One day, two destitute-looking brahmins entered the Hall. It was known that they earned their livelihood by the wretched and socially demeaning occupation of bearing the dead to the cremation grounds.Both were extremely hungry after having discharged their duties.
Custom demands that anyone entering a house recently visited by death, should take a bath immediately upon leaving. This stricture applies particularly if one steps into the cremation ground, and more particularly if one is involved in removing and physically transporting the departed to this place.
A heated argument had ensued between the two men about the propriety of coming to the Asramam to have a meal without having bathed. While one of them keenly felt the unseemliness of transgressing this hallowed custom, the other dismissed it at impracticable in ivew of their acute hunger. Assured of a meal in the Asramam, which was on their way home, they thought they might appease their appetite. They came to the Hall and sat down.
One of them excitedly and abruptly said to Bhagavan:
"Swami! I have been insisting on the customary bath before we sit for our meal. Is that not but just and proper?"
Bhagavan responded in a very soft tone: "No one can say you are unjust."
The other one in a greatly agitated voice, burst forth:
"The pangs of hunger are so intense that our entrails are being devoured. Is it wrong to eat when hunger is so gnawing?"
Bhagavan Ramana quietly replied: "Who says it is wrong? Not at all."
Shocked, looking at one another, they asked in one voice: "Who then is wrong?"
"Don't think you alone are pall-bearers. All of us are carrying these lifeles corpse. This body is a veritable corpse. Everybody carries it saying, 'I', 'I'. Whoever has the 'I-am-the-body' feeling, is but a pall-bearer. As long as one has not gone beyond this, one remains as impure and polluted as a pall-bearer. The pollution of bearing this dead body cannot be washed away by dip in any tank. Bathing in the waters of Atman alone can remove this pollution."
The Brahmins though initially feeling vindicated, were now startled and stared at each other. In an instant, the entire complexion of the issue stood transformed. Everyone without exception was equally polluted. All people shared their fate!
Source: Reminsicences. Smt. T.R. Kanakammal.
Pall-bearers means One of the mourners carrying the coffin at a funeral
Coffin means Box in which a corpse is buried or cremated