LONG ago Sankara said that there were far too many pretenders among sadhus. The scriptures have condemned them, yet their number has increased and in the present times substantial amounts are wasted by the public on them. Such hypocrites have anger as well as fear towards true sannyasis and hence do everything possible to harm them. But the reputation of truly noble men only gets enhanced by such acts of the pretenders, whose true nature gets revealed.
From the very moment the Swami settled down on the hill, Arunachala, the income of the hypocritical sadhus began dwindling and instead started pouring at the Swami's feet. The Swami's great vairagya and his teachings were attracting people in large numbers. This caused heartburn to the sadhu pretenders. Among them was one, Jataswami who had some tapas to his credit and was also learned. In fact, the Swami used to visit him frequently and consult the books available with him. Jataswami was celibate and frugal in his eating habits but his great weakness was jealousy. He had the habit of rolling rocks towards any real sadhu who attempted to settle on the hill and most of them went away apprehending some approaching
earthquake. Jataswami employed the same trick towards the Swami but it had no effect; on one such occasion the Swami climbed up further and caught the elderly Jataswami who, strangely, not only did not express any remorse but merely laughed it off as a practical joke.
Jataswami's friend was Balanandaswami, a peculiar Brahmin character. He was acquainted with English, French, Marathi, Hindustani, Sanskrit and Malayalam. He studied the Prasthana Traya (scriptures). Appearance- wise also he was attractive with sharp features and good complexion. He also had the gift of the gab and by spinning yarns was able to win over any stranger. As darkness is dispelled when the sun rises, with the arrival of the Swami on the hill, Balanandaswami's glamour began to fade. But he was not one to give up. He tried to win over the Swami by all kinds of tricks. He would tell all visitors that the young Swami was his disciple and would ask them to give his "disciple" something to eat. Not only that, he would place a lot of eatables in front of the Swami in the presence of visitors and urge him to eat.
The Swami was guileless yet he could easily notice the hypocrisy of Balanandaswami but was not inclined to act against evil which was why possibly he never exposed him. Quite brazenly Balanandaswami said to the Swami, "I will declare you to be my disciple and make some money thereby. What do you lose, just be silent". After 1908 a number of persons learned and unlearned, rich and poor, children and elderly - became devoted to the Swami. They began showing their resentment towards Balanandaswami
at first indirectly but later, directly. Balanandaswami went to ridiculous lengths to establish himself as the Swami's guru without realizing that his acts were harmful to himself. The climax came one night with his passing urine in the verandah of Virupaksha cave before leaving the place. Palaniswami who guessed that it could only be the act of Balanandaswami washed the place. After the Maharshi and others went to have a bath at a distant teertha, Palaniswami threw out the bundle of Balanandaswami's clothes, among them were some costly ones too, and left the place locking up the cave. Palaniswami also felt that even if he did not express it the Maharshi must have been revolted at Balanandaswami's act.
Balananda returned and became furious at what happened to his clothes and began ranting "this must be Palani's work". As soon as Palani returned he belaboured him and said to the Maharshi, "This fellow Palani is quite arrogant, see how he threw away my clothes. Get rid of him at once." The Maharshi did not respond, Palani did not stir. With uncontrollable anger Balananda spat on the face of the Maharshi, even then the latter kept silent. For some unknown reason the Maharshi's devotees present at the spot also kept quiet. Another disciple, Muthaiah, living in a different cave got to know of this and with great fury was about to beat the forty year old Balanandaswami with a stick, when the Maharshi intervened and stopped him. Balanandaswami realized that his ways would not succeed and decided to leave the place but even then his pride would not leave him. He said, "This hill does not deserve to be the place for me to
do tapas" and left for the railway station. He seated himself in an upper class compartment. Even there he did not behave himself. There was a young couple already seated in the compartment. Balanandaswami began ordering about the young man who, naturally, ignored his commands. Furious at this, Balananda shouted at him: `By ignoring my words you are insulting me. This is because of your infatuation with this tart." At this, the young man took out his sandals and beat up Balananda. After this treatment, Balananda disappeared from Arunachala.
Two or three years later, when the Maharshi was residing at the mango tree cave, Balananda reappeared, stood before the cave and sent for the Maharshi. The latter, assuming that Balanandaswami was reformed came out. When no one was about, Balananda asked the Maharshi, "Have you heard what had happened at the railway station?". The Maharshi gave an affirmative answer. Balananda resumed, "Possibly, I needed that experience also! I regret having spat on you the other day, when I was beside myself with anger. If you so wish you may now spit on me as many times as you like" and went closer to the Maharshi. The Maharshi who had no trace of revenge in him did nothing of the kind.
But true to his form Balananda began ordering about everybody from the very next day. Naturally, nobody cared. A few days later he came to the mango tree cave and said to the Maharshi, "I shall teach you how to attain nirvikalpa samadhi." So saying he forcibly took him to the pial opposite the cave. Turning to Vasudeva Sastry
and other disciples of the Maharshi he said, "What business have you in the company of elders? You had better go." He looked again at the Maharshi and said, "You keep looking into my eyes and take a deep breath." He cautioned the Maharshi to relax-thus he harassed the Maharshi for about half an hour and at the end, he himself fell asleep. The Maharshi and his disciples quietly went back to the Virupaksha cave.
Balananda indulged in such antics on one more occasion. He ordered Rangaswamy Iyengar, a disciple of the Maharshi to fetch a twig for him to brush his teeth. Rangaswamy Iyengar brought a big branch and said, "For the elderly, is this not the appropriate thing?" Balananda ordered another disciple so fetch some fire to light his cigar. He, in turn, brought burning pieces of coal in a huge basin. Bringing it close to Balananda's face he asked, "What should be lighted?"
Balananada realized that the Maharshi's disciples would no longer care for him and thought it better to leave the place before they drove him out. Before leaving, he addressed the Maharshi thus: "This hill is unfit for persons like me. On top of it your disciples have insulted me. It was I who gave you various powers and because of them people are reverential towards you. I am withdrawing all the powers. Henceforth no one will respect you." So saying he left for the town.
He went to a sweetmeat shop owner and boasted about what he had done. The shop owner had great regard for the Maharshi; upon hearing what Balananda said he
got ready to thrash him. With that, Balananda left Arunachala again. Sometime later Balanandaswami returned to the Maharshi and saying that he had no attachment towards the body, he became nude and behaved in a repulsive manner with the Maharshi's attendant. All those present were incensed but the Maharshi was as usual indifferent. After this event Balananda left Arunachala for good. Nobody heard of him any more.
Another sadhu also tried to project himself as the Maharshi's guru. This Mahaswami had learnt the preliminary lessons of philosophy; he performed mantra japa, and was acquainted with music also. He resented the Maharshi who did not perform any japa but who still `earned' a lot of money. He would go to the post office and collect all the letters addressed to the Brahmana Swami (by which name also the Maharshi was known). His justification was that he also was a Brahmin residing on the hill! Once he returned from a pilgrimage to Kalahasti and said to the Maharshi, "I returned only for your sake. I shall initiate you in the Dattatreya- mantra". The Maharshi did not jump with joy at this unsought for attention. He was, as usual, indifferent. But the Mahaswami would not give up. "God appeared in my dream and ordered me to initiate you" he said. The Maharshi replied "If He appears in my dream also and orders me to receive the upadesa I shall do so". "No, no it is a very brief mantra, get up and we shall commence" said the Mahaswami. The Maharshi replied "What is the use of this upadesa when I have no inclination towards performing any Japa?"
The Mahaswami got angry and whenever any of his visitors expressed a wish to have the darshan of the Maharshi, he would try to dissuade them saying that the Maharshi was not great nor learned enough to be able to give any instruction to them. The Maharshi heard this but as usual kept quiet. One day when the Mahaswami was in meditation at the banana grove near the temple he had a vision of the Maharshi who said to him "Don't be deceived," and disappeared. With that, the Mahaswami trembled and realized that Ramana was no ordinary person and that he did possess certain powers. Thereafter he decided not to trifle with the Maharshi. He ran to the Maharshi, and narrating his experience pleaded with him to see that he no longer had such visions. The Maharshi replied calmly "I have no such powers. Further I have no hatred towards you at all." Mahaswami got pacified with these words and went his way.
Round about 1916, a group of sadhus planned to abduct the Maharshi. They came to him at the Virupaksha cave in a drunken state and said, "We are from Podigai the place where the sage Agastya is still in penance. He ordered us to take you to Srirangam first, where a meeting of the siddhas is on, and later bring you to him. He said that there were some elements still in your body which were preventing your attaining complete Siddhi and that he would remove them for your own benefit. He also said that he would initiate you in the proper manner."
The position was critical but the Maharshi just did not utter a single word. Perumalswami who was there,
was quite strong and quick-witted. He intervened and said to the visitors, "We have been already told by God of your impending visit and He ordered us to fry you in a pan. What do you say to this?" He further turned towards Mastan, a fellow disciple, and asked him to make necessary preparations for this. This acted as an excellent antidote which made the visiting sadhus run away.
It is not that such "gentlemen" were wanting among the educated classes, either. In the early days of the establishment of the Ashram some rich gentlemen of Madras, felt that the administration of the Ashram was not being carried out properly. They chartered a bus from Madras and arrived at the Ashram with the objective of changing the management or failing that, taking the Maharshi away to Madras. They entered the hall where Bhagavan sat. He was serious, immobile and silent. Each one of the visitors developed cold feet and having nothing to say they simply returned to their bus and went away. The Maharshi later on came to know as to why they came in the first place. He said, "I did not know why they came. Did they come here to imporve the Ashram or themselves?"