Filled with divine Light, the compassionate sage shared words of wisdom with all devotees who came to him in search of spiritual knowledge, but rarely did he accept resident disciples. Monks, householders, pilgrims, and seekers from all stages and fields of life continually thronged to Uttarkashi to be in the presence of, and learn from, this Self-realized master and erudite scholar.
When Swami Tapovanam did accept a resident disciple, the latter was trained under the strictest conditions. In all, thirty-five or so students came with enthusiasm, at one point or another, to study under him. There were very few who could undergo and survive such hardships, but those seekers who did, were blessed by the Master with supreme Enlightenment.
When Swami Chinmayananda requested the sage to teach him, He told the curious ‘Chinmaya,’ that he would say everything he had to teach once only, and Chinmaya would have to repeat it the very next day; if he forgot anything, he would have to leave. Swami Tapovanam believed that the highest Knowledge was not for everyone, but only for those who yearned and searched for it.
He was, of course, an incredible teacher of Vedanta. It might have been impossible to live under the same exacting conditions, but it was equally impossible to resist his brilliance, outside and within. His teachings came from the innermost depths of his illumined being, and, as such, they were the quintessence of pure, unalloyed Self-awareness.
In the hot summer season, Swami Tapovanam would retreat ninety kilometres further up the Himalayas to Gangotri. As one of his disciples, Swami Chinmayananda accompanied him. Living conditions in Gangotri were tough. Removed from the comforts of civilization, there was no nutritious food, warm clothing, adequate shelter, or electricity for reading; and no talking was allowed among disciples, not with a disciplinarian for a Guru.
Each day began with an icy cold bath in the Ganga, waking up for morning class at 6 a.m. Following the Vedic tradition, class would begin with a prayer and continued for a few hours daily. The rest of the time was spent in reflection, prayer, meditation, and service of the Guru. During scriptural study, Swami Tapovanam would read out one verse of the text, and then give the equivalent meaning in Hindi. Word by word, he explained the Sanskrit, giving the rules of grammar, as well as possible interpretations and misinterpretations of the meaning.
Aside from scriptural study, there were lessons learned daily from the austere life and living example of the Guru. Once, a basket of laddoos arrived just as the class had begun. Swami Tapovanam directed them to be kept inside. The students waited, eagerly, for their guru to distribute the delicious sweets. But, even after a few days, no laddoos appeared. Some disenchanted students, suspecting that the Master was keeping all them for himself, actually left. On the fifth day, Swami Tapovanam ordered the basket to be brought before the class. It was exactly as it had arrived with all the laddoos intact. “To the Ganga! Throw them out!” he thundered. “Just look at the quality of your minds, agitated over a paltry basket of sweets...We’re here to study the Upanishads, not to eat laddoos!”
Thus, Swami Tapovanam never missed an opportunity to teach the ideals of spiritual life and discipline in practical situations. His goal was to turn the student’s mind beyond material concerns even in their daily routines.
This pure-hearted monk saw God in everything. He would often stop in his wanderings to point out the majestic scenery saying, “Why can’t man see Divinity behind the ecstatic Artist who has painted this inspired beauty?”
His devotion to the holy river Ganga — which he considered as the Ultimate Truth in liquid form — drew him to always live within hearing distance of its sweet rumblings, either at Uttarkashi or Gangotri. A local sannyaasi remarked, “Gangotri and Uttarkashi lost their glory when Swami Tapovanam left his mortal coil.”