Guru Dev loosely means “Divine Teacher”, and this revered sage was certainly one of the most iconic Indian spiritual masters of the modern age.
Tracing a well-trodden path by gurus before and contemporary to him, Guru Dev renounced material and sensory pleasure and spent the majority of his life as a sannyasin (Hindu aescetic).
An exponent of Adi Shankaracharya’s Advaita Vedanta, he was the first spiritual leader to hold office at Jyotirmath in Northern India – one of only four temples dedicated to Shankaracharya’s Hinduism.
Guru Dev also developed a meditation practice that wasn’t confined to ascetics, and could be practiced by anyone.
His disciple Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ended up spreading this method around the world, today recognized as the immensely popular Transcendental Meditation.
He emphasized the intrinsic divinity within every individual, optimistically claiming liberation, or God-realization can happen within one lifetime.
In this article, we will look at the following:
- Guru Dev’s Early Life And Background
- His Spiritual Journey And Enlightenment
- As A Spiritual Master
- His Teachings And Philosophy
- His Influence And Legacy
Guru Dev’s Early Life And Background
Swami Brahmanand Saraswati, affectionately known as “Guru Dev” among his devotees, was born in 1871, hailing from a Brahmin caste family residing in close proximity to Ayodhya, India.
During his childhood, he exhibited extraordinary maturity and peace. At the young age of eight, his family sent him to Benares, a hub of knowledge and wisdom, to pursue his education.There, he wholeheartedly delved into the study of Sanskrit and the sacred Vedic scriptures.
In the course of his time in Benares, Guru Dev made a firm decision to embrace the path of renunciation in life.
During his tenure in Benares, Guru Dev became aware of his family’s intentions to arrange a marriage for him. Despite his objections, his family persisted with their arrangements.
Faced with the dilemma of complying with his family’s wishes or pursuing his own inner calling, he decided to reject his parents’ wishes.
Determined to embark on a journey of spiritual seeking and find a guru who could guide him towards enlightenment, he made a resolute decision to bid farewell to his studies and venture into the Himalayas.
Without any prior notice, he silently left his school grounds and embarked on a trek along the sacred Ganges, directing his steps towards Prayag (Allahabad), Hardiwar, Rishikesh, and far beyond.
His sole objective was to immerse himself in the spiritual realm and seek the profound wisdom he yearned for.
Guru Dev’s Spiritual Journey And Enlightenment
After a considerable journey, Guru Dev finally reached the famous Rishikesh, nestled in the foothills of the mighty Himalayas.
Rishikesh had been a revered site for countless generations, attracting sadhus (renunciates) and yogis who dedicated themselves to profound spiritual practices known as sadhana.
I’ve personally been to Rishikesh to study yoga and the Vedas, and even in its modern state it definitely holds intrinsic spiritual value.
In this classically spiritual location, Guru Dev commenced his quest for a spiritual guide: a guru who could illuminate his path and lead him closer to his spiritual aspirations.
According to the Vedas, a spiritual teacher should be learned in scripture, and God-realised. Guru Dev had also two more criteria:
- Free from anger
- A life-long celibate
Finally, at the tender age of fourteen, destiny led him to his revered teacher in the secluded Himalayan valley of Uttarkashi: Swami Krishnananda Saraswati. This mentor became the guiding light in his spiritual journey.
Krishnananda accepted the young boy as his disciple, bestowing upon him the monastic name “Brahma Chaitanya Brahmachari”.
Despite being the youngest student in Krishnananda’s ashram, the boy made remarkable progress under his guidance. As time went by, he delved into the ancient practices of meditation that ultimately lead to the realization of the Self.
A lifetime of self-inquiry and meditative practice concentrated in his ascetic lifestyle.
Aware of the potential envy that could arise among the older students if they discovered the boy’s advanced instruction, Krishnananda devised a plan.
He decided to feign anger, expel Guru Dev from the ashram, and direct him to settle in a nearby area filled with caves. However, he permitted the boy to return once a week to gather necessary supplies.
During these visits, Krishnananda imparted further instructions, ensuring Guru Dev’s progress.
Thus, the plan was set in motion, and under Krishnananda’s expert guidance, the young Guru Dev steadily advanced on his spiritual path.
Guru Dev As A Spiritual Master
In 1906, when he was thirty six, Guru Dev took sanyas vows, establishing a renounced order of life, wherein he received the title “Swami Brahmanand Saraswati”.
For a large portion of his adult life, Guru Dev lived in solitude in remote places such as jungles and mountains.
In this time, like many other sages, took vows of silence and completely minimized interaction with other people. It’s believed that Guru Dev spent the best part of 40 years in a cave in Central India.
As Guru Dev turned sixty, he reintegrated with society and then spent his time enacting darshan and teaching spiritual principles in towns like Benares, Prayag, and Ayodhya in India.
Throughout this term of his life, his popularity and fame grew, and soon became a national treasure.
Guru Dev built an ashram in Benares, called “Brahma Niwas”, which became his principal seat, or in other words where he predominantly lectured from.
In this time, the world-famous Maharishi Yogi became his disciple. Later on Maharishi would gain international acclaim for popularizing Transcendental Meditation.
The great saint and philosopher Adi Shankaracharya established four Hindu temples in India, each with a plan to be run by a principal disciple.
The northern temple, or Jyotirmath, had been vacant of its leading disciple since 1833, and it was organized by the Congregation Of Religious Leaders Of India to install Guru Dev as leader.
In 1953, at the age of eighty one, Guru Dev supposedly entered mahasamadhi in Kolkata.
Guru Dev’s Teachings And Philosophy
Similar to the great Shankara who came before him, Guru Dev rekindled the essence of spiritual truth, embracing its inherent simplicity and purity.
His students claim his teachings radiated with a sense of freshness, clarity, and profound insight.
He shattered numerous misconceptions, particularly the prevailing idea that spiritual realization is a difficult feat attainable only by reclusive individuals detached from society after years of rigorous practices and austerity.
Guru Dev imparted the profound wisdom that spiritual enlightenment is a natural state accessible to all, irrespective of their background or role in life.
He guided earnest seekers towards ancient yogic techniques that enabled them to ascend to transcendental states as described in Vedic texts.
These transformative practices, which had long remained elusive to many, were made accessible through his teachings.
His influence transcended the boundaries of different schools of thought, gaining recognition as the embodiment of Supreme Truth.
The president of India at the time hailed him as “Vedanta Incarnate,” signifying his profound embodiment of the highest principles of spiritual wisdom.
His teachings revolved around the fundamental aspects of human existence and the pursuit of true happiness.
Here we list his primary spiritual principles:
- Suffering and anxiety result from forgetting the divinity dormant within one’s own being.
- Authentic happiness is not found in external circumstances but resides deep within oneself as boundless bliss.
- Every soul is an embodiment of great souls (mahatmas) and represents the essence of pure truth, consciousness, and bliss (satchitananda).
- The universal self (Brahman), permeates the inner realm of every being and radiates within our hearts, providing profound stillness and true happiness.
- Daily meditation (dhyana) is emphasized as an essential practice for spiritual growth, allowing individuals to perceive their true nature and experience the universal self (Brahman) through darshan, the inner vision.
- Knowing and realizing Atman, the Self, leads to the permanent eradication of pain and suffering (dukha) from one’s life.
- By recognizing inner treasure and the divine presence within, and embracing daily meditation, individuals embark on a transformative journey toward self-realization and liberation from suffering.
- There exists immense power and potential within each individual, and it can be considered almost a duty to tap into our inherent greatness and discover the boundless bliss that is rightfully ours.
Guru Dev’s Influence And Legacy
Guru Dev has left a global legacy of spiritual teaching, foremost in his native India. In his lifetime he was revered as a saint, and drew national acclaim as the head of the Jyotirmath.
As mentioned, the prime minister at the time of his peak fame called him “Vedanta Incarnate”, as an embodiment of Shankaracharya’s wisdom and legacy before him.
He also left his mark through his disciples, including Swami Karpatri, Swami Shantanand Saraswati, and Maharishi Yogi, who brought his teachings to the world over the course of the 20th and 21st century.
His teachings were documented in various forms by his followers, and in 1947 his discourses were compiled into a book named “Shri Shankaracharya Vaksudha”.
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