Traditions of Himalayan Masters


Parashurama is one of the most unusual characters in spirituals lore. His father, Jamadagni, and his mother, Renuka, were both great sages. In early childhood, Parashurama was keenly interested in the martial arts and the science of archery, but was indifferent to philosophy and spiritual practice. Although he was kind-hearted in general, he had no mercy for those who violated certain principles that he held to be sacred and toward such people he showed no forgiveness. He loved his father, his mother, and his guru more than he loved himself or God. He would not tolerate even an imaginary slight to these three people but, outside of that, he had infinite forgiveness, mercy, and compassion for others.

His learned, father, Jamadagni, was a famous teacher and chancellor of a large education center. He allowed his son to grow according to his natural inclinations and made arrangements for him to study with masters of martial arts and the science of weaponry. In those days, this science far surpassed anything that we know today. Weapons were wielded mainly through the power of thought or involved the use of sound waves (mantras).

Parashurama was a brilliant pupil. He mastered all weapons of warfare that had ever been invented as well as those-as legend that it-which were yet to be invented. He also mastered all of the martial arts. When he completed his training, his skill as a warrior was unsurpassed. Parashurama decided to remain celibate for his entire life and dedicate himself to the service of his mother, father, and teachers. His plan was to live in peace, but this was not to be.

Initiation and Practice
Burdened with guilt for killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and filled with self-loathing over his failure to keep his peaceful resolve, Parashurama set out to find Dattatreya. Throughout his journey, he felt as though he were drowning in waves of frustration, dejection, and hopelessness. But as he entered the hills of Gandhamadana and drew near to the dwelling place of the great sage, Dattatreya, Parashurama felt as though the invisible hands of nature were removing the burden he had been carrying for years. Never since his father’s murder had he seen such beauty in the earth, tasted such purity in the water, or smelled such freshness in the air. It seemed as though even the plants and animals were enjoying unimaginable freedom and peace.

From a distance, Parashurama saw Dattatreya sitting on a boulder surrounded by dogs, jackals, snakes, and birds. The aura around his face was brighter than the sun and more cooling than the moon. It appeared that every aspect of nature was experiencing its existence in him and he in it. With this first glimpse, Parashurama was pulled toward Dattatreya like an iron filing to a magnet. He was released from the limits of time and space, and the next moment found him at the sage’s feet.

Pararshurama introduced himself and began recounting his misery, but Dattatreya interrupted him: “there is no need of recounting your past deeds, oh, son of Jamadagni and Renuka! The past is dead and you are reborn in the present.”

With this consoling remark, Dattatreya placed his hands on Parashurama’s head, transforming him instantly. Grief vanished. The violent warrior became a spiritual aspirant; the conqueror of enemies turned into a seeker of divine grace. In the company of this great master, Parashurama found solace of mind. As he lived and served his master, he learned the highest wisdom of shrividya, the mystical, scientific path leading to the highest beauty and bliss. After receiving formal initiation, he was instructed to complete a twelve-year practice while living in solitude. Parashurama moved to the Nilachala hills in the land of Assam, where he built his nut and underwent twelve years of sadhana.

The Nilachala hills are one of the most beautiful places in eastern India, but heavy rain and lack of efficient transportation prevents casual pilgrims and spiritual seekers from reaching them. No trace of Parashurama’s cottage or any other man-made structure remains. But the spring from which he used to get his water bears his name and is still flowing. According to legend, the pool formed by this spring was created by Parashurama. It is known locally as Parashurama Kunda-the pool of Parashurama. Spiritual aspirants and adepts find delight in sipping its water.

Parashurama Questions His Teacher
After living in solitude for twelve years and completing his practice, Parashurama returned to his master to receive further guidance. During his prolonged absence, he had formulated several profound questions: What is the cause of life and life’s experiences? Where does life come from and where does it rest after it vanishes? Clearly, everything is unstable and in constant flux. All worldly objects seem confusing and mysterious. Human behavior is like one blind person attempting to follow another. Does anyone ever get what he really wants from his “right” actions? And if he desired result is truly achieved, then why do people aspire for more?”

Parashurama approached his master with these questions and a series of dialogues ensued. These dialogues can be found in the Jnanakhanda of Tripura Rahasya, of which there are several versions in English. This chapter presents a few of these dialogues in shortened form.

Parashurama: Master, it seems to me that the fruits even of good actions are of little value. Whatever is achieved through action is a burden. The absence of happiness is painful, but happiness is transitory. After pleasure ends, a person experiences even greater pain.

Sir, spiritual practice seems no different than any other action. The end result of all these concentrations and visualizations seems illusory.

Dattatreya: My son, you have attained true buddhi, pure intellect. You are a rare and fortunate seeker. A seeker who attains such inspired thought is like a drowning man who catches hold of a boat. Worldly people run after tantalizing objects, missing the highest goal of life. A fortunate seeker is inspired to make earnest inquiries and is open to honest and constructive criticism. Discrimination is the first rung on the ladder of the highest attainment.

The ignorant remain caught in the net of confused thinking. Without clarity of mind how can they decide what is helpful and what is not? Discrimination comes through the grace of the divine force and when she is appeased, she appears in the human heart in the form of discrimination.

After initiation, you completed your practice faithfully, and, as a result, you are now blessed with discrimination. You will find that you are fearless because fear persists only as long as discrimination has not arisen.

Parashurama: Sir, many people seem good on the surface but are wicked inside. Please tell me how to know if a person is good or bad, wise or wicked.

Dattatreya: Purify and sharpen your intellect and let your discrimination and the voice of your heart help you recognize the wise. Decide whether having faith in a particular person will lead you to the highest goal or not. Neither those who involve themselves completely in dry polemics nor those who do not reason at all can be successful in attaining the goal. A person who employs the force of logic and reasoning in the light of the wisdom presented in genuine scriptures attains the highest truth.

Parashurama: There are innumerable scriptures and, in many cases, they contradict one another. Both teachers and commentators differ even about a single scripture. In addition, a person’s own intellectual convictions vary with time. Therefore what should a seeker accept or reject?

Dattatreya: Purify your mind and make it one-pointed so that you can understand the apparent contradictions in various scriptures or in the teachings of the sages. Do not allow anyone’s teachings or doctrines to confuse you. Select gems of truth from every possible source and integrate them into your personal philosophy of life. Disregard information that diverts your focus.

You can do this when you know how to compromise between reason and faith. First, abandon polemics and form a habit of relying on constructive reasoning. Constructive reasoning will remove your doubts and will convince you that the practice you have undertaken is genuine and fruitful. Then faith will unfold naturally in your heart. Thereafter, faith and constructive reasoning will support and guide each other.

Thoughtful consideration, enriched with faith and constructive reasoning, is called vichara, discrimination. The greatest motivating factor in sadhana is discrimination. Through discrimination an aspirant will certainly find his or her path, and through practice a seeker can tread the path and attain the highest goal.

Parashurama: Sir, you said that discrimination is the first rung on the ladder of the highest attainment. Discrimination comes through the grace of the divine force. Her grace is received through meditation. An aspirant is committed to meditation only if he or she is interested. Interest develops after hearing about the glory and importance of meditation and its result. You said that above all else, the entire process depends on the company of the wise. Would you please elaborate?

Dattatreya: The company of the wise is the major way of attaining the absolute good. Here is a story that illustrates my point.

Mind, Meditation, and Self-Mastery
Sir, it seems that this entire mess of seeing and not seeing, knowing and not knowing, and bondage and liberation are ultimately a game of the mind. The way we think or, let us say the way we are determined to think, creates the reality behind our experiences. What is the mind anyway? How is it related to pure consciousness, the Self? Was the mind confused from the very beginning or did the confusion begin somewhere later? Why is one person’s mind so clear, positive, and naturally turned inward while another’s is not?

Dattatreya: These are the most practical question you have asked. From a practical standpoint; unveiling the mystery of the mind is more important than attaining the knowledge of the Self, for the Self cannot be recognized if the mind is not properly understood. A properly trained and purified mind becomes a means for Self-realization, whereas a dissipated and confused mind is a source of misery. Let me explain the relationship between the mind and pure consciousness: the Self. Pure consciousness alone exists. However, for the sake of our study of mind and consciousness, I am proposing that mind and consciousness exist side by side.

Consciousness is like an ever-illumined, self-shining gem that is kept in the safe of the mind. The safe has been sealed for a long time. Because of ignorance and carelessness, a thick layer of dust has covered it. The safe of the mind is made from a transparent crystal through which the self-shining gem can radiate, illuminating the safe as well as the area around it. But the dust over the mind created by ignorance is so thick that it is almost impossible to see the gem. More interestingly, it is even more difficult to know about the mind and its functions. Now, in order to find and enjoy that self-shining gem, the aspirant must begin to clean the dust from the outer surface of the mind. First, clean the safe, and then try to unlock it. The key is kept inside the safe, next to the gem. This is a paradox.

Before you can get your key from the center of consciousness, you must become familiar with the shape, size, and proper use of the key. For that you need the help of those who have already opened their safes. Such great ones are called realized masters. In their company, you have an opportunity to look at your key, at least from the outside. You can also observe how easily they unlock and lock the safe of the mind, how they dwell in two worlds simultaneously the external and the internal. This will help you become acquainted with the map for your inner odyssey. Later you will have to make the journey by your self.

Once the covering dust is removed and the safe of the mind is unlocked, you see nothing but the gem itself. The interior of the mind is ever illumined with the light of pure consciousness. But remember, no matter how securely the gem of consciousness has been locked away, and no matter how thick the veil of impurities, the brilliance of consciousness still flashes forth from time to time. That is why people long for Self-realization. Without exception, everyone wants to attain peace and happiness. Therefore, this gem is never completely forgotten, and the safe of the mind is relatively transparent in places. Perfection can be attained by removing all of the impurities, unveiling the gem, and becoming identical with it.

Parashurama: What are these impurities and how are they created?

Dattatreya: There are numberless impurities; however, they can be put into three major categories: skepticism, karmic impurity, and a false sense of duty.

Skepticism. Skepticism means improper thinking, lack of faith, not believing what is said by scriptures and saints, or not believing in any higher truth. Clearly this is improper, confused thinking. This kind of impurity is associated with those who know little but think they know a lot.

This is the case with many philosophers and learned scholars who know the truth intellectually but do not practice it. There are many reasons why they do not practice but ego and skepticism are the most prominent ones. They may think, “I have studied all the literature of yoga, tantra, vedanta, and so on. I have even done a comparative study of various systems. Therefore, I understand the viewpoints and I know more than all the other great masters.

Since their opinions differed, it indicates that they did not know the truth or knew it only partially. Ultimately, why should I bother to experience of these philosophies when I have already drawn my own conclusions?”

My son, such people carry the burden of knowledge without any experience just like a camel carries a huge load of salt, not knowing its taste. Lacking in experience, such scholars fight with others, making their own lives and the lives of others miserable. This type of thinking, a great impediment in spiritual practice, is caused by mistrusting or contradicting genuine scriptures. The effect of such confused thinking creates a fresh coating of impurity on the mind, leading the thinkers further away from Self-realization.

In order to wash off his kind of impurity, a sincere seeker must allow the light of the scriptures to penetrate his or her mind and to cultivate faith in the teachings of the selfless, compassionate, enlightened masters. He or she must recognize that disregarding genuine scriptures and masters is an error. The aspirant should have an internal dialogue and convince his or her mind, “At least once in the history of humanity, there must have been one person who was selfless and who knew more than I do. Let me follow that person’s guidelines and see whether it helps or not.”

Karmic Impurity. Every single action, whether mental, verbal, or physical, has an enormous effect on our lives. The subtle impression of our actions, known as samskaras, are stored in the safe of the mind. Each time we perform an action, we create a little mark in the mindfield. In our numberless lifetimes we have created many such traces, which pollute the transparency of the mind. As a result of these karmic impurities, the mind becomes dull and loses its spontaneous capacity to comprehend the truth about reality, whether external or internal. This karmic impurity also determines the particular species into which a person is born and the length of life in it. A person’s inner tendencies, inclinations, and attitudes, largely governed by these impurities, tend to counteract the power of determination. The fewer impurities there are, the clearer a person’s mind will be.

The scriptures describe several means of removing these impurities but without God’s grace nothing works very efficiently. This is because any method of purification is actually undertaken by the mind. If the mind itself is clouded, then certainly a human being will fail to use the proper methods. However, a sincere aspirant must not be lazy and should continue with the method he has been taught while waiting for God’s grace. Through meditation, selfless service, and ultimately God’s grace, one attains the goal, whether in this lifetime or in the next depending on how many of the impurities have been cleared away.

The False Sense of Duty. This third type of impurity is the most difficult of all the impurities to remove. There is no end to worldly duties and obligations. The aspirant must learn to discriminate which are the most important and take care of those first.

Those who are not awakened at all perform their actions driven by their urges and by nature. They remain involved in the world because they do not know other dimensions of life. By the time they complete one project, the next is already waiting. Compared to the highest goal of life, Self-realization, all worldly duties are secondary. As long as this fact is not instilled in the mind, there is no way to attain freedom from worldly obligations.

Without spiritual awareness, turning away from the world becomes a source of misery. Disregarding worldly obligations without any higher purpose kills your con science. Therefore, instead of working directly to wash off this impurity, simply cultivate dispassion and non-attachment. Through constant contemplation, let the burning desire for liberation grow. Only then will you be able to determine whether to take care of your obligations or to renounce them. You attain freedom by conquering your desires, not by running away from your duties. Remove this desire-born impurity with the help of dispassion or non-attachment. Non-attachment can be cultivated by observing the insignificance of worldly objects. A mind free from desires can easily be purified.

The Purpose of Spiritual Practices
The only purpose of spiritual practices is to remove these threefold impurities. How much practice you need depends on how many of these impurities you have. Commitment to practice comes only with the desire for liberation. Without this desire, direct realization is impossible, no matter how much you listen to a teacher or contemplate a philosophical truth.

Without a sincere desire for liberation, listening, studying, and contemplation are mere arts. Mastering an art does not lead to the highest goal. A weak desire for liberation is useless. A transient desire arising from hearing about the glory of reality is not desire. It is excitement, a momentary curiosity. Such a momentary curiosity is not sufficient to inspire a person to make a sincere effort for attainment. For attainment, one needs tivra mumuksha, intense desire for liberation. The stronger the desire for liberation, the more quickly one attains the goal. Intense desire motivates an aspirant to whole-hearted practice. Such motivation and unlimited courage to “carry through” is called absorption in sadhana. Such a desire is sparked when one realizes that everything else is trivial compared to liberation.

Recognizing the worthlessness of worldly objects creates dispassion or non-attachment. The greater the dispassion, the more yearning increases. In turn, dispassion fuels desire for liberation and this desire leads to absorption in practice. Wholeheartedness or absorption in sadhana is the major precipitating factor in the attainment of enlightenment.

Parashurama: Sir, what is this wholeheartedness or absorption in sadhana?

Dattatreya: Resolve with full confidence and determination: “No matter what happens I will accomplish this. This ought to be achieved and I am the one to achieve it.” The aspirant endowed with such single-minded resolution overcomes every obstacle. The more a person is absorbed in the practice, the sooner he or she attains the result.

Parashurama: First you said that the company of the saints is the major precipitating factor; then you brought up the idea of the grace of God; and now you speak of dispassion, desire, and wholeheartedness in spiritual practice. Which one is the primary method and how can I develop it? Please be more specific.

Dattatreya: Let me explain the order: the company of the sages, God’s grace, dispassion, and absorption in practice.

It is human nature to constantly perform actions, the consequences of which may be good or bad. Behind all action is the desire to attain happiness. Whatever a person’s concept of happiness is, he or she makes an effort to attain that. Eventually he or she begins to fear that self-effort may not be enough. At this point the aspirant turns to God, who is said to be almighty and who can fulfill all desires. The aspirant begins reading; questioning whether God exists, asking how to pray, and wondering how much can be expected to God. To find the answers, the aspirant seeks out the company of the wise.

A person may expect his or her good actions to help decrease life’s problems and conflicts. But sometimes, his or her charity, austerities, scriptural study, and other good deeds do not seem to bear commensurate fruit. The aspirant also notices that often those who perform good karma suffer throughout life, while evil people are happy. Why? Unable to answer this question, the aspirant turns for advise to the learned.

Parashurama, when the aspirant listens to the wise extolling the greatness of God and spiritual practice, grace begins to descend; interest in the supra-mundane is quickened, and the seeker begins to tread the path.

An individual must have some good karma from the past for this process even to begin. Coming into the company of a wise person is the most critical juncture in a soul’s evolution; it is at this point that his or her true purpose as a human being begins to be fulfilled. The results of meritorious karma lead to satsanga (good company), and listening to and associating with those further along the path. The aspirant’s interest is kindled and he or she begins to practice.

Through satsanga the aspirant develops faith and learns how to draw the proper meaning from the scriptures. From revealed scripture he or she learns about the absolute reality. If necessary, the aspirant may be taught to conceptualize the absolute through symbols and images. By worshipping the absolute through symbols, the aspirant attains the grace that helps him or her to cultivate disinterest in sensory objects and awakens ardent desire for enlightenment. Burning desire, in turn, helps develop unflagging determination to attain the goal. The aspirant begins listening to the confident inner voice that asserts, “I am going to do it. The goal can be attained and I will attain it.”

This is the ground where master and disciple meet. The sadhaka surrenders himself to the master with perfect faith. The master teaches the disciple about the non-dual state of reality. At first a student comprehends this only theoretically, believing it rather than knowing it directly. But as he or she applies the method of meditation and contemplation taught by the master, the aspirant realizes the highest truth experientially.

Categories of Enlightened Beings
Parashurama: How does a realized person live in the world and remain unaffected by the bondage of karma if he or she performs actions after enlightenment? Also, please explain why there are differences in the characteristics of the jnanis (the knowers of the truth). Do they experience the truth differently, or is there simply a difference in the perfection of their knowledge? Are there various grades of jnanis? If there are, then why? Do they attain different levels of knowledge? Do some jnanis know more then others? Please explain this to me clearly.

Dattatreya: On the basis of the differing levels of their discriminatory ability, the number of remaining impurities, and, most important, the maturity of knowledge they have attained, there are differences among the realized ones, the jnanis. These differences reflect the degree of their perfection of mind, not the incompleteness of their knowledge. The way they behave and the kind of lifestyle they lead is due to their innate characteristics.

Even after attaining enlightenment some innate qualities of the mind persist. The only difference between a realized and an un-realized person is that the knower of truth remains aware of the truth while functioning in the world, whereas an unrealized person forgets the true Self and becomes lost in the world.

After attaining the absolute truth, a person may continue functioning in the world according to his innate characteristics, although inwardly he or she is not influenced by them. An enlightened sage may live in the world just like any other ordinary person, exhibiting his or her usual tendencies while remaining unaffected by them. That is why there are saints and sages with different tastes, behaviors, and missions, though these differences sometimes confuse ordinary people.

A realized being can be light or dark-skinned; his complexion in no way modifies his divine realization. The qualities of her mind, like the color of her skin, are also the result of the interplay of the gunas, nature’s intrinsic forces, and they bear no relation to her Self-conscious state. My son, the Self is entirely free from personality. Personality is part of prakriti (nature). The jnanis do not identify with nature; hence they remains free from identification with personality traits.

There are three levels of jnanis. The lowest order are those who have glimpsed the ultimate state but are not established there. As long as they are meditating, they may remain absorbed in the supreme consciousness but as soon as the focus of their awareness shifts back into the mindfield, they identify with their limited selves, senses, and body. They slip in and out of reality, going through the pleasant and unpleasant experiences of life.

The second order of jnanis are those who through long and arduous discipline have controlled their minds so well that their minds are fully purified. The yogis belonging to this category are centered in the absolute but their bodies continue to function in the world. To an average person, they might seem “absent-minded”-that is to say that their minds are absent here because they are fully present there. However their stability of mind still requires a conscious effort, practice. They work in the world but never under the pressure of their psychological defense mechanisms or biological instincts. They maintain their physical existence so that they can discharge their previous karmas, which now play themselves out in their natural course. How actively involved they are in the world in their present life depends on how they have decided to work out their karmas. But no matter what, they remain unaffected by life’s circumstances.

The highest order of jnanis are completely unaffected by external objects and remain fully established in their true nature without any effort. The intermediate jnanis are “not there, when here,” but the highest jnanis can be simultaneously here and there.

These jnanis have attained such a high degree of mastery of their minds that they can focus on several objects at once. To an average person, they might seem scattered. The daily activities of the highest caliber jnanis flow naturally and spontaneously. Things happen by themselves. Their bodies and minds simply get the credit. They make no effort to do anything or to live in a particular way. This is not to say that they live in a vacuum or have no feelings. They experience pleasure and pain and remain aware of good and bad. But they consider these things to be no more than the objects of a dream.

They are like an adult playing with children. As long as they have a body, they know that they are still in the game and therefore act their parts. But they do not set new karmas in motion because they have disengaged themselves internally from the world process. So new desires cannot arise. They are free from liking and disliking, bondage and the concept of liberation; thus they enjoy floating on the current of worldly life. The life of such enlightened sages that we can observe in the world is merely a shadow of their true being. They remain perfectly absorbed in supreme consciousness as they walk, eat, study, or work, finding no difference between samadhi and daily activities. They can engage in several activities at once without slipping from the blissful experience of non-dual samadhi. They are masters of both external and internal worlds. In the drama of life they are both spectator and participant, the master players.

Parashurama: Sir, these qualities of a jnani are so personal, so subtle that others cannot observe them. Can you tell me the way to recognize a truly enlightened saint?

Dattatreya: It is extremely difficult to distinguish the enlightened soul from the ordinary man. Only the sage, himself, can describe his inner state or know the depth of his realization. Still a sharp student can instinctively recognize a jnani.

Generally a spiritual person is identified by philosophical insight, selflessness, and a loving attitude. Even an ordinary person can share these qualities to some degree, but they come naturally and spontaneously to the realized being. But remember, my son, the highest jnanis often deliberately hide themselves, for otherwise, worldly people would constantly make demands on them: “Please bless my business,” Grant me a child,” “Help me find a husband.” Only the most sincere students intuitively recognize an enlightened sage and come to study at his or her feet. Fearlessness, a marked virtue of the true knower, leaves him or her indifferent to name and fame even if he or she decides to undertake a public mission. A realized person may work in the world quietly or openly; either way, such a one remains in divine consciousness, unaffected by praise or blame.

It is hard to describe the exact signs of a realized soul. However the characteristics and qualities described in the scriptures sometimes help a novice seeker to recognize them. For example, the highest knower of truth can answer any spiritual question instantly without relying on books. But a more subtle and definite indication that a person is enlightened is the ability to solve spiritual problems without words. His or her presence, itself removes doubts and confusion.

Another indication is that sometimes instead of answering a question directly, an enlightened person may lead the student to the very source of the question and let the student find the answer for himself or herself. After the student has found the answer, an enlightened master simply confirms it. However, it is impossible to recognize an enlightened being through these subtle qualities until you have elevated your intuitive awareness to a certain degree.

First apply these standards to yourself. Only after you have measured up to these qualifications are you competent to apply them to others.

These dialogues are a fragment of those recorded by Parashurama’s student, Haritayana, in the Tripura Rahasya. In addition, other scattered references to teachings occur throughout the spiritual literature of India. However, Parashurama’s most systematic and comprehensive instructions on philosophy and sadhana are found in Parashurama-kapla-sutra, which he authored himself. This text is one of the most authoritative manuals on shakti sadhana, especially that of the shrividya branch of shaktism. Although this text is not available in English, an in-depth explanation of it can be found in the book Hindu Shakta Tantric Literature by Teun Goudriaan and Sanjukta Gupta.

Receive Site Updates