Eastern Religion in the West - Part 2

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895 - 1986) arrived in West: 1912

Krishnamurti's career was so strange and his persona so dignified and his teachings so nebulous and his friends and admirers so classy and the reverence that surrounded him so palpable that the complete uselessness of his teachings and the scandals of his life were rarely publicised. Virtually no overt scandal attached to him until his "daughter" Radha Rajagopal Sloss wrote Lives in the Shadow With J. Krishnamurti." It is possible that his early close association with Charles Leadbeater, who had secret homosexual paedophile relations with many boys may have affected his later relations with women.

Krishnamurti was extemely fastidious in his surroundings, clothing and appearance, in old age he combed his hair in one of the most complex styles ever used to cover baldness. He was extremely shy and frightened of contact with people he didn't know well and seemed incapable of dealing with conflict in a reasonable manner. The consciousness of which he incessantly spoke did not seem to alter his normal human characteristics, he suffered the usual irritabilities, unhappinesses and disturbances of life as well as extra ones of hypersensitvity and emotional pressure.

Krishnamurti's life was a series of extreme breaks with those closest to him, his thirty year relationship with his business manager and confidant, Rajagopal, ended in protracted legal cases. In 1954 he summarily ordered the elderly Lady Emily Lutyens (whom he always called 'Mum') to cease publication of her autobiographybecause of the embarrassment his letters quoted within it would cause him and his "work". In 1969, he suddenly broke with his long time secretary, Alain Naude, and in 1973 with the long time administrator of his Indian society, Madhavachari.

From most perspectives, Krishnamurti was a reasonably admirable chap. Despite being almost worshipped by his close followers he did not indulge in overtly reprehensible behaviour. While living in discreet style, even luxury in youth and old age, he was a life long vegetarian who refrained from any drugs (even tea and coffee) and was generally admired and liked by those who met him. Most of the money he raised in donations seems to have gone to his schools and learning centre and supporting his proselytising although he had a long string of expensive cars. Following his teachings and example would probably produce worthwhile effects though no-one ever achieved the states of consciousness of which he spoke and his schools produced no classes of exceptional children. Krishnamurti's life as a teacher were barren. While many came to listen to him, none were able to transcend their normal consciousness as he claimed was possible. It's quite likely that a small book he supposedly wrote as a child, "At The Feet Of The Master" had more effect on people than everything else he said and wrote.

The book that has made the most people consider the possibility (if not the certainty) of extra-terrestrial life is not by Carl Sagan or a serious scientific discourse on SETI but was "Chariots of the Gods" by Erich von Daniken. The books that have done more to create belief in Eastern religions are "The Third Eye" by Lobsang Rampa, "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Mukunda Lal Ghosh aka Paramhansa Yognanda and "Be Here Now" by Richard Alpert aka Ram Dass. These books are among the most credulous ever written. Only the "Autobiography of A Yogi" was actually written by someone from Asia, a guru whose major power was he could believe anything and everything.

Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) arrived in the West: 1920

Mukunda Lal Ghosh was born in 1893 to the family of an Indian railways executive. In 1910, at the age of 17, he met and became a disciple of Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. He graduated from Calcutta University in 1915 and took formal vows as a monk, Swami Yogananda (bliss (ananda) through yoga).

Yogananda's lineage myth: Lahiri Mahasaya, a devout government accountant is initiated in a cave in the Himalayas by his guru, the deathless and ageless Babaji who materializes "a vast palace of dazzling gold" and instructs Lahiri in the ancient science of Kriya Yoga which had somehow been forgotten even though Babaji was immortal and could have reminded anyone, anytime. Babaji had a pretty poor view of family life: "The millions who are encumbered by family ties and heavy worldly duties will take new heart from you, a householder like themselves. You should guide them to understand that the highest yogic attainments are not barred to the family man."

Lahiri instructed students in Kriya Yoga and taught that the life of the wandering ascetic was no longer appropriate. Instead, the Yogis of the New Age should earn their own living, not be dependent on society for their support. Naturally this commandment was quickly ignored.

In January 1894 in Allahabad, during the Kumbha Mela, India's great religious festival, a disciple of Lahiri, Sri Yukteswar (1855-1936), met Babaji who told him: "India can teach the universal methods by which the West will be able to base its religious beliefs on the unshakable foundations of yogic science. You, Swamiji, have a part to play in the coming harmonious exchange between Orient and Occident. Some years hence I shall send you a disciple whom you can train for yoga dissemination in the West. The vibrations there of many spiritually seeking souls come floodlike to me. I perceive potential saints in America and Europe, waiting to be awakened."

That disciple, no surprise, was Yogananda (1893-1952). In October 1920 Yogananda was invited to address the International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston, Massachusetts. He spent the 1920s proselytising in the USA and founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in Los Angeles. SRF does not publicise it's membership but it was unable to use the astonishing sales of the Autobiography in the 1960s and later to grow into a large organisation. It's annual Convocation attracts no more then 6,000 participants despite the incredible claims made for it's methods. "Kriya yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened", explained Yukteswar. "A half-minute of kriya equals one year of natural spiritual unfoldment."

One thousand Kriya practiced in eight hours gives the yogi, in one day, the equivalent of one thousand years of natural evolution: 365,000 years of evolution in one year. In three years, a Kriya Yogi can thus accomplish by intelligent self-effort the same result which nature brings to pass in a million years.

[Autobiography of A Yogi] Yogananda emphasized his idiosyncratic interpretation of the underlying unity of the world's great religions, and taught meditation methods he said would allow direct personal experience of God. He was the epitome of an Anericanised Indian yogi. He had a very un-Hindu optimism and the American can-do spirit. He turned the guru-disciple relationship into a weekly, mail-order religion. To initiates he taught secret techniques of "Kriya Yoga", which he claimed were ancient mystical techniques that had been lost in the Dark Ages (they weren't) but reintroduced by his "Masters."

In the late 1960's possession of a copy of 'Autobiography of a Yogi' was de rigeur amongs "hippies" or those in the "counter-culture" (though there were a lot less of them then than their media presence now suggests) the Self Realisation Fellowship's membership did not increase to reflect the interest in the book. It's hierarchy had lived too long and it appeared old-fashioned. It has a pseudo-oriental centre at the aptly named "Swamis" surfing beach in Encinitas, Southern California and temples and meditation centres throughout the West.

[Yogananda with Anandamayi] Yogananda could and did believe anything as a selection of Autobiography chapter headings shows. Yogananda, himself, could produce no miracles in the West. He certainly couldn't emulate the yogi who never eats and his premature death was caused by his obesity.

The Saint with Two Bodies (Swami Pranabananda)
A "Perfume Saint" Performs his Wonders
The Sleepless Saint (Ram Gopal Muzumdar)
Materializing a Palace in the Himalayas
The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar
The Woman Yogi who Never Eats (Giri Bala)

Yogananda's teachings and life as related in his books are a combination of bodlerised Hinduism, a lowbrow "perennial philosophy" and many tales of magic, divine miracles and sadhus who live without eating, Catholic stigmatists, levitation, "deathless" gurus, tiger fighting swamis, saints who can manifest more than one body and so on that may either inspire with awe or derision. His own life appears to be singularly free of scandal though he was terribly obese for a man epitomising the Essence of Self-Realization and it's no surprise he died at the relatively early age of 59. Scandal would have been easier to hide in those days.

Once Yogananda died dissension and disagreement and dissatisfaction arose amongst his close disciples. Its part of the American way that if you know something that others might want to know then you immediately begin to think about selling it. Not content to be cogs in the very straight-laced and boring SRF wheel other disciples of Yogananda began to set up shop on their own. Shelly Trimmer's parents were "students of Western mystery teachings." He became a student of Yogananda's and claimed Yogananda transmitted "the deeper, more esoteric, aspects of the teachings to" him and empowered him "to carry on the lineage, to teach - but in a more hidden and less 'institutional' manner." Trimmer moved to the north woods of Minnesota, where he lived with his wife and children. One of his students became the self-titled Goswami Kriyananda. He began teaching kriya yoga, and by 1983 his Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago was offering instruction for students outside his inner circle. Roy Eugene Davis, ordained by Yogananda in 1951 and a kriya teacher since 1954, founded the Center for Spiritual Awareness in Lakemont, Georgia. Davis has written or published some 20 books and is still very active leading retreats and seminars in the 1990s.

 J. Donald Walters, as Swami Kriyananda, was a close disciple of Yogananda in the late 40s and early 50s. He took vows of final renunciation in 1955 and was vice president of SRF from 1960 to 1962. He left the Self-Realization Fellowship in 1962 and set up the Ananda World Brotherhoodwith himself as the guru. He has been involved in litigation for years with the Self Realization Fellowship. Unfortunately the power of a Spiritual Master often leads to abuse, especially when leaders abuse their power over their followers for their own sexual and financial gain. These abuses now come up against the fruits of the feminist movement and litigatiousness of modern society.

[JD Walters] This is exactly what has happened with Swami Kriyananda and the Ananda church. The full details of the case are available at The Ananda Awareness Network. They are as sordid as usual. Celibacy is very difficult, if not impossible, for the great majority of humans. Yogananda claimed that the sincere practice of Kriya Yoga was enough to eradicate sexual urges in his followers. In Walters's case, at least, his master's teachings failed.

In 1924, the U.S. imposed an extreme restriction on the number of Indians it would allow to emigrate to the USA. This restriction was only removed in 1965.

Avatar Meher Baba (1894 - 1969) arrived in West: 1931

Merwan Sheriar Irani was born February 25, 1894, in Poona, India, into a Zoroastrian family. His personal history is only available as written by his followers and is a fascinating and strange legend that can be seen at these Meher Baba pages.

'Meher Baba' became "realised" at 20 years old after an unusal process which included being kissed on the forehead by an old Poona lady, becoming dazed and apparently insane but finding Shirdi Sai Baba, the famous guru (see Satya Sai Baba page) who sent him to Upasni Maharaj who hit him on the forehead with a well thrown stone exactly where the old woman had kissed him and it was five years before he recovered.

During the 1920's he gathered disciples and founded a community at Ahmednagar, India, In 1925 he became silent and never again spoke but communicated by spelling words on an alphabet board and through hand gestures.

In 1931 he went to Europe & USA and gathered a small group of western disciples. He travelled between India and the West 6 times in the 1930's. In the 1940's he travelled all over India collecting insane people he claimed to recognise as 'masts', people who appeared mad because of their "spiritual" experiences.

He made news predicting wars and other disasters. Predictions of wars and disasters have always come true.

There will be a terrible war in the future, and it will be more destructive and horrible than the last one. America will play the most important role in it. Millions will die, and the war will be so horrendous that there will not even be time to dispose of the heaps of corpses. It will be then that I manifest myself as the Avatar. [18 June 1927, Meherabad] - Source: Lord Meher 3: 949

However predictions of the manifestation of an Avatar have always been proven false by time and Meher Baba's were no different.

 

 

Ramana Maharshi (1879 - 1950) became known in West: 1934

Ramana Maharshi was born Venkataraman Iyer in Tamil Nadu, South India. At the age of 16 he had a "spiritual awakening" and secretly left his family and caught a train to the sacred mountain of Arunachala at Tiruvannamalai where he remained until his death. He became a famous ascetic living in caves and an ashram gradually grew up around him. While he had the usual strange states of consciousness and recounted powerful experiences normal in a famous Indian saint he also had good organisational skills and a Protestant work ethic, unusual in Indian ascetics. His fame was spread as many of the tens of thousands of pilgrims to the Annamalaiyar Temple would come for the Maharshi's darshan while there.

Ramana Maharshi became relatively well known in the West after 1934 when Paul Brunton, who had visited Arunachala in 1931, published the book A Search in Secret India in which he extolled Ramana. He achieved a wider fame after W. Somerset Maugham wrote "The Razor's Edge" using Ramana as the model for the "holy man." The fact that Maugham had fainted and remained unconscious for some time whilst at the ashram added a particularly "spooky" mystical authority to the Maharshi. Whilst Brunton's book was a best-seller, Maugham's book was even turned into a Hollywood movie.

Ramana Maharshi stressed "Self-enquiry" as the most direct way of realizing Self-awareness, when asked about liberation and Vedanta generally. He empowered no followers to teach or create a lineage in his name. There was no "official" lineage, a simple teaching and little doctrine. This allowed any person who chose to declare themselves a Realised Advaita guru to do so without receiving criticism from Maharshi's lineage holders. The most influential of such people was Hariwansh Lal Poonja (1910? - 1997) who has become well-known in New Age circles as Poonjaji aka Papaji. A modern cottage industry has arisen in American gurus who blithely proclaim all over the internet that they had received "transmission" from Poonjaji, achieved "Sudden Realisation" and were officially enlightened. This is controversial in many ways not being that Poonjaji made some very nasty slurs on these people.