My First Lecture Tour
Daya Mata and her party left India in about September, 1959. Shortly thereafter I traveled to the Himalayas, where I made a quiet retreat near the village of Lohaghat, in the Almora district. Fern Hill Estate was a large property owned and managed by an English family. I had been invited to stay in a large house, unlived-in and somewhat abandoned in appearance, but perfect for the seclusion I was seeking. Complete silence, spiritual reading, and long hours of meditation prepared me for a lecture tour I was to begin in October.
The tour began in the town of Simla. My seclusion had proved deeply inspiring-indeed, life changing. The thought came to me one day in meditation to see Master as residing in my listeners. Thus, my service to both him and them could be given a single focus. What I would address, I decided, was not people’s personalities, but the soul within them that longed for release from the limitations of delusion. I would appeal to my Guru to enter their consciousness and transform it.
Speaking thus to people’s souls, I found I was reaching them on a deep level.
My visit to Simla gave me an opportunity to learn several important lessons. One of them concerned the need for promoting public lectures.
Though Master himself had used publicity to promote his “campaign” tours, I felt some hesitancy on this point. It was after my week in Simla that I became convinced of the need for publicity. Several people came to me on my last day there, literally in tears. “If only we’d known of your visit sooner!” they lamented. “Now it is too late.”
Another important discovery was the corroboration I found for my conviction that people didn’t need to be converted-except, as I put it, to their own higher Self. Binay-da especially, and also many of my fellow disciples, would, I knew, look askance at my representing a teaching without trying to convert people to it. They would have considered my approach, from the organization’s standpoint, “irresponsible.” Yet even in terms of their priorities, my approach was effective. Many more people were drawn to this path than would have been had my approach been sectarian. Because I clearly believed in this path as exemplifying universal truths, they also believed in it.
In my emphasis on universalizing truth, I also sought to show the relation between specifics and universals. Thus, I tried always, when telling a story, to show its broad, and then its immediate and practical, implications. I also tried to generalize my answers to people’s questions and comments, so as to help everyone in the room with my answer rather than satisfy only that particular person. In stories about Master, also, I tried to show what his example could signify for my listeners in their own lives.
It was important, I also realized, to show the link between the specific and the universal. I discovered that it helped never to tell a story that didn’t have some general import.
I was invited one afternoon to speak at a women’s college. The principal, during her introductory remarks, said, “When I was a young girl, I was taught whenever I saw a swami to fold my hands reverently and bow to him. Let us all welcome Swamiji in that spirit.”
In my reply I said, “If you bow to me as a human being, your respect is offered to someone as fallible as you are. But if you show it to the ideals I represent, then I must state that I, too, bow to those ideals. In return, I bow to all of you as images of the Divine Mother, whom I worship in my heart.”
I learned another priceless lesson, this one a technique for winning restive audiences.
It was another afternoon. My audience was to comprise the students at an all-men’s college. I misjudged the walking distance, and arrived a full twenty minutes late. The student body president, who had invited me, met me on the street, his entire demeanor expressing agitation. His voice shaking, he tried to dissuade me from proceeding with the program.
“Can you hear them up there?” he asked. Indeed, on the hilltop above us there was a rising swell of hundreds of voices raised in angry protest. Feet were pounding loudly on the floor. The occasion seemed to me definitely inauspicious.
“It isn’t only that you’re late, Swamiji, and that this is the final function of the day before they leave for their villages. The boys have also just finished signing a petition in blood in protest against China’s recent incursions onto Indian soil.”
Indignation at China’s totally unexpected aggression was readily understandable. Simla was near the Tibetan border, whence the incursions had come.
“Swamiji,” pleaded my host, “let me cancel your lecture.”
“But I’ve given my promise. I must honor it, if only with a brief appearance.”
“My fear, sir, is that they may not honor you!”
Nevertheless, I climbed the hill and climbed up onto the platform, smiling. The college principal nervously introduced me, then sat down. I think I recall him mopping his brow. The boys looked up at me with expressions that implied, “This is the last straw!”
Obviously, unusual tactics were called for. I reasoned that if I started right in with a dissertation on yoga, I would soon find myself facing hundreds of highly vocal critics. Instead, I launched into a denunciation of China’s incursions: the topic concerning which their interest was already fully aroused.
My opening was unexpected, and most welcome. I soon found them nodding their heads in agreement as I presented arguments that, I hoped, hadn’t even occurred to them. Soon their sympathies were wholly on my side.
I slid gradually into my announced topic: yoga. I emphasized that the lack of peace in the world is due largely to the peacelessness human beings experience in themselves. Yoga, I said, is a panacea for world unrest. What, I asked, had China shown that it could give the world? An oppressive political system, and a readiness to dominate others through warfare. India must of course defend herself; the Bhagavad Gita sanctions defensive war. But what unique gift had India to give the world? It might rightly be summed up in a single word: yoga, and the inner peace that develops with yoga practice. I emphasized the power of inner peace to effect beneficial outward changes in the world.
When I finished, the pandemonium began again-but this time it was a pandemonium of applause. The students wouldn’t let me go. They plied me with question after question. After half an hour the principal stood up and pleaded with them to stop asking so many questions. “The buses are ready to leave for your villages,” he cried repeatedly. “If this goes on any longer, you will miss them.” Eventually, concerned over those waiting buses, I myself declared, “I’m sorry, but I’ll answer no more questions.”
Patiala and Chandigarh
From Simla I traveled to Patiala, a city in the Punjab. Here I stayed in the large compound that belonged to the home of Dewan Balkishen Khosla, the former chief minister to the Maharaja of Patiala. My lectures were held in the public library, which filled to overflowing every evening, thereby breaking all records for attendance. No doubt it was the unusual fact of being an “American yogi” that drew people initially. What kept them coming, however, was Master’s emphasis on the up-to-date practicality of the yoga teachings, and their compatibility with the findings of modern science. People were used to hearing lectures on spiritual topics supported by lengthy scriptural quotations.
A representative from nearby Mahendra College asked me if I would consent to speak to their student body, and I accepted. Many of the faculty members, and many more students influenced by their teachers, were dedicated communists and scorned anything that smacked of religion-that “opiate of the people.” They despised anyone who believed in God. This, I was warned, was not a tame audience. Guest speakers had been known to be shouted off the platform. Conservative elements in the college, not wanting to see this foreign visitor disgraced, urged me to cancel my appearance. I insisted on honoring my commitment, however.
To play it safe, the principal decided to invite only the faculty and the graduate students. The hostile professors, pledged at first to treat me with courtesy as a foreigner, soon began hurling questions that were designed to embarrass and confuse me. I answered them calmly, with a smile. Several of their questions I was able to turn back against them, much to their discomfiture when everyone else laughed.
“How can you stand there and talk so confidently about God’s love,” one of them asked scoffingly, “when science hasn’t even proved that there is a God?”
“I certainly can’t offer proof of God’s existence,” I replied. “But I do know this: What I seek in life, and what I think we all seek, is happiness. I have found that when I experience love, I am happy; when I don’t experience it, I am unhappy. Loving expands my sympathies; lack of it contracts them. If in the continued expansion of love I choose to see a demonstration of God’s existence, where is the harm? You can have your definitions. I prefer to concentrate on what I’ve found by experience. Frankly, I think what we all want in life is not theories, but love.” The audience laughed appreciatively. That professor, whether silenced or won over (I’ve no idea which), asked no more questions.
The graduate students were delighted. But the undergraduates launched a protest at having been, as they felt, discriminated against. A day or two later, a much larger gathering was convened for me out of doors. This one, the whole student body attended.
The principal later asked me how they might include Master’s yoga teachings in their curriculum. Alas, I couldn’t suggest a way. Here I saw demonstrated, indeed, the need for an efficient organization behind what I was presenting. We had the organization. We were still far from having the requisite efficiency.
I was invited also to address a college in Chandigarh. This city, designed by the French architect Le Corbusier, struck me as wholly inappropriate to the Indian landscape. Its straight lines and sharp angles are far too Western for the soft roundness of India’s ancient civilization. Indian consciousness is not rough-hewn, like a rock newly fallen into a river bed. It is a stone rounded after centuries of erosion by the waters of time. A Parsi architect, Mr. Ghista, the acting architect of Patiala (he was designated “acting” only because he hadn’t yet obtained the necessary university degree) impressed me as the kind of architect India needs. His buildings were modern, yet simple, and graceful, with long, sweeping curves that hinted at an inherent ability to adjust to life’s vicissitudes.
In Chandigarh, it seemed to me that even the students had assumed into their consciousness some of the unfeeling efficiency that Indian officialdom was trying to assume in its efforts to become Westernized.
I returned first to Patiala, then proceeded to New Delhi.
SRF/YSS had a small center in New Delhi at that time. The members there showed a hesitation over my coming similar to that which I’d encountered in Auckland and Sydney: the fear that whatever I said would fail to have universal appeal.
“Let us plan for a large audience,” I said to them on my arrival.
“Yes, Swamiji,” they replied. “We can get a school room for about thirty people.”
“Thirty people? I was thinking in somewhat larger terms. We’ll need a large tent.”
“A tent? A large-tent?” They looked shocked, as though made suddenly aware that the difference between the Americans and the British was that the Americans were mad. Very reluctantly, under my prodding, they rented a tent large enough for eighteen hundred people, and set it up in an empty field in Main Vinaynagar, a community in an outlying district of the city. Printed posters were put up. My hope was that a sufficient number of people would be intrigued at the prospect of hearing a talk by an “American yogi” to fill the tent. Indeed, I had felt the inner guidance to get a tent this size.
The afternoon of the lecture arrived-dreaded by our members. Our little flock gloomily anticipated the worst. I meditated beforehand in a house adjoining the field, where one of the members lived. Four o’clock arrived, the hour of my scheduled appearance. The center leader knocked timidly on my door.
“We have a good crowd, Swamiji,” he announced miserably. “About one hundred people.” One hundred, in a tent large enough to hold eighteen hundred! This could not in any way be called a “good crowd.” It was disastrous. I asked him to wait. Seven minutes passed; the crowd had increased to two hundred. Later I learned that another member had been walking back and forth outside the tent moaning, “Our reputation will be ruined!”
“Let us wait a little longer,” I repeated.
At the fifteen minute mark the crowd had swelled to six hundred. Rising from my seat, I agreed to begin.
Indians are not known for their punctuality. By the time I reached my dais in the tent the crowd had swollen to two thousand. The tent was full to overflowing.
And I learned something more during this lecture: It is easier to unite two thousand people in a single vibration than it is only six people. The enthusiasm was so great that most of those present attended the follow-up series of classes, also.
Word of this “American yogi’s” lectures spread rapidly through northern India, along with the news that he was making the ancient teachings attractive to the modern mind. Invitations began to pour in from all over. I spoke in East Patelnagar, at Birla Temple, and in other parts of the city. Thousands came. In addition to classes I gave Kriya Yoga initiations. Soon it was obvious that the indifference I’d been shown in Bengal was by no means the reaction of India as a whole. Clearly, a definite place existed in India’s heart for Master’s teachings.