Adapted from Martine Quantric-Seguy’s “Au Bord du Gange” – Seuil, Paris, 1998
(Translated by Pierre Pradervand & edited by Ronald Radford)
A man called Mohan who was a spiritual seeker had approached different masters. None had satisfied him until he met a disciple of Shankara, the great Vedanta teacher. Mohan finally settled down with this master, keeping his cows by day and studying at night, for a period of twelve years, as required by the tradition. He became extremely well versed in all the subtleties of explaining spiritual texts. Before dying, his master told Mohan, “Remember that ignorance is not the shade of knowledge, and that knowledge is not understanding. Neither the mind, nor the intellect can include ‘what is One without a second'”
Mohan pondered for ages these last words of his master, because although he had great knowledge, he was not yet a real sage.
So he started wandering again until one day, he could not take another step, even with the aid of his pilgrim’s stick. He settled in a village whose inhabitants had requested him to stay to teach them.
With time, his hair became gray. Disciples started coming from near and far to study with him. Saralah, a child from the village, insisted he would have no one else but Mohan for his teacher. However, Mohan had kindly but firmly discouraged Saralah from becoming his disciple – among other things because Mohan had little respect for what he considered Saralah’s very modest intellectual abilities. Vedanta, the highest of teachings, could not be the way of this lowly peasant boy!
Yet Saralah would not leave. He would prowl around Mohan’s hut, always seeking ways of being of service, and above all waiting for his master to give him a mantra, that holy formula which many Indians consider an indispensable tool to enlightenment. At night secretly, he would sleep on the doorstep of Mohan’s hut, so as not to lose a moment of the master’s presence.
One night, as Mohan got up to satisfy his natural needs, he stumbled on Saralah’s body stretched across the doorway. Irritated, Mohan mumbled, “Always you!” Saralah, thinking this was the long aspired for mantra, fell at his masters feet. Mohan told Saralah to leave, and never to return unless he called for him.
Saralah, drunk with happiness, in a state of total bliss, took to the road, repeating hour after hour, day after, day, month after month the sacred formula, “Always You” which he had received in his innocence from his master.
So Saralah kept walking, for months, for years, in a state of bliss, without his joy ever leaving him, sleeping under the open sky, eating when he was offered food, fasting when there was none. His every single breath repeated silently, with total devotion, “Always You!” His heart was always laughing that the Invisible One would constantly appear to him in so many disguises. Behind his long, unkempt hair, his dark eyes had become totally transparent – two pools of utter devotion and love for the Beloved whom Saralah saw everywhere, in everything.
One day, he arrived in a very poor village. Its inhabitants were taking the body of a young boy, the only son of a widow, to be cremated. They were jumping, dancing, running to and fro to chase the evil spirits and prevent the spirit of the deceased from returning to his body. Being the only son of his mother, the villagers feared that his spirit might not leave due to his mother’s distress. This would have turned him into a phantom who could haunt the village and thus harm it.
When Saralah arrived, the villagers requested that he pray for the deceased, as they had no Brahmin in the village. The bereft mother implored him to save her son. Saralah promised to pray, but warned that he had no gift to heal the living or to raise the dead.
He sat next to the dead body, aflame with compassion for the mother’s sorrow, repeating the only prayer he had ever learned and which he knew to be sublime, having received it from his master, “Always You!” He prayed with total consecration and fervor. Suddenly, the young boy opened his eyes, surprised to find himself on a funeral pyre.
The astonished villagers called it a miracle. They hastened to offer Saralah their most precious possessions: a piece of cloth, rice and small coins. Saralah refused. “I prayed in the name of my master. He is the one you should thank.”
So the villagers, hearts overflowing with gratitude, went to search for Mohan.
Mohan, now weighed down by years, was surprised to see this group of pilgrims and their generous gifts. Finally, despite all the villagers talking at the same time, he managed to get the picture. However, one thing amazed him: he was not aware that he had any disciple capable of raising the dead. When he asked the name of his disciple, he was stunned to hear the name: Saralah.
Hiding his astonishment, he blessed the villagers, sent them home, requesting that they ask Saralah to visit him.
In the meantime, Saralah had left the village, without any special concern for this resurrection in which he only acknowledged himself in the role of an intermediary. It was not difficult to find him, for wherever he went, the transparency of his eyes, the gentleness of his smile and his immense universal kindness had struck everyone. They found him one evening, smiling in the rain, eyes uplifted, repeating, “Always You!”
When he heard of his masters call, he left in haste, feeling blessed by this request. On arriving, he knelt before Mohan, offering his master his heart, his soul and the total devotion of a disciple. Mohan raised him gently, appreciating, like all who had met him, the quality of the spiritual Presence in him.
“Are you really Saralah?,” asked Mohan.
“But I don’t ever remember initiating you. And yet the villagers said you designated me as your teacher.”
“Oh, master, remember? It was one night. Your foot rested on me, and you gave me the sacred mantra. Then you told me to leave and not return until you called for me. You called. Here I am .”
“The villagers say you raised a young man from the dead.”
“Master, I did not do anything. I simply repeated the mantra in your name and the young man awoke.”
Mohan, deeply disturbed, asked, “And what is this powerful mantra, Saralah?”
“Always You,” – the Ineffable One, always, everywhere, Master.”
Suddenly, in a flash Mohan remembered the whole scene. He could remember his profound irritation at Saralah’s presence on the doorstep. He heard himself roar, “Always you!” and remembered banishing Saralah. Tears started running down his cheeks. He thought, “How can I have reached the threshold of death without having reached the fervor of the Invisible Presence? Why did I get lost on the path of arid intelligence? I’m just turning round in circles. I teach, but I know only words, formulas, ideas – nothing of value. Saralah, who knows nothing, understands all.”
And Mohan knelt humbly at Saralah’s feet, abandoning all pride, and begged with total sincerity, “Teach me O Master!”