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Swami Abhedananda

Swami Abhedananda (1866-1939) became interested in philosophy as a young lad. Once his father saw him reading the Bhagavad-Gita and warned him that it was not for boys and that reading it would make him insane! Abhedananda ignored this warning and found time to also study eastern and western philosophy with no ill effects. He took up the practice of raja yoga after reading the yoga sutras of Patanjali, but was cautioned to refrain from such practice without the guidance of a competent guru as it might be dangerous. A classmate of his took him to meet Sri Ramakrishna who, upon seeing the boy, promised that he would teach him the fruitful practice of yoga, for he could see that he had been a great yogi in his past incarnation. Ramakrishna gave Abhedananda instructions in concentration and meditation and tapped him on the chest The effect of this was to cause him to go into a trance samadhi.

Abhedananda traveled widely throughout India from 1888-1895, spreading the gospel of his master and the teachings of Advaita Vedanta. He walked the length and breadth of India barefoot and late in life trekked to the Himalayas in the same fashion. From 1896 to 1921 he lived in North America, lecturing extensively in the United States, Canada, Alaska, and Mexico, and also making frequent trips to Europe.

At one point he came across a book by Nicholas Notovitch called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, first published in 1894, in which the author claimed to have discovered an ancient manuscript in the Himis Monastery, Ladakh, detailing the travels of Jesus (known as Saint Issa) to India and Tibet. Janet and Richard Bock, in their book The Jesus Mystery, argue that Abhedananda was sceptical of Notovitch's claims and went to Hirnis in 1922 with the purpose of exposing them as groundless. They base their contention on an interview they had with a disciple of Abhedananda named Swami Prajnananda. Moni Bagchi, one of Abhedananda's biographers, stated to the contrary that he was eager to "verify and confirm" Notovitch's findings. This seems likely, for to prove that Jesus spent years in the spiritual fountainhead of the East would lead people to consider the truths which Jesus undoubtedly studied, namely, the Vedic wisdom of India, and this was the very purpose of Abhedananda's missionary work.

He eventually found the manuscript and helped translate part of it. Later he published his findings in the Bengali book Kashmiri 0 Tibetti, which was a detailed account of his journeys in those regions.