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    The news of Acharya Maharaj's sudden and serious illness came upon us. He had a high fever, which was defying all medication. Deeply disturbed, I decided to be by his side. One may bear without flinching innumerable adversities in one's life, but the distress of one's mentor, at whose feet one has surrendered one's self, becomes unbearable. It is difficult to get a hold on oneself. I controlled myself somehow and set out in the dark of night to reach him.


    I did not experience any fear traversing the dreaded forest of Nainagiri in the dead of night. There was a time when the terror of bands of brigands weighed heavily on this forest and people were afraid to venture into it even in broad daylight. Today, the environs of Nainagiri are enveloped by a soothing, luminous aura, which provides an assurance of , protection tonneaarka! Surhjauter yiuridus yrace of the dust of his feet!


    When I reached my destination and saw him from close quarters, I found that although his body was ailing, he was quite hale in spirit. Dwelling in his self, he was beyond the reach of all maladies. His attendants told me that only a short while ago, he was suffering so much that his burning body had gone completely limp. Even in those agonizing moments, he had lost nothing of his alertness. Before turning to his side, he picked up his pichchhika and lay down only after making sure that the space that he was about to occupy was free of insects and all other life forms. As long as I was with him, I could not help wondering how one could remain so vigilant in spirit despite such physical suffering.


    | also got to know around this time that the pain that he experienced yesterday was so excruciating that Acharya Maharaj had thought his end to be near. Without losing his serenity and equipoise, he summoned all his disciples and broached the subject of sallekhana. Everyone was stunned and crestfallen. Eyes welling up, heads bowed, hands folded, they stood on one side, rooted to the ground. They were wondering what the morrow held in store for them. In those moments, Acharya Maharaj had given evidence of his indifference to high office, as well as of his commendable vigilance attained through years of spiritual endeavour of the highest degree.


    Thankfully, that long night passed. The day was about to break. As the sun rose in the sky, he was seen coming out into the light. For a moment, I thought of holding him, but the spiritual force radiating from his smile stopped me in my tracks. He crossed the threshold to go into the forest for evacuating his body wastes. Following him, kamandalu in hand, I wondered whether I would ever be able to cross the threshold of my home and head for the forest like him in order to expel all the defilements from my consciousness and attain the state of spiritual purity. Would I ever be able to rise above worldly attachments and conquer affection and ill will? The assurance of his support gave me the confidence that I would be able to realise my heart's desire. As soon as we returned from the forest; I placed my forehead at his feet and surrendered my self.


    It was the third day of his illness. He had been fasting for two days because of high fever and the consequence of past karmas, which had occasioned a disturbance in the performance of the rituals of ahar. The suffering that he endured during this period was causing great alarm.


    Hundreds of people had gathered in the temple courtyard to recite the Namokar mantra. When the hour of ahar finally arrived, some of the devotees offered to assist him in the performance of the ritual of purification, but he proceeded to perform it unaided. Verily, solitude is essential for selfpurification. Like him, we have to assume full responsibility for this act of cleansing.


    The very next moment, he stepped out of the temple to go on his ahar round. The beholders were overwhelmed by an anxious expectancy. Despite his illness, he had a gentle smile on his face as he moved forward. He arrived at the place appointed for the ahar and waited, while the ritual of nine-fold devotion was performed by the shravaks fortunate enough to play host to him. With utmost serenity, he accepted the ahar offered to him in his cupped hands. The proceedings were completed without a hitch, as people watched with unblinking eyes and bated breath, silently reciting the Namokar mantra. Everyone experienced the feeling of having realised the meaning of human existence. As this great muni walks on razor's edge, his steady steps give us the courage to tread the path of rectitude all our lives.

    Nainagiri (1978)


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