Yogic Masters and Saints of India
Paramahansa Yogananda Teaches Science of Yoga and Cosmology to the West
The saints, gurus and yogic masters of India are living examples of the highest attainment in the quest for union with the infinite. These beings are always loving, charitable and have a constant focus on the infinite truth. They either attract followers or retreat for extended periods of time in the caves of the Himalayas to practice the science of spiritual liberation through a variety of yogic practices foremost among them is meditation. During these extended mountain retreats some of these beings survive with little to no water or food. These spiritual masters seem to have transcended the laws of the material western worldview. Starting around 1900 the spiritual teachings of India began to enter the Western consciousness. The most noted yogi to spread the ancient science of yoga to the West in the 20th century was Paramahansa Yogananda. Yogananda was trained in a yogic science transmitted through a succession of spiritual masters starting with the Mahavatar Babji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Sri Yukteswar Giri.
Mahavatar Babaji is called the Mahavatar because he is a being of very high spiritual realization that has transcended space-time and comes to earth to aid humanity in spiritual evolution. He appears to teach the best yogic methods of realization for that particular age. He taught Lahiri Mahasaya Kriya Yoga and later in the mid-20th century taught the science of Karma Yoga (work yoga) and mantra japa (repeating holy names) especially, the mantra ‘Om Namaha Shivaya’. Mahavatar Babji above all always emphasized that spiritual liberation is universal and all religions, all beings are one unified in the holy light of god.
Mahavatar Babji can manipulate reality at will. It is as though through spiritual practices he attained the powers attributed to gods in mythology. Often these highly realized beings are reincarnations of deities in the Hindu pantheon. Babaji is the god Shiva in a material form appearing on Earth to teach spiritual sciences to humanity. “The law of miracles is operable by any man who has realized that the essence of creation is light. A master is able to employ his divine knowledge of light phenomena to project instantly into perceptible manifestation the ubiquitous light atom. The actual form of the projection (whatever it be; a tree, a medicine, a human body) is determined by the yogi’s wish and by his power of will and of visualization. “(Autobiography of a Yogi Pg. 316)
Lahiri Mahasaya during his initiation into Kriya Yoga was told by Babaji that one day he would teach a student who would spread the science of god realization to America. When Lahiri Mahasaya was initiated Babji said, “East and West must establish a golden middle path of activity and spirituality combined. India has much to learn from the West in material development; in return, India can teach the universal methods by which the West will be able to base its religious beliefs on the unshakable foundations of yogic science. You Swamiji, have a part to play in the coming harmonious exchange between orient and occident. Some years hence I shall send you a disciple whom you can train for yoga dissemination in the West. The vibrations there of many people spiritually seeking souls come flood like to me. I perceive potential saints in America and Europe, waiting to be awakened.” (Autobiography of a Yogi pg. 390)
Paramahansa Yogananda was the disciple who disseminated the teachings of Babji, Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswar to the West. Yogananda was drawn to spiritualism at a young age and sought out many teachers in his journey. He met Yogis such as the perfume yogi who “can give the natural perfume of any flower to a scentless one, or revive a wilted blossom, or make a person’s skin exude delightful fragrance.” (Autobiography of a Yogi Pg. 54). Also, he met the Tiger Swami who can fight tigers with his bare hands, and the levitating saint who can levitate off the ground. This strange and seemingly impossible phenomenon is present around many yogis of great devotion, but these powers are not the goal of yoga and many beings get sidetracked from truth by becoming attached to powers. None of these yogis were Yogananda’s sat guru or true spiritual teacher. Later Yogananda met Lahiri Mahasaya, a man of true realization and followed Him and his student Sri Yukteswar from then on.
Paramahansa Yogananda traveled to America on a ship in 1908 and first spoke in Boston, delivering his address in English on the science of religion. Following this event he was invited to speak at several events and developed American followers and financiers. Between the 1920s and 1930s his courses were attended by tens of thousands of Americans and he was able to start the Self-Realization Fellowship. The Self Realization Fellowship was a non-profit which published and distributed the legacy of Yogananda and served as an educational center for yogic science. The Self-Realization Fellowship Published Autobiography of a Yogi in 1946 and has since sold over 4 million copies and been published in 27 languages. This book tells the story of Paramahansa Yogananda’s life and reveals the teaching of yogic science through his teachers.
When it was released there was outrage among many in the American public because the stories told in the Autobiography were considered fraudulent. This response is completely understandable because the world of spiritual realization is varied and defines the laws of western imagination about what is possible in the material world. Many other people became highly interested in yogic science and became lifelong practitioners.
Yogananda taught that one should always have their mind fixed on god, Christ and gurus. By keeping our concentration on god we become closer to god. The primary method he used was meditation, bringing our attention inward through non attachment, devotion, and control of life force. He presented an exotic view of reality which included psychic powers, union with god, astral universes, and a universal field of consciousness. By moving ourselves beyond our desires, thoughts and sensations we can reach our true identity. These techniques were all a part of the Kriya Yoga. Yogananda describes Kriya Yoga in Autobiography of a Yogi on page 281:
“The voluntary yogi performs a simple, natural process consciously, not unconsciously like the slow paced sleeper. The Kriya Yogi uses his technique to saturate and feed all his physical cells with un-decayable light and thus keep them in a spiritually magnetized condition. He scientifically makes breathing unnecessary, and does not enter (during his hours of practice) the negative states of sleep, unconsciousness or death. In men under maya or natural law, the flow of life energy is toward the outside world; the currents are wasted and abused in the senses. The practice of Kriya reverses the flow; life force is mentally guided to the inner cosmos and becomes reunited with subtle spinal energies. By such reinforcement of life force, the yogi’s body and brain cells are renewed by a spiritual elixir.”
“Yogananda based many of his teachings on “the yoga system of Patanjali” known as the Eightfold Path. The first steps are (1) Yama (moral conduct), and (2) Niyama (religious observances). Yama is fulfilled by non-injury to others, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-covetousness. The niyama prescripts are purity of body and mind, contentment in all circumstances, self-discipline, self-study (contemplation), and devotion to God and guru.”
“The next steps are (3) Asana (right posture); the spinal column must be held straight, and the body firm in a comfortable position for meditation; (4) Pranayama (control of prana, subtle life currents); and (5) Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from external objects).”
“The last steps are forms of yoga proper: (6) Dharana (concentration), holding the mind to one thought; (7) Dhyana (meditation); and (8) Samadhi (super-conscious experience). The Eightfold Path of Yoga leads to the final goal of Kaivalya (Absoluteness), in which the yogi realizes the Truth beyond all intellectual apprehension.”(Autobiography of a Yogi Pg. 262, 263)
This Kriya Yoga technique could even led one beyond death and reincarnation in this material form. Sri Yukteswar Giri died seated in lotus position and for many weeks afterward his body remained filled with vitality although he was rigid and was deceased. Sri Yukteswar Giri reincarnated in a high astral planet and would appear before Yogananda when he was in deep meditation. Sri Yukteswar Giri revealed the nature of the realm beyond material reincarnation and explains the cosmology of the soul evolution. The master outlines the basic principles of karma, desire and the physical, astral and causal worlds. Sri Yukteswar’s words from this particular encounter were recounted in the chapter from Autobiography of a Yogi entitled, “The resurrection of Sri Yukteswar.” Below is a collage of the ideas expressed in that chapter. (Pg. 476-496)
“The fleshy body is made of the fixed, objectified dreams of the creator. The dualities are ever present on Earth. Human beings find limitation and resistance in the three dimensional matter. When he (the human being) is sensuously intent on tasting, smelling, touching listening, or seeing, he is working principally through his physical body. A man identifies himself about sixteen hours daily with his physical vehicle. Then he sleeps; if he dreams, he remains in his astral body, effortlessly creating any object even as do astral beings. If man’s sleep be deep and dreamless, for several hours he is able to transfer his consciousness, or sense of I-ness, to the causal body; such sleep is revivifying. A dreamer is contacting his astral and not his causal body; his sleep is not fully refreshing. Visualizing or willing, he is working mainly through his astral body. His causal being finds expression when man is thinking or diving deep in meditation. Genius comes to the man who habitually contacts his causal body.”
“When man’s desire to live is severely shaken by disease or other causes, death arrives; the heavy overcoat of the flesh is temporarily shed. At physical death a being loses his consciousness of flesh and becomes aware of this subtle body in the astral world. The Earth liberated astral being meets a multitude of relatives, fathers, mothers, wives, husbands and friends, acquired during different incarnations on Earth. The physical karma or desires of man must be completely worked out before his continued stay in the astral worlds becomes possible. After each loss of his body, however, an undeveloped being from the earth remains for the most part in the deep stupor of the death-sleep and is hardly conscious of the beautiful astral sphere. After astral rest, such a man returns to the material plane for further lessons, gradually accustoming himself, through repeated journeys, to the worlds of subtle astral texture. Normal or long established residents of the astral universe, on the other hand, are those who, freed forever from all material longings, need return no more to the gross vibrations of earth. Such beings have only astral and causal karma to work out. The soul, however, remains encased in the astral and causal bodies. The cohesive force by which all three bodies are held together is desire. The power of unfulfilled desires is the root of all man’s slavery.”
“Experiencing his astral death in due time, a being passes from the consciousness of astral birth and death to that of physical birth and death. These recurrent cycles of astral and physical encasement are the ineluctable destiny of all unenlightened beings. So long as the soul of man is encased in one, two or three body containers (physical, astral and causal bodies) sealed tightly with the cork of ignorance and desires, he cannot merge with the sea of spirit. When desirelessness is attained through wisdom, its power disintegrates the two remaining vessels. The tiny human soul emerges, free at last; it is one with measureless amplitude.””
“Communication among the astral inhabitants is held entirely by astral telepathy and television; there is none of the confusion and misunderstandings of the written and spoken word which earth dwellers must endure. Luminous ray like vegetables abound in the astral soils. The astral beings consume vegetables, and drink nectar flowing from glorious brooks and rivers. From the wildest fancy of these beings, whole gardens of fragrant flowers are materialized, returning later to the etheric invisibility. Inhabitances in all parts of the astral world are still subject to mental agonies. Astral desires center on enjoyment in terms of vibration. Astral beings enjoy the ethereal music of the spheres and are enchanted by the sight of all creation. Still higher is the existence of almost completely liberated souls in the causal world, who eat nothing save the manna of bliss.”
“The nearly free beings that are encased only in the causal body see the whole universe as realizations of the dream ideas of God; they can materialize anything and everything in sheer thought. Causal beings therefore consider the enjoyment of physical sensations or astral delights as gross and suffocation to the soul’s fine sensibilities. Causal desires are fulfilled by perception only. Because the world is dream texture, the soul thinly clothes in the causal has vast realizations of power. Both death and rebirth in the causal world are in thought. Causal bodied beings feast only on the ambrosia of eternally new knowledge. They drink from the springs of peace, roam on the trackless soil of perceptions, swim in the ocean endlessness of bliss.”
“Many beings remain for thousands of years in the causal cosmos. By deeper ecstasies the freed soul then withdraws itself from the little causal body and puts on the vastness of the causal cosmos. All separate eddies melt into the ever joyous sea of bliss. When a soul is out of the cocoon of the three bodies it escapes forever from the law of relativity and becomes the ineffable ever existent. Behold the butterfly of omnipresence, its wings etched with stars and moons and suns!”
“When a soul finally gets out of the three jars of bodily delusions it becomes one with the Infinite without any loss of individuality. Christ had won this final freedom before he was born as Jesus. The undeveloped man must undergo countless earthly and astral incarnations in order to emerge from his three bodies. A master who achieves this final freedom may elect to return to earth as a prophet to bring other human beings back to God, or like myself, he may choose to reside in the astral cosmos. There a savior assumes some of the burden of the inhabitants’ karma and thus helps them terminate their cycle of reincarnation in the astral cosmos and go on permanently to the causal spheres. Or a freed soul may enter the causal world to aid its beings to shorten their span in the causal body and thus attain the Absolute Freedom.”
Yogananda expresses himself to his guru, ”O master, I was grieving so deeply about your death!”
“Ah wherein did I die? Isn’t there some contradiction?”
“You were only dreaming on earth; on that earth you saw my dream body. Later you buried that dream image. Now my finer fleshy body- which you behold and are even now embracing rather closely! –is resurrected on another fine dream planet of god. Someday that finer dream body and finer dream planet will pass away; they too are not forever. All dream bubbles must eventually burst at a final wakeful touch. Differentiate, my son Yogananda, between dreams and reality!”
The deep wisdom and insight of these higher realms can only be attained through direct experience and Yogananda’s beloved guru Sri Yukteswar transcends the boards between the worlds to communicate these truths. The system of yogic science as taught by Yogananda fills an entire library. The yogi develops each of the eight limbs and then becomes aware of the dream of reality. We live out life time after life time to remove our karma in the physical, astral and causal bodies in order to merge back into the sea of bliss. The only limitation is our karma and our desires, once they are worked out we are free to merge with the infinite or return to the world to help other souls be liberated like Mahavatar Babji or Sri Yukteswar.
By: Transpersonal Spirit
Paramahansa Yogananda. Autobiography of a Yogi. Self Realization Fellowship. 1946, 1974, 2005.
Rdhe Shyam, I am harmony a book about Babaji. The American Haidakhan Samaj Crestone, Co. 1990, 2006.