"Waking up from the delusion that leads to suffering is the greatest gift we can offer this troubled world. "

Text and photographs by Caverly Morgan.

He lived in that cave for seventeen years. He meditated there for seventeen years. 
In our world of instant gratification, some are impressed by hearing that you've attended a ten day silent retreat. Others can't imagine even a full day without technology. Without distraction. 
Ramana Maharshi had zero interest in distraction. His only needs were silence and solitude. His primary experience, abiding in universal, all pervading Self.

I enter the cave without expectation. Full of curiosity. It's dark and takes some time for the eyes to adjust. There's no ventilation and the heat of the day hangs heavily within the stone walls of the cave. Instinctively, I bow and settle in. 
I feel a bit like a groupie at first. That falls away quickly. Not through will, but rather the immediate immersion into the stillness of this temple.
There are no words to describe the depth of the stillness. A silence so deep that all the sounds beyond the cave simply dissolve into it. 
Nothing left out. 
Like a vacuum of emptiness that absorbs everything without effort or attempt. 
A silence that transcends a lack of sound. A stillness that transcends a lack of movement.
Silence within silence. Stillness within stillness. 
I am home. 
Time and space are irrelevant here and it's only at the tap of my husband that eventually I am prompted to leave. As I step into the sunlight I might have been on retreat for a month, or a year, or a decade. I am speechless as we make our way down the hill.

A sadhu who lives on the mountain pauses us on the trail to offer prayers. We gratefully accept his kindness and continue on. 

This particular path takes us down to some backroads that lead into the town. As we step farther from the cave, the world continues to appear. 
Bits of trash are to my sides. I bend to collect them as we decline. The trash thickens as we continue and soon it becomes obvious that there would be no way to collect it all without a truck. Several trucks. 
We are greeted by a girl who has likely seen countless tourists in her life. Her dirty bare feet are thick with experience of the world and she begs for us to buy her some chocolate, trotting beside us as we walk. Her innocence blended with her depth of experience of the harshness of this world break my heart.

An elderly woman repeatedly brings her hand to her mouth to signify that she's in need of food. Lice-infested stray dogs weave from house to house, trash pile to trash pile. A mother bathes her child in the stagnant water that sits next to her. A man pees openly on the wall — seemingly unconcerned by passerbys. 
One of the homeless dogs approaches the steps to a shop, which is doorless and open to the road. From the corner of my eye I see the shop owner reach for a stick and raise his arm. As I pass I hear the blow and the dog wince and cry. Without thought I physically cringe, deeply, feeling as though it is I who has been struck.

And I have been. Again and again, my heart breaks. Silently, I weep for the world. Recognizing its illusory nature and its realness all in the same instant, I silently weep. 
Meanwhile, a young girl full of smiles waves and asks me my name.

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Women and men sit chatting in front of brightly colored Kolams. They are drawn in the morning. Every day the Kolams get washed on, rained on, blown around in the wind. Soon a new day comes. They are drawn again. 

Young boys helping in a shop express affection to each other as they ask me to take their photo. 

Girls in uniform walk home from school.

A woman with her cows is off to sell the milk. 

A mother carries her baby.

Those who know little of Ramana's life might assume that he fled to the cave to hide from the intensity of all this. That's not how I see it. All my spiritual heroes have one thing in common: they understand that ending the suffering of this world will never come from controlling the relative, material world.
The suffering ends when we learn to rest in the absolute — even amidst the relative. The suffering ends as we learn to recognize ourselves as the absolute. 
As the changing world arises and disappears, comes and goes, there is only one thing that remains the same. Practice is a matter of learning to rest the attention in that which is unchanging. 
Waking up from the delusion that leads to suffering is the greatest gift we can offer this troubled world. 
The cave on Arunachala mountain is there to remind us of this. People like Ramana Maharshi have pointed the way.