Swami Muktananda was a renowned religious leader in Hinduism; he is reputed to have achieved complete self-awareness, the highest level of awareness possible. He started out as a highly respected swami in India, and eventually gained followers/devotees across the world for his views on meditation, self-reflection, self-realization, and his teaching of Siddha Yoga.
Swami Muktananda was born in the early 20th century, there is some dispute as to his exact year of birth. May 16th, 1908 is a generally accepted date (Brooks et Al 26). According to biographies written by his devotees, from whom a majority of this information is derived, Muktananda was born to a wealthy family near the town of Mangalore. Originally, his parents had longed for a son but had not been blessed with one. Then, one day they went to the temple of Manjunath Mahadev, where they visited a holy man. This holy man decided to give Muktananda’s parents a mantra to chant that would aid them in the birth of a son (Brooks et al 25). When he was born his parents named him Krsna. Only after his initiation into the Sarasvati Order was he given the name Muktananda (Brooks et al 29); this will be discussed later in the paper. From a young age Muktananda felt that being a sage was his calling. When he was very young he had an encounter with a holy man named Nityananda that forever changed his life. Muktananda wanted to be more like Nityananda, so he left home in his pursuit of God (Brooks et al 26). It is interesting that Nityananda was the Guru who influenced Muktananda at such a young age, seeing as Nityananda later became his Guru (Brooks et al 32-33).
After leaving home Muktananda’s first stop was the Ashram of Siddharudha Swami, he then studied under Muppinarya Swami after Siddharudha passed. During the years Muktananda spent under these Gurus he learned many things about himself and the way of the life of a disciple(Brooks et al 27-30). One of the most important things that happened to him in these years however, was his initiation into the Sarasvati Order as he officially became a monk. It is a part of this initiation for the participant to be given a name that reflects who they are. After his initiation his name was changed from Krsna to Muktananda, meaning “bliss of spiritual liberation” (Brooks et. al 28-29). After his initiation, Muktananda wandered India visiting saints and pilgrimage sites. The journey was not an easy one, he put himself through many trying situations. At points he would have to face extreme circumstances such as sleeping in uncovered places and drinking filtered mud water for sustenance(Brooks et. al 31). But regardless of his trials Muktananda was still in search of God, in fact it was the only thing he was worried about. Later, Muktananda would say that he hardly noticed his hardships and what he was experiencing, because all he could focus on was his quest for God (Brooks et. al 31). During his travels he met many great teachers, but never the Guru he sought after, the Guru who would show him God. But, finally, he met Siddha Zippruanna, who sent him to Nityananda, for Nityananda was to be the Guru that showed him God (Brooks et. al 32).
Muktananda was lead to Nityananda and studied under him in his search for self-realization. Throughout his studies, other devotees claimed that Nityananda was very hard on him, and Muktananda reported that it made him respect Nityananda even more (Brooks et. al 34). Muktananda appeared to have adored his Guru, Nityananda, as they say all disciples should. His love was so great for his Guru that Muktananda claimed he constantly appeared in his meditations. Muktananda stated that even when he did not think of his Guru, he was still constantly in his mind (Muktananda 1978: 46). This shows how committed to his Guru Muktananda was, and how strong their bond was. In 1947, Muktananda was given Shaktipat initiation under Nityananda, which is the transmission of spiritual powers from Guru to disciple (Muktananda 1978: 284). Sometime after this occurs, Nityananda claimed that Muktananda had achieved what he said was perfect brahma (Brooks et. al 41) because he had completely given up his human body. Even after Nityananda claimed he had reached perfect brahma, Muktananda still followed Nityananda, even though it was not necessary for him to do so. This shows how dharmic Muktananda was. Because of his good actions, devotion, and perfect brahma; Nityananda passed the power of the siddha lineage to Muktananda when he took mahasamadhi (passed away). Muktananda stated it was a life changing event for him. He claimed that, “You experience perfection when you are already perfect, and you lose yourself in that perfection. It fills you completely. You experience your all-pervasiveness, and your individuality is destroyed” (Brooks et. al 47).
Muktananda then began his own mission. He appointed his own trustees to the Shri Gurudev ashram, later known as the Siddha Peeth. He devoted this ashram to Nityananda. What made this ashram so remarkable was the fact that it was open to all people, it belonged to everyone (Brooks et al 48-51), even westerners. This ashram was one of the few that believed everyone should be able to find God, no matter who they were, and regardless of religion. Muktananda believed that his duty was, “not to teach Hinduism, but the self; not to live in a cave wearing orange robes, but to see God in oneself as one is, and to see Him where one is, as a Christian, Jew, or Moslem, as a business man, a parent of a worker” (Muktananda 1987: vii). People from all over the world came to meet with Muktananda, and all reported that they had never experienced such radiance or love (Brooks et al 54-56). During this time Muktananda developed and named his style of yoga as Siddha yoga. This was not a yoga that could be described by a type of movement, but rather a type of spiritual yoga that is taught by an accomplished yogi, and is passed down through these yogis as a lineage (Brooks et al xxv).
Muktananda talked about what it is like to truly meditate and what it is like to gain Shakti. From Muktananda’s point of view when you meditate consistently and love to meditate, eventually Shakti will awaken inside of you with the help of your Guru (Muktananda 1991:33). Muktananda states that Shakti created the outer universe, when it awakens within you it creates an inner universe of bliss and happiness (Muktananda 1991:33). When an individual’s meditation begins to deepen, they will eventually see what Muktananda calls a blue pearl. This blue pearl is where he claims God lives, where the form of the self is within us, and it contains the entire universe (Muktananda 1991: 35). This pearl allows us to feel love for ourselves and others. Eventually our individuality is no longer there. There is no longer any difference between things, and Muktananda believes that we come to this realization once we realize the whole universe dwells inside of us (Muktananda 1991: 36). To him this a good thing, we are on our way to realizing that we and everything we see, are in fact God (Muktananda 1991: 37).
Despite the growing popularity of Siddha yoga and of Swami Muktananda, there were still a few critics of the Guru. Muktananda disliked materialism, as we can see from his works. He emphasized being free from attachments, which are the source of misery. Muktananda wanted people to live free of desire and attachment, which you are not born into this world with (Muktananda 1980: 21). He emphasized this over and over again, telling his disciples to wash away jealousy which causes filth, and to eat and live moderately (Muktananda 1980:29). Through remaining free from attachment and enjoying things in moderation, only then he claims a person can begin to find happiness and self-realization. Muktananda’s continued stress on these things may be one reason that some westerners were not very fond of his teachings. Western culture puts emphasis on things such as material items and dedication to work, so you can afford even more material items. However, Muktananda believed that God and only God is what is truly important; he believed in continuous worship to God, and that we should immerse our minds in Him [God], because without God our mind would fail to function and think. Because of this, we should make God our one true focus (Muktananda 1980:33). Some westerners may not like the thought of having to completely commit themselves and their minds to God, especially to such extremes as Muktananda does.
In 1970, when Muktananda was 62, he made his first trip to the west due to the many invitations from his devotees there (Brooks et al 74). Many were uncertain how this trip would go, due to the fact that he could not speak English and only knew a couple dozen people in the west (Brooks et al 74). However, even though he could not speak English, that did not stop him from connecting with people. The people he interacted with claimed that he connected with people through the heart (Brooks et al 75). Throughout this trip people learned a lot of new things about Muktananda. For instance people saw that Muktananda did not see himself as anything but an instrument for God and his own Guru, he never asked for help, and although he adapted to new environments easily he never changed his teachings (Brooks et al 74). The first world tour of the Swami went extremely well and he went on his second tour in 1974. At this time Siddha yoga was becoming much more popular worldwide (Brooks et al 80). Muktananda stated his purpose of this tour was to start a revolution. The revolution he referred to was a meditation revolution. He sought for people to regain their prestige which he claimed had been tainted with evil. This thought of a meditation revolution became the foundation of the Siddha Yoga expansion (Brooks et al 82). Throughout his second world tour there were over 150 new meditation centres and three ashrams founded around the world (Brooks et al 83). In 1978 he took his third world tour, which lasted three years and is said to be the peak of his career. Around another twenty ashrams were formed and he had eight books published. It was also on this tour that dislike and the suspicion of cults arose (Brooks et al 109).
Some people believed that Muktananda was the leader of a cult, and that cult was Siddha yoga. Muktananda apparently called for conformity within his ashram, to some people this seemed like something a cult would do (White 315). People felt strongly compelled to be with and please Swami Muktananda. Not only that but many people longed to be exactly like Muktananda (White 316-317). Unusually, many people have had similar experiences in Siddha yoga, both emotionally and physically. These people do things such as shriek, cry, writhe, and make strange movements. Not only this but they would hardly be able to remain conscious or carry our conversation without going into a trance, being conscious was actually considered a hindrance to gaining self-realization (White 319). To many people who were not familiar with the practices and aim of Siddha yoga, this seemed unnatural and made them feel very uncomfortable with the above mentioned happenings. Muktananda addressed the talk of cults on his third tour when he landed in California. Challenging the people, he encouraged the government to visit every ashram and see what they could find, and he encouraged people to test their spiritual leaders and to watch for false Gurus who were appearing claiming to be like him (Brooks et al 110).
Swami Muktananda was a widely recognized leader, not only in India but all over the world. His followers emphasized his kindness, love, and warmth. While it appears that most people he came in contact with loved him, there were those few who doubted his teachings and were quite critical of him and his followers. Muktananda took mahasamadhi in 1982 (Brooks et al 124) leaving behind his legacy with his two successors, Swami Chidvilasananda and Swami Nityananda (Brooks et al 124).
REFERENCES AND OTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Brooks, Douglas and S.P. Durgananda, et al. (2000) Meditation Revolution: A History and Theology of the Siddha Yoga Lineage. India: Muktabodha Indological Research Institute,
Muktananda (1991) Meditate. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Muktananda (1978) Play of Consciousness. New York: SYDYA Foundation South Fallsburg.
Muktananda (1980) Reflections of the Self. New York: SYDYA Foundation South Fallsburg.
White, Charles (1974) “Swāmi Muktānanda and the Enlightenment Through Śakti-pāt” History of Religions (1974) Vol. 13, No. 4, p. 306-322. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062089
Other Related Topics For Investigation
Spread of Hinduism
Article written by: Sonja Simmelink ( March 7, 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.