Open thyself to those who have attained wisdom. They will be thy teachers. Ask questions of them both verbally and mentally.Serve them faithfully and with devotion.
—The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4
As Donald began reading Paramhansa Yogananda’s autobiography, he found a new — yet somehow deeply familiar — world opening up before him. The book contained accounts of living saints, of answered prayers, and of other, even greater miracles. Most importantly, it told of a deep, personal relationship with God. The book told also of the highest of meditative sciences, Kriya Yoga, which enables the seeker to progress rapidly toward God-realization.
It was the greatest book he had ever read. Every page seemed to him radiant with light. “Reading Autobiography of a Yogi,” he wrote years later of this experience, “I alternated between tears and laughter; tears of pure joy; laughter of even greater joy!” For three days he immersed himself in reading this book, scarcely stopping to eat or sleep.
On finishing it, the young man broke completely with his past. He had found his spiritual guide, his Guru for all time to come. The twenty-two year old youth was resolved to follow Yogananda in every smallest detail of his life. They had yet to meet, but he knew that in this monk from India he had found his nearest and truest friend in all the world.
Not wanting to be impulsive — this part of the story he always tells with a wry smile! —he waited a whole day before leaving for California, where Yogananda lived. Unable any longer to contain his eagerness to meet his Guru, after that “long” day he boarded a bus non-stop from New York to Los Angeles, a journey of four days and nights. His arrival in Los Angeles was on Sept. 11, 1948. From there he traveled one hundred miles south to the small coastal town of Encinitas, where he’d read that Yogananda had a small ashram. In Encinitas he rested in a hotel for the night, then proceeded to the Encinitas ashram. Here, the guru’s most advanced woman disciple, Sister Gyanamata, met him. To his disappointment, he learned that Yogananda wasn’t there, but was up north giving the Sunday morning worship service at his church in Hollywood, near Los Angeles.
With mounting eagerness, the young man traveled the hundred miles back to Los Angeles and found his way to the Hollywood Church. The day was September 12, 1948. By the time he arrived, the morning service was over. The Master was still there, however, giving private interviews.
A lady greeted young Donald from behind a table at the back of the church. “May I help you?” she asked. The newcomer explained that he’d come all the way from New York to see the Master, Paramhansa Yogananda.
“Oh, I’m afraid you couldn’t possibly see him today. His appointments are completely filled.”
The young man began to feel a certain, quiet desperation. “When can I see him?” he inquired.
She consulted a small book before her, then replied, “His appointments are fully booked for the next two and a half months.”
In shock and dismay, the young man turned away to ponder this distressing turn of events. For a few minutes he wandered about the church, praying inwardly, “You must take me! You must! This means my whole life to me!”
He deeply believed that anything he wanted intensely must find fulfillment! Could this situation be an exception? At last an uncomfortable, and novel, thought entered his mind: “Maybe I’m just not ready!” He would, he decided, simply live nearby and attend services. When he was ready, his Guru would see him.
A little dejected, he made for the door. Perhaps, he thought, he needed this lesson in humility. Whatever the reason, he would wait.
Just as he reached the door, things suddenly changed. The lady at the table left her post and came up to him from behind. “Since you’ve come from so far,” she said, “I’ll ask Master if he’d be willing to see you today.”
She returned in a few minutes with the news: “The Master will see you next! Please follow me.” He was ushered into a small sitting room, where he found himself alone with this great master. What large, lustrous eyes greeted him. What a compassionate smile! Never before had he beheld such a divinely beautiful face. The Master sat down in a chair by the window, and motioned his young visitor to sit on a sofa beside him.
“What may I do for you?” asked the Master gently.
“I want to be your disciple!” The young man’s reply welled up irresistibly from his heart. Never had he expected to utter those words to anyone.
Yogananda smiled gently. Through the long conversation that ensued, the young man knew he was being “read.” Inwardly he prayed desperately, “You must take me! I know you know all my thoughts. I can’t speak them outwardly; I’d only weep. But you must accept me. You must!”
At the beginning of their conversation, Yogananda said, “I agreed to see you only because Divine Mother told me to. I want you to know that. It isn’t because you’ve come from such a distance. Two weeks ago a lady flew here all the way from Sweden after reading my book, but I didn’t see her. I do only what God tells me to do.” He repeated, “Divine Mother told me to see you.”
After more discussion, punctuated by long periods of silence, the Master said at last, “You have good karma. All right. You may join us.”
Gazing into the young disciple’s eyes with deep love, he then said, “I give you my unconditional love. Will you, too, give me your love unconditionally?”
“And will you also give me your unconditional obedience?”
The young man was desperate. Though it might mean rejection, he had to be sincere. “What if I should ever think you wrong?”
“I will never ask anything of you,” came the solemn answer, “that God does not tell me.”
With all his heart then, the young man said, “I give you my unconditional obedience!”
The Master instructed him to kneel before him, whereupon he had Donald repeat the vows of discipleship and of renunciation. Next, he placed his forefinger over the disciple’s heart. For at least two minutes his arm vibrated almost violently. From that moment onward, Kriyananda says, he felt his consciousness subtly changed.
Donald left the room in a daze. A few minutes later, the guru emerged onto the platform of the church, and smiled down gently. To the handful of disciples who were lingering in the church he announced with what seemed to Donald a smile of quiet satisfaction, “We have a new brother.”
Thus Donald’s life of discipleship began. Gradually, over the ensuing months and years, he was to become absorbed in Yogananda’s life and mission, and to learn much about what it meant to seek God under his tutelage.