Mahamandaleshwar Swami Shankarananda - Biography
Mahamandaleshwar Swami Shankarananda (born 1942) is an American-born guru in the lineage of Bhagavan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri. The gurus of this lineage are noted for awakening the kundalini energy of seekers by means of shaktipat. Swami Shankarananda is an author and authority on the philosophy and practice of Kashmir Shaivism. He emphasises spiritual practice (sadhana), especially meditation, mantra and Self-Inquiry. He is a prominent spiritual teacher in Australia, where he founded the Shiva Ashram, a residential spiritual school where about 40 seekers live and members of the wider public visit for programs, retreats and courses. He is also a spokesperson for Hinduism in interfaith dialogue.
Born Russell Michael Kruckman, son of artist Herbert (Herb) (1904–1998) and school teacher Selma (1908–1998). He was a Pulitzer scholar at Columbia University, New York, where he played on Columbia's US Champion intercollegiate chess team, earning the title of US Chess Master. He taught Shakespeare and English Literature at Indiana University. In 1970, a decisive encounter with the American yogi Ram Dass inspired him to go to India where he met his guru, Swami Muktananda Paramahamsa, the disciple of Bhagawan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri.
He spent 12 years studying with Muktananda, the first three of which were spent at his ashram in Ganeshpuri. To this day, Shankarananda makes regular visits with large groups of devotees to the town of Ganeshpuri, the seat of his lineage.
In 1974 he was initiated by his guru to awaken people spiritually via shaktipat diksha (initiation). Muktananda wrote of Shankarananda, "He is able to carry my message to everyone. Has the power to make people experience the divine presence." Since that time, Shankarananda has headed ashrams in Ann Arbor, Los Angeles, New York and Melbourne.
In 1977, at the request of his guru, he was initiated into the Saraswati order of monks by Mahamandaleshwar Swami Brahmananda.
In 1991 he founded the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga in Melbourne with the assistance of Swami Bhairavi Ananda (Devi Ma), who is the co-director. They established a residential ashram on the Mornington Peninsula.
Over the past 10 years, he has initiated nine swamis, several of whom run centres in Australia and internationally.
Swami Shankarananda places great importance on lineage, saying that a guru should come from an authentic lineage. He belongs to the shaktipat tradition (see below) of Bhagavan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, sometimes called the "Siddha lineage". Shankarananda received shaktipat initiation from his guru, Swami Muktananda, who was initiated by his guru, Bhagavan Nityananda. Bhagavan Nityananda seems to have called his path Raja Yoga. Baba Muktananda called his path Siddha Yoga, and also Maha Yoga, Maha Kundalini Yoga, Purna Yoga or Gurukripa Yoga. Shankarananda calls his yoga Shiva Yoga, emphasising the link with Kashmir Shaivism. He points out that all these names designate the same yoga, based on shaktipat initiation. He works for harmony within his own tradition, and recognises and values the many teachers and yogis who belong to it. He has held several large events with other teachers in his lineage, and, in 2009, launched a website that documents the lineage of Bhagavan Nityananda and the many gurus and teachers it has produced.
Teachings and Philosophy
Muktananda emphasised the importance of a Self-realised guru who can awaken and guide the kundalini energy of a seeker. Swami Shankarananda was instructed by Muktananda to awaken people at meditation intensives by touch. Muktananda gave him a wand of peacock feathers that he himself had used to give shaktipat. Shankarananda is one of the first Western shaktipat gurus of the Siddha tradition. Shankarananda says that within every person there is a great power and a great potential that can be awakened by means of the grace of the guru and through spiritual practice.
Swami Shankarananda came into contact with Kashmir Shaivism through his teacher, Swami Muktananda, who was an important disseminator of this philosophy in recent times. Described by Shankarananda as a "philosophy of Consciousness"[fn. CiE p. 15], Kashmir Shaivism, like Advaita Vedanta, advocates the primacy of consciousness as the ground of all being. In contrast to Advaita Vedanta, however, Kashmir Shaivism regards phenomenal reality as an expression or manifestation of consciousness, rather than maya or illusion.
The first sutra in the foundational text, the Shiva Sutras, affirms, 'the Self is consciousness' (caitanyamatma). Shankarananda teaches that this important sutra defines the elusive Self as nothing but our own awareness. When that awareness is purified and expanded the yogi is said to have attained Self-realisation.Instead of treating the philosophy as a theory or belief system, Shankarananda applies the teachings of Kashmir Shaivism to daily life and the practitioner’s own experience. His book, Consciousness Is Everything: The Yoga of Kashmir Shaivism, as well as discussing the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism, is a guide and resource book for the practice of this yoga. The noted scholar Georg Feuerstein said in his review of it:
Swami Shankarananda has succeeded in making Kashmir's Shaiva Yoga come alive in these pages and I consider this work the best introduction to that tradition so far.
Shankarananda refers to academic education as "first education". He says there is a "second education", which involves the spiritual transformation of a person. In the Eastern tradition this is called sadhana. Shankarananda says that this practical and transformative element promotes a full and happy life but is almost completely absent from education in the West. The sadhana practices that Shankarananda teaches include meditation, chanting, repetition of the lineage mantra (Om Namah Shivaya), service, satsang and Self-inquiry.
Shankarananda teaches that there are three aspects of Shiva Yoga sadhana:
Thus, sadhana should not only be intellect-based or heart-based, but should reach fruition through action by means of: a) practice, and b) service. Wisdom, devotion and action are given equal importance. He follows the teaching of Muktananda who says that God, guru and Self are one. Using these three complementary aspects of the divine as navigational indicators, the seeker arrives at the goal.
Shiva Process Self-inquiry
Swami Shankarananda has developed a method of Self-inquiry, the Shiva Process, to deepen spiritual understanding and increase self-awareness in everyday life, especially in the areas of career, relationships, health and spirituality. He was assisted in this work by Devi Ma, who was an experienced Gestalt therapist before her involvement with Shiva Yoga. The process is designed to uncover the connection between thought and feeling, releasing internal ‘blocks’ or contractions of energy through a series of A (possibly accurate); B (possibly beneficial); and G (God or scriptural) statements. By means of these statements the individual moves from the personal to the impersonal; from limited understanding (jiva) to higher consciousness (Shiva).
The Shiva Process is a practical and direct expression of the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism and is also aligned with the technique of ātma-vicāra, or Self-inquiry, taught by Ramana Maharshi. The Shiva Process is an integral method which links meditation with techniques from Western psychology. Shankarananda says that it is "mystical psychology" because it pays attention not only to the individual practitioner but to the movement of spiritual energy. It is practiced on a regular basis at the Shiva Ashram and Shiva Centres. Shiva Process can be practiced individually (personal inquiry), in a group (group inquiry) or with a facilitator (one-on-one coaching). Shankarananda's book, Self-Inquiry, is an in-depth discussion of his method of Shiva Process Self-Inquiry.
Swami Shankarananda emphasises the critical importance of enlightened masters, or as he calls them, “great beings”. These outstanding yogis have the power to transform. They stress meditation on the Self, leading ultimately to the highest state of consciousness, sahaja samadhi. Shankarananda says that this state is not a trance or absorption in the void, but is an integrated state which a master brings to his or her ordinary life. During his spiritual process Shankarananda met and studied with a number of great beings, including Nisargadatta Maharaj, Sri Goenka, Neem Karoli Baba, Anandamayi Ma, Hari Das Baba. In his satsangs Shankarananda draws on the teachings of a number of great beings, especially Baba Muktananda, Bhagavan Nityananda, and others such as Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramakrishna, G. I. Gurdjieff and yogis and mystics of the Sufi, Christian, Jewish and Buddhist traditions.
As a spokesperson for interfaith in Australia, Shankarananda actively promotes interfaith dialogue and regularly participates in interfaith conferences and symposia. He is also the Hindu representative on the advisory board of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Interreligious Dialogue and he is the patron of the Hindu Community Council of Victoria (HCCV). He was invited to be a major speaker at the Parliament of the World's Religions held in Melbourne, 2009.
In 2007 Swamiji was invested as a mahant (spiritual leader) of the Panch Agni Akhara in Haridwar, India.
In 2010, in further recognition of his international work in spreading the sanatana dharma (universal religion), he was invested as a Mahamandaleshwar of the Mahanirvani Akhara by Mahamandaleshwar Vishveshwarananda Maharaj. The ceremony took place on November 22 in Ganeshpuri, India. Swami Shankarananda is only the second Western-born Mahamandaleshwar in the Mahanirvani Akhara.
His official title is Sri Mahamandaleshwar 1008 Swami Shankarananda Saraswati of the Mahanirvani Akhara.
Swami Shankarananda is the author of six books, four of which are listed below.
- Happy for No Good Reason, Information Australia, Melbourne, 2000.
ISBN 1-86350-314-5 (National Library of Australia Catalogue)
- Consciousness Is Everything: The Yoga of Kashmir Shaivism, Shaktipat Press, Melbourne, 2003.
ISBN 0-9750995-0-7 (National Library of Australia Catalogue)
- Carrot in My Ear: Questions and Answers on Living with Awareness, Shaktipat Press, Melbourne, 2004.
ISBN 0-9750995-2-3 (National Library of Australia Catalogue)
- Self-Inquiry: Using Your Awareness to Unblock Your Life, Shaktipat Press, Melbourne, 2008.
ISBN 978-0-9750995-3-7 (National Library of Australia Catalogue)