Of Ashrams, Mountains, and Seemingly Ordinary People

It seems that all the sacred places left in the world can only be reached on foot; such is the case with this one. Coming together from different parts of the world for a few days, the six of us walk silently, one after another. Two-kilometer trek up the rocky trail of the Arunachala mountain feels harder than it should. I walk behind Jayeshbhai on the clay-colored rocks, a close friend and a mentor. Silence starts to wash over me, preparing the mind to step into something sacred.

Following numerous bends of the trail the view opens up to display the whole city of Trivunamalai, with four temples symmetrically built in the middle of the town. Jayeshbhai and I pause to take in the grand view. As we try to catch our breath on this quiet January afternoon, we hear someone coming from the opposite side. An older grey-haired American woman appears walking very slowly down the jagged rocks with the help of a younger white woman on her right, and a local man on the left. Each step seems to bring her body a lot of agony as her feet shake to find the ground beneath them. But there is a vast smile on her face, which is half-covered with the oversized black glasses.

Ramana Maharishi (an Indian saint)
We both stop in admiration of the spirit of this lady, who has obviously made it to the cave and coming back. Jayeshbhai spontaneously touches her feet and instructs me to also “get her blessings.” As per the Indian custom, I follow suit. The younger woman tells her to touch our heads, and guides her hands. Her grin widens and I feel the touch of her hands in my hair. We chat for a bit and ask if there is anything we can do to help. All three assure us that they are fine and will slowly reach the bottom of the path. Renewed with energy, we slowly move forward in awe of such a dedicated western disciple of Ramana Maharishi.

On finally reaching the cave, a sense of stillness comes over me as I enter. Sitting among dozen others cross-legged on the floor, the eyes adjust to the dark. Lit by a single candle I can make out the small inner room with a shiva lingam in the center. Ramana Maharishi's teaching can be summed-up in three words, he asked his disciples to focus on the inquiry, “Who am I?” As I meditate, the mind comes to a complete stop, the thoughts seem few and far between. Probably a half hour passes before I open my eyes, feeling guilty for taking my time. The mind nudges me to go outside, so others can come and meditate.

Path up the Arunachal mountain where Ramana Maharishi lived
The walk down is filled with peace and awe, as the sun starts to set across the mountain. As we get near the bottom, I’m touched to see the older American lady again making her way down. I now learn that her name is Renee, who is now resting on a rock with Rajesh – still smiling as wide as ever. Jayeshbhai and I fill in Anarben on our meeting walking up the mountain. We sit down beside her bombarding her with questions. After learning that she has walked this path eight times during this trip, and is eighty-three years old, we find out that she has been a devotee of Ramana Maharishi for over thirty years. All because of a dream she once had. She has never met him even once. Such is her devotion.

Back in California, as I think of Renee and the tranquility so visible on her face, one word keeps coming to my mind – reverence. Reverence for trusting the mysteries of life. Reverence for following a deep inner calling. Reverence for sacred mountains, and seemingly ordinary people that remind me to keep looking deeper. 


  1. Anonymous3/26/2013

    Dear Guriben,
    I was just reading the article on Gandhiji and Raman Mahirs before I read your blog . I would like to share the few things about the article.
    Both Gandhiji and Raman Mahirshi lived in same era but unfortunately they never meet each other in their entire life. Though Gandhiji tried to meet Raman Mahirsi three times but failed. Both know each other’s work and had shared amazing things about each other.
    Upon Gandhiji’s insist of truth’ Mahirshi said “Satya is that which is made up of sat again sat is nothing but the self. So Gandhiji’s satya is only the self”.
    One is symbolized for silence and another symbolized for always speaking. Raman Mahirshi never out of Arunachal Pradesh in his life and Gandhiji never stays at one place in his entire life. What Sarojini Naidoo said “There are two great souls in India. One is Raman Mahirshi which give us peace and second is Mahatma Gandhi , who never let us seat quietly for a moment. But their aim is similar and that was The spiritual recreation of India.”

  2. Thank you so much for continuously sharing powerful stories.
    love, Swara