Annexe: Main Modern

Gurus Quoted


Bengali yogi who died in the 1970s. He blended together an intellectual knowledge of tradition, an experience grown from meditation and a great independence of mind. His teaching is known in France through the book of his disciple, Lizelle Reymond, La Vie dans la vie (Life in life), (Albin Michel, Series “Spiritualités vivantes”, Paris).

(SHRI) AUROBINDO (1872-1950)

Originally a Bengali, but brought up in England, Aurobindo as a youth threw himself into the battle for India’s independence. While jailed, he had important experiences of yoga in his cell. He settled down in Pondicherry and after some fifteen years he retired completely. He gave the practical responsibility of his ashram to a French disciple, Mira Richard, whom he and his disciples called “the Mother”. His knowledge of European culture and philosophy have drawn many Westerners to his ashram. Although having lived the last twenty-five years of his life in retreat, he insisted on the transforming action of yoga in society.


Together with Vivekananda he is one of the two main disciples of Ramakrishna; to a great extent he is responsible for the considerable expansion of the Ramakrishna movement in India.

(SWAMI) CHIDANANDA (born in 1916)

Successor of Swami Shivananda as the head of the Divine Life Society in Rishikesh. After the latter’s death, he was also near to Anandamayi Ma. His education (partly by Jesuits), the ecumenical teaching of the gurus who influenced him and his own personal charisma, endear him to Westerners.

(SWAMI) JNANANANDA (died in 1974)

He spent the last part of his life near Tirukovilur (Tamil Nadu). Jnanananda was a traditional Vedanta master, who insisted on a sustained practice of the mind’s purification before throwing oneself into non-dualistic pure meditation. His love and his humour endeared him to crowds of visitors. He was the guru of father Henry Le Saux (Swami Abhishiktananda) who wrote a book about him. (ISPCK, Kashmiri Gate, Delhi); another biography of him has been published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.


She continues to live in a hamlet in the same village in Kerala, where she was born. We wrote about her itinerary and her action at the end of chapter II. Her biography and seven volumes of her teachings have been published until now. She draws crowds of devotees by her simplicity and her state of inner joy (ananda), both in India and in the West, where she has become in a few years one of the most well known Hindu guru.

MA ANANDAMAYI (1896-1982)

Surely the most famous Indian woman mystic of the twentieth century. Born in a poor Bengali Brahman family, she had from a very early age unusual inner experiences. After some years of hidden life, she was fast recognised as a guru by an ever increasing number of devotees. She travelled throughout North India. Her mission could be considered to have been twofold: on the one hand, to revive traditional Brahmanism, on the other, to individually help a multitude of seekers coming to her from all over the world. Her life by Alexander Lipski has been published by Motilal Banarsidas (Delhi, 1977, 1993) and many books by her own ashram. In the Steps of the Yogis (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1978) is the account of the experiences in India of Vijay-ananda, a French medical doctor who spent thirty years with Ma and still leaves in her ashram.


Now about seventy years old, she is the successor of Dilip Kumar Roy, writer, singer, sannyas and disciple of Shri Aurobindo in his ashram of Poona (Maharashtra). She follows the path of Bhakti, and is the author of mystical poetry in Mirabai’s style,—a devotee of Krishna in the eithteenth century, who composed famous devotional songs.

MEHER BABA (died in 1968)

Disciple of Upasani Baba, Meher Baba is a contested guru. People reproach him for his sometimes strange behaviour, and also for falling on messianism by enlarging the Hindu notion of avatara to a kind of syncretist cult. Nevertheless, he did not lack a sense of humour in day-to-day life and did not withhold his energy throughout his life, which was dedicated to his own spiritual practices or to instructing his disciples.

(SWAMI) MUKTANANDA (1908-1982)

Taking to the road at the age of fifteen to seek a Sadguru who could lead him to God, Swami Muktananda met one after twenty-five years in the person of Nityananda, an avadhoot (complete renouncer) living at Ganeshpuri, near Bombay. His teaching blends Tantrism, Kashmir Shaivism and an extreme devotion to the guru, as it was developed among the mystics of Maharashtra. He visited the West several times, especially the United States where his organisation has become a very large one. A young lady, ‘Gurumai’ or Chidvilasananda, is his successor in Ganeshpuri (near Bombay).

NIMKAROLI BABA (died in 1973)

One of the most famous “babas” of North India, his spirituality had many points in common with that of Ramakrishna. Most of the time he travelled. The book Miracle of Love (by the American Ramdas, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi) conveys well both the childlike and mystical moods inspiring his life-style.The lady who succeeded him is Sidhi Ma.


After meeting his guru at the age of thirty-four, he attained spiritual realisation in three years. He, then, took to the road as a renouncer, but two or three years after, he met another disciple of his now deceased guru, and was convinced by him to go back to his wife and children whom he had left, and to take care of them. He did so and earned his livelihood by selling cigarettes. During the last ten years of his existence, spiritual seekers from all over the world crammed into his small flat in a popular quarter of Bombay in order to speak with him. He seems to have been one of this century’s purest representative of Vedanta together with Ramana Maharshi. He has not appointed any successor. Ramesh S. Balsekar started, even before the death of Maharaj, to publish some books which are meant to clarify Maharaj’s teaching. These books are mainly published by Chetana (34 Rampart Road, Bombay, 400003) and by the Acorn Press, (Durham, North Carolina).


Ramakrishna had a considerable influence on twentieth century Indian mysticism. After a self-started eventful sadhana, he met a woman renouncer, Bhairavi Brahmini, who taught him Tantrism and Vaishnavism, then a sadhu, Tota Puri, who taught him Vedanta. His message has an ecumenic opening which was further developed by his disciple Vivekananda, the first known guru to come to the West. The spouse of Ramaskrishna, Sarada Devi, after the death of the Master, initiated a considerable number of people.

RAMANA MAHARSHI (died in 1950)

Vedanta guru, certainly the most well known of twentieth century India, he himself does not recognize himself as guru... His practice was to ask himself “Who am I?” and to refute all verbal and especially non-verbal answers which may come to mind for eventually finding out one’s ultimate identity with the Self, which is Being-Consciousness-Bliss. He spent his life for more than half a century at the foot of the sacred mountain Arunachala, in Tamil Nadu. A book on him by Arthur Osborne has been republished by JAICO Publishing House, Delhi, 1993.

(SWAMI) RAMDAS (died in 1963)

Initiated by his father in the mantra of Rama, he recited it constantly and this practice led him to Realisation. The lady who succeeded him, Krishnabai, died in 1989. His Vision of God and In Quest of God are published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay.

SAI BABA OF SHIRDI (died in 1918)

Saint reputed for his simplicity and his miracles; lived and is buried in Shirdi, a small village in Maharashtra. He is, certainly, the guru whose image is most present in the daily life of modern India. Nobody could tell whether he was Hindu or Muslim, a remarkable fact in a religiously compartmentalized society. He apologized for performing miracles and also for not speaking more about liberation (moksha) to his visitors, by saying: “I give them what they ask me for, waiting for the moment in which they would ask for what I want to give them.”

(SWAMI) SHIVANANDA (1887-1963)

He left his medical profession to do sadhana on the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh. He met his guru only for a few hours, just at the time of an initiation, and for the rest of his spiritual education he depended only upon God. He had a vocation as an apostle of yoga for a huge number of seekers. He has written more than two hundred books.

UPASANI BABA (died in 1941)

He was the successor of Sai Baba of Shirdi and guru of Godavari Mataji (deceased in 1990) who succeeded him at Sakori, near Shirdi in Maharashtra. His teaching, coming directly from his own experience under the direction of his Master, insists on devotion to the guru and on the intensity of spiritual practices for attaining realisation. He created a monastery for women which, with its seventy members, is, to my knowledge, one of the largest in India.


As the main disciple of Ramakrishna, his short life was well spent. After the death of his Master, he spent three years as a wandering monk, then worked for the renaissance of Hinduism and was the first great representative of Yoga and Vedanta in the West. His companion, Brahmananda, said of him: “His real greatness was not in the glory he acquired, but in his talent for managing this glory without any trace of pride.”


He is a guru known for his Autobiography of a Yogi and for the movement (Self Realisation Fellowship) he founded. He spent the second half of his life in the West, especially in the United States. His teaching, the kriya-yoga, is similar to raja-yoga. He is disciple of a disciple of Lahiri Mahasay, who lived in Benares at the end of nineteenth century.