Annamalai Swami by spiritual seekers during interactions that took place in the eighties.

The tale starts with the birth of Annamalai Swami in the village of Tonadankurichi in the year 1906 and traces the significant events in his life before his meeting with Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. That Annamalai Swami’s father, an astrologer of some repute, saw clear indications of his son’s leading a renunciate’s life in the natal chart and still did his utmost to thwart the same, provides a poignant starting point to the whole story.

Annamalai Swami came to the feet of his Guru in 1928. The sequence of events thereafter illustrates how depending on the disciple’s prarabdha, the Guru takes charge and gently steers the him or her in the appropriate direction to work out the karma and make spiritual progress. Little of Annamalai Swami’s time while he resided at the Ashram was spent in quiet contemplation. Instead he found himself plunged into hectic physical activity and was involved in virtually all maintenance and construction activity that took place in the Ashram as long as he stayed there. Many of us would be inclined to think that spiritual progress would be slowed if not downright hampered by physical activity and that long hours of solitude and meditation would be the only way forward. Annamalai Swami’s backbreaking toil in the unforgiving tropical heat shows how the critical element to moving forward is not what activity you engage in, rather how you engage in it.

Throughout his life Annamalai Swami took as the gospel the words of his Guru and lived by them.  During the Ashram years, he followed all instructions given by Bhagavan to the letter, even when he had to face unpleasant reactions from the management or other inmates. Even after he was a resident of Palakottu and no longer engaged in Ashram life, he kept his focus of meditation and scriptural study, steering clear of fruitless engagement with people, following the path indicated for him by his Guru. It was only in the late eighties that he began to interact, in a limited manner, with earnest spiritual seekers. The replies given during these interactions reflect the compassion and understanding of a true master for he is brief, precise and encouraging.

David Godman came across the teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi while a student at Oxford and as a consequence was drawn to India in 1976. He has since then been at Tiruvannamalai, with occasional visits to other places, most often to spend time with Bhagavan’s disciples.  During his initial years at Tiruvannamalai, he started the library at the Ramanashram, reviewed books for publication in the Ashram journal “The Mountain Path,” and ultimately ended up editing the magazine.  “Living by the words of Bhagavan” came about as a result of his meeting with Annamalai Swami in 1987 and the conversations between them once David had passed muster.  The book makes for engrossing reading and the reader is thoughtfully provided with explanatory notes to Sanskrit and Tamil terminology wherever required.