Ramana Maharshi statue

I stared at the jet-black statue of Ramana for a long time. Locking eyes with the jnani, I felt his presence in the ashram, inside me. The near-perfect life-sized rendering of the wise sage, hunched over in sitting position, had an aliveness, a realness that made his presence palpable despite his passing more than 60 years ago.

After spending many years living in caves on Mount Arunachala, Ramana Maharshi settled into his ashram in Tiruvannamalai, India where he remained a fixture as solid as the stone statue that now depicts his bodily form. There he taught scores of seekers who journeyed from around the world to learn something of awareness by sitting with this living embodiment of the Self.

When Ramana was dying of cancer, his disciples expressed their concern at his imminent loss. “I am not going anywhere, where shall I go?” he responded. “I shall be there where I am always.”

So, having deep respect for Ramana, I wondered whether it was just me feeling his presence.

Two days later I returned to the ashram. But this time it was neither Ramana’s presence nor the inviting temple filled with peaceful meditators that caught my attention. Above the temple, two peacocks stood in graceful stillness atop the two corners and a third above the front entrance. All three faced outward like gargoyles standing sentry over the place.

I stood in awe looking up at the graceful birds for quite some time. They just stood there in silent stillness, in perfect peace. Like satellite dishes they absorbed the treasure of consciousness sitting under their feet and radiated it to all those around.

Visitors to the ashram stopped to gaze at these magnificent birds while locals, accustomed to seeing them regularly, looked up and smiled every now and then.

Just about every time I visited the ashram I saw at least one. Yet, of the six weeks I was in Tiru, I didn’t see a single peacock elsewhere in town. It’s no coincidence they made their home at the ashram. It seems they’re as connected to their inward beauty as people are attracted to their outward beauty.

A week later I returned to the ashram, but with a different intention. I didn’t show up to just be. Rather, I went with an agenda: stop in for a short bit of walking meditation during the evening puja before making my way to dinner.

Carrying two grocery bags–one cloth, one plastic—I walked through the ashram gate and headed for the temple. A 400-year-old Iluppai tree stood firmly rooted as a living monument just in front of the entrance. Underneath it, a monkey was standing oddly still, leaning over to one side with its eyes intently fixed on me. I felt a strange apprehension, but since I’d never had problems with a monkey before I didn’t think anything of it and continued walking.

It lunged at me and grabbed the plastic bag, tearing a hole in it. The contents spilled out onto the ground and within seconds it rummaged through the bottles and snatched the one thing it could eat—a mango bar.

“Damn monkey. Stop!” I yelled, but within seconds, it bolted up the tree.

As I collected my goods from the ground, I felt the stares of the silent piercing into me for breaking their carefully cultivated ashramitic peace and then realized the ridiculousness of the situation.

I got mugged by a monkey. And of all places—at Ramana’s ashram, one of the holiest sites in all of Mother India. I’d never been robbed in India until that incident. I felt violated. Though I thought I got violated by a monkey, as always, it was just my mind that I let violate me.

According to the ancient Indian Vedic texts, we have three general qualities of character. Rajas is when we’re outward focused and over-active, Tamas is when we’re lethargic and suffering from inertia and, the least common, sattva when we’re connected to our pure, serene nature. When connected to sattva, I saw peacocks. When tempted by rajas, I got mugged by a monkey.

I yelled at the monkey to stop, and it did—10 metres above me where it sat on a thick branch, munching away at the bar of sugary goodness.

I looked up at it. It looked down at me. Ridiculous. I started laughing at myself and continued laughing as I walked towards the temple. Here was Ramana staring down at me. It takes a monkey to see a monkey. It takes awareness to see awareness… to be awareness.