Gestures of Grace and Compassion

of Sri Trailingaswami: The Saint from Andhra

The lamp of jnaana is essential both for physical welfare and spiritual well being and the soul’s journey upward. When worldly desires and turbulent physical pleasures suffocate the psyche all around and all along, there would come a day when the individual is confronted with questions like ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is the purpose of life?’ Does life end with the burning ghat or the crematorium?’ Answers to every one of these questions have to be found by the individual all by himself or herself. It is at this juncture that the lives and teachings of our great seers, saints and mahatmas help us to find a little light for the mind groping in darkness. It is only with a sincere effort that we can realize the greatness of our forefathers, the seers (drashthas), sants and munis.

It is impossible to call Trailingaswami (1607-1887) either just a saint, a siddha, a yogi, a saadhaka, a baba, a paramahamsa, an avadhoota or, an avatar for he is all and not merely one among these many. Nothing could be more presumptuous and preposterous than to think of such a great one as one of these many forms greatness assumes. It is perhaps for that reason that mahatma has been chosen to be an epithet for Trailingaswami.

Both by practice, saadhana and by the grace of God yogis attain many powers. These are termed siddhis and ridhhis. The major siddhis are anima, mahima, garima, laghima, praapti, prakaamya, eesatwa, and vasitva. Ridhhi is extraordinay affluence. The Swami himself explains each of these in his teachings, which were recorded by his beloved disciple Umacharan Mukhopadhyay. Then a yogi gets the power of conquering his mind called manojaya. This would be possible by his entering nirvikalpa samaadhi or nirbeeja, which literally means without seeds. The samskaaras are the seeds, which have to be overcome. This involves conquering the elements. Trailingaswami could stay under water for any length of time.

But these diverse powers are not an end in and by themselves for an evolved soul like the yogi’s. Exercising these powers could be fraught with danger, the least being the destruction of his own attainments, leading to downfall. Attaining brahmajnaana and accomplishing merger with the Supreme Being are his goals. It is more dangerous to fall for the siddhis than falling for worldly things since the consequence of the former could be more seriously sinful than the latter.

Trailingaswami never cared to exhibit his powers though he has acquired them all as can be seen in his gestures to his unfortunate brethren. Those saved or helped by him turned to spirituality and became models and examples for fellow human beings to emulate.

Rameshwaram is considered a very holy place, the kshetra which had in it the saikatha linga (sandy linga) of Lord Shiva installed by Shri Rama Himself. It has been a centre down the ages where sages, seers, sadhakas (spiritual aspirants) as well as the devout congregated for a holy darshan and the company of the highly evolved in a festival. The festival falls on the fifth day (panchami) of the first half of the lunar month of Kartik every year.

Some pilgrims from Andhra Desa too went there. They met Trailingadhara little knowing that he had become Ganapatiswami. Many of them requested him to return to Andhra, his native land, but to no avail. Now a Swami, he had no attachment to anything, much less to a place.

While Ganapatiswami was in Rameshwaram, he performed a miracle. No yogi of renown really wishes to show off his powers performing a miracle. The higher a yogi goes in his spiritual attainment, the more he avoids crowds and any company at all. But this does not mean that they are insensitive to the suffering of others. They are the most compassionate. These great souls sometimes find it fit and proper to do something which is a spontaneous act of compassion out of pure love. In fact compassion is the greatest of the attributes of a devout person. (We have Sudama in Srimadbhagavatha praying to the Supreme Lord to give him nitaantaapaara bhoota daya, endless and limitless compassion for all living beings.)

A Brahmin who came on a pilgrimage to Rameshwaram along with his relatives collapsed, perhaps, owing to the extremities of temperature or the travails of the arduous journey from afar. All his relatives and those around them in the place broke into loud wails. The grief of the relations was uncontrollable. Ganapatiswami looked at the figure on the ground and was moved. Some onlookers were making preparations to carry the body of the deceased to the cremation ground. After looking at the man on the ground for a while. Ganapati took out water from his kamandalu (a jar of water which the swamis always carried) and sprinkled it on the man. In a minute he began to move and in a while, he came to. The Swami asked one of the relatives to give the man a little milk to drink. Soon the man sat up. The onlookers now realized that the Swami was no ordinary man and that he was God himself who gave the old man a new lease of life.

It went against the grain of the swami to stay long in any single place. He was always on the move, visiting places of pilgrimage and seeking the darshan of the deities, one after another. Living in a single place, perhaps, for an evolved soul is some kind of an attachment in and by itself. For four years after leaving Pushkara Kshetra, Ganapatiswami moved from one punya kshetra, place of pilgrimage, to another. In 1699, the Swami left the South. First he went East to Jagannath Puri, then from there North to Prayag and finally to Dwaraka in the West.

In Dwaraka as elsewhere the Swami found a number of devotees, who had seen his act of kindness in Rameshwaram. Now that they had seen him at his compassionate best, they began serving him with devotion and piety. Moved once again, the swami asked each as to what he wanted. Some asked for freedom from penury, some asked for riches and some for progeny. He blessed them all saying that very soon their wishes would find fulfillment. In a few months every one who served him found some proof of the efficacy of the Swami’s blessing. The news spread. The numbers of people who came to serve him increased. This caused a slight disturbance to the Swami in his own spiritual pursuit. For one thing his solitude was threatened. Along with that was gone the possibility of living in seclusion. This made the Swami leave for more peaceful regions.

In 1701, the Swami left for Nepal, the Hindu kingdom. There he chose a secluded spot and continued his yoga saadhana, practice in yoga. Those were the days when it was easy to find a secluded spot congenial for spiritual meditation. But a wilderness also has wild animals and hunters to hunt them. The King of Nepal was fond of hunting. One day he came with followers for his favorite pastime. One of his followers shot at a frightful looking tiger. He missed the aim but the tiger in great fright sent up a thunderous roar, fled the place at great speed and took refuge in the Swami’s little lone hermitage. The swami saw the tiger and ran his fingers in compassion on its mane. The followers who came in pursuit of the tiger were dumbfounded that such a cruel animal should crouch affectionately like a cat at the Swami’s feet. They stood staring in disbelief at the tiger and in utter adoration at the Swami. The merciful Swami gestured to some to come near him and told them that it was wrong to kill. The wild animal was living in its own environs without posing any hazard to man. The men were asked to give up all violence for God never allowed any life to be taken. The men were subdued and chastened. They went back to the King to narrate the eminence of the Swami, who made friends even with a fierce tiger and domesticated it.

The King himself, a devout man with a spiritual bent of mind, approached the Swami with gifts of priceless gems and diamonds. He too was struck with the Swami’s other worldliness when he found the Swami absolutely uninterested in the precious stones. The Swami spoke to the king as kindly as ever. The King went back to his city with the satisfaction of having paid obeisance to a great sage.

The news of the King’s visit spread throughout his kingdom and once again there was a pressure on the Swami’s time to give audience to his numerous visitors. Having spent six years in Nepal, he thought he should visit the blissful Manasarovar and continue his tapas (deep meditation contemplating on the ultimate reality) He reached the place in 1720. There the Swami had yet another occasion to reveal his powers of compassion. While engaged in his usual meditation, he was called into the present by the wailing of a woman who was carrying her seven-year-old dead son to the place of the last rites. Some people were following her, looking sad and helpless. The woman was a widow and the son, her only reason to stay alive, now dead. With her only hope gone, she looked utterly helpless and forlorn. She looked at the Swami. As if inspired by some power, she laid the body of her son at his feet. Something told her that the swami would take pity on her plight and that her prayers would be answered. In a flash of surging faith, she forgot the grief of bereavement too.

Deeply moved by the grief and misery of the lonely woman, the swami touched the forehead of the boy who stirred that very moment. The happy mother fell at the swami’s feet and tears (of joy now) flowed down her cheeks. In the sight of all the beholders the Swami disappeared there and then.

There is no way of ascertaining the facts as to where and exactly when this miracle took place. But the date and place are not as important as the strength of belief in the swami, which stems from a real and deep faith in the merciful God.

Ganapatiswami spent six years in Manasarovar. It is believed that a disciple in the line of the many disciples of Adi Sankara, one Vidyanand Saraswati gave deeksha again to Ganapatiswami and called him Ramananda Saraswati.

In 1726, the Swami surfaced in Markandeya ashram (hermitage) on the banks of the river Narmada. There he had an opportunity to exchange views with great saadhakas and sages. A renowned sage known as Khaki Baba had been living there for quite some years. He used to sit on the riverbank lost in deep mediation. One day he got into the river to have a drink of water and to his surprise the water was white like milk. He lifted his head and saw a new Swami drinking the water in the river from the cup of his joined palms. When he himself scooped up the water, it was not white. Khaki Baba realized that when the Swami was scooping it was milky. Returning to the ashram, he narrated the wondrous happening to the inmates who from then on began regarding the Swami as an accomplished yogi.

In 1733, Ganapatiswami left Markandeya ashram for Prayag. There he chose a serene and secluded spot to spend his time in meditation. One day as he sat looking at the river, the Swami saw pilgrims sailing in a boat towards the bank. Suddenly the sky was overcast and fierce winds began to blow. It started raining and in a few minutes it was a downpour. The Swami sat unmoved in the rain. While everyone was running for shelter, one Ramtarak Bhattacharya approached the swami and tried to persuade him to seek shelter. The Swami only smiled and asked him not to worry about him. When the man looked at him uncomprehending, the swami told him that the boat would sink and he had to save the pilgrims, As he was saying this the boat disappeared down in the water. The Swami too disappeared. Ramtarak was dumbfounded. He looked at the river with wonder-filled eyes. In a few minutes the boat came to the shore with all the passengers safe and along with them there was the Swami too, stark naked. The pilgrims got off one after another and went their ways.

Only Ramtarak realized that the Swami had been the saviour of the pilgrims in the boat. He fell at the Swami’s feet, took the dust and raised it to his eyes as an act of worship and deep obeisance. He was about to ask the swami a question but the swami smiled. Ramtarak was fortunate that the Swami gave him a piece of his preaching. There was nothing wondrous about what he had done, for anyone who had the insight into life, the transience of the world and the ephemerality of sensual pleasures would have done that easily. Men in this world, unfortunately, are all drawn to sensual pleasures. Little do they realize that it is all illusion and that the world and the physical body are unreal and not everlasting. By saadhana and renunciation, godhead would be easy to reach. At the end of his brief teaching the Swami reminded Ramtarak that he had been drenching himself in rain just for nothing and disappeared.


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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