In 1872 a 16-year-old lad wandered into the remote village of Shirdi in India. He sat under a Neem tree and slept on the bare floor, not mixing with anybody or saying much. Most days he sat quietly under the tree and ate food provided by few kind villagers. He stayed around for a few weeks and then wandered away.
After some time he reappeared. This time he went to the local temple with the intention to stay there, but was shooed away by the priest. Since his mannerisms resembled a Muslim, the priest asked him to go to the mosque, which he did. Besides food the only other thing he needed was oil for a lamp. He would visit the local stores to beg for oil.
“Here comes the crazy fakir!” The shopkeepers said when they saw him coming towards them. “Lets have some fun with him today. Lets all refuse him oil today and see what he does!”
When the lad appeared all the shopkeepers refused him oil. Without much complaining the lad turned around and returned to the mosque. The shopkeepers decided to follow him out of curiosity. To their amazement he proceeded to fill his lamp with water and light it up as if it had oil!
The sight of water burning as oil wiped away the smirks from the faces of the shopkeepers. They begged him for forgiveness and never again refused him the oil he needed for his lamps!
This was the beginning of the legend of Sai Baba. Nobody knew who this lad was and what his name was, but from now on he would be known as Sai Baba. The word “Sai” is a term of Persian origin and means “Saint” and “Baba” is a term of endearment and respect that means “Father”.
Sai Baba rarely spoke about himself. But slowly it emerged that he had been born to a Hindu Brahmin family in a southern state of India. He was orphaned at an early age and adopted by a Muslim fakir. This is where he picked up his mannerisms. After a few years the fakir died and he joined a Hindu Guru. Sai Baba spoke highly about this Guru, but all we know about him is that he went by the name of “Venkusa”. It later became clear why he had chosen Shirdi to be the place of his residence. One day he asked one of his devotees to dig near the Neem tree where he used to sit when he first came to Shirdi. A grave was found there, and Sai Baba claimed that it was the grave of his guru in his previous life!
Robert Adams was one of the leading American saints of the previous century. He was born Jan 21 1928 in Bronx to a Jewish mother and a Catholic father. As a child he was naturally rebellious and liked to question everything. His earliest memory was of a two feet dwarf with white hair and white beard who appeared near his crib and jabbered away gibberish that he did not understand. The dwarf stayed with him till he was seven.
Shortly after the little man disappeared Robert developed miraculous powers. Whatever he wished would come true when he repeated God’s name three times! Once he thought that he would enjoy taking violin lessons so he repeated God’s name three times. Shortly thereafter his uncle showed up with a violin saying that he thought Robert might enjoy learning.
Like any other child would do Robert too misused his gift. He would study very little and when the test would come he repeated God’s name thrice and the answer would come! When he was 14 his algebra teacher asked him a math problem. But when he repeated God’s name thrice he was stunned to find that the entire enlightenment experience was revealed to him!
He was thoroughly changed by this experience. The world no longer seemed real to him. He could see that only his Self was real. The external world seemed like something that was superimposed on the Unchangeable Self, and by itself did not seem to have much significance. He changed so much by this experience that his mother thought he was going mad.
Life was progressing pretty normally for Ellen Fein. She was married to a loving husband, had a wonderful daughter, and a great career as a behavioral health care professional. Then in 1997 everything changed. After a brief 8-month illness her 49 year old husband, Michael, died of bone-marrow cancer. Ellen had been practicing yoga on and off, for several decades, and she continued to practice it all through her husband’s illness, death, and after that. She says that yoga felt like an anchor for her during those very difficult years.
Three years later even as she was learning to adjust to life without her husband and caring for her young daughter on her own, she too was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. What followed was two months of intensive chemotherapy followed by a seemingly long period of medical challenges and uncertainty. Once again yoga helped her get through these very difficult times. She also added a meditation practice to help calm and center herself down. Eventually a match was found for a stem cell transplant and she was asked to fly to Seattle from Vermont. But she was not hopeful, and when she left Vermont she was sure that she would never ever fly back home again.
At the transplant center in Seattle they offered a yoga class and she was glad to join. However this was Viniyoga and completely different form of yoga from what she was doing. After the treatment she felt horrible and drugged, but for an hour of this class she could shake herself free from these feelings and feel whole again. It was only yoga that bought her to this state, and nothing else, not even powerful drugs, could do this for her.
The year 1910 was momentous for Swami Shriyukteshwar. While visiting the city of Kashi he ran into a young lad by the name of Mukunda. The meeting between the two was joyous, as if the two had known each other for ages. Mukunda immediately knew that his search for a guru had ended. He had found his master. Very soon it was decided that Mukunda would become Swami Shriyukteshwar’s disciple and would meet him next at Serampore. Mukunda was reluctant to leave Kashi at that point but Swami Shriyukteshwar was firm in his directive and Mukunda relented.
Within 10 short years Swami Shriyukteshwar whipped the impetuous boy Mukunda into shape. He became a realized master and an initiated monk who was given the name Swami Yogananda. In 1920 Swami Yogananda set out on a historic journey west when he set sail to attend a seminar of world religions in Boston.
In 1932 at the age of 77 Shri Yukteshwar met his youngest prominent disciple. This is how the disciple described the encounter: “Standing at the door of his room I slowly looked in, and what a sight I saw! In a lotus posture this mahayogi was seated in a clam and peaceful state. With unblinking wide-open eyes but not looking at any thing. It was a vacant gaze full of divinity. I could not fathom where he was merged. His deep gaze full of divinity greatly attracted me. I have not come across such a divine personality until then.” This meeting was to transform the life of the young textile engineer called Rabindranath and would set him on the course to become the enlightened guru and teacher later known as Paramahamsa Hariharananda.
If you have in your mind an image of saints as mild-mannered, gentle, and smiling, the story of this saint will rid you of this notion. Shriyukteshwar as he came to be known was 6 ft 3 inches, weighed over 220 pounds, practiced open-eyed unblinking meditation most of the time, and never hesitated in pointing out the flaws in the behavior of his disciples or visitors. His most prominent disciple, Paramahamsa Yogananda, once called him the “Tiger Of Bengal”. He surely was not somebody you would trifle with. Here is his story.
He was born on Friday 10th May 1855 and his parents named him Priyanath. His father was a landlord and a successful and wealthy businessman. Priyanath was the only child of his parents. Once when he was still a young child his mother forbade him from entering a dark room, warning him that there were ghosts inside. Instead of being fearful his curiosity was aroused. Priyanath promptly entered the room and investigated it thoroughly and reported back to mom that there were indeed no ghosts there.
At an appropriate age Priyanath was enrolled in school where he excelled. He was very good at math and always scored the top grades in this subject. But he was a very bold and independent thinker and studied the subjects for his intellectual curiosity, not for getting grades or passing the class. He never blindly accepted anything and only after all his questions were answered would he accept something.
While Priyanath was still young his father passed away. Priyanath was raised by his mom. Soon he was able to get admission into a prominent catholic school by passing the entrance test successfully. Because of his admission here, and his innate curiosity, he studied the Holy Bible thoroughly. He was one of the few saints of that era who had a thorough understanding of both the Bible and Hindu scriptures. Later in his life he wrote commentaries that would bridge these two thought streams.