For Jill Karlin
“The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.” — JBS Haldane
Christmas and New Year are a time for stock taking. People tend to make good resolutions during this period. Here is this author’s Christmas meditation. She dedicates it to her good friend Jill Karlin, an advanced yogini and visionary artist, who will probably understand what she is trying to say — better than this dimwitted mortal does herself!
Many years ago, the author of this meditation spent six months in the Himalayas where she received various rules of good conduct from her Indian guru, a sage of the Vaishnava school who lived in a Himalayan cave 10,000 feet above sea level and who claimed to be a distant disciple of the legendary saint Mahavatar Babaji.
It is of Babaji and related spiritual matters that this author now wishes to write.
Babaji, born in Tamil Nadu on 30th November 203 A.D., is said to have discovered the secret of immortal youth and to be “in constant communion with Christ”, according to Paramahansa Yogananda in his Autobiography of a Yogi. Though now 1,809 years old, Babaji is reported to resemble a handsome young man in the flower of his youth. Some say he is seldom seen nowadays except in the higher regions of the Himalayas, either meditating on the shores of Lake Manosarovar (15,000 feet above sea level) or on Mount Kailash (21,700 feet above sea level).
Though skeptics will naturally claim that Babaji is a mythical figure, he has in fact been seen in relatively recent times by a number of witnesses of unimpeachable reputation, including the sage savant Lahiri Mahasaya in 1861.
While walking in the hills of Dunagiri above Ranikhet, Lahiri Mahasaya heard a voice calling his name. Following the voice up the mountain, he met a “tall, divinely radiant sadhu”, who, to his amazement, knew his name and everything about him.
Mahavatar Babaji told Lahiri Mahasaya that he was his guru in a past life, then initiated him into Kriya Yoga and told him to pass on his teachings to others. Though Lahiri wished to remain with Mahavatar Babaji, this was not possible because of the austere conditions under which Babaji was accustomed to live, subsisting on little or no food and at piercingly cold temperatures in rarefied atmospheres.
Many others eyewitnesses, mostly disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya, have reported meeting Babaji in the Himalayas in more recent times and speaking with him on various spiritual matters. These include Lahiri Mahasaya’s chief disciple, Sri Yukteswar, and several other religious teachers such as Pranabananda Giri, Kebalananda Giri, Keshabananda, and Ram Gopal Muzumdar. (See here)
Lahiri Mahasaya went on to have many further meetings with Mahavatar Babaji. These are recounted in several books, including Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, where this unworthy author, aged 9, read of Babaji for the first time and instantly fell in love with his noble countenance.
said to be over 1,800 years old, and still living in the High Himalayas
However extraordinary all this may seem, it is possible to argue that Babaji’s longevity is not necessarily a miraculous event. It may have a scientific basis. It may well have been achieved through cryogenics or life lived at exceptionally low temperatures.
Evans-Wentz writes of the yogic condition of “suspended animation or yogically induced hibernation.” These are temperatures approaching absolute zero, less than −269 °C (4 Kelvin), a point at which helium liquefies and at which advanced yogis can continue to exist like mammoths trapped in ice. With one significant difference, however: the yogi is still alive, though barely ticking over, suspended in a dream state lasting several centuries in which both full consciousness and out-of-the-body travel is possible.
“A practiced yogi,” Dr Evans-Wentz tells us, “may hibernate for very long periods—according to some yogis for centuries.” (See W.Y. Evans-Wentz, Tibet’s Great Yogi Milarepa, p.193, n.1).
It was while this author was still in the High Himalayas, receiving instructions from her beloved guru, that she first heard of Tummo, a form of yoga deriving from Tibetan Buddhism. This explained much to her feeble and uninformed mind that had hitherto caused her much bewilderment. She learned that it was possible to sit naked in perennial snows, by frozen rivers, in temperatures that would turn a polar bear into a block of ice, and generate an inner heat that would make one’s body feel like a warm stove—with the sweat literally oozing from one’s pores and running down one’s limbs.
The essence of Tummo Yoga is the recognition that all external phenomena (i.e., the outer world) are simply mirror images of one’s own mind. The practice of this form of meditation has a strange byproduct: the ability to produce intense body heat. Miranda Shaw writes:
This energy generates warmth as it accumulates and becomes an inner fire or inner heat (candālī) that burns away the dross of ignorance and ego-clinging.
— Miranda Shaw, Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism. Princeton University Press. p. 31.
In an old travel book written by a German scholar full of of esoteric lore, this curious passage will be found:
I also heard a great deal about Thumo, a combination of meditation and a particular breathing technique by means of which Tibetan yogis increase their bodily temperature. Thumo is supposed to render the yogi capable of meditating for days on end almost naked in a cold cell, or even in snow and ice, without any ill effects. Furthermore, so I was assured by Tibetans who had mastered this Yoga method, Thumo produces a gratifying sensation of lightness. Those who have learned the art of Thumo sometimes wear nothing but a single cotton garment known as a repa. Such yogis are called Repa after this garment; Mila Repa, the great poet, was one of them.
Where the Gods are Mountains: Three Years among the people of the Himalayas, by Rene von Nebesky-Wbjkowitz, translated from the German by Michael Bullock, p.227.
Tummo yoga… meditating in the snow (Pyrennes)
French explorer and expert on Tibetan Buddhism, Alexandra David-Neel, who died incidentally at the age of 101, had herself witnessed extraordinary yogic feats in the Himalayas. Writing of tummo yoga in the 1920s, she has this to say:
To spend the winter in a cave amidst the snows, at an altitude that varies between 11,000 and 18,000 feet, clad in a thin garment or even naked, and escape freezing, is a somewhat difficult achievement.
[This] is kept secret by the lamas who teach it.
Upon a frosty winter night, those who think themselves capable of victoriously enduring the test are led to the shore or a river or lake. If all of the streams are frozen a hole is made in the ice. A moonlight night with a hard wind blowing is usually chosen.
The neophytes sit on the ground, cross legged and naked. Sheets are dipped in the icy water, each man wraps himself in one of them and must dry it on his body. As soon as the sheet has become dry, it is again dipped in the water and placed on the novice’s body to be dried as before. This operation goes on until daybreak.
It is said some dry as many as forty sheets in one night.
It is difficult to get a perfectly correct idea about the extent of the results obtained through tummo training, but these feats are genuine. Hermits really do live naked, or wearing one single thin garment during the whole winter in the high regions I have mentioned. It has been said that some members of the Mount Everest expedition had an occasional glimpse of these naked anchorites.
In the 1980s a group of scientists from Harvard Medical School, led by Dr Herbert Benson, went to study tummo yoga in Tibet. The scientists attached temperature sensors to the monks’ bodies. They discovered, to their surprise, that the temperature of the monks’ fingers and toes immediately shot up by as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit, though their internal temperatures remained normal.
Tibet’s greatest yogi Milarepa is said to have been among the first to discover tummo yoga and to have practiced it while meditating in different caves in the mountains of Tibet. He passed it on to his student Gampopa. Gampopa in turn passed it on to his various disciples and it is in this way, through the student-teacher relationship, that these methods of ancient esoteric practice have been kept alive.
Modern western witnesses of this practice include not only the French explorer and Tibetan savant Alexandra David-Neel, but also Lama Anagarika Govinda and anthropologist Dr. John Crook.
During this author’s long sojourn among the snow peaks several years ago, in the company of her beloved guru and a handful of other aspirants to enlightenment, she was to witness many strange events and learn many secrets which she is forbidden to disclose. Enlightenment she did not herself achieve, though others apparently did so. All this author managed to do was to write a few poems, the bulk of which remain unpublished. These poems are of a mystical nature and she is at a loss to understand them, let alone know what to do with them. They are called, provisionally, Ten Canticles of the Angel Ayesha, and were written at lightening speed one after the other, as if to dictation. These ten prose poems, written in a semi-trance over ten days, were couched in a strange archaic language akin to seventeenth-century English, not unlike the prose found in the King James Version of the Bible.
Completely unconnected with the Ten Canticles, but written during the same transcendental period of rapture in the high Himalayas, in the flight from the alone to the Alone, was this short poem that has already been published here.
The original title, The Garden of Earthly Delights was later changed to Magic Kingdom.
To hear the poem read aloud by Patrick Willis, click on Magic Kingdom