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Book Review: “In Days of Great Peace”

January 7, 2010

In Days of Great Peace: The Highest Yoga as Lived
by Mouni Sadhu
2001, Sri Ramanasramam
10 out of 10

I’ve read a lot of spiritual memoirs. I like them as a genre because they possess much of the value of a conversation with the individual involved, getting to know what it is they’ve gone through as if you were sharing histories over hot cider. Unlike theological essays and manuals, memoirs usually serve as encouragement and inspiration with a personal touch. Any book will show you something of the author’s soul, but it takes a memoir to lay it bare.

Mouni Sadhu’s In Days of Great Peace was originally written in 1950, the year of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s death. (The expanded  second edition was published in 1955. The 2001 2nd edition print is a limited reprint published by the Rishi Ramana’s ashram, Sri Ramanasramam, in Tiruvannamalai, India.) It is really something of an expansion of notes that Sadhu took while staying in the ashram of the Maharshi. The book is not laid out in any particular format, and is mostly not in chronological order. Instead of trying to record exact events, the author was trying to capture something of the actual experience of exploring the sacred hill Sri Arunachala, living in the Ramanasramam, and meditating at the feet of the Great Rishi.

At that task, I can only say that Mouni Sadhu does an admirable job. Not having been there myself, I still feel as if I have made the trip. I can picture the Rishi staring out into infinity, yet somehow looking more deeply within me than even I have seen. I can feel myself sitting next to Sadhu as he prays at the grave of “Haji”, a local Muslim saint. Most of all, I can vividly experience the parallels between the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi and my own Master, Jesus the Christ, as well as Shakyamuni Buddha, Krishna, and Hermes the Thrice Great.

Sadhu also gives some details of his own spiritual search, those events which lead him to Sri Ramanasramam and the teachings of Rishi Ramana. He doesn’t say a lot, but what he does tell us is full of meaning. We can see ourselves in his place, finding similarities between his journey and our own. That is the test of a good memoir: how personally identifiable is the author’s story? Does he treat himself as a human being, or does he try to make of himself some epic figure? In this case, Mouni Sadhu doesn’t need to go to lengths to make of himself an “everyman”, because it is very simply clear that that is just what he is.

Unlike many memoirs, Mouni Sadhu also does provide something in the way of instruction. This is not done in a way that interrupts the story, but instead facilitating the narrative organically. An entire chapter is devoted to the method of Vichara, that style of self-inquiry which Sri Ramana personally practiced and taught. Sadhu also provides snippets of correspondences he sent out to friends from the ashram, answering various questions on the topic of spiritual practice for the benefit of the reader of any degree of experience.

What’s also unique about Mouni Sadhu’s memoir is that In Days of Great Peace is the first book in an intentional trilogy, followed up by Concentration and Samadhi (with a fourth volume, Meditation, acting as a later cap on that trilogy). Concentration and Samadhi are purely instructive books, being composed principally of exercises for mental development and spiritual realization. In Days of Great Peace, then, serves to draw a person in to the entire process of spirituality, revealing it as the sumum bonum that it is. The message is clear: there is nothing else!

Unfortunately, I cannot capture, in something like a review, the shimmer and shine of this book, nor its dust and gravel. In Days of Great Peace is among the greatest spiritual books of the 20th century. A big claim, certainly, which places the book in great company. I can only suggest that you read it for yourself and see what I mean.

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