The northern Himalayan crags near Badrinarayan are still blessed by the living presence of Babaji, guru of Lahiri Mahasaya. The secluded master has retained his physical form for centuries, perhaps for millenniums. The deathless Babaji is an avatara. This Sanskrit word means “descent”; its roots are ava, “down,” and tri, “to pass.” In the Hindu scriptures, avatara signifies the descent of Divinity into flesh.
“Babaji’s spiritual state is beyond human comprehension,” Sri Yukteswar explained to me. “The dwarfed vision of men cannot pierce to his transcendental star. One attempts in vain even to picture the avatar’s attainment. It is inconceivable.”
The Upanishads have minutely classified every stage of spiritual advancement. A siddha (“perfected being”) has progressed from the state of a jivanmukta (“freed while living”) to that of a paramukta (“supremely free”—full power over death); the latter has completely escaped from the mayic thralldom and its reincarnational round. The paramukta therefore seldom returns to a physical body; if he does, he is an avatar, a divinely appointed medium of supernal blessings on the world.
An avatar is unsubject to the universal economy; his pure body, visible as a light image, is free from any debt to nature. The casual gaze may see nothing extraordinary in an avatar’s form but it casts no shadow nor makes any footprint on the ground. These are outward symbolic proofs of an inward lack of darkness and material bondage. Such a God-man alone knows the Truth behind the relativities of life and death. Omar Khayyam, so grossly misunderstood, sang of this liberated man in his immortal scripture, the Rubaiyat:
“Ah, Moon of my Delight who know’st no wane,
The Moon of Heav’n is rising once again;
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same Garden after me — in vain!”
The “Moon of Delight” is God, eternal Polaris, anachronous never. The “Moon of Heav’n” is the outward cosmos, fettered to the law of periodic recurrence. Its chains had been dissolved forever by the Persian seer through his self-realization. “How oft hereafter rising shall she look . . . after me — in vain!” What frustration of search by a frantic universe for an absolute omission!
Christ expressed his freedom in another way: “And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” 1
Spacious with omnipresence, could Christ indeed be followed except in the overarching Spirit?
Krishna, Rama, Buddha, and Patanjali were among the ancient Indian avatars. A considerable poetic literature in Tamil has grown up around Agastya, a South Indian avatar. He worked many miracles during the centuries preceding and following the Christian era, and is credited with retaining his physical form even to this day.
Babaji’s mission in India has been to assist prophets in carrying out their special dispensations. He thus qualifies for the scriptural classification of Mahavatar(Great Avatar). He has stated that he gave yoga initiation to Shankara, ancient founder of the Swami Order, and to Kabir, famous medieval saint. His chief nineteenth-century disciple was, as we know, Lahiri Mahasaya, revivalist of the lost Kriya art.
The Mahavatar is in constant communion with Christ; together they send out vibrations of redemption, and have planned the spiritual technique of salvation for this age. The work of these two fully-illumined masters — one with the body, and one without it — is to inspire the nations to forsake suicidal wars, race hatreds, religious sectarianism, and the boomerang-evils of materialism. Babaji is well aware of the trend of modern times, especially of the influence and complexities of Western civilization, and realizes the necessity of spreading the self-liberations of yoga equally in the West and in the East.
That there is no historical reference to Babaji need not surprise us. The great guru has never openly appeared in any century; the misinterpreting glare of publicity has no place in his millennial plans. Like the Creator, the sole but silent Power, Babaji works in a humble obscurity.
Great prophets like Christ and Krishna come to earth for a specific and spectacular purpose; they depart as soon as it is accomplished. Other avatars, like Babaji, undertake work which is concerned more with the slow evolutionary progress of man during the centuries than with any one outstanding event of history. Such masters always veil themselves from the gross public gaze, and have the power to become invisible at will. For these reasons, and because they generally instruct their disciples to maintain silence about them, a number of towering spiritual figures remain world-unknown. I give in these pages on Babaji merely a hint of his life — only a few facts which he deems it fit and helpful to be publicly imparted.
No limiting facts about Babaji’s family or birthplace, dear to the annalist’s heart, have ever been discovered. His speech is generally in Hindi, but he converses easily in any language. He has adopted the simple name of Babaji (revered father); other titles of respect given him by Lahiri Mahasaya’s disciples are Mahamuni Babaji Maharaj (supreme ecstatic saint), Maha Yogi (greatest of yogis), Trambak Baba and Shiva Baba (titles of avatars of Shiva). Does it matter that we know not the patronymic of an earth-released master?
“Whenever anyone utters with reverence the name of Babaji,” Lahiri Mahasaya said, “that devotee attracts an instant spiritual blessing.”