Gajanana Maharaj: A Remarkable Saint Indeed
At the beginning of the twentieth century, a young crippled boy in North India met a spiritual teacher in the Nath tradition of the great teachers Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath, who imparted to him the precious knowledge of yoga meditation. The boy began to apply himself to this meditation practice and became a very unusual saint indeed.
Gajanan Murlidhar Gupte, later known as Gajanana Maharaj, led an unassuming life, to all appearances a normal unmarried man of contemporary society. Crediting his personal transformation to the practice of the Soham mantra, he freely shared this practice with a small number of disciples, whom he simply called his friends. Strictly avoiding the trap of gurudom, he insisted that his friends be self-reliant and not be dependent on him for their spiritual progress. Yet he was uniquely able to assist them in their inner development.
Gajanana Maharaj taught the ajapa-japa of the Soham mantra with the breath. In Light of Soham his teachings for success in Soham sadhana and spiritual life in general have been collected from the writings of himself and his disciples.
The uniqueness of Gajanana Maharaj
Abbot George Burke writes the following in his Forward to Light of Soham: The Life and Teachings of Sri Gajanana Maharaj of Nashik:
Over half a century ago I was blessed and fortunate to discover Sanatana Dharma and Yoga. Two years later I discovered India as my spiritual home. I eagerly took in everything without discrimination and in the ensuing years began sifting through all I had embraced with increasing scrutiny and discrimination.
The capstone of this process was my completely accidental discovery of the contents of this book. Reading the life and teachings of Sri Gajanana Maharaj (Gajanana Murlidhar Gupte–not the famous sadhu of Maharashtra, also called Gajanana Maharaj) was a veritable revelation to me of what a true yogi and ideal master teacher should be, shorn of so much superstition, nonsense and charlatanry regarding gurus and disciples that prevail today in India and abroad–and at that time, in my own mind. There, too, I discovered the authentic Nath Yogi tradition of Soham Yoga. (See the book Soham Yoga: The Yoga of the Self for a complete explanation and exposition of Soham Yoga meditation practice.)
For over fifty years I had been reading books from India, many of which I had collected myself during my various pilgrimages to India. And during those pilgrimages I had met or seen and heard many renowned yogis and gurus–and some unknown great ones in obscure and unexpected places. Every one of them left a sacred impression in my mind and heart. Yet in reading about Sri Gajanana Maharaj I encountered a holy personality that eclipsed all others for me. I still revered the others, but in Maharaj I found the following unique features that awed me and altered my perspective on what yoga, yogis and gurus should be.
1. He did not call or consider himself a guru, but called those he spiritually taught and advised his “friends.” To one of those friends he said, “Paithankar, I can only say that as I do not consider myself as anybody’s guru, I do not look upon anyone as my disciple. Some of my young and old friends, owing to their merit acquired in previous lives and owing to the practice of meditation, have reached the state of samadhi. But I do not consider any of them as my disciples. I simply give the mantra of Soham to my friends and ask them to practice meditation.”
2. He embodied the Nath Yogi principle that the guru does not seek the disciple, but the disciple seeks the guru. Shunning all publicity and prohibiting his friends from even speaking of his existence, he ensured that he would meet those whose karma, samskaras and intense aspiration and desire for Self-realization qualified them to meet him and receive benefit from him.
3. His open, honest and pointed speaking to those met him, never flattering or enticing or manipulating them in any manner, was proof of his being worthy of their trust. Equally admirable was his complete indifference to others’ opinion of him.
Since it could not help but happen that some people would come to meet him unbidden, he used his plain-speaking to rid himself of any return visitation. For the same purpose he chain-smoked and openly drank wine to disgust and repel the unwelcome ones, though his friends easily noted that there was never the smell of burning tobacco when he smoked and that when he offered the wine to someone to drink they discovered that it turned into fresh milk in their mouths!
He dressed in ordinary but stylish clothing with no marks of a sadhu or yogi at all. For most of his life he lived in the homes of various friends, and toward the end lived in a room at the back of a shabby house in an obscure area of Nashik. In that room there were photographs of saints, but no trappings of religion, and no kind of religious functions took place there. He did not speak on spiritual topics at all unless a visitor initiated talk on such subjects. And as a rule no more than two or three people could be found with him at a time.
4. He prohibited anyone of his friends from moving to be near him. Further, after a friend had gained experience and made some progress in Soham sadhana, he would sometimes tell them that they did not need to visit him any more. As one friend wrote in a publication, “There is not even the idea of any dependence on him. Rather he makes us independent and free.” This was in total contrast with the manipulative, emotional idea of a guru being eternally destined for the disciple and “offering shelter for the ages” to those who “took refuge” in him rather than in their own eternal Self.
5. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Sri Gajanana Maharaj was his having a newly-instructed friend sit before him and (often with his hand on the friend’s head) taking him through astounding experiences. Such a friend would see visions of deities and far away places (even other planets) and experience all kinds of inner experiences such as divine sounds and various manifestations of the kundalini. Many would see all the chakras in turn, and he would ask some of them to read out for him the letters on the petals of the chakras. When they did so, it corresponded exactly with the descriptions and pictures found in authoritative texts on yoga. These experiences at the hand of Maharaj might happen just once or many times over some days or even weeks–according to Maharaj’s direction.
All these experiences were the things considered by most yogis and gurus to be evidence of either enlightenment or the nearing approach of enlightenment–and therefore liberation (moksha). But then they would stop, and Maharaj would tell them that all such experiences were of little or no value and that from thenceforth, leaving them behind, they would be able to make real progress in sadhana, that now was the real beginning for them. This implied that all such experiences are really obstacles in the path of the yogi and may even cause him to fall into delusion and self-deception, thinking he has attained much when he has attained nothing, and worse than nothing.
This ability to give such experiences at will and thus to protect his friends from future misperceptions is truly awesome and only possible through association with a siddha of siddhas.
Mr. Ambadas Gopal Paithankar said to the matchless sadguru, “Maharaj, I see in you what I have never seen before, and I hear things explained by you in a manner never heard by me before,” and the simple reply of Maharaj, “What you say is true.”
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