Mahavatar Babaji

Babaji (birth possibly 203 C.E.) the eternal yogi Babaji (Revered Father) is a legendary immortal Yogi who is said to have instructed many of the great historic yogis, in the service of his goal of human spiritual evolution. He is particularly associated with the modern yoga movement of the Self-Realization Fellowship.

Historical information regarding Babaji is difficult to obtain. Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of the fellowship and the first author to create wide recognition of Babaji, dedicates one chapter of his book Autobiography of a Yogi to Babaji, whose other names are Mahamuni Babaji Maharaj (Supreme Ecstatic Master), Maha Yogi (Great Yogi), and Trambak Baba or Shiva Baba (both incarnations of Shiva). According to Yogananda, Babaji chooses to live in obscurity in the Himalayas, beyond a holy place called Badrinath, and has intentionally kept secret any information about his birthplace and date of birth, which is believed to have occurred so long ago as to be beyond consideration.

Babaji is said to work in the background to guide the evolution of human consciousness; at certain times he appears and initiates certain people to advance their spiritual evolution and to promote new paths for humanity. He is not normally accessible, appearing only when he desires, often at melas (festivals). Babaji is not “religious”; rather, his goal is to help everyone achieve Self-realization by means of several forms of the science of Yoga.

Mahavatar Babaji
Babaji as Yogananda saw him

Babaji is said to have given yoga initiation to the historical teachers Shankara (seventh century C.E.) of the Swami Order and Kabir, (15th century C.E.), the famous medieval Hindi saint-poet. Around 800–900 C.E., he appeared as Gorakhnath and initiated disciples into Hatha and Kundalini yoga disciplines. According to Yogananda, around 1860 Babaji taught Kriya Yoga (the main teaching of the Self-Realization Fellowship), to Lahiri Mahasya (1828–95), the Guru responsible for reviving the discipline. Yogananda claimed that Babaji also appeared to him early in the 20th century and gave him his mission to teach in the West.

Stories attest to Babaji’s ability to become invisible at will. Because of this and his implicit instruction to his disciples to keep silent about him, little is known about his life. He can speak in any language but generally uses Hindi. His body is forever young, immortal, and not in need of food. Yogananda is said to have demonstrated this ability by the incorruptibility of his own body after his death in 1952, perhaps a capacity that develops after intense practice of kriya yoga.

Since Yogananda’s death, many more stories relating to Babaji have emerged. He has been identified with an unnamed person who lived in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Kumaon region from around 1890 to 1922. His followers, acting on his statements, expected him to return after his departure in 1922 and established a number of Ashrams for him throughout India. Another teacher, Mahendra Baba (d. 1969), throughout the 1950s and 1960s predicted Babaji’s return. Blessed from childhood with appearances from Babaji, Mahendra Baba (d. 1969), a sainted figure himself, devoted his life to facilitating the reappearance of Babaji. Mahendra restored the old Ashrams, wrote books about Babaji, and asked everyone to receive Babaji. However, Mahendra died before Babaji returned.

Haidakhan Babaji
Haidhakan Babaji

In June 1970, a young man identified as Haidakhan (also spelled Hariakhan) Baba appeared and moved among the Babaji ashrams for 14 years. From 1970 until his death on February 14, 1984, he traveled around India teaching and healing as more ashrams were opened for him. Tens of thousands of Hindus traveled to see him. Haidakhan Baba/Babaji stayed in the countryside, where he could teach the traditional sacred principles. He taught by example how to attain spiritual awakening silently. Babaji told his devotees that he appeared in many incarnations to restore the Sanatana Dharma, the eternal truth of creation that has manifested and operates in harmony with Divine Will. He urged his students to live in truth and simplicity, regardless of religious affiliation. According to Babaji, true devotion will replace material obsessions and will cultivate the presence of divine wisdom. He urged people at all times to chant the name of God, using the mantra Om Namah Shiva, literally “I take refuge in God.” Babaji’s followers sing a song to him each morning and evening in a service called an arati. They practice a fire ceremony called the yagya or hawan. Babaji advocated above all things a dedication to serve humanity through karma yoga, selfless action.

Leonard Orr and Sondra Ray, founders of the “rebirthing” movement, were among his American disciples, and Baba Hari Dass of Santa Cruz, California, published a book about stories collected about Haidakhan Baba, “Hariakhan Baba Known, Unknown.”

The Haidakhan Samaj was established in 1980 near Nainital, Uttar Pradesh state, India, as a central headquarters for the teachings of Haidakhan Baba/Babaji. The American headquarters of the Haidakhan Samaj is located in Crestone, Colorado. American devotees publish American Haidakhan Samaj Newsletter. The movement counts more than 8,000 members worldwide.

Another Indian teacher, S. A. A. Ramaiah, independently of the Haidakhan Baba movement and Self-Realization Fellowship, claimed that in 1942 he and a journalist, V. T. Neelakantan, became students of Babaji in spirit and received directly from him the texts of three books, The Voice of Babaji and Mysticism Unlocked, Babaji’s Masterkey to All Ills, and Babaji’s Death of Death. Ramaiah reports that Babaji revealed his actual beginning in human form in 203 C.E. in Tamil Nadu, India, as the son of a priest of Shiva. Ramaiah reports that Babaji traveled during the third century to the southern tip of Sri Lanka, where he studied with a guru and had a vision of Lord Muruga, son of Shiva. After studies in Tamil Nadu, he eventually went to the Himalayas to practice kriya yoga. Through his practice he was transformed into a Siddha (a perfected person with supernatural abilities) and his body became free of the effects of aging, disease, and death. Since that time, he has continued to exist, maintain a youthful appearance, and become the guide and inspiration of many of India’s great spiritual teachers. In 1951 Ramaiah founded the International Babaji Kriya Yoga Sangam, which now has locations in 50 countries and teaches all of the kriya yoga material that Yogananda deemed inappropriate for introduction to the West in the early 20th century. Since Ramaiah’s death, the Babaji Kriya Yoga Sangam has been led by Marshall Govindan, who was initiated by Ramaiah in 1971.

Another guru, Swami Satyaswarananda of San Diego, California, claims to have had contact with Babaji. At Babaji’s instruction, he has republished the writings of Lahiri Mahasaya in a series called Sanskrit Classics.
from “Encyclopedia of Hinduism” by Constance A. Jones and James D. Ryan