A Divine Test
In a vision when he was a boy, Paramhansa Yogananda saw himself standing in the marketplace of a small town in the Himalayan foothills. The day was hot, and the marketplace, dusty and crowded with dirty stalls, harassed shoppers, and whining beggars. Dogs ran everywhere. Monkeys stole down from rooftops to snatch at food in the stalls. Donkeys brayed complainingly. People laden with purchases bustled to and fro, brows furrowed with anxiety and desire.
No one seemed happy.
Now and again, however, someone in that milling crowd paused before the entranced boy, and gazed high into the distance behind him. Into the gazer’s eyes there came a look of intense wistfulness. Then, after a few moments, he would turn away with a weary sigh and exclaim, “Oh, but it’s much too high for me!” Lowering his gaze, he returned to the hot and dusty marketplace.
After this sequence had repeated itself several times, Yogananda turned to see what it was that had held so much appeal for those people. And there, rising high above him, he beheld a lofty mountain: verdant, serene, beautiful. An absolute contrast it was to everything in this hubbub of noise and confusion. On the mountaintop there was a large, exquisitely lovely garden, its lawns green-gold, its flowers many-hued. The boy yearned to climb the mountain and enter that earthly paradise.
Reflecting, then, on the difficulty of the climb, he thought as had the others, “But it’s much too high for me!”
Weighing his words, then, he rejected them scornfully. “It may be too high to ascend with a single leap, but at least I can put one foot in front of the other!” Even to fail in the attempt would, he decided, be infinitely preferable to existence in this showcase of human misery.
Step by step, determinedly, he set out. At last he reached and entered the heavenly garden.
For Master, this vision symbolized a predicament common to every person with high aspirations. Indeed, I wonder whether all men do not fret, at least sometimes, at the restrictions the human body places on them with its constant demands for sustenance, rest, and protection. Man longs instinctively for a life freed from competition and worry; freed from hatred and violence; freed from the need for constant care. Few people, alas, even suspect that such a state exists and can be found. Of those, moreover, who do harbor such hopes, most turn away with a sigh, saying, “But it’s much too high for me!” How very, very few take up the path in earnest! “Out of a thousand,” Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “one seeks Me.”
Yet the path is not really so difficult, for those who will but take it one step at a time. As Jesus put it, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”(1) And as Paramhansa Yogananda often said — a quote I have mentioned earlier in this book—“A saint is a sinner who never gave up.”
The spiritual path requires courage, and dedication, and the absolute conviction that only God can ever satisfy the soul’s yearning for true happiness. Those who take up the path for what Yogananda called its glamour, expecting only blissful visions and a comfortable, mossy trail strewn with rose blossoms of divine consolation, become discouraged when they find how often God neglects the moss and roses in favor of thorns. For those, however, who cling to their purpose with devotion, taking the path calmly one day at a time, no test is ever too great. Obstructions are seen, then, as blessings, for they provide the strength one needs to reach the heights.
I got an opportunity to learn something about spiritual obstructions during the early months of 1950. My period of testing began with weeks of exceptional inspiration. Encouraged, as it were, by a short, comparatively easy stretch on the journey, I had been racing forward with eager expectation. Now, all of a sudden, I found myself brought joltingly to a halt at the foot of a high cliff.
For some time after the Christmas holidays, my meditations had been blissful. I recall saying to Jean Haupt one day, “If for the rest of my life I never achieve anything more, spiritually, than this, I shall be content.” Dangerous words! God doesn’t allow His devotees to enjoy for long the luxury of overconfidence.
After a month or so of increasing inner joy, subtle delusions began entering my mind. First came pride in the feeling that this joy separated me from others — not, I believe, in the sense of making me think myself better than they, but in the equally false sense of holding me aloof from their interests, no matter how innocent. This state of consciousness masqueraded as wisdom, but in fact it was born of my spiritual inexperience. For the devotee should learn to see God outside himself as well as inside — outside especially in wholesome activities and in the beauties of this world. The world we live in is God’s world, after all. To reject it is, in a sense, to reject Him. Pride follows such rejection, and with pride comes the temptation to take personal credit for whatever inspirations we feel.
Even as I congratulated myself on my growing inner freedom, I felt increasingly uneasy over my spiritual condition. I could see that there was something seriously the matter with me, and that I was not responding as I ought to the blessings I’d been receiving. But where had I erred? My discrimination wasn’t developed enough to supply the answer.
It took time for me to realize that I’d been grasping at my blessings too eagerly, as though I’d attracted them by my own efforts alone. I had thought of myself as flying by my own strength, forgetting that, to soar high, the devotee must allow himself to be lifted on breezes of God’s grace.
From pride there developed increasing tension in my spiritual efforts. And then, realizing that what I needed was to be more humble, more inwardly receptive, I began trying too urgently, too almost presumptuously, to offer myself up to God’s will. I grasped at His guidance, as I had been grasping at joy.
“What do You want of me, Lord?” I prayed. “I’ll do anything for You!” I tried imagining what demands He might make of me, then pictured myself following them to the last letter. In my overeagerness, those imagined demands gradually multiplied until their sheer number defied comprehension. “Don’t sit here. Don’t go there. Don’t eat this. Don’t say that.” I fell a prey to what the Roman Catholics call “scrupulosity.” No longer was there joy in my self-offering. Scarcely even comprehending that I was playing this drama entirely in my own mind, I began to look upon God almost as a tyrant: His demands seemed hopelessly unreasonable! I failed to notice that He’d never actually made any of them!
“Walter is so confused!” Master exclaimed one afternoon to Vera Brown. Several more times that day he shook his head wonderingly. “Walter is so confused!” Then, almost as if to reassure himself, he added, “But — he will get there.”
At about this time, Master went for seclusion to Twenty-Nine Palms to complete his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. He took me with him. “I asked Divine Mother whom I should take,” he told me, “and your face, Walter, appeared before me. I asked Her twice more, to make sure, and each time your face appeared.” I hoped that weeks spent in Master’s company would banish the turmoil that had been building within me.
At his desert retreat, it was wonderful to listen to him as he worked on his writings. The ease with which inspiration came to him was extraordinary. He would simply look up into the spiritual eye, then begin speaking, with hardly a pause, while his secretary, Dorothy Taylor, raced to keep up with him on the typewriter. The deepest insights poured from his lips effortlessly.
I got to spend several days at Master’s place, listening to him dictate. After that, he instructed me to stay at the monks’ retreat and go through the old SRF magazines, clipping out his Gita commentaries and “editing” them.
Editing? I knew this particular assignment had already been given to a senior disciple, Laurie Pratt. “How carefully do you want me to edit, Sir?”
“Just edit,” he replied vaguely, gazing at me reflectively. Then with urgency he continued, “Work like lightning. There is no time to be wasted. But”—he spoke sternly—“don’t change a word.”
Edit, like lightning, and not change a word? To my spiritual confusion was now added the problem that I hadn’t the remotest idea what he wanted me to do.
Master instructed me to remain in seclusion and devote myself “with all possible speed” to my job of “editing.” Since I’d gone to the desert with high hopes of spending every day with him, it was particularly distressing now to find myself left not only completely alone, but in utter confusion. I was unaccustomed to complete solitude, and felt abandoned. Intense moods began to assail me. At times I would fall into bleak despair, actually collapsing onto my bed and staring helplessly at the ceiling. Every evening I told myself, “This simply can’t go on for another day!” But it did go on, day after day, for three long months. Each day seemed worse than the day before it.
It was as though two opposing forces were battling within me. Bravely I tried to give strength to the good side by meditating several hours daily, but even the effort to meditate only deepened my sense of hopelessness. During the daylight hours I tried to lose myself in the task I’d been given. My despair, however, at not even knowing what I was supposed to be doing made absorption in the task difficult. My “editing” job seemed to me like the labors of Sisyphus.(2)
Master once told an audience, “I used to think Satan was only a human invention, but now I know, and add my testimony to that of all those who have gone before me, that Satan is a reality. He is a universal, conscious force whose sole aim is to keep all beings bound to the wheel of delusion.” What I felt now was that God and Satan, at war inside me, were beating me up in their efforts to get at one another! It was not that I had the slightest wish to return to a worldly life. That desire, with God’s grace, since I first set foot on the spiritual path, has never for an instant entered my heart. What was happening, rather, was that, while I longed for inner peace, I found myself unaccountably terrified of it, and of going deep in meditation where alone true peace can be found.
The reader may see in my psychological ferment ample explanation for my feeling of helplessness without this added plea that forces greater than myself were belaboring me. The rational mind, dependent as it is on sensory evidence, would always prefer to reach its conclusions without the intrusion of supra-sensory causes, which to it seem supernatural — that is to say, unreal. Moreover, it is a notorious weakness of the irrational mind to leap eagerly at supernatural explanations for predicaments that it would otherwise be obliged to accept as its own responsibility.
Nonetheless, this much is surely true — that every mental state reflects broader realities of consciousness. Our merriment, for example, demonstrates the already existing potential for merriment in humanity itself; our very consciousness, the potential for consciousness throughout the universe. Living beings manifest consciousness, even as a light bulb manifests electricity. Consciousness is a cosmic fact. Man only tunes into, and expresses, limited aspects of consciousness. His thoughts are never solitary cries flung into a cosmic void. Like birds, rather, riding on a wind, his thoughts are supported, and further influenced, by whatever stream of consciousness they enter. Depending on which aspects of cosmic reality man himself tunes in to, he is drawn downward or upward in his spiritual evolution — down toward matter by what is known as the satanic force, or up toward infinity by God’s love.
There are beings, both in this world and the next, that act more or less consciously as agents for these divine or satanic forces. Angels, we call those in the first group; demons, those in the second.
A year or so before the period I am describing, I had an experience with an entity in the latter group. The episode sounds almost like a page out of some medieval romance.
I was new on the path, and naively eager for whatever information I could gather regarding it. Boone informed me one day that, according to Master, the stories of possession in the Bible were factual. He went on to describe a strange experience he himself had once had with a demonic entity that had tried to possess him. Intrigued rather than frightened, I decided that it would be interesting to test personally the truth of Boone’s assertion.
One night not long afterward, I dreamed that I was at a party. The thought suddenly came to me with striking certainty: “It’s time to go meet a disembodied spirit.” I left my friends and passed through an empty, well-lit room toward an open door on the far side. I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye the bare floorboards and walls, the shining bulb dangling from the ceiling. The next room was dark; here, I knew, I was to meet the disincarnate entity. Momentarily apprehensive, I reached out to switch on the light. Then I rebuked myself, thinking, “Don’t be a coward,” and pulled back. “How will you learn what this is all about,” I asked myself, “if you don’t dare face it?” And so, leaving the room dark, I stood in the center of it and called out, “Come!”
Here comes the “gothic” part of my story. The following day Jean Haupt told me that he had been awakened at about the same time of night by a loud, fierce pounding on his door.
“Wh-what is it?” he quailed.
A deep, rough voice loudly demanded, “Who’s in there?”
“Jean Haupt.” By now Jean was thoroughly frightened.
“I don’t want you. I want Don Walters!” Whoever or whatever it was stormed noisily out of the building.
Shortly after that, it must have been, when my own strange experience began.
“Come!” As I called out, the floor beneath me began to heave in wave-like movements. An instant later I found myself being drawn out of my body and out the window into a sort of grey mist. A peculiar aspect of Aum, not at all pleasant, resounded loudly all around me. This was evidently not going to be a spiritually uplifting experience! Discrimination, however, was not my strong point that night.
“How interesting!” I thought, going along with events to see where they led.
Presently, some powerful force pitted itself against me; it seemed determined to rob me of my conscious awareness. I struggled to resist, but the opposing will was strong; I wasn’t at all sure I would win. I quickly decided I’d better stop playing such a risky game.
“Master!” I cried, urgently.
Instantly the experience ended. The sound ceased. Back again in my body, I sat up in bed, fully awake.
Later that day I asked Master if this had been a true experience.
“Yes, it was. Such things sometimes happen on the path.” He added, “Don’t be afraid of them.”
How could one be afraid, I thought, after such a demonstration of the guru’s omniscient protection?
I omitted something in telling this story in the first edition of this book, owing either to my own inability to understand it, or to my fear lest it take my readers or listeners out of their depths of comprehension.
What happened first in our conversation was that Master asked me to describe what had happened. At that point a question arose in my mind; I said, “Sir, didn’t you know about it?”
As if brushing the question aside, he replied brusquely, “When you are one with God, you become God.” Was such a thing possible? What he’d said seemed inconceivable! Yet what can be left, once the ego has been demolished? Logically, there can remain only God. Master, in his divine Self, had been fully aware of my experience.
The worst of my ordeal at Twenty-Nine Palms, however, was that while it lasted I wasn’t even able to call on Master with my accustomed faith in him. Suddenly, without any conscious intent on my part, I found myself plunged into violent doubts. It wasn’t that I doubted Master’s goodness, or his spiritual greatness, or even my commitment to him as my guru. But the thought suddenly forced itself insidiously upon me: “He lacks wisdom.” It was an idea over which I had no control. If Master had said, “The sun is shining in Los Angeles,” this doubting serpent inside me would have sneered, “I’ll bet it’s raining!” There was no question of my entertaining these doubts. I would have done anything to be rid of them; they made me utterly miserable.
My doubts began with the commentaries I was supposed to be editing. I found them in bad shape. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Master’s practice during the early years of his mission had been simply to write an article, then turn it over to his editors and printers and never glance at it again. Even I, who knew no Sanskrit, could see plainly that, in their inconsistencies, the Sanskrit names as they were printed showed a woeful lack of familiarity with that language. I didn’t realize that the editors had simply not been conscientious enough to catch obvious typographical errors — that, in fact, they’d added not a few eccentricities of their own.
Worse still, in his commentaries Master would sometimes write, “This means so and so,” and then turn around — almost, to my mind, as though correcting himself — and say, “On the other hand, it also means…” and go on to suggest an interpretation which — again, to my way of thinking — bore little relation to the first one. “Can’t he make up his mind?” I marveled. “How is it possible for the same passage to have both meanings?”
It was only gradually, over years, that I came to appreciate the subtlety of this way of thinking. I also learned that this multifaceted scriptural commentary is traditional in India. Indeed, I see now that, philosophically, it is a far more sophisticated approach than ours with our preference for limiting every truth to one definition only — as though a definition and the truth it defines were one and the same thing. Reality has many dimensions.
Sri Chaitanya, a youthful saint, lived several centuries ago in India, and followed the path of bhakti (devotion). He moved from Navadweep in Bengal to Puri, in the state of Orissa, to be near the Jagannath temple there. Sarvabhauma, an older man and a famous scholar, decided that this young man, though radiant, needed an intellectual foundation for his beliefs. Going to Chaitanya, he offered to give him instruction.
“I’d be happy to learn,” the other replied.
Sarvabhauma then, reading from scripture, interpreted a single passage in twenty-five ways: an amazing feat. Chaitanya was properly impressed. After congratulating the older man, however, he said, “Let me see if I can come up with any others.” He found eighty more meanings in that passage! Sarvabhauma, faced with that accomplishment, became Chaitanya’s disciple.
How different this way of thinking from the Aristotelian “either… or” method in which I’d been raised! But I came to understand that a deep truth is like the hub of a wheel: the more central it is, the more clearly it relates to the entire wheel of experience.
My dilemma of doubt illustrates more or less typically the problem of every devotee. Before he can attain divine freedom, he must weed out every obstructing tendency he has carried over from the past. Mere intellectual affirmation of victory is not enough: He must also face his delusions in stern hand-to-hand combat. Every seeker has his own special, self-created set of delusions to overcome. Win against them he must, however, if he would attain inner freedom.
“You are doubting now,” Master told me one day, “because you doubted in the past.” (Out of shame, I hadn’t consulted him regarding my dilemma. But he’d known what was on my mind.)
In time I realized that one of the reasons Master wanted me to teach others was that, having entertained doubts myself in past lives, and having already to a great extent conquered them in this one, I needed to reinforce my growing faith by expressing it outwardly, and helping others in their struggles to resolve doubts, themselves. By deepening their faith, I would also pay off my own karmic debt for having ever, myself, doubted.
When I had been at the monks’ retreat about a month, Master summoned Henry from Mt. Washington to work on certain projects at his retreat. Henry commuted there daily from our place. After some time, Jerry Torgerson came out and stayed with us also. Jerry, too, of course, worked at Master’s place. Later, others came out on weekends; they, too, worked — where else?—at Master’s place. It was even more heart-rending for me to see crowds going over to be with Master, while I labored alone, hopelessly, at my incomprehensible task of editing. But Master insisted that I stick to it.
“How much have you edited?” he wrote me in a note that Henry brought back one day. “Thorough but fast editing is necessary, or nothing will be done. Time is scant.”
Henry’s presence was a great blessing for me. During the weeks we spent out there together we became fast friends,(3) our mutual attunement developing until it often happened that one of us had only to think something for the other to mention it. What rare good fortune, I reflected, to find even one such friend in a lifetime.
As it turned out, the other monks didn’t get to spend much time with Master, either, since their work was out of doors, and he, staying indoors, concentrated deeply on finishing his Gita commentaries. Nor was he indifferent to my welfare. Rather, he tried in various ways to reassure me. But it was his way never to intrude on our free will to the point where it would mean fighting our important battles for us. That would have deprived us of the opportunity to develop our own strength.
And so the weeks passed. In April, Mother and Dad visited Mt. Washington. Dad was being posted from Egypt to Bordeaux, France, where eventually he made an important oil discovery at Parentis, and ended his career as an appointee to the French Legion of Honor. Master permitted me to go and receive them. “But you must return after four days,” he wrote me, “after seeing your parents — designated by your real Parent, God.” Then, referring to his commentaries, he added, “Only three chapters left. Soon we will get together.”
Master received me before I left. Looking at my now-flourishing beard, he remarked with a smile, “I can’t have you going looking like that!” He had me sit down right then and there, out of doors, called for a comb and scissors, and proceeded with many gleeful chuckles to trim my beard as he wanted it to look. I have tried ever since to keep the beard more or less that length, except for one period in my life when I shaved it off, thinking that now I looked quite old enough. I then decided, however, that it was for more reasons than my youthful appearance that he’d wanted me to grow it, so I let it grow again.
My father, happy as he was to see me, was far from supportive of my new way of life. He shuddered to see my beard, deplored my abandonment of a promising writing career, and altogether rejected my spiritual beliefs. One day he said, “If I were to get the opinions of a few doctors on this teaching about energizing the body by will power, would you accept their verdict?” It wasn’t as though he were proposing to consult any of the numerous physicians who were already members of our work. Probably he didn’t dream such an animal existed.
“Dad,” I remonstrated, “doctors aren’t omniscient!”
I attended the morning service with Mother and Dad at Hollywood Church that Sunday. The day before, I had asked Rev. Bernard, who was scheduled to speak, “Do you think you might give a really scientific talk, to impress my father?” “Sure,” he’d replied, confidently. Any correspondence, however, between Bernard’s and Dad’s understanding of science was purely coincidental. Dad came away from church that day convinced that Bernard had taken complete leave of his senses — a judgment that probably, by extension, embraced the whole lot of us, including me.
It might be conjectured that my parents’ visit, coming as it did during my severe trial of faith, made the trial harder than ever for me. In fact, however, that visit helped me to overcome my doubts. For my parents and I, despite our philosophical differences, deeply loved one another. The reality of this underlying bond helped me to see that love is a far better response than reason to that kind of doubt which is quick to condemn, but slow to investigate.
My parents were pleased in the end to see me happy in my new calling. Reflecting on my confusion and unhappiness during college and after it, Mother wrote Master a few weeks later to thank him for the good he had done me.
During my brief visit to Mt. Washington, I found that others of the monks, too, had been passing through inner trials. On my return to Twenty-Nine Palms I said to Master, “Sir, Jean is a little discouraged. Someone told him that Sri Ramakrishna said grace is only a sport of God’s. He takes this to mean that a person might meditate for years and get nowhere, whereas God might reveal Himself to any drunkard if He had a mere notion to.”
“Ramakrishna would never have said that!” Master looked almost shocked. “That is what happens when people without realization try to interpret the saints’ teachings. God is no creature of whims! Of course, it may look like sport sometimes, to people who can’t see the causative influences of past karma. But why would God go against His own law? He responds according to it. Tell Haupt I said this is a serious misunderstanding on his part.”
“I will, Sir.” I paused. “Master, won’t you talk with him? He seems to be having a hard time lately.”
“Well,” Master answered quietly, “Satan is testing the organization. Haupt is not the only one.”
“Is that what the trouble has been!”
“Yes.” Sadly, Master continued, “Quite a few heads will fall.”
“Will it go on for very long, Master?”
“Quite some time.” After a pause, he went on, “It all started when that boy, Jan, left Encinitas. Then Smith left. Quite a few more heads will roll.” Jan, the nine-year-old who had received a vision of Jesus, had left the work several months later with his mother. Rev. Smith had been the minister of our Long Beach chapel.
It would seem that, in the lives of great world teachers, a sort of housecleaning takes place toward the end of their missions. In this way their work is assured of being carried on as purely as possible after they leave this earth. Jesus Christ told his disciples, “The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” and again, “The man who eats my body and drinks my blood shares my life, and I share his.” He didn’t trouble to explain what he meant by those words, or that they’d had a purely metaphorical significance. It was almost as if he were inviting people to misunderstand him in order to find out who among his disciples were really in tune with him.
The Bible goes on to say, “Many of his disciples, when they heard him say these things, commented, ‘This is a hard teaching indeed; who could accept it?’” Their general reaction is reported next: “From that time many of his disciples withdrew, and walked no more with him.”(4) But the closest disciples of Jesus were in tune with him on an intuitive level. Nothing that he said outwardly could disturb the sublime certitude of that inner knowledge. Their intuitive understanding demonstrated their fitness to promulgate his message after he’d left his body.
One evening at Master’s retreat, we were walking together outdoors, just the two of us, when he remarked as if out of the blue, very sternly, “Apart from Saint Lynn, every man has disappointed me. And you MUSTN’T disappoint me!” His concluding words were spoken with great earnestness. I knew that many of his men disciples had not disappointed him spiritually. What, then, could he have meant? Had his meaning something to do with his frequent statement to me, “You have a great work to do, Walter”? I hadn’t yet understood clearly what that work would be. And my next question: Had it something to do with the fact of my being a man?
It took me years to understand his admonition that day at Twenty-Nine Palms, and the reason he had delivered it with such intensity.
Men and women, though equally expressions of God, manifest Him differently; thereby they complement one another. In this way they exemplify the dual nature of all manifested existence. Men’s energy, Master said, is more naturally outward; women’s, more inward. He pointed out that this difference, though of course varying with the individual, is evident even in the sex organs.
He had been disappointed that the men who had come to him as disciples showed no zeal for spreading his mission. Dr. Lewis often spoke disparagingly of ministers who “just get up and blow.” Master had had me lecture in the churches, but I always imagined that it must be my bad karma to have to speak in public. I visualized the other disciples — those with good enough karma, as I thought it — sitting at home, meditating.
It was nearly seven years before I came to recognize that people were in fact helped by something I’d said in a sermon or a lecture. One person had been contemplating suicide, but changed his mind after hearing me speak. Another developed faith in God after one of my sermons.
I’m afraid it was Dr. Lewis, primarily, who, by his comments about “blowing,” had dampened my enthusiasm for sharing the teachings — that, and also the fact that the women disciples, who served Master more closely and seemed outwardly, at least, closer to him than most of the men, were not given the task of speaking in public. In fact, however, Master had tuned into my most deep-seated desire: to help others, as well as myself, to find God.
Even as I was crossing the country to offer myself as his disciple, two longings had been uppermost in me: to find God, and to help others to find Him. “What a wonderful teaching!” I thought; “I wish everyone in the world could hear, understand, and embrace it!” This thought rose powerfully within me, almost as a part of my longing for God. How could I be satisfied even with finding God, as long as my brothers and sisters everywhere lacked that realization?
Did I really think of everyone on earth as my brother and sister? Yes, to this extent at least: One of my basic motives for seeking God was the dismaying realization that the depths to which anyone can sink are, potentially, depths which everyone must fear. I too could sink that far — not of course in my present realities, but in my humanity. I could become a drug addict, a murderer, a raving lunatic.
I remembered that period of my life when, as a child, my father had read to me from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and how, in my feverish delirium afterward, I had cried out again and again desperately, “I don’t want to be a drunkard! I don’t want to be a drunkard!” Man’s infinite potential for error as well as for wisdom unites him in consciousness with all men. Everyone in the world is in the same predicament, and shares with all the same need: inner freedom. If I could extricate myself from the universal problem, even to the extent of finding the right path to freedom, I longed to share my discovery with everyone.
This basic instinct in me was dampened by the deprecating comments of more than one of my fellow disciples. My first and only real desire was, after all, to find God. Nothing interested me that might obstruct me in my search for Him. I certainly didn’t want to “just get up and blow”!
One day Master commented to a group of us monks about the number of teachers he’d appointed who had allowed public admiration to go to their heads — to the point (absurd as it seems) of considering themselves as knowledgeable as their own guru! Such, alas, is human nature: It likes to preen itself. Master’s women editors, also, had presumed to correct not only his word-flow and grammar, but even his teachings. Hearing him describe this danger to those in the ministry, I said to him, “Sir, that’s why I don’t want to be a public speaker.”
He understood that this was an important moment in my life. Speaking gravely and with great emphasis, he lowered his eyes to the floor and averred, “You will never fall because of ego!”
There was another aspect, however, to his concern over those who taught in his name or, for that matter, who edited his writings. No one, so far, had shown real enthusiasm for sharing his teachings or his broader mission with others. Everyone seemed more concerned with his or her own spiritual progress. In me Master had found someone at last who really wanted to reach out to the whole world with the truths he had come to share.
I heard many years later that an ex-monk had reported to a friend of mine something he’d heard Master say to a small group: “If Walter had come earlier, we would have reached millions!” This, I now suspect, was why he came out onto the stage after my acceptance, and announced with obvious satisfaction, “We have a new brother.” It was also why he had me stand up in church the first time I heard him speak there, and introduced me to everyone. My work, as he already knew, was to serve as a spearhead for his teachings. He knew from the beginning that my job would be to introduce his message widely everywhere, without adding “amendments” of my own.
Indeed, through the many thousands of lectures I have given in many countries; through the nearly one hundred books (so far) that I have written; through the over 400 songs and instrumental pieces that have come through me; through his writings that I have edited; through the seven or eight communities I have founded so far; and through the many people — perhaps hundreds of thousands; perhaps even millions — that I have brought to accept discipleship under him, my job has been to bring not only him, but his teachings and mission to the world. Much, of course, remains to be done, but I imagine that few would deny that, with Master’s grace, I have been able to make a fair start at getting his work known in the world. And it all really began with those months out at Twenty-Nine Palms.
In my struggle to edit Master’s commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita (and, earlier, on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam), it turned out that there was enough to correct in the old magazines even without changing their wording. Most of the mistakes were simply typographical errors, or the brainchildren of some editor with a quaint fetish for capitals. But these literary outcastes were so numerous that I could see no practical way of preparing the text for publication without first typing out all the articles afresh, double-spacing for surgery. Master, however, must not have realized what very bad shape they were in. When I suggested to him that I type them out, he said it would take too long.
When, however, I finally submitted the fruits of my labors to the editorial department, having cluttered the margins with as many as six proofreading corrections to a line, it was obvious that my copy would be impossible to work from. Laurie Pratt, the older disciple to whom Master had given the real responsibility for editing, ordered that my work be thrown away altogether, and the whole job typed out, double spaced, from a fresh set of magazines. It was, as I had known all along, the only feasible thing to do.
Why had he had me do all that hard work, so uselessly? Later, I understood. He hadn’t much longer left to live, and he wanted to indicate his will for the future of his work, and for our own individual futures. Thus, he had tried in 1925 to start a school for children at Mt. Washington, though he surely knew that parents in America would need first to accept his teaching before they’d consider sending their children to his school. He’d tried to start a yoga university, though he must have known that the time had not yet come for such a venture.
He’d tried to start a “world brotherhood community” in Encinitas, knowing (again, surely) that America was not ready for such a step, nor his renunciate disciples ready to accept it.
And he tried to get me, at the young age of twenty-three, to edit some of his major writings, certainly knowing that I wasn’t yet ready for the task.
All this was to help “sow his thoughts in the ether,” for future fruition.(5)
One afternoon at his desert retreat I overheard Master scolding Miss Taylor for not using my work. “If you gave me a million dollars,” he cried, “I wouldn’t go through what he did to get this job done! Not if you gave me a million dollars!” (As if he’d do anything for merely monetary gain!) I smiled, though I was also gratified by the concern he expressed.
That afternoon Laurie Pratt happened to meet me outside Master’s house. “My,” she exclaimed, “that certainly was a lot of work you did!” Turning to go indoors, she added offhandedly, as if to the air, “Not that it did any good!” Again I smiled, this time wryly. I myself had known it was all useless.
Later that day, Master tried to comfort me for her seemingly unfeeling remark.
“But Sir,” I pleaded, “she’s quite right! It wouldn’t have been possible for anyone to work from my copy.”
“You are defending her!” Master’s expression showed amazement. “But you did good work. All those capitals! Why, they’d have made us a laughingstock!”
I was touched by his attempt to reassure me. For me, however, the important thing was that I knew now, more deeply than ever before, that I belonged to him, and that the outward ups and downs of the path didn’t really matter so long as I felt his love in my heart. Perhaps, I reflected, he had been keeping me at Twenty-Nine Palms only to help me face important defects in my own character, and not for the sake of his books at all. At any rate, I knew that my months of agony had matured me. Now, I felt nothing but gratitude for them.
There was once — the only time ever — that Laurie Pratt, Master, and I were alone together. It was out of doors at his desert retreat. Master told an amusing story from his early days at the school in Ranchi.
“I used to be a fast runner,” he said. “At the school we somehow acquired several dogs that caused us endless problems. No one could catch them. One day I took a gunny sack and chased after them, grabbing each in turn and putting it into the sack. In that way I managed to catch all the dogs. We then took them far away, and succeeded in getting rid of them.”
I no longer remember Master’s exact words on this occasion. In fact, I couldn’t really understand properly what he was saying. He told the story with so much gusto and enthusiasm, using broad gestures and panting in pantomime, laughing, and with a twinkle in his eyes, that his words became obfuscated. His delight in the story was contagious, however, and I laughed with him delightedly.
Laurie, for her part, sat composedly looking into the distance. She seemed mentally quite removed from what Master was saying, untouched by its comedy. Distantly she commented, “Well, well”; and then, “Fancy that!”
Master was obviously directing his story to me. Was he giving me a hint of Laurie’s inability to enter into other people’s realities, and perhaps her inability also to estimate the validity of those realities if they differed from her own? He must have known that she and I, years later, would have a falling out which resulted in her total condemnation of me.
I wondered at the time, too: Did she even have a sense of humor?
After I’d recovered from my test in that desert, Master looked at me kindly, then reassured me in front of the other monks, “Walter was on his high horse. Now he is coming our way.”
Matthew 6:34. How is it, I have often asked myself marveling, that so few Christians realize what a delightful, if sometimes incisive, sense of humor Jesus had!
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Sisyphus, a cunning king in Greek legend, was condemned in Hades to push a heavy rock repeatedly up a hill, only to have it roll again to the bottom.
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Reviewing that word, “fast,” I am compelled to admit that some other adjective would better serve my meaning, were I able to find it. It has been painful for me in my life to have to accept that no friendship is truly steadfast except God’s, and the guru’s, in God.
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John 6:54–66. Paramhansa Yogananda explained that Jesus, in speaking of his body and blood, was referring to the omnipresent, eternal Spirit with which his consciousness was identified. By “body” he meant all vibratory creation, the Holy Ghost, or Aum, which the devotee must absorb into himself (“eat”), until he feels inwardly identified with it. Christ’s “blood” is the all-pervading Christ consciousness, which, like blood which sustains the physical body, is the true “life” and sustenance of all creation. The meditating devotee must advance from oneness with Aum to oneness with Christ consciousness, and thence to oneness with God the Father beyond creation. I asked Master once, “What stage must a person have attained to become a true master?” He replied, “One becomes a master when he attains Christ consciousness.”
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The seeds Master planted in those weeks did indeed bear fruit in time. In 1994 I edited his Rubaiyat commentaries, and published them under the title The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained. And in 2005 (as I explain on p. xxx) I wrote The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda.
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