Friday, 23 May 2014

SHIVABALAYOGI: MEETING (AND NOT MEETING) THE GURU



I've seen in the flesh many of the most famous spiritual teachers in our modern era, but it's always a mystery and a puzzle to me why I never met while he was alive the man who became the Sat Guru for me, the personification of the teaching principle of the universe, Shri Shri Shri Shivabalayogi Maharaj.

Even worse, while he was alive in the body, in a teaching mission mostly confined to the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka until the final years of his short life, I knew or heard nothing about him at all.

He attained mahasamadhi in 1994 and there are scores and crores of people who met him and interacted with him in wonderful ways.

But this is my own little story about how I met Him and what happened subsequently. This is not meant to be a "look at me I'm special" kind of story, but meant to show how the great Gurus really are alive and active in their astral bodies, guiding devotees to liberation even after they have departed this earth plane,

Preparing the ground

The story began for me nearly 4 years ago. I had been meditating for around 35 years, taught meditation techniques for many of them, and one summer the conditions were right for more intense spiritual practice.

At the time, I used to meditate using a mantra, as well as doing japa and various other practices. Life was good. I'd extricated myself from some of the big westernised schools of Yoga and their questionable commercialisation of spirituality and opted instead for private, more intense practice, reckoning I'd earned the right after so many years on the spiritual path. I had my puja room, my practices, and all was going swimmingly.

But that summer, as I extended meditation times, something curious began to happen. My attention in meditation began to be trained forcefully on the spot between the eyebrows, equivalent to the ajna chakra. This had meant little previously, but now various light-drenched dazzling forms began to appear there in my inner vision, especially what looked like a leaf or a golden spear tip. There it was, glistening away and drawing my concentration to the ajna chakra.

Meanwhile the mantra I had used so faithfully began to simply disappear. I would meditate, settle down, but after a while the mantra simply resolved into a flas of light and thereafter could not be located.

These experiences did not seem particularly unusual, but they were accompanied by a deep sense of concentration, and meditation - which had previously been an orderly affair on the most part -  began to stretch out in odd ways, until I found I was easily meditating for an hour or more, but on what I really had not too much idea. The meditation also produced visions of golden deities, fantastic configurations of architecture, and the like.

The Book

It was in this strange mood of absorption that I happened to visit one of London's few remaining spiritual bookshops (Watkins on Charing Court Road) to idly flick through the books on offer, when my eye glanced on a tattered copy of the first ever biography of Shivabalayogi in English. I always regularly bought plenty such Yogi books, always eager to read of the doings of saints ancient and modern - and normally they would have very little effect. They were however, a form of satsang with Dharma.

The book contains many photographs of the changes in the Yogi's appearance during his 12 years of tapasya as a young boy, and it is a compelling tale of a youth seemingly plucked from nowhere, made to sit and meditate by the astral form of Lord Shiva, and persisting in the face of the most appalling odds - snakes, poison attempts, fire, rats, you name it.

That would normally be that : a great tale of a great soul. And normally I would put such a book down and go back to my own life.

The Appearance

But about a week or two later, odd things began to happen. One evening in meditation, my attention was suddenly and unusually drawn to the crown of the head, the sahasrarar, which appeared to be an effulgent and limitless field of luminosity. And there, in the middle of this, was a figure.

The next thing I knew, this figure expanded to the same size as my body, and there, fully formed, was the Guru - inhabiting my body and my mind.

He did nothing at all, beyond take what I thought of as "me" over. No great blissful messages, no "Thou art come, my child" kind of approach. But My body was suddenly and unmistakeably his body. I'm a tall (6ft 3 inches) and ageing white guy. The Guru was much smaller, with entirely different physique. But when I dared open my eyes, His body was the one I saw.

For the next ten days, this was the experience. Whenever I sat for meditation, He came and took my body and mind over. Previously I would get pain and itching across my body after a while. This went. Meditation began to stretch out... and out.

I also began to experience strange involuntary movements outside meditation, simply sitting or whatever I was doing - twisting mudras, massive bouts of fast pranayama, of the breath shooting in and out forcefully. 

Even at work (and I continued working through this), his form was always present, though withdrawn into the sahasrara as a small figure, usually seated in the half lotus position on a tiger skin, but occasionally with a trident in his hand.

I found that this figure would only very occasionally comment aloud. Instead he would communicate by a smile, a grunt or noise of assent, and so forth - and a vast, sort of impersonal sense of humour.

What to do?

What to do next? My usual tendency would be to find out if there was a community of his disciples, satsangs in the area and so forth, the songs he sang, the ceremonies his devotees performed. But the presence stopped me. I did not really want to know. It seemed not necessary: my path was solitary at this stage in my spiritual life..

There came a time, when His presence seemed so inescapable that I was forced to admit: This is a reality, and this, after all this time, is my Guru. So I installed Him on the puja during one Navarartri, and since then, He has stayed there.

Weaving into life

Making sense of this appearance was difficult. Was I blessed, or cursed? I contemplated the strange turn of events. I would never ever be able to meet Him in the physical flesh. I had simply missed the circus as it passed through town. This played to a deep sense of inferiority - that I was so fallen, such an unlikeable seeker, the Guru had simply avoided me! But if so, why now, why did He bother to manifest in this way?

One reason, it seemed to me, was to teach the method of concentrating intently on the "bhrikuti", the spot between the eyebrows, which many scriptures say is the way to really still the mind. And this was therefore the method of meditating I chose to adopt. It was strange, both familiar and new, but it brought truly wonderful results. The mind really was effectively curbed by this method, unlike mediation with a mantra. Complete inner silence merged with silence.

In those very early days there was a perfect ease between me and Him. It was an easy, intimate, joking relationship, it seemed. He was playful, enigmatic, but unmistakeably THERE.

Of course what usually happens in the case of a seeker and a Guru is a period of testing, to see if this really is true and valid. Without a physical presence of a Guru, disciples can get up to all sorts of mind games, and this was so with me in the initial stages. My ego was puffed up. I thought: "Ah, this means I should sit in tapasya and meditate all day." But the Guru would have none of that. The instant I set my own agenda, a barrier would come down. I found myself unable to meditate beyond 3 hours a session, and even that proved to be difficult. Whenever this was attempted, my head would become dry, my body full of uncomfortable fire.And his form would vanish.

When His disappearance first cropped up, I was bereft. I felt like I had lost the deepest, dearest object of my heart's love. This was surprising, because up until that point, I did not think I had feelings one way or the other about this Guru. 

Worse was to come. I managed to take a trip to India initially on business in Delhi, which gave me the chance to at least visit one of his old ashrams at Dehradun. I built up this magnificent fantasy of being welcomed, of sitting in front of his asana in bliss. The experience was a miserable wake-up call - cold, lonely, and absolutely no reverence or special atmosphere. I felt like an irritant which the body quickly rejected, and in considerable dismay and confusion I cut short the visit to the ashram and sadly thought: "I was mistaken, after all." 

Still there

But the Guru quickly reappeared, and my meditations while at India especially in Rishikesh and Haridwar, became, once freed of any expectations, glorious and life transforming adventures. How eagerly, and now with far greater humility, I would meditate!

Life then began to flower in mysterious ways. I got a taste for serious recitation of scriptures in a way that had never previously so forcefully manifested. This became an eagerness to recite Sanskrit mantras, a positive thirst to recite again and again.

I never did try to reach out to His own organisations after that, but resolved that also never again would I try and dictate my own spiritual agenda, but let the Guru do this.

Which brings us to the simple realisation that when the small ego tries to set the pace on sadhana, it makes an utter mess of things. Only by truly surrendering can progress be made.

The years have passed and the Guru is still there in my sahasrara and sometimes in the ajna chakra. Sometimes he grinds a trident in my skull pan and produces indescribable joy - as if He is doing this simply out of sport. Sometimes He will frown and be displeased at yet another botched effort on my part. My work life became suddenly busy and testing in a very alarming way. But I will never forget the few words I heard the guru say deep inside me, "I will be there, don't worry" and so it proved to be, in meetings so testing and potentially dreadful that I quaked to even attend them.

To this day I do not teach what He so wonderfully taught, nor represent his organisations in any way. How could I? He had many exalted disciples, many wonderfully humble and worthy people who were his close companions. But He did promise to be active in His astral form - and my story is a testament to this reality.Great enlightened Gurus are masters of space and time.

His presence in my life is something few people would understand or trust - I myself would have difficulty believing it. Nevertheless, there He is. He has shown me the Mother. He shows me the way. And if I stray too far into worldliness, out comes the corrective action.

It is important to separate out fantasy and reality, as well. Having been around other Gurus I hope I know the difference between a cosy sort of "lets pretend" relationship based on my own wishes and scheming, and a real relationship. The fantasy relationship always ultimately breaks down, usually through disappointment when the promised and imagined Guru does not extend you any help in difficult times. The real relationship for me has been much easier, more intimate. But the very early intimacy, which seemed so free at the time and without ceremony, has certainly changed. I started off with absolutely no preconceptions, no real desire for the relationship, but the Absolute, Parabrahman, Paramatman, Parameswara, Ishwara, Divine Mother - whatever you like to call the highest teaching principle in the universe - chose this particular form, the form of Shivabalayogi, to manifest a new era in this disciple's life.

The odd thing, the other day was that the face of my Hasiddhi Maa murti, the exact face, got superimposed on the Gurus face in a large picture in the puja room. They really were one and the same.

I feel as if I'm being shaped by strong, capable hands, which take their own time and pace. To what end, I don't know. Those hands are merciful. But, also brutal at times. The older I get, the more life gets focussed on simply sitting on the asana, where all is safe and auspicious, and afterwards working hard and repetitively on removing all the dust and dirt that has clogged my soul over a lifetime. Maybe the end result is simply an old man in a room with his japa beads and puja, working away in an antisocial manner in a strange incarnation. That seems fine to me, but... its His play.

I'm also very aware that it's a delicate line... there are thousands upon thousands of people who met and interacted with this Guru in his physical form. They know how he spoke, his mannerisms, his intimate activity. Equally, thousands experienced "bhava samadhi", the experience of trance states, and being overshadowed by devas and the likes. Furthermore some teachers claim to this day to BE Shivabalayogi. This puts it all into perspective. There is nothing special about this story at all.

I feel He is the light, He pressed a few inner buttons, but that makes me no more or less "entitled" than any ordinary human. No miracles, wonders, astral visitations flow around me, I'm still an idiot through and through, still have to work for a living. Indeed, sadhana for me consists of stripping away all the ego that constantly threatens to rear up and say "look at me! I'm special!". No, I'm absolutely not. Not a great soul, not anything noteworthy. An ordinary person in every way.

There's always a certain sadness for me about this. I missed his entire life! He even came to the UK on more than one occasion! Passed me by. I missed his life, his satsangs, his community, his ashrams. All that came and went. I can never be seen as anything other than a curious footnote, an interloper, to the people who actually knew him. Was I simply so miserably smitten with bad karma that I was not entitled to see him incarnate? That seems to be the sum of it to me... outside the protective walls, watching the great one live and then die. It gives me rueful pause to wonder, to scratch my head and think "I really must have been toxic!" That's the way of it, that's the sadness, that's the sober reality.

Nevertheless, my love for this Guru is not like other loves in my life, apart from my love for God as the Mother, and as the Lover Lord Krishna, Narasimha, Swami Ayyappa. It is both devoid of passion and extremely intimate. It feels like a connection made of gold thread, it is otherwise indescribable.  Yet sometimes it is not there at all, and at such times I am absolutely stricken, as if I've lost the only thing that keeps my heart beating.

All successes are his, all wisdom is His alone. Am I a servant? A friend? A prince? An unworthy inferior being? I don't know, but really it must be the latter. But somehow, long after the circus left town, I met up with it after all, on a piece of flat dusty road littered with rubbish. And I hopped onto a cart. Maybe I was never supposed to. And the rest is... journeying.





Tuesday, 20 May 2014

TWO SPIRITUAL GIANTS: BIJOY KRISHNA GOSWAMI AND KULADANANDA BRAHMACHARI





Shree Shree Bijoy Krishna Goswami (above)


Shree Kuladananda Brahmachari (above)

The West never knew anything about the great 19th century Yogi Shree Shree Bijoy Krishna Goswami and his amiable disciple Shree Kuladananda Brahmachari, - both of whom were Bengali contemporaries of Ramakrishna Paramahansa - for the simple reason that nothing was really available about them written in the English language. But this has now been rectified with the English publication in 2 large volumes of Kuladananda's engaging diary of his time with his master. The book is called Shree Shree Sadguru Sanga and is available on Amazon, and cannot be recommended highly enough.



Bijoy Krishna, called Gosain, or Thakur (Master) by his disciples, was a fascinating Yogi who went in a sharply different spiritual direction from the one he started out in. He was an important preacher in the Brahmo Samaj, a now largely forgotten reformist strand of Hinduism which briefly flourished at the end of the 19th century, a sort of Puritan and Protestant version of Hinduism in which gods, goddesses, rituals were all frowned upon, leaving the worship of Brahman in what were virtually like the Protestant churches of the English, who ruled India at the time. This movement attracted a large number of westernised followers, including many of Ramakrishna's young disciples who then went on to great things. 

Reading the diaries, you get a sense of how shocking it was that when the householder Bijoy Krishna (who came from a famous family descended from followers of the famous mystic Sri Chaitanya ) with a respectable occupation as a "preacher" of the Brahmo Samaj ran into a Paramahansa Guru who initiated him, and as a result he pursued very serious and intense sadhana to enlightenment. He found he could not adhere to the Brahmo Samaj, as his heart overflowed with devotion to Krishna, and like Ramakrishna, he would go into samadhi and ecstasies and insisted on sankirtan - all of which created uproar. So he went off on his own, attracted some fervent disciples and established a spiritual lineage that thrives to this day.

Gosain met with Ramakrishna on a number of occasions, and both held a very high regard for each other. Gosain freely described Ramakrishna as an avatar, and Ramakrishna in turn recognised Gosain as an authentic enlightened yogi. He appears in M's famous Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.

Ramakrishna and his wonderful disciples went on to achieve global recognition and helped bridge the gap between east and west. It's a mystery why the equally illumined Gosain and his teachings stayed in India. Both complement the other, but what is particularly fascinating for those of us who know very well the insights of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and the rest, is that Bijoy Krishna bought an entirely different wealth of insight to the pursuit of Moksha and Yoga. Yet there are many similarities: it was not jusr Ramakrishna and his disciples who abandoned themselves to frenzied devotional ecstasies. The same thing happened in Gosain's school.

The disciple

Kuladananda Brahmachari was a close disciple of Gosain, and tasked with keeping a diary of his sadhana, which were originally published in Bengali and only translated into English this decade. The diaries (originally in 5 volumes but collated together in the English version) are an undoubted spiritual classic, as good in their own candid way as the well-known Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi and Baba Muktananda's Play of Consciousness. They are only a snapshot of his life as a young Brahmachari, and rise to no climax, nor do they relate what happened in his later years. But what a truly wonderful and loveable soul is revealed as you turn the page! I wish I had met him, he seems as familiar to me as a brother, and I recognised his face the first time I saw his photo.

The diaries faithfully and sometimes painfully record the young disciple's struggles with celibacy, his demanding family, the routines that his Guru orders him to do, including a unique tilak you can see on his forehead in the photo above, which combines the marks of many different religions. He struggles, too, with pride and vanity, but his heart is pure and he has some fantastic dreams which he also faithfully records.

The diaries also contain an engaging cast of characters, including on eccentric co-disciple Shreedar whose bizarre antics will have you gasping with laughter and Gosain's mother who must surely have suffered from Alzheimers and who disrupted the smooth running of the Yogi's ashram. Gosain's family make an appearance, including his enigmatic relationship with his long-suffering wife. Kuladananda's family is dominated by a mother reluctant to lose her youngest child and wanting to marry him off at every opportunity, and an extremely bossy older brother. 

Another guest appearance in the diary is Baba Lokenath Yogi, an enlightened Siddha whose blunt and elliptical way of speaking was totally misconstrued by his listeners, and who quit the earth in disgust. Then there is a minor cast of the pompous, scamsters, frauds and people on the make or the take whose type can still be found in most spiritual organisations today. Some are of the variety of "Do you know who I am" and there is one laugh out loud moment when a particularly pompous man pretends great devotion, makes a spectacle of what he imagines a devoted person should be like and is summarily thrown out of the ashram. These days, alas, Gurus don't dare to be so brutal.

Kuladananda faithfully pursues his sadhana both in the proximity of his Guru and at places like Haridwar and Rishikesh long before they became the commercialised places they have now morphed into. What he would have made of the sad spectacle of young Indians whitewater rafting on the sacred Ganges is anyone's guess.

Kuladananda was a pure soul, a modest one, and a Shakta worshipper. His diaries provide invaluable help for all those attempting brahmacharya in the midst of every temptation. Women seem to be drawn to test their whiles on the young innocent to often hilarious effect, but when sadhana goes smoothly you cannot help but raise a cheer and shout encouragement from the sidelines. There is a truly brilliant account of a retreat he spent near Haridwar in Volume 2 (English version) which leads us through his realisations, the challenges he faced.

The diaries are also full of really gritty detail - I love the moments he lovingly removes hair lice from his unconcerned Guru's matted locks, or the times he loses his temper when teased by his co-disciples. Or how he has trouble lighting a fire, or gets covered by flies, or fails to climb a hill to see a temple. He lived in a now vanished world where a wandering sadhu could expect to be fed and sheltered by householders he met along the way. Many of the places he went to still had their share of what he called "ferocious wild beasts" in the forests - all gone now in most places. 

Japa Naam

Gosain's main proposal for advanced sadhana was incessant japa, recitation of the sacred names of God or naam. He provides invaluable tips on practice, especially the linking of japa to the in-breath, breath retention and outbreath. And we get to see his disciple put all this into practice and run up against many of the questions we modern day seekers tend to ask about japa.

Gosain made a few predictions that have turned out uncannily accurate. For example he predicted that the mridang (drum) sound would be soon heard all around the world. A century later, the Hare Krishna movement did just that in every town and city.

Gosain also provides some great insights about states of enlightenment, visions, experiences, the mysteries of birth and death, of Mata Sri Kundalini, you name it. Helpfully the diaries record everything he said in bold print, which makes it easy to pick out his advice.






Legacy

The controversies about the Brahmo Samaj have long since been forgotten. The principal players are all dead and gone. But the life of the Master and his disciples are restored to an immaculate freshness through these diaries. This school was as real and as effective as Ramakrishna's tradition. It seems to me to hold great lessons, as a Master broke free from a tight and unnatural structure reflecting the colonial constraints of the times. 

I will treasure these books all my life, and hope that you will too. They are a fantastic manual on the art of living with spiritual intent.