Gardens — Mundane and Spiritual
It was, as I recall, sometime during August or September of 1949 that Paramhansa Yogananda acquired his last and most beautiful ashram property: twelve acres shaped by Nature into a bowl around a miniature lake. This “SRF Lake Shrine,” as Master named it, nestles serenely in the arms of a broad curve formed by Sunset Boulevard as, leaving the town of Pacific Palisades, it makes its final sweep down to the ocean. The property is one of the loveliest I have seen in a lifetime of world travel.
Soon after Master obtained this property, he invited the monks out to see it. Walking its grounds, we were wonderstruck at their beauty. Happily, Master predicted, “This will be a showcase for the work!” Later on he had us don bathing suits and enter the water with him.
“I am sending the divine light all through this lake,” he said. Afterward he said to us, “This is holy water now. Whoever comes here in future will receive a divine blessing.”
Even today, nearly thirty years after that event, simply to enter those grounds is to feel their spiritual power. Often I have reflected that people in distant lands go on pilgrimages for blessings like these. Holy shrines in India, Palestine, and elsewhere owe their sanctity, as this one does in modern California, to the blessings of God-known saints. In many of those more ancient shrines, however, people thronging there, eager for mere worldly boons, have diluted the spiritual vibrations. At the SRF Lake Shrine the original vibrations are still powerful, as one feels them also in Yogananda’s other ashrams. For not only have those places received his blessings (at Mt. Washington he once told us, “I have meditated on every spot of these grounds”), but since his passing they have been inhabited continuously by sincere devotees.
Soon after acquiring the Lake Shrine, we began the task of preparing it for its public opening one year later. An abundance of trees, shrubs, and flowers were brought in and planted on the steep hillsides. Statues of leading figures in the great world religions were placed in picturesque spots about the grounds, to emphasize Yogananda’s teaching of the basic oneness of all religions. (“Where do you want the Buddha to sit?” we inquired one day. Master was standing nearby, directing operations. “The Buddha prefers to remain standing,” he replied with a quiet smile.)
In the early months of preparation, swarms of gnats proved an extreme nuisance. The fascination they demonstrated for our eyes, ears, and nostrils was anything but flattering. “Master,” I exclaimed in exasperation one day, “what an irony! Why must so much beauty be spoiled by these flies?”
Calmly Master replied, “That is the Lord’s way of keeping us ever moving toward Him.”
Happily, the Lord found other ways of accomplishing this objective. The gnats, perhaps with Master’s blessings, proved only a temporary pest.
One day we were moving a delicate but rather heavy tropical plant into position on the hillside. Our handling of it must have been rough, for Master cried out, “Be careful what you are doing. Can’t you feel? It’s alive!”
His sensitivity to all living things inspired sensitivity from them in return. Not only people and animals, but even plants seemed to respond to his feeling for them. His gardens flourished. Tropical mangoes and bananas grew at Mt. Washington, where the climate is not conducive to their survival.
Shraddha Mata (Miss Sahly) told of watching one day what she called a “rose devotee,” which kept turning in its vase to face Master as he moved about the room. When he was sitting in his chair, she noted that the rose was facing him. Twice, however, when he was called to the door, she noted the rose facing in that direction. Several repetitions of change of directions finally caused this event to surface in her mind.
“Sir,” she said finally, “you have a new devotee.” She indicated the rose which, now that he was seated again, had turned back toward him.
He looked at it for a moment, then smiled.
“Plants,” Master explained, “have a degree of consciousness.” Above all, like every sentient being, they respond to love.
Master even felt with certain plants a mysterious personal identity. One day, pointing to an avocado tree that stood by a walkway at Mt. Washington, he told us, “Originally I planted two trees here, one on either side of the path. We had a certain student living here in those days who was deeply devoted. Referring to him once, I told a few of the others, ‘One of us will leave this work, and one of these trees also will die. This tree stands for me; that one, for him. The tree that dies will signal which one of us will leave.’
“Well, his tree died. Soon afterwards he left. He had been very devoted, too. But — devotion fled. The delusion that took him away was the desire for — money.” Master paused momentarily before naming that delusion, to give each of us time mentally to fill in the blank with his own karmic obstacles, and thus to concentrate more on what each one had still to work on.
A pine tree in the eastern part of the grounds at Mt. Washington was dying. In the summer of 1949 Jean Haupt cut it down. Master grieved over the loss of his arboreal friend. “You will see,” he remarked quietly to Faye. “The end of that tree marks the beginning of the end of my own life.” Strangely worded though his prophecy was, it was to prove true.
Sometimes in his training of us he likened us, too, to plants. Of a certain monk who had been resisting his spiritual counsel, he exclaimed, “What a job one takes on when he tries to improve people! He has to go into their minds and see what they are thinking. The rose in the vase looks beautiful; one forgets all the care that went into making it so. But if it takes so much care to produce a rose, how much more care is needed in developing a perfect human being!”
Like a divine gardener, Master labored unceasingly for our spiritual development. It took patience, love, courage, and considerably greater faith in us than most of us had in ourselves. For where we saw only our own egos struggling to shed their imperfections, he saw our souls struggling to reclaim their divine birthright in God. Some of his disciples justified better than others his faith in them, but he extended to all the same vision of their ultimate perfectibility.
I soon learned that one of the most important things on the path, especially for the newcomer, is to pay attention to how he selects his companions. For even in a spiritual environment there may be a few gossips and grumblers, a few devotees who meditate too little, while others can’t seem to get it into their minds that it is they themselves who need changing, not the rest of the world. On the other side, in every truly spiritual organization there are also those who, by their example of selfless service, steadfast cheerfulness, inward focus, and spiritual fervor inspire in others a constant renewal of dedication.
At Mt. Washington I found such inspiration in numerous disciples. Even today I recall them with gratitude. I think of Mrs. Merck (later, Sister Karuna). Well into her eighties, she worked hours every day in the garden. “Ya,” she would say sweetly in her thick Swedish accent, “I lahv de flowers. Dey are my shildren!”
I think of Mrs. Royston, also elderly. She it was who told me how Master, years earlier, would run joyously out onto the lecture platform. Her steadfast loyalty and unfailing good spirits epitomized Master’s frequent instruction to us: “Be ever even-minded and cheerful.”
I think of Mrs. Wright, Daya Mata’s mother — at once firm and compassionate. “Great Mother,” Master used to call her. (A little sidelight on that story: Master told me, “When her son Richard left here to get married, she defended him. Since then, I have never again called her, ‘Great Mother.’”)
I think of Mrs. Brown (Meera), whose joyful loyalty to Master was as much a delight as an inspiration. Her joy, by no means callow, was rooted in great inner determination and strength. Mrs. Brown had to contend with prolonged physical suffering; yet she gladly ignored the pain to serve others. To me, as no doubt to many others, she was truly a mother.
Miss Sahly (Shraddha) was the older nun whom I had upbraided like a “young hothead” during that lamentable episode of the committee. As I got to know her better, I found in her a deep, steadfast devotion, one that brooked no nonsense. It reminded me rather of the efficient professional nurse she had once been. But I found her inwardly warm and sympathetic. Her outward severity helped me to keep in mind that the divine quest, though joyful, is at the same time a very serious matter.
Miss Darling (Durga), though sometimes a little sharp-tongued (in this respect, astrology fans would call her “a true Scorpio,” her actual sun sign), impressed me with the intensity of her energy and with her complete dedication in everything she did. Master once described to us how, years earlier, she and two of the monks had repainted the main building at Mt. Washington.
“The men,” he said, “though larger and much stronger than she, waved their paintbrushes lackadaisically to and fro as if making graceful peace offerings to the building. But Miss Darling fairly attacked the walls! Tirelessly her brush flew, back and forth, back and forth, never stopping to think how difficult the job was. That,” Master concluded joyously, “is the kind of spirit it takes to find God!”
At Twenty-Nine Palms he once told me, “The day Miss Darling came here (to Mt. Washington), I said to her quietly, ‘You have come.’ I knew she belonged with us.”
Years later, Laurie, who seemed unable to relate to any realities but her own, told me with contempt in her voice, “The only reason Master accepted Durga was because he was in such desperate need of help!” Yes, there still remained normal human weaknesses in most of us, including what I might call feminine prejudices. I knew Faye, also, to express a few of them: for example, against Dr. Lewis, who, though he had his own (perfectly normal) faults, was at the same time deeply devoted to Master. Such aspects of human nature are, I suppose, slow to die, and very difficult to shake off. Swami Sri Yukteswar called them “meannesses of the heart,” among which he listed “pride of pedigree,” to which I would attribute another frequent monastic failing: “pride of seniority.”
Of the nuns, Faye was the one I got the opportunity to know best, and from whom also I drew much inspiration. I found her always fair-minded and gracious. What inspired me most about her was her utter devotion to God and Guru. Her only desire seemed to be to follow Master’s will — though I did find, in time, that we differed somewhat in our interpretation of Master’s will. That aspect of things, however, I must leave to be told later.
“Is everything all right?” she would ask me when we met in her office to discuss official matters. Ever ready to help us spiritually if she could, she would set organizational problems resolutely aside even when they were pressing, if at any time she sensed a need in us for counseling or encouragement. Into every office discussion she would weave subtle threads of insight and guidance. From her I learned that work and meditation belong not in separate compartments from one another; that rather, when the thought of God is held uppermost, they blend together and become one.
“I feel that you have been close to Master in past lives,” she once told me. Our own relationship was more like that of brother and older sister than of junior monk and superior. This relationship, too, as we both realized, was rooted in past lives. I could never express in words the depth of my gratitude for her constant friendship and guidance. I considered it one of the most precious gifts God had given me in this life.
Of the younger nuns I saw very little. Among the monks, few, it turned out, had been in the work as long as the older nuns. (“The spiritual path is harder for men,” Master conceded. “But,” he added as a consolation, “those who get there become very great.”)
Rev. Michael (Brother Bhaktananda) was one of the monks who inspired me. Deeply humble (“He has no ego,” Master once said of him), and deeply devoted to God: I almost envied him the unaffected simplicity with which he could sum up the entire spiritual path, stating, “Devotion is the only thing.”
Joe Carbone (Brother Bimalananda) was another inspiration — and Henry Schaufelberger (Brother Anandamoy), too, who came a year after me. Both men combined sweetness with calm insight in a way that I found deeply appealing. Henry, however — to offer a proper balance in my appraisal — tended also to be judgmental.
Many others there were, besides. I felt it an immeasurable blessing to be living in their midst.
“Of the disciples,” Master told a small group of us in the main office one evening, “the first in realization is Saint Lynn. Next comes Mr. Black, and then Sister.” James J. Lynn, to whom Master always referred as Saint Lynn, received from Master later on the title and name Rajarshi (royal sage) Janakananda.(1) Mr. Black was the leader of the SRF center in Detroit, Michigan, and later also founded a spiritual retreat upstate in Vanderbilt, called Song of the Morning Ranch. “Sister” was, as I have indicated before, Master’s designation for Sister Gyanamata.
At Twenty-Nine Palms, in October 1949, Master said to me, “Those who are with me”—I think he meant, in tune with me—“I never have any trouble with. Just a glance with the eyes is enough. It is much better when I can teach that way.” He added, “They are saints from before, most of them.”
Another time he told me, “Many of the disciples will find freedom in this life.” Looking out the window, he saw Mrs. Royston working in the garden. “Even she,” he added with an affectionate smile. In a lighter vein he continued, “You know, she was even homelier when she first came here!” He went on to praise her highly for her many years of selfless service and devotion.
To a group of us at Twenty-Nine Palms he once said, “Horace is very nearly there. God is satisfied with his devotion.” Horace, as the reader may recall, was the spastic devotee who helped James Coller on the occasion of that disastrous yoga lecture in Phoenix.
James, who was present on this occasion, tried to reconcile Master’s praise of Horace with his brother disciple as he knew him. “Sir,” he said, “it must be a very simple kind of devotion, isn’t it?”
“Ah,” Master replied with a beautiful smile, “that is the kind God likes! ‘He does not reveal Himself unto the prudent and the wise, but unto babes.’”
About James himself Master said several times, “He will be liberated in this life.” Once, recalling James’s difficulty with organizational discipline, he added jestingly, “I don’t know how! But God says so, so it must be true.”
The disciple who was the most generous with his anecdotes about Master was Dr. Lewis, the first Kriya Yogi in America, and by now highly advanced on the spiritual path. We would sit for hours with Doctor while he regaled us with stories, some of them amusing, some serious, all of them instructive. They helped us to see how the relationship between guru and disciple evolves gradually into one of divine friendship in God.
Toward the end of October of that year Dr. Lewis and several other disciples, including Mrs. Lewis and Norman, accompanied Master to San Francisco to meet Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s Prime Minister. Doctor returned to Mt. Washington with tales of their journey, then went on to share with us other reminiscences of his years of association with Master.
“Master,” Doctor reported, “asked me to join him one morning in practicing the energization exercises on the hotel porch in San Francisco.” Doctor chuckled. “I nearly died of embarrassment! But what good reason can there be, after all, to feel embarrassed about doing a good thing? My self-consciousness had no worthier basis than the fact that our exercises aren’t known to most people! Master decided to cure me of this false notion.
“As we were exercising, a policeman walked by on his beat. Master, affecting a guilty conscience, stepped hastily behind a pillar, continuing to exercise there. The policeman glanced at us suspiciously. I was praying for a miracle that would dematerialize me on the spot! But Master went right on exercising as though nothing had happened.
“Minutes later, the policeman returned. Again Master ducked behind the pillar. This time the man, his suspicions thoroughly aroused, came over to us.
“‘What’s going on here?’ he demanded. He probably suspected us of being a pair of crooks planning a crime.
“‘Oh, nothing, Officer!’ Master assured him with an exaggerated air of innocence. ‘Nothing at all. We’re just exercising. See?’ To demonstrate his utter sincerity, he repeated a few movements, then smiled as if in hopeful expectation of a reprieve.
“‘Well,’ muttered the officer, ‘see that you don’t get into trouble.’ With massive dignity he moved on. By this time I was shaking so hard with suppressed mirth that my embarrassment was completely forgotten.”
Master and his little group had visited a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. The “vegetarian” meal they’d requested had been served with bits of chicken in it. A lady in the group, a prominent member of another religious organization, had stormed angrily into the kitchen and denounced the staff for this “outrage.”
“Master,” Doctor told us, “considered an uncontrolled temper a far worse ‘sin’ than the relatively minor one of eating chicken. ‘It’s not important enough to make a fuss over,’ he remarked to the rest of us. Pushing the bits of meat to one side, he calmly ate the rest of his meal.”
That night Master and the Lewises had adjoining hotel rooms. “Master kept the door open between us,” Doctor said. “I knew he didn’t really want us to sleep that night. He himself never sleeps, you know. Not, at least, in the way you and I do; he’s always in superconsciousness. And he wants to break us, too, of too much dependence on subconsciousness—‘counterfeit samadhi,’ he calls it. So I guess he saw here an opportunity for us to spend a few hours in sharing spiritual fellowship and inspiration with him. We don’t get many chances for that anymore, now that the work has become worldwide.
“The problem was, Mrs. Lewis and I were both tired — she especially so. We’d been traveling all day. ‘We’re going to sleep,’ she announced in a tone of finality. That, as far as she was concerned, was that.
“Master, however, had other ideas.
“Mrs. Lewis and I went to bed. Master, apparently submissive, lay down on his bed. I was just getting relaxed, and Mrs. Lewis was beginning to drift peacefully off to sleep, when all at once Master, as though with deep relevance, said:
“Nothing more. Sub gum was the name of one of those Chinese dishes we’d eaten earlier that day. I smiled to myself. But Mrs. Lewis muttered with grim earnestness, ‘He’s not going to make me get up!’ A few minutes passed. We were just drifting off again, when suddenly, in marveling tones:
“‘Sub gum duff!’ Master pronounced the words carefully, like a child playing with unaccustomed sounds.
“Desperately Mrs. Lewis whispered, ‘We’re sleeping!’ She turned for help to the wall.
“More minutes passed. Then, very slowly:
“‘Super sub gum duff!’ The words this time were spoken earnestly, like a child making some important discovery.
“By this time I was chuckling to myself. But though sleep was beginning to seem rather an ‘impossible dream’ for both of us, Mrs. Lewis was still hanging on fervently to her resolution.
“More minutes passed. And then the great discovery:
“‘Super SUBMARINE sub gum duff!’
“Further resistance was impossible! Howling with merriment, we rose from the bed. For the remainder of the night, sleep was forgotten. We talked and laughed with Master. Gradually the conversation shifted to serious matters. We ended up speaking on spiritual subjects, then meditating. With his blessings, we felt no further need for sleep that night.
“I was telling you,” Dr. Lewis continued, “that Master never sleeps. I’ve found this to be true even when he snores! One day, many years ago, he was lying in his room, apparently asleep, and snoring quite loudly. I tiptoed stealthily into the room and tied a string to his big toe, doing my best to make sure he felt nothing. I should add that we were both young then. Master was still snoring peacefully as I crept back to the door. I was about to tie the string onto the doorknob when he stopped snoring long enough to say, ‘Aha!’”
Dr. Lewis, finding us keenly receptive to his good humor this evening, related another anecdote. “Master and I were standing on a sidewalk one day many years ago,” he said, “when a man riding by on a bicycle noticed Master’s long hair, and stuck his tongue out at him derisively. About two feet further on he came to a large mud puddle. Right in the middle of that puddle, the front wheel of his bicycle came off, and he went sprawling!”
Gradually, Doctor’s reminiscences grew more serious. “Late in October, 1941,” he said, “Master visited us at our summer residence on Plymouth Bay, in Massachusetts. The ocean is extremely cold there at that time of year. Master, however, on his very first night insisted on going out for a moonlight swim. As he was wading out into the water we watched him from the shore, shivering. Pretty soon he was waist deep. ‘By now,’ I thought, ‘he must be feeling the cold!’
“Suddenly I saw a blue light forming all around him. My son, standing beside me with his wife, saw it too. Later, when Master returned from his swim, we told him what we had seen.
“Smiling, Master admitted, ‘I had to go deep in the Spirit to escape the cold!’
“I saw that blue light around him on another occasion,” Dr. Lewis continued, reverting once more to a humorous mood. “This happened years later. We were crossing the Mexican border into California. Master had bought mangoes for everyone; the car was fairly reeking with them! I was certain they’d be confiscated; as you may know, the California customs are strict about that sort of thing. But when the inspector came up to examine our car, he said nothing at all!
“‘How did we manage that one?’ another passenger asked me as we drove on happily into California.
“‘I’m sure I couldn’t explain the mechanism of it,’ I replied. ‘All I know is, as we were passing the frontier I saw blue light all around us!’”
Doctor’s reminiscences took him back to his early days with Master. “In the early spring of 1923 Master told me, ‘Be careful of your health next summer.’ Caught up as I was in the bustle of a busy life, I forgot his warning. In midsummer, however, I got my reminder with a vengeance. I was seized by a severe gastrointestinal pain. Days passed, and my agony only increased. At last I prayed fervently to Master.
“It was, as I recall, a Wednesday in July when he came to my rescue. I had gone to my summer home in Plymouth. By this time my endurance had reached a low ebb. Very early that morning — it must have been two or three o’clock — I heard Master’s voice in the driveway: ‘Doctor! Doctor!’
“What a relief just to hear his voice! He had commandeered a car and come all the way from New York in answer to my prayer. Entering the house with two students, he drew me aside. In that wonderful, unruffled way of his he promised me that I would be all right. He then gave me a marvelous yogic remedy for use in such cases. My condition improved immediately; soon I’d recovered altogether.
“During those early years in Boston there was a man who’d been condemned to death for a crime of which I, and many others, felt he was innocent. The day before his scheduled execution I happened to be with Master, and mentioned this case to him. Master became very pensive. Silently he retired to a corner of the room, and sat there quietly. After some time he returned to our circle with a smile, and resumed conversing with us. He never mentioned the condemned man. The following morning, however, the news came out in the papers: The governor, at the eleventh hour, had issued a pardon.
“You know, we weren’t as familiar in those days with Master’s methods as you all are now. We didn’t know the wonderful things he could do. For that matter, we didn’t know what any master can do. By now, people have had years to get to know him better. It was more difficult for us then to have the kind of faith you all have in him. In that episode of the condemned man, for instance, Master never told us he’d done anything to help him. He rarely speaks of the wonderful things he does. It’s just that, when things keep on happening around him, you begin to wonder. On that occasion, it was only after the man’s reprieve that I began to suspect strongly that Master had played a part in the matter.
“You see, he doesn’t want to amaze us with miracles. Love is the force by which he seeks to draw us to God. When I first met him in 1920, he said to me, ‘Will you always love me as I love you?’
“‘Yes,’ I said. I could feel his love, you see. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I will.’
“But delusion is strong. Sometimes when he talked of the communities we would have someday, and the beautiful buildings, and I saw him living in that little room in Boston, almost in poverty, doubts would assail me. ‘When, Sir?’ I would ask him. ‘When will such great things be possible?’ But Master remained serenely confident. ‘You will see, Doctor,’ he said. ‘You’ll see.’
“One day a man came to my dental office and told me lie after lie against Master. He spoke quite plausibly. Worse still, I hadn’t any facts with which to contradict him. I didn’t believe his assertions, but I admit that, inside, I was a little shaken. The man left. Some time passed. Suddenly I heard footsteps outside, resolutely approaching my office. The door opened. Master marched in. Striding straight up to me, he gazed calmly into my eyes. ‘Do you still love me, Doctor?’ he demanded. He proceeded to repeat word for word all that my earlier visitor had said to me.
“Master, I learned later, had been riding a streetcar four or five miles from my office at that time. He had gotten off at the next stop, and walked all that way with the sole purpose of helping me.
“Master inquired, in conclusion, whether a certain person didn’t owe me a sizeable sum of money. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘he does.’
“‘If you go there now, you will get it from him.’ I went, and was repaid immediately.
“In how many ways has Master helped me and my family!” Doctor concluded, gratitude shining in his eyes. “When my mother suffered a severe stroke, he prolonged her life. When my daughter, Brenda, then still a child, was stricken with convulsions, Master cured her.
“I was visiting Master at that time. The news reached me by telephone. As soon as Master learned what had happened, he stepped behind a screen. Moments later he reappeared, his face radiant. ‘Don’t worry, Doctor, she will be all right. And she will never have another seizure.’ One worry concerning illnesses of this type is that there may be future recurrences. But in Brenda’s case there have been none.”
As we left Dr. Lewis late that evening, we thanked him from our hearts for so generously sharing with us his unique experiences.
During the fall of 1949 Master asked me, in company with several other monks, to demonstrate the yoga postures before Swami Premananda, an Indian disciple visiting Mt. Washington from Washington, D.C., where he served as the minister of an SRF church. I was at best a mediocre Hatha Yogi; many of the postures I couldn’t contort myself into at all. That evening however, in Master’s presence, I suddenly found myself able to assume even difficult poses with ease. Indeed, from that day on I became recognized as SRF’s Hatha Yoga “expert.” I posed for the photographs that illustrated the poses in a series of articles in Self-Realization Magazine. If ever anyone was needed to demonstrate the postures, I was the one selected. Master often had me serve lunch when he had guests, and afterwards had me demonstrate the postures to them. Would that expertise might always be acquired so effortlessly!
One day in the fall of 1949 Master, while sitting and chatting with the monks in our dining room, looked at me pensively. “Why don’t you grow a beard, Walter?”
“Do you mean it, Sir?” I was astonished. Beards were rarely seen in those days. A couple of the other monks, in fact, later began to grow them and Master vetoed their plans with the remark, “I don’t want my boys looking like wild men!” (Perhaps his feeling was that one “wild man” in the crowd was enough!)
“Try it,” he said.
I was grateful when, soon afterward, he invited me to spend a few weeks with him at Twenty-Nine Palms. Lecturing in Hollywood Church with a slowly emerging stubble had threatened to saddle me with the reputation of being Hollywood’s first hobo-minister. Still, whether “wild” or not, by the time the beard had filled out I did at least look somewhat older and more mature.
At Twenty-Nine Palms Master told me privately of his plans to take me with him to India the following summer. Naturally, I was delighted. “I’m sure I could learn Bengali,” I said. “I already speak several languages.”
“You’ll learn it very easily,” he assured me. He went on to tell me a few Bengali words: hath (hand), chok (eyes), mukh (mouth), nak (nose), kan (ears). As it turned out, nine years passed before I went to India and got my first opportunity to use those words, but I remembered them easily all that time. I had only to recall the day he’d spoken them to me, and I could hear his voice again mentally, as though speaking in my ear.
This was the first indication I had that he might have bestowed on me a blessing far greater than the mere ability to contort my body into various unusual positions: the ability to recall the words he said to me exactly as he’d spoken them. How else, I asked myself, could I recall his words, tone and all, even when he spoke them in a foreign language?
One day at Twenty-Nine Palms he told me the story of Lahiri Mahasaya’s meeting with Babaji. In Hindi he quoted Babaji’s words: “Lahiri, tu agaya (you have come).” Simple words, to be sure, but to have heard them once only in passing and still be able to recall them clearly enough to confirm them in India nearly a decade later, argues a talent greater, I think, than I possessed naturally.
One day he sang for us a song in Bengali: “Mukti dete pari; bhakti dete pari koi?” Though in this case, too, I heard the words once only, they stayed with me until I went to India in 1958, and there verified their accuracy.
The interesting thing is that this power, if such it really was, existed only where Master’s words were concerned. The speech of others continued to be recalled in the more or less shadowy manner that is, I suppose, usual in such cases.
At about this time in my life Master began asking me to jot down his words. He intimated strongly that he wanted me someday to write about him. For long hours he would reminisce with me about his life, his experiences in establishing the work, his hopes and plans for its future. He told me countless stories, some of them to illustrate points he was making; others, I imagine, simply because they were interesting, or helped in some general way to round out my understanding of the path and of his life. Many of his meanings reached me not only through the medium of words and stories, but by a kind of osmosis conveyed by a facial expression, a tone of voice, or some even subtler transferral of consciousness.(2)
Often he talked about various disciples.
“Sir,” I inquired one day, “what about the young man whom you initiated in Brindaban during that episode in your book, ‘Two Penniless Boys in Brindaban’? Have you ever heard from him again?”
“No,” Master replied. “Inwardly, however, he has kept in touch.”
“Then it isn’t necessary to have outward contact with the Guru?”
“There must be at least one outward contact with him.” Master was referring, of course, to a meaningful contact, such as happens at the time of initiation.
From other things that he said, and from the fact that he sometimes had disciples initiate people into Kriya Yoga in his stead even while he was alive, I understood that this link with him would be forged by contact with successive generations of disciples who were in tune with him.
One day I asked him, “What are the most important qualities on the spiritual path?”
“Deep sincerity,” Master replied, “and devotion. What matters isn’t how many years a person spends on the path, but how deeply he seeks God. Jesus said, ‘The last shall be first, and the first last.’(3)
“I once met a lady in the state of Washington. She was eighty years old, and all her life she had been an atheist. At our meeting, by God’s grace, she became converted to this path. Thereafter she sought God intensely. For the better part of every day, whenever she wasn’t meditating, she would play a recording of my poem ‘God! God! God!’ She lived only a few years more, but in that short time she attained liberation.”
Master also told me stories about several of the more recondite aspects of the path. “There was a young man in India who died,” he said. “His body was lying there ready for cremation; the funeral pyre was about to be lit. Just at that moment an old yogi came running out of a nearby forest. ‘Don’t light your fire!’ he shouted. ‘I need that young body.’ Promptly, he fell to the ground, dead. An instant later the young man leapt up off the pyre and, before anyone could stop him, ran off into the forest. The family had to cremate that old body!”
“Sir,” I asked Master one evening, “what about Swami Pranabananda’s prediction, in Autobiography of a Yogi, that he would be reborn shortly after his death, and go to the Himalayas to live with Babaji?”
“He was reborn. At the age of six he left home.” Master smiled reflectively. “His renunciation at that young age caused quite a stir in his village!”
As Christmas approached, St. Lynn visited Mt. Washington. This was my first opportunity to meet Master’s foremost disciple and spiritual heir. I found him gentle, soft-spoken, and remarkably humble. He seemed completely dispassionate, centered in the inner Self. As Master introduced each of us to him, St. Lynn smiled sweetly but said little. I discovered in time that he took almost no interest in small talk. A self-made man of considerable worldly means, he referred hardly ever to his outer life. For all we heard from him personally, he might have been a man of few achievements. Virtually his sole topics of conversation were God, Guru, and meditation. Silently he would come up to us whenever we met him on the grounds, and bless us. He might then offer us a few words of spiritual advice or encouragement. His mind was always inwardly focused on God. To be with him seemed to me like looking out through a window onto infinity.
After Master’s passing, Rajarshi Janakananda, as we knew him then, seemed almost to become Master. His eyes, by some subtle transformation, were Master’s eyes. So perfect was his attunement that our Guru’s very thoughts became his thoughts. Master used to say of himself, “I killed Yogananda long ago.” Rajarshi Janakananda, similarly, had attained that state of consciousness where nothing of his ego remained. It was as if God and Guru, through him, spoke to us directly.
During the Christmas meditation that year Master led us in singing his chant, “Do not dry the ocean of my love with the fires of my desires, with the fires of my restlessness.” Over and over we sang it. “Christ is here,” he told us. “Sing it to him.” Later he added, “Because you have sung this chant here today, whenever in future you feel delusion pressing in upon you, sing it again, thinking of this occasion, and Christ and Guru will come down themselves to save you. Mark my words, for they are true.”
Master spoke for some time, as he’d done the year before, from the depths of his divine communion. He blessed St. Lynn, Dr. Lewis, Durga, Faye, and several others, telling them that God was greatly pleased with them.
“Walter,” he continued then, “you must try hard, for God will bless you very much.” His words thrilled me so deeply that my meditation the rest of that day was more on what he’d told me than on God.
On Christmas Day we enjoyed our traditional banquet. Master spoke afterward, intimately and lovingly as he had done the year before. During his talk he said, “The ladies in the office gave Faye a Christmas present. They addressed it to, ‘Our boss who never bosses.’” Smiling his pleasure at this beloved disciple, he went on to speak fondly of the garden of souls that was growing up around him.
Before the banquet, place cards had been set out on the tables; the affair had been planned as a restricted family gathering. At the last moment, however, numbers arrived uninvited. Room was courteously made for them, some of the renunciates offering their own seats.
In the office afterwards, a few of us were discussing with Master the inconvenience that had been caused by that sudden influx of people. A monk expressed his distress at their presumption. But I had been fortunate to observe another aspect of the episode.
“Sir,” I said, “the disciples were vying with one another for the privilege of giving up their seats.”
“Ah!” Master smiled blissfully. “Those are the things that please me!”
Janakananda means “ananda (divine bliss) through an ideal balance of outward responsibility and inward spiritual attainment that was perfectly exemplified in ancient times in the life of the royal sage King Janaka.”
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I drew on those notes and recollections for many of the stories in this book, and also for two compilations of his spoken words: The Essence of Self-Realization and Conversations with Yogananda.
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