The Journal of the Religious and Spiritual Teaching of Da Free John
By Meg Krenz
(pictures added by Beezone)
In India there have been many men and women recognized for their complete surrender to God and their wild freedom born from such surrender. These people are called "avadhoots," meaning "those who have given up everything." The ideal of the avadhoot is to yield every vestige of self, doctrine, and social convention, and to accept every arising circumstance as Divine instruction and grace. Thus for the avadhoot everything is seen as God, and his or her response to any situation is typically spontaneous, free of all limitations and wholly aligned to Divine Will. Although many people have been associated with this traditional form of practice and realization, few of them have become well known, especially in the West. Of the handful of true avadhoots who have become known in recent times, perhaps the greatest and most influential was Swami Nityananda of South India.
Swami Nityananda, called Bhagavan (Lord) by his devotees, dwelled in perfect Identity with the...SeIf of all beings. Throughout the sixty-odd years of his life (which ended in 1961), Bhagavan Nityananda lived as the Self of all to every being who came to him. He was given up in the paradoxical wildness of God and lived freely in the world, untouched by the conventional limitations, desires, and identifications suffered by common men and women.
Because Swami Nityananda enjoyed such radiant freedom in life, his behavior, at least by modern Western standards, would often appear bizarre and extreme. Indeed, had he appeared in America, he may have been locked up as a lunatic. In fact, this almost happened to him-even in India, where there is cultural precedence for such beings. Eventually, though, Nityananda was recognized as a Divine Incarnation. In time, thousands of people came to have his darshan (sighting). Through this darshan alone, Swami Nityananda initiated his devotees into Communion with the Divine Power and Presence that Permeated and Radiated from his human form.
He did not write books, go on lecture tours, or create a spiritual organization to propagate his teaching. He did, however, make himself available to thousands of people who revered him as Spiritual Master. Also, as described later in this article, Bhagavan Nityananda served the awakening of higher mystical experience leading to Self Realization in the spiritual practice that spontaneously arose in the early life of Da Free John.
In recent months, a member of our Church traveling in India was fortunate to speak with Captain Hatengdi, a longtime devotee of Swami Nityananda. Captain Hatengdi was five years old when his mother first took him to see Swami Nityananda. During his childhood the young Hatengdi would occasionally glimpse Nityananda sitting in the tree tops near where he lived. But the Captain's mother became interested in other things and no longer took her son to visit the Swami. Then years later, while stationed at a military base in Bombay, Captain Hatengdi heard, of a man living in nearby Ganeshpuri who reminded him of Nityananda. He went to Ganeshpuri and found Nityananda living in the jungle. None of the local people were aware of Nityananda's unique presence there, and so for three years, from 1944 to 1947, Captain Hatengdi would spend every weekend alone in the jungle with Nityananda.
The stories that the Captain told our friend in India, which are published here for the first time in the West, are priceless jewels which convey the transcendental nature of Bhagavan Nityananda's wisdom and play with devotees. Because the major portion of Nityananda's spoken teaching has been lost due to the illiteracy of his early following and his own indifference to becoming a public figure, they are especially valuable. Captain Hatengdi was a storehouse of anecdotes about Nityananda's life with devotees.
Although these stories are told in a roughly chronological manner, they should not be taken as a definitive biographical presentation of Swami Nityananda's life. There must be hundreds of such stories that devotees tell about their Master's Divine Play. The stories that we present are a sampling of those compiled by one devotee. A similar sampling from another source would undoubtedly produce a number of other stories or even variations of those presented here. Captain Hatengdi has tried to verify each of these stories with other sources but discrepancies are sure to arise. We hope to produce, with the help of Captain Hatengdi and others, a comprehensive book of Nityananda's life which has thus far remained largely unknown in the West.
For now we are pleased to have the opportunity to print these stories that so clearly convey the spiritual genius of a man intoxicated by the Divine. They illustrate the wild and yet compassionate way in which the Spiritual Adept relates to the world. Throughout Nityananda's life he was absorbed in the Presence of God, and he was profoundly moved to awaken that Realization in others. His actions always moved people beyond their conventional assumptions about existence and into relationship with the Divine Being that he Incarnated.
The Early Years
Little is known about Swami Nityananda's birth and early life. He refused to respond to any queries regarding his life, or even to refer to himself as "I." Instead he would call himself "this one" or "this body." Even so, from the earliest photographs of Nityananda, he was obviously awake to the Living Power of God.
Nityananda's Early Cave of
It is believed by Captain Hatengdi that he quietly left his home as a young boy and took up a wandering life of austerity and meditation, spending six years in a cave in the Himalayas and later living in tree tops or other caves in the same district. Nityananda had no need of such austere practice for his own sake. He engaged these practices as an example and inspiration to all spiritual aspirants. In fact, years later, when a woman found him resting with his-eyes _ closed and commented to her neighbor that he must be meditating, he replied, "All of that was done in the mother's womb," implying that he had realized perfect union with God before his physical birth.
According to the Captain, Swami Nityananda first revealed himself near Kanhangad in the South Kanara District in Southern India. He was about eighteen or twenty years old. He stayed in a remote cave, absorbed in profound union with the Divine. Even then he generated miraculous cures and emanated a profound spiritual presence.
While sitting in trees, Swami Nityananda would often pick and crumble leaves and drop them to the ground. Many healings were attributed to the leaves he blessed in this manner. Captain Hatengdi told a story of one skeptical Christian family who decided to experiment with these leaves. The grandmother, suffering from the same disease as the mother, was given one of the leaves blessed by Nityananda. She recovered immediately, while the mother, who did not receive one of the leaves, grew deathly ill.
Because of -his wild behavior in his early life, Nityananda was some times taken for a madman. Often young boys pelted him with stones, but they would change into sweetmeats and fall to the ground. Often, Nityananda wandered around naked in these early days, and, on one occasion, was accosted by the local citizens who were irate at his nakedness. They reported Nityananda to the magistrate, who tried to convince him to wear a loin cloth. But Nityananda responded, "Cover what? With what?" Finding it useless to argue, the magistrate ordered the police to tie a loin cloth on Nityananda. Three or four times they tried, but each time the cloth slipped to the floor. Embarrassed by this public display, the magistrate called one of Nityananda's devotees, who was a tailor. The devotee approached Nityananda reverently, imploring him to wear the loin cloth "for my sake." Only then would the garment stay in place.
One time, while Nityananda was lying on a large rock outside a temple near Kanhangad, a man began to pester him, saying, "Show me God. You are such a great saint, show me God." Nityananda struck the man on the toe with his umbrella, thereby rendering the man unconscious. When the man came to, he rushed to a doctor and demanded that he certify that Nityananda was mad and should be arrested. Because Nityananda had no witnesses, he was locked up. After an hour in jail, Swami Nityananda began to play with his captors. He told the policeman on duty that he needed to urinate, so the policeman brought him a small mug. Soon it was overflowing. So he brought another, which was quickly filled. Then the policeman began to resort to large earthen pots, which were also filled. Finally, to be free of the task of emptying this endless stream of pots, the policeman let him go. Swami Nityananda wandered back to the rock to lie in the sun once more. As a strange addition to this story, when the doctor returned home, he found his wife dancing madly around the house She was exhibiting all the symptoms of insanity that he had certified in Nityananda.
During these early years, Swami, Nityananda simply wandered around in Kanhangad, generally staying away from groups of people. The local children, however, were always welcomed by Nityananda, and he spent a good amount of time with them. He allowed only children to touch him, although he did allow adults to feed him. Typically he would show-up at random hours at various devotees' houses, where they would feed him. He would sometimes speak and sometimes remain silent, and if it was nighttime, he would sleep on the doorstep or in the cowshed.
On one such day in the early 1920s, Nityananda gave one of the most humorous teaching demonstrations told to us by Captain Hatengdi, Swami Nityananda appeared early one morning at a housing complex where devotees lived. In those days there was no indoor plumbing, so everyone simply relieved themselves on the floor of one room. Each morning someone would come in and scoop up the "night soil" and dispose of it. On this particular morning Swami Nityananda came into the "bathroom" quite early and picked up two large piles of excrement. He carried them outside, sat in the middle of the compound, and began to smear the feces all over his body and occasionally eat pieces of it.
The devotees living in the compound were shocked. Why was their Master acting so strangely? He would offer them pieces of excrement from his pile, telling them how delicious it was. As the day passed in this manner, they began to fear that he would come into one of their houses and soil the furniture. Finally, that evening he did come inside but the devotees managed to clean him before he sat down. At no time did Nityananda offer any explanation for his behavior.
However, the next day two people, who occasionally came to see Nityananda but were not devotees, walked up and bowed at his feet, begging for forgiveness. This only confounded the devotees even more. They pulled the two men aside and demanded to be told why they were apologizing to the Master. The men confessed that, two days before, they had been standing outside the compound discussing Nityananda's typically strange behavior. One man was commenting that Nityananda only ate what was offered to him by devotees. The other replied, "Well, if this is so, what if he was given shit? Would he eat that as well?" The two men laughed at their joke and then left. But when they saw Nityananda lying in the street eating excrement, they were horrified and full of remorse that he had heard their conversation. Swami Nityananda had responded in his typically direct and selfless manner, demonstrating that he was indeed submitted to his devotees.
On another day, in 1922, his devotees witnessed a dramatic revelation of his Divine Nature. Twenty-five or so devotees had gathered for meditation at seven o'clock in the evening. Suddenly they discovered Nityananda in their midst, crouching and straining, looking as though he were going to vomit. Instead, they saw a huge flash of light around his form. When they approached Nityananda, all signs of life had left his body, which was quickly growing stiff. Immediately word went out that the young Master had entered mahasamadhi.1 The devotees watched over Nityananda all night. No one touched the body and no doctor was called in. However, they did hold cotton near his nose to see if there was any breath, but none was detected. Suddenly, at four o'clock in the morning, Nityananda began to move.
Completely startled, his devotees placed him on a bed and stretched his limbs. When they put questions to him, Nityananda responded almost incoherently, saying, "The time has not yet come. This one came a little out of place and out of time. The time is not yet. Nobody appreciates and understands the things he does. So he wanted to discard the body and go. But a few sages met and they told this one, 'You go back. You have taken the body, why not use it up?' Let's see, Ramakrishna was there, Vivekananda was there. . ."2 He mentioned five names, but the people who were around him could not remember them all. In five-minutes he was fully conscious, and would answer no more questions.
Swami Nityananda often spoke ecstatically of his relationship to God. He sometimes began his inspired discourses by saying, "0, Uncle Arjuna, listen; Grandfather Krishna speaks."3 Although he could neither read nor write, his ecstatic speech contained insight into human nature and religious practice that reflected a prior, Divine Wisdom. It was during this early period that the only book of his speech, Voice of the Self, was recorded. However, because many of the people to whom he spoke were also illiterate, much of his spiritual instruction has been lost. In addition, he was often found speaking when there was no one there listening at all!
Once some devotees saw Swami Nityananda sitting near a tree with a cobra. He was patting the snake on the head, saying, "Are all three of you comfortable in that tiny little space?" (Meaning Brahma, Vishnu, and Shivathe Hindu trinity of the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Destroyer.)
There are several stories about Swami Nityananda requiring people to follow his instructions precisely, but perhaps none more graphic than the following:
One night Nityananda found a local shopkeeper following him as he walked. He shouted at him to go back and never follow him again. Eight days later the shopkeeper, unable to control his curiosity, again followed Nityananda. This time the man saw Nityananda cross the river to speak with a tall, mysterious figure. The shopkeeper realized that he had violated something and hurried home. The next day Nityananda found him alone and told him never to divulge what he had seen. But the shopkeeper was again unable to discipline himself, and a week later he told his wife what he had seen. He went insane the moment he finished speaking-an immediate repercussion for having twice disobeyed Swami Nityananda.
Another story from these early days is told about three Muslims who knew Swami Nityananda but were not his devotees. They were returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca when they stopped by his ashram in Kanhangad to pay their respects. When Nityananda asked them what they had seen in Mecca, they told Nityananda they had seen him there, and yet he had never left Kanhangad.
Some years later, in about 1930, when Swami Nityananda was walking at midday, two assailants tried to stab him. These men had been hired by a wealthy man whose only son had left school to follow Nityananda. Since Nityananda walked faster than anyone else, there was no one by his side to protect him. Finally a policeman arrived to arrest the attackers, but one of the assailant's arms had frozen in the air. He began to scream, and begged to be released-Re could not move his arm, and it was becoming extremely painful. When Nityananda reached up and touched the man's arm, down it came. Sometime later,' after the man had been jailed and a foolproof case had been established against him, Swami Nityananda demanded that the man be released. The local authorities, however, did not feel that they could release him. Swami Nityananda then stationed himself on the steps outside the courthouse, saying, "No food need be served until the man is let out." . After three days of watching Nityananda refuse food and drink, the police released the prisoner, who later became a devoted follower of Nityananda.
Ganeshpuri The Later Years
One day Swami Nityananda suddenly abandoned the ashram-at Kanhangad and wandered throughout India for several years. His devotees lost track of him during this period Nityananda reappeared at Ganeshpuri, a remote spot near Bombay several hundred miles northwest of Kanhangad. At first no one recognized him as an avadhoot, but gradually the local people realized that this man was a great spiritual figure. Over time he became well known in the area, and an ashram and an entire village were built around him.
As stated above, Captain Hatengdi found Swami Nityananda soon after the Swami had come to Ganeshpuri. The Captain, who spent many weekends alone with Nityananda in the jungle, would often sit silently for hours with him, Nityananda sat very close to him with his back turned. The Captain, however, often fell into a deep slumber, overwhelmed by the force he felt radiating from Nityananda. He recognized, though, that the power of Nityananda's Presence was communicated to him in a very direct manner-in silence on the jungle floor.
In the early days at Ganeshpuri, Nityananda began to establish relations with the local people by giving them things. Whatever was given to him, he in turn passed on as "prasad," a blessed gift. I n addition, he often employed many of the local people in building projects, including a hospital, ashram buildings, and roads.
Soon great numbers began to come to Nityananda. They had to pass through the land of a neighbor, who began to complain about the increased traffic, and who was even reported to have beaten and robbed devotees who crossed his property on their way to visit the Swami. When Nityananda heard of this, he went out and called the entire town together. Under his direction they built a new road around the neighbor's property. Nityananda worked with everyone else, doing the heaviest kind of physical labor, cutting stones and the like. At the end of the day, he would reach inside his loin cloth and pull out just the right amount to pay each of his workers. If someone had worked hard that day, Swami Nityananda would hand him more money than those who worked little.
Ganeshpuri had been the seat of religious and spiritual activity even before Swami Nityananda came there. One of the first projects that Nityananda undertook was to renovate an abandoned temple site and companion hot baths. Throughout his remaining years at Ganeshpuri, Nityananda greatly valued these baths and required devotees to enter them before seeing hilt. Nityananda also frequented the baths, and his devotees noted that often he emerged from the bathing tank completely dry.
Nityananda admonished his devotees to never go to the baths before four o'clock in the morning. One morning a woman who lived in the ashram woke up at one o'clock a.m., but thinking it to be four o'clock, she walked down to the baths. When she arrived, she saw two bright young men leave the bathing tank and walk into the temple. When she reported this story to Nityananda, he told her that she had seen two saints, and that in fact many great beings came there to bathe. Because an encounter with these beings could shock-the unprepared person, he had asked that no one go to the baths while these other entities were present.
On another occasion, a devotee who had been up very late walked past the temple site at about one o'clock a.m. Near the temple he spotted a huge, eighteen-inch footprint. Astonished, he rushed to tell Swami Nityananda what he had seen. But before he could say anything, Nityananda asked, "Did you bow before that footprint?"
Nityananda Ashram, Ganeshpuri (early days)
Over the years at Ganeshpuri, Nityananda's following grew, but his direct and simple way of instructing devotees remained essentially the same. People would often ask him for instruction or esoteric practices, but he would remind them that their instruction lay in seeing him. The devotee was to learn the practice of love and self-transcendence by observing how their Spiritual Master served others, how he spoke, how he lived in God while performing all the functions of his ordinary life.
Darshan, or formal sighting of his physical form, was the principal form of his relationship to devotees. Often hundreds and thousands of people walked together for many miles in a large procession to come and enjoy his darshan. Whole towns closed down for spiritual celebration, and all the people of the towns paraded together to Ganeshpuri They filed past Nityananda's door in large numbers, leaving gifts of flowers, fruit, and sweets. Swami Nityananda made it known that he took care of people while they were in procession. Despite the long distance and occasional rainstorms, everyone always arrived in Ganeshpuri well and happy to have a glimpse of Bhagavan Nityananda's radiant form.
But Nityananda's relationship to his devotees was not limited to those moments when they could be in his physical company. The Captain's mother, for example, had not seen Swami Nityananda for many years when her son found him at Ganeshpuri and invited her to come and see the Swami again. The minute Nityananda saw her, he asked, "How long since I've seen you?" When she replied vaguely, "Oh, about twenty years," he said, "No, twenty-two years." He told her how long it had been-to the day-since he had last seen her, and commented on what she had done in the interim.
Swami Nityananda was always full in his service to devotees, and very exacting in making demands on them. He occasionally beat people to purify them of their tendencies. They found that even the number of times he hit them was significant. Once he struck a devotee who was a businessman nine times, and the man found that his $9,000 debt cleared up soon after that. In response to another businessman who came to him for financial advice, Nityananda only commented, "Waste, waste, waste! " The man left, thinking that he had been ignored by the holy man, but on his way home he stumbled across a junkyard that was for sale, which he purchased and which became a highly prof itable-business.
On another occasion, a woman brought her husband to see Swami Nityananda to be cured on a day when the Swami had asked to be left in private. He instructed the woman to have her husband bathe, and then to give him a specific injection. On the way home, because he passed the dispensary first, he stopped to have the injection before taking. the bath. He died the moment he set -foot in the bath, failing to follow the sequence Swami Nityananda had given him.
When Nityananda left the body in his first but premature samadhi in 1922, he came back because he had not yet "used up the body." Even though he suspected that no one would truly understand or appreciate his Divine Incarnation, he continued to serve devotees for many years. Finally, in 1961, his service to devotees in his physical form was complete and he entered into mahasamadhi.
In the two years before Swami Nityananda died, his belly grew huge and round with spiritual force. When devotees who did not understand the yogic phenomenon that was manifesting in Nityananda's body would ask him about his size, his reply varied. To one big, strong man who was fond of health programs and exercise, Nityananda said that he was growing big from lack of exercise. To another, a yogi who practiced pranayama (breath control), he replied that he had been doing pranayama and that, when the air was retained, his stomach became very bloated. A third devotee, who had suffered from malaria, was told that his huge belly was due to enlargement of the spleen resulting from a case of malaria that Swami Nityananda was believed to have suffered earlier in his life. To the fourth, a very loving and devoted woman follower, Nityananda responded that the love of all. devotees was now concentrated in his belly and that was the reason it had expanded.
Shortly before Swami Nityananda's death, signs of yogic purification began to manifest in his body. He developed diarrhea for about four or five months before taking his mahasamadhi, and it did not stop until he died. A doctor who examined the Swami said that there was nothing infectious or diseased about Nityananda's symptoms. Around that-same time, an odorless pus began to ooze out of his ear. He claimed that it was due to a fall he had taken in childhood, but his devotees, alarmed, called in a medical specialist. The doctor was awestruck at the responsibility of treating a holy man of Nityananda's stature, and he approached the saint reverently. Prostrating himself before the Swami, the doctor told him that he could only consent to take the case if Nityananda would promise to be cured. Nityananda nodded, and the doctor left a medication to be administered three times a day. When the doctor left, an attendant asked Nityananda if he would take the pills, since he always had refused medication. Nityananda consented and took the first pill. Later in the day when his attendant reminded him that he should be taking the medication several times a day, Nityananda responded, "Not necessary. The doctor's faith is such that one pill has done the job."
Three months before his mahasamadhi, Swami Nityananda began an all-liquid diet. He consequently became very thin. The diet, the diarrhea, and the discharge from his ear were all signs of a purification process that was taking place as the Swami prepared to discard the body. In the months prior to his death, Nityananda alluded to his departure several times. He told his devotees that a procession of 100,000 people would soon come to Ganeshpuri, even though it was during the monsoon. His devotees, not understanding his allusion, never inquired further. It is only in retrospect that they understood what he had foretold.
Captain Hatengdi described the event of Swami Nityananda's mahasamadhi as it was told to him by one of the trustees of the ashram, who was present. On Tuesday morning, August 8, 1961, the trustee, who had extended his weekend stay because Nityananda's condition looked serious, went to offer his salutations to his Master. When he arrived, he found Nityananda gasping for breath. A medical team was present trying to administer oxygen. At nine o'clock, Nityananda asked that the oxygen be removed, The room became very quiet.
There were twelve intimate devotees present watching their Master closely. At nine thirty-five,'he started breathing so deeply that his chest expanded out of proportion. After breathing in this exaggerated manner for about an hour, at ten forty Swami Nityananda straightened out his feet and legs (which had been bent for some time due to arthritis) and placed his hands over his heart. He opened his eyes very wide and looked at everyone. Then his eyeballs rolled up, and he made a snore-like sound and left his body.
After Swami Nityananda entered mahasamadhi, his body was displayed for devotees to see one last time. As he predicted, 100,000 people came in procession to honor him in samadhi. After several days, he was buried in an airtight cement tomb. (In India only great beings are buried. All others are cremated.) Swami Nityananda's body was placed cross-legged in his favorite chair and then covered with diamonds, sapphires, camphor, and ash.
Before Swami Nityananda took his mahasamadhi, he told his devotees that he could now do more work in his astral form. Several years later, in 1969, Da Free John contacted Swami Nityananda's Transcendental Presence at the site of his samadhi. Swami Nityananda later appeared to Da Free John several times in dreams and subtle vision.4 He led him through the higher aspects of mystical experience that had been awakened in Da Free John by his earlier teachers and toward true Self-Realization in-God.
Since that time, Da Free John has often spoken highly of Swami Nityananda, calling him a great yogi-saint. Swami Nityananda also maintained a very active influence in the lives of his devotees after his death. Captain Hatengdi told us that he had felt his relationship to Swami Nityananda intensify after the saint had passed on. He said that only after Nityananda's death did many of the people who had been around him become sensitive to the profound nature of his spiritual Presence.
Thus, Swami Nityananda surrendered in service to his devotees even after death as he had during his lifetime. The mood that he had always communicated was not the rigid, ascetic disposition that one might expect of a traditional Eastern figure. Swami Nityananda was Alive in God! Even though he did live an austere and celibate life, his constant occupation was one of the pleasure, love, fullness, and humor of life lived in God. It was that fullness, that humor, that delight in God that is Bhagavan Nityananda's legacy to devotees,: and to all who are inspired by the stories of his life.
2. Sri Ramakrishna was a great devotee of God who flourished in the mid-nineteenth century and passed on in 1886. Vivekananda was the prominent disciple of Sri Ramakrishna.
3. Krishna, along with Jesus and Gautama, is one of the great archetypal examples of the Divine Man and the true Spiritual Master. Krishna is said to have lived at least 4,000 years ago, although we have no certain historical data on his life and Teaching. In the legends and myths of his life, Krishna, the living Spiritual Master, always teaches the transcendence of all experience through ecstatic devotion-to Himself as the Divine Person. Through both miraculous and ordinary means, he always is shown attracting the ecstatic love of devotees. Arjuna was his principal devotee.
4. Da Free John, The Knee of Listening (Middletown, CA: The Dawn Horse Press, 1972), pp. 122-30.
Captain Hatengdi is one of the last, living elder disciples of Bhagawan Nityananda who had the privilege of keeping Shri Gurudev's company and observing many of Bade Baba's leelas. He has many stories to share.
The following is from a post written by Captain M.U. Hatengdi for a book he was writing. Captain Hatengdi had several personal experiences with Bhagavan. Here is his note:
GURUDEV NITYANANDA: A personal account
Nityananda was a Master extraordinary and portraying Him is no easy task. In some respects, He resembled Shirdi Sai Baba and in other, Sri Ramakrishna and perhaps Babaji, of Swami Yogananda’s famous autobiography. In the absence of authentic details on such limiting factors as parentage or antecedents, he resembled Babaji and Sai Baba. In his mystic powers working at several places at the same or various times, unknown to anyone, he resembled Babaji and in his experiences of cosmic consciousness, pithy sayings and homely analogies and his strong aversion to dry discussion based on mere book knowledge, he reminds us of Sri Ramakrishna. And finally, in his silence, he reminds us of Sri Ramana Maharshi of Tiruvanamalai.
Nityananda was a born Siddha. His total self-abnegation (he wore a mere langoti all his life and had no possessions whatsoever), absence of any earthly Guru or known performance of Sadhana or formal worship in any temple, his felicity to communicate in many languages, including English, his ability to understand other creatures, his omniscience as regards the past, present and the future of individual, local and world affairs, his intimate knowledge of spiritual, historical and political personalities, knowledge of unheard of remedies, only underscore this fact.
On no single occasion either in his youth or later in Ganeshpuri, was he ever found using the first person Singular (“I”) in reference to himself. It would always be ‘this one’ and ‘from here’. Behind his rather awe-inspiring presence, was the heart and compassion of a mother. No wonder, as a full-fledged Master while hardly out of his teens, in Kanhangad and South Kanara, in the pre-twenties and early thirties, he would compare Sadhus (the denomination by which he was referred to in those days) to a jackfruit, with its forbidding exterior and sticky interior, but which when penetrated with skill, yielded its honeyed sweetness inside. From those early days to his last ones at Ganeshpuri, his concern for the lowly, those in distress and the children, was unbounded. And he missed no opportunity in feeding them. Even today, some 700-800 poor children of the local tribals, are fed with one free meal every morning, near his Samadhi shrine at Ganeshpuri, with ever-flowing unsolicited funds received specifically for this purpose.
Even though people in their vast multitudes from all walks of life, including foreigners, went for his darshan very few were moved to record their experiences or remember the details for the benefit of others. The situation was further confused by his silence towards the general public and the resultant anonymity surrounding his physical manifestation, movements or activities.
He was not an organization man; nor had he any gospel to be spread. But he was a great radiating and transmitting centre. As Swami Vivekananda said, spiritual knowledge cannot be taught like history or mathematics, but can only be transmitted like heat and light. Perhaps it is for this purpose that Nityananda asked everyone to cultivate Shuddha Bhavana and Shraddha, so that the ‘door’ may be opened for Him to enter and gradually transform the aspirant from within.
A prince amoung renunciates, he needed no gifts or estate, and what was offered was ether distributed utilized for the common good and the rest left unsecured. He was at once the friend of the poor and of those in distress; the spiritual aspirant’s guide and the devotee’s eternal companion. His grace emanated from his presence. Swami Vivekananda defined grace thus: “Grace means this: He who has realized the Atman becomes a store-house of great power. Making him the centre and with a certain radius a circle is formed, and whoever comes within the circle becomes animated with the ideas of that saint, i.e., they are overwhelmed by his ideas. Thus without much religious striving they inherit the results of his wonderful spiritual ity. If you call this Grace, you may do so. “Sri Ramakrishna says that when such Ishwar-kotis attain Mahasamadhi, it is like their hiding in an attic!
Nityananda consoled a grieving devotee, who had an intuitive premonition of his passing away about three months prior to the event, by assuring her that more was possible in the subtle than in the gross. Today, almost all of the hundreds of devotees who pay homage at his Samadhi shrine daily, would have never seen him in his human form. Yet when you enquire of them as to what prompts them to come, each one has a tale to tell in which some distress was relieved, guidance received or elevation of spirit experienced.
--Captain M U Hatengdi, (retd Indian Navy)
Early Days in Ganeshpuri
As word spread of Nityananda's arrival, villagers from surrounding areas began gathering around his hut in the evenings. A large pot of rice porridge, of which the Master would partake, always stood ready for them. Devotees were soon flocking to Ganeshpuri as well. To accomodate them, a building was constructed east of the hot spring tanks.
At first, due to a lack of potable water, visitors only stayed the day. However, once the old well was refurbished, sulfur water was used for everything. One particularly hot afternoon the Master offered a plate of rice with spicy pickle sauce to a visiting devotee. It so happened that the woman foudn sulfur water distasteful and declined the food, knowing that she would crave something to drink afterward. Nityananda again held out the plate to her, saying, "Don't be concerned. You will drink rain water." Venturing a look at the blue sky, she still ate nothing. Within minutes, however,a solitary cloud appeared overhead and rain poured down. The Master said, "Go and get your water," and she jumped up and collected rain water for both of them.
Devotees gathered late one evening on the west side of the ashram. Here Nityananda sat on a small ledge bordering a six-foot drop into the darkening fields behind him. Silence prevailed. Suddenly in the distance a pair of bright eyes appeared and, weaving its way slowly through the fields, a tiger came up to the ledge and stopped. The animal then rose lightly on its haunches and rested its forepaws on Nityananda’s shoulders. Calmly the Master reached up with his right hand and stroked the tiger’s head. Satisfied, the tiger jumped back down and disappeared into the night. Later Nityananda observed that as the vehicles of the Goddess Vajreshwari, tigers should be expected around her temple. He also said that wild beasts behave like lambs in the presence of enlightened beings.
Many stories tell of his uncanny ability to understand animals. In Udipi once he told its captors to release a certain caged bird because it constantly cursed them. Another time he reassured a frightened devotee that a nearby cobra was too busy chanting to harm anybody. Others remember a devotee who always came for darshan accompanied by his pet parrot. And in May 1944, Captain Hatengdi heard Nityananda say that a bird told him that it would rain in three days, and rain it did.
Nityananda lived from the late nineteenth century to 1961, making him one of India's most recent extraordinary saints. Nonetheless, information about his birth and early childhood is sparse and contradictory. It has been said that as an infant he was found in the Guruvan jungle by a harijan woman. This woman sold the baby to the childless Unniamma of Calicut, a simple woman who earned a small income by doing household work for Ishwar Iyer, a prominent solicitor. This kind, devout man took an interest in the youngster, who was named Ram by his adoptive mother. Upon her death, he assumed guardianship of the child.
Occasional remarks made by Nityananda through the years, however, support another version: protected by a large serpent coiled around him, the baby was found on a riverbank and cared for by the kind-hearted but poor Unniamma, here married with several children of her own. Ishwar Iyer, again Unniamma's employer, took the orphaned Ram upon her death.
It is generally agreed that Ram, as he was then called, left his home with Mr. Iyer following a trip the two took together to Varanasi. He was then perhaps in his early teens and it is known that he traveled widely during this period. While it is impossible to reconstruct an itinerary, it is thought that he spent considerable time in the Himalayas and in many holy places in north India. When his foster father lay dying, Nityananda returned to Calicut to be with him. Following the funeral, Nityananda again departed for a period of wondering in south India, and stories exist of even more far-ranging travel: to Singapore, Malaysia, even Japan.
Around 1910 stories begin placing the young Nityananda in the South Kanara district of North Kerala. This was a time of miracles and of growing recognition that an exceptional being was present. Historically, Nityananda was discovered in Udipi in 1918 by two gentlemen who remained life-long devotees.
During this period Nityananda traveled a great deal. He also spent time in contemplation at Guruvan, the jungle where he was found as an infant. For a time he stayed a few miles nearer the sea at Kanhangad, starting several substantial building projects and working on the rock-cut caves for which the area is famous. By now he was quite well known and an ashram was developing around him. Today we find temples to his honor at both Guruvan and Kanhangad.
In the 1920s Nityananda spent time in Mangalore. Nityananda had many devotees here and it was his custom to stay with a devotee family in the town. During this time, Nityananda allowed devotees to gather around him in the evenings and sit in silence. Occasionally, however, Nityananda would speak from a trance-like state, and eventually devotees began to copy down his words. The many different transcribers spoke different dialects and had varying levels of education. Sometimes his words were not recorded until after Nityananda had stopped speaking for the evening. Years later, these notes, in their various formats and languages were gathered together and compiled by a persevering devotee and published in the Kanarese dialect. The words of Nityananda were eventually translated into English.
In the mid-1930s he settled in a jungle near Bombay called Ganeshpuri. There he remained for almost 30 years, until his mahasamadhi in 1961. His reputation grew steadily during this time, drawing crowds to his tiny place in the jungle. Initially, he stayed at a very old Shiva temple called the Bhimeshwari temple. Built in the sixth or seventh century, the site was overgrown by vegetation and inhabited by snakes and tigers. Nityananda cleared it out and settled into this simple temple, which was just a hollow place lined with stones and covered with a roof. In the center of the floor stood a round stone pillar called a lingham. Villagers would pour water over it and decorate it with flowers and kumkum, the vermilion powder used in worship and ceremonies. The lingham is the symbol of Shiva's pure potential. And because Nityananda was there, the sixty or seventy miles surrounding Ganeshpuri were transformed from a jungle to a place where the ground was cultivated and educated people came to live.
More on Nityananda's life from Non-duality Press