Seclusion vs. Outward Activity
Living at my parents’ home necessitated my fitting in with their lifestyle. This wasn’t always easy. My father, especially, had no understanding of the life of a devotee. I remember him entering my room one evening without knocking. I was meditating, and had lit a stick of incense to provide a spiritual atmosphere. Without apology he remarked, “It smells like a lady’s toilet in here!” Of course, I stopped inflicting incense on them from then on, which was probably all he’d wanted.
I tried to fit in. Certainly, however, our priorities differed. I served them as well as I could, and told myself that in doing so I was serving God. Much of the time, however, I simply lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling.
One evening Dad and Mother announced they’d been invited by friends of theirs, the Watson Deftys, to their home for cocktails. They asked me if I’d like to join them. The Deftys lived a short distance up the road. “Why not?” I thought. Anything, surely, was better than lying here, doing nothing!
The cocktail parties my parents gave, and occasionally attended elsewhere, were of the usual sort: people standing around talking, drinking, and laughing. At these events I’d hold a glass of water in my hand and let people believe, if they liked, that I was “nursing” a glass of gin.
Among the guests this evening were a couple from Bengal, India, named Dr. Haridas and Mrs. Bina Chaudhuri. I knew nothing about them, but was delighted to have a chance to speak Bengali again as a sweet reminder of the years I had lived there. The Chaudhuris responded with friendliness and charm. After a while they expressed amazement that I could actually carry on a conversation in their language, and not merely offer the usual contribution to international amity by saying, “ Kamon achhen (How are you)?” They asked me my name. When I told them they cried, “Kriyananda! Why, we have the records you made of Yogananda’s chants! Oh, please, you have to come and sing for our reunion honoring Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday in October.” They had, they informed me, an ashram in San Francisco, and were devotees of the Indian saint, Sri Aurobindo.
I’d been warned by Tara to do no public speaking. (“The least effort in that direction and we’ll expose your constant treacheries!”) I still felt honor-bound to obey her, though of course no actual obligation was involved since I was no longer under their authority. I therefore declined the Chaudhuris’ invitation, in spite of their pleading.
Dr. Chaudhuri, however, would not take No for an answer. He telephoned me repeatedly at my parents’ home. Later, he explained that he’d felt strongly guided by my Guru to draw me into public speaking again. As often as he called, I refused. At last, however, the thought came to me, “I’m getting no other guidance. Maybe Master can’t reach me through these clouds of unhappiness. Could their invitation be his way of sending me guidance? Suppose it is: Shouldn’t I give at least this one invitation a try?”
Finally, though with trepidation, I accepted.
Curiously, as I sang that day at the Chaudhuris’ ashram, The Cultural Integration Fellowship, I felt Master’s presence in my heart for the first time in over two months. By no means was it my desire to be in the public eye. Indeed, a part of me had always resisted speaking in public. Once I’d pleaded with Master not to make me a lecturer, but he’d only replied, “You’d better learn to like it! That’s what you have to do.” How very much less did I want that role now!
After my song, two people came to me separately and asked me to sing for their groups as well. One was a representative of the Indian association at U.C. Davis. The other was the secretary of the Dutton Club, at the Unitarian Church in San Francisco. I refused their invitations. Inwardly, I found myself trembling. Once more, however, the telephone calls came, repeatedly. They showed the same determination Dr Chaudhuri had done not to take No for an answer. At last, and for the same reasons as before, I accepted.
Dr. Chaudhuri then invited me to speak to his congregation. And Dr. Landrum of the American Academy of Asian studies invited me to teach a course there. My heart shrank within me. Yet I asked Master in meditation: “Is this your guidance?” Certainly, the response I’d been getting was astonishing, both for the unexpectedness of the invitations and for the insistence with which they were extended. I was astonished again when several people came up after these events and said they’d felt great joy coming from me. Joy? I was conscious only of intense inner suffering! Yet, as I thought further about it, I realized that I’d been experiencing joy in my heart all this time on a deeper-than-conscious level. Joy was actually helping me now, in some manner I could not explain. Somehow, it fueled the intensity of my pain. How this was I cannot say even now, but joy was masquerading as sorrow, and deepened the feeling I was experiencing at that time.
Tara, at about this time, telephoned Drs. Chaudhuri and Landrum and virtually ordered them not to permit me to speak in their institutions. She then telephoned me and accused me of disobeying her. “You remember what I told you by cablegram in India? I wrote, ‘Your nature is disobedient beyond human comprehension.’”
I replied, “But I didn’t offer myself! I did my very best to refuse.”
“Oh yes, I know,” she replied with heavy sarcasm. “You just sat around at public gatherings, making yourself noticeable and hoping they’d invite you!” There was no point, I realized, in even trying to reassure her.
Dr. Landrum approached Dr. Chaudhuri and asked him, “What should we do?” Dr. Chaudhuri replied, “It seems to me we should go by what we see.” And so, their invitations stood. SRF reacted by refusing to fill any more orders from them for Yogananda’s books. (Grim revenge!)
Thus it was, gradually, that I found myself thrust back once again into the arena of public speaking, despite my earnest efforts to shun this role. Indeed, what I really wanted still was to find some way of becoming a hermit.
I approached Swami Ashokananda of the Vedanta Temple in San Francisco, and asked if I might pitch a tent on a corner of their wooded 700-acre property near Olema, California. I hoped to be able to live on consecrated ground. In India, such an arrangement would have been perfectly normal. Ashokananda consulted his directors, however, and announced that the place was reserved for their own members.
I then went to Big Sur on the California coast, hoping to find a place on government land where I might seclude. I was told I could stay in the National Forest for two weeks, but no longer.
Someone then suggested a group of hippies in Big Sur. After a visit to their encampment, however, I realized that their lifestyle was not suitable to what I was seeking.
Next, a friend told me about New Camaldoli, a Roman Catholic hermitage in Santa Lucia south of Big Sur. The prior there, Dom Roggi, gave me permission to stay-“for now.” The guest master, Dom Pedro Rebello, hoped I would convert to Roman Catholicism and join their order. But how could I do that? Deeply grateful as I was for their hospitality, my life-commitment had been made long ago. No circumstance could possibly change it.
As it was, I had committed myself, short-term, to giving weekly classes at the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco. Thus, what with regular trips to the city, I couldn’t remain full-time at the hermitage, though I did live there for the better part of every week. I was deeply grateful to the hermits for their welcome, and for the kindness they showed me.
During my last month in India my parents had purchased a car in Europe, to tour the continent. They’d offered to give me the car on their return to America. Binay Dubey, the YSS secretary, had urged me to get it shipped to India, where the organization would put it to good use. My parents hadn’t yet done so, however-fortunately, as things had turned out. They now offered to give it to me in California. First, I told them I’d like to think about it. In truth, possession of any kind in my own name, especially of something expensive, was abhorrent to me. I was a renunciate. Now that I would be traveling back and forth weekly between New Camaldoli and San Francisco, however, I realized that I’d need a car.
New Camaldoli provided a greatly needed respite. The hermits enjoyed discussions with me on the more mystical teachings of Christianity, including those of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Hesychasts. They were also eager to draw me out on India’s spiritual traditions, particularly on the higher teachings of yoga. In the literature they shared with me I was able to study ancient Christian writings, and grew increasingly enthusiastic about the book I’d been contemplating.
In my parents’ home I also had a chance to meet and discuss with university professors and scientists, who occasionally visited there, and to go over with them points that had challenged me in that Span article. I had already intended to write an introductory chapter, before addressing the spiritual aspects of the subject, on the prevailing science-inspired point of view. The more I discussed these matters with these guests, the clearer it became to me that this would be a very long chapter indeed! In fact, it ended up becoming a whole book, named Crises in Modern Thought. It took me sixteen years to write it and get it published, then another ten to revise it and publish an improved second edition. Now, finally, in the year 2001-thirty-nine years since its inception-it will appear in its third and (I really believe) final edition with a new name: Out of the Labyrinth. Thirty-nine years is a long time to bring one book to completion! This particular one has always been important to me, however, though it hasn’t been the most widely read of my books. Crises in Modern Thought (or, in its final form, Out of the Labyrinth) forms the basis for much that I’ve taught and written during these intervening years.
New Camaldoli could never have been my permanent home. I worked for them willingly as they’d asked me to do, but inwardly I suffered, thinking, “The service I’m rendering, though certainly in a good cause, isn’t serving my Guru!” I knew, and also deeply believed, that all true religions are one. As a disciple, however, my dedication was to my Guru. My convictions of universality couldn’t alter the fact that my human heart had been dedicated in service to him-to him specifically, not just in a broad and universal sense. I had therefore to leave New Camaldoli at last, after a restful and inspiring stay of six months. Several of the hermits maintained ties with me-notably Father Thomas Mathus, who now lives in the parent house of the Camaldolese order in Italy.
Much happened during the following years. There is little point in detailing all of them, interesting though they were. My purpose in writing this book is to explain what led to the founding of Ananda. Thus, much that might in itself interest the reader-like those stories I hinted at in Part One concerning my visit to Bali-must be passed over.
For some time, I couldn’t give much thought to creating a community. To have done so then would have been unrealistic. I hadn’t the money. My father believed that I, as a grown man, needed to make my own way in the world. Occasionally I received small honorariums for lectures and concerts, but nothing like what would be needed to purchase land and start a community. Moreover, I met no one who was even interested in the idea.
Always since childhood, however, I’d cherished this dream. Several times over the years I’d asked Daya Mata when we might begin the community Master had spoken of so often, and with such fervor. The last time I’d broached this subject, she’d dismissed it. “Frankly,” she’d replied, “I’m not interested.”
The fact that Master was deeply interested, however, started me thinking that if indeed I did start a community, it would at least create no conflict with SRF. Thus, it seemed a safe avenue to explore, if matters changed in a practical way.
For the present, however, I still sought seclusion determinedly. If SRF’s directors had bought me a cabin in the woods and ordered me to “stay there!” I’d have obeyed them implicitly. That might have been a reasonable solution, but it hadn’t turned out that way. Indeed, at every turn my dreams of becoming a hermit received a complete lack of support from the Universal Beneficence. Instead, I was thrust repeatedly toward public speaking.
Undeterred from my eremitical plans, however, I studied brochures on little islands in the Caribbean. The prior at New Camaldoli had suggested I try a place in Lebanon called Charbel Macluff, where, he said, many hermits had lived. I thought also of India, and was actually invited by the great woman saint there, Anandamayi Ma, to come and live in one of her ashrams. The Indian government, however, had received a report that I was a CIA agent, and also a Christian missionary in disguise. (An Indian friend of mine, a lawyer in New Delhi, told me years later that he had seen my file at the Home Ministry, and had personally noted that SRF was behind efforts to get me banned from India). Thus, for ten years I was unable to get a visa for India. By the time I was permitted to return there, I had already become committed to the development of Ananda.
Meanwhile, Mexico seemed an inviting possibility. That country, being geographically near to me, seemed the best place to begin my “project” of becoming a hermit. I never reached there, however. Dr. Chaudhuri, in his loving efforts to guide me toward what he felt my guru wanted, arranged that I stop on the way and visit friends of theirs, Nick and Lois Duncan, who had a ranch in Sedona, Arizona. The Duncans-no doubt coaxed by Dr. Chaudhuri-invited me to seclude in a cabin on their property, for which the utilities would be free. In return, they asked if I’d speak regularly at the weekly Aurobindo gatherings in their home. It wasn’t much to ask of me, and I gladly agreed.
I made a three-months adventure out of living on ten dollars a month for food. This “adventure in eating” (does it sound like the title for a gourmet cookbook?) was rather fun. I trained my palate to enjoy, or at least to accept, powdered instead of regular milk. I made chapatis (the Indian version of Mexican tortillas) instead of buying bread. I convinced myself that a tablespoon of dessert was quite as good-tasting as a bowlful, and thus made one dish last a week. I cooked daal (split pea soup), which was cheap and nourishing. I made corn tamales (again, cheap and nourishing). And I shopped the local markets for “specials.” I did lose some weight, but on the whole I did marvelously well.
And I made good friends, many of whom kept in touch with me for years after I left.
After three months, the Duncans followed an earlier schedule of leaving for India to visit the Sri Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry. It would be inconvenient for me to stay there any longer. Should I now proceed, I asked myself, to Mexico? Christmas was approaching; I decided to spend it with my parents. After that, I would resume my quest for seclusion in Mexico.