It’s hard to believe the following account of my first meeting with Yogi Ramsuratkumar was written almost twenty-five years ago. A few months after I returned from India in 1993, I submitted a piece of reportage to Om Sri Ram—the newsletter of Swami Ramdas devotees in the West. It was finally published by that journal in the fall of 1998. The lila that occurred between Yogi Ramsuratkumar and myself over this particular article in Om Sri Ram is chronicled in detail in the pages of As It Is, and in his biography, Yogi Ramsuratkumar, Under the Punnai Tree, but the article itself has never appeared in one of my books. It seems like an auspicious time to finally take this out of my archives and make it available.
Traveling in India by bus from lush Anandashram in Kanhangad, Kerala to the more desert-like, dusty Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, we disembarked on the side of the busy road beside Ramanashram, where we stayed for the next few days while visiting Sri Yogi Ramsuratkumar. Ramanashram is the spiritual home of Ramana Maharshi, where he lived for many years until his death. Today it is a flourishing center of spiritual presence and the influence of this great saint. Arriving in mid-morning, we saw monkeys scamper and chatter around the grounds under huge, sprawling trees, while in the samadhi hall seekers from all over the world walked quietly or sat in deep meditation or inner reflection in the abiding presence of Ramana Maharshi’s relics and statue.
After settling into our rooms at Ramanashram, we went to the Sudama House where Yogi Ramsuratkumar was then living. It was November 1993, and at the time the property for Yogi Ramsuratkumar’s ashram had just been purchased; plans were being made for its construction. We were with our American teacher, Lee, who travels thousands of miles each year from the US to see his spiritual Father, Sri Yogi Ramsuratkumar.
Yogi Ramsuratkumar had been expecting Lee’s arrival, and as we were ushered through the gate of the high walls that surrounded the house and garden, he came moving quickly down the steps calling out Lee’s name. “Lee, Lee!” he cried joyously, “My Father is everywhere—all one, all unity, indivisible, everything, everywhere, all one!” This proclamation of the oneness of all life, or as Ramdas would have said, “Everything is Ram,” was the first thing I heard Yogi Ramsuratkumar say. Indeed, for most of us on the trip, this was our first sight of Yogi Ramsuratkumar in person.
Stopped in my tracks by the sheer auspicious power of the moment, I watched as Lee fell to the ground in a full-body pranam. Right away Yogi Ramsuratkumar reached out a hand and pulled his Western devotee to his feet, chuckling and clapping Lee loudly on the back and shoulders. As they walked up the steps to the porch, Yogiji's arm twined around Lee, the nine of us travelers from America followed, knowing we were entering an extraordinary world of wonder, awe, and melting hearts.
In that first sight of him, it was clear that Yogi Ramsuratkumar lived up to his name—“The Godchild of Tiruvannamalai.” He was divinely childlike and yet elegant and regal in his beggar’s rags—old dhotis wrapped around his body and shawls stained from time on the streets. His beard was snow white underneath a green turban, which he wore wrapped around his head over blue-black hair. His eyes sparkled with light and sometimes shimmered with tears as blessings poured from his raised hands or simply from the radiance of his being. After seeing the sublime sweetness and unimaginable compassion that radiated from the face and eyes of Papa Ramdas in photographs and videos, Yogi Ramsuratkumar seemed to me a true spiritual son, molded in the image of the father and yet also a uniquely different expression of the Divine.
This quality of divine nectar, which was so radiantly alive in Yogi Ramsuraktumar and apparent in photographs of Papa Ramdas, came to life in a different way when I was fortunate to see a video of Swami Ramdas filmed by the imminent French filmmaker and spiritual teacher Arnaud Desjardins. Traveling in Europe with Lee in 1992, we were guests at Font d’Isiere, the ashram of Arnaud in France at that time. There he granted us the privilege of seeing rare footage of Papa Ramdas and Mother Krishnabai, which he had filmed at Anandashram in the early 1960s. Arnaud had a great love for Papa Ramdas, which he expressed by showing us a carefully folded dhoti, which he took from a locked glass case in the meditation hall, and held it out in his hands with reverence. The dhoti had been given to him by Ramdas many years ago, during Arnaud's stay at Anandashram. I remember well watching the film with a full heart, touched to the core by the sweetness in the saint's eyes. Because of Arnaud, I received an unforgettable darshan of Papa Ramdas.
One evening during our visit in Tiruvannamalai, Yogi Ramsuratkumar told the story of his relationship with Ramdas, his guru. He said that when he was at Anandashram in 1952, Papa Ramdas initiated him into the mantra, Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram, and told him to repeat it twenty-four hours a day. Listening and watching the Godchild, I was astonished to see Bhagwan become contrite and tearful as he said, “This beggar tried for one week to chant, and then Papa was with him all the time and everywhere. Papa was everything—nothing else, nobody else but my Father. This beggar didn’t do what Papa Ramdas told him to do.” The depth of his devotion moved my heart; I was powerfully touched by his wish that he could have done his Father’s bidding, to chant the mantra as Ramdas instructed, even though he ceased chanting because he had become one with Ramdas and his Father in Heaven.
At another time Yogi Ramsuratkumar said, “In 1952 Ramdas killed this beggar,” referring to the death of his personal identity and surrender at the feet of Swami Ramdas. I had heard these stories before, but hearing them from Yogi Ramsuratkumar himself made a deeper impact in mind and heart.
Throughout our visit with the Godchild of Tiruvannamalai, poetry written by Lee for Yogi Ramsuratkumar, was read aloud. A small book of these poems, titled Poems of a Broken Heart, had recently been published by an Indian devotee in Madras, at the request of Yogi Ramsuratkumar. Every day Yogi Ramsuratkumar asked Devaki Ma to read Lee's poems over and over again. Often she read poems that spoke of Yogi Ramsuratkumar’s love for Papa Ramdas and Mataji Krishnabai; then Yogiji would sit silently for a moment. “Read that one again," he would say. Then, after another reading, he would repeat the request: “Please read that one again for this beggar.” The following poem is one that Yogi Ramsuratkumar asked Devaki Ma to read many times in a row:
I heard stories of Your great love
For Papa and Mataji
Yes, You Rascal,
You were Mad even then.
This arrogant Fool Lee
Cannot love You like this on his own
But if You give him the Blessings
Of Your Father in Heaven
Then Lee will love You
Even as You loved Them.
Oh Father, Yogi Ramsuratkumar,
Your son begs You for this gift.
At the end of the reading Yogi Ramsuratkumar turned to Lee and, in a melodic and tender voice full of love and wonder, asked, “Lee, how did you know? How did you know this beggar felt that way about Ramdas and Krishnabai?”