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Bhaktivedanta, A. C. P. (01 September 1896–14 November 1977), founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was born Abhay Charan De in Calcutta, India, the son of Gour Mohan De, a cloth merchant, and Rajani (maiden name unknown). Abhay was brought up in a strict Bengali Vaishnava family, devoted to the worship of the god Krishna. His father had decided from the beginning not to send his son to England to be educated, lest his piety and moral purity be compromised. Instead Abhay entered the Scottish Churches College in Calcutta in 1916. During his schooling, a marriage was arranged for him with an eleven-year-old girl named Radharani Datta, with whom he would not live for several years. They later had three children....

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Krishnamurti, Jiddu (11 May 1895–17 February 1986), celebrated spiritual teacher, was born in the southern Indian town of Madanapalle in what is now the state of Andhra Pradesh, the son of a brahmin, Jiddu Naraniah, and Sanjeevamma Jiddu. His father was a civil servant and dedicated Theosophist, who after his retirement moved his family to the headquarters estate of the Theosophical Society at Adyar, near Madras. The Theosophical Society, established by ...

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Prabhavananda (26 December 1893–04 July 1976), founder and spiritual leader of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, was born Abanindra Nath Ghosh in Surmanagar, India, a small village outside of Calcutta (parents’ names unknown). Like numerous other Indian saints, Swami Prabhavananda claimed to have been interested in religion even as a child. By the age of thirteen he had read the books of the Bengali saint, Ramakrishna, and had come into contact with one of his followers, Swami Sadananda, a disciple of Ramakrishna’s direct disciple, Swami Vivekananda. In 1911 Abanindra met his future teacher, Swami Brahmananda, another direct disciple of Ramakrishna, in the monastery of the Ramakrishna Order in Belur, on the Ganges. Before the religious life became Abanindra’s central preoccupation, however, he became active for a while in a subversive student group that was working covertly to bring about Indian independence from the British. He continued his studies, which focused on philosophy, at the University of Calcutta, where he received his B.A. in 1914. Abanindra dropped his political activities abruptly when he decided to join the monastery as Brahmananda’s disciple. He took his final vows and was given the honorific name Swami Prabhavananda by his teacher in 1921....

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Gail Hinich Sutherland

Rajneesh, Bhagwan (11 December 1931–19 January 1990), guru, was born Chandra Mohan Jain in Kuchwada village, Madhya Pradesh, India, the son of Babulal Jain, a cloth merchant, and Saraswati Jain. His family were members of the Jain religion, a non-Hindu minority of ancient origin. The name Rajneesh means, roughly, “lord of kings”; it is not known when he took the name. At Jabalpur University, Rajneesh acquired a reputation for being a passionate thinker, but he was also a lazy student and a troublemaker. This, coupled with his erratic physical and mental health, gave him and those around him reason to doubt his sanity. Ultimately, these problems were attributed to spiritual sensitivity. Indeed, on 21 March 1953 Rajneesh experienced “enlightenment.” Still, he continued his studies and received a B.A. in philosophy in 1955 and an M.A. in 1957. Starting in 1960 he taught philosophy at Jabalpur....

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Yogananda, Paramahansa (05 January 1893–07 March 1952), founder of the Self Realization Fellowship, was born Mukunda Lal Ghosh in Gorakhpur, a town near the Nepali border in northeastern India, the son of Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, a railway vice president, and Gurru (maiden name unknown)....