Ronald Henry Nixon, more commonly called Ronald Nixon, was born in Cheltenham, England, in and educated in Taunton. His mother was a Christian Scientist and his father was reportedly in the glass and china business.
At age 18, Nixon became a British fighter pilot in the First World War. On one occasion, he experienced an escape from death that he believed was miraculous, in which a "power beyond our ken" saved him from several enemy planes. His experiences of death and destruction during the war filled him with a "sense of futility and meaninglessness".
After the war, Nixon enrolled in King's College, Cambridge, where he studied English literature. During this period Nixon also studied philosophy, and became acquainted with Theosophy, Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, Buddhism, and Pali, and developed an interest in going to India to learn more about the practical aspects of Indian religion.
Life in India
In 1921, while still in England, Nixon accepted the offer of a teaching position at the University of Lucknow, in northern India. As it turned out, the university's vice chancellor, Gyanendra Nath Chakravarti, was also spiritually inclined and interested in Theosophy, and offered Nixon assistance. Over time, Nixon came to regard Gyanendra's wife, Monika Chakravarti, as his spiritual teacher. In 1928, Monika took vows of renunciation in the Gaudiya Vaishnavite tradition, where these vows are called vairagya. She adopted the monastic name of Yashoda Ma. Soon thereafter, she initiated Nixon into vairagya, and he adopted Krishna Prem as his monastic name.
In 1930, Yashoda Ma and Krishna Prem together founded an ashram at Mirtola, near Almora, in mountainous north-central India (state of Uttarakhand). The ashram "began and has continued to be" aligned with strict orthodox Vaishnavism. In 1944, Yashoda Ma died and Krishna Prem succeeded her as head of the ashram. He travelled little, but in 1948 he visited South India, meeting Sri Ramana Maharshi, as well as Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa ("The Mother"). Sardella states that Nixon appears to have been "the first European to embrace Vaishnavism in India". Haberman states that Nixon "was perhaps the first Westerner to tread the path of Krishna-bhakti, and was certainly the first to have any official affiliation with the Gaudiya Vaishnavism of Braj."
Krishna Prem, despite his English origins, became widely accepted and admired in the Indian Hindu community. Brooks wrote that "Krishna Prem's evident intellectual and inspirational qualities gained him wide fame and many disciples in India, as reflected in numerous books on his life and teachings." Gertrude Emerson Sen wrote that "I know of no other person like Krishnaprem, himself 'foreign' to begin with, who has drawn so many Indians to himself". His biographer Dilip Kumar Roy wrote that Krishnaprem "had given a filip [stimulus] to my spiritual aspiration".
Haberman wrote that Krishna Prem "was recognized as a Hindu saint by many Indians of his day."When Nixon died in 1965, he was hailed by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, then president of India, as a "great soul". Nixon's final words were "my ship is sailing".