Autobiography of a Yogi
by Paramahansa Yogananda
Original 1946 Edition
The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya
"Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness."1 In these words to John the Baptist, and in asking John to baptize him, Jesus was acknowledging the divine rights of his guru.
From a reverent study of the Bible from an Oriental viewpoint,2 and from intuitional perception, I am convinced that John the Baptist was, in past lives, the guru of Christ. There are numerous passages in the Bible which infer that John and Jesus in their last incarnations were, respectively, Elijah and his disciple Elisha. (These are the spellings in the Old Testament. The Greek translators spelled the names as Elias and Eliseus; they reappear in the New Testament in these changed forms.)
The very end of the Old Testament is a prediction of the reincarnation of Elijah and Elisha: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord."3 Thus John (Elijah), sent "before the coming . . . of the Lord," was born slightly earlier to serve as a herald for Christ. An angel appeared to Zacharias the father to testify that his coming son John would be no other than Elijah (Elias).
"But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. . . . And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him4 in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."5
Jesus twice unequivocally identified Elijah (Elias) as John: "Elias is come already, and they knew him not. . . . Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist." 6 Again, Christ says: "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come."7
When John denied that he was Elias (Elijah), 8 he meant that in the humble garb of John he came no longer in the outward elevation of Elijah the great guru. In his former incarnation he had given the "mantle" of his glory and his spiritual wealth to his disciple Elisha. "And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee. . . . And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him."9
The roles became reversed, because Elijah-John was no longer needed to be the ostensible guru of Elisha-Jesus, now perfected in divine realization.
When Christ was transfigured on the mountain10 it was his guru Elias, with Moses, whom he saw. Again, in his hour of extremity on the cross, Jesus cried out the divine name: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. . . . Let us see whether Elias will come to save him."11
The eternal bond of guru and disciple that existed between John and Jesus was present also for Babaji and Lahiri Mahasaya. With tender solicitude the deathless guru swam the Lethean waters that swirled between the last two lives of his chela, and guided the successive steps taken by the child and then by the man Lahiri Mahasaya. It was not until the disciple had reached his thirty-third year that Babaji deemed the time to be ripe to openly reestablish the never-severed link. Then, after their brief meeting near Ranikhet, the selfless master banished his dearly-beloved disciple from the little mountain group, releasing him for an outward world mission. "My son, I shall come whenever you need me." What mortal lover can bestow that infinite promise?
Unknown to society in general, a great spiritual renaissance began to flow from a remote corner of Benares. Just as the fragrance of flowers cannot be suppressed, so Lahiri Mahasaya, quietly living as an ideal householder, could not hide his innate glory. Slowly, from every part of India, the devotee-bees sought the divine nectar of the liberated master.
The English office superintendent was one of the first to notice a strange transcendental change in his employee, whom he endearingly called "Ecstatic Babu."
"Sir, you seem sad. What is the trouble?" Lahiri Mahasaya made this sympathetic inquiry one morning to his employer.
"My wife in England is critically ill. I am torn by anxiety."
"I shall get you some word about her." Lahiri Mahasaya left the room and sat for a short time in a secluded spot. On his return he smiled consolingly.
"Your wife is improving; she is now writing you a letter." The omniscient yogi quoted some parts of the missive.
"Ecstatic Babu, I already know that you are no ordinary man. Yet I am unable to believe that, at will, you can banish time and space!"
The promised letter finally arrived. The astounded superintendent found that it contained not only the good news of his wife's recovery, but also the same phrases which, weeks earlier, Lahiri Mahasaya had repeated.
The wife came to India some months later. She visited the office, where Lahiri Mahasaya was quietly sitting at his desk. The woman approached him reverently.
"Sir," she said, "it was your form, haloed in glorious light, that I beheld months ago by my sickbed in London. At that moment I was completely healed! Soon after, I was able to undertake the long ocean voyage to India."
Day after day, one or two devotees besought the sublime guru for Kriya initiation. In addition to these spiritual duties, and to those of his business and family life, the great master took an enthusiastic interest in education. He organized many study groups, and played an active part in the growth of a large high school in the Bengalitola section of Benares. His regular discourses on the scriptures came to be called his " Gita Assembly," eagerly attended by many truth-seekers.
By these manifold activities, Lahiri Mahasaya sought to answer the common challenge: "After performing one's business and social duties, where is the time for devotional meditation?" The harmoniously balanced life of the great householder-guru became the silent inspiration of thousands of questioning hearts. Earning only a modest salary, thrifty, unostentatious, accessible to all, the master carried on naturally and happily in the path of worldly life.
Though ensconced in the seat of the Supreme One, Lahiri Mahasaya showed reverence to all men, irrespective of their differing merits. When his devotees saluted him, he bowed in turn to them. With a childlike humility, the master often touched the feet of others, but seldom allowed them to pay him similar honor, even though such obeisance toward the guru is an ancient Oriental custom.
A significant feature of Lahiri Mahasaya's life was his gift of Kriya initiation to those of every faith. Not Hindus only, but Moslems and Christians were among his foremost disciples. Monists and dualists, those of all faiths or of no established faith, were impartially received and instructed by the universal guru. One of his highly advanced chelas was Abdul Gufoor Khan, a Mohammedan. It shows great courage on the part of Lahiri Mahasaya that, although a high-caste Brahmin, he tried his utmost to dissolve the rigid caste bigotry of his time. Those from every walk of life found shelter under the master's omnipresent wings. Like all God-inspired prophets, Lahiri Mahasaya gave new hope to the outcastes and down-trodden of society.
"Always remember that you belong to no one, and no one belongs to you. Reflect that some day you will suddenly have to leave everything in this world—so make the acquaintanceship of God now," the great guru told his disciples. "Prepare yourself for the coming astral journey of death by daily riding in the balloon of God-perception. Through delusion you are perceiving yourself as a bundle of flesh and bones, which at best is a nest of troubles.12 Meditate unceasingly, that you may quickly behold yourself as the Infinite Essence, free from every form of misery. Cease being a prisoner of the body; using the secret key of Kriya, learn to escape into Spirit."
The great guru encouraged his various students to adhere to the good traditional discipline of their own faith. Stressing the all-inclusive nature of Kriya as a practical technique of liberation, Lahiri Mahasaya then gave his chelas liberty to express their lives in conformance with environment and up bringing.
"A Moslem should perform his namaj13 worship four times daily," the master pointed out. "Four times daily a Hindu should sit in meditation. A Christian should go down on his knees four times daily, praying to God and then reading the Bible."
With wise discernment the guru guided his followers into the paths of Bhakti (devotion), Karma (action), Jnana (wisdom), or Raja (royal or complete) Yogas, according to each man's natural tendencies. The master, who was slow to give his permission to devotees wishing to enter the formal path of monkhood, always cautioned them to first reflect well on the austerities of the monastic life.
The great guru taught his disciples to avoid theoretical discussion of the scriptures. "He only is wise who devotes himself to realizing, not reading only, the ancient revelations," he said. "Solve all your problems through meditation.14 Exchange unprofitable religious speculations for actual God-contact. Clear your mind of dogmatic theological debris; let in the fresh, healing waters of direct perception. Attune yourself to the active inner Guidance; the Divine Voice has the answer to every dilemma of life. Though man's ingenuity for getting himself into trouble appears to be endless, the Infinite Succor is no less resourceful."
The master's omnipresence was demonstrated one day before a group of disciples who were listening to his exposition of the Bhagavad Gita. As he was explaining the meaning of Kutastha Chaitanya or the Christ Consciousness in all vibratory creation, Lahiri Mahasaya suddenly gasped and cried out:
"I am drowning in the bodies of many souls off the coast of Japan!"
The next morning the chelas read a newspaper account of the death of many people whose ship had foundered the preceding day near Japan.
The distant disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya were often made aware of his enfolding presence. "I am ever with those who practice Kriya," he said consolingly to chelas who could not remain near him. "I will guide you to the Cosmic Home through your enlarging perceptions."
Swami Satyananda was told by a devotee that, unable to go to Benares, the man had nevertheless received precise Kriya initiation in a dream. Lahiri Mahasaya had appeared to instruct the chela in answer to his prayers.
If a disciple neglected any of his worldly obligations, the master would gently correct and discipline him.
"Lahiri Mahasaya's words were mild and healing, even when he was forced to speak openly of a chela's faults," Sri Yukteswar once told me. He added ruefully, "No disciple ever fled from our master's barbs." I could not help laughing, but I truthfully assured Sri Yukteswar that, sharp or not, his every word was music to my ears.
Lahiri Mahasaya carefully graded Kriya into four progressive initiations.15 He bestowed the three higher techniques only after the devotee had manifested definite spiritual progress. One day a certain chela, convinced that his worth was not being duly evaluated, gave voice to his discontent.
"Master," he said, "surely I am ready now for the second initiation."
At this moment the door opened to admit a humble disciple, Brinda Bhagat. He was a Benares postman.
"Brinda, sit by me here." The great guru smiled at him affectionately. "Tell me, are you ready for the second technique of Kriya?"
The little postman folded his hands in supplication. "Gurudeva," he said in alarm, "no more initiations, please! How can I assimilate any higher teachings? I have come today to ask your blessings, because the first divine Kriya has filled me with such intoxication that I cannot deliver my letters!"
"Already Brinda swims in the sea of Spirit." At these words from Lahiri Mahasaya, his other disciple hung his head.
"Master," he said, "I see I have been a poor workman, finding fault with my tools."
The postman, who was an uneducated man, later developed his insight through Kriya to such an extent that scholars occasionally sought his interpretation on involved scriptural points. Innocent alike of sin and syntax, little Brinda won renown in the domain of learned pundits.
Besides the numerous Benares disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya, hundreds came to him from distant parts of India. He himself traveled to Bengal on several occasions, visiting at the homes of the fathers-in-law of his two sons. Thus blessed by his presence, Bengal became honeycombed with small Kriya groups. Particularly in the districts of Krishnagar and Bishnupur, many silent devotees to this day have kept the invisible current of spiritual meditation flowing.
Among many saints who received Kriya from Lahiri Mahasaya may be mentioned the illustrious Swami Vhaskarananda Saraswati of Benares, and the Deogarh ascetic of high stature, Balananda Brahmachari. For a time Lahiri Mahasaya served as private tutor to the son of Maharaja Iswari Narayan Sinha Bahadur of Benares. Recognizing the master's spiritual attainment, the maharaja, as well as his son, sought Kriya initiation, as did the Maharaja Jotindra Mohan Thakur.
A number of Lahiri Mahasaya's disciples with influential worldly position were desirous of expanding the Kriya circle by publicity. The guru refused his permission. One chela, the royal physician to the Lord of Benares, started an organized effort to spread the master's name as "Kashi Baba" (Exalted One of Benares). 16 Again the guru forbade it.
"Let the fragrance of the Kriya flower be wafted naturally, without any display," he said. "Its seeds will take root in the soil of spiritually fertile hearts."
Although the great master did not adopt the system of preaching through the modern medium of an organization, or through the printing press, he knew that the power of his message would rise like a resistless flood, inundating by its own force the banks of human minds. The changed and purified lives of devotees were the simple guarantees of the deathless vitality of Kriya.
In 1886, twenty-five years after his Ranikhet initiation, Lahiri Mahasaya was retired on a pension.17 With his availability in the daytime, disciples sought him out in ever-increasing numbers. The great guru now sat in silence most of the time, locked in the tranquil lotus posture. He seldom left his little parlor, even for a walk or to visit other parts of the house. A quiet stream of chelas arrived, almost ceaselessly, for a darshan (holy sight) of the guru.
To the awe of all beholders, Lahiri Mahasaya's habitual physiological state exhibited the superhuman features of breathlessness, sleeplessness, cessation of pulse and heartbeat, calm eyes unblinking for hours, and a profound aura of peace. No visitors departed without upliftment of spirit; all knew they had received the silent blessing of a true man of God.
The master now permitted his disciple, Panchanon Bhattacharya, to open an "Arya Mission Institution" in Calcutta. Here the saintly disciple spread the message of Kriya Yoga, and prepared for public benefit certain yogic herbal18 medicines.
In accordance with ancient custom, the master gave to people in general a neem19 oil for the cure of various diseases. When the guru requested a disciple to distil the oil, he could easily accomplish the task. If anyone else tried, he would encounter strange difficulties, finding that the medicinal oil had almost evaporated after going through the required distilling processes. Evidently the master's blessing was a necessary ingredient.
Lahiri Mahasaya's handwriting and signature, in Bengali script, are shown above. The lines occur in a letter to a chela; the great master interprets a Sanskrit verse as follows: "He who has attained a state of calmness wherein his eyelids do not blink, has achieved Sambhabi Mudra."
(signed) "Sri Shyama Charan Deva Sharman"
The Arya Mission Institution undertook the publication of many of the guru's scriptural commentaries. Like Jesus and other great prophets, Lahiri Mahasaya himself wrote no books, but his penetrating interpretations were recorded and arranged by various disciples. Some of these voluntary amanuenses were more discerning than others in correctly conveying the profound insight of the guru; yet, on the whole, their efforts were successful. Through their zeal, the world possesses unparalleled commentaries by Lahiri Mahasaya on twenty-six ancient scriptures.
Sri Ananda Mohan Lahiri, a grandson of the master, has written an interesting booklet on Kriya. "The text of the Bhagavad Gita is a part of the great epic, the Mahabharata, which possesses several knot-points (vyas-kutas )," Sri Ananda wrote. "Keep those knot-points unquestioned, and we find nothing but mythical stories of a peculiar and easily-misunderstood type. Keep those knot-points unexplained, and we have lost a science which the East has preserved with superhuman patience after a quest of thousands of years of experiment. 20 It was the commentaries of Lahiri Mahasaya which brought to light, clear of allegories, the very science of religion that had been so cleverly put out of sight in the riddle of scriptural letters and imagery. No longer a mere unintelligible jugglery of words, the otherwise unmeaning formulas of Vedic worship have been proved by the master to be full of scientific significance. . . .
"We know that man is usually helpless against the insurgent sway of evil passions, but these are rendered powerless and man finds no motive in their indulgence when there dawns on him a consciousness of superior and lasting bliss through Kriya. Here the give-up, the negation of the lower passions, synchronizes with a take-up, the assertion of a beatitude. Without such a course, hundreds of moral maxims which run in mere negatives are useless to us.
"Our eagerness for worldly activity kills in us the sense of spiritual awe. We cannot comprehend the Great Life behind all names and forms, just because science brings home to us how we can use the powers of nature; this familiarity has bred a contempt for her ultimate secrets. Our relation with nature is one of practical business. We tease her, so to speak, to know how she can be used to serve our purposes; we make use of her energies, whose Source yet remains unknown. In science our relation with nature is one that exists between a man and his servant, or in a philosophical sense she is like a captive in the witness box. We cross-examine her, challenge her, and minutely weigh her evidence in human scales which cannot measure her hidden values. On the other hand, when the self is in communion with a higher power, nature automatically obeys, without stress or strain, the will of man. This effortless command over nature is called 'miraculous' by the uncomprehending materialist.
"The life of Lahiri Mahasaya set an example which changed the erroneous notion that yoga is a mysterious practice. Every man may find a way through Kriya to understand his proper relation with nature, and to feel spiritual reverence for all phenomena, whether mystical or of everyday occurrence, in spite of the matter-of-factness of physical science. 21 We must bear in mind that what was mystical a thousand years ago is no longer so, and what is mysterious now may become lawfully intelligible a hundred years hence. It is the Infinite, the Ocean of Power, that is at the back of all manifestations.
"The law of Kriya Yoga is eternal. It is true like mathematics; like the simple rules of addition and subtraction, the law of Kriya can never be destroyed. Burn to ashes all the books on mathematics, the logically-minded will always rediscover such truths; destroy all the sacred books on yoga, its fundamental laws will come out whenever there appears a true yogi who comprises within himself pure devotion and consequently pure knowledge."
Just as Babaji is among the greatest of avatars, a Mahavatar, and Sri Yukteswar a Jnanavatar or Incarnation of Wisdom, so Lahiri Mahasaya may justly be called Yogavatar, or Incarnation of Yoga. By the standards of both qualitative and quantitative good, he elevated the spiritual level of society. In his power to raise his close disciples to Christlike stature and in his wide dissemination of truth among the masses, Lahiri Mahasaya ranks among the saviors of mankind.
His uniqueness as a prophet lies in his practical stress on a definite method, Kriya, opening for the first time the doors of yoga freedom to all men. Apart from the miracles of his own life, surely the Yogavatar reached the zenith of all wonders in reducing the ancient complexities of yoga to an effective simplicity not beyond the ordinary grasp.
In reference to miracles, Lahiri Mahasaya often said, "The operation of subtle laws which are unknown to people in general should not be publicly discussed or published without due discrimination." If in these pages I have appeared to flout his cautionary words, it is because he has given me an inward reassurance. Also, in recording the lives of Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Sri Yukteswar, I have thought it advisable to omit many true miraculous stories, which could hardly have been included without writing, also, an explanatory volume of abstruse philosophy.
New hope for new men! "Divine union," the Yogavatar proclaimed, "is possible through self-effort, and is not dependent on theological beliefs or on the arbitrary will of a Cosmic Dictator."
Through use of the Kriya key, persons who cannot bring themselves to believe in the divinity of any man will behold at last the full divinity of their own selves.
1 Matthew 3:15.
2 Many Biblical passages reveal that the law of reincarnation was understood and accepted. Reincarnational cycles are a more reasonable explanation for the different states of evolution in which mankind is found, than the common Western theory which assumes that something (consciousness of egoity) came out of nothing, existed with varying degrees of lustihood for thirty or ninety years, and then returned to the original void. The inconceivable nature of such a void is a problem to delight the heart of a medieval Schoolman.
3 Malachi 4:5.
4"Before him," i.e., "before the Lord."
5 Luke 1:13-17.
6 Matthew 17:12-13.
7 Matthew 11:13-14.
8 John 1:21.
9 II Kings 2:9-14.
10 Matthew 17:3.
11 Matthew 27:46-49.
12"How many sorts of death are in our bodies! Nothing is therein but death."-Martin Luther, in "Table-Talk."
13 The chief prayer of the Mohammedans, usually repeated four or five times daily.
14"Seek truth in meditation, not in moldy books. Look in the sky to find the moon, not in the pond."-Persian proverb.
15 As Kriya Yoga is capable of many subdivisions, Lahiri Mahasaya wisely sifted out four steps which he discerned to be those which contained the essential marrow, and which were of the highest value in actual practice.
16 Other titles bestowed on Lahiri Mahasaya by his disciples were Yogibar (greatest of yogis), Yogiraj (king of yogis), and Munibar (greatest of saints), to which I have added Yogavatar (incarnation of yoga).
17 He had given, altogether, thirty-five years of service in one department of the government.
18 Vast herbal knowledge is found in ancient Sanskrit treatises. Himalayan herbs were employed in a rejuvenation treatment which aroused the attention of the world in 1938 when the method was used on Pundit Madan Mohan Malaviya, 77-year-old Vice-Chancellor of Benares Hindu University. To a remarkable extent, the noted scholar regained in 45 days his health, strength, memory, normal eyesight; indications of a third set of teeth appeared, while all wrinkles vanished. The herbal treatment, known as Kaya Kalpa, is one of 80 rejuvenation methods outlined in Hindu Ayurveda or medical science. Pundit Malaviya underwent the treatment at the hands of Sri Kalpacharya Swami Beshundasji, who claims 1766 as his birth year. He possesses documents proving him to be more than 100 years old; Associated Press reporters remarked that he looked about 40.
Ancient Hindu treatises divided medical science into 8 branches: salya (surgery); salakya (diseases above the neck); kayachikitsa (medicine proper); bhutavidya (mental diseases); kaumara (care of infancy); agada (toxicology); rasayana (longevity); vagikarana (tonics). Vedic physicians used delicate surgical instruments, employed plastic surgery, understood medical methods to counteract the effects of poison gas, performed Caesarean sections and brain operations, were skilled in dynamization of drugs. Hippocrates, famous physician of the 5th century B.C., borrowed much of his materia medica from Hindu sources.
19 The East Indian margosa tree. Its medicinal values have now become recognized in the West, where the bitter neem bark is used as a tonic, and the oil from seeds and fruit has been found of utmost worth in the treatment of leprosy and other diseases.
20 "A number of seals recently excavated from archaeological sites of the Indus valley, datable in the third millennium B.C., show figures seated in meditative postures now used in the system of Yoga, and warrant the inference that even at that time some of the rudiments of Yoga were already known. We may not unreasonably draw the conclusion that systematic introspection with the aid of studied methods has been practiced in India for five thousand years. . . . India has developed certain valuable religious attitudes of mind and ethical notions which are unique, at least in the wideness of their application to life. One of these has been a tolerance in questions of intellectual belief-doctrine-that is amazing to the West, where for many centuries heresy-hunting was common, and bloody wars between nations over sectarian rivalries were frequent.
"-Extracts from an article by Professor W. Norman Brown in the May, 1939 issue of the Bulletin of the American Council of Learned Societies, Washington, D.C.
21 One thinks here of Carlyle's observation in Sartor Resartus: "The man who cannot wonder, who does not habitually wonder (and worship), were he president of innumerable Royal Societies and carried . . . the epitome of all laboratories and observatories, with their results, in his single head,-is but a pair of spectacles behind which there is no eye."
Continue to the Preface
Preface | Introduction