“It is not by “thinking out” the entire reality, but by a change of consciousness
that one can pass from ignorance to knowledge—the
knowledge by which we become what we know.”
There are some individuals whose lives are like fireflies; they shine brilliantly for a while, and then quickly disappear. Yet, for a while after their light goes out, a beautiful mellow glow remains. Such was the life of Krishna Prem. When he met Ramana Maharshi in 1948, Ramana remarked, “Krishna Prem is a rare combination of a jnani (person of Knowledge) and a bhakta (person of Devotion).” Krishna Prem’s life was marked by one-pointed devotion to his ideal, and his writings were born of an inner clarity and wisdom.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, on May 10, 1898, in Cheltenham, England, Ronald Nixon was born into a family of Christian Scientists. He entered the Royal Flying Corps at the age of eighteen and served in a fighting squadron based in France. It was during his time in the Flying Corps that he began to feel the futility of worldly ambition and became determined to discover the meaning behind the apparent aimless flow of life and its events.
After being released from military service, he joined King’s College at Cambridge University. It was here that he became attracted to Buddhism and the striking personality of the Buddha, whom he admired throughout his life. Through the Theosophical Society, Nixon discovered Eastern religious thought. A newfound passion for Hinduism and Buddhism drew him to work in India and he was referred to Dr. G. N. Chakravarti, vice-chancellor of Lucknow University, who was looking for a new professor. Not only did he get the job but also ended up as part of the Chakravarti household—a move destined to change his life forever.
By the early 1920s, he was settled into the position of English professor, while residing in the luxurious Chakravarti home. Dr. Chakravarti’s wife, Monika Devi, was a leading socialite in the town and her tea parties attracted the intellectuals of Lucknow, where debates raged for hours on end. During one of these gatherings, the Inner Light of the hostess began to shine, for whenever a spiritual song was sung, she would become completely transfixed, with tears streaming down her face. When Dr. Chakravarti retired, he left Lucknow for Varanasi and Ronald went along with the family. By that time, Monika Devi had become his spiritual teacher. The moment he discovered her inner depth and beauty, his soul was captivated; long forgotten truths and newfound aspirations surfaced with striking immediacy. Not long after arriving in Varanasi, Ronald’s inner aspiration ripened fully and he became a traditional Hindu sannyasi (renunciate).
Ronald Nixon now became known as Krishna Prem, while his former hostess, Monika Devi, was soon to become known as Yasoda Ma. He replaced his professor’s garb with that of an Indian mendicant’s simple robe, and his new life began.
Krishna Prem lived for a few years in the city of Varanasi, on the banks of the River Ganges. Someone once asked him: “What on earth have you found to adore, sir, in this drab city of dust and din?” Krishna Prem replied with a smile: “Gold-dust, my friend, and the music of the Ganges.”
Eventually, the party left Varanasi for the Himalayan foothills, and Krishna Prem began to beg for alms. He cooked his own food and slept on a bare blanket, even in the frigid weather. Early in the 1930’s Krishna Prem and Yasoda Ma bought a piece of land about eighteen miles from Almora, in the small Himalayan forest hamlet called Mirtola. In the Ashram, which was called “Uttara Brindavan,” life was extremely simple and austere, with most of the time spent in solitude and meditation. Krishna Prem was one of these rare souls whose passion and dedication for spiritual life was ablaze. As Sri Ramakrishna once said, “spiritual aspiration should be like one whose head is under water and gasping for air.”
At “Uttara Brindavan” everyone worked, even Yasoda Ma. She also ran a school for the village youngsters. Together they gardened, cooked, and attended to the physical welfare of the local villagers. Whenever possible, Krishna Prem answered the many letters from people throughout India and abroad.
In 1948, four years after his Guru left her body, Krishna Prem traveled to South India to visit the sage Ramana Maharshi. He entered the hall where Ramana was reclining on a couch. While sitting in silence, he heard a voice questioning him over and over again, “Who are you?” In his mind, a litany of answers resounded, beginning with “. . . Krishna’s servant, the one-in-all, the resident of every heart and so on.” Yet, the voice was relentless; it continued, “Who are you?” Despondent, he got up and left the hall.
The next morning, he returned and sat in silence once again. This time, a deep indescribable peace descended upon him—percolating through him like an all-pervading light. In that silence, he asked Ramana, “And who are you, may I humbly ask?” The very next moment, he opened his eyes involuntarily and found the couch empty. When describing that moment to a close friend, he said:
“There was the couch where he had presided two seconds before, but in the twinkling of an eye, as it were, he had vanished—just melted into thin air. I closed my eyes once more and then looked again—and there he was, tranquil and beneficent. A momentary smile flickered on his lips as he gave me a meaningful glance and then looked away. The point is he was the Last Reality beyond the ephemera, the Silence beyond the songs . . . he gave me the answer in a way only he could have given it.”
Krishna Prem spent the 1950s and 1960s in Mirtola, presiding over the Ashram. Visitors often found their way to this simple hermitage, tucked away in the Himalayan countryside. Among them were dignitaries, such as Gertrude Emerson, the granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Mendicants who were making the pilgrimage to Tibet would also stop at the Ashram, having heard about Yashoda Ma and Krishna Prem.
In the quiet of the morning, on November 14, 1965, Krishna Prem left his body. Just a few close friends were around him. His body was carried for cremation to Dandeshwar, a small old temple beside a stream, where his teacher’s body had also been cremated. Over one hundred villagers accompanied the ashes to help celebrate his extraordinary life.
Krishna Prem was a master of language. He was at home with Sanskrit, Pali, Hindi, and Bengali. As a teacher of English, his writings were both elegant and profound. Besides writing letters to friends, he also wrote detailed commentaries on spiritual classics such as The Bhagavad Gita and The Upanishads.
Sri Aurobindo said that Krishna Prem had a “seeing intellect”—a mind that could easily discern reality from appearance. In a letter to Dilip Kumar Roy, Aurobindo once wrote:
“It is a great refreshment to read the letters of Krishna Prem; one feels here a stream from the direct sources of Truth that one does not meet so often as one could desire. Here is a mind that cannot only think, but see—and not merely see the surface of things with which most intellectual thought goes on wrestling, without end or definite issue, and as if there were nothing else.”
Though most of Krishna Prem’s books are now out of print, once in a while a new Indian edition reappears or is discovered on the dusty shelves of a used bookstore. These writings reveal the depth of his spiritual experience and breadth of his wisdom.
Selections from Krishna Prem’s Writings
Commentary on verses from the great Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad Gita
All beings follow their own natures. The Atman is the impartial Witness of all; good and evil are but empty words and the fight against the latter is in vain. What shall restraint avail since actions flow inevitably from the workings of Nature, and the Soul is but the passive witness of the phantom show?
The Atman, the One Self, is forever free in Its own being; Its apparent bondage comes only from self-identification with Its lower vehicles, the mirrors in which Its Light is reflected.
The only way to tread the Path in reality is by the knowledge of Krishna, of the Atman which is present as the unseen background of every action, of the smallest as of the greatest, of the action that sends the pen across this page as of the action that hurls a million men into battle. Just as nothing can move except within the framework of space, so nothing can take place except with the Light of the Atman, which yet is no more entangled in the actions than space is entangled in the movement of objects, and therefore Krishna says that those who know Him are freed from the bonds of action.
Pride implies duality, and all duality must be rooted out forever. Therefore the disciple is reminded that it is not as a personal refuge from the sorrows and pains of life that he must enter the fortress. Brahman is One and the same in all.
True concentration comes when the disciple is able to surrender himself to, and identify himself with, the Atman, that Self which is present as the unchanging Witness of every thought and of every sensation. It is only when this is achieved that the mind of the yogi becomes steady “like a lamp in a windless place.”
All that has here been written, all that can be written, is but a web of words, a ladder by whose help we seek to scale the ramparts of Eternity. Viewed by the eye of Wisdom all this clash of world with world, the Sparks, which fly from the Eternal Anvil, are but a vast phantasmagoria. Nothing is out breathed nor anything descends to rise again. All are the visions of the Eternal Mind; the changing finite centers that are us ourselves being but the countless points of view within that mighty whole, “for there is naught in all the world that is not He.”
Nothing is lost, forever all remains, deep in the waters of eternal Mind. He who can plunge within lives in the Cosmic Heart and sees Its mighty throbs send forth the cycling years to run their changing course through the worlds back to the blue depths of Eternity.
It is said that in a lotus-seed exists in miniature a perfect lotus. So in that Mighty Being is the seed of all that is, subtle beyond all images of sense, the shining spiritual Cosmos; Infinite seeds and yet one wondrous Seed, beyond the reach of mind, yet to be seen by Mind.
All that is glorious, beautiful, or mighty shines by reflection of a portion of that Being. Vainly we seek on earth a symbol grand enough to adumbrate its glories. In ancient Egypt and Chaldea the starry heaven was its only symbol; the heaven with its interlinked and patterned stars whirling in gleaming harmonies around the pole. But all the splendors of the cosmic depths, their mind-annihilating magnitudes of time and space, symbol to all men of eternal laws and Beauty, are but a moment of the Mighty Atman; infinities ranged on the shoulders of infinities; a wondrous hierarchy of living spiritual Powers where each is each and each is All and all dance forth in ecstasy the Cosmic Harmony.
Vast beyond thought as is this spiritual realm, this flaming Cosmos of Divine Ideas, yet still beyond lies That, the One Eternal, The Parabrahman, “Rootless Root of all,” Beyond all Gods, beyond all time and space, beyond all beings even, flames Its dark transcendent Light.
From that Eternal Brahman issue forth the Mighty Atman, great beyond all thought, and all the countless starry worlds that fill the wide immensities of space. Yet so vast is Its spaceless, timeless grandeur that all these wondrous emanated worlds are a drop taken from out the ocean, leaving its shoreless being ever full. Therefore, Sri Krishna, speaking for That Brahman, says, “having established this entire universe with one fragment of Myself, I remain.”
“That is the Full; this is the full;
From that Full has this full come forth.
Having taken the full from the Full
Verily the Full Itself remains.”
From The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita by Sri Krishna Prem. Originally published by Robinson & Watkins Book Ltd, Dulverton, Somerset, England. The second edition was published by Morning Light Press, 2008.