Ganesh Baba — a Memoir
by Peter Meyer
Written 1992 or 1993, revised January 2004
slightly revised November 2012

Among the people who have most impressed me in this life is an Indian spiritual teacher, Ganesh Baba, who, following his death in 1987, surely went to his reward in one of the heavens reserved for good naga babas.

Ganesh Baba (not to be confused with Meher Baba, Sai Baba or Babaji) was also known as Swami Ganeshanand and more formally as Shri Mahant Ganesh Giriji Maharaj. I first met him in Kathmandu in 1979. He was well known to the hippies in India and in Nepal during the 1960s and 1970s. He lived in the U.S.A. from late 1979 to early 1986, and many of those whom he had met in India were delighted once more to experience the spiritual teachings and loving personality of this great man.

Ganesh Baba's mother was a Nepali woman and his father was from (what was then known as) East Bengal. He was born in Cuttack, in the state of Orissa in India, probably around 1890. He apparently received a good education, becoming familiar with Western scientific teachings. In later life he displayed a familiarity with the thought of Meister Eckhart, Immanuel Kant, Carl Jung, Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg and novelists such as Maxim Gorky. In the early part of his life he was a successful and wealthy businessman. He owned a chain of cinemas in India and had a personal airplane. Some time after World War II he retired from worldly life and took sanyas vows, becoming a monk in the tradition of Shankaracharya (the Anandakara branch of the order). He received spiritual instruction from diverse teachers, but his main spiritual practice was Kriya Yoga. Kriya Yoga, though of Indian origin, is not specifically a Hindu spiritual path. Ganesh Baba respected the major spiritual teachers not only of Hinduism but also of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. In later life he himself became widely respected in India as a holy man.

As is well known, the use of LSD and other psychedelics became widespread in the 1960s, especially among young people. Under the influence of Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts and others a connection was established between the psychedelic experience and the teachings of the East, especially those of Buddhism. Consequently the 1960s and 1970s saw a steady stream of psychedelic pilgrims journeying from Western countries to India and Nepal, where the living traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism (in its Tibetan form) could be experienced directly.

The Hindu pantheon has several major deities: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva form the Indian trinity, and in Bengal and other parts of India the mother goddess Kali is venerated. Most Hindus worship primarily either Vishnu, Shiva or Kali (in one form or another) while paying respect to all Hindu deities. Vishnu is popular with those whose spiritual orientation is primarily devotional (for example, the worshipers of Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu). Kali is the Indian Queen of Heaven, the Mother of God and God Herself all rolled into one (see Harding [10]). Shiva is the god of yogis and saddhus (wandering holy men), worshiped by those who aspire to attain the highest states of cosmic consciousness. Among the means for attaining these states are not only physical practices of sitting, breathing, meditating, etc., but also the use of psychoactive plants and plant derivatives, especially hashish (in Hindi, charas) to induce enhanced states of consciousness.

Traditions of spiritual practice in India may be divided into the "Swami" tradition and the "Naga" tradition. The Nagas smoke hashish to help them attain the conscious state of the Lord Shiva, whereas the Swamis refrain. The Swamis look down upon the Nagas, and take a puritanical attitude toward them, holding themselves to be superior to the Nagas. The Nagas laugh this off. Ganesh Baba received spiritual instruction in both of these traditions.

Ganesh Baba

In the 1960s Ganesh Baba spent much of his time in Varanasi (also known as Benares), the holiest city of North India. He was there when the first hippies arrived, and he and they discovered that they had something in common: they liked to smoke charas. The hippies would come down to the holy Ganges River, sit by the burning ghats where the dead are cremated, smoke hashish and meditate on the impermanence of worldly life. Ganesh Baba was there and liked to talk. He discovered that they had brought with them something they called "acid". He tried it and was very favorably impressed with its effects. Thereafter he would often expound on the virtues of psychedelics as an aid on the spiritual path. Many hippies first met Ganesh Baba in Varanasi, or later in Kathmandu, and carried away with them fond memories of their talks (usually while stoned) with this psychedelic swami.

Ganesh Baba was a fully initiated exponent of the yogic tradition known as Kriya Yoga. This is described by the Indian yogi Shri Paramahamsa Yogananda as a

yogic technique, taught by Lahiri Mahasaya, whereby the sensory tumult is stilled, permitting man to achieve an ever-increasing identity with cosmic consciousness. ... Lahiri Mahasaya carefully graded Kriya into four progressive initiations. He bestowed the three higher techniques only after a devotee had manifested definite spiritual progress. ([1], p.9 fn., and p.378.)

Ganesh Baba told me that he received the four Kriya initiations from the following: Ganesh Baba is reported ([11]) to have said that he was born at a full moon in May (also the traditional birthday of Shakyamuni Buddha) and received the 1st Kriya initiation from Shri Lahiri Mahasaya when he was four years, four months and four days old, in the 1880s, not long before Shri Lahiri died. Lahiri Mahasaya died on September 26, 1895 ([1], p.395). If "not long before" can mean "six years before" then this suggests that Ganesh Baba was born no later than 1885. If the initiation by Shri Lahiri did not occur in the 1880s, but "not long before" he died, then Ganesh Baba may have been born after 1885 but no later than 1891.

Shri Tripura, Ganesh Baba's third initiator, was a disciple of Shri Motilal, who was a disciple of Shri Yukteswar, who was a disciple of Shri Lahiri Mahasaya. Shri Swami Shivananda, Baba's fourth initiator, was also his sanyas guru (the guru who receives the sanyas vows of renunciation of worldly life). Ganesh Baba said "I call myself a chela (student) of my gurus: Swami Shivananda, Lahiri Mahasaya, Yukteswar Giri, Dev Sharma. They are my gurus." ([2], p.78.)

In the late 1970s Ganesh Baba was living in Swayambhu, a village close to Kathmandu. He had a house close to the monkey temple (a Buddhist stupa on a hill, jointly watched over by Tibetan monks of the Kargyudpa order and a troop of monkeys). I was in Kathmandu in April 1979, feeling rather depressed, and I ran into a friend, David (an ex-minister of some Protestant denomination), whom I'd met the previous year at a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Normandy. He said he knew this great baba who lived in Swayambhu, and a couple of days later he took me to meet him. Several hippies dropped by (among them a gorgeous Native American lady and her French boyfriend) and it turned into a party.

Baba was always smoking charas. We began smoking at 7:30 pm and continued smoking far into the night. Baba harangued us with admonitions to keep our backs straight while smoking — and at all other times — this was his first and primary teaching. He condemned "bloody slouchers", saying that people who slouch have no self-respect. Only by maintaining ourselves in an erect and upright posture, he said, could we create the conditions for maintaining our "biopsychic apparatus" in "optimal operating condition".

During that evening, he said and did many outrageous things. Perhaps because some of us appeared to have low self-esteem, he tried some shock tactics on us. He declared that we were all animals — just arseholes — in fact not even as good as arseholes. He said we were all fuck-ups, crazy, the dregs of our society. He talked a lot about fucking — said that it was what us Westerners thought about most of the time. Baba, being a sannyasi (in the traditional Indian meaning of the word), was himself celibate.

As he once said in reply to the question, "What do you give Westerners when they come to you?":

I give them beatings. I abuse them. I tear their vanities and their egos and their Western pretensions into pieces. I pulverize their intellectual pretensions. I integrate their disorganized and disintegrated psyches and, above all, I love them and also kick them to express my love for them. ([2], p.79.)

Ganesh Baba had a low opinion of Tibetan monks, holding that they had perverted the Buddha's teaching by excessive moralizing. He verbally attacked them, calling them everything he could think of — except that he expressed respect for some of the lamas he had met, such as the Dalai Lama, the late Kalu Rimpoche and the late Gyalwa Karmapa.

He said that my understanding of the Buddhist concept of shunyata ("emptiness") was that it was something like the vacuity of orgasm, only a thousand times more so. He asked me at one point what will become of all this (waving his arm to indicate the phenomenal world) when I die. He talked of waking from the illusion of the reality of the phenomenal world. He said that when we were in the womb, after consciousness had arisen in the embryo, there is no awareness of space and time but there is awareness of light — it's like being in a dark room with a night light, and if you can remember that night light then you know who you were before you were born.

Baba said I was fucked up because of (what he called) my extra-cerebrality.

Me: My what, Baba?
Baba: Your extra-cerebrality, you fucked up son-of-a-bitch! Do I have to repeat myself?
Me: What's that, Baba?
Baba: It's because you were a lama in your past six lives! And in this lifetime you are reborn in the West, but you have this cerebral hangover. And worse, you were a fucked up Gelukpa lama, living in Lhasa — a medical doctor even.
Me: ???
Baba: You see, my dear Peter Meyer, you still think like a Tibetan lama! Don't you see that's your problem? That was perfectly alright when you were a lama, but now you are a Westerner, with a good Western education, but because you trail all this past-life-cerebrality with you, your thinking is all fucked up, it's extra-cerebral thinking.

Finally, around 3:30 a.m., after eight hours straight of smoking hashish and listening to Baba rave, and as stoned as it is possible to be, I made it back (with help from David and his girlfriend) to my hotel, Homely Lodge, in Kathmandu.

Later Baba told me that one time in Goa he died, or appeared to (as a result of drinking a concoction made from some flower, probably Datura). He was declared dead by doctors, and appeared dead for three days. Land was selected for his burial (the corpses of sannyasis are buried, not cremated), and he was placed in his coffin ready for burial. Then he awoke. He was taken to hospital, and it took a month for him to recover. He remembers, while "dead", seeing Mahayana deities and pujas (ceremonies). Having died, he said, one has the advantage of establishing conclusively that this phenomenal sensory world is only an image.

 Kali yantra Ganesh Baba developed an elaborate system of thought which combined Kriya Yoga with concepts drawn from Western scientific thought. He taught a system of correspondences between the eight levels of Kriya Yoga practice, the eight categories (matter, energy, space, time, life, mind, intelligence and consciousness), the five koshas or sheaths (Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya), the eight states (earth, water, air, fire, feeling, thinking, intellect and bliss), the eight planets, the four fields (inertio-gravitational, electro-magnetic, bio-psychic and intello-conscious), the three bodies (gross, subtle and causal), the four Yugas (Kali, Dvapara, Tretiya and Satya), the seven cakras (plus the Brahmacakra, or Shunyata, emptiness, completing the octave), the eight stages of organic evolution and the four Jungian psychological types.

Baba once said:

In Nirvana your little ego is snuffed out. Nirvana is a process of being snuffed out. Nirvana is a defocalization on the sensate world and switching over our consciousness to the insensate world of intuition, of inner light, and of inner oscilloscopic vision in our gyral center. We have to penetrate the various sheaths or planes. The Annamayakosha is the surface plane, the physical plane, the anatomical, the physiological, the mirror-image plane. Then there is the plane of the inner biological processes, that's called the pranamayakosha. Then after penetrating these we become conscious of the manomayakosha, the psychic sheath. Then beyond the psychic sheath is the vijnanamayakosha, the intellectual sheath. Then you go into what's called the anandamayakosha and through that you go out into the wide field, infinity. Your little ego becomes completely unified with the cosmic unified field of ultimate universal reality. That is the state of Nirvana which a few have had the good fortune to reach. But even if that highest goal is not reached, one step toward that supreme synthesis is a step indeed.  [4]

Baba also taught that there is a cyclic cosmic process of involution and evolution. Cosmic Consciousness descends through eight levels (beneath itself are intelligence, mind, life, etc.) to the level of inorganic matter, whereupon it rises again through organic evolution, to man, superman and finally culminates in fully enlightened mankind. We humans, he said, contain this involution/evolution process within our biopsychic/intello-spiritual nature, whereby each of us is capable of realizing complete union with Cosmic Consciousness.

In 1979 Baba was about ninety years old. He was developing eye cataracts and was slowly going blind. Accordingly some friends on the East Coast of the U.S. sent him an air ticket and arranged for him to come to America for an operation to remove the cataracts. I met him again in his hospital room in San Francisco in December 1979. Another of Baba's visitors at that time was Dolphin, a member of the Hog Farm commune (then in Berkeley) who resembled Mr Natural (of underground comix fame). The Hog Farm had travelled overland in the Hog Farm Bus (somewhat similar to the bus used by Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters) from Europe to Nepal in the 1970s, where they met Baba. Dolphin offered Baba and I the use of a cottage in Oakland after he came out of hospital, and I lived there with Baba for a couple of months, taking care of him. At this time he needed daily injections of insulin, since he was a diabetic.

Baba was mostly a vegetarian. He drank milk and ate eggs and fish, but no meat . His rule-of-thumb as to what was permissible to eat was: If an animal can cry for life then don't eat it. This conveniently allows eating of eggs and fish while excluding all birds and mammals. (Dolphins and whales can cry for life but fish have no vocal chords.) The general idea is that if an animal is sufficiently developed in awareness that it clearly has self-consciousness and can anticipate (and express opposition to) its imminent murder then it is wrong to kill it (except in defense) and wrong to eat it if it has been killed to be eaten. Without a sense of kinship with all life, complete spiritual attainment is not possible.

While staying at the cottage Baba was visited by many of the young people he had met in India and in Nepal, including some from Europe. Each day admirers would arrive, often bringing colas of fine California sinsemilla marijuana, a few tokes of which were enough to wipe you out for half a day. We spent many evenings with friends, sharing hits from the bong, reminiscing on life in India, discussing yogic practice, the state of the world, etc. Above all he would admonish us all not to slouch, but to keep out backs straight and our bodies in optimal operating condition.

High Times: You recommend that people who take psychedelic drugs should have straight spines?
Ganesh Baba: Of course. Straight spines is a must. If you are not doing this, you have damned well called a guest to your house, and quite a ferocious guest, and you are keeping the door bolted. So what will happen? He will break your door and he will crush you.
High Times: Why is that?
Ganesh Baba: Arrested kundalini. Because by taking all these psychedelia you are inviting the kundalini to take to its course and rise. Whereas by slouching you are constricting the passage of its progression.
([2], p.112. On this subject see also [9].)

In March or April of 1980 Baba went back to New York state, where he also had many friends. He remained there for several years, occasionally giving talks in New York City. He also attended at least one Rainbow Gathering (an annual meeting of young and old hippies usually held in a remote rural location) in the early 1980s, where he took LSD along with many others. Baba was perhaps the only fully-accredited Indian swami who openly advocated the use of marijuana and psychedelics as a means to spiritual advancement.

In early 1985 Baba returned to California. He stayed with some friends in Sonoma, and was visited by many others. In talking with his disciples Baba would often rave on about the spiritual evolution of mankind, such as the following:

So my message is, you know, be up and going until the battle is lost... Ha! Ha!... or gained... swayed by the euphoria of gain... or the depression of loss... that's what Lord Buddha said by his middle path... these beefy alcoholics [the Tibetan monks] misinterpreted his teachings... it's a bundle of lies... a bundle of heard truths... not experienced by the expositors... so let us even in our Buddhist compassion forgive them... and go about our coached, ecstatic nirvana... not the bloody grumbly, jingling no-no Nirvana... but the dynamic Nirvana... through quantum mechanics... through relativity... through the broad abyss of the cosmos... by the thin thread of science and technology we can also reach the same Nirvana today... it will be more dynamic... it will be less susceptible to rot... because it will be the best rational understanding of man in the cosmos... that is what dharma is all about... it's a route chart... dharma... like a process... like the process in a production line... production line being... on one end the creation... the creative consciousness... and the other end being the emancipated nirvanic human consciousness... the Christ consciousness... the Krishna consciousness... and the Bodhisattva consciousness... it is a consciousness beyond the pradya... beyond the dualities of light and darkness... beyond the dualities of body and spirit... in the utter calm resignation of the spirit to the spirit... and here we have existence as a continuous process in eternity... it's a cavalcade... it's a continuous cavalcade... this grand cavalcade of human nature... called "evolution". ([3], pp.28-29.)

I next met Baba in July 1985 when he returned to live for four or five months in San Francisco. One of his earliest and dearest disciples, Amy, had provided for him a room in her house on Broadway, in the center of San Francisco. Every Thursday evening Baba would lead a puja (an Indian religious ceremony). As word got around that he was back, increasing numbers of his friends would attend these Thursday night pujas, which became significant social events. We would gather at around 8 p.m. Baba would sit cross-legged on the floor in front of an altar on which were pictures of the Buddha, various Hindu avatars and holy men, etc. Incense was lit, and as the puja began we would pass around a few joints. Baba would lead in singing bhajans (hymns of praise to Krishna, Shiva, Lakshmi and other deities). After a while Baba would give a short talk. Usually he would read a passage from The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, which describes Jesus's travels in India, Nepal and Tibet during the eighteen or so years of his life which are unaccounted for in the Bible. Baba would then elaborate on the virtue of following the teachings of the great Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim saints, and we'd finish up with some more bhajans. A free meal was then provided for everyone, usually various dishes of Indian food, which was prepared by Baba's closest Indian disciple in America, Dulal, a professional ayurvedic chef. Unstructured socializing followed, during which Baba talked with many people on various subjects. A good time was had by all.

At one of these evenings Baba was given a dozen capsules of MDMA (Ecstasy) by one of his psychedelic admirers. This eventually led to his involuntary departure from America. I don't know that Baba ever took any of this MDMA but he took the capsules with him when he moved from San Francisco to return to stay with some friends in Sonoma. He had been there for a few weeks when trouble arose. The school-age daughter of his host stole some of the MDMA capsules from Baba's stash. She took them to school and foolishly distributed them to the other students, some of whom took some and had a bad time. The police were called in and the MDMA was eventually traced back to Baba, who was guiltless except for the fact that the capsules had been in his possession. He was not charged but the authorities were threatening deportation, so Baba decided to leave the U.S. voluntarily. In early 1986 he returned to India, from where he sent me the following letter from Bengal, dated March 16, 1986:

Dear Peter,

Thank you for your kind letter and greeting card. Mudita-muddle could have been avoided had I heeded the prophetic fear expressed by John ... and moved directly from Hari's house in Santa Rosa and driven directly to Amy's, who was pressing me hard to come back there. That was not to be. There is a Sanskrit proverb which in essence states "When danger arrives the best of intellect gets rusted." So was my mind driven into the Tibetan trap, which is the epitome of misfortune and missed chances. You know better, since you were in it. Never mind!

I am now in this Shrigurudham organisation which has a Crea[Kriya]-initiated membership of about 10 grand. Recently there was a very large gathering for the annual celebration of my Shri Guru's Mahasamadhi. Lots of reorganizational work has to be done; lots of trimming and weeding was necessary because after my Guru's exit in 1982, in my absence, a lot of abuse and misunderstanding had grown up. The usual power and petty rivalry and in-fighting in the absence of authority.

My next task will be to visit Kumbha Mela at Hardwar and taking up the trimming of my monastic ashrams and then leaving by May/June for visiting my disciples diverse Crea Centers in Europe. Next is in the hands of God. But I propose to be back in India during next winter and not let any more weeds grow during my absence.

In a way my wish has been fulfilled, since I was wishing much to return to the lap of Mother India after the Rajneesh episode. All is well that ends well.

May you be blessed with plenitude of prosperity and peace of Anatta.

Joy in Lord Buddha,
Baba

In 1987, when Baba was about 100 years old, he stayed mainly in the Indian hill town of Nainital (in Uttar Pradesh), where there was a monastery of which he had once been the head monk. As related by Amy, who heard it from Carole (a French chiropracter who was the only Western disciple with Baba at the end) he became sick and was taken to hospital in November 1987. Two days later he entered a coma and the doctors held out no hope for recovery. Carole and an Indian disciple, Saloney Baba (following Baba's previous instructions) massaged his body continuously, and a day later he regained consciousness. A day or two later (November 19, 1987), while singing verses from the Bhagavadgita and chanting Om, Ganesh Baba, with eyes cast upward toward heaven, finally passed on.

Click for enlargement
Ganesh Baba's grave
(Click for enlargement)
There was some thought of burying his body in Nainital (as noted earlier, sannyasis are buried, not cremated) but eventually it was taken to Bareilly on the plains in Uttar Pradesh, and Ganesh Baba was buried there at the Alakha Nath Temple of his monastic order, the Anandakara.

Ganesh Baba left three book-length manuscripts containing a detailed exposition of his synthesis of Kriya Yoga and Western scientific concepts; these remain unpublished. Interviews were published in the January 1978 and December 1982 issues of High Times magazine [2], [5] and in the Summer 1987 issue of Psychedelic Monographs and Essays [12]. A couple of videos were recorded in the mid-1980s (ask Tino about these), and several audio tapes were made of conversations and interviews [4], [6], [7]. A booklet containing verbatim sayings and some reminiscences of admirers was published in Oakland in 1988 [3]. There is a head shop in Hamburg, Germany, named after him [8]. He founded no ashrams, but some of his disciples may still be found passing on his teachings on the east and west coasts of the U.S. and in France. All who came to know him received the indelible impression of a great soul, a spiritual being full of love and wisdom.


An earlier version of this article appeared in Psychedelics Reimagined,
edited by Thomas Lyttle, published 1999 by Autonomedia,
P.O.Box 568, Williamsburgh Station, Brooklyn, NY 11211-0568, USA.


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