Shivapuri Baba, a great Enlightened Mystic who taught meditation & yoga to Queen Victoria
January 28 marked the Mahaparinirvana day (the day he left his body) of great Enlightened mystic Shivapuri Baba (Govindananda Bharati) who at the age of 100 arrived in Nepal after circumnavigating the Earth and left his body at the age of 137 in Dhruvasthali, Nepal in 1963. On this special day, to remember Shivapuri Baba, many people ranging from meditators, yogis, saints, sadhus, Osho sannyasins and devotees gather at Shivapuri Baba’s ashram where Shivapuri Baba lived during his latter part of life and left his body. His samadhi (enshrinement) is a special place in the ashram where meditators often come to meditate or for a silent sitting, a true blessing and a rare opportunity to be in the presence of his samadhi. Below is an excerpt from my book Lone Seeker, Many Masters about Shivapuri Baba.
Shivapuri Baba accepted the royal invitation of Queen Victoria and lived in the Buckingham Palace for four years and had 18 private meetings with the Queen, in which she received direct teachings on yoga.
An unknown Indian mystic with deep penetrating eyes and a hypnotic presence arrived in Rome in the late eighteen hundreds. He had already travelled on foot through Afghanistan, Iran, Jerusalem and Turkey, and through the Balkans into Greece, before finally reaching the Italian capital. There he received an invitation from Queen Victoria herself to visit Buckingham Palace and stay there as a royal guest. Queen Victoria had developed an interest in Indian mysticism, and wanted to explore its deeper realms. After hearing that a mystic of divine countenance had come to Europe, she wanted to meet the yogi and learn the nuances of this esoteric science from him. He accepted this royal invitation and lived in Buckingham Palace for four years, and had eighteen private meetings with the queen, in which she received direct teachings on yoga from him.
Victoria had asked him not to leave England while she was alive, so he lived in the palace and became her spiritual guide and counsellor. After the queen left her body in 1901, the enlightened soul again continued his pilgrimage on foot. After spending three years in America, he went to Mexico and continued his journey on to South America, and then to New Zealand and Australia, and reached Japan in 1913. Then he went to China and Tibet, and finally reached Nepal in 1926 after crossing the great Himalayan range.
Shivapuri Baba was born in 1826 in a village near Kanyakumari, Kerala, India. He and his twin sister were born to a prosperous Nambodari Brahmin family. One of their forefathers used to be a minister in the palace of Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Having lost their parents at a young age, the twins were raised by their grandparents, Achyutam and his wife.
Achyutam was a prominent astrologer who would study the stars from his bed on the patio of his house. Once Shivapuri Baba placed a two-inch thick mattress on the bed and covered it with a bedsheet to make a more comfortable seat for his grandfather. Achyutam resumed his nightly routine of observing the stars and remarked, “How is it that the sky has come nearer today?”
Everyone was stupefied by the remark. Achyutam was so intuitively adept in the astrological calculations that he could measure the difference of an inch with his naked eyes without the use of an advanced telescope. It is due to the contribution of adepts like Achyutam that Vedic astrology evolved to become a highly developed and accurate science. Achyutam had predicted that his wife would die of snakebite on a certain date. Of that night Shivapuri Baba says, “My grandmother used to tell us all sorts of stories in the evening. One day, after storytelling, she went and slept near a serpent knowingly. She knew she was going to die that way.” In the night she did, indeed, die of snakebite.
When Shivapuri Baba turned eighteen, his grandfather expressed his wish to hand over the domestic responsibilities to his grandson and leave as a renunciate to meditate in the forests of Amarkantak, the origin of the holy Narmada River. Hearing this, Shivapuri Baba handed over his property to his sister and went to Amarkantak with his grandfather. After seven years of meditating in the forest, his grandfather died; Baba was only twenty-five years old. Before dying, the grandfather predicted that Baba would be enlightened in this life, and made Baba promise that after enlightenment he would travel the world helping those in need of spiritual guidance. He also told Baba that no one had ever begged in their family and gave Baba a bag of precious stones to help take care of his expenses when he travelled to the West.
After performing the death rituals for his grandfather, Shivapuri Baba went deeper into the forest and started to meditate in utter solitude, sustaining his body on roots and wild fruits. After twenty-five years of arduous search for truth, he became enlightened at the age of fifty. He has described his enlightenment very poetically: “God appeared in a flash. All questions were answered and all problems were solved forever,” he said.
It must have been extremely difficult to meditate alone in the forest, year after year, relying just on wild roots and fruits, waiting for the ultimate experience without anybody around to provide hope or consolation. After enlightenment, Shivapuri Baba, as he had promised his grandfather, travelled around the world mostly on foot for the next fifty years. During his world tour he met many heads of state and intellectuals including Aga Khan of Afghanistan, Leo Tolstoy, Madam Curie, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Marconi, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Sri Aurobindo, Sarwapali Radhakrishnan, Mahatma Gandhi, Balgangadhar Tilak, and Madanmohan Malwiya, along with the Shah Kings of Nepal, Mahendra, Birendra and Gyanendra. Renu Lal Singh, who was a close disciple of Shivapuri Baba and a close friend of mine, has recounted to me several interesting anecdotes from Shivapuri Baba’s world tour.
Shivapuri Baba met Albert Einstein when he was still a young mathematics student in Switzerland. Baba challenged the basic mathematical axiom 1 + 1 =2. Einstein, ever so humble and willing to learn, contemplated the proposition but couldn’t follow it to its logical end. As Singh remembers, Baba told Einstein, “Absolutely speaking, only God exists, so the question of adding one thing to another cannot be entertained. Relatively speaking, no two things or beings are homogeneous. So, to say 1 + 1 = 2 is convenient, definitely, but not correct.”
Yet another time, Shivapuri Baba was late for a meeting with George Bernard Shaw. When he eventually arrived, Shaw remarked with sarcasm, “I don’t like Hindu yogis because you people have no respect for time”, to which Baba replied rather calmly, “You Westerners are slaves of time, but we dwell in the realm uncontaminated by the clutch of time, and are hence beyond its bondage.”
Baba also spent a few days in Moscow with Leo Tolstoy. Singh told me how Tolstoy’s housekeeper was overjoyed to learn Indian recipes from Baba. Completing his world tour, Baba eventually arrived in Nepal in 1926 at the ripe old age of one hundred. Shortly after he went back to Benaras in India. Madanmohan Malwiya was about to establish the Hindu University in Benaras. Malwiya was greatly impressed by Baba’s wealth of knowledge and intellect, and offered him the first Vice-Chancellor position in the university. Baba rejected the offer, and instead donated Rs 50,000 to the university, then left for his hometown, Kerala, to inquire about his twin sister, the only surviving member of his family. After seventy years, the yogi had returned to his own home as a wandering sannyasin, to find that his sister had died a long time ago. Then he finalized a few family affairs, and retired to the Shivapuri forests of Nepal. He lived on the Shivapuri hill for thirty-seven years until he left his body at the age of one hundred and thirty-seven. The saint became synonymous with the Shivapuri hill, earning him the name of Shivapuri Baba.
Of all countries he visited, Shivapuri Baba loved Nepal the most. Renu Lal Singh told me how Baba loved watching the sun rise from the Shivapuri heights. Sometimes, when the sky was clear, the sun would gradually rise like a glorious orange disk, spilling a translucent orange blanket over Mount Everest. Baba used to remark, “Ah!” with great pleasure, and compare the sight to seeing God himself.
Shivapuri Baba always stayed away from social recognition and fame. While he was in Nepal, only a few people had the opportunity to meet him in person. When I was living with my master Osho at his ashram in Pune in 1974, he told me I should go back to Kathmandu and establish an ashram. He then advised me to visit the Shivapuri Baba Samadhi in Kathmandu, and said that Baba would be my local guardian, and whenever I needed support, energy and inspiration I should visit the samadhi, and I would receive it. I had grown up in Kathmandu, and many a time some unknown force would pull me to the Dhrubasthali forest, but I hadn’t known anything about Shivapuri Baba until Osho told me about him. To my surprise, Osho even gave me the directions on how to reach there when he had never even visited Nepal before. He knew the intricate details of its location. He told me the ashram was behind the army barracks at the airport, and was fenced with barbed wire. When I came to Kathmandu I went to the Shivapuri Baba Samadhi Mandir in Dhrubasthali, a citadel near the Pashupatinath temple where Baba had spent his last days. To my surprise, I found it was exactly as Osho had described, and it seemed as if he had already been here. I experienced deep meditation at the samadhi, and felt the same bliss that I experienced when I was with Osho.
My visits to the samadhi became regular, and due to some good fortunes from my past lives, I was able to have deep friendship with two of Baba’s close devotees — Professor Sri Renu Lal Singh and Sri Madhav Baje. I got to hear about Baba and his teachings regularly through them for years. I would like to narrate some of the stories they shared with me over the years.
BEYOND TIME AND SPACE
Once while living in the Shivapuri forest, Baba’s rations ran out. Baba lit a fire and sat next to it to meditate, and told Madhav Baje to get supplies, before he closed his eyes and immersed himself in meditation. Madhav Baje went to the nearest market in Narayanthan, but couldn’t go back to Baba’s hut because he caught a severe bout of dysentery and was bedridden for a week. When he went back with the rations after a week, he found Baba’s hut extremely quiet. He felt that Baba must have gone somewhere to find food, but when he went in he saw that Baba was seated in the exact position as when he had left him. When Baba heard Baje come in, he said, “Haven’t you left for the market yet?” Baba had been in the trance state of samadhi for a whole week and had lost all sense of time and space.
THE FIRST MISTAKE
One night there was a big snowfall on the Shivapuri hill. Suddenly a yogi appeared at Baba’s hut and asked if he could spend the night there. The yogis have a tradition of feeding and giving shelter if another yogi arrives in their hut or cave. Baba told Madhav Baje to prepare dinner for him but since there was nothing in the hut, Madhav Baje was a bit embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. When Baba realized Baje’s predicament, he told him, “Even if there is a grain of rice or a lentil left, bring it to me.” Baje found a few grains of rice and lentils still left in the basket. Baba told him to put it in the cooking pot and place it on the fire. But since snow had soaked the firewood, he wasn’t able to light a fire. Seeing this, Baba sat next to the fire, closed his eyes and blew on the wet firewood. The wet firewood started to burn as if it was dry. To Madhav Baje’s surprise, after a while he saw that a full pot of jaulo, a mixture of lentil and rice, was boiling. Baje fed their guest till he was fully satisfied. Madhav Baje was amazed and happy to experience his Guru perform a miracle, but Shivapuri Baba looked a little sad. When the two of them were alone, Baba said to Baje, “Today, although it was out of compassion, I still broke a rule of nature. It was the first mistake of my life.”
Although Shivapuri Baba had a lot of psychic powers, he refrained from using them, but sometimes compassion can overpower the determination of even the greatest among us.
THE SECOND MISTAKE
Baba, at over one hundred and fifteen years old, had already moved to the Dhruvasthali forest behind the Pashupatinath temple. His main source of food was milk that came from a cow which somebody had donated to him. The specialty of the cow was that she would give a quarter of a litre of milk whenever she was milked. The current international airport of Kathmandu used to be a common grazing ground for cattle in those days. The cow herders started talking about this special cow that gave milk any time she was milked. In those days, the aristocratic Rana family held power over the Nepali government. A cow herder of a powerful Rana family member found out about this special cow and told him about it. “That cow should belong to your palace; the yogi can make do with any cow,” he told him.
The aristocrat told the herder to acquire the cow, and give three good quality cows in return. A few soldiers went to Shivapuri Baba and announced the aristocrat’s orders, but Baba refused it outright. The soldiers returned and told the aristocrat, “That yogi was extremely stubborn; he wouldn’t agree to exchange his cow. How dare he live under your rule and disobey you? It is a great insult to us.”
The aristocrat also became angry and said, “Tie the three cows in his cowshed, and get that cow here even if it is by force.”
Following his order, the soldiers went back and forcefully took Baba’s cow. Shivapuri Baba untied the three cows that they had left with him, and returned them back to the aristocrat. However a spark of anger came into Baba’s mind towards the aristocrat. Just because he had the power, he had taken away the only source of food of a yogi who relied totally on existence. The same night, the aristocrat started vomiting blood, and the next morning he was dead. It is not that Baba hurt him or that his anger killed him, but when you disrespect a yogi who has become one with existence and is fully reliant on it, you disrespect the divine itself. The aristocrat had to bear the fruits of his own arrogance. When Baba heard this, he said that his anger of the other night was the second mistake of his life.
THE LAST TEST
Madhav Baje served Shivapuri Baba with utmost devotion throughout his life. A few days before Baba left his body, he said to Baje, “When I leave my body, you will be alone. You don’t really have any property of your own. Because you were always taking care of me, you didn’t get the time to study as well. You will need something to sustain your life. So I feel I need to make an arrangement for you. Why don’t you bring that iron chair close to me. I will touch it and turn it into gold. That way you can live your life comfortably.”
Hearing this Baje started to cry and fell at Baba’s feet and said, “If my lord is not here with me, what will I do with a golden chair? I don’t need it.” Baba smiled and said, “Good, this was your last test, and you have passed it. I will put you in the care of God himself. He will take care of all your needs and will make sure you have no problems.”
A Guru tests his disciples till the last moments of his life. A disciple should have trust, patience and contentment just like Madhav Baje.
A few days before Baba had left his body, Renulalji had asked
him, “Who will guide us when you leave your body?”
Baba answered, “Another enlightened master can also come and help you. And if you pray with total trust, I will come and guide you in your dreams.”
It has been more than forty years since Baba left his body, but I have seen that even today trusting seekers receive personal guidance by Baba regularly.
DEPARTURE OF THE GREAT EMPEROR
Shivapuri Baba used to drink a glass of milk every night before going to bed, and he would leave one third of the milk in the glass as prasad for Mahdav Baje. The night before Baba left his body, Baje brought him the glass of milk as usual. Baba drank his share and handed over the glass to Baje. Seeing that Baba looked extremely week, Baje told him to drink all the milk. Baba smiled and said, “Shall I drink it all?” Baje answered, “Yes drink it all.” That night Baba drank the full glass of milk. At midnight, Baba called Baje and told him to put a spoonful of water in his mouth. Baba swallowed the water and slept using his arm as a pillow as usual, and said to Baje, “Son, live Right Life. Now I am gone.” Baba used to wake at three every morning, but since he was not out of bed even by six, Madhav Baje checked on him then, to find that the great emperor of a saint had already left his body, and was free from the circle of birth and death for ever.
Shivapuri Baba was born laughing, and he left his body in peace. But for those who have trust in him, even today his presence remains available and will remain until eternity.
Osho remembered Shivapuri Baba with great respect. When he talked about the books he loved, he talked about The Long Pilgrimage, a book written by J. G. Bennett about Shivapuri Baba. In Osho’s words Shivapuri Baba is a rare flowering, and to find a person like him is either out of great luck or the result of a tremendous search. Bennett was lucky. It was he who introduced Shivapuri Baba to the West. He also made George Gurdjieff well known to the world.
The essence of Baba’s teaching is what he calls “Right Life.” It has two parts — Discrimination and Devotion. He says that a seeker practicing ‘Right Life’ needs to have physical, moral and spiritual discipline. To understand his teachings further, I request that you read The Long Pilgrimage by John G. Bennett, Right Life by Professor Renu Lal Singh, and Right Living by Dr. Yogendra Bhakta Shrestha.
FAMOUS SAYINGS OF SHIVAPURI BABA
- One cannot turn towards God with sincerity unless he completely fails in life.
- The best place to live is the forest, next to that is a palace. All other places are hell.
- Orthodox people don’t like me because I live like a modern man and modern people don’t like me because I talk like an orthodox man.
- Nobody accepts me because if they could understand me they would understand God himself.
- As long as you are after material objects, there is no end to your misery. When this stops, you will become happy on your own.
- The Hindu trinity of Brahma, Bishnu and Maheshwor are also of no use. Before I used to run after them, now they run after me.
- Art should be idealistic, thinking should be realistic and life should be artistic.
- Until we realize God, everything we do will go against us.
- Relatively speaking everybody is right, absolutely speaking everyone is wrong.