Sunday, May 27, 2007

Babaji, the yogi-christ of modern India

Babaji, the
yogi-christ of modern India


Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda

THE NORTHERN Himalayan crags near Badrinarayan are
still blessed by the living presence of Babaji,
guru of Lahiri Mahasaya. The secluded master has
retained his physical form for centuries, perhaps
for millenniums. The deathless Babaji is an
avatara. This Sanskrit word means "descent"; its
roots are ava, "down," and tri, "to pass." In the
Hindu scriptures, avatara signifies the descent of
Divinity into flesh.

"Babaji's spiritual state is beyond human
comprehension," Sri Yukteswar explained to me.
"The dwarfed vision of men can't pierce to his
transcendental star. One attempts in vain even to
picture the avatar's attainment. It's

The Upanishads have minutely classified
every stage of spiritual advancement. A siddha
("perfected being") has progressed from the state
of a jivanmukta ("freed while living") to that of
a paramukta ("supremely free"—full power over
death); the latter has completely escaped from the
mayic thraldom and its reincarnational round. The
paramukta therefore seldom returns to a physical
body; if he does, he is an avatar, a divinely
appointed medium of supernal blessings on the

An avatar is not subject to the universal
economy; his pure body, visible as a light image,
is free from any debt to nature. The casual gaze
may see nothing extraordinary in an avatar's form
but it casts no shadow nor makes any footprint on
the ground. These are outward symbolic proofs of
an inward lack of darkness and material bondage.
Such a God-man alone knows the Truth behind the
relativities of life and death. Omar Khayyam, so
grossly misunderstood, sang of this liberated man
in his immortal scripture, the Rubaiyat:

"Ah, Moon of my Delight who know'st no wane,

The Moon of Heav'n is rising once again;

How oft hereafter rising shall she look

Through this same Garden after me—in vain!"

The "Moon of Delight" is God, eternal Polaris,
anachronous never. The "Moon of Heav'n" is the
outward cosmos, fettered to the law of periodic
recurrence. Its chains had been dissolved forever
by the Persian seer through his self-realisation.
"How oft hereafter rising shall she look . . .
after me—in vain!" What frustration of search by a
frantic universe for an absolute omission!

The rendering
of Scott-Fitzgerald is not so good. The mature
translation by Dr. Roberb Graves and Omar Ali-Shah
is far better. Terms found in Fitzgerald's version
disappear in the better one. [

Christ expressed his freedom in another way: "And
a certain scribe came, and said to him, master,
I'll follow you wherever you go. And Jesus said to
him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the
air have nests; but the son of man has nowhere to
lay his head." [1]

Spacious with omnipresence, could Christ
indeed be followed except in the overarching

Krishna, Rama, Buddha, and Patanjali were
among the ancient Indian avatars. A considerable
poetic literature in Tamil has grown up around
Agastya, a South Indian avatar. He worked many
miracles during the centuries preceding and
following the Christian era, and is credited with
retaining his physical form even to this day.

Babaji's mission in India has been to
assist prophets in carrying out their special
dispensations. He thus qualifies for the
scriptural classification of Mahavatar (Great
Avatar). He has stated that he gave yoga
initiation to Shankara, ancient founder of the
swami order, and to Kabir, famous medieval saint.
His chief nineteenth-century disciple was, as we
know, Lahiri Mahasaya, revivalist of the lost
Kriya art.

The Mahavatar is in constant communion with
Christ; together they send out vibrations of
redemption, and have planned the spiritual
technique of salvation for this age. The work of
these two fully-illumined masters—one with the
body, and one without it—is to inspire the nations
to forsake suicidal wars, race hatreds, religious
sectarianism, and the boomerang-evils of
materialism. Babaji is well aware of the trend of
modern times, especially of the influence and
complexities of Western civilisation, and realises
the necessity of spreading the self-liberations of
yoga equally in the West and in the East.

That there's no historical reference to
Babaji need not surprise us. The great guru has
never openly appeared in any century; the
misinterpreting glare of publicity has no place in
his millennial plans. Like the Creator, the sole
but silent Power, Babaji works in a humble

Great prophets like Christ and Krishna come
to earth for a specific and spectacular purpose;
they depart as soon as it's accomplished. Other
avatars, like Babaji, undertake work which is
concerned more with the slow evolutionary progress
of man during the centuries than with any one
outstanding event of history. Such masters always
veil themselves from the gross public gaze, and
have the power to become invisible at will. For
these reasons, and because they generally instruct
their disciples to maintain silence about them, a
number of towering spiritual figures remain
world-unknown. I give in these pages on Babaji
merely a hint of his life—only a few facts which
he deems it fit and helpful to be publicly

No limiting facts about Babaji's family or
birthplace, dear to the annalist's heart, have
ever been discovered. His speech is generally in
Hindi, but he converses easily in any language. He
has adopted the simple name of Babaji (revered
father); other titles of respect given him by
Lahiri Mahasaya's disciples are Mahamuni Babaji
Maharaj (supreme ecstatic saint), Maha Yogi
(greatest of yogis), Trambak Baba and Shiva Baba
(titles of avatars of Shiva). Does it matter that
we know not the patronymic of an earth-released

"Whenever anyone utters with reverence the
name of Babaji," Lahiri Mahasaya said, "that
devotee attracts an instant spiritual blessing."

The deathless guru bears no marks of age on
his body; he appears to be no more than a youth of
twenty-five. Fair-skinned, of medium build and
height, Babaji's beautiful, strong body radiates a
perceptible glow. His eyes are dark, calm, and
tender; his long, lustrous hair is copper-coloured.
A very strange fact is that Babaji bears an
extraordinarily exact resemblance to his disciple
Lahiri Mahasaya. The similarity is so striking
that, in his later years, Lahiri Mahasaya might
have passed as the father of the youthful-looking

Swami Kebalananda, my saintly Sanskrit
tutor, spent some time with Babaji in the

"The peerless master moves with his group
from place to place in the mountains," Kebalananda
told me. "His small band contains two highly
advanced American disciples. After Babaji has been
in one locality for some time, he says: 'Dera
danda uthao.' ('Let's lift our camp and staff.')
He carries a symbolic danda (bamboo staff). His
words are the signal for moving with his group
instantaneously to another place. He doesn't
always employ this method of astral travel;
sometimes he goes on foot from peak to peak.

"Babaji can be seen or recognised by others
only when he so desires. He is known to have
appeared in many slightly different forms to
various devotees—sometimes without beard and
moustache, and sometimes with them. As his
undecaying body requires no food, the master
seldom eats. As a social courtesy to visiting
disciples, he occasionally accepts fruits, or rice
cooked in milk and clarified butter.

"Two amazing incidents of Babaji's life are
known to me," Kebalananda went on. "His disciples
were sitting one night around a huge fire which
was blazing for a sacred Vedic ceremony. The
master suddenly seized a burning log and lightly
struck the bare shoulder of a chela who was close
to the fire.

"'Sir, how cruel!' Lahiri Mahasaya, who was
present, made this remonstrance.

"'Would you rather have seen him burned to
ashes before your eyes, according to the decree of
his past karma?'

"With these words Babaji placed his healing
hand on the chela's disfigured shoulder. 'I've
freed you tonight from painful death. The karmic
law has been satisfied through your slight
suffering by fire.'

"On another occasion Babaji's sacred circle
was disturbed by the arrival of a stranger. He had
climbed with astonishing skill to the nearly
inaccessible ledge near the camp of the master.

"'Sir, you must be the great Babaji.' The
man's face was lit with inexpressible reverence.
'For months I've pursued a ceaseless search for
you among these forbidding crags. I implore you to
accept me as a disciple.'

"When the great guru made no response, the
man pointed to the rocky chasm at his feet.

"'If you refuse me, I'll jump from this
mountain. Life has no further value if I can't win
your guidance to the divine.'

"'Jump then,' Babaji said unemotionally. 'I
can't accept you in your present state of

"The man at once hurled himself over the
cliff. Babaji instructed the shocked disciples to
fetch the stranger's body. When they returned with
the mangled form, the master placed his divine
hand on the dead man. Lo! he opened his eyes and
prostrated himself humbly before the omnipotent

"'You're now ready for discipleship.'
Babaji beamed lovingly on his resurrected chela.
'You've courageously passed a difficult test.
Death shall not touch you again; now you're one of
our immortal flock.' Then he spoke his usual words
of departure, 'Dera danda uthao'; the whole group
vanished from the mountain."

An avatar lives in the omnipresent Spirit;
for him there's no distance inverse to the square.
Only one reason, therefore, can motivate Babaji in
maintaining his physical form from century to
century: the desire to furnish humanity with a
concrete example of its own possibilities. Were
man never vouchsafed a glimpse of Divinity in the
flesh, he would remain oppressed by the heavy
mayic delusion that he can't transcend his

Jesus knew from the beginning the sequence
of his life; he passed through each event not for
himself, not from any karmic compulsion, but
solely for the upliftment of reflective human
beings. His four reporter-disciples—Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John—recorded the ineffable drama for
the benefit of later generations.

For Babaji, also, there's no relativity of
past, present, future; from the beginning he has
known all phases of his life. Yet, accommodating
himself to the limited understanding of men, he
has played many acts of his divine life in the
presence of one or more witnesses. Thus it came
about that a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya was
present when Babaji deemed the time to be ripe for
him to proclaim the possibility of bodily
immortality. He uttered this promise before Ram
Gopal Muzumdar, that it might finally become known
for the inspiration of other seeking hearts. The
great ones speak their words and participate in
the seemingly natural course of events, solely for
the good of man, even as Christ said: "Father . .
. I knew that you hear me always: but because of
the people which stand by I said it, that they may
believe that you've sent me." [2]

During my visit at Ranbajpur with Ram Gopal,
"the sleepless saint," [3] he related the wondrous
story of his first meeting with Babaji.

"I sometimes left my isolated cave to sit
at Lahiri Mahasaya's feet in Varanasi," Ram Gopal
told me. "One midnight as I was silently
meditating in a group of his disciples, the master
made a surprising request.

"'Ram Gopal,' he said, 'go at once to the
Dasasamedh bathing ghat.'

"I soon reached the secluded spot. The
night was bright with moonlight and the glittering
stars. After I had sat in patient silence for
awhile, my attention was drawn to a huge stone
slab near my feet. It rose gradually, revealing an
underground cave. As the stone remained balanced
in some unknown manner, the draped form of a young
and surpassingly lovely woman was levitated from
the cave high into the air. Surrounded by a soft
halo, she slowly descended in front of me and
stood motionless, steeped in an inner state of
ecstasy. She finally stirred, and spoke gently.

"'I'm Mataji, [4] the sister of Babaji.
I've asked him and also Lahiri Mahasaya to come to
my cave tonight to discuss a matter of great

"A nebulous light was rapidly floating over
the Ganges; the strange luminescence was reflected
in the opaque waters. It approached nearer and
nearer till, with a blinding flash, it appeared by
the side of Mataji and condensed itself instantly
into the human form of Lahiri Mahasaya. He bowed
humbly at the feet of the woman saint.

"Before I had recovered from my
bewilderment, I was further wonder-struck to
behold a circling mass of mystical light
travelling in the sky. Descending swiftly, the
flaming whirlpool neared our group and
materialised itself into the body of a beautiful
youth who, I understood at once, was Babaji. He
looked like Lahiri Mahasaya, the only difference
being that Babaji appeared much younger, and had
long, bright hair.

"Lahiri Mahasaya, Mataji, and myself knelt
at the guru's feet. An ethereal sensation of
beatific glory thrilled every fibre of my being as
I touched his divine flesh.

"'Blessed sister,' Babaji said, 'I'm
intending to shed my form and plunge into the
infinite Current.'

"'I have already glimpsed your plan,
beloved Master. I wanted to discuss it with you
tonight. Why should you leave your body?' The
glorious woman looked at him beseechingly.

"'What's the difference if I wear a visible
or invisible wave on the ocean of my Spirit?'

"Mataji replied with a quaint flash of wit.
'Deathless guru, if it makes no difference, then
please don't ever relinquish your form.' [5]

"'Be it so,' Babaji said solemnly. 'I'll
never leave my physical body. It will always
remain visible to at least a small number of
people on this earth. The Lord has spoken His own
wish through your lips.'

"As I listened in awe to the conversation
between these exalted beings, the great guru
turned to me with a benign gesture.

"'Fear not, Ram Gopal,' he said, 'you're
blessed to be a witness at the scene of this
immortal promise.'

"As the sweet melody of Babaji's voice
faded away, his form and that of Lahiri Mahasaya
slowly levitated and moved backward over the
Ganges. An aureole of dazzling light templed their
bodies as they vanished into the night sky.
Mataji's form floated to the cave and descended;
the stone slab closed of itself, as if working on
an invisible leverage.

"Infinitely inspired, I wended my way back
to Lahiri Mahasaya's place. As I bowed before him
in the early dawn, my guru smiled at me

"'I'm happy for you, Ram Gopal,' he said.
'The desire of meeting Babaji and Mataji, which
you've often expressed to me, has found at last a
sacred fulfilment.'

"My fellow disciples informed me that
Lahiri Mahasaya had not moved from his dais since
early the preceding evening.

"'He gave a wonderful discourse on
immortality after you had left for the Dasasamedh
ghat,' one of the chelas told me. For the first
time I fully realised the truth in the scriptural
verses which state that a man of self-realisation
can appear at different places in two or more
bodies at the same time.

"Lahiri Mahasaya later explained to me many
metaphysical points concerning the hidden divine
plan for this earth," Ram Gopal concluded. "Babaji
has been chosen by God to remain in his body for
the duration of this particular world cycle. Ages
shall come and go—still the deathless master, [6]
beholding the drama of the centuries, shall be
present on this stage terrestrial."