By Roozbeh Gazdar April 2004 Ranjit Maharaj, a relatively unknown guru outside Mumbai, lived a simple life and tarted teaching only at the age of 70. From his one-room apartment in Girgaum, he expounded a powerful philosophy of Advaita and Bhakti to seekers from all over the world Ranjit Maharaj was the gurubhai of Nisargadatta Maharaj (right), the well-known advaita teacher whose book I am That has become a modern spiritual classic. Their guru was Siddharameshwar Maharaj (left) who directly communicated knowledge, gyana, of the Final Reality to his disciplesFinal Reality Reaching reality requires nothing because it is already there. To remove ignorance, knowledge is necessary, but finally both must dissolve into reality. Your Self is without ignorance, without knowledge. Thus, knowledge is only a cure for the illness of illusion; once it has served its purpose, it too ceases to exist. Forget everything (the ego) and He is there. Ignorance came by hearing. It must go off by hearing (the words of the guru). —Ranjit Maharaj As the evening shadows lengthened, a cold breeze started blowing in from the sea. The samadhi of Ranjit Maharaj at Banganga, Mumbai, was almost deserted except for a caretaker. Kishor Chopda, a businessman dealing in books and art objects, had just finished performing a puja in the memory of his master. Three pairs of feline eyes stared unblinking from the marbled floor as a family of kittens huddled together seeking warmth, their white and grey camouflaged against the patterns in the stone. As the sun sank below the horizon, the last snatches of orange disappeared from the clouds and ocean and sky merged in a veil of grey. “The world is a long dream, take it for granted,” Kishor was elaborating on his master’s teaching It was twilight, that time of the day when ceaseless activity, having climaxed, reaches a state of inertia, and calm and tranquillity pervades all existence. A little later, the spell broken, our taxi was grinding its way through the choked streets of Mumbai. Our destination, Narayan Building on Dubash Road, Girgaum, is one of many old and crumbling buildings in the congested locality. In the dingy interior, Room No 45 would have been indistinguishable from any of the other tenements, but for its entrance, crowded with bhajan singers. It could have been a middle-class family celebration anywhere in Mumbai. But the motley group collected here betrayed a more trans-national origin. Few westerners are part of the celebration, at ease singing in Marathi. It was in this room that Ranjit Maharaj lived and gave spiritual discourse to seekers who came from around the world. The singing over, the distribution of prasad brings the building’s resident cat running for her share. As the gathering disperses, the room interior comes into focus. Austerely furnished, on its walls are hanging framed pictures of various saints including Ranjit Maharaj’s. His picture shows an obviously aged man on whose beautiful face life seems to have etched each passing year with its lines. It is not a face one can associate with the gurus and godmen advertised on posters and billboards seen all over the country. And yet, there is the compelling familiarity of the friendly neighbourhood elder, always ready with an indulgent smile, to guide, give solace or share in a joke. Bal Naik, a disciple described him later as “having a godly face that would make one want to bow down before him”. A liberated soul who lived most of his life in relative anonymity, it was the void created by the death of his gurubandhu (co-disciple, Nisargadatta Maharaj, that forced Ranjit Maharaj, only at the age of 70, to don the mantle of guru. Nisargadatta Maharaj, a cigarette vendor, became much sought after by seekers, especially from the West, after the publication of his philosophy in a book I am That, written by a disciple named Maurice Friedman. He and Ranjit Maharaj shared a common spiritual lineage in their guru, Siddharameshwar Maharaj. Satish Awadh, industrial relations consultant, remembers his first introduction to Ranjit Maharaj in 1939: “Appearing like a prince, he was never shy to sing in the loudest voice.” Ranjit Maharaj, he explains, shared an excellent equation with Nisargadatta Maharaj, who would always be requested to speak at his functions. “A wonderful speaker, Nisargadatta Maharaj referred to him as one who always spoke only about the fundamentals.” Says Awadh: “Both understood their master in such a way that he dwelled within their hearts. It was as if Sri Siddharameshwar himself was speaking one language from both mouths.” After meeting his guru, Ranjit Maharaj continued living a normal life. After completing his schooling, he tried his hand at various jobs, including that of a bar manager, before becoming an accountant. Because of his shy nature and respect for his senior colleague, Awadh explains, Ranjit Maharaj refrained from taking on disciples of his own. When faced with a request, however, from Siddharameshwar’s son Yashwantrao, to give mantra diksha to his daughter-in law, he could not refuse and ultimately agreed to carry on the spiritual lineage. Sri Siddharameshwar, born in 1888 in Patri, a village near Solapur in Maharashtra, was a disciple of Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj, who advocated meditation and internal renunciation, while continuing with one’s worldly life. After him, Siddharmeshwar imparted understanding of the Final Reality to disciples from 1925, till his death in 1936 in Mumbai. Born in 1913 in a Gujarati family, Ranjit Maharaj met his guru at the age of 12. Intensely spiritual as a child, he used to fervently worship Lord Krishna. “But when I saw my guru I forgot Lord Krishna,” he would say later. While Bhausaheb Maharaj, Siddharameshwar’s guru, taught the long and difficult path of dhyana or meditation, Siddharameshwar directly communicated knowledge, gyana, of the Final Reality to the disciples. This way, he said students could attain enlightenment very fast, like a bird flies from tree to tree and so called it Vihangam Marg or the way of the bird as opposed to the Pipilika Marg or the way of the ant taught by his Master. It was this path that Ranjit Maharaj also taught his disciples. Ranjit Maharaj, teaching in simple and direct language, aimed at the disciple’s direct experience of his words: “You are already That.” He used to say. “Reaching reality requires nothing because it is already there.” Once we accept this Truth, then it is very easy to attain enlightenment, but it is only our reluctance to relinquish the hold of the ego that prevents us from realising freedom. “Forget everything and He is there,” he used to say. The first step to liberation, then, is simply to discriminate between true and false; to ‘separate Reality from Illusion’. Thinking over the knowledge imparted by the teacher helps to free oneself from the false identification with the ego and to realise the truth about one’s true reality. Ranjit Maharaj said: “In the end that knowledge must be submerged in the Final Reality. To remove ignorance knowledge is necessary, but finally both must dissolve into reality. Your self is without ignorance, without knowledge.” Thus, knowledge is only a cure for the illness of illusion; once it has served its purpose, it too ceases to exist. “They (words) are illusion, but they give meaning thereof,” he used to say. “All is illusion but to understand the illusion, illusion is needed.” As the very aim of Ranjit Maharaj’s teaching was to separate Illusion from Reality, he did not give any method to improve upon this illusion. To listen to the guru, he used to say, is the best practice to attain the Final Reality beyond ignorance and knowledge. The ‘Stateless State’ he called it. “Ignorance came by hearing. It must go off by hearing.” Bal Naik, retired senior supervisor, Philips India, was one of his earliest disciples. Because of his scientific background, he would not take anything for granted. “I always used to put questions—ask him to prove whatever he said and he always solved my queries. Applying his teachings to life was almost like solving a tricky maths problem, which you could solve step by step,” he recalls. Ramesh Manjrekar, retired from Air India, recalls how he, along with a few friends, would visit Ranjit Maharaj, either at his home or at the furniture shop where Maharaj worked as an accountant, to discuss spiritual issues. “I was attracted to the simplicity in his teaching, the gist of which was that the power inside is your only reality. The body, mind and the world are illusion and all sukha (happiness) and dukha (suffering) is because of your involvement with these. If you realise that you are not the body, it is over.” As his disciples grew, Ranjit Maharaj soon began going to Manjrekar’s spacious apartment in Andheri where many more people could listen to his Marathi discourses every Sunday. The teachings were given in a traditional manner where passages from Marathi spiritual classics such as Das Bodh and Sadachaar, were first read and later discussed. When disciples from the West started pouring in, he started teaching in English from his Girgaum flat. Because of the small size of the room, disciples often sat outside the open door, while Maharaj sat inside and answered questions put by them. Kishor Chopda, who used to regularly attend these sessions, says: “The teachings were so simple, to the point and penetrating that everything I had read or heard earlier was erased. Today, four years later, I still feel completely untouched by either sukha or dukha. Ujwala Shinde, vice-principal of a school for the deaf and mute, was introduced to Ranjit Maharaj sh
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