Long Pilgrimage: The Life and Teaching of the Shivapuri Baba

Bookworm Issue 57 Jul, 2010

Long Pilgrimage: The Life and Teaching of the Shivapuri Baba is the legacy of Sri Govindananda Bharati, hailed by many as one of India’s greatest unsung saints. Written by John G Bennett in collaboration with Thakur Lal Manandhar, it was first published in 1965, with a Western reader in mind. Only in 2006 was this slim volume finally printed in Nepal. This is a big little book. Just a 185 pages from start to finish, it is both a biography and a way of life.

Bennett gets off to an interesting start by introducing the world of 1826, the year of the Baba’s birth, before introducing us to the central figure—a baby born into a family of South Indian brahmins. The guru, who is today revered simply as Shivapuri Baba, embraced the life of an ascetic at an early age and spent decades in meditation before he reached “God-Realization”.

Although Bennett remarks that Baba revealed nothing of those years and very little of his wanderings around the world, he does a remarkable job of piecing together 40 years of Baba’s travels. It’s a fascinating journey from India to Afghanistan and then onto Persia, Mecca, Jerusalem, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, England—where he visited Queen Victoria numerous times—before moving onto America, Mexico and South America, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, and Nepal before going back to India. A remarkable feat considering Shivapuri Baba was already fifty years old when he started and even more so when we are told that he walked almost the entire journey. His identity of Sri Govindananda Bharati to Shivapuri Baba changed when, at the age of 100, he decided to come to Nepal and live in the forests at the base of the highest hill surrounding Kathmandu. Among his first disciples for the next 37 years in Nepal was the then British Resident.

In keeping with Shivapuri Baba’s remark, “It is not my person that matters – but my teaching”, Bennett devotes six chapters of Long Pilgrimage to the Baba’s central teachings. The principle of Right Living or Swadharma, described by the author as the “Gita up-to-date”, is remarkable for its simplicity. It can be adapted for any age or culture, and there is no mortification of the flesh or renouncing of simple joys.

Baba was gifted in reaching out to people of all faiths. It lent a universal appeal to his creed of reaching to the divine through the disciplined dispensation of moral, physical, and spiritual duties. “The beauty of Shivapuri Baba’s exposition is that the philosophical and practical problems are not separated…in order to know [God], one must be able to know,” writes Bennett. Simplified, Swadharma is the path of completeness, of life lived rightly on all levels.

 Bennett does not have blind faith and this is what sets Long Pilgrimage apart from most other books in this increasingly saturated genre. He is analytical and relates the Baba’s teachings to his own search for Truth. Large parts of the book are written in dialogue, which is confusing at times when the author switches back to his narrative. But, for the most part, this technique is successful in allowing the reader to ‘hear’ Shivapuri Baba. Although one does wonder at the extraordinary ability that Bennett and Manandhar both seem to enjoy of recalling conversations in verbatim. There are some lovely portraits of the Baba in the book. The one on the cover rather fits renowned journalist Tarzie Vittachi’s description of Shivapuri Baba as “a disheveled old-old man with the happiest smile I have ever seen on an adult’s face.”

Long Pilgrimage is not light reading, nor is Shivapuri Baba’s Swadharma easy to follow. But this life philosophy is concrete, clear, and eminently practical—perhaps exactly what is needed in a world where little else is.

185 pg, Price: NRs 400/-
Book Courtesy: Mandala Book Point,
Ph No: 4249555.