Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri | Biography & Teachings Of A Master Of Kriya Yoga

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Swami Sri Yukteswar, born Priya Nath Karar, was a master yogi in Kriya Yoga. Famous for being the guru of the celebrated yogi Paramhansa Yogananda, Sri Yukteswar was known for his strict style of training and keen insight into yogic philosophy.

Throughout his life, Sri Yukteswar was a true visionary who embodied the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.

The lineage of his teaching is said to have had guidance from the deathless guru ‘Babajiwho reportedly visits and preaches to various yogis in mystical incarnation.

Like many spiritual masters, the essence of his teaching was essentially non-sectarian, with no contempt for specific religious doctrines.

He developed a love for Christianity, and was a leading force in drawing parallels between the core spiritual teachings of monotheism and Hindu scripture. 

His love for the Bible was reflected in his masterpiece, “The Holy Science,” which remains a cornerstone of spiritual literature to this day. 

In this article we will explore:

  • Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri’s Life & Background,
  • His Teachings,
  • And His Legacy Today
Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri in orange robes with natural imagery behind him

Who Is Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri: Life And Background

Early Life And Education

Born on May 10, 1855, in the vibrant city of Serampore, India, Sri Yukteswar was the son of Kshetranath and Kadambini Kara, a wealthy couple who instilled in him a love for knowledge and Hindu philosophy.

After the untimely passing of his father, Sri Yukteswar took on the mantle of managing his family’s land properties from a young age.

Despite being a gifted student, he found his formal schooling to be slow and superficial, and his thirst for knowledge led him to Srirampur Christian Missionary College. Here he discovered a deep passion for the Bible, which would eventually shape his life’s work.

Sri Yukteswar’s religious and spiritual curiosity continued as he pursued medical studies at Calcutta Medical College. 

After finishing college, Sri Yukteswar (still known as Priya Nath Karar at the time) married and had a daughter. Unfortunately, his wife passed away a few years after they married, and he focused his life on a spiritual path.

This path led him to an initiation into the monastic Swami order.

Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri riding in a side cart

Meeting His Guru Lahiri Mahasaya

In 1884, Sri Yuktesaw met his guru Lahiri Mahasaya. He became incredibly close with his guru, who taught him the protected knowledge of ‘Kriya Yoga’, which formed the core tenets of Sri Yukteswar’s teachings.

Learning Kriya Yoga

The main teaching of Sri Yukteswar, learned through the format of master to student, he learned Kriya Yoga through initiation into the practice by his guru.

We’ll touch more upon the specifics of his Kriya Yoga teachings below.

‘Meeting Babaji’

In 1894, Sri Yukteswar supposedly met the incarnation of Babaji, the guru of his guru in a vision. 

In this experience with the “maha avatar Babaji” he was told he would one day train a disciple who would spread Kriya Yoga teachings across the globe.

As fate would have it, that disciple turned out to be none other than Paramhansa Yogananda, the brilliant author behind the best-selling book “Autobiography of a Yogi which captivated readers in the West.

Furthermore, Babaji also asked Sri Yukteswar to write a book about the essential unity between the Bible and Bhagavad Gita.

Sri Yukteswar later produced this book and titled it “The Holy Science”.

A quote from Babaji recalled by Sri Yukteswar’s guru Lahiri Mahasaya explains his position on Kriya Yoga and the intersectionality between faiths:

“The Kriya Yoga which I am giving to the world through you in this nineteenth century is a revival of the same science which Krishna gave, millennia ago, to Arjuna, and which was later known to Patanjali, and to Christ, St. John, St. Paul, and other disciples.”

– Babaji, as recalled by Lahiri Mahasaya
Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri meditating with open eyes on a leopard skin

Sri Yukteswar’s Mahasamadhi

Sri Yukteswar died at his Puri ashram, cultivating ‘mahasamadhi’ in 1936. Mahasamadhi in yogic philosophy is a type of absorption wherein a yogi consciously makes a decision to leave their physical body. 

Mahasamadhi is an incredibly difficult state to achieve that can only happen after ‘God-realization’, in which the meditator fully comprehends the non-duality of reality and their true oneness with the divine.

Interestingly, Sadhguru’s wife is also said to have attained mahasamadhi.

Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri’s Teachings

Kriya Yoga

Sri Yukteswar’s style of Kriya Yoga is a blend of three familiar aspects of sadhana, as outlined in the Niyamas (moral observances) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:

#1: Tapas – cultivation of a burning motivation to act with discipline on a moral and pure yogic path.

#2: Svadhyaya – self-study through meditation and guidance through relevant scripture.

#3: Ishvara Pranidhara – absolute surrender through action to a higher, divine reality. Essentially, faith in God.

We can also see that Sri Yukteswar’s method has a strong focus on the breath:

“Kriya Yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened. The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery.

This is India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge. The life force, which is ordinarily absorbed in maintaining the heart-pump, must be freed for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.”

Sri Yukteswar

This focus on the breath is a prevalent tool in an incredible amount of higher spiritual teaching. As a mechanism of both the conscious and unconscious mind, it is a ‘gateway’ phenomena of the body that many enlightened gurus advocate as a object of concentration.

black and white portrait photo of Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri

‘Kaivalya Darsanam’, or ‘The Holy Science’

In 1894, Sri Yukteswar wrote and published ‘Kaivalya Darsanam’, translated to ‘The Holy Science’.

Created to show the related concepts of multiple religions, The Holy Science is Sri Yukteswar’s seminal work, laying out the development of a spiritual goal found embedded in the core of all profound religious teachings.

In The Holy Science, Sri Yukteswar draws parallels between the Bible and Hindu scriptures, in the description of the endless cycle of human life – called the cycle of the yugas (or ages):

‘The purpose of this book is to show as clearly as possible that there is an essential unity in all religions; that there is no difference in the truths inculcated by the various faiths; that there is but one method by which the world, both external and internal, has evolved; and that there is but one Goal admitted by all scriptures.’

– Sri Yukteswar
Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri wearing orange robes

Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri’s Disciples

#1: Paramahansa Yogananda: Spreading Kriya Yoga

Under Sri Yukteswar’s guidance, Yogananda found fulfillment and is considered to have reached a state of super-consciousness that few have ever achieved. 

With the passed on knowledge and spiritual insight, Yogananda set out to share India’s priceless techniques with the world.

He became the most successful yoga teacher in the West, introducing the transformative practice of Kriya Yoga to countless people. 

Yogananda’s loving qualities earned him the nickname “Premavatar,” or incarnation of love. And as the second President of Sri Yukteswar’s Karar Ashram, he continued to inspire and guide others on their own spiritual journeys.

“Softer than the flower, where kindness is concerned; stronger than the thunder, where principles are at stake.”

– Paramhansa Yogananda on Sri Yukteswar
Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri and Yogananda with other students
Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri and Yogananda with other students

#2: Swami Satyananda Giri

Swami Satyananda was another prolific disciple of Sri Yukteswar. Similar to Yogananda, he had a logical and practical approach to expounding his guru’s teaching. 

In his quest for self-realization, he followed a comprehensive and holistic path that emphasized karma, or “right action,” alongside powerful Kriya Yoga techniques.

His unwavering commitment to his spiritual journey and the well-being of those around him earned Swami Satyananda great respect and admiration from his followers.

He was revered not only for his remarkable spiritual attainments, but also for his gentle, humble nature and simple way of life.

#3: Swami Hariharananda Giri

Swami Hariharananda, considered a saint, was integral to the spread of awareness of Kriya Yoga in India and across the globe.

Like his master Sri Yukteswar, Swami Hariharananda Giri also is said to have attained mahasamadhi, following his progress in cultivating God-realization.

Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri’s Ashrams

Sri Yukteswar transformed his family home into a vibrant ashram called “Priyadham,” where he lived and taught alongside his devoted students and disciples.

In 1903, Sri Yukteswar established another ashram in the tranquil seaside town of Puri – a place of peace and serenity that would become known as the “Karar Ashram.” 

From these two spiritual centers, Sri Yukteswar shared his wisdom and guidance with the world, empowering his students to seek higher truths and deeper spiritual connections.

And as he taught, he also built a community of like-minded individuals – a powerful organization known as “Sadhu Sabha” (Society of Saints).

Today, the legacy of Sri Yukteswar and his ashrams lives on as a testament to the transformative power of the spiritual community, and as an inspiration to all those seeking a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

Further Information

Sri Yukteswar’s lineage has links to Christian philosophy, with the masters and students regularly inciting mention of Jesus Christ. Why not check out our article Was Jesus A Yogi to delve deeper into this topic: 

Also, if you’d like to learn more about Kriya Yoga, or the gurus and figures surrounding the technique, feel free to read our other articles outlined below
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Born and raised in London, Luke is a passionate writer with a focus on travel, yoga, philosophy, and meditation. As a certified yoga teacher having studied under a swami in Rishikesh, Luke now lives in India pretty much just practising yoga, meditating and writing articles! Luke's life arc has gone from somewhat turbulent to peaceful, and he considers yoga and meditation direct methods to sustain introspective insight to manifest peace and happiness, despite life's challenges. Luke's passion for meditation has led him to complete multiple meditation retreats, where he spent almost 40 days in silence in the last two years. He practices various meditation techniques such as Vipassana, Anapana, and Metta Bhavana, each adding to his knowledge and experience of the true self. Most recently he meditated in Jaipur, India, and before that lived for a short spell in a monastery with forest monks in Northern Thailand. To Luke, yoga is more than just a physical exercise; it's a way of life that helps him cultivate a stronger mind-body connection. As a young man with arthritis, Luke understands the importance of observing and controlling his body, and yoga has been a vital tool in his journey to better health and well-being. The practice of yoga has not only helped him manage his symptoms but has also given him a new perspective on life. Luke's love for yoga and meditation is not limited to a single tradition or practice. He's fascinated by the spiritual teachings of all types of religious philosophy, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity for their essence and wisdom. His passion for spirituality is what drives him to continue learning and growing, and share his knowledge with other people. Luke in his spare time is an avid chess player, cyclist and record collector. He also has experience with addiction, and so sponsors multiple people from different walks of life in their recovery programmes.

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