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Brief Introduction to Key Indian Esoteric Societies

by Robert Searle

The following is a brief listing of 17 Indian esoteric societies. They represent the key ones which Westerners have come across, and have become influential to varying degrees. There are of course many other ones which are largely, or wholly unknown. Most of them do not have any formal organization at all, and as such we will probably hear nothing about them, or their "background".

This though for a truth-seeker is largely unimportant because the informal "societies" ( if such they can be called) largely teach types of meditation that are already known to the key ones in the 17 given below.

(editors comment: Where the gurus and teachings are already described in detail on Kheper net, I have added a link the appropriate page. In the case of those that aren't, I have included a link to the home page or home pages - MAK)

1. The Ramakrishna Mission.

Regarded as arguably being the first Indian society, or movement to seriously introduce mainstream yogic meditation practices, and Vedanta to the West. This occured through the pioneering work of Swami Vivekananda who succeeded Ramakrishna as the chief guru. He tried to present it as being like a "science" rather than purely as a faith in which the unseen spiritual universe could be proved directly to onself along with the superconcious realization of "God".

external link Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission

2. The Divine Life Society.

This was started by the highly influential Swami Sivananda who wrote many authorative works on various types of yogic meditation. His chief successor was the noted Swami Chidananda who was a highly respected mystic of great influence. Ma Yogashakti, and Vishnu Devananda are a few notable teachers who drew their inspiration from the life and work of Swami Sivananda.

external link Divine Life Society

3. Ramana Maharshi.

He taught a form of yogic (jnana, or knowledge) meditation in which one could find ones Inner God, or "Higher Self" through a form of "self"-discrimination. His ideas became known in the West notably through the writings of Arthur Osborne. As with the other societies mentioned here there are a number of recognized, and unrecognized successors.

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4. Sri Aurobindo Society.

Sri Aurobindo was a highly educated, and brilliant spiritual teacher who developed Integral Yoga via his published writings.It claims that one can become a channel for the Divine which can be experienced in the physical world, and at the same time help to spiritually transform it. His partner Mira Richard helped his movement to flourish, and was known respectively as the Mother. Auroville in Pondicherry, India is a large evolving "New Age" township of people concerned with putting Integral Yoga into action.

Among many other subjects, Sri Aurobindo himself also wrote some interesting ideas concerned with dream interpretation. He was also originally a political activist who wanted Self-Rule for India but his interest later turned to higher matters especially after some visionary experiences.

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5. Siddha Yoga Dham.

This society was inspired by the controversial Swami Muktananda whose practices notably involve chanting mantras, or words of power as a way of awakening the psycho-spiritual energy known as kundalini. He also wrote a remarkable book in which he gave a highly detailed description of his inner experiences. It is called Play of Conciousness, and it has been claimed to initiate "awakenings" in people who are new to Siddha Yoga Dham.

external link Siddha Yoga

6. Sahaja Yoga.

This was founded by Mataji Nirmala Devi who is able to awaken the kundalini directly in people either "en masse," or on a one to one basis. She claims that this is experienced as a "psychic" wind rather than as "heat". The latter phenomenon it is claimed only happens to those gurus, and students who "misuse" the Kundalini which appears at first sight to contradict centuries of tradition, and understanding on the subject!

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7. Ananda Marg.

This society was founded by the controversial Anandamurti who believed that the world could be seriously transformed with the aid of kundalini which could create something akin to a "super-race" existing in proposed "anti-capitalist" type communities. It has also has involved itself in politics, and has notably been "persecuted" by the Indian government.

external link Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha

8. The Brahma Kumaris, or BKs.

This large organization teaches "RajaYoga" meditation but is not the same as Patanjalis system, and claims to get messages en direct from Shiv Baba, or "God". Like some Christian sects it believes that its followers will be reborn into a Golden Age on earth after the world as we know it has been largely destroyed.

The BKs, or "Raj Yogis" have tried to do much good in the world, and have helped to raise the social status of women in India.

external link Brahma Kumaris International website

9. Shiva Yoga.

This form of meditation was notably expounded by Kumarswamiji, and has had some influence in the West. It involves meditating on the lingam ( in this instance an egg-shaped object, and symbol of Lord Shiva) which along with repetition of a mantra can arouse the kundalini into activity, and ultimately lead to "Enlightenement", or "God-Realization."

external link Shiva Yoga

10. Transcendental Meditation/TM.

This was introduced to the world by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi notably with help from the Beatles. Essentially via a "mantra" ones thoughts can be ultimately traced back to their origin which is seen as the Ground of Being of Everything in Existence (ie. the "Absolute Reality," or "God"). This ofcourse is Transcendental Meditation, or TM the physical, and mental benefits of which have been studied scientifically. It along with its worldwide organization has drawn much public attention especially its "yogic flying" which is said to release positive collective spiritual energy to influence the world for the good (eg. reducing crime....).

external link Transcendental Meditation

11. International Society for Krishna Conciousness/ ISKCON.

Very well-known Indian society which claims that repeating the Holy Name of Krishna can link directly to the Supreme Personality of the Godhead. Unlike most Indian societies it does not believe that its recognized teaching "gurus" are the physical manifestations of God.

Sri Prabhupada in his seventies left India virtually penniless to start up ISKCON in America, and helped many of the youth to adopt a high ethical life free of drugs, and alcohol. He also wrote many interesting, but "simplistic" books on Krishna, and the ancient Vedic scriptures.

external link ISKCON

12. 3HO Yogi Bhajan.

It involves a wide variety of meditational, and physical exercises to awaken the kundalini into activity. The 3 HOs mean Healthy,Happy, and Holy Organization. Yogi Bhajan its original teacher was among other things responsible in helping to popularize genuine interest in Sikhism, and like ISKCON (and other "movements") helped to reform many young people.

external link 3HO Foundation

13. Shivabalayogi.

After many years of austerity Shivabalayogi introduced to the world his dhyana, vibuhti, bhajan, bhava samadhi, or respectively his meditation, holy ash (said to have healing powers), spiritual songs, and divine trance. The last item can be facilitated by "energy" emitted from one of the successors of this tradition. During spiritual songs some, or indeed, many people can enter into a trance, and temporarily leave the body in a state of higher conciousness, and see their Ishta Dev, or Chosen Ideal (eg. Christ, Shiva, etc), and become "possessed" ecstatically by It.

external link Official Website

14. The Self-Realization Fellowship.

This society was originated by the "ageless", and "mythical" Mahavatar Babaji. The specific line of Masters in the Self-Realization Fellowship included the illustrious Sri Yukteswar whose chief successor was Paramahansa Yogananda. They taught Kriya Yoga which involves the awakening of kundalini via a series of initiations, or "grades" of development using a variety of meditation techniques... which tend to vary from one "sect" to another teaching the "same system" with the same name!

Yogananda took this teaching to the world to much acclaim, and authored the classic book on the subject "The Autobiography of a Yogi"

external link Self-Realization Fellowship

15. Osho Shree Rajneesh.

Controversial Osho Shree Rajneesh was a very prolific author of books especially concerned with mysticism.Essentially,he belived that "anthing goes" including sex. By indulging in it we could ultimately go beyond it, and attain "Enlightenment". In other words, a form of Tantra Yoga.Moreover, his ideas, and his meditational practices notably included "Western pop psychology" in which via certain forms of pent-up emotions (eg crying, wild laughing, etc) could be released in a structured manner (eg in Dynamic Meditation) so that they could no longer ultimately become a problem in life.

external link Osho International Foundation

16. The Meher Baba Association.

Meher Baba regarded himself as the "Highest of the High, the first Perfect Master, or Avatar. He went through several phases of his "Universal Work", and became well-known in India, and abroad. From July 10th 1925 he maintained silence, and communicated via an alphabet board, and special hand gestures.

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17. The Radhasoami Faith / Sant Mat, or the Teachings of the Saints.

This believes that one can "die before death" in a meditation referred to as surat shabd yoga. It claims to have a "complete" understanding of the Spiritual Regions, and claims rightly, or wrongly to go beyond the reach of all other forms of eastern, and western meditation practices. This inner journey involves guidance from the Radiant Form of a Master, and utilizes the inner mystical Sound, and indeed, the inner Light as a means of visionary "ascension," or Mystic Transport.

The best known "movement" to spread surat shabd yoga especially in the West is the Radha Soami Satsang Beas notably via the classic book The Path of the Masters (1939) by Dr. Julian Johnson. Of course, other groups ofcourse exist each with their own teacher, or Satguru, or Perfect Master.

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There are a number of other gurus/socieites which have been excluded for one reason or another. They include Guru Maharaj, Sathya Sai Baba, Jashan Vaswani, Amritanandamayi, Swami Ramdas, Gururaj Ananda Yogi, Shri Chinmoy, Brahmarishi Kumar Swami, et al..........

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text copyright (c) Robert Searle 2009, html and editorial note page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 20 September 2009