Foundation of Excellence: Rama

Rama, whose parents named him Ramachandra, was born in 1900 in Maharashtra to a middle-class Brahmin family known for its study of the Vedanta. In school Rama realized that the education he was receiving was not what he had hoped for. He decided to look for work in the town of Gwalior, where he stayed with one of his father’s friends. He was hired for work in a factory but soon tired of it. He quickly discovered he could hire a servant to do the factory work and still have some money left over to pay expenses, so his days were free.

He decided to return home to see his mother. As he walked the long road home, darkness fell. Suddenly a man stepped out of the brush and stood directly in front of him. Rama was sure it was a robber and was really frightened, thinking the man would kill him. He said, "What do you want?" The stranger grabbed the sacred thread that crossed Rama’s body and said, "This is what I want!" He pulled the thread violently, breaking the cord. Rama fainted and fell down in the dust.

When he woke, the thread and the man were gone. Rama went on to his home in the night, crawled in his bedroom window, took a pack of books, and left the same way without seeing anyone. He told Alice a long time later, "I knew then I must reach the Himalayas."

Rama had no money to pay for a rail ticket, but he went to the station and sat on a bench, watching the trains. Suddenly the same man who had accosted him and taken his thread appeared in front of him. Rama said, "Who are you?" The man answered, "I have many names; they are not important. Here is money for your ticket to Kashmir." Handing Rama the rupees, he disappeared. Needless to say, Rama took the next train north. His family had sent police to try to stop him, but they failed to catch up with him and he never returned home again.

Rama was a Southerner, and not used to the northern climate; he had never seen snow. He arrived in Srinagar, Kashmir, in the summer months, and the weather was quite fine. He decided to take up his seat in the small temple of Shankaracharya that sits on the hill overlooking the town. He did not speak Kashmiri, but somehow began to learn the language and was able to survive the long days of meditation and discipline.

The winter weather came on suddenly and he realized he could not live on this way in the open. He decided life was not so important to him and began a fast to the death. A kindly Kashmiri gentleman, Premnath Thusoo, heard about the young saint who was fasting to death on the hill, and came to get him. He carried Rama back to his house and nursed him back to health. They became fast friends. Many years later, Alice was able to hear all the stories of Rama in the Thusoo house.

Rama also became great friends with Lakshmanjoo during his years in Kashmir; they spent much time in discussion. Lakshmanjoo told Alice about the many times on bright moonlit nights that he would hear Rama coming out of the hills to visit him, singing loudly.

There were many tigers in the hills in those days, and Lakshmanjoo warned Rama about the danger of attack, but Rama seemed fearless. When Alice asked Rama about his nighttime walks in the mountains, he told her, "A wise man knows when to be afraid." Rama walked everywhere in the mountains. He had the siddha (power) to walk at a constant four to five miles per hour and was often seen traveling at great speed.

Rama did not take anyone as his Guru, but at each crucial stage of his sadhana (Yogic discipline), the divine took a form and appeared, giving him the necessary instructions for his life. This happened at least ten times in Rama’s life. On one occasion he received divine guidance in Haridwar on the banks of the Ganges. Rama had bathed in the icy water, spread his clothes out to dry, and sat for meditation. He had not eaten for three days. As soon as his meditation was over he found a priestlike figure standing before him, urging him to eat. The priest said, "Don’t torture yourself. You have already mastered Yoga. Food is ready for you. Please come and take it." Rama courteously declined, but the man insisted and made Rama follow him to a nearby hut where food was laid out for him. Rama asked the stranger who he was, and he replied, "My name is Ramachandra. I am a priest at the shrine of Badrinath [hundreds of miles away] and I have come all the way here to feed you." Then the man vanished. Rama ate the food with tears of gratitude for the Lord. He later visited Badrinath and found the priest presiding there, but the priest insisted that he had never left the shrine.

Rama’s usual routine during his years of Yogic study was to rise at four in the morning, wash his hands and feet, and sit for hours of meditation. Beginning at sunrise, he performed about sixty asanas during a period of about three hours. Then he would bathe in a cold river, no matter what the weather, and practice tratak (visual concentration) for hours, usually on the sun. He recited the Gita and the Upanishads and chanted mantrams, and always took a five- or ten-mile walk daily. Rama refused to be ruled by his stomach — as he saw so many sadhus doing — and lived on the fruits he could find in the forest, mixing the pulp with water; once he lived on gram (wheat berries) alone for several months. He followed these practices for many months and soon mastered the eight limbs of Yoga.

Whenever Rama needed something, he would concentrate wholeheartedly on it until it appeared. Once when Rama was at Mandukya Ashram, he longed for a quiet place to practice. A sanyasin (holy man) appeared and described a cave about twenty miles from Haridwar, up in the mountains. When Rama arrived there, he found the cave of Bhuthnath on a small island between the Ganges and Varna rivers.

One day a young sadhu (ascetic) wearing a saffron robe approached Rama and asked him to teach him asanas. He came regularly for six or seven days; once he said to Rama with surprise, "Swami, how flexible is your body. I think there is no bone in your body!" Rama later found out that the sanyasin was none other than Sivananda, who at that time was working as a surgeon at the Madras Hospital. They became friends and studied and discussed together writings on Vedanta.

Rama traveled and visited all the holy places in India, Ceylon, and Nepal. The local people always urged Rama to stay with them, but he invariably found the settings not conducive to his sadhana, so he would strike out into the deep jungles, forests, and isolated mountainous places to find the solitude he needed to practice Yoga. In 1927, after visiting Shri Yogananda’s ashram, he went to Benares to study the Shastras. He practiced long hours in the cave of Gagananda near there.

Later, on the banks of the Rudravati river deep in the heart of the Himalayas, Rama came out of meditation and saw a radiant sanyasin standing before him. The saint said in a shrill voice, "If you want to go to Amarnath, why don’t you go alone. You should go immediately. If you do not know the way I will accompany you, for I too want to go there."

Rama and the sanyasin scaled the mountains up to Chandanwadi, where the saint told Rama to go on alone. Rama climbed the dangerous icy track by himself, and when he entered the holy cave of Amarnath, he found the same sanyasin standing there smiling. The man disappeared, and Rama entered into a deep meditative state in which he had the divine vision of Lord Shiva and attained the final stage of self-realization. The realization came so fiercely and suddenly that Rama fell down in the path near the cave. It was raining heavily, and he was unable to move out of the mud. A kind pilgrim laid a newspaper over him and he survived.

After this culminating experience, Rama spent many years in Kashmir, teaching Yoga to hundreds of people. Later he traveled to Ludhiana in the Punjab. For the last decade of his life, Rama lived at Ram Kunj, on the banks of the Ganges, and from there traveled yearly through Europe and to the United States. Rama had innumerable devotees from all faiths and walks of life and from all over the world. It was his desire to help every human soul in its spiritual upliftment.

According to Rama, Yoga is the discipline or technique by which the individual soul is united with the divine. Rama did not advise anyone to renounce the world, but believed that realization is possible within society and the family if sincere efforts are made. Traditionally there are four methods of initiating students into Yoga: by giving a mantram, by touch, by sight, and through mental vibrations alone. Rama used them all.

Rama wrote many books in Hindi, Marathi, and English, though most of his writings were lost in a fire in Kashmir. Three in English that survived are The World a Fancy Tree (reprinted in Alice’s book The Light of Yoga); Drishtiyoga, a lecture on the Yoga of Sight; and A Bunch of Reminiscences, his autobiography. Rama met Alice Christensen in the United States in 1964, and she returned with him to India for several months of advanced study. Her story of these experiences may be found in her book The Light of Yoga. Rama also met and taught many of Alice’s students. Rama died in 1972 in Cleveland, Ohio, but remains a vibrant and powerful presence in Alice’s life and teaching as well as in the lives of many of her students.

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