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Swami Laxman Joo

The Sage of Ishaber

Pandit Jankinath Kaul 'Kamal'

Introduction

Fathers of the Kashmir Monistic Saiva Thought, who flourished in the valley from ninth to thirteenth century A.D., were erudite scholars and eminent saints. They recorded what they practised and accomplished thereby. Later, there were interruptions in this line of thought. and it was mostly the ritualistic faith that kept the tradition alive. After Sivopadyaya, the eighteenth century scholar-saint who wrote commentaries and books of the kind, there appeared saints of the order during nineteenth century. But they, only taught the lore and made no use of pen. Early twentieth century saw the Kashmir of past glory blessed with a son who, not only practised and lived this wonderful philosophy-the Trika Saiva of Kashmir named Pratyabhijna Darsana-but also disseminated its postulates by teaching and writing among the seekers of Truth in the country and among those from foreign lands.


Swami Lakshman Joo

Birth and Initiation

A luminary of the first magnitude on the spiritual firmament of modern times, Lakshmana Raina was born at Namchibal in Srinagar (Kashmir) on May 9, 1907. He showed signs of spiritual fertility from his very birth. Finding the child far too precocious, his noble, god-fearing and devout parents put him in the tutorage of Swami Rama, who had been their family priest, and saint of high order in the tradition of the refined Tantric Monism of Kashmir known as the Trika system. From his early childhood Lala Saab cast a spell not only over his parents and relatives but also on Swami Rama. At sixteen, however, the boy was ripe enough for being initiated by Swami Mahtab Kak, who had been commissioned by his illustrious preceptor just betore entering mahasamadhi, when the promising Laksmana was only seven years old. The enterprising and well- to-do parents could not prevail upon the young boy, to enter the life of a householder or even to take up a job.

Renunciation and Learning

It was typical of young Lakshmana to take his own time to do things rather than act on the spur of moment and force the pace. He had requested his loving parents to make a place available for him in solitude. But it took them some time to execute the promised plan. Yet the spiritual urge compelled the earnest aspirant to leave home for practising yoga at the famous forest ashrama of Sadha-malyun in Handawara, Kashmir. He left no clue about himself at home except a line on a piece of paper requesting his brothers to give comfort to his parents. Getting the clue after a thorough and anxious search for the young Lakshmana, his father Pandit Narayan Das and his preceptor Swami Mahtab Kak went there to meet him. They succeeded in persuading him to come to the city and accept to live in a newly built house in their factory premises as he had desired. Here the earnest scholar-saint devoted himself to the study of Kashmir Saiva literature available at the Research Department of the Jammu and Kashmir Government started early by Sir Pratap Singh, the then Maharaja of the state. Highly learned Pandits had helped the department in editing and publishing a number of books on Kashmir Saivisim, excavated and discovered throughout the state. Lakshmana Joo engaged the most efficient Pandit, Rajanaka Maheshvara to teach him Saiva sastra at home. He also studied Sanskrit grammar and the allied schools of Indian philosophy at full length. He edited the Bhagavad Gita with its Sanskrit commentary by Abhinavagupta and wrote important footnotes to it. This was published when he was about twenty-five years old.

Seclusion

During the year 1934-35 Brahmachari Lakshmana Joo chose a secluded place at the foot- hill above Ishaber village in the vicinity of the famous Nishat garden. He loved the spot because his ideal teacher Abhinavagupta, one of the most prominent authors of Kashmir Saivism, had lived somewhere around the place in vineyards about nine centuries ago. A bungalow was constructed by his parents at the selected site. It had a spacious garden with multi-colour flower-beds, fruit-bearing trees and a vegetable garden. Adjacent to this spiritual abode Sri Jia Lal Sopori of Srinagar built a house for his daughter Sharika Devi, who, after taking a vow of leading a celibate life, had found her worthy preceptor in Brahmacari Lakshmana Joo. Deviji remained in utter penance for attaining perfection in the monistic Saiva order by learning Agama Sastra from him and practising Saiva-yoga under his care. Devotees and seekers of Truth began to pour in now. It was about this time that the present writers was introduced to this holy man of divme charm by his own master and later recommended for the study of Utpaladeva's masterpiece, Sivastotravali. This marked the beginning of the Sunday class at the ashrama that always remained increasing and surcharged with wonderful spiritual vibrations.

Meeting Ramana Maharshi

Suddendly the young saint made a silent trip to certain places of his own choice in India. He wanted to confer with saints of high order perhaps to ascertain his attainments. He spent some time at Bombay beach to establish his power of spiritual perception. Then spending a very short time with Mahatma Gandhi at Sevagram he rushed to have a glimpse of Sri Aurobindo at Pondicherry where the Mother evinced interest in him. Therefrom he found his way to Tiruvanamalai to meet Ramana Maharshi at the Ramanachramam. Bhagavan Ramana looked at the young attractive saint graciously. It must have been the moment of Drstidiksa-initiation by mere sight. Swami Lakshmana Joo spent some weeks in the presence of the Maharshi. He later expressed: "I felt those golden days were indeed divine". Thus Swamiji revived in 1938 A.D. the spiritual link that united Madras and Kashmir when a monk of Madhurai, named Madhuraja, had travelled to Kashmir in the eleventh century to meet the great Abhinavagupta. Swamiji returned to Kashmir with greater spiritual charm. He then wrote a Hindi translation of the Sambapancasika, adding important hints as footnotes to it. This was published in 1943.

Aurobindvan Solitude

Swami Lakshmana Joo took to strict seclusion in his own ashrama premises for several months. During that period of 'Aurodbindvan solitude', he concentrated on the Kramastotra culled out from the Tantraloka. Giving a wonderful exposition of the twelve forms of Saiva Yoga in lucid Hindi preceded by the original Sanskrit text, this small book of deep insight into the Reality of dvadasakali was published in 1958. Along with his progress in spiritual attainments, Swamiji propagated the Saiva faith so efficiently and effectively that scholars and seekers after Truth got drawn towards him, not only from his own country but also from abroad.

The Ishwara Ashrama

After India was declared a free country, she has virtually remained in shambles, not tidy as before. A sense of insecurity increased day by day in everyone's mind and almost everywhere. In the suspicious circumstances, Swami ji disposed off his immovable property along with that of Sharika Devi ji, about the year 1957 and started to live in a small house newly constructed at a stone's throw from the general road near Gupta Ganga Temple in Ishaber village. 'Ishwara Ashrama' was the name given to the ashrama and the disciples began to call Swami ji Ishwara Swarupa. (This ashrama is the headquarter of Ishwara Ashrama Trust now).

Ashrama Activities

The Ashrama activities gathered momentum. Swamiji held regular Sunday class/satsanga. On Mondays he observed silence (maunam) and spent his day in 'God's House', the tiny cottage for meditation, built in a beautiful small garden near the previous ashrama-place. A set programme was followed on other weekdays A spacious lecture hall with cupboards on one side for library and a havana-shala for annual yagya were constructed in the premises of Shri Ranvir Siva Temple, Gupta Ganga by the Dharmarth Trust of lammu and Kashmir under the trusteeship of Dr. Karan Singh, former union minister and ambassador. The complex was named Kashmir Saiva Pathika. Sunday discourses on Tantraloka by Swamiji, lectures by eminent spiritualists and seminars were held there with grace and glory. Swami ji, at certain occasions gave series of lectures on spiritual topics for the elevation of common people, besides taking special classes and guiding scholars in their research work. Maiden translation with footnotes in Hindi of his favourite book Sivastotravali was published by the Chowkhamba Sanskrit series office, Varanasi in 1964. This Swamiji taught with a new exposition each time.

Honours Conferred

Two saintly persons of Swami ji's calibre, contemporaneous with him, were Pandit Nilakantha Jyotishi (later Swami Nilakanthananda Saraswati, D.L.S., Richikesh) and Pandit Satram Bhat of Ishaber. Although each had a different mode of thought yet the 'spiritual trio' was destined to meet and corroborate on the Yoga-bhumi of Ishaber. They met closely on Rrahma-sutra Sankarabhasya and Yogavasistha Maharamayana. Scholars and professors came to Swamiji from the universities of Torino (Italy), Paris, Oxford, and America for his guidance in Pratyabhijna and Tantraloka. To the scholars and his disciples from foreign lands he gave pithy and short lectures on abstruse topics in English. For Kashmiri disciples he explained the tenets of Saivism in a literary style full of elegance and wit. To general audiences he spoke in lucid Hindi. Swami Lakshmana Joo read his paper in Sanskrit on 'Kundalini Vijnana Rahasyam' at the All India Tantra Sammelanam held under the auspices of the Varanaseya Sanskrit University at Varanasi in the year 1965. His exposition of the subject was much applauded by the great luminary Mahamahopadhyaya Gopinath Kaviraj and other scholars of great repute. After some years the Varanaseya Sanskrit University conferred upon Swami Lakshmana Joo the degree of D. Lit.. honoris causa, in recognition of his splendid and valuable service to the cause of Sanskrit. When Swami ji was informed about this, he simply gave an innocent smile and said in an expression of humour "I have become a doctor now". The Jammu and Kashmir Akademi of Art, Culture and Languages presented the robe of honour to Swamiji at a special function while Mir Qasim was Chief Minister of the state.

Contribution

Swamiji's contribution to the promotion of the studies in Kashmir Saivism, propagation of the Trika philosophy and growth of Kashmiri culture will be remembered for long. This considerably helped the revival of this philosophy and way of life which had otherwise been fading away due to political changes in the valley. Swamiji, however, became known nationally and internationally as the best exponent of Trika philosophy. The saint- scholar gained spiritual ecstasy of jivanamukta (liberated while living) and in his own country came to be known as 'the sage of Ishaber' to whom all sorts of people - young and old, male or female - came to pay obeisance and receive blessings or a blissful touch. A reproduction of a few of his lectures in English was publsihed in 1982 under the caption: "Lectures on Practice and Discipline in Kashmir Saivism." "The Kashmir Saivism - supreme secret" was published in the year 1985. This contains lectures on important topics of Saiva philosophy based on the Pratyabhijna of Utapaladeva and the Tantraloka of Abhinavagupta given by Swamiji to his western disciples. The Pancastavi of Dharmacharya with comprehensive Hindi translation and footnotes was published in the year 1987. Beside these works, some of the texts relating to Kashmir series (K.S.T.S.) were translated for the first time by Thakur Jaidev Singh after they were taught to him by the Master. Jaidev's language reflects in a luminous fashion the mystical experiences in the texts namely Pratyabhijna hrdaya, Siva sutra, Vijnanabhairava and Paratrisika which also bear his elaborate introductions. Swamiji's immense erudition stimulated some more disciples and admirers to expound these Saiva texts. Prof. Nilakanth Gurtoo wrote Hindi translations of Paratrisika and Spandakarika. The present writer, wrote an independent, pithy and uptodate Hindi commentary on Siva-sutras that was highly praised by the Master. Smt. Kamala Bawa translated the text and commentary of Pratyabhijna hrdayam into Hindi. Smt. Prabha Devi translated into Hindi Para Pravesika, Paramarhasara and Guru Stuti. All these have been published. Dr. Oscar Botto wrote on Abhinavagupta and Tantraloka in Italian and Dr. Lillian Silburn (France) translated some Saiva hymns and certain texts on Saivism into Italian and French respectively. Thus Swamiji taught as well as spread with effective measure this unique philosophy of Kashmir in the country and abroad.

Birthday and Excursions

Swamiji's birthday was celebrated every year on such a grand scale that it turned to be a great fair for common people and an auspicious day for his admirers and devotees who flocked from all parts of the country to have a glimpse of the sage sitting in long samadhi. Indian as well as foreign disciples attended to see this godman 'living free' on this earth. Sri Dinanath Ganjoo, Smt. Kamla Bhagati, Sri Narayan Joo and Smt. Raj Dulari Kaul among many others sang Kashmiri poems of eulogy to their preceptor. This cheerful holyman of wisdom, wit and peace distributed prasada and day long. The next day Swamiji spent in giving gifts to devotees and disciples. Once Swamiji remarked "If I had to celebrate my birthday twice a year I would finish up all my extra property by distrubuting it."

Excursions to places of sanctity and natural scenery in the valley were occasionally arranged. Kirtans by disciples and discourses by Swamiji were usual features all along. Prominent places visited on large group excursions were: Verinag, Takshakanag, Karkutanang, Sadha-malyun, Uma Nagari, Hangalgund, Tangamarag, Naran-nag (Sindh Valley), Dacchigam and Dara etc. by bus, and different places around and in Dal Lake by dunga (house-boat) during summer besides linger trips to Hardwar and Rishikesh during winter.

Moments of bliss were experienced when saints and men of learning came to meet the sage of Ishaber. Dr. Karan Singh often visited the ashrama to receive blessings. Smt. Indira Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India sought interview with the sages whenever she came on a visit to the state. Swamiji had a meeting with J. Krishnamurti at Kotarkhana in the Dal Lake. Maharshi Mahesh Yogi visited the Ishawara Ashrama and invited Swamiji to his house-boats in the Dal Lake. Swamiji gave an interesting exposition of the Vijnanabhairava to his devotees on request. Paul Reps, in his short introduction to the chapter 'Centering' says: "It presents 112 ways to open the invisible door of consciousness. I see Lakshmana joo gives his life to its practice". Swami Ramdas (a jivanmukta) of Kanhangarh, Mangalore, Swami Satyananda Saraswati of Munger, and Swami Muktananda of Ganeshpuri were pleased to meet the Swami when they visited Srinagar. Swami Lakshmana Joo himself attended and presided over spiritual meetings held occasionally in the valley and outside it. In 1976 Sri Ramakrishna Ashram, Srinagar (Kashmir) organized a spiritual congregation inthe Ashrama precincts. This was graced by the world famous cultural ambassador of India, Swami Ranganathananda while the meeting was presided over by Swami Lakshmana Joo, who described Sri Ramakrishna as a sidha yogi.

Another time Swami Ranganathananda was invited by Swamiji to address a special meeting of scholars and devotees and declared the chief guest as 'messanger of peace'. Swamiji occasionally went to Hardwar and Rishikesh to meet saints, especially Swami Sivananda Saraswati of the Divine Life Society giving expositions to parallelism of Kashmir Saiva Mysticism with the mysticism of Sankara Vedanta.

Ecstasy

During his years of maturity, Swami Lakshmana joo was writing a comprehensive compendium of Kashmir Saiva Darsana in lucid Hindi. It runs into several chapters. Excerpts from the manuscript were at times read out by him to selected disciples among whom the present writer was fortunate to be one. It is understood that writing of the book remained incomplete but was published later in 1994 by Sri Prabha Deviji. Prof. P.N. Pushp, while writing his foreward to this book titled Trika Rahasya Prakriya has also observed the incompleteness of this work. During his latter days of ecstasy Swamiji only explained selected pithy verses from the Agama sastras and Yogavasistha and sang these alongwith his disciples in divine rapture. These continue to be sung by devotees at Sunday satsang meetings with the wonderful Gurustuti composed early by one of Swamiji's illustrious disciple of Varanasi, Sri Rameshwar Jha, who having studied and practised Vedantic Mysticism had found great interest in the Kashmir Saiva Mysticism and had accepted Lakshmana joo as his preceptor of the Faith.

Occult Powers

Though Swamiji was a master of occult powers, he never made a display of those powers. Swamiji was against their being used as he was convinced that the use of occult powers was an impediment on the spiritual path. He was the master of self- control and care. However he appeared to have made use of his divine power sparingly and with great caution. Not only his close disciples but also un-acquainted people of different beliefs, from far and near, some of whom had not even met the Swami in person, were convinced of his powers which he might have used un-assumingly for their upliftment. Certain comtemporary saints of the country have said that Swami Lakshmana Joo had been strictly guarding his earned treasure of powers and, if at all, he used those scarcely. His awe- inspiring sight and proverbial sympathy drew people of all walks of life near him with their problems to which he was often sharp in giving decisions. It was also observed that he gave a healing touch to those who needed it. Common people believed him to be a redeemer from evils. Some persons of pure heart felt a current of mysterious joy running through their body while receiving his touch on bowing at his lotus feet.

Picture of Personality

Swamiji had disciplined himself into such unwinking vigilance that he was never found saying or doing a thing that was not in consonance with the Truth of his way of life. Only eight months before Swamiji chose to merge in the infinite, his chief disciple Brahmavadini Sharika Devi entered the Divine on Feb. 1, 1991. He did wonderfully well what was quite befitting to his nature and practice. In fact there was very high aiming in the core of Swamiji's very existence which was manifest in a happy combination of three lements:

(i) Simplicity, an expression of simplicity;

(ii) Enthusiasm, the vital push of the spirit within;

(iii) Wisdom, the light of the soul as the portion of the Divine Himself.

Endowed with a magnetic personality, divine charm and wide scholarship behind his spiritual attainments Saivacarya Iswara Swarupa Sri Swami Lakshmana Joo was an inextricable combination of life and religion. By years of study and contemplation, his practice of yoga had ripened to such an extent that his teachings contain the best solution to the problems that face humanity today. His very presence was solace to the depressed, hope to the forlorn, joy to the seeker, inspiration to the scholar and satisfaction to the soul striving for spiritual upliftment. The best in him was all-lovingness that attracted towards him people of all faiths and of different creeds. An embodiment of magnificent qualities, he was a faithful friend, a benefactor brother, a fondling father, a true teacher, a noble neighbour, an instinctive instructor, an affirmed administrator, a congenial companion and above all the girdling guide of all who came near him. His disciples and admirers sought to throng around his radiant personality as honey-bees hover about a fragrant lotus in bloom. Iswara Swarupa's sagacity made him into an exemplary sage. He looked simply divine, when he made a short tour to United States in June-July, 1991.

Homage

The playful ways of the Master - the sage of Ishaber-came to an end on this earth in Delhi in the early hours of the 27th September, 1991 in moments of calmness and tranquility. He had verily been a yogabhrasta (fallen from yoga in previous birth) for he was born is a house of pious as well as wealthy and well-thought parents-sucinam srimatam gehe yogabhratobijayate. The present life of grace and glory was only the means for this Divine being to merge into Supreme Siva, the final beatitude of life. The powers of Truth and Light may not be visible to the naked eye but they are there for the discerning. To pay homage to the beloved 'Gurudeva' let us live fur the Divine and let Divine take control of our life to fulfill his purpose.

Source: Koshur Samachar

Kashmiri Writers Janki Nath Kaul Kamal
 

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