historical masters siddhas gurus buddhist hindus ancient masters enlightend masters and gurus


“The same ultimate truth is realized by all free Adepts,
and they communicate it in a particular fashion in their time and place”
Da Free John, 1982 –
What is the Conscious Process

“That is why it is said there are so many masters. They are always available.
They can always intervene. They can always be called upon.”
Why Are There So Many Masters?


The following is from:

The Love of the God-Man
A Comprehensive Guide to the Traditional and Time-Honored Guru-Devotee Relationship,
the Supreme Means of God-Realization,
As Fully Revealed for the First Time by Da Kalki
(The Divine World-Teacher and True Heart-Master, Da Love-Ananda Hridayam)
By James Steinberg

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(Sankara, Sankaram, Sankaracarya, Sankaracharya, SankarAcArya) (788-820)

Shankara was a great teacher of Advaita Vedanta who was likely born in the village of Kaladi in Kerala, South India, in 788 (although some list this date as the beginning of his life as a renunciate). Legend has it that he mastered the Vedas at age eight.

Shankara critiqued the philosophical and religious traditions of his day and singlehandedly brought about a decisive cultural renaissance. He (and other jnanis like him) gave overwhelming testimony to the fact that spiritual renunciation is not synonymous with an inactive, purely contemplative life.

Shankara wrote a large number of Sanskrit commentaries on sacred Hindu literature and founded five important monasteries.


( Gorakh, Goraksa, Goraksha, Gorakhnatha, Gorakshanatha ) ( 9th or 10th century )

One of the best known and one of the greatest masters (some say originator) of Hatha Yoga and associated Shaivism. May have been from the Punjab, and some suggest, he is first to write in Hindi, or Punjabi.

The Gorakh-Bodh (“Illumination of Gorakh) is an ancient Hindi text (12th century ?) which consists of the supposed dialogue between Gorakhnath and his Teacher, Matsyendra.

[ The lineage traces itself to Adinatha (Adinath, Nath, Natha) and then Shiva himself ].

The 33 verses deal with the such diverse topics as: the life of the avadhuta, shunya (void), nada (sound), chakras, japa, and sahaja.

Gorakhnath is thought to have authored the Goraksha-Samhita, the Amaraugha-Prabodha, the Jnata-Amrita-Shastra, and the Siddha-Siddhanta-Paddhati and others.

There is also an old Natha sect text titled, Gorakh-Upanishad.




( 1017 – 1137 )


Born in South India, Ramanuja was founder of the Vishista-Advaita (“Qualified Nondualism”) school of Vedanta and leading theologian of the medieval bhakti (devotion) movement. He championed Vaishnavism (devotion to Vishnu) and was the chief opponent of Shankara’s philosophy.

Ramanuja taught that the Absolute is not merely impersonal and unqualified but includes in its being the phenomenal world. He wrote brilliant commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma-Sutra and the major Upanishads.


Jnaneshvar was a great Siddha, mystic and poetic genius of Maharashtra, India who died at the age of 21 in enstasy. His spiritual roots were in both the nath and bhakti traditions and listed his lineage as Shiva, Shakti, Matsyendra, Gorakhnath, Gahini and Nivritti (his elder brother). At the age of fifteen (1290) he is said to have delivered ex tempore the nine-thousand verses of his poetic commentary on the Bhagavad Gita; Jnaneshvari (Jnaneshwari) or “Goddess of Wisdom” [ also called Bhava-Artha-Dipika (“Light on the meaning of Being”)].


Jnaneshvar’s teaching was non-dualist, saying that the mainifest world is a “sport” (vilasa) of the Absolute; the Love of the singular Reality, and regarded bhakti (devotion), the means to liberation.


( 1440 – 1518 )


The son of a Moslem weaver, Kabir was born in Benares, India. A married householder, he earned his livelihood from weaving and became one of the most influential figures of northern India and has been hailed as the “Father of Hindi literature”.

His spiritual growth was equally guided by the Sufi poetry of the great Persian mystics (Rumi among them) and by the Hindu teacher Ramananda. While Kabir converted to Hinduism, all his life Kabir sought to unite the conflicting streams of Muslim and Hindu spirituality. He attracted both Muslim and Hindu disciples and referred to God as both Allah and Rama.

He spoke the language of the ordinary people, infusing it with the brightness of his Realization. In many popular verses, Kabir extols the supreme help afforded by a true Master and praises the devotion in the disciple. He sings of the “dice of love” which are to be cast on the body as the board, according to the throw learned from the Heart-Master.

His following today, called the Kabirpanthir, still numbers nearly one million adherents. He was also a forerunner of Sikhism, which was founded by Guru Nanak, his disciple.


( 1486 – 1553 ) 

Chaitanya was a legendary bhakta and master of God-intoxication, whose life story reads like the play and sport of Krishna (and some believe him to be the re-incarnation). For the last twelve years of his life, he is said to have lived in perpetual devotional ecstasy or “Divine Madness” (“divyaunmada”). 

A tall, muscular man, he considered himself the bride of Krishna. Chaitanya demonstrated in his own life how the dry ritualism of his brahmanical peers could be turned into true worship. Lost in God, he would dance, often in public, and with his entranced dance attract others into God-Communion.


( Tukarama, Tukaram Maharaj, Tuka ) 

( 1608 – 1649 ) ( 1598 – 1650 )

Tukaram was a bhakta by nature and farmer by trade and was likely born at Dehu near Poona in the State of Maharashtra where his ancestral home is still said to exist.

His family were successful grain sellers but the priestly class considered him lowborn.

(Tukuram’s own farming fortune took a bad turn later in life when a famine resulted in the death of his first wife and son by starvation.)

Tukuram inherited devotion to God from his family. The family deity was Vitthal, or Pandurang— a form of Krishna worshipped in the famous temple in Pandharpur. His devotion took greater focus after the disaster that befell his family and many others. 

Some say Tukaram received his spiritual initiation from Chaitanya in a dream. Others say that it was during a period of intensive meditation that Tukaram’s Guru, Babaji Raghavachaitanya, initiated him in 1619, whereupon he renounced his inheritance gave himself completely to meditation and kirtan. 

Tukaram believed the body to be the temple of the living lord and idol worship and rituals had no meaning for him. His all-embracing love and forbearance and his special compassion for animals compare with the saintliness of St. Francis of Assisi. 

He had much need to be forbearing, for his envious comtemporaries from the upper classes condemned and reviled him for his spontaneous witnessing of the Love of God. Oblivious to the misunderstanding and spite of his detractors, Tukaram bequeathed to his fellow men and posterity many wonderful songs, chants and poems in praise of the Divine and the spiritual Way. Nearly five thousand lyrics in the Marathi language have been consolidated into a volume known as the Tukaramachi Gatha.


( 1718 – 1778 ) 

Ramprasad Sen was a Bengali Hindu poet-saint who worshipped the Divine in its female aspect, as Kali or the Mother Goddess. He was an exemplar of “bhakti yoga”, charactersized by practice of direct and intensely personal forms of relationship with the Divine Reality.

Ramprasad’s poetry expresses a passionate mysticism, filled with intense longing and struggle. He addresses the Mother Goddess in all of Her seemingly contradictory aspects—as loving mother and “the Dark One’, as the Transcendental Reality and a disreputable trickster embodying the forces of “maya” or illusion.

While Ramprasad’s relationship to the Divine Mother seems at times petulant, irreverent, even blasphemous, such forms of address and acknowledgment are occasionally employed in Indian devotional verse, and do not contradict his bhakti orientation. Ramprasad translators Leonard Nathan and Clinton Seely write:

[This] convention is a means of revealing the power in that relation, once established, to transform every kind of emotion—hostile as well as loving— into devotional passion through the act of total concentration on the deity. [It also exhibits] what is essential in the relations between devotee and deity. 

For when Ramprasad accuses Kali of indifference, he is also suggesting her total detachment from the world, the very quality that he needs to achieve for release, just as when he acesses her of shameless nakedness, intoxication, and madness, he is, in fact, cataloguing some of her most potent attributes: the awesome presence of real being, without the conventional covering of appearance; the joy of true freedom, and its refusal to be contained in rational or moral categories…. The convention of accusation and insult, in short, provides Ramprasad with an intensity and depth of feeling to match the awesome crisis of salvation.


(Shri Swami Samarth) 

(19th century)

Akkalkot Maharaj, recognized by many as an incarnation of Dattatreya, first appeared in Akkalkot in 1856. There he stayed for nearly twenty-two years. When asked about his parentage and childhood, he gave various, sometimes contradictory, answers to inquirers. 

One account put forth by deotees asserts that after traveling in the Himalayas, the Swami sat in samadhi for three hundred years in a dense forest. He became completely covered by anthills, and a large tree grew beside him. Once a woodcutter came to the forest and chose that particular tree for cutting. Laying his axe first to the anthill, he was surprised to see blood oozing from it. Pulling down the anthill, he discovered the Swami beneath it.

Roused from samadhi, the Swami declared the incident to be Divinely ordained as it was time for him to go into the world and continue his mission. The Swami is said to have then wandered for a hundred years, performing many miracles, before appearing in Akkalkot. 

The Swami was unpredictable, appearing mad to many, and full of miracles. He loved his devotees with a great passion, and like other Adepts of the Crazy Wise style, he was paradoxically full of both human and Divine qualities. Once, when asked who he was, he replied, “I am this infinite universe; I am everywhere. Yet my favorite resorts are Sakyodri, Girnar, Kasi, Mathapur, Karveer, Panchaleswar, Audumbar, Karanjnagar, Narasimhvadi, and Gangapur.”


( ? – 1906 ) 

Not known in the West and barely known in the East, Brahmananda, of Gangonath, Baroda, India is known to have activated the spiritual process in others by his mere glance. A man of miracles, Brahmananda lived in extreme austerity in a remote cave, though during a severe famine he was found dispensing food to thousands of victims from a seemingly inexhaustible supply.


There are four short references to Trailanga Swami in The Gospel of Ramakrishna. The longest, in Swami Nikhilananda’s introduction, describes Ramakrishna’s vision of Siva in Benares; “with ash-covered body and tawny matted hair, serenely approaching each funeral pyre and breathing into the ears of the corpses the mantra of liberation.”

He paid a visit to Trailanga Swami, “the celebrated monk, whom he later declared to be a real paramahamsa, a veritable image of Siva.” Ramakrishna also describes the Swami as having taken a vow of silence “when he is truly aware of Unity,” but also quotes him regarding the mind, so apparently he was not always silent (or wrote).

In Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, describes Trailanga Swami on pages 291-295;



(Tota Puri) 

According to Swami Nikhilananda, in his introduction to the The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Totapuri was likely born in the Punjab. He was trained at an early age in Advaita Vedanta and looked upon the world as an illusion.

He regarded the gods and goddesses (and all its rituals) of dualistic worship as mere fantasies of the mind. He spent forty years practicing austere disciplines of self-exertion and will-power on the banks of the sacred Narmada and “liberated himself” from the sense objects of the universe and realized his Identity with the Absolute.

By the time he arrived at Dakshineswar Temple (after a visit to the estuary of the Ganges) in 1864, he was a wandering monk of the Shankara Order and the head of a monastery in the Punjab and claimed leadership of seven hundred sannyasins. 

Totapuri recognized in Sri Ramakrishna an advanced seeker of Truth and thought he would be a fit recipient of the Vedantic ideal. He therefore asked Sri Ramakrishna whether he would like to practice Vedanta. Sri Ramakrishna replied that he would do so, if his ‘Mother’ permitted him. Totapuri asked him to get his mother’s permission quickly, as he would not stay at Dakshineswar for long. Sri Ramakrishna went to the Kali temple and heard Her command: ‘Yes, my boy, go and learn of him. It is for this purpose he has come here. 

He was “a teacher of masculine strength, a sterner mien, a gnarled physique, and a virile voice”. Ramakrishna would soon affectionately address the monk as Nangta, the “Naked One”, because his total renunciation of the world included clothing.

Ramakrishna referred to Totapuri as a Jnani and liked to tell the story of Totapuri giving him the Gift of the Absolute while he, Ramakrishna, gave Totapuri the Gift of Worship of the Goddess.


( born Gadadhar Chattopadhyay ) 

( 1836 – 1886 )


Swami Vivekananda

( 1863 – 1902 )


Sai Baba of Shirdi

( 1831( ?) – 1918 )


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Narayan Maharaj

( 1885 – 1945 )


Ramana Maharshi

( 1879 – 1950 )



(Padmasambhava, Sambhava, Padmakara, Pema Jungney, Guru Rinpoche, Precious Guru, Master Padma, Precious Master, Guru Tsokyi Dorje, Loden Chogsey, Shakya Senge, lit. “Lotus-Born”) ( 8th century ) ( 717 ? – 762 )

When Lord Buddha was about to pass into final Nirvana, he said to his followers, “This worldly life is transitory and separation is inevitable. But eight years from now, in the midst of an immaculately pure lake in the northwest land of Uddiyana, one will appear who is wiser and more powerful than myself. Born from the center of a lotus blossom, he will be known as Padmasambhava and will reveal the teachings of the Secret Mantras to deliver all beings from misery.”


( Tilo, Tillo, Tillipa, Tailopa, Telopa, sNum-pa, Mar-nag ‘tsong-mkhan, Til-brdung-mkhan ) (988­1069)

The Song of Mahamudra (excerpt) by Tilopa

Mahamudra is beyond all words
And symbols, but for you, Naropa,
Earnest and loyal, must this be said.
The Void needs no reliance,
Mahamudra rests on nought.
Without making an effort,
But remaining loose and natural,
One can break the yoke
Thus gaining Liberation.
If one sees nought when staring into space,
If with the mind one then observes the mind,
One destroys distinctions
And reaches Buddhahood.


( 1016 ­ 1100 ) 

Although born in the Fire-Male-Dragon year of 1016 in Bengal, India, Naropa occupies a “unique position” in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. “To the present day his life is held up as an example to anyone who aspires after spiritual values, which are never realized the easy way but only after years of endless toil and perseverance. It took Naropa twelve years of ardent devotion and indefatigable service to his Guru Tilopa to attain his goal: the overwhelming experience of the Real in direct knowledge. Apart from this, Naropa also marks the beginning of a new and rich era of Buddhist thought in Tibet, while at the same time he is the culmination of a long tradition. None of his contemporaries or successors in India can compare with him in depth of experience

When he had reached the age of eleven he went for study to Kashmir, at that time the main seat of Buddhist learning. He stayed there for three years and having acquired a solid knowledge of the essential branches of learning he returned home in A.D. 1029. A large number of scholars went with him and for a further three years he continued his studies in their company. But then in A.D. 1032 he was forced to marry. His wife came from a cultured Brahmin family. The marriage lasted for eight years, then it was dissolved by mutual consent . . . 

In A.D. 1049 Naropa went to Nalanda where he took part in a religious-philosophical debate. He was successful in this and was elected abbot, a post he held for eight years. The year A.D. 1057 was decisive for his spiritual development. He resigned from his post and set out in search of Tilopa who had been revealed as his Guru in a vision. After an ardent search which almost ended in suicide he met Tilopa and served him for twelve years until the latter’s death in A.D. 1069. Naropa himself died in the Iron-Male-Dragon year (A.D. 1100). His mortal remains were preserved in the Kanika (Kaniska) monastery at Zangskar.”


(the Translator) 

(Marpa Lotsawa, Marpa Chökyi Lodrö)

( 1012 – 1097 ) ( 1012 – 1099 )



(Mi-La-Ras-Pa, Jetsün Milarepa, Jetsèun-Milarepa) 

( 1040 – 1123 ) ( 1040 – 1143 ) ( 1052 – 1135 )



( Dharma, Tamo in Chinese, Daruma in Japanese )

(470-543) (?-528) 

The First Patriarch (Chinese Line) 

Bodhidharma was the 28th Patriarch in the Indian lineage (after Buddha) and probably not acknowedged to be the First Patriarch in the Chinese line until the time of the Sixth Patriarch (Hui Neng) 

According to D. T. Suzuki 1 , Dharma was the third son of the King of Hsiang-chih (Kasi?) in southern India. He became a monk and studied under Prajnatara (the 27th Indian Patriarch) for some forty years, it is said. 

“After the death of his teacher, he assumed the patriarchal authority of the Dhyana school, and energetically fought for sixty years or more against heterodox schools. After this, in obedience to the instruction which he had received from Prajnatara, he sailed for China, spending three years on the way. 

In the year 520 he at last landed at Kuang-chou in Southern China … [Finding ill-treatment at the hands of both commoners and elite, Dharma] went to the State of Northern Wei, where he retired into the Shao-lin monastery. It is said that he spent all his time, during a period of nine years there, silently sitting against the wall and deeply absorbed in meditation, and for this singular habit he is said to have earned the title of “the wall-gazing brahmin”.


“Han-shan and Shih-te (Kanzan and Fittoku)” from a Japanese hanging scroll by Hashimoto Gaho.

Han-shan (“Cold Mountain”), and his sidekicks Shih-te (“Pick Up” or “Foundling”), and Fengkan (“Big Stick” as he was six-foot tall), were known as the “Tian-tai Trio,” wandering Tang Dyansty lunatic hermit-monks, who sometimes lived at the Guoqing Temple of the Tian-tai sect in the Tian-tai mountain range by the East China Sea. They, like Monk Ji-gong, were known for their unconventional behavior as well as their poetry.

“Han Shan and Shih-te are two inseparable characters in the history of Zen Buddhism, forming one of the most favourite subjects of Sumiye painting by Zen artists. Han Shan was a poet-recluse of the T’ang dynasty. His features looked worn out, and his body was covered in clothes all in tatters. He wore a head gear made of birch-bark and his feet carried a pair of sabots too large for them. He frequently visited the Kuo-ch’ing monastery at T’ien-tai, where he was fed with whatever remnants there were from the monk’s table. He would walk quietly up and down through the corridors, occasionally talkingaloud to himself or to the air. When he was driven out, he would clap his hands and laughing loudly would leave the monastery.”
D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, Third Series, 1953, p. 160


( Hui-Neng, Hui-neng, Dajian Huineng, Hui-Neng Liu-Tsu-ta, Wei Lang )

( Yeno, Eno [in Japanese] )

( The Sixth Patriarch, The Sixth Ancestor )( Chinese Line )

( 638 – 713 )

According to D.T. Suzuki 2 “The Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng, was a great religious genius, and his life marks an epoch in the history of the Zen Sect in the Far East. It was due to him that his Sect, hitherto comparatively inactive and rather tending to ascetic quietism, now assumed a more energetic role in the demonstration of its peculiar features, and began to make its influence more and more felt, especially among the thoughtful class of people.,” (not to mention Enlightenment to the prepared few).

According to Fa-hai 3 , (early biographer and contributor to the Hui Neng legend) in his introduction to the Platform Sutra: ” When he was born beams of light rose into the air and the room was filled with a strange fragrance. At dawn two mysterious monks visited the Master’s father and said: “The child born last night requires an auspicious name; the first character should be ‘Hui,’ and the second, ‘Neng'”.

“What do ‘Hui’ and ‘Neng’ mean?” inquired the father.

The priest answered: “‘Hui’ means to bestow beneficence on sentient beings; ‘Neng’ means the capacity to carry out the affairs of the Buddha.” When they had finished speaking they left, and there is no one who knows where they went.”


(Huai-Jang Nan-Yueh, Hoai Nhuong)

The famous tile-grinding story refers to Great Master Ma Tsu Tao-I’s meeting with his teacher, Huai Jang of Nan Yueh, one of the foremost heirs of the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng. Here is the excerpt from the Ching Te Ch’uan Teng Lu (Record of Transmission of the Lamp) as rendered by Cleary and Cleary in the appendix to The Blue Cliff Record:

During the K’ai Yuan era (713 – 741) an ascetic named Tao-I was dwelling in the Ch’uan Fa Temple; all day he sat meditating. Huai Jang knew that he was a vessel of Dharma, and went to question him: “Great Worthy, what are you aiming at by sitting meditation?”

Ma replied, “I aim to become a Buddha.”

Jang then took a tile and began to rub it on a rock in front of the hermitage; Ma asked him what he was doing rubbing the tile.

Jang said, “I am polishing it to make a mirror.”

Ma said, “How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?”

Jang said, Granted that rubbing a tile will not make a mirror, how can sitting meditation make a Buddha?”

Ma asked, “Then what would be right?”

Jang said, “It is like the case of an ox pulling a cart: if the cart does not go, would it be right to hit the cart or would it be right to hit the ox?” Ma didn’t reply.

Jang went on to say, “Do you think you are practicing sitting meditation, or do you think you are practicing sitting Buddahood? If you are practicing sitting meditation, meditation is not sitting or lying. If you are practicing sitting Buddahood, ‘Buddha’ is not a fixed form. In the midst of transitory things, one should neither grasp nor reject. If you keep the Buddha seated, this is murdering the Buddha; if you cling to the form of sitting, this is not attaining its inner principle.”

Ma heard this teaching as if he was drinking ambrosia. He bowed and asked, “How shall I concentrate so as to merge with formless absorption?”

Jang said, “Your study of the teaching of the mind ground is like planting seeds; my expounding the essence of reality may be likened to the moisture from the sky. Circumstances are meet for you, so you shall see the Way.”

Ma also asked, “If the Way is not color or form, how can I see it?”

Jang said, “The reality eye of the mind ground can see the way. Formless absorption is also like this.”

Ma asked, “Is there becoming and decay, or not?”

Jang said, “If one sees the Way as becoming and decaying, compounding and scattering, that is not really seeing the Way. Listen to my verse:

Mind ground contains various seeds; When there is moisture, all of them sprout. The flower of absorption has no form; What decays and what becomes?”

Ma heard this and his understanding opened up. His heart and mind were transcendent. He served his master for ten years, day by day going deeper into the inner sanctum.

(This meeting probably took place in the mid 730’s. Huai Jang had six adept pupils, but he said it was Ma Tsu who realized his “heart.”)


(Shitou Xiqian, Shih-t’ou Hsi-ch’ien, Shitou Heshang)

(Kao Yao, Gao Yao, Sekito Kisen)

( 700 – 790 )

Song of the Grass Shack

I’ve built a grass shack with nothing of value inside. After a good meal, I like to take a nice nap. The grass thatching still looks new; When it wears out, I’ll add fresh thatch to the roof. The person inside the shack is always present, But you won’t find him inside or out. He doesn’t hang out with worldly people, And he doesn’t like the things they like. This little shack contains the entire universe, And my physical body is integrated with it. Great Bodhisattvas don’t doubt my ideas, Although humans may think them strange. If you say that my hut looks shabby, I’ll answer.

That the One Mind abides right where it is. East or west, north or south, A solid foundation is what counts. With green pines hanging over the roof And bright windows in the walls, not even a royal palace can compare with my shack. With a monk’s robe over my shoulders And a hood over my head, I’ve got no worries at all. It’s not that I praise myself for living here, Like some merchant pushing his product. It’s just that when the twilight comes, My mind is limitless from front to back.


(Ma Zu, Mazu Daoyi, “Daji”, Ma To, Ma To Dao Nhat)

( 708 – 807 ) ( 709 – 788 )










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