Yogavatar Lahiri Mahasaya – 195th Birth Anniversary Special

Fondly revered as ‘Yogavatar’, the illustrious saint Sri Sri Lahiri Mahasaya bequeathed to the world a lasting legacy of Kriya Yoga, a divinely ordained technique of liberation. In remembrance of his avirbhav day on September 30, let us revisit his exemplary life as an ideal householder yogi, a testimony to the Indian spiritual tradition of non-materialism and God-centeredness.

The great master was born as Shyama Charan Lahiri (1828—1895) in a pious family in Ghurni, Bengal. He lived a modest unassuming life as an accountant in the holy city of Benares and became a father to two. In 1861, at age thirty-three, he first met the deathless Mahavatar Babaji in the Ranikhet mountains in the Himalayas; the encounter was actually a rekindling of the everlasting bond between guru and disciple. Babaji initiated Shyama Charan into the sacred practice of Kriya, an ancient yogic technique of liberation that Krishna gave millennia ago to Arjuna, and that was later known to Patanjali and Christ. Babaji then sent him forth with a mission to bestow Kriya on all sincere seekers.

Soon thereafter, the celestial river of Kriya Yoga began to flow from a remote corner of Benares to distant parts of India. Lahiri Mahasaya’s message of Kriya reached human minds far and wide, crossing the boundaries of sectarian doctrines, caste, and creed given its all-inclusive nature. Kriya Yoga is a pranayama that employs breath, mind, and life force—circulating life energy upward and downward in the spine, awakening the cerebrospinal centers and awareness of the indwelling presence of God, thus accelerating spiritual evolution.

The great guru condensed the ancient complexities of yoga into practical spiritual realities within the grasp of householders and monastics alike. His sacred teachings transformed the lives of countless devotees; some close disciples were elevated to Christ-like stature. “Divine union,” he proclaimed, “is possible through self-effort, and is not dependent on theological beliefs or on the arbitrary will of a Cosmic Dictator.”

After his retirement in 1886, Lahiri Mahasaya seldom left his abode. Devotees would find the sublime guru oftentimes seated in the lotus posture, exhibiting the superhuman features of breathlessness, sleeplessness, cessation of pulse and heartbeat and emanating a profound sense of bliss and calm.

Amongst his disciples were royalty, scholars, and eminent saints including Swami Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda. The latter’s ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ published in 1946 contained an account of Lahiri Mahasaya’s life as prophesied by the Yogavatar himself. In 1917, Yoganandaji founded the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India in Ranchi with the view to disseminate the Kriya Yoga teachings. Currently, it has 200-plus Dhyan Kendra’s and Mandalis, four ashrams, and several retreat centers across India.

Lahiri Mahasaya attained mahasamadhi in Banaras on September 26, 1895; enlightened beings can choose to leave the body at will and transcend to a higher level of consciousness. To quote him, “Cease being a prisoner of the body; using the secret key of Kriya, learn to escape into Spirit.” It was Lahiri Mahasaya’s revival of Kriya Yoga that paved the way for Kriya to encircle the globe and inspire seekers to discover the divinity within their own selves and to regain the lost paradise of soul consciousness.

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