The Indomitable Life of Swami Shyamananda Giri
Binayendra Narayan was born to Sri and Srimati Gokul Prosad Narayan Dubey in Banda, Uttar Pradesh, India, on May 4, 1911. He gave up his body as Swami Shyamananda Giri on August 28, 1971, at the international headquarters of Yogoda Satsanga Society of India/Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles. What transpired between is now more than history: it is a legacy of faith, strength, dedication, selflessness, and inspiration for those who knew him and for those who in generations to come will know him through the enduring monuments of his life and deeds.
His very stature and appearance commanded respect; his capabilities commanded leadership and authority. The world stepped aside and gave him these without hesitation or question. Those to whom he revealed the inner man gave him also unqualified love. And, indeed, as the years of his life rolled by, the inner man became the total of his being.
“He is no ordinary child; he does not belong to the ordinary world. The course of his life is set; let him follow his way.” These prophetic words were spoken by Binayendra’s mother before she died, leaving behind the tiny three-year-old son and two older daughters. Had she glimpsed her son’s future? or had she merely observed how the tot, as soon as he could walk, would wander off by himself into the environs of a nearby temple?
“I was too small to understand why the temple attracted me,” Shyamanandaji reminisced in his later years. “I only knew I felt at home when I was there. But it was a cause of anxiety to my family whenever they would discover I was missing, and often brought me slaps of rebuke. That wasn’t so pleasant; but it didn’t change my habit.” “God is everywhere.” This truth from the Vedic scriptures had a profound effect on the young child Binayendra. “I used to go around looking longingly at everything — the trees, the birds, the sky—trying to see God there,” Shyamananda recalled. “I would look and look at a flower, asking, ‘Lord Krishna, are You there?’
“What I loved most as a child was listening to stories from the scriptures,” Shyamanandaji continued. For him every moral and ideal became law. The scriptural heroes and avatars were as real to him as his childhood playmates. One day after attending kindergarten class Binayendra stayed alone and played in the compound of the small schoolhouse. Dusk began to fall. “There were no lights there in those days,” Shyamanandaji related, “but suddenly I saw that the whole area became bright. In the light I saw Hanuman. I suppose most children would have been frightened to see such a big monkey-figure and would have run away. Instead it gave me a most beautiful feeling, and I started walking slowly toward it. Then gradually the image began to fade away into the light, and the light vanished with the form. The uplifting effect of that vision remained long with me.” Hanuman is the monkey deity well known and loved in India for his heroic deeds, related in Valmiki’s great epic, the Ramayana. Hanuman symbolises the perfect devotee. Of himself he is a helpless, ignorant little monkey, but when he takes the name of the Lord to fulfil a task given to him by the Divine, he becomes a giant, his prowess unmatched; nothing is impossible to him. Shyamanandaji’s own tremendous accomplishments, inspired by his devotion for God and his guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, caused Sri Daya Mata to refer to him on occasion as “Paramahansaji’s Hanuman.”
When Binayendra was a lad of nine, his father died. It had always been the understanding between his father and Raja Bahadur Sati Prosad Garga, his father’s bosom friend, that should anything happen to either of them, the other would raise the children of the deceased. Thus Binayendra went to live with the Garga family on their huge estate at Mahishadal, in the district of Midnapur, near Calcutta. The “adopted” child was loved and raised as the eldest son of the family.
The young boy idolised his new father; which Raja Garga well merited, we are told. He was a man of noble character and extraordinary skills and accomplishments, and was well versed in the shastras (Hindu scriptures) and the ancient Sanskrit literature of India. One of his closest friends, Sri Ram Dayal Muzumdar, brother of Sri Ram Gopal Muzumdar,  was a great disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, harbinger of Kriya Yoga. In retrospect, Shyamanandaji was later to wonder whether indeed Raja Garga might also have been a Kriya Yogi.
Sri Ram Dayal Muzumdar, a highly esteemed spiritual personage, was the retired principal of Sanskrit College. His translation of the Bhagavad Gita (from Sanskrit into Bengali), with commentary, was the first text of that sacred scripture read by the lad Binayendra. There was talk of the pundit’s becoming guardian tutor of the boy, but Binayendra was still too young, and only in his primary studies. Nevertheless Sri Ram Dayal had a deep spiritual influence on the boy, and encouraged his decidedly religious nature. Shyamanandaji told us, “I never knew he was connected with this Self-Realization/Yogoda line of Gurus until years later, after I came into the work of Yogoda Satsanga Society. I was astonished to see his name in the minutes of the Society for 1919 as a member of the governing body of the Ranchi school, along with Master [Paramahansa Yogananda], Sri Yukteswarji, and others.”
A venerable sadhu, Govinda Brahmarshi, visited the family home when Binayendra was eleven years old. The saint took a keen interest in this young boy of spiritual disposition. It was obvious that the sadhu, too, considered him not just an ordinary child. “I had such a deep longing to forsake the goals of the world and go away with that saint,” Shyamanandaji recalled, “but he told me, ‘Your time is not now.’ I was broken-hearted when he left. And when the time neared for his return, we received word that he had left his body.”
One of the ruling families of India, the Gargas then owned and governed about five hundred villages. Binayendra’s education included learning the administrative tasks and protocol of being a “prince” of this estate. As for his academic training, he majored in world history and ultimately, as he matured, set his sights on becoming a barrister. A naturally keen intelligence, an extraordinary memory, and a strong will enabled him to excel in anything he put his mind to—whether it be his studies, sports, or hunting tigers in the jungles.
In time he married the young daughter of the family, Shantana, whose nature was a remarkable blend of discriminative strength and softness. She was his mental and spiritual equal; and the reverence and devotion with which he regarded her was perhaps one of his most admirable qualities—a rare quality, at least, in the husband-wife relationship. He was often to say of his wife: “She was unique. I was no match for her!” Their marriage was blessed with two daughters, Dipti Moyee Debi and Priti Moyee Debi, whom he affectionately called Mira and Minu.
Binayendra had everything most men only long for in life. Yet he was to say of those days, “I was always a misfit; I never really belonged anywhere. Something else was always pulling me.” So feels each soul that has been touched by God for a higher duty in life. But he never allowed regret or moroseness even a momentary place in his life. These and any form of negation were rejected in his philosophy. “I believe in being always cheerful and positive, and whatever one must do, he should do well!” Such was his lifetime avowal.
Shantana must often have felt that in her husband she had a “bull by the horns.” He was a non-conformist in social amenities; an extremely orthodox Brahmin who would not (indeed, could not) take even a drop of water or crumb of food except under prescribed scriptural conditions; and whatever he did, he applied such will and enthusiasm that, more often than not, he went to extremes. (Once he almost died proving to himself that he could fast as Mahatma Gandhi was wont to do. Gandhi used to drink adequate water during his fasts, and remained relatively inactive. Binayendra not only forsook food, but all liquids as well, and in addition, kept up his normal, active pace of studies and of outdoor sports in the blistering Indian sun—all this without letting anyone in the family know what he was doing. After nine days, the servant who had been cooperating with him in the endeavour noticed that he had started to swoon. In alarm, the servant summoned Shantana. She prevailed upon her husband to take food. Whereupon he broke his extreme fast with an extreme meal of several quarts of milk and a huge stack of chapatis (fried Indian bread). He later said it was the only time in his life he ever had felt a little indigestion!
But we are told that Shantana was never dismayed; she was equal to his every challenge. She silently smiled at his refusal to be a part of the “social set”; she snipped off his orthodox Brahmin tuft of hair one night as he slept (he never let on to her that he knew it was missing, but neither did he grow it back); and when she felt the strong-willed husband had gone too far in anything, she “put her foot down” and he capitulated. Some of their happiest moments together were spent in discussing philosophy, a subject in which, in those days in India, women were not considered to be very knowledgeable. “In addition to her deep understanding, my wife also had a photographic memory. She could just glance at any page in a book or scripture and then recite it word for word. Even in that she could outshine me,” Shyamananda said in reverent remembrance of her.
When Shantana was only twenty she died after a long illness. “I could not feel any sorrow,” Shyamanandaji said, “because my heart was too full.” His wife had told him, “I know this is not to be your way of life. I will not be an obstruction nor hold you long. We had to play this drama; but now it has to end, and I must release you.”
That was in 1936. Shyamanandaji’s search for God and truth then became the whole of his life. An understanding sister-in-law took up the care of his daughters, thus freeing him from that concern. He left his family and spent the greater part of the next twenty-three years in India’s ashrams and on pilgrimages to her holy places. He drew near to the most renowned of India’s saints and holy teachers of that time. Many wished to harness his devotion and his capabilities to the mutual benefit of his spiritual search and the building-up of their institutions. With utmost reverence for all, he lovingly served in any way he could (for one saintly sage he built an ashram and lived there the greater part of ten years); but he never took diksha (vows that form the guru-disciple relationship) or adopted any one path. “I was still seeking that something else,” Shyamanandaji explained. “Strange, my search began when Master [Paramahansa Yogananda] was in India in 1935-36. I was in Puri in 1936 when he was there mourning the passing of Sri Yukteswarji. I must have just missed him several times. Had I met him then, my search would have ended when it began; but it was not to be.”
At Mahishadal, Binayendra Narayan built a beautiful college as a memorial to his wife. And in the latter part of those twenty-three years he and four friends envisaged the founding of a much-needed tuberculosis sanatorium. They selected the healthful climate of the plains of Giridanga, West Bengal, named the institution Niramoy (“healing”), and set out to make the dream into a reality. Among them they raised a sizable sum of money, and promptly spent it all on the printing and distribution of one brochure to announce the glorious scheme. Faith, determination, hard work—the hallmarks of Swami Shyamananda Giri’s life—brought rewards. Support came from all corners of India; today the sanatorium, with surgical facilities and an outdoor chest clinic, is a model institution. Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi is the president of its General Council. The institution has two branch chest clinics and has recently started in Calcutta a large 15-story polyclinic—all of which Shyamananda helped to build. The institution is charitable, treating patients on a nominal or “ability to pay” basis.
In 1946 Shyamanandaji was on a pilgrimage to Rajgir and Bodh Gaya, hallowed by Gautama Buddha’s fervent search for truth and his ultimate illumination there under a spreading Bo tree. Shyamanandaji had spent the greater part of the day meditating under that tree in Bodh Gaya and in walking among the ruins of the temples and monasteries of nearby Rajgir. He retired in the late evening to his room at a government rest-house in Rajgir. Around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. he was suddenly awakened, and leapt out of his bed as he beheld a beautiful blue light in his room. He recounted the experience:
“It emanated from one corner of the room, a deep blue light; then the whole room became filled with light. The blue light in the corner started revolving. A face appeared, then the whole bust, and finally the entire form. The face was so serene, so sweet—oh, so sweet! I thought, ‘Who could it be? Buddha? Shiva?’ No, this divine personage did not have the long pierced ears of Buddha, nor his short curly hair. Neither did he have the necklace of snakes  and the long matted hair of Shiva. The face was beautiful and serene like theirs, but the hair was pulled straight back. He spoke to me and gave me a mantra. It was a most wonderful experience. For the next twelve years I was always searching to find that face.
“In 1958, I decided I would try to find a quiet ashram near Calcutta where I could retire from responsibilities and meditate. I had heard of Yogoda Math, which was a short distance from the Kali temple at Dakshineswar. I went there and found that it was indeed secluded; not many visitors came, and it was beautifully situated on the banks of the Ganges. I talked with one of the monks there about possible accommodations. He told me about the founder and showed me his book, Autobiography of a Yogi. I bought the book and went away.
“I was skeptical about a yogi who would write his autobiography, and especially one who had spent many years in the West. But as I casually leafed through the pages, I saw this was no ordinary text—whatever passage I chanced to read rang with spiritual vitality and truth.
“But imagine my astonishment when I turned to the page on which Mahavatar Babaji‘s picture appears. ‘It is he!’ I exclaimed, ‘the one in the vision, for whom I have been searching these many years! Can it be? or am I only imagining?'”
Then he remembered that the monk at Yogoda Math had told him they were making preparations for the visit from America of the president of Paramahansa Yogananda’s society. He also remembered his skeptical reaction: “An American spiritual leader? And a woman at that? Absurd!” Such were his thoughts. Yet he felt somehow drawn, and within a few days he found himself talking to Sri Daya Mata. “When I came away from that meeting, I knew she had supplied the ingredient that had been missing in my sadhana. I had been following the path of Jnana Yoga, inspired by the illustrious example of Swami Vivekananda; but my own sadhana remained dry and empty. Ma told me I must cultivate more devotion, more love and longing for God. My heart began to fill and I knew she was right. Strange, that first meeting with Ma was on the very day, twelve years after, of my vision of Babaji in Rajgir: I felt my search had ended.”
Yet doubt waged a battle in his mind. The whole of his life and search would be wasted if he were misled by delusion now. He kept at a distance, coming to the ashram to meditate quietly, and then slipping away. He even tried staying away for long periods at a time. But when he came again, the same peaceful assurance crept over him. Sri Daya Mata had already singled him out of the crowds as the one outstanding soul she had thus far met in India who was deeply seeking God.
He travelled to Ranchi when Daya Mata went there on her visit to the place in India where Paramahansaji’s work had started with a flourishing boys’ school. There they had many heart-to-heart talks about the work. Daya Mata poured out to him her heartache at finding her guru’s work in India badly neglected and deteriorated—it was a dying institution. She felt his keen response and understanding.
He also accompanied Sri Daya Mata’s party to the Yogoda Satsanga ashram of Swami Sri Yukteswar in Puri. If any doubts remained in Shyamananda’s mind, on this trip they were to be dispelled forever.
Jagannath Temple at Puri is considered one of the holiest in India. It held a special reverential place in Shyamananda’s heart. He had made pilgrimages there many times, and his meditations in its sacred environs had always been deeply blessed. By special concession granted by His Holiness Sri Shankaracharya Bharati Krishna Tirtha Sri Daya Mata was the first American ever to be allowed to enter Jagannath Temple.  Shyamananda was in her party that day.
As she meditated before the altar—on which are images of Krishna in the aspect of Jagannath, Lord of the Universe; his sister Subadhra, and his brother Balarama—she went deep into an ecstatic state, becoming totally oblivious of all around her. Shyamanandaji related his own experience at that time:
“I stood at a distance on one side, against the wall, watching Ma in meditation. Suddenly her form began to disappear into light. I looked at Jagannath’s image on the altar, then back to Ma, and again at the altar; several times I did this, shaking my head to be sure I was not imagining. I knew they were One! This experience continued for a long time, then gradually Ma’s form began to reappear. After a while she got up and left the temple. As she did so I noticed that she dropped her ochre handkerchief. I wondered why those who were with her did not pick it up. I was extremely reluctant to touch it. In that sacred place, witnessing what I had just witnessed, that handkerchief was a symbol. To pick it up was to commit myself before the Lord, as if picking up her banner. I had never thus committed myself to anyone or any organisation. Yet I couldn’t leave it lying there. I looked frantically at the altar, and prayed, ‘Lord, what are You doing? What are You asking?’ Finally I said, ‘What is to be, let it be, O Lord.’ And I picked up the handkerchief and carried it outside to Ma.”
Sri Daya Mata had been only dimly aware of dropping the handkerchief, and of sensing his reluctance to pick it up. She also understood it was a symbol. When he handed it to her, it was a confirmation of what she already knew: God had chosen him to help rebuild her guru’s work in India.
A similar symbolic act of “picking up Guru’s banner” had taken place years earlier in Shyamananda’s life. During Durga Puja  in 1930, the young Binayendra and a few of his close friends were on a holiday. The family of Sri Banamali Das , one of Swamiji’s dearest and lifelong friends, had rented a bungalow in Ranchi for a month, and the eager young boys joined them there as their guests. Unbeknown to the vacationers, this bungalow, a part of the Maharaja of Kasimbazar’s estate, had once been used by Paramahansa Yogananda’s Yogoda school, but had been vacated in 1929 when it was outgrown. “When we arrived there,” said Shyamananda, “I noticed a Yogoda signboard lying on the ground. It was covered with dirt, and the white ants were eating it. I could never bear to see anything being spoiled, even if it did not belong to me. I also thought, ‘This must have been some spiritual institution; it is not right that this signboard lies on the ground for people to walk on.'” He picked up the sign, brushed off the dirt and ants, and propped it against a tree: his first thoughtful, though unknowing, act of service to his guru.
While Shyamananda was in Puri with Sri Daya Mata, he asked her to give him diksha. The ceremony took place in the memorial temple erected by Paramahansaji over the burial place of Swami Sri Yukteswarji on the Yogoda ashram grounds. Shyamananda was the first person in India to take diksha from Sri Daya Mata. It was the beginning: a spark of life had returned to Paramahansa Yogananda’s work.
Before leaving India at the conclusion of her 1958-59 visit, the then Mr. B. N. Dubey was voted to the Board of Directors and made General Secretary of Yogoda Satsanga Society of India. Later, he was also voted to the Board of Directors of Self-Realization Fellowship, the international headquarters. Often during the following years Daya Mata encouraged him to take formal sannyas initiation (the renunciant vows of a swami). He had taken those vows informally at a Kumbha Mela in 1938. He repeatedly declined, giving as his reason: “I see how easy it is to become spoiled by titles, especially in India where there is such reverence for anyone who wears the ochre cloth of renunciation. Let me first work and prove myself; then, whatever God wills.” After some time he humbly consented to receive from Sri Daya Mata the title of Yogacharya (teacher of Yoga). He was then known as Yogacharya Binay Narayan until he became a swami. On October 10, 1970, Sri Daya Mata bestowed on him formal sannyass initiation in the Giri branch of the ancient Swami Order to which Paramahansa Yogananda and his sannyas disciples belong. Daya Mata conferred on him the name Swami Shyamananda Giri.
Shyamanandaji served the work of Guru twelve selfless, tireless, dedicated years. Through his efforts, from a crumbling institution began to emerge the fulfilment of the noblest dreams Paramahansaji had had for Yogoda Satsanga Society, dreams which Sri Daya Mata had pledged to Paramahansaji to help fulfii. God had inspired one who was uniquely qualified to help her in that monumental task. Supported by Sri Daya Mata’s guidance and blessings and her three subsequent visits to India, which brought great inspiration and momentum to the work, Shyamanandaji laboured successfully to help revive the dying spirit in the existing ashrams and in the school at Ranchi. He founded new schools both at Ranchi and in other locales. He travelled throughout India spreading the message of Guru, founding Yogoda centers and meditation groups. Between 1968-71 he made a total of four trips to the YSS/SRF International Headquarters in Los Angeles for the purpose of furthering the work worldwide; on these trips he visited centres and members in various parts of the world to help spread Paramahansa Yogananda’s message.
He never knew what it was to take rest for his body. Indeed, such was his enthusiasm and dedication, he never felt the need for relief from his duties. “Where can one find greater rejuvenation of body and spirit than in serving God and Master?” he was often heard to say. “When I am talking of God and doing His work, I am filled with His life.” The growth of the work that was accomplished during those years was not without setbacks and opposition, and countless obstacles. God gave Shyamanandaji the vitality and wisdom that were necessary; it could never have been accomplished by one of lesser spiritual stature and receptivity.
“I will not live past the age of sixty,” he had said on several occasions. “I have to drive myself and those around me to accomplish many years’ work in a few years. What I don’t do now for Master, I will not be able to do later. God may not give me further opportunity.”
His philosophy of service is summed up in these words of his: “Work for God is worship. I will go on working; in that I am determined. I know that in work lies salvation and liberation. In worshipping in other ways, the mind may wander and not always be in God and Guru. But in work some part of me will always be there with Them. If I keep my mind, my hands, my feet— everything—in Their work, then even if my mind wanders, my hands and feet are busy for Them. I used to long to be free just to meditate. But if I went solely for meditation and my mind wandered from God, in those moments I would be one hundred percent lost from Him. But if I am working for God and Master, and if my mind wanders, still I am some percent with Them. That, I came to realize, is the secret of Karma Yoga. And this much I know, I will work for Master to the very last drop of blood in my body. I am convinced that in this work lies my salvation!”
He kept that vow as few men would have been able to. In his last days, as the fatal illness he suffered literally drained all strength and life from him, he still carried on his service: dictating and signing letters, giving directives for the work in India. It was no less than miraculous to those of the medical profession who attended him. And in the final days, when even this much strength was not left to him, he asked to see various ashram devotees, that he might talk to them and inspire them to carry the banner of Guru’s work high, even as he had so strived to do. His prayer to God was, “Lord, if it be Thy will that I must leave the body now, grant this one burning desire: that I return quickly to this earth to go on serving my Master’s work!”
Illness never touched his consciousness. He was ever cheerful, positive, full of faith and divine love; above all, he was fully surrendered to the will of God as the Divine Mother whom he had so loved and worshipped throughout life. During this period he had many wonderful spiritual experiences—joyous communion with Divine Mother and Guru, and the blessing of Babaji’s presence on at least two known occasions. His awareness was keen to the very last breath. Just four hours before that mystical moment of Divine summoning, he had gathered the last ounce of his strength to make the worshipful gesture of pronam as prayers to God and Guru were chanted in his ear.
“From the time I was very young a dim vision used to come into my mind of a place that was my abode.” Shyamananda talked thus to Sri Daya Mata a few weeks before his passing. “I always felt that someday I would find it. It may be in the Himalayas near Badrinath, somewhere beyond those tracks. I used to feel such a
longing to find it. There I would establish a little place where I could be in meditation alone with God, and spend the last of my days. I never found my abode, but it is there—somewhere beyond those tracks!”
Perhaps his abode was, after all, not on this mundane plane. Perhaps now he has found it and is enlocked there with his beloved God, in meditative rest at last from his duties. There may he be renewed and uplifted in spirit, and prepare himself for that moment when God shall grant his desire to return once more, in a new and vital form, to serve his guru’s work on earth.
One evening, about three weeks before his passing, Shyamanandaji was inspired to compose these lines in Bengali, which he then translated into English
“In the morning of life
The soul rides on a flaming chariot.
Arriving at the dusk of life,
What does it see?
The dusty sky left behind?
Or the bright horizon calling it ahead!”
Those who knew and loved Swami Shyamananda Giri have no doubt that his indomitable spirit looks only to the bright horizon calling him ahead.
 The “sleepless saint” who gave a special blessing to the youthful Paramahansa Yogananda during his last flight to the Himalayas in search of God-realization. At that time Ram Gopal also told Paramahansaji of his first meeting with the deathless mahavatar Babaji. (See Chapter 13, Autobiography of a Yogi.)
 Symbolic of self-mastery, control over the life force. Among the many names of Lord Shiva is “King of Yogis.”
 Potent vibratory chant. The literal translation of Sanskrit mantra is “instrument of thought.”
 Spiritual head of Gowardhan Math, founded in Puri in the ninth century by Lord Shankara, India’s greatest philosopher, and reorganiser of the Swami Order.
 Since its founding, centuries ago, the temple had been closed to non-Hindus and Westerners. That restriction had been lifted coincidentally with Sri Daya Mata’s visit to Puri. Not long afterward, the restriction again became the rule.
 “Worship of Durga,” a festival honouring God in the aspect of Divine Mother.
 Sri Banamali Das also became a member of Yogoda Satsanga Society of India. He was a member of the YSS Board of Directors and, with the passing of Swami Shyamananda Giri, he became Joint General Secretary, along with Swami Shantananda. Later he served as the society’s vice-president from 1975-1984.
 Spiritual initiation; from the Sanskrit verb-root diksh, to dedicate oneself.
 Lit., “complete salutation,” from Sanskrit root nam, to salute or bow down; and the prefix pro, completely. The hands are held, with palms pressed together, over the heart.
 A reference to the paths worn by pilgrims to Badrinath, one of India’s most holy places of pilgrimage. Readers of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi may recall that Swami Pranabananda, after rebirth, went to Badrinarayan (near Badrinath) and there joined the group of saints around the great Babaji.