The life of Swami Ganeshanand Giri, 'Ganesh Baba'

By Corinne Vandewalle

Link to a meeting with Ganesh Baba as described in the novel Looking for Kathmandu

Ganesh Baba making music in Oakland, California, 1980.

Photo by Peter Meyer
We are in the holy city of Benares in the 1880s. The Ganges is flowing below her ramparts eternally and peacefully. By her banks, there is a constant buzz of holy human activities round the clock without rest or respite. People are bathing, washing, chanting, praying, prowling and howling, celebrating, crying, while the bodies of the dead undergo cremation.

A funeral procession passes bearing the body of a little boy dead of cholera at the age of four years, four months, and four days. Men and women are weeping as the cortege winds its way to Manicornica Ghat, the burning ghat.

Suddenly a voice calls out: 'Let me have the boy!'

The speaker is Sri Lahiri Mahasaya, the founding guru of Kriya yoga, direct disciple of Mahavatar Babaji and the grand-guru of Yogananda. Halting the procession, he brings the boy back to life and gives him his first initiation. From this miraculous rebirth a great yogi was given to the world, known today as Ganesh Baba.

His was a wondrous childhood: a family of great wealth, an adoring mother, doting aunts and grandmothers. He passed through the best British schools of the Raj brilliantly. One day his father, a Brahmin and Bengali magistrate who was both a landowner and industrialist, asked his son what he wished to become when he grew up. Whereupon the boy brought to his father a small image of Buddha, saying 'This is my goal.' He was thirteen years old.

His father was profoundly taken aback: with eight daughters to be married off, here was his eldest son making this astounding declaration. What would then become of his enormous and hard-earned estate?

The father never recovered from the shock of this dilemma and soon was to pass away. Willingly or not, his son barely in his teens would have to assume the reins of family responsibility. Still, his academic career in Calcutta continued brilliantly. Attracted above all by science, he received a doctorate in biology. Then after encountering Einstein who was lecturing in India at the time, he plunged into physics. He always referred to Albert Einstein as his scientific guru. He also went into psychology, interested above all in the work of Carl Gustav Jung, whose lectures he attended in Calcutta. Finally, he studied law, necessary to help him run the family businesses.

As required of a good Hindu, he fulfilled his duty towards family and society. He directed food processing factories, ran a chain of movie houses, and saw to the marriages of all his sisters. He lived with his mother, a confirmed bachelor, never marrying.

What inner secret lay behind the worldly success of this rich Brahmin, this learned Indian with British manners, admired by one and all? Quietly and methodically, he practised meditation, following the precepts of Kriya yoga, continuing to study with his gurus while pursuing a full-time business career. Meditation can calm the mind and is a wonderful stress relief during a hectic work schedule or even a great way to begin your day.

There are many meditation techniques that are helpful in more ways than just destressing, such as helping to keep the mind focused on specific goals and dreams. Meditation can also help with the creation of new views, ideas, and beliefs.

Finally a fateful day arrived for Ganesh Baba. 'It was when I was around fifty-five years old,' he recalled. 'I awoke suddenly in the middle of the night and began to write and write.'

In the morning he reviewed the manuscript. The document was, in effect, his will, directing the disposition of his estate: properties, factories, and worldly goods to be distributed and shared among his various brothers-in-law, nephews, friends, and workers, all detailed in black and white.

'I just turned my back on the world without even a moment of thought. The world simply ceased to exist for me: I followed an inner program guided by my gurus.'

'I dressed in some simple clothes, took a hundred rupees and walked out of the family compound and never turned back.'

In the Hindu tradition, after passing through childhood and adolescence, a man becomes a family man, a householder, according to the requirements of his caste. Then, after first fulfilling his familial duties, he may then renounce the world to pursue the path of truth.

Thus the way of the Sannyasin, the renunciate, the man of God, began for him. Soon after, he encountered Swami Shivananda Saraswati, the renowned Yogi of Rishikesh, who formally ordained him as a monk under the name of Swami Ganeshanand Saraswati.

Later on, he served Ananda Moyi Ma who placed him in charge of one of her ashrams for a number of years.

'I never saw anyone with the beauty of Ma in her younger years,' he recalls. 'In those days, the food she offered was prepared by her own hands; its quality was simply divine !'

For Ganesh Baba, Ananda Moyi Ma was the Divine Mother Guru.

In January 1977, at Allahabad's Khumba Mela, when their paths re-crossed, that great woman saint exclaimed : 'Look at my Ganesh! He never grows old !' Baba was in his early 90s at the time...

In the course of his activities as a Sannyasin, Baba was to meet Srimahant Suraj Giri who gave him further instruction and initiated him into the Shivaite order of the Nagas. The Nagas, one of the most highly respected and powerful orders of monks in India, are the servants of Lord Shiva, the God of destruction in the Hindu Trinity, the archetype of the ascetic, whose naked form covered with ashes is the embodiment of the perfect Yogi, both fascinating and terrifying, the mate of Parvati and the father of Ganesh, but also transforming into a hermit, a celibate withdrawn to the Himalayan peaks where he sits in profound meditation. The Nagas, having passed beyond this world, are permitted to do everything, to demand anything. They may use crude expressions. Nonetheless they are the devotees and earthly representatives of Lord Shiva, the Ultimate Guru.

After the death of Suraj Giri, Swami Ganeshanand Giri (Ganesh Baba), most senior of his disciples, found himself with Datt Giri at the head of the Anandakhara monastery Temple of Bliss at Bareilly, U.P., India.

However, it was at the time he was attending Ananda Moyi Ma that Ganesh Baba first came into contact with the phenomenon of the hippies.

'It was mind-blowing, I could hardly believe my eyes!' he recalls.

It was in the beginning of the 60s, and the appearance of these first hippies traveling to the East gave rise to much astonishment, especially in India whose only contact with Westerners had been with the British, well-educated and well-off colonial masters. Hence Baba's astonishment at these long-haired, unshaven creatures, dressed in native garb smoking hashish, camping out just down the road from Ananda Mayi Mas ashram.

Something funny must be going on in the Occident if the children of the former colonial masters were now arriving in India as wanderers in search of truth.

'From that time on,' says Baba, 'I devoted myself to the hippie movement and worked with them twenty-five hours a day.' And realizing the significance of the effect that the use of psychedelic drugs was having on the younger generation, he began a spiritual exploration into the heights and depths of those psychedelic waves which were engulfing the youth of the Western world from California to Europe to Australia. 'To take psychedelics without having learned to meditate is like going to sea in a boat without a rudder,' he said.

But trying to teach the hippies was no easy matter: very often psychedelic trips in the realms of the spirit can give the participant the illusion that he knows it all and therefore has nothing more to learn from anyone, thus the ego instead of gaining humility becomes charged up and resists the self-denial which is necessary to Sadhana, the process of self-perfection.

In this manner, with his sharp sense of humor, his astonishing erudition, profound ease in the English language, and complete familiarity with the entire spectrum of psychedelic cosmic experiences, thanks to his initiatory dispensation as a Naga, Ganesh Baba gained popularity far and wide among these young psycho-spiritual explorers.

This Gnosis guru, a unique figure, would often sit among the groups of young Westerners at Assi Ghat in Benares. They had come to study classical Indian music, sarod, sitar, tablas, or Sanskrit, on a voyage of self-discovery. There Baba would sit laughing, chanting, singing, smoking with them, like Socrates or a Platonic grandfather. 'I could relate to them in a way that would be unthinkable for the humdrum, mercenary, fanfaring, fantastic, and fanatic Oriental charlatans masquerading as authentic and astounding gurus who were thronging to the West,' says Baba.

It was precisely his unusual friendliness, his approachability, his sense of modesty, and above all his all-embracing love, his rejection of the traditional and lofty distant pedestal that won him exceptional popularity among the love-not-war New Age Generation Advance (NAGA), the flower children. And despite the many attempts to install him in ashrams, societies, missions, and groups of all kinds, his Naga nature was more strongly drawn to the high winds of liberty, equity, and liberation from human bondage. It drew him and a few of his disciples along long trails: Kathmandu, Benares, Goa, Darjeeling, Kashmir, a living legend, and finally to America, Japan, Thailand, and Europe.

The message of Ganesh Baba to modern man is that of harmonious synthesis (Ganeshian Synthesis) of all that is best in the systems of the East and the West, of Spirit and Matter, Positive and Negative, an equilibrium intended to ensure a happy life: not only trying to live happily without preparing also to die as happily as one lived. His maxim 'live high and die high' is the highest eventual end-product of the psycho-cybernetic practice of Kriya communication. Of course Baba was not merely some sort of psychedelic hipster, as depicted by the American High Times magazine (March 1978). For Baba the natural is best. 'If you want to stay high naturally, just keep your back straight. Carry your spinal column as a column, never as an arch, twenty-five hours a day,' he used to say to his students.

The special technique of meditation, Kriya Yoga, taught by Ganesh Baba deliberately in the form of modern fables of the great masters of the psycho-spiritually evolving line, described by Paramahansa Yogananda in his 'Autobiography of a Yogi', fosters this synthesis, supported by the Bohr's Complementarity Principle, the highlight of modern quantum mechanics. In his nineties, Ganesh Baba, a living symbol of both spiritual and scientific tradition, was travelling about, visiting groups of his students and disciples as an itinerant monk, preaching the gospel of Synthesis through the Kriya technique of Scientific Spiritualisation.

This article was written by Corinne Vandewalle in 1981, published in Energie Vitale magazine, then re-edited by Ganesh Baba himself in 1986.

In the 1980s Baba was in the United States where he was invited by his closest disciples to New York State. A cataract operation in October 1980 gave this old saint back his sight which he had almost completely lost.

His perfect knowledge of the heavenly laws, and his scientific explanations, were much valued by researchers at Cornell and Syracuse Universities.

There are numerous essays, tracts and transcriptions of this great yogi's teachings (all unknown to the general public). Some of these are being translated into French.

In 1986 he spent 6 months at Vieux Salydieu, Bessay, France, then he departed for India where he died the following year at the venerable age of at least 99 years.*

*Ganesh Baba was probably born in 1885, making him 102 at the time of his death, but possibly his birthdate was 1875! (David Ryan)

Ganesh Baba at 101. Pictures from his stay at the French centre, Association le Vieux Salydieu, 85320 Bessay - tel: 02 51 97 27 40 , which teaches Kriya Yoga. More information

Sri Mahant Ganesh Giriji Maharaj's memorial

It is within the grounds of the Alaka Nath Temple, Bareilly.
His body was brought from Nainital, near Almora, Uttar Pradesh
to here when he died in November 1987.
Photo by Peter Meyer
Link back to the thoughts of Ganesh Baba.

Link to Kozmik Press for book ordering information.

International Times article about India and Ganesh Baba by David Ryan
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