A few moments with Paramacharya

N.A. Palkhivala

The Senior pontiff of Kanchi is one of the jewels of modern India. His is not a life to be described in words, nor be measured in years. He presents some elemental moral force of a type which only India can produce and has produced over the centuries.

A tremendous moral force, a man who combines a knowledge of various languages - he knows Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Marathi and I don't know how many other languages - he is a man of the utmost humility and total simplicity, not a self-styled Rishi or Maharishi, but a quiet man, a frail man. But this frail human being pits his personality against the brute-force which rules over the world today.

Adi Sankaracharya was once asked, `Who is the true Guru?' His answer was that the true Guru is the man who has realised the truth and who is intent all the time upon the good of his disciples. That definition is totally fulfilled by the Acharya of Kanchi.

He became the Pontiff of Kanchi at the age of 13 in the year 1907 and since then he has fulfilled his mission as the Guru and sense of dedication which has never been surpassed. he made a tour of India for 21 years mostly on foot between the years 1919 and 1939. On foot he had been going around the length and breadth of this country.

He represents the highest aspirations of mankind. He embodies the noblest instincts of the human race. He is of course beyond all honours and titles. It would not make the slightest difference to him even if the 700 millions all together celebrated his birthday. It is precisely because the man is beyond all honour by trying to revive and bring to the surface of our mind the memories of a man who has devoted his entire life totally, absolutely for the good of the country and for the good, in fact, of mankind.


I had the honour of calling on him at Kanchi before I west to Washington as the Indian Ambassador in 1977. I went to his little hut at Kanchi where he resides, a hut that would not be occupied perhaps by any labourer who is a member of a trade union. He eats food which contains nothing comparable to the calories which are supposed to be essential for a man's life and health.

And as the man came out dressed as sparsely as possible, he was a picture of sincerity, humility and spiritual force which leaves an indelible impression on anyone with some sensitivity. I thought that here was a man who was in total harmony with the elements around him, with nature.

He was in total harmony with the silence that is in the starry skies, the sleep that is among the lonely hills.

A great thinker once said that the higher a man is in God's grace, the lower he will be in his own esteem. And if that truth were ever vindicated and demonstrated by a living person today, it is by the sage of Kanchi. His total humility and his utter simplicity are just incredible. You have to meet the man yourself to realise how he personifies these great ancient virtues of our wonderful motherland.

When Rudyard Kipling was once speaking to the students of a University, he said, "One day, my young friends, you will meet a man who cares nothing for wealth or comfort or fame or glory and then you will know how poor you are." Every one who has met the sage of Kanchi knows how poor he is.


Once Paul Brunton, a famous English writer and journalist, called on the sage before he wrote his book called `A Search of Secret India' and at that time a conversation took place between Mr. Brunton and the sage of Kanchi.

The sage of Kanchi told Brunton that the inward transformation of a man was the precondition for a better world. You must have transformation from within.

Those who have read Sri Aurobindo's work would know that this the man thesis of his philosophy. The transformation must come from within. Unless it comes from within, there is just no hope for the survival, the well-being the betterment of the human race.

And the sage of Kanchi told Brunton: "If you scarp your battleships, and let your cannon rust, that will not stop war. People will continue to fight even if they have to use sticks." This is a very very wise and far-sighted observation. If you say we shall have no nuclear weapons, no nuclear bombs, no atomic bombs, even then it is not going to stop wars unless the transformation comes from within.

To quote further the words of the Acharya; "Nothing but spiritual understanding between one nation and another and between the rich and the poor will produce goodwill and thus bring real peace and prosperity."

Then he was asked by Brunton, "Is it your opinion, then, Swamiji, that men are becoming more degraded?"

Swamiji replied, "No, I do not think so. There is an indwelling divine soul in men, which is the end must bring him back to God. Do not blame people so much as you have to blame the environment into which they are born. Their surroundings and circumstances force them to become worse than they really are. This is true of both the East and the West. Society must be brought into tune with the higher purpose."

There is no doubt whatever about the extra-ordinary spiritual powers of the sage of Kanchi.

The most well-known example of that, is the event which occurred on June 14, 1932 when a messenger brought a telegram to the sage of Kanchi and the sage asked whether it was from such and such a village where his mother was living and when the messenger said, "Yes" he asked him to go away ad told his disciples: "What can a Sanyasi do or say when his mother is dead?" And the telegram was about the death of his mother.

Even when he looks at a man, you can see, that he looks through an individual. He is able to see some aura of some light around you which tells him what kind of a man you are and what kind of assistance he can possibly give you as a Guru. The man's great merit is that to him the entire human race is one family. Not only that he makes no distinction between a Hindu and Muslim or a Parsi and a Christian, indeed, he makes no distinction between an Indian and non-Indian; to him the entire human race is one single family.

Let me quote his own words, "Among us there is the concept of the Ishta Devata or a the particular form of God which one chooses for his worship and meditation.

To get at the One supreme, you must start from some manifestations of it and you choose it as your Ishta Devata. Another man may choose some other manifestation. AS each progresses in his devotion and concentration, he will be led on to the One where the differences disappear. This is the experience of all the great sages and saints."

All professionals disagree on various matters within the field of their professional study. But there is one class of human beings who never disagree and they are the mystics, the seers, whether they lived 5,000 years ago or they live in the 20th century, whether they live in the West or in the East and whatever they speak. But these mystics will have exactly the same experience and will have the same lessons to teach. To my mind this is the final and ultimate vindication of the fact that there is a spiritual force behind this universe which is available to human beings, provided they are willing to search for it and imbibe the lessons which it has to teach.

When India became independent in 1947, and that was when the Acharya was 40 years in the seat at Kanchi this is the message which the Acharya gave to India: "At this moment when our Bharathvarsha has gained freedom all the people of this ancient land should with one mind and heart pray to the Lord; we should pray to Him to vouch safe to us increasing mental strength and power for making spiritual progress."

Mind you, he was not asking greater wealth for the country. He was asking for increasing mental strength and a power for making spiritual progress. It is only by his grace that we can preserve the freedom we have gained and helped all beings in the world to attain the ideal of true happiness.

The Acharya's jubilee was celebrated in 1957. At that time, he said, "For 50 years I have been installed in this office. The race is practically over but the work is never done, while the power to work remains. There are years ahead of men, when the toil must continue."

The toil never ceases and that is why you will find this great saint walking from Tamil Nadu to Satara in order that he can be there to get in touch with and give blessings to those who seek his blessings. This is the sense of dedication and duty which the Acharya possesses.

His main message has been the message of love.

O love that will not let me go.
I yield my weary soul to thee.
I give thee back the life I owe.
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer purer be.