Meeting with Perfection
Dr. T.M.P. Mahadevan
It was the first of June 1966, the four day of the Athens Meeting Week. The Hill of the Pynx stood framed in a glorious sunset on the West, facing the Acropolis to the east, crowned by the famous Temple of the Parthenon dedicated to Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom and Peace. It was on this Hill that the ecclestia, the convention of the People of Athens, used to meet of old. It was here that the orators, representing the people, addressed their fellow citizens. The Royal National Foundation could not have selected a better location for holding the Athens Meeting.
The Foundation was instituted by the late Kind Paul of the Hellenes: one of his major activities was the holding every other year, of an international cultural gathering in the capital of Greece; and it was called "The Athens Meeting". The object of the Athens Meeting was to provide an opportunity for eminent contemporary thinkers from all over the world to express the human ideals and aspirations in the light of present knowledge and experience. Each invited scholar was to give a talk on a topic chosen by him on one of the evenings during the cultural week, in the open on the Hill of the Pynx. Six of the seven participants were to be invited from other countries. His Majesty King Paul had indicated that this was being so done in the spirit of the ancient Greek thinker Socrates, who said: "We call Hellenes all who partake of our culture".
The first Athens Meeting was held in 1964. His Majesty King Paul had passed away before this meeting. But his son who succeeded him, H.M. King Constantine, was the moving spirit behind the whole enterprise. Encouraged by the success of this venture, the Royal National Foundation organized the Second Athens Meeting in 1966. On the 29th May this meeting was inaugurated by the King in the Temple of Athena on the Acropolis. The lectures on the subsequent days of the week were given on the Hill of the Pynx. On the fourth day, the 1st of June, came my turn. I had chosen `The Heritage of India' as my theme. Towards the conclusion of that speech I made the following observation:
"There is a widespread doubt in the minds of intellectuals both in my country and abroad in regard to the future of the heritage of India in the face of the present encounter with science and technology. A visiting scholar from Yugoslavia expressed this doubt, a few months ago, to a living sage in South India, Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Peetham. The sage, who leads the ideal ascetic life as it obtained in ancient India, replied without any hesitation: `No damage will be done to the soul of India. If anything, modern science and technical knowledge may serve to dispel the lingering superstitions and blind beliefs. The culture of India has withstood many challenges, and has come out victorious each time'. There could be no better authentic evidence to the immortal nature of India's heritage than the words of the sage Sankaracharya. The heritage of India is not India's alone but of all mankind".
The reference to His Holiness Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi in this passage was noted with particular relevance by the members of the Greek royalty who were present at the meeting. Her Majesty Queen Frederika, Queen Mother of Greece, and her daughter. H.R.H. Princess Irene, had been practicing meditation for sometime and they were acquainted with Advaita Vedanta through the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. They had come to India earlier on a State visit along with the late Majesty King Paul; but then they did not have the opportunity or time t get to know closely the spiritual side of India. Then Queen-Mother and the Princess expressed a wish to meet His Holiness on their next visit to India. It was in accordance with this wish of their that they came to India in November-December 1966, and met His Holiness. The meetings took place in Kalahasti on the 4th and 5th of December, 1966.
Her Majesty Queen Frederika, Queen Mother of Greece and Her Royal Highness Princess Irene came as seekers of truth; and they thought it supremely worthwhile to undertake this long journey and were richly rewarded. The following is the gist of the interview - the questions asked by the Royalty and the instructions given by His Holiness.
Q. Your Holiness! I am able to mediate with a measure of success while awake. But, the meditative experience does not come in dreams. What should be done to retain this attitude in the dreams also?
A. One need not worry about the kind of dreams one has. One who practices meditation in the waking stage, may not, when he goes to the dream stage, experience the meditative attitude. The dreams may related to non-spiritual phenomena. But the spiritual seeker should be troubled over these. He should not think that such dreams constitute an impediment to his spiritual life. To think so, and to be troubled mentally would be an obstacle. What the seeker should be careful about is the waking life. He should devote as much of it as possible to the spiritual quest. If his endeavors in the waking state are in the direction of the Spirit, then gradually in the dreams also one's spiritual nature will be reflected. It is not dreams that effect waking life; it is the other way about. One who is fair skinned in waking life usually dreams of himself as having fair skin. If he has dark skin, in dream also he has a similar complexion. Thus, it is the experiences of waking state hat get reflected in dreams, although the odd and queer forms. So, if the aspirant is vigilant in his waking state, and strives constantly to remember the Self, gradually in dream also the same attitude will get reflected. If he succeeds in rendering his waking life free from violent passions and base desires, in course of time his dreams also will become placid and full of peace.
Q. Will Your Holiness be pleased to prescribe a technique by which the concentration and equanimity of the mind may be facilitated?
A. Normally one breathes through one of the two nostrils, right or left. It is possible to change the breathing is through the right nostril, and if it is to be changed to the left, what one should do is to put pressure on the right side of the body, which could be done by resting the right palm on the ground and making the body lean on that arm. For a change from the left to the right, the pressure should be put on the left side. Before the actual change takes place, the breathing would be through both the nostrils for a short time, say two seconds This is what may be called equalised breathing, its period will become longer and longer. And, the equalised breathing will facilitate the gaining of mental balance and equanimity. The more one practices this, the greater will be the progress in achieving the balance of mind, and the ability to remain unperturbed.
Q. If the surroundings are not salutary, if there are people who are hostile to one's life, if everywhere one sees evil and wickedness, what should one do?
A. One may be surrounded by wicked people who are treacherous and evil in their ways. But one should not be impatient with them; or show hatred towards them. On the contrary, one should have sympathy and compassion for them. No person is wicked by nature, but circumstances and upbringing make him so. There is no reason, therefore, to hate him so. There is no reason, therefore, to hate him for what he has been made into. And also, an aspirant should not have hatred for anyone. He should reason thus: Since the wicked person is so because of circumstances and upbringing, he is to be pitied rather than hated. What would I do if some one whom I hold dear, say, my son, turns to evil ways? I would strive to correct him through live. Even so should I treat the stranger. In fact, there is no stranger for a truth seeker; for all are kindred. What would be my plight if I had been born and bred is those evil circumstances? I too would be behaving in a wicked way. So, let me see the same Self in the wicked man. Let me not hate him."
Q. What is the distinction between the savikalpa and nirvikalpa stages in samadhi? And, what is sahaja samadhi?
A. Savikalpa and nirvikalpa are stages in the path of concentration and mediation. In what is known as savikalpa-samadhi the mind is steady without any distraction, contemplating its object wholly absorbed therein. In nirvikalpa samadhi which is the goal of yoga, the mind ceases to function, and vanishes once for all, leaving the self to shine forth alone. In Advaita too the path of meditations recognised; but here the object of mediation is distinctionless Brahman. What is called sahaja-samadhi is realised through the path of inquiry. It is the natural state of Self-realization, and one of utter unconcern for the fleeting phenomena.
Q. What should be leader do in regard to customs, usages, etc.? Even after he finds them to be not of any benefit for himself, should he follow them?
A. Those who are the leaders of a group, society, or state should not neglect the established religious customs and usages. For themselves, they may not be in need of church-ceremonies, for instance. There advance in spirituality may not require these. But if they began to neglect them, the people for whom the rituals are really helpful will also start neglecting them. This would be setting bad example. In the words of Bhagavad-Gita: "The wise one should not unsettle the minds of those who are ignorant, and are attached to action. On the contrary, he should encourage them to perform what they should perform, by himself doing the appropriate actions well and with diligence." It is a duty cast upon the leaders and those that are at the top to lead the people from the people from where they are, and not refrain from participation in the traditional ways of worship.
Recording the indelible impressions of the interviews and the unique blessing gained by the darsana of His Holiness, Her Majesty has observed thus:
"The two days we spend in his company will never be forgotten. There was pure spirituality. What strange fate has brought us close to him!"
Expanding the same impression, and reminiscing on what has been aptly described as the meeting with Perfection, Her Royal Highness said:
"Since some time now I find myself in a situation where there are no more questions to ask (except for details). Yet identification with the Self is far from constant. Nevertheless the practice of application will also contribute in making it more permanent so that there is really no problem. Then I believe that Fate brings things when time is ripe. And what came as Fate's great gift was his meeting with Perfection whose blessings is more that I am able to cherish without being deeply moved.
"He mentioned that the astronauts must have experienced outwardly that which is usually felt inwardly by spiritual seekers - an outer mystic experience. We had the Grace of having both the outer and the inner mystic experience in His presence and we are thankful for it. He appeared as the vivid link between Spirit and matter, a link (for the seeker) which showed that they are not separate. the world of appearance with this sage, who quite obviously was guest in the frail body, was there, by the Essence, with which the guest is identical, was there too, demonstrating that the world is not different from it. His gaze made the Self cast off all the bonds of the ego, thus unveiling a pure reflection of what those eyes are identified with. How can the beauty of this be witnessed with dry eyes?
"The greatness of His blessing was so immense that this human container was incapable of holding it without its overflowing which resulted as tears. Tears of utter fulfillment which washed away the container, causing it to dissolve, for a while, into the Reality He symbolizes."
Exactly two years later, Her Majesty, the Queen-Mother and Princess Irene came again to meet His Holiness - this time Her Majesty's niece and nephew also came with them, Princess Dorothea and Prince Karl. The interviews with His Holiness took place at Masulipatnam on the 6th, 7th and 8th of December, 1968. In all, the Royal visitors spent more than eight hours with His Holiness, drinking deeply of his wisdom and experience, and basking in the full effulgence of his spiritual magnificence. From the moment of their arrival in Madras on the 3rd, to that of their departure from Madras, after the Masulipatnam visit, on the 11th for Bombay en route to Europe, they had but one though - the though about His Holiness. Each of them considered the meeting with him the most precious gift of Providence in their lives. They received the benign grace of the Great Master in abundant measure.
The Royal visitors had meetings with the Master both severally and together. It was a remarkable experience to watch, on the one hand, the visiting guests addressing His Holiness with questions that revealed great depth of sincerity and keenness of spiritual seeking and, on the other hand, the Master giving precise instructions and most lucid exposition on points which would help in the progress of the one's inward quest. The outer world rarely figured in the conversation. The inward life was what the Royalty was primarily concerned with; and they were convinced that they had come to the most authentic source for light and guidance.
To those members of the Royal party who had lately begun the practice of mediation, His Holiness gave detailed instruction as to the technique that they could adopt. Each session of meditation could be divided into two halved roughly. During the first half, controlled breathing could be practised. After taking in a deep breath, the breath is to be retained as long as it is possible to do it conveniently and without strain. If for instance one could retain the breath for an optimum measure of 100 seconds, let one practice the breath-retention only for 50 seconds. After the retention, one should breathe out as slowly as possible. This is to be repeated during the first Half of the mediation-session. Each time the breath is retained, one could devote the first few moments to the though of the all-pervading Divinity which is the ground of the universe and of one's being. The advice was also given to increase slightly the daily mediation period. If, for instance, one devoted two half-hour sessions to meditation, one in the morning and one in the evening, one could add a third session lasting for a quarter-hour.
The master enquired of Princess Irene about the progress she had made in her spiritual life. She said that she had found in the practice of music a means for divine communion, and asked if she could pursue this particular mode of approach. His Holiness gave her instructions as to how through devotion to music she could develop the consciousness of the inner Spirit. Devotion to music and mediation could go hand in hand and help each other.
Her Majesty Queen Fredrika asked about certain supernormal manifestations that appear while one progresses in the path of mediation. His Holiness said that one should not attach much importance to them and that one should not forget the goal of mediation which is enlightenment.
A question was put in regard to what one should do for retaining higher consciousness in the last moments of one's life. After recalling a few instances of persons who were in full possession of their faculties and passed away in peace, His Holiness observed that what really mattered was not how one passed away, but how one lived in the present. One should endeavour to lead the life divine as much as possible, without worrying about one's possible condition in the last moments. If, besides practicing meditation, etc., during one's life which should be sufficient one also wishes for a peaceful end in complete possession of one's faculties, one should cultivate pranayaama and other techniques of Yoga. But this is not necessary after all, and does not contribute much to one's spiritual life.
Her Majesty the Queen Mother said: "Some of us who have adopted vegetarian food habits are asked by friends in the West to state the reason for such adoption. If we give the reason as the desire to avoid causing pain to animal life, they ask if vegetarianism does to involve inflicting pain in the vegetable world." His Holiness explained clearly and in detail the basis of vegetarianism: "The ideal life of complete compassion and non-violence is possible only for a few. IT would involve subsistence on fruits and leaves that fall from trees and plants. In the case of others they can only be gradual approach towards that idea. The rule is: if it is possible to live by causing less injury to other lives, it is wrong to inflict more violence. It is on this principle that vegetarian diet is greatly to be preferred to meat-eating. In the first place, when vegetables are plucked, the plant are not destroyed, whereas meat cannot be had without killing the animal to which it belongs. Secondly, animals are more sensitive than plants; they have a greater number of, and keener, sense-faculties than the latter. In fact, there is not much difference in this regard between an animals and us, humans. The feeling of pain is almost the same; the suffering is of the same degree. The plants do not suffer to the same extent. Plucking vegetables or leaves is comparable to the clipping of nails and the cutting of hair. Thirdly, intrinsically there is not much to choose between cannibalism and eating of animal-meat. The arguments against the one hold good equally against the other. If the civilized people who are meat-eaters are against cannibalism, it is more on grounds of sentiment. It is clear that meat-eating causes more suffering than living vegetables. And, every effort for reducing the quantum of suffering commendable."
The doubt was expressed by one of the members of the Royal party whether humanity had not missed the chance of turning of spiritual values at the end of the last World War. His Holiness replied saying that no such generalized statement could be made about mankind as a whole. What is important is that individuals should be intent on inward progress. If they evolve spirituality, the world will improve. It is not to become great that one should aim at, but to become good; for, to be good is to be truly great.
Prior to leaving Masulipatnam on the 8th of December 1968, Her Majesty and party took leave of His Holiness after about an hour of sitting in his benign presence. Little was spoken during this session. In his own characteristic manner, the Great Master blessed the Royal devotees; and they dragged themselves away, unwilling to leave.
The spirit of humility and ardent quest for the highest values was reflected in the reply that Her Majesty gave to the Chairman of the Municipal Council of Masulipatnam who met her in the special railway coach and entreated her to agree to a civic reception: "Thank you; but we have come all the way from Europe, not as members of Royalty but as humble devotees seeking the blessing and guidance of His Holiness."