The term Sannyasi means “renunciant of the world”, a man who, out of a maddening desire for divine experience, renounces all wealth, fame, pleasure and attachment. A Sannyasi must live his life devoted to Tapas or austerity, abandoning civilisation for the dark depths of forest caves or the bone-frosting heights of mountains, embracing solitude and silence.
Perhaps one of the greatest Sannyasis the world ever witnessed was Lokenath Bhramachari. Lokenath is believed to have been born in 1730 in West Bengal. At the age of 11 Lokenath and his companion Benimadhav left the home with their Guru (spiritual teacher) Bhagwan Ganguly.
The three aspirants adopted the Himalayan wilderness as their home and remained there for the next 25 years, practicing the severe austerities of Ashtanga Yoga or the path of realizing the self through meditation. During this time the great Sadhu had to master his mind and body to be able to withstand the biting snow which often covered him to the chest while seated in trance. Indeed, such miracles are not myths; recent research done by Harvard University professor Herbert Benson reflects the incredible control practitioners of meditation can exercise upon the body: “Benson and his team studied monks living in the Himalayan Mountains who could, by Tum-mo meditation, raise the temperatures of their fingers and toes by as much as 17 degrees.”
After 25 years of battling the forces of nature and mind, Lokenath's decided to become a wandering monk. Lokenath's hunger for God was yet unfulfilled. He had an intuitive urge to travel to Medina to the study the Holy Quran under a qualified teacher. In his lifetime Lokenath covered thousands of miles on foot, walking to Afghanistan, Persia, Israel and China, all the way to Siberia. His fascination with the teachings of Islam led him to make three pilgrimages to Mecca. While walking through the desert, Lokenath came across the great mystic Abdul Gaffar who instructed him on the Quran. Interestingly Lokenath would refer to himself as a “Musalmart” or Muslim and would refer to Abdul Gaffar as one of the only two real Brahmins he ever met. Lokenath saw no difference between a man with beard and turban and one in orange robes. For him the terms “Brahmin” and “Muslim” did not denote caste or creed but simply meant “Man of God”.
Lokenath finally settled down in Baradi near Dhaka where Dengu kamarkar, a landlord built him a hermitage. When the villagers first noticed Lokenath, in his thinly clad appearance, they gave him the nickname “the naked sadhu”. Once they encountered his higher wisdom, they gave him the title of “Baba” meaning father. Lokenath spent the rest of his life spreading the universal teachings of compassion for all creatures and submission to god. He welcomed people of all faiths in his hermitage uniting them under the one truth he revered the most: Love is the highest religion. He finally left his body in 1890 (age 160).