Magic and Miracles in the Himalayas: What to Read after Autobiography of a Yogi? (Part 2)
In part 1 of this series, we explored the history and impact of the international bestseller Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda, and asked the question if there were other books that captured the “magic and mystery” of “old India”, particularly around the holy men, sadhus, fakirs, gurus that Yogananda.
Read Part I of the series here, which went over some background on Autobiography of a Yogi, and our first recommended book to capture some of the magic — the fact that the author (Sri M) claims to have met the same immortal avatar Babaji who started Yogananda’s lineage of Kriya Yoga, makes it a good first choice.
Here is a book that is a worthy successor:
1. Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master by Sri M (A Yogi’s Autobiography)
At the top of my list of what to read next is this incredible book, the first of several by Sri M. This book is a well known bestseller in India but not so well known in the West. I hadn’t even heard of it until I started to search specifically for books like this.
The author, Sri M, was born to a Muslim family in South India, but felt the call to go to the Himalayas to find his guru. The tales in this are both believable (it takes place much more recently than Yogananda’s work) and more incredible — leading some to call certain elements of it a work of fiction. But it is a grand adventure into the Himalayas and super readable.
Sri M wouldn’t write his autobiography until many years later when he had returned from the Himalayas, traveling with his guru, who he also called Babaji, spent time with Krishnamurti, and had many other experiences, including getting married and having children and ended up starting his own school and society. He was hesitant he wrote this book, worried htat some of the fantastical elements might “distract readers from the spiritual path”. And that some skeptical readers, not believing these stories of miracles, would dismiss the whole book as. “cock-and-bull story”. Of course, this made me want to read it even more!
In the introduction, Sri M, says that he went ahead and wrote the book for several reasons:
· “First; it occurred to me that it was my business to write what I experienced and leave it to the small minority of skeptical readers to accept or reject it. I felt I was being unfair to the majority of readers, by hesitating to tell my story for fear of the minority. “
· “Second; after the appearance of The Autobiography of a Yogi, very few authentic spiritual biographies have appeared, and the writers of even those, are no longer alive and available for discussion. Also, however authentic Swami Yogananda’s autobiography is, he hadn’t personally spent much time in the Himalayas. Therefore I thought it was important that I relate my experiences, especially those I had in the Himalayas, right now, so that I am available to the reader for a one on one.
· “Third; I wanted to prove the point that great teachers like Babaji and Sri Guru, influence the tide of spiritual evolution silently, behind the scenes, even though very few know of their existence.”
I highly recommend this book which describes Sri M’s apprenticeship in various caves in the Himalayas as an incredible “tale of power” that will inspire spiritual seekers who read about it. One thing I had always been curious about was Yogananda’s insistence on an almost immortally young figure called Babaji. Did he really exist? Since I was born in that part of the world and understand some of the language, I knew that Babaji translated simply meant “revered old man” and couldn’t actually be a name, could it? Had others met this enigmatic figure?
Sri M. makes it clear that he also called his guru Babaji, but he was in fact Babaji Maheshwarnath, who was not the same person. In fact, Babaji Maheshwarnath, was supposedly a disciple of the same figure that Yogananda called “the mahavatar Babaji” whom Sri M, his guru, and their other brother disciples all called “Sri Guru”, since he was their guru’s guru, in what they called the Nath tradition. One of the marks of this tradition was that they would light a dhuni, a fire, at their cave and keep it burning all the time.
He describes vividly meeting Sri Guru in the manuscript. At one point, he describes how Sri Guru appeared to him and his guru, with a lovely scent of flowers, “golden complexioned” with hair down to his shoulders wearing nothing but a loincloth, and the description seems to match Yogananda’s of an eternally young man who lives in the Himalayas guiding a number of souls and teachers.
But this isn’t even the most incredible tale. There are tales of astral traveling to the cave of the ancients in Tibet, snake like beings called nagas, not to mention all kind and manner of telepathy, telekinesis, reincarnation, among others.
The description of caves, many of which have names, includes his time studying with other holy men that his guru sent him to, people of different traditions. These descriptions (and accompanying photos) are among the most believable parts of the tale, as many of these other teachers were historical figures, and the caves presumably could still be tracked down by starting with familiar Indian towns like Rishikesh, Banares, Badrinath, and even Mount Kailish. There are also great lessons about Yoga, meditation, chakras, and the search for enlightenment, and even some admonitions that simply joining an “ashram” isn’t necessarily going to get you there, as the young Sri M is warned by some of the spiritual seekers he encounters along the way.
In many ways, I found Sri M’s book more relatable than I expected. For one thing, I also was born to the Muslim tradition, and yet have had a fondness for Yogis and Hindu and Buddhist teachings about meditation, karma and enlightenment. In addition to the chapters of incredible beings and teachings, I found that Sri M’s guru’s ability to blend into being a Sufi or a Sikh, depending on where he was, to be very eye-opening about the fundamental truths that underlie different religious traditions!
In fact, the young Sri M had to make up a Hindu name to get admittance into many temples and ashrams in both northern and southern India! There is one tale, of a rather arrogant young man on the path to enlightenment who was mentored personally by Babaji (the Sri Guru) who encountered an old Muslim fakir, who had made his way after many difficulties to the cave the young man was meditating in in the Himalayas, because of a vision and asked the young man to become his teacher. The young man, in his arrogance, refused, and the old man subsequently killed himself (you’ll have to read it to understand how it fully relates to the narrative and to Sri M’s personal story of being born into a Muslim family!).
For those interested in being inspired on the spiritual path, I recommend this book and Sri M’s follow up, “The Journey Continues”.
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