Swami Sri Yukteswar

Yogacharya David Hickenbottom

There are few cases in the spiritual annals of history when a lineage of fully realized Masters follows one after another. We are extremely fortunate in having such an exalted series of spiritual masters. The Mahavatar Babaji initiated Lahiri Mahasaya, Lahiri Mahasaya then initiated Swami Sri Yukteswar.

Sri Yukteswar was a householder, married with one daughter. Later on, when his wife had left the body and his daughter was married, living with her husband’s family, Sri Yukteswar was practicing and teaching from his family home. Priya Nath Karar, Sri Yukteswar’s pre-sanyas name, was born of the kshatriya caste, found that there were those who wanted to attend his Gita commentaries meetings but would not come to one of his caste. So, Sri Yukteswar took sanyas vows into the ancient swami in order to transcend the caste order for those who wanted to attend his classes.

Every fully realized Master attains union, yoga, with the Divine Essence. However, each Master will manifest to the world a particular aspect of God or of a path to the Infinite. Paramhansa Yogananda, in his spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi, focuses on his role as a seeker and a disciple. It is interesting to note that this great spiritual Master leaves off his narrative when he comes to America and begins it again when his master calls him back to India; then leaves it off again after his Master leaves the body. His time as a recognized spiritual Master in America is relegated to almost a footnote in his narrative.

What does shine through Master’s narrative is his discipleship to his Guru, Swami Sri Yukteswarji. Sri Yukteswar is a fully illumined spiritual master; his wisdom, wry sense of humor, the miraculous events that seem commonplace around him all shine as a blazing star of fulfillment of humankind’s potential.

We have included here some stories, writings and links that come from sources that provide additional information to Master’s writings and talks.

Meetings with Sri Yukteswar
Excerpts from letters by Richard Wright
Inner Culture, May 1936

Dear All:

No doubt, you are quite puzzled, perplexed, and annoyed at my apparently greedy silence regarding Swami Sri Yukteswarji; and in one sense I don’t blame you. But in another sense I believe you would not blame me, for this is the reason. I felt this way: far be it from me to attempt to describe one so great and saintly with my limited understanding and superficial glances. I could write reams and reams perhaps about his appearance and the outward aspect of the man, but would I be doing justice to the Saint within? So I waited and waited, hoping to glean more and more of the Saint, the true Swami Sri Yukteswarji.

On every visit we made to his humble Ashrama out in Serampore, just 15 miles outside of Calcutta, I tried and tried to penetrate the Bengali conversation between the two Swamijis, for English is null and void when they are together, although Swamiji Maharaj (as called by others) can and sometimes does speak English, although every time I’ve been present every precious moment is devoted to an exchange of expressions and not wasted on merely passing the time of day. I’ve felt so privileged and elated at just being present in their company, that to utter a word or question in English would have been sacrilegious. But to a certain extent, much less than desired, I’ve had a chance to taste the saintliness of this Great One, in his jovial smile and twinkling eyes.

One quality I have discerned in his merry, serious conversation, is a decided positiveness in his statements—the mark of a wise man, who knows he knows, because he knows God. And so it is, anything I could write would only be based upon the limited external impressions and perception, and not upon the true basis of the saint—his spiritual glory. So, if I’m forgiven for my inaptitude and inability to do the inner man or saint justice, I shall begin my tale (from my notes) on a certain day back in September, as a matter of fact on the 30th.

On this day we left Calcutta, filled with the highest anticipation and full of the great joy that we had been experiencing in the receptions here and there. Our journey to Serampore, just 15 miles out among the villages outside of Calcutta, led us over very picturesque roads crowded with heedless pedestrians or rag-clad natives and most insolent and inert "hump-shouldered" cows and dogs. One common scene that is always of fascination is the water buffaloes with their huge bulkiness, climaxed by a crown of flesh and bone on their shoulders, "worn so," or created so, by the heavy poles stretching across their necks in the form of a yoke, for centuries and centuries; at least, one would be led to believe that this physiological characteristic had been formed from the constant burden they had to bear over so many centuries, and yet they appear docilely vicious in their huge black, scarcely-haired hides, with long horns swooping and dipping back toward their shoulders, so meek and so fierce, in appearance only, however. It is not uncommon to see herds of them standing majestically in ponds of mud or dirty water out in the villages.

Well, enough of the cows, or at least of the way I described them, so on we went through the conglomerated, congested, and "un-white-winged" villages, and entering Serampore we passed by the queer shops and motley mass of humanity, turned to the right, and proceeded past the adobe, tile-roofed and thatched-roof huts or hovels, past the favorite eating haunt (a shop) of Swamiji during his school days at the college in Serampore, and suddenly turned to the right again down a narrow, walled lane, then a sudden left turn and there before us towered the humble, but inspiring two-story Ashrama of Swami Sri Yukteswarji, with a Spanish-style verandah on the upper floor or balcony, and the most impressive thing about it was its humble solitude. In grave humbleness I strode behind Swamiji into the courtyard or patio within the Ashrama walls, and likewise the inner portion of the upper story was lined on three sides by a verandah. We proceeded up some old stone steps, hearts pounding, up steps no doubt trod by myriad of Truth-drinkers; up through this crumbling, but sacredly humble abode we continued, the tension growing keener and keener, when suddenly, without ostentation or fore-preparation, there before us near the head of the stairs of this quaint verandah, appeared the Great One, Swami Sri Yukteswarji, standing in his noble pose of great wisdom. He has a decidedly sloping forehead, indicative of a lofty vision and sincerity of purpose, a decided purpose, and God-Wisdom.

Then my heart heaved and swelled as I felt myself blessed by the privilege of being in his sublime presence. Tears nearly blurred my eager sight when Swamiji dropped to his knees, and with bowed head offered his Soul’s gratitude and greeting, touching his feet, and then his own head in humble obeisance to his Guru; he arose and was embraced on both sides of the bosom. It was like the joyous greeting of father and prodigal son, but in this case, triumphant son; no words passed, but the most intense feeling was expressed in the silent words of the heart.

How their eyes sparkled and fired with the warmth of renewed Soul-union! A most tender feeling surged through-out this humble patio; even the sun seemed to elude the clouds to add his blaze of glory to the sublime occasion. Then my humbleness waxed high, and on bended knee and dropped head, I added my Soul’s love and thanks for all I’ve thrilled to and hope to thrill to; touching his feet, calloused by Time and Sacrifice, and receiving his blessings by touching my own head after rising, I stood to face two beautiful, deep eyes, sparkling with joy and wisdom, and introspectively smoldering; the brown iris of his eyes glistened in a ring of ethereal blue.

We were then taken into his sitting room, the whole side of which opened to the outer verandah or balcony, first seen from down below, shoes were removed, and as he braced himself against his very simple bed, sitting on a straw mattress on the cement floor, we all circled ourselves about him, (Swamiji near his feet) and with pillows to lean on or ease our positions on the straw mat. With a quick, cursory glance, I noted this rather dilapidated room, suggestive of the owner’s non attachment to material comfort or objects, a room with fading white walls and fading stripes of blue plaster, with an old picture of Lahiri Mahasaya, at one end of the room, garlanded in simple devotion, and an old picture of Swamiji (Yogananda) as he arrived in Boston with the other religious representatives; another old picture of Swami Sri Yukteswarji that appeared in an old issue of East-West Magazine, and through the doors opening out onto the outside verandah I could see plantain (banana) and coconut palm trees towering over the roof of the Ashrama in peaceful protection; I saw a strange occurrence of modernity and antiquity, namely, a huge, cut-glass, electric chandelier, covered with cobwebs through disuse, and a "Singer sewing machine" calendar: all in all, a quiet, trim room breathing peace and calmness supreme, rustic but pleasant, plain but comfortable.

Second-floor dining patio of Sri Yukteswar's Serampore hermitage. Swami Yogananda is seated (in center) at Sri Yukteswar's feet.

Swami Sri Yukteswarji seems overjoyed, though his predominance of wisdom hinders his flow of feeling, at least outwardly, as well as I can discern from the Bengali conversation. He is of a large, athletic stature, hardened by the trials and sacrifices of renunciation, with majestic and divine poise at all times—a sloping forehead as if seeking the heavens, a divine look or countenance, with a large, homely nose, with which he apparently amuses himself by flipping and wiggling it with his fingers in idle moments, like a child; powerful sepia eyes haloed by an ethereal blue hazy ring; clad in simple dress—the common "Dhuti" and a shirt called "Punjabi" (similar to our woollen under-shirts with buttons), both once dyed a strong ochre color, but now only a faded orange shade. He has quite a jovial and rollicking laugh deep in his chest, causing him to shake and quiver throughout his body—very cheerful and sincere. Great wisdom and strength of purpose and determination are very apparent, although I spent every visit in stupid amazement, not knowing the language; his face and stature denote sublime power; he moves with a firm tread and erect posture; hands and fingers also appear powerful. It is interesting to note that he has to merely clap his hands together and ere finishing he is served or attended by some small disciple; incidentally, I am very much attracted by one of his disciples, a thin lad with long black hair to his shoulders and a most penetrating pair of black sparkling eyes, and a heavenly smile through pearly teeth; his eyes twinkle, as the corners of his mouth rise, like the stars and the crescent moon appearing at twilight.

Swami Sri Yukteswarji’s joy seems quite intense at the return of his "product," and he seems to be somewhat inquisitive about "the product’s product." Swamiji presented him with some gifts, as is the custom when the disciple goes to his master; they were received with appreciation and joy, for he seemed quite proud to show them to all visitors. Sri Yukteswarji’s thinning hair is parted in the middle, begins a silver, and changes to streaks of silvery-gold and silvery-gray and silvery-black, ending in ringlets or curls at his shoulders; his beard and moustache also are scant or thinned out, but it enhances his character as deep and light at the same time. Pigeons are sharing our quarters in the Ashrama up in the eaves, under the red tile roof.

Next on the program; We were thrilled by sitting down to a larder as guests of Sri Yukteswarji, good, tasty, simple, and plain, all "vegetable and rice" combinations. Sri Yukteswarji was pleased at my grasping onto India’s customs, as "finger-eating," for example. It all seems like a fairy dream, and any expression of gratitude or emotion on my part would appear coarse in the atmosphere of such divine blessings.
Well, after several hours of Bengali and the exchange of warmth, we bade adieu with a pronam, "saluted" at his feet, or rather, paid obeisance at his feet, and departed with an everlasting memory of a truly divine greeting and meeting and feeding. My only regret was my ignorance of the language, which isolated me from the inner man, the Saint, but I felt, and shall carry that feeling, as my divine blessing.
Letter from
Sri Yukteswar
to Yogananda

Inner Culture, May 1936

11 August 1926

Child of my Heart,

O Yogananda!

Seeing the photos of your school and students, what joy comes in my life I cannot express in words. . . . I am melting in joy to see your Yogoda students of different cities. Beholding your methods in Chant Affirmations, Healing Vibrations, and Divine Healing Prayers, I cannot refrain from thanking you from my heart. Seeing the gate, the winding hilly way upward, and the beautiful scenery spread out beneath the Mt. Washington Educational Center, I yearn to behold it with my own eyes.

"Another early memory is my wish for an ugly dog belonging to a neighbor. I kept my household in turmoil for weeks to get that dog. My ears were deaf to offers of pets with more prepossessing appearance. Moral: Attachment is blinding; it lends an imaginary halo of attractiveness to the object of desire.

The great masters of India mold their lives by the same godly ideals which animated Jesus; these men are his proclaimed kin: "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother."

"If ye continue in my word," Christ pointed out, "then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Freemen all, lords of themselves, the Yogi-Christs of India are part of the immortal fraternity: those who have attained a liberating knowledge of the One Father.

"The Adam and Eve story is incomprehensible to me!" I observed with considerable heat one day in my early struggles with the allegory. "Why did God punish not only the guilty pair, but also the innocent unborn generations?"

Master was more amused by my vehemence than my ignorance. "Genesis is deeply symbolic, and cannot be grasped by a literal interpretation," he explained. "Its 'tree of life' is the human body. The spinal cord is like an upturned tree, with man's hair as its roots, and afferent and efferent nerves as branches. The tree of the nervous system bears many enjoyable fruits, or sensations of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. In these, man may rightfully indulge; but he was forbidden the experience of sex, the 'apple' at the center of the bodily garden.

"The 'serpent' represents the coiled-up spinal energy which stimulates the sex nerves. 'Adam' is reason, and 'Eve' is feeling. When the emotion or Eve-consciousness in any human being is overpowered by the sex impulse, his reason or Adam also succumbs.
"God created the human species by materializing the bodies of man and woman through the force of His will; He endowed the new species with the power to create children in a similar 'immaculate' or divine manner. Because His manifestation in the individualized soul had hitherto been limited to animals, instinct-bound and lacking the potentialities of full reason, God made the first human bodies, symbolically called Adam and Eve. To these, for advantageous upward evolution, He transferred the souls or divine essence of two animals. In Adam or man, reason predominated; in Eve or woman, feeling was ascendant. Thus was expressed the duality or polarity which underlies the phenomenal worlds. Reason and feeling remain in a heaven of cooperative joy so long as the human mind is not tricked by the serpentine energy of animal propensities.

"The human body was therefore not solely a result of evolution from beasts, but was produced by an act of special creation by God. The animal forms were too crude to express full divinity; the human being was uniquely given a tremendous mental capacity—the 'thousand-petaled lotus' of the brain—as well as acutely awakened occult centers in the spine.

"God, or the Divine Consciousness present within the first created pair, counseled them to enjoy all human sensibilities, but not to put their concentration on touch sensations. These were banned in order to avoid the development of the sex organs, which would enmesh humanity in the inferior animal method of propagation. The warning not to revive subconsciously-present bestial memories was not heeded. Resuming the way of brute procreation, Adam and Eve fell from the state of heavenly joy natural to the original perfect man.

"Knowledge of 'good and evil' refers to the cosmic dualistic compulsion. Falling under the sway of maya through misuse of his feeling and reason, or Eve—and Adam—consciousness, man relinquishes his right to enter the heavenly garden of divine self-sufficiency. The personal responsibility of every human being is to restore his 'parents' or dual nature to a unified harmony or Eden."

As Sri Yukteswar ended his discourse, I glanced with new respect at the pages of Genesis.

"Dear Master,' I said, "for the first time I feel a proper filial obligation toward Adam and Eve!"