I wonder how many people know today that Ramana Maharshi was famous during his lifetime for giving initiation or transmission to visitors by looking into their eyes. He often did this for almost an hour at a time. His devotees at the ashram sometimes called this his “glance of grace.”
The effect was often strong and profound. Some people who became his lifelong devotees said later that they did so as a result of an experience of this kind when they first met him. I think this is probably the main reason why he became famous.
I know about this from reading memoirs, interviews, and biographies of people who experienced it. There are many books and collections of this kind including Arthur Osborne’s Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self Knowledge and V. Ganesan’s Ramana Periya Puranam. David Godman’s three-volume Power of the Presence probably also contains many examples but since it isn’t available as a digital edition, and my eyesight is poor, I can’t look through it now to refresh my memory.
If you’re interested in Ramana’s teachings but haven’t read any of the memoirs, biographies, and interviews, I strongly recommend that you do so. Most serious followers of Ramana probably know about the importance of Ramana’s instructional texts, especially Who Am I? and Ulladu Narpadu, but I think it’s also very valuable to learn what it was like to interact with him at his ashram while he was alive. You can only do this by reading the memoirs, biographies, and interviews of people who knew him. One of the benefits of this is that it allows you to see that Ramana’s state was different from what you hear about from most of today’s spiritual teachers, even the ones who say they have lost their egos and are living in permanent nonduality.
Aspects and effects of Ramana’s state were apparent to people who lived with him and visited him, and many felt awe in his presence, not just bliss or energy or quiet or samadhi but also awe, and they knew that their lives had been changed by contact with him, sometimes after a single meeting, and we have hundreds of written descriptions of their experiences.
Here are a few quotations from those books to whet your appetite. The last quote is the best:
The initiation by look was a very real thing. Sri Bhagavan would turn to the devotee, his eyes fixed upon him with blazing intentness. The luminosity, the power of his eyes pierced into one, breaking down the thought-process. Sometimes it was as though an electric current was passing through one, sometimes a vast peace, a flood of light. One devotee has described it: “Suddenly Bhagavan turned his luminous, transparent eyes on me. Before that I could not stand his gaze for long. Now I looked straight back into those powerful and wonderful eyes, how long I could not tell. They held me in a sort of vibration distinctly audible to me.” Always it was followed by the feeling, the indubitable conviction, that one had been taken up by Sri Bhagavan, that henceforth he was in charge, he was guiding. Those who knew would perceive when such an initiation took place, but it would usually be inconspicuous; it might happen during the chanting of the Vedas, when few would be watching or the devotee might feel a sudden impulse to go to Sri Bhagavan before daybreak or at some time when few or none would be present. [From Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge]
Osborne lived for years at the ashram, so although the preceding quotation states the facts in a general way, it describes the experiences of people he knew well.
When Bhagavan came back, he completed the verse, “Arunachala Ramanan who resides in the Heart lotus of every being, gave Mugavapuri Murugan a look and destroyed all his tendencies. This enabled him to come out with thousands of spontaneous verses, the beauty of which is comparable with those written several centuries back by the saint Manikavachakar in Thiruvachakam.” [From Ramana Periya Puranam, page 36; emphasis mine.]
After his death experience in Madurai, Bhagavan often went to the Meenakshi temple there. He would stand in front of Mother Meenakshi’s idol for hours together, looking at her eyes. Tears would flow from his eyes. Significantly, Meenakshi means ‘one with fish like eyes’. (The Hindu scriptures describe three kinds of spiritual initiations. One of them is the way of the fish. The fish is said to have the power of hatching its eggs by just looking at them. Therefore, the inner meaning of the name Meenakshi is ‘the mother who blesses or initiates with her eyes’.) The unique gift that Mother Meenakshi gave her son Venkataraman was the power to initiate and bless his devotees with just his look. In fact, almost every devotee of Bhagavan has talked about how the very first look from him, pushed them inwards and gave them a never before experience of joy, peace and silence. This was why, even on his last day, Bhagavan insisted that devotees be allowed to have his darshan — to give each one of them his final look of blessing. [From Ramana Periya Puranam, page 36; emphasis mine.]
Incidentally, I was initiated by Goddess Meenakshi in that same temple in 1985 in a way that somehow connected me to Ramana. I went there as a tourist. I had never heard of Ramana and had no interest in or knowledge of sadhana or liberation. That event changed my life and is the reason why I write this blog.
Once, when Desurammal came to Skandashram, a sadhu told her, “Today is a full moon day. It is the most powerful day for getting initiation. In Bhagavan you have a perfect jnani. So, ask Bhagavan for initiation today.” Induced by this sadhu, she prostrated before Bhagavan who rarely gave initiation. He asked her, “What do you want, Desurammal?” “Bhagavan, you have to initiate me with some mantra.” “Oh! You want a mantra.” he replied. Then, becoming serious he sat down and said in Tamil, “Unnai vidaadhu iru,” which means, ‘remain without leaving your Self’. Desurammal said that he did not just say that and leave. He looked at her and transfixed her with his silent grace. Riveting his look on her for nearly an hour, he also gave her the inner knowledge of how to remain without giving up the experience of the Self. [From Ramana Periya Puranam, page 39; emphasis mine.]
Here’s the best quote — best because it’s the shortest, clearest description of the whole phenomenon:
She [Echammal] went to have his darshan and Bhagavan looked at her for nearly an hour. She stood in front of Bhagavan with tears rolling down from her eyes. He had tears streaming down his own face as well. Not a single word transpired between them, but she felt an immense power, a mysterious force that seemed to keep her immobilized. Miraculously, there was not a drop of sorrow left in her. She felt the grace and took a vow that she would feed this ascetic all her life. [From Ramana Periya Puranam, page 42; emphasis mine.]