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Chapter 18
First Impressions

Rev. Bernard, the disciple I’d seen briefly in Master’s interview room at the Hollywood church, drove Norman and me to Mt. Washington. On our way we stopped by the bus terminal to pick up my bag. My first glimpse of Mt. Washington Estates as we entered was of tall palm trees along both sides of the entrance driveway, waving gently in the slight breeze as if to extend a kindly greeting: “Welcome!” they seemed to murmur. “Welcome home!”

Norman showed me about the spacious grounds. We then went and stood quietly above the two tennis courts, which, Norman said, were now used for gentler, more yogic forms of exercise. In silence we gazed out over the city far below us.

Yes, I reflected, this was home! For how many years had I wandered: Rumania, Switzerland, England, America, and so many countries fleetingly in between. Always my feelings, if not my nationality, had stamped me, “a foreigner.” I had begun to wonder if I belonged anywhere. But now, suddenly, I knew that I did belong: right here in this ashram; here with my Guru; here, with his spiritual family! (Yes, I decided happily, all of these people here were my true family, too.) Gazing about me, I breathed deeply the peace that permeated this holy place.

Norman stood by my side, wordlessly sharing my elation. After a time we both faced the opposite direction, and looked up across an attractive lawn towards the large main building. Calmly self-contained, it seemed to suggest an almost patrician benignity.

“Master’s rooms are those on the top floor, to the right of us,” Norman said, pointing to a series of third-storey windows at the eastern end of the building. “And that,” he indicated a room that protruded outward above the main entrance, “is the sitting room, where he receives guests.

“Women disciples live on the second floor,” he continued, “and also on the third floor, to the left of Master’s apartment. In addition, there’s a sort of second-floor annex at the back, where a few nuns live. Because we’re renunciates, the men and women aren’t allowed to mix with one another, so I can’t take you up there. But come, I’ll show you around the first floor. That part is more or less public.”

He led me into a spacious lobby, simply and tastefully furnished. We passed through a door at the eastern end into three rooms that had been converted into a print shop. Proceeding towards the back of the building, we crossed over a narrow bridge that overlooked a small interior garden, and entered the main office which, this being Sunday, was empty of workers. From here, Norman explained to me, books, printed lessons, and a continuous stream of correspondence went out to yoga students around the world.

We re-entered the lobby at the western end. Here, large, sliding doors opened into a chapel, where we found two nuns seated together at an organ, one of them playing selections from Handel’s Messiah, the other one listening. They looked so relaxed and happy that I forgot the rule, for a moment, and greeted them. The dignified, yet kindly, way they acknowledged my greeting, without in the least encouraging further conversation, impressed me.

I was impressed also by the tasteful simplicity of my new home. Everything looked restful, modest, and harmonious. Leaving the chapel, I turned eagerly to Norman. “Where do the men live?”

“In the basement, most of them,” he replied laconically.

“The basement!” I stared at him incredulously. Then suddenly we were both laughing. After all, I told myself, what did it matter? If humility was a virtue, anything that encouraged it must be considered a blessing.

We went downstairs to the men’s dining room, which, Norman explained, had once served as a storeroom. Without windows, it stood at the dark end of a dim hallway. The only light in the room came from a single light bulb. In a small adjoining room all the monks showered, brushed their teeth, and washed the dishes. Meals were brought down three times daily from the main kitchen upstairs.

“Come,” said Norman, “let me show you our rooms. You’ve been assigned the one next to mine.”

We left by a basement exit and, proceeding down the front driveway, arrived at a cottage in front of and about fifty feet from the main building, set picturesquely amid spreading trees, fragrant flowers, and succulents. I was charmed by the unassuming simplicity of this little outbuilding. Here, decades earlier (Norman explained), the hotel guests had waited to take the cable car down to Marmion Way. Recently, he went on, smiling, the waiting room had been “renovated, after a manner of speaking,” and divided into sleeping quarters for two. His was the larger of the new rooms; mine was the smaller. Why, I marveled, had we, young neophytes as we were, been assigned such delightful quarters?

Understanding came moments later, as we entered the building. I tried to suppress a smile. Here, set so idyllically amid stately grounds, was a scene incongruously reminiscent of the hasty reconstruction that must have followed bombing raids during the war. Schoolboys, Norman explained, had done all the work. As I examined the consequences, I wondered whether the boys hadn’t considered the windows and the window frames separate projects altogether. At any rate, the windows hung at odd angles, as though disdaining to have anything to do with mere frames. Months later, as if to atone for their stern aloofness, they extended a friendly welcome to the winds of winter to come in and make merry.

The walls, made of plasterboard, had been cut more or less according to whim. They did manage to touch the ceiling — shyly, I thought — here and there, but the gap between them and the floor was in no place less than two inches. The resulting periphery made a lair, conveniently dark, for spiders and insects of other kinds.

It was the floor, however, that provided the pièce de résistance. It appeared to be composed of a cross between pumice and cement. This substance, I later learned, was the proud invention of Dr. Lloyd Kennell, the alternate minister at our church in San Diego. Dr. Kennell had boasted that his product would “outlast the Taj Mahal,” but in fact it was already doing its best to prove the Biblical dictum “Dust thou art.” Every footstep displaced a part of this miracle substance, which rose in little clouds to settle everywhere: on clothes, books, bedding, furniture.…

Not that the room held any furniture, except for a hard wooden bed which, Norman assured me, improved one’s posture. The small closet had no door to protect clothes against the ubiquitous dust. With Norman’s help I found an old, discarded quilt in the basement storeroom. Folded double, it made a more-or-less adequate mattress. I also located an old dresser, wobbly on its legs, but steady enough when propped into a corner. Next I found a small table, which acquitted itself adequately when leaned against the wall. For a chair, an orange crate was pressed into service. And a few days later I came upon a large, threadbare carpet in the storeroom. Though the pattern was so worn as to be barely discernible, it proved an important addition, for it helped to hold down the dust from the fast-disintegrating floor. In place of a closet door, further search through the storeroom yielded a strip of monk’s cloth, two feet wide, which I used to cover part of the opening. (Now at least I didn’t have to see the dust as it settled on my clothes!) A light bulb dangled precariously at the end of a long, rather frayed wire in the center of the room. The house had no bathroom, but there was one in the main building, which, however, was kept locked at night.

It wasn’t until a year later that I was given curtains for the windows.(1)

It no longer mystified me why the older monks preferred to live in the basement. But as for me, I didn’t mind at all. Quite the contrary, the disadvantages of my ramshackle quarters only added fuel to my soaring happiness. I was so utterly thrilled to be here, in the ashram of my Guru, that every fresh inconvenience only made me laugh the more delightedly.

I laughed often now. The pent-up agony of recent years found release in wave after fresh wave of happiness. Everything I had always longed for seemed mine now in my new way of life.

“There must be many good people here,” I remarked to Norman on my first day there.

He was astonished. “Why, they’re all good!”

It was my turn for astonishment. Could it really be, I wondered, that in this mixed bag of a world a place existed where everyone was good? Then I concluded that Norman must be right: This had to be such a place. For hadn’t everyone come here to find God? And what higher virtue could there be than the desire to commune with the very Source of all virtue?

Thrilled though I was to be at Mt. Washington, my mind importuned me with innumerable questions, many of which I inflicted day after day on my poor brother disciples. (Surely another demonstration of their goodness was the unfailing patience with which they answered me!) My heart and soul had been converted indeed, but my intellect lagged far behind. Reincarnation, karma, superconsciousness, divine ecstasy, the astral world, masters, gurus, breathing exercises, vegetarianism, health foods, sabikalpa and nirbikalpa samadhi, Christ consciousness — huff! puff! For me all these were new and overwhelming concepts; a week or two before I hadn’t even known any of them existed.

It was part of the excitement of those early days for me to dive into these strange waters and play in them joyfully. But confusion often assailed me also, and doubt — doubt not about the reason I was here, but about some puzzling point in the teachings. At such times I would sit down wherever I happened to be, and try to calm my mind. For I knew that soul-intuition, not the intellect, was the key to real understanding.

My greatest help at this time, apart from Master himself, was Rev. Bernard. Bernard was the alternate minister at our Hollywood church. He had a brilliant mind, and a clear understanding of the teachings. Fortunately for me, he seemed to enjoy answering my questions. Less fortunately, I hadn’t as many opportunities to be with him as my searching mind would have liked. I sought answers, alternatively, wherever I could find them.

One of the monks, a young man with the improbable name of Daniel Boone, was friendly, loquacious, and willing to share with me not only the teachings he had received from Master, but anything else he might have stumbled upon during years of metaphysical reading. In fact, he suffered from what Master described as “metaphysical indigestion.” I was too new on the path to realize that Boone’s seeming strength was actually his greatest weakness. But the more I pondered his answers, the more I began to suspect some of them of fallibility.

“Did Master say that?” I would challenge him. Only if he said, “Yes,” would I accept without question whatever he told me.

A more reliable, if less erudite, aid was Norman. A veritable giant, Norman had a heart almost as big as his body. It inspired me to see the intensity of his love for God. Not at all interested in the theoretical aspects of the path, he understood everything in terms of devotion. God was to him, simply, his Divine Friend. He required no intellectual explanations to clarify his perception of God’s love for him, and of his for God.

“I don’t know any of those things!” he would exclaim with a gentle smile whenever I posed him some philosophical conundrum. “I just know that I love God.” How I envied him his childlike devotion! (Even Master was touched by it.) And how I longed to be able to still my own questioning mind, which from habit demanded answers that it already knew full well were not the wisdom I craved. For I knew that love was the answer — not knowledge; not intellectual acumen. Love was the highest wisdom. More and more I struggled to progress on the fragrant pathway of devotion.

Another aid to me in those days was an older man named Jean Haupt. Jean, true to his Germanic heritage, had extraordinary will power. He was determined to find God in the shortest time possible. Whenever he wasn’t working, he meditated. One weekend his meditation lasted forty hours without a break. “It seemed more like forty minutes,” he told me with a quiet smile.

I worked on the grounds with Jean and Norman, gardening, plastering, and doing whatever odd jobs were required. Jean, though fifty-five years old and little more than half Norman’s size, could do more work than Norman and I combined. If he saw Norman struggling too long at some heavy job — one time it was carrying a refrigerator up the stairs — Jean would mutter impatiently, “Here, let me do it!” Moments later the job would be done. I was as deeply impressed by his will power, and as anxious to emulate it, as by Norman’s devotion.

The most attractive feature of my new quarters was a small basement, reached by a set of narrow steps at the far end of the room from the door. This basement had once housed the motor which pulled cable cars up the steep mountainside. It seemed ideal for a meditation room. I carted out piles of rubble that had accumulated over decades of neglect; constructed a trap door for the opening to ensure virtual silence; and soon was devoting all my free time to meditating in this, my “Himalayan cave” (as I thought of it). Over the ensuing months I put in a ceiling, painted the room a soothing dark blue, and found everything here that a young yogi could possibly desire in the way of silence, remoteness from the demands of daily life, and divine tranquillity.

My first evening at Mt. Washington, Rev. Bernard visited me in my room. “Master wants me to give you instruction in the art of meditation,” he said. He taught me an ancient yoga technique of concentration, and added some general counsel.

“When you aren’t practicing this concentration technique, try to keep your mind focused at the point between the eyebrows. This is called the Christ center, because when Christ consciousness is attained one’s awareness becomes centered here.”

“Would it help,” I asked, “to keep my mind focused there all day long as well?”

“Very much! When Master lived in his guru’s ashram he practiced keeping his mind fixed there all the time.

“And another thing,” Bernard added, “this is also the seat of the spiritual eye. The more deeply you concentrate your gaze at this point, the more you’ll become aware of a round light forming there: a blue field with a bright, golden ring around it and a silvery white, five-pointed star in the center.”

“This isn’t just a subjective experience?” I inquired. “Does everybody see it?”

“Everybody,” he assured me, “provided his mind is calm enough. It’s a universal reality, like the fact that we all have brains. Actually, the spiritual eye is the astral reflection of the medulla oblongata, at the base of the brain. I’ll tell you more about that some other time.

“For now, suffice it to say that energy enters the body through the medulla, and that by the sensitive application of will power one can actually increase this energy-inflow. The Christ center is the body’s seat of will power, and also of concentration. Notice how, whenever you concentrate deeply, or strongly will something to happen, your mind is drawn automatically to this point. You may even tend inadvertently to frown a little in the process. By concentration on the Christ center, your will power will increase. Consequently, the amount of energy flowing in through the medulla oblongata increases also. And with this greater flow, the spiritual eye forms naturally in the forehead.

“Through concentration on the spiritual eye, the consciousness gradually becomes attuned to the subtle rate of vibration of this light. At last one’s consciousness, too, takes on the quality of light. That is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.’(2)It is in this purified state of awareness that ecstasy comes.”

After Bernard left me, I sat awhile practicing the techniques he had taught me. Later on I went out of doors and stood above the tennis courts again, this time gazing out over a vast carpet of twinkling lights. How lovely, in the evening, was this huge, bustling city! I reflected that those myriad lights were manifestations of the same divine light which I would someday behold in deep meditation, within myself. But electricity, I told myself, provides light only for the pathways of this world. The divine luminescence lights pathways to the Infinite.

“Lord,” I prayed, “though I stumble countless times, I will never stop seeking Thee. Lead my footsteps ever onward toward Thy infinite light!”

Next

Chapter 19: The First Days of a Neophyte

Footnotes

  1. My way of getting them showed a slight touch of rebellion. After my several requests for them had gone unanswered, I stripped down to my undershorts one evening and, with the light on, lay face down on my bed and read Shakespeare. After a while, one of the nuns passed my window on her way to the main building from the garage, which was attached to our “outhouse” bedroom. The next day word came down to me: I would be getting my curtains.
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  2. Matthew 6:22. Modern translators, unaware of the hidden significance of this passage, have changed the word single in the King James version to read “sound,” or “clear.” The New English Bible even changes eye to “eyes,” thus: “If your eyes are sound.” One wonders how often the scriptures have been tampered with by scholars who, though intellectually learned, are steeped in spiritual ignorance.
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