A Pilgrimage

A Sai Baba devotee meets with Paramahamsa Hariharananda for initiation at the Karar Ashram in Puri, India March 1989. 

"I answered, truthfully, that I understood Kriya to be a scientific and universal technique and a shortcut to a higher dimension of consciousness, which I wanted to reach. I added that, as such, I did not see any difficulty combining Kriya with bhakti (devotion) to my own master, Sri Sathya Sai Baba."

The article below is an excerpt taken from the devotees book, "Glimpses of the Divine: Working with the Teachings of Sai Baba" by Birgitte Rodriguez, published by Samuel Weiser, Inc. Reproduced by permission from the publisher.

I decided to make Puri, the famous place of pilgrimage, my destination once again. Each day hundreds of pilgrims visit its famous Lord Jagannath Temple. At festival times the numbers swell to thousands. But my trip this time was to visit the small, but beautiful Karar Ashram. It is one of the focal points in the world for the study of Kriya Yoga, although only monks are permitted to live there. Kriya promises much and its devotees say, "By the practice of Kriya you attain God realization, which is Self-realization, at rocket speed." I had asked for, and received Baba's blessings before I began my journey, and I half expected to return to him as an enlightened person.

I wanted to learn the Kriya yoga exercises from Swami Hariharananda Giri himself. At that time he presided over the ashram, although he usually only spent a couple of weeks a year there. He usually spent a good deal of his time in America and as much as nine months a year traveled in other foreign countries. As Swami Hariharananda said, "These countries have everything except peace. The people are in frustration, sorrow, and trouble." Slowly he was helping them to "get calmness, which is Godliness.”

Swami Hariharananda Giri usually returned to Puri each year on the founder day of the Karar Ashram (March 22), and thus this particular year (1989), he arrived in mid-March from New York via Calcutta by the Jagannath Express to Puri.

The ashram was founded by Swami Shriyukteshwar Giri, the guru of Paramahansa Yogananda who wrote the famous book, The Autobiography of a Yogi. Swami Hariharananda is considered to be the greatest living master-saint of the scientific technique of Kriya Yoga, and occupies a high rank among the Indian yogis of this century.

Shortly after his arrival, he gave darshan to the many people waiting for him at the ashram, and afterward some were invited to his room. I was fortunate enough to be among them, and it was, in itself, a great experience to sit in the presence of this saint. He exchanged a few words with many of the group. To me he said, "You ought to feel transformation by seeing me." And indeed I did. My whole being was enveloped in a soothing peace. I told Swami Hariharananda that I was a devotee of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. In the meditation hall at the Karar Ashram are pictures of Sai Baba, Shirdi Baba, Sri Aurobindo, and the Mother.

Suddenly a young man entered Swami Hariharananda's room, made his way quickly through all of us who were sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor, and went straight up to the saint and knelt in front of him. The Swami embraced him warmly several times, apparently very happy to see him. After about half-an-hour Swami Hariharananda indicated that he wished people to leave the room so that he could rest after his long journey.

It is not possible to stay at the Karar ashram, so I checked into one of the many beachside hotels along the coast, many of which are reasonably priced. My small hotel was situated almost on the beach itself, and I was able to swim in the ocean several times a day.

During his short stay, Swami Hariharananda seemed very busy and allowed himself very little time for rest. I marveled at how someone well over 80 could sustain all the activity. More and more people arrived every day, many from foreign countries, until there were at least six to seven hundred devotees who were present to receive his blessings.

About two hundred were initiated in Kriya Yoga by the Swami. For everyone else it seemed a very hard program, but he remained peaceful and calm, the very embodiment of the Kriya he was teaching. I noticed that often in the ashram's big hall he asked devotees not to do padnamaskar as he left. "Don't bow, don't bow," he said repeatedly.

After a few days he sent for me. A meeting had been arranged for 11 :00 a.m. of the appointed day, but I experienced great difficulty reaching the ashram. Unknown to me, that particular day was a festival day called "Holi" during which children and young people are permitted to spray or smear colored dyes on all and sundry. I left my hotel with time to spare and dressed in good clothes, but being a foreigner with a pale skin, I was soon a favorite target. Before I was halfway to the ashram, my face was green and the rest of me was the colors of the rainbow. I felt I couldn't appear before the Swami looking like that and hurried back to my hotel to wash and change. For my second attempt I wore a rain coat and wrapped my face in a towel!

I finally reached the ashram and a secretary showed me into Swami Hariharananda's room. As I entered, my eyes went immediately to his silent figure sitting in an unassuming position on a cot covered with an orange cloth. There was no one else in the room. I went to where he was sitting and knelt down in front of him. There was no small talk or exchange of social niceties. His first, very direct question was, "Why have you come?" I answered, truthfully, that I understood Kriya to be a scientific and universal technique and a short cut to a higher dimension of consciousness, which I wanted to reach. I added that, as such, I did not see any difficulty combining Kriya with bhakti (devotion) to my own master, Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

Swami Hariharananda did not reply to this. Without further questions he rose and bolted the door from the inside to ensure there were no interruptions, then sat down on the floor next to me. "Give me a shirt," he asked. I rose and attempted to hand him one of the shirts hanging on a string in the spartan and simple room. But the shirt I selected had long sleeves and he said, "No, not that one." Instead I handed him a short-sleeved shirt, which he pulled over his head with the simplicity of a child. All the while his whole attitude reflected the command of a yogi who is above it all. I sat down again next to him on the floor, feeling quite relaxed and almost at home in his room.

Swami Hariharananda then said, "I will perform a purification of your body," With his hand he touched the different chakras in my spine, one by one. He then held my hands firmly in his hands. He even held my feet in his hands. Then he used one hand to stroke my face, arms, and back, all the while repeating Vedic mantras in Sanskrit. In English he said, "I am infusing my life force in you."

During this purification process I saw a dazzling white light in the position of the so-called "third eye" between the eyebrows. According to Swami Hariharananda, that white light is the light of the soul. I also clearly heard the cosmic OM sound that underlies creation. Finally he put his hand on my head and blessed me, and I bent down and touched his feet.

It was such an overwhelming experience that I had difficulty holding back the tears that had started to form under my closed eyelids. It had all taken place in five minutes and throughout I had invoked Baba as Ista (God). Almost immediately I experienced an extreme calmness that remained with me for the rest of that day. It was so great that it was impossible to come down to that plane where we make ordinary conversation, The "I" and the “me” had disappeared. I observed silence for the rest of the day, letting the blessed peace envelope my whole being. It felt as if I were staying at the center of my being. The aim of Kriya Yoga, and indeed all yoga, is to go into that center and remain there and realize the Self.

Paramahamsa Hariharananda wants you to find "the real chamber of your being and to enjoy the world like a king, not like a beggar." He says, "The helplessness in you, which has made you a beggar, disappears and you find an unshakable shelter in your own Self." Here are a few examples of his teachings:

Love bears.
Love tolerates.
Love is not resentful.
Love requires patience.
Love gives oneness.
Love is kind.
Love is sweet.
Love is God, without God there is no love.

So long as you have not cleaned your heart nicely, you cannot do anything nicely. You cannot love. So you are to clean your heart and to clean your mind.

Heaven and hell are within you. Verbally you are very sweet, but inwardly bitter, sugarcoated quinine. But remember, you are the power of God.

Meditate. Watch day and night. Constant alertness in every step of your life is necessary. Then you will have quickest result.

Make your life a divine life, not a devil's life. If you have anger, pride, ego and hatred, then eradicate all these devil's qualities.

You are the power of God. Feel it in your practical life. Perceive the Ultimate Truth. Be calm and be divine. Get up from your body sense and worldly sense. You need culture. If you want to meditate, you are to go beyond mind, thought, intellect, restlessness, anger, etc.

God wants that you should transform yourself. God is giving you constant blows for your correction. But you are not following Him.

Meditation is the way to self-discovery. To know truth we have to go deeper. There is only one method of acquiring knowledge. From the ordinary person to the highest yogi—all have to use the same method, and that method is concentration. This is the knock that opens the gates of nature and lets out floods of light. Concentration is the only key to the treasure of knowledge. The power of the human mind is unlimited. The secret of the world is ours, if we know how to knock, how to give the necessary blow. The strength and force of the blow come through concentration.

By remaining in the superconscious state, a yogi gets extreme love, regard and indebtedness to God. This love for God is very rare.

However insignificant a thing may be, it is He. But if you do not meditate very deeply, you can not perceive this truth.

Those who have penetrated into the veils of nature's creation, those who have realized the truth of all religions, those who are free from anger, emotion, hallucination, speculation are the real teachers.

Returning to Sai Baba's ashram at Puttaparthi, I felt that this experience had deepened my love for Baba and that through it I had come closer to him and learned that in the world of today his divinity is unparalleled. 

Oh, precious Lord of my heart.
You made me see my soul in all its glory.
You made me bear the cosmic sound of OM from deep within.
You are Ista, indeed one with all creation.
A thousand times I bow down to Thee.