Nine months. That was all it took. Arunagiri Yogeshwara took Swamiji under his wing for only nine months. But now everything that Swamiji has done in his life- all the work, the discourses, temples, centers and programs- everything he has done is a result of his relationship with Arunagiri Yogeshwara. Knowing this, can we even begin to fathom how it was between them?
As devotees, the first time we met Swamiji is always carved into our mind like the curves of a statue. We know where we were, what we were thinking at that time and how every thought just stopped when we took him into us for the first time through our eyes. Just like that, Swamiji remembers when he saw Arunagiri Yogeshwara. He was walking around the main garbha mandir when suddenly a young sadhu was emerging from underneath a four pillared structure. Eleven year old Swamiji thought that this structure was a cave. The minute he saw a saintly looking man coming out of this cave, Swamiji touched his feet. Just as he got up from that was hs first full glance of the new swami. He was looking at least 30 years old with long jatas, vibhuti on his forehead, rudraksh lining his chest. Swamiji remembers, “When I saw him, […] there was no snake around his neck, or a moon- just a very normal form with an extraordinary grace”.
The peculiar, yet beautiful, thing is that as Swamiji describes Arunagiri Yogeswhwara, the only figure that comes up in our heads is Swamiji himself.
The infatuation was instant. Swamiji began by asking where this sadhu is from. He learned that what he thought was a cave behind him was actually his home. From there, like the innocent child that he was, Swamiji began asking question after question to him. Arunagiri Yogeshwara reciprocated not only by answering his questions but by taking the conversation beyond an interview. An easy back and forth settled between Swamiji and Arunagiri Yogeshwara with quips of gossip here and there, small talk and jokes enlivening the conversation.
They fell in sync, as if they were one before either of them acknowledged it. A mystical kind of love began to grow, like a banyan tree up and around the whole area that it inhabits. That is the unique aspect of the guru-disciple relationship. There is no ground that the roots of a banyan tree do not touch. As far as it can reach, it will. In time, nothing existed between Swamiji and Arunagiri Yogeshwara but the integrity of love.
For the whole nine months, so lovingly, Swamiji says that Arunagiri Yogeshwara became “the breath of my life”. Nothing else existed to Swamiji. “I know I wake up only to see him. When I wake up he is there in my eyes. When I open my eyes I want to see his form, when I close my eyes his photo is there inside,” he reminisces gently.
Swamiji thoroughly despised anything that came in between him and his time with his one true guru. The night watchman who would tell Swamiji when he had to go home at night, the alarm clock that would seemingly never ring, the elephant that came to the temple in the mornings and everything in between. Especially the team that takes care of the temple elephant, Swamiji remembers laughingly “I cursed him, his father, his grandfather, his great grandfather, his whole vamsa”
Arunagiri Yogeshwara became a true guru for Swamiji. Just as one disciple did for Ramana Maharshi, Swamiji started writing down everything that they spoke about in the day. Sometimes he would purposely make mistakes so that Arunagiri Yogeshwara would correct them the next day. Swamiji began learning the Patanjali Yoga Sutra, Upanishads and Vignana Bhairava Tantra from him. As more and more time went on, the closer they became. He said, “With more time passing I got more comfortable with him. I ate with him. I have slept in his lap. Sometime he would sit; I would lean on him and stretch my leg. He was just… he was never just a guru. He was far more than that; far, far, far more.”
The one condition that Arunagiri Yogeshwara had Swamiji keep was not to tell anybody of their relationship. But at that point, any promise was nothing compared to the love that the two shared. One day, as they sat together in the temple once again, Swamiji asked his guru, “Swami! Please Come to the house, my house”
In response, Arunagiri Yogeshwara said, “You come to my house, the place where I’m staying”
Unwilling to miss the opportunity to see the place of his beloved guru, Swamiji agreed immediately. This transcendental experience was the pinnacle of Swamiji’s time with Arunagiri Yogeshwara. As they entered the cave, hand in hand, Swamiji lost body consciousness. The following events that transpired were definitely not in the same realm as he was before. But the trust he had for his guru let him go into this place no matter how far it was from what young Swamiji was familiar with.
Upon coming out of the cave, Swamiji saw a vast banyan tree. Sadhus sat in lines chatting silently, reading or meditating until Swamiji and his guru approached. The hustle quieted down immediately and everyone stood up. Arunagiri Yogeshwara walked gracefully to his spot, in front of all of them and toward the center. Swamiji understood that his own guru was the senior most guru of that place. He stood in front of them, standing out because of his modern attire- a school uniform. When asked about this from one of the seated disciples, Swamiji became defensive.
“I am also sanyas like you. I just don’t have kavi” he remarked.
“Why don’t you have kavi?” Arunagiri Yogeshwara asked Swamiji.
“You give me. You give me!” he insisted. With a laugh, Arunagiri Yogeshwara looked to the side and suddenly another rishi was bringing the saffron cloth. He called Swamiji to come and take it. Within moments, Swamiji stripped his blue shirt and shorts and walked, naked, in front of his guru. Arunagiri Yogeshwara tied the cloth around him and inserted the extra into his hip. Unbeknowest to the young boy, he had ben initiated into sanyas.
When Swamiji and Arunagiri Yogeshwara emerged from the cave, Swamiji’s young body was clad in nothing but saffron colored cloth. While this might be a shock to any onlooker, for Swamiji this was a dream come true. Now finally he was adorned in his favorite color and by his favorite tradition.
When guru and disciple bid their goodbye, Swamiji began to tell everyone. The first person he ran to was his childhood guru Matha Vibhuatananda Puri, or Kupammal. After expecting an equally jovial response from someone he looked up to so much, Kupammal’s sober response was a shock. From the clouds, eleven year old Swamiji plummeted to the Earth again.
“Giving kavi means giving sanyas” Kupammal told him with a stern voice. “Who did you get it from?”
Swamiji recalled his promise to Arunagiri Yogeshwara. “I just got a kavi” he told her trying to feign casualty. But she pressed further. She demanded that Swamiji take me to the sadhu that gave her disciple kavi. When he told her, he met his guru in the temple, she dragged him by the ears toward the mandir.
Once they reached the cave, Swamiji called for his guru, “Swami, Swami, Swami!”
To his horror, for the first time in nine months, nobody answered. The pain that Kupammal was inflicting on him suddenly multiplied. Where was he? Why was he not coming out? Kupammal seemed to get angrier now that Swamiji’s alibi was not showing up. She started beating him against the pillar until Swamiji. Only then, when Swamiji looked properly did he realize that there was no cave under the mandir. What he had been seeing every day for the last nine months was not actually true!
Swamiji’s world shattered. He firmly grasped Kupammal’s hand to stop her from beating him. Then, he put his hand on her head and swore. “ I promise in the name of Arunachaleshwara, on you, on me, I have not stolen this cloth”
Swamiji put his hand on her like he does now during energy darshan. From the way she stopped and stayed still for a moment, it was easy to tell some energy was transferred even then. She asked Swamiji slowly to describe the sadhu he’s been sitting with for so long. How did he look? Where did he come from? All Swamiji told her was his name, “Arunagiri Yogeshwara”.
Kupammal didn’t have a second thought. She swiftly fell flat in front of his feet. Shocked Swamiji fell silent. Both of them spoke in low voices now. Kupammal asked one, then two and then three times more if who Swamiji saw was really Arunagiri Yogeshwara.
Only then, when Swamiji was just about to be completely fed up, Kupammal explained that this garbha mandir was Arunagiri Yogeshwara’s jeeva Samadhi and he was one of the greatest incarnations that ever lived.
It was as if two extremes were pulling him from one end to the other. On one end, Swamiji had now broken his oath to his guru. On the other, he just found out that Sadashiva himself took this form and came to him for so long.
Fear and bliss pulled him a part. Swamiji describes, “The Little bit of whatever bad karmas were left got burnt by that fear whether he may or may not come at all. This bliss and joy and pain burnt both the karmas. I just dropped. I can say by crying, crying, crying I just slept away there itself. I should not even use the word slept. I fell into some state. I got lost.
Swamiji remained there itself, unable to see through his turmoil, until a well-known watchman told him to go see the night seva done in the garbha mandir. He continues, “So I just opened my eyes, and saw that everything was looking too new. I slowly walked to the garbha mandir, in those days, it was not that crowded and the garbha mandir, no priest was there.
The moment I entered the ardha mantapa the next the hall of the garbha mandir to have darshan of the deity, the moment I looked up, I saw Arunagiri Yogishwara sitting on the Shiva linga”
Swamiji ran as fast as he could to reach his guru. Then he told us, “The moment this body touched him and that body touched this body and I just saw that twoness disappear. That Shivoham and unclutching has happened. I just became one; the Shivoham has become reality. After that, I never saw him physically, I never felt separated from him, I never felt the need to see him again, just we became one”
Years later, every inner awakening we hear this story again. We all sit in Raaja Sabha in Bidadi or another hall in one of the spiritual hubs all over the world. Throughout this story, we go through the ups and downs, the love and fear with Swamiji. And we too are liberated at the end by the technique of unclutching.