Lifestory and Teachings

Guru Dev
Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati
Compiled by Paul Mason
© Paul Mason 2013


Painting of Shankaracharya Swami Brahmanand Saraswti  by M T V Acharya
- Guru Dev -
Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati
Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath [1941-1953]
(painting by M T V Acharya)

portrait of Guru Dev Shankaracharya Swami Brahmanand Saraswati
displayed behind Maharishi Mahesh Yogi sitting with The Beatles in London, England, September 1967

In early 1968 The Beatles pop group flew out to India to study philosophy and meditation in Rishikesh and their visit immediately became front-page news across the world. But for many it is still unclear what The Beatles actually learned, and where the teaching originated from. However, a clue is offered in the lyrics of 'Across the Universe', a song written by John Lennon containing the oft-repeated refrain 'Jai Guru Deva', a Hindi phrase meaning 'Victory to Guru Dev', sung in praise of Guru Dev (the guru of their meditation teacher).

portrait of Guru Dev Shankaracharya Swami Brahmanand Saraswati
displayed behind Maharishi Mahesh Yogi sitting with The Beatles in Rishikesh, India April 1968

जय गुरुदेव
Jai Guru DevaJai Guru Dev Jaya GurudevaJay GurudevaJay Gurudev

* Victory to Guru Dev *

In 1959, when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi first arrived in the West he proclaimed:-

'My life truly began 19 years ago at the feet of my master when I learned the secret of swift and deep meditation, a secret I now impart to the world.' 1

His master was Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, a spiritual leader famous in Northern India, held in high esteem by his many disciples and devotees both young and old. 

It is written that on Thursday, 21 December 1871 (Vikram Samvat 1928, Marg Shirsh Shukla Dasmi) in the village of Gana close to Ayodhya, Rajaram Mishra was born. After leaving home at the age of nine years old, he roamed in the Himalayan hills and eventually found a guru who named him Brahmachari Brahma Chaitanya. In 1904 at the age of thirty-three years old, his guru initiated him into monkhood as a sannyasi and gave him the name of Swami Brahmanand Saraswati. 

Swami Brahmanand led a solitary life, living mainly in forests and jungles, taking shelter in natural caves. For food and drink he would take what nature offered, and supplemented his fare with the gifts brought to him by well-wishers who would seek him out.

In a chance meeting at the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad in 1930, his guru, Swami Krishnanand Sarswati, told Swami Brahmanand:- 'You have stayed a long time in the jungles and mountains. Stay near the towns now, so that some of the people can benefit."

So it was that Swami Brahmanand Saraswati became a little more accessible, known for his spiritual radiance and knowledge. In fact, so high was his spiritual reputation that he was nominated to take the most presitigious and powerful position in Indian society, that of Shankaracharya, becoming Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math on 1st April 1941. 

His ashram in Varanasi now became the official seat of the Shankaracharya, though he travelled widely across India sharing his wisdom and reviving the religious and spiritual traditions wherever he visited. Fortunately, when giving spiritual talks Guru Dev would sometimes alude to former incidents in his life, and these precious recollections later formed the basis of his biography, which therefore reads like an autobiography at times. 

Biography of Guru Dev

This biography has since been carefully translated into English, and is now published alongwith supplementary biographical material and photographs, as 'The Biography of Guru Dev'.

A young man named Mahesh had become captivated by the idea of joining the Shankaracharya's ashram, He quickly made himself busy there dealing with Guru Dev's correspondence before becoming Guru Dev's secretary. Indeed, he fulfilled that post for about a decade, become eventually becoming a student monk, when he was known as Brahmachari Mahesh.

Mahesh Prasad - later known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
'Mahesh Prasad'

later known as Brahmachari Mahesh
then as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

In his role of secretary he collated some of Guru Dev's lectures which were published by the ashram

- Guru Dev -
Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati

Guru Dev's teaching was firmly based on traditional wisdom, shined and polished by his own experience. We see example of this in his reference to the central yoga doctrine contained in Patanjali's Yoga sutras - 'yogash-chitta-vritti-nirodhah' - 'yoga is the stopping of the fluctuations of consciousness' (YogaDarshanam 1:2).

Shankaracharya Swami Brahmanand Saraswati states:-

'According to Upasana Khand of the Vedas
we are told:- "yoga" is stopping the fluctuations of consciousness
The ultimate aim is this,
that by the practice of having stopped the fluctuations of the inner self,
to experience the Supreme form of the Self.
Calm without a ripple in any part of the pool of water,
that manner a person can see his own face.
That really is the method,
stopping  the fluctuatations of the consciousness is really giving a clear reflection of the imperishable Self in the instrument of inner vision.
This indeed is "darshan"
(sight) of the "atma" (self or soul).'

- from page 86 of 'Shri Shankaracharya Vaaksudhaa - Nectar Speech of Shri Shankaracharya'  (published 1947)
[cover ] [zip file of jpegs 45.5Mb] [pdf  file  17Mb appx]

NEW pdf of very rough translations of extracts of 'Shri Shankaracharya Vaksudha' NEW

- Guru Dev -
Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati
[to right of photo, standing, is Brahmachari Mahesh, later known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi]

A small book of quotations from Guru Dev was produced, entitled 'Amrita Kana' ('Ambrosia Droplets'), compiled by Brahmachari Shri Mahesh ji, to which he contributed a very lengthy introduction in praise of the guru

cover of Amrit Kana of Guru Dev
अमृत कण - 'Amrita Kana'

The book of quotations was first published in the Vikram year 2009 (a year of the Indian calendar which spanned across 1952-1953). It is now translated into English and available alongwith the original text, supplementary material and photographs, as Guru Dev: As Presented by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Guru Dev

Shortly after the introduction of the book of quotations had been completed, a visit was arranged to Delhi. On Wednesday 15th October 1952 (several weeks before the guru's arrival there) the brahmachari convened a press conference:-

The Great Saint of the Himalayas is Coming
to Shower His Blessings on the Metropolis.

The Statement issued by: BAL BRAHMACHARI SHRI MAHESH JI.

Press conference convened by Shri Shankaracharya Reception Committee, Delhi on the 15th Oct., 1952 at 5 p.m. in the Young Man's Tennis Club Queen's Gardens, in connection with the visit of HIS HOLINESS SHRI JAGATGURU SHANKARACHARYA MAHARAJ OF JYOTIRMATH.


My own self in different forms.

It gives me a great pleasure to welcome you all and have your company here this afternoon. It gives me enough encouragement and support to acquaint you with the details of the mission for whose fulfilment His Holiness Shri Jagatguru Shankaracharya Swami BRAHMANAND SARASWATI MAHARAJ will be visiting your city about the 12th of November 1952 and stay here for about a month for Dharmopdesh.

Swami Brahmand Saraswati Maharaj, the present Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath Badarikashram (in the Himalayas) is a magnetic personality with a sweet amalgam of High Wisdom and Love of humanity. He combines in himself the Knowledge of the self with the mysterious powers -- the siddhis arising out of yogic perfection and hard penances, which he has undergone throughout his life. He is a great living yogi and scholar and is revered by millions of Hindus as their Supreme Religious head.

This great Saint of the modern age was born in U.P. in a well to do and renowned Brahman family in 1871 and was enthroned to the seat of His Holiness Jagatguru Shankaracharya in 1941 at Benares, during the ninth session of the All India Sanatan Dharma Maha Sammelan convened by the Bharat Dharma Mahamandal in conjunction with a countrywide support of almost all the ruling princes and different socio-religious institutions all over the country. It may be recalled that it was a long persuasion of about twenty years which could convince Param Virakt Swami Brahmanand Saraswati to accept the great responsibility of the Shankaracharya at the age of seventy.

From the tender age of nine when he came out of his home in Search of God, till this time, his life was mostly spent in the lonely hidden regions of the Himalayas, Vindya Giris and the Amarkantakas which are rarely frequented by men and are chiefly inhabited by wild animals. For years together he has lived in hidden caves and thick forests where even the midday sun frets and fumes in vain to dispel the darkness that may be said to have made a permanent abode there in those solitary and distant regions.

But today he is easily accessible as he is now the presiding head of Shri Jyotirmath which is the greatest religious institution of the Hindus of Northern India, covering all different creeds and sampradayas and branches lying under the fold of Hindu Religions.

One unique principle of the great Sage that distinguishes him completely from other living saints of today is that he does not accept money as gift from his visitors or disciples.

This brief description attempts to mirror a few hurried and short glimpses of the life journey of this great living sage who has actually transformed into a living fact the inner latent potentiality of the soul. He has known the great universal Truth, whose realisation is the aim of the entire scheme of life. For him the mists of ignorance have completely disappeared and having known the Divine Reality he has verily become an embodiment of the great Divinity.

His aim of life, if the life of a realised soul can be said to possess any such aim, is to broadcast the message of the Great Divine light that he has himself realised, the Light that is the Soul of all human beings. Having himself attained the pinnacle of Self development, he aims at transforming the worldly minded people into the Godly minded, and through his inner Divine touch to change the materialistic hearts of iron into spiritual hearts of gold.

His entire personality emanates the sweet perfume of spirituality. His race radiates that rare light which comprises love, authority, serenity and self assuredness that comes only by righteous living and Divine Realisation -- one feels as if some ancient Maharishi mentioned in the pages of the Upanishads has assumed human form and feels that it is worth while leading a pious life and to strive for the realisation of the Divine.

His Spiritual teachings are simple and clear and go straight home to heart. He strictly adheres to the course of inner development laid down by the Systems of Indian Philosophy and ethics and he raises his voice never in opposition but always in firm support of the Truths and principles contained in the Hindu Scriptures.

According to the tradition from the worldly point of view, the dignity of the Shankaracharyas throne has got to be maintained by the rich paraphernalia around his Holiness, but those who have come in his contact know the fact that the private life of the Sage is quite simple and renunciation.

I believe that he is a living embodiment of titanic spiritual force. If I were asked on the basis of my personal experience, about the living saints of today, as to who is the greatest amongst them, I would unhesitatingly name Shri Jagatguru Shankaracharya Swami Brahmanand Saraswati Maharaj of Jyotirmath the Beacon Light of the holy sanctuaries of the Himalayas.

Shri Shankaracharya Maharaj has clear insight into the mind and the thoughts of the modern age. His teaching and commandments are based on sound reasonings which are quite agreeable to any reasonable thinker. He is a great critic of prejudices and narrowmindedness arising out of irrational love of caste, creed, nationality or any "ism". His life is a living proof of the Truth of the Vedas and Shastras. He has opened a new era of renaissance of True Religion. He extends his recognition to anything that is good in any religion. He is accessible to all. Everyone can enjoy and derive benefit from his holy Darshan and elevating discourses.

He is coming shortly to shower his blessings on the busy and restless souls of the metropolis. I beseech you, my friends, to extend your hearty co-operation for the great cause in the interest of each individual of our society, in the interest of our nation and in the interest of the world at large. The great Saint of the Himalayas is coming in your midst and in the fitness of the great occasion, I appeal to your good sense to extend your valuable support so that his elevating discourses may reach the masses in every nook and corner of our country and abroad.

Thanking you for giving me a pertinent hearing, I would like to say something, in short, about the shrine of Jyotirmath, the prime spiritual centre of Northern India and the headquarter of Shri Shankaracharya Maharaj. Jyotirmath is one of four seats established by Adi Shankaracharya in this continent -- two thousand and five hundred years ago. It is situated in the heart of the Himalayas 173 miles up from Hardwar and only 18 miles south of Shri Badrinath and may be said to be the queen of the Himalayas for natural beauty and spiritual values. Jyotirmath it was that the first Shankaracharya selected for his stay in Himalayas where he taught the highest philosophy of existence -- the Vedanta - to his disciples, wrote his immortal commentaries on the eleven principle Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras and established a seat of Spiritual light to function as sansorium (sic), a supreme centre of the Eternal Religion of India to keep the Light of Pure civilisation and culture burning for all the millennium to come. It is an ancient culture centre of yoga, the Light House which has preserved and disseminated the Light of the Sanatan Dharma all the way down the ages.

Amongst those seeking audience with the guru was the President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad.

'Dr Rajendra Prasad, the President of India,
enjoying the Divine Effulgence of the BEACON LIGHT of the HIMALAYAS'

Shankaracharya Swami Brahmanand Saraswati
President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad, Delhi, 4th December 1952
(Illustration from 'Beacon Light of the Himalayas')

When the president came to Guru Dev for darshan it seems the guru explained many things to him, placing great emphasis on how important it is for a ruler to consult with maharishis and yogis in order to be able to make balanced decisions. He told him very clearly:-

जब से महार्षियों का सम्पर्क राजाओं ने छोड़ा तभी से रसातल को चले गये।
' jab se maharshiyom ka samparka rajaom ne chora tabhi se rasatala ko chale gaye .'
('[Things] have gone to hell since rajas neglected to keep the company of maharishis.')

President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad on a visit to Guru Dev in Delhi, on 4th December 1952 attended by Brahmachari Mahesh (later known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi)
(Illustration from 'Beacon Light of the Himalayas')

The guru was by now in his eighties and because of concerns about his health he returned to his ashram in Varanasi and stopped touring. However, after some months a decision was made to travel to Calcutta for a speaking engagement. Whilst staying in Calcutta it was necessary for doctors to attend the guru and apparently he breathed his last on Wednesday 20th May 1953. His funeral rites were performed at Varanasi and his body lowered into the River Ganga in a casket. Guru Dev's passing left his disciples in disarray, upset, and confused as to who would succeed him. On the basis of a document purported to be the will of Guru Dev a disciple named Swami Shantanand Saraswati was enthroned as Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, on 12th June 1953.


During his time as Shankaracharya, Guru Dev commanded enormous respect, enjoying the patronage of both the President and the vice-President of India (Dr Rajendra Prasad and Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan). In a speech addressed to a gathering of eminent philosophers in 1950, Dr Radhakrishnan's associate, Professor Paul Schilpp, stressed the importance of Guru Dev's guidance:-

'To-day we are here to do homage to his Holiness, Shri Jagatguru Shankaracharya Ananta Sri Vibhusita Swami Brahmananda Saraswati of Jyotirmath, Badarikasram - the Superman, the seer, the sage, who is one of the few rare individuals amongst the billions of the citizens of the world, whom we would unhesitatingly choose if and when we would be called upon to describe the spiritual and cultural capital of our nation, if and when the world would feel the need of evoking the part our nation can play in it, who is beyond any controversy, one of the rare few who have contributed and can still contribute something to universal peaceful progress, who have risen by their talent and genius above their fellow countrymen, above their fellowmen of the world and have thus gained a place for themselves at the head of humanity, at the extreme spearhead of civilization.

Standing here at a time when everywhere in the world everybody feels not a little bewildered at an immense increase in the sense of human power, we can hardly exaggerate the necessity of teachers like his Holiness the Jagatguru.

You will pardon me if I venture; at this assemblage of eminent philosophers, to refer to an aspect of our Hindu Philosophy which seems for the time being, to be too much belittled by the power-intoxicated world.

Our Vedic philosophers.... ....

The civilized world today is indeed in an age of spiritual chaos, intellectual doubt and political decadence. Civilized man today no doubt has acquired immense scientific and mechanical resources, but seems hopelessly to lack the wisdom to apply them to the best advantage. This is why we witness a growing sense of frustration seizing every mind almost everywhere. The whole world seems to be suffering from an epidemic of hysteria.................

We do not know which way the truth lies. Perhaps even here it will be true to say that every truth, however true in itself, yet taken apart from others, becomes only a snare. In reality, perhaps, each is one thread of a complex weft, and no thread can be taken apart from the weft. But this much seems to be certain that there is this paralysing fear and alarm almost everywhere in the world-everywhere even the most powerful minds have not succeeded in escaping it altogether. Everywhere humanity is beginning to feel that we are being betrayed by what is false within, - we are almost giving way to find ourselves spiritually paralysed.

This indeed is a deadly malady. The patient here must first of all be brought to see that he is sick and to want to get well and to do of himself what is needed to get well. Perhaps something is away both with the heart and the brain.

The world needs philosopher-teachers like His Holiness Shri Jagatguru Shankaracharya who can reveal the world of values and can make us realize that, that is the real world. The world badly needs guidance to a creed of values and ideals. The world needs a teacher who can dispel our fears and can remove all sense of frustration or least in so far as it is only an internal malady.

We need a teacher who has succeeded in gaining for himself freedom to be alone, who does not require any power, who can cure both heart and Brain. We are in an age in which the meeting of the traditionally alien cultures of the Orient and the Occident has become inevitable. We need a teacher with sufficient gift of intellectual imagination and divine inspiration who can help the smooth working of this meeting, the working out of this meeting in such a way that the values of each civilization complement and re-inforce rather than combat and destroy those of the other. We cannot avoid the sight of conflicting economic, political, religious, artistic and other ideological doctrines and the consequent fear and feeling of helplessness, We need a teacher who can teach us how to get out of the crisis in valuation in this realm of conflict, who can teach us how to avert the danger of spiritual paralysis facing us.

His Holiness Sri Jagatguru Shankaracharya, having gained the freedom to be alone, did also fully realize the means of escaping from loneliness. In these days of doubts and difficulties if we can at all safely turn our eyes for guidance to any one it should be to this superman the overpowering influence of whose genius appears indeed in the light of divine inspiration, the superman who has succeeded in ridding himself of any ambition for power.

Saintly guidance from a seer like Sri Jagatguru alone can ensure an abiding peace.'

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi described what it was like to be in Guru Dev's prescence:-

'When His words thrilled the air with joy, the whole atmosphere was surcharged with delight as if waves were set up in the silent ocean of Omnipresent Anandam - The Immoveable was moved by "the Expression of the Inexpressible".' 25

Many of Guru Dev's discourses were transcribed, with some appearing in issues of the ashram newsletter, 'Shri Shankaracharya Upadesha'

Some lectures of Guru Dev were selected to form a collection later published in their original form, in Hindi and Sanskrit, as 'Shri Shankaracharya Upadeshamrit.' These discourses have now been translated into English, and together with the original text, have been published in an illustrated volume entitled '108 Discourses of Guru Dev'.

108 Discourses of Guru Dev

Fortunately, some audio recordings of Guru Dev speaking and singing, and a couple of spools of 16mm film footage of Guru Dev at a personal appearance, also survived his passing and these have now compiled into an audiovisual package, with transcript and translation, and been published as the 'Guru Dev DVD'

Guru Dev DVD  

After Guru Dev's death Maharishi Mahesh Yogi went on to spread the teaching of Transcendental Meditation (TM) and train many teachers to continue this work. He also established various organisations over the years with the intention of bringing about a society with higher consciousnesss. His story is a fascinating one, an unknown monk wandering about India who embarked on an overseas campaign to spread the practice of meditation, becoming a household name around the world - a charismatic personality, known for his association with celebrities such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys, and respected for stimulating scientific study into the effects of meditation.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with the Beach Boys
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with the Beach Boys
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's biography is now available as 'The Maharishi: The Biography of the Man Who Gave Transcendental Meditation to the World'.

'The Maharishi: the Biography' by Paul Mason
- Evolution Books

Premanand Paul Mason

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