Our Lineage, our Tradition

Our Lineage is the Himalayan Lineage or Bharati. Photo: Radhikaji

There are two words in Sanskrit that have to be understood: Parampara and Sampradaya, that is, lineage and tradition respectively. In this article we want to understand our lineage and tradition and honor our roots.

A parampara or lineage is an unbroken line of authentic teachers who pass on their wisdom and empowerment to qualified disciples who become teachers in turn. The close bond between guru and disciple which continues beyond death, remains intact as long as the disciple, even if he has become a spiritual authority in his own right, preserves the integrity of the transmissions received. To affirm this continuity tantric practitioners include in their daily practice the formal veneration not only of their immediate guru but also the param guru. Whenever a guru gives a student permission to teach this means that he has been judged competent to teach and pass on the teachings to others. Each guru has a responsibility towards the lineage as a whole and is eager to preserve its integrity, which is why permission to teach is never given lightly.

Origin of our Guru Parampara

Our guru lineage has no particular name. Some call our lineage the Himalayan Lineage since many of the teachers were sannyasis and sages wandering in the remote parts of the Himalayas. However, our lineage is not limited to any geographical area. Neither is it limited to renunciates and ascetics. In fact the roots of the lineage go back to the householder sages of the Upanishads some 6000-10000 years ago.

Upanishad means "sitting close to". The student sits close to the guru, listens carefully and contemplates. All the same, merely sitting in the presence of the teacher is not enough, for one can be physically near but mentally far away. Thus, the teacher and the teachings must resonate with the student. The guru-shishya parampara, as the teacher-student relationship is called, is neither about joining courses in large institutions, nor about getting certificates or titles. The only thing that counts is how the student evolves. To evolve, the student must integrate these teachings in his daily life and practice systematic meditation. A student who practices with the intention to evolve and eventually attain Self Realization is called a sadhaka. This kind of Yoga education is about unlearning the limitations created by the conscious mind and helping it to expand by becoming aware of the unconscious mind. This is the highest form of education. These secret teachings are transmitted orally to prepared students so that they cannot be misused. Thus, the lineage is the cornerstone of the oral tradition.

The oral tradition and lineage acknowledge that there can be no standardized form of unlearning and learning. Each individual is unique and thus only a 1:1 relationship with an authentic teacher can transform a student. In this traditional approach the student evolves for himself. He may teach eventually as well, but he does not enter this relationship to get a certificate and become a teacher. The emphasis is on paravidya, the inner wisdom that reveals the mysteries of living and dying. A student may spend up to fifteen years under the tutelage of the teacher! The teacher takes responsibility for the student and preservation the lineage. The traditional approach differs completely from modern institutions, ashrams and communities offering yoga education, since the student cultivates an intense relationship with the teacher in a gurukula.

The home of the guru is called a gurukula. Kula means family. In the gurukula or the family, the householder teacher nurtures the student and reveals the mysteries of living and dying. But before the teacher can fill the cup of the seeker with knowledge and wisdom, he must help the seeker to "empty his cup" of deep rooted mind patterns, so that he can lead the seeker to his own intuitive fountain of Inner Wisdom. The task of the teacher is to help the seeker unlearn old habit patterns and guide him to that brink of vastness called the Now, until he is a medium of the Divine. The seeker becomes a vessel, ready to receive and carry the deepest spiritual Truth, that he will eventually impart to his students.

The Modern Lineage

Our guru lineage is known in parts. The complete lineage remains shrouded in mystery. This is because the Indian spiritual traditions, with their emphasis on living in the present, do not give any importance to the maintenance of historical records. Therefore, we will learn about four main parts of our lineage.

Swami Rama

Swami Rama was one of the few Himalayan sages to have travelled extensively in the West. He grew up a child of the Garhwal Himalayas and as a young boy he wandered in the mountains with his spiritual master Bengali Baba during school vacations. The early years of his youth were spent in studying homeopathy, developing a career as a bhajan singer and fulfilling his duties as a householder. In his late forties he worked with scientists researching the mysteries of yoga and travelled to teach in India, USA, Nepal, Germany, Japan, the Caribbean Islands, Malaysia, Singapore and other parts of the world. In later years he established various charitable institutions in India. His gifts to all humankind are the systematic yet simple teachings extensively explained in over twenty-five books.

Bengali Baba

Bengali Baba was the teacher of Swami Rama. He spent many years wandering the Himalayas with a small group of his students. A great sage who preferred to remain unknown, Bengali Baba was said to be a judge during the times of British rule in India. He was called Bengali Baba because he came from Bengal on the eastern coast of India.

The Tantrik Guru Parampara

Adi Shankara

(illustration: unknown artist)

Adi Shankara lived during the eighth century A.D. He is known as the master of the non-dualistic philosophy called Advaita. He wrote commentaries on the principal Upanishads. Before Shankara, the spiritual landscape was ritualistic and full of conflicts between different religious communities. Shankara reorganized the pre-existing monastic orders in to the Dasanamas, the 10 monastic orders. This monastic orders exist to this very day. He also established 4 centers known as maths in the four regions of the country. Shankara became a honorary title for the leaders of these 4 centers. He, being, the foremost among these four leaders, was called "Adi" the first.

Lesser known is that Shankara was a tantrik and a strong advocate of Samaya, the internal path. Shankara travelled around what is called India today debating with ritualists. He inevitably defeated them in debate, and they in turn renounced ritualism to follow the path of vairagya and dhyana with the aim of communion with the internal deity. The most famous of these debates was with Madan Mishra. There are different versions of this legend. In our lineage we are told that the judge of the debate between Shankara and Madan Mishra was Madan Mishra's learned wife Bharati. When matters regarding the life of a householder were debated, Bharati raised an objection that Shankara, being a renunciate, was not qualified to expound on the subject. Accepting this as a valid point Shankara immediately left to acquire experience as a householder. Legend has it that Shankara used the highly advanced yogic technique of "parakayapravesha" to leave his own body and enter the body of a dying Raja. He lived in the Raja's body, enjoying the worldly pleasures and performing the royal duties karmically ordained by that body. It is said that even Shankara forgot who he was as avidya (ignorance of the Self) clouded his consciousness. One of his dearest students had to remind the Raja who he was. When Shankara remembered his true nature and the purpose of entering the body of the King, he immediately "dropped" the body and re-entered his original body that his students had guarded in the icy heights of the Himalayas. Shankara returned to the debate, which he then won. Both Madan Mishra and Bharati joined his wandering group of students. 

It is said that to honor this wise woman and householder Bharati, our lineage is also called Bharati. Bharati means "lover of knowledge." A hallmark of our lineage is that it has both householders as well as sannyasis teachers.


Few know the name of Shankara's teacher. Though Govindapada was outshined by his brilliant student Shankara, he was himself a highly renown teacher of his time. He led a large cave monastery on the banks of the Narmada river in what is today Central India, where he trained many students.


Gaudapada, teacher of Govindapada, was the illustrious author of the Gaudapada Karika, a commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad. It is also called the Mandukya Karika. Gaudapada was a highly accomplished tantrik of his time.

The Srividya Guru Parampara


Sage Haritayana, also called Sumedha, was author of the Tripura Rahasya. He was a student of Parashurama.


Parashurama, a great warrior was a student of Dattatreya. While his father Jamadagni, was a sage and guru, Parashurama's guru was Dattatreya. His dialogue with Dattatreya are recorded in the finest text of the Samaya Srividya Tradition, the Tripura Rahasya.


Dattatreya, a legendary teacher of the Samaya Srividya tradition, had 24 teachers, including the wind that never attaches itself to the objects it touches, a satisfied python that does not chase any other prey and a prostitute who though enacting the drama of love is not satisfied with this superficial love. Dattatreya is revered as Master of Masters.


Dattatreya received the teachings from Brahma, the creative energy of the universe.


Brahma received this knowledge from Vishnu, manifested consciousness.


Vishnu, in turn, received this knowledge from Shiva, unmanifested consciousness.

The Vedic Lineage

The modern lineage and the tantrik lineage focus on historical figures. As we go further into the past, the teachers of our lineage take on a legendary character.

Shaunaka and Angiras

A dialogue between two great teachers of the Vedic period has been recorded in the Mundaka Upanishad from the Shaunaka Sakha of the Atharva Veda. These two great teachers are called Angiras and Shaunaka. Shaunaka, a householder from the great hall, is the protagonist of the Mundaka Upanishad, asking good and sincere questions to his teacher. Shaunaka's teacher Angiras has a shaven head indicating he is a sannyasin. The word Mundaka means "shaven head". While Angiras is a sannyasin, most of the teachers of the Vedic period were in fact householders.

Satyavaha Bharadvaja was Angiras' teacher.

Angir was Satyavaha's teacher.

Atharvan was Angir's teacher.

Little is known of these teachers besides the lineage itself. While this part of the lineage is from the Atharva Veda, the unbroken lineage goes back to the Rig Veda and beyond to the most ancient prehistoric times.

The Ancient Lineage 

Just as we know the part outlined in the Mundaka Upanishad, another part of the unbroken guru lineage takes us back to its very source, that is, the Divine Mother, ocean of universal consciousness. In ancient times the lineage was a parent-child lineage, predominantly a father-son lineage. Eventually, the focus shifted to the guru-shishya parampara or a teacher-student lineage, as it became clear that the son was not always qualified.

Sukha Deva was a wandering renunciate.

Vyaasa, Sukha's father and teacher was a great sage.

Sage Parashara was the father and teacher of Vyaasa.

Shakti Maharshi was the father of Parashara.

Sage Vasishtha was the father of Shakti Maharshi and son of Brahma the creator. Vashishta, a great Brahmarishi, who possessed Kamadhenu, the wish-fulfilling cow, is known as the progenitor of Lord Rama. The Yoga Vasishtha, part of the great epic Ramayana, expounds the teachings of Vasishtha as taught by himself to Lord Rama. The Yoga Vasishtha is an important albeit difficult text of our lineage. 

Sanat Kumara, the son of Brahma is an important but mysterious link in the lineage. Sanat Kumara was a brahmachari.

Brahma, the creative energy brought forth the four kumaras (brahmacharis, celibates), Sanat Kumara being one of them. All authentic, unbroken lineages trace back to Brahma.

Narayana, consciousness in manifested form, is always invoked in the lineage. All wisdom becomes from direct experience of consciousness.

The lineage cannot be complete with Shiva, is symbolic of the Atman or unmanifested individual consciousness. This is why Shiva is also called Adiyogi the first teacher of yoga. Individual Consciousness is a drop in the ocean of Universal Consciousness, the Divine Mother. She is also known as Paramatman or Shakti.

Hallmark of our Guru Parampara 

There are certain distinguishing traits in this lineage.

  1. Unbroken lineage from Vedic times.
  2. There are many teachers, some sow wide and some sow deep.
  3. Some teachers are householders, others are sannyasins. Generally, householder teachers teach householders and sannyasins teach sannyasins. There may be exceptions.
  4. Not all students become teachers. Some, though accomplished may choose not to teach.
  5. The lineage is linked to the ascetic practices of the cave yogis and not connected to institutions and formal schools.
  6. The Upanishads, primarily the Mandukya Upanishad, are foremost scriptures of our Tradition.
  7. Highest teachings of Srividya are imparted step by step.
  8. Only the qualified students are taught higher practices.
  9. We believe in both the Mother and Father principles. Shiva and Shakti are One.
  10. Maya does not remain an obstacle to spiritual development.
  11. All practices are internal. We do not perform rituals.
  12. There are 3 main stages of initiation. First: mantra, breath awareness, and meditation. Second: inner worship of Sri Vidya and bindu bhedana. Third: leading the force of kundalini to the thousand-petaled lotus called the sahasrara chakra. 
  13. Adepts, who do not associate with any religion, gender, race, social status, class or caste, are allowed to impart this knowledge.
  14. Na datavyam, na datavyam, na datavyam. This means "don't impart, don't impart, don't impart." This knowledge is not imparted unless the student has made a commitment and is prepared.
  15. The purpose of the guru is to selflessly help the students.
  16. There may be many non-tantric teachers, but the student is guided by only one tantric teacher. 
  17. Advaita or One Absolute without second is the philosophical foundation of this lineage.
  18. Understanding the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in relation to practice is a preliminary step.
  19. The laws of the internal world and external world are different. We can attain mastery in both worlds.
  20. Guru is not merely an external teacher but the direct experience of the spiritual force within.
  21. The teacher is a revered friend. 
  22. Reasoned faith, not blind faith.
  23. Only direct knowledge can lead to Self Realization. 
  24. The body is a shrine. The Mother (or Father) is the deity within.


The lineage advocates devotion to a single teacher (ekagurupastya) for all tantric instruction. Students may receive non-tantric education from other teachers.

The teacher must meet extraordinary moral, intellectual and spiritual requirements, including a thorough knowledge of the spiritual texts of the lineage. The guru must have had a direct experience (anubhava) of the Truth. The teacher in whom the "guru function" is alive has no interest in the disciple other than to dissolve the phenomenon called disciple. The guru function consists in constantly and faithfully mirroring the disciples back to themselves, while at the same time strengthening their intuition of the ultimate Reality. Because of this dual aspect the guru’s work is both unlearning and learning.

A unique feature of our lineage is that a student committed to the teacher, lineage and tradition goes to a guru with a bundle of dry sticks in his hands (samithpani). With reverence and love he offer this to his teacher. That indicates that he is surrendering himself with all his mind, action, and speech with a single desire to attain the Self Realization. The guru burns those sticks and says, “Now I will guide you and protect you.”

The relationship between disciple and guru is such a pure relationship that no other relationship is comparable. It is said that guru is not mother, father, son or daughter. The guru is not a friend in any conventional sense. It also is sometimes said that the guru is father, mother, son, daughter, and friend all in one; the guru is sun and moon, sky and earth to the disciple. The truth is that the relationship of guru to disciple is indescribable. The relationship extends to the realm beyond the world, transcends death, and stretches far be­yond the limited karmic bonds associated with family and friends.

(Illustration: RadhikaG)


Meaning of Sampradaya 

The English word tradition is often incorrectly used for lineage.

Sampradaya or tradition is a more general term and is used for the larger family and not just for the lineage. To use the analogy of a family tree, you can trace back your teacher lineage to a particular ancient master or to the source of the teachings while the rest of the teachers on this family tree would be the Tradition or Sampradaya. 

The masters of meditation were inspired by the mother of all: the Divine Mother. As the masters sat in their cave monasteries and forest universities they lay in the lap of Mother Nature who gave them in abundance and without reservation. Their teachers were the sun who constantly shared all and withheld nothing, the river that flowed over all obstacles and surrendered unconditionally to the ocean, the mountains that stood firm against all odds. They were also inspired by the breathless state of the tortoise, the poisonous cobra that aspired to touch the sky and by the beautiful lotus that thrived in muddy waters.

The yogis cultivated these traits and the Divine Mother whispered her secrets in meditation. The ancients have a word for it: Shruti. Shruti is wisdom that is heard within; it is not knowledge that is learned from books or from other sources. Revelations come down from the Divine. Knowledge  and learning is lifeless without the loving touch of the Divine. This is Srividya, Auspicious Wisdom.

Our Tradition is the Samaya Srividya Sampradaya. Samaya means "I am with you." It is a purely internal path. Sampradaya means tradition. It is also called the Saubhagya Sampradaya, the Tradition of Sweet Happiness.

Other Teachers of Samaya Srividya Sampradaya

The following are only a few of the teachers of the larger family of teachers. They are mentioned in alphabetical order:

  • Hariakhan Baba
  • Lahiri Mahasya
  • Master Mahasya
  • Neem Karoli Baba
  • Paramahansa Yogananda
  • Ramakrishna Paramhansa
  • Ramana Maharshi
  • Sant Eknath
  • Sant Gyaneshwar
  • Sri Yuktesvaraji
  • Swami Muktananda
  • Swami Nityananda
  • Swami Vivekananda

A comprehensive listing is not possible. Inevitably many distinguished sages have not been mentioned here.