Light of Soham: The Life and Teachings of Sri Gajanana Maharaj of Nashik
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.
“It took me a very long time to finish this book because I found it kept inspiring me to put it down and start meditating. Every “spiritual” book should do this. A wise man once told me that the only purpose of a spiritual book is to inspire you to meditate and to remind you of the necessity of inner experience when it comes to the divine. If that is true, this book is first-class.”
–Dylan Grant of Bookreads.com
Excerpts from Light of Soham
Gajanana Maharaj meets his guru
When Gajanana was about ten or eleven years old, [Gajanana’s aunt Balubai presented the him to the saint Sri Narayana Saraswati with these words:] “My sister who was this boy’s mother, was a pure and noble woman. Just before her death she entrusted this child to me and asked me to place him on the holy feet of some saint, saying that only by the grace of a saint would his life be blessed and happy. The present occasion has been brought about only by her good wishes.” [Sri Narayana Saraswati] was pleased at these words of the aunt. He turned towards her and said, “Mother, both of you sisters had practiced yoga in your former births and the present occasion has been brought about by the great merit acquired in those births. This Gajanana was a yogi in his former birth. After some years he will become known as a saint and will be a guiding light to aspirants on the spiritual path. From his eyes I can see that he is a yogi of the Nath Pantha and practiced Dhyana Yoga in his previous life. Do not be anxious about him at all.”
When all others had left for the arati and Gajanana was sitting on his bed, half awake and half asleep with his eyes open, he had the following vision.
There was dense darkness everywhere and Gajanana found himself walking on foot in the darkness. Occasionally he saw a star shining and again there would be darkness. Rain began to pour down, sounds of thunder were continuously heard and there were intermittent flashes of lightning. The way was full of serpents, some black, some white, some with marks like cowrie shells. Some were of the thickness of a man’s wrist while others were as thick as a man’s thigh. The serpents entwined themselves round Gajanana’s feet and waist. The largest among them encircled Gajanana’s neck and got upon his head. Gajanana was observing this and still walking on. While walking his body became that of a stout and strong man and he was going ahead pushing all the serpents aside. He was feeling a mixed sensation of fear and joy. He could not get any idea as to what distance he had travelled. Then he began to feel lightness in his body. The serpents, however, were still there. But the darkness disappeared and there was a clear light spreading on all sides. In the light Gajanana saw in front of him a beautiful samadhi adorned with various kinds of flowers giving out fragrant smells. There was a small ghee lamp lighted and camphor was burning on one side. A beautiful damsel was standing near the samadhi. She had a gold waist-band, from which a shining sword was hanging. As Gajanana was about to bow down to her, she became invisible.
Gajanana was surprised as well as delighted. He felt a curiosity to know what saint’s samadhi it was, and felt a keen desire to get the darshan of that saint. Inwardly he prayed, “Oh please give me your darshan. I am an orphan, a pauper and a beggar.”
Next moment the samadhi broke in twain and a grand personage of dazzling appearance came out. There was a great sound of SOHAM. Gajanana felt as if that very sound was coming out of his own body. At the sight of that grand personage–having a long beard, wearing a gerua robe, having garlands of rudraksha beads round his neck and with a crown of matted hair on his head–Gajanana’s eyes were dazzled and he felt that the sound of Soham was issuing out of his own mouth just as it was coming out of the mouth of that personage. Then the form of that personage assumed a mild appearance, there was a sound of “Machhinder Adesha” [Matsyendranath’s Instruction], and the whole scene vanished.
Gajanana Maharaj instructs Mr. Mathure
Observing his keen desire, Maharaj told him the mantra Soham. Maharaj then told him that if he would practice meditation daily in the way shown, he would soon get Self-realization and attain the highest goal of human life.
Maharaj then added, “This path of meditation has been shown to you by me through my guru’s grace and inspiration. I have up to this time shown this path to some of my friends and I shall show it to others in the future, only through the grace and by the order of my guru. But the result or success will depend upon everyone’s keenness in practicing and his faith in the Self.
“Consider Self-experience as your real sadguru. Then there will be no necessity of relying upon the words of others, however great they be. Hence I say there is nothing secret in this path. What little I have told you has been told freely and with frankness. You should not pay any attention to miracles because they are absolutely useless.
“Every step in this path of yoga should be minutely scrutinized by the inner sight and tested by experience and reasoning. Where you cannot understand, shastras may be referred to. I would never tell you to place your blind faith in anyone, as I consider that to do so leads to self-ruin. Awaken your discriminating power, test everything in the light of your experience as you test gold in fire and on the touchstone. If you think that there is some sense in what I say, try to realize it in your experience. There is no cause of fear in this path. Truth can be proclaimed in broad daylight to thousands of people. There is no danger to it. You should, however, keep away from pseudo-saints.”
We shall conclude this life-sketch of Sri Gajanana Maharaj with a brief description of his personality.
He was one of the most unostentatious persons–such as one so rarely meets with in these days of reckless egoism and spiritual bankruptcy. Though a cripple and lame in the right leg and rather lean and emaciated in his general constitution, one never found him gloomy or morose in his dealings with the world and the people in it. In fact he had an inexhaustible fund of sparkling humor on his lips.
He was a bachelor in the strict sense of the term and looked upon all women as his mothers or sisters. He had all the appearance of a worldly man about himself. He liked to dress well, was clean and tidy, and his stiff collar, golden pin and white speckled tie were typical of his dress.
His food habits were of the simplest kind. He ate only once or twice in a week–a piece of chapati with some unspiced vegetables. Usually he drank tea five or six times daily.
He smoked cigarettes almost continuously. But it was the experience of his disciples and friends that there was no smell of tobacco, but rather a powerful sweet fragrance of burning incense sticks, particularly at moments when he withdrew his mind into an ecstatic mood.
In his external appearance and mode of life there was very little that would reveal the great yogi hidden within. In fact nearly all those who came in contact got the first impression of his being an ordinary person with worldly habits and earthly ideas. It was only more intimate contact with him that convinced others of the presence of a mighty soul residing in that frail body. Not that there was any dubiousness about him, but it was all due to his instinctive virtue of self-effacement so characteristic of him since his childhood.
It is noteworthy to mention here, that whenever he wrote to others he invariably styled himself as “Your humble sweeper or broom.” Curiously enough that word “broom” is very significant. It unmistakably indicates his mission in this life. It appears he was charged by destiny to serve as a sweeper of the minds of men who happened to come to him.
The human mind often gets clouded and eclipsed by a false and deceitful valuation of material things. It becomes dirty and unclean and cannot therefore see the beacon light within. In the absence of a guiding star it becomes miserable, despondent and diseased. Modern medical science may cure physical disabilities and alleviate bodily sufferings, but it is absolutely helpless in regard to mental disorders, particularly of the type mentioned above. The only science that will render effective and lasting cure to the human mind under such conditions is the science of dhyana yoga.
Sri Gajanana Maharaj by continuous practice in his previous births and by the grace of his guru in this life was an adept in that science. He often said that he had yet to climb many a step, but that whatever he had learned so far, it was his bounden duty to give it to others in the name of his guru and thus help deserving humanity to see and realize the divine light inside each and every individual. His principal mission therefore was to sweep the human mind of its dirt, render it an effective reflector of the inner light and thus establish harmony or equilibrium between spirit and matter. One fact however needs special mention here. Though his mission had a positive background, Sri Gajanana Maharaj being by nature a strictly non-advertising person never allowed himself to be brought into the limelight of this world like so many other contemporary saints. He in fact left it to the seekers of truth first to seek him out of obscurity and then to attain their salvation through his guidance. This is exactly in keeping with his tendency towards self-effacement and absolute humility.
In this quality of humility and absence of egotism Sri Gajanana Maharaj stood on a very high level. His disciple Mr. Vaidya wrote, “Maharaj said to me that in the outward world I should behave towards him as if I was his elder and he (Maharaj) was a youngster.” He further wrote, “Sri Guru Gajanana Maharaj is a great personality and knows worldly as well as spiritual matters thoroughly well. If any one bows to him as a sadguru he bows to him in return. He addresses old men as fathers, young men as brothers and women as mothers or sisters, calling himself their child. His words are full of affection. He does not treat anyone as his disciple and does not accept service from anyone, but loves one and all.”
Sri Gajanana Maharaj stayed at Parel with one of his relatives for sixteen years. He remained there unknown. Nobody had the least idea that he was a yogi or a Maharaj. At Nashik, too, he was known to very few persons, and he never came into celebrity.