The Pope has recently resented the use of the word Mother to describe the latest American explosive as the Mother of Bombs, for the Mother gives us life, but the bomb destroys life. I wondered if somebody who mattered could not plead for stopping the use of the word godman for miracle man. However, I reconciled to it when I remembered the Vedantic truth that there is nothing sans God—miracle man, fraud, charlatan, et al!
Of course we do not run to a miracle man under Vedantic inspiration, but motivated by curiosity or the temptation to harness his power, or looking upon miracles as acts divine and their performer as a minor god. And the rationalist brands these gods as frauds.
But mysticism informs us that there are innumerable possibilities between the god and the fraud; so far as a genuine miracle man (not a magician) is concerned, his act is no fraud unless his claims exceed his limited capacity. We meet a classic example of this category in Swami Vivekananda’s experience with one, as described by him in a letter written on 15 February 1893 to his well-wisher, Maharaja Ajit Singh of Khetri. He was then camping at Chennai, preparing for his historic journey to America. The letter is on his meeting with Govinda Chetty of Kumbakonam.
The man had the uncanny power to write down the answer to whatever question that was in a visitor’s mind, for a small fee. Vivekananda was ready with three questions: How his aged mother fared, what was his guru’s name and last—a most difficult one—what was the second part of a Buddhist hymn composed in Tibetan language!
The paper in which the answers were to be written was kept in the pocket of a man who accompanied Vivekananda. Each answer was correct—even the Tibetan hymn. A stunned Vivekananda could not help remembering Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
What awaited was revealing. The miracle man not only refused to accept his fee, but ushered into the Swami’s presence all the members of his family who bowed down to him. He even believed that the Swami’s blessings would cure him of his fever. Why should a man of such powers need an unknown Sannyasi’s help? The man candidly told the Swami that all he possessed was a “Mantra Siddhi”.
Obviously the man had no ambition to project himself as a godman. He could not have dreamed of moving about in high circles and making politicos gape in awe. Contrast him with Chandraswami, who passed away last week. This is from the noted diplomat Natwar Singh, then Deputy High Commissioner for India in the UK, who organised, at Chandraswami’s request, his meeting with Margaret Thatcher, then Leader of the Opposition (1975), and acted as his interpreter:
“The clock was ticking away. Chandraswami was in no hurry ... He gave Thatcher five strips of paper and requested her to write a question on each. She obliged, but with scarcely camouflaged irritation. Chandraswami then asked her to open the first paper ball. She did. He gave the text of the question in Hindi. I translated. Correct. I watched Mrs. Thatcher. The irritation gave way to subdued curiosity. Next question. Again bull’s eye. Curiosity replaced by interest. By the fourth question the future iron lady’s demeanour had changed. She began to look at Chandraswami not as a fraud, but as a holy man indeed. My body language too had altered. Last question. Correct again. Mrs. Thatcher was now perched on the edge of the sofa. Chandraswami was like a triumphant guru.”
I had once met a godman who people believed, could materialise anything he liked. Once in Mumbai in 1960’s, and received warmly by an eminent institution, he was requested to contribute an article to its journal. He waved his hand; dropped from nowhere a roll of typewritten sheets. Lord Ganesha typewrites for him—he informed his charmed audience. We do not know how the Lord felt about the bluff, for though he was the world’s first stenographer who took dictation from Vyasa; the said godman’s script contained several ungodly errors.
The fact is, with certain Siddhis, one can employ certain little beings of the vast occult world that remains interspersed with the physical world. They are of multiple kinds. They can transfer objects from one place to another, can whisper answers to questions and are capable of prophecies. Once such a being, employed by a mischief-maker, threw stones not only the outside, but also the inside of a house repeatedly. A great mystic obliged the tiny being to appear before her and asked it why it should not engage in something better than stone-throwing. The being’s reply was stone-throwing was all that it could do. Terribly irrational, no doubt. But let us not forget that the evolution had a long past before the emergence of rationality.
There are supernatural phenomena galore, but they have nothing to do with mysticism or spirituality which have their basis in our inner aspiration for “God, Light, Freedom, Bliss and Immortality” whereas many who pass on as Godmen cater to our ordinary ambitions while satisfying their own hunger for fame. Let us hope, Chandraswami is the last miracle man to try hook a few big fish in the muddy political pool in his prime days, before his dubious resources had been exhausted. He was by no means evil, but was just an average ambitious man; it is the over-ambitious politicians and businessmen always looking for shortcuts to power and affluence who made him a flitting phenomenon.
This said, we must not conclude that all miracles are either magic or exercises in inferior occultism. Not so. “Great saints have performed miracles; greater saints have railed at them; the greatest have both railed at them and performed them”, says Sri Aurobindo. Intriguing indeed. But the liberated ones are not bound by any rule.
Eminent author and recipient of several awards including the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship