Getting My "Sea Legs"
The goal of this book is to take the reader down the road to a place that has become known in the world as Ananda: a community (now there are several of them) and a religious mission dedicated to spreading the message of unity in religion, and of Self-realization, as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. Ananda, a Sanskrit word, means divine joy. The Ananda communities are spiritual havens for thousands of people, some hundreds of whom live there, while others are associated with them and with the work Yogananda has given me to create. Many people visit these communities from all over the world, or are helped through the internet and through our outreach programs, as well as through my books and recordings: three million-or-so copies sold of over seventy books and over 300 pieces of music; nearly 200 editions published or under contract in eighty-two countries (at the present writing), and in twenty-some languages.
“Living Wisdom” schools thrive under Ananda’s sponsorship-though not under its control. The schools are based on principles that I outlined in a book, Education for Life, which has been received favorably by educators in America and abroad. Thousands visit Ananda’s retreat facilities annually at The Expanding Light near Nevada City, California, and at Ananda Assisi near Assisi, Italy. Some sixty-five meditation groups in America and abroad serve as channels of teaching and inspiration for spiritual seekers in their own areas. The creative and enthusiastic activity of Ananda members keeps this movement vital and growing. A continuous stream of letters, telephone calls, and testimonials attest to people’s deep gratitude for Ananda’s role in their lives.
In short, Ananda’s is a success story-a success achieved in the face of what at first seemed overwhelming odds, and of trials that sometimes shook it to its foundations, but that were conquered by faith, devotion, and hard work.
I’ve said all this not to boast, but because the reader may like to know in advance where, generally, this book is headed: whether toward tragedy, or toward a happy ending. It is an adventure story, reminiscent in some ways of the communitarian efforts of the early Pilgrim Fathers in America; and of the move westward, later, to open up new territory and seek a better way of living. The finis of this story, like that of America, is victory.
I ended Part One with what looked personally like devastation. It resembled, in a way, the bombing of Pearl Harbor: unexpected, and meant to force sudden and complete defeat. That raid, however, was only the beginning of World War II in the Pacific. Much followed, ending in America’s victory and-dare I hope for a similar ending to my story?-the conversion of the attackers to friendship and to peaceful, world-embracing ways.
To change the metaphor, you who read this may want to know early what kind of carpet I’m weaving. Will it be in dark colors, or in bright? Will it be sad, or triumphant? In fact, as you will find, it contains many colors, all of which I hope will not only please you, but will deepen your faith. To me it has been a wonderful and rewarding experience. As I look at Ananda today, I am deeply grateful for everything that happened. For Ananda has developed into a wonderful way of life. It has drawn to me thousands of devotees and true friends. And it has given all of us the chance to share with millions of others the truths I received from my Guru. The story of Ananda has been many times over worth the struggle and sacrifice that brought it into being. I look back on the years of uncertainty and doubt, and think what a privilege and joy they have been for me.
Many threads went into the making of this carpet. All of them were important to the overall design.
My departure from SRF seemed to me an unalloyed defeat. I had been thrown out, excluded from everything I believed in and loved in life. I had been warned under pain of dire retribution to sever every bond with the past. “Never again set foot on any SRF property. Never contact any SRF member. Never let anyone even know you are Yogananda’s disciple. Never ever again expect in any way to serve his work or his teachings. Never again lecture in public. Never …”-what, I asked myself:-breathe? As Tara put it to me, “From now on we want to forget you ever lived.” When I asked her, “But what shall I do? My whole life is dedicated to serving my Guru!” she replied casually, “Just take any job that comes along.”
Master had predicted to me, “Your life is one of intense activity-and meditation.” Tara wanted me to refrain from spiritual activity altogether, except meditation. Master had been thinking of my spiritual development. Tara had been trying only to get me “out of their hair.” Was it possible that she’d seen me in a truer light than he? Had I, perhaps-to lend credence to such a possibility-gone downhill spiritually in the ten years since his death, to the point where my service to his work was a menace to it, not an asset? I had developed the organization in many of its aspects: the monks’ way of life, the head office, the centers, the public services, the lay disciple order. In India I had, provisionally at least, re-organized all of the lessons. It had been my ardent desire to make Master’s name, life, and teachings known in India, and I had labored incessantly toward that end. Even if, as Tara proclaimed, my motives were “most impure” (I was convinced they were not), did not all that work count at least a little bit in my favor?
Evidently not. When Tara “ousted me,” as she put it, she heaved a dramatic sigh of relief saying, “Never again will we have to listen to the projects concocted in that fertile brain of yours.”
I have always been divided inwardly as to how to direct my energies. One inclination has been a deep desire for the hermit’s life. The other inclination, equally deep, has been a longing to help others who suffered from spiritual doubt and lack of high purpose in their lives. Master had encouraged me in this second direction. I remember him saying to me once, “No more moods now, Walter. Otherwise, how will you be able to help others?”
In the matter of work, I had often felt as though I were sitting on a volcano, unable to repress the creative pressure within me. To Tara and to some of the others, this creative urge was merely a proof of my strong ego. “Why must he keep coming up with new ideas?” they’d ask each other. “Can’t he just humbly wait for us to tell him what to do?” Enthusiasm, however, was basic to my nature. To suppress it would take more egoic effort, it seemed to me, than simply to let it flow. I didn’t see the things I’d done as self-expression, but only as expressing the energy, enthusiasm, and inspiration I had received from God.
This dilemma wasn’t resolved by their dismissal of me. In time, I concluded that, since Master’s words, “Your life is one of intense activity,” had been meant as a direction for the whole of my life, I must always heed them. “Intense activity” had seemed a command, not a prediction. The question before me now was, “What activity?” Even to ponder this question, I needed to get back to my own center. This, to me, meant going first into seclusion.
On the other hand, if I’d really disappointed Master, then perhaps his plans for me had changed. In his commentaries on the New Testament of the Bible, he’d written, of Judas after the Crucifixion, that instead of hanging himself for having betrayed Jesus he should have devoted the rest of his life to seclusion, meditating on God. Tara had called me a Judas. If my actions really were a betrayal of my Guru, or even a disappointment to him, perhaps he’d want me to do likewise. Tara, certainly, would be relieved if I did. Was a hermit’s calling what Master wanted for me, now? I admit I hoped so. I was too deeply hurt to want to face anyone. If this was what he wanted, however, no doors opened to welcome me into that garden. I tried my best to find a place for seclusion: Every door to it was locked even as I turned the handle. The only doors that opened, with many a push from behind to pass through them, were toward lecturing, writing, and “city streets”: that “intense activity,” in other words, which Master had told me was to be my way of life.
Meanwhile, I had to adjust to the dramatically changed circumstances in my life. I also needed to redefine my relationship to those I had considered dear friends, and not only my seniors in discipleship. The worst of it for me was that I still loved and respected them. Could I really deserve the amazing things they had said to me? No one had ever accused me of anything remotely similar. Master himself had told me what he wanted me to do. It had been in a tone of command, not of compliment, that he’d said, “Walter, you have a great work to do.” He had expressed confidence in my ability to serve his cause. In fact, everything he’d told me contradicted the things Tara was saying. Whom was I to believe? Yogananda was my guru; I hadn’t ceased to be his disciple.
It is normal to try to justify oneself. This I simply refused to do. I felt it was important to be completely truthful-with myself as much as with others. Continued wandering in delusion held all the attraction, for me, of a nightmare. Indeed, the very subtlety of delusion’s power terrified me. To my thinking, it would be ridiculous to turn away huffily with injured pride, as if to say, “Well, I’ll show them! ” However common such a reaction, I felt no inclination toward it. And I determined that, no matter what I did, it would not be in reaction to anything external to myself. I would be guided by what I felt inwardly to be right and true.
In every crisis in life, one faces at least two alternatives. The first is, by means of that crisis, to grow spiritually. The second is to accept defeat. Master had said, “God will never let you down so long as you make the effort. If ever you tell yourself, however, ‘I’ve failed!’ it will be so for this lifetime, anyway.”
There is, of course, a third alternative: revenge. But this was an absurd choice, and not even tempting for me. It would only drive more nails into the coffin of delusion. Master said also, “Circumstances are always neutral. It is how you react to them that makes them seem either happy or sad.” I was blessed by this supreme crisis in my life to learn many lessons from it. I think what I learned may also help others in their own trials. For I don’t in any way consider my case unique in the intensity of pain it caused me. Every human being faces suffering, loss, disdain, and self-doubt in his life. What I was able to learn will help, moreover, to explain certain aspects of the story of Ananda, and will give an important clue to its eventual success. For what made Ananda possible was not money or influence or scientific gadgetry (such as solar energy): Primarily, it was attitude. Ananda means joy. What made Ananda possible was, above all, the determination to make inner joy a priority.
SRF’s rejection of me had no impact, fortunately, on my dedication to Master’s teachings or to him as my Guru. My superiors claimed that I’d failed. Much more important to me was the question: had I failed my Guru? I could not honestly accept that my work in India had been a mistake-except in its personal consequences for me. What I’d accomplished seemed to me still a wonderful thing. The SRF directors’ judgment of the Delhi project, and of me in consequence, seemed to be coming from a different set of priorities altogether-priorities that I couldn’t for the life of me even comprehend.
My faith in what I’d done, however, left me in the “Wonderful Land of What Might Have Been,” as my father put it. How should I proceed now, in “real life”?
My first step had to be to find my own center again, and not react to these events like a weather vane, turning with the shift of wind. The way others treated me was their business. The way I behaved toward them, and my reaction to their treatment, was my own.
Should I stop loving them, merely because they rejected me? The best reason for loving others, I reflected, is not because they love us, but because love is a gift we all have to give, freely and spontaneously. Love is not something bought in a shop, or bargained for like a merchant: “Love me, and I’ll love you as much in return.” I was simply happier, giving love, than I could possibly be in withdrawing it. Were I to stop loving now, merely because I’d been rejected, I would only lose twice!
Master, I reflected, was always wholeheartedly charitable to all. He demonstrated perfect respect for everyone’s individuality. I’d never seen him subordinate a person’s spiritual needs to the needs of the organization. Moreover, he had told Daya Mata, “When I am gone, only love can take my place.” Love and respect, then, must be my own guidelines.
Tara had spoken of my “atrocious personality.” Well, apart from the fact I’d attracted many friends in my life, if by “atrocious” she meant something different from being liked by people, the least I could do was what Master always did, and in my case do it more than ever: put other people’s needs ahead of anything I might want of them. Thus, later on when creating Ananda, one of the basic principles I insisted on was: “People are more important than things.”
Above all, now, contemplating the choices before me, my firm resolution was to continue my quest for God. This would be the foundation upon which I’d raise any structure I was called on to construct in my life. My Guru had given me specific guidelines. To obey these also, then, was a priority.
On the other hand, wisdom dictated that I adjust my activities to any reasonable advice I received from others, particularly from SRF’s directors. Was Tara’s advice reasonable? The fact that she’d not allowed me to reason with her in return, but had instantly denounced the attempt (“I don’t want your opinions!”), made it clear that it wasn’t even her intention to be reasonable. Was she, then, being intuitive from such a deep level of insight that there was no need for reason at all? So she claimed, but it certainly didn’t seem so to me. Intuition ought to meet common sense half way; it is never unreasonable. Everything Tara had said seemed beyond reason, certainly, but not above it. Moreover, what she had said flew in the face of the guidance Master himself had given me. I resolved, however, all the same to give her every benefit of the doubt, and to do anything she advised that seemed within reason. I wouldn’t let myself believe Tara really wanted my destruction.
An essential key to right living is to be guided by that which increases one’s sense of inner freedom. In this freedom, moreover, there should be a sense of expansive happiness. Does this teaching seem self-centered? I’m not speaking of selfishness . Selfishness is the complete opposite of centeredness in the divine Self. Yogananda praised “divine selfishness” as a key to right, spiritual action. Always, he said, we should ask, “What can I gain, spiritually, from this situation?” For without inner development, what have we to give anyone? We are responsible above all for ourselves. This means among other things being responsible for our own reactions to life. If those reactions give us no inner happiness, it is a sure sign that they are misguided, and will be of no use to us.
Anger, for example, would only have buried in the soil of my subconscious the hurt I felt. Too much was at stake, I felt, for me to shove it out of sight and pretend the problem didn’t exist.
People sometimes asked me why I was living with my parents now, instead of in the monastery. Many others in my position would have tried to justify themselves. I refused to do so. I didn’t say I’d left for any of the various reasons that I could easily have invented. Instead, I replied frankly, “I was kicked out.” I knew that there were some who would say-if not to me, then to one another-“He must have done something terrible for them to throw him out.” I preferred calumny against me to telling a lie. The calumny was, I knew, in any case inevitable.
For a time, I actually had to remind myself that the Bhagavad Gita says, “The soul cannot be destroyed. It is a part of God, who is immortal.” No fault, then, however damnable, can forever cloud our true Self. If I really was as bad as Tara insisted, then the only thing for me to do was continue doing my best to be better.
One thing she would never be able to take away from me: my longing for God. She had denounced me as insincere. Well, apart from the fact that I had heard Master say to a monk who had criticized me, “Walter is very sincere!” I had to accept that it was God, through my Guru, whom I needed to satisfy.
I had given my life to serving my Guru. To me, this had once meant serving his organization. SRF, for me, however, had always stood for something far deeper than an institution. Above all, it stood for the message Paramhansa Yogananda had brought to the world. When I first came to him in 1948, for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me, while reading his autobiography, that he even had an organization. I wonder, now, whether I’d even have gone to him, had I heard first of the organization. It was his spirit and the magnificent sweep of his teachings that always attracted me. I accepted the organization, once I’d met him, but only because I so wholeheartedly accepted him.