Over the next few months, I will be highlighting great Sages, Saints and Swamis.
Sages are spiritual masters, living through divine inspiration, authentic Knowledge and Insight of the Universal or Absolute (God).
An authentic Saint is also a Sage, in that both words mean: ‘holy being’ and are often God-realized Souls who transmit grace via presence, look or touch. This grace awakens the dormant spirituality within us. Saints are often of Christian and Hindu religious affiliation (and a few others); the true Saint, however, transcends all creeds, doctrines and belief systems.
In some of these holy personages, the prefix ‘Swami’ has been placed before their name. The term ‘Swami’ – like many Sanskrit words, has been misunderstood. The word Swami means ‘one who knows’. What they know through direct experience is the highest spiritual realization. They are monks that love and serve mankind with great compassion.
Swami Ramdas, who I profile today, is one such Saint. He is also a Sage in the highest sense of the word. The name Ramdas means ‘Servant of God.’ He shares from his direct experience of spiritual realization and serves all who cross his path. I speak in the presence tense here, even though Swami Ramdas’s body passed away in 1963, like all true Saints he transcends time and space and lives in the Eternal dimension.
Yet, as if often the case with Saints, Swami Ramdas had to go through intense austerities and challenges, including: months without sleep, bouts of malaria and other conditions.
Before he was the Saint, Swami Ramdas was known as, Vittal Rao, a struggling soul like most of humanity. He had a wife, young child, and was working in a factory. As he has written in his book, In Quest of God:
“Ramdas struggled on in a world full of cares, anxieties and pains. It was a period of terrible stress and restlessness- all of his own making. ‘Where is rest; where is relief?’-was the heart’s cry. Then Ramdas heard from the Great Void:
‘Despair not, trust me and thou shalt be free.’”
From that point God’s grace poured in and Ramdas was made to utilize all his spare time in in the spiritual practice of chanting of God’s Name. In this case, it was the mantra: Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram. The mantra, chanted in sanskrit, loosely translates to: Victory to God, the Eternal One. And when this is chanted over and over, the mind becomes absorbed into the Eternal One.
Ram is a name of God that has been honored through thousands of years. One could easily chant any Name for God, even ‘GOD’ would work. Yet, the power of a lineage of chanting cannot be downplayed and some words, even ‘GOD’ has been misused, or used sacrilegiously, diminishing the power to a certain degree.
The cornerstone and hallmark features in Ramdas’s quest were sincerity and earnestness, driven by futility, which lead to full surrender in God.
“Joy is the order of the day…” I read these words, written by Swami Ramdas this morning and was struck as if by lightning. He was writing a letter to a devotee undergoing some of life’s vicissitudes.
Ramdas orders up joy like a divine pizza and we can taste the irresistible flavor of it. God is truly immanent. In that Immensity, we forget our petty troubles and difficulties.
Swami Ramdas, with his words, mirrors our magnificence, and his holy presence fills all space. Even the idea of “I” with a body and separate individual existence fades away.
Authentic love is gushing forth from the very fiber of our being at all times, Swami Ramdas is saying.
To realize this and have direct experience is possible through the Saint’s grace. And this grace is being transmitted without us needing to be near the Saint’s bodily presence. For the Saint is not the body form, they are eternal, divine, formless presence.
These gifts of love and joy Ramdas shares are reminders of the divine treasure chest nestled inside our heart.
Our best friend might have passed on last week or one’s mother could be gravely ill. An eviction notice sits on the door knob and our bank account is dry. Still, love and joy can ring with terrific force, emanating from our heart. We realize that the next breath is not guaranteed and each heartbeat a living gift from the Almighty.
Swami Ramdas, like all true Saints, emits a palpable tenderness that melts away the illusory debris of discontent. A story Ramdas shared in his book illustrates this gentle- spirit tenderness, mixed with love, compassion and humor:
“…a Ticket Inspector, a Christian, dressed in European fashion, stepped into the
carriage at a small station, and coming up to the Sadhus (Ramdas and another holy person who he refers to as ‘sadhu-ram’ for all people are expressions of God to him) asked for tickets.
“Sadhus carry no tickets, brother, for they neither possess nor care to
possess any money,” said Ramdas in English.
The Ticket Inspector replied:
“You can speak English. Educated as you are, you cannot travel without a ticket. I have to ask you both to get down.”
The Sadhuram and he accordingly got down at the bidding of the Inspector.
“It is all Ram’s will,” assured Ramdas.
They were now on the platform and there was still some time for the train to start. The Ticket Inspector, meanwhile, felt an inclination to hold conversation with Ramdas who, with the Sadhuram, was waiting for the train to depart.
“Well,” broke in the Inspector looking at Ramdas. “May I know with what purpose you are travelling in this manner?”
“In quest of God,” was his simple reply.
“They say God is everywhere,” persisted the Inspector, “then, where is the fun of your knocking about in search of Him, while He is at the very place from which you started on this quest, as you say?”
“Right, brother,” replied Ramdas, “God is everywhere but he wants to have this fact actually proved by going to all places and realising His presence everywhere.”
“Well then,” continued the Inspector, “if you are discovering God wherever you go, you must be seeing Him here, on this spot, where you stand.”
“Certainly, brother,” rejoined Ramdas, “He is here at the very place where we stand.”
“Can you tell me where He is?” asked the Inspector.
“Behold, He is here, standing in front of me!” exclaimed Ramdas enthusiastically.
“Where, where?” cried the Inspector impatiently.
“Here, here!” pointed out Ramdas smiling, and patted on the broad chest of the Inspector himself. “In the tall figure standing in front, that is, in yourself, Ramdas clearly sees God who is everywhere.”
For a time, the Inspector looked confused. Then he broke into a hearty fit of laughter. Opening the door of the compartment from which he had asked the Sadhus to get down, he requested them to get in again, and they did so, followed by him. He sat in the train with the Sadhus for some time.
“I cannot disturb you, friends, I wish you all success in your quest of God”. With these words he left the carriage and the train rolled onwards…”
Instant freedom appears and it feels magical and miraculous because we have awakened to the living truth always in plain sight. The curtain of chaos and confusion is pulled away; we are flooded with the light of our own grandeur. The so called darkness of despair-never there to begin with!
Grace poured forth from Ramdas through his deep immersion in the consciousness of God and this most likely opened a portal inside the ticket inspector’s heart.
photo: Swami Ramdas in about 1923