I once met a handsome swami who was highly educated in the traditions of Vedanta and Yoga. He knew the scriptures and was a brilliant sadhaka (spiritual practitioner). He was later nominated to be Shankaracharya of Jyotirmayapitham, which is in the Himalayas on the way to Badrinath. His name was Brahmananda Sarasvati.

He lived on a hillock in a small natural cave near a mountain pool and used to live only on germinated gram seeds mixed with a little bit of salt. I was led by the villagers to that place, but was disappointed not to find him there. The next day I went again and found a few footprints on the edge of the pool made by his wooden sandals. I tried but I could not track the footprints. Finally on the fifth day, early in the morning before sunrise, I went back to the pool and found him taking a bath. I greeted him saying, “Namo Narayan,” which is a commonly used salutation among swamis, meaning, “I bow to the divinity in you.” He was observing silence, so he motioned for me to follow him to his small cave, and I did so gladly. This was the eighth day of his silence, and after staying the night with him, he broke his silence and I gently spoke to him about the purpose of my visit. I wanted to know how he was living and the ways and methods of his spiritual practices.

Sri Vidya: The Highest of Paths

He talked to me about Sri Vidya, the highest of paths. It is a path that joins raja yoga (the “royal path” of yoga taught by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra), kundalini yoga (spiritual practice that involves controlling the energies of the subtle body), bhakti yoga (love for God), and Advaita Vedanta (intellectual inquiry leading to intuitive realization). There are two books recommended by the teachers of this path: The Wave of Bliss and The Wave of Beauty; the compilation of the two books is called Saundaryalahari in Sanskrit. There is another part of this literature called Prayoga Shastra, which is in manuscript form and found only in the Mysore and Baroda libraries. No scholar can understand these spiritual yoga poems without the help of a competent teacher who himself practices these teachings.

Later on, after I left him, I found that the spiritual practices associated with Sri Vidya and Madhu Vidya are known to a very few—only 10 to 12 people in all of India. I became interested in knowing this science, and whatever little I know today is because of it. In this science, the body is seen as a temple and the inner dweller, atman, as God. A human being is like a miniature universe, and by understanding this we can understand the whole of the universe and ultimately realize the absolute one. Finally, after I had studied many scriptures and learned various paths, my master helped me in choosing to practice the way of Sri Vidya.

In Sri Vidya tantra, the body is seen as a temple and the inner dweller, atman, as God.

In this path, the kundalini fire is seen as the Mother Divine, and through yoga practices it is awakened from its primal state and raised to the highest of the chakras. The chakras are wheels of life that form our spiritual body and connect the entire flow of consciousness. The science of chakra is very terse, but if one knows this science well it serves him on all levels. The chakras operate on the physical, physiological, energetic, mental, and spiritual levels. These energy centers correspond in the physical body to points along the spinal cord. The lowest is located at the coccyx, the second in the sacral area, the third at the navel, the fourth at the heart, the fifth at the base of the throat, the sixth at the point between the eyebrows, and the seventh at the crown of the head. The lowest chakras are the grooves toward which the lower mind rushes.

The heart (anahata) chakra separates the upper hemisphere from the lower hemisphere and is accepted as the center of divine tranquility. Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism also recognize this center. Known as the anahata chakra in Hinduism and Buddhism, it is called the Star of David in Judaism and the Sacred Heart in Christianity. The higher chakras are the centers of upward-traveling energy. There are many levels of consciousness from the heart chakra to the thousand-petaled lotus inside the crown of the head. When we sit erectly for meditation, these centers are aligned. Energy can be focused on any one of the chakras. Developing the capacity to direct the flow of energy to the higher chakras is one aspect of spiritual development. Knowledge of pranic vehicles—subtle bodies composed of the vital force—is important if we want to experience all the chakras systematically.

Learning from a Great Sage

Swami Brahmananda had a Sri Yantra made out of rubies, and as he showed it to me, he explained the way he worshipped it. He was one of the rare siddhas (accomplished ones) who had the knowledge of Sri Vidya. His authoritative knowledge of the Upanishads, and especially of Shankara’s commentaries, was equally superb. A very interesting thing about his way of teaching was his combination of the bhakti and advaita systems. During my brief stay with him, he also talked about Madhusudana’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.

It is interesting to note how the great sages direct all their spiritual, mental, and physical resources toward their ultimate goal. Among all the swamis of India, I met only a few who radiated such brilliance and yet lived in the public, remaining unaffected by worldly temptations and distractions. I stayed with Brahmananda Sarasvati for only a week and then left for Uttarkashi.

Source: Fearless Living: Yoga and Faith (Swami Rama)
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Stories of the Sages