Sri Gnananda Giri of Tapovanam (Fr. Henri Le Saux’s Guru)
It was in 1955 that Fr. Henri Le Saux (Swami Abshaiktananda) met his Guru for the first time, in the person of a sage called Sri Gnananda Giri and he later wrote a book called “Guru and Disciple” An Encounter with Sri Gnananda, a Contemporary Spiritual Master, Delhi. 1990.
And the main teaching of his Guru, was as he described, meditation, (Dhyana)
To the place where there is nothing.
And take care that nothing comes in.
Penetrate to the depth of yourself,
To the place where thought no longer exists
And take care that no thought raises its head!
There where nothing exists
There where nothing is seen
Is the Vision of Being!
There where nothing appears any longer
Is the sudden appearing of the Self!
Dhyana, it is this.” “Swami Abhishiktananda, Guru and Disciple, op.cit., p.65.”
It was this teaching and my thirst to know more about his experience as a Christian monk like myself at the time, that led me, encouraged by Fr. Bede, to take the trip by bus from Tiruvanamalai and travel to the ashram where the sage Sri Gnananda lived.
I had written a letter to the swami in charge, Swami Nityananda Giri and he advised me to arrive at that time.
I followed the instructions and took a bus from Tirokylur to the ashram named Tapovanam
I arrived during the day and at the reception I asked for Swami Nityananda and was asked to be seated and I wanted for some ten minutes before he appeared. He was of small height and stocky and walked very fast and with a very warm smile and after all I had been told by Fr. Bede, I was happy to see him and I did what was customary, pranamed and touched his feet.
Immediately he began to say praises to St Francis of Assisi and he indicated me to follow him upstairs to the room that was assigned to me. It was a very plain room with a cot and small table and chair and in one corner was the bath area where one stood and poured water from a bucket over head. There was no curtain and so one had to be careful otherwise water will be all over the floor, luckily cemented.
Swami Nityananda spent some time explaining to me about Advaita and about the meeting of Fr. Henri Le Saux and Sri Gnananda, the Guru. He explained that the Guru had since passed and that there was there in the ashram a very holy man of whom the Western world was not aware but whom he said “He is realisation itself” and that he will have a word with him and see if he will accept to have a meeting with me. He spent quite a while explaining how the ashram was founded and all about how it functioned, the hours of prayers etc and he also took me down to the kitchen where I could have something to eat. He lent me the book “Guru and disciple” to read and had to leave as he had lots of duties to perform.
One of the swamis showed me where I could sleep on the roof as the door of my room opened out to a terrace on the roof and he gave me a mat to sleep on. He explained that it was much cooler than my room and less chance of mosquitoes.
I remember falling asleep that night as the monkeys were jumping from one branch of a tree to another as they also prepared to sleep. The skies were covered in stars and there was a very soothing breeze. There was only one problem as I awoke in the early morning to find that there were thousands of ants and insects crawling all around. Luckily none were of the biting families!
There was a fresh bucket of water in my room and I was able to shower and get dressed as I was asked to be down in the meditation hall sometime before 4 am. I found a comfortable spot and about 30 mins. later, someone came and took me to the morning arti, welcoming the light and the pujas.
The morning prayers in most ashrams begin just before the light breaks and it is a very special moment as the bells are rung and incense is waved and the light is taken to all the statues and different parts of the ashram.
The birds are awakening and beginning to chirp and fly away and we can hear, at times, the sounds of the parrots. It is like all of nature is awakening and offering their morning chants as the sun begins to rise.
After the prayers someone came and took me to the kitchen where I was given a spot to wait and well-worth the wait as I still remember drinking a cup of the best coffee I have ever tasted in a long while. Apparently the Guru loved his morning cup of coffee and even after his departure, it still remained a custom in the ashram.
I can remember reading some of the book, visiting different parts of the ashram but after lunch came what I recalled the most, as Swami Nityananda came and told me that I should come as he was going to introduce me to Sri Vidyananda Giri, and he said “I want you to meet my master. It was he who gave me “diksha”. (Initiation)
We went to the room and the Swami was sitting on his bed with a fan and Swami Nityananda pranamed and introduced me. The Swami invited me to sit on a chair on the side and he looked at me and smiled. I wondered what was in his mind and I was lost for words. He had an assistant who explained that soon they will be going for bath in the river and I was invited to go with them. At some point they arose and they made a sign to follow.
After the swami was finished he came out, said some prayers and called to ask me if I enjoyed the bath, it was time to go.
He spoke on the way back relating a parable in relation to a question I asked him as to how does the person who comes to the state of realisation feel inside and he spoke very good English and said “I am travelling on the train to Coimbatore to meet you. Surprisingly you get on at Tanjore. I am very happy to see you and I keep on travelling. I am allright. there is no problem.”
I took this note and it is still legible in my journal.
This day it started out as a somewhat lonely adventure. I was itching to speak and ask some questions but somehow I felt he wanted to be silent and so I kept silent.
As Swami Vidyananda came closer he looked at me and smiled and asked if I enjoyed the bath.
We started and because he opened conversation I asked him if we can ever reach a stage of no return, a permanent stage of higher consciousness. He said something to the effect that we westerners were too eager and sometimes we asked too many questions.
All of a sudden he stopped and turning around and placing his hand on my shoulder he said, “What is the problem, realization?. The Self is already realized. There is nothing to gain. Just keep on doing your spiritual practices and be at peace!” And we walked all the way back and it was rather peaceful and it was the last time I ever saw him.
(below is a photo of one of the places where I attended morning puja)