Muktananda (16 May 1908 – 2 October 1982), born Krishna Rai, was the founder of Siddha Yoga. He was a disciple and the successor of Bhagavan Nityananda. He wrote a number of books on the subjects of Kundalini Shakti, Vedanta, and Kashmir Shaivism, including a spiritual autobiography entitled The Play of Consciousness. In honorific style, he is often referred to as Swami Muktananda.
Muktananda was born in 1908 near Mangalore in Karnataka State, India, to a well-off family. His birth name was Krishna Rai.
At age 15 he encountered Bhagavan Nityananda, a wandering avadhoot who profoundly changed his life. After this encounter, Krishna left home and began his search for the experience of God. He studied under Siddharudha Swami at Hubli, where he learned Sanskrit, Vedanta, all branches of yoga, and took the initiation of sannyasa in the Sarasvati order of the Dashanami Sampradaya, taking the name of Swami Muktananda. After Siddharudha's death, Muktananda then left to study with a disciple of Siddharudha called Muppinarya Swami at his Sri Airani Holematt in Ranebennur Haveri District after studying there Swami Muktananda began wandering India on foot, studying with many different saints and gurus.
In 1947 Muktananda went to Ganeshpuri to receive the darshan of Bhagavan Nityananda, the saint who had originally inspired Muktananda's search for God. He received shaktipat initiation from him at 15 August of that year. Muktananda often said that his spiritual journey didn't truly begin until he received shaktipat from the holy man Bhagavan Nityananda. According to his description, it was a profound and sublime experience. Muktananda spent the next nine years living and meditating in a little hut in Yeola. He wrote about his sadhana and kundalini-related meditation experiences, in his autobiography.
In 1956, Bhagawan Nityananda acknowledged the culmination of Muktananda's spiritual journey, and gave him a small piece of land at Ganeshpuri, near Bombay, instructing Muktananda to create an ashram there. The same year he started teaching his "Siddha Yoga" path. Between 1970 and 1981, Muktananda went on three world tours, establishing Siddha Yoga ashrams and meditation centers in many countries. In 1975, he founded the Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland, in the California Bay area, and in 1979 he established Shree Nityananda Ashram (now Shree Muktananda Ashram) in the Catskills Mountains, northwest of New York City. Muktananda established Gurudev Siddha Peeth as a public trust in India to administer the work there, and founded the SYDA Foundation in the United States to administer the global work of Siddha Yoga meditation. He wrote many books; sixteen are still kept in print by the SYDA Foundation.
In May 1982, Muktananda appointed two successors as joint leaders of the Siddha Yoga path, Swami Chidvilasananda and her younger brother, Swami Nityananda who later resigned and formed his own group. Muktananda died in October 1982 and is buried at Ganeshpuri, where the Gurudev Siddha Peeth ashram houses his samādhi shrine.
In 1983, after Muktananda's death, William Rodarmor printed several accusations of physical and sexual abuse, in CoEvolution Quarterly, from anonymous female devotees that Muktananda regularly had sex with them. He also charged that Muktananda had engaged in other behaviour at odds with wider societal norms. These allegations were confirmed by other CoEvolution Quarterly journalists, while Lis Harris repeated and extended Rodarmor's allegations in an article in The New Yorker (1994).
Sarah Caldwell argued that Muktananda was both an enlightened spiritual teacher and a practitioner of Shakta Tantrism, but also "engaged in actions that were not ethical, legal or liberatory with many disciples."
Teaching and practice
Central to his teachings were to "See God in each other," and "Honor your Self. Worship your Self. Meditate on your Self. God dwells within you as you." Muktananda often gave a shorter version of this teaching: "God dwells within you as you."
According to Lola Williamson, Muktananda was known as a "shaktipat guru because kundalini awakening occurred so readily in his presence". Through Shaktipat Intensives participants were said to receive shaktipat initiation, the awakening of Kundalini Shakti that is said to reside within a person, and to deepen their practice of Siddha Yoga meditation. Historically, Shaktipat initiation had been reserved for the few who had done many years of spiritual service and practices; Muktananda offered this initiation to newcomers and yogis alike. There are several published accounts that describe the reception of shaktipat from Muktananda. Paul Zweig wrote one such account of receiving shaktipat from Muktananda. In Gurus of Modern Yoga, Andrea Jain, in her chapter on Muktananda, quotes an anonymous source, who describes his moment of shaktipat, when he was 19 years old, conferred by Muktananda with a wand of peacock feathers in 1975:
I almost jumped when the peacock feathers, firmly but with a soft weightiness, hit me repeatedly on my head, and then gently brushed my face as [Muktananda] [...] powerfully pressed one of his fingers into my forehead at a spot located just between my eyebrows [...] I'm honestly somewhat reluctant to write about what happened next because I know that whatever I say will inevitably diminish it, will make it sound as if it were just another "powerful experience." This was not an experience. This was THE event of my spiritual life. This was full awakening. This wasn't "knowing" anything, because you only know something that is separate from you. This was being: the Ultimate - a fountain of Light, a dancing, ever-new source. Utter freedom, utter joy [...] Completely fulfilled, completely whole, no limits to my power and love and light."