The Little-Known Gyana-Yogi of Kashmir

The Little-Known Gyana-Yogi of Kashmir
*-Gopinath Raina
"He always negated his individual identity and lived in a truly ego-less state."

Swami Nilakanthanand Saraswati
A saint is one who is free from egoism, selfishness, vanity, lust, greed, anger, and is
righteous, balanced, compassionate, tolerant and filled with cosmic love. -Sivananda

Itis not always easy to pen down a biographical sketch of anyone, more soof a saintly person who normally lives his life within and far from thegaze of the outside world. However, in writing this piece at thisdistance of time, I have mainly drawn on my diary of personalencounters with the honest, sauve, simple, affable SwamiNilakanthananda Saraswati. I have also drawn on the personalreminiscences of the saint’s nephew, Radhakrishan Pandit, now living inJammu.

Early life

Swamijiwas born in a pious Brahmin family of Drabiyar, Srinagar, Kashmir,India, on Wednesday, April 5, 1899, corresponding to the 10th day ofthe dark fortnight of the lunar month of Chaitra, in 4074 of theSaptarshi Samvat. He was the fourth of the five sons born to his deeplyreligious and devout parents, Shri Lakshman Joo Pandit and ShrimatiParvati Ded.
 Bright,intelligent and somewhat precocious, Swami Nilakanthji had hisschooling in a Government High School in his native place, where hestudied English, Hindi and Urdu. After passing out from school, hejoined Sanskrit Pathshala in downtown Fatehkadal where he achievedmastery over Sanskrit language.


Search for Truth

Displaying spiritual leanings from his very childhood, he practiced yogic sadhana, pranayamaand meditation for hours. Most of his time he would spend time in thecompany of saints and sages, and seek answers to his questions aboutthe secrets of life and death from the wandering monks who used tofrequently visit Kashmir for pilgrimage to the Holy Amarnath Cave.
 His earnest search for Truth led him to a deep study of the Vedas, the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, Bhagwad Gitaand other religious scriptures. In course of time, he developed passionfor Sankara’s philosophy of non-dualism. Always keen to share hisknowledge, he would impart free teaching to a lot of spiritualaspirants, young and old. An avowed celibate, Bala-Brahmachari, henever even thought of marriage.

Joins Government Service

Insharp contrast to what one would have thought in view of histemperament and choice that he would renounce the world at a young age,Nilakanthji instead took up a job, first in the State Food Departmentand later in the State’s Education Department as teacher, ostensibly toprovide succor and support not only to the widow of his eldest brotherand her two young children but also to his three other brothers andtheir families. He was the major earning member in the family, for theother brothers were engaged in small vocations. He helped educate andsettle all his nephews and nieces.

Spiritual Trio
Ina write-up on his guru, Swami Lakshman Joo, one of my friends, the latepoet-saint Pandit Jankinath Kaul ‘Kamal’ mentioned that the twocontemporary saintly persons of the caliber of his spiritual teacherwere Swami Nilakanthananda Saraswati of Rishikesh and Pandit SatramBhat of Ishaber.

Thespiritual trio, referred to by my friend, certainly belonged to a veryhigh order, with each attaining eminence in their respective fields.Though they pursued different schools of thought, Shaivism andVedanta, yet the one bond common to them, namely inquiry into SupremeReality, often brought them together. They would meet, mostly on thesacred soil of Ishaber, not only to share their spiritual experiencesbut also discuss the fundamentals and the common features of the twosystems of Indian philosophy.
 Manya time, the two of them--Swami Lakshman Joo and Pt. Satram Bhat (bothof whom lived in Ishaber area)-- would visit Pandit Nilakanthji’sresidence, about ten miles away and spend a few days with him,exchanging their views, thoughts and ideas. It is during one suchmeeting of the three greats in Nilakanthji's house in 1942 that I havehad the good fortune of seeing Swami Lakshman Joo for the first time.

Thegreat Saiva teacher, Swami Lakshman Joo, was candid enough to reveal tome in an interview some two decades back that Nilakanthji’s eruditionin Vedanta was so high that he would often take lessons from his friend in Brahma Sutras and Panchadasi.

Settles in Rishikesh

After fulfilling the responsibilities toward his family, he finally left his native place for good in 1957 and landed in Swarg Ashram, Rishikesh where he was destined to meet the world-famous Swami Sivananda Saraswati.

Immediatelyrecognizing his great spiritual stature, his erudite knowledge of thescriptures and the gifted teacher in him, Swami Sivananda fittinglyassigned him the task of holding classes in Vedantic texts for his disciples and devotees who thronged his Ashram day in and day out.
Here,he not only taught spiritual seekers but also undertook deeper study ofthe works of Adi Sankara and other great Acharyas and intensified hisspiritual sadhana.

Discourses on Atmabodha

Duringmy third visit to Sivananda’s Ashram in Rishikesh on January 19, 1961,I had the rare privilege of listening to Nilakanthji’s discourses on Atmabodha in the august presence of Swamiji. These discourses on one of the holiest texts of Advaita Vedantawritte0n by the great Indian philosopher, Sankaracharya, had been goingon for about a week. I extended my stay at the Ashram to avail of theopportunity to attend three more discourses on the subject.
 His elucidation of the philosophy of Atmabodhawas so facile that one could easily grasp and understand the deeper andsubtler meanings of Self. I still remember the explanation he gave ofthe following verse from the book: Sansphurad Atmatatvam Sat Chit Sukham Parama Hansa Gathim Tureeyam.

He explained that the Self is effulgent (sansphurad), existence (sat), consciousness or awareness (chit), and joy (sukham), and it is the ultimate refuge and goal of life (parama hans gatim). He added that the Self is beyond all expression, beyond the senses and beyond understanding (tureeyam).

Thusone could infer that the Self is nothing but pure unitary consciousnesswherein the awareness of the world and its multiplicity is completelyobliterated. It is the source of ineffable joy and bliss, the onewithout the second.

Finally takes up Sanyas
It was in Rishikesh itself that he finally took up Sanyas in February, 1961 and was christened Swami Nilakanthananda Saraswati by none other than Swami Sivananda himself.

Ihave had the great good fortune of being informed by Nilakanthjihimself about this great event of spiritual transformation in his life.About four months after he assumed Sanyas Ashram, he sent me the post card from Rishikesh on June 26, 1961.

He wrote in his own hand: “Youwill be pleased to know that the ashram of this physical body has beenchanged to Sanyas on February 13, ’61 on the most auspicious day ofShivaratri.”

Wittinglyor unwittingly, Swami Nilakanthanand Saraswati revealed the gist of hisphilosophical belief in the same postcard by tendering me the followingspiritual advice: ”Please try to remember the Supreme Lord, thesubstratum of the whole Universe, your own in-dweller, nay, your ownAtman as well indweller of all beings, at the same time rememberingDeath always.”

Vedantin-Pure and Simple 

Atrue Vedantin that he was Nilakanthji negated his individual identityand lived in an ego-less state, before and after he became a Sanyasi.While he lived in grihasta-ashrama, he never used the word “I” tointroduce himself. Those who lived or worked with him were simplyamazed at his capacity to remain engrossed in his Self.

6-Verse Capsule of Nirvana
 Though he lived in Sanyas Ashramfor 27 long years, I did not have the opportunity of visiting himagain. But my meeting him in Sivananda Ashram in 1961 which turned outto be the last is still fresh in my memory for two reasons. One was myhour-long private audience with Swami Sivananda through Nilakanthji’scourtesy when I received the priceless gift of most of Sivananda’sworks from the divine author himself and another was the gift of love Ireceived from Nilakanthji in the form of a copy of Sankara’s Nirvana Satakam, which I cherish to this day as a part of my daily prayer.
 This six-verse prayer is one of the rare stotraswritten by Adhi Sankara, identifying oneself with Lord Shiva.Mellifluous in sound and quite remarkable in tempo, it clearly explainsthe theory of non-dualism. While the first 2 stanzas indicate the “Neti Neti” (Not this, not this) principle of discrimination as applicable to the Jiva,the next 3 stanzas make one transcend all thoughts ofbody-consciousness and and all concepts of duality. True nature of Selfis revealed by negating all not-Self and it contains in capsule formdeclarations of direct and intimate experiences of Absolute Bliss ofSelf-Realization. The recitation of the Stotra leads one to a state of absolute peace, tranquility, freedom, and joy.

The Stotra is as follows:

Mano budhyahankara chithaani naham,
Na cha srothra jihwe na cha graana nethre,
Na cha vyoma bhoomir na thejo na vayu,
Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham.

Na cha praana sangno na vai pancha vaayuh,
Na vaa saptha dhathur na va pancha kosa,
Na vak pani padam na chopastha payu,
Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham.

Na me dwesha raghou na me lobha mohou,
Madho naiva me naiva matsarya bhava,
Na dharmo na cha artha na kamo na moksha,
Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham.

Na punyam na paapam na soukhyam na dukham,
Na manthro na theertham na veda na yagna,
Aham bhojanam naiva bhojyam na bhoktha,
Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham.

Na mruthyur na sankha na me jathi bhedha,
Pitha naiva me naiva matha na janma,
Na bhandhur na mithram gurur naiva sishyah,
Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham.

Aham nirvi kalpo nirakara roopo,
Vibhuthwascha sarvathra sarvendriyanaam,
Na chaa sangatham naiva mukthir na meyah
Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham.
Neither am I mind, nor intelligence ,
Nor ego, nor thought,
Nor am I ears or the tongue or the nose or the eyes,
Nor am I earth or sky or air or the light,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of the nature of consciousness and bliss

Neither am I the movement due to life,
Nor am I the five airs, nor am I the seven elements,
Nor am I the five internal organs,
Nor am I voice or hands or feet or other organs,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of the nature of consciousness and bliss

I never do have enmity or friendship,
Neither do I have vigour nor feeling of competition,
Neither do I have assets, or money or passion or salvation,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of the nature of consciousness and bliss

Never do I have good deeds or sins or pleasure or sorrow,
Neither do I have holy chants or holy water or holy books or fire sacrifice,
I am neither food or the consumer who consumes food,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of the nature of consciousness and bliss

I do not have death or doubts or distinction of caste,
I do not have either father or mother or even birth,
And I do not have relations or friends or teacher or students,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of the nature of consciousness and bliss

I am one without doubts , I am without form,
Due to knowledge I do not have any relation with my organs,
And I am always redeemed,
I am Shiva, I am Shiva, of the nature of consciousness and bliss
Merges with the Absolute
SwamiNilakanthananda Saraswati shed his mortal coil in Sivananda Ashram,Rishikeh and achieved Nirvana in 1987. He was 88. Before he breathedhis last, he had instructed his devotees there to inform his homepeople in Srinagar, Swami Lakhshman joo and myself about his leavingthe world for good.
A journalist by profession, a scholar by temperament and a writer by choice, Gopinath Raina wasinclined to the study of religion from his very young age. It was SwamiVivekananda’s dynamic exposition of Hindu thought that fired hisimagination while he was still at school, and by the time he enteredcollege, he had been drawn to the writings of Gandhi, Aurobindo,Radhakrishnan and Bertrand Russel.

Afterretiring from Indian Information Service (I.I.S.) in 1983 where hedistinguished himself as an editor, correspondent, commentator andadministrator in All India Radio, he edited, AICC Journal, Varnika,(Jan.'84-Dec.'90), Koshur Samachar (March'91-Oct '95, SanatanaSandesh,(1997-2005) and KASHEER (2003-2004),

Hehas been writing profusely on various aspects of Hindu thought. Heenjoys writing, particularly on saints and sages, not only of Kashmir,but of the other parts of India as well. Presently he lives in Miami,and spends his time writing personal memoirs.

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Swami Nilakanth was an uncle of my mother. He was very affectionate to me and loved me as a child. We lived in nearby Purshyar and he carried me to the wrestling pitch in Shamshan at Karan Nagar daily for his morning walk. He used to practise some yogic asanas at the wrestling enclosure and imbibed in me the practice of morning exercise, a habit I still nurture. My immense thanks to the author for his faithful narration and for refreshing memories of this great saint of Kashmir PN.Razdan Gurgaon
Added By Pran Razdan
Dear Mr. Raina It was indeed a great pleasure to get acquainted to this great Yogi through your article. My generation would probably never have known about this great saint. I am really glad that not only have your introduced us to this great yogi but in doing so you have also explained a lot of vedantic thoughts to us in a manner that everyone can relate to. Thanks once again for the interesting article. sunanda
Added By Sunanda Vasisht
Respected Mr. Raina. your article is a real insight into the spiritual background which existed in Kashmir. On reading this, one can just imagine what we have lost. These things our next generations will not know. Please do keep on writing such treasures so that these write ups are stored and preserved. sunaina kaw fiji
Added By Sunaina Kaw
Dear uncle, I am so happy to read this article. Thank you so much for sharing such stories from your treasure chest. Accept my grateful namaskar. regards, abhi
Added By abhimanyu kaul