(Hinduism, Vaishnavism)

Lord Nityananda Prabhu (C. 15th) appeared as Lord Caitanya's principal associate for spreading the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord. He especially spread the holy name of the Lord throughout Bengal. A member of the pañca-tattva, or the five features of the Absolute, He is considered an incarnation of Lord Balarama.

(See Sri Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, Adi-lila, chapter 5.)

Bhagavan Nityananda (not to be confused with Nityananda Prabhu in markadm's writeup above) was a 'crazy-wise' guru and realizer who lived in Ganeshpuri, India, from the late 1930's until August 8th, 1961, when he died. He began a lineage which continues to this day, including his closest pupil, Swami Muktananda, and Swami Chidvilasananda. This lineage of 'Siddha-gurus' teaches and works in Ganeshpuri and thousands of people go there on pilgrimage every year.

Very little is known about Nityananda's early life, except that he wandered across Southern India as a renunciate or sadhu for many years. The kind of stories that are usually told about sadhus abound in relation to Nityananda, including the following:

  • He lived in a treetop for six years, meditating.
  • On being ejected from a train for not having a ticket, he produced thousands of tickets from his loincloth, and wandered off, leaving the train mysteriously unable to run.
  • On being arrested for being a public nuisance, he requested that a pot be passed into his cell for him to piss in. He pissed until the pot was full, and kept going, filling six or seven pots before the arresting officers realized he had scary powers and decided to let him go.
  • Someone who found him meditating on the road soaked him in kerosene and tried to set him on fire, but ended up burning to death themselves, in the kind of instant karma bonanza that only gurus seem able to inflict.
  • He regularly appeared in more than one place at a time
  • His fingers were permanently straight, because he never grasped anything
These kinds of stories are told about every Indian guru, and most of them are probably due to the well-meaning exaggerations of grateful devotees, for whom it is an honour and a duty to make their guru seem as divine and amazing as possible. However, many of these stories also have some basis in truth, and it is certain that Nityananda was an extremely unconventional and odd being who inspired enormous devotion in those who met him.

His name means 'Eternal Bliss', and it was given to him because of his characteristic demeanour: he constantly seemed transported, as if he were peering into a beautiful, separate world. He would sit still for hours with half-closed eyes and a soft smile, while people passed by his room in Ganeshpuri and laid gifts at his feet.

On the other hand, he had a fearsome temper, and it was not unknown for him to beat his closest devotees with a stick if they made some transgression in their spiritual practice. Lest we think he was an insane monster, this behaviour is standard in many Eastern spiritual traditions, even if it seems abusive and abhorrent to modern Western values, and is intended to shock the devotee out of their normal, habitual modes of perception and/or behaviour.

Nityananda left no body of written work behind him, because he had great contempt for attempts to distill spiritual realization into words, or to acquire knowledge from books:

The mind creates books. Books have never yet created a single mind. Where is your mind? Where has it gone? Instead of reading someone else's mind, meditate and then read your own mind. Put this book aside and meditate...when you meditate a lot, true knowledge will spring forth from you...many books will come out of you.
He refused to endorse any religion or path of learning, instead relying on a single, simple teaching - God is within you, enlightenment is present within you.

This teaching, in different forms and with different emphasis, is at the heart of the message of every true teacher of enlightenment and realization, but Nityananda was exceptional in the extent to which his life was an example of it: he truly couldn't care less what anyone thought of what he did, and liked to just sit all day, rapt in meditation and bliss, smiling and nodding at people - getting angry if he thought they were selfish and self-obsessed, but otherwise just being outrageously enlightened and inspiring thousands of people to meditate and realize.

It's worth noting that in any society other than India, Bhagavan Nityananda would undoubtedly have been arrested as an insane vagrant, or mugged and murdered for his loincloth.


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