An article on Laghu Guru Upanishad in Journal of Dharma Studies
by Ramneet Gill
During the Vedic period in ancient India, gurus imparted divine knowledge about higher consciousness and nature of the supreme God. The “Upanishads” thus originated as a collection of such knowledge. Etymologically, the word Upanishad means sitting near an enlightened teacher and listening to the divine knowledge. Upanishadic knowledge is the highest form of any knowledge and it alone leads to self-realization. In the ancient times, due to the lack of printing facilities, the Upanishadic knowledge was passed down by word of mouth from a sage to the disciples. After many generations, it was penned down in Sanskrit. This knowledge is abstract and concise, making it difficult to imbibe by most people. In due course of time, these have been translated subjectively by various scholars; thus, the original gist or instruction may be missing or altered according to the spiritual maturity of that author. Various speculations and philosophies have thus been developed.
The book Laghu Guru Upanishad aims to revive the quintessence of Upanishadic knowledge suited to this age. It is written in an easy to understand English language. “Laghu” literally means short version of the original book Guru Upanishad. Laghu Guru Upanishad has been recorded in Bhava Samadhi, by the author Gurprasad. Bhava samadhi is the most intimate form of guru-disciple relationship. It is a state of highly purified and introverted mind, concentrated on itself or on the pure form of the object of one’s worship. It is achieved through self-surrender and done out of love and devotion. Teachings revealed in bhava samadhi fall in Upanishadic category of instructions. Many of the world’s greatest scriptures have been written in bhava samadhi. Laghu Guru Upanishad has been written in question and answer format.
Chapter one “Introduction” unfolds the central theme of the teachings, i.e., control of mind. It also contains answers to the basic questions like who is a competent guru, why the need for this work when a large number of scriptures already exist. It does not hurt the sentiments of any religion or scripture and pays respect to all saints and scriptures from all countries in equal measure.
Chapter two “Instruction in General” talks about various positive (love, devotion, discrimination, compassion, etc.) and negative (attachment, desire, doubt, fear, pride, greed, etc.) attributes that each individual mind has and how an individual can cultivate the positive ones to aid in control of mind. The overall state of an individual mind is determined by the level and type of attributes that it has. It specifies that aim of any spiritual practice is to control the mind and not to find God, which in essence is found on its own when the mind is destroyed.
Chapter three “Reality” explains the metaphysical nature of the Reality, which is also called by many names like Brahman, God, and Truth. It describes the concept of how absolute reality (nirgun or formless) by the use of invisible power called maya (principle of illusion or ignorance) appears as phenomenal world (sagun or with form). It conceptualizes the theory of karma (action done by the individual in the past or present), atman (the higher self, which is covered by the five sheaths), and moksha (liberation by control of mind and ultimately destruction of the ‘I’ sense).
Chapter four "Control of Mind" elucidates how to achieve the control of mind through various paths and disciplines. Gist of various paths like the path of service, the path of worship, the path of yoga, the path of love and devotion, the path of knowledge, and the path of silence is given. How to carry practice on each path as well as pitfalls are explained. Throughout the chapter, it is emphasized that mind is a disease as well as its cure, highlighting the role of discriminative intelligence and will power. The stages in the control of mind are self-discipline, self-purification, self-abidance, self-subsidence (manolaya), and destruction (manonash). Importance on any of the above spiritual paths is described as persistence through practice of the teachings and not merely reading the book.
Chapter five “The Satguru” paints a biographical sketch of Sri Sivabala Yogi, who at a tender age of 14 years had attained self-realization following initiation by Sri Shankar Bhagwan or God himself. He sat in tapas which is the highest form of any spiritual discipline, carried out only by divine incarnations after self-realization. He was in continuous samadhi (transcendental and super-sensuous state) for 23 hours a day for the first 8 years and then 12 hours a day for next 4 years. This chapter elucidates the intolerable levels of hardship that Sri Sivabala Yogi faced during those 12 years and thereafter. He thus gained tapas power, which he imparts upon initiation to his devotees to help control their minds.
Rather than outward act of doership, Laghu Guru Upanishad calls for an inward search for the supreme Brahman and mystical union with Him, in a rational way. It contains divine knowledge of the highest quality, which is of special value for those seekers who want to pursue a spiritual quest seriously. The teachings put forth must be put into action to gain spiritually. Only then one can appreciate the positive effect on one’s own mind.
The severe austerity in human form that Sri Sivabala Yogi took is awe-inspiring and commendable. No ordinary human being can undergo such a severe penance in a human form, indicating that Sri Sivabala Yogi is a divine incarnation.
Laghu Guru Upanishad undoubtedly sets a platform which crosses all social, cultural, and religious barriers and demystifies spirituality in this age. It can be used as a guide to complement one’s existing spiritual quest and encourages raw beginners to take up spirituality.
An Article on Sri Sivabala Yogi in the April-June 2017 issue of The Mountain Path
Sri Sivabala Yogi was a great saint of modern India. Though quite well known in India and the West, readers of ‘The Mountain Path’ are unlikely to have heard much about him and his teachings. The readership of a few books* published on his life and teachings has not extended beyond his educated devotees. Sages of Sri Sivabala Yogi’s stature ought to be known to a much wider audience across the world; not that they seek fame or money (unlike the god men and god women who thrive on them these days) but to acquaint aspiring souls with the divine word revealed by them. It is only divine knowledge that, if put into practise sincerely and diligently, leads to removal of worries and stresses caused by competitive living which is a marked feature of modern life. The more discriminative aspirants amongst them seek a much higher goal, i.e., complete freedom from ignorance to attain Self-Realisation. Sri Sivabala Yogi’s life story, specifically the severe tapas that he undertook, has many lessons for serious aspirants (sadhakas). Similarly, his teachings practiced faithfully offer hope to anyone to achieve one’s desired end; that could be a lower aim of living a peaceful and a happy life sans worries or strive for the highest state of knowing the Reality.
Sathyaraju, the childhood name of Sri Sivabala Yogi (an appellation given by his guru, Shankar Bhagwan) was born on 24 January 1935 at Adivarpupetta, a small village in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. It is about 25 km from Kakinada, the coastal town on the Bay of Bengal. The area is well known for its rice cultivation and the village is set amidst paddy fields with high bunds to retain water for crops. The climate is hot and sultry for most of the year except for a short winter. Sathyaraju was the youngest of four children, an older brother and two sisters. The family was poor and belonged to the weaver caste, as did most of the other villagers. His father, Sri Bheemanna, died in 1937 which forced his mother, Srimati Parvathamma, to begin living with her father, Sri Goli Sathyam, in the same village. Sathyaraju had to give up studies after class two because of the impoverished state of his family. He began to work at the looms weaving cloth at the young age of eight. Despite the family‘s tribulations, he had a fairly happy childhood; he was strong for his age and also good at village games. He had a propensity to pick a fight quickly that is so common amongst young boys. There was thus nothing remarkable about Sathyaraju that would mark him out to be a great yogi of the future. Consider the following. There was hardly anyone in his family or the village who was deeply religious or had more than a rudimentary scriptural knowledge. There was not even a temple in the village. Sathyaraju was like any other ordinary boy in the village without any formal education and had no spiritual leanings. But, all this was to change due to a divinely inspired event that took place suddenly and unexpectedly on 7 August 1949.
It was a Sunday and young boys were indulging in playing pranks and games. Sathyaraju had been playing a game of marbles since the morning and at about 2 o’clock decided, along with a few friends, to go for a swim in the small Godavari Canal that runs on the outskirts of the village. Enroute, laughing and joking, they strayed across to a palmyra groove. As they got close to it, three fruit fell from a tree and some boys rushed to collect them. They were equally distributed amongst the twelve of them and the boys then returned to the canal. All of sudden, Sathyaraju’s body began to shake and he saw brilliant light emerging from his share of the fruit and also heard the blissful sound of Omkara emanating from it. The body became still soon thereafter but his momentary confusion due to this novel experience was then replaced by wonder when he beheld an 18 inch black stone shivalingam (a symbol of Shiva) instead of the fruit in his hand. That was not to be the end of his mystification because from the shivalingam emerged an exceedingly beautiful form of a yogi made of luminous and soothing light. He was over seven feet tall, young looking and with matted hair tied in a knot on the head. The awe inspiring divine figure then commanded (in Telugu) Sathyaraju to sit in padamasana (a traditional posture adopted by yogis to sit for meditation for long periods). On being informed of his ignorance about it, the divine Guru taught him how to adopt it. The Guru then touched his brikuti (space between his eyebrows) and Sathyaraju immediately passed off into sahaj samadhi, the highest state of Self-Realisation. It was in this utterly unique way that a fourteen year and a few months old boy with neither any previous knowledge of spiritual matters nor any outward desire to seek a spiritual goal was initiated into the discipline of Tapas Yoga. Sathyaraju did not even know who his Guru was. The latter’s identity was revealed by the Guru himself, twelve years later in 1961, in response to a query Sathyaraju had raised earlier. He was Sri Shankar Bhagwan, the Lord and guru of all yogis. It is difficult to relate in full the fascinating story of Sathyaraju’s tapas that began on 7 August 1949 in a strange and dramatic fashion and ended on 7 August 1961 in a short introductory article like this. Yet, it is essential to know some important details of what transpired during these long years to have some appreciation of the utterly stupendous spiritual feat that transformed an uneducated village boy into a yogi of the highest class.
Before continuing with Swamiji's (Sri Sivabala Yogi was addressed as Swamiji by all his devotees and he would also speak of himself in the same manner) saga, it is worthwhile to briefly highlight some facets of tapas yoga as also implications of being a yogi. Tapas yoga, practised by Swamiji, is considered as the king of all yogic disciplines. It is carried out only by divine incarnations and some higher types of ever free souls (e.g. St Peter, Swami Vivekananda etc.) after they have realised the Self. All gurus ( of the highest class) undergo this extremely severe yogic practice either in subtle world (i.e. before taking birth; some examples of this are of Sri Jesus Christ, Sri Shankara, Guru Nanak, Sri Ramakrishna and Bhagwan Raman Maharishi) or in this world as Sri Sivabala Yogi did. The purpose of doing so is to acquire yogic power, primarily of concentration, which, when transferred to an aspirant during the act of initiation (by a guru), helps him or her to destroy the mind by following any of the well-known paths. Thus, a guru enables a devotee to attain Self-Realisation through one's self-effort that fructifies only by a guru’s grace (i.e. through the yogic power that he or she earns in tapas yoga). In Swamiji's teaching, a yogi is a guru who has the divine power and sanction to grant Realisation; and, that is possible only if one has successfully completed tapas yoga. Tapas yoga is practised facing the four cardinal directions; the divine guru (i.e. Lord in the form of a guru) imparts a suitable mantra or some other instruction for each direction separately to neutralise the powers of creation, sustenance and dissolution, usually associated with gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in the Indian spiritual tradition. They have created motion in the individual human mind that leads to eruption of thoughts and makes it outward looking (i.e. to the external world to satiate desires). The guru’s yogic power, earned in tapas yoga, imparted at the time of initiation, makes the mind inward looking, purifying it to bring it under control and eventually leading to its destruction. That is the only way to attain Realisation. The practice of tapas yoga is beset by almost insurmountable obstacles and difficulties that can be dangerous as well as debilitating for the body. No one attains success on this path without an iron will and divine grace. With this brief interlude, a reader may be in a better position to understand Sri Sivabala Yogi’s life story.
As Sathyaraju sat on the canal bank to continue his samadhi, his friends thought he was either play acting or was possessed by a spirit and gave him rough treatment to wake him up. They failed to do so. They then informed his family who tried taking him home without success. After a couple of days or so, he moved from the canal bank to sit under a bodhi tree at the end of the village street. There, his mother cried her heart out for him to return home but it was his grandfather who persuaded her to let him continue with his tapas. Some kind hearted villagers built a thatched roof for him to sit under. But, he was now faced with a new problem; he was openly taunted, made fun of, harassed in every way including being beaten by sticks. Once a burning cloth was thrown at him by some boys who bore him enmity. Invariably, some passerby would chase away the trouble makers but it had no effect on Sathyaraju's resolve to carry on with the tapas because he had lost all bodily consciousness after the first one hour of his practice. It is only in a state of Realisation that one is not fully aware of one's body. Sathyaraju shifted to the small village burial ground on 18 November 1949 to get a respite from his tormentors because such places create fear in most people. This was to become Sri Sivabala Yogi’s tapas asthana (sacred spot where tapas is done) and he sat there in tapas continuously till 7 August 1961. An Ashrama has now been constructed there. Sathayaraju may have escaped from some trouble makers from the village but was now faced with even worse perils and unanticipated dangers. Consider the following. The burial ground was full of wild grass with soggy ground; it had plenty of rodents, mosquitos, ants, snails and snakes including cobras. All of them had a field day as Sathyaraju sat in continuous tapas day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year for eight years till 7 August 1957 without any sleep. He permitted himself a half hour break every night from 11.30 p.m.to midnight to have a bath and for other bodily functions as also to partake a glass of milk. Even this was discontinued for many months at times. As the years rolled by, Swamiji’s filth covered and constantly perspiring body became weak. His fingers got bent in the middle due to constant clasping and his matted hair, with bird droppings in them, grew up to the waist. Many a time, Sathyaraju suffered intense burning sensation over his body, excruciating stomach pains and for almost three years lost control over his limbs. He was bitten by snakes (including four cobras) at least ten times. He survived all these agonising ordeals due to his Guru’s grace who also gave a mantra to neutralise the venom of snakes. All these painful incidents took place because of the hostility that a yogi faces from powers that operate from the northern, eastern and western (the most difficult of all in which one faces even life threatening dangers) directions. The power that dwells in the southern direction is peaceful and neutral. This phenomenon maybe better understood by a simile. Imagine that an average individual’s mind is agitated and uncontrolled because it moves in a clockwise direction. To bring it under control, the motion in the mind must move in the opposite direction i.e. counter clockwise. That is bound to be resisted and that is why it is so difficult to stop flow of thoughts in the mind. A guru’s grace is a must to do so (i.e.by the tapas shakti that he or she imparts during initiation). A yogi earns this power for a large number of aspirants and, hence, encounters major obstacles. Sathyaraju began tapas facing the east till October 1953; for the north, it lasted until August 1955; for the west and south, it was completed in June 1956 and May 1957 respectively. The last four years (August 1957-August 1961) were spent doing tapas facing the east again. During this period, he was enjoined by his Guru to sit for tapas for twelve hours (4 am to 4 pm) and the rest of the time was to be utilised for rest, sleep, bath, meeting devotees and initiating them on the path of yoga and so on. Then, on the 1st of August 1962, the divine guru, Sri Shankar Bhagwan, proclaimed him a yogi and named him Sivabala Yogi. The Guru instructed him to re-establish dharma (i.e. predominance of virtue over evil) and awaken latent spiritual power in all those who seek his grace. Further, he could grant salvation and initiate devotees on any path including that of Silence. After the completion of tapas, Swamiji travelled across India and established centres for meditation (ashramas) at a number of places including Bangalore (his headquarters where he spent most of his time), Hyderabad, Sambar Lake, Dehradun and so on. He visited the USA and UK in late 80s and early 90s.He shed his body on 28 March 1994 at Adivarpupetta after his diabetes took a turn for the worse in 1991. He was interred in the Ashrama there on 2 April as per local custom for holy persons.
Swamiji taught in Silence; many gurus of the highest calibre do that but his uniqueness was that he taught in absolute Silence, a path that is usually associated with the celebrated sage of very ancient times, Sri Dakshnimurthy. In the former method, a guru may elaborate his or her teaching and answer questions. In the latter case, a teacher instructs students to practice the path for which one is initiated into and all doubts are clarified by the power of Silence. Thus, the emphasis is on practice (sadhana) and practice alone, because no degree of verbal instruction can ever purify the mind and prepare it for its destruction. To teach in absolute Silence in this dark age and revive its earlier practice is Swamiji‘s greatest contribution to India’s rich spiritual heritage. Swamiji’s teaching was simple; it was to make the mind silent (i.e. totally free of thoughts) through practice of meditation. Apart from making an occasional one liner cryptic statement on spiritual issues, his reply to all questions was to do more meditation (to know the answer). Many got their doubts and misgivings removed this way. Though Swamiji initiated devotees on all paths by infusing them with the power of Silence, his primary stress was on the path of yoga that lays stress on meditation (dhyana) to control the mind. He taught the path of atman dhyana (meditation on the individual ‘I’). After initiation, students were told to concentrate on the brikuti (space between the eyebrows) while ignoring flow of thoughts. This practice is meant to continue till one finally experiences the ‘I’ current in the Heart. This is the preliminary experience that makes the mind ready for its final annihilation. Swamiji emphasised, in his teaching, that in this age of ignorance (kaliyuga) the practice of any spiritual discipline fructifies faster if it is combined with repetition of a divine (i.e. God’s) name and service (sewa). Many of his devotees were revealed a suitable name or a mantra during meditation. He insisted that every inmate in his ashramas does service of one kind or the other. What are the chief lessons for an earnest aspirant from Sri Sivabala Yogi’s tapas? First. Desirelessness. Swamiji often told his devotees that he had no desire to do tapas; he only followed his guru’s directions to attain success. It is not easy to give up desire but even a sincere attempt to do so earns much more divine grace than what one’s effort warrants. Second, Self-Surrender. It is easy to say so but very difficult to execute in practice. Again, one should follow every yogic discipline in a spirit of self-surrender, just as Swamiji did by offering all that he achieved in tapas to his guru. Third, Determination. This is the crux of one's practice, specifically for beginners. Most people have lethargic minds and look for every excuse to postpone practice to another day. Even those who practice tend to get frustrated after some time, for what they perceive, as their lack of progress. What needs to be borne in mind, is to press on regardless (of one's fears, doubts etc.). This is the true measure of one's devotion to God, guru and the object (i.e. Realisation) one has set out to attain. This story of tapas should serve as an inspiration to all aspirants to never ever give up practice, no matter how discouraged one feels. No devotee is ever likely to face the enormous perils that Sri Sivabala Yogi did in tapas. But, he carried on, despite life threatening opposition from many evil spirits and vanquished them all in the end.
Sri Sri Sri Shivabalayogi Maharaj, Life & Spiritual Ministration, collected and written by Hanut Singh (available as Ebook).
Swamiji’s Treasure: God Realisation & Experiences of Shivabalayogi written by Thomas L. Palatos (available as Ebook).
Laghu Guru Upanishad, Spiritual Teachings of Sri Sivabala Yogi by Gurprasad (available at Amazon.in, Amazon.com and Amazon.ca)