As a young man, Devi Mukherjee worked with Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian resistance movement against British rule and was eventually jailed for five months. After his release from prison in 1945, Devi began a spiritual quest throughout India and into the arms of one of the great sages of our time.
This beautifully written book takes you on a deeply inspiring pilgrimage to visit the saints and realized masters of modern-day India. Devi invites you to walk in his footsteps and experience India’s spiritual richness, preserved in forest ashrams, mountain caves, and in holy places and shrines.
Throughout his many years of travel, Devi meditated with India’s great souls and felt their transforming spiritual power. Here, Devi shares the many insights and lessons that he learned from these great ones-including those of his famous spiritual teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda.
In Shaped by Saints, Devi shares many previously unpublished stories of Yogananda’s early life and 1935 visit to India that give the reader inspiring new glimpses of Yogananda’s generosity, courage, loyalty to friends, and spiritual power.
From 1955 until 1966, Devi was part of Yogoda Satsanga Society, Self-Realization Fellowship’s sister organization in India. It was during this period that Devi formed a life-long friendship with Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Yogananda and founder of Ananda World Brotherhood Village in northern California.
Chapter One—I Find My Guru
Chapter Two—A Trek in the Himalayas
Chapter Three—A Visit from Mount Washington
Chapter Four—An Official Visit from SRF
Chapter Five—Tulsi Bose, Yogananda’s Boyhood Friend
Chapter Six—Ranchi, then, a Trek to Badrinath!
Chapter Seven—Pilgrimage to South India
Chapter Eight—A Yogi Encounters Modern Science
Chapter Nine—Fright from a Cobra!
Chapter Ten—God in Organizations: God in Our Souls
Chapter Eleven—A New Flowering?
Chapter Twelve—No Tibet This Time
Chapter Thirteen—The Travelers Return
I met Devi Mukherjee for the first time in the Fall of 1986. My husband and I were leading a pilgrimage to India with our long-time friends and gurubhais, David and Asha Praver. Our spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, had told us stories about Devi. They had been brother monks together in Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS), the Indian branch of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). The two organizations were founded by our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. Devi had joined YSS in India, and Swamiji had joined SRF at Mount Washington, Los Angeles, the international headquarters. They met in Calcutta in October, 1958, and lived in the YSS ashrams until Kriyananda left SRF in 1962.
Devi, Devi’s wife Hassi (pronounced Hashi), and their son Manash now live in Calcutta and serve as the meditation group leaders of Ananda, the organization founded by Swami Kriyananda in 1968. Devi and his family are deep and sincere devotees of Paramhansa Yogananda, and dearest friends of us at Ananda who know them. Their dedication to God and Guru, and also their divine friendship for Kriyananda, is deeply inspiring.
Devi and Hassi live in the home of Yogananda’s close boyhood friend, Tulsi Bose, Hassi’s father, and keep their home open twenty-four hours a day to anyone who wishes to meditate in the rooms where Yogananda meditated, and also Anandamoyee Ma, Sri Yukteswarji, Balaram Bose (a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa), Swami Vivekananda, and other great saints.
This is Devi’s story of the great men and women he has met during forty-five years of spiritual seeking. As we interviewed him about details in his book, tears constantly came into his eyes as he relived those thrilling scenes.
In the Mahabharata (one of the great spiritual epics of India), Lord Krishna tells his disciple, Uddhava, to go to the Himalayas and meditate on Him. For thousands of years, pilgrims have done likewise, braving the dangers of snow, narrow mountain paths, and wild animals to reach the great temples there, dedicated to the worship of God. Devi, possessed of a keen desire to make these pilgrimages, met saintly people and had extraordinary experiences in their presence, experiences that bestowed on him deep soul peace and a sense of inner fulfillment.
When I asked Devi why he had wanted to make these long treks, he replied, “I wanted to meditate in holy places, and I wanted my life to be shaped by saints.”
He met God-realized beings in, and outside, the small villages that are the heart of that amazing land of sages and saints whose lives are far removed from what most people consider the “normal”–the hubbub and bustle of daily commerce.
As he states in his book, however, “Even though I had met a few highly advanced yogis in my travels, up to January, 1955, I never felt an inclination to accept a guru.” In that month it was that he met his own destined guru, once-living in form but now in formlessness, Paramhansa Yogananda.
I hope you enjoy Devi’s book as much as I have. You will come to know this man as much through his vibrations as through the story he relates.
Chapter One—I Find My Guru
On 1st January, 1955, I was getting ready to leave the
house to play soccer with a few friends. I picked up the local newspaper to see
if the day’s outdoor activities were listed. I was very interested at that time
in all kinds of sports, soccer being my favorite.
As I started to open the paper, I beheld a very attractive
photo on the first page. Beneath it were the words, "On 5th January, Paramhansa
Yogananda’s birthday will be held at Yogoda Math, Dakshineswar." My mind was
suddenly attracted to this photo. Instead of going to a soccer game, I left at
once for Dakshineswar.
On my way to the address given in the paper, I stopped
first at the Kali Temple in Dakshineswar, which had been made famous by Sri
Ramakrishna Paramhansa, one of the great masters of the Nineteenth century, and,
among all saints up to then, my "first love." I used often to go there and
meditate, tuning in to the power and blessings of the great Master, Sri
Ramakrishna, which still permeate that holy place. God’s presence was, to me,
more palpable there than anywhere else.
After some time, I quietly left and made my way to nearby
Yogoda Math. On entering the prayer room in the main building, I was struck by
four large, beautiful pictures of masters I didn’t recognize. Their names, I
learned subsequently, were Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswarji, and
Paramhansa Yogananda. Who they were I had no idea at the time, but I was amazed
that here in this place so near Calcutta I would behold images of (to me)
unknown, but such radiant beings. My mind instantly responded, "This is a good
place to be. Remain a while longer."
I walked around the ashram, and was met by a dynamic and
powerful man with a kindly face and a benign smile. He introduced himself to me
as Swami Atmananda. Later I learned that he was the secretary and
dharmacharya of Yogoda Satsanga Society, and as such had authority from
Yogananda to train others in the principles of Sanatan Dharma, the
"eternal religion," ancient name of the Hindu religion. He traveled all over
India in service to this cause.
He introduced me to Jim Wood from America; two German boys,
Eitel and Prell; a very nice boy from Switzerland, Habluz; and to other swamis
and brahmacharis of the ashram as well.
Jim Wood was the talkative one of the group. He told me
about Paramhansa Yogananda, their guru. Even though I had met a few highly
advanced yogis in my travels, until now I had never been drawn to accepting
anyone as my guru. Jim Wood asked if I had read Yogananda’s Autobiography of
a Yogi. I replied I had not, so he offered me a copy of the book in
Bengali, commenting, "You will find everything about the Master in there."
How they all impressed me! In their shining simplicity, I
thought, it was obvious that they led their lives guided by divine teachings.
What was their secret? Obviously, again, it had to be that they had a true
master! I wondered, Why have I not had this good fortune? How I would have loved
to be in their shoes! Soon I learned that Yogananda had had his mahasamadhi
(a great yogi’s final exit from the body) only three years earlier, on March 7,
1952. Gazing into these men’s eyes, I felt they had something that I, too,
wanted. Being with them increased my zeal for the Divine.
As the day advanced, Jim Wood took me to the dining room,
where the monks had gathered for their midday meal. Swami Atmananda told us a
few miraculous stories of Yogananda’s life. (The Master’s life seemed to me to
have been one long miracle!) Swami Atmananda (or "Swamiji," as I learned to call
him) then invited me to attend the celebration on 5th January in commemoration
of the Master’s birthday. This was four days from then. I accepted with
alacrity. As I returned home, it was with eager anticipation of the coming
That day dawned, and I left home for the ashram in
Dakshineswar, arriving earlier than most of the guests, who came at last in
great numbers. I spent the entire day there. The most wonderful part of the
celebration was watching my newly made friends take their brahmacharya
(renunciation) vows. Jim Wood took the name Brahmachari Paramananda.
The Swiss boy, Habluz, took the name Gyanananda, meaning "Bliss through
As I left the ashram later that evening, my mind was
overflowing with joy. The Master was in my mind the whole time. My thoughts kept
repeating, "He is the one for you. It would be absurd to look anywhere else!"
Swami Atmanandaji and Paramananda both told me to come
every Sunday for satsanga (spiritual fellowship) and have lunch with
them after the service. I soon found myself going there almost weekly to join
the seven dedicated monks who lived there together.
We honored Yogananda’s mahasamadhi on 7th March of
that year by meditating all night, from 4:00 in the afternoon until 10:00 the
next morning. For me it was a most amazing experience. I’d been part of this
group only three months. Atmanandaji had taught me basic techniques of
meditation during one of my first visits to the ashram, but I never thought I’d
be able to meditate so long. Yet the "effort" proved effortless! I reflected, it
certainly must have been the Master’s grace. Meditation has remained my
life-practice ever since.
Afterwards, we were given prasad of blessed
sweets. Then Atmanandaji invited me to come on 4th May for his own birthday. It
astonished me that one thousand devotees and disciples attended that event.
Being in the ashram, above all during meditation there, I
came to understand who Atmanandaji was: a man who cared deeply for all who came
to him, and who always gave to his guru any thanks we expressed for what he’d
given us. His familiarity with the divine teachings was deeply inspiring to me.
I drew from him all that I could.
Swamiji had given me a meditation technique known as
yoti Mudra on my first arrival. This is a technique by which the meditator
can behold the inner light and through it become aware of the presence of God.
Swamiji used to talk to the disciples every morning and evening about this path—its techniques of meditation, its way of life, the attitudes a devotee ought
to develop. I had never before known peace like this. We were irresistibly drawn
to Swamiji’s deep devotion to God and Guru. Inevitably, he was deeply loved in
return by all those around him.
He was also an inspiring singer, and often chanted with us.
It was, indeed, through music that he taught best. I found him fearless, kind,
and overflowing with love. Master (Yogananda) discovered him when Atmananda was
eleven years old through a mutual friend of theirs, Tulsi Bose. Whenever
Atmanandaji spoke to us of his guru, tears filled his eyes.
Meanwhile, I had finished reading Autobiography of a
Yogi. It made me think of the Bhagavad Gita: It was scripture.
Even today, it is the only book I read. Someone once asked me if I believed in
the miracles described in it. All I could say in reply was, "I have seen many
miracles myself in the Himalayas. Advanced yogis can do anything they want." As
a saint, whom I often visited high in the Himalayas, would say, "Past, present,
future: It’s all the same!"
I did not know at the time that my own mother was a
Kriyaban (practitioner of Kriya Yoga, the highest technique of
meditation), nor that she had already read Autobiography of a Yogi many
years earlier. It was only when she realized how serious I was becoming about
these teachings that she told me she had taken the holy Kriya initiation much
earlier, through Panchanon Bhattacharya*(1), a direct and highly advanced
disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, Yogananda’s param-param guru, or guru’s
guru. Yogananda called him "Bhattacharya Mahasaya." (Mahasaya means
"great-souled." To this day a picture of him hangs in Master’s meditation room
at his boyhood home at 4 Garpar Road.)
From the time I was six years old until the beginning of
World War II my mother went often by train on the several-hour journey it took
to reach Panchanon’s lovely ashram, where he lived with his disciples. The
ashram was situated on seventeen acres of land in Deoghar, a small town in the
state of Bihar about 170 miles northeast of Calcutta. As I was only a small boy,
I would play outside while she sat, absorbed in his spirit. I didn’t realize at
the time, unfortunately, that my mother was in the presence of a great saint!
Now, twenty years later, she told me miracles of his life.
She said that many times while visiting her guru, Babaji (the first,
still-living, in our line of gurus) would come visit him also! In fact, Babaji
came to give Bhattacharya instructions—using him, as she put it, as his
"Don’t come tomorrow," Bhattacharyaji would tell disciples
who wanted to see him. "I shall be busy with Babaji."
It soon became clear that there was something here, in the
YSS order, for me. My mind tried to tell me to go back to my familiar world, but
my heart kept repeating, almost like a mantra, "Stay with them." Finally I
packed up my few belongings, left home and job, and joined Yogoda Satsanga
Society. This was in May, 1955. My two closest friends in the order, Paramananda
and Gyanananda, were very happy. I took Kriya Yoga initiation from Atmanandaji,
and he advised me to stay with them at our nearby Baranagore Ashram.*(3) I lived
there for a year, after which I transferred to the main math
(monastery) in Dakshineswar.
On 5th January, 1956, I took the vows of brahmacharya
and the name Karunananda, which means "bliss through compassion." On
this day I met other disciples of Master: Tulsi Bose (Yogananda’s boyhood friend
who took Kriya initiation from him at the age of twenty); Tulsi’s wife, Martan*(4)
Ma; Tulsi’s father Hari Narayan, or, as Master called him, "Baba Mahasaya." (Baba
means "father" ; Mahasaya means, as I have said, "great souled." )
Other relatives I met that day were two cousins of Master’s, Prabhas Ghose and
Prakash; Ramkrishna Ghosh (who became known to us as Gagan-da*(5)), who was the
son of Master’s elder brother Ananta, and lived in Serampore*(6); Sananda and
Bishnu Ghosh, Master’s younger brothers; Thamu-di*(7), Master’s younger sister;
and many others.
Every Sunday, and on other special occasions, I traveled
the seven miles to Dakshineswar. Eventually I came to regard all of these people
as not only Master’s family, but as my own family as well.
Swami Atmananda, who had known Gagan since 1910, loved the
devotion with which he sang, and would announce with great enthusiasm, "Gagan
will lead the singing today!" Gagan-da had one of the sweetest, most melodious
voices I have ever heard. I soon became one of his greatest admirers, and would
ask him to sing those of Master’s chants that I knew, and that he himself
particularly loved, such as "Will That Day Come to Me, Ma?," "He Hari Sundara!
(O God Beautiful!)" and other songs to Divine Mother Kali. He would sing for
hours at a time. How his voice thrilled me! I would say to him, "Oh, Da, let us
sing!" Whenever he sang, he forgot even food.
Many stories of Master were told the day I took my vows.
Thamu-di, Master’s sister, described a literally haunting event that had
happened to her as a young girl:
"One day, Mejda (the name Master’s brothers and sisters
called him; it means, "second-eldest brother" ) lost a set of golden buttons
inlaid with diamond fittings, given him by our father and for that reason
precious to him. Mejda was with his friends Tulsi-da and Prabhas-da, and asked
them what they thought he should do about it. Tulsi-da suggested that he call
forth a spirit and ask it to tell him where the buttons were. Mejda then sent
for me and, wanting to use me to find the buttons, hypnotized me on the spot.
"I lost outward consciousness. All of a sudden, an evil
spirit came into my body and said, ‘One of your best friends took that set of
buttons at Shyambazar.*(8). You will find it in a small box underneath a cot in
the left corner of his bedroom.’
"Mejda and Tulsi-da left immediately on their motorcycle,
reaching the friend’s home, and found him there. The young man was shocked to
see them, and seemed very nervous. Mejda went to his bedroom, found the box, and
opened it. There were his buttons! His friend began crying. Mejda said to him,
’do not enter my or Tulsi-da’s home ever again.’
"They hurried back home, where I was still lying
unconscious. Mejda thanked the evil spirit, then asked him to go. The spirit,
however, liked it where he was, and replied, ‘I will go only if you give me my
freedom.’ Mejda said, ‘How can I do that? You are an evil spirit!’
"The spirit then said, ‘If you don’t, I won’t leave. I’d
rather kill her!’ Master insisted, but the spirit simply wouldn’t listen. Master
then turned to Prabhas-da and said, calmly but with deep intensity, ‘Hand me the
picture of Lahiri Mahasaya.’ Holding that photograph, he said, ‘Evil spirit, I
will touch this body with the photograph in my hand if you don’t leave.’ The
spirit cried out, ‘All right! All right! I am going. But you must pray for my
freedom.’ Mejda agreed, and said that in time he would attain salvation. Then he
blessed the spirit.
"As soon as the spirit was gone, Mejda began praying for me
until I returned to consciousness. He then gave me some hot milk, and told me
that my disposition was ‘very soft.’*(9) He blessed me, but it took another hour
for me to feel well.
"Mejda never again used hypnosis for his own ends."
*(1) Panchanon Bhattacharya was one of the three disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya
who witnessed the manifestation of the great guru’s physical form after he’d
left his body in death.
*(2) By "secretary" is meant, one assumes, someone who could produce for
him some spiritual treatise, as in the case of Sri Yukteswar, whom he asked
to write the book, The Holy Science; or one who could carry out certain
tasks for him, just as when he gave Master instructions and advice regarding
*(3) At that time, YSS had two ashrams outside Calcutta not far from each
other. In 1961, however, the Baranagore ashram was sold.
*(4) Martan is the highest expression of the term, Mother. Master
gave her that name, and always called her that.
*(5) The suffix, "da," means "elder brother." I called him, simply,
"Da" as a term of affection. I felt toward him this sense of familial closeness.
*(6) Its original name, which is still used by the people of the town, was
Sri Ram Pur, which means, "City of Lord Rama." It wasn’t until much
later, in 1961 in Serampore, that I got to meet Gagan’s wife Meera. Master had
not only picked her out as the ideal wife for Gagan, but had also performed
the wedding ceremony himself, in 1936. Over two thousand people had attended
the ceremony! I found her sweet, compassionate, and completely devoted to God
and Guru. Martan and Meera Ghosh were very good friends, and to this day Meera
and I have a deep and sincere friendship in God.
*(7) "Di" is a suffix signifying, "older sister," which of course
she was in relation to us, though she was younger than Master.
*(8) A shopping place about two miles from their home.
*(9) He may have meant, "too susceptible."