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Biographies > Upasani Baba - on Tapas and Such

   By Peter Holleran

   "When God becomes very impatient to have somebody, he at once throws in his way all sorts of insurmountable difficulties, one after another, in quick succession; the person simply gets tired and disgusted with everything. In fact it is God who meets him first in the form of all the ailments and difficulties."

   Upasani Baba (1870-1941) was blessed by Narayan Maharaj and Sai Baba of Shirdi, and was himself important in the spiritual development of Meher Baba.

   Like many future saints he had a spiritual disposition early in life. After only three years of elementary school he dropped out, regarding conventional education worthless and essentially good only for the purpose of finding a respectable job, which he had no real interest in. Instead of engaging in sports and social affairs young Kashinath (later known as Upasani Baba) would spend his time in such things as fasting, breath-control (pranayama), and meditation. One day he entered a small grotto, determined to fast until death (a Hindu tradition called prayopavesha). After many days of fasting he commenced meditation and became lost in samadhi (spiritual trance) for several months (1). After this episode he took on the responsibilities of an outwardly conventional life, marrying and practicing folk medicine for ten years.

   Abruptly, a mysterious, undiagnosible breathing ailment began to affect him, threatening his life. An experienced yogi advised him that his distress was a side effect of the awakening of higher yogic or spiritual processes, and that he should seek out the help of the Moslem saint, Sai Baba of Shirdi. Upasani was hesitant in visiting a non-Hindu, and he went first to Narayan Maharaj. According to Meher Baba Narayan "completely enlightened" Upasani in just two days. "You have been colored inside and outside," said Narayan, "now nothing remains." (2)

   It was Sai Baba, however, who did the work of transforming Upasani into a spiritual Master. He praised Upasani to his own disciples, saying, "Such is his worth: The whole world may be put on one scale, and he on the other." Upasani endured many trials and much suffering during his years with the saint of Shirdi. His fame increased, and in 1917 he built a small hut on the corner of a graveyard near Sakuri which became his permanent residence. Thousands of devotees started to arrive and the graveyard was gradually converted into a small township.

   One of the original efforts of Upasani Baba was to champion the revival of women's spirituality. He practiced the ancient Vedic tradition of kanyadin, or the dedication of young women, Usually virgins, to God by marrying them to the spiritual Master. The kanyas were celibate, similar to Catholic nuns who considered themselve "brides of Christ", but even so Upasani came under harsh criticism and animosity for this unorthodox practice. At one time he was even brought into court and accused of murder, a charge which was never substantiated or proven. Upasani held that women were innately capable of faster spiritual evolution than men, and that their social role was to save the world from the destruction and chaos caused by men and the cumulative effect of centuries of male-dominated society. Vivekananda came to feel the same in his later years. According to Upasani, male devotees needed to develop the feminine qualities of devotion and purity to progress spiritually. He allowed women to perform various Vedic forms of ritual worship without the help of male priests, something which was strictly orbidden by Brahmanic orthodoxy and which created violent antagonism. The ashram at Sakuri, known as the Kanya Kumari Sthan, became headed by a female successor, Godavari Mataji. The institution of the Kanyadin is still upheld, but has achieved a degree of social acceptance, perhaps because the guru is a woman.

   While advising his disciples that association with the Satpurusha ("Divine adept," or "Master of Truth") was the simplest and, in fact, the only way to realize God, Upasani cautioned them against relying on him merely to relieve them of their problems. He said:

   "When God becomes very impatient to have somebody, he at once throws in his way all sorts of insurmountable difficulties, one after another, in quick succession; the person simply gets tired and disgusted with everything. In fact it is God who meets him first in the form of all the ailments and difficulties. Ailments and difficulties are very essential for a person who is sincerely desirous of attaining Godhead. Even a Satpurusha cannot take you to God. From my personal experience I can tell you that the greatest pain and difficulty - physical and mental - alone are able to take anybody straight to God." (3)

   And of himself he said:

   "Anybody who finds...a Satpurusha should stick to him with all faith and devotion. If anybody has the same faith in this Cage (referring to himself), then he should take me as everything...Even if you take me as a bad person and try to remember me as a fool, an ass, as a sweeper or as one in any other lower denomination, you are bound to attain a higher status...Remember well that whatever state you reach, I am always there." (4)

   Upasani, like many Masters, was very emphatic that one should make strenuous efforts at spiritual practice while one yet has time, and not postpone it until old age, when one will likely have little inclination or energy for the process:

   "People do not indulge in religious austerities in the early years of their life. They behave without self-restraint in their youth when they should have adopted a righteous way of life. Thus, wasting all their vitality and energy, by violating all principles of right living, they try to seek God in their old-age, when their bodies become disease-ridden. To approach God when you become invalid is like going to a grocer to purchase corn for a used-up coin.

   One should be trained to do Satkarmas (spiritual actions) since one's childhood. What Satkarmas can one do in one's old age? When all the indriyas (sense organs) lose their power it is no use making efforts for Satkarmas. It is like sowing a seed in the hot summer."

   For more on this theme of tension or tapas on the spiritual path, see The Mystic Missal, April 2010 issue. (If you are reading this after July 2010 please search archives.)

[Ed: With this yogic point of view Upasani could be considered somewhat at odds with modern non-dual teachers, who feel that, contrary to the paths of yoga, in the path of jnana the inability to make strenuous efforts or the age of the aspirant do not constitute insurmountable impediments. "Expect the unexpected," said PB. Nevertheless, time is still of the essence, according to Bob Ferguson (TAT, "Why Don't We Get it?"):

   "Only through the simple process of self-observation can this thing called the "self" be seen. We may need years of looking at it, seeing why it does what it does, thinks what it thinks, until we know it well enough to cease to believe in it. All of our energy, for all of our life, has been poured into this thing: our personality, the little self, the ego. A few moments of seeing, while of monumental importance, will not cause its complete demise. This demise is what we fear most; for it is seen by the thought-pattern we call "us" as death. At some point, the initial joy of seeing will turn to the pain of ego-death, as the Truth becomes known. It will not be pleasant. In fact, the pain and horror felt by the ego as it faces its own death, will be felt as yours."].

Also see this revealing story of Upasani Baba.


1. Some say it was a year.

2. Narayan Maharaj (1885-1945) was considered a "Master's Master". He worked for a time with the young Meher Baba, and it is said that he gave Upasani Baba Divine realization with a piece of food he had blessed. At the age of seven Narayan renounced all worldly goals and two years later he left home never to return. He began to have nightly visions of the sage Dattatreya (the ancient author off the Tripura Rahasya and an incarnation of Vishnu), and received spiritual initiation from the latter (disguised as a wandering monk) when he was sixteen. Narayan settled down in a place near Kedgaon called Bet. He had a vision of a sacred spot in an inhospitable area one mile away, where the land was thick with thorn bushes and wild hogs. One day a party of Englishman were boar hunting in the area, and a professor A.G. Woodhouse met Narayan, who spontaneously produced a spring at his feet in order to quench the professor's thirst. This impressed professor Woodhouse, who subsequently had a long article published in the Times of India , which gave Narayan worldwide publicity. Thousands of seekers began to arrive in Kedgaon, and a small temple complex was built that became known as Bet Narayan Maharaj.

   Narayan had many wealthy patrons and disciples who insisted that he live in kingly splendor, and that is just what he did. He had several luxury cars, a large personal guard, and the finest of clothes. One of his spiritual contributions was to re-instate the sacred art of puja (ritual worship) on a grand scale. At one ceremony of empowerment he had two thousand priests performing pujas at the same time. Narayan offered his devotees a traditional path of communion with God through the spiritual agency of a living Master. He gave out no elaborate philosophy but taught a way of faith, devotion, and surrender. Narayan allowed his devotees to worship him in any way they liked, but for those who were capable he permitted them to contemplate his human form as the Divine itself.

   Those close to Narayan reported that he seemed to be engaged in transcendental work to effect the outcome of World War Two. He followed all phases of the war, and mysterious wounds would appear on his body several times a day. When he heard that the British had landed in Japan, on September 3, 1945, he said, "The war is over. My work is finished." Later that evening he entered mahasamadhi while sitting quietly in his chair.

   Narayan Maharaj had no earthly guru, and he left no successor. He apparently was not concerned with establishing a lineage of spiritual transmission that would endure after him. Shortly before he died, according to his devotee Krishna Jogletkar, Narayan remarked, "I came to you with nothing, and I leave you with nothing." His following of thousands dispersed and the ashram became a quiet place. See Narayan Maharaj for more biography.

3. The Talks of Sadguru Upasani Baba Maharaj, Vol. I, Part II (Sakori, India: Shri Upasani Kanyakumari Sthan, 1978), p. 92-93
4. Ibid, p. 155-156
5. Dr. S.N. Tipnis, Sayings of Shri Upasani Baba Maharaj (Nagpur: Secretary Press Workers Auodyogic Sahakari Sanstha Ltd), p. 13, 19