Shri Uday Acharya teaches scriptural texts online . He stayed in Rishikesh during the eighties and interacted with many Mahatmas there.
During the 1980s, I spent quite a few years in Rishikesh pursuing the study and contemplation of Vedanta under the guidance of H.H. Swami Dayananda. Vedanta deals with Self-knowledge and Self-realization and represents the philosophical part of the Vedas. It was in Rishikesh that I first heard of the revered sage Harihara Tirtha.
Meeting this Master at Kailash Ashram was an unforgettable experience . My co-student and I met Harihara Tirtha in a hall while he addressed a small group of monks. He had an scriptural text in hand from which he read a few lines in Sanskrit and translated it in Hindi.
When the session concluded, most of the listeners bowed respectfully and took leave. The two of us stayed back to meet him in person to introduce ourselves. Harihara Tirtha gave his blessings and invited us to attending his daily classes. I felt a surge of joy at the prospect of learning from him. For the next few years of my studies under him, the morning walk from my quarters to Kailash Ashram along the the Ganges banks became part of my daily routine.
Harihara Tirtha was born in a family of priests from Rajasthan. He renounced his home to become a monk while still a boy. His search led him to the holy town of Banaras where he studied the basics of religious philosophy. He then proceeded to Rishikesh where met and learnt the advanced scriptural texts from his Guru H.H. Swami Vishnudevananda. He settled in Kailas Ashram and eventually became one of the most respected sage in Rishikesh. People referred to him lovingly as Tirthaji.
His serene demeanor and beatific smile was a joy to behold, and his scholarship and mastery over the scriptures unmatched. For him, teaching and learning were not academic; they were acts of meditation. I was told that he had been offered the position of Mandaleshwar of Kailas Ashram many times which he refused, since he loved his personal freedom much more than position or power. Loved and revered by all, he spent his last days as a recluse in a Harihara Kailas.
Know Thy Self
His teaching sessions were interactive. He would read and explain the texts along with the commentaries and footnotes, and answer questions put to him. Questions ranged from the metaphysical to the mundane. Discussions could center on the meaning of a scriptural passage, or on some incident that took place in the vicinity.
During one such session, Harihara Tirtha explained that the Self was unconditional free. The self is mistaken as the limited self due to ignorance. When the error is recognized, the unconditional is realized.
He illustrated this realization with the story of the tenth man. Ten boys went out for an excursion. On the way, they had to swim across a river. After getting across, they took a head count and noted that one person was missing. When efforts to trace the missing person failed, the group was in tears, A passerby saw them crying and asked them what had happened. The leader replied: “We have lost our colleague in the river. We were ten when we started, and now we are only nine.” The passerby smiled as he realized their mistake and told the leader: “Sir, you are the tenth person. You forgot to count yourself.” Knowledge of the tenth person resulted in the gain of the tenth person.
Meditation and Realization
As human beings, we experience physical and psychological limitations. However, these limitations are not intrinsic to our nature. Limitations are superficial and do not condition the essential self in any way. The message of Vedanta is that freedom is our nature and is not the outcome of a process or effort.
What then is the role of meditation in self-realization? This question was taken up for discussion in his class. The master explained that the purpose of meditation is to prepare the seeker for the self realization. Meditation brings about a peaceful, mindful, and focused mind which is a pre-requisite for Self Knowledge.
When the student is ready, the teacher appears. Meditation prepares the mind to see the truth of the teaching. When the prepared student connects to the teaching, he realizes his essential nature and owns up his limitless nature. As in the story of the tenth person, the seeker becomes the sought. The tenth man is realized.
The class was fully engrossed in the discussion about meditation , All of a sudden, a person in the audience put a question to the master loudly, “Tirthaji, do you meditate every day?” The Master replied with a beaming smile with the words that resounds in my mind to this day. He said - “Why should I trouble my mind with meditation?”
I was awe-struck at his answer. To me, realization could not have been explained better than this bold statement. Meditation is a process of quietening the mind and making it fit for self-knowledge. For the person who has realized the self, what further need is there for meditation? Indeed! Why should anyone continue polishing the mirror to beautify her face?