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“You might like to know something of the history of our Hollywood church,” Master remarked to me one day, “now that you are lecturing there regularly.”
“Naturally, Sir,” I replied, “I’m eager to learn everything I can about our work.”
“We built the church during the war. New construction wasn’t allowed at that time, but we were able to build legally anyway, by renovating an old structure. We bought an old church, and had it moved onto our property. The building was a mere shell,” Master chuckled. “How the neighbors howled! But we fixed it up — stuccoing the walls, fixing the roof, painting everything beautifully, and putting in valuable stained-glass windows. At last the building acquired a completely new look.” Master paused reminiscently.
“Finding those windows was a real blessing from God. I wanted stained glass, but everyone insisted, ‘You can’t get that now. There’s a war on!’ Still, I knew we would get it.
“One morning God showed me in a vision where our windows were sitting, just waiting for us. They were in an old junkyard. I went there. ‘I’m sorry,’ said the owner, ‘we have no stained glass here.’ But I knew better.
“‘Just look once,’ I pleaded.
“‘I told you,’ he said, losing patience, ‘we haven’t any!’ Growling, he stalked away.
“I went over to an assistant who was standing nearby, and asked him if he knew of any stained glass in the place.
“‘Boss say no,’ he replied, his body stooped with lifelong unwillingness. ‘Muss be no.’
“‘Here are five dollars,’ I told him. ‘I’ll give them to you if you take me where I want to go.’ At this he agreed. Together we went out into the backyard. There, gathering dust against a far wall, was an assortment of old doors and a miscellany of other items. But no sign of any stained-glass windows.
“‘You see?’ the man said, lifting his head in an attitude of vindication. ‘Boss say no. Muss be no!’
“‘Just pull those things away,’ I requested. ‘Let’s have a look at what’s behind them.’
“‘Boss say…’ he began a third time. Then he remembered those five dollars I’d offered him. Willingness may not have been his strong point, but finally, moaning and groaning, he moved everything out into the yard. And there at last, right up against the wall, were our stained-glass windows!
“In their present condition they looked like nothing but junk. The glass panes were in place, but all were hanging loosely, and covered with filth. The owner let me have the lot of them for next to nothing. We fixed them up carefully, however. Miss Darling(1) saved us thousands of dollars by framing and gold-leafing them herself. And now — well, you can see how beautiful they are. I am told they are valuable.”
“One would never suspect the church of having such a grey past!” I remarked, smiling. It now looked like a charming jewel, immaculate in its white, blue, and gold colors. Set well back from the road, it was fronted by a pleasant garden. Unquestionably, it was now an asset to the neighborhood.
Master continued, “The church carpet came from God, also.” This carpet, a soothing, dark blue, covered the entire floor of the church. I had long admired it. Master went on to explain, “I had wanted a beautiful carpet, because I think that if theaters can be designed beautifully to remind one of the beauties of this world, then God’s places should be designed even more beautifully, to remind one that He is the Source of all beauty. My wish was for a rich blue carpet like the one we used to have in our Encinitas temple. I sent people scouting everywhere. But no one found anything that resembled it.
“I myself then telephoned the company that had sold us that first carpet. ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ a voice said, ‘the man from whom you bought that one went out of business.’
“‘Who is this speaking?’ I inquired. It proved to be that man’s former business partner. He was just about to hang up, when he paused.
“‘Say’ he exclaimed, ‘I’ve just remembered that we still have a piece of that very carpet you bought left in our warehouse. How much did you say you needed?’
“‘A hundred and one yards,’ I replied.
“He went and measured his remnant. It came to exactly one hundred and two yards!
“I have often said,” Master concluded, “that out of the loss of our Encinitas temple came two more temples — this one in Hollywood, and our church in San Diego. Just the other day a visitor remarked to me, ‘What a pity that you lost your Encinitas temple!’ I answered, ‘It was the best thing that ever happened to me!’ You see, it forced me to bring these teachings out more widely into the world. And look, even the carpet in our new church came out of the very carpet that had been in the old one!”
By June 1949 I was conducting midweek services more or less regularly in the Hollywood church. Soon afterward I also gave occasional Sunday services, both there and in San Diego.
A problem for any new speaker is how to avoid a feeling of nervousness in front of an audience. I never really had any problem that way, but the fact that I was so young, and looked even younger, was certainly no advantage to me. The average age of my listeners was about forty. I could count on their knowing a great deal more about most things than I. My concern was more for them, I think, stuck as they were with having to listen to me.
Abie George, a disciple in Hollywood of whom we were all particularly fond, suggested a solution. Deeply devoted (“a beautiful soul,” Master called him), Abie also had a colorful sense of humor, and an unusual way of expressing it. “It’s very simple,” he explained with mock earnestness. “No, hey, I mean it,” he persisted, laughingly to forestall my anticipated objections, “it really is simple. All as you gotta do is picture to yourself alla them there people in fronta you as a buncha cabbage heads. That’s all! Just say to yourself, ‘You uns out there are nothin’ but a buncha cabbage heads!’ Like that.” I thanked him doubtfully.
James Coller, the minister of our church in Phoenix, offered another suggestion. “I was so nervous when I first started lecturing,” he said, “that Master suggested I take a hot bath before my talks, to relax. One evening I was supposed to give an introductory lecture to a series of public classes. The announced subject was, ‘What Yoga Can Do for You.’
“Well, I took a long, hot bath beforehand! Too long,” James added, chuckling, “and too hot. It sapped all my energy. I arrived for that lecture so limp that I felt more like a steam-heated towel than a human being! After five minutes of speaking I found I’d covered everything I could think of to say on the subject. It was probably the shortest talk those people had ever listened to!
“Next, Horace took up a collection. He’s spastic, you know. After my five-minute lecture on what yoga can do for you, my only assistant went staggering from row to row with the collection plate, clutching at the backs of chairs for support.”
This story, told with much laughter, left us holding our sides in merriment. It hadn’t seemed quite so funny to his audience, however. They got up and left without uttering a word. Fortunately, the episode had a more gratifying sequel. One man, after leaving the room, returned to it, moved by James’s obvious goodness and sincerity. This man later became a devoted follower of Master’s work.
“Well, anyway,” James concluded, addressing me, “you might try soaking yourself in hot water before your lectures.” His story, I confessed, had left me somewhat less than reassured.
The solution I myself found to whatever problem I might have had with nervousness was to imagine the worst audience response possible, and then accept it — in short, to be willing to appear a fool. “This is all God’s dream anyway,” I reminded myself before a lecture, “so what does it matter whether people accept me or reject me?”
Indifference to the fruits of my efforts proved a solution to any possible problem of nervousness, but it didn’t help me in the far more important matter of communicating with my listeners. For, in telling myself it was all a dream,(2) I ended up not really caring whether I spoke well or not.
Only gradually did I become a conscientious speaker, as I began to see the people I was speaking to as manifestations of God; it was through them, rather than by appearing before them, that I was being asked to serve Master. This thought cured me also of a temptation that is common to public speakers: to be satisfied if the points they make are convincing to themselves. In seeing God manifested in the forms of my listeners, and in the realization that what I had to say was a service to Him through them, it became important to me to express myself in a way that would reach His consciousness, in them.
At first I used to pray before every lecture, “Lord, inspire me to say what You want said.” Later I learned to ask Him also, “Help me to sense what this particular audience needs to hear, through me.” Often, sensing needs different from those I had come prepared to address, I would give a completely different talk from the one I’d intended. Indeed, I learned in time to prepare only minimally, if at all, for my lectures, for I found that an open mind enabled me to respond more sensitively to the unvoiced needs of my listeners. The results of this approach were gratifying. Many people thanked me after my lectures for answering some specific question of theirs, or for dealing with problems that had been weighing on their minds. I always shared with them the real secret of my success: “God is the Doer.” For it was in this thought above all that Master trained us.(3)
When I was first learning to lecture, Master gave me the following words of advice: “Before lecturing, meditate deeply. Then, holding onto that meditative calmness, think about what you intend to say. Write down your ideas. Include one or two funny stories, because people are more receptive if they can enjoy a good laugh. Then finish with a story from the SRF lessons. After that, put the subject out of your mind. While speaking, keep mentally before you the salient points of your outline, but above all ask the Spirit to flow through you. In that way you will draw inspiration from that inner Source, and will not speak from ego.”
Most important of all to Master was the question of our attunement while we lectured, in order that we might share with our listeners not only our ideas, but our vibrations. Late one Thursday afternoon he spied Dr. Lewis out on the grounds in Encinitas, enjoying a stroll.
“Doctor,” he called out, “aren’t you giving the service this evening?”
“Yes, Sir,” Dr. Lewis called back.
“Then what are you doing roaming about? You should be meditating!”
In time, I was able actually to feel a power flowing outward from my attunement with Master, filling any room or auditorium in which I might be lecturing. If the hall was large, I could feel his vibrations reach all the way to the back.
If anything I said touched my listeners, the credit, I knew, was due to this power, far more than to whatever actual words I uttered.
During Master’s early years in the West, thousands came to his public lectures. When he built churches, however, he made them small, sweet in their simplicity. Smallness, he felt, is more conducive to worship; it permits a sense of inwardness, of closeness to God.
Master told us of a visit he had once paid to a large, well-known cathedral in the American Midwest. “I was admiring it,” he said, “when I heard God’s voice asking, ‘Would you rather have all this, without Me? Or’—here a vision appeared in which I saw myself seated on the ground under a tree, a handful of disciples gathered about me—‘this, with Me?’
“‘Lord,’ I prayed, ‘only where Thou art do I want to be!’”
The Master often remarked that an emphasis on large, expensive places of worship, and on crowds of worshipers, necessitates too much concentration on money, and too little on humble, inward communion with God. “The church system has to be revised,” he told us. “Outward pomp must be replaced by simplicity, and huge cathedrals, by small temples where sincere devotees gather for meditation. The well-educated minister of a large, modern congregation may lecture eloquently, but if he never meditates, and has no inward realization of God’s presence, what is the use of his eloquence? His D.D. degree in this case stands for nothing but ‘Doctor of Delusion’!
“If I went to a restaurant that had a good name, but that didn’t have the kind of food I wanted, what good would it do me? I’d come away as hungry as I had entered. So what is the use of a famous church, if it is spiritually dead? What is the good of a beehive without honey?”
He then told us, “You are on the eve of a great change. You will see the entire church movement undergo a revolution. Churches will become places where real souls will go to commune with God.”
Sometimes, with great merriment, he paraphrased a story from the novel Heavenly Discourse, by Charles E. Wood. His version of the tale went something like this: “When Billy Sunday, the famous evangelist, died and went to heaven, St. Peter wouldn’t let him enter the Pearly Gates, demanding instead, ‘What did you do on earth to deserve admission here?’ ‘Why,’ Billy Sunday protested, ‘what about all those thousands I sent up here from my revival meetings?’ ‘You may have sent them,’ St. Peter retorted, ‘but they never arrived!’”
“In Milwaukee,” Master told us, “I was once taken to a church where a choir sang especially for me. Afterwards one of the singers asked me, ‘How did you like our singing?’
“‘It was all right,’ I said.
“‘You mean you didn’t like it?’
“‘I didn’t say that,’ I replied. ‘But please don’t press me further.’ Well, he kept on insisting, so at last I explained, ‘As far as technique went, you were perfect. But you weren’t thinking of the One for whom that sacred music was written. You were thinking of pleasing me. Next time you sing devotional music, think of God; don’t sing to impress others.’”
Master’s own services were rich with inspiration. They conveyed none of the orphaned feeling one encounters in many churches of a God living far off in some unimaginable heaven, or of a Jesus Christ who left no more vital testimony to his continuing reality than the printed words in the Bible. In Master’s presence, divine truths came thrillingly alive, made vibrant with the immediacy of his own God-realization.
“You are a good salesman!” an American businessman once exclaimed to him after one of his lectures. “That,” Master replied, “is because I have first sold myself!”
Some of my most impressive memories of Master are of his public lectures. While they lacked the sweet intimacy of his talks with the disciples, they rang with the spirit of a mission destined, he told us, to bring spiritual regeneration to the world: a new path in the sense of a teaching geared to the attitudes and understanding of this new age of energy.
I remember especially how stirred I was by a talk he gave at a garden party in Beverly Hills on July 31, 1949. Never had I imagined that the power of human speech could be so overwhelming; it was the most moving talk I have ever heard.
“This day,” he thundered, punctuating every word, “marks the birth of a new era. My spoken words are registered in the ether, in the Spirit of God, and they shall move the West.… Self-Realization has come to unite all religions.… We must go on — not only those who are here, but thousands of youths must go North, South, East, and West to cover the earth with little colonies, demonstrating that simplicity of living plus high thinking lead to the greatest happiness!”(4)
I was stirred to my very core; it would not have surprised me had the heavens opened up and a host of angels come streaming out, eyes ablaze, to do his bidding. Deeply I vowed that day to do my utmost to make his words a reality. Twenty years later, with his inner help and by the grace of God, I was able to start the first of what have since become several thriving communities.
Often during the years I was with Master he exhorted his audiences to fulfill his cherished dream: to found “world brotherhood colonies,” or spiritual cooperative communities — not monasteries, merely, but places where people in every walk of life could devote themselves to living for God.
“Environment is stronger than will power,” he often told us. He saw “world brotherhood colonies” as environments for fostering right spiritual attitudes such as humility, trust, devotion, respect for others, and friendly cooperation. For people with worldly responsibilities who want a better way of life, small cooperative communities offer the best hope of fulfilling that desire, and also of demonstrating to society at large that people can, indeed, achieve heights so scornfully repudiated in this age of spiritual underachievers. Such communities, Master said, would emphasize cooperative attitudes, rather than egoic social and political “rights,” and present-day norms of cutthroat competition.
“Take the best advice I can give you,” he said. “Gather together, those of you who share high ideals. Pool your resources. Buy land out in the country. A simple life will bring you inner freedom. Harmony with nature will bring you a happiness known to few city dwellers. In the company of other truth seekers you will find it easier to meditate and think of God.
“What is the need for all the luxuries with which people surround themselves? Most of what they have they are paying for on the installment plan! Their debts are a source of unending worry to them. Even people whose luxuries have been paid off are not free; attachment makes them slaves. They consider themselves freer for their possessions, and don’t see how, in turn, their possessions now possess them!”
He added: “The day will come when this colony idea will spread through the world like wildfire.”
In the over-all plan for his work, Paramhansa Yogananda saw individual students first receiving the SRF lessons, and practicing Kriya Yoga in their own homes; then, in time, forming spiritual centers where they could meet once or twice weekly for group study and meditation. In areas where there was enough interest to warrant it, he wanted SRF churches to be built, perhaps with full- or part-time ministers. And where there were enough sincere devotees to justify it, his dream was that they would buy land and live cooperatively, serving God and sharing the spiritual life together on a full-time basis.
As I mentioned in Chapter 17, Master had wanted to start a model world brotherhood colony in Encinitas. He felt so deeply the importance of this communitarian dream that for some years it was the nucleus of his every plan for the work. Indeed, ruler though he was of his mental processes, even he on one occasion became caught up in a whirlwind of enthusiasm for this project. He told a congregation one Sunday morning, “I got so involved last night in thinking about world brotherhood colonies that my mind got away from me. But,” he added, “I chanted a little, and it came back.”
Another measure of his interest may be seen in the fact that the first edition of Autobiography of a Yogi ended with a ringing statement of his hopes to found such a colony. “Brotherhood,” he wrote in that edition, quoting a discussion he had had with Dr. Lewis in Encinitas, “is an ideal better understood by example than precept! A small harmonious group here may inspire other ideal communities over the earth.” He concluded, “Far into the night my dear friend — the first Kriya Yogi in America — discussed with me the need for world colonies founded on a spiritual basis.”
Alas, he encountered an obstacle that has stood in the way of every spiritual reformer since the Buddha: human nature. Marriage has always tended to be a somewhat closed corporation. The economic depression of the 1930s had had the effect on a whole generation of Americans of heightening this tendency, by increasing their desire for family security. “Us four and no more” was the way Yogananda described their attitude. America in general wasn’t yet ready for world brotherhood colonies.
A further difficulty lay in the fact that his work was already in the grip of monastic disciples who set the tone for all the colonies. Householders couldn’t match their spirit of self-abnegation and service. Families were, so to speak, crowded out of the communal garden by the more exuberant growth of plants of renunciation. And Yogananda was too near the end of his life-mission to fulfill elsewhere his “world brotherhood colony” dream.
“Encinitas is gone!” he lamented toward the end of his life. It was not that the ashram was lost. What he meant was that his plans for founding a world brotherhood colony on those sacred grounds would not be fulfilled, at least not during his lifetime. He stopped accepting families into the ashrams, which he now turned into full-fledged monasteries. It was in his renunciate disciples that he had found that spirit of selfless dedication which his mission needed for its ultimate success.
Nevertheless, the idea of world brotherhood colonies remained important to him. It was, as he had put it during that stirring speech in Beverly Hills, “in the ether, in the Spirit of God.” Kamala Silva in her autobiography, The Flawless Mirror,(5) reports that as late as five months before he left his body he spoke to her glowingly of this dream. He knew that his dream must, in time, be fulfilled.
Even with regard to so basic a part of his mission as world brotherhood colonies, however, Master was completely free from anxiety. He never saw the world as most people see it. To him this is all God’s play — a seemingly endless show of shadows and light in a divine motion picture.
I remember the evening that he recorded some of his chants for public release. Partway through that recording session I was obliged to leave for a class I was giving at the Hollywood Church. On my return, I found Master standing outside on the lawn, listening to one of the chants being played back to him: “What lightning flash glimmers in Thy face, Mother! Seeing Thee I am thrilled through and through.” Again and again he had the recording played over. Presently he began almost to dance, swaying to and fro ecstatically, his arms stretched sidewise, waving to the rhythm of the music. He was blissfully engrossed in the beauty of Divine Mother, whom he perceived as wondrous Light spreading out to infinity. I was deeply moved.
Afterwards, as he was taking leave of our little group, he said quietly, “I see all of you as images of light. Everything — these trees, bushes, the grass you are standing on — all are made of that light. You have no idea how beautiful everything is!”
Later, Durga Mata.
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The Hindu teaching that life is a dream is intended to inspire non-attachment, not irresponsibility. Even in a dream, after all, it is preferable to dream wisely. In the cosmic dream-delusion, man must act as a willing instrument of God, the Divine Dreamer, before he can win the right to eternal wakefulness in Him.
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“Take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” (Matthew 10:19,20)
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Self-Realization Magazine, November-December 1949, p. 36.
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p. 183. Unfortunately, however, this beautiful book is currently out of print.
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© Ananda Sangha Worldwide 2013