I Return to America
I returned to America in April, 1960, for a visit. Stopping off in Japan on the way, I visited some of its famous gardens and had “darshan,” as they put it in India, of the huge statue of Buddha at Kamakura.
My return to Mt. Washington lingers fondly in my memory: the love of my brother monks, the enthusiasm and affection of the members in our Hollywood church, Daya Mata welcoming me joyfully, eager for news of developments in the work she had left with such a heavy heart only eight months before. I was happy to be the bearer of good tidings. Things were looking up there, I told her. She was delighted to hear my description of the tour in northern India.
When I told her of my proposal for building an ashram in New Delhi, she pondered the matter, then said, “It is an idea worth pursuing.” She added:
“Stay in touch with Binay. Work with him.” I assured her that this I intended to do.
While I was in Japan I received a cablegram from Mt. Washington informing me of Dr. Lewis’s passing. I was sorry for the loss not only of a friend, but of one more man among the old-time disciples. Dr. Lewis had been an example to us all of sincere loyalty to the guru and of depth of realization. I’ll never forget the longing in his eyes, once, as he spoke to me of being with Master again.
Shortly after my return to Mt. Washington I was voted into his place on the Board of Directors and as the first vice president. It was Tara Mata who proposed the appointment, based on her reading of my horoscope. (Later, again based on her reading of the same horoscope, she demanded my dismissal from SRF.) Well, I suppose I was the natural choice anyway. I was the head monk, the director of center activities, and had been described a year earlier by Daya Mata as the senior minister of SRF. A man was needed for the Board, which otherwise would have consisted of only women.
Much of my time in America was spent in discussions with Daya Mata about our work in India. I also spent time with the monks, and spoke at several of our churches. Memories come crowding in now, most of them filled with joy.
Most of them … but not all. At this time a cloud entered my life, and posed a serious threat to my spiritual development. It represented the commonest of all obstacles on the path.
Romance was not a part of our way of life. We were renunciates, dedicated to the single life in our service of God. But we were human beings also, and not immune to normal human feelings. The important thing was that we sublimate those feelings in our love for God-our Divine Mother, rather than any human beloved. For many, this was not an easy task. Our American upbringing militated against outer renunciation. Our culture, in the form of countless influences, militated against it. These were difficult influences to combat.
I myself had had two crosses to bear in my self: spiritual doubt, which by this time I had for the most part overcome, and the desire for sex and romance, over which I felt by this time that I’d achieved at least noteworthy victory. The tendency toward spiritual doubt lingered still in my subconscious, however; it emerged occasionally in the form of bouts of self-doubt. And the desire for human love, though no longer mixed, to my conscious awareness, with physical desire, yet found expression in the thought that human love was an attractive manifestation of love itself, the “divine passion.”
Master had occasionally discussed this aspect of cosmic delusion with me. Certain of my readers may be displeased to see it described as a delusion, but indeed, anything that can divert the mind from one-pointed focus on God, the Sole Reality, deserves no other description. Master assured me, however, that I would win out over this universal foe.
Self-doubt impelled me once to ask him to whom I might go for counseling on this issue, when he was no longer with us.
“Speak of it to no one,” he replied.
“Not even to Dr. Lewis? to St. Lynn?”
“No,” he replied firmly. “No one. You have a great work to do, and no one must know.”
Though it is my nature to be frank and open-to a fault, Master sometimes said-I have always honored these words of his, and have said nothing about this matter. I mention it here only because of a determined campaign that has recently been launched by my enemies to destroy me through lies and innuendoes.
Master himself reassured me, “You will be all right,” whenever I spoke to him on the subject. “This tendency isn’t deep in you. Be strong in yourself.”
I valued renunciation not only in the abstract, but as a personal ideal. When I took my vows in 1955 as a swami, however, it was not a declaration, “I am free!” Rather, it was an affirmation, “I will do my utmost to become completely free in this life.” Sometimes I would fantasize that on my deathbed I would joyfully realize that I was free at last from this greatest of all delusions.
For who doesn’t have it, in one form or another? Master was praising one of the monks to a small group in Encinitas, saying, “Look at him. He feels no attraction to the opposite sex.”
One of the young men in the group, new to the monastery, said, “Yeah, Sir, but look at him. It’s because he ain’t got no energy.”
“That’s the truth!” Master admitted with chuckle.
People who expect perfection from those who have embraced the path of renunciation do not themselves realize how difficult such perfection is to achieve. A young woman at the Hollywood church used to mock me for maintaining a certain distance between us. “There’s a young man in my office,” she chided me, “who never shows any interest in us girls, yet he’s perfectly natural with us. What’s wrong with you? Are you weaker than he is? He isn’t even on the spiritual path!”
Refusing to be drawn into an argument, I remained silent. But I thought, “And what do you know about this man’s life outside the office? He probably has a girlfriend to whom he is completely loyal.”
One of the young women in the church told Meera Mata one day, “That Kriyananda! He’s the cutest thing on two legs.”
Meera told me about it later. “Miss Baldwin,” she’d replied indignantly, “Our ministers don’t …”
“have legs!” I finished for her. We had a good laugh about it. But certainly the rule about our maintaining a certain distance from women was less for our reputations than for our own spiritual safety.
Most women, fortunately, respected my impersonality, and made no attempt to draw me out of it.
“The important thing,” Master told us, “is never to admit defeat. If ever you say, ‘I am lost,’ it will be so, at least for this incarnation. But if you keep on making the effort to be good, God will never let you down. No matter how many times you fail, get up and try again. Always remember this: A saint is a sinner who never gave up.”
Virtue is not static. Usually it should be defined by the direction toward which one is growing. To criticize others is to draw to oneself, by the inexorability of karmic law, the very fault one has presumed to criticize in others.
“Intense love in the heart,” Ananda Moyi Ma had warned me, “can flow down the spine as well as up it.” Was it foresight that had caused her to utter these words?
There was a nun at Mt. Washington who had once harshly criticized another nun for leaving the ashram and marrying. The karma for that criticism now became her nemesis. She fell in love with me. The anguish on her countenance and in her eyes was too much for me. This was a weakness of mine: I couldn’t bear to see another person suffer. Before I knew it, I found myself drawn into an emotion that I had hoped to have left behind me forever. I struggled against it, but to no avail.
It is not difficult to fall into a ditch. The difficulty lies in climbing out of it. What with the intense feeling of abandonment I experienced, years later, in my dismissal from SRF, the loneliness of that period of my life, the absence of any external support for my longing to live for God alone, it was many years before I achieved true freedom again in my heart-a freedom greater, with God’s grace, than any I’d ever known previously.
Just see the heart-rending twists of fate: This very nun became, years later (perhaps in attempted expiation of her own sin), utterly dedicated to my undoing.
How to account for the bitter ironies of life? A few evenings ago I was watching the movie “Casablanca” on video. How sweet seemed human love in that story,-how sweet, that is, for a time. And how inevitable, perhaps just because of its sweetness, was the story’s ending in tragic unfulfillment! Such always, whether late or soon, is life’s drama. When I first met Master, I said to him, “I don’t see marriage for myself. For others it may be fine.” He answered me promptly by pointing out how disappointing human love is for everyone, eventually. This world is set up in such a way that only God’s love, finally, can satisfy the heart, for only God’s love is real. Only God, truly, is forever our own.
Meanwhile, to learn that lesson to our very core, how many heartaches must we endure! How many almost unbearable hurts! How many betrayals!
Lest any reader of these pages think my relationship with this nun was the cause of my later dismissal from SRF, I hasten to add that it was never known to others. The reasons for my separation from the organization will be explained later, in another chapter. Define them how one will (it may be stated here), they were essentially political.
That relationship may, however, have had an indirect influence on what happened, for it threw me into a state of inner confusion and despair. I knew I wanted only God. I had no intention of leaving my quest for Him for any lesser attraction. But how could I manage to realign my heart’s feelings so that all its energies flowed once again upward, toward Him alone?
I had said once to Master, “I would commit suicide rather than fall into temptation!”
“Why do you speak of suicide?” he asked me, scoldingly. “Keep on trying your best. You will come out of it in the end.”
Suicide, then, wasn’t an option for me, though there were times when it appeared attractive. I would simply have to learn to live with myself and do what I could with the tools I had (my outer traits, that is to say, whether good or bad). I would not allow this flaw to become an obsession. If the battle proved too difficult to win for now, there were others I could fight that, in the process of fighting, would develop my strength to face the greater battles.
I, too, like Tara, had an artistic temperament, with the weakness that often accompanies it of finding inspiration in romantic moods. The essential thing was to direct those moods toward love for God alone.
Fortunately, I have also been blessed with an ability to separate myself from my heart’s feelings. Even during times when outer tests have brought me the greatest pain and suffering, for example, my ability to compose happy music or to write or teach with a consciousness of inner joy has remained unaffected.
Thus, though I went through much soul-searching and anguish, my months in America were on the whole positive and joyful. Daya Mata and I discussed, as I said, the situation in India. She endorsed my proposal for starting an ashram in New Delhi. Though we discussed other matters, especially her wish that I support Binay-da, paramount in her eyes seemed to be that I continue my efforts to reach out to people through lecturing.
This left a need for another monk to be sent to India to help with the work at our national headquarters. The monk I would have liked to work with was Stanley Guy (now Brother Achalananda), with whom I had a friendly relationship. Tara, however, reading horoscopes again, told me, “Allen Marsh is the one to be with you. Your horoscopes are compatible.” My heart sank. Allen (Brother Sarvananda) was the main one of all the monks who had been the most prompt to go over my head on the slightest difference of opinion. Still, Allen it was to be. “It’s all a cosmic dream,” I reminded myself. I wasn’t going to place my personal wishes over what others thought best for the work.
As things turned out, my fears proved fully justified. Allen, once he realized which way the wind was blowing for me, did his utmost to undermine my position and to place a negative twist on everything I said and did in his reports to Mt. Washington. These reports were later quoted to me in “proof” of my wrongdoing.
I returned to India in the fall of 1960 by way of Europe, where I visited our centers in England, France, Switzerland, and Italy. From Europe I went to Israel, where I toured Galilee and visited a kibbutz. So many stories I could tell! The apparent miracle, for example, over the Mount of Transfiguration in Israel; my impressions of the Israeli kibbutz; the tragic consequences to our work in Europe of Tara’s dismissal of our main leader there; my first exposure to Italy, Italians, and the Italian language; my visit to Sri Lanka and the time I spent there with my parents, who were then on an around-the-world tour-even my brief impressions of Iran, where I stopped for an afternoon on my way to Sri Lanka (or Ceylon, as it was called then). But I must stick to my theme no matter how tempting it is to follow these detours.
From Sri Lanka I flew to Madras. I had two hopes in mind: one, a few days of seclusion prior to resuming my work for YSS; and, two, a visit to Sri Rama Yogi, known as Yogi Ramiah to readers of Paul Brunton’s book, A Search in Secret India. Master had met Yogi Ramiah at Ramana Maharshi’s ashram during his 1935 return to India. Speaking to me of that meeting, Master told me, “We walked about the ashram hand in hand. If I’d had another half hour in his company, I could never have brought myself to leave India again. He was a great and fully liberated soul.” This was more than Master had said about Ramana Maharshi himself.
“Paul Brunton,” Master added, “later told me that Yogi Ramiah had materialized before him and requested a photograph of me.”
I traveled to Nellore, then out to the little village of Buchireddypalayam, where Sri Rama Yogi (as he was now known) resided. Again, I would love to describe this four-day visit in detail. Some day, perhaps. For the purposes of these pages, however, it is best that I limit myself to one snippet from our conversations.
Sri Rama Yogi had received several letters from Daya Mata. “What are her responsibilities?” he asked me.
I explained her worldwide duties as president of SRF/YSS.
“What a burden!” he exclaimed, dismayed for her.
“But, Sir,” I protested, “to speak of her duties only as a burden would imply it was bad karma that raised her to that position. It might even imply that the main requirement for the position of president in a spiritual organization be that one have sufficiently bad karma for the job!”
Rama Yogi smiled. “Of course I didn’t mean it that way. Rather, she has the good karma to have been placed in a position where she can work out certain outward tendencies more quickly. But that doesn’t mean that being the president is in itself a good karma. For others, such a position wouldn’t be fortunate at all; if it didn’t coincide with their own karmic needs, it would be only a burden. For Daya Mata, it is a burden also, but one that can also help and strengthen her.”
Back in Madras, a fervent prayer to Babaji opened up for me a house in Kodaikanal in the Nilgiri mountains, where I spent ten days in seclusion. And then it was on to Calcutta.