I'd like to share some interesting aspects of Sri Yukteswar's (SY) life taken from the translated biography written by Swami Satyananda Giri, one of SY's disciples.
Not surprisingly, Priyanath was of an exacting disposition. Early in life, he made connections and friendships with a well-placed and well-off family, the Goswamis. An early incident took place at the home of the Goswamis at a time when a supposedly learned pundit was holding forth in the home. Everything the pundit stated was merely a recitation of scriptural passages. As a young teenager and tiring of this mindless parroting which lacked personal experience and commitment, Priyanath mocked the pundit by proclaiming aloud for all to hear (including the pundit) that he learned something the other day and found a quote in the shastras to prove it. He made a quick exit, laughing hysterically. The pundit was about to upbraid Priyanath, but the teenager had departed!
SY consumed knowledge voraciously and from all directions: science, medicine, art and music, and the scriptures. For a time he attended a Christian college in his home town where he delved deeply into the Christian Bible. But soon his interests turn to anatomy and medicine. When his professor couldn't satisfactorily answer his unceasing questions, he left the Bible college and went on to medical school where he studied for nearly two years.
He worked as an accountant but was so quick with numbers that he could easily finish his work and spent the remainder of the day in "chit chat!" He also soon left this occupation!
He was intrigued by homeopathy and studied the works of the German researcher, Dr. Konn. SY was proficient in helping others with their illnesses using this and other traditional forms of healing. He enjoyed horseback riding, hunting, skill with weaponry and sports.
For a short time, he studied under a man named Bankimbabu, a sort of rationalist teacher independent of sectarian religious traditions: a free thinker, of sorts. SY loved music and even played the sitar. He would be perturbed when he heard others singing or playing out of tune, for he had a "good ear" for music.
He married and had one daughter, though his wife did not live long and years later, his daughter, who also had one daughter, died young. He would say that "God made me a sannyasi the easy way!" (By circumstances, that is.)
He attended traditional religious festivals like Holi or Durga Puja and even accompanied his mother on pilgrimages. SY was attracted to sadhus, sadhakas, and siddhas: always eager to be in the presence of holy people and to learn yoga techniques. But he was also alert for fakes and frauds.
Once time in his search for yogis, he came upon a man who was said to levitate every night. So one night, SY hid under the man's bed before the man came to his room for sleep. Not surprisingly, nothing happened and a confrontation ensued!
His searches once took him to the jungles of northern India where he witnessed the moonlight dances to Krishna. He studied from tantrics, Vaishnavites, and many other traditions.
In his association with the Goswami family and other local leaders, he took note of how each would go his room to practice yoga techniques but never spoke of it. This inflamed his curiosity until finally he overhead a conversation about a yogi in Benares. Off SY went immediately to Benares and after an intense search found the residence of Lahiri Mahasaya, who, as we know, became his guru!
SY was initiated into Kriya Yoga in 1884. Thereafter he wrote a continuing stream of letters (and came also to visit often) to Lahiri Mahasaya (LM) about spiritual and yogic matters. Later as SY began writing a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, he would send chapters to LM for review, editing, and approval. His commentaries were published locally for the benefit of a growing number of students. He founded an informal organization called the "Gita Sabha" (fellowship). Its members consisted of kriyabans who studied together.
He associated with many famous yogis of his time, including Trailanga Swami. He went to visit Ramakrishna at the Dakshineswar Temple but for some reason, Ramakrishna was not there. SY was friends also with Swami Vivekananda but SY's efforts to link his own ministry with that of the Ramakrishna Mission were unsuccessful.
When he would visit LM, he sat apart and spoke very little but he admitted that even in the "chit-chat" that occasionally took place in LM's presence he felt uplifted.
SY spoke Bengali (of course), Hindi, French and English and was versed in Sanskrit. He wrote "primers" with shortcuts for the learning of English, Sanskrit and Hindi. He took an intense interest in astrology and found the art and science of it in disarray, much knowledge having been lost or misunderstood. He sometimes paid the travel expenses of renown astrologer or himself would travel to meet them.
When asked about the value of studying Sanskrit, SY made a curious statement: he said that this would be a good thing for Indians to do for the next fifty years (until, around 1950?)
SY's efforts to correct the Hindu calendar were not accepted by the pundits of his time. Even though he convinced a council of learned astrologers in Puri, the one astrologer whose assent they said was still needed died before SY could meet with him. SY then predicted that it would after his own death before the calendar correction he had offered the world would be accepted in his own land.
It was, as we know from "Autobiography of a Yogi," in 1894 that SY went to the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad where he met his param-guru, Babaji and from whom he was commissioned to write the "Holy Science."
His first attempt at writing the book commissioned by Babaji was to do so in the French language. He had hoped to attend an Exhibition in Paris that was coming up. His hoped-for travel never materialized. For this, he spent an intense six months learning French! He gave his manuscript to a French Christian missionary. This missionary immediately recognized that these writings would create an upheaval among Christians and, somehow, managed to lose the document.
SY started over again: this time in English and this time writing Sanskrit slokas inspired by ancient precepts from Vedas, Upanishads, and the Gita. "Kaivalya Darshanam" was the Sanskrit book title for the "Holy Science." He employed the assistance of two local barristers in shaping his English.
Several themes played out in the life of SY. Among them was an abiding value set upon non-sectarianism. Another was the supportive relationship between reason and faith; science and religion; efficiency and spirituality; health and consciousness.
One of his followers, Sri Motilal, played a large part in making SY better known and in helping SY spread his message of kriya yoga and Self-realization in Bengal and Benares. Motilal was a proficient organizer who, over time, became highly advanced spiritually and later in life had an awakening that turned his life's work toward humanitarian causes. SY supported him but was not directly involved in those efforts. By the end of Motilal's esteemed life, he was known as the Satchidananda Swami.
A curious incident occurred where, in association with a professor, SY met with two German scholars who travelled to India seeking secret knowledge. While Swami Satyananda's description of this part of SY's life was not wholly satisfying to me, it triggered in SY a commitment to education that would integrate health sciences, how-to-live training with academic and spiritual studies. Whatever it was the German scholars were seeking, they (like many who have travelled to India) did not find it. SY evidently was inspired to formalize or rationalize the Self-realization teachings so that everyone could benefit (even if, presumably, not all were seeking moksha).
It was in 1904 that he purchased the land in Puri that was to become the Kararashram. For the training of disciples and renunciates, he saw three stages and three separate locations for them. The young brahmacharis (up to age 25) would live and train in Puri at Kararashram. The adult sadhakas would live in Benares in Pranabashram (where Swami Pranabananda was a part) and the senior renunciates (age 50 and above) would live in Rishikesh at the Siddhashram.
In each person's life, SY saw how one moved through the yugas: kali, dwapara, treta, and satya. An interesting view of the yugas: one suited to each of us, personally! [For a description of the yugas, see the Introduction to the "Holy Science" or the expanded exploration of the yugas in the book, "The Yugas" by Steinmetz and Selbie.
The active years of SY's service were years of political ferment in India. While he supported Indian independence he, like Gandhi, was emphatic that the individual (not "the people") was the key to the social changes clearly needed.
It was on building character, right behavior, attitude, virtue and spiritual consciousness that SY saw that India would deserve its freedom. SY protested against the servile, slave-like, tamasic (lazy) tendencies that being a conquered people fostered among his countrymen. He agreed with Swami Vivekananda that in seeking (pretending?) to be sattvic (peaceful) Indian culture had become tamasic (lethargic).
His all-around educational ideals included not only the sciences but farming and agriculture, martial arts, art, music, and craft, the languages of English, Bengali and Hindi, and of course yogic practices. He saw the value of post-educational travel including air travel (which had not become a commercial reality at that point) but he decried its influence on young men of India who only returned with western habits and a loss of self-respect for Indian culture. He agreed (again) with Swami Vivekananda that "if you want to know the Bhagavad Gita, play football." (Meaning, in part, that by health culture you can improve your mental acuity and your intuitive awareness.)
Indeed, he had a strong emphasis on the need for self-respect. In his description of Dwapara Yuga (the age our planet has entered into), he predicted that "self-respect" would be one of its hallmark characteristics. (We see this in the rise of minorities, women, and people of color, etc. etc.) He, like his guru, LM, initiated all castes and religionists who were sincere. He especially emphasized the need to imbue children with self-respect. This did not mean, he said, that children shouldn't be disciplined. Tone of voice, emotion, and form of discipline are important in finding the balance.
SY travelled extensively in Bengal (Orissa, too, I imagine) to many villages where he would share his all-around teachings of health and Self-realization through kriya yoga and yoga at large. He studied asanas, mudras, pranayama and all manner of yogic practices. Always he taught Vedanta adwaita as the supreme goal and reality: Satchidananda.
SY eschewed the traditional forms of "guru-worship" and behavior. He called himself, simply, a "servant of all." He strongly encouraged seva (selfless service) by day, and God by night! He recommended to those in family life to go on retreat at least once a year. He ridiculed the pomp and lavish sartorial displays of some of the spiritual leaders of east and west though he accepted the value and necessity of the diverse forms of religion. He encouraged that we respect all forms of spirituality.
Strangely, his own efforts at organizing were not successful. He called himself a "son of Saraswati disowned by Kali." I can envision several ways to explain this but in yogic terms I would say simply that he was a gyana yogi, not a karma yogi though his karma yoga was enormous! Go figure!
"Learn to behave" was something of a motto for SY. Be polite but not subservient.
I've only extracted some tidbits from the biography and without repeating what Yogananda wrote in "Autobiography of a Yogi." As Krishna counsels in the beloved Gita, "even the wise model right behavior" past the point of their needing it for their own upliftment. To westeners whose only source of information might be the "AY," one might be led to imagine SY was only a thinker and yogi. But, in truth, he was unceasingly active in seva (karma yoga).
Thus may we honor and celebrate the birth of this Gyanavatar, Swami Sriyukteshvar Giri, May 10, 1855.
"Tat twam asi"