Yoga aims at well-being and development. Shyama Charan Devi Sharman Lahiri (1828-95) was a yogi. He is also called Lahiri Mahasaya and Lahiri Baba. He lived as a married accountant and gave kriya yoga to 5000 persons. The Americanized guru Yogananda devotes chapters to Lahiri Mahasaya in his Autobiography of a Yogi. It is online and SRF-published in several after-death versions too, as if edited from the grave.
Some variants of kriya yoga were made known through Lahiri Mahasaya. The guru made many mentions of kriya while commenting on various scriptures. Lahiri mentions have since been published and republished.
An example from the Bhagavad Gita 15:4:
"Then that goal should be sought after, whither [to what place] having gone none returns again. Seek refuge in that Primeval Purusha whence streamed forth the ancient activity or energy." - Swami Sivananda's translation.
Summing up from the verse without much yoga terminology: "Seek the goal that none returns from: seek ancient, primeval, streaming Purusha." By a river one may drink or wash oneself, by dipping into the stream one may do as the salmon and get upstream, or one may swim or wade ahead upwards. There are several options, and many ways of yoga too.
Lahiri's commentary follows. Her it is without the bracketed additions supplied by a publisher, Swami Satyeswarananda.
4. When he enters in the atom of Kutastha, the inner Self at the area between the eyebrows, thereafter, he never returns. That is, he is at the After-effect-poise of Kriya. (p. 136)
Atom: The word 'atom' may be confusing. Lahiri's use of it is hinged to yoga. He refers to the centre dot of the golden disc (etc.) seen in accomplished meditation. His special use of the term 'atom' is from earlier decades than today's atom concepts; and is akin to 'monad' too. 'Atom' comes from the ancient Greek adjective atomos, uncuttable. "The idea of distinct and individual units ("atoms") is very old in such as Greece and India. From the twentieth century scientists concluded that atoms were not the least units, and refined their ideas further. (WP, "Monad"; "Atom")
So the commentary of Shyama Lahiri talks of the Self and how to enter it (cf. ujjayi pranayama).
Enter the inner Self, get poise and never return to breathing again, he means -
The conundrum about a state one does not return from: Those who state "one never returns from there" - it is in several translations - should also tell: Who can get out of that state and tell?
Words have their limitations. To transcend (go beyond) words or categories implies that the words do not reach that state. It is beyond description. With deep and dreamless sleep the experience can be quite similar in that one cannot tell a lot from one's inner depths.
Reality is of several levels. The old teaching is that one does not return from the highest level - the Self-realisation level, also called Atmajnana in Vedanta. One may reach it, stay in it, and slowly incorporate living in the world and talk too - while in the supreme state, while not returning from it.
This comment incorporates traditional ways of telling about the Goal.
Among Lahiri Mahasaya's other titles and great appellatives are "Yogiguru Bhagavan Shrimat Brahmachari Anilananda Maharaj". His biographer Jogesh C. Bhattacharya uses that. One or more "Shri" may be put in front of his name too, according to Indian custom. Hence "Shri Shri Lahiri Mahasaya" or "Yogiraj Shri Shri Shyamacharan Lahiri Mahasaya" or "Yogiraj Shri Shri Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya". The surname Lahiri came to be attached to his forefathers after they received a village named Lahiri in the Bagura district. But really, the surname was Lahiri Sarkar, where Sarkar is a title. Shyama Lahiri did not use it.
Shyama Charan Sharman Lahiri (1828-95) was born at the village Ghurni in the district of Nadia in Bengal. His mother and father worshipped Shiva. In Ghurni his father had established a Shiva Temple, but one day a great flood washed it away. As a result, the family moved to Varanasi (Banaras) in 1834. There the young Shyama Charan went to school. And he attended a government college for eight years, showing exemplary conduct and diligence.
"When salt was lacking in his curry, he would never want it," informs Bhattacharya. Shyama was keen and had power of judgement. He was married at eighteen, when his bride was nine. In due time he initiated her into kriya-yoga. Yogananda tells of it. He also recounts how Shyama Lahiri lost his interited 288 bighas* of land to relatives who had unlawfully occupied it for long. They did not keep their promises to send him some rent, either. He was swindled by relatives -
*A bigha is a measure of land in India, varying from a third of an acre to an acre.
Shyama Lahiri turned out to be a dutiful householder. He and his wife had two sons. Three years before his father died in 1952, he entered the Military Works Branch, P. W. D., Benares Division, where he served as an accountant. He also taught Hindi, Urdu and Bengali to engineers and other officers of his department.
Working in the army as a civilian accountant, one day in 1861 he was transferred to the Ranikhet army headquarters in a forest region near Nainital in the Himalayas. It is 14 miles outside the town at Drongiri. Roving or climbing the hills around there, one day he was gently knocked on the head by a recluse called Babaji on the Drongiri Mountain, and consequently taught kriya-yoga. Through that knock Lahiri Mahasaya attained to something that is hard to put in words fairly and squarely, and "There are differences in details of how exactly the Yogiraj received his first initiation," says Bhattacharya. But, as it stands out, one day a stranger on a hill touched his head and lo! Shyama Charan suddenly understood he had used to meditate in a cave at the place in a former life. No one knew the name of the stranger, but they called him such as Jnana-Netra, Tryambaka Baba ("Father Three-Eyes") and Shiva Baba. Yogananda further tells in his autobiography how Babaji "whipped up" (called into being) a palace for his chosen disciple to be initated in on that place, only to remove it after the initiation, jewels inside it and all.
Lahiri's first disciple after he left Ranikhet and came back to the plains was a garland-maker. It happened very often that so-called educated gentlemen would have to wait for years for receiving initiation from him.
The guru refused to be given material presents. Receiving gifts was almost a forbidden thing in his family, and he followed that sort of family tradition with scrupulous care. He would only take five rupees when he initiated anybody: he was instructed to do so by his own guru, Babaji. Shyama Lahiri sent the sums to his guru.
Shyama Lahiri was not for indiscriminate kriya-yoga propaganda. He would rather ask his disciples to go on silently. A time would come, he said, when the yoga would be accepted world-wide.
He would generally instruct his devotees not to forsake their normal social and religious customs. He did not want to disturb patterns of living as long as they did not stand in the way of progress. He would normally ask his disciples to marry at the proper age and adopt the house-hold life. Exceptions were made for those who were bent on renunciate living.
He also interpreted twenty-six Hindu scriptures in the light of kriya yoga, including the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, and Manu Samhita. English translations found on Sanskrit Classics (below) seem more readable than corresponding ones from Yoganiketan, but the latter are told to be accurate.
Just Oneself, One's Inmost Self
Kriya results in poising the seeker in inner Wisdom by which he attains Eternity (past, present, and future). The steadfast practice gradually brings the seeker to the After-effect-poise where his seeking self is merged in the ultimate Self.
After the knock [see Ay ch 34] he thought it was well to obey his guru and get back to his wife and children and work among women and men as a heaven's gate. He turned out to be such a great unionist (yogi) that his mind would remain in peace all the time even while engaged in common household duties. Or he could rove other places as a mystic light.
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 . . . and condensed itself instantly into the human form of Lahiri Mahasaya. He bowed humbly. [Ram Gopal, rendered by Yogananda - Ay ch. 33]
Normally he spoke only meagrely. Instructions for those of his line of endeavours include:
In order to achieve eternal Realisation, the seeker must practice the following perfectly (,) holding onto . . . the Self:
The wise kriya guru was rather unattached to things of the world. Still it is good to know that he or she who is unattached to being unattached - and thereby splendidly unattached in another key, so to speak - may act well and look fine. It seems to be a matter of aplomb. Compare what Avadhut Gita 4:21 says about renunciation along the same lines.
The householder yogi wrote many scriptural commentaries where he decreed much, for example that the Self, Truth, is the four Yugas [eras], and that "From evening to midnight is Dwapara [Yuga]." [Hw 178]. "The Lord Himself is Truth," also. Thus, the Self is the Lord. That is the bass-deep teaching at the bottom of much else [Hw 180].
If you wonder what yugas are, they are ages told of in scriptures and correspond somewhat to the ancient Greek ages of man: The iron, bronze, silver, and gold ages correspond to the four yugas of Manu, but are not equal to them. The Manu Samhita 1:68-72; 81-86; tells of the yuga cycles, and the Institutes of Vishnu (20,1-10) also. These two works of antiquity seem to be the most complete, ancient sources of information about the yuga constructs. According to them, each kali yuga lasts for 1200 years; each dwapara yuga lasts for 2 400 years - not 24 hours; each treta yuga for 3600 years, and each satya (krita) yuga for 4800 years. The proportions between the yugas in an ascending half-cycle of 12 000 years are 1 : 2 : 3 : 4.
It is hard to say what could be the value of dividing 24 hours into an ascending and an descending yuga half-cycles, and then subdivide each 12-hour into four yugas of unequal lengths based on correspondences with Manu Samhita's calculations for 24 000 years. At any rate, in Lahiri Mahasaya's claim that dwapara is evening, he speaks of a said correspondence in this way.
From the morning until two in the afternoon is Satya.
Do not forget: "Is it? Where is the evidence?" Ask if something is figurative here too, or just how it is meant. We could learn something from Jews north of the polar circle. The rules for when the Sabbath is to begin at sunset each Friday evening do not work well where the sun is up all night long.
It might be that Lahiri Mahasaya's stipulations are inaccurate too: he subdivides 12 hours by using other proportions than those in the Manu Samhita. Also, there are places on the planet with midnight sun and where daybreak varies by several hours around the year. There are local time variations too, which is to say that the real midnight (by degrees) differs from the average-set midnight for a country or area. The Daylight saving time adjustments have to be added to the list of but's. The end question: Of what use are yuga stipulations for days and nights in the Arctic winter, where the sun is not up and glum darkness reigns? Are there practical, real-life benefits of these said correspondences near the Arctic circle or at higher altitudes benefit or prosper from these tenets? "Ask a polar bear" is not good enough.
Lahiri Mahasaya's disciple Yukteswar sought to adapt the full yuga cycle of 24 000 years to the Platonic Year of quite precisely 25,770 years, but his attempts are marred by miscalculations. [More]
We may have to think for ourselves.
Knowledge of the ultimate Self is to know Oneself by oneself. [Lahiri Baba (▫Saying 90 of an on-line summary)]Perhaps it should be added with John Donne from his Meditation 17, that "No man is an island" - for the sake of ease and harmony, You need to strike a suitable balance between dependence and independence till you get really independent, rather.
I am ever with those who practice Kriya," he said . . . "I will guide you to the Cosmic Home through your enlarging perceptions. [Lahiri Baba saying, ch. 35]
Here is a question to probe: Is he with those who learn kriya from other sources than the Babaji-Lahiri line too? How can you find out? Core kriya is, after all, a publicly well known pranayama technique called ujjayi.
Clear your mind of dogmatic theological debris . . . Attune yourself to the active inner Guidance . . ." [Lahiri Baba saying, ch. 35]
It should be very wise not to let Lahiri statements become theological debris either. You may need to reflect. Now it is also written in the Babaji-Lahiri line:
"Even when Lahiri Mahasaya was silent, . . . I discovered that nonetheless he had transmitted to me ineffable knowledge." [Sri Yukteswar in Autobiography of a Yogi, chap 12]
"Ineffable knowledge" cannot be formulated, and may not get checked. There is a possible problem right there, since many intuitions actually prove wrong when rigorously tested. As it shows up, many of the claims of Yukteswar prove wrong. Here is an online book full of such evidence: [Link]
If you are searching for reliable information, think and sort the sources better than Yogananda. He writes, for example:
"Lahiri Mahasaya carefully graded Kriya into four progressive initiations. He bestowed the three higher techniques only after the devotee had manifested definite spiritual progress [which could be honesty] . . .
Lahiri's Kriya is graded in steps and stages, but there were more than four of them. More on kriya yoga:
The processes of the kriya yoga taught by Lahiri Mahashaya make one gradually fit to [rise into] the Divine within ourselves, with much less effort than is usually necessary. [Professor Jogesh Chandra Bhattacharya, paraphrased]
A mantra is a syllable or set of syllables, and is best repeated mentally, says the Manu Samhita 2:85: "An offering, consisting of muttered prayers, is ten times more efficacious than a sacrifice performed according to the rules (of the Veda); a (prayer) which is inaudible (to others) surpasses it a hundred times, and the mental (recitation of sacred texts) a thousand times." Allowing some leeway in the proportions given, may it be added that a fit mantra is given by a guru, and blessing go with that. That is the age-old teaching.
You cannot get attached to your Self by reading about it
If you are fond of miraculous tales, Yogananda's autobiography is full of them, and of express devotionalism and demagoguery too, which are dangers to the credulous.
You cannot find your Self by reading about it only. The crucial thing is experiencing it. So do not get attached to mere words, no matter how godly and devoted they seem on the surface.
Ay: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. 1st ed. New York: Theosophical, 1946. Online.
Bi: Satyeswarananda, sw., tr: Complete Works of Lahiri Mahasay Vol. II: The Bhagavad Gita Interpretations of Lahiri Mahasay. The Sanskrit Classics. San Diego, 1991.
Clh: Dimmitt, Cornelia, ed., and J. A. B. van Buitenen, tr. Classical Hindu Mythology. Temple University.Philadelphia, 1978.
Ebu: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006.
Gv: Satyeswarananda, sw., tr: Complete Works of Lahiri Mahasay Vol. I: The Gitas: The Vedic Bibles. 2nd rev. ed. The Sanskrit Classics. San Diego, 1992.
Ha: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. 12th ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1981.
Hw: Satyeswarananda, sw., tr: The Commentaries' Series Vol. III: Hidden Wisdom. With Lahiri Mahasay's Commentaries. 2nd rev. ed. The Sanskrit Classics. San Diego, 1986.
Iv: Satyeswarananda, sw., tr.: Inner Victory: With Lahiri Mahasay's Commentaries. The Sanskrit Classics. San Diego, 1987.
Ut: Satyeswarananda, sw., tr: Complete Works of Lahiri Mahasay Vol. III: The Upanisads: The Vedic Bibles. The Sanskrit Classics. San Diego, 1992.
Lahiri Works on the Internet and in the Form of Books
Lahiri Mahasaya's disciple Yukteswar chose Satyananda to head his organization in India and sent Yogananda to the West. Satyeswarananda was taught and trained under Satyananda, got an MA (Master of Arts) degree in philosophy, etc, and knows some languages. He has written biographies of Babaji and Shyama Lahiri, "Masters of the Original Kriya". He has also written on other kriya gurus and edited and published the complete works of Lahiri Mahasaya. They are:
More recent editions of some of these works exist at Sanskrit Classics too: [◦Books by Lahiri Mahasaya]
At Amazon, these books contain different translations of most of these works. (2010):
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