The Bhagavad Gita
“A new scripture has been born!” Master spoke ecstatically. His commentary on the Bhagavad Gita had been finished. In three months of unbroken dictation he had completed 1,500 pages. “I told Miss Taylor the pages numbered that many, but she carefully counted them to make sure I was right!”
Master and I were walking around the compound of his retreat. Having finished his manuscript, he had summoned me at last to help him with the preliminary editing.
“A new scripture has been born!” he repeated. “Millions will find God through this book. Not just thousands. Millions! I have seen it. I know.”
My first task, now that he’d brought me out of seclusion, was to read through the entire manuscript and get an over-all feeling for it. I found the experience almost overwhelming. Never in my life had I read anything so deep, and at the same time so beautiful and uplifting. To think that only recently I had been questioning Master’s wisdom! I kicked myself mentally for being such a chump. His book was filled with the deepest wisdom I had ever encountered. Unlike most philosophical works, moreover, this one was fresh and alive, each page a sparkling rill of original insights. With the sure touch of a master teacher, profound truths were lightened occasionally by graceful humor, or with a charming and instructive story, or highlighted with brief touches of new, sometimes startling information. (I was intrigued to learn, for example, that advanced yogis sometimes reincarnate in several bodies at once, in order the more quickly to work out their past karmas.) Best of all, the truths expressed in the book were constantly clarified, as Master himself said exultingly, by “illustration after illustration.”
“I understand now,” he told me, “why my master never let me read other Gita interpretations. Had I done so, my mind might have been influenced by the opinions expressed in them. But this book came entirely from God. It is not philosophy: the mere love of wisdom; It is wisdom. To make sure I didn’t write any of it from opinion, I tuned into Beda Byasa’s(1) consciousness before beginning my dictation. Everything I wrote came from him.
“There have been many other Gita commentaries,” Master continued, “including some that are famous. But none have been so all-rounded in their approach as this one. Swami Shankara’s, for example, deep though it was, was limited by the one-sided emphasis he placed on the purely spiritual nature of reality. Scriptures should deal with reality on every level. They should help people physically and mentally also, not only spiritually. The more down-to-earth levels of life are what people have to contend with. It is more for ordinary people than for saints, moreover, that scriptures get written.”
Again Master said with a blissful smile, “A new scripture has been born!”
“It was God’s will,” he concluded, “that the Gita be fully explained only now. This was a principal aspect of the mission with which Babaji commissioned me.”
Master had told us already that he had been Arjuna in a former life. Small wonder, then, that the task of explaining this scripture authoritatively had been left to him.
The Bhagavad Gita consists of a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna during which Sri Krishna relates deep, divine truths to his closest disciple. What, I thought, could be more fitting than for the task of interpreting this scripture to have been left to Arjuna himself, in a later incarnation? or for Sri Krishna, in his present form, to have commissioned the undertaking?
My three months of seclusion were over; there now followed two months of concentrated work with Master at his place. I spent many hours in his company, and much time also poring over the manuscript with Mrs. Nealey, an elderly lady — not a disciple, but a devotee and a trained editor — whom Master had invited to Twenty-Nine Palms to help with the editing.
“I don’t like to have you working with her,” he told me one day, “but for the present, the work demands it. While you are with her, though, never look into her eyes. That is where the attraction starts.”
“Sir!” I protested. “She’s an old woman. How could there possibly be any attraction?”
“It makes no difference; that magnetism holds true for all ages.” Master paused a moment, then added, “Already she feels a little attached to you — not in a bad way,” he hastened to reassure me, “and only very slightly — like a mother for her son. I don’t want you to worry about it, but remember, that magnetism is subtle, so be careful.”
It puzzled me at first why Master would want anyone to edit his writings for him. They were so manifestly inspired, and — well, I thought, didn’t divine inspiration imply perfection on every level? Not necessarily, it seemed. Inspiration, Master explained, lies primarily in the vibrations and the ideas expressed.
Logical sentence structure, I gradually realized, like good plumbing, belongs to this physical plane of existence. It is a tool, merely, of thought and communication. Cerebration is slow and ponderous compared to the soul’s transcendent intuitions. Many times it has happened that an important scientific discovery appeared full blown in the mind of its discoverer, only to require years of plodding work for him to present his intuitive insight clearly and convincingly to the world.
Great masters usually submit to the laws governing this material universe, which they respect as a part of God’s creation. But matter represents inertia, the tamasic(2) quality in Nature. To saints whose consciousness has transcended matter, the material way of working must appear slow and cumbersome indeed. As Master told us, he preferred to work on a level of vibrations. (“That is how books are written in the astral world.”(3)) In addition to this natural predilection for functioning on non-material levels of reality, great masters often deliberately leave to their disciples the task of translating their teachings onto the material plane, so that they, too, may grow spiritually. As Master once said to me, “By helping me with editing, you yourself will evolve.” Master could cope easily and efficiently, when he had a mind to, with mundane problems including those of grammar and literary style. As he once told me, “I did edit one book myself: Whispers from Eternity.” And this I considered not only one of his finest works, but one of the loveliest books of poetry ever written.(4) In editing his Gita commentaries, Master invited our suggestions, and was content to accept many of them.
On most days, after working on his manuscript, he would sit back and converse with me informally. Occasionally Mrs. Nealey remained in the room with us, joining in the discussion. As usual, Master’s teaching on these occasions often took the form of illustrative stories.
“God rarely wants miracles to be displayed publicly,” he told us one day. He went on to relate the story of Sadhu Haridas, a famous miracle-worker in India of the eighteenth century, who, Master said, “remained buried underground for forty days. Afterwards, when his body was exhumed, a group of French physicians examined him, and pronounced him dead. Thereupon, to their amazement, he ‘came back to life’!
“One day Sadhu Haridas was seated in a small rowboat with a Christian missionary, who was trying to convert him. ‘Why should I follow your Jesus Christ?’ demanded Haridas. ‘What did he do that I can’t do?’
“‘The powers he displayed were divine,’ retorted the missionary. Glancing at the water surrounding them, he continued, ‘He could walk on water.’
“‘Is that so special?’ asked Haridas. Stepping out of the boat, he walked on the water ahead of it. Wherever he went, the boat followed behind him. The missionary, of course, was speechless!
“The maharaja of that state, however, was a great soul. Seeing Sadhu Haridas one day from afar, he said, ‘There is something about that man that I distrust.’ His courtiers remonstrated, ‘But he is a great saint. Look what he has done.’ The maharaja replied, ‘All the same, there is something about him that I don’t like.’ He sensed that, by concentrating on miracles, Sadhu Haridas was forgetting God.
“And he was right. Not long afterwards, Haridas forsook his spiritual practices, married, and resumed a worldly life. Finally he saw his error and returned to his disciples. ‘I am back,’ he announced, simply.
“Years later he declared, ‘I have done many wrong things, but now the Beloved is calling me.’ Entering samadhi, he attained eternal freedom.”
“Sir,” Mrs. Nealey inquired, puzzled, “how did he rise again so quickly? When a person falls from a high spiritual state, isn’t the karmic punishment far greater than for a fallen neophyte?”
Master shook his head. “Mm-mmm. God is no tyrant. If one has been accustomed to drinking nectar, then takes to eating stale cheese, he soon grows dissatisfied with the change, and throws the cheese away, crying for nectar again. God won’t refuse him, if he realizes his mistake and longs sincerely again for God’s love.
“But you see,” Master continued, “one shouldn’t display spiritual powers publicly. Not many years ago there was a yogi in India who used to demonstrate, before large gatherings, an ability to swallow deadly poisons without any ill effect. One day he forgot to prepare his mind in advance, and the poison began to take its toll. As he lay dying, he confessed, ‘I know this is my punishment for displaying those powers so openly before others.’
“A master may, however, reveal more divine power to his disciples.” Master went on to speak of his guru, and of the miracles Sri Yukteswar had occasionally displayed.
“There was a loose tile on the roof of his ashram in Puri,” Master recalled with a smile. “I wanted to fix it, as I was afraid it might fall down and hurt somebody. But my master showed not the slightest concern. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ he told me nonchalantly. ‘As long as I am alive, it will remain up there.’ It stayed there until the day of his death, some twenty years later. On that very day, it fell to the ground!”
One day we discussed the strictness of Sri Yukteswar’s discipline in training his disciples. “He didn’t want disciples,” Master remarked. “Few could take his penetrating insight into their weaknesses — an insight which he never hesitated to reveal! But because I remained loyal to him, I found God. By converting me, he converted thousands.”
“Master,” I inquired, “might Sri Yukteswar’s strictness have been due to his foreknowledge that he wouldn’t be returning to this material plane of existence, since his work now is on a high astral plane? Was it not that most of his real disciples were free already, and he was simply being careful not to assume responsibility for any new ones?”
“That’s right,” Master replied. “He had a few stragglers this time, that’s all.”
On other occasions Master told us that he himself had in fact attained liberation “many incarnations ago.”
“Sir,” I asked him one day, “how long have I been your disciple?”
“Well, it has been a long time, that’s all I will say.”
“But does it always take so long?”
“Oh, yes,” Master replied. “Desires for name and fame, etc., take them away many times, until they have learned all their material lessons in this school of life.”
Could he, I wondered, have named those two faults because they had been, long ago, my own delusions? Possibly so, for what he predicted for my life now certainly pointed in the direction of attaining them, outwardly. If so, however, there was no answering twinge of recognition in my own heart. Name and fame, which have come to me in service to my Guru with the understanding of truth he awakened in me, I have found only minimally gratifying — the minimal part being that I am of course thrilled to have been of service to him, and to others. Still, at my present stage of life (eighty-two) I can look back and state with confidence that I have never done anything from a wish for personal recognition.
In his Gita commentary Yogananda stresses that, once the devotee sincerely longs for freedom, it is only a matter of time before that desire is fulfilled. Compared to the vast number of incarnations that the soul wanders in delusion before turning back toward its source in God, the sincere longing for liberation is hardly a step short of freedom itself.
Talk turned one afternoon to Sri Yukteswar’s book, The Holy Science. “I find much of it abstruse,” I confessed.
“Do you?” Mrs. Nealey showed surprise. “Why, I found it very easy to understand!”
Minutes later she left the room. Smiling, Master commented to me, “Even I, when I read that book, have to stop in places and think what it means!”
Conversation turned occasionally to the ways of masters. “People always want miracles from them,” Master remarked. “They don’t see that in a master’s humility lies his greatest ‘miracle.’ The actions of true masters,” he added, “though not easily understood by worldly people, are always wisdom-guided, never haphazard.
“A few years ago a so-called ‘master’ in India planned to visit this country. He wrote asking me if he might visit Mt. Washington on his way to a religious congress in the Midwest. Well, we prepared an elaborate banquet for him and fifteen of his disciples. We were actually awaiting his arrival when a telegram came from Honolulu. He had traveled all that distance, then suddenly received the ‘inspiration’ to turn around and go home again.” Master chuckled. “No master would ever behave that way!”
He went on to discuss a number of other prominent religious figures, some of whom were truly great, and others perhaps less edifying than instructive in the examples they set.
“There was a black preacher named Father Divine, who claimed to be God. He wrote me that if we collaborated together, our success would be enormous. He had a high-backed chair, across the top of which was engraved the word, ‘God.’” Master chuckled. “Someone once accused him of fraud. The judge hearing the case died unexpectedly of a heart attack.” Laughing, Master concluded, “Father Divine commented sadly, ‘I hated to have to do it!’”
Master then turned to more exalted recollections:
“I met a great saint on my trip to India in 1935,” he said. “He is still alive. His name is Yogi Ramiah. He is a disciple of Ramana Maharshi, and a fully liberated soul. We walked hand in hand around the grounds at Ramanashram, drunk with God. Oh! If I had spent another half hour in his company, I could never have brought myself to leave India again!”
(In 1960 I myself spent four days with Yogi Ramiah — Sri Rama Yogi, as he was known then. The visit marked a high point in my spiritual life. I’ve written about that visit in another book of mine, Visits to Saints of India.)
Master then spoke of his work in India, particularly his Ranchi school.
“The trouble with training schoolboys,” he said, “is that most of them, when they grow up, return to a worldly life. It does good in the long run, for society needs the uplifting influence of a spiritual education, but when a great work like this is being started, it needs dedicated workers. From this standpoint, what we have here in America is much better. The people who come to us for training want to devote their entire lives to God. In this way these teachings can be spread more easily.” Here again he emphasized the importance to him of spreading his message. He had not come to America for the sake of only a few.
From time to time he talked of one or another of the disciples, always with a view to instructing me, by their example, in the right attitudes of discipleship — not only for my sake, but to help me in teaching others.
“I was disciplining Michael,” Master said one afternoon, referring to one of the monks, “and Dorothy Taylor took pity on him. She felt I was being too hard on him. Michael, touched by her sympathy, began to feel a little sorry for himself. But then I said to him, ‘You know, there is a saying in India: She who loves you more than your own mother is a witch! I am your mother. Wouldn’t I know what was best for my own child?’ After that he was all right.”
Referring again to Miss Taylor, Master continued, “She has always been very obliging by nature; she would agree with anyone on almost any matter, simply out of good will. One day I said to her, ‘If someone were to come to you and say, “Yesterday I saw Yogananda dead drunk, staggering down Main Street,” you would look wide-eyed and reply, “Is that so?” I know you wouldn’t believe it. But don’t you see that you must be courageous in your convictions? To “stand up” for what you believe in is an important sign of loyalty.’”
Another day, referring again to the need for courage in one’s convictions, Master said, “My earthly father, out of a twinge of jealous attachment to me, attempted to criticize Master [Sri Yukteswar] to me one day for something trivial he had heard about him. I looked him straight in the eyes. ‘Of all things!’ I cried. ‘The physical birth you gave me is something, but the spiritual birth my Guru has given me is infinitely more precious! If ever I hear you say one more word against him, I will disown you forever as my father!’ After that he always spoke of Master very respectfully.”
Referring to the need for attunement with the Guru, Master said to me one day, “Look at Mr. Black, and then look at Saint Lynn. I asked both of them to come and visit our colonies whenever they could, so as to maintain that spiritual contact. Saint Lynn has come out every opportunity he could get, and has spent hours in meditation on the lawn in Encinitas. But Mr. Black never came. He could easily have done so, had he wanted to. He thinks he can get there by himself. But he will find out. Spiritually he is very advanced, but he is bogging down. He knows there is something the matter, but doesn’t know what it is. Attunement with Guru, you see, is essential, and it must be on all levels.”
Smiling, Master then discussed a certain student, Virginia Scott, whose attunement with him had never, I gathered, been deep on any level, though she was one of his “editors.” “Whenever I say anything to her, a few days pass, and then back comes a letter, pages long, explaining all the ways in which I have misjudged her!”
Other monks came out on weekends, and sometimes for longer visits. To a group of us one day Master told of an amusing occurrence during his months of dictation. Jerry Torgerson had taken a notion to cover the roof of Master’s house with concrete. It was an outrageous idea, but Jerry had insisted, over Master’s objections, that such a roof would endure forever. “I then told him to finish the job right away,” Master continued, “but Jerry said, ‘It will be all right. I know what I am doing.’” Master was laughing. “First he put tar paper down on the roof. Then he nailed chicken wire over it. At this point the roof was a complete sieve: Hundreds of nails were sticking through it. ‘Hurry up!’ I urged. But Jerry saw no reason to rush things.
“Well, presently a huge storm came. Pots and pans were put out frantically in every room. Water dripped everywhere. The house was like a shower bath!
“But there were two rooms in which no water fell: my dictation room, and my bedroom. The roof over these two was as much a sieve as over the rest of the house, but Divine Mother didn’t want my work to be interrupted. Only at the very end of the storm, one drop fell into a bucket in the dictation room, and another one onto my bare stomach in the bedroom as I lay relaxing on the bed. That was Divine Mother’s way of having a little fun with me!”
Jerry, who was present, said, “I’m sorry I’m so stubborn, Sir.”
“Well, that’s all right,” Master spoke consolingly. “I attract stubborn people!”
“He has great love,” Master said to me later of Jerry. “That is what changes people.”
Looking at Henry one day, Master told us, “Henry dug the cesspool near this house. He kept digging, digging all day long without ever stopping to see how far he had gone. By evening, to his surprise, he found he had dug a deep hole. That,” Master went on approvingly, “is the way to seek God — continuously digging, digging, without looking to see how far one has come. Then suddenly one day he will see: ‘I am there!’”
One weekend Mrs. Harriet Grove, the leader of the SRF center in Gardena, California, came out, uninvited, with James Coller to see Master. Not knowing where his retreat was, she found it by pure intuition. (“Turn left here,” she told James, who was driving. “Turn right there.” Then suddenly: “Stop! This is it.” And so it proved to be.)
“This is the afternoon,” Master told her when she arrived, “that I usually go out for a ride in the car. But I knew you were coming, so I stayed home.”
“Master,” James said that weekend, “I have such a great longing for God. Why does He take so long in coming?”
“Ah!” Master replied with a blissful smile, “that is what makes it all the sweeter when He does come! Such is His romance with the devotee.”
“Sir,” said Debi, anxious for a taste of such longing, “give me the grace of devotion.”
“You are saying, ‘Give me the money, so I can buy what I want.’ But I say, No, first you have to earn the money. Then I will give it to you so you can buy what you want.”
In the evenings, Master exercised by walking slowly around his retreat compound. Generally he asked me to accompany him. He was so withdrawn from body-consciousness on those occasions that he sometimes had to lean on my arm for support. He would pause, swaying back and forth as if about to fall.
“I am in so many bodies,” Master remarked to me one day, as he returned slowly to body-consciousness, “it is difficult to remember which body I am supposed to keep moving.”
Boone visited Twenty-Nine Palms for a short time. Accompanying Master and me one evening on our walk, he asked many questions concerning spiritual matters.
“You shouldn’t talk to me when I am in this state,” Master said finally. The deepest wisdom, he was implying, is beyond words; it must be experienced in the silence of inner communion. But when he did speak, his words during those days were filled with a wisdom rarely to be found in books. At such times he would remind me, “Write my words down. I don’t often speak from this level of impersonal wisdom.” More and more, from this time onward, he began to speak not as a humble devotee of God, but as one whose consciousness was saturated with the ultimate realization: “Aham Brahm asmi — I am Spirit!”
One evening, Master was doing energization exercises by the garage with Boone and me. Boone asked him about a certain saint who had appeared to him once in Encinitas. “Who was he, Master?”
“I don’t know to whom you’re referring,” Master replied.
“It was out in the back garden, Sir, on the bluff above the ocean.”
“Well, so many come,” Master said. “I often see them. Some have passed on; others are still on this earth.”
“How wonderful, Sir!” I exclaimed.
“Why be surprised?” Master replied. “Wherever God is, there His saints come.” He paused a minute or two while he did a few exercises. Then he added:
“Yesterday I wanted to know about the life of Sri Ramakrishna. I was meditating on my bed, and he materialized right beside me. We sat side by side, holding hands, for a long time.”
“Did he tell you about his life?” I inquired.
“Well, in the interchange of vibration I got the whole picture.”
After Master’s passing, the first part of this conversation was published, along with many other sayings I and others had recorded, in a book of his sayings called, The Master Said. Laurie Pratt, the editor, changed Master’s words here to read, “Wherever a devotee of God is, there His saints come.” The problem with her version was obvious: I, too, after all, am a devotee of God, yet I make no claim to have been so pestered! Tara was concerned lest readers fault him for a seeming lack of humility. (In fact, I learned in time that his way of speaking to us monks tended to be more impersonal than it was to the nuns.) I can assure the reader, however, that what he actually said was, “Wherever God is, there His saints come.”
One evening Master was walking around his compound with Boone and me. He was holding onto Boone’s arm for support. After a few minutes he stopped.
“Hot!” he remarked, switching from Boone’s arm to mine.
Boone at this time was going through a period of temptations that, alas, ended up taking him off the path.
During this time also, Master gave me much personal advice.
“Your life is to be one of intense activity,” he told me one evening, “and meditation. Your work will be lecturing, editing, and writing.”
“Sir,” I protested, “you yourself have written so much already. How can more writing possibly be needed?”
“How can you say that?” My question surprised him. “Much yet remains to be written!”
Some months later I addressed him further on this subject. “Master,” I said, “Mrs. Nealey has suggested to me that I write a book explaining how I was drawn onto the path — somewhat like Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain. It might help many people, she says. Would you like me to write it?”
“Not yet,” Master replied. As we discussed the idea further, I understood that he was implying that he did want me to write such a book, in time.
“You have a great work to do,” he emphasized again one afternoon, as we were taking a short walk on his retreat grounds. “You must therefore be conscious of how your words and actions affect others.” He was trying to get me to combine childlike simplicity with the dignity of one who was centered in the inner Self — a difficult combination, it seemed to me at the time. My inclination was to speak boldly of my failings, and to present myself as having few, if any, virtues — all in the name of humility. This behavior, Master implied, was neither dignified nor necessary to the development of humility. To achieve perfection, one must dwell on the thought of it while recognizing it as God’s gift, and not as a personal accomplishment. Master set out to correct this flaw in me. As he told me one day, “There must be neither superiority nor inferiority complex. Just tell yourself, ‘All is God.’”
“Sir,” I asked him one day, “would you prefer for the other monks to call me Walter?” They had been calling me Don.
“They should call you Reverend Walter.” In dismay (we monks never addressed our ministers as “Reverend”), I tried hastily to change the subject, but Master persisted: “It is not that one disciple is better than another, but in an army there have to be captains as well as privates. You must accept respect from others as proper to your position.”
This was, I confess, one piece of advice that I found so difficult to accept that I hastily put it aside, as though he’d never given it.
One day I was sitting in Master’s dictation room, waiting while he worked on a few pages of his Gita manuscript. While he wrote, his whole mind gravely focused on the task at hand, I gazed at him lovingly and thought with deepest gratitude how wonderful it was to be his disciple. When the editing work before him was finished, he asked me to help him to his feet. Rising, he held my hands for a moment and gazed with joy into my eyes.
“Just a bulge of the ocean!” he said, softly.
In his Gita commentaries he had compared God to the ocean, and individual souls to its innumerable waves. “God is the Sole Reality manifesting through all beings,” he had written. I could see from his loving remark that he wanted my love to expand and embrace the whole Ocean of Spirit, of which his body was but a tiny wave.
The ancient author of the Bhagavad Gita.
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Tamas, the lowest of three gunas, or qualities, that infuse the entire universe. The other two are rajas or rajo guna, the activating quality, and sattwa, the elevating or spiritualizing, quality. The three gunas represent the progressive stages of manifestation outward from the oneness of Spirit.
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The universe in which souls find themselves after physical death. The astral is the second stage of manifestation, outward from Spirit. In the order of cosmic creation, first comes the causal, or ideational universe, which represents sattwa guna. At this stage of manifestation all things exist only as ideas. The next phase is the astral, representing rajo guna. At this stage, primordial ideas become clothed in energy. In the third phase, the physical, energy takes on the appearance of solid substance. That all this is an appearance, merely, has been suggested already by modern physics in its discovery that matter is energy.
Shapes and colors exist in the astral world, as they do in the physical. There are planets, fields, lakes, mountains, and people on the astral plane. But all things there are seen as varied manifestations of light.
Master once said, “In the astral world, all you need to do is put your vibrations into a book. In this world, Divine Mother disciplined me by forcing me to go over my book many times.”
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In 2008 I published a new edition of Whispers. Dissatisfied with the one done by Laurie Pratt (Tara Mata) in 1958 (I felt it lacked Master’s poetic sense), I planned to reissue his original, 1949 edition. In going over it, however, I found a number of mixed metaphors and some quaint expressions that no longer worked in today’s English. Readers have told me that this version sounds completely like Master, without those “stumbling blocks.” I think that, even though he edited the 1949 edition himself, he still allowed himself to be swept along by intuitive exuberance, which carried him soaring over the rocky terrain of analytical reasoning.
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