This World is our Temporary Shelter

Trailanga Swami was a great yoga master in India, who lived in Varanasi about 120 years ago. He lived to an age of more than 300 years and performed many miracles during his lifetime. Some of them are recounted in “Footsteps to Freedom”, and his photograph hangs in Guruji’s Kashi Kriya Yoga Centre studio in Gisborne. So I was thrilled recently to hear Guruji tell a few more stories from the life this amazing saint. This was one of them:

A disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya who was secretary* to the Maharaja of Banaras, used to tell a story of how he once personally accompanied the King to meet Trailanga Swami. Having heard many stories about this great saint, the Maharaja had resolved to meet him and ask for his blessing.

Trailanga Swami would sit on the steps of a ghat along the River Ganges, and the day that the Maharaja arrived in a big boat with his secretary, Swamiji happily went to meet them, walking across the water before climbing into the boat. The Maharaja was happy to see him and made Namaskar in greeting.

The Swami caught sight of the King’s golden sword gleaming with precious gems and showed a curiosity about it that was childlike and innocent. The Maharaja decided to show it to him, and Trailanga Swami took it in his hands. Turning it over from side to side in seeming awe, he suddenly tossed it overboard. The King was outraged, for the sword had been an expensive gift, but Trailanga Swami smiled innocently as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile, the Maharaja’s secretary was trying to warn the King not to show any anger before this saint.

Again without warning, Trailanga Swami leaned over the edge of the boat. Reaching into the water, he drew out two identical swords, just like the one which he had thrown overboard. Offering both swords to the Maharaja, Trailanga Swami asked him to take the sword which belonged to him. The Maharaja had no idea how to reply, realising that he had been given an example. The Swami repeated his question before tossing one of the swords into the Ganges and handing the Maharaja back his own.

‘Just a few minutes ago you were angry, thinking that you had lost something, yet you were not even able to recognise the sword that was yours,’ he said.

*The secretary also introduced the King to Lahiri Mahasaya, who employed the great master as his son’s tutor. The King used to overhear the spiritual explanations that Lahiri Mahasaya would give whilst teaching, and was so impressed that he subsequently became his disciple.

This story was a powerful example of the spiritual truth which Guruji is often pointing out – namely the fact that we base our perception of reality on the five senses, but they cheat us; we believe our eyes but they deceive us. As a result we are easily swayed by emotions such as hatred, jealousy, fear and anger.

And to imagine how humbling it must have been to be presented with two identical priceless physical objects, and not be able to distinguish between them – especially as a King, considered wise and knowledgeable amongst all his subjects. It would have been as if Trailanga Swami were saying, ‘So how can you possibly think you know anything about your own internal nature, or the true reality of life and being?’

The story reminded me of something Guruji said one day after a yoga class:

‘People often ask me why spirituality is developed to such an extent in India, and not so much in the West,’ he began. ‘One reason is due to nature, and the sun. The sun is very important for both internal and external development.

‘In India, people have realised for centuries that this nature is not just external, it is internal. They used to observe nature closely, and through watching trees, plants and animals they developed a system of keeping the body physically fit and healthy through Hatha Yoga asanas, or postures. But it was not just physical health that they were interested in. They knew that inner development is extremely important for health – without it we have nothing.

‘The Yogis used to say that this world is our temporary shelter. They alerted people to the truth that our time on this earth is limited, and when we go, we cannot take anything with us. There is more awareness of the internal world in India and that is why we have always had saints and yogis in our country. It is strange that most people are only tied up in thinking about work and money and other external affairs.’