Siddha Yoga

John Paul Healy

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SIDDHA YOGA TIMELINE

1908:  Swami Muktananda (birth name, Krishna), known to his followers simply as Baba, was born in Karnataka State, India.

1923:  At age fifteen, Muktananda, then Krishna, first saw his future Guru Bhagavan Nityananda, and soon after left home in search of a spiritual life.

1947:  Muktananda received Shaktipat (spiritual initiation) from his Guru Bhagawan Nityananda. Over the next decade Muktananda spent his time living and meditating in a small hut in the village of Yeola, Maharashtra.
 1956:  Bhagawan Nityananda gave Muktananda a small parcel of land a few kilometres from his own ashram where Muktananda built a small hut with and cultivated a rose garden.

1961 (August 8):  Muktananda’s Guru, Bhagawan Nityananda, died. The death of Bhagawan Nityananda left multiple successors, including Muktananda, to what is now considered a Siddha Yoga lineage.

1970:  Muktananda’s first world tour took place. Toward the end of the 1970’s, Muktananda and a small group of devotees travelled and taught Siddha Yoga in Europe, Australia, Singapore and America.

1974-1976:  Muktananda’s second world tour took place. Muktananda returned to Australia, which had by then established two Ashrams, Europe, and then spent most of his time in America in the newly established Oakland Ashram and creating the organisation, Siddha Yoga Dham Associates (SYDA) and touring the U.S.

1978-1981:  Muktananda’s third and final world tour took place. It included an extended stay and the newly established Santa Monica Ashram and the Nityananda Ashram (later Shree Muktananda Ashram) in South Fallsburg, New York, which served as the organisation’s headquarters, and developed a high profile internationally as a guru.

1981:  During a celebration at the South Fallsburg Ashram in New York, Muktananda named the young Swami Nityananda his successor.

1982 (May):  After the initiation of Swami Chidvilasananda, young Swami Nityananda’s sister, Muktananda named them both as successors to the Siddha Yoga lineage.

1982 (October 2):  Swami Muktananda died and Swami Chidvilasananda (later Gurumayi) and Swami Nityananda became co-gurus of the Siddha Yoga movement.

1982-1985:  Swami Chidvilasananda (now Gurumayi) and Swami Nityananda co-led Siddha Yoga, spreading their message internationally but often travelling separately.

1985:  Swami Nityananda stood down as co-guru amid controversial circumstances. Nityananda soon created his own organisation Shanti Mandir to continue his work as a successor of Muktananda.

1985-2020:  Gurumayi has continued as the sole leader and Guru of Siddha Yoga and has continued to develop the tradition. Many of the Ashram and centres established by Muktananda continue to operate.

FOUNDER/GROUP HISTORY

Born in 1908, and named Krishna, Muktananda did not often talk of his family or childhood, although, it is known that he left home at the age of fifteen to follow the life of an ascetic and may have come from an upper-class to wealthy family. He became a saṃnyāsī as a young man in the Sārasvatī order in the tradition of Daśanāmīs at Siddharudha’s āśram in Hubli (Brooks 2000; Prakashananda 2007). For much of his life, he travelled by foot all over India. Muktananda was an eclectic yogī; he picked up practices, rituals, and bhajans from the different religious personalities that he met during his travels. As a young man, he was keen to learn from the great saints of India. Muktananda learned from Muslim, Christian, and Hindu alike. In his autobiography The Play of Consciousness: Chitshakti Vilas (Muktananda 1974), he describes his time of wandering and the great saints of India that he had met, culminating with his śaktipāta initiation (the awakening of the spiritual energyknown in this tradition as kuṇḍalinī awakening by the grace of the guru) by his own guru, Bhagawan Nityananda (1888–1961) of Ganeshpuri. [Image at right]

After years of searching, Muktananda finally settled with his guru in the village of Ganeshpuri not far from Mumbai. However, Muktananda claims to have first met his guru Bhagawan Nityananda briefly as a schoolboy, which was what led him on his spiritual quest to learn from this master. After the death of Bhagawan Nityananda, Muktananda began to create his own āśram from a small three-room dwelling and surrounding lands that Bhagawan Nityananda had given him. From the humble beginnings in the village of Ganeshpuri, eighty km out of Mumbai, Muktananda’s own version of the guru–disciple tradition was born, and Siddha Yoga (“yoga of siddhas”), was taught to the world.

Muktananda dedicated his own āśram to his guru and named it Shree Gurudev Ashram, and later, Gurudev Siddha Peeth. To establish himself within a spiritual lineage, Muktananda declared himself sole successor to his guru; however, among followers of Bhagawan Nityananda, succession was not clearly articulated. In contrast to a sole succession, there was a recognition among devotees of Bhagawan Nityananda of several potential successors, including Janananda Swami, Muktananda, [Image at right] Shaligram Swami, Shankar Teerth Swami, Sadananda Swami, Tulsiamma, and Gopalmama (Kodikal and Kodikal 2005). Janananda Swami was in fact the head of the Bhagawan Nityananda Ashram in Kerala during and after the death of Nityananda, which would have made him the likely successor. However, Muktananda’s autobiography (1974) asserted that he was the successor to what he considered a lineage of the siddhas (god-realized beings), hence the name Siddha Yoga. The succession of a lineage is, however, contentious considering that Bhagawan Nityananda had no guru himself; therefore, the claim to lineage is possibly not a claim to a physical lineage but to a lineage of siddhas. In Siddha Yoga āśrams around the world, there are portraits of various siddhas whom Muktananda considered part of his own lineage.

Throughout the 1960s, the Shree Gurudev Ashram attracted many Indian and a growing number of Western devotees. It was not, however, until 1970 that Swami Muktananda’s Siddha Yoga was introduced to the West as part of his first ventures outside of India (Thursby 1991; White 1974). Numerous Indian gurus at this time had travelled to the West and had gained large followings. Muktananda’s first tour was undertaken with the support of his growing Indian and a handful of Western followers. Swami Rudrananda (Albert Rudolph) and Baba Ramdas (Richard Alpert) were also important to Muktananda’s first world tour. Swami Rudrananda, commonly known as Rudi, was one of the few Westerners to have met Muktananda’s guru, Bhagawan Nityananda. From the late 1950s onward, Rudi began traveling to India collecting antiques to sell in his New York Manhattan store. Rudi became a devotee of Bhagawan Nityananda, and during his time with Nityananda he had met Muktananda.

After the death of Bhagawan Nityananda in 1961, Rudi established himself as a spiritual teacher in New York City and eventually created an āśram in the town of Big Indian in upstate New York, attracting his own followers. The āśram, which he called Big Indian, was the first āśram dedicated to Bhagawan Nityananda in the West. (Shanti Mandir has of 2020, three Ashrams in India and one in Walden New York.)

Rudi continued to travel to India after the death of Bhagawan Nityananda and often visited Muktananda. It was Muktananda that gave Rudi the name Swami Rudrananda. During Muktananda’s first tour, Rudi invited Muktananda to Big Indian, where he introduced Muktananda to his own followers. Muktananda stayed as Rudi’s guest at Big Indian and at Rudi’s New York home. Some of Rudi’s followers became devotees of Muktananda, including Franklin Jones, also known as Adi Da Samraj, who soon after meeting Muktananda established his own reputation as a dynamic and controversial spiritual teacher. It was primarily through the support of Rudrananda and Baba Ramdas that Muktananda was able to travel to the United States.

Baba Ramdas, a former college professor and psychedelic-drug researcher with Timothy Leary and Aldous Huxley, was a friend of Swami Rudrananda. Rudi invited Ramdas to meet Muktananda at Big Indian. During his time at Big Indian, one of Muktananda’s followers asked Ramdas if he could take Muktananda around America. [Image at right] At this time, Ramdas was a leading authority on eastern mysticism, touring widely and lecturing on his experience with his own guru Neem Karoli Baba. During Muktananda’s stay at Big Indian, Ramdas had a vision of his guru Neem Karoli Baba, who told him to “help this man,” meaning Muktananda (Coroneos 2005). Ramdas then toured with Muktananda across
America to Melbourne, Australia, and then on to India, introducing Muktananda to the vibrant counterculture of that time. It was to some extent the support of Baba Ramdas [Image at right] and Swami Rudrananda that initially helped to establish Muktananda’s credibility as guru to the West and began the groundswell for his own Siddha Yoga practice.

After Muktananda’s first world tour, new Western devotees began to establish Siddha Yoga centers in their own countries. Like other Indian guru-based movements, such as ISKCON or Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh/Osho, Siddha Yoga would be considered a new religious movement in the terms proposed by Melton (1993), because when it entered the West, it gained converts from the host country. Although guru–disciple traditions were well-known and had been established in India for centuries, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, these groups offered the West an alternative spirituality to the predominant Christian perspective. In his lifetime, Swami Muktananda conducted three tours of the West, passing on the teachings of his guru Bhagawan Nityananda in what he considered a lineage of siddhas, or perfect masters (Brooks 2000; Foster 2002).

Muktananda’s second tour, in 1974, was undertaken with the support of Werner Erhard of Erhard Seminars Training (est). Werner Erhard had firmly established himself in the Human Potential Movement of the 1970s and had thousands of followers in his est program (Graham 2001; Prakashananda 2007). He paid for Muktananda and his small entourage to travel out of India, and like Ramdas and Rudi had done in 1970, introduced Muktananda to his own audience (Brooks 2000). Werner Erhard introduced Muktananda to his est intensive self-empowerment workshops. These workshops seemed to have had some influence on Muktananda who then began to conduct his own two-day intensive programs of introduction to Siddha Yoga; these Intensives became the stalwart of Siddha Yoga śaktipāta initiation for newcomers. By late 1975, Muktananda had established a reasonably large following of his own and was conducting regular weekend intensives and traditional satsaṅg (following) all across America. Although Werner Erhard did not associate with Muktananda after this time (nor did Baba Ramdas), he did visit Muktananda in India just before Muktananda’s death in 1982 (Graham 2001). [Image at right]

For this second tour, in 1974, a small house on Webster Street, San Francisco, was turned into the first āśram outside of India dedicated to Muktananda’s Siddha Yoga practice. The āśram was administered by Ed Oliver who, during Muktananda’s second tour of America, scouted ahead with a small group of devotees, including some of the individuals mentioned above, to various American cities in order to make preparations for Muktananda’s visits (Siddha Path 1982a). In 1975, Muktananda’s tour of America eventually settled in the newly established Oakland āśram, which then became the hub for the development of an organized structure for Siddha Yoga in the West. It is reported that Muktananda, on one of his walks around Oakland, was passing by the old Stanford Hotel and thought it would make a good āśram and base for further developing Siddha Yoga internationally (see “This Place Has Everything” 1982b). Soon, devotees from Australia, inspired by meeting Muktananda, established āśrams in Melbourne and Sydney. This made Australia the second largest satsaṅg outside of India (Brooks 2000:83).

The third tour, in 1978, firmly established Muktananda’s Siddha Yoga internationally and the Shree Muktananda Ashram, an m2 property in South Fallsburg, upstate New York, as the Western administrative base. It is interesting that the main Siddha Yoga āśram in America was established not very far from Rudrananda’s Big Indian Ashram, in which Muktananda had stayed on his first tour.

By the time of Muktananda’s death in his Indian āśram in 1982, Siddha Yoga had grown into an international movement with āśrams and centers around the world and around a quarter of a million followers (Graham 2001:13). For the Siddha Yoga community, the death of their guru was sudden and devastating; to his followers, Muktananda was Siddha Yoga.

Before Muktananda died, he installed two of his devotees to lead the group as co-gurus (Beit-Hallahmi 1993; Thursby 1991). During the gurupūrṇimā celebration in 1981, Muktananda named as his successor Swami Nityananda (1962–); six months later, Nityananda’s sister Swami Chidvilasananda, formerly Malti and now known as Gurumayi (1958–), was named co-successor (Brooks 2000:115). Nityananda and Gurumayi were the children of long-term devotees of Muktananda and had for many years lived and travelled with him. [Image at right] The new gurus of Siddha Yoga travelled extensively in their three years together as co-leaders until the third anniversary of Muktananda’s death, which was held at Gurudev Siddha Peeth in Ganeshpuri, India.

DOCTRINES/BELIEFS 

The charismatic presence of the guru is possibly more fundamental to the practice of Siddha Yoga than are the individual spiritual practices (Thursby 1995:206). The guru–disciple relationship is therefore central to the potential devotee’s spiritual awakening. When an open and receptive person comes into contact with the śakti of a living siddha, a spontaneous spiritual awakening within the individual can take place. In the eastern scriptures, this awakening or initiation is known as śaktipāta. Once this occurs, the individual begins a process leading to total transformation (Siddha-Yoga 1989:1).

Given the guru’s importance, the aspirant may meditate on the guru’s physical form rather than using a mantra. In Siddha Yoga practice, it is believed that the initiation by the guru, or śaktipāta, propels the aspirant’s spiritual practice, and therefore meditation and mantra repetition become second nature. Śaktipāta is also known as “kuṇḍalinī awakening” or the “awakening of the kuṇḍalinī” (Muktananda 1990; White 1974). From the perspective of Siddha Yoga, this awakening is the beginning of the participant’s spiritual life or sādhana, which in the guru–disciple tradition of India is the practice of spiritual disciplines in order to attain god realization (Sharma 2002; Uban 1977). The concept of śaktipāta in Siddha Yoga is largely derived from the philosophical tradition of Kashmir Śaivism (Brooks 2000; Shankarananda 2003). One of the primary texts of this tradition is the Śivasūtra, a revealed text whose authorship is attributed to Śiva, who revealed it to Vasugupta (Chatterji 2004; Singh 1990). Kashmir Śaivism attempts to explain the way to enlightenment or the recognition of the true or supreme self, or Śiva (Shankarananda 2003:53). The Śaiva-Śakta religion is one of the most ancient faiths in the world; prior to Vasugupta, it was an oral tradition (Singh 1990:3).

Shankarananda (2003:57) asserts Śaivism as a life-affirming philosophy that acknowledges that all that the individual sees and experiences is god. Within Siddha Yoga practice, all is god, and the follower’s aspiration is becoming one with god. From the point of view of the Śivasūtra, when a yogī eventually achieves the highest state, he or she becomes Śiva, or god (Singh 1982:186). Once this state is achieved, the guru or satguru (perfect guru) becomes an instrument of knowledge, and the universe is filled with his or her śakti or energy (Singh 1982:197–197). The state of Śiva, or god, is the claimed spiritual attainment of the guru within Muktananda’s Siddha Yoga tradition (Foster:2002; Uban 1977). However, Muktananda’s guru Bhagawan, Nityananda said the following: “it is not right to say ‘I am Brahman [god].’ One should rather say ‘You are the All, the whole world is yourself”’ (Kodikal and Kodikal 2005:168).

Within the tradition of Kashmir Śaivism, the liberation of the individual is not “achieved by mere intellectual gymnastics, it comes by saktipat [sic] (the descent of Divine Sakti) or…Divine grace” (Singh 1990:26). Therefore, the guru is seen as a very important aspect of Siddha Yoga practice, as the grace bestowing power of Śiva or god. The Gurugītā, a 182-verse hymn from the Skandapurāṇa, which dates to the sixth to eighth centuries CE (Chapple 2005:15), provides a template for the relationship between the guru and the follower for devotees of Siddha Yoga, and it is chanted daily in Siddha Yoga āśrams. According to the Gurugītā, “there is nothing higher than the Guru” (The Nectar of Chanting 1990:28). Muktananda also wrote many books on the subject of the guru, using as an example his relationship with his own guru, who emphasized the concept of the guru as god. However, when Bhagawan Nityananda said “The guru is God,” he followed this with “God is the guru” (Kodikal and Kodikal 2005:61) and “The real guru has no sandals on his feet, no rosary in the hands” (Kodikal and Kodikal 2005:161).

The guru in Siddha Yoga practice is considered the embodiment of the self or god and the outward manifestation of the inner self in all. That the guru is god seems like a enormous claim; however, this is tempered by the notion that all individuals are also god, although they may not have recognized this just yet. The aspirant may eventually merge with god or the guru and therefore become the guru. One of the main teachings of Siddha Yoga is that “God dwells in you as you.” Muktananda often said the following: “Honor your Self, Worship your Self, Meditate on your Self, God dwells within you as you” (Graham 2004:71).

RITUALS/PRACTICES

Siddha Yoga is for the most part a guru–disciple tradition. The followers of this tradition are part of a movement that worships a living deity from a tradition of living deities.

Siddha Yoga practice includes meditation, chanting, sevā, Haṭha Yoga, study, contemplation, and dakṣiṇā (ritual donations). “The underlying traditions of Siddha are Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism, and the practices are of kundalini yoga” (Beit-Hallahmi 1993:284). There are also varying levels of Tantra as discussed by Caldwell (2001) in her article “Heart of the Secret: A Personal and Scholarly Encounter with Shakta Tantrism in Siddha Yoga.” Individual devotees’ approach to each practice may vary (Healy 2010). For example, there are devotees who would not consider Haṭha Yoga important to their practice and then others for whom chanting or sevā is their total practice. Individuals may fit into particular streams of practice that suit their personal disposition and reflect forms of traditional Indian yoga discussed in the Bhagavadgītā, such as karmayoga, jñānayoga, and bhaktiyoga. Karmayogins primarily perform sevā service and spend much of their time in Siddha Yoga working for the organization, jñānayogins are interested in pursuing an intellectual practice of study and contemplation of various Indian religious texts, and bhaktiyogins tend to enjoy the practice of chanting and absorption in the form of the guru. The categories are, however, not exclusive in practice, and most devotees participate in each of these forms of practice to some extent.

Meditation in Siddha Yoga practice tends to be mantra meditation or contemplation on the guru’s physical form. The initial form of mantra meditation introduced to new devotees is the repetition of oṃ nāmaḥ śivāya (an adoration of Lord Śiva with the addition of the primordial oṃ or aum). This can be understood as “I bow to Śiva,” and it can also be understood as “I bow to myself” or “I bow to my inner self,” which is Śiva, according to the interpretation given by the various teachers of Siddha Yoga practice. When Muktananda first traveled in the West, he often gave the mantra guru oṃ; however, in Siddha Yoga programs or satsaṅgs, oṃ nāmaḥ śivāya is usually chanted communally before meditation. The mantra in meditation is repeated with each in and out breath. An additional mantra that devotees use for meditation is soʾham, usually repeated as ham sa. This mantra is taught during intensive weekend workshops or what Siddha Yoga describes as “intensives,” in which śaktipāta initiation takes place. The soʾham mantra is possibly a more natural mantra for following the breath, considering the short phrase. A circular mantra, with ham uttered on breathing in and so on breathing out, it is understood to mean “I am that.” Following the breath in and out, the mantra becomes “I am that I am that I am that I am,” and so on. With the oṃ nāmaḥ śivāya mantra, there is a recognition that the devotee is acknowledging his or her connection with the infinite, his or her own inner self, or god. The object of the soʾham mantra is that it eventually be as natural as the breath itself, and therefore mantra repetition becomes a constant practice. Mantra repetition is also reinforced by the use of a japamālā. As with chanting beads or rosary beads, the japamālā is held in one’s hand, and the beads are passed through one’s fingers; the mantra is repeated on each of the beads. The overall goal of mantra repetition in meditation or daily life is to silence the mind so that an individual may become attuned to their inner self or god.

Sevā or selfless services to the guru was always a major focus of Muktananda’s Siddha Yoga practice and continues to be so under the leadership of Gurumayi and other groups within Muktananda’s lineage. Sevā is considered a spiritual practice; it is through service to the guru that individuals are rewarded with, among other things, types of mystical experience, sensations of love, and serenity (Brookes 2000:144). It is also important to acknowledge that without the volunteer labour of devotees, these types of movements would find it difficult to exist, let alone grow.

A key addition to Gurumayi’s Siddha Yoga practice is the central position of Dakshina, or giving to the organisation, especially that of “Planned Giving.” Planned giving is an arrangement for a financial bequest at the end life to be gifted to the organisation (siddhayoga 2020).

 

 

 

IMAGES

Image #1: Swami Muktananda.
Image #2: Young Bhagavan Nityananda.
Image #3: Muktananda with his guru Nityananda.
Image #4: Muktananda with Ramdas.
Image #5: Werner Erhard with Swami Muktananda.
Image #6: Chidvilasananda (later Gurumayi) and her brother Nityananda.

REFERENCES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Updated: — 8:03 pm

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