Waterberg, South Africa
I first came across the writings of His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati through my teacher Leon MacLaren in 1979. For the next 29 years I read His Holiness’ words, studied them, reflected upon them and discussed them on a weekly basis. In short, the words uttered by this man of great wisdom were the very fibre that kept me on the Path to liberation. In 2010 I was blessed indeed to become a direct disciple of His Holiness, Sri Bharati Teertha Mahaswamigal, Shankaracharya of Sri Sharada Peetham, Sringeri. THE MAN WHO WANTED TO MEET GOD – sayings by His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati is a rare gem that gives one direction with the most profound analogies for everyday use. His words soothe the soul and one finds oneself merging with the ever present Self. This book of sayings is highly recommended for the earnest seeker of Truth who wishes not only to read this work but to put these words into practice.
Dr Francis Roles, formerly a prominent student of the Russian metaphysical philosopher, P.D.Ouspensky, searching for what was missing in Ouspensky's teaching and possibly even the original source of it, eventually made contact with the Indian philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, and in particular with a remarkably open and insightful teacher of Advaita, Shantanand Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math. Dr Roles, accompanied by some senior members of the Study Society he had formed, based in London, periodically undertook journeys to Northern India during the period 1961-1985 to engage in question and answer audiences with Shantanand at his winter ashram in Allahabad. Shantanand taught Roles and his group through a characteristic mixture of direct discourses and indirect stories which contain subtle philosophical meanings. The stories made an impression on Francis Roles and he greatly admired the resourcefulness of Shantanand, who apparently was always able to conjure a story out of memory, or to invent a new one, to delightfully illustrate a principle he was teaching.
This book is a compilation of some of the stories Shantanand told to Francis Roles and his companions, whenever the need was felt for a story to illustrate the philosophical principle upon which he was then discoursing. Many of the stories are well known in Advaita, and even form part of the tradition. Some have been used by generations of gurus to evoke amusement and philosophically entertain their students, but they always contain a sting in the tail, usually as an illustration of the Advaitic principle that, due to Maya, everything is the opposite to how it appears. Different versions of the stories are told by different teachers, and even the same teacher may tell the story differently, with different words and subtle changes, each time they retell the story to a different audience. Some of the stories Shantanand told will have been inherited from his own guru and through the particular tradition of which he was a member, but others may have been invented by Shantanand himself. These Shantanand versions of advaitic stories have been collected together to form this book, together with, for the still mystified, insightful explanations by Shantanand of the philosophical principles subtly contained, even slyly hidden, in the stories. Shantanand's hints and explanations are intentionally never exhaustive, there is still work for the hearer to ponder the stories and attempt to expose even further and deeper meanings in the texts. An example...
'The man who wanted to meet God' is actually the title of one of the 102 stories the book contains.
This particular story is about someone who went to a holy man and requested to be introduced to God. The holy man replied: “When I go to Him, He will ask about you. What shall I say about you? First, give me some details about you credentials.” The story continues with the man giving his name, pointing to his body, etc., and the holy man helps him to realize that none of these are his self. Mind, thoughts, desires and feelings are all similarly considered and rejected. This process goes on, and demonstrates the classical Advaita approach to Realization... by the negation of what one is not; one by one negating everything one is not, which finally leaves that which cannot be negated... the genuine Self. And so the story ends with the man recognizing his own true Self, and no longer needing an introduction. The unspoken inference of the story is that the man himself is God and has forgotten who he is. When he remembers who he is he will realize that he has been God from the beginning. But the story can be pondered further... God is within, there is no external God because, never born, you are your own creation and creator. Being all-pervading and all-transcending, there is no difference between God and yourself. This is because 'I Am', the manifest Brahman, and Isvara are all One. But this story about meeting God can be taken even further... In Advaita, God is regarded as the universal light and love, the universal consciousness but, great as these are, the Absolute Self is beyond even those. Gods are only consciousness, only light, but the genuine Self is beyond both light and consciousness, both of which can be observed. The more genuine Self is awareness of consciousness. The next stage, beyond even that is awareness of awareness. But the ultimate is awareness without being aware of the awareness. This is the principle which is a no-being state, a no consciousness state, a no-I-Am state. The Absolute, which is not a state, is beyond creation and creator. Many have reached the God-head, but few are able to transcend it, because a personal 'I' is afraid of extinction in the impersonal Absolute. Self-remembering surprisingly does not apply to the Absolute. The Absolute cannot be remembered, because it cannot be forgotten.
And so, I think you can see just how valuable these stories of Shantanand are. His telling of the stories is pure and simple. His introduction to the principles illustrated in the stories is quite magnificent. His explanations are always gentle, encouraging and helpful. But the stories can be taken further... as far as one wants to go. Years may pass, then one remembers one of them and further understanding appears in the mind. That is part of their essential delight.