Swami Rama was born in the year 1925, in Northern India. Swami Rama was raised from early child-hood by a great Bengali Yogi and saint who lived in the foothills of the Himalayas. In his youth, he practiced the various disciplines of Yoga Science and philosophy in the traditional monasteries of the Himalayas. He received his higher education at Prayaga, Varanasi, and Oxford University, England. After completing an intense meditative practice in the cave monasteries, he emerged with the determination to serve humanity, particularly to bring the teachings of the East to the West. With the encouragement of his master, Swami Rama began his task by studying Western philosophy and psychology. He worked as a medical consultant in London and assisted in para psychological research in Moscow. He then returned to India, where he established an Ashram in Rishikesh. He is the author of numerous books on health, meditation, and the yogic scriptures. Swami Rama left his body in November 1996.
The Himalayan ranges extend over almost 1,500 miles in length. Mount Everest, towering upward over 29,000 feet on the border of Nepal and Tibet, is the highest of all the mountains in the world.
The Himalayas are not merely the home of snow, but that they have also been a strong-hold of yogic wisdom and spirituality for millions of people, regardless of their religious beliefs. This ancient and rich tradition still exists there today as these unique mountains continue to whisper their spiritual glory to all who have an ear to hear.
I was born and brought up in the valleys of the Himalayas. The word “ Himalaya ” comes from Sanskrit words : “ Hima ”, meaning “ Snow ”, and “ Alaya ”, meaning “ Home ” ... the “ Home of Snows ”.
I roamed among them for more than four and a half decades and was educated by their SAGES. I met the MASTERS who live and travel there, studied at their feet and experienced their spiritual wisdom.
From the Punjab Himalayas to the ‘ Kumayun ’ and ‘ Garhwal ’ Himalayas, from Nepal to Assam, and from Sikkim to Bhutan and Tibet.
I travelled to those forbidden places which are virtually inaccessible to tourists. I climbed to a height of 19,000 to 20,000 feet without the help of an oxygen kit or modern equipment. Many times, I did not have food and became unconscious, tired and sometimes wounded, but always, one way or another, I found help during such occasions.
The Himalayas are my spiritual parents and living there was like living in the lap of a mother. She brought me up in her natural environment and inspired me to live a particular style of life. Once when I was fourteen years old, SAGE ‘ Awadhoot ’ from ‘ Gangotri ’ blessed me and gave me a leaf of ‘ bhoja patra ’, the paper made of bark on which the ancient scriptures were written. On it he inscribed, “ Let the world be little with you. Let you be on the path of spirituality. ”
The love I received from the SAGES is like the perennial snows which form the silvery glaciers of the Himalayas and then melt into thousands of streams. When love became the lord of my life, I became quite fearless and travelled from one cave to another, crossing streams and mountain passes surrounded by snow-blanketed peaks. In all conditions I was cheerful, searching for the hidden SAGES who preferred to remain unknown.
That gentle and amiable SAGE of the Himalayas had only one entrancing theme : love for nature .. love for creatures .. and love for the WHOLE. The Himalayan SAGES taught me the “ GOSPEL OF NATURE ”. Then I started listening to the music coming from the blooming flowers, from the songs of the birds, and even from the smallest blade of grass and thorn of the bush.
In everything lives the evidence of the beautiful. If one does not learn to listen to the music of nature and appreciate her beauty, then that which impels man to seek love at its fountain may be lost in the remotest antiquity.
This discovery of the SAGES binds the whole of humanity in the harmony of the Cosmos. SAGES are the sources from which mankind receives knowledge and wisdom to behold the light, truth, and beauty which show the path of freedom and happiness to all. They make humanity aware of the more shadows and vain illusions of this world. With their eyes the unity of the entire Universe is best seen.
At a young age, I sat at the foot of Mount Kailash and drank the glacial waters of Lake Manasarowar. Often, I cooked the vegetable and roots grown by Mother Nature at Gangotri and Kedarnath.
Living in the Himalayan caves was very pleasant, and when I was there I was in the habit of roaming through the mountains during the day .. taking notes in a haphazard manner .. and returning to my cave before darkness would fall. My diary is filled with descriptions of my experiences with the SAGES, yogis, and other spiritual leaders of the Himalayas.
When one sits in the mornings and evenings on the tops of the mountains, one can see beauty all around. If he is a spiritual man, he can understand how this beauty is an inseparable aspect of the Lord, whose attributes are Satyam, Shivam, and Sundaram .. truth, eternity, and beauty. This is the land of devas.
In the Himalayas, dawn ( usha ) and twilight ( sandhya .. when the day weds the night ) are not mere moments created by the rotation of the Earth, but have a deep symbolic meaning. Morning, afternoon, evening, and night each have their own beauty which no language can ever describe.
I used to roam in the mountains with my pet bear, who was very loyal to me. He was fond of me and became very possessive. He wouldn’t hurt anyone, but would knock down anyone who came near me. I called him ‘ Bhola ’ and he was my finest company during those days ! For eleven years he lived near my cave and would always wait for me to come out.
My MASTER did not approve of my growing attachment to this pet and used to tease me, calling me a “ bear charmer ”. In the morning, carrying a long staff to help me in climbing, I would go to the mountain-tops which were four to six miles from my cave. I had my diary, a few pencils and the bear ‘ Bhola ’ with me.
Many varieties of flowers are found in abundance in these mountains.
Among all the flowers grown in the Himalayan valleys, the most beautiful are the lilies and the orchids. Hundreds of varieties of lilies bloom after winter is over and sometimes even before snowfall.
The king of all the Himalayan flowers is the “ himkamal ”, or “ snow lotus ”, a very rare flower. One day, as I was wandering through the mountains, I saw a single blue ‘ himkamal ’ as big as a saucer, growing from between two rocks and half-buried in snow. I started looking at it and my mind entered into a dialogue with this beautiful snow lotus. I said :
“ Why are you here all alone ? Your beauty is meant to be adored. You should give yourself to someone before your petals fall and return to the dust. ”
As the breeze blew its stem, it shook and then bent toward me, saying :
“ Do you think I am lonely, being all alone ? ‘ All alone ’ means ‘ all in one’. I enjoy these heights, the purity, the shelter of the blue umbrella above. ”
I pulled the lotus out by its roots and took it to my MASTER, but he was not appreciative.
That was the last day, that I ever picked a flower. I felt that I had been depriving Mother Nature by snatching her child from her lap. I never picked a flower again! Beauty is to be admired and not to be used, possessed, or destroyed. Aesthetic sense develops when one starts appreciating the beauty of nature.
The Himalayan community which lives in the mountains of Pakistan is called “ Hunza ”. There they eat meat, but the community that lives in the Indian part of the Himalayas is called “ Hamsa ”, and is vegetarian. “ Hamsa ” means “ Swan ”, and it is a frequent symbol in Indian mythology. The swan is said to have the power of separating and drinking only the milk out of a mixture of milk and water. Similarly, this world is a mixture of milk and water. And, this world is a mixture of two things .. the good and the bad. The wise person selects and takes the good and leaves the bad.
My forty-five years of living and travelling with the SAGES of the Himalayas, under the guidance of my Gurudeva, enabled me to experience in a few years that which normally would not be possible for anyone to experience in several life-times ! I was able to do so because of the grace of my beloved MASTER, who wanted me to experience, choose, and decide for myself. This series of experiences and my learning with the SAGES have helped me to attain and maintain a center of awareness within.
My father was a well-known learned Sanskrit scholar and a highly spiritual man. Mostly Brahmins lived in his village and they would come to my father for consultation and to study with him. My parents were moderately wealthy and generous land-owners. My father did not plough his fields himself, but would share the yields with the field-workers who did.
For six months, no one had known where my father was, and his family had concluded that he was either dead or had taken a vow of renunciation. Actually, he had gone on a long retreat because he was having problems with his spiritual practices. He was meditating intensively in the forest at Mansa Devi, not far from Hardwar. My MASTER, on a trip which took him to Mansa Devi, arrived one evening at the place where my father was staying. Upon seeing my MASTER, he knew immediately that this was his “ Gurudeva ”. My MASTER stayed there for a week, guiding my father and finally instructing him to return to his home, which was at the height of about 5,500 feet in the hills of Uttar Pradesh.
My mother had given up hope of her husband returning and had started an intensive practice of austerities. When my father returned, he told her about his experiences with the MASTER who had initiated him at Mansa Devi. He told her that his MASTER had said that although they were fortyt hree and sixty years old, they would have a son who would also follow him.
Two years later my MASTER came down from the Himalayas to my parents’ village and visited their home. My father was having dinner when my MASTER arrived, and my mother answered his knock at the door.
MASTER said :
“ I have not come to eat or accept your hospitality. I want you to give me something. ”
Father replied : “ Anything I have is yours. ”
MASTER said :
“ I need your son. ”
My parents responded :
“ For us to have a son at our respective ages would be a miracle, but if we can have him, he will be yours.”
Eighteen months after this meeting, I was born.
The day I was born, my MASTER arrived at our house and asked my mother to hand me over to him. As a protective new mother, she was reluctant to comply, but my father asked her to do so. After holding me for a few minutes in his arms, my MASTER handed me back and instructed :
“ Look after him .. I will come again later and take him with me. ”
As a young child, I was not at all attached to my parents, but, I remembered my MASTER all the time and was constantly aware of his presence. I thought of him so much that sometimes my parents seemed to be strangers. I always used to think :
“ I do not belong to this place and to these people. ”
From time to time my mother used to look at my right ear to see the hole which was there by birth. It was a mark that my MASTER had predicted before I was born. At times my mother used to weep, saying :
“ One day you will leave us and go away. ”
I loved my mother and father, but I really used to wait for that day. I remembered at an early age that the purpose of my life was the completion of the unfulfilled mission of my previous life. As a child, I clearly remembered details of my past life.
After a few years, my parents died and I went to my MASTER. My MASTER started disciplining me, although it was difficult for him. I rarely missed uttering the world “ father ” because I was not at all attached to my physical father. I never missed him because, I was given more by my MASTER than a father can ever give to a child. My MASTER is not only like a father to me, but far more than that.
Any thought that came into mind, he knew. If I thought of not doing meditation, he would look at me and smile. I would ask :
“ Why are you smiling ? ”
And, he would reply :
“ You don’t want to meditate. ”
“ my master gave me everything ”
This helped me, because I knew for sure that he was guiding me not only in regard to my actions and speech, but also in organizing my thinking processes and emotions. I was afraid of thinking undesirable things, but whenever I thought of something which seemed to be bad, he continued to love me nonetheless. He never controlled my thoughts, but would gently make me aware of my thinking processes.
I did not know what a mother and father could give, but my master gave me everything, and he has never expected anything in return, nor had I anything to give. My love for him is immense, for he has done everything for me .. educated me, trained me .. and so far I have not been able to do anything for him. A master needs nothing. True spiritual leaders are like that : they take nothing and they give everything.
After staying with my master for a good while, I was sent to live with my brother disciple at Gangotri. He started teaching me scriptures. He loved me, but he did not understand my rebelliousness or condone my constant arguing with other sadhus. He would send adverse messages to my master about my behaviour, and my master would then come and take me with him for a while. Later, he would send me back to my brother disciple.
My master was the only son of his parents, and he became orphaned at a young age. He was then adopted by this advanced sage. My master was about eighty years of age when he related this story to me.
He is a Sanskrit scholar and knows English and several other languages. My master lives in a cave, coming out only once in the morning at sunrise and returning to his seat after an hour. Twice a day, he gets up from his seat. Sometimes, he walks outside the cave, but at other times he won’t come out at all for days at a time.
My master remains in sahaja-samadhi [a constant state of deep meditation] and speaks very little. We once lived together for nine months and hardly talked at all. Most of the time we sat with closed eyes in meditation.
Some people call my master “ Bengali Baba ” and some simply know him as “ Babaji ”. I call my Gurudeva “ master ” because I have no word more suitable than this.
I never found him unrealistic in whatever he taught me, and I never found him selfish in any way. All his teachings through his actions, speech, and silence were full of divine love. My words are inadequate to comprehend his greatness.
Those who are really committed to a life of austerity can live conveniently in certain parts of the Himalayas, where there are small caves to accommodate four to five people. There are also a few cave monasteries in the Himalayas in which the traditions are unbroken. The monastery in which I grew up is one of these. In our cave monastery, the tradition goes back four or five thousand years, and it is well remembered. We have records of who the first masters were and how the tradition began.
Our cave monastery is a natural cave with many compartments. For light inside the cave there is a stick of incense called “ dhoop ”, which is made of herbs. When it burns, it gives light and when it is extinguished it gives fragrance.
The cave is kept quite warm by the “ dhuni ” .. a fire which is never extinguished. This fire is constantly supported by huge wooden logs, and is regularly and vigilantly fed additional fuel. Sufficient fuel wood is collected in the summer for winter use. Nutritious vegetables are also grown during the summer on the banks of nearby streams. Varieties of mushrooms and lingora and ogal .. two common vegetables .. which grow wild, are also used there. There are several varieties of roots .. two are called tarur and genthi .. others look and taste like sweet potatoes. In our cave we live comfortably on barley, potatoes, wheat, gram, and corn, which is grown upto 6,500 feet in the mountain villages.
Teaching is often done by demonstration, and goes on at certain fixed times. The students are then asked to show their own progress by demonstrating their skills.
Sometimes the teaching is done in silence, and when a certain level of attainment is reached, the teachers ask, “ How will others learn from yogis if you spend your whole life in a cave ? ” Consequently most of the students leave after a few years.
It is important to make one’s life creative and helpful, but before doing so one should make contact with his own potentials deep within by disciplining himself and gaining control over his mind, speech, and action.
I am never lonely. A lonely person is one who is not aware of the complete fullness within. When you become dependent on something outside without having awareness of the reality within you, then you will indeed be lonely. The whole search for enlightenment is to seek within, to become aware that you are complete in yourself. You are perfect. It is possible for everyone to be free from the self created misery of loneliness and to enjoy life.
One day, I said to my master : “ Sir, I have been taught that avidya [ignorance] and maya [illusion] are one and the same. But, I do One day, I said to my master : “ Sir, I have been taught that avidya [ignorance] and maya [illusion] are one and the same. But, I do not really understand what maya is ”.
My MASTER explained “ anadi vidya ” .. cosmic illusion – to me just as Shankara had described it. He said that “ avidya ” means individual ignorance, while “ maya ” is both individual and cosmic illusion. “ Ma ” means “ no ” and “ ya ” means “ that ” : that which is not self-existent, yet appears to exist, like a mirage, is called “ maya ”.
After describing the philosophies of “maya ” he said, “ When we devote our mind, energy, and resources to believing in that which is non-existent, then it appears to exist, and that is “ maya ”. Don’t contemplate on evil, devils, sins, avidya, or maya .. and thereby put yourself in a state of stress and worry. Even spiritual people become pre-occupied with blaming the world for their lack of progress. This weakness is significant in creating obstacles. For lack of sincerity, honesty, faithfulness, and truthfulness we do not realize that which we are. We project our weaknesses and think that the objects of the world are the source of our obstacles. ”
He told me to practice non-attachment and constant awareness. He said, “ The strongest of bondages is created by attachment, which makes one weak, ignorant, and unaware of the absolute Reality. ‘ Maya ’ .. illusion, is deeply rooted in attachment. When we are attached to or have a desire for something, it becomes a source of illusion for us. Those who are free from attachments and have directed their desires toward spiritual growth are free from the bondage of “ maya ” illusion. The less attachment, the more inner strength .. the more inner strength, the nearer the goal. ‘ Vairagya ’ and ‘ abhyasa ’ .. non - attachment and constant awareness of Absolute Reality .. are like two wings of a bird which can fly from the plane of mortality to the height of immortality. Those who do not allow their wings to be clipped by the illusion of ‘ maya ’ can attain perfection. ”
The message which I received on the sands of the Ganges in the Himalayas helped me to understand that illusion is self-induced. By imparting this knowledge my beloved MASTER made me aware of the nature of cosmic illusion and the individual barriers we create.
Whenever I became egotistical, I fell down. This is my experience.
My MASTER said : “ Try your best, but whenever you feel your ego, whenever you try to do anything selfish, you will not succeed. This is my curse on you. ”
I looked at him in surprise. What was he saying ?
Then he continued, “ This is my blessing to you, that whenever you want to become selfless, loving, and without ego, you will find a great force behind you, and you will never fail to achieve some good. ”
A selfish man always thinks and talks about himself. His selfishness makes him self-centered and miserable. The shortest route to self enlightenment is to cut through the ego ; surrender before the Highest One. “ Satsanga ” .. company of the SAGES .. and constant awareness of the center within, help one in going beyond the mire of delusion. The ego is also purified by cultivating selflessness. Un purified ego is an evil which obstructs one’s own progress. But, the purified ego is a means in discriminating real self from non-self .. real self from mere self. No one can expand his consciousness if he remains egotistical. Those who build boundaries around themselves because of their ego problems invariably create suffering for themselves, but those who try to be constantly aware of their unity with others can remain happy and fearless, enjoying every moment of life. Those who are selfless, humble, and loving are the true benefactors of humanity.
I once met a swami who could produce fire from his mouth. The flame would shoot out several feet. I tested him to see if the phenomenon was authentic. I asked him to wash out his mouth; to be sure he was not secreting something like phosphorus in it. I also had my friends examine him. He seemed genuine, so I concluded, “ This man just definitely is more advanced than my MASTER. ”
I was surprised and asked my MASTER, “ Do you know him ? ” He replied, “ Of course . He left our monastery some time ago. Now I know where he has been hiding. ”
Then my MASTER said to me : “ A match will produce fire in a second ; if you wish to spend twenty years to produce fire from your mouth, you are a fool. My child, that is not wisdom. If you really want to meet Master's, I’ll give you directions to where they are staying. Go and have the experiences. ”
Later, I realized that all such “ siddhis ” are but mere signs on the path. These powers have nothing to do with spirituality. I later found out, after experiencing and examining, that these psychic powers have little value. To the contrary, they can create serious obstacles on the path. Sometimes psychic powers develop .. you start telling the fortunes of others, you start knowing things. These are all distractions. Do not allow them to obstruct your path. Too many people, including swamis, have wasted time and energy on such distractions. Anyone who wants to develop “ siddhis ” can do so and can demonstrate certain supernatural feats ; but Enlightenment is an entirely different matter.
As a young man I thought I had perfected myself and that I didn’t need any further teaching or study. I felt there was no swami in India as advanced as I because I seemed to be more intellectually knowledgeable than others, and I was myself teaching many swamis. When I conveyed to my MASTER this inflated opinion of myself, he looked at me and asked, “ Are you drugged ? What do you mean ? ” I said: “ No, really. This is the way I feel. ”
He returned to the subject a few days later. “ You are still a child. You only know how to attend college. You have not Mastered four things. MASTER them and then you will have attained something.
“Have a desire to meet and know God.
But, have no selfish desire to acquire things for yourself.
Give up all anger, greed and attachment.
Practice meditation regularly.
Only when you have done these four things will you become perfect. ”
Then he told me to visit certain SAGES. He said : “ When you are with them you should be very humble. If you become obstinate or aggressive, you will be deprived of their knowledge. They will just close their eyes and sit in meditation. ” He said this because he knew that I was very obstinate and impatient.
Once, in September of 1939, my MASTER and I came down to Rishikesh. We were on the way to Virbhadra, and camped at a spot where my ashram stands today. Early in the morning we took our bath in the Ganges and sat down on its bank for meditation. By that time, I had already formed the habit of sitting for two or three hours without a break. It was about seven-thirty when I opened my eyes .. and saw that I was face to face with a cobra. The lower half of its body was coiled on the ground, and the upper half was raised. It was sitting very still, just about two feet in front of me, looking toward me ! I was terrified, and immediately closed my eyes again. I did not know what to do. After a few seconds, when I opened my eyes again and found that it had not moved, I jumped up quickly and ran away!
I went back to my MASTER and explained what had happened. He smiled and told me that it is natural for any living creature to be in a state of meditation near someone who is in deep meditation.
He went on : “ When you are fast asleep, does your finger prick your own eyes ? Do your teeth bite your tongue ? There is an understanding that all your limbs belong to one body. The day we have a like understanding that all creatures are one, we will not fear any creature. ”
Animals are instinctively very sensitive and are receptive to both hatred and love. If one has no intention to harm animals, they become passive and friendly. Even wild animals would like to associate with human beings.
They seem to want to be near human beings, but are afraid of the human’s violent nature. A human being, with all his selfishness, attachments, and hatred, loses touch with his essential nature and thus frightens the animals, who then attack in self-defense. If a person learns to behave gently with animals, they will not attack him. I often remember the way Valmiki, St. Francis, and Buddha loved animals, and I try to follow their example.
The first ten commandments of the Yoga Sutras are preliminary requisites for attaining Samadhi .. and the first is “ ahimsa ”. Ahimsa means non-killing, non harming, and non-injury. By becoming selfish and egotistical, human beings become insensitive and lose the instinctual power. Instinct is a great power, and if properly used can help one in following the noble path of ahimsa.
In all my years of roaming in the mountains and forests of India I have never heard that any sadhu, swami, or yogi was ever attacked by any wild animal ! These people do not protect themselves from the animals or natural calamities like avalanches. It is inner strength that makes one fearless, and it is the fearless one who crosses the individual consciousness and becomes one with the universal consciousness.
“ Taste the world and then renounce ”
In my youth, I had the disgusting habit of wearing expensive suits. I would choose the material myself from the market, and then go to the tailor and get fitted. I would wear a tie and a hanky of complementary colors. This confused several followers of my MASTER, and they always grumbled about the way I lived. I lived like this for five years, but my MASTER was not concerned. I was learning a lesson which was essential for my growth.
One day, I lost my interest in dressing up. I went to him in my simple kurta and pajamas. He said, “ You look beautiful. ” He wanted me to taste the things of the world, to come to understand their worth, and to analyze and then renounce them.
Simple living and elevated thoughts help in creating an aesthetic sense. It takes a long time to create this aesthetic sense and to incorporate grace and beauty into our lives. Costly dresses have no power to hide our ugliness .. stylish clothes do not have the power to make us beautiful. Instead of focusing on externals, we should learn to cultivate and express our inner beauty. This inner beauty will shine for all to see.
Renunciation is a path of fire, and should be followed only by those who have burned their worldly desires.
Disappointments, greed, lust, hatred and love, anger and jealousy cannot be renounced without spiritual discipline. A frustrated and dissatisfied Soul is not fit to tread the path of renunciation. Sitting in the cave and thinking of worldly pleasures is misery.
My MASTER wanted me to lead a normal child-hood rather than a frustrated one. During those years I used to buy the best cars and trade them twice a year. I used to live better than any prince of India. Many of my relatives and friends and even the police department wondered where I obtained so much money to lead such a luxurious life. The secret was that my MASTER used to give me whatever I needed. He never kept or used anything. When I realized the value of the things of the world, I calmed down and acquired that peace of mind which helped me to meditate properly.
Latent lust is very dangerous because it manifests more in meditation than in active life. The desire for worldly gains creates barriers in fulfilling the desire for Enlightenment.
My MASTER never insisted that I renounce the world and become a swami. He wanted me to experience and decide things for myself. He always said, “Whatever you want to learn from me, learn .. but grow independently. Whenever you need my help, I am here. ”
The word “ Guru ” is so misused that I feel hurt sometimes. It is such a noble word, such a wonderful work. After your mother has given birth to you, and your parents have raised you, then the role of the “ Guru ” begins, and he helps you fulfill the purpose of your life.
“ Guru ” is a compound of two words, gu and ru. “ Gu ” means “ darkness ” ; “ ru ” means “ light ” : that which dispels the darkness of ignorance is called “ Guru ”. “ Deva ” means “ bright being. ” An Enlightened MASTER or “ Guru ” is called “ Gurudeva ”.
There is a vast difference between an ordinary teacher and a spiritual MASTER. All followers of a “ Guru ”, whatever their age, even if they are eighty years old, are like children to him. He will feed them, give them shelter, and then teach them, without expecting anything in return. I asked my MASTER, “ why does he do this ? ”
He said : “ He has no other desires but teaching those aspirants who are prepared. If he doesn’t do this, what shall he do ? ”
No human being can ever become a “ Guru ”. But when a human being allows himself to be used as a channel for receiving and transmitting by the Power of Powers, then it happens. Don’t ever believe anyone who comes to you and demands, “ Worship me.” Even Christ and Buddha did not ask that. Never forget that “ Guru ” is not the goal. “ Guru ” is like a boat for crossing the river. It is very important to have a good boat, and it is very dangerous to have a boat that is leaking. But, after you have crossed the river you don’t need to hang on to your boat, and you certainly don’t worship the boat.
After I had renewed my resolve to follow the path of renunciation, my MASTER thought I was feeling guilty, so he told me to live on a bank of the Narmada River, which flows through central India, and to practice certain austerities there. He instructed me to go to an isolated, dense forest thirty miles south of Kherighat, near Omkareswar. The river there was full of crocodiles, and in the mornings and evenings several of them would lie on the sand along the river.
One day, a party of big-game hunters came by and saw me sitting in meditation on the sand in the midst of many crocodiles, some of whom were lying just a few yards away from me. The hunters took my photograph without my noticing and sent it to a newspaper. Soon stories about me appeared in many newspapers. At that time the Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham was searching for his successor.
He instructed a few pundits to observe my daily routine from a distance. They stayed in the village at night and watched my activities during the day. They also collected information from others about my life. After observing me for some time and carefully investigating my background, they approached me and tried to persuade me to consider becoming Shankaracharya. At that time the Shankaracharya was Dr. Kurtkoti, a highly intellectual man and a Sanskrit scholar of high repute. He was a close friend of Tilak, an Indian leader and author of “ Gita-Rahasya ”. I was taken to Dr. Kurtkoti, and he took a liking to me.
Then, I went to my MASTER and received his permission to accept the position. After a ceremony lasting eighteen days, I was installed as a successor of “ Jagat Guru Shankaracharya ”. I received thousands of telegrams from well-wishers all over the world, including messages from the pope and other spiritual heads. It was a strange experience for me, such a startling contrast to my six months of solitude and silence. I was less than thirty years old and they gave me such a great responsibility !
I had a busy schedule of travelling and lecturing, and when I wasn’t so engaged, people would come to see me from morning to evening and ask for my blessings. It became very difficult for me .. I had no freedom. I thought, “ I don’t get any time to meditate and do my practices .. I spend my whole day blessing people. This is not good. ”
I was not at all happy. My conscience said : “ You are not meant for this. Leave ! ” So after two years, I simply ran away, without any money in my pocket. One day, I had large mansion to live in and many cars for one man to ride in .. and the next, I had nothing but the clothes I was wearing. Wanting to return to the Himalayas, I boarded the third-class section of a train which was headed to where I wanted to go, even though I had no ticket.
Knowledge of various paths leads you to form your own conviction. The more you know, the more you decide to learn. When you have sharpened the faculty of discrimination, you firmly tread your path without any doubts.
We two young aspirants, Nantin Baba and I, lived in the Laria Kanta forests of Nainital when I was sixteen years of age. At that time “Anandamayi Ma ”, a well-known spiritual leader of India, was going on a pilgrimage with her husband.
On this pilgrimage they were accompanied by a large group of followers and were travelling from Manasarowar to Kailash.
“ Anandamayi Ma ” heard about us .. two young renunciates .. and came to visit us on her way to Kailash. When she returned from Kailashtwo months later she again passed through Nainital, and at that time we met her again and attended her group meetings in the evenings.
Nantin Baba and I attended a gathering of Anandamayi Ma’s students, in which everyone was chanting in Bengali and Hindi. We enjoyed listening to the chants, but felt more like observers than part of the group. We were both more inclined towards meditation and were on the paths of “ raja yoga ” and “ jnana yoga ”, although we also appreciated the other paths.
Nonetheless, one of Anandamayi Ma’s students came up to us and tried to convince us that the path of devotion was the highest one and that we should switch to it.
In his ignorance, this student was very adamant that his path was the only one ! Our discussion soon led to an argument, and Anandamayi Ma intervened by saying to her follower, “ Don’t argue with these two young renunciates. One should try to understand one’s own inner worth and then follow the path best suited to him. The path of devotion does not mean dumb devotion. Devotion means total dedication, surrender, and love for the Lord. ”
I asked her, “ Is it true that your path is superior to other paths and that only what you are doing is authentic ? Do you think that others are wasting their time ? ”
She replied : “ My path of devotion suits me, but do not change your paths. Those who do not have guidance become confused and often change their paths. A confused mind is not fit to follow any path. ”
Ma confirmed our ideas and strengthened those principles which we were following. She said, “ Learning the scriptures is very good and helpful, but without satsanga, such learning can also make anyone egotistical. A learned man having satsanga is very humble, communicative, and gentle in his behaviour.
“ Beginners often argue and boast about the superiority of their way, but one who has trodden the path knows that .. all paths lead to the same destination. There is no superior or inferior path. It is immaterial which path one follows, but one should carefully watch one’s own modifications of mind and learn not to identify with them. ”
I used to hear a lot about a SAGE called “ Uria Baba ”, who was very famous for his learning and spiritual wisdom. He lived in Vrindavan. My master sent me to live with this sage.
In the evenings we used to go on the banks of the Jamuna for evening ablutions. One evening I asked him, “ Is renouncing the world superior to living in the world ? Which is the right path ? ” During those days, I had been studying the philosophy of Karma. I knew that “ karma ” means cause and effect .. I also knew that it is difficult to get freedom from these twin laws of karma.
The baba, in the course of conversation, told me, “ Whether you live in the world or outside, it does not make much difference. Attachment to the objects of the world is the cause of misery. One who practices non attachment faithfully and sincerely obtains freedom from the bondage of karma. In the path of action, duties are not renounced, but are performed skillfully and selflessly. The renunciate renounces the objects and goes far away from them, but he also performs his essential duties. Those who live in the world as householders also perform their essential duties. Those who become selfish by receiving and using the fruits of their actions create many encumbrances for themselves. It becomes difficult for them to get freedom from this self-created bondage.
If all attachments and sense of ownership are not renounced, the path of renunciation becomes miserable. If the householders do not practice non-attachment and continue to strengthen selfishness and possessiveness, it also creates misery for them. ”
In the late 1930s and early 40s I had the opportunity to stay with Mahatma Gandhi in Vardha Ashram, where I met many gentle and loving Souls.
My MASTER told me to observe Mahatma Gandhi particularly when he walked, and when I did so I found that his walk was quite different from the walk of other SAGES. He walked as though he were separate from his body. He seemed to be pulling his body as the horse pulls the cart. He was a man who constantly prayed for others and who had no hatred for any religion, caste, creed, sex, or color. He had three teachers : Christ, Krishna, and Buddha.
While staying with Mahatma Gandhi, I noted these principles :
Non-violence and cowardice cannot go together, because non-violence is a perfect expression of love that casts out fear. The power of ahimsa is an extremely vital and active force which doesn’t come from physical strength.
After meeting many wonderful and striking personalities .. like Mahadev Desai, Mira Ben, and Prabhavati Bahen .. I became friendly with Ram Dass, son of Mahatma Gandhi, and took him to Kausani, one of the fascinating and beautiful places of the Himalayas.
Dr. T.N. Dutta, a prominent physician from Gajipur, U.P., wrote to me that he was coming to see me at Nasik, where I was living. After visiting, he told me his reason for coming. He said he was very anxious to take me with him to Arunachala in South India to have darshan of Maharshi Raman. In the winter of 1949, we left for Arunachala. My stay at this ashram was brief, but very pleasant. During those days Maharshi Ramana was observing silence.
There was one thing that I found in his presence which was very rare and which I seldom found elsewhere. For those whose hearts were open to that voice of silence which was perennially radiating in the ashram, just sitting near him was enough to answer any question arising from within.
“ He is the greatest and holiest man born on the soil of India within a hundred years’ period ”, said Dr. Radhakrishnan. A glance of such a great man purifies the way of the Soul.
According to Maharshi Ramana, contemplating on the single query “ Who am I ? ” can lead the aspirant to the state of self-realization.
After five days’ stay in the spiritually vibrant atmosphere of Arunachala we came back to Nasik.
My visit to Arunachala and the darshan of the Maharshi only added fuel to that fire which was already burning within me. I have a firm conviction that .. no one can be enlightened by anyone else .. but SAGES inspire and give inner strength, without which self-enlightenment is impossible.
It was unbearable for me to stay in the demanding environment of Nasik, and I thought of visiting Pondicherry and meeting the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The students of this ashram were very devoted and firm in the conviction that the way of life they led was supreme.
The day I arrived at Pondicherry, there was a concert given by a famous musician who was a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. The Mother was kind enough to arrange for me to stay in one of the quarters and to hear the devotional songs sung by that great devotee. My stay in Pondicherry for twenty one days gave me enough time to strengthen the aspirations which I had received at the ashram of Maharshi Ramana in Arunachala.
After renouncing the seat of Shankaracharya, I went to my MASTER and stayed with him for a few days. From there, I decided to go on a pilgrimage to Amarnath, the highest shrine of Kashmir.
A Kashmiri pandit who was a learned man was my guide on this journey. He started telling me a story about Jesus Christ, claiming that Jesus had lived in Kashmir practicing meditation. The pandit referred to a manuscript written in the Tibetan language that is preserved in a monastery situated at the height of 14,000 feet in the Himalayas. It was later translated by a Russain writer and then into English and published as “ The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ. ”
There is a nearby mount which is famous because Jesus lived practicing meditation there.
The pandit claimed that Jesus Christ left Asia Minor for the unknown period of his life when he was thirteen years of age, and that he lived in the valleys of Kashmir until he was thirty.
On our way to Amarnath he took me to an ashram which was seven miles away in the forests of Gulmarg. Gulmarg is one of the places of interest often visited by foreigners. A swami lived there who was a scholar of Kashmir Shaivism and who practiced meditation most of the time.
This swami informed me of a roving adept who visited Amarnath cave shrine every summer, but no one knew where that adept lived permanently. People coming from Ladakh often saw him treading the mountain paths all alone. My interest was not only to visit the cave shrine but to meet this roving adept of the Himalayas. Of all those I have met in my life, three were very impressive and left deep imprints in the bed of my memory. That adept was one of them. I stayed with him for seven days, just fifty yards away from the shrine. He visited this cave shrine practically every year.
He already knew my MASTER and had lived in our cave monastery. He asked about several students who were then practicing meditation with my MASTER.
I had never before seen a man who could sit still without blinking his eyelids for eight to ten hours, but this adept was very unusual. He levitated two and a half feet during his meditations !
I asked him a question about the highest state of enlightenment, and muttering a mantra from the Upanishads, he answered, “ When the senses are well-controlled and withdrawn from contact with the objects of the world, then sense perceptions no longer create images in the mind. The mind is then trained in one pointedness. When the mind can no longer recall thought-patterns from the unconscious, a balanced state of mind leads to a higher state of consciousness. A perfect state of serenity established in sattva is the highest state of enlightenment. The practice of meditation and non-attachment are the two keynotes. ”
He instructed me to march fearlessly on the path that I was treading. After seven days of satsanga the guide and I left this great SAGE. I returned to Srinagar and then went on to my abode in the Himalayas to enjoy the autumn.
On our way to Rishikesh, in the year 1973, we stayed in one of the hotels at New Delhi. There, I met Dr. Rudolph Ballentine, a psychiatrist and former professor of a medical school in the United States. He had recently come from touring the countries of the Middle East viaPakistan.
Dr. Ballentine told me, “ Swamiji, he was a great man. ” I asked, “ What did he do ? ” He answered, “ He told me all those personal things about myself although I was a complete stranger. ” I replied, “ Didn’t you already know those things ? ” .. “ Yes. ” .. “ Then, what big thing did he do? ”
Fakes like the one, Dr. Ballentine encountered are often found disguised as sadhus at Connaught Place, telling about someone’s past and predicting the future. They learn such tricks just to make their living. Native tourists mistake them for great SAGES. Such tourists never reach the places where the real SAGES are. These pretenders give a bad name to spirituality and to spiritual people.
Dr. Ballentine then started travelling with us. When we left India he stayed at Rishikesh and in other parts of India for several months, visiting the schools of Indian medicine. He returned to the United States to join us.
Once in the mountains a landslide started rumbling toward us. I cried, “ We are going to die ! ”
My master said : “ Who can kill the eternal ? ”
I said : “ The mountain is coming down and you say, ‘ Who can kill the eternal ? ’ Look at the mountain ! ”
He shouted, “ Stop ! Let us cross ! ” .. And, the landslide stopped! Then we passed that place and he said, “ Now you can fall down, ” and the landslide continued.
In the year 1939, I wanted to go to Tibet. The border was only nine miles from where I lived with my master, but I was not allowed to cross through Mana Pass and go to Tibet.
Seven years later I made another attempt. Early in the year 1946, I started a journey to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, via Darjeeling, Kalingpong, Sikkim, Pedong, Gyansee, and Shigatse. My main purpose in going to Tibet was to see my grand-master (my master’s master) and to learn certain advanced practices under his guidance.
His way of teaching was very practical and straight-forward.
I often showered questions on him, exactly as I did with my master. He spoke very little and answered me briefly with a smile and then he closed his eyes. He would say :
“ Be still and quiet and you will know without being told verbally. You should learn to see through your inner eye and to hear through your inner ear. ”
One day in July 1945, my master said that he wished to cast off his body. I argued with him : “ It is written in the scriptures that the master who leaves a foolish disciple in the world is committing a sin and goes to perdition. ” So he said : “ Okay, then I will not cast off my body, because you are still a fool and ignorant. ”
Then in the year 1954, shortly before I was to leave for Germany, I was taking a bath in the Ganges and thought, “ That was not right for me to do. I should not have forced him to stay bound to his body, as he has already given me so much. ”
When I went to my master I didn’t tell him of my thought, but he said : “ Ask the other swamis to come at five-thirty this evening for the last teachings I want to impart. ” We were at a height of 11,600 feet near a shrine in the Himalayas. This place is situated between Basudhara and Badrinath.
I asked my MASTER, “ Why do you want to cast off your body ? ” He said : “ You were taking a bath and you were thinking that you had no right to hold me back. Now you are strong and you have learned something. You are finally mature and you can stand on your own in the world. I feel free to go on my journey. ” There were five of us with him on the top of a mountain. He sat in the center surrounded by us and asked all of us if we wanted to learn or know about any spiritual practices.
He looked at me and said : “ Do you want anything from me ? ”
I said : “ I want you to be with me whenever I need you, whenever I am in distress, helpless, or cannot deal with a situation. ”
He promised me that he would, and then he blessed me. We all bowed before him. He sat in the accomplished pose and closed his eyes. Gently he muttered the sound “ Aumm ” and became lifeless.
We all started crying. We did not know whether we should bury the body or immerse it in the river. We couldn’t decide. For two hours we discussed this and consoled each other, but could not come to any conclusion. Finally, the decision was left to me. We thought of carrying his body to our cave.
In the mountains it was not possible to travel at night, so we stopped in a small cave. We were very quiet and passed the night sitting and looking at each other. I never believed that my MASTER would ever leave me, but he had done so.
Two nights had passed, and on the third morning we decided to bury it on the top of the mountain from which we could see our cave far away in the distance. We dug a pit six feet deep and laid the body inside it.
We could talk to each other, but all five of us became completely inert and lifeless, as if we were paralyzed.
There was a small fir tree just five feet away from us, and we all heard the sound of my master saying, “ I am here, wake up. Do not be sad. Do you need me in my body again, or do you want me help you without the body ? ”
I said : “ I need you in your body. ”
With one voice we all cried for his help and begged him to come back. Then I felt a tingling sensation in my body. Slowly the numbness went away and we started moving our limbs. My master got up and came out of the pit ! He said : “ It’s too bad that you still need me in the body. You still worship the form and cannot go beyond it. Your attachment to my body is an obstacle. Now, I will see that you are not attached to my body anymore.” Then he started teaching me the relationship between the body and the formless Soul.
Many times when I lived with him in the cave he would remain in absolute silence for several days without any movement. Whenever he opened his eyes we would go and sit near him. One day he told me that there are three categories of beings :
(1) The Absolute Being .. the Lord of universe.
(2) The sages who have power over birth and death and who are semi-immortal beings. They are born and die at their will.
(3) The ordinary people, who do not have mastery over birth and death. For them, death is a constant fear that lurks in their minds and hearts. Such ignorant people suffer.
A sage and a yogi are not bothered by the minor events of death and birth. They are free from all fears. Being free from all fears is the first message of the Himalayan sages. That fearlessness is one of the steps toward Enlightenment.
In the course of the conversation, my master told us that the highly accomplished yogis and sages are ageless and can live as long as they wish.
He described three ways of expanding the life span :
(1) Through highly accomplished yoga powers and a disciplined life, one can live for a long time ;
(2) By changing the body one can continue to live consciously with all the experiences carried from the previous body;
(3) Enlightenment is freedom itself, and there is no need of clinging to the garment which is called body. Life is rhythm, and one who knows this rhythm can live as long as he wishes.
When I left the Himalayas to visit Japan and the United States, my MASTER gave me a few instructions. I asked him :
“ What shall I teach to the students who wish to learn from me ? Shall I convert them and teach the religions of India ? Shall I ask them to follow the Indian culture ? ” He said : “ You foolish boy. ”
The message of the Himalayan Master's is timeless and has nothing to do with the primitive concepts of “ East ” or “ West ”. Extremes will not help humanity to attain the higher step of civilization for which we all are striving.
Inner strength, cheerfulness, and selfless service are the basic principles of life. It is immaterial whether one lives in the East or West. A human being should be a human being first. A real human being is a member of the cosmos.
Geographical boundaries have no powers to divide humanity.
After the completion of this training I was prepared to come to the West. I did not want to leave my master, but he insisted. He said : “ You have a mission to complete and a message to deliver. That message is ours, and you are my instrument. ” My MASTER then instructed me to go to Japan. He told me that I would meet someone in Japan who would help me come to the United States.
In the year 1971, Swami Rama founded the “ Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy ” at Honesdale, Pennsylvania. In the year 1986, he established “ The Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust ” at the Foothills of the Himalayas in India, and many centers throughout the world.
Swami Rama vacated his physical abode in the year 1996.
Source : “ Living with the Himalayan Masters ” by Swami Rama