portion of his face was outlined by a short white beard. He had a white mustache
and white eyebrows. His body was clothed in the saffron-coloured mantle of the
particularly, his eyes, which looked at me with a mixture, or rather a fine
blending of intelligence kindness and compassion, while at the same time
somehow reflecting a most gentle sense of humour.
peace with himself, a sage. This impression grew to conviction during the course of the three and a half hour conversation that night on 20 April 1959.
Pada, the present Sankaracharya or spiritual head of the Math in Conjeevaram,
South India, the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.
was the magic of the South Indian night in early summer : the light of the full
moon sithouetting a variety of palm trees; the silent flight of bats and flying foxes; occasional gentle cool breezes; now and then the sounds of little screech owls; or the distant barking of a dog or jackal.
Numbal, a small village some half a dozen miles from Madras.
read English with ease, he did not trust himself to speak that language, nor would
he trust his ability to understand spoken English. He spoke Tamil, liberally
interlarded with English words and phrases, invariably pronounced correctly.
Acharya practises. Not only does he never interrupt a question (which would be
remarkable enough!) but he invariably pauses about a minute or more before
answering. His reply, when it comes, clearly shows that it was preceded by
reflection : it is invariably concise and to the point.
personal interest, but there were others of a more general scope.
which a foreign government or institution, sincerely interested in helping India, could provide for the country. As usual, he thought for about a minute before replying substantially as follows :
institution could render India would be in the cultural field. To help us deepen our understanding and appreciation of our own cultural heritage in all its forms -
literature, dance, arts, philosophy – to help us carry on research in these fields and to bring the knowledge of these matters to our people – that would be rendering truly significant help.”
Indian women were conservative in the extreme. While I do not share his views I
respect the reasons which prompt him to hold them.
where she should devote her life to the welfare of her husband and the rearing of
her children. If these duties do leave her any free time, she might undertake some form of cottage industrial work. There should be no co-education and generally, a woman’s education should be completed by the time she was 12 years old.
guardedly optimistic. He said that India’s national unity was bound to deepen and triumph provided only that the leaders of the country’s political parties would act with even a modicum of good sense.
very fine sense of humour.
knowing the right question to ask. Suppose then that I were wise : what question
should I ask you?”
listened carefully to Dr. Raghavan’s translation, even asked him to repeat it. There ensued the customary one minute pause for reflection. Then came his answer: “If you were wise, you would not ask any question. ” It was my turn to smile, appreciatively. Then I said : “True enough. But suppose that I were just a novice, at the beginning stage of the quest for wisdom. What question ought I to ask then?”
“All-right, your Holiness : Please consider yourself asked.”
could only follow an intellectual path, that the world of faith was pretty much a
closed book to me. He declared that the path of reason was ultimately not only the best, but indeed the only one, that all other ways – faith, devotion or whatever – were of value only as preliminaries, preparations, interim stages, meaning nothing unless superseded by understanding.
which is its own observer, critic, watchman.”
or retrogressing in the quest for wisdom?”
your anger or lust grows smaller, you are making progress, if it remains the same
you are stagnating; if it increases, your spiritual development is retrogressive.”
found. He answered that there was consolation and joy in the quest itself. In reply to a further question, he amended his answer by stating that ultimate, non-derivative existence was in itself blissful.
interest in certain implications of theoretical physics which, to put it negatively an rather cautiously, do not clash with the thorough monism of Advaita Vedanta. (He has repeatedly written and spoken about the relation of modern science an advaita.)
meet the Sankaracharya again. Meanwhile, there remains the vivid memory of m
privileged meeting on that peaceful evening with one of the most truly remarkable persons of our troubled age : the gentle sage of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.
Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Swamigal Sri Sankaracharya of
Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, my heart-felt prayers go out to the
Almighty, that He may grant His Holiness, who in all His humility is
such a noble, luminous soul, many more years of life in perfect health,
not only for the sake of those living near him, but for the benefit of
the world at large”