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Chapter 20
Twenty-Nine Palms

“You must keep this place a secret,” Bernard warned me as we drove into Twenty-Nine Palms. “With the rapid growth of the work, Master needs a place where he can go to concentrate on his writings. Otherwise it’s telephone calls and interviews all day long. He’s even bought the property in his family name, Ghosh, to safeguard his privacy.”

This was the first time I’d ever seen a desert. The vast wasteland of sand, sagebrush, Joshua trees, and tumbleweed held a strange fascination for me. It seemed a different dimension, as though time here had slipped imperceptibly into timelessness. The sky, pastel hues of blue, pink, and orange-yellow in the waning afternoon sunlight, looked almost ethereal. I gazed about me in wonder.

Bernard noted my expression. “I see the desert’s magic is working on you already!” He added, “Master says the light here resembles the astral light.”

The monks’ retreat, at which we arrived soon afterward, was a small cottage on some fifteen acres of land. It was without electricity. A tall windmill creaked and clanked complainingly with every breeze as it pumped water up from a well. A grove of blue-green smoke trees hid the cottage from the seldom-traveled sand road. Even with the windmill, which seemed determined to go public with news of how hard it was made to work, this seemed a perfect spot for seclusion and meditation. Over the coming years I was to spend many months in these tranquil surroundings.

Master’s place was five miles up the road. Located in a more developed area, it had city water, and electricity, which he needed since he did much of his writing at night. His property nestled near the base of a range of low hills which, because of their barrenness, looked almost like a more distant mountain range. Master’s house had pale stucco walls, in the Spanish style typical of southern California. Surrounding it were a profusion of plants and delicate Chinese elms. The entire property, enclosed by a low wire fence, was one or two acres in size.

My first visit to Twenty-Nine Palms was for a weekend. We visited Master at his place. My first recollection of him on that occasion isn’t so much of the things he said, as of what he didn’t say. I didn’t know it at the time, but he placed great importance on silence. Disciples working around him were permitted to speak only when necessary. “Silence,” he said, “is the altar of Spirit.”

Master was seated out of doors by the garage; Bernard and I were standing nearby. Master asked Bernard to go into the house and fetch something. Suddenly, for the first time since my acceptance as a disciple, I found myself alone with my Guru. It seemed an opportunity not to be missed: a chance to learn something — anything! Master, evidently, didn’t see it in the same light. He made no move to speak. Finally I decided I’d better “break the ice.”

I had learned from Bernard how to commune inwardly with Aum, the Cosmic Sound, which manifests itself to the yogi in deep meditation. “Sir,” I inquired, “what does Aum sound like?”

Master gave a prolonged “Mmmmmmmmmm.” He then reverted comfortably to silence. To me, alas, his silence was anything but comfortable.

“How does one hear it?” I persisted, though I already knew the technique.

This time Master didn’t even bother to answer, but simply assumed the prescribed position. After holding it briefly, he returned his hands silently to his lap.

Some months later I told him I was having trouble calming my breath in meditation. “That,” he replied, “is because you used to talk a lot. The influence has carried over. Well,” he added consolingly, “you were happy in that.”

Silence is the altar of Spirit. As I grew into my new way of life, I began to value this maxim.

Soon after our first visit to Twenty-Nine Palms, Bernard drove Norman and me out there again. Master had devised a project for the two of us to work on, probably to give us an excuse to be near him while he concentrated on his writings. He asked us to build him a small swimming pool behind the house, near his bedroom. It was not that he particularly wanted a pool; in fact, once it was finished he never used it. But it did give Norman and me the opportunity to be with him for weeks at a time.

Soon we were busy shoveling out a deep hole in the sand. Master, taking an occasional break from his writing, would come out and work with us for fifteen minutes or so. Whenever he did so, I felt a deep blessing. But I hadn’t yet adjusted to his habitual silence. One warm, sunny afternoon I noticed that he was panting slightly with the physical exertion, and remarked conversationally, “It’s hot work, isn’t it?”

“It is good work.” Master gazed at me a moment as if with reproach, then returned in silence to his digging.

Gradually, inspired by his example, I learned to speak less, and to listen more to the soundless whispers in my soul.

Late one afternoon we were sitting with Master on a little porch outside the sitting room where he dictated his writings. After several minutes of silence, Master posed me an unexpected question.

“What keeps the earth from shooting out into space, away from the sun?”

Surprised, and not as yet familiar with the cryptic way he often taught us, I assumed he simply wanted a lesson in astronomy. “It’s the sun’s gravitational pull, Sir,” I explained.

“Then what keeps the earth from being drawn back into the sun?”

“That’s the earth’s centrifugal force, pulling it constantly outward. If the sun’s gravity weren’t as strong as it is, we’d shoot off into space, out of the solar system altogether.”

Master smiled significantly. Had he intended more than I realized? Some months later I recalled this conversation, and understood that he had been speaking metaphorically of God as the sun, drawing all things back to Himself, and of man as the earth, resisting with desires and self-interest the pull of divine love.

One hot day at noon Norman and I stood up from our digging and stretched, grateful that lunchtime had arrived at last. We enjoyed our work, but there was no denying that it was also tiring. Besides, we were famished. Briefly we surveyed the yawning pit at our feet.

“God, what a hole!” exclaimed Norman. We gazed out over the mounds of sand we’d deposited about the grounds with the wheelbarrow. The very sight of them, lumped about in mute testimony to our exertions, only reinforced our fatigue.

At that moment Master came out and joined us.

“Those mounds don’t look very attractive,” he remarked. “I wonder if they couldn’t be leveled out. Would one of you mind fetching a two-by-four?”

Armed with the board, we stood before him a little apprehensively, awaiting further instructions.

“Each of you take the two-by-four at one end,” Master said. “Then — just come over to this mound here. Pull the sand back toward you by pressing down hard on the board, and moving it slowly back and forth between you.”

Probably even this meager description suffices to convey some idea of how difficult the job was. By the time we’d leveled one mound, Norman and I were panting heavily. Well, we reflected, at least we’d demonstrated that it could be done. Master, his curiosity satisfied, would no doubt tell us to go now and have our lunch.

“Very good,” he commented approvingly. “I thought that method would work. Now then, why don’t we try it just once more — on that mound over there?”

Adjusting our expectations accordingly, we started in a second time.

“Very good!” Master commented once again. Evidently not wishing to place obstacles in the way of the momentum we’d built up, he said, “Let’s do just one more — this one over here.”

And after that: “One more.”

And then again: “Just one more.”

I don’t know how many mounds we leveled, but Norman, strong as he was, was beginning to moan softly under his breath. “Just one more,” Master said again.

Suddenly, getting the joke at last, I stood up and laughed. Master smiled back at me.

“I was playing with you! Now — go have your lunch.”

Often, in his training of us, he would push our equanimity to the limit to see which way we would break. If we rebelled, or if, under the strain, we grew upset, it meant we had failed the test. But if we responded with an extra spurt of energy, and affirmed a bright, positive attitude, we found his tests immeasurably strengthening.

In the foregoing test, Master helped Norman and me to learn to resist the thought of fatigue. Curiously, I found I was actually less tired after leveling those mounds than I had been beforehand. “The greater the will,” as Master often said, “the greater the flow of energy.”

One day Norman and I sat down to lunch, ravenous as usual. We reached for the tray that had been set before us, and gasped. It was practically empty! Two cups of tepid water, faintly flavored with chocolate, and a couple of dry sandwiches that had perhaps been waved in the general vicinity of an open jar of peanut butter. That was all.

“What a banquet!” Norman cried in dismay. We paused a moment. Then suddenly we were both laughing. “What comes of itself,” Master often said, “let it come.” One of the keys he gave us to unshakable inner peace was an ability to accept life as it is. Our meager fare that day gave us adequate food for meditation, if not for our bodies!

Shortly after the test of the two-by-four, Master began inviting us indoors after hours to listen to him while he dictated his writings. The truths I learned during those sessions were invaluable. So also were a few of the lessons I received, some of them less weighty, during periods of relaxation when he wasn’t dictating.

As I’ve indicated earlier, the concept I had formed of a sage during my college years was of one to whom everything was a Serious Matter. I myself had laughed frequently, but it was more often at folly than in innocent joy. Like most college-trained intellectuals, my notion of wisdom tended to be rather dry. But until the intellect has been softened by heart qualities, it is like earth without water: weighty but infertile. Master was anxious to wean me from this addiction to an arid mental diet, even as I myself was anxious to be weaned.

One evening Norman and I were sitting with him in the kitchen. Master summoned one of the sisters and asked her to fetch a brown paper bag with something in it from his bedroom. When she returned, he switched off the lights. I heard him remove something from the bag, then chuckle playfully. Suddenly there was a metallic buzzing sound as sparks came leaping out of a toy pistol. Laughing with childlike glee, Master turned the lights back on. Next, from another toy pistol out of the bag, he shot a tiny parachute into the air. We watched together gravely as it descended to the floor. I was utterly astonished.

Master glanced at me merrily, though with a covert gaze of calm understanding. “How do you like them, Walter?”

I laughed, trying earnestly to enter into the spirit of the occasion. “They’re fine, Sir!” My comment was almost an affirmation.

Looking at me deeply now, but with love, he quoted the words of Jesus: “Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of God.”(1)

One of the most amazing things about Master was his complete inner freedom. In the deepest matters he maintained the simplicity and light-hearted innocence of a child. In severe trials he could find cause for joy. Yet even when he laughed he retained the calm, detached outlook of one who beheld God alone everywhere. Often in the veriest trifles he saw some deep truth illustrated.

There was a dog at Twenty-Nine Palms named Bojo, who belonged to a neighbor. Bojo had decided, since Master’s retreat was untenanted much of the time, that it belonged within his rightful domain. On our first arrival Bojo objected fiercely to Norman and me, growling and barking at us continually as we worked on the pool. It was Norman finally who won him over, with a combination of roughhouse and love: Whenever Bojo barked, Norman would tumble him onto his back, then pat him and throw sticks for him to fetch. Soon our canine neighbor began visiting us as a friend.

One day Master joined us out of doors for lunch. Bojo smelled the food and approached, sniffing hopefully.

“Look at that dog,” Master remarked chuckling. He gave Bojo a little food from his plate. “Do you see how his forehead is wrinkled up? Though his thought is only for the food, in his earnest concentration his mind is focused at the spiritual eye!”

During dictation one evening, Master touched on the subject of reincarnation.

“Sir,” I inquired, “have I been a yogi before?”

“Many times,” he replied. “You would have to have been, to be here.”

At this time Master began also revising his printed lessons. He was not able to get very far with them, unfortunately; the task proved simply too big, considering the many new writings he had in mind to complete. The first evening he worked on this project, Dorothy Taylor, his secretary, read to him from the old first lesson. She arrived at a passage where Master had said one can’t get answers to scientific questions by merely praying for them; the appropriate experiments must be conducted also. Spiritual truths, similarly, so the lesson stated, require verification in the “laboratory” of yoga practice and of direct, inner contact with God.

“Mm-mmm,” Master interrupted her, shaking his head. “That’s not completely true. If one prayed deeply enough he would get answers, even to intricate scientific questions.” He pondered the problem awhile.

“No,” he concluded, “the point here concerns the need for verification by appropriate methods. In this sense, what has been written is valid, since prayer is effective in such matters only for those who already have some contact with God. I think I’ll let it stand the way it is.”

In this way, paragraph by paragraph, he would analyze what had been written before, clarify certain portions, and deepen the import of others. The insights I received from him thereby were priceless. Impressive to me also was his manner of teaching. Universal in outlook, never self-assertive, conscious of the relationship to the broadest realities of whatever he was considering, he was, I realized more and more, a true guide to the Infinite.

I was struck also by the sheer, dynamic courage of his teaching. Many a teacher would, I knew, be tempted to tone down what he said or wrote, as if hoping, by making them bland, to make them more popularly acceptable. But the hallmark of greatness is extraordinary energy, and such energy always poses a challenge to “one-horsepower” minds.

I was amused, some months later, by an example of the tendency to try to level every peak of energy. I have mentioned how Master, in his early years in America, would sometimes actually run out onto the lecture platform, challenging his audiences to come up to his own level of divine enthusiasm. Even now, long since those “campaign” days, he began his Sunday worship services with the joyous demand, “How is everybody?” He then led his congregation in the vibrant response: “Awake and ready!”

Dr. Lloyd Kennell, his alternate minister in San Diego, a sincere and good man, couldn’t match Master’s high energy-level. “I like to keep things on a moderate level,” he explained to me before commencing his service one Sunday morning. He went out onto the stage. “Good morning,” he began. “I trust that everyone present this morning is feeling awake and ready?” (No shouted response, of course.)

Master, more than any other teacher I have ever known, could stir people, shake them with the unexpected, charm them suddenly with a funny story, or startle them into alertness with some novel piece of information. Like Jesus, the words he uttered had the ring of truth. The veriest newcomer found his conviction irresistible.

No one else would have dared it, but for the first lesson of his correspondence course Master dictated a passage in support of his claim that a close karmic bond exists between our own direct line of gurus and the great master Jesus.

“Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Sri Yukteswar,” he dictated, “were the three wise men who came to visit the Christ child in the manger. When Jesus became old enough, he returned their visit. The account of his trip to India was removed from the New Testament centuries later by sectarian prelates, who feared that its inclusion might lessen his stature in the eyes of the world.”(2)

Master often talked to us of our line of gurus, and their special mission in this age. For he was the last in a direct line of spiritual succession. What he taught represented no radical new theory, no Eastern counterpart to our own interminable “scientific breakthroughs” in the West, but the purest, highest, and indeed oldest spiritual tradition in the world.

Babaji is the first in this direct line of gurus. A master of great antiquity, he still lives in the Badrinarayan section of the Himalayas, where he remains accessible to a few highly advanced souls. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Babaji, feeling that in the present scientific age mankind was better prepared to receive higher knowledge, directed his disciple, Shyama Charan Lahiri, to reintroduce to the world the long-hidden, most central science of yoga. Lahiri Mahasaya, as his disciples called him, named this exalted science Kriya Yoga, which means simply, “divine union through a certain technique, or spiritual act.” Other yoga techniques bear the same name, but according to our own line of gurus the Kriya Yoga of Lahiri Mahasaya is the most ancient and central of all yoga techniques.

Babaji explained that it was to this technique that Lord Krishna, India’s greatest ancient prophet, was referring in the Bhagavad Gita when he said, “I related this imperishable yoga to Bibaswat; Bibaswat taught it to Manu [the ancient Hindu law-giver]; Manu gave it to Ikshvaku [the renowned founder of the Solar dynasty]. In this way it was handed down in orderly succession to great sages until, after long stretches of time, knowledge of that yoga deteriorated in the world [because the generality of mankind had lost touch with spiritual realities].”

Lahiri Mahasaya, like Babaji, was a great master of yoga — a “yogavatar,” Master called him, or “incarnation of yoga”—though at the same time a householder with worldly responsibilities. Of the many disciples that he initiated, the chief was Swami Sri Yukteswar — modern India’s gyanavatar,(3) or “incarnation of wisdom,” as Yogananda designated him. Thus it was, through Sri Yukteswar, that Paramhansa Yogananda was sent to America with the high technique which, our Gurus said, would give wise direction to the hitherto scattered, and potentially dangerous, development of modern Western civilization.

“In the divine plan,” Yogananda stated on another occasion, “Jesus Christ was responsible for the evolution of the West, and Krishna (later, Babaji), for that of the East. It was intended that the West specialize in developing objectively, through logic and reason, and that the East specialize in inner, intuitive development. Now, the time has come in the cosmic plan to combine these two halves of a circle. East and West must unite.”

During these evening dictations Master reviewed also the lessons on Kriya Yoga, and made certain changes in the way he had taught them previously. “This doesn’t alter the technique itself,” he explained, “but it will make it easier to understand.”

I was avidly absorbing Master’s every word: I hadn’t yet been initiated into Kriya Yoga! Master paused suddenly.

“Say — Walter!” he exclaimed, “you haven’t had Kriya initiation!”

“No, Sir.” I was smiling smugly. He had already dictated enough for me to understand the technique.

“Well, in that case I shall have to initiate you right now.” Interrupting his dictation, Master told us all to sit upright in meditative posture. “I am sending the divine light through your brain, baptizing you,” he said from where he sat across the room. I immediately felt a divine current irradiating my brain from the Christ center between the eyebrows. He went on to guide me in the practice of the technique.

“Don’t practice it yet, however,” he concluded. “I shall be giving a formal initiation at Christmas time. Wait until then.”

Gradually, as weeks passed, I found my heart opening like a flower under the sunrays of Master’s love. More and more I was coming to appreciate what a blessing it was to have him for my guru.

During his dictation one evening he explained a method for attuning oneself to the Guru’s subtle spiritual vibrations.

“Visualize the Guru,” he said, “at the point between the eyebrows, the Christ center. This is the ‘broadcasting station’ in the body. Call to him deeply at this point. Then try to feel his response in your heart, which is the body’s ‘receiving set.’ When that response comes, it will be here that you feel it intuitively. When it comes, pray deeply, ‘Introduce me to God.’”

Sometimes also I visualized Master seated in diminutive form on the top of my head. Either way, as I meditated on him, I often felt a wave of peace or love descend over me, suffusing my entire being. Sometimes answers to questions would come, and a clearer understanding of qualities that I was trying to develop, or to overcome. Sometimes, in a single meditation on Master, I would find myself freed of some delusion that had plagued me for months, perhaps even for years. On one such occasion, as I approached him afterward and knelt for his blessing, he commented softly, “Very good!”

Master occasionally came over to the monks’ retreat at Twenty-Nine Palms. At such times he would walk about the grounds with us, or sit with us and talk. Sometimes we meditated together. After one such meditation I recorded his words:

“This is the kingdom of Aum. Listen! It is not enough just to hear it. You must merge yourself in that sound. Aum is the Divine Mother.” He paused a few minutes. “Om Kali, Om Kali, Om Kali. Listen.…” He paused again. “Oh, how beautiful it is! Om Kali, Om Kali, Om Kali!”(4)

On another occasion I was sleeping at the monks’ retreat. It was late at night. Suddenly I awakened with the feeling that a divine presence was in the room. The impression was overwhelming. I sat up to meditate, then caught a glimpse of Master walking outside the house in the moonlight. Inexpressibly grateful to him, I went out and silently touched his feet.

Later he joked, “I thought you were a ghost!”

Master had the amazing gift of universal friendship. Each of us felt in some way uniquely loved by him. At the same time, it was a completely impersonal relationship, one in which outward favors counted for little. Such always, as I have come to understand, is divine friendship. Yet I have been in ashrams where human personalities were so much the focus of attention that, almost within minutes of one’s arrival, one knew who the important disciples were, what they did, what the Guru said about them. By contrast, during my first few months as a monk in SRF I doubt whether I would have recognized more than one or two names in a “Who’s Who” of Master’s closest or oldest disciples. We received simply no encouragement to be curious about them.

Thus it was that, when word came that fall that Faye Wright (now Daya Mata, the third president of Self-Realization Fellowship) had been taken seriously ill, her name, though high on the list of Master’s close disciples, meant nothing to me. I learned of her illness itself only as the explanation for why Master had suddenly departed Twenty-Nine Palms for Los Angeles.

“It would be a serious loss to the work if she died,” Bernard assured me gravely.

“She was already gone,” Master announced on his return from Los Angeles. “Just see how karma works. The doctor, though summoned in plenty of time, diagnosed her case wrongly. When he discovered his mistake, it was too late. She would certainly have died. But God wanted her life spared for the work.”

Master counseled us not to be preoccupied over matters that didn’t directly concern us. “Always remain in the Self,” he counseled me once. “Come down only to eat or talk a little bit, if necessary. Then withdraw into the Self again.” I didn’t meet, or even see, Daya Mata until I had been with Master almost a year.

My immediate concern at Twenty-Nine Palms was our job. We’d dug the hole for the swimming pool. Other monks then came out to help construct the wood forms. Bernard informed us that the pouring of the concrete would have to be done continuously, to prevent seaming. We did the whole job by hand, mixing and pouring with the aid of a small cement mixer. I shoveled the sand; someone else added the gravel; others maneuvered wheelbarrows to the pouring sites. Twenty-three hours we labored, pausing only occasionally to refresh ourselves with sandwiches and hot drinks. Inwardly, however, as we worked, we chanted constantly to God, and the hours passed joyously. At the end of it all I think we actually had more energy than at the day’s start. We were all smiling happily.

All of us, that is, but one. This man, after an hour or two of halfhearted labor, had grumbled, “I didn’t come here to shovel cement!” Sitting down, he watched us for the remainder of the day, reminding us occasionally that this wasn’t what the spiritual path was all about. Interestingly, at the end of that long day he alone felt exhausted.

The subject of this particular disciple’s unwillingness came up a few months later in a discussion with Master. “He told me, Sir,” I remarked, “that he feels he can’t obey you implicitly, because he wants to develop his own free will.”

“But his will is not free!” Master replied wonderingly. “How can it be free, as long as he is bound by moods and desires? I don’t ask anyone to follow me, but those who have done so have found true freedom.

“Sister,” he continued, using the name by which he always referred to Sister Gyanamata, the elderly disciple whom I’d met on my first visit to Encinitas—“Sister used to run up and down all the time doing my bidding. One day a few of the others said to her, ‘Why are you always doing what he says? You have your own will!’ She answered, ‘Well, but don’t you think it’s too late to change? And I must say, I have never been so happy in my life as I have been since coming here.’”

Master chuckled. “They never bothered her again!”

Already I could endorse in my own little way Sister Gyanamata’s reply to those reluctant disciples. For the more I tuned my will to Master’s, the happier I found myself becoming.

“My will,” Master often said, “is only to do God’s will.” The proof of his statement lay in the fact that the more perfectly we followed his will, the freer we ourselves felt, in God.

As Christmas approached, my heart was singing with a happiness I had never before even dreamed existed. Christmas was an important holiday at Mt. Washington, the most sacred of the entire year. Master had divided it into its two basic aspects: “spiritual Christmas,” which we celebrated on Christmas Eve, and “social Christmas,” celebrated the following day with traditional present-opening and a banquet. (Master later shifted our “spiritual Christmas” back to the twenty-third, so that devotees wouldn’t have to stay up all night afterwards, preparing food for the large Christmas Day banquet.)

On the twenty-fourth we gathered in the chapel at ten in the morning for an all-day meditation, inviting the infinite Christ to be born anew in the “mangers” of our hearts. I don’t know how many have approached their first experience of this long meditation without trepidation. Few, I suspect, and among them certainly I don’t include myself.

We took our seats, Master at the front of the room facing us. The doors were closed. From that moment on, save for a short break in the middle, no one was supposed to enter or leave the room except in an emergency.

We began with a prayer to Jesus Christ, our other masters, and “the saints of all religions” to bless us on this holy occasion. There followed some fifteen or twenty minutes of chanting.

Paramhansa Yogananda’s “Cosmic Chants” consist of simple sentences repeated over and over again, each time with deeper concentration and devotion. I had been raised on the intricacies of Western classical music. It had taken me some time, as Master’s disciple, to adjust fully to this rather stark form of musical expression. By now, however, I had come to love the chants. In their very simplicity I found beauty, and a power that surpassed that of most, if not all, the music I had ever heard. For these were “spiritualized” chants: Master had infused subtle blessings into them by singing each one until it elicited a divine response. As buildings and places develop vibrations according to the consciousness of the people who frequent them, so music also develops vibrations beyond those of the actual sound. Chants that have been spiritualized, particularly by great saints, have a heightened power to inspire whoever sings them.

One chant we sang that day was “Cloud-colored Christ, come! O my Christ, O my Christ, Jesus Christ, come!” I found it marvelously effective for taking me deep into meditation. Sessions of chanting alternated with increasingly long periods of meditation. Sometimes, to alleviate any physical tension we might be feeling, Master had us stand while chanting; for some of the more rhythmic chants he had us clap our hands. A couple of times he requested Jane Brush to play devotionally inspiring pieces on the organ, while we listened meditatively.

At some time during that afternoon Master had a vision of the Divine Mother. In an ecstatic state he related Her wishes to many of those present. Some he told to give themselves unreservedly to God. Others he informed that the Cosmic Mother had blessed them specially. And then he spoke to Her directly, out loud, that we might hear at least one side of this blissful dialogue.

“Oh, You are so beautiful!” he repeated over and over. “Don’t go!” he cried at last. “You say the material desires of these people are driving you away? Oh, come back! Please don’t go!”

The meditation that day was so deep that the customary ten-minute recess halfway through it was omitted. The apprehension I had felt at the outset proved a delusion. “The soul loves to meditate,” Master used to tell us. It is the ego, in its attachment to body-consciousness, that resists entering the inner vastness.

On Christmas Day we exchanged gifts in the traditional manner. Included with a more serious present that I gave Master was a “Slinky” toy, in memory of that incident of the toy pistols at Twenty-Nine Palms. In return, I received from him a four-color pencil—“To split infinitives with!” he told me with a smile.

This day had, for its main feature, an afternoon banquet at which Master presided. I helped to serve the curry dinner. Afterwards Master addressed us. The sweetness of his speech so uplifted me that, to me, it was as though I were living in heaven. Never had I thought such divine inspiration possible on this prosaic earth.

The following day Master gave Kriya Yoga initiation — primarily, if not entirely, to the renunciates. As I approached him for his blessing, I prayed mentally for his help in developing divine love. After I’d been touched by him at the Christ center, I opened my eyes to find him smiling at me blissfully.

Toward the end of the initiation ceremony, Master said, “Lots of angels have passed through this room today.” And then these thrilling words of promise: “Of those present, there will be a few siddhas, and quite a few jivan muktas.”(5)

On New Year’s Eve we gathered in the main chapel for a midnight meditation, again led by Master. At one point during the proceedings he beat a large gong, softly, then with gradually increasing volume, alternately decreasing and increasing the volume in waves. “Imagine this as the sound of Aum,” he told us, “spreading outward to infinity.”

At the same instant, one hundred miles south in Encinitas, another group of disciples was meditating in the main room of the hermitage. They, too, heard the gong as Master was striking it. One of the monks later told me, “It was as though it were being struck in the hallway just outside the room we were in.”

The meditation that followed at Mt. Washington was enthralling.

Midnight came: Suddenly, waves of noise sweeping up from the city below, and inward from the surrounding neighborhood — factory whistles, car horns, shouts as countless celebrants ushered in the New Year. The door of a neighboring house opened, and a voice with a tone almost of desperation shouted into the night: “Happy New Year!”

What a contrast, between the frantic, emotional, almost febrile excitement in the sounds that were being unleashed by the thousands of celebrants around us, and the calm, expanding soul-joy we experienced in ourselves, in the sublime peace of our little chapel! And how blessed, I reflected, how wonderful it was to be in this holy place, at the feet of my divine guru!

I prayed that the New Year would bring me an ever deepening awareness of God’s love.

Next

Chapter 21: Paramhansa Yogananda

Footnotes

  1. Luke 18:16.
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  2. The fact that the Bible says nothing at all about those missing eighteen years offers the strongest possible evidence that the account of them was later deleted. For it is simply not credible that all four of the apostles would have omitted all mention of so large a segment of their Master’s brief life span on earth. Even granting the possibility, which seems doubtful, that those eighteen years were too uneventful to record, any conscientious biographer — not to mention a disciple — would never on any account have left out altogether even a bridging sentence. At the very least he would have said something like, “And Jesus grew up, and worked in his father’s carpentry shop.” The fact that nothing at all is said suggests the later work of priests, whose religious convictions inspired them to delete, but prevented them from being so brazen as to add words of their own.
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  3. Gyana (wisdom) is often spelled Jnana in books. Master once commented to me on the problems of transliteration from Sanskrit to Roman characters. He was going over some of his writings with me at Twenty-Nine Palms, after I’d been with him about a year, when we came upon this word, gyana. “Jnana is how scholars like to spell it,” Master scoffed. “It isn’t pronounced J-nana. And how else are you going to pronounce it if you find it spelled that way? This is just an example of scholars’ pedantry. Gyana is the correct pronunciation. The g-y in English doesn’t show it exactly [pronounced rightly, there is a slight nasal touch to the sound], but at least it’s much closer to the right way of saying it.

    “Another transliteration that scholars prefer,” Master continued, “is v in place of b. Instead of Bibaswat, they write Vivaswat. Instead of Bishnu they write Vishnu. Why? The way v is pronounced in English makes this Sanskrit pronunciation wrong. Again, b isn’t exact, but it’s closer.”

    In his native Bengali the sound is distinctly B. Pure Sanskrit resembles the b in the Spanish word hablado, where it is between a b and a v. (In Spanish, incidentally, the d is more like the th in our word, the.)
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  4. Om is a common transliteration for Aum, especially in English, where the vowel consists of two sounds. I have written it thus here to indicate how it should sound when chanted in English, though, technically, Aum is the more correct spelling because those three letters indicate the three distinct vibrations of cosmic manifestation: creation, preservation, and destruction. For pronunciation, this spelling can be misleading, for the a is not pronounced long, as in car, but short, as in the word “afar,” where the first a is short; the second, long. The resulting diphthong sounds rather like the letter o in English.

    In Hindu mythology the three vibrations of cosmic manifestation are represented by Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Aum is the vibration by which the Supreme Spirit brings all things into manifestation. It is the Holy Ghost of the Christian Trinity.
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  5. A jivan mukta is one who has become freed of delusion, but still has some past karma to overcome. A siddha has been freed from all traces of past karma.
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