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Lahiri Mahasaya: Tales and Teachings
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Lahiri Mahasaya. Photo slightly modified
Shyama Charan Lahiri (1828-95)

Yoga aims at well-being and development. There are many yogas, ways or methods. Shyama Charan Devi Sharman Lahiri (1828-95), also called Lahiri Mahasaya and Lahiri Baba, lived as a married accountant and gave kriya yoga to 5000 persons. The Americanized guru Yogananda devotes chapters to Lahiri Mahasaya in his autobiography.

Some variants of kriya yoga were made known through Lahiri Mahasaya. The guru also made many scriptual commentaries that have been published and republished.

And first you get to know about Lahiri Mahasaya through thirteen stories or so.

Lahiri's wife began to laugh

Lahiri Mahasaya teachings ensue Each day Lahiri Baba used to walk to the Ganges River to have a bath, followed by a devout disciple. One day he called out to the follower, "Please, tear a piece of cloth for a bandage!"

The follower did as he was asked to do. Then all of a sudden the wheel of a passing cart made a rock fly up and hit the leg of Lahiri. It caused a large, deep, open wound which bled a lot. Lahiri Baba asked his follower for the bandage and wrapped his leg.

The follower asked, "You knew the rock was coming, so why not avoid it?"

Lahiri said that some "destiny" (karma) had to be worked out by allowing it to happen.

They walked on. Soon they came to Lahiri's house. In front of it was his wife, Kashimani Lahiri, was standing. She called to her husband, "What has happened?"

He told her a rock had caused a cut to his leg, so he had wrapped a bandage around. She began to laugh, pointing to his leg. Looking down he saw that he had bandaged the wrong leg.

He had reached that stage, that rare stage. [Retold]

COMPARE: "The Master [Ramakrishna] went into samadhi. His face radiated a heavenly light. Bereft of outer consciousness . . . His gaze was indrawn and transfixed in communion with the Self. After a long time the Master began to recognize the world around him." [Rap 305]

The maharaja Ishwarinarayan Sinha of Benares was one of Lahiri Mahasaya's devoted followers. The maharaja of Khetri was another. [O 1: Yoganiketan, Professor Bhattacharya's book there.]

The Man with the Light

Lahiri Mahasaya story Some time after Shyama Charan was initiated in kriya yoga at the Dronagiri Hill, he witnessed a few interesting events at the place. There was a temple on the Dronagiri. It was visited every midnight by a mendicant ascetic. There used to be a halo of light around him. The light could be seen from a great distance. The man would stay a little within the temple and then go away. Nobody would disturb him at that time.

Now it happened that a hungry disciple of Babaji took some poisonous fruits by mistake one day when Babaji was away. Deadly poison made the man wholly disfigured. Shyama Lahiri and his companions at first did not know what to do. Then they remembered the man with the halo, and carried the patient along and laid him on the road to the temple.

Next day the man came back all recovered and told what had happened to him. At midnight the mendicant ascetic came and caught sight of him on the road, thundering, "Who are you"? Then he kicked the ill one twice, and this made him fall down to a much lower place of the hill. But the man felt renovated and sound again as soon as he fell. [Retold from Bhattacharya's biography]

Lahiri's Picture

Contrary to what Yogananda states, there is not just one photo of Shyama Lahiri. Another photo is on-line at the Sanskrit Classics.

To gain a valuable item, be firm for it.

A photo is a photo even though it is tampered with

Lahiri Mahasaya story A kriya disciple once understood: "The photo (with a large, added cloth painted on it etc.) has been tampered with! It isn't authentic!"

He put it away away thinking he would never take it out again. "I've put it away! It's no good!"

A guru remarked, "This photo is still his photo - why do you feel it's no good?"

He spoke lovingly with concern. Yet the young kriya disciple still felt the photo was tampered with.

[Retold. O 3: Cf. Yoganiketan, Kriya Stories No. 19]


Lahiri Mahasaya's Life and Some of His Stands


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.


Lahiri Mahasaya Teachings, with Life Information Interspersed

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.
[Ut 43, Sleeka abstract]

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:
  1. . . . knowing;
  2. The practice of Kriya, abandoning expectations for results;
  3. Looking forward to the Kutastha [Hw 52]

NOTE. Kutastha is in "the area in between the eyebrows" and also a door to Eternity, it is specified by authors in his line of tradition. [Hw 22 ff]

He was allegedly well versed in scriptural matters and rather unattached to things of the world. Still it is good to know that heor she who is unattached to being unattached - and thereby splendidly unattached in a way - may act well and look fine. It sems 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 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 far from 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 rudimentary yuga 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 hardly seems to be of much value to divide 24 hours into an ascending and an descending yuga half-cycles, and then subdivide each 12-hour into four yugas of unequal lengths or divide the day and night in other yuga ways that may be still more far-fetched or off Manu Samhita's old calculatons 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.

From the afternoon to evening is Treta.

From the evening to midnight is Dwapara.

From midnight to morning is Kali.

Do not forget: "Is it? Where is the evidence?" It seems Lahiri Mahasaya's correspondences are too inaccurate too, since he subdivides divides 12 hours by using other proportions than those of Manu Samhita, and since he divides 24 hours and not 12 hours according to the proportions. So Lahiri's yuga correspondences seem far-fetched. Of course, he is free to arbitrarily define yugas as he will, but it is outside of the common and standard ways of doing such things.

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 very clearly at fault. [More]

You have to think for yourself.

More lessons of Lahiri Mahasaya

Knowledge of the ultimate Self is to know Oneself by oneself. [Lahiri Baba (▫Saying 90 of an on-line summary)]

"Always remember that you belong to no one, and no one belongs to you." [Lahiri Baba saying in ch. 34.]

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] . . .

"His . . . interpretations were recorded and arranged by various disciples. Some of [them] were more discerning than others in correctly conveying the profound insight of the guru . . . Through their zeal, the world possesses . . . commentaries by Lahiri Mahasaya on twenty-six ancient scriptures . . .

"Lahiri Mahasaya . . . gave his chelas [dear friend-disciples] liberty to express their lives in conformance with environment and upbringing.

[From Autobiography of a Yogi, 1st ed. chap 35]

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]

Kriyayoga teaches man that God is to be discovered in [one's] own body first, [by] concentrating [the] gaze on the point between his eye-brows . . . Mantrayoga [mental repetition of certain sounds too] can . . . lead man to success, . . . through a constant chanting.

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

In yoga literature, Lahiri Baba is presented as the disciple of Babaji and the guru of Yukteswar and many others.

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.


Lahiri Mahasaya, Lahiri Baba, Literature  

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: Dimmit, Cornelia and van Buitenen, J. A. B. trs: 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 Mahasaya Specialities

Lahiri Works on the Internet and in the Form of Books

Lahiri Baba'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:

  1. The Gitas (Guru Gita, Omkar Gita; Abadhuta Gita, Kabir Gita).
  2. The Bhagavad Gita: Interpretations of Lahiri Mahasay.
  3. The Upanisads (with the commentaries of Lahiri on these books: Tejabindu Upanishad, Dhyanabindu Upanishad, Amritabindu Upanishad, Niralambo Upanishad, Taitiriya Upanishad.
  4. Hidden Wisdom (with the commentaries of Lahiri) The Manusamhita, Yantrasara, Tantrasara, Linga Purana, Panini on Education, Japaji (Japji): The First Book of Guru Nanak.
  5. Inner Victory (with the commentaries of Lahiri Baba) Sri Chandi; Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,. Charaka: The Book of Medicine.
  6. Lahiri Mahasaya: "Chap 13 Statements"

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):

  • Satyananda, Swami. A Collection of Biographies of 4 Kriya Yoga Gurus. Lincoln, NE:, 2006.
  • The Scriptural Commentaries of Yogiraj Sri Sri Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya: Volume 1. Lincoln, NE:, 2005.
  • The Scriptural Commentaries of Yogiraj Sri Sri Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya: Volume 2. Lincoln, NE:, 2007.
  • Srimad Bhagavad Gita: Spiritual Commentaries by Yogiraj Lahiri Mahasay and Swami Sriyukteshvar, English translation. Lincoln, NE:, 2004.
  • Kabir - Spiritual Commentary. Lincoln, NE:, 2009.

And for the sake of referencing, there are some more online books - if you venture to get into a terribly devoted site . . . without normal rights to cite as afforded by copyright laws:

  • O 1: Jogesh C. Bhattacharya: Yogiraj Shri Shri Lahiri Mahasaya.
  • O 3: Sailendra Bejoy DasGupta: Kriya stories.
  • O 4: Lahiri Mahasaya: Garland of 108 Letters.
  • Swami Satyanananda: Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya: A Biography.
  • Swami Nityananda: Kriya Yoga Vigyan.

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