Paramhansa Yogananda: Seeing God in Everyone
In some ways I think it was his utter respect for others that impressed me the most deeply about [Paramhansa Yogananda]. It always amazed me that someone whose wisdom and power inspired so much awe in others could be at the same time so humbly respectful to all.
I had always considered respect something one gave only where it was due. And in a sense, of course, [Paramhansa Yogananda] gave it in that spirit, too, but what it meant in his case was a demonstration of deep respect because he saw God in everyone.
As [Paramhansa Yogananda] said once to Dr. Lewis, his first disciple in America, “Remember, God loves you just as much as He loves me. He is our common Father.”
A certain religious teacher in Los Angeles, a woman of considerable worldly means, once helped [Paramhansa Yogananda’s] work financially, and behaved in consequence as if she owned him.
[Paramhansa Yogananda], as unbuyable a person as ever lived, continued to act only as God guided him from within. Gradually the woman developed toward him a sense of possessive jealousy, and on several occasions spoke to him venomously, hurling such insults as would have made any ordinary person her enemy.
[Paramhansa Yogananda], however, remained unalterably calm and respectful toward her. Never sharp in his replies, always kind, he was like a fruit tree in full bloom which, when an axe is laid to its roots, showers its malefactor with sweet-smelling blossoms.
The lady gradually developed high regard for him, praised him to others, and often took her friends and students to visit his centers. All her anger and jealousy became converted into ungrudging esteem.
In Ranchi, India, I was told a touching story dating back to [Paramhansa Yogananda’s] return there in 1935. It seems that an anniversary banquet was planned at his school. Someone was needed to preside over the function and give it official standing.
The name of Gurudas Bannerji, a prominent judge, was recommended. Widely esteemed, this man was, everyone agreed, the best possible choice. [Paramhansa Yogananda] went to invite him.
What was [Paramhansa Yogananda’s] surprise, then, when the judge coldly refused to come. He knew all about India’s so-called “holy men,” he said; he was looking at a typical example of them right before him. They were insincere, after people’s money, a drain on the community. He had no patience with them, nor time to speak for their worthless causes.
[Paramhansa Yogananda], though astonished by this reception, was unruffled by it. As he often told us, “Praise cannot make me any better, nor blame any worse. I am what I am before my conscience and God.” After hearing the judge out, he replied in a friendly tone, “Well, perhaps you’ll reconsider. We should be greatly honored if you would come.”
The principal of a local school, meanwhile, agreed to preside in the judge’s stead. When everyone had assembled for the banquet that evening, and the affair was about to begin, a car drove up. Out stepped the caustic judge. Since Gurudas Bannerji was such a prominent figure in those parts, the school principal readily offered his own place to him.
After the banquet there were several preliminary reports. One dealt with the school’s growth, and with the number of students who had gone on after graduation to become monks and religious teachers. “If the present trend continues,” the report read, “soon all of India will be covered with our graduates spreading the ancient wisdom of our land.”
Then came the judge’s turn to speak. Rising, he said: “Today is one of the happiest days of my life. This morning your Swami Yogananda came to visit me. I felt great joy on beholding him, but I decided to test him and see whether he was really as good a man as he looked.
I spoke to him as rudely as I knew how. Yet he remained so calm, and answered me so kindly, that I tell you in all sincerity he passed my test better than I would have imagined possible.
And I will tell you something more: Never mind the numbers of your graduates who are becoming monks. India has many monks. But if you can produce even one such man as this, not your school only, nor only our city, but our whole country will be glorified!”
Even as a boy, the [Paramhansa Yogananda’s] magnetism was extraordinary. Dr. Nagendra Nath Das, a Calcutta physician and lifelong friend, visited Mt. Washington in July 1950. He told us, “Wherever Paramhansaji went, even as a boy, he attracted people.
His father, a high railway official, often gave us travel passes. No matter where we traveled, within minutes after we’d descended from the train a group of boys would gather around us.”
Part of the basis for [Paramhansa Yogananda’s] amazing charisma was the fact that, seeing his infinite Beloved in everyone, he awakened them to an inchoate belief in their own goodness. With the impersonality of true greatness, he never accepted the thought others projected onto him that he was essentially different from them.
And once, when we were serving him, he remarked, “You all are so kind to me with your many attentions.” Karle Frost, one of the disciples present, exclaimed, “Oh, no, Master. It is you who are kind to us!”
“God is helping God,” [Paramhansa Yogananda] replied with a sweet smile. “That is the nature of His cosmic drama.”
The closer we drew to him spiritually, the less he sought to teach us by words. “I prefer to speak with the eyes,” he once told me. He never wanted to impose his instructions on us from without.
His method of teaching was, rather, to help us dig wells of intuitive insight within ourselves. The closer we felt to him, the closer we came to knowing our own true Self: the God within us.