When I wrote my autobiography, The Path, twenty years ago, it was to fill a gap left by Paramhansa Yogananda in his own book, Autobiography of a Yogi, which, as his brother Sananda Lal Ghosh pointed out in Mejda, described in detail his encounters with other saints but omitted much that he might have said about himself. As Yogananda told a few of us toward the end of his life, “As a boy, I went to those saints for guidance. But what I found, to my dismay, was that they wanted guidance from me!”
My purpose in writing The Path as an autobiography was to make it easier for the reader, after he’d become somewhat familiar with me, to weed out possible intrusions of my nature into an account that deserved to be understood as objectively as possible. It was not my aim to interest the reader in me as a person. I hoped to attract readers to the spiritual search, that they themselves might feel inspired to embark on the adventure of self-discovery that finds such fulfillment in the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.
Yogananda was one of the great spiritual figures of modern times. In The Path I tried to give the reader insight into what it was like to live with him as a disciple, and some understanding of his profound, and at the same time profoundly practical, teachings.
Scott Meredith, the well-known literary agent, to whom I sent an early draft of my manuscript, at once noticed the impersonal flavor in the account of my early years. His comment, based on years of experience with more “normal” autobiographies, was, “I kept wanting to ask, ‘Will the real Don Walters please stand up?’”
For my purposes, however, he was mistaken. My main misgiving had been that, given the unusual nature of my upbringing, my readers would not easily identify with my story. Probably this absence of normal commonality was what bothered Scott Meredith. I hadn’t related the usual account of personal idiosyncrasies and predicaments. How would “normal” readers, then, be able to relate to me?
Well, there was nothing I could do about it. This was my story. I hadn’t really another to tell.
It has been deeply gratifying to me to receive hundreds of letters from readers over the years, thanking me for my book. Their thanks have been not only for the insight it gave them into discipleship under my great guru (whom they also, in numerous cases, have subsequently accepted as their guru), but also extend to the first part of the book, in which they see reflected their own spiritual search.
It is not possible for a single book to say everything, even on the subject it purports to cover. Writers who try to do so become impossibly long-winded and tiresome. Really to know another person’s life — particularly in the case of someone like Yogananda, whose consciousness embraced infinity — one would have to accomplish what he accomplished: in Yogananda’s case, to know God. When I hear other direct disciples claim to understand him, I can only think they are mistaking candlelight for the light of the sun. Behind everything he said and did was a consciousness too profound for any merely human attempt to comprehend it. To say “He was like this” or “he was like that”; to claim “He liked this” or “he liked that” is to overlook the fact that, in a deeply real sense, he was everything. At the same time, he was not identified with or attached to anything. Completely human — lovingly, charmingly so — in the highest and fullest possible sense, he was yet forever at rest in the eternal Self within. Nothing could define him, for he had transcended all definitions, and swam blissfully in satchidananda — the ocean of perfect, divine immortality.
My own book, The Path, didn’t complete even the story of his earthly life. Nor could it have; I wouldn’t have presumed to make the attempt. There is one aspect of his life, however, that I feel duty-bound to discuss, and that I couldn’t touch on more than lightly in The Path from considerations of both length and perspective. This is the commission he gave me, specifically, to carry out in the fulfillment of his mission.
I am not blind to the relative unimportance of my own contribution to that mission, even though — no doubt to inspire me to remain upright before the difficulties he foresaw for me — he described it to me as “a great work.” Lest anyone think I am being merely modest, I should add that the only work that matters, ultimately, is the one God has given all creatures: the responsibility of attaining oneness with Him.
I must admit that, even now, my perspective is limited compared to what it might be, say, twenty years from now. By then, however, I may well no longer be here to express it. And from an even broader perspective it might be well to wait another century or two even to attempt the telling. Necessarily, then, my account will represent a limited version of events. I may as well make a virtue of necessity, therefore, and write it not with the impersonality of The Path, but with full admission that I am the character most involved in this story, and acceptance of full responsibility for any blame that accrues to my role. The only thing I ask is that, if any praise is involved, it be given where it is due: to my guru. For, as Rajarsi Janakananda, his chief disciple, told me after Yogananda’s passing, “Master has a great work to do through you, Walter, and he will give you the strength to do it.”
My particular incentive for writing this story is that certain people have seen fit to attack this work that I’ve done. In the process, they’ve attacked me. I am not their enemy; indeed, I sincerely wish them well. It would be foolhardy, however, to pretend that their attack is not intended to harm me and those who have devoted their lives to working with me. For their sake, and for those many who believe in what we are doing, I feel it would be helpful to make known to them the complete story that led up to the creation of Ananda, and the special role Ananda plays in the over-all mission of Paramhansa Yogananda.
It is my practice, whenever I write anything, to form a mental image of my audience — to condense it into a single person, neither male nor female, and visualize that person sitting across the desk from me, listening to me as I converse. Gratifyingly, the most frequent comment I receive from my readers has been, “I feel as though you were talking personally to me.”
This is a particular, not a common story. Still, I hope it will interest people in many walks of life whose desire is for inner freedom and who have had to struggle with the demands and expectations of others. It is, of course, especially for those interested in founding intentional communities as a solution to humanity’s universal need for inner freedom.