Swimming with Krishna
Teaching Stories from the Kripalu Yoga Tradition
~ Edited and Commentary by Richard Faulds (email@example.com … for copies of the book)
The central figure in the Kripalu Yoga (Amrit Yoga) tradition is a mysterious yoga adept named Lakulish. Lakulish is the twenty-eighth and most recent incarnation of Shiva, the Hindu deity closely associated with yoga and the quest for self-transformation. Images of Lakulish appear in temples all over India, and archeologists have unearthed coins bearing his likeness, but little is known about Lakulish’s like beyond the legend of his miraculous birth and death.
The story opens with reference back to the Vedic culture established by Vishvamitra and other rishis thousands of years ago. Having grown stagnant for want of potent teachers, it is sorely in need of revival.
The Life of Lakulish
Lakulish was born in the village that sprang up around Medhavati, the pilgrimage site established by Vishvamitra. His father’s name was Vishvarun and his mother was Sudharshana. Descended from a large ancestral line of Brahmins, the life of their household orbited around a schedule of ceremonies, rituals and other sacred rites.
Shortly after Sudharshana gave birth to a son, Vishvarup prepared to go on a pilgrimage. Traveling on foot to visit holy places, his intent was to ask the gods to bestow good qualities upon the boy. Before departing, he instructed Sudharshana to continue the family’s religious observances in his absence. She was to prepare the necessary materials each morning, and seek the help of a local priest to perform the ceremonies later in the day.
After three months, a strange event began to occur. Sudharshana would leave the house to fetch the priest and return home to find the elaborate ceremony performed. The sacred fire would be lit, and all the ceremonial articles bearing signs that evidenced their proper use. Yet the house was empty but for the infant child sleeping in the cradle. This did not happen once. It happened on the second, third, and fourth days too. Then it became a daily occurrence, and neither Sudharshana nor the priest could explain it.
When Vishvarup returned, Sudarshana recounted there whole story. Determined to solve the mystery, Vishvarup concealed himself in an adjacent house. While hiding, he was amazed to see his infant son climb out of the crib, carry out the ceremony with perfection, and then crawl back into his bed.
Amazed and overjoyed, Vishvarup and Sudarshana entered the house and hugged their son. Knowing these capacities heralded the birth of a most unusual child, Vishvarup enquired, “Son, tell us who you really are?” The child instantly fainted, and his body became lifeless. All efforts to revive the boy proved futile, and the mood of Vishvarup and Sudarshana shifted from joy to grief.
As was the custom of the time, Vishvarup and Sudarshana laid the child’s body to rest in a nearby pond. The unusual events continued, as tortoises appeared to carry the body into the pond’ s depths, placing it at the base of a Shiva lingam installed there by local holy men. A few months passed, and Vishvarup and Sudarshana returned to their lives, attempting to make sense of what had happened and not lose themselves in sorrow and grief.
Meanwhile and unbeknownst to anyone, the infant’s body was undergoing a profound metamorphosis. Growing quickly into a youth, the boy floated to the surface and was found by the local sages playing on the surface of the water with a stick in his hand. Seeing his radiant countenance, the sages asked, “Who are you?”
The boy answered: “I am prana.” The sages were intrigued by this response, prana being a yogic term. Engaging the boy in dialogue, the sages were amazed at his penetrating wisdom. He was called Lakulish (club carrier) because he held a stick in his hand when he was discovered. Ascertaining his complete mastery of yoga, they determined he was the incarnation of Shiva foretold by Vishnu long ago.
News of the incarnation spread. Sages, royalty, and seekers from far-off places began arriving to receive Lakulish’s audience. The name of the village was changed to Kayavarohan, which means “Shiva descended into a human body.” With Lakulish in residence, th rural pilgrimage site grew quickly into a flourishing city, renowned for the purity and prosperity of its inhabitants. Under Lakulish’s guidance, many aspirants became realized yoga masters and powerful teachers. Lakulish directed them to locate throughout the land and rejuvenate India’s spiritual culture.
After many years, Lakulisah summoned his principal disciples to Kayavarohan, asking them to gather at an appointed hour in the Brahmeshvar temple. Everyone was puzzled by the same question: “Why has Lakulish called us together?” A host of disciples, kings, ascetics, and devotees also arrived to participate. Seated up front near the Shiva lingam installed by Vishvamitra ages ago, Lakulish announced, ” My life mission has been fulfilled, and my time on earth is drawing to a close. I want to say goodbye before merging into the infinite.”
Overcome with dispair, the throng broke into wails of anguish. Lakulish’s chief disciple performed a ceremony honoring their guru. Afterwards, Lakulish gave everyone his most auspicious blessing, and instructed the group, “Close your eyes for a moment of silent prayer.”
Falling instantly into profound meditation, the gathering came out of this collective reverie to find Lakulish had merged into the lingam. Devotees believe that Shiva, in the form of Lakulish, is to this day seated in the Brahmeshvar temple at Kayavarohan.
The key that unlocks this story is understanding that Lakulish represents a second stage in the Kripalu path, a way to realize the deeper spirituality hinted at near the end of the Vishvamitra story.
In the same way that Jesus comes only after John the Baptist had preached repentance, Lakulish comes only after the message of Vitramitra has inspired a seeker to heal, strengthen, and purify the bodymind through a regimen of willful practice. Until one has cleaned up his lifestyle and sincerely wrestled with his shortcomings, the teachings conveyed by this story remain inapplicable. The seeds of spiritual awakening can only sprout when the soil of the body and mind has been properly tilled.
The infant boy, already proficient in ceremonial worship, represents a mature individual, someone with the devotional bent and steady mind required to conduct complex rituals. With these capacities developed, the focus of practice can shift to a profound exploration of the sense of self.
The experience of identity is most evident in the Vedantic technique of self-enquiry, which uses the question “Who am I?” to drill down through the personality and into the divine root of our being. When asked directly, “Who are you?” the boy faints. Losing contact with the external world, it appears that he has died. Actually he has disappeared inside to contemplate the question, and activity is taking place in the subtle realms.
The tortoises that carry away Lakulish’s body symbolize the fifth stage of yoga called ‘pratyahar,’ a word meaning ‘withdrawal from the senses.’ Like a tortoise that can draw its limbs and head into its shell, an adept yogi can withdraw his attention from the senses to enter a state of inner absorption. With the mind introverted, profound inner work can be undertaken and accomplished.
Bodies of water are universal symbols for the psyche. Carried to the bottom of the pond and placed before the Shiva lingam, the story tells us that the boy’s trance was profound and his intention in diving so deep within was to encounter the divine.
While lost to the world in meditation, the boy realizes his true identity. Although his body has not died, the death metaphor is consciously employed her to signify a death-rebirth experience as well as a deep trance. What’s dies is a boy’s psychological identity as a spiritual seeker, worshipper, and devotee.
This is an important point, as most seekers unconsciously assume their egocentric self can be polished to the point where they “get enlightened.” In actuality, awakening only occurs when the personal identity falls away, revealing the transpersonal spirit of Self. In the language of Zen, this is regaining “the original face you had before you were born,” a reference to the simple and spacious presence always lying beneath the conditioned mind. When the small self dies, what remains is the divine incarnate – Shiva as Lakulish.
Emerging from the pond, the boy’s transformed body floats to the surface, and he returns to consciousness. When found by the holy men, he is again asked, “Who are you?” Now able to answer the question, he proclaims, “I am Prana,” stating that he is pure expression of the source of energy that activates the breath, animates the body, and illuminates the mind. Trace any of these visible aspects of your being back to its invisible source, and there you will discover Prana, the subtle energy that radiates from the soul.
The youth is recognized by the holy men as the incarnation of Shiva. This indicates that Prana is a pure emanation of divine consciousness. This is a very different message from that of Vishvamitra., who is hell-bent on controlling the flow of prana that lies beneath the habitual activity of his mind and senses.
At first Vishvamitra works to restrain his energy so he is not led astray by strong urges and feelings. Eventually he is able to channel it into worthy thoughts and actions. The legend of Lakulish suggests a next step. Once a measure of purification has been accomplished, a yogi can dive deep to realize that every level of his being originates from a divine source. A natural harmony arises and inner conflict resolves. Instead of things to thwart or control. The faculties of body, heart, and mind become trustworthy faculties to guide us in life.
Interpreted properly, this story is not anointing Lakulish as special. It is declaring that each of us is in truth born divine. At thus juncture of the path, the focus of practice shifts from disciplined doing to non-doing or surrender, and one’s expression in life
is likely to change. Other contrasts between Vishvamitra and Lakulish are significant.
Where Vishvamitra’s grinding process of purification takes forever, Lakulish’s metamorphosis takes place quickly, suggesting that transformation as this stage can be rapid, occurring in quantum leaps rather than incremental steps. Vishvamitra is a hoary old anchorite, but Lakulish is young, vital, radiant, and playful. Vishvamitra lives in a remote pilgrimage site. Lakulish inhabits a city where commerce and the arts flourish. Vishvamitra glimpses deeper truths and discerns the existence of spirit. Lakulish looks more closely to discover that he is spirit incarnate, free to live an enlightened life in the world.
All this and more is symbolized in the statue Lakulish leaves behind in the temple, the body of a yogi merged with the infinite. This statue reflects the teachings of Tantra, which consider absolute from relative, masculine and feminine, and all opposites as two aspects of an indivisible whole. By viewing every facet of life as a divine expression, Tantra shatters the rigid distinction between worldly and spiritual that undergirds most forms of yoga relying exclusively on self-discipline.
Scholars believe Lakulish lived in central India circa 200 C.E. A contemporary of Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutra, Lakulish authored the lesser known Pasupat Sutra, a text that has proven difficult to meaningfully translate. Like other esoteric works, the Pasupat Sutra is written in a secret language called ‘sandha bhasha’ (twilight language) that relies upon the use of symbolic terms only decipherable to initiates. This approach was taken to protect the teachings of the tradition from degradation, and also to prevent uninitiated individuals from dabbling in its powerful practices.
While established in the second century, the Pashupats are a part of the oldest known yoga tradition. This tradition traces itself back through 27 prior incarnations of Shiva, with a famous piece of archeological evidence called the “Pashupats seal” dating back to 3000 B.C.E. found in the ruins of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro.
The Pashupats were a staunch religious sect whose teachings proclaim that a unitary force and consciousness underlies creation and indwells our being. Relating to this force as a supreme being they called ‘Shiva’ which means ‘benign’ or ‘auspicious’. This spiritual force remains hidden to most of us, who mistakenly identify with the constant flux of body and mind, versus the steady light of the eternal soul. This pivotal mistake causes the light of the soul to be obscured by the animal drives and desires (pashu) that dominate the psyche.
The Pashupats were one of many groups who developed the techniques of a kundalini yoga, through which they believed that aspirants can master their animals nature and become “pashu-pati.” Becoming a yoga adept was a necessary first step toward liberation, which was seen as a union of the self (‘jiva’) with the Lord (‘Shiva’) that occurs only through surrender and grace. A liberated being lives as a ‘jivan mukti’, a soul fully awake in the body whose actions are constantly informed by the divine. Swami Kripalu considered himself a pilgrim on this Pashupat kundalini yoga path.
Although expressed quite differently, the teachings of Kripalu Yoga (Amrit Yoga) are in accord with those Pashupats. The first step is to heal and harmonize the whole being through basic yoga practices and healthy lifestyle. The aim here is to build vitality and gain proficiency in life. The second step is to awaken energy through deeper practices, gradually purifying body, heart and mind. The third step is to surrender to the free flowing energy and intuitive awareness, both on the yoga mat and in life, cultivating a loving relationship with spirit.
Swami Kripalu first visited Kayavarohan in 1955 after being asked to speak during a Holy Week of celebrations sponsored by the village. Living in seclusion and focused on his yoga practice, Swami Kripalu routinely received and refused such requests. Yet for some reason, he agreed to speak.
Touring the village, the local elders proudly showed Swami Kripalu a stone lingam found in a farmer’s field. This statue was markedly different from the hundreds of other red sandstone carvings found in various states of decomposition. Made of meteorite, it’s black surface was perfectly smooth despite its antiquity.
Seeing the statue, Swami Kripalu felt faint and had to hold the wall for support. It was a perfect representation of a yogi who had appeared to Swami Kripalu at several pivotal moments of his adult life to offer guidance and support. He believed that the divine yogi was none other than his guru’s “true form,” who’s history Swami Kripalu was told he would one day discover.
That evening, Swami Kripalu saw a vision of Kayavarohan’s former splendor during meditation and felt he was given a divine command to rebuild the Brahmeshvar temple so it could once again house the ancient statue. Although a penniless monk, Swami Kripalu undertook this project. Writing and speaking about the cultural and spiritual importance of Kayavarohan, Swami Kripalu raised the funds and oversaw the rebuilding of the temple, which was completed in 1974.
“During the twenty-eighth Dwapar age when Dwaipayan, son of Parasar, shall be Vyas and Lord Vishnu shall incarnate as Lord Krishna, son of Vasudev, I too shall incarnate in the body of a celibate and shall be known as Lakulish. The place of my incarnation shall be a siddhakshetra and it shall be renowned among men till the earth shall last”.
This prophesy came to pass nearly 4500 years ago when Lord Lakulish incarnated on earth at Kayavarohan (near the city of Vadodara in Gujarat) as was foretold by Him. He preached the principles of Sanatan Dharm and the science of Divine Yoga. He himself departed the earth in due time but the purpose of his incarnation continued to be served by four adept yogi disciples, Kushik, Garg, Mitr and Kaurush. The tradition is believed to have flourished for about three thousand years. Eventually however, with the passage of time, the teachings of this tradition ceased.
In 1913, an event of extraordinary spiritual import occurred. Bhagwan Lakulish himself once again revived his spiritual lineage for arranging the execution of certain lofty and nobles plans he had for the benefit of human beings by initiating Swami Pranavananda and imparting to him the secrets of Divine Yoga. The present day disciplic tradition of Lord Lakulish so started survives to this day and is presently headed by Swami Rajarshi Muni and Yogi Amrit Desai.