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Swami Sri Yukteswar: Guru of Paramahansa Yogananda

Writing life sketches of poets, philosophers, politicians, and saints offers space for learning and honing critical thinking skills.

Swami Sri Yukteswar

Swami Sri Yukteswar

Author of The Holy Science

Sri Yukteswar was born in Serampore, India, May 10, 1855. His name at birth was Priya Nath Karar. He became a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, who was also the guru of the parents of Paramahansa Yogananda. It was through the guru-chela (disciple) relationship with Sri Yukteswarji that the young Bengali lad named Mukunda Lal Ghosh became the world leader of Kriya Yoga, and “father of the yoga in the West," Paramahansa Yogananda.

Sri Yukteswar is the author of The Holy Science, a useful comparison of the Judeo-Christian Bible and Hindu scriptures, as the following excerpt from the back cover of the book explains:

The Holy Science demonstrates, by explanation of parallel passages from the Hindu and Christian scriptures, the essential unity of the great religious teachings of East and West. With incomparable wisdom and discernment, Sri Yukteswar explains the universal evolution of consciousness, energy, and matter — the entire spectrum of experiences that we call “life.”

The following excerpt, from the foreword to The Holy Science, offers direction for navigating the wisdom elucidated in the writings of saints and sages, including Sri Yukteswar’s The Holy Science:

Prophets of all lands and ages have succeeded in their God-quest. Entering a state of true illumination, nirbikalpa samadhi, these saints have realized the Supreme Reality behind all names and forms. Their wisdom and spiritual council have become the scriptures of the world. These, although outwardly differing by reason of the variegated cloaks of words, are all expressions — some open and clear, others hidden or symbolic — of the same basic truths of Spirit.

Because all scripture and spiritual explanation must employ figurative language such metaphor, image, and symbol because of the ineffable subjects they address, spiritual writings require a special, close reading just as ordinary poetry does. One does not read a poem with the same speed and purpose that one reads a piece of prose. A poem and a scripture must be lingered over in order to fathom the depths of the wisdom carried in the text. Both poetry and spiritual writings address experiential issues that are ultimately not amenable to language—but, ironically, must be told nevertheless.

Avatars of Wisdom and Love

Through his one-pointed devotion to Kriya Yoga as taught by Lahiri Mahasaya, Priya Nath Kara became Swami Sri Yukteswar, a jnanavatar or incarnation of wisdom. At age seventeen, Mukunda Lal Ghosh, who would become Paramahansa Yogananda, met his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. Mukunda spent as much time as possible in the ashram of his guru, perfecting himself for God-union also through the practice of Kriya Yoga. The swami attracted many other disciples to his ashram, but only the most devoted could stand the strict discipline that the swami administered.

While Paramahansa Yogananda is a premavatar or incarnation of love and one whose personality guides by love, Sri Yukteswar was more matter-of-fact and a stickler for details. Although the swami also had deep love in his heart, his nature was guided by attention to right action as he disciplined in a more severe way than his disciple Yogananda. The swami once told Yoganandaji that he (Yoganandaji) would be less harsh in his discipline than the swami as he trained his future disciples. But Paramahansa Yogananda made it clear that he would not have traded the discipline administered by his guru for all the less harsh discipline in the world. Paramahansaji realized that his guru knew exactly the kind of discipline he needed to reach his goal of self-realization.

(Note: The addition of -ji to names or terms like “Guru - Guruji” signals respect coupled with endearment, somewhat akin to the Western tradition of adding “-y” to names, such as “Bob - Bobby” or “Love - Lovey,” but with the hint of special respect as well.)

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The Cauliflower Story

Paramahansaji tells a little story in his Autobiography of a Yogi about an incident with six large cauliflowers that he had himself grown from seeds and cultivated to perfection. He presents the cauliflowers to his guru with great pride of accomplishment. Sri Yukteswar tells Mukunda to keep them in his room and that he would need them later for a special dinner. Then the guru along with Mukunda and several other disciples go out for a walk.

As they march along, Sri Yukteswar asks Mukunda if he remembered to lock the back door. Mukunda says he thinks he did, but the guru says no I don't think so and admonishes Mukunda that such laxity must be punished. As they start back to the ashram, the little group halts to observe a man walking in front of the ashram, flailing his arms like a madman. Sri Yukteswar then remarks that this man would be the instrument of Mukunda's punishment. So the guru puts the thought into the crazed man's mind that a cauliflower is easily within his reach. As they watch, sure enough, the man enters the ashram by the backdoor, thus confirming that Mukunda had, indeed, forgotten to lock it.

A moment later, the man emerges with one cauliflower. Mukunda is astonished and starts to run after the man to retrieve his vegetable, but Sri Yukteswar stops him saying, "The poor crazy man has been longing for a cauliflower. I thought it would be a good idea if he got one of yours, so ill-guarded!" It was mostly through little lessons such as "The Cauliflower Robbery" that Mukunda learned his many valuable lessons; this one taught him the efficacy of locking doors!

Sri Yukteswar's Importance to SRF Devotees

For devotees of Self-Realization Fellowship and the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Sri Yukteswar remains a treasure as the guru of Paramahansa Yogananda. The swami entered mahasamadhi (the conscious exit of the soul from the body) on March 9, 1936.

Self-Realization Fellowship devotees celebrate the great Jnanavatar for his importance in training and sending to America the great premavatar Paramahansa Yogananda. The Jnanavatar’s name—along with Christ, Krishna, Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Paramahansa Yogananda—is always invoked in the opening and closing prayers at readings, meditations, and all worship services of Self-Realization Fellowship.

A Wise Quotation by Swami Sri Yukteswar

The following quotation offers profound comfort to all those individuals striving to improve behavior, thoughts, and tendencies, as they navigate the sometimes rough water of the spiritual pathway:

Forget the past. The vanished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until man is anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.

Those words of wisdom appear in Paramahansa Yogananda's classic work, Autobiography of a Yogi, which first introduced to the world, Swami Sri Yukteswar, guru of Paramahansa Yogananda.

The Guru—Guide to Eternal Freedom

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes

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