Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), 16th president of the United States (1861–1865), was a man of great humbleness and superb intelligence. He is known as the greatest leader in American history. During his presidency, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, allowing all slaves in the USA to become free people. Lincoln was the protector of what he called “the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Albert Einstein (1879–1955), a German-born American physicist, discovered the theory of atomic energy. He is known for developing special and general theories of Relativity. With a few equations, he banished from the universe every concept of fixed reality except the one constant of light (the speed of light being 186,282 miles per second in a vacuum). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 for his work on the photoelectric effect. Israeli officials offered him the presidency of Israel in 1952, but he respectfully declined.
Anandamayi Ma (1896–1982) is considered to be one of the greatest saints of 20th century India. Although she had little formal education, her spiritual insights were both amazing and profound. The former prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi, was a devotee of Anandamayi Ma. She taught that there is only one God and nothing else.
Aurobindo (1872–1950), one of the most influential spiritual figures of modern India, was a genius. He lived in England for fourteen years. He edited the English daily Bande mataram and wrote fearless editorials. He was a prolific writer over a wide range of subjects including philosophy, yoga, poetry, and human unity. In 1926, he founded the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India. His visions continue to inspire thousands of people all over the world.
Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) was a British philosopher and mathematician. He wrote on various subjects including education, history, politics, religious studies, science, and humanity. He was awarded the Order of Merit in 1949 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. He was known for his spirited anti-war and anti-nuclear protests and remained a prominent public figure until his death at the age of 97.
Buddha (560 BC–480 BC) is the title given to Siddhartha Gautama, who was a famous yogi born in India. Buddhism, based on the teachings of Buddha, is the fourth largest religion in the world. The meaning of the word Buddha” is “enlightened” or “awakened” one. He was a son of a king. Buddha preached meditation, which involves emptying the mind of all thoughts to achieve inner peace and greater intuition. He put down priest craft and animal sacrifices. He spread the message of love everywhere. The very mention of his name is enough to arouse devotion in the hearts of millions of people throughout the world.
Carl G. Jung (1875–1961), one of the greatest modern psychologists, was born in Switzerland. He developed his theories called “analytical psychology” to distinguish them from Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology.
Chidvilasananda (1955–present), known as Gurumayi, is a renowned spiritual master belonging to the Guru-disciple succession of the Siddha Yoga lineage. At the command of her Guru, Swami Muktananda, she bestows the precious initiation called shaktipat to seekers all over the world.
Christopher Columbus (1451–1506), the famous Italian explorer, was the first European to discover the New World on October 12, 1492 while on a mission to find a shorter trade route to affluent India.
Confucius (551 BC–479 BC) was born in China. His original name was Kung Fu Tze. Confucianism, based on the teachings of Confucius, is the eighth largest religion in the world. Confucians strive for cosmic harmony by creating a society based on order and virtue. The Analects, a collection of the sayings of Confucius, treats mainly of social welfare, human peace, and harmony in society.
Dalai Lama (1935–present), Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, is the world famous spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhist religion. He was only 2 years old when he was first recognized as the reincarnation of an earlier Dalai Lama. He remained the head of the government of Tibet until 1959 when the Chinese invaded, forcing him into exile. He now lives in India. In 1989 he received the Nobel Prize for Peace for leading the nonviolent opposition to the Chinese rule in Tibet. He stresses harmony among different religions.
George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), a prolific Irish-born writer, is considered one of the most significant British dramatists since Shakespeare. He wrote many plays, including the masterpiece Pygmalion. Shaw is considered both a visionary and a mystic. He received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925 for Saint Joan. Shaw helped not only reshape the stage of his time but influenced the minds of his own and later generations.
Guru Nanak (1469–1539) was the first of ten Sikh Gurus. Sikhism, based on the teachings of Guru Nanak, is the fifth largest religion in the world. As his teachings spread, he attracted a large number of devotees, whom he described as Sikhs, or learners. Guru Nanak taught meditation to strengthen a person’s sense of God. He is widely venerated by both Muslims and Hindus, as well as Sikhs. His teachings are contained in Japji, an important part of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs.
Herman Hesse (1877–1962), the German-born writer and winner of Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, is most famous for his novel Siddhartha. He became a citizen of Switzerland in 1923. His philosophy of humanitarianism and his maxim “be yourself” became immensely popular during the 1960s.
Hillel (60 BC–9 A.D.), also called Hillel “the Elder,” was born in Babylonia. He became the model of the ideal Jewish sage. Known as a man of great virtues, he deeply influenced the texture of Jewish life. He put together the book of Jewish law called the Talmud.
Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964), a world-renowned statesman, was the first prime minister of independent India. He was a Kashmiri Hindu Pandit. Because he was very learned, people often addressed him as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Throughout his 17 years in office from 1947 to 1964, he was deeply involved in carrying India forward into the modern age of technological advancement. In foreign policies he was “neutralist” while his domestic policies included democracy, socialism, unity, and secularism. He was also one of the principal leaders of India’s independence movement in the 1930s and 1940s. His daughter, Indira Gandhi, served as India’s prime minister from 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 to 1984.
Jesus Christ (4 BC–29 A.D.) is called Christ, which means anointed one or Messiah. He was a Jew born in present day Israel. Christians regard Jesus as the Son of God on earth. Christianity, based upon the teachings of Jesus, is the largest religion in the world. Jesus’ revolutionary message was to love one another as you love your own Self. Jesus Christ taught and exemplified the virtues of tolerance and forgiveness, rather than revenge and hatred. The birth of Jesus Christ is so great an event in human history that time began to be measured from his birth year using the Gregorian calendar. The twenty-seven books of the New Testament, upon which Christianity is based, were written on papyrus scrolls. After being accused of treason against Rome, Jesus was sentenced to be crucified by the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate.
Jimmy Carter (1924–present) was the 39th president of the United States (1977–1981). Following his presidency, Carter remained active in public life and gained new respect as an effective statesman and peacemaker, acting as a mediator in several international conflicts. He also used his influence as a former president to call attention to economic and social problems in developing countries and to promote human rights and democracy. In 2002 Carter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his accomplishments in these areas.
John Woodroffe (1865–1936) is the pen name of Arthur Avalon, an Englishman. During the British rule in India, he was the Chief Justice of the High Court in Calcutta. In the final years of his life, he lived like a Hindu Brahmin. His books, The Serpent Power and Garland of Letters, are known worldwide.
Kabir (1440–1518) was one of the greatest spiritual masters of India. People of both Hindu and Muslim religions became followers of the ‘creedless’ master Kabir. A weaver by occupation, Kabir ranks among the world’s greatest poets. He is one of the most quoted authors in India.
Krishna (3228 BC–3102 BC), the eighth incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, came to earth in 3228 BC to kill an evil tyrant king named Kamsa. Krishna is not regarded a prophet of the Lord, but is the Lord himself incarnate. There are many legends surrounding Krishna’s miracles described in Shrimad Bhagvatam. He is known primarily through the epic Mahabharata, in which he acts as the charioteer of the hero Arjuna. His discourse on duty and life to the warrior Arjuna just before battle against the Kauravas is famous as the Bhagavad Gita.
Kofi A. Annan (1938–present), a great son of Africa, was born in Ghana. He is the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations and the first secretary-general to be elected from the ranks of the United Nations staff. In 2001, he received the Nobel Prize for Peace. He has used his good offices in several delicate political situations. He is fluent in English, French, and several African languages.
Lakshman Joo (1907–1991) was one of the greatest spiritual masters of Kasmir Shaivism. He was the disciple of Swami Mahatabakak in the line of great Siddhas. His wisdom drew seekers from around the world. He established the Ishwara Ashram Trust in India. His book Kashmir Shaivism: The Secret Supreme is a great boon to mankind.
Lao-tzu (604 BC–531 BC), the founder of Taoism, was born in China. He is famous for his scriptural masterpiece, Tao teh Ching, The Way and Its Power. His book breaks down false thinking. He represents the path of unorthodoxy. Literally, Tao is the way of ultimate reality. Taoists aim to balance the feminine side of the body called Yin with the male side called Yang.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948), the most revered Indian leader in the world, unified people and freed India from Great Britain using the same principles of love and nonviolence as had been taught by Buddha and Jesus. Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolent protest to achieve political and social reforms will live forever. In his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi has described his life with utmost frankness.
Mahavira (599 BC–527 BC) was a contemporary of Lord Buddha. Like Buddha, he was a prince by birth. At age 30, he renounced the throne to become a wandering ascetic. After more than 12 years of ascetic practice and absolute nonviolence he attained a state of omniscience. Jainism, based on the teachings of Mahavira, is the ninth largest religion in the world.
Mansoor (858–922), a famous Sufi master, who lived in Iraq and Persia, used to repeat anal-haq, which means, “I am God.” He was hanged as a heretic for his pronouncement of anal-haq, which orthodox Islam of those days would not tolerate.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), an American Baptist minister who was honored with the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964, led the civil-rights movement in the United States during 1950’s and 1960’s. His leadership ended the legal segregation of blacks in the U.S.A.
Max Planck (1858–1947), a German–born physicist, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918. Without quantum theory, computers and cellular phones would not exist.
Moses, the greatest prophet of Judaism, received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai. His actual birth date is not known, but it is believed that he was born in Egypt in the 14th to the 13th century BC His life is known only from the Bible and the Koran. The first five books of the Bible, called Torah or Pentateuch are: the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These are believed to have been revealed to Moses by God.
Muhammad (570–632), born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, was the greatest Islamic prophet. Islam, based upon the teachings of Muhammad, is the second largest religion in the world. It is believed that God revealed the Koran to Muhammad to guide humanity to truth and justice.
Muktananda (1908–1982), the disciple of Bhagwan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, India, was adept in giving the divine and rare initiation called shaktipat. Both the East and the West revered Muktananda as the Guru’s Guru. Starting in 1970, Baba Muktananda traveled throughout America, Europe, Australia, and other parts of the world to give programs of meditation on the spiritual Self. Muktananda regarded all the major religions of the world as genuine. As a result, he did not create any new religion. Instead, he established Gurudev Siddha Peeth, a beautiful ashram near Mumbai (Bombay), India. And, to propagate meditation worldwide, he founded the Siddha Yoga Dham of America Foundation (SYDA) in the USA. In addition to his famous spiritual autobiography, Play of Consciousness, Baba Muktananda wrote several books including Light on the Path, Mukteshwari, Reflections of the Self, The Perfect Relationship, and Secret of the Siddhas.
Narayan Swami (1909–1973) of Muzzafarnagar, India, was extraordinarily learned—quite possibly the most learned man in India during the 20th century, not only in the Hindu scriptures, but also in every imaginable branch of knowledge. As one of the greatest masters of tantra, he earned a great reputation in India as a man of vast powers.
Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897–1981) was a Self-realized master of India. Though brought up in poverty, he was the richest of the rich. He is known for his brilliant book, I Am That. Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj was his Guru.
Nityananda (1896?–1961) of Ganeshpuri, Maharashtra, India, was the Guru of Swami Muktananda. He is known for his supreme spiritual realization. The temples of Nityananda—one in upstate New York and a second in Ganeshpuri, India—scintillate with great spiritual energy.
Patanjali, a contemporary of Lord Buddha, was a great sage. He is known as the highest authority on the practical science of yoga. His famous book, Yoga Sutras, is considered a complete book on yoga—so complete that no one can improve upon it. His Yoga Sutras is prescribed as a textbook for the systematic study of yoga.
Prabhupada, (1896–1977), founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was an extraordinary author, teacher, and saint. In the West, he preached continuously and wrote more than sixty books of transcendental literature.
Ralph W. Emerson (1803–1882), an American writer and poet, was influenced by Hindu philosophy. As a leader of the transcendentalist movement, he greatly influenced the religious and philosophical thoughts of his time.
Rama Tirtha (1873–1906), one of the greatest spiritual masters of India, was a brilliant mathematician. He took his M.A. degree in mathematics, and served as the Professor of Mathematics in the Lahore Forman Christian College. He lectured on Vedanta, the ultimate science of yoga in India, Japan, and the United States. His eloquence is captured in several volumes of his work In the Woods of God Realization. He was learned in Persian, English, Hindi, Urdu, and Sanskrit literature.
Rama, the seventh incarnation of Hindu god Vishnu, came to earth about 18.144 million years ago to kill the demon king Ravana. Rama is not regarded a prophet of the Lord, but is the Lord himself incarnate. His consort was Sita. He is the central figure of the Sanskrit epic poem the Ramayana. Great saints like Valmiki and Tulsidas have written about Rama.
Ramakrishna Paramahansa (1836–1886), one of the most revered spiritual masters of India, explored Hinduism, Tantrism, Christianity, and Islam, expressing that God can be realized through all religions. He was the Guru of famous Swami Vivekananda. He created the monastic order of Ramakrishna Mission.
Satyananda (1923–2002), a disciple of Sivananda, was a great spiritual master of India. He is remembered for his translation and commentary on Sivananda’s Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. He founded the Bihar School of Yoga which serves seekers worldwide.
Sivananda (1887–1963) of Rishikesh, India, was one of the greatest yoga masters of the 20th century. Filled with a desire to pursue the spiritual path, he left his medical practice. His direct dynamic style of writing inspired seekers from all over the world. He founded the well-known Divine Life Society in 1936. He was a great blessing to humanity.
Socrates (469–399 BC), a great mystic from Greece, profoundly affected Western civilization through his influence on Plato. He achieved social popularity because of his ready wit. Socrates taught that we could not begin to understand the world around us until we understood our own nature. He stressed the worship of one Divinity instead of worshipping many gods. He was put on trial for corrupting youth with his non-traditional beliefs. He was put to death with a cup of hemlock, a fatal poison. It is Socrates who observed: “The unexamined life is not to be lived.”
Vivekananda (1863–1902), born in Calcutta on January 12, 1863, was a prominent disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa. After the passing of Ramakrishna, he traveled to the United States, delivering his famous address at the conference of world religions held in Chicago in 1893. He is credited with making Vedanta popular in the West. In India he developed the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission. He wrote a number of books including his masterpiece Raja Yoga.
Yogananda (1893–1952), the celebrated author of the book Autobiography of a Yogi, has inspired spiritual aspirants from around the world. A disciple of Sri Yukteswar Giri, he founded the world-renowned Self-Realization Fellowship in the USA. His message emphasized the unity of God within all religions. He was a very great yogi. His physical death on March 7, 1952, was marked by an extraordinary phenomenon. A notarized statement signed by the Director of Forest Lawn Memorial-Park testified: “No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death.... This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one.... Yogananda’s body was apparently in a phenomenal state of immutability.”
Zoroaster (630 BC–550 BC) was a great prophet in Iran. Zoroastrianism was founded on the teachings of Zoroaster. When still a fairly young man, he began receiving divine revelations from Ahura Mazda, a good spirit. His conversations with this godhead and his difficulties while preaching are recorded in the Gathas, part of the sacred scripture known as the Avesta, which explains the struggle between good and evil.