Service – Through the Lens of Religious Genius


Once some bananas were brought to the dining hall. Ramana was served first and then the others. Ramana noticed that as time passed, the staff began cutting the bananas into smaller and smaller bits until so that the last few people would also receive some. Ramana said in disgust: “This is what I don’t like. Why do you serve me when you cannot give the same quantity to all the people? That is why I am telling you. If you serve Bhagavan after your serve all the others, there will be equal distribution. If by chance nothing remains, it does not matter if I do not get anything; if all eat, I am satisfied even if I do not get my share. (Nagamma, Letters from Ramanasramam.)

Comment: The genius of Ramana is to be found also his utter simplicity, transparency and refreshing freedom from pretension. He affirmed a radical equality with everyone in his community and resisted preferential treatment. This is only one of hundreds of examples.

One day I was asked to cook some dhal (split peas) and some curry for the next day. I came very early so as to have more time, but Bhagavan was quicker than me. He told me the dhal was ready and that I had only to prepare the curry. Tenammal was there grinding lentils in a stone mortar. Bhagavan asked her what she was doing and Tenammal replied that one of her lady visitors was having her menses and special food was being cooked for her. ‘Why should she eat food cooked separated?’ asked Bhagavan. ‘Why can’t she be given some of the food which is served to everyone else?’ What does it matter that she is unwell? Is it a sin? Make no difference and serve her from the food you have prepared for all. Let her have rice, dhal, and curry from the common kitchen.’ After serving the evening meal Bhagavan asked me whether the lady had been given the common food. I assured him that she had. (Lokammal, ‘Sri Ramanasramam,” in Ramana Smrti Souvenir.)

Comment: Genius does not accommodate itself to habitual ways of thinking and acting. Genius often challenges ingrained social and religious habits on the basis of deep insights into the nature of reality. Ramana frequently did this, overcoming and questioning established boundaries. Conventional notions of purity and impurity mattered little to Ramana and he saw beyond these barriers. Menstruation is regarded traditionally as a period of impurity and often resulted in isolation of the woman and even her exclusion from religious ritual. The following is an exceptional illustration of his disregard of such conventions (Note: that he often cooked the community meal). This is an eye-witness report.