Category Archives: Modern Hinduism and the West

Yogananda Paramahansa and the Self-Realization Fellowship

Yogananda’s Life

Born January 5, 1893 in Gorakhpur, India, Yogananda grew up with the name Mukunda Lal Ghosh (Yogananda 1971:4). He would later take upon the name of Yogananda as a result of his pledge to his spiritual teacher, Sri Yukteswar, to become a swami (teacher) in the philosophies of kriya yoga. Raised by his father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, who was a mathematician who worked for the Bengal – Nagpur Railway, and mother, Yogananda grew up in a ksatriya family (Yogananda 1971:4). As the son of disciples of a renounced religious figure, Lahiri Mahasaya, Mukunda was introduced to the traditionally demanding practice of kriya yoga at a young age as a student of Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51; Segady 189). According to his devotees and himself, Yogananda was able to recall many transcendent events that led him towards the pursuit of liberation or moksa at a young age. Below are summaries of these events found in his autobiography.

When he was a small child, Yogananda was overcome by Asiatic cholera. As reported in his autobiography, his mother being a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya told Mukunda to pray to the Cosmic beloved and Lahiri Mahasaya for bettered health. He recounts remembering the physical weakness he felt during this time in which he could not “lift a trembling arm”. Instead he was tasked with bowing mentally to pray for a cure. With repetitive mental prayer Mukunda was cured from a usually terminal sickness (Yogananda 1971:10).

As a baby fresh from his mother’s womb, Yogananda was able to recall the troubles of being an infant he was quoted in his autobiography as saying: “I was resentfully conscious of being unable to walk and to express myself freely. Prayerful surges arose within me as I realized my bodily impotence. My strong emotional life was mentally expressed in words of many languages. Amid the inward confusion of tongues, I gradually became accustomed to hearing the Bengali syllables of my people. The beguiling scope of an infant’s mind! adultly considered to be limited to toys and toes” (Yogananda 1971:1).

Yogananda was educated in the traditional Indian school system while studying the philosophies of Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51). While studying under his guru (teacher), Sri Yukteswar, he pursued an A.B. degree at Serampore College, a branch of the University of Calcutta (Yogananda 1971:219). Yogananda was not as studious or dedicated in his pursuit of academic knowledge as he was in his pursuit for spiritual realization. According to his autobiography, throughout his education, Mukunda was a seen as the “Mad Monk” and was generally an outsider in the academic world (Yogananda 1971:223). He would apply religious ideas he learned from Sri Yukteswar to academic fields such as philosophy. In doing so Yogananda was not perceived as a “good” student by his professors and colleagues. According to Autobiography of a Yogi, during his final year of study he was set to fail his final examinations but for another transcendental event (Yogananda 1971:220). As exams approached, Mukunda was aware of his failing grades and he knew if they persisted he would not obtain his degree, to the disapproval of his father. Through the guidance of his guru, Mukunda approached his friend for help. Mukunda was able to pass all of his exams as every question he studied was on the exams he wrote (Yogananda 1971:221-226).

After obtaining his A.B. degree at Serampore College, Yogananda decided to set up his own organization with the purpose of educating students in a comprehensive format, both spiritually and intellectually (Yogananda 1971:254). Described in his autobiography, Yogananda was “averse” to the concept of traditional organizations as they distracted people from serving the “true organization” the Cosmic Beloved (Yogananda 1971:254). Originally set up in Ranchi, India in 1918, the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidyalaya has grown increasingly with the objective of providing students with an education in agriculture, business, industry and academics along with spiritual practices (Yogananda 1971:254). Run alongside his western organisation known as the Self-Realization Fellowship, or SRF, Yogananda prescribes that the school’s environment resembles an orthodox ashrama. According to orthodox Hindu philosophy, during the student stage of life, also known as brahmacarya [also defined as a stage of celibacy], children are tasked with the pursuit of proper dharma or knowledge. Yogananda developed a traditional ashram set in nature to allow students to properly pursue this life goal. It was at this campus that where Yogananda began to develop his yogoda techniques of meditation with the purpose to “recharge life’s battery” (Yogananda 1971:255). The guru took the originally rigorous demands of kriya yoga, taught by his predecessor Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51), and transformed them into a practice designed to move one from “self to Self” (Farge 55). Yogananda used postures or asanas to create a science for the attainment of moksa (liberation). Currently, the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidylaya supports four ashrams in Ranchi, Noida, Dwarahat and Dakshineswar. Today many of these sites are held in sacred regard for his devotees as Paramahansa Yogananda experienced the Divine there.

Once the setup of the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidylaya, or now known as the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, was complete, Yogananda decided to travel to the United States of America as the delegate for Brahmacarya Ashram of Ranchi at the Congress of Religious Liberals (Segady 188; Farge 51). In August of 1920, he set off for America on the “City of Sparta.” Yogananda, having been raised and taught speaking Bengali, had troubles with lecturing in English to an English speaking audience. Recounted in his biography, his devotees believe Yogananda went through a transcendental experience at the beginning of his lecture on the ship where God granted him the ability to speak fluent English (Yogananda 1971:357).  His presentation of the “Science of Religion” to the Congress of Religious Leaders in Boston was met with great success and led to Yogananda staying in Boston and Philadelphia for several more years (Farge 51; Segady 188). In 1924, the Yogananda embarked on a transcontinental tour to promote the Yogoda philosophies. His presentations were attended by thousands, and by the end of 1925, he had set up the international headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California (Segady 189).

On August 22, 1935, Yogananda returned to India to check on the progression and affairs of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India as well as confer with his guru, Sri Yukteswar. Upon his arrival he was met with great fanfare and applause (Yogananda 1971:377). When he did make it to Ranchi, he found his school in dire need of financial support as Sir Manindra Chandra Nundy, who had donated large amounts of money to the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, had passed away. Once Yogananda had publicized his need for financial support, money came flowing in from his disciples in the West saving the original school (Yogananda 1971:381). Yogananda toured around the country visiting many temples and notable people. Before his guru, Sri Yukteswar, passed away, he bestowed on Yogananda the sacred title of Paramahansa (Yogananda 1971:401). In Sanskrit, the word Paramahansa can be broken down into the roots parama, meaning “highest” and hansa meaning “swan” (Yogananda 1971:401). It is the white swan that is said to be the mount of the Creator, Brahma (Yogananda 1971:401). By 1936, Paramahansa Yogananda had returned to the West to continue his mission of spreading the word of kriya yoga. On March 7, 1952 the freed Yogananda Paramahansa passed away after a presentation to his disciples in California. In Hinduism, it is said that a realized or freed being can voluntarily “exit” their body once their mission has been completed. Yogananda’s disciples believe that he had attained that state of liberation. It was on March 7, 1952 when Yogananda Paramahansa entered his mahasamadhi or last conscious exit (Yogananda 1971:498). Twenty days after Yogananda “exited” his body, the mortuary reported no signs of biological decay. This report was published throughout the popular world, and Yogananda’s devotees believe this affirms his connection with the divine (Yogananda 1971:498).

 

The Self-Realization Fellowship

After the first center for the Self-Realization Fellowship was set up in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1922, Yogananda began a transcontinental tour to further disseminate his teachings of kriya yoga. By 1925, he had finished his tour and set up an international headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California (Segady 190). At its creation and until the present the Self-Realization Fellowship has followed a specific set of ideals and aims, which according to their website, include: “To disseminate among the nations a knowledge of definite scientific techniques for attaining direct personal experience of God. To unite science and religion through realization of the unity of their underlying principles.”

Following these ideals, the SRF experienced substantial growth throughout the 1920s. By the mid-1930s, the Self-Realization Fellowship had grown into a nationwide organization built around Yogananda’s aims and practices (Segady 190). As a result of the popularity, the organization decided to publish their own magazine, East-West, in the West promoting Eastern philosophy. This publication further increased SRF’s popularity as it applied Eastern religious practices and to Western society (Segady 190). In 1935, the SRF had become an active member of the Parliament of World Religions and an official non-profit religious organization, the first eastern religious organization to do so, in the state California (Segady 190). By 2008, the SRF had grown to recognize 500 SRF or Yogoda Satsanga temples, centres or groups in 50 countries. Its members spanned over 178 countries staking its claim as a permanent global spiritual organization (Segady 190).

The SRF and Yogoda Satsanga Society both follow kriya yoga philosophies set up by Yogananda and his preceding gurus. The Sanskrit term kriya can be roughly translated to mean “action”. As described by Yogananda, the yoga-meditation techniques used by the SRF are a developed science used to reach Self-Realization (Farge 63). In Yogananda’s form of kriya yoga the goal is to combine bhakti (devotion), jnana (knowledge) and karma (action) within the meditations to help devotees realize samadhi or realization [for further reading see Yogananda (1986)] (Segady 191). Yogananda believed that once a person had perfected this art, then it was at this time the said person achieved moksa.

Yogananda further explain his teachings and the attainment of realization using the force called kundalini (Farge 62). According to Yogananda, kundalini can be described as a snake at the base of the spine (Farge 62). When a person is “clouded” in his or her realization the snake would be “asleep”, feeding on the person’s senses and pleasures. The snake’s venom would then dictate the feelings of lust the person would feel (Farge 62). Through asanas or posture and the practice of yoga, a person can awaken the snake and allow it to travel up the spine to the brain, where they would experience true realization. This awakening is known as vasuki (Farge 62).

As is a common occurrence in the works of Yogananda, he uses both science and religion to explain his philosophies. The ascent of consciousness can be described in turn with the spinal centers (Farge 62). Based on a person’s enlightenment, the force or kundalini will reside in one of the centers. The centers can be categorized by the level of self-realization. In an ordinary person, the kundalini will remain in the lumbar, coccygeal or sacral center (Farge 62). Whereas in an enlightened being, the kundalini has travelled up towards the cerebral center and exited through the ajna or the “single eyed passage” (Farge 62). In-between the top and bottom, the believers of the divine reside in the heart center, the calm yogi’s kundalini sits in the cervical center, where a yogi who understands the Cosmic Vibration is centered in the medullary center or Christ center (Farge 63). As stated previously, it is when the kundalini has travelled the entirety of the spine that one will achieve realization [for further reading on kundalini and the ascent of consciuousness see Yogananda (1995)].

Through the explanation of kundalini and the practice of kriya yoga, Yogananda developed his philosophy on the attainment of moksa, but he also used seven of Patanjali’s traditional steps to realization (Farge 64). As Patanjali noted in his Yoga Sutras, Yogananda also prescribes the steps to realization as: yama, the actions which not to take; niyama, the actions in which to take; asana, body stillness; pranayama, control of breath and body; pratyahara, the disunion of the mind and the senses; dhyana, concentration on the cosmic consciousness and samadhi, attainment of realization  (Farge 64).

Yogananda invoked the language of science in his techniques (Segady 194) and tolerance of all religions (Segady 191) to promote the Self-Realization Fellowship’s ideals and aims. One of SRF’s more unconventional features was comparison of orthodox Hinduism philosophies to Christian philosophies. In promoting the SRF, Yogananda claimed it to be a “Church for All Religions” (Segady 190). He enforced this by not forcing people to dismiss their original belief when joining the SRF. He believed the goal of all religions was the same and that was to realize and become one with God or the Creator (Segady 191). In one of his original works, The Second Coming of Christ, Yogananda Paramahansa compares the Hindu idea of the Cosmic Vibration to the Christ or the “Son” and the Cosmic Consciousness to the “father” or God [for further readings on Yogananda and Christianity see Yogananda (1982)] (Farge 58). It was these comparisons with popular culture in the West and the acceptance of all religions that aided Yogananda in the expansion of the SRF’s ideals (Segady 191).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Farge, Emile J. (2009). “Going East with Merton: Forty years later-and Coming West with Paramahansa Yogananda Today.” Cross Currents 59:49-68. Accessed on February 6, 2016. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-3881.2009.00049.x.

Segady, Thomas W. (2009) “Globalization, Syncretism, and Identity: The Growth and Success of Self-Realization-Fellowship.” Implicit Religion 12:187-199. Accessed on February 5, 2016. doi: 10.1558/imre.v12i2.187.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1995) God Talks with Arjuna – The Bhagavad Gita. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1986) The Divine Romance. Dakshineswar: Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1982) Second Coming of Christ. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1971) Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kriya Yoga

Kundalini

Lahiri Mahasaya

Patanjali

Sri Yukteswar

Mahasamadhi

Moksa

Notable Websites Related to the Topic

Self-Realization Fellowship website: https://www.yogananda-srf.org/

Yogoda Satsanga Society of India website: http://www.yssofindia.org/

 

Article written by: Sean Gaiesky (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Swami Muktananda

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

Shakti

Meditation

Influential Swamis

Spread of Hinduism

Renouncers

Sarasvati Order

Self-realization

Swami Nityananda

Swami Chidvilasananda

Brahma

 

Article written by: Sonja Simmelink ( March 7, 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Annie Besant

Annie Besant was an English woman who would come to be an advocate for the Hindu religion and women’s educational rights in India. Born in 1847, Besant grew up in a home where her father valued science over religion and her mother was a devout Anglican. Her parents’ differing views on religion would come to impact Besant’s beliefs and work as she grew up. She came to associate England and India by gendered terms. England being male and paternal in its rationality and materialism, and India as female due to its spirituality and mysticism. Besant’s father died when she was only five years old, thus, she grew up mainly influenced by her mother’s Christian beliefs. She received a good education from a wealthy woman who agreed to privately tutor her because her mother could not afford public education. Besant married a clergyman, however, her marriage quickly became tumultuous as she began to denounce her Christian faith. Besant would refuse to take communion and unsurprisingly this angered her clergyman husband. This led to a fractious marriage and an eventual separation (Anderson 2002:28).

More and more Besant began to question the Christian faith. The illness of her young daughter Mabel was one such event which drew Besant towards an atheist mindset. She eventually joined the National Secular Society which was lead by Charles Bradlaugh. Besant and Bradlaugh formed a strong friendship and he helped foster her free-thinking ideas.  Besant also became acquainted with George Bernard Shaw at this time (Oppenheim 13). With her new secularist mindset, Besant did not deny the presence of God but rather attributed consequences to human action. Before, her Christian faith had led her to believe that the universe revolved around God as the one true deity. In contrast, secularism allowed humans to be accountable for evil and for the consequences, whether it be rewards or punishment (Oppenheim 14).

In the year 1874, Annie Besant went to London and there she became known as ‘Red Annie.’ She supported such issues as women’s suffrage, use of birth control, secularism and socialism. Besant made it very clear that she was against the imperialism of England. She became a rebel figure because she went against the Victorian ideals that existed at the time in England. A series of articles written by Besant in the 1870’s demonstrated her discontent over England’s control of India. At this time, Besant identified herself as an atheist socialist but in 1889 she turned to the religion of Theosophy (Anderson 1994: 565). This particular religion was new at the time Besant converted to it and was based on discovering the hidden meanings or mysteries behind divinity. It sought to explain the relationships or bonds between the universe, humans, and the divine. Her conversion to Theosophy was met with consternation from her fellow secularists and from Indian theosophists. She had been a woman who did not believe in God and wanted the separation of religion and the state, and now she was affiliating herself with a religion where “all major creeds are paths to God” (Anderson 2002:28). Oppenheim (1989) suggests that her conversion to Theosophy was not as surprising as many thought. She had been questioning the secularist and atheist thoughts for some time, and had found that they did not allow for brotherhoods to be formed, but rather pitted different groups against each other (15). Besant remained a follower of Theosophy for the rest of her life and based much of her work on its ideologies.

1907 was an important year for Besant as she became the president of the Theosophical Society.  By this time Besant had already become quite assimilated into Indian culture. The base for the Theosophical Society was in India and Besant tried to participate in Indian life as fully as possible. She moved to India permanently and wore a white sari, as widows do, because it demonstrated mourning over the wrongdoings Britain had committed in India (Anderson 2002:29). She explained her affinity for India by claiming that she felt she had been Indian in another lifetime [Ingalls (1965) mentions how Besant discovered that many of her incarnations took place in India]. Whilst in the Theosophical Society, Besant focussed much of her work on supporting the domesticity of Indian women. Besant believed that it was important that Indian customs be upheld and this included women carrying out their traditional roles in the home. She received some criticism for this viewpoint because she had been so against the Victorian idea of a private sphere for women in her native land of England. Indeed many ambiguities arose with Besant’s ideas. One such ambiguity or criticism Besant faced was her lack of political conviction. In the year 1885 the Indian National Congress, composed of British members, was attempting to include more Indians in the governance of India. Besant had long been known to be against the Imperial supremacy of Britain yet she did not seem to have any qualms with British involvement in India’s government. She was quoted once as saying that “an Indian does not resent being governed; for he thinks the duty of a ruler is to rule, but he does resent the insolence often shown by the very juvenile civilians” that Britain was sending to India (Anderson 2002:30). Rather, Besant chose to focus mainly on the spiritual nature of India as she believed that this was the most vital part of its essence. She was concerned that western ideologies were crippling to India’s traditional Hindu beliefs and practices.

Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)
Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)

In order to preserve India’s Hindu background, Besant turned her efforts towards education. She felt that it was important to educate the young males on the religion, and history of India in order that they may be proud citizens of India in the future. In this way, Besant was trying to ensure that the western ideals of the British did not permeate into India and eradicate its important history and spirituality. Besant tried to distance herself from social reforms, wanting to focus mainly on the preservation of India’s Hindu culture. However, in the early 1900s she did become involved in advocating against child marriages and the seclusion of women. It is important to note that her support of these issues in no way negated her belief that women should still be domestic. When she began a school for young girls, the goal was that their education would help them to be better wives, not to help them achieve independence (Anderson 2002: 31). Tradition held that the men dealt in public affairs outside of the home and that women were mothers and wives who concerned themselves with domestic affairs. It is clear that Besant did not believe Indian women to be suppressed because of this (Anderson 1994: 567). To her, they seemed quite content in their societal roles and thus no change needed to be made. In the Central Hindu School (Besant’s school for boys) and her school for girls, Besant ensured that Sanskrit was taught as vigorously as the English language. Just as in the schools run by the British, her schools also taught important morals. However, Besant had more success than the British run universities in India because she tailored her curriculums to Indian culture. Figures such as St. Paul would be replaced in a lesson with Sri Rama; King Alfred was replaced by Sivaji. Besant’s devotion to Hindu tradition and custom in the education of India’s youth won her over with her pupils and their parents (Ingalls 86).

The year 1913 was significant for Besant because it was then that she turned to political pursuits. Having been distant from involving herself in issues of a political nature, Besant was thrown into the realm of politics when she was taken to court by a man whose sons were under her guardianship.  Accusations about one of her colleagues were made and this cast a shadow on the Theosophical Society. As a result, Besant felt an increasing need, in her own words: “to enter more than I have hitherto done into the social life of Madras” (Stafford 62-63).  After her negative experience in court, she formed ‘The Brothers of India.’  This was a group committed to looking out for India’s best interests with a focus on Hinduism as the mode towards their means. The men in this group were from the Theosophical Society and they had seven guidelines, which they were to follow in order to serve India’s best interests. The first six guidelines reflected many of Besant’s early beliefs. For example, these men were to only have their daughters marry when they were seventeen years of age to promote the education of the masses and to not ostracize widows for remarrying. The seventh guideline was most significant which “committed all members to a combined programme of spiritual, educational, social and political reform, and the placing of the programme under the guidance and direction of the Indian National Congress” (Stafford 64). Before, there had been reforms for each of these areas individually, but Besant wanted to unite all of these areas and to place equal importance on all reforms together. The Indian National Congress was asked to take the programme under its direction but they felt that it was not their place to interfere in these reforms because they were focussed solely on political ventures. However, Annie Besant was not deterred. She sought to bring the different groups and movements into one strong voice.

Home Rule for India was brought forth by Besant. She believed that both India and Britain would be better off if India was permitted to be self-governing. Stafford (1983) suggests that Besant’s Irish background influenced her decision to have a Home Rule for India. Besant wrote many articles which stressed how India would be a much more valuable ally as a nation free from colonialism as opposed to being a colonial state. She discussed the many grievances that India had suffered under British rule. According to Besant, Britain continuously benefitted more from India than India did from itself. Britain prevented India’s capital from remaining within the nation. As well, in terms of education, missionaries wanted Indians to convert, and the British geared education towards their own means; the cultivation of more clerks and junior officials was often the British goal (Stafford 66-67).  With the approaching war (World War I), Besant asserted that it was important for India to recognize her own nationhood. In 1916 Besant was finally successful in achieving a Home Rule for India. A meeting between the Congress and the Moslem League occurred.  As Ingalls (1965) suggests, this was very significant because an agreement called the Lucknow Agreement determined that in the event of Indian self-government, “two-thirds majority of either religious community would hold a veto power” (87).  Unfortunately, the Congress did not honor this agreement. Being the strong-willed woman that she was, Besant continued to give speeches to gain support. She was then placed under house arrest by a governor of Madras [see Anderson (2002: 39) for more information on the Governor’s actions against Besant]. Much to the dismay of the Congress, Besant had many devout followers, and her house arrest only served to make her a martyr for her cause. Gandhi was amongst her supporters, as well as other male Indian nationalists. People were dismayed to hear of the treatment of Besant. She was called Mother Besant by many and had won over the hearts of the people with her passionate belief in Indian nationalism. Significantly, Besant’s internment brought forth many Indian women activists for women’s rights. Others who normally would not have supported an English woman as a nationalist leader also protested her internment. When she was released after three months, she became the President of the Indian National Congress in December of 1917 (Ingalls 87-88).

Now as president, Besant was able to induce change for women’s rights in India. As she had done in the past, Besant did not denounce the important role in the home of the women, but rather suggested that women had an ancient importance and that their emancipation was needed so that they could fulfill their ancient position. In this way, Besant appealed to the traditionalism of Indian women and men, while still implying that some changes needed to be made. In late 1917 Besant formed and presided over the first feminist organization in India. It was called the Women’s Indian Association (Anderson 2002:47). Many women looked up to Besant as someone who had defied the odds and demonstrated that women could have a voice and the power to affect change in a male-dominated world. After 1917, her influence began to decrease. Gandhi was at the forefront of India’s nationalism and many saw him as a more appropriate leader for the Indian cause because he was a swadeshi or home made nationalist. Besant disagreed with many of Gandhi’s ideas and she lost favor with many because of this. To many, it seemed that she had become pro-government despite her original Home Rule intentions for India, however, she had simply altered her views because the political climate of India had changed. Besant had once been deemed an incarnate goddess, but at this time she was being referred to as a demoness and some called her Putana [this is a demoness from the epic Ramayana. She is known to have put poison on her breasts and suckled the child Lord Krsna, thus killing him (Anderson 2002:50)]. Interestingly, Gandhi, though he had many qualms with Besant’s views, stood up for her against the harsh words she was receiving from those who once supported her.

The last years of Besant’s career were difficult times for her. She resigned from the Home Rule League she had founded and Gandhi took her place as president. Moreover, she also resigned from the Indian National Congress. Besant was embittered by the way in which she was disregarded, but she continued to persevere. She formed a new National Home Rule League and eventually rejoined the Indian National Congress, though not in a leading position. Besant died in the year 1933 at the age of eighty-six. Towards the end of her career she was marginalized, however, many still fondly remembered her as Mother Annie Besant. She was the English woman with the Indian soul who fought for a more free India (Anderson 2002:49-51).

 

 

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

 

Anderson, Nancy Fix (2002) “Mother Besant and Indian National Politics.” The Journal of        Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 30, No. 3: p.27-54. London: Frank Cass

 

Anderson, Nancy Fix (1994) “Bridging Cross-cultural Feminisms: Annie Besant and women’s   rights in England and India, 1874-1933.” Women’s History Review, Vol. 3, No. 4: p.       563-580. New Orleans: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.

 

Ingalls, Daniel H.H. (1965) “The Heritage of a Fallible Saint: Annie Besant’s Gifts to India.”         Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 109, No. 2: p. 85-88.     Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

 

Mortimer, Joanne Stafford (1983) “Annie Besant and India 1913-1917.” Journal of      

            Contemporary History, Vol. 18, No. 1: p. 61-78. London: Sage Publications, Ltd.

 

Oppenheim, Janet (1989) “The Odyssey of Annie Besant.” History Today, Vol. 39, No. 9: p.        12-18. Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company.

 

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Atheism

Central Hindu School

Charles Bradlaugh

Commonweal (newspaper)

Home Rule League

Indian National Congress

Madame Blavatsky

Madras

nationalist movement (India)

National Reformer (newspaper)

New India (newspaper)

‘Red Annie’

Secularism

‘The Brothers of India’

Theosophical Society

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/besant_annie.shtml

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Besant

 

http://www.ts-adyar.org/content/annie-besant-1847-1933

http://spartacus-educational.com/Wbesant.htm

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosophical_Society

 

http://www.ts-adyar.org/

 

https://theosophical.org/the-society/history-of-the-society

 

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/285841/Indian-National-Congress

 

Article written by: Haley Kleckner (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Auroville

Inaugurated in 1968, the city of Auroville began with the goal to promote future unity and understanding among people of all backgrounds. At the time of its development, architecturally speaking, the city was modern and innovative. The founder, Mirra Alfassa, – better known as the Mother – had a vision for the basic concept of the city and chose architect Roger Anger to make this vision come true. This resulted in the “galaxy concept,” named for its appearance of having everything fanning out from the city center. At the center of Auroville is the Matrimandir, a ball shaped structure “representing the soul of the city” (Kundoo 51), as well as some surrounding gardens and waters. From there spirals the four zones: cultural, industrial, international, and residential. Each of these represent aspects of life the Mother deemed important to creating a universal city and are connected through a circular road called the Crown, which cuts through all the sections while housing the important buildings for each zone (Kundoo 51). Branching off of the Crown are twelve roads which provide accessibility for all residents to the city center. Finally, surrounding the city is an area of green space called the Green Belt, which holds the necessary settlements and land space for activities involving green work.

One of the most important structural components of Auroville is also one of the smallest. In 1968, young people representing 124 countries placed a handful of their native soil in an urn shaped like a lotus bud to represent the establishment of the city (Kapoor 633). Also placed inside the urn was the Auroville charter as prescribed by the Mother, which set out the four main goals for which the city will strive to achieve. [See Shinn 241 or Kapoor 633 for an English-translated version of the charter]. This urn remains in the center of the city, near the location of the Matrimandir, as a reminder of the message and objectives laid out for the citizens of this unique city.

While the Mother was the person who implemented Auroville and made it a reality, the following philosophies for which the concept was built upon came from the revolutionary Sri Aurobindo. His core contributions to the foundations of Auroville can be attributed to four insights, which relate and connect to one another. First, Aurobindo claimed the existence of a divine feminine energy at the core of reality to which he called a Shakti or The Mother. When Aurobindo met Mirra, he sensed that she was the incarnation of the Divine Mother which contributed to her title as “The Mother,” given to her when she developed Aurobindo’s ideas into a city. Second, Aurobindo believed that all beings were involved in a process leading them towards a transformed consciousness that will reflect their Shakti. His third insight was that for the evolution of humankind, there must be a joining of the physical and conscious worlds such that a transformation of both body and mind can occur together. As his fourth insight, Aurobindo proposed integral yoga as a way of quickening the evolution of humankind into its final and inevitable end of human transformation (Shinn 239-240).

From Aurobindo’s insights, it was up to the Mother to apply these to the planning and building of a community. In one of her writings from 1954, she described a dream she had of a utopia that is believed to have led to the creation of Auroville. [For a description of her dream, see Shinn 240]. She envisioned a place where money would be obsolete as citizens’ work would be considered a form of integral yoga, one of the insights Aurobindo believed would hasten the evolution of humans. Education would be voluntary for children in order to allow for individual growth. Social titles and positions would be based on the respect of others and the service of Shakti. Ultimately, every aspect about this dream city emphasized the goal of unity and transformation of humankind.

In 1966, the Sri Aurobindo Society was granted support from the United Nations to begin building the utopian society imagined by the Mother. A spot was chosen near Pondicherry in southern India and on February 28th, 1968, Auroville was established. The Mother constructed the Auroville Charter, which as previously mentioned, resides in the urn which holds handfuls of soil from multiple nations. While the ideal human transformation set out by Sri Aurobindo is the ultimate goal, the city was designed as a sort of experiment in developing a society that could eventually attain the goals set out by the Mother in the Charter. It was not expected that the city will immediately achieve perfect unity among peoples and nature, but that it would shape a process by which the individual and the collective can obtain perfection (Shinn 241).

Almost 50 years after its creation, Auroville is still thriving and progressing towards an enlightened future. As Sri Aurobindo claimed, the path to transformation involves both the physical and the conscious worlds, so the city has spent a lot of time focusing on improving the environment around them. Before the city was implemented, the land in that area was barren and covered in red laterite soil but has since been regenerated and stabilized. Over two million trees have been planted in the area and thanks to similar green works projects, the Green Belt is actually green and full of life. Preservation of the environment is very important to Aurovilians so constant progress is being made with water and soil conservation. A couple of Auroville centers that are involved with environmental work have been recognized as Medicinal Plant Conservation Parks and maintain botanical parks and plant gardens within the area (Kapoor 635). There has also been effort put into reestablishing the original ecosystem of the area by conserving natural species of vegetation and propagating them.

Renewable energy is also a main focus in Auroville. The first source of renewable energy was windmills used for pumping water, which came into the possession of Aurovilians after the Government of India discarded them following a failed project. As of 2004 over 200 residences in Auroville were using solar energy to power their homes and heat their water. One of the most impressive renewable energy projects developed for Auroville was the Solar Bowl. This spherical solar concentrator was installed at Auroville’s collective kitchen, the Solar Kitchen, and could generate enough steam to cook about 1200 meals on a clear day, and was built with two diesel heaters for the cloudy days (van den Akker 27). A solar power plant was built at the city center, and at the time of its installation, this power plant was one of the first of its kind in India and continues to provide clean energy for the Matrimandir and surrounding gardens. Any research and knowledge developed in Auroville is made accessible to the outside world in accordance with maintaining the city’s goal of progressing towards a better future for all humans. Many of the buildings in Auroville were constructed using environmentally friendly building technologies such as compressed mud bricks, recycled materials, or other natural substances (Kapoor 635).

Although it is often referred to as a city, the population of this utopian society is less than 3000 citizens. This is nowhere close to the 50000 person goal but the slow population increase allows for the settlement and adaption of the city for each new resident it welcomes. Anyone may become a citizen of Auroville as long as they are willing to participate in reaching the final goal of human unity as set out in the Charter. However, an entry group that regulates the acceptance of new residents will determine the final admission status based on spiritual inclinations and legal requirements (Kapoor 635). Most people visit Auroville first and once they have made the decision to join the community, they must get legal papers to apply for an entry visa. For the first year of their duration, an individual works and participates in the community but is considered a newcomer until their full citizenship is established. Newcomers and Aurovilians both contribute a monetary amount towards the maintenance of Auroville roads, services, facilities, and existing infrastructures. Also, newcomers are expected to provide financially for themselves and their accompanying persons for at least the first year of their residence. It is estimated that the basic cost of living is around 6000 Indian Rupees per person per month. [For more information on living requirements, see auroville.org]. Once one has been granted the title of Aurovilian, it is very unlikely that this status will be withdrawn.

An Aurovilian may choose to work based on whatever they have an inclination for even if they do not have the formal training for the job. This socio-economic organization allows for individualism at the same time as considering the collective as a whole. It works towards balancing the work required for transforming oneself and reflecting one’s Shakti while providing for the needs of everyone in the community. Although never stated as such, the principles outlined by the Mother can be easily connected to communist ideals. The idea of abolishing money and private property as well as ensuring the fulfillment of every citizen’s needs falls in line with left-wing political systems. Auroville is supposed to be self-supporting but most of the production and commercial units responsible for providing funds do not produce enough profit. Instead, most funds for Auroville are provided through donations and grants received from people and organizations around the world.

As envisioned by the Mother, there is no compulsory schooling in Auroville. The Mother stated that “education would be given not for passing examinations or obtaining certificates and posts but to enrich existing faculties and bring forth new ones” (cited in Kapoor 637). This concept is difficult for a lot of new Aurovilians, as it differs so much from the mainstream school system evident in most of the world. There are still schools within the city but they are also open to children in the neighbouring villages. Most people living in these surrounding villages are Dalits and many are illiterate, and while the Auroville Village Action Group has worked towards providing programs for these people, it is difficult due to their socio-economic background (Kapoor 640).

For those wishing to visit Auroville, it is recommended to give oneself plenty of time to fully experience and participate in the lifestyle. There is no entrance fee to get into Auroville and to maintain the ideal of no money circulation, guests must purchase an Aurocard to which they can deposit money onto and later use in exchange for goods and services. Just like any other destination, it is recommended to book housing and transportation in advance. It is important that travelers abide by the cultural lifestyle present in Auroville, such as learning appropriate body language, dressing modestly, and behaving in a suitable manner. English is the most commonly spoken and written language in Auroville but many other languages may be spoken there as well so translation facilities exist if one requires assistance.

For a long time, the possibility of human unity was only a dream; however, through the leadership and foundations laid out by Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa this dream is closer to becoming a reality. “The City of Dawn,” as Auroville has often been referred to as, still has a long way to go before achieving unity and understanding among people of all backgrounds but as it develops innovative systems and faces new challenges, it progresses that much closer to becoming to the utopian society imagined by the Mother. Citizens of Auroville continue to uphold the same ideals prescribed in the Auroville Charter and as the city receives more support and more residents, it will hopefully allow for the final transformation of humankind into the enlightened being described by Sri Aurobindo.

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

Kapoor, Rakesh (2007) “Auroville: A Spiritual-Social Experiment in Human Unity and Evolution.” Futures Vol. 39, May: 632-643.

Kundoo, Anupama (2007)Auroville: An Architectural Laboratory.” Architecture Design Vol. 77, No. 6: 50-55.

Shinn, Larry D. (1984) “Auroville: Visionary Images and Social Consequences in a South Indian Utopian Community.” Religious Studies Vol. 20, No. 2: 239-253. Cambridge University Press.

 

van den Akker, Jos and Judith Lipp (2004) “The Power of Human Unity.” Refocus Vol. 5, No. 3: 26-29.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Sri Aurobindo

Mirra Alfassa

Shakti

Utopian Societies

Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry

The Mother

Matrimandir

 

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to Auroville

www.auroville.org

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auroville

www.auroville.com

www.aurovilletv.org

http://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Auroville

 

Article written by: Erin Hunter (April 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Swami Chidvilasananda

“Gurumayi’s striking beauty rivets attention wherever she goes…[H]er energy seems inexaustible. Her grace, delightful wit, and respectful regard for the needs of each devotee have expanded Siddha Yoga’s appeal beyond what even Muktananda achieved.” (Brooks 136)

 Swami Chidvilasananda, often referred to as Gurumayi Chidvilasananda or simply Gurumayi is the current leading guru of Siddha Yoga. Gurumayi is a female Guru, who was born in India, who now resides in the United States of America. After studying yoga under the leadership of her own guru Swami Muktananda, she became the head guru of Siddha Yoga when he passed on his title to her in a five day fire ceremony called a yajna; which was celebrated during the time of his birthday in 1982 [Swami Muktanananda passed away later in that same year]. (Caldwell 27) Siddha Yoga is a form of yoga that is very much about finding energy inside one’s soul and discovering personal inner peace through meditation and connection with their guru.

Siddha Yoga has become a major trend in North America, and the SYDA or Siddha Yoga Dham of America that was created by Swami Muktananda, and has been carried on by Swami Chidvilasananda, is a non profit organization that has dealt with a great deal of controversy (Harris 92). Siddha Yoga’s claim to fame is an extremely intense meditative state known as guru”shaktipat“. Shaktipat is described as a cosmic orgasm that one feels after they connect with their guru (Neimark 60). There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the practice of Siddha Yoga, and the gurus that lead this spiritual activity. There is much controversy surrounding how much money the SYDA appears to have. The SYDA owns more than three hotels worldwide and has a variety of wealthy celebrity followers (Harris 92). Some have gone so far as to call it a cult; others have questioned the sexual integrity of the gurus; however there are valid arguments on both sides of the spectrum. Some criticize Swami Chidvilasananda of not living a truly pure and holy life; claiming that she, and other Siddha Yoga Gurus are simply concerned with money and fame, and others regard her as one of the most powerful and influential yogic gurus of her time.

Born in Mumbai India in 1955 under her given name Malti Shetty, Gurumayi experienced shaktipat at the age of fourteen and at age fifteen began studying under her guru Swami Muktananda. She moved to the ashram (a hermitage in which she studied religion and yoga) to study yoga seriously. Swami Chidvilasananda accompanied her Guru on many tours as his English translator, and in 1982, both Shetty and her brother, Subhash Shetty were appointed to be the successors of their guru; however in 1985 her brother stepped down, leaving Gurumayi to be the sole successor of Swami Muktanananda or Baba, as he was called by his students and devotees. [Baba meaning father.] Some have criticized Gurumayi for the “falling out” that she had with her brother, claiming that it is not spiritual or holy to have a relationship fall apart, and that it is just as it is in secular life; criticizing the way she dealt with the situation (Healey 12). Gurumayi is the current Guru of Siddha Yoga, which has two main ashrams for people to learn the practices in; one in India, and one in New York. There has been controversy surrounding the practice of Siddha Yoga, claiming that it has a likeliness to that of a cult-like religion, (Healey 5) however Gurumayi’s students seem to feel a deep appreciation for the fact that she not only lives her life purely, but truly tries to bring her teachings into every day-to-day life. She has many interactions with her students and spends a great deal of time with them to offer guidance and teachings (Brooks 159). Gurumayi is known for her kind heart, and her caring attitude towards all human beings. Her students respect her greatly and put her at the center of their spiritual lives. (Brooks 136). Siddha Yoga places emphasis on self-evaluation and tries to eliminate personal negativity, and negative tendencies within one’s life.

The practice of Siddha Yoga was first introduced to the West in 1970 by Swami Muktananda during his first excursion out of India. Siddha Yoga, the word Siddha meaning perfect master (Healey 6) is a practice of yoga in which its main purpose is to achieve shaktipat through the guidance, chants and presence of a Guru. Shaktipat is the ancient method of awakening the kundalini energy, which creates enlightenment at the base of the spine, and sends the body into an orgasm-like state, that causes the body to shake and pulsate upon achieving this sacred energy. When people experience shaktipat through the practice of Siddha Yoga they lose all control over their physical selves, often screaming, pulsating, or physically moving around the room. This energy can only be achieved through the presence and touch of the Guru; and through shaktipat it is said that one can truly achieve self-realization and Atman. Contrary to controversy about Siddha Yoga and its sexual nature; it is said that if one finds a true guru, one who is fully devoted to the art of Siddha Yoga, that it is not about sexual pleasure, but about losing touch between the inner and outer self, and experiencing a more divine power and ecstasy. Achieving shaktipat is said to be the feeling of “seeing the Divine in different forms” (Tymn 180). Gurumayi herself said that “When you experience it, you see light everywhere, you find joy in everything. You experience happiness in times of happiness, but you are also able to experience happiness in the midst of sorrow. This is the greatness of meditation.” (Chidvilasananda 46)

Another important aspect of Siddha yoga is the importance that its devotees place on grandiose ceremonies, such as yajnas. Yajnas are extremely important and have helped to characterize Siddha Yoga. Swami Chidvilasananda holds yajnas many times a year, that attract Siddha Yoga students and Brahmins from all around the globe. Brahmins travel from India to attend Swami Chidvalasananda’s yajnas, as months of hard work and preparation go into preparing for them. During these sacred fire ceremonies, Gurumayi sits and observes, while Brahmin priests adorn her with garlands and perform sacred rituals. Gurumayi holds herself with great dignity and always puts her position as great Guru first and foremost. (Brooks 135) In Gurumayi’s yajnas food and gifts are offered to the Gods and burned in a sacrificial fire. Yajnas and yoga are said to be alike in the sense that yoga offers sacrifices to the Gods as well; however the fire of the yajna; in yoga is an internal flame. Gurumayi has taught numerous courses in the ashram, which emphasize the importance of sacrifice in ones day-to-day life. She teaches that sacrifice is the secret to fulfilling a pure and whole life. (Brooks 136) Love, peace, patience and self awareness are very important aspects of Siddha Yoga, often taking a great deal of time and inner reflection to truly master.

Gurumayi places a great amount of importance on love, calmness, happiness, and inner peace. A young man that attended a retreat led by Gurumayi in Mexico said that “These two weeks were the happiest weeks of my whole life. They gave me a new vision of myself and the world we live in. Never in my life had I experienced so much love, nor did I know that so much love was possible. We just sat down to talk about the day and it was pure ecstasy. Or sometimes we just sat in silence looking at each other and we cried out of love” (Brooks 140). Siddha Yoga focuses on the simplicity of life and helps people to understand what happens within themselves to create pure ecstasy throughout any aspect of life. Another practice that is unique to Siddha Yoga is guruseva which helps a student to gain wisdom by working under the instruction of their guru. The idea of working to gain wisdom is important in Siddha Yoga. For example students of Gurumayi have volunteered to chop vegetables for hours at a time; while chanting throughout the whole process. The idea behind the work is that “unselfish action purifies the mind.” (Brooks 144) Guruseva can take form in any day to day activity; for example washing dishes, doing chores, creating art are all forms of Guruseva. The use of work to diminish ego and create a connection to the gods is extremely important to Siddha Yoga devotees, but only if the work is done with no thought or expectation of reward. The acts of Guruseva must be done selflessly in order to reap its rewards. Guruseva is comparable to the feeling of kundalini in that it creates a deep interior experience. Students who do guruseva experience realizations within themselves, and intense feelings of calmness and love (Brooks 144).

Much of Swami Chivalasananda’s time is spent traveling the globe, spreading the word of Siddha Yoga, through the use of chants, workshops and intensives. There are approximately three hundred Siddha Yoga meditation centers worldwide, located in Europe, North and South America, India and Australia to name a few (Brooks 143). Gurumayi is said to be such a powerful leader of Siddha Yoga, that her devotees do not have to be in her presence to feel her spirit and teachings. Many of her students have seen her through focused and intense meditation. Devotees have said that Gurumayi has appeared in meditation and in dreams where she has provided guidance to them. Many of Gurumayi’s students have felt her presence when she was not physically with them. For example a school teacher in Perth Australia was struggling with a young student’s behavior, when she saw Gurumayi walk through the door and smile lovingly at the boy, giving hope to the teacher (Brooks 147).

Regardless of where Gurumayi is in the world, her presence is honored by her devotees. When she appears at conferences, workshops or intensives often she is greeted with a great amount of emotion and joy from her students.   She works hard to prove that she is a strong leader, and tries to live her life in a way that shows example to her students of how to achieve peace and harmony with ones self. Gurumayi provides a realistic approach to her work in the fact that she also talks about inner turmoil. Siddha Yoga requires personal work and sacrifice to find oneself and she has displayed acts of sacrifice in her own life to teach her devotees.

“Where is heaven? Where is Hell? Within us. Each one can create a heaven, each one can create a hell…Look within. Meditate. It just happens. You find your own joy, you find your own inner peace.” (Chidvilasananda 49)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Caldwell, Sarah (2001) “The Heart of the Secret: A Personal and Scholarly Encounter with Shakta Tantrism in Siddha Yoga” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Vol. 5, No.1:9-51

Haruni, Elisa Santos, Ferreira Dourado Rueda, Adriana Amelia Benedito-Silva, Ana Leite De Moraes Ornellas, Felipe Leite, Jose Roberto (2008) “Evaluation of Siddha Samadhi Yoga for Anxiety and Depression Symptoms: a Preliminary Study.” Psychological Reports, Vol. 103, No. 1: 271-274.

Healy, John Paul (2011) “Involvement in a New Religious Movement: From Discovery to Disenchantment.” Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, Vol. 13, No. 1: 2-21

Harris, Lis (1998) “O guru, guru, guru.” New Yorker, Vol. 70, No. 37: 92

Neimark, Jill (1998) “Crimes of the soul.” Psychology Today, Vol. 31, No. 2: 55

Mutananda, Swami and Chidvilasananda, Gurumayi (1991) Meditate. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Durgananda, Swami Muller-Ortega, Paul E Mahony, William K Rhodes Bailly, Constantina Sabharathnam, S.P. (2000) Meditation Revolution: A History and Theology of Siddha Yoga Lineage. Muktabodha Indological Research Institute.

Tymn, Michael E. (2006) “Secrets of Shaktipat.” Journal of Spirituality & Paranomal Studies. Vol. 29, No. 3:179-180.

 Related Topics

PRASAD

Swami Muktananda/Controversy surrounding his practices

Siddha Yoga vs. other forms of Yoga

Gurumayi’s various projects

 Related Websites

http://www.siddhayoga.org/

http://www.siddhayoga.org/gurumayi-chidvilasananda

 

Article written by Jaimee Jarvie (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

ISKCON (The International Society for Krsna Consciousness)

The International Society for Krsna Consciousness was founded in the United States of America in 1966. It was started by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in New York City (Bryant and Ekstrand 2). Though Bhaktivedanta is the sole leader of this movement, he “does not ever make a direct claim to God, only to being His representative on earth”(Daner 19).  The mission of this movement is to bring western society the Vedic cult of Krsna worship (Daner 1). This society also seeks to accept the doctrine of bhakti yoga (Daner 6). The International Society for Krsna Consciousness is one of the most well known eastern religions in the Western hemisphere (Bryant and Ekstrand 1). Because this movement was started in America, it is mainly populated by so-called converts to Hinduism. As this is a fairly new movement in the Hindu tradition, their modes of worship and their beliefs are not well known to the rest of the world. Also, it is not fully understood by mainstream culture why this movement became so popular.

The International Society for Krnsa Consciousness, when it was first created, appealed mainly to the people who were disillusioned with American society (Daner 8). Larry D. Shin said that “…almost all had been in a state of crisis before they joined the movement. By ‘crisis’ I mean most often psychological crisis: a sense of identity confusion, not being quite sure where to place one’s values, search for meaning, religious crisis”(Gelberg 64). The people that joined the Hare Krsna movement were dissatisfied with the materialistic world, only because they had been so invested in it (Gelberg 65). Because the International Society for Krsna Consciousness was started in the sixties, most of the converts and followers were part of what became known as the counter culture. These people were mainly hippies (Daner 7). Because these people were dissatisfied with society, the fact that the International Society for Krsna Consciousness practices communal living is also enticing; it provides a way for them to have a sense of freedom from the society that they are so disenchanted with (Judah 174).  What enticed these people to this movement, and still does, is the ideas and of the Hare Krsna movement. The converts to the International Society for Krsna Consciousness like the philosophy and ideas of this movement because it does not focus on society; it instead focuses on worshipping a personal God, therefore making it an extremely personal experience. Judah states that “[t]his need for the expression of love in worshipping and serving a personal, living deity is probably a predominant factor uniting all devotees of Krishna” (Judah 173). The converts to the International Society for Krsna Consciousness were also drawn to the movement because they enjoyed the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra and the sense of community and togetherness that is found among the devotees to Krsna (Judah 165).

As stated above, one of the main enticing factors to this movement is its beliefs. The beliefs of this movement focus on the Hindu deity Krsna. One of the foremost beliefs of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness is that of “theistic intimacy”(Bryant and Ekstrand 14). Theistic intimacy is the belief that you can have a relationship of uttermost love with a deity or member of a godhead. In the case of the Hare Krsna movement, this intimate relationship is with the Hindu deity Krsna. The followers of the Hare Krsna movement also practice what is known as bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is the idea of conceding one’s self to the deity Krsna, and improving your relationship with him (Judah 87). The International Society for Krsna Consciousness believe that in order to achieve bhakti they must achieve the eight preliminary aspects of bhakti (Daner 35). These aspects are: Recognizing the deity Krsna as refuge; serving a guru; reading the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam; singing praises to Krsna; thinking solely of the deity Krsna; serving and worshipping the deities; performing rites and rituals taught by the guru; and kneeling before the deity and the spiritual guru (Daner 35).

The International Society for Krsna Consciousness has a variety of ways of worshipping and showing their devotion to the deity Krsna. Many of these ways of worshipping are manifested in how they live their lives. Through living communally, the followers of the Hare Krsna movement show their devotion to Krsna and their desire to gain an intimate relationship with the deity. Another way that the members of the Hare Krsna movement worship is through the act of chanting. The mantra of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness is called the mahamantra, and it means the great mantra (Bryant and Ekstrand 35).

The mantra, Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, is in public and in private, and is said to be the most important religious responsibility of the Hare Krsnas (Bryant and Ekstrand 35-36). Another way that the members of the Hare Krsna movement worship is through the aratrika ceremony in their temples. This ritual is a way in which Krsna is greeted, and it is performed six times daily (Daner 45). This ceremony begins with chanting, after which food is brought out on platters for the deities to eat. Next, incense is offered to the deities, followed by a lamp with five wicks. After that water in a conch shell is offered, then a handkerchief, and next a flower. After these a fan made out of peacock feathers is offered, and last a yak tail attached to a silver handle (Daner 46-47). Another way that members of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness worship and show their devotion is through festivals. One of the important festivals celebrated is Chaitanya’s birthday. Another important festival celebrated is the festival of Lord Jagannatha (Judah 96). There are many other festivals celebrated by the Hare Krsna movement, but these two are the most commonly celebrated.

The International Society for Krsna Consciousness is one of the most notable branches of the Hindu tradition. Because it originated in the United States of America in the 1960’s, it had a great impact on the generation that was a part of the counter culture.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Brooks, Charles R. (1989) The Hare Krishnas in India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bryant, Edwin F. And Ekstrand, Maria L. Ed (2004) The Hare Krishna Movement: The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant. New York: Columbia University Press.

Daner, Francine Jeanne (1976) The American Children of KRSNA: A Study of the Hare KRSNA Movement. Dallas: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Gelberg, Steven J. Ed. (1983) Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna: Five Distinguished Scholars on the Krishna Movement in the West. New York: Grove Press, Inc.

Judah, J. Stillson (1974) Hare Krishna and the Counterculture. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Rochford, E. Burke Jr. (1995) Family Structure, Commitment, and Involvement in the Hare Krishna Movement. Oxford University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Bhakti-yoga

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Counterculture

Krsna

Chaitanya

Lord Jagannatha

Aratrika ceremony

Mahamantra

Bhagavad-gita

Srimad-Bhagavatam

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://iskcon.org/

http://news.iskcon.com/

http://iskconuk.com/

http://www.krishna.com/

http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/teachings/bhaktiyoga.htm

http://www.sanatansociety.org/yoga_and_meditation/bhakti_yoga.htm

Article written by Brittany Turner (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho)

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was born Chandra Mohan on December 11 1931 in Kuchwada, a village in the province of Madhya Pradesh (Gordon 21). He was the eldest of eleven children, and as a result of the death of his parents, he was raised by his grandparents (Urban 171). During his youth, Rajneesh suffered from both smallpox and asthma, which nearly resulted in his death (Gordon 22). When Rajneesh was five, his younger sister died (Gordon 22). This affected Rajneesh greatly causing him to refuse to eat as well as dress as a Jain monk and carry a begging bowl (Gordon 22). Rajneesh was described as a spoiled child by some, and as gifted by others (Gordon 22). Rajneesh’s grandfather slowly died of a stroke when Rajneesh was seven (Gordon 22). As a result of his grandfather’s death, Rajneesh attempted to protect himself from being hurt again by a death by becoming distant from others (Gordon 22). Rajneesh described his grandfather’s death as “the death to all attachments” (Gordon 22). During his teen years, Rajneesh’s girlfriend Sashi died, which affected him greatly (Gordon 23). Rajneesh would mock religion even though he searched through Christian, Buddhist, and Jain scriptures (Gordon 23). When he was nineteen years old, Rajneesh went to college in Jabalpur (Gordon 24). While at college he would frequently challenge his professors and began to, according to himself, run sixteen miles day and would lay on the floor for days at a time (Gordon 24). This resulted in Rajneesh being taken to an Ayurvedic physician known as a Vaidiya, who believed that his symptoms were resultant of “divine intoxication” (Gordon 24). Rajneesh suffered from depression and anorexia while he was at college and once attempted suicide (Urban 171). While in university, it was proclaimed by Rajneesh that on March 21, 1953 that he became enlightened (Gordon 24).

Rajneesh received his M.A. in philosophy in 1957 and taught at Raipur Sanskrit College and the University of Jabalpur (Gordon 25). He studied the work of George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky (Gordon 25). Rajneesh continued to teach philosophy for nine years before he decided to leave the University of Jabalpur in 1967 in order to teach spiritual life (Urban 172). He took on a few disciples and the group met in an apartment in Bombay (Gordon 30). In Bombay, Rajneesh would comment upon scriptures from many different religions, and used these scriptures in order to reinvigorate people’s belief in these religions (Gordon 30-31). He became very controversial in India because of his teachings (Urban 172). For instance, he referred to Mahatma Gandhi as a masochist, a chauvinist and a pervert. (Urban 172). Rajneesh was introduced to westerners as a “sex guru” who was not against drugs (Gordon 38). This brought crowds of hippies to see him (Gordon 38). In 1971, Rajneesh began to refer to himself as Bhagwan, which means “the Blessed One” (Gordon 38), and in 1974, he created an ashram in Poona (Gordon 42).

Rajneesh’s ashram in Poona was created after he had sent many of his followers to work on a farm in Bapuji, with which his godfather was associated (Gordon 42). Rajneesh also sent some of his followers to work on another farm in Kailash, which Rajneesh’s family owned (Gordon 42). The ashram in Poona raised revenue largely from Westerners travelling to be with Rajneesh (Gordon 43). This money was used to purchase a large home in a wealthy neighborhood in Poona for Rajneesh to live in instead of his apartment in Bombay (Gordon 43). In 1981 the search for a new location for Rajneesh’s commune had become a major concern, and the search ultimately lead Rajneesh to the United States of America (Gordon 93). As Rajneesh’s health was deteriorating, his secretary Sheela, who had recently become responsible for finding a new location for the commune, had chosen America because of Rajneesh’s health (Gordon 93). The Indian government forced Rajneesh and his followers from his ashram and out of India by removing the tax-exempt status of the Rajneesh Foundation, and attempted to collect about four million dollars in income tax as well as taxes on sales, imports, exports, and property (Gordon 94).  This debt and the rumored impending arrest of Rajneesh for “inciting religious rioting” also influenced the move of Rajneesh’s ashram to the United States (Gordon 94). Rajneesh prepared for the move by sending followers to the United States to find large portions of land that could serve as the location for the new commune (Gordon 94).

When Rajneesh went to the United States he spent some time in a mansion in New Jersey (Urban 172).  Soon after, Rajneeshpuram, meaning Rajneesh’s town, was established with the purchase of a sixty-four thousand acre ranch in Oregon (Urban 172). The purpose of this new commune in the United States was to transform the Earth, as opposed to the goal of the commune in Poona, which was to transform individuals through meditation and other techniques (Gordon 99). This commune in Oregon was used by the members, known as sannyasins, to use work as meditation and as the sannyasins worked together they would be productive and be in harmony both with each other and with nature (Gordon 99). Though it was originally meant only to be a communal farm, Rajneeshpuram was gradually becoming a city of its own (Gordon 100). In the fall of 1982, the local government of the nearby town of Antelope was taken over by the sannyasins through them holding all but one seat on the city council (Gordon 123). In 1983, the sannyasins had total control over the school in Antelope, causing a large number of Antelope residents to take their children out of that school and send them to school in the town of Madras, which was about forty-five minutes away (Gordon 125). The sannyasin led town government would not reimburse the Antelope residents the cost of busing their children to school in Madras (Gordon 125). At the peak of Rajneesh’s popularity, he claimed around twenty-five thousand followers in the United States, India and Europe (Urban 172). The Rajneeshpuram, under the control of Rajneesh’s secretary Sheela, adopted a rigid hierarchy, as seen in the Rajneeshpuram’s Peace Force (Urban 172). The Peace Force had colored armbands to distinguish the different levels in the hierarchy (Urban 172). As time went on, Rajneeshpuram began to start lawsuits against a number of different people on the basis of discrimination (Carter 229). The defendants in these lawsuits included, the Attorney Generals of the United States and the state of Oregon, the United States Secretary of State, the Director of Immigration and Naturalization Services, and the Governor of Oregon (Carter 229). These lawsuits were seen as an attempt to put off the anticipated arrest of Rajneesh (Carter 229). Eventually Rajneeshpuram came under federal investigation, which found a vast network of phone taps and hidden recording devices all over the commune (Carter 231). By October 23 1985 there was enough evidence collected to justify charges of “conspiring to fraud the United States and with ordering others to make false statements to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in order to hide sham marriages” (Carter 231). Rajneesh and several associates were arrested while making an attempt to leave the country, though charges related to this were not pursued (Carter 233). Rajneesh was charged with conspiracy and making false statements, to which he pleaded guilty and received a “$400, 000 fine and a ten-year suspended sentence, “allowed” to depart from the country voluntarily, and was placed on probation for five years” (Carter 237).

Upon his return to India, Rajneesh took on the name of Osho, as he felt that it were better than referring to himself as Bhagwan (Urban 181). In 1990, after having been back in India for only a few years, Osho died (Urban 182). After his death the popularity of his books experienced an increase (Urban 182). The commune that Rajneesh had established in Poona still functions as a resort for spiritual meditation, though it now operates under the name the “Osho Commune International” (Urban 182). “Osho Commune International” uses Rajneesh’s idea of a “religionless religion” and combines it with a number of other “generic New Age ideals” in order to market these ideas to the world (Urban 182).

Bibliography

Carter, Lewis F. (1990) Charisma and control in Rajneeshpuram. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gordon, James S. (1987) The Golden Guru: The Strange Journey of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Lexington: The Stephen Greene Press.

Urban, Hugh B. (2005) “Osho, From Sex Guru to Guru of the Rich: The Spiritual Logic of Late Capitalism.” Gurus in America. Ed. Thomas A. Forsthoefel and Cynthia Ann Humes. Albany: State University of New York Press. 169-192.

Related Topics

Gurdjieff, George

Ouspensky, Peter

Rajneeshpuram

Tantra

Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.osho.com

Article Written by: Tom Samoil (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Swami Sivananda Radha

Swami Sivananda Radha was the first western woman who became a sannyasin, a spiritual leader who placed great emphasis in the belief of one’s self and one’s surroundings to enhance one’s life. She had become a great yogi who taught for more than 25 years (Swami Sivananda, xxiii). Radha had been quoted as saying, “The main thing I try to do is have my students bring quality into their lives,]…[ to me, people are not spiritual if this quality is not there in their lives-even if they meditate six hours a day. By quality I mean that which comes from deep inside and shows up in their actions, their treatment of others and the way they do their jobs”(Himalayan Academy, 1988).

Swami Radha’s original name was Ursula Sylvia Hellman. Once she became a sannyasin her guru, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, gave her the name Swami Sivananda Radha. She would not be called this until later in life. She was born on March 20, 1911 in Berlin, Germany ( Biography). She came from a well to do family and was very interested in the arts. In her early life she became a creative writer, photographer and a professional solo concert dancer (Biography). She made history by being the first woman admitted into the Berlin School of Advertising in 1939 but unfortunately her career was ended as World War II started (Radha, 1990: xxiii). Radha was married twice, first to Wolfgang who was killed in the Second World War by the Nazis in the Gestapo for helping Jewish people escape Germany. Her second marriage only lasted one year; she was married to Albert Hellman who was a violinist and a composer. Albert composed many pieces of music that Radha danced to. He unfortunately died suddenly in Radha’s arms (Biography). When the Second World War ended Radha immigrated to Canada and lived in Montreal (Radha, 1990: xxiii).

Radha was not brought up in a religious house and questioned the meaning of life even from an early age. According to Radha’s own account, she took up the practise of meditation and while meditating she had a vision of a sage. Taking this as an important sign Radha sought out to find where this sage was and began writing letters to him; where in a letter he eventually “told her to “come home” to his ashram in Rishihesh, in the Himalayan Foothills” (Radha,1990: xxiii). She traveled to India in search for her sage and her life’s calling. She found what she was looking for in the guru Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh. Swami Sivananda took Radha under his wing and taught her the teachings of eastern living and religious practices. “He challenged her to remember who she was and to think deeply about the purpose of life. His message was that truth can be found in a balanced life and to use discipline to avoid extremes” (Biography).  The Hindu religion believes that Karma yoga and selfless actions can assist towards making one divine; this became the most important teachings of Swami Radha’s work. She lived in a spiritual community where she was constantly surrounded by many spiritual students both beginners and advanced who collectively were masters of “various spiritual disciplines” (Radha,1990: xxiii). In the beginning of Radha’s schooling she was at first apprehensive as to how she would cope with the conditions and a new way of life. She had another student from another sannyasin tell her quite a few times that her sannyasin (Swami Sivananda) was not what she should be looking for in a spiritual leader. The first few months were the hardest for Radha but she persisted and learned a great deal from Sivananda. Swami Sivananda also taught her the Prayer Dance which she fully embraced with her dancing background. She taught her students this dance “as a means of safely directing emotional; and physical; energies into devotion” (Himalayan Academy, 1988).

After completing her spiritual education in less than a year Swami Sivananda told her to go back to Canada to spread the teachings she had learned to the Western people. She was extremely hesitant and nervous at first because she was worried as to where to begin when she arrived back in Canada. Who would accept her, and how would she come about finding the funds to establish an Ashram (Radha, 1990: xxiv)? According to one of Radha’s devotees, Barbra Huston, “Swami Radha came back to Montreal, with almost no money, and with the instruction not to take employment or speech lessons to moderate her German accent.  She was to “live on faith” and “speak from the heart”.  Though they were difficult years she was always provided for.  Bags of groceries would unexpectedly be delivered, [and] clothing would be offered”.

Radha had developed many unique and creative innovative approaches for psychological spiritual development. She created the Life Seal which is a very powerful form of self exploration through the development of one’s own mandala, using drawn symbols that represent different levels of personality (Radha, 1990: xxiv). Radha also created something called the Straight Walk which was adapted from an ancient Buddhist practice designed to purify and clarify thinking and perception of one’s thoughts (Radha,1990: xxiv). Her Ideals Workshop is said to be very still very sought after by her students; this is a type of training in dream understanding.

In 1962 Radha founded (Himalayan Academy, 1988) Yasodhara Ashram which is located in Kootenay Bay, British Columbia, Canada. This Ashram is her legacy.  This site is considered by her followers as the best of the east and west because it incorporates real eastern teachings with a slight modified twist so that western people will be able to understand the teachings and apply them to one’s own everyday life (Swami Sivananda, xxiv). Yasodhara Ashram is still in the Kootenay Bay area and it is still taking new students who are interested in learning the art of eastern practices. Radha passed away on November 30, 1995(Biography) and the Ashram has been taken over by Radha’s student Swami Radhananda who has been the Ashram’s head spiritual director since 1995. Radha also created a printing company called Timeless Books (located at her Yasodhara Ashram) and through this printing company she has written quite a number of books, a lot of them deal with different teachings and spiritual practises she has learned like “Kundalini Yoga for the West,” “Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language,” “The Divine Light Invocation,” and “Mantras: Words of Power.” She has written books about her personal experiences such as “Radha: Diary of a Woman’s Search,” and “In the Company of the Wise” these are just a few of the book she has written. “These books are popular and distinctive because they clarify the sometimes enigmatic Eastern teachings in a way that can be understood and applied in western daily life” (Biography). She also had contributed a few articles to new age medical journals and gave many speeches around Canada and the US about what she did and believed in.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Biography; Swami Sivananda Radha. Retrieved February 17, 2010, from Swami Sivananda Radha

Biography website: http://www.yasodhara.org/wp-content/themes/naked/swamiradha_bio.htm

Himalayan Academy. Swami Radha; Canadian-Based Teacher/Author Brings Sivananda’s Mission to Western Shores. (1988,

January). Retrieved February 17, 2010, from Hinduism Today website: http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=478

Swami Sivananda Radha (1990) Radha Diary of a Woman’s Search. Palo Alto, CA: Timeless Books

Swami Sivananda Radha (1991) In the Company of the Wise: Remembering My Teachers, Reflecting The Light. Palo Alto, CA: Timeless Books

Interviewed Barbra Huston, a student from the Yasodhara Ashram

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Ashram

Guru

Ideals Workshop

Karma Yoga

Life Seal

Mandala

Sanyasin

Straight walk

Swami Radhananda

Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh

Yasodhara Ashram

Yoga

Yogis

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http:www.yasodhara.org/wp-content/themes/naked/swamiradha_bio.html

http:www.hinduismtoday.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami_Sivananda_Radha

http://www.banyen.com/INFOCUS/RADHA.HTM

http://www.yasodhara.org

Article written by: Justine Morgan (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

Swami Vivekananda

Narendranath Datta was born on July 12, 1863 in Calcutta, India. His father was Vishwanath Datta, who was an attorney in the Calcutta High Court, while his mother Bhuwaneshwari Devi, was an intelligent and pious woman. His biographers tend to portray him in superlatives; according to these accounts, his early education began from home and had him learning Bengali, English and Sanskrit before he joined the Metropolitan Institution at the age of 7 (Arora 2). There he began to develop into a genius while still finding time to pursue other hobbies such as rowing, swimming and classical Indian music (Sil 29). As he grew so did his exceptional thirst for knowledge and it propelled him to the post-secondary institutions of Presidency College and the General Assembly’s Institution, where he originally had his sights set on becoming a barrister (Gokhale 36).  But in 1881 Naren’s life would change forever as he joined the Brahmo Samaj Society and met Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

The Brahmo Samaj was a movement of universalism that supported the religion of humanity and attempted to synthesize ideas from the East and West. It also protested against aspects within Hinduism, such as the caste system, polytheism and idol worship (Arora 4). Once a part of this group Naren met Ramakrishna for the first time where they began a close relationship. Naren became Ramakrishna’s favourite disciple which drew him into a world of religion as opposed to a world of law. This movement into religious thought had Naren by Ramakrishna’s side until his death in 1886, where he then took it upon himself to act in the name of the late Ramakrishna and spread his philosophies to a wider audience (Schneiderman 64). This was a challenging task considering just two years prior Naren’s father died suddenly of heart disease and left the family in extreme debt (Arora 6). But Naren progressed.

He continued to devote himself to the order of monks that were assembled by Ramakrishna before his death. Datta, their leader, encouraged an inner spiritual life but an external program of humanitarian and cultural activities (Arora 9).  It would later be the basis for the Ramakrishna order. But before the Order was assembled Naren and his supporters moved to Baranagore to live in an alleged “haunted house” where they could practice their ascetic way of life (Sil 47). The dilapidated building was one of the few places that they could afford after the death of their famous teacher. But Narendra was only there for a brief period of time, as he would soon take up renunciation and roam through all of India, and eventually most of the world.  He began a now renowned two-year journey throughout India in February of 1891, spanning from Varanasi and Mumbai to the Himalayas. Along his journies Narendra changed his name on several occasions before settling on his final monastic name of Swami Vivekananda in the city of Khetri (Arora 12).  Although he went by a new alias, Vivekananda continued to promote acceptance of the Vedanta, the spread of patriotism, and the acceptance of a harmony among different religious affiliations (Sil 52). He planned to carry on these teachings after his two-year trip by attending the Parliament of Religions meeting in Chicago in the fall of 1893.

While travelling to the United States, Vivekananda chose to pursue new experiences in countries like Japan, China, and Canada. Once he arrived he ran into the obstacle of not being registered as a delegate to take part in the Parliament, but with his charismatic personality and overt intelligence he befriended professors on the committee who chose the delegates (Arora13). In a short time he was recommended to be a speaker. When Vivekananda spoke he was not representing any specific religion or sect, he was representing India (Arora 14).  In the words of some bibliographers he was able to take all of the scholars and religious men to a place they had never been, where his words connected all religions and articulated the “oneness” of God and creed.

“if there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time, which will be infinite like the God it will preach . . . which will not be Brahmanic, the Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these and still have infinite space for development.” (Teelucksingh 412).

Vivekananda’s words of wisdom evidently captivated many people, and he was asked, and agreed, to speak all across the United States and England. After three years of touring he finally returned to India in 1897, where he received a grand reception. Upon his arrival he called together his many disciples to complete the creation of a philanthropic association called the Ramakrishna Order, named after his main mentor (Gokhale 37). It is the combination of twin groups called the Ramakrishna Math and Mission which were initially established to combat the major issues in India, such as illiteracy, inequality among classes, female education, the economy, and cultural synthesis (Arora 19). The Math began in Barangore when the disciples of the dead Ramakrishna started their own monastic group before Narendranath Datta became the well-renowned Swami Vivekananda. But in 1897 the Mission was formed and eventually merged to create one great organization. Presently extensions of the group can be found all across the world; their main objectives continue to exist and are now present in more than the just Indian culture.

In 1899 Vivekananda left for the West again but was only gone for approximately a year, and upon his return he was stricken with illness that lasted for almost two years. Then suddenly in July of 1902 he passed away at the very young age of 39 (Miller 121). His life was short but focused, so he managed to express his and Ramakrishna’s views of the world. He continues to be recognized for his love of knowledge and religion. This enabled him to immerse himself in the sruti [divinely heard or revealed] literature of the Vedas and Upanisads, while still mastering other things such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. The lectures he gave in India and around the world about Vedanta and Yoga stressed concepts that were absent in the modern world and helped to change preconceived notions of India that were held in the West (Teelucksingh 415). Vivekananda’s philosophies were used by future figureheads in India such as Gandhi and allowed them to act as ambassadors of India. Therefore, it can be assumed that his teachings played a significant role in India’s struggle for independence, and that it received an improved appraisal from the rest of the globe (Teelucksingh 417).

References and Recommended Readings

Arora, V.K. (1968) The Social and Political Philosophy of Swami Vivekananda. Calcutta: ……….. …………Punthi Pustak.

Gokhale, B.G. (1964) “Swami Vivekananda and Indian Nationalism.” Journal of Bible and …………Religion, 32(1), 35-42.

Miller, David (1999) “Modernity in Hindu Monasticism: Swami Vivekananda and the …………Ramakrishna Movement.” Journal of Asian & African Studies, 34(1), 111-126.

Nikhilananda, Swami (1953) Vivekananda: The Yogas and Other Works. New York: …………Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center.

Schneiderman, Leo (1969) “Ramakrishna: Personality and Social Factors in the Growth of …………Religious Movement.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 8(1), 60-71.

Sil, Narasingha Prosad (1997) Swami Vivekananda: A Reassessment. London, ON: Associated …………University Presses.

Teelucksingh, Jerome (2006) “The Legacy of Swami Vivekananda.” Peace Profile, 18(3), 411-…………417.

Vivekananda, Swami (1956) The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda 6th ed. Calcutta: Advaita ………….Ashrama.

Related Research Topics

  • Ramakrishna Order
  • Brahmo Samaj
  • Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
  • Parliament of World Religions
  • Vedanta
  • Yoga Sutras
  • Bhagavad Gita
  • Patanjali

Notable Websites

Article written by: Terra Kaskiw (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Jiddu Krishnamurti was an influential Indian spiritual leader with worldwide devotion to his unique combination of Indian religious philosophy and mysticism (Shringy 353; Holroyd 10). Krishnamurti’s path as a spiritual leader began after he was brought under the care of the Theosophical Society, which was a group intent on preparing him to be a great world teacher and the physical vehicle for Maitreya Buddha, which is the Buddha’s next incarnation (Martin 8). In 1929, after approximately 20 years with the organization, Krishnamurti left Theosophy, and dissolved the Order of the Star, which was an organization formed to carry out his work (Shringy 31-32). When dissolving the order, Krishnamurti asserted that “Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect.” For “Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path.” (Shiringy 31-31) Any belief that becomes organized “becomes dead.” Krishnamurti instead desired “those, who seek to understand me, to be free, not to follow me, not to make out of me a cage which will become a religion, a sect” (Lutyens 272).

A successful summary of Krishnamurti’s ideas should start by saying he would likely find any attempt to provide an accurate account of his philosophy uninteresting (Martin 3). In fact, he would probably be averse to the label of philosopher, for he was not well versed in philosophy and was opposed to philosophical theories (Holroyd 9; Martin 3). Instead of being labeled a philosopher, he might be called a teacher; however, that label would also be inadequate, for he was only a teacher insofar as he led people to discover that nothing of importance can be taught (Holroyd 10). Krishnamurti thought truth must be discovered for oneself. However, despite rejecting philosophizing, he inevitably did talk and write about issues pertinent to philosophy (Martin 3). It is these contributions that will be considered here.

Krishnamurti encouraged people to push past the limitations of language, dogma, religious ritual, and even knowledge because these are claimed to prevent the mind from understanding the workings of itself (Jayakar 197; Rodrigues 71). His teachings consistently encourage audiences to become engaged in a journey inside their own minds. Krishnamurti’s view of the mind is central to understanding this journey; in Krishnamurti’s opinion, there is no dichotomy between unconscious and conscious states. He maintained that human consciousness includes what is normally considered to be the unconscious, and that the deeper levels of the mind are largely free of the conditioning by which the surface levels are bound. Krishnamurti claimed that because they lack conditioning, the deeper levels of consciousness can be explored and become a source of new things (Holroyd 50).

Krishnamurti thought that the mind was conditioned by reason and the expectations of our society, culture, and personal needs (Holroyd 50). He held that having a conditioned mind is an obstacle that needs to be overcome through insight in order for an individual to move to a higher state of consciousness (Rodrigues 67). Krishnamurti talked in multiple ways about the conditioned mind. One of these ways is through the analogy of the pendulum. He used this analogy to show that normal consciousness swings from past to future, and then reverses. Humans are always in one of the two states, either the past which consists of memories, or the future which consists of expectations. Krishnamurti claimed that at the center of the pendulum swing, the present exists, and it is at this infinitesimal moment when a preconscious state of mind can be cultivated (Holroyd 52). By training the mind to “live” in the present, it can be emptied of all content in order to facilitate a true awareness of what is (Holroyd 53). Awareness of what is comes through insight and signifies the development of the religious mind (Rodrigues 123).

Knowledge was thought by Krishnamurti to be an impediment to perception of what is. His explanation of why this is forms his epistemology, or theory of knowledge. Krishnamurti’s goal was not for individuals to erase all of their knowledge, for some knowledge is clearly necessary for survival (Rodrigues 122). He rather placed his emphasis on knowledge that relates to values. This is the knowledge that informs people’s expectations or inhibitions, and is suspect because it acts as a barrier to the way people experience the world. If this knowledge informs someone’s expectations, then it prevents them from experiencing anything new (Holroyd 58-59). Having insight depends on shedding knowledge that biases experience of the world because it causes a distorted picture to be seen instead of reality. Religious dogma comes under this category of knowledge because it shapes an individual’s values, and thus their experience of the world (Holroyd 61).

Another impediment to true awareness of what is, according to Krishnamurti, is the self (Shringy 221-222). Like knowledge, the view of the self is also made up of the past; it is a collection of perceptions and memories to which people give substance. This collection of perceptions and memories is seen as the entity, or the “I,” that has agency in actions; it is through this misconception that people become more tied to the past, and further from the present where true awareness of what is exists (Holroyd 54). Krishnamurti claims to have eliminated the “I” from his experience, though the path to this elimination comes about not by any specific or concentrated effort, but by indirect means (Shringy 223). The elimination of the “I” is thought to accompany insight and is a hallmark of the religious mind. Through an acute awareness it becomes possible to dissolve the barrier between the self and its experiences (Rodrigues 109). This acute awareness is also the path to what Krishnamurti thought to be true intelligence. He said that a “sensitive awareness of the totality of life” is intelligence (Krishnamurti 122), without being caught up in the particulars, such as life’s “problems, contradictions, miseries, [and] joys” (Krishnamurti 121). It is necessary to have a choice-less awareness, or freedom from interpreting and evaluating each aspect of life, in order to see what is as it is (Shringy 223).

The mind that is free of thought that is capable of perception, and this is insight (Rodrigues 108). True insight into what is frees the conditioned mind. However, the movement from the conditioned to the religious mind cannot be experienced in any way because through insight the self is dissolved, and is no longer the separate agent necessary for experience to occur (Rodrigues 115). True insight into what is- is the movement to the religious mind, and according to Krishnamurti, religion becomes the activity of the free mind. The religious mind sees its connections with the whole of reality. Krishnamurti emphasizes that to understand the whole of reality is to understand oneself because they are one and the same (Rodrigues 124).

Revelation of what is- is a permanent and instant occurrence that ends conditioned thinking and induces Mind, which is a transformed state of consciousness (Shringy 147). The Mind in meditation is the religious mind, and this state is Truth. Truth is holistic in Krishnamurti’s view, for the heightened reality is both induced by Truth, and a manifestation of Truth; Truth to the religious mind is reality (Rodrigues 198; Shringy 74).

Bibliography and Related Readings

Holroyd, Stuart (2002) The Quest of the Quiet Mind: The Philosophy of Krishnamurti. Wellinborough: Aquarian Press

Jayakar, Pupul (1986) J. Krishnamurti: A Biography. Penguin Books

Krishnamurti, Jiddu (2003) Krishnamurti’s Notebook. California: Krishnamurti Publications of America

Lutyens, Mary (1975) Krishnamurti:The Years of Awakening. Boston: Shanmbala Productions Inc.

Martin, Raymond (2003) On Krishnamurti Belmont: Thompson/Wadsworth

Rodrigues, Hillary Peter (1990) Insight and Religious Mind: An Analysis of Krishnamurti’s Thought New York: Peter Lang Publishing

Shringy, Ravindra Kumar (1976) Philosophy of J. Krishnamurti: A Systematic Study New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers

Related Research Topics

Theosophical Society

The Order of the Star

Matraiya

Mysticism

Meditation

Ultimate Reality

Philosophy of Mind

Philosophy of Self

Philosophy of Truth

Samnyasin

Moksa

Nirvana

Buddhism

Nityananada

Related Websites

www.beyondthemind.net/index.html

www.kfa.org

www.kfionline.org

www.kfoundation.org

www.jkrishnamurti.org

www.jiddu-krishnamurti.net

www.krishnamurti-canada.ca

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiddu_Krishnamurti

Written by Cam Koerselman (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.