Happy Birthday to Swami Lakshmanjoo, the Great Teacher of Kashmir Shaivism
By Tasha Friedman
Happy birthday to Swami Laksmanjoo—or Lal Sahib, “the friend of God,” as he was known to his followers.
Born in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Lakshman Raina’s lifelong infatuation with the Divine Mystery began at the age of three. As a small child, he would naturally enter deep states of absorption, which he could only describe as “badhi bhod,” or “greater than the greatest.”
His family supported his aspiration, and he began to receive guidance from their family priest in the lineage of Kashmir Shaivism.
This most refined and elevated branch of non-dual Tantra arose in the Kashmir Valley some eleven or twelve centuries ago. (In fact, Abhinavagupta, the greatest master of the tradition, lived in a suburb of Srinagar, a village where Swami Lakshmanjoo would spend several years.)
Emerging at a point of intersection between Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim cultures, Kashmir Shaivism provided a brilliant synthesis of disparate metaphysical viewpoints and resolved several issues that did not find satisfactory answers in earlier spiritual traditions.
But beyond its philosophical elegance, it was a living tradition marked by a sense of wonderment, ecstatic devotion, the love of beauty, and the courage to transcend all social or conceptual boundaries.
Sadly, although its influence lives on in other spiritual lineages across India, Kashmir Shaivism itself was in decline for many centuries before Swami Lakshmanjoo’s birth. Since the 14th-century Muslim conquest of Kashmir, it primarily became an underground tradition, with no publications or well-known masters until Lakshmanjoo himself sparked a revival.
Silence and Sharing
After devoting his early life to study and practice, at 30 years of age, Lakshmanjoo traveled around India and kept company with some of the most shining spiritual figures of his time, including M.K. Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, and Ramana Maharshi. (About his time with Ramana, Lakshmanjoo would later say: “I felt those golden days were indeed divine.”)
Eventually, Lakshamnjoo returned to Srinagar and settled on the eastern side of Dal Lake, founding an ashram that exists to this day. He lived quietly, spending the winter every year in solitude, but word gradually spread that Kashmir Shaivism was again alive and well through his being.
Teaching freely to all who came to visit his ashram, his presence attracted many mystics and scholars. Through their work and his prolific writings and recorded lectures, the ancient lineage of Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta, and Kshemaraja once again breathed in the light of day.
Swami Lakshmanjoo left this world without appointing a spiritual successor. So while he left clear plans for his ashram and a Shaiva fellowship in the United States to continue his teachings, he was the last of his unbroken lineage.
Living Practices of Kashmir Shaivism
Yet his teachings do live on, including in Hridaya Yoga! Not only in the Kashmir Shaivite teachings that Sahajananda shares in the Art of Awareness workshop, but in our daily meditation: the pauses in the breath, the “inner asana,” which the Swami described as a failproof method for quieting the mind and settling in one’s true Self.
He describes them here in his typical style, a blend of sophisticated understanding and the freshness of direct experience: “First let me speak to you about breath; about the inhaling breath-apana, and the exhaling breath-prana. Breath is extremely important in meditation; particularly the central breath-madhyama-pranan, which is neither prana nor apana. It is the center of these two, the point existing between the inhaling and exhaling breaths.
“This center point cannot be held by any physical means, as a material object can be held by the hand. The center between the two breaths can be held only by knowledge-jnana – not discursive knowledge, but by knowledge which is awareness. When this central point is held by continuously refreshed awareness – which is knowledge and which is achieved through devotion to the Lord – that is, in the true sense settling into your asana. […]
“Asana, therefore, is the gradual dawning in the spiritual aspirant of the awareness which shines in the central point found between inhaling and exhaling.”
Much like Ramana Maharshi, Lakshmanjoo demonstrated that the depth of wisdom and devotion are one and the same. For him, “bhakti (devotion) is when you see that each and every object is the glamour of your own consciousness.”
In fact, for him, all of existence is an act of devotion: “The whole Universe is just the means to recognize Lord Shiva.” There is no other end to the path than absolute adoration of the Divine, of our own Heart.
Tasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.