Who is Babaji?
In 1946, Paramahansa Yogananda, one of modern India's greatest yogis, revealed in his classic "Autobiography of a Yogi," the existence of a Christ-like saint, an immortal yogi, Mahavatar Babaji. Yogananda related how Babaji had for centuries lived in the Himalayas guiding many spiritual teachers at a distance, usually without their even knowing it. Babaji was a great siddha, one who had overcome ordinary human limitations, and who worked silently, behind the scenes for the spiritual evolution of all humanity. Paramahansa Yogananda also revealed that it was Babaji who taught a powerful series of yogic techniques, know as "Kriya Yoga," to Lahiri Mahasaya, around 1861, and who subsequently initiated many others, including Yogananda`s own Christ-like guru, Sri Yukteswar, some thirty years later. Yogananda spent 10 years with his guru before Babaji himself appeared to him, and directed him to bring the sacred science of Kriya to the West. Yogananda fulfilled this sacred mission from 1920 to 1952, when he left his body and attained the yogic state of mahasamadhi.
As a final tribute to the efficacy of Kriya Yoga and the blessings of his lineage, the body of Yogananda did not deteriorate during the 21 days it lay exposed, before being interred in a crypt in Los Angeles. March 7, 2002 marked the 50th anniversary of Yogananda's remarkable passing. When his remains were transferred to a permanent "samadhi" shrine in March, 2002, millions around the world remembered with gratitude what Yogananda's legacy has given to them.
In South India, Babaji had been preparing, since 1942, two souls for the task of disseminating his Kriya Yoga: S.A.A. Ramaiah, a young graduate student in geology at the University of Madras and V.T. Neelakantan, a famous journalist, and close student of Annie Besant, President of the Theosophical Society and mentor of Krishnamurti. Babaji appeared to each of them independently and then brought them together in order to work for his Mission. In 1952 and 1953 Babaji dictated three books to V.T.Neelakantan: "The Voice of Babaji and Mysticism Unlocked," "Babaji's Masterkey to All Ills," and "Babaji's Death of Death." Babaji revealed to them his origins, his tradition, and his Kriya Yoga. They founded on October 17, 1952, at the request of Babaji, a new organization, "Kriya Babaji Sangah," dedicated to the teaching of Babaji's Kriya Yoga. The books created a sensation at the time of their publication and distribution throughout India. The SRF (Self Realization Fellowship) attempted to have them and the Kriya Babaji Sangah suppressed, and it took the intervention of the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Nehru, who was a friend of V.T. Neelakantan, to end their efforts. In 2003, Babaji's Kriya Yoga Order of Acharyas reprinted these three books in one volume called "The Voice of Babaji."
It is in the "Masterkey of All Ills," that Babaji reveals his answer to the question "Who Am I". In essence, this reveals, that when we know ultimately who we are, we will know who Babaji is. That is, Babaji does not identify with a limited human personality, or series of life events, or even his divinely transformed body. However, in writings he also revealed for the first time a number of precious details about his life story, in order to outline for us a path to Self-realization, which anyone may aspire to. These details have been subsequently documented in the book "Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga Tradition."
Babaji was given the name "Nagaraj," which means "serpent king," referring to "kundalini," our great divine potential power and consciousness. He was born on the 30th day of November 203 A.D., in a small coastal village now known as Parangipettai, in Tamil Nadu, India, near where the Cauvery River flows into the Indian Ocean. His birth coincided with the ascendancy (Nakshatra) of the star of Rohini, under which Krishna was also born. The birth took place during the celebration of Kartikai Deepam, the Festival of Lights, the night before the new moon during the Tamil month of Kartikai. His parents were Nambudri Brahmins who had immigrated there from the Malabar coast on the western side of south India. His father was the priest in the Shiva temple of this village, which is today a temple dedicated to Muruga, Shiva's son.
At the age of 5, Nagaraj was kidnapped by a trader and taken as a slave to what is today Calcutta. A rich merchant purchased him, only to give him his freedom. He joined a small band of wandering monks, and with them became learned in the sacred religious and philosophical literature of India. However, he was not satisfied. Hearing of the existence of a great siddha, or perfected master, named Agastyar, in the south, he made a pilgrimage to the sacred temple of Katirgama, near the southern most tip of Ceylon, the large island just south of peninsular India. There he met a disciple of Agastyar, whose name was Boganathar. He studied "dhyana," or meditation, intensively and "Siddhantham," the philosophy of the Siddhas, with Boganathar for four years. He experienced "sarvihelpa samadhi," or cognitive absorption, and had the vision of Lord Muruga, the deity of the Katirgama temple.
At the age of 15, Boganathar sent him to his own guru, the legendary Agastyar, who was know to be living near to Courtrallam, in Tamil Nadu. After performing intensive yogic practices at Courtrallam for 48 days, Agastyar revealed himself, and initiated him into Kriya Kundalini Pranayama, a powerful breathing technique. He directed the boy Nagaraj to go to Badrinath, high in the Himalayas, and to practice all that he had learned, intensively, to become a "siddha." Over the next 18 months, Nagaraj lived alone in a cave practicing the yogic techniques which Boganathar and Agastyar has taught him. In so doing, he surrendered his ego, all the way down to the level of the cells in his body, to the Divine, which descended into him. He became a siddha, one who has surrendered to the power and consciousness of the Divine! His body was no longer subject to the ravages of disease and death. Transformed, as a Mah or great siddha, he dedicated himself to the upliftment of suffering humanity.
Since that time, Babaji has continued to guide and inspire some of history`s greatest saints and many spiritual teachers, in the fulfillment of their mission. These include Adi Shankaracharya, the great 9th century A.D. reformer of Hinduism, and Kabir, the 15th century saint beloved by both the Hindus and Muslims. Both are said to have been personally initiated by Babaji, and refer to him in their writings.
He has maintained the remarkable appearance of a youth of about 16 years of age. During the 19th century Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, identified him as the Matreiya, the living Buddha, or World Teacher for the coming era, described in C.W. Leadbetter's "Masters and the Path." In 1861, Babaji revived Kriya Yoga, which Patanjali refers to in his famous "Yoga-Sutras." Patanjali wrote this classic text of yoga about the 3rd century A.D. In it he defines Kriya Yoga in II.1 as "constant practice (particularly by the cultivation of detachment), self-study and devotion to the Lord." However, along with what Patanjali described as Kriya Yoga, Babaji added the teachings of the tantra, which includes the cultivation of "kundalini," the great potential power and consciousness, through the use of breathing, mantras and devotional practices. His modern synthesis of "Kriya Yoga," includes a rich variety of techniques.
During a six month period in 1954, at his ashram near Badrinath, in the Garwhal Himalayas, Babaji initiated S.A.A. Ramaiah into a complete system of 144 Kriyas, or practical techniques, involving postures, breathing, meditation, mantras and devotional techniques. The latter blossomed as a yogi, and began a worldwide mission to bring this system, referred to as "Babaji`s Kriya Yoga" to thousands of aspirants. In 1970 to 1971 he initiated the author, M. Govindan, into all 144 Kriyas. M. Govindan practiced these intensively on the average for eight hours per day for 18 years under Yogi Ramaiah's guidance in India, the USA and Canada. In 1983, Yogi Ramaiah gave him rigorous conditions to fulfill to begin initiating others. After fulfilling these, Babaji himself appeared to Govindan in 1988 and directed him to go and teach His Kriya Yoga to others.
Babaji gradually reveals himself to his devotees and disciples, capturing their hearts in various types of personal devotional relationships in which he guides them in their development. His relationship with each of us is unique and according to our individual needs and nature. He is our personal Guru. As our hearts expand our communion with Him culminates with the "universal vision of love," wherein one witnesses Babaji in everything.
Fortunately, Babaji has at times come out from behind the veils of anonymity which he finds so useful for his work. Babaji has appeared to Swami Satyaswarananda in the Kumaon Hills of the Himalayas, in the early 1970`s and given him the assignment of translating and publishing the writings of Lahiri Mahasaya. This he has done in a series, the "Sanskrit Classics," from his home in San Diego, California. Shibendu Lahiri, one of the great-grandsons of Lahiri Mahasaya, also claims to have been visited by Babaji, at his home, in the late 1980's. Babaji is said to have blessed him in his efforts to teach Kriya Yoga all over the world. Babaji gave his "darshan" on the vital plane to the author, M. Govindan, in October 1999, on two occasions. This occurred 30 kilometers north of Badrinath, at an altitude of nearly 5,000 meters, at the source of the Alakananta River. During these visitations, Babaji appeared as a radiant youth, with copper colored hair, clad in a simple white "dhoti" or waist cloth, and allowed Govindan to touch his feet.
One cannot really know who Babaji is, or even begin to conceive of his grandeur, without appreciating the culture of the Siddhas from which he has emerged. Rather than seeking an other worldly escape in some heaven, after realizing the presence of the Divine within, the Siddhas sought to surrender their entire being to It, and to allow It to manifest at all levels. They sought a complete transformation of our human nature.
"Thirumandiram," by the Siddha Thirumoolar, written in the 2nd to 4th century A.D. in 3,000 gemlike verses, reveals the breath and depth of the Siddhas attainments. Our research has revealed that Thirumoolar was a brother disciple of Boganathar, Babaji's guru, and of Patanjali, one of the most well known sources of Yoga. While most of the Siddha's literature has not been translated outside of their native language of Tamil and Sanskrit, there exist a few good studies, most notably Dr. Kamil Zvelibil's "Poets of the Powers," and Professor David Gordon White"s "The Alchemical Body." Both of these academic works demonstrate at length the remarkable attainments of the Siddhas, and reveal that Babaji was not some unique extraterrestrial. He manifests what Sri Aurobindo referred to and aspired to for all humanity: "the supramental transformation" of our human nature, perhaps the next step in our evolutionary process. As such, he is not our savior. Nor is he the founder of some religion. He does not seek our adulation or even our recognition. Like all of the Siddhas, he has surrendered completely to the Supreme Being, the Supreme Abstraction, and as a divine instrument, brings down into this murky world the clear light of consciousness, unconditional joy and supreme peace. May everyone achieve this greatest human potential.
Mahavatar Babaji, a Himalayan mahayogi said to be about 1,800 years old, is the founder of kriya yoga. The world first heard about him courtesy Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi. Today, many cults are growing around his enigmatic persona. Mumbai-based Dr Ram Bhosle claims to have lived with him for six years.
Legend has it that the remote parts of the Himalayas are home to many rishis, tapasvis and siddhayogis—Eternal Masters engaged in singular methods of sadhana or disciplined practice dedicated to cosmic exploration and in guiding the destiny of humanity through the ages. They live in rough-hewn natural caves under glacial conditions. Some have ashrams amidst verdant greenery, located at a vibrational frequency at variance with the 'normal' three-dimensional one to keep intruders at bay. Their abode has been verily named Shambala, Gyan Ganj, or Siddha Loka.
In this phantasmagorical world of accomplished yogis, anything is possible. A siddha sadhak (realized master) may simply choose to take the form of an ancient tree to meditate undisturbed for hundreds of years. Others, when they venture beyond the confines of their rarefied sanctuaries, may fly through the air as themselves, or change into swans, geese, eagles, or even into animals, fish and insects. There are many creative ideas for teleportation, with some just travelling on beams of light from one place to another!
Exalted as these beings are, a distinct feature common to all is their complete identification with India and her Vedic heritage. When people attain a certain level in their sadhana, they automatically lose their narrow personal bonds of family, language, caste or province. Then the old terrain of the Motherland takes over, so that it matters not whether it is Kabir, Lahiri Mahasaya, Shirdi Sai Baba or Ramana Maharshi, they all belong to India. And they converse with each other using an argot common to the wandering sadhus (monks).
Thus it is that the venerable heritage of Gorakhnath and Machhindranath is claimed for its own by Garhwal, Konkan, Bundelkhand, Mewar and Coorg, and many a little girl in the remotest village of India is put to sleep to the refrain of "Chalo Machhinder, Gorakh Aaya...."
With his lithe and youthful figure, Mahavatar Babaji (whose feats have been reported by Paramahansa Yogananda in his Autobiography of a Yogi) is one such eternal master. He is the man with the 1,800-year-old immortal body. He's also the founder of kriya yoga, a discipline involving purification of the body-mind organism through breath control techniques to aid longevity and spiritual evolution. 'Mahavatar' means 'great incarnation'. He is also known as Mahakaya Babaji, the word 'Mahakaya' describing his immortal body. In some circles the Hare Khan Baba being referred to sounds suspiciously similar to Mahavatar Baba's persona.
After conquering the West within decades, it's time for Babaji to return home to capture the interest of Indians who are still obsessed with pot-bellied gurus. A new international group called the Babaji's Kriya Yoga Order of Acharyas with a base of sorts in Pondicherry recently held kriya yoga seminars in major metropolitan cities across India. The Babaji they're selling is the same kriya yogi, but he's now positioned in a new Tamil incarnation as Babaji Nagaraj and never mind that he's been a permanent resident of the Himalayas for 1,800 years.
A book claiming to present new information about Babaji, written by the Canadian guru and chief of the Kriya Yoga Order, Marshall Govindan, presents startling claims about the Tamil origins of many ancient rishis and siddhas, including Macchindranath and Gorakhnath. Welcome to the club! Tibet too claims them for its own, and the Gorkhas of Nepal and India claim to be the original descendants of Gorakhnath.
The seminar is a casual affair, particularly since the group of two conducting it has no organizational set up. There is very little planning. In two days, you are to learn 144 kriyas or breathing techniques, 18 yogasanas and numerous chants. That's instant evolution. Devote 20 minutes daily to this and you zip past 50 lives' worth of karmic atonement and time! Or so claims the venerable lady acharya from California. The 60 participants in Mumbai are administered a battery of short written assignments, duly checked by the acharya, or head, in the course of the seminar. Gleanings of wisdom pepper the proceedings. Participants are told that Sri Aurobindo was close to attaining an immortal body during his lifetime, but for the fact that he did not practice yogasanas.
The acharya presents charts on the macrobiotic diet, the staple no-nos of which are chocolates and meat. All this and more is discussed over a period of two days, inaugurating the advent of yet another New Age cult in India.
MASTER OF MASTERS
Thankfully, there's a lot more than that to Mahavatar Baba, who never left the shores of India and who's way beyond the reach of puny intellectual property rights. He's a patriotic yogi and keeper of ancient faith, whose mission for ages has been to stem the tide of barbaric conquerors overrunning India. He has often changed the course of Indian history, guided by otherwise immortal rishis, working way above insidious parochial divisions.
Babaji's influence as a guru is said to have prevailed over the ages from Adi Shankaracharya and Kabir to more recent saints like Sai Baba of Shirdi, Gajanan Maharaj of Shegaon and Swami Samartha of Akkalkot. The last three were reportedly firebrand revolutionaries who were given up for dead in the First War of Indian Independence in 1857. It is said that the first was a Muslim, while the other two were Hindus. They escaped to the Himalayas for sanctuary and were later given a spiritual initiation by Babaji. They eventually returned as illumined leaders of humanity.
Babaji mostly works in obscurity, even while serving as a spiritual mentor to scores of masters. He has guided the destiny of India and her people, yet he is perhaps one of the most accessible of siddhayogis to walk in our midst in recent times. Over two millennia, Babaji has continued to nurture hundreds of accomplished disciples.
One such disciple is an ageing healer, Dr Ram Bhosle, who lives and works in Mumbai. He is a world-renowned massage therapist who has treated illustrious patients like Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, among others. He has witnessed almost the entire 20th century, traveling abroad 160 times. A freedom fighter, he had several arrest warrants issued against him by the British during Mahatma Gandhi's Quit India Movement and was forced to flee to the Himalayas. His escape route cut a long swathe across Maharashtra, Gujarat, Saurashtra, Sindh, Baluchistan, Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush mountains, before he finally reached the Himalayas.
MAN OF MIRACLES
It was there that he chanced upon Mahavatar Babaji. He ended up giving massage to Babaji, the latter offering him safe house initially for three months, and ultimately for a period of nearly six years to-date, spread over the intervening period. Dr Bhosle's stories throw considerable light on the immortal master.
Once, when the two had taken shelter in a cave for the night, Babaji asked him to go and fetch milk. A fierce snowstorm was raging outside and Dr Bhosle thought the sage had gone mad. But when he gingerly walked a few paces beyond the cave's entrance, merely out of deference to his host, he was surprised to find a pitcher of fresh milk, still warm to the touch, positioned on a ledge!
On another occasion, Babaji solicitously asked if he wanted a book to read. Unbelieving, Dr Bhosle asked for Bharatmuni's ancient opus on dance, Natyashastra, which was procured for him. Babaji remarked that deep within the womb of the Himalayas was an unimaginable storehouse of ancient texts. He also revealed that four rooms in that great edifice were entirely devoted to astrology. Babaji also predicted that from 2001 onwards India would gradually return to supremacy in world affairs. Several decades ago, he had also forecast the end of all the political isms of the 20th century.
Like great yogis, Babaji can supposedly materialize, dematerialize and take on any form at will. He may choose to present himself as an old man, an animal or a bird. He once promised a devotee that he would attend a feast at the man's house, but seemingly did not. When the man later questioned him, Babaji replied: "I was there. I was the dog whom you fed the leftovers."
Babaji can travel anywhere in the universe. When he is too busy to do so, he sends specific instructions to his chosen disciples through birds. He's taught a chosen few how to discern birdcalls, and it may well be that the pigeon stridently cooing at your window is actually a messenger from the great seer!
The Mahayogi can be stern when the situation so demands, even while displaying a great sense of humor and rare devilry at other times. He once instructed Dr Bhosle to perform underwater meditation at midnight in the sea off the Mumbai coastline to purify his healing energy. Often, Babaji walked by to supervise his disciple's work, treading on the waves. He would chat for a while, and then walk away nonchalantly.
Babaji sometimes greeted his disciple with an unprintable epithet, as is often the custom in youth subcultures around the world. At one time, the ageing Dr Bhosle reacted with considerable anger, remonstrating that such swear words did not befit his status as a mahayogi. Babaji replied: "These words are just creations of grammar." Mostly, the language spoken by the Master is incredibly creative, drawing from a fount of inspiring, lyrical Sanskrit words lending themselves beautifully to new improvisations in Hindi.
Interestingly, Babaji's entourage of enlightened and immortal disciples includes yoginis who are over 600 years old. Babaji conveys the impression that he cherishes individuality and thoughtful dissension, rather than servile obedience.
The sage with the immortal body has walked the length and breadth of India and is inured to the ways of the seemingly berserk lone ascetics that are a law unto themselves. There is no field of knowledge that is beyond him and the transmutation of atoms is simply an entertaining pastime. One day, Babaji took his entourage to a crematorium. There, he picked up a skull and placing some faeces in it, he offered them to his disciples, ordering them to eat. All of them declined, except Dr Bhosle, who gingerly touched it with his tongue. To his amazement, the revolting stuff had transformed into the most delectable dish.
In the 1950s, Babaji had set up an ashram in the Himalayan heights above Badrinath. He eventually closed it down. A true wanderer, he is not to be found in any one place, whether in the Himalayas or elsewhere. Yet he is very much amongst us, in Mumbai or Delhi, as much as he is in Badrikashram. He encourages disciples to strive for their highest destiny. Neither God nor an angel, Babaji is more like the atmik guru, or the inner light.
Dr Bhosle sounds a note of caution—the masters are suprahuman, beyond the frailties of emotion, and they demand total commitment to the chosen path. It is of greatest importance to follow the light with determination, discernment and detachment. The wise doctor concludes: "There is no such thing in this world as miracles. Everything happens through science. Only a person who doesn't understand science calls it a miracle."