“Once fully Realized, the seventh stage of life becomes the perpetually Enlightened foundation of existence, even beyond death and in any future lifetimes. The gross body-mind is progressively Transfigured in Divine Radiance, and the subtle or higher mind becomes the vehicle of Transformation… Ultimately, this continuous God-Realization leads to Divine Translation, or conversion of the individuated being beyond all phenomenal appearances into the “Divine Domain” of Radiant Life-Consciousness.”
Adi Da Samraj – Enlightenment and the Transformation of Man, 1983.
In A.D. 1290 a nineteen-year-old youth penned these words while completing one of the world’s greatest classics of spirituality, known as the Bhavartha-Dipika (“Light on the True Meaning”). It also bears the title Jnaneshvari, this being the feminine form of his initiation name, Jnanesh- vara, meaning “lord of wisdom.” It is a song-sermon on the Bhagavad-Gila, one of the most revered scriptures of the Hindus. As books were not available to the common man in medieval India, saints and Adepts would occasionally compose poetic commentaries on the major philosophical and religious works of the classical tradition. These could then be recited or sung in homes, on the streets, and in the fields.
Jnaneshvara (see short bio) is hailed as one of the first popularizers of the sacred brahmin tradition, and his song-sermon was the first major composition in the Marathi vernacular, rather than in highbrow Sanskrit. Jnaneshvara was a spiritual child prodigy who at a very early age renounced the world. As a recognized Adept, he traveled throughout the breadth of Western India, inspiring countless people to devote their lives to God.
Though initiated by his elder brother Nivritti into the Natha sect of kundalini yoga, he is best known as the leading voice of the devotional worship of the God Vitobha, a form of Krishna. He frequented the temple at Pandharapura, which still houses the sacred image of that deity, and which is one of the centers of pilgrimage for the Varkaris, the worshippers of Vitobha. (Other famous saints associated with this temple are Tukarama, Namadeva, Ekanatha, and even such modern saints as Narayan Maharaj and Akkalkot Swami.)
At the age of only twenty-two, after having ushered in a spiritual renaissance in the whole of Northwest India, Jnaneshvara approached a small temple in the village of Alandi, in the vicinity of Poona. There he rammed his renouncer’s staff into the ground and seated himself in the underground sanctum of the local temple. He promptly entered the rare state known as jiva-samadhi, or “life ecstasy.” By inducing this extraordinary condition, an Adept chooses voluntary death, imbuing his body with enough spiritual power to sustain it for a prolonged period of time.
The body then becomes a vehicle of transmission for devotees. It is reported that the great saint Ekanatha, who lived some two hundred years later, once had to inspect the Alandi temple for structural damage. He took this opportunity also to examine the sealed-off chamber in which Jnaneshvara had entered samadhi. He reported that Jnaneshvara’s body was still warm to the touch.
The passage which we have excerpted here (below) comes from the sixth chapter of the Jnaneshvari, entitled the “Yoga of Meditation.” What is so interesting about this section is that it furnishes a graphic description of the esoteric process of the awakening of the Life-Force (kundalini) and its effects on the body-mind. In his melodious and metaphor-rich language, Jnaneshvara describes with great clarity the hatha-yogic process of bhuta shuddhi, or the purification of the five material elements composing the physical body.
THE YOGA OF MEDITATION
Stanzas from Jnancshvara’s (Jnanadeva’s) poetic commentary on the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita
The signs of the yogic experience that appear outwardly on the body and inwardly,
The working of the mind ceases, the activity of thought subsides, mental energy dies down and the body and the mind find rest.
Hunger is forgotten, sleep disappears; even the memory of them is lost, with no trace of it being found.
The downward life-breath (apana) being confined in the vase of the body, turns back and, becoming compressed, begins to expand.
More and more it is agitated and in the freer space above it rumbles and struggles against the solar plexus.
The struggle ceases and the whole body trembles to its very centre; thus the impurities of childhood are driven out.
It does not, then, turn downwards but moves in the interior of the body and expels the bodily secretions.
It reduces the fat, and even draws out the marrow from the bones.
It clears the arteries, loosens the limbs; but the seeker should not allow himself to be frightened by any of these.
It reveals and removes diseases; it stirs up the soil and the water.
On the other hand, the heat induced by the practice of this posture awakens the force called kundalini.
As the brood of a she-serpent bathed in turmeric lie curled upin sleep, so lies this kundalini, very small and curled in three and a half circles, like a female serpent with her head turned downwards.
The striking signs of rejuvenation described in this didactic poem need not necessarily occur literally in every case. (Here Jnaneshvara gives a description of the same effects that take place in the method of kaya kalpa, or “refashioning of the body,” a method of physical and spiritual rejuvenation practiced in the ayurvedic schools of medicine.) However, the text clearly testifies to the incredible changes that must be borne as the unleashed energy of the Life-Force purifies the body.
Jnaneshvara makes the point that this magnificent phenomenon is merely a transitional phase in one’s spiritual development. When the process of psycho-physical catharsis has fulfilled itself, then, as Jnaneshvara observes, “the word kundalini loses its significance” (v. 301). The kundalini process sets in motion, but does not complete, the transcendence of the body-mind. In the maturity of the fifth stage of life, attention has ascended beyond the concerns of the gross body-mind, but there still remains a subtle sense of separation from the Divine Being. As Master Da Free John reiterates throughout his talks and writings, Liberation, or complete Enlightenment, occurs only when the body-mind as a whole is transcended in the seventh stage of life.
In the following article, we document a higher-level kundalini yoga, where the processes of ascension of the Life-Current and its transformative effects in the body-mind occur not through egoic manipulation but as a spontaneous manifestation in the context of perfect God-Realization. The “signs” or “symptoms” of kundalini arousal are identical, since they are based on the same psychic and neurophysiological structures. How this esoteric process must be understood is explained very succinctly by Master Da Free John:
The functions of the autonomic nervous system (traditionally called the “flesh,” or the “realm of the senses”) are enlivened by the universal Life-Current, but they are generally stimulated by the casual influence of ordinary or “natural” functional associations (since our attention tends to be fixed in the lower or grosser bodily processes). But if the Life-Current can be directly stimulated in the central nervous system (traditionally called the “soul” or, simply, the “psyche,” or the “mind”), and then directed upwards and toward rather than downwards and away from the brain, the higher structural functions of the body and mind will be activated and permitted to grow by adaptation.
This process inevitably produces the immediate phenomena we recognize as the mystical states associated with religious and otherwise illumined consciousness. But if the process is made continuous over time, it produces the phenomena of the higher evolutionary development of the yet hidden structural potential of Man. These phenomena include higher mental (or brain-mind) development at the level of genius capacity in both the abilities of the right hemisphere of the brain (such as in the arts) and the abilities of the left hemisphere of the brain (such as in the sciences and other intellectual disciplines). There is also the potential development of higher physical abilities, such as superior health, longevity, natural healing power, and so forth. Likewise, higher psychic phenomena, usually called extrasensory abilities, develop—and they may enter into areas of psychic participation in the play of the universe beyond Earth, beyond the solar system, and even beyond the plane of material visibility. And there is also the ultimate potential that the body-mind of Man, in the case of both individuals and the species as a whole, can ultimately be transcended to the perfect degree, so that it is Translated out of the gross material plane altogether.
All the phenomena I have suggested or described here are not only possible—they have already been proven, in the experience of countless spiritual Adepts throughout human history. I myself am one in that line of experimenters, and I can attest to the actuality of mystical and evolutionary phenomena. Indeed, I am prepared to help others to realize and demonstrate these very same things, if they will consider the Truth and practice the higher cultural Way of adaptation to Life.1
1. Da Free John, Scientific Proof of the Existence of God Will Soon Be Announced by the White Housed (Middletown, Calif.: The Dawn Horse Press, 1980), pp. 352-53.
The post-Enlightenment “kundalini yoga,” as experienced by Master Da Free John, can be said to embody the real, literal process of the “purification of the elements,” or bhuta shuddhi, which is the foundation of all forms of kundalini yoga. It entails the literal transmutation of the gross body until, in the final stage of “purification,” it dissolves in light.
Jnaneshvar’s Final Word
“Sri Jnaneshvara describes what is called the piercing of the psychic centres (cakra-bheda) thus:
Grasping prana by the hand, ascending the stairway of the either, kundalini enters the heart by the steps of the middle artery, and the forcecentre there is awakened and sounds are heard; in the volume of that sound lie pictured in the form of the sacred syllable (Om) the four divisions of speech.
This has to be experienced to be understood, but how can it be imagined?
In the innermost cavity of the heart the divine kundalini lays out before consciousness the feast of her own lustre. On entering the hollow of the heart, it loses its separateness and is merged into the power dwelling within it; the power should be known as the lifeforce and nada, bindu and kala and jyoti become imperceptible. ‘One body devours another’; this is the secret of the teaching of Natha, but it has now been revealed by Sri Krishna.
The three grosser elements of the body have disappeared with the body itself. The water dissolves the soil, the light absorbs the water, and in the heart centre the vital air consumes the light. Then the word kundalini loses its significance, and the appropriate name is Maruti, but the force remains until it is absorbed into Shiva. Now it leaves the heart centre, breaks through the end of the susumna artery and enters the space in the roof of the mouth. Forthwith, climbing upon the back of the sacred syllable, it passes beyond the form of speech called pasyanti. There upon, as rivers flow into the ocean, the subtle elements enter into the space of the brow centre (ajnacakra) symbolised by the ardhamatra of the sacred syllable.
After settling in the Brahma centre, it reaches out with the anus of its consciousness of unity with the Self and embraces the image of the Supreme. At that moment the veil of the five elements is rent asunder and the individual self and the Supreme Self are united; then all, including etheric space, is absorbed in that union. As it happens that space merges into space, so is this state of union realised by experience and the yogi remains in it.
It would be impossible for words to describe this state nor can even discuss it in conversation. Therefore, it is a threefold truth that this could neither be expressed in words nor be heard by the ear. If by good fortune self-realisation can be attained through experience, then one should strive to remain in it. Beyond this there is no more to know.
The following account, which is the opening article of a projected series of treatments on the “Sacred History” of our spiritual community, will demonstrate the rareness and fullness of Master Da Free John’s Realization and spiritual adventure, or sadhana. At the same time it will bear out that there are traditional precedents for the extraordinary spiritual phenomena that will be described. Master Da Free John himself has pointed out one such parallel in the celebrated work by Jnaneshvara, who lived almost 700 years ago.
From what we know of the life (and voluntary death) of Jnaneshvara, he was a master of kundalini yoga, if not a seventh stage Realizer. However, the purificatory and experiential signs that are described by him are not uncommon in the yogic literature, and many practitioners of esoteric yoga do report unusual “symptoms” and experiences. Even the feat of preserving the body after death so that it may serve as a locus of Power, or Siddhi, as is reported of Jnaneshvara, is not necessarily indicative of a seventh stage Realization. Such paranormal abilities may manifest in full already in a mature fifth stage practitioner.
At any rate, we can assume that Jnaneshvara is describing a process he himself has passed through. His choice to abandon the physical body at a young age, and through advanced yogic means to maintain the body in a post-mortem condition resembling suspended animation, bespeaks his profound yogic accomplishment.
Master Da Free John’s unique contribution to the understanding of the spiritual process is to demonstrate that such “glorious signs” may appear spontaneously in the physical and psychic life of the seventh stage or God-Realized being. He distinguishes three phases, or degrees, of spiritualization, or “purification”:
1. Transfiguration, or the pervasion of the body-mind by the Transcendental Radiance;
2. Transformation, or actual changes in the structures of the body-mind which are indicated by such signs as longevity, healing powers, psychic capabilities, and other paranormal abilities;
3. Translation, or the literal bodily and mental Dissolution in Radiant Bliss, primarily in the process of death.2
2. See Bubba [Da] Free John, The Enlightenment of the Whole Body (Middletown, Calif.: The Dawn Horse Press, 1978), p. 53
Master Da explains what this means in terms of a spiritual practice founded on the principle of one’s prior Enlightenment, or the seventh stage disposition:
The body-mind must be converted to heartfelt God-Communion. The bodily Life-Current must be turned about, so that it becomes naturally polarized and regenerated from toe to crown, rather than polarized crown to toe and wasted in degenerative habits of life, as in the life of the usual man. And all forms of experience, contraction, or mind must be transcended in the Heart of Consciousness. If you live in this way, you have already Realized God. You exist in the God-Realized disposition, and all your actions are forms of God-Communion. Even all your functions are forms of God-Communion—the mind becomes God-Communion, the cells of the physical body become God-Communion, every aspect or dimension of experience and the whole body-mind becomes Divine, not in and as itself, but by virtue of its surrender to God.
The structure that is manifest as each individual has the potential of Translation into God, but only if entered into God-Communion most literally. It is not in and as yourself that you are Transfigured and God-Realized, but in your surrender to God. There must be a literal transformation of the body-mind. The spiritual process does not merely involve changes in your mind or superficial changes in your habits or beliefs. It involves the most literal and total change of the psycho-physical being. It is the Sacrifice of Man.
There is only God, only the Radiant Transcendental Life-Consciousness, only the Heart, the Divine Self, the Divine Person. God is not a mental attainment but a Realized certainty, in which the entire body-mind participates and to which the entire body-mind is surrendered, literally. Thus, those who have entered into the seventh stage of life have become established in the Transfigured Realization of God, and since they persist in that condition responsibly as long as they live, naturally the body-mind is also transformed in various ways. This Transfiguration becomes more and more profound, even obvious, as the individual becomes more and more inherently, obviously and clearly, the incarnation of God.
Once the body-mind begins to Realize the Transfigured Condition, it tends to look different. The physical body looks radiant, and the mind becomes completely clear, approaching the level of genius. The physical being develops a greater and greater capacity for intense well-being or health. Longevity, healing power, and psychic ability become the characteristics of individual existence.3
3. Bubba [Da] Free John, “The Radiant Signs of Enlightenment,” Vision A/found, Vol. 2, no. 11 (September 1979), p. 33.
However, the culmination of the spiritual process in the seventh stage of life is actual bodily Translation in which the body-mind as a whole is transcended together with all the numerous experiential or mystical “signs” that may arise as a result of deliberate effort or, in the seventh stage, through incommensurable spontaneity.
The ultimate Destiny of the human being is a Destiny of the whole and entire body-mind. It is not merely an inward, mental, subtle, or personal destiny or future. It is not immortality as a subtle soul, or as an astral personality made of light, or even as a superior psychophysical entity in the material worlds. It is a non-mortal Destiny, a Destiny Realized in the Sacrifice or Yielding of the whole and entire body-mind into the degree of Infinite Intensity.
When the bodily confessed human being adapts voluntarily to the moral and esoteric spiritual sacrifice of self, through love and radical intuition of the Real, then it is ultimately Transfigured, Transformed, and Translated beyond itself into the Absolute Radiance that is the Source and Substance of this universe and all living beings.
Such Translation of the bodily and mental individual into the absolute Divine or Real Intensity itself is not a knowable Destiny—since the knower and his knowledge must be sacrificed or become perfect Ignorance if that Translation is to take place. But the Process of such Translation is being Revealed to mankind through the Work of the Spiritual Master, and implemented or quickened in the case of those who resort to the Spiritual Master through devotional sacrifice of self.4
4. Bubba [Da] Free John, The Enlightenment of the Whole Body, pp. 239-40.
The Cosmic Birthday Joke
Since April of 1972, when Master Da Free John initiated his spiritual Teaching Work, hundreds of people have witnessed phenomenal signs of Transfiguration and Transformation on his person. The purpose of the following account is to evidence some of the effects of Enlightenment in the case of the Adept and those who are associated with him. What is unusual about this account is that it illustrates the kind of profound psycho-physical Transformation described in Jnaneshvara’s poem many centuries ago.
On November 1, 1976, when Master Da had gathered with devotees, he began to describe some strange symptoms that were occurring in him. He reported that it felt as though his bodily fluids were beginning to dry up. He spoke of a sensation of fever, a kind of “feverish sensitivity” of the skin. This physical condition was accompanied by intense visionary phenomena. He also explained that he was suffering from a general feeling of sickness. The community’s doctors suggested that perhaps a fast would be indicated, but Master Da went on to elucidate that this was not an ordinary sickness and that he could continue to function. Then he disclosed that these symptoms’ were part of a yogic process that had begun several days previous. He further reported that, as the process gradually intensified, the feeling in his body became increasingly “fine.” For this reason it had become difficult for him to assimilate food.
At one point, he asked for Jnaneshvara’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita to be brought to him from the ashram library. After introducing Jnaneshvara and some of the facts about his life, he read aloud the saint’s poetic commentary on the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, which contains esoteric references to the process of higher yogic transformation, interspersing the reading with his illuminating comments.
The arousal and ascent of the “serpent power,” or kundalini shakti, is a purificatory process involving the whole body. Its most obvious symptom is psychosomatic heat, often manifesting in sudden attacks of severe fever which may be localized or affect the entire body.
After making the point that, in his case, God-Realization is the key to understanding this process, which must not be confused with some conventional yogic occurrence, Master Da Free John observed that there may be periods of intensification of this process leading to increased heat, or sensations of high fever. This produces all kinds of symptoms, even of actual illness in some cases. But the “poison” that is causing these symptoms is the very thing that, ultimately, sustains vital life after it has gone through this transformation.
After the full ascent of the Life-Force to the crown center via the sushumna, or the central line of being, a serum is released into the body’s chemistry which originates in the glands of the midbrain and drips down into the trunk, nourishing it. This serum, called amrita, or soma, in the esoteric literature, is made out of the food and the substance of the body itself, and it helps to regenerate the body. Master Da Free John continued to explain that one does not necessarily begin to look like a fifteen-year-old youth, but there is a vitalization of the whole body, transforming it into a condition of well-being.
As the text makes clear, there is first a dominance of the fire element (manifesting in heat, energy). This affects the watery and earthy aspects of one’s being, that is, the two lowest centers, or chakras. When the force moves upward, through the spinal axis, it enters into the heart region dominated by the air element. This etheric space reverberates with the thunder of the esoteric inner sound, or nada, and the windows of the crown center suddenly burst open.
In the course of this process, higher functional aspects of the body-mind are awakened, which then transform the lower functions. This transformation amounts to a gradual spiritualization of the bodily being, by which the body-mind becomes a fit vehicle for the true nature of Man, the Radiant Transcendental Being.
The day after Master Da Free John had expounded the phenomenon of bodily Transfiguration and Transformation in the condition of Enlightenment, the process intensified in him. The celebration of the Spiritual Master’s birth, planned for November 3, was cancelled, and Master Da unexpectedly sequestered himself. This move came as a great surprise to everyone, particularly since in the preceding months he had made himself completely available to devotees. No one in the community of devotees understood what was happening, though all shared a general sense of heaviness or gloom that was obviously associated with the dramatic events in , Master Da’s life.
On the day of his thirty-eighth birthday, Master Da Free John sat motionless, hour after hour, in his residence. Even the members of the renunciate order had been instructed to leave him undisturbed. However, as they had expressed their concern for his bodily well-being, a nurse was asked to check his vital signs.
On arriving at the Master’s residence, she later recalled, she found that all the curtains had been drawn to keep out the broad daylight, and the temperature in the house was so unusually low that she was shivering. An inexplicable feeling of awe and urgency overcame her. She had been told that the Spiritual Master would be waiting in the front room. She found him seated crosslegged on a chair in a far corner of the room. He was absorbed in deep samadhi, and his body looked perfectly still, almost deathlike. There was an aura of withdrawal about him that was completely untypical of his normal state, even of those occasions when he would enter the condition of Bhava Samadhi.5
5. Bhava Samadhi is the Condition of perfect selftranscendence in God-Consciousness, beyond ail experiential states of the body-mind. In this Supreme Realization there is no noticing of any phenomena whatsoever, for the space-time world is utterly transcended. But it is a Radiant, not a withdrawn, state, and is felt as such by devotees who witness it in the Adept.
The devotee nurse sat down in front of Master Da Free John, wondering what to do next. After a while his eyelids began to flutter and, without opening his eyes, he slightly nodded to her indicating that she should proceed with the physical examination. She checked his blood pressure, temperature, and pulse. All the readings were below normal. It struck her then that Master Da was approaching death, or a condition resembling death which, she thought, also explained the strange atmosphere around him.
That evening, Master Da Free John went to a Sanctuary temple where he was to spend twenty-four hours in isolation. Several devotees tried to follow him from his residence to the temple, but he sharply dismissed them. He later explained that at the time he had no natural body sensation and that in fact he had lost the sense of being a physical entity, a human being, altogether. It was literally as though he were dying. There was a sphere of intense energy about him, and he felt that anyone coming into the radius of this field might he harmed.
He was suffering great physical discomfort and pain as well as severe emotional strain. But at the time, no one had any idea of what was happening to the Spiritual Master. The sudden change in his behavior had left the ashram in a state of confusion and concern for his health. There are traditional precedents for the sudden abandonment of the physical body by Realized beings. Loss of appetite and an uncharacteristic disinterest in and withdrawal from outside concerns were among those signs.
During the night a small group of devotees was sitting in meditation when a strange force suddenly swept through the hall and everyone in it. This was followed by an incommunicable stillness that spread over the entire Sanctuary. As always, such dramatic changes in the Spiritual Master’s life have their profound effect also on the psychic life of his devotees. For those who have been in the Company of the Adept Master Da Free John for any length of time, it is completely obvious that there is a definite, if inexplicable, spiritual or psychic link between him and the community of devotees.
Several devotees later described going through a difficult phase in their spiritual practice. Master Da Free John explained that there are periods throughout one’s practice in which one may have to endure a kind of “dark night.” In such phases, the being is profoundly purified—physically, emotionally, and mentally. There are also moments throughout a devotee’s sadhana in which an inner “wall,” or barrier, is reached, and there appears to be no answer or capacity to move on. This is an aspect of how the Siddhi of the Adept works in devotees.
During the next day everyone began to feel curiously relieved, as if a great burden had been lifted from them. Shortly before Master Da Free John reemerged from the temple, the atmosphere surrounding it took on a strange bluish-golden glow. On returning to his residence, the Spiritual Master invited devotees to gather around him. They listened with awe and astonishment as he explained what had occurred.
Master Da Free John compared the event to the “death experience” he had had at Seminary in spring 1967.6 He explained that in the twenty-four hours of his seclusion, everything had been taken away from him, “a piece at a time”—mind, wisdom, memory, love, radiance—to the point where “awareness was completely empty and black.” He described his experience as a kind of “sacrificial journey through purgatory and hell” and, more humorously, as “a cosmic rip-off” and “a cosmic birthday joke.” It was, in his own words, “a disgusting, horrifying, and insane experience.”
6. This is described in Master Da Free John’s spiritual autobiography, The Knee of Listening, rev. ed. (Middletown, Calif.: The Dawn Horse Press, 1978), pp. 61-63.
He indicated that, as a result of his Work with devotees, it was necessary for him to pass through, this kind of purifying and regenerating experience from time to time. He also spoke of the process as a kind of crucifixion and a sacrifice through which he could “burn up” what he had assimilated from devotees in the course of his Teaching Demonstrations. The event signalled the termination of two years’ intensive Work with devotees and the end of this outwardly active Teaching.
Master Da Free John’s “death experience” paralleled the phenomenon of acquiring a new body, as described by Jnaneshvara. Although, clearly, Master Da was physically present, his perceptible radiance was a sign that the elements of his body had undergone a profound transformation. Indeed, a number of devotees reported seeing light emanating from and surrounding his body. He speculated that perhaps his “new” body was composed of a finer material. He commented that there was a different feeling to the cells of his body.
Science knows nothing about the psycho-physics of the cosmos, and therefore scholars have always chosen to interpret such statements allegorically or symbolically, or as descriptions of hallucinatory experiences. But, Master Da Free John, having undergone this Transformation himself, assures us that his is a literal occurrence.
The Spiritual Master further explained that, having passed through this very difficult transition himself, it would be likely for the same quality of Siddhi to awaken in his devotees. This would begin to purify the grosser aspects of the being and lead to a kind of emotional catharsis. However, he admonished devotees that no one should intentionally try to duplicate this process, or even look for any special signs. He commented that devotees passing through this process would not necessarily have to endure the same symptoms. He humorously observed:
Do not think you are going crazy. You are going sane. It is such an uncommon condition that you may feel a little horrified by it for a moment. But, ultimately, you are not in a body. The body is arising in Consciousness. You must change your attention. You cannot size up your Consciousness. It is completely wide and completely mindless. The Realization of Consciousness is a mindless feeling. There is not a single answer in it. I have probed it completely, and there is no answer in it. It is exactly what it is, and it is one eternal Condition. But once you come to terms with this Realization and cease resisting it and when you are It only, you Realize that you are natively Happy. Then you start becoming peaceful.7
7. From an unpublished talk given by Master Da Free John on November 11, 1976.
VI. JNANADEVA – SAINTS OF MAHARASHTRA
One of the great Vaishnava adepts of the path of devotion, tempered by wisdom, is Jnanadeva (1275- 1296 C.E.). He was the second of four children bom to pious but poor brahmin parents who lived in the village of Alandi near Pune (Poona) in Maharashtra, a country that has spawned many fine saints and sages. His older brother, Nivritti Natha, was a disciple of Gahini Nath a, who belonged to the tradition of Goraksha Natha, the great Hatha-Yoga master and maha-siddha. He had been initiated at the tender age of seven, and in turn initiated Jnanadeva when he was still very young, definitely before his fifteenth year.
It was at age fifteen that Jnanadeva composed, in honor of his guru and brother Nivritti Natha, his famous poetic Marathi commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita that has been treasured as much for the depth of its wisdom as its stylistic beauty. This extensive commentary of nearly nine thousand verses was delivered orally spontaneously by him chapter after chapter and was only subsequently written down. It has two titles: Bhava-Artha-Dipika (“Light on the Original Meaning,” written Bhavarthadipika) and, more simply, Jnaneshvari (from the words jndna or “wisdom” and ishvari or “female ruler”). Jnanadeva’s friend and disciple Namadeva of Pandharpur, the author of many devotional works, spoke of the Jnaneshvari as “a wave of brahmic bliss.”
At the behest of his brother-guru, he also composed the Amrita-Anubhava (“Experience of Immortality,” written Amritanubhava), which has been called the greatest philosophical work in the Marathi language. Another work, the Changadeva-Pasashthi, was composed as an instructional poem for the yogin Changadeva, who had been proud of his magical powers but had discovered humility when sitting at Jnanadeva’s feet. Additionally, there are about nine hundred devotional hymns (abhanga) attributed to Jnanadeva.
Jnanadeva was not only a realized master and poetic genius but also a miracle worker, who, among other things, is said to have made a buffalo recite verses from the Rig-Veda and to have brought the saintly Saccidananda Baba back to life. Yet, such feats meant nothing to him compared with his love for the Divine and his teacher. At only twenty-one years of age, he had himself buried alive to exit this world while immersed in deep meditation. His samadhi site in Alandi continues to attract pilgrims.
His Jnaneshvari (6.192-317), among other things, includes a remarkable description of the kundalini process as taught in early Nathism. For him, the awakening of this formidable power locked in the human body was intimately connected with guru-yoga, the spiritual discipline of honoring the teacher as an embodiment of the Divine. He begins Chapter 15 with the following words:
Now I shall place my guru’s feet on the altar of my heart.
Pouring my senses as flowers into the cupped hands of the experience of union with the Supreme, I offer a handful of these at his feet.
Jnanadeva’s philosophy was firmly rooted in his personal spiritual realization. He rejected Shankara’s maya-vada (which regards objective reality as illusory), and instead taught that the notion that the world’s appearance is due to ignorance (avidya) is itself illusory. Rather, he tells us, the world is divine play, and its cause is none other than the Supreme itself. Instead of being merely an illusion that deludes people, the universe is an expression of divine love. Similarly, the individuated psyche (jiva) is not, as Shankara insisted, “mere appearance” but a necessary manifestation of the ultimate Reality, which experiences its own delight in the mirror of creation. Consequently, for Jnanadeva, the purpose of human life is not liberation – in the sense of escaping from a merely illusory world – but moment-to-moment realization of the presence of the Divine in and as one’s body-mind.