Sri Yukteswar was expounding the Christian scriptures one sunny morning on the balcony of his Serampore hermitage. Besides a few of Master’s other disciples, I was present with a small group of my Ranchi students.
“In this passage Jesus calls himself the Son of God. Though he was truly united with God, his reference here has a deep impersonal significance,” my guru explained. “The Son of God is the Christ or Divine Consciousness in man. No mortal can glorify God. The only honor that man can pay his Creator is to seek Him; man cannot glorify an Abstraction that he does not know. The ‘glory’ or nimbus around the head of the saints is a symbolic witness of their capacity to render divine homage.”
Sri Yukteswar went on to read the marvelous story of Lazarus’ resurrection. At its conclusion Master fell into a long silence, the sacred book open on his knee.
“I too was privileged to behold a similar miracle.” My guru finally spoke with solemn unction. “Lahiri Mahasaya resurrected one of my friends from the dead.”
The young lads at my side smiled with keen interest. There was enough of the boy in me, too, to enjoy not only the philosophy but, in particular, any story I could get Sri Yukteswar to relate about his wondrous experiences with his guru.
“My friend Rama and I were inseparable,” Master began. “Because he was shy and reclusive, he chose to visit our guru Lahiri Mahasaya only during the hours of midnight and dawn, when the crowd of daytime disciples was absent. As Rama’s closest friend, I served as a spiritual vent through which he let out the wealth of his spiritual perceptions. I found inspiration in his ideal companionship.” My guru’s face softened with memories.
“Rama was suddenly put to a severe test,” Sri Yukteswar continued. “He contracted the disease of Asiatic cholera. As our master never objected to the services of physicians at times of serious illness, two specialists were summoned. Amidst the frantic rush of ministering to the stricken man, I was deeply praying to Lahiri Mahasaya for help. I hurried to his home and sobbed out the story.
“‘The doctors are seeing Rama. He will be well.’ My guru smiled jovially.
“I returned with a light heart to my friend’s bedside, only to find him in a dying state.
“‘He cannot last more than one or two hours,’ one of the physicians told me with a gesture of despair. Once more I hastened to Lahiri Mahasaya.
“‘The doctors are conscientious men. I am sure Rama will be well.’ The master dismissed me blithely.
“At Rama’s place I found both doctors gone. One had left me a note: ‘We have done our best, but his case is hopeless.’
“My friend was indeed the picture of a dying man. I did not understand how Lahiri Mahasaya’s words could fail to come true, yet the sight of Rama’s rapidly ebbing life kept suggesting to my mind: ‘All is over now.’ Tossing thus on the seas of faith and apprehensive doubt, I ministered to my friend as best I could. He roused himself to cry out:
“‘Yukteswar, run to Master and tell him I am gone. Ask him to bless my body before its last rites.’ With these words Rama sighed heavily and gave up the ghost.2
“I wept for an hour by his beloved form. Always a lover of quiet, now he had attained the utter stillness of death. Another disciple came in; I asked him to remain in the house until I returned. Half-dazed, I trudged back to my guru.
“‘How is Rama now?’ Lahiri Mahasaya’s face was wreathed in smiles.
“‘Sir, you will soon see how he is,’ I blurted out emotionally. ‘In a few hours you will see his body, before it is carried to the crematory grounds.’ I broke down and moaned openly.
“‘Yukteswar, control yourself. Sit calmly and meditate.’ My guru retired into samadhi. The afternoon and night passed in unbroken silence; I struggled unsuccessfully to regain an inner composure.
“At dawn Lahiri Mahasaya glanced at me consolingly. ‘I see you are still disturbed. Why didn’t you explain yesterday that you expected me to give Rama tangible aid in the form of some medicine?’ The master pointed to a cup-shaped lamp containing crude castor oil. ‘Fill a little bottle from the lamp; put seven drops into Rama’s mouth.’
“‘Sir,’ I remonstrated, ‘he has been dead since yesterday noon. Of what use is the oil now?’
“‘Never mind; just do as I ask.’ Lahiri Mahasaya’s cheerful mood was incomprehensible; I was still in the unassuaged agony of bereavement. Pouring out a small amount of oil, I departed for Rama’s house.
“I found my friend’s body rigid in the death-clasp. Paying no attention to his ghastly condition, I opened his lips with my right finger and managed, with my left hand and the help of the cork, to put the oil drop by drop over his clenched teeth.
“As the seventh drop touched his cold lips, Rama shivered violently. His muscles vibrated from head to foot as he sat up wonderingly.
“‘I saw Lahiri Mahasaya in a blaze of light,’ he cried. ‘He shone like the sun. “Arise; forsake your sleep,” he commanded me. “Come with Yukteswar to see me.”‘
“I could scarcely believe my eyes when Rama dressed himself and was strong enough after that fatal sickness to walk to the home of our guru. There he prostrated himself before Lahiri Mahasaya with tears of gratitude.
“‘Yukteswar,’ he said, ‘surely henceforth you will not fail to carry with you a bottle of castor oil! Whenever you see a corpse, just administer the oil! Why, seven drops of lamp oil must surely foil the power of Yama!’3
“‘Guruji, you are ridiculing me. I don’t understand; please point out the nature of my error.’
“‘I told you twice that Rama would be well; yet you could not fully believe me,’ Lahiri Mahasaya explained. ‘I did not mean the doctors would be able to cure him; I remarked only that they were in attendance. There was no causal connection between my two statements. I didn’t want to interfere with the physicians; they have to live, too.’ In a voice resounding with joy, my guru added, ‘Always know that the inexhaustible Paramatman4
can heal anyone, doctor or no doctor.’
“‘I see my mistake,’ I acknowledged remorsefully. ‘I know now that your simple word is binding on the whole cosmos.'”
As Sri Yukteswar finished the awesome story, one of the spellbound listeners ventured a question that, from a child, was doubly understandable.
“Sir,” he said, “why did your guru use castor oil?”
“Child, giving the oil had no meaning except that I expected something material and Lahiri Mahasaya chose the near-by oil as an objective symbol for awakening my greater faith. The master allowed Rama to die, because I had partially doubted. But the divine guru knew that inasmuch as he had said the disciple would be well, the healing must take place, even though he had to cure Rama of death, a disease usually final!”
Sri Yukteswar dismissed the little group, and motioned me to a blanket seat at his feet.
“Yogananda,” he said with unusual gravity, “you have been surrounded from birth by direct disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya. The great master lived his sublime life in partial seclusion, and steadfastly refused to permit his followers to build any organization around his teachings. He made, nevertheless, a significant prediction.
“‘About fifty years after my passing,’ he said, ‘my life will be written because of a deep interest in yoga which the West will manifest. The yogic message will encircle the globe, and aid in establishing that brotherhood of man which results from direct perception of the One Father.’
“My son Yogananda,” Sri Yukteswar went on, “you must do your part in spreading that message, and in writing that sacred life.”
Fifty years after Lahiri Mahasaya’s passing in 1895 culminated in 1945, the year of completion of this present book. I cannot but be struck by the coincidence that the year 1945 has also ushered in a new agethe era of revolutionary atomic energies. All thoughtful minds turn as never before to the urgent problems of peace and brotherhood, lest the continued use of physical force banish all men along with the problems.
Though the human race and its works disappear tracelessly by time or bomb, the sun does not falter in its course; the stars keep their invariable vigil. Cosmic law cannot be stayed or changed, and man would do well to put himself in harmony with it. If the cosmos is against might, if the sun wars not with the planets but retires at dueful time to give the stars their little sway, what avails our mailed fist? Shall any peace indeed come out of it? Not cruelty but good will arms the universal sinews; a humanity at peace will know the endless fruits of victory, sweeter to the taste than any nurtured on the soil of blood.
The effective League of Nations will be a natural, nameless league of human hearts. The broad sympathies and discerning insight needed for the healing of earthly woes cannot flow from a mere intellectual consideration of man’s diversities, but from knowledge of man’s sole unityhis kinship with God. Toward realization of the world’s highest idealpeace through brotherhoodmay yoga, the science of personal contact with the Divine, spread in time to all men in all lands.
Though India’s civilization is ancient above any other, few historians have noted that her feat of national survival is by no means an accident, but a logical incident in the devotion to eternal verities which India has offered through her best men in every generation. By sheer continuity of being, by intransitivity before the agescan dusty scholars truly tell us how many?India has given the worthiest answer of any people to the challenge of time.
The Biblical story5
of Abraham’s plea to the Lord that the city of Sodom be spared if ten righteous men could be found therein, and the divine reply: “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake,” gains new meaning in the light of India’s escape from the oblivion of Babylon, Egypt and other mighty nations who were once her contemporaries. The Lord’s answer clearly shows that a land lives, not by its material achievements, but in its masterpieces of man.
Let the divine words be heard again, in this twentieth century, twice dyed in blood ere half over: No nation that can produce ten men, great in the eyes of the Unbribable Judge, shall know extinction. Heeding such persuasions, India has proved herself not witless against the thousand cunnings of time. Self-realized masters in every century have hallowed her soil; modern Christlike sages, like Lahiri Mahasaya and his disciple Sri Yukteswar, rise up to proclaim that the science of yoga is more vital than any material advances to man’s happiness and to a nation’s longevity.
Very scanty information about the life of Lahiri Mahasaya and his universal doctrine has ever appeared in print. For three decades in India, America, and Europe, I have found a deep and sincere interest in his message of liberating yoga; a written account of the master’s life, even as he foretold, is now needed in the West, where lives of the great modern yogis are little known.
Nothing but one or two small pamphlets in English has been written on the guru’s life. One biography in Bengali, Sri Sri6
Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya, appeared in 1941. It was written by my disciple, Swami Satyananda, who for many years has been the acharya (spiritual preceptor) at our Vidyalaya in Ranchi. I have translated a few passages from his book and have incorporated them into this section devoted to Lahiri Mahasaya.
It was into a pious Brahmin family of ancient lineage that Lahiri Mahasaya was born September 30, 1828. His birthplace was the village of Ghurni in the Nadia district near Krishnagar, Bengal. He was the youngest son of Muktakashi, the second wife of the esteemed Gaur Mohan Lahiri. (His first wife, after the birth of three sons, had died during a pilgrimage.) The boy’s mother passed away during his childhood; little about her is known except the revealing fact that she was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva,7
scripturally designated as the “King of Yogis.”
The boy Lahiri, whose given name was Shyama Charan, spent his early years in the ancestral home at Nadia. At the age of three or four he was often observed sitting under the sands in the posture of a yogi, his body completely hidden except for the head.
The Lahiri estate was destroyed in the winter of 1833, when the near-by Jalangi River changed its course and disappeared into the depths of the Ganges. One of the Shiva temples founded by the Lahiris went into the river along with the family home. A devotee rescued the stone image of Lord Shiva from the swirling waters and placed it in a new temple, now well-known as the Ghurni Shiva Site.
Gaur Mohan Lahiri and his family left Nadia and became residents of Benares, where the father immediately erected a Shiva temple. He conducted his household along the lines of Vedic discipline, with regular observance of ceremonial worship, acts of charity, and scriptural study. Just and open-minded, however, he did not ignore the beneficial current of modern ideas.
The boy Lahiri took lessons in Hindi and Urdu in Benares study-groups. He attended a school conducted by Joy Narayan Ghosal, receiving instruction in Sanskrit, Bengali, French, and English. Applying himself to a close study of the Vedas, the young yogi listened eagerly to scriptural discussions by learned Brahmins, including a Marhatta pundit named Nag-Bhatta.
Shyama Charan was a kind, gentle, and courageous youth, beloved by all his companions. With a well-proportioned, bright, and powerful body, he excelled in swimming and in many skillful activities.
In 1846 Shyama Charan Lahiri was married to Srimati Kashi Moni, daughter of Sri Debnarayan Sanyal. A model Indian housewife, Kashi Moni cheerfully carried on her home duties and the traditional householder’s obligation to serve guests and the poor. Two saintly sons, Tincouri and Ducouri, blessed the union.
At the age of 23, in 1851, Lahiri Mahasaya took the post of accountant in the Military Engineering Department of the English government. He received many promotions during the time of his service. Thus not only was he a master before God’s eyes, but also a success in the little human drama where he played his given role as an office worker in the world.
As the offices of the Army Department were shifted, Lahiri Mahasaya was transferred to Gazipur, Mirjapur, Danapur, Naini Tal, Benares, and other localities. After the death of his father, Lahiri had to assume the entire responsibility of his family, for whom he bought a quiet residence in the Garudeswar Mohulla neighborhood of Benares.
It was in his thirty-third year that Lahiri Mahasaya saw fulfillment of the purpose for which he had been reincarnated on earth. The ash-hidden flame, long smouldering, received its opportunity to burst into flame. A divine decree, resting beyond the gaze of human beings, works mysteriously to bring all things into outer manifestation at the proper time. He met his great guru, Babaji, near Ranikhet, and was initiated by him into Kriya Yoga.
This auspicious event did not happen to him alone; it was a fortunate moment for all the human race, many of whom were later privileged to receive the soul-awakening gift of Kriya. The lost, or long-vanished, highest art of yoga was again being brought to light. Many spiritually thirsty men and women eventually found their way to the cool waters of Kriya Yoga. Just as in the Hindu legend, where Mother Ganges offers her divine draught to the parched devotee Bhagirath, so the celestial flood of Kriya rolled from the secret fastnesses of the Himalayas into the dusty haunts of men.
1 John 11:1-4.
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2 A cholera victim is often rational and fully conscious right up to the moment of death.
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3 The god of death.
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4 Literally, “Supreme soul.”
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5 Genesis 18:23-32.
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6 Sri, a prefix meaning “holy,” is attached (generally twice or thrice) to names of great Indian teachers.
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7 One of the trinity of Godhead-Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva-whose universal work is, respectively, that of creation, preservation, and dissolution-restoration. Shiva (sometimes spelled Siva), represented in mythology as the Lord of Renunciates, appears in visions to His devotees under various aspects, such as Mahadeva, the matted-haired Ascetic, and Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer.
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