Saints, Teachers, and Seekers in the Indian Tradition
Scholar-mystic of Indian Religion and Culture
Jadunath Sinha was a well-respected philosopher, writer, and religious seeker, and the author of over forty books and numerous articles. The scholarship involved in his writings (ranging from psychology, ethics, logic, and other areas of philosophy to yoga, shakta sadhana, Vaishnavism, and vedanta) is quite impressive.
Jadunath Sinha was born in 1892 in Kurumgram in Birbhum, West Bengal, and later lived in Murshidabad and Calcutta. He received in BA, MA, and PhD in philosophy at Calcutta University. He won a variety of scholarships, awards, and prizes along the way, and taught at colleges in Calcutta, Dacca, and Agra. He was head of post-graduate studies at Meerut College (affiliated with Agra University) for thirty years. He gave numerous academic papers at conferences, especially the Bengali Literary Congress and the Indian Philosophical Congress. He was elected General President of the latter in 1970, and though he refused the post on the grounds of ill health, he did remain a life member.
Jadunath Sinha came from a Shakta (goddess worshiping) family. His great-great grandfather Kashinath became a renunciant, first staying in Tarapith (a sacred Shakta site), and later in the Himalayas, and the majority of Sinha's male relatives were initiated into Shaktism (were goddess worshipers).
Sinha had spiritual experiences throughout his life. He followed both classical tantra (esoteric meditation practices involving mantras and visualizations) and emotional Shakta bhakti (devotion to the goddess), with a philosophical position of Shakta universalism (all religions lead to God but the preferred way to worship god is as a Divine Mother). During Sinha's childhood, he met the Shakta siddha (realized sage) Vamaksepa at Tarapith several times, and had several initiations in various traditions (a sannyasin gave him a Sarasvati mantra in 1902, and he was initiated by a Vaishnava guru in a Krishna mantra in 1922).
However, his closest ties were Shakta, and the start of his spiritual life occurred with a special kind of initiation, an intense glance (drik diksa) by Vamaksepa when he was fifteen years old. An initiation is said to create a special form of spiritual awareness, as well as a bond with the initiator or guru. Vamaksepa was an inspiration to Sinha for the rest of his life.
Jadunath was born in Birbhum district when his mother was sixteen years old. His father died when he was five years old, and he was brought up in a joint family by his mother, grandfather, elder brother's wife, two uncles, and two aunts. His youngest uncle was his friend and protector, and they grew up in a religious home. They awoke early in the morning to pick flowers for his grandfather's Shiva statue, and planted flowers sacred to Shiva and Durga. Whenever the grandfather was ill, a family member would worship Shiva, and all were initiated into the Shakti mantra and trained in the worship of Shiva. Nobody in the family would eat breakfast until the worship was over.
Jadunath was a bright child, but was struck by some serious diseases: cholera, typhoid, and amoebic dysentery. However, he recovered from these, and married Suniti Manjari in 1911 while she was still quite young, in a marriage arranged by his guru Vamaksepa. She was of a delicate constitution, and was an invalid for much of her life. At times, she would also suffer from depression. At school Jadunath organized a student library, and was influenced by the nationalist Swadeshi Movement, joining processions and singing patriotic songs. As a student, he was involved in both political activism and volunteer work, especially emergency relief work.
Sinha would often spend time at the Kali temple at Dakshineshwar, near Calcutta. He spent much time reading the lives of Shakta saints and their writings. However, religion was primarily an academic interest until his retirement in 1952, at the age of sixty.
His wife died in 1956, and his children were grown, so he had the time to spend in spiritual practice. At this point he changed from a mainstream academic to a religious visionary, seeing visions of the divine figures Tara, Kali, Durga, Shiva, Krishna, Chaitanya, Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, and others.
He continued to write, inspired by the gods and saints of his visions. He became a householder spiritual practicianer, living silently for long stretches of time in the family house, informally renouncing the social world but maintaining his writing.
The information in this biography is largely from his personal diaries which were graciously provided by his son A. K. Sinha.
While the earlier years of his diary focus on academic activities (writing books, giving papers, requests for articles, meetings with other scholars, attending lectures and book fairs, translating Sanskrit texts and writing diacriticals, correcting proofs and revising arguments), in later years the diary tends to focus on religious experiences, as well as travels to religious sites in India and greater concerns about health. In his diary he describes many religious experiences (often writing of himself in the third person). Many of these experiences were associated with his guru Vamaksepa:
In 1930 he and his wife saw Bamdeva (Vamaksepa) in an ethereal form on a wall in the bedroom in the evening. They were in a state of spiritual exaltation at the time. The spirits of Samkara, Ramanuja, Nimbarka and others wrote through the hand of Jadunath so that he would write on their philosophies later. It was a strange event. He performed japa (repetition of the names of god) for several hours a day. Long afterwards in 1952 he suffered from typhoid for 70 days. He used to see visions of saints, who influenced his life.
Twenty years later, he still thought of Vamaksepa, who brought him in touch with the goddess Tara:
We left Ekchakra for Tarapith in a cart the next morning, and reached there at 10:00 AM. We bathed in the river Dwaraka, worshiped Tara, ate the food of grace offered to Her, saw two statues of Bama Ksepa, the great Shakta saint, whom I saw thrice while he was alive. His influence on my life [has been] the greatest and the deepest. All I have done that is good and noble [was] under his influence. He has made me feel the presence of the Divine Mother within me and outside me. He has saved me from the clutches of wily so-called saints. Mother Tara gave me a message in [a] distinct, natural voice, in broad daylight, in the presence of others, but I cannot disclose it... I went to Mother Tara at Her bidding on a specific day. She had appeared in a dream and asked me to see Her on that day. I felt blessed... Mother Tara filled my inner being with divine consciousness the whole night, and appeared in my dreams off and on. I was entranced and submerged in Mother-consciousness. Within my inner being there was Mother-consciousness; outside my being there was Mother-consciousness. I was united with my Divine Mother, Mother of all human beings and the universe. This universal consciousness could not be the expression of a repressed Oedipus complex. It was holy through and through, It was the manifestation of the most Holy, uplifting, elevating, and sanctifying. It was not the expression of the base, low, irrational, repressed libido... I felt the presence of Divine Spirit in the whole of Nature; plants, animals and men. Mother Tara filled my inner being. (1959)
Sinha often felt that the spirit of Vamaksepa was identical with the spirit of the Mother:
I felt the influence of Bama Ksepa in the whole atmosphere. I felt the presence of a Divine Spirit in the whole of nature; plants, animals and men. Mother Tara filled my inner being. I was possessed by Her spirit in the temple, and I was similarly possessed by Her spirit again. I forgot myself completely in the midst of other people sitting, walking, and talking in a public park. (1959)
Looking at Vamaksepa's picture could bring on visions for him:
On March 2, 1970, I sat in the armchair and gazed at the enlarged photo of the great Sakta saint Bama Ksepa in front of me in the evening. I saw a flash of light in the form of OM, encircling his body. Gradually his whole body became bright and white. The Om encircling the body of the saint, dazzling brilliantly, continued for one hour and a half. I asked Gita, my daughter-in-law, to burn incense before the photo. She did so, and bowed to the photo. She could not see the dazzling light. My coiled kundalini was awakened, and pushed upward. I felt in the core of my heart that Bama Ksepa whom I saw thrice before I was 15 years old was identical with the Divine Mother. It was an experience that I can never forget in my life ... He saved my life in 1951, [and] he saved my wife's life in 1934 at Meerut, miraculously.
It is said in Sinha's family that Suniti Manjari Sinha, Jadunath's wife, died twice. In 1933 she was declared dead by the doctor, and he even filled out her death certificate. The corpse stayed in the house at Meerut for six hours while the local men went to find a bier to bring her to the cremation ground. Jadunath, his son Amiya Kumar and his friend Jyotirmaya Banerjee waited with the body, when they had a joint vision. They saw Vamaksepa standing in his subtle form with a trident in his right hand and his other hand in a position of blessing. He stood over Suniti's body. They bowed before him, and after a few minutes they heard Suniti's voice say feebly, "What has happened to me?" She lived another 23 years, until she died the second time in 1956. He discusses in 1959 how his love of his wife became a love of the divine, and his love of Caitanya was transformed into a love of the goddess:
The death of my wife was a watershed in my life. It roused my spiritual life and turned my mind inward. It awakened my intense desire to see the holy places of the Hindus in India. I saw with her all holy shrines and deities of northern India. Then I undertook a tour of south India without her. My visit to Puri gave me mental anguish because she yearned to see Puri and the deity of Jagannath. I took the impression of Caitanya's footprints on a block of stone near the pillar of Garuda, standing on which he used to see the deity everyday. Gradually my devotion and love of Caitanya was transformed unconsciously into devotion and love to the Divine Mother. My visit to Kali at Dakshineshwar worshiped by Ramakrishna, and to Tara worshiped by Bama Ksepa at Tarapith, filled me with Divine Mother-consciousness.
He felt that music to Kali and Tara could touch his wife's soul. He writes in 1957:
Govardhan Mukherjee sings kirtan with a harmonium. The songs are very sweet. Kali Tara kirtan overwhelm[s] me so much that I burst into tears for a long time. It appears that my wife's soul is consoled by this kirtan. This is the death anniversary of my wife.
He would associate his wife with the divine mother, visualizing her embracing the goddess Tara, in peace at Tara Ma's feet:
Some subtle processes occurred in the body due to inner spiritual discipline.I could not stop them by my will. Kundalini was aroused and ascended upward through the spinal cord. I envisioned the Divine Mother in my heart. Her presence saturated my being. I saw my wife standing at the gate of the temple of the Divine Mother with a smiling face, enjoying Her presence... On March 23 I was permeated with Divine Mother-consciousness and felt an ecstasy of joy at the prospect of visiting the Image of Tara Ma at Tarapith on March 19. (1959)
The Divine Mother became an important figure for him in his life, and he felt her presence along with those of Shakta saints:
In my evening prayer I feel spiritual elevation and accord with the universe... I see visions of Vivekananda and Sri Ramkrishna. My eyes are filled with tears. I see an indistinct vision of the Divine Mother within a radiant disc which tries to manifest itself to me. (1958)
His visit to Ramakrishna's temple at Dakshineswar, with its image of Kali Bhavatarini (redeemer from bondage) inspired a respite from his sadness about his dead wife and grandson:
In a moment my agony was washed away by a flood of measureless joy, ecstasy of infinite bliss, which saturated my being. I saw everything inside and outside filled with joy. I saw Ramakrishna and [his wife] Saradamani alive in their photos and radiant and effulgent with light and joy. The room was full of joy... I saw the image of Kali. It was not an idol of black stone. She was alive and luminous and beaming with joy and love and grace. A young man was standing before Her and crying piteously "Mother Kali, Mother Tara" repeatedly, with tears streaming down his cheeks. His devotion to the Divine Mother was indescribable. My heart was saturated with devotion and love to Divine Mother. I felt Divine Shakti (power) in the image of Kali, in Ramakrishna's room, in [the] panchabati, in the guest house, in the room temporarily occupied by us. This state of ecstasy continued for several hours. [The] Divine Mother residing within my heart was awakened by the sight of the big compound saturated with the power of Ramakrishna and Saradamani's penances and prayers, and full of vibrations radiating from the image of Kali [which] saturated my being. I tasted embodied liberation for a few hours. We came back in the evening after taking prasad (food of grace) offered to Divine Mother. Kali revealed Herself to me. (1958)
Sinha had many visions of Shakti, in her forms as Durga, Kali, Tara and Sarasvati. His vision of Durga in 1959 mingles bhakti and vedanta imagery, with her body becoming a sea of light, much like Ramakrishna's famous vision of Kali:
On October 10 at dawn I was performing japa and meditating on the Divine at my eye-brow center, sitting cross-legged on a bedstead. Two children were sleeping on another adjoining bedstead. One fair, beautiful foot of the Divine Mother Durga flashed on the center. Immediately after another similar foot flashed by its side. They were tinged with red color at the fringes. Light issued out of them and spread over my body. Light streamed out of it upward, downward, in all directions. The entire universe became a sea of light- light, light, moving, surging, light. There were no centers of light, [or] focii of consciousness. One mass of the light of consciousness, subject/objectless consciousness. I forgot myself, I forgot the world, I forgot God, a personal God. One all-engulfing consciousness. It was not my self. One Infinite Consciousness. It was spiritual illumination. I have had no [other] such mystical experience in my life so far. How long such experience continued, when it vanished, when I regained my normal consciousness I do not know. Breath-control continued in my body. Subtle processes continued with[in] my body. Body-mind-consciousness vanished in the illumination. (1959)
He often felt the goddess' presence in nature:
On May 3, 1960, I felt the presence of the grim and terrific Mother Kali at night in the midst of the black sea, tossed by a storm. On November 12, 1960,I went alone to the Lake Park and sat on a bench in the morning. I felt spiritual exaltation, and intuited the presence of the Divine Mother everywhere. It was on the southern side of the Lake. My mind was in a higher level for a few months during the period. I corrected the manuscript of Rama Prasada's Devotional Songs for the press, and read the lives of Hindu saints from Bharater Sadhak (The Saints of India), poems of Shakta saints (Saktapadavali), the saint-poet Rama Prasad by J. N. Gupta, and the like.
He visited saints and renunciants, and was inspired by their presence:
I attend a talk of Ma Anandamoyee and kirtan and lectures on Brata and Gita and Mouna (ritual silence) for five minutes. I feel Kundalini rising up to the Anahat [heart] center. I have a vision of Kali of large size pervading by body with spiritual power and the whole room with it, extending her right upper hand on my head touching it and blessing me. She asks me to continue the work I am doing and tells me about the peace of the departed soul of my departed wife. A prayer resounds in my soul, "Mother, awake in the earth." (1962)
Sometimes the different goddesses would merge together, as in the case of Sarasvati:
In October, 1962, I went to the temple of Sarasvati, goddess of learning, with Ajit Kumar's children in the evening. The students of the hostels of Pilani Colleges were chanting aloud the hymns to the goddess Chandi recited by the priest. I fell into a meditative mood, and realized the identity of Sarasvati with Chandi, the Divine Mother. The students offered flowers to the Deity. I also did so with my grand-daughters. We circumambulated the Image thrice and I fell prostrate at Her feet. I fell into a trance, felt Her living presence, [and felt] spiritualized by Her.
The presence of the goddess was often an inspiration to him. Sometimes such inspirations were primarily devotional, as in his visit to Kanya Kumari (the spot at the southern-most tip of India):
I was struck by the silence everywhere, divinity, holiness, and motherhood were stamped on the face of Mother. Her smile was entrancing and exuding divinity. Mother was Divine Shakti in human body. The sight of the deity Kanya Kumari, the divine virgin enshrined in a marble statue, awakened my devotion to Durga, the Divine Mother. The sight of the smile of Mother stirred, defined and strengthened my devotion and love to the Divine Mother. It flowed in my veins (for Shakti was worshiped by my ancestors). My devotion was strengthened, and reverence for the Divine Mother and love for the God of love commingled into a mighty flame in the depths of my heart. (1958)
At other times they were more practical, helping him in his writing and translating:
On my return from the tour of South India, my mind turned inward and was thrown into a meditative mood. Even the act of translating Rama Prasada's devotional songs into English was an act of devotion and spiritual communion with the Divine Mother. Deep mysteries of Shakti sadhana were expounded by him. My comments on esoteric truths were given under the English translations. Often at the time of morning or evening prayers I felt a deep sense of union with the Divine Mother... I was so deeply stirred by Divine-Mother-consciousness that I dreamed [that] a small Image of Kali [was] within my spinal cord, at a center parallel to the center of my chest. It was a very beautiful image, and it continued for a long time. (1958)
Meditation helped Sinha explain the hidden meanings of texts:
On December 4, 1965, I was thinking deeply of the esoteric meaning of some songs of Rama Prasada, and praying [to the] Divine Mother, and the meaning flashed in my mind. I felt spiritual power working in me, not only at the time of japa and meditation, but also at the time of reflection of the meaning of a devotional song. Rama Prasada's Devotional Songs was in the press at the time. I corrected its proofs in the daytime. I devoted two hours to prayer and japa every day during the period. On Dec. 13, 1965, I could not understand the esoteric meanings of certain songs at first. But on meditation on [the] Divine Mother, the hidden meanings became clear. I translated them easily, and explained the hidden spiritual meanings in footnotes. I always felt the influence of Divine Power unfolding spiritual secrets to me. Meaning[s] became clear, and expressions came spontaneously.
Many of his Shakta experiences were associated with the practice of Kundalini yoga. He performed mantra-japa for one hour at dawn and evening, alone in a solitary room. He described it in an entry from 1959:
The entire cerebro-spinal system with the autonomic system is transformed. The mind is automatically turned inward, concentrated on the Divine, and saturated with God-consciousness. One sees the Divine without and within, in the world and in the heart. Whether the Divine is Father or Mother is immaterial. [When] God is experienced as Divine Father, men and women are experienced as brothers and sisters. [When] God is experienced as Divine Mother, all persons are experienced as [her] children.
As well as feeling devotion (bhakti) towards the goddess, he followed some forms of classical tantric practice:
I practiced Kundalini yoga during the period as described in the Shakta tantras... Very often I felt Divine Power (kundalini) roused at the basic center at the bottom of the spinal cord, and ascending through the higher centers, and descending again to the basic center. Even when I simply performed japa for an hour, I felt a higher, transcendental power using me as an instrument, and transforming me. Very subtle processes occur in the body when a person carries on spiritual discipline. The body is spiritualized, and the mind is transported to a higher plane, and united with an encompassing spiritual consciousness... Religious consciousness is uplifting, ennobling, sanctifying consciousness. It is one and unique in all religions. (1960)
He felt that kundalini yoga worked by creating spiritual sound, inducing joy:
I heard subtle sounds due to subtle vibrations, then a continuous subtle sound underlying them and then saw with my 'inner eye' subtle waves of light, different from physical light. It is a spiritual substance at the root of the universe. Subtle instruments cannot detect either the subtle sound or the subtle light. Deeper than this I could not fathom. It was revealed to me. I did not make any effort to grasp it. It flashed upon my inner eye... It was ineffable and inexpressible. Mother-consciousness permeated my being. It was not my hallucination, a creation of my mind. It was a distinct, natural, human voice. It was a call to Bengalis spiritually asleep to wake up to spiritual consciousness and drink the water of immortal divine love. (1960)
He performed enough practice so that it became automatic for him:
I used to sit for prayer thrice in the day for one hour each during this period. I found the Holy Name being uttered automatically when I woke up in the midst of sleep. Daily, regular, continued japa throughout life or a great period of it connects japa with the rhythms of life. (1965)
Sinha's religious experiences were not limited to Shaktism: he also had visions of Shiva and Krishna, and had the experience of being possessed by Shiva. In his lectures he distinguished between the styles of the two traditions, with Vaishnavism as the approach of self-surrender and love as propounded by Caitanya, and Shaktism as the cult of self assertion and self-realization of each person as a child of the Divine Mother, as propounded by Ramprasad and continued by Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. Traditionally, the style of Vaishnava poets has emphasized the love of Radha and Krishna and entrance into their paradise through intense spiritual love (prema), while Shakta poets have described struggle against the goddess' will and a more yogic style of attainment. Sinha felt that both were essential to the culture of West Bengal, and both were indispensable to self-realization and self-fulfillment in the modern world.
Sinha's diary describes a broad range of experiences, becoming especially intense in the 1950's and 1960's. Here he describes a vision of Chaitanya:
In 1960 I was walking alone by the seashore near the grave of Haridas Goswami, the Muslim disciple of Caitanya. In the temple... I looked at the Image with intent eyes. Two rays of light issued out of the eyes of Caitanya and entered into my eyes. They penetrated the pupils and entered into my heart. The heart of Caitanya was united with my heart. Profuse tears trickled down my cheeks, and flooded my chest... I sat erect in trance, oblivious of all other persons and events, and yet conscious for about half an hour. I did not notice anybody or anything but the image. I had a spiritual vision of Caitanya. It was a direct, immediate, certain vision... Caitanya revealed Himself to me in His real nature, blessed my life, and gave me a glimpse into my past and future. Sometimes I felt [as if] the span of 500 years [were] wiped [away] between Him and me, and I felt [as if I were] living in company with Him and His companions. We lived in [the] company of each other. It was a splendid vision, but not a dream. I felt absorbed in a spiritual world where time and space were non-existent. I felt Caitanya and His companions were living at Puri at the time.
In 1964 he reflects on his Vaishnava dimension, accepting the virtues of selfless love but rejecting the suffering that this causes for family members:
Krsna of the Bhagavad Gita has been the ideal of my life. His cult of Karma yoga, disinterested performance of duties as a conscious instrument of God for the reconstruction of human society on the basis of love and good will for all has inspired me throughout my life. My devotion to Krsna developed into love for Chaitanya who preached the cult of selfless love for God. He revived the Bhagavata cult of unmotiv[at]ed, desireless, pure and immediate love for God. I have never accepted [the] erotic mysticism of the Bhagavata [purana] and Rupa Gosvami's doctrine of pure devotion unblended with knowledge and works. I have experienced the power of muttering a holy name or a mantra. I have listened to the chanting of a holy name in chorus, and experienced its efficacy. But I do not think it to be suitable to intellectual persons. I think meditation on God to be more powerful and efficacious. Pure emotionalism has never appealed to me. Despite these inhibitions and reservations I have loved Caitanya from my youth to my old age. He represents the culture in which I have been born, breathed and lived. He is my very own. He became a monk and yet said, "What is the good of my becoming a monk? Love for God with love for men is the supreme end of life." I accept his love for God and for humanity as the goal of my life, without his flight from reality. He left Sachi, his old mother, at home without any means of livelihood... Visnupriya, his wife in her teens, worshiped his wooden sandals throughout her long life, and boiled a few grains of rice in the evening and kept her body and soul together... Alas, Visnupriya is forgotten in eulogizing Caitanya or portraying or singing the glory of Caitanya.
As with most Shakta devotees, Sinha was quite independent of institutional religion. He met his guru briefly on a few occasions, and never had a formal initiation, nor any continuous guru/student relationship. His path is a classical one, following the dharmic (lawful) order of the stages of life, yet incorporating the Shakta rebellion against priesthood and brahmanical (priestly) orthodoxy.
Like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Sinha's religious approach mingled a variety of paths, including classical tantra and kundalini yoga practice, but his primary practice was emotional bhakti and worship of the goddess as Divine Mother. His favorite form seems to be Tara, goddess of Tarapith and Vamaksepa. He became in later life inwardly renunciant but outwardly living a worldly life, a grihi sadhu (householder practitioner). He came in his writings to emphasize the importance of world peace, and the unity of religions and cultures.
As he wrote in his book Rama Prasada's Devotional Songs: The Cult of Shakti:
Sakti-sadhana is much maligned, misunderstood, and thoughtlessly condemned. But the very fact that the great Ramakrsna Paramahamsa and Sri Aurobindo practiced it as a vital step to their God-realisation makes it imperative upon us to try to comprehend its inner truth and significance. It harmonizes works, devotion, knowledge, and meditation with one another, and synthesizes them into an organic unity. It is a sure and potent means of transmuting our earthly life into life divine. It does not enjoin escapism- a life of negation and asceticism- but a life of affirmation, transformation, transcendence, and union.
Sinha is a good example of a Shakta scholar, who combined devotion to the goddess with intellectual achievement. He was not a formal guru but his books on Indian spirituality and culture were at least partly based on his deep spiritual insight. He was thus a teacher in the secular sphere who wove spiritual ideas into intellectual discourse.
Jadunath's life illustrates how a short encounter with a guru can drastically affect the spiritual life of a disciple. The special glance that the saint Vamaksepa gave him at the age of fifteen was the basis of a life-long devotion to his guru. Jadunath only met Vamaksepa on a few occasions during his childhood and was never formally initiated with rituals and mantras. However Jadunath's strong connection with and devotion to his guru Vamaksepa (who died in 1911) remained until Jadunath's death in 1979.
The biography is more detailed than other biographies in this selection because there are no books available on the life of Jadunath Sinha.
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