Autobiography of a Yogi

Paramahansa Yogananda (signature)
The Philosophical Library, Inc. logo
Autobiography
of a
Yogi
By
Paramhansa Yogananda
with a preface by
W. Y. Evans-Wentz, M.A., D. Litt., D. Sc.
“Except ye see signs and wonders,
ye will not believe.”—John 4:48.
The Philosophical Library
New York
Dedicated to the Memory of
Luther Burbank
An American Saint
Map of India
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Preface

The value of Yogananda’s Autobiography is greatly enhanced by the fact that it is one of the few books in English about the wise men of India which has been written, not by a journalist or foreigner, but by one of their own race and training—in short, a book about yogis by a yogi. As an eyewitness recountal of the extraordinary lives and powers of modern Hindu saints, the book has importance both timely and timeless. To its illustrious author, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing both in India and America, may every reader render due appreciation and gratitude. His unusual life-document is certainly one of the most revealing of the depths of the Hindu mind and heart, and of the spiritual wealth of India, ever to be published in the West.

It has been my privilege to have met one of the sages whose life-history is herein narrated—Sri Yukteswar Giri. A likeness of the venerable saint appeared as part of the frontispiece of my Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines.1 It was at Puri, in Orissa, on the Bay of Bengal, that I encountered Sri Yukteswar. He was then the head of a quiet aāshrama near the seashore there, and was chiefly occupied in the spiritual training of a group of youthful disciples. He expressed keen interest in the welfare of the people of the United States and of all the Americas, and of England, too, and questioned me concerning the distant activities, particularly those in California, of his chief disciple, Paramhansa Yogananda, whom he dearly loved, and whom he had sent, in 1920, as his emissary to the West.

Sri Yukteswar was of gentle mien and voice, of pleasing presence, and worthy of the veneration which his followers spontaneously accorded to him. Every person who knew him, whether of his own community or not, held him in the highest esteem. I vividly recall his tall, straight, ascetic figure, garbed in the saffron-colored garb of one who has renounced worldly quests, as he stood at the entrance of the hermitage to give me welcome. His hair was long and somewhat curly, and his face bearded. His body was muscularly firm, but slender and well-formed, and his step energetic. He had chosen as his place of earthly abode the holy city of Puri, whither multitudes of pious Hindus, representative of every province of India, come daily on pilgrimage to the famed Temple of Jagannath, “Lord of the World.” It was at Puri that Sri Yukteswar closed his mortal eyes, in 1936, to the scenes of this transitory state of being and passed on, knowing that his incarnation had been carried to a triumphant completion. I am glad, indeed, to be able to record this testimony to the high character and holiness of Sri Yukteswar. Content to remain afar from the multitude, he gave himself unreservedly and in tranquillity to that ideal life which Paramhansa Yogananda, his disciple, has now described for the ages.

W. Y. Evans-Wentz

  1. Oxford University Press, 1935.

Author’s Acknowledgments

I am deeply indebted to Miss L. V. Pratt for her long editorial labors over the manuscript of this book. My thanks are due also to Miss Ruth Zahn for preparation of the index, to Mr. C. Richard Wright for permission to use extracts from his Indian travel diary, and to Dr. W. Y. Evans-Wentz for suggestions and encouragement.

Paramhansa Yogananda

Contents

Chapter

  1. My Parents and Early Life
  2. Mother’s Death and the Amulet
  3. Saint with Two Bodies 
    (Swami Pranabananda)
  4. My Interrupted Flight Toward 
    the Himalayas
  5. A “Perfume Saint” Performs his Wonders
  6. The Tiger Swami
  7. The Levitating Saint 
    (Nagendra Nath Bhaduri)
  8. India’s Great Scientist and Inventor, 
    Jagadis Chandra Bose
  9. The Blissful Devotee and his 
    Cosmic Romance (Master Mahasaya)
  10. I Meet my Master, Sri Yukteswar
  11. Two Penniless Boys in Brindaban
  12. Years in my Master’s Hermitage
  13. The Sleepless Saint 
    (Ram Gopal Muzumdar)
  14. An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness
  15. The Cauliflower Robbery
  16. Outwitting the Stars
  17. Sasi and the Three Sapphires
  18. A Mohammedan Wonder-Worker 
    (Afzal Khan)
  19. My Guru Appears Simultaneously in 
    Calcutta and Serampore
  20. We Do Not Visit Kashmir
  21. We Visit Kashmir
  22. The Heart of a Stone Image
  23. My University Degree
  24. I Become a Monk of the Swami Order
  25. Brother Ananta and Sister Nalini
  26. The Science of Kriya Yoga
  27. Founding a Yoga School at Ranchi
  28. Kashi, Reborn and Rediscovered
  29. Rabindranath Tagore and I 
    Compare Schools
  30. The Law of Miracles
  31. An Interview with the Sacred Mother 
    (Kashi Moni Lahiri)
  32. Rama is Raised from the Dead
  33. Babaji, the Yogi-Christ of Modern India
  34. Materializing a Palace in the Himalayas
  35. The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya
  36. Babaji’s Interest in the West
  37. I Go to America
  38. Luther Burbank— 
    A Saint Amidst the Roses
  39. Therese Neumann, 
    the Catholic Stigmatist of Bavaria
  40. I Return to India
  41. An Idyl in South India
  42. Last Days with my Guru
  43. The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar
  44. With Mahatma Gandhi at Wardha
  45. The Bengali “Joy-Permeated Mother” 
    (Ananda Moyi Ma)
  46. The Woman Yogi who Never Eats 
    (Giri Bala)
  47. I Return to the West
  48. At Encinitas in California

Illustrations

Autobiography of a Yogi

Chapter: 1

My Parents and Early Life

My Parents and Early Life

The characteristic features of Indian culture have long been a search for ultimate verities and the concomitant disciple-guru 1 relationship. My own path led me to a Christlike sage whose beautiful life was chiseled for the ages. He was one of the great masters who are India’s sole remaining wealth. Emerging in every generation, they have bulwarked their land against the fate of Babylon and Egypt.

I find my earliest memories covering the anachronistic features of a previous incarnation. Clear recollections came to me of a distant life, a yogi 2 amidst the Himalayan snows. These glimpses of the past, by some dimensionless link, also afforded me a glimpse of the future.

The helpless humiliations of infancy are not banished from my mind. I was resentfully conscious of not being able to walk or express myself freely. Prayerful surges arose within me as I realized my bodily impotence. My strong emotional life took silent form as words in many languages. Among the inward confusion of tongues, my ear gradually accustomed itself to the circumambient Bengali syllables of my people. The beguiling scope of an infant’s mind! adultly considered limited to toys and toes.

Psychological ferment and my unresponsive body brought me to many obstinate crying-spells. I recall the general family bewilderment at my distress. Happier memories, too, crowd in on me: my mother’s caresses, and my first attempts at lisping phrase and toddling step. These early triumphs, usually forgotten quickly, are yet a natural basis of self-confidence.

My far-reaching memories are not unique. Many yogis are known to have retained their self-consciousness without interruption by the dramatic transition to and from “life” and “death.” If man be solely a body, its loss indeed places the final period to identity. But if prophets down the millenniums spake with truth, man is essentially of incorporeal nature. The persistent core of human egoity is only temporarily allied with sense perception.

Although odd, clear memories of infancy are not extremely rare. During travels in numerous lands, I have listened to early recollections from the lips of veracious men and women.

I was born in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and passed my first eight years at Gorakhpur. This was my birthplace in the United Provinces of northeastern India. We were eight children: four boys and four girls. I, Mukunda Lal Ghosh,3 was the second son and the fourth child.

Father and Mother were Bengalis, of the Kshatriya caste.4 Both were blessed with saintly nature. Their mutual love, tranquil and dignified, never expressed itself frivolously. A perfect parental harmony was the calm center for the revolving tumult of eight young lives.

Father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, was kind, grave, at times stern. Loving him dearly, we children yet observed a certain reverential distance. An outstanding mathematician and logician, he was guided principally by his intellect. But Mother was a queen of hearts, and taught us only through love. After her death, Father displayed more of his inner tenderness. I noticed then that his gaze often metamorphosed into my mother’s.

In Mother’s presence we tasted our earliest bitter-sweet acquaintance with the scriptures. Tales from the Mahabharata and Ramayana 5 were resourcefully summoned to meet the exigencies of discipline. Instruction and chastisement went hand in hand.

A daily gesture of respect to Father was given by Mother’s dressing us carefully in the afternoons to welcome him home from the office. His position was similar to that of a vice-president, in the Bengal-Nagpur Railway, one of India’s large companies. His work involved traveling, and our family lived in several cities during my childhood.

Mother held an open hand toward the needy. Father was also kindly disposed, but his respect for law and order extended to the budget. One fortnight Mother spent, in feeding the poor, more than Father’s monthly income.

“All I ask, please, is to keep your charities within a reasonable limit.” Even a gentle rebuke from her husband was grievous to Mother. She ordered a hackney carriage, not hinting to the children at any disagreement.

“Good-by; I am going away to my mother’s home.” Ancient ultimatum!

We broke into astounded lamentations. Our maternal uncle arrived opportunely; he whispered to Father some sage counsel, garnered no doubt from the ages. After Father had made a few conciliatory remarks, Mother happily dismissed the cab. Thus ended the only trouble I ever noticed between my parents. But I recall a characteristic discussion.

“Please give me ten rupees for a hapless woman who has just arrived at the house.” Mother’s smile had its own persuasion.

“Why ten rupees? One is enough.” Father added a justification: “When my father and grandparents died suddenly, I had my first taste of poverty. My only breakfast, before walking miles to my school, was a small banana. Later, at the university, I was in such need that I applied to a wealthy judge for aid of one rupee per month. He declined, remarking that even a rupee is important.”

“How bitterly you recall the denial of that rupee!” Mother’s heart had an instant logic. “Do you want this woman also to remember painfully your refusal of ten rupees which she needs urgently?”

“You win!” With the immemorial gesture of vanquished husbands, he opened his wallet. “Here is a ten-rupee note. Give it to her with my good will.”

Father tended to first say “No” to any new proposal. His attitude toward the strange woman who so readily enlisted Mother’s sympathy was an example of his customary caution. Aversion to instant acceptance—typical of the French mind in the West—is really only honoring the principle of “due reflection.” I always found Father reasonable and evenly balanced in his judgments. If I could bolster up my numerous requests with one or two good arguments, he invariably put the coveted goal within my reach, whether it were a vacation trip or a new motorcycle.

Bhagabati Charan Ghosh

My father

Bhagabati Charan Ghosh

A Disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya

Father was a strict disciplinarian to his children in their early years, but his attitude toward himself was truly Spartan. He never visited the theater, for instance, but sought his recreation in various spiritual practices and in reading the Bhagavad Gita.6 Shunning all luxuries, he would cling to one old pair of shoes until they were useless. His sons bought automobiles after they came into popular use, but Father was always content with the trolley car for his daily ride to the office. The accumulation of money for the sake of power was alien to his nature. Once, after organizing the Calcutta Urban Bank, he refused to benefit himself by holding any of its shares. He had simply wished to perform a civic duty in his spare time.

Several years after Father had retired on a pension, an English accountant arrived to examine the books of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway Company. The amazed investigator discovered that Father had never applied for overdue bonuses.

“He did the work of three men!” the accountant told the company. “He has rupees 125,000 (about $41,250.) owing to him as back compensation.” The officials presented Father with a check for this amount. He thought so little about it that he overlooked any mention to the family. Much later he was questioned by my youngest brother Bishnu, who noticed the large deposit on a bank statement.

“Why be elated by material profit?” Father replied. “The one who pursues a goal of evenmindedness is neither jubilant with gain nor depressed by loss. He knows that man arrives penniless in this world, and departs without a single rupee.”

Early in their married life, my parents became disciples of a great master, Lahiri Mahasaya of Benares. This contact strengthened Father’s naturally ascetical temperament. Mother made a remarkable admission to my eldest sister Roma: “Your father and myself live together as man and wife only once a year, for the purpose of having children.”

Father first met Lahiri Mahasaya through Abinash Babu,7 an employee in the Gorakhpur office of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway. Abinash instructed my young ears with engrossing tales of many Indian saints. He invariably concluded with a tribute to the superior glories of his own guru.

“Did you ever hear of the extraordinary circumstances under which your father became a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya?”

It was on a lazy summer afternoon, as Abinash and I sat together in the compound of my home, that he put this intriguing question. I shook my head with a smile of anticipation.

“Years ago, before you were born, I asked my superior officer—your father—to give me a week’s leave from my Gorakhpur duties in order to visit my guru in Benares. Your father ridiculed my plan.

“‘Are you going to become a religious fanatic?’ he inquired. ‘Concentrate on your office work if you want to forge ahead.’

“Sadly walking home along a woodland path that day, I met your father in a palanquin. He dismissed his servants and conveyance, and fell into step beside me. Seeking to console me, he pointed out the advantages of striving for worldly success. But I heard him listlessly. My heart was repeating: ‘Lahiri Mahasaya! I cannot live without seeing you!’

“Our path took us to the edge of a tranquil field, where the rays of the late afternoon sun were still crowning the tall ripple of the wild grass. We paused in admiration. There in the field, only a few yards from us, the form of my great guru suddenly appeared! 8

“‘Bhagabati, you are too hard on your employee!’ His voice was resonant in our astounded ears. He vanished as mysteriously as he had come. On my knees I was exclaiming, ‘Lahiri Mahasaya! Lahiri Mahasaya!’ Your father was motionless with stupefaction for a few moments.

“‘Abinash, not only do I give you leave, but I give myself leave to start for Benares tomorrow. I must know this great Lahiri Mahasaya, who is able to materialize himself at will in order to intercede for you! I will take my wife and ask this master to initiate us in his spiritual path. Will you guide us to him?’

“‘Of course.’ Joy filled me at the miraculous answer to my prayer, and the quick, favorable turn of events.

“The next evening your parents and I entrained for Benares. We took a horse cart the following day, and then had to walk through narrow lanes to my guru’s secluded home. Entering his little parlor, we bowed before the master, enlocked in his habitual lotus posture. He blinked his piercing eyes and leveled them on your father.

“‘Bhagabati, you are too hard on your employee!’ His words were the same as those he had used two days before in the Gorakhpur field. He added, ‘I am glad that you have allowed Abinash to visit me, and that you and your wife have accompanied him.’

“To their joy, he initiated your parents in the spiritual practice of Kriya Yoga.9 Your father and I, as brother disciples, have been close friends since the memorable day of the vision. Lahiri Mahasaya took a definite interest in your own birth. Your life shall surely be linked with his own: the master’s blessing never fails.”

Lahiri Mahasaya left this world shortly after I had entered it. His picture, in an ornate frame, always graced our family altar in the various cities to which Father was transferred by his office. Many a morning and evening found Mother and me meditating before an improvised shrine, offering flowers dipped in fragrant sandalwood paste. With frankincense and myrrh as well as our united devotions, we honored the divinity which had found full expression in Lahiri Mahasaya.

His picture had a surpassing influence over my life. As I grew, the thought of the master grew with me. In meditation I would often see his photographic image emerge from its small frame and, taking a living form, sit before me. When I attempted to touch the feet of his luminous body, it would change and again become the picture. As childhood slipped into boyhood, I found Lahiri Mahasaya transformed in my mind from a little image, cribbed in a frame, to a living, enlightening presence. I frequently prayed to him in moments of trial or confusion, finding within me his solacing direction. At first I grieved because he was no longer physically living. As I began to discover his secret omnipresence, I lamented no more. He had often written to those of his disciples who were over-anxious to see him: “Why come to view my bones and flesh, when I am ever within range of your kutastha (spiritual sight)?”

I was blessed about the age of eight with a wonderful healing through the photograph of Lahiri Mahasaya. This experience gave intensification to my love. While at our family estate in Ichapur, Bengal, I was stricken with Asiatic cholera. My life was despaired of; the doctors could do nothing. At my bedside, Mother frantically motioned me to look at Lahiri Mahasaya’s picture on the wall above my head.

“Bow to him mentally!” She knew I was too feeble even to lift my hands in salutation. “If you really show your devotion and inwardly kneel before him, your life will be spared!”

I gazed at his photograph and saw there a blinding light, enveloping my body and the entire room. My nausea and other uncontrollable symptoms disappeared; I was well. At once I felt strong enough to bend over and touch Mother’s feet in appreciation of her immeasurable faith in her guru. Mother pressed her head repeatedly against the little picture.

“O Omnipresent Master, I thank thee that thy light hath healed my son!”

I realized that she too had witnessed the luminous blaze through which I had instantly recovered from a usually fatal disease.

One of my most precious possessions is that same photograph. Given to Father by Lahiri Mahasaya himself, it carries a holy vibration. The picture had a miraculous origin. I heard the story from Father’s brother disciple, Kali Kumar Roy.

It appears that the master had an aversion to being photographed. Over his protest, a group picture was once taken of him and a cluster of devotees, including Kali Kumar Roy. It was an amazed photographer who discovered that the plate which had clear images of all the disciples, revealed nothing more than a blank space in the center where he had reasonably expected to find the outlines of Lahiri Mahasaya. The phenomenon was widely discussed.

A certain student and expert photographer, Ganga Dhar Babu, boasted that the fugitive figure would not escape him. The next morning, as the guru sat in lotus posture on a wooden bench with a screen behind him, Ganga Dhar Babu arrived with his equipment. Taking every precaution for success, he greedily exposed twelve plates. On each one he soon found the imprint of the wooden bench and screen, but once again the master’s form was missing.

With tears and shattered pride, Ganga Dhar Babu sought out his guru. It was many hours before Lahiri Mahasaya broke his silence with a pregnant comment:

“I am Spirit. Can your camera reflect the omnipresent Invisible?”

“I see it cannot! But, Holy Sir, I lovingly desire a picture of the bodily temple where alone, to my narrow vision, that Spirit appears fully to dwell.”

“Come, then, tomorrow morning. I will pose for you.”

Again the photographer focused his camera. This time the sacred figure, not cloaked with mysterious imperceptibility, was sharp on the plate. The master never posed for another picture; at least, I have seen none.

The photograph is reproduced in this book. Lahiri Mahasaya’s fair features, of a universal cast, hardly suggest to what race he belonged. His intense joy of God-communion is slightly revealed in a somewhat enigmatic smile. His eyes, half open to denote a nominal direction on the outer world, are half closed also. Completely oblivious to the poor lures of the earth, he was fully awake at all times to the spiritual problems of seekers who approached for his bounty.

Shortly after my healing through the potency of the guru’s picture, I had an influential spiritual vision. Sitting on my bed one morning, I fell into a deep reverie.

“What is behind the darkness of closed eyes?” This probing thought came powerfully into my mind. An immense flash of light at once manifested to my inward gaze. Divine shapes of saints, sitting in meditation posture in mountain caves, formed like miniature cinema pictures on the large screen of radiance within my forehead.

“Who are you?” I spoke aloud.

“We are the Himalayan yogis.” The celestial response is difficult to describe; my heart was thrilled.

“Ah, I long to go to the Himalayas and become like you!” The vision vanished, but the silvery beams expanded in ever-widening circles to infinity.

“What is this wondrous glow?”

“I am Iswara.10 I am Light.” The voice was as murmuring clouds.

“I want to be one with Thee!”

Out of the slow dwindling of my divine ecstasy, I salvaged a permanent legacy of inspiration to seek God. “He is eternal, ever-new Joy!” This memory persisted long after the day of rapture.

Another early recollection is outstanding; and literally so, for I bear the scar to this day. My elder sister Uma and I were seated in the early morning under a neem tree in our Gorakhpur compound. She was helping me with a Bengali primer, what time I could spare my gaze from the near-by parrots eating ripe margosa fruit. Uma complained of a boil on her leg, and fetched a jar of ointment. I smeared a bit of the salve on my forearm.

“Why do you use medicine on a healthy arm?”

“Well, Sis, I feel I am going to have a boil tomorrow. I am testing your ointment on the spot where the boil will appear.”

“You little liar!”

“Sis, don’t call me a liar until you see what happens in the morning.” Indignation filled me.

Uma was unimpressed, and thrice repeated her taunt. An adamant resolution sounded in my voice as I made slow reply.

“By the power of will in me, I say that tomorrow I shall have a fairly large boil in this exact place on my arm; and your boil shall swell to twice its present size!”

Morning found me with a stalwart boil on the indicated spot; the dimensions of Uma’s boil had doubled. With a shriek, my sister rushed to Mother. “Mukunda has become a necromancer!” Gravely, Mother instructed me never to use the power of words for doing harm. I have always remembered her counsel, and followed it.

My boil was surgically treated. A noticeable scar, left by the doctor’s incision, is present today. On my right forearm is a constant reminder of the power in man’s sheer word.

Those simple and apparently harmless phrases to Uma, spoken with deep concentration, had possessed sufficient hidden force to explode like bombs and produce definite, though injurious, effects. I understood, later, that the explosive vibratory power in speech could be wisely directed to free one’s life from difficulties, and thus operate without scar or rebuke.11

Our family moved to Lahore in the Punjab. There I acquired a picture of the Divine Mother in the form of the Goddess Kali.12 It sanctified a small informal shrine on the balcony of our home. An unequivocal conviction came over me that fulfillment would crown any of my prayers uttered in that sacred spot. Standing there with Uma one day, I watched two kites flying over the roofs of the buildings on the opposite side of the very narrow lane.

“Why are you so quiet?” Uma pushed me playfully.

“I am just thinking how wonderful it is that Divine Mother gives me whatever I ask.”

“I suppose She would give you those two kites!” My sister laughed derisively.

“Why not?” I began silent prayers for their possession.

Matches are played in India with kites whose strings are covered with glue and ground glass. Each player attempts to sever the string of his opponent. A freed kite sails over the roofs; there is great fun in catching it. Inasmuch as Uma and I were on the balcony, it seemed impossible that any loosed kite could come into our hands; its string would naturally dangle over the roofs.

The players across the lane began their match. One string was cut; immediately the kite floated in my direction. It was stationary for a moment, through sudden abatement of breeze, which sufficed to firmly entangle the string with a cactus plant on top of the opposite house. A perfect loop was formed for my seizure. I handed the prize to Uma.

“It was just an extraordinary accident, and not an answer to your prayer. If the other kite comes to you, then I shall believe.” Sister’s dark eyes conveyed more amazement than her words.

I continued my prayers with a crescendo intensity. A forcible tug by the other player resulted in the abrupt loss of his kite. It headed toward me, dancing in the wind. My helpful assistant, the cactus plant, again secured the kite string in the necessary loop by which I could grasp it. I presented my second trophy to Uma.

“Indeed, Divine Mother listens to you! This is all too uncanny for me!” Sister bolted away like a frightened fawn.

  1. Spiritual teacher; from Sanskrit root gur, to raise, to uplift.

  2. A practitioner of yoga, “union,” ancient Indian science of meditation on God.

  3. My name was changed to Yogananda when I entered the ancient monastic Swami Order in 1914. My guru bestowed the religious title of Paramhansa on me in 1935 (see chapters 24 and 42).

  4. Traditionally, the second caste of warriors and rulers.

  5. These ancient epics are the hoard of India’s history, mythology, and philosophy. An “Everyman’s Library” volume, Ramayana and Mahabharata, is a condensation in English verse by Romesh Dutt (New York: E. P. Dutton).

  6. This noble Sanskrit poem, which occurs as part of the Mahabharata epic, is the Hindu Bible. The most poetical English translation is Edwin Arnold’s The Song Celestial (Philadelphia: David McKay, 75¢). One of the best translations with detailed commentary is Sri Aurobindo’s Message of the Gita (Jupiter Press, 16 Semudoss St., Madras, India, $3.50).

  7. Babu (Mister) is placed in Bengali names at the end.

  8. The phenomenal powers possessed by great masters are explained in chapter 30, “The Law of Miracles.”

  9. A yogic technique whereby the sensory tumult is stilled, permitting man to achieve an ever-increasing identity with cosmic consciousness. (See chapter 26.)

  10. A Sanskrit name for God as Ruler of the universe; from the root Is, to rule. There are 108 names for God in the Hindu scriptures, each one carrying a different shade of philosophical meaning.

  11. The infinite potencies of sound derive from the Creative Word, Aum, the cosmic vibratory power behind all atomic energies. Any word spoken with clear realization and deep concentration has a materializing value. Loud or silent repetition of inspiring words has been found effective in Coueism and similar systems of psychotherapy; the secret lies in the stepping-up of the mind’s vibratory rate. The poet Tennyson has left us, in his Memoirs, an account of his repetitious device for passing beyond the conscious mind into superconsciousness:

    “A kind of waking trance—this for lack of a better word—I have frequently had, quite up from boyhood, when I have been all alone,” Tennyson wrote. “This has come upon me through repeating my own name to myself silently, till all at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the surest, utterly beyond words—where death was an almost laughable impossibility—the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction, but the only true life.” He wrote further: “It is no nebulous ecstasy, but a state of transcendent wonder, associated with absolute clearness of mind.”

  12. Kali is a symbol of God in the aspect of eternal Mother Nature.

Chapter: 2

My Mother’s Death and the Mystic Amulet

Mother’s Death and the Amulet

My mother’s greatest desire was the marriage of my elder brother. “Ah, when I behold the face of Ananta’s wife, I shall find heaven on this earth!” I frequently heard Mother express in these words her strong Indian sentiment for family continuity.

I was about eleven years old at the time of Ananta’s betrothal. Mother was in Calcutta, joyously supervising the wedding preparations. Father and I alone remained at our home in Bareilly in northern India, whence Father had been transferred after two years at Lahore.

I had previously witnessed the splendor of nuptial rites for my two elder sisters, Roma and Uma; but for Ananta, as the eldest son, plans were truly elaborate. Mother was welcoming numerous relatives, daily arriving in Calcutta from distant homes. She lodged them comfortably in a large, newly acquired house at 50 Amherst Street. Everything was in readiness—the banquet delicacies, the gay throne on which Brother was to be carried to the home of the bride-to-be, the rows of colorful lights, the mammoth cardboard elephants and camels, the English, Scottish and Indian orchestras, the professional entertainers, the priests for the ancient rituals.

Father and I, in gala spirits, were planning to join the family in time for the ceremony. Shortly before the great day, however, I had an ominous vision.

It was in Bareilly on a midnight. As I slept beside Father on the piazza of our bungalow, I was awakened by a peculiar flutter of the mosquito netting over the bed. The flimsy curtains parted and I saw the beloved form of my mother.

“Awaken your father!” Her voice was only a whisper. “Take the first available train, at four o’clock this morning. Rush to Calcutta if you would see me!” The wraithlike figure vanished.

“Father, Father! Mother is dying!” The terror in my tone aroused him instantly. I sobbed out the fatal tidings.

“Never mind that hallucination of yours.” Father gave his characteristic negation to a new situation. “Your mother is in excellent health. If we get any bad news, we shall leave tomorrow.”

“You shall never forgive yourself for not starting now!” Anguish caused me to add bitterly, “Nor shall I ever forgive you!”

The melancholy morning came with explicit words: “Mother dangerously ill; marriage postponed; come at once.”

Father and I left distractedly. One of my uncles met us en route at a transfer point. A train thundered toward us, looming with telescopic increase. From my inner tumult, an abrupt determination arose to hurl myself on the railroad tracks. Already bereft, I felt, of my mother, I could not endure a world suddenly barren to the bone. I loved Mother as my dearest friend on earth. Her solacing black eyes had been my surest refuge in the trifling tragedies of childhood.

“Does she yet live?” I stopped for one last question to my uncle.

“Of course she is alive!” He was not slow to interpret the desperation in my face. But I scarcely believed him.

When we reached our Calcutta home, it was only to confront the stunning mystery of death. I collapsed into an almost lifeless state. Years passed before any reconciliation entered my heart. Storming the very gates of heaven, my cries at last summoned the Divine Mother. Her words brought final healing to my suppurating wounds:

“It is I who have watched over thee, life after life, in the tenderness of many mothers! See in My gaze the two black eyes, the lost beautiful eyes, thou seekest!”

Father and I returned to Bareilly soon after the crematory rites for the well-beloved. Early every morning I made a pathetic memorial-pilgrimage to a large sheoli tree which shaded the smooth, green-gold lawn before our bungalow. In poetical moments, I thought that the white sheoli flowers were strewing themselves with a willing devotion over the grassy altar. Mingling tears with the dew, I often observed a strange other-worldly light emerging from the dawn. Intense pangs of longing for God assailed me. I felt powerfully drawn to the Himalayas.

One of my cousins, fresh from a period of travel in the holy hills, visited us in Bareilly. I listened eagerly to his tales about the high mountain abode of yogis and swamis.1

“Let us run away to the Himalayas.” My suggestion one day to Dwarka Prasad, the young son of our landlord in Bareilly, fell on unsympathetic ears. He revealed my plan to my elder brother, who had just arrived to see Father. Instead of laughing lightly over this impractical scheme of a small boy, Ananta made it a definite point to ridicule me.

“Where is your orange robe? You can’t be a swami without that!”

But I was inexplicably thrilled by his words. They brought a clear picture of myself roaming about India as a monk. Perhaps they awakened memories of a past life; in any case, I began to see with what natural ease I would wear the garb of that anciently-founded monastic order.

Chatting one morning with Dwarka, I felt a love for God descending with avalanchic force. My companion was only partly attentive to the ensuing eloquence, but I was wholeheartedly listening to myself.

I fled that afternoon toward Naini Tal in the Himalayan foothills. Ananta gave determined chase; I was forced to return sadly to Bareilly. The only pilgrimage permitted me was the customary one at dawn to the sheoli tree. My heart wept for the lost Mothers, human and divine.

My Mother

My mother

A Disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya

The rent left in the family fabric by Mother’s death was irreparable. Father never remarried during his nearly forty remaining years. Assuming the difficult role of Father-Mother to his little flock, he grew noticeably more tender, more approachable. With calmness and insight, he solved the various family problems. After office hours he retired like a hermit to the cell of his room, practicing Kriya Yoga in a sweet serenity. Long after Mother’s death, I attempted to engage an English nurse to attend to details that would make my parent’s life more comfortable. But Father shook his head.

“Service to me ended with your mother.” His eyes were remote with a lifelong devotion. “I will not accept ministrations from any other woman.”

Fourteen months after Mother’s passing, I learned that she had left me a momentous message. Ananta was present at her deathbed and had recorded her words. Although she had asked that the disclosure be made to me in one year, my brother delayed. He was soon to leave Bareilly for Calcutta, to marry the girl Mother had chosen for him.2 One evening he summoned me to his side.

“Mukunda, I have been reluctant to give you strange tidings.” Ananta’s tone held a note of resignation. “My fear was to inflame your desire to leave home. But in any case you are bristling with divine ardor. When I captured you recently on your way to the Himalayas, I came to a definite resolve. I must not further postpone the fulfillment of my solemn promise.” My brother handed me a small box, and delivered Mother’s message.

“Let these words be my final blessing, my beloved son Mukunda!” Mother had said. “The hour is here when I must relate a number of phenomenal events following your birth. I first knew your destined path when you were but a babe in my arms. I carried you then to the home of my guru in Benares. Almost hidden behind a throng of disciples, I could barely see Lahiri Mahasaya as he sat in deep meditation.

“While I patted you, I was praying that the great guru take notice and bestow a blessing. As my silent devotional demand grew in intensity, he opened his eyes and beckoned me to approach. The others made a way for me; I bowed at the sacred feet. My master seated you on his lap, placing his hand on your forehead by way of spiritually baptizing you.

“‘Little mother, thy son will be a yogi. As a spiritual engine, he will carry many souls to God’s kingdom.’

“My heart leaped with joy to find my secret prayer granted by the omniscient guru. Shortly before your birth, he had told me you would follow his path.

“Later, my son, your vision of the Great Light was known to me and your sister Roma, as from the next room we observed you motionless on the bed. Your little face was illuminated; your voice rang with iron resolve as you spoke of going to the Himalayas in quest of the Divine.

“In these ways, dear son, I came to know that your road lies far from worldly ambitions. The most singular event in my life brought further confirmation—an event which now impels my deathbed message.

“It was an interview with a sage in the Punjab. While our family was living in Lahore, one morning the servant came precipitantly into my room.

“‘Mistress, a strange sadhu 3 is here. He insists that he “see the mother of Mukunda.”’

“These simple words struck a profound chord within me; I went at once to greet the visitor. Bowing at his feet, I sensed that before me was a true man of God.

“‘Mother,’ he said, ‘the great masters wish you to know that your stay on earth will not be long. Your next illness shall prove to be your last.’ 4 There was a silence, during which I felt no alarm but only a vibration of great peace. Finally he addressed me again:

“‘You are to be the custodian of a certain silver amulet. I will not give it to you today; to demonstrate the truth in my words, the talisman shall materialize in your hands tomorrow as you meditate. On your deathbed, you must instruct your eldest son Ananta to keep the amulet for one year and then to hand it over to your second son. Mukunda will understand the meaning of the talisman from the great ones. He should receive it about the time he is ready to renounce all worldly hopes and start his vital search for God. When he has retained the amulet for some years, and when it has served its purpose, it shall vanish. Even if kept in the most secret spot, it shall return whence it came.’

“I proffered alms 5 to the saint, and bowed before him in great reverence. Not taking the offering, he departed with a blessing. The next evening, as I sat with folded hands in meditation, a silver amulet materialized between my palms, even as the sadhu had promised. It made itself known by a cold, smooth touch. I have jealously guarded it for more than two years, and now leave it in Ananta’s keeping. Do not grieve for me, as I shall have been ushered by my great guru into the arms of the Infinite. Farewell, my child; the Cosmic Mother will protect you.”

A blaze of illumination came over me with possession of the amulet; many dormant memories awakened. The talisman, round and anciently quaint, was covered with Sanskrit characters. I understood that it came from teachers of past lives, who were invisibly guiding my steps. A further significance there was, indeed; but one does not reveal fully the heart of an amulet.

How the talisman finally vanished amidst deeply unhappy circumstances of my life; and how its loss was a herald of my gain of a guru, cannot be told in this chapter.

But the small boy, thwarted in his attempts to reach the Himalayas, daily traveled far on the wings of his amulet.

  1. Sanskrit root meaning of swami is “he who is one with his Self (Swa).” Applied to a member of the Indian order of monks, the title has the formal respect of “the reverend.”

  2. The Indian custom, whereby parents choose the life-partner for their child, has resisted the blunt assaults of time. The percentage is high of happy Indian marriages.

  3. An anchorite; one who pursues a sadhana or path of spiritual discipline.

  4. When I discovered by these words that Mother had possessed secret knowledge of a short life, I understood for the first time why she had been insistent on hastening the plans for Ananta’s marriage. Though she died before the wedding, her natural maternal wish had been to witness the rites.

  5. A customary gesture of respect to sadhus.

Chapter: 3

The Saint With Two Bodies

The Saint With Two Bodies

Father, if I promise to return home without coercion, may I take a sight-seeing trip to Benares?”

My keen love of travel was seldom hindered by Father. He permitted me, even as a mere boy, to visit many cities and pilgrimage spots. Usually one or more of my friends accompanied me; we would travel comfortably on first-class passes provided by Father. His position as a railroad official was fully satisfactory to the nomads in the family.

Father promised to give my request due consideration. The next day he summoned me and held out a round-trip pass from Bareilly to Benares, a number of rupee notes, and two letters.

“I have a business matter to propose to a Benares friend, Kedar Nath Babu. Unfortunately I have lost his address. But I believe you will be able to get this letter to him through our common friend, Swami Pranabananda. The swami, my brother disciple, has attained an exalted spiritual stature. You will benefit by his company; this second note will serve as your introduction.”

Father’s eyes twinkled as he added, “Mind, no more flights from home!”

I set forth with the zest of my twelve years (though time has never dimmed my delight in new scenes and strange faces). Reaching Benares, I proceeded immediately to the swami’s residence. The front door was open; I made my way to a long, hall-like room on the second floor. A rather stout man, wearing only a loincloth, was seated in lotus posture on a slightly raised platform. His head and unwrinkled face were clean-shaven; a beatific smile played about his lips. To dispel my thought that I had intruded, he greeted me as an old friend.

Baba anand (bliss to my dear one).” His welcome was given heartily in a childlike voice. I knelt and touched his feet.

“Are you Swami Pranabananda?”

He nodded. “Are you Bhagabati’s son?” His words were out before I had had time to get Father’s letter from my pocket. In astonishment, I handed him the note of introduction, which now seemed superfluous.

“Of course I will locate Kedar Nath Babu for you.” The saint again surprised me by his clairvoyance. He glanced at the letter, and made a few affectionate references to my parent.

“You know, I am enjoying two pensions. One is by the recommendation of your father, for whom I once worked in the railroad office. The other is by the recommendation of my Heavenly Father, for whom I have conscientiously finished my earthly duties in life.”

I found this remark very obscure. “What kind of pension, sir, do you receive from the Heavenly Father? Does He drop money in your lap?”

He laughed. “I mean a pension of fathomless peace—a reward for many years of deep meditation. I never crave money now. My few material needs are amply provided for. Later you will understand the significance of a second pension.”

Abruptly terminating our conversation, the saint became gravely motionless. A sphinxlike air enveloped him. At first his eyes sparkled, as if observing something of interest, then grew dull. I felt abashed at his pauciloquy; he had not yet told me how I could meet Father’s friend. A trifle restlessly, I looked about me in the bare room, empty except for us two. My idle gaze took in his wooden sandals, lying under the platform seat.

“Little sir,1 don’t get worried. The man you wish to see will be with you in half an hour.” The yogi was reading my mind—a feat not too difficult at the moment!

Swami Pranabananda

Swami Pranabananda

“The Saint With Two Bodies”

An Exalted Disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya

Again he fell into inscrutable silence. My watch informed me that thirty minutes had elapsed.

The swami aroused himself. “I think Kedar Nath Babu is nearing the door.”

I heard somebody coming up the stairs. An amazed incomprehension arose suddenly; my thoughts raced in confusion: “How is it possible that Father’s friend has been summoned to this place without the help of a messenger? The swami has spoken to no one but myself since my arrival!”

Abruptly I quitted the room and descended the steps. Halfway down I met a thin, fair-skinned man of medium height. He appeared to be in a hurry.

“Are you Kedar Nath Babu?” Excitement colored my voice.

“Yes. Are you not Bhagabati’s son who has been waiting here to meet me?” He smiled in friendly fashion.

“Sir, how do you happen to come here?” I felt baffled resentment over his inexplicable presence.

“Everything is mysterious today! Less than an hour ago I had just finished my bath in the Ganges when Swami Pranabananda approached me. I have no idea how he knew I was there at that time.

“‘Bhagabati’s son is waiting for you in my apartment,’ he said. ‘Will you come with me?’ I gladly agreed. As we proceeded hand in hand, the swami in his wooden sandals was strangely able to outpace me, though I wore these stout walking shoes.

“‘How long will it take you to reach my place?’ Pranabanandaji suddenly halted to ask me this question.

“‘About half an hour.’

“‘I have something else to do at present.’ He gave me an enigmatical glance. ‘I must leave you behind. You can join me in my house, where Bhagabati’s son and I will be awaiting you.’

“Before I could remonstrate, he dashed swiftly past me and disappeared in the crowd. I walked here as fast as possible.”

This explanation only increased my bewilderment. I inquired how long he had known the swami.

“We met a few times last year, but not recently. I was very glad to see him again today at the bathing ghat.”

“I cannot believe my ears! Am I losing my mind? Did you meet him in a vision, or did you actually see him, touch his hand, and hear the sound of his feet?”

“I don’t know what you’re driving at!” He flushed angrily. “I am not lying to you. Can’t you understand that only through the swami could I have known you were waiting at this place for me?”

“Why, that man, Swami Pranabananda, has not left my sight a moment since I first came about an hour ago.” I blurted out the whole story.

His eyes opened widely. “Are we living in this material age, or are we dreaming? I never expected to witness such a miracle in my life! I thought this swami was just an ordinary man, and now I find he can materialize an extra body and work through it!” Together we entered the saint’s room.

“Look, those are the very sandals he was wearing at the ghat,” Kedar Nath Babu whispered. “He was clad only in a loincloth, just as I see him now.”

As the visitor bowed before him, the saint turned to me with a quizzical smile.

“Why are you stupefied at all this? The subtle unity of the phenomenal world is not hidden from true yogis. I instantly see and converse with my disciples in distant Calcutta. They can similarly transcend at will every obstacle of gross matter.”

It was probably in an effort to stir spiritual ardor in my young breast that the swami had condescended to tell me of his powers of astral radio and television.2 But instead of enthusiasm, I experienced only an awe-stricken fear. Inasmuch as I was destined to undertake my divine search through one particular guru—Sri Yukteswar, whom I had not yet met—I felt no inclination to accept Pranabananda as my teacher. I glanced at him doubtfully, wondering if it were he or his counterpart before me.

The master sought to banish my disquietude by bestowing a soul-awakening gaze, and by some inspiring words about his guru.

“Lahiri Mahasaya was the greatest yogi I ever knew. He was Divinity Itself in the form of flesh.”

If a disciple, I reflected, could materialize an extra fleshly form at will, what miracles indeed could be barred to his master?

“I will tell you how priceless is a guru’s help. I used to meditate with another disciple for eight hours every night. We had to work at the railroad office during the day. Finding difficulty in carrying on my clerical duties, I desired to devote my whole time to God. For eight years I persevered, meditating half the night. I had wonderful results; tremendous spiritual perceptions illumined my mind. But a little veil always remained between me and the Infinite. Even with super-human earnestness, I found the final irrevocable union to be denied me. One evening I paid a visit to Lahiri Mahasaya and pleaded for his divine intercession. My importunities continued during the entire night.

“‘Angelic Guru, my spiritual anguish is such that I can no longer bear my life without meeting the Great Beloved face to face!’

“‘What can I do? You must meditate more profoundly.’

“‘I am appealing to Thee, O God my Master! I see Thee materialized before me in a physical body; bless me that I may perceive Thee in Thine infinite form!’

“Lahiri Mahasaya extended his hand in a benign gesture. ‘You may go now and meditate. I have interceded for you with Brahma.’ 3

“Immeasurably uplifted, I returned to my home. In meditation that night, the burning Goal of my life was achieved. Now I ceaselessly enjoy the spiritual pension. Never from that day has the Blissful Creator remained hidden from my eyes behind any screen of delusion.”

Pranabananda’s face was suffused with divine light. The peace of another world entered my heart; all fear had fled. The saint made a further confidence.

“Some months later I returned to Lahiri Mahasaya and tried to thank him for his bestowal of the infinite gift. Then I mentioned another matter.

“‘Divine Guru, I can no longer work in the office. Please release me. Brahma keeps me continuously intoxicated.’

“‘Apply for a pension from your company.’

“‘What reason shall I give, so early in my service?’

“‘Say what you feel.’

“The next day I made my application. The doctor inquired the grounds for my premature request.

“‘At work, I find an overpowering sensation rising in my spine.4 It permeates my whole body, unfitting me for the performance of my duties.’

“Without further questioning the physician recommended me highly for a pension, which I soon received. I know the divine will of Lahiri Mahasaya worked through the doctor and the railroad officials, including your father. Automatically they obeyed the great guru’s spiritual direction, and freed me for a life of unbroken communion with the Beloved.” 5

After this extraordinary revelation, Swami Pranabananda retired into one of his long silences. As I was taking leave, touching his feet reverently, he gave me his blessing:

“Your life belongs to the path of renunciation and yoga. I shall see you again, with your father, later on.” The years brought fulfillment to both these predictions.6

Kedar Nath Babu walked by my side in the gathering darkness. I delivered Father’s letter, which my companion read under a street lamp.

“Your father suggests that I take a position in the Calcutta office of his railroad company. How pleasant to look forward to at least one of the pensions that Swami Pranabananda enjoys! But it is impossible; I cannot leave Benares. Alas, two bodies are not yet for me!”

  1. Choto Mahasaya is the term by which a number of Indian saints addressed me. It translates “little sir.”

  2. In its own way, physical science is affirming the validity of laws discovered by yogis through mental science. For example, a demonstration that man has televisional powers was given on Nov. 26, 1934 at the Royal University of Rome. “Dr. Giuseppe Calligaris, professor of neuro-psychology, pressed certain points of a subject’s body and the subject responded with minute descriptions of other persons and objects on the opposite side of a wall. Dr. Calligaris told the other professors that if certain areas on the skin are agitated, the subject is given super-sensorial impressions enabling him to see objects that he could not otherwise perceive. To enable his subject to discern things on the other side of a wall, Professor Calligaris pressed on a spot to the right of the thorax for fifteen minutes. Dr. Calligaris said that if other spots of the body were agitated, the subjects could see objects at any distance, regardless of whether they had ever before seen those objects.”

  3. God in His aspect of Creator; from Sanskrit root brih, to expand. When Emerson’s poem Brahma appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1857, most the readers were bewildered. Emerson chuckled. “Tell them,” he said, “to say ‘Jehovah’ instead of ‘Brahma’ and they will not feel any perplexity.”

  4. In deep meditation, the first experience of Spirit is on the altar of the spine, and then in the brain. The torrential bliss is overwhelming, but the yogi learns to control its outward manifestations.

  5. After his retirement, Pranabananda wrote one of the most profound commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, available in Bengali and Hindi.

  6. See chapter 27.

Chapter: 4

My Interrupted Flight Toward the Himalayas

Flight Toward the Himalayas

Leave your classroom on some trifling pretext, and engage a hackney carriage. Stop in the lane where no one in my house can see you.”

These were my final instructions to Amar Mitter, a high school friend who planned to accompany me to the Himalayas. We had chosen the following day for our flight. Precautions were necessary, as Ananta exercised a vigilant eye. He was determined to foil the plans of escape which he suspected were uppermost in my mind. The amulet, like a spiritual yeast, was silently at work within me. Amidst the Himalayan snows, I hoped to find the master whose face often appeared to me in visions.

The family was living now in Calcutta, where Father had been permanently transferred. Following the patriarchal Indian custom, Ananta had brought his bride to live in our home, now at 4 Gurpar Road. There in a small attic room I engaged in daily meditations and prepared my mind for the divine search.

The memorable morning arrived with inauspicious rain. Hearing the wheels of Amar’s carriage in the road, I hastily tied together a blanket, a pair of sandals, Lahiri Mahasaya’s picture, a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a string of prayer beads, and two loincloths. This bundle I threw from my third-story window. I ran down the steps and passed my uncle, buying fish at the door.

“What is the excitement?” His gaze roved suspiciously over my person.

I gave him a noncommittal smile and walked to the lane. Retrieving my bundle, I joined Amar with conspiratorial caution. We drove to Chadni Chowk, a merchandise center. For months we had been saving our tiffin money to buy English clothes. Knowing that my clever brother could easily play the part of a detective, we thought to outwit him by European garb.

On the way to the station, we stopped for my cousin, Jotin Ghosh, whom I called Jatinda. He was a new convert, longing for a guru in the Himalayas. He donned the new suit we had in readiness. Well-camouflaged, we hoped! A deep elation possessed our hearts.

“All we need now are canvas shoes.” I led my companions to a shop displaying rubber-soled footwear. “Articles of leather, gotten only through the slaughter of animals, must be absent on this holy trip.” I halted on the street to remove the leather cover from my Bhagavad Gita, and the leather straps from my English-made sola topee (helmet).

At the station we bought tickets to Burdwan, where we planned to transfer for Hardwar in the Himalayan foothills. As soon as the train, like ourselves, was in flight, I gave utterance to a few of my glorious anticipations.

“Just imagine!” I ejaculated. “We shall be initiated by the masters and experience the trance of cosmic consciousness. Our flesh will be charged with such magnetism that wild animals of the Himalayas will come tamely near us. Tigers will be no more than meek house cats awaiting our caresses!”

This remark—picturing a prospect I considered entrancing, both metaphorically and literally—brought an enthusiastic smile from Amar. But Jatinda averted his gaze, directing it through the window at the scampering landscape.

“Let the money be divided in three portions.” Jatinda broke a long silence with this suggestion. “Each of us should buy his own ticket at Burdwan. Thus no one at the station will surmise that we are running away together.”

I unsuspectingly agreed. At dusk our train stopped at Burdwan. Jatinda entered the ticket office; Amar and I sat on the platform. We waited fifteen minutes, then made unavailing inquiries. Searching in all directions, we shouted Jatinda’s name with the urgency of fright. But he had faded into the dark unknown surrounding the little station.

I was completely unnerved, shocked to a peculiar numbness. That God would countenance this depressing episode! The romantic occasion of my first carefully-planned flight after Him was cruelly marred.

“Amar, we must return home.” I was weeping like a child. “Jatinda’s callous departure is an ill omen. This trip is doomed to failure.”

“Is this your love for the Lord? Can’t you stand the little test of a treacherous companion?”

Through Amar’s suggestion of a divine test, my heart steadied itself. We refreshed ourselves with famous Burdwan sweetmeats, sitabhog (food for the goddess) and motichur (nuggets of sweet pearl). In a few hours, we entrained for Hardwar, via Bareilly. Changing trains at Moghul Serai, we discussed a vital matter as we waited on the platform.

“Amar, we may soon be closely questioned by railroad officials. I am not underrating my brother’s ingenuity! No matter what the outcome, I will not speak untruth.”

“All I ask of you, Mukunda, is to keep still. Don’t laugh or grin while I am talking.”

At this moment, a European station agent accosted me. He waved a telegram whose import I immediately grasped.

“Are you running away from home in anger?”

“No!” I was glad his choice of words permitted me to make emphatic reply. Not anger but “divinest melancholy” was responsible, I knew, for my unconventional behavior.

The official then turned to Amar. The duel of wits that followed hardly permitted me to maintain the counseled stoic gravity.

“Where is the third boy?” The man injected a full ring of authority into his voice. “Come on; speak the truth!”

“Sir, I notice you are wearing eyeglasses. Can’t you see that we are only two?” Amar smiled impudently. “I am not a magician; I can’t conjure up a third companion.”

The official, noticeably disconcerted by this impertinence, sought a new field of attack.

“What is your name?”

“I am called Thomas. I am the son of an English mother and a converted Christian Indian father.”

“What is your friend’s name?”

“I call him Thompson.”

By this time my inward mirth had reached a zenith; I unceremoniously made for the train, whistling for departure. Amar followed with the official, who was credulous and obliging enough to put us into a European compartment. It evidently pained him to think of two half-English boys traveling in the section allotted to natives. After his polite exit, I lay back on the seat and laughed uncontrollably. My friend wore an expression of blithe satisfaction at having outwitted a veteran European official.

On the platform I had contrived to read the telegram. From my brother, it went thus: “Three Bengali boys in English clothes running away from home toward Hardwar via Moghul Serai. Please detain them until my arrival. Ample reward for your services.”

“Amar, I told you not to leave marked timetables in your home.” My glance was reproachful. “Brother must have found one there.”

My friend sheepishly acknowledged the thrust. We halted briefly in Bareilly, where Dwarka Prasad awaited us with a telegram from Ananta. My old friend tried valiantly to detain us; I convinced him that our flight had not been undertaken lightly. As on a previous occasion, Dwarka refused my invitation to set forth to the Himalayas.

While our train stood in a station that night, and I was half asleep, Amar was awakened by another questioning official. He, too, fell a victim to the hybrid charms of “Thomas” and “Thompson.” The train bore us triumphantly into a dawn arrival at Hardwar. The majestic mountains loomed invitingly in the distance. We dashed through the station and entered the freedom of city crowds. Our first act was to change into native costume, as Ananta had somehow penetrated our European disguise. A premonition of capture weighed on my mind.

Deeming it advisable to leave Hardwar at once, we bought tickets to proceed north to Rishikesh, a soil long hallowed by feet of many masters. I had already boarded the train, while Amar lagged on the platform. He was brought to an abrupt halt by a shout from a policeman. Our unwelcome guardian escorted us to a station bungalow and took charge of our money. He explained courteously that it was his duty to hold us until my elder brother arrived.

Learning that the truants’ destination had been the Himalayas, the officer related a strange story.

“I see you are crazy about saints! You will never meet a greater man of God than the one I saw only yesterday. My brother officer and I first encountered him five days ago. We were patrolling by the Ganges, on a sharp lookout for a certain murderer. Our instructions were to capture him, alive or dead. He was known to be masquerading as a sadhu in order to rob pilgrims. A short way before us, we spied a figure which resembled the description of the criminal. He ignored our command to stop; we ran to overpower him. Approaching his back, I wielded my ax with tremendous force; the man’s right arm was severed almost completely from his body.

“Without outcry or any glance at the ghastly wound, the stranger astonishingly continued his swift pace. As we jumped in front of him, he spoke quietly.

“‘I am not the murderer you are seeking.’

“I was deeply mortified to see I had injured the person of a divine-looking sage. Prostrating myself at his feet, I implored his pardon, and offered my turban-cloth to staunch the heavy spurts of blood.

“‘Son, that was just an understandable mistake on your part.’ The saint regarded me kindly. ‘Run along, and don’t reproach yourself. The Beloved Mother is taking care of me.’ He pushed his dangling arm into its stump and lo! it adhered; the blood inexplicably ceased to flow.

“‘Come to me under yonder tree in three days and you will find me fully healed. Thus you will feel no remorse.’

“Yesterday my brother officer and I went eagerly to the designated spot. The sadhu was there and allowed us to examine his arm. It bore no scar or trace of hurt!

“‘I am going via Rishikesh to the Himalayan solitudes.’ He blessed us as he departed quickly. I feel that my life has been uplifted through his sanctity.”

The officer concluded with a pious ejaculation; his experience had obviously moved him beyond his usual depths. With an impressive gesture, he handed me a printed clipping about the miracle. In the usual garbled manner of the sensational type of newspaper (not missing, alas! even in India), the reporter’s version was slightly exaggerated: it indicated that the sadhu had been almost decapitated!

Amar and I lamented that we had missed the great yogi who could forgive his persecutor in such a Christlike way. India, materially poor for the last two centuries, yet has an inexhaustible fund of divine wealth; spiritual “skyscrapers” may occasionally be encountered by the wayside, even by worldly men like this policeman.

We thanked the officer for relieving our tedium with his marvelous story. He was probably intimating that he was more fortunate than we: he had met an illumined saint without effort; our earnest search had ended, not at the feet of a master, but in a coarse police station!

So near the Himalayas and yet, in our captivity, so far, I told Amar I felt doubly impelled to seek freedom.

“Let us slip away when opportunity offers. We can go on foot to holy Rishikesh.” I smiled encouragingly.

But my companion had turned pessimist as soon as the stalwart prop of our money had been taken from us.

“If we started a trek over such dangerous jungle land, we should finish, not in the city of saints, but in the stomachs of tigers!”

Ananta and Amar’s brother arrived after three days. Amar greeted his relative with affectionate relief. I was unreconciled; Ananta got no more from me than a severe upbraiding.

“I understand how you feel.” My brother spoke soothingly. “All I ask of you is to accompany me to Benares to meet a certain saint, and go on to Calcutta to visit your grieving father for a few days. Then you can resume your search here for a master.”

Amar entered the conversation at this point to disclaim any intention of returning to Hardwar with me. He was enjoying the familial warmth. But I knew I would never abandon the quest for my guru.

Our party entrained for Benares. There I had a singular and instant response to my prayers.

A clever scheme had been prearranged by Ananta. Before seeing me at Hardwar, he had stopped in Benares to ask a certain scriptural authority to interview me later. Both the pundit and his son had promised to undertake my dissuasion from the path of a sannyasi.1

Ananta took me to their home. The son, a young man of ebullient manner, greeted me in the courtyard. He engaged me in a lengthy philosophic discourse. Professing to have a clairvoyant knowledge of my future, he discountenanced my idea of being a monk.

“You will meet continual misfortune, and be unable to find God, if you insist on deserting your ordinary responsibilities! You cannot work out your past karma 2 without worldly experiences.”

Krishna’s immortal words rose to my lips in reply: “‘Even he with the worst of karma who ceaselessly meditates on Me quickly loses the effects of his past bad actions. Becoming a high-souled being, he soon attains perennial peace. Arjuna, know this for certain: the devotee who puts his trust in Me never perishes!’” 3

Ananta
Solstice Festival

I stand behind my elder brother, Ananta.

Last Solstice Festival celebrated by Sri Yukteswar, December, 1935, My Guru is seated in the center; I am at his right, in the large courtyard of his hermitage in Serampore.

But the forceful prognostications of the young man had slightly shaken my confidence. With all the fervor of my heart I prayed silently to God:

“Please solve my bewilderment and answer me, right here and now, if Thou dost desire me to lead the life of a renunciate or a worldly man!”

I noticed a sadhu of noble countenance standing just outside the compound of the pundit’s house. Evidently he had overheard the spirited conversation between the self-styled clairvoyant and myself, for the stranger called me to his side. I felt a tremendous power flowing from his calm eyes.

“Son, don’t listen to that ignoramus. In response to your prayer, the Lord tells me to assure you that your sole path in this life is that of the renunciate.”

With astonishment as well as gratitude, I smiled happily at this decisive message.

“Come away from that man!” The “ignoramus” was calling me from the courtyard. My saintly guide raised his hand in blessing and slowly departed.

“That sadhu is just as crazy as you are.” It was the hoary-headed pundit who made this charming observation. He and his son were gazing at me lugubriously. “I heard that he too has left his home in a vague search for God.”

I turned away. To Ananta I remarked that I would not engage in further discussion with our hosts. My brother agreed to an immediate departure; we soon entrained for Calcutta.

“Mr. Detective, how did you discover I had fled with two companions?” I vented my lively curiosity to Ananta during our homeward journey. He smiled mischievously.

“At your school, I found that Amar had left his classroom and had not returned. I went to his home the next morning and unearthed a marked timetable. Amar’s father was just leaving by carriage and was talking to the coachman.

“‘My son will not ride with me to his school this morning. He has disappeared!’ the father moaned.

“‘I heard from a brother coachman that your son and two others, dressed in European suits, boarded the train at Howrah Station,’ the man stated. ‘They made a present of their leather shoes to the cab driver.’

“Thus I had three clues—the timetable, the trio of boys, and the English clothing.”

I was listening to Ananta’s disclosures with mingled mirth and vexation. Our generosity to the coachman had been slightly misplaced!

“Of course I rushed to send telegrams to station officials in all the cities which Amar had underlined in the timetable. He had checked Bareilly, so I wired your friend Dwarka there. After inquiries in our Calcutta neighborhood, I learned that cousin Jatinda had been absent one night but had arrived home the following morning in European garb. I sought him out and invited him to dinner. He accepted, quite disarmed by my friendly manner. On the way I led him unsuspectingly to a police station. He was surrounded by several officers whom I had previously selected for their ferocious appearance. Under their formidable gaze, Jatinda agreed to account for his mysterious conduct.

“‘I started for the Himalayas in a buoyant spiritual mood,’ he explained. ‘Inspiration filled me at the prospect of meeting the masters. But as soon as Mukunda said, “During our ecstasies in the Himalayan caves, tigers will be spellbound and sit around us like tame pussies,” my spirits froze; beads of perspiration formed on my brow. “What then?” I thought. “If the vicious nature of the tigers be not changed through the power of our spiritual trance, shall they treat us with the kindness of house cats?” In my mind’s eye, I already saw myself the compulsory inmate of some tiger’s stomach—entering there not at once with the whole body, but by installments of its several parts!’”

My anger at Jatinda’s vanishment was evaporated in laughter. The hilarious sequel on the train was worth all the anguish he had caused me. I must confess to a slight feeling of satisfaction: Jatinda too had not escaped an encounter with the police!

“Ananta,4 you are a born sleuthhound!” My glance of amusement was not without some exasperation. “And I shall tell Jatinda I am glad he was prompted by no mood of treachery, as it appeared, but only by the prudent instinct of self-preservation!”

At home in Calcutta, Father touchingly requested me to curb my roving feet until, at least, the completion of my high school studies. In my absence, he had lovingly hatched a plot by arranging for a saintly pundit, Swami Kebalananda,5 to come regularly to the house.

“The sage will be your Sanskrit tutor,” my parent announced confidently.

Father hoped to satisfy my religious yearnings by instructions from a learned philosopher. But the tables were subtly turned: my new teacher, far from offering intellectual aridities, fanned the embers of my God-aspiration. Unknown to Father, Swami Kebalananda was an exalted disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya. The peerless guru had possessed thousands of disciples, silently drawn to him by the irresistibility of his divine magnetism. I learned later that Lahiri Mahasaya had often characterized Kebalananda as rishi or illumined sage.

Luxuriant curls framed my tutor’s handsome face. His dark eyes were guileless, with the transparency of a child’s. All the movements of his slight body were marked by a restful deliberation. Ever gentle and loving, he was firmly established in the infinite consciousness. Many of our happy hours together were spent in deep Kriya meditation.

Kebalananda was a noted authority on the ancient shastras or sacred books: his erudition had earned him the title of “Shastri Mahasaya,” by which he was usually addressed. But my progress in Sanskrit scholarship was unnoteworthy. I sought every opportunity to forsake prosaic grammar and to talk of yoga and Lahiri Mahasaya. My tutor obliged me one day by telling me something of his own life with the master.

“Rarely fortunate, I was able to remain near Lahiri Mahasaya for ten years. His Benares home was my nightly goal of pilgrimage. The guru was always present in a small front parlor on the first floor. As he sat in lotus posture on a backless wooden seat, his disciples garlanded him in a semicircle. His eyes sparkled and danced with the joy of the Divine. They were ever half closed, peering through the inner telescopic orb into a sphere of eternal bliss. He seldom spoke at length. Occasionally his gaze would focus on a student in need of help; healing words poured then like an avalanche of light.

“An indescribable peace blossomed within me at the master’s glance. I was permeated with his fragrance, as though from a lotus of infinity. To be with him, even without exchanging a word for days, was experience which changed my entire being. If any invisible barrier rose in the path of my concentration, I would meditate at the guru’s feet. There the most tenuous states came easily within my grasp. Such perceptions eluded me in the presence of lesser teachers. The master was a living temple of God whose secret doors were open to all disciples through devotion.

“Lahiri Mahasaya was no bookish interpreter of the scriptures. Effortlessly he dipped into the ‘divine library.’ Foam of words and spray of thoughts gushed from the fountain of his omniscience. He had the wondrous clavis which unlocked the profound philosophical science embedded ages ago in the Vedas.6 If asked to explain the different planes of consciousness mentioned in the ancient texts, he would smilingly assent.

“‘I will undergo those states, and presently tell you what I perceive.’ He was thus diametrically unlike the teachers who commit scripture to memory and then give forth unrealized abstractions.

“‘Please expound the holy stanzas as the meaning occurs to you.’ The taciturn guru often gave this instruction to a near-by disciple. ‘I will guide your thoughts, that the right interpretation be uttered.’ In this way many of Lahiri Mahasaya’s perceptions came to be recorded, with voluminous commentaries by various students.

“The master never counseled slavish belief. ‘Words are only shells,’ he said. ‘Win conviction of God’s presence through your own joyous contact in meditation.’

“No matter what the disciple’s problem, the guru advised Kriya Yoga for its solution.

“‘The yogic key will not lose its efficiency when I am no longer present in the body to guide you. This technique cannot be bound, filed, and forgotten, in the manner of theoretical inspirations. Continue ceaselessly on your path to liberation through Kriya, whose power lies in practice.’

“I myself consider Kriya the most effective device of salvation through self-effort ever to be evolved in man’s search for the Infinite.” Kebalananda concluded with this earnest testimony. “Through its use, the omnipotent God, hidden in all men, became visibly incarnated in the flesh of Lahiri Mahasaya and a number of his disciples.”

A Christlike miracle by Lahiri Mahasaya took place in Kebalananda’s presence. My saintly tutor recounted the story one day, his eyes remote from the Sanskrit texts before us.

“A blind disciple, Ramu, aroused my active pity. Should he have no light in his eyes, when he faithfully served our master, in whom the Divine was fully blazing? One morning I sought to speak to Ramu, but he sat for patient hours fanning the guru with a hand-made palm-leaf punkha. When the devotee finally left the room, I followed him.

“‘Ramu, how long have you been blind?’

“‘From my birth, sir! Never have my eyes been blessed with a glimpse of the sun.’

“‘Our omnipotent guru can help you. Please make a supplication.’

“The following day Ramu diffidently approached Lahiri Mahasaya. The disciple felt almost ashamed to ask that physical wealth be added to his spiritual superabundance.

“‘Master, the Illuminator of the cosmos is in you. I pray you to bring His light into my eyes, that I perceive the sun’s lesser glow.’

“‘Ramu, someone has connived to put me in a difficult position. I have no healing power.’

“‘Sir, the Infinite One within you can certainly heal.’

“‘That is indeed different, Ramu. God’s limit is nowhere! He who ignites the stars and the cells of flesh with mysterious life-effulgence can surely bring luster of vision into your eyes.’

“The master touched Ramu’s forehead at the point between the eyebrows.7

“‘Keep your mind concentrated there, and frequently chant the name of the prophet Rama 8 for seven days. The splendor of the sun shall have a special dawn for you.’

“Lo! in one week it was so. For the first time, Ramu beheld the fair face of nature. The Omniscient One had unerringly directed his disciple to repeat the name of Rama, adored by him above all other saints. Ramu’s faith was the devotionally ploughed soil in which the guru’s powerful seed of permanent healing sprouted.” Kebalananda was silent for a moment, then paid a further tribute to his guru.

“It was evident in all miracles performed by Lahiri Mahasaya that he never allowed the ego-principle 9 to consider itself a causative force. By perfection of resistless surrender, the master enabled the Prime Healing Power to flow freely through him.

“The numerous bodies which were spectacularly healed through Lahiri Mahasaya eventually had to feed the flames of cremation. But the silent spiritual awakenings he effected, the Christlike disciples he fashioned, are his imperishable miracles.”

I never became a Sanskrit scholar; Kebalananda taught me a diviner syntax.

  1. Literally, “renunciate.” From Sanskrit verb roots, “to cast aside.”

  2. Effects of past actions, in this or a former life; from Sanskrit kri, “to do.”

  3. Bhagavad Gita, IX, 30-31. Krishna was the greatest prophet of India; Arjuna was his foremost disciple.

  4. I always addressed him as Ananta-da. Da is a respectful suffix which the eldest brother in an Indian family receives from junior brothers and sisters.

  5. At the time of our meeting, Kebalananda had not yet joined the Swami Order and was generally called “Shastri Mahasaya.” To avoid confusion with the name of Lahiri Mahasaya and of Master Mahasaya (chapter 9), I am referring to my Sanskrit tutor only by his later monastic name of Swami Kebalananda. His biography has been recently published in Bengali. Born in the Khulna district of Bengal in 1863, Kebalananda gave up his body in Benares at the age of sixty-eight. His family name was Ashutosh Chatterji.

  6. The ancient four Vedas comprise over 100 extant canonical books. Emerson paid the following tribute in his Journal to Vedic thought: “It is sublime as heat and night and a breathless ocean. It contains every religious sentiment, all the grand ethics which visit in turn each noble poetic mind. . . . It is of no use to put away the book; if I trust myself in the woods or in a boat upon the pond, Nature makes a Brahmin of me presently: eternal necessity, eternal compensation, unfathomable power, unbroken silence. . . . This is her creed. Peace, she saith to me, and purity and absolute abandonment—these panaceas expiate all sin and bring you to the beatitude of the Eight Gods.”

  7. The seat of the “single” or spiritual eye. At death the consciousness of man is usually drawn to this holy spot, accounting for the upraised eyes found in the dead.

  8. The central sacred figure of the Sanskrit epic, Ramayana.

  9. Ahankara, egoism; literally, “I do.” The root cause of dualism or illusion of maya, whereby the subject (ego) appears as object; the creatures imagine themselves to be creators.

Chapter: 5

A “Perfume Saint” Displays His Wonders

The “Perfume Saint”

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

I did not have this wisdom of Solomon to comfort me; I gazed searchingly about me, on any excursion from home, for the face of my destined guru. But my path did not cross his own until after the completion of my high school studies.

Two years elapsed between my flight with Amar toward the Himalayas, and the great day of Sri Yukteswar’s arrival into my life. During that interim I met a number of sages—the “Perfume Saint,” the “Tiger Swami,” Nagendra Nath Bhaduri, Master Mahasaya, and the famous Bengali scientist, Jagadis Chandra Bose.

My encounter with the “Perfume Saint” had two preambles, one harmonious and the other humorous.

“God is simple. Everything else is complex. Do not seek absolute values in the relative world of nature.”

These philosophical finalities gently entered my ear as I stood silently before a temple image of Kali.1 Turning, I confronted a tall man whose garb, or lack of it, revealed him a wandering sadhu.

“You have indeed penetrated the bewilderment of my thoughts!” I smiled gratefully. “The confusion of benign and terrible aspects in nature, as symbolized by Kali, has puzzled wiser heads than mine!”

“Few there be who solve her mystery! Good and evil is the challenging riddle which life places sphinxlike before every intelligence. Attempting no solution, most men pay forfeit with their lives, penalty now even as in the days of Thebes. Here and there, a towering lonely figure never cries defeat. From the maya 2 of duality he plucks the cleaveless truth of unity.”

“You speak with conviction, sir.”

“I have long exercised an honest introspection, the exquisitely painful approach to wisdom. Self-scrutiny, relentless observance of one’s thoughts, is a stark and shattering experience. It pulverizes the stoutest ego. But true self-analysis mathematically operates to produce seers. The way of ‘self-expression,’ individual acknowledgments, results in egotists, sure of the right to their private interpretations of God and the universe.”

“Truth humbly retires, no doubt, before such arrogant originality.” I was enjoying the discussion.

“Man can understand no eternal verity until he has freed himself from pretensions. The human mind, bared to a centuried slime, is teeming with repulsive life of countless world-delusions. Struggles of the battlefields pale into insignificance here, when man first contends with inward enemies! No mortal foes these, to be overcome by harrowing array of might! Omnipresent, unresting, pursuing man even in sleep, subtly equipped with a miasmic weapon, these soldiers of ignorant lusts seek to slay us all. Thoughtless is the man who buries his ideals, surrendering to the common fate. Can he seem other than impotent, wooden, ignominious?”

“Respected Sir, have you no sympathy for the bewildered masses?”

The sage was silent for a moment, then answered obliquely.

“To love both the invisible God, Repository of All Virtues, and visible man, apparently possessed of none, is often baffling! But ingenuity is equal to the maze. Inner research soon exposes a unity in all human minds—the stalwart kinship of selfish motive. In one sense at least, the brotherhood of man stands revealed. An aghast humility follows this leveling discovery. It ripens into compassion for one’s fellows, blind to the healing potencies of the soul awaiting exploration.”

“The saints of every age, sir, have felt like yourself for the sorrows of the world.”

“Only the shallow man loses responsiveness to the woes of others’ lives, as he sinks into narrow suffering of his own.” The sadhu’s austere face was noticeably softened. “The one who practices a scalpel self-dissection will know an expansion of universal pity. Release is given him from the deafening demands of his ego. The love of God flowers on such soil. The creature finally turns to his Creator, if for no other reason than to ask in anguish: ‘Why, Lord, why?’ By ignoble whips of pain, man is driven at last into the Infinite Presence, whose beauty alone should lure him.”

The sage and I were present in Calcutta’s Kalighat Temple, whither I had gone to view its famed magnificence. With a sweeping gesture, my chance companion dismissed the ornate dignity.

“Bricks and mortar sing us no audible tune; the heart opens only to the human chant of being.”

We strolled to the inviting sunshine at the entrance, where throngs of devotees were passing to and fro.

“You are young.” The sage surveyed me thoughtfully. “India too is young. The ancient rishis 3 laid down ineradicable patterns of spiritual living. Their hoary dictums suffice for this day and land. Not outmoded, not unsophisticated against the guiles of materialism, the disciplinary precepts mold India still. By millenniums—more than embarrassed scholars care to compute!—the skeptic Time has validated Vedic worth. Take it for your heritage.”

As I was reverently bidding farewell to the eloquent sadhu, he revealed a clairvoyant perception:

“After you leave here today, an unusual experience will come your way.”

I quitted the temple precincts and wandered along aimlessly. Turning a corner, I ran into an old acquaintance—one of those long-winded fellows whose conversational powers ignore time and embrace eternity.

“I will let you go in a very short while, if you will tell me all that has happened during the six years of our separation.”

“What a paradox! I must leave you now.”

But he held me by the hand, forcing out tidbits of information. He was like a ravenous wolf, I thought in amusement; the longer I spoke, the more hungrily he sniffed for news. Inwardly I petitioned the Goddess Kali to devise a graceful means of escape.

My companion left me abruptly. I sighed with relief and doubled my pace, dreading any relapse into the garrulous fever. Hearing rapid footsteps behind me, I quickened my speed. I dared not look back. But with a bound, the youth rejoined me, jovially clasping my shoulder.

“I forgot to tell you of Gandha Baba (Perfume Saint), who is gracing yonder house.” He pointed to a dwelling a few yards distant. “Do meet him; he is interesting. You may have an unusual experience. Good-by,” and he actually left me.

The similarly worded prediction of the sadhu at Kalighat Temple flashed to my mind. Definitely intrigued, I entered the house and was ushered into a commodious parlor. A crowd of people were sitting, Orient-wise, here and there on a thick orange-colored carpet. An awed whisper reached my ear:

“Behold Gandha Baba on the leopard skin. He can give the natural perfume of any flower to a scentless one, or revive a wilted blossom, or make a person’s skin exude delightful fragrance.”

I looked directly at the saint; his quick gaze rested on mine. He was plump and bearded, with dark skin and large, gleaming eyes.

“Son, I am glad to see you. Say what you want. Would you like some perfume?”

“What for?” I thought his remark rather childish.

“To experience the miraculous way of enjoying perfumes.”

“Harnessing God to make odors?”

“What of it? God makes perfume anyway.”

“Yes, but He fashions frail bottles of petals for fresh use and discard. Can you materialize flowers?”

“I materialize perfumes, little friend.”

“Then scent factories will go out of business.”

“I will permit them to keep their trade! My own purpose is to demonstrate the power of God.”

“Sir, is it necessary to prove God? Isn’t He performing miracles in everything, everywhere?”

“Yes, but we too should manifest some of His infinite creative variety.”

“How long did it take to master your art?”

“Twelve years.”

“For manufacturing scents by astral means! It seems, my honored saint, you have been wasting a dozen years for fragrances which you can obtain with a few rupees from a florist’s shop.”

“Perfumes fade with flowers.”

“Perfumes fade with death. Why should I desire that which pleases the body only?”

“Mr. Philosopher, you please my mind. Now, stretch forth your right hand.” He made a gesture of blessing.

I was a few feet away from Gandha Baba; no one else was near enough to contact my body. I extended my hand, which the yogi did not touch.

“What perfume do you want?”

“Rose.”

“Be it so.”

To my great surprise, the charming fragrance of rose was wafted strongly from the center of my palm. I smilingly took a large white scentless flower from a near-by vase.

“Can this odorless blossom be permeated with jasmine?”

“Be it so.”

A jasmine fragrance instantly shot from the petals. I thanked the wonder-worker and seated myself by one of his students. He informed me that Gandha Baba, whose proper name was Vishudhananda, had learned many astonishing yoga secrets from a master in Tibet. The Tibetan yogi, I was assured, had attained the age of over a thousand years.

“His disciple Gandha Baba does not always perform his perfume-feats in the simple verbal manner you have just witnessed.” The student spoke with obvious pride in his master. “His procedure differs widely, to accord with diversity in temperaments. He is marvelous! Many members of the Calcutta intelligentsia are among his followers.”

I inwardly resolved not to add myself to their number. A guru too literally “marvelous” was not to my liking. With polite thanks to Gandha Baba, I departed. Sauntering home, I reflected on the three varied encounters the day had brought forth.

My sister Uma met me as I entered our Gurpar Road door.

“You are getting quite stylish, using perfumes!”

Without a word, I motioned her to smell my hand.

“What an attractive rose fragrance! It is unusually strong!”

Thinking it was “strongly unusual,” I silently placed the astrally scented blossom under her nostrils.

“Oh, I love jasmine!” She seized the flower. A ludicrous bafflement passed over her face as she repeatedly sniffed the odor of jasmine from a type of flower she well knew to be scentless. Her reactions disarmed my suspicion that Gandha Baba had induced an auto-suggestive state whereby I alone could detect the fragrances.

Later I heard from a friend, Alakananda, that the “Perfume Saint” had a power which I wish were possessed by the starving millions of Asia and, today, of Europe as well.

“I was present with a hundred other guests at Gandha Baba’s home in Burdwan,” Alakananda told me. “It was a gala occasion. Because the yogi was reputed to have the power of extracting objects out of thin air, I laughingly requested him to materialize some out-of-season tangerines. Immediately the luchis 4 which were present on all the banana-leaf plates became puffed up. Each of the bread-envelopes proved to contain a peeled tangerine. I bit into my own with some trepidation, but found it delicious.”

Years later I understood by inner realization how Gandha Baba accomplished his materializations. The method, alas! is beyond the reach of the world’s hungry hordes.

The different sensory stimuli to which man reacts—tactual, visual, gustatory, auditory, and olfactory—are produced by vibratory variations in electrons and protons. The vibrations in turn are regulated by “lifetrons,” subtle life forces or finer-than-atomic energies intelligently charged with the five distinctive sensory idea-substances.

Gandha Baba, tuning himself with the cosmic force by certain yogic practices, was able to guide the lifetrons to rearrange their vibratory structure and objectivize the desired result. His perfume, fruit and other miracles were actual materializations of mundane vibrations, and not inner sensations hypnotically produced.5

Performances of miracles such as shown by the “Perfume Saint” are spectacular but spiritually useless. Having little purpose beyond entertainment, they are digressions from a serious search for God.

Hypnotism has been used by physicians in minor operations as a sort of psychical chloroform for persons who might be endangered by an anesthetic. But a hypnotic state is harmful to those often subjected to it; a negative psychological effect ensues which in time deranges the brain cells. Hypnotism is trespass into the territory of another’s consciousness. Its temporary phenomena have nothing in common with the miracles performed by men of divine realization. Awake in God, true saints effect changes in this dream-world by means of a will harmoniously attuned to the Creative Cosmic Dreamer.

Ostentatious display of unusual powers are decried by masters. The Persian mystic, Abu Said, once laughed at certain fakirs who were proud of their miraculous powers over water, air, and space.

“A frog is also at home in the water!” Abu Said pointed out in gentle scorn. “The crow and the vulture easily fly in the air; the Devil is simultaneously present in the East and in the West! A true man is he who dwells in righteousness among his fellow men, who buys and sells, yet is never for a single instant forgetful of God!” On another occasion the great Persian teacher gave his views on the religious life thus: “To lay aside what you have in your head (selfish desires and ambitions); to freely bestow what you have in your hand; and never to flinch from the blows of adversity!”

Neither the impartial sage at Kalighat Temple nor the Tibetan-trained yogi had satisfied my yearning for a guru. My heart needed no tutor for its recognitions, and cried its own “Bravos!” the more resoundingly because unoften summoned from silence. When I finally met my master, he taught me by sublimity of example alone the measure of a true man.

  1. Kali represents the eternal principle in nature. She is traditionally pictured as a four-armed woman, standing on the form of the God Shiva or the Infinite, because nature or the phenomenal world is rooted in the Noumenon. The four arms symbolize cardinal attributes, two beneficent, two destructive, indicating the essential duality of matter or creation.

  2. Cosmic illusion; literally, “the measurer.” Maya is the magical power in creation by which limitations and divisions are apparently present in the Immeasurable and Inseparable.

    Emerson wrote the following poem, to which he gave the title of Maya:

    Illusion works impenetrable,
    Weaving webs innumerable,
    Her gay pictures never fail,
    Crowd each other, veil on veil,
    Charmer who will be believed
    By man who thirsts to be deceived.
  3. The rishis, literally “seers,” were the authors of the Vedas in an indeterminable antiquity.

  4. Flat, round Indian bread.

  5. Laymen scarcely realize the vast strides of twentieth-century science. Transmutation of metals and other alchemical dreams are seeing fulfillment every day in centers of scientific research over the world. The eminent French chemist, M. Georges Claude, performed “miracles” at Fontainebleau in 1928 before a scientific assemblage through his chemical knowledge of oxygen transformations. His “magician’s wand” was simple oxygen, bubbling in a tube on a table. The scientist “turned a handful of sand into precious stones, iron into a state resembling melted chocolate and, after depriving flowers of their tints, turned them into the consistency of glass.

    “M. Claude explained how the sea could be turned by oxygen transformations into many millions of pounds of horsepower; how water which boils is not necessarily burning; how little mounds of sand, by a single whiff of the oxygen blowpipe, could be changed into sapphires, rubies, and topazes; and he predicted the time when it will be possible for men to walk on the bottom of the ocean minus the diver’s equipment. Finally the scientist amazed his onlookers by turning their faces black by taking the red out of the sun’s rays.”

    This noted French scientist has produced liquid air by an expansion method in which he has been able to separate the various gases of the air, and has discovered various means of mechanical utilization of differences of temperature in sea water.

Chapter: 6

The Tiger Swami

The Tiger Swami

I have discovered the Tiger Swami’s address. Let us visit him tomorrow.”

This welcome suggestion came from Chandi, one of my high school friends. I was eager to meet the saint who, in his premonastic life, had caught and fought tigers with his naked hands. A boyish enthusiasm over such remarkable feats was strong within me.

The next day dawned wintry cold, but Chandi and I sallied forth gaily. After much vain hunting in Bhowanipur, outside Calcutta, we arrived at the right house. The door held two iron rings, which I sounded piercingly. Notwithstanding the clamor, a servant approached with leisurely gait. His ironical smile implied that visitors, despite their noise, were powerless to disturb the calmness of a saint’s home.

Feeling the silent rebuke, my companion and I were thankful to be invited into the parlor. Our long wait there caused uncomfortable misgivings. India’s unwritten law for the truth seeker is patience; a master may purposely make a test of one’s eagerness to meet him. This psychological ruse is freely employed in the West by doctors and dentists!

Finally summoned by the servant, Chandi and I entered a sleeping apartment. The famous Sohong 1 Swami was seated on his bed. The sight of his tremendous body affected us strangely. With bulging eyes, we stood speechless. We had never before seen such a chest or such football-like biceps. On an immense neck, the swami’s fierce yet calm face was adorned with flowing locks, beard and moustache. A hint of dovelike and tigerlike qualities shone in his dark eyes. He was unclothed, save for a tiger skin about his muscular waist.

Finding our voices, my friend and I greeted the monk, expressing our admiration for his prowess in the extraordinary feline arena.

“Will you not tell us, please, how it is possible to subdue with bare fists the most ferocious of jungle beasts, the royal Bengals?”

“My sons, it is nothing to me to fight tigers. I could do it today if necessary.” He gave a childlike laugh. “You look upon tigers as tigers; I know them as pussycats.”

“Swamiji, I think I could impress my subconsciousness with the thought that tigers are pussycats, but could I make tigers believe it?”

“Of course strength also is necessary! One cannot expect victory from a baby who imagines a tiger to be a house cat! Powerful hands are my sufficient weapon.”

He asked us to follow him to the patio, where he struck the edge of a wall. A brick crashed to the floor; the sky peered boldly through the gaping lost tooth of the wall. I fairly staggered in astonishment; he who can remove mortared bricks from a solid wall with one blow, I thought, must surely be able to displace the teeth of tigers!

“A number of men have physical power such as mine, but still lack in cool confidence. Those who are bodily but not mentally stalwart may find themselves fainting at mere sight of a wild beast bounding freely in the jungle. The tiger in its natural ferocity and habitat is vastly different from the opium-fed circus animal!

“Many a man with herculean strength has nonetheless been terrorized into abject helplessness before the onslaught of a royal Bengal. Thus the tiger has converted the man, in his own mind, to a state as nerveless as the pussycat’s. It is possible for a man, owning a fairly strong body and an immensely strong determination, to turn the tables on the tiger, and force it to a conviction of pussycat defenselessness. How often I have done just that!”

I was quite willing to believe that the titan before me was able to perform the tiger-pussycat metamorphosis. He seemed in a didactic mood; Chandi and I listened respectfully.

“Mind is the wielder of muscles. The force of a hammer blow depends on the energy applied; the power expressed by a man’s bodily instrument depends on his aggressive will and courage. The body is literally manufactured and sustained by mind. Through pressure of instincts from past lives, strengths or weaknesses percolate gradually into human consciousness. They express as habits, which in turn ossify into a desirable or an undesirable body. Outward frailty has mental origin; in a vicious circle, the habit-bound body thwarts the mind. If the master allows himself to be commanded by a servant, the latter becomes autocratic; the mind is similarly enslaved by submitting to bodily dictation.”

At our entreaty, the impressive swami consented to tell us something of his own life.

“My earliest ambition was to fight tigers. My will was mighty, but my body was feeble.”

An ejaculation of surprise broke from me. It appeared incredible that this man, now “with Atlantean shoulders, fit to bear,” could ever have known weakness.

“It was by indomitable persistency in thoughts of health and strength that I overcame my handicap. I have every reason to extol the compelling mental vigor which I found to be the real subduer of royal Bengals.”

“Do you think, revered swami, that I could ever fight tigers?” This was the first, and the last, time that the bizarre ambition ever visited my mind!

“Yes.” He was smiling. “But there are many kinds of tigers; some roam in jungles of human desires. No spiritual benefit accrues by knocking beasts unconscious. Rather be victor over the inner prowlers.”

“May we hear, sir, how you changed from a tamer of wild tigers to a tamer of wild passions?”

The Tiger Swami fell into silence. Remoteness came into his gaze, summoning visions of bygone years. I discerned his slight mental struggle to decide whether to grant my request. Finally he smiled in acquiescence.

“When my fame reached a zenith, it brought the intoxication of pride. I decided not only to fight tigers but to display them in various tricks. My ambition was to force savage beasts to behave like domesticated ones. I began to perform my feats publicly, with gratifying success.

“One evening my father entered my room in pensive mood.

“‘Son, I have words of warning. I would save you from coming ills, produced by the grinding wheels of cause and effect.’

“‘Are you a fatalist, Father? Should superstition be allowed to discolor the powerful waters or my activities?’

“‘I am no fatalist, son. But I believe in the just law of retribution, as taught in the holy scriptures. There is resentment against you in the jungle family; sometime it may act to your cost.’

“‘Father, you astonish me! You well know what tigers are—beautiful but merciless! Even immediately after an enormous meal of some hapless creature, a tiger is fired with fresh lust at sight of new prey. It may be a joyous gazelle, frisking over the jungle grass. Capturing it and biting an opening in the soft throat, the malevolent beast tastes only a little of the mutely crying blood, and goes its wanton way.

“‘Tigers are the most contemptible of the jungle breed! Who knows? my blows may inject some slight sanity of consideration into their thick heads. I am headmaster in a forest finishing school, to teach them gentle manners!

“‘Please, Father, think of me as tiger tamer and never as tiger killer. How could my good actions bring ill upon me? I beg you not to impose any command that I change my way of life.’”

Chandi and I were all attention, understanding the past dilemma. In India a child does not lightly disobey his parents’ wishes.

“In stoic silence Father listened to my explanation. He followed it with a disclosure which he uttered gravely.

“‘Son, you compel me to relate an ominous prediction from the lips of a saint. He approached me yesterday as I sat on the veranda in my daily meditation.

“‘“Dear friend, I come with a message for your belligerent son. Let him cease his savage activities. Otherwise, his next tiger-encounter shall result in his severe wounds, followed by six months of deathly sickness. He shall then forsake his former ways and become a monk.”’

“This tale did not impress me. I considered that Father had been the credulous victim of a deluded fanatic.”

The Tiger Swami made this confession with an impatient gesture, as though at some stupidity. Grimly silent for a long time, he seemed oblivious of our presence. When he took up the dangling thread of his narrative, it was suddenly, with subdued voice.

“Not long after Father’s warning, I visited the capital city of Cooch Behar. The picturesque territory was new to me, and I expected a restful change. As usual everywhere, a curious crowd followed me on the streets. I would catch bits of whispered comment:

“‘This is the man who fights wild tigers.’

“‘Has he legs, or tree-trunks?’

“‘Look at his face! He must be an incarnation of the king of tigers himself!’

“You know how village urchins function like final editions of a newspaper! With what speed do the even-later speech-bulletins of the women circulate from house to house! Within a few hours, the whole city was in a state of excitement over my presence.

“I was relaxing quietly in the evening, when I heard the hoofbeats of galloping horses. They stopped in front of my dwelling place. In came a number of tall, turbaned policemen.

“I was taken aback. ‘All things are possible unto these creatures of human law,’ I thought. ‘I wonder if they are going to take me to task about matters utterly unknown to me.’ But the officers bowed with unwonted courtesy.

“‘Honored Sir, we are sent to welcome you on behalf of the Prince of Cooch Behar. He is pleased to invite you to his palace tomorrow morning.’

“I speculated awhile on the prospect. For some obscure reason I felt sharp regret at this interruption in my quiet trip. But the suppliant manner of the policemen moved me; I agreed to go.

“I was bewildered the next day to be obsequiously escorted from my door into a magnificent coach drawn by four horses. A servant held an ornate umbrella to protect me from the scorching sunlight. I enjoyed the pleasant ride through the city and its woodland outskirts. The royal scion himself was at the palace door to welcome me. He proffered his own gold-brocaded seat, smilingly placing himself in a chair of simpler design.

“‘All this politeness is certainly going to cost me something!’ I thought in mounting astonishment. The prince’s motive emerged after a few casual remarks.

“‘My city is filled with the rumor that you can fight wild tigers with nothing more than your naked hands. Is it a fact?’

“‘It is quite true.’

“‘I can scarcely believe it! You are a Calcutta Bengali, nurtured on the white rice of city folk. Be frank, please; have you not been fighting only spineless, opium-fed animals?’ His voice was loud and sarcastic, tinged with provincial accent.

“I vouchsafed no reply to his insulting question.

“‘I challenge you to fight my newly-caught tiger, Raja Begum.2 If you can successfully resist him, bind him with a chain, and leave his cage in a conscious state, you shall have this royal Bengal! Several thousand rupees and many other gifts shall also be bestowed. If you refuse to meet him in combat, I shall blazon your name throughout the state as an impostor!’

“His insolent words struck me like a volley of bullets. I shot an angry acceptance. Half risen from the chair in his excitement, the prince sank back with a sadistic smile. I was reminded of the Roman emperors who delighted in setting Christians in bestial arenas.

“‘The match will be set for a week hence. I regret that I cannot give you permission to view the tiger in advance.’

“Whether the prince feared I might seek to hypnotize the beast, or secretly feed him opium, I know not!

“I left the palace, noting with amusement that the royal umbrella and panoplied coach were now missing.

“The following week I methodically prepared my mind and body for the coming ordeal. Through my servant I learned of fantastic tales. The saint’s direful prediction to my father had somehow got abroad, enlarging as it ran. Many simple villagers believed that an evil spirit, cursed by the gods, had reincarnated as a tiger which took various demoniac forms at night, but remained a striped animal during the day. This demon-tiger was supposed to be the one sent to humble me.

“Another imaginative version was that animal prayers to Tiger Heaven had achieved a response in the shape of Raja Begum. He was to be the instrument to punish me—the audacious biped, so insulting to the entire tiger species! A furless, fangless man daring to challenge a claw-armed, sturdy-limbed tiger! The concentrated venom of all humiliated tigers—the villagers declared—had gathered momentum sufficient to operate hidden laws and bring about the fall of the proud tiger tamer.

“My servant further apprized me that the prince was in his element as manager of the bout between man and beast. He had supervised the erection of a storm-proof pavilion, designed to accommodate thousands. Its center held Raja Begum in an enormous iron cage, surrounded by an outer safety room. The captive emitted a ceaseless series of blood-curdling roars. He was fed sparingly, to kindle a wrathful appetite. Perhaps the prince expected me to be the meal of reward!

“Crowds from the city and suburbs bought tickets eagerly in response to the beat of drums announcing the unique contest. The day of battle saw hundreds turned away for lack of seats. Many men broke through the tent openings, or crowded any space below the galleries.”

As the Tiger Swami’s story approached a climax, my excitement mounted with it; Chandi also was raptly mute.

“Amidst piercing sound-explosions from Raja Begum, and the hubbub of the somewhat terrified crowd, I quietly made my appearance. Scantily clad around the waist, I was otherwise unprotected by clothing. I opened the bolt on the door of the safety room and calmly locked it behind me. The tiger sensed blood. Leaping with a thunderous crash on his bars, he sent forth a fearsome welcome. The audience was hushed with pitiful fear; I seemed a meek lamb before the raging beast.

“In a trice I was within the cage; but as I slammed the door, Raja Begum was headlong upon me. My right hand was desperately torn. Human blood, the greatest treat a tiger can know, fell in appalling streams. The prophecy of the saint seemed about to be fulfilled.

“I rallied instantly from the shock of the first serious injury I had ever received. Banishing the sight of my gory fingers by thrusting them beneath my waist cloth, I swung my left arm in a bone-cracking blow. The beast reeled back, swirled around the rear of the cage, and sprang forward convulsively. My famous fistic punishment rained on his head.

“But Raja Begum’s taste of blood had acted like the maddening first sip of wine to a dipsomaniac long-deprived. Punctuated by deafening roar, the brute’s assaults grew in fury. My inadequate defense of only one hand left me vulnerable before claws and fangs. But I dealt out dazing retribution. Mutually ensanguined, we struggled as to the death. The cage was pandemonium, as blood splashed in all directions, and blasts of pain and lethal lust came from the bestial throat.

“‘Shoot him!’ ‘Kill the tiger!’ Shrieks arose from the audience. So fast did man and beast move, that a guard’s bullet went amiss. I mustered all my will force, bellowed fiercely, and landed a final concussive blow. The tiger collapsed and lay quietly.

“Like a pussycat!” I interjected.

The swami laughed in hearty appreciation, then continued the engrossing tale.

“Raja Begum was vanquished at last. His royal pride was further humbled: with my lacerated hands, I audaciously forced open his jaws. For a dramatic moment, I held my head within the yawning deathtrap. I looked around for a chain. Pulling one from a pile on the floor, I bound the tiger by his neck to the cage bars. In triumph I moved toward the door.

“But that fiend incarnate, Raja Begum, had stamina worthy of his supposed demoniac origin. With an incredible lunge, he snapped the chain and leaped on my back. My shoulder fast in his jaws, I fell violently. But in a trice I had him pinned beneath me. Under merciless blows, the treacherous animal sank into semiconsciousness. This time I secured him more carefully. Slowly I left the cage.

“I found myself in a new uproar, this time one of delight. The crowd’s cheer broke as though from a single gigantic throat. Disastrously mauled, I had yet fulfilled the three conditions of the fight—stunning the tiger, binding him with a chain, and leaving him without requiring assistance for myself. In addition, I had so drastically injured and frightened the aggressive beast that he had been content to overlook the opportune prize of my head in his mouth!

“After my wounds were treated, I was honored and garlanded; hundreds of gold pieces showered at my feet. The whole city entered a holiday period. Endless discussions were heard on all sides about my victory over one of the largest and most savage tigers ever seen. Raja Begum was presented to me, as promised, but I felt no elation. A spiritual change had entered my heart. It seemed that with my final exit from the cage I had also closed the door on my worldly ambitions.

“A woeful period followed. For six months I lay near death from blood poisoning. As soon as I was well enough to leave Cooch Behar, I returned to my native town.

“‘I know now that my teacher is the holy man who gave the wise warning.’ I humbly made this confession to my father. ‘Oh, if I could only find him!’ My longing was sincere, for one day the saint arrived unheralded.

“‘Enough of tiger taming.’ He spoke with calm assurance. ‘Come with me; I will teach you to subdue the beasts of ignorance roaming in jungles of the human mind. You are used to an audience: let it be a galaxy of angels, entertained by your thrilling mastery of yoga!’

“I was initiated into the spiritual path by my saintly guru. He opened my soul-doors, rusty and resistant with long disuse. Hand in hand, we soon set out for my training in the Himalayas.”

Chandi and I bowed at the swami’s feet, grateful for his vivid outline of a life truly cyclonic. I felt amply repaid for the long probationary wait in the cold parlor!

  1. Sohong was his monastic name. He was popularly known as the “Tiger Swami.”

  2. “Prince Princess”—so named to indicate that this beast possessed the combined ferocity of tiger and tigress.

Chapter: 7

The Levitating Saint

The Levitating Saint

I saw a yogi remain in the air, several feet above the ground, last night at a group meeting.” My friend, Upendra Mohun Chowdhury, spoke impressively.

I gave him an enthusiastic smile. “Perhaps I can guess his name. Was it Bhaduri Mahasaya, of Upper Circular Road?”

Upendra nodded, a little crestfallen not to be a news-bearer. My inquisitiveness about saints was well-known among my friends; they delighted in setting me on a fresh track.

“The yogi lives so close to my home that I often visit him.” My words brought keen interest to Upendra’s face, and I made a further confidence.

“I have seen him in remarkable feats. He has expertly mastered the various pranayamas 1 of the ancient eightfold yoga outlined by Patanjali.2 Once Bhaduri Mahasaya performed the Bhastrika Pranayama before me with such amazing force that it seemed an actual storm had arisen in the room! Then he extinguished the thundering breath and remained motionless in a high state of superconsciousness.3 The aura of peace after the storm was vivid beyond forgetting.”

“I heard that the saint never leaves his home.” Upendra’s tone was a trifle incredulous.

“Indeed it is true! He has lived indoors for the past twenty years. He slightly relaxes his self-imposed rule at the times of our holy festivals, when he goes as far as his front sidewalk! The beggars gather there, because Saint Bhaduri is known for his tender heart.”

“How does he remain in the air, defying the law of gravitation?”

“A yogi’s body loses its grossness after use of certain pranayamas. Then it will levitate or hop about like a leaping frog. Even saints who do not practice a formal yoga 4 have been known to levitate during a state of intense devotion to God.”

“I would like to know more of this sage. Do you attend his evening meetings?” Upendra’s eyes were sparkling with curiosity.

“Yes, I go often. I am vastly entertained by the wit in his wisdom. Occasionally my prolonged laughter mars the solemnity of his gatherings. The saint is not displeased, but his disciples look daggers!”

On my way home from school that afternoon, I passed Bhaduri Mahasaya’s cloister and decided on a visit. The yogi was inaccessible to the general public. A lone disciple, occupying the ground floor, guarded his master’s privacy. The student was something of a martinet; he now inquired formally if I had an “engagement.” His guru put in an appearance just in time to save me from summary ejection.

“Let Mukunda come when he will.” The sage’s eyes twinkled. “My rule of seclusion is not for my own comfort, but for that of others. Worldly people do not like the candor which shatters their delusions. Saints are not only rare but disconcerting. Even in scripture, they are often found embarrassing!”

I followed Bhaduri Mahasaya to his austere quarters on the top floor, from which he seldom stirred. Masters often ignore the panorama of the world’s ado, out of focus till centered in the ages. The contemporaries of a sage are not alone those of the narrow present.

“Maharishi,5 you are the first yogi I have known who always stays indoors.”

“God plants his saints sometimes in unexpected soil, lest we think we may reduce Him to a rule!”

The sage locked his vibrant body in the lotus posture. In his seventies, he displayed no unpleasing signs of age or sedentary life. Stalwart and straight, he was ideal in every respect. His face was that of a rishi, as described in the ancient texts. Noble-headed, abundantly bearded, he always sat firmly upright, his quiet eyes fixed on Omnipresence.

Bhaduri Mahasaya

Bhaduri Mahasaya

“The Levitating Saint”

“Sir,” I inquired, “why do you not write a book on yoga for the benefit of the world?”

“I am training disciples,” He replied. “They and their students will be living volumes, proof against the natural disintegrations of time and the unnatural interpretations of the critics.”

The saint and I entered the meditative state. After an hour, his gentle voice roused me.

“You go often into the silence, but have you developed anubhava?” 6 He was reminding me to love God more than meditation. “Do not mistake the technique for the Goal.”

He offered me some mangoes. With that good-humored wit that I found so delightful in his grave nature, he remarked, “People in general are more fond of Jala Yoga (union with food) than of Dhyana Yoga (union with God).”

His yogic pun affected me uproariously.

“What a laugh you have!” An affectionate gleam came into his gaze. His own face was always serious, yet touched with an ecstatic smile. His large, lotus eyes held a hidden divine laughter.

“Those letters come from far-off America.” The sage indicated several thick envelopes on a table. “I correspond with a few societies there whose members are interested in yoga. They are discovering India anew, with a better sense of direction than Columbus! I am glad to help them. The knowledge of yoga is free to all who will receive, like the ungarnishable daylight.

“What rishis perceived as essential for human salvation need not be diluted for the West. Alike in soul though diverse in outer experience, neither West nor East will flourish if some form of disciplinary yoga be not practiced.”

The saint held me with his tranquil eyes. I did not realize that his speech was a veiled prophetic guidance. It is only now, as I write these words, that I understand the full meaning in the casual intimations he often gave me that someday I would carry India’s teachings to America.

“Maharishi, I wish you would write a book on yoga for the benefit of the world.”

“I am training disciples. They and their students will be living volumes, proof against the natural disintegrations of time and the unnatural interpretations of the critics.” Bhaduri’s wit put me into another gale of laughter.

I remained alone with the yogi until his disciples arrived in the evening. Bhaduri Mahasaya entered one of his inimitable discourses. Like a peaceful flood, he swept away the mental debris of his listeners, floating them Godward. His striking parables were expressed in a flawless Bengali.

This evening Bhaduri expounded various philosophical points connected with the life of Mirabai, a medieval Rajputani princess who abandoned her court life to seek the company of sadhus. One great sannyasi refused to receive her because she was a woman; her reply brought him humbly to her feet.

“Tell the master,” she had said, “that I did not know there was any Male in the universe save God; are we all not females before Him?” (A scriptural conception of the Lord as the only Positive Creative Principle, His creation being naught but a passive maya.)

Mirabai composed many ecstatic songs which are still treasured in India; I translate one of them here:

“If by bathing daily God could be realized
Sooner would I be a whale in the deep;
If by eating roots and fruits He could be known
Gladly would I choose the form of a goat;
If the counting of rosaries uncovered Him
I would say my prayers on mammoth beads;
If bowing before stone images unveiled Him
A flinty mountain I would humbly worship;
If by drinking milk the Lord could be imbibed
Many calves and children would know Him;
If abandoning one’s wife would summon God
Would not thousands be eunuchs?
Mirabai knows that to find the Divine One
The only indispensable is Love.”

Several students put rupees in Bhaduri’s slippers which lay by his side as he sat in yoga posture. This respectful offering, customary in India, indicates that the disciple places his material goods at the guru’s feet. Grateful friends are only the Lord in disguise, looking after His own.

“Master, you are wonderful!” A student, taking his leave, gazed ardently at the patriarchal sage. “You have renounced riches and comforts to seek God and teach us wisdom!” It was well-known that Bhaduri Mahasaya had forsaken great family wealth in his early childhood, when single-mindedly he entered the yogic path.

“You are reversing the case!” The saint’s face held a mild rebuke. “I have left a few paltry rupees, a few petty pleasures, for a cosmic empire of endless bliss. How then have I denied myself anything? I know the joy of sharing the treasure. Is that a sacrifice? The shortsighted worldly folk are verily the real renunciates! They relinquish an unparalleled divine possession for a poor handful of earthly toys!”

I chuckled over this paradoxical view of renunciation—one which puts the cap of Croesus on any saintly beggar, whilst transforming all proud millionaires into unconscious martyrs.

“The divine order arranges our future more wisely than any insurance company.” The master’s concluding words were the realized creed of his faith. “The world is full of uneasy believers in an outward security. Their bitter thoughts are like scars on their foreheads. The One who gave us air and milk from our first breath knows how to provide day by day for His devotees.”

I continued my after-school pilgrimages to the saint’s door. With silent zeal he aided me to attain anubhava. One day he moved to Ram Mohan Roy Road, away from the neighborhood of my Gurpar Road home. His loving disciples had built him a new hermitage, known as “Nagendra Math.” 7

Although it throws me ahead of my story by a number of years, I will recount here the last words given to me by Bhaduri Mahasaya. Shortly before I embarked for the West, I sought him out and humbly knelt for his farewell blessing:

“Son, go to America. Take the dignity of hoary India for your shield. Victory is written on your brow; the noble distant people will well receive you.”

  1. Methods of controlling life-force through regulation of breath.

  2. The foremost ancient exponent of yoga.

  3. French professors were the first in the West to be willing to scientifically investigate the possibilities of the superconscious mind. Professor Jules-Bois, member of the L’Ecole de Psychologie of the Sorbonne, lectured in America in 1928; he told his audiences that French scientists have accorded recognition to the superconsciousness, “which is the exact opposite of Freud’s subconscious mind and is the faculty which makes man really man and not just a super-animal.” M. Jules-Bois explained that the awakening of the higher consciousness “was not to be confused with Coueism or hypnotism. The existence of a superconscious mind has long been recognized philosophically, being in reality the Oversoul spoken of by Emerson, but only recently has it been recognized scientifically.” The French scientist pointed out that from the superconsciousness come inspiration, genius, moral values. “Belief in this is not mysticism though it recognized and valued the qualities which mystics preached.”

  4. St. Theresa of Avila and other Christian saints were often observed in a state of levitation.

  5. “Great sage.”

  6. Actual perception of God.

  7. The saint’s full name was Nagendranath Bhaduri. Math means hermitage or ashram.

Chapter: 8

India’s Great Scientist, J. C. Bose

Jagadis Chandra Bose

Jagadis Chandra Bose’s wireless inventions antedated those of Marconi.”

Overhearing this provocative remark, I walked closer to a sidewalk group of professors engaged in scientific discussion. If my motive in joining them was racial pride, I regret it. I cannot deny my keen interest in evidence that India can play a leading part in physics, and not metaphysics alone.

“What do you mean, sir?”

The professor obligingly explained. “Bose was the first one to invent a wireless coherer and an instrument for indicating the refraction of electric waves. But the Indian scientist did not exploit his inventions commercially. He soon turned his attention from the inorganic to the organic world. His revolutionary discoveries as a plant physiologist are outpacing even his radical achievements as a physicist.”

I politely thanked my mentor. He added, “The great scientist is one of my brother professors at Presidency College.”

I paid a visit the next day to the sage at his home, which was close to mine on Gurpar Road. I had long admired him from a respectful distance. The grave and retiring botanist greeted me graciously. He was a handsome, robust man in his fifties, with thick hair, broad forehead, and the abstracted eyes of a dreamer. The precision in his tones revealed the lifelong scientific habit.

“I have recently returned from an expedition to scientific societies of the West. Their members exhibited intense interest in delicate instruments of my invention which demonstrate the indivisible unity of all life.1 The Bose crescograph has the enormity of ten million magnifications. The microscope enlarges only a few thousand times; yet it brought vital impetus to biological science. The crescograph opens incalculable vistas.”

“You have done much, sir, to hasten the embrace of East and West in the impersonal arms of science.”

Myself at age of six
Jagadis Chandra Bose

JAGADIS CHANDRA BOSE

India’s great physicist,
botanist, and inventor
of the Crescograph

(left) Myself at age of six


“I was educated at Cambridge. How admirable is the Western method of submitting all theory to scrupulous experimental verification! That empirical procedure has gone hand in hand with the gift for introspection which is my Eastern heritage. Together they have enabled me to sunder the silences of natural realms long uncommunicative. The telltale charts of my crescograph 2 are evidence for the most skeptical that plants have a sensitive nervous system and a varied emotional life. Love, hate, joy, fear, pleasure, pain, excitability, stupor, and countless appropriate responses to stimuli are as universal in plants as in animals.”

“The unique throb of life in all creation could seem only poetic imagery before your advent, Professor! A saint I once knew would never pluck flowers. ‘Shall I rob the rosebush of its pride in beauty? Shall I cruelly affront its dignity by my rude divestment?’ His sympathetic words are verified literally through your discoveries!”

“The poet is intimate with truth, while the scientist approaches awkwardly. Come someday to my laboratory and see the unequivocable testimony of the crescograph.”

Gratefully I accepted the invitation, and took my departure. I heard later that the botanist had left Presidency College, and was planning a research center in Calcutta.

When the Bose Institute was opened, I attended the dedicatory services. Enthusiastic hundreds strolled over the premises. I was charmed with the artistry and spiritual symbolism of the new home of science. Its front gate, I noted, was a centuried relic from a distant shrine. Behind the lotus 3 fountain, a sculptured female figure with a torch conveyed the Indian respect for woman as the immortal light-bearer. The garden held a small temple consecrated to the Noumenon beyond phenomena. Thought of the divine incorporeity was suggested by absence of any altar-image.

Bose’s speech on this great occasion might have issued from the lips of one of the inspired ancient rishis.

“I dedicate today this Institute as not merely a laboratory but a temple.” His reverent solemnity stole like an unseen cloak over the crowded auditorium. “In the pursuit of my investigations I was unconsciously led into the border region of physics and physiology. To my amazement, I found boundary lines vanishing, and points of contact emerging, between the realms of the living and the non-living. Inorganic matter was perceived as anything but inert; it was athrill under the action of multitudinous forces.

“A universal reaction seemed to bring metal, plant and animal under a common law. They all exhibited essentially the same phenomena of fatigue and depression, with possibilities of recovery and of exaltation, as well as the permanent irresponsiveness associated with death. Filled with awe at this stupendous generalization, it was with great hope that I announced my results before the Royal Society—results demonstrated by experiments. But the physiologists present advised me to confine myself to physical investigations, in which my success had been assured, rather than encroach on their preserves. I had unwittingly strayed into the domain of an unfamiliar caste system and so offended its etiquette.

“An unconscious theological bias was also present, which confounds ignorance with faith. It is often forgotten that He who surrounded us with this ever-evolving mystery of creation has also implanted in us the desire to question and understand. Through many years of miscomprehension, I came to know that the life of a devotee of science is inevitably filled with unending struggle. It is for him to cast his life as an ardent offering—regarding gain and loss, success and failure, as one.

“In time the leading scientific societies of the world accepted my theories and results, and recognized the importance of the Indian contribution to science.4 Can anything small or circumscribed ever satisfy the mind of India? By a continuous living tradition, and a vital power of rejuvenescence, this land has readjusted itself through unnumbered transformations. Indians have always arisen who, discarding the immediate and absorbing prize of the hour, have sought for the realization of the highest ideals in life—not through passive renunciation, but through active struggle. The weakling who has refused the conflict, acquiring nothing, has had nothing to renounce. He alone who has striven and won can enrich the world by bestowing the fruits of his victorious experience.

“The work already carried out in the Bose laboratory on the response of matter, and the unexpected revelations in plant life, have opened out very extended regions of inquiry in physics, in physiology, in medicine, in agriculture, and even in psychology. Problems hitherto regarded as insoluble have now been brought within the sphere of experimental investigation.

“But high success is not to be obtained without rigid exactitude. Hence the long battery of super-sensitive instruments and apparatus of my design, which stand before you today in their cases in the entrance hall. They tell you of the protracted efforts to get behind the deceptive seeming into the reality that remains unseen, of the continuous toil and persistence and resourcefulness called forth to overcome human limitations. All creative scientists know that the true laboratory is the mind, where behind illusions they uncover the laws of truth.

“The lectures given here will not be mere repetitions of second-hand knowledge. They will announce new discoveries, demonstrated for the first time in these halls. Through regular publication of the work of the Institute, these Indian contributions will reach the whole world. They will become public property. No patents will ever be taken. The spirit of our national culture demands that we should forever be free from the desecration of utilizing knowledge only for personal gain.

“It is my further wish that the facilities of this Institute be available, so far as possible, to workers from all countries. In this I am attempting to carry on the traditions of my country. So far back as twenty-five centuries, India welcomed to its ancient universities, at Nalanda and Taxila, scholars from all parts of the world.

“Although science is neither of the East nor of the West but rather international in its universality, yet India is specially fitted to make great contributions.5 The burning Indian imagination, which can extort new order out of a mass of apparently contradictory facts, is held in check by the habit of concentration. This restraint confers the power to hold the mind to the pursuit of truth with an infinite patience.”

Tears stood in my eyes at the scientist’s concluding words. Is “patience” not indeed a synonym of India, confounding Time and the historians alike?

I visited the research center again, soon after the day of opening. The great botanist, mindful of his promise, took me to his quiet laboratory.

“I will attach the crescograph to this fern; the magnification is tremendous. If a snail’s crawl were enlarged in the same proportion, the creature would appear to be traveling like an express train!”

My gaze was fixed eagerly on the screen which reflected the magnified fern-shadow. Minute life-movements were now clearly perceptible; the plant was growing very slowly before my fascinated eyes. The scientist touched the tip of the fern with a small metal bar. The developing pantomime came to an abrupt halt, resuming the eloquent rhythms as soon as the rod was withdrawn.

“You saw how any slight outside interference is detrimental to the sensitive tissues,” Bose remarked. “Watch; I will now administer chloroform, and then give an antidote.”

The effect of the chloroform discontinued all growth; the antidote was revivifying. The evolutionary gestures on the screen held me more raptly than a “movie” plot. My companion (here in the role of villain) thrust a sharp instrument through a part of the fern; pain was indicated by spasmodic flutters. When he passed a razor partially through the stem, the shadow was violently agitated, then stilled itself with the final punctuation of death.

“By first chloroforming a huge tree, I achieved a successful transplantation. Usually, such monarchs of the forest die very quickly after being moved.” Jagadis smiled happily as he recounted the life-saving maneuver. “Graphs of my delicate apparatus have proved that trees possess a circulatory system; their sap movements correspond to the blood pressure of animal bodies. The ascent of sap is not explicable on the mechanical grounds ordinarily advanced, such as capillary attraction. The phenomenon has been solved through the crescograph as the activity of living cells. Peristaltic waves issue from a cylindrical tube which extends down a tree and serves as an actual heart! The more deeply we perceive, the more striking becomes the evidence that a uniform plan links every form in manifold nature.”

The great scientist pointed to another Bose instrument.

“I will show you experiments on a piece of tin. The life-force in metals responds adversely or beneficially to stimuli. Ink markings will register the various reactions.”

Deeply engrossed, I watched the graph which recorded the characteristic waves of atomic structure. When the professor applied chloroform to the tin, the vibratory writings stopped. They recommenced as the metal slowly regained its normal state. My companion dispensed a poisonous chemical. Simultaneous with the quivering end of the tin, the needle dramatically wrote on the chart a death-notice.

“Bose instruments have demonstrated that metals, such as the steel used in scissors and machinery, are subject to fatigue, and regain efficiency by periodic rest. The life-pulse in metals is seriously harmed or even extinguished through the application of electric currents or heavy pressure.”

I looked around the room at the numerous inventions, eloquent testimony of a tireless ingenuity.

“Sir, it is lamentable that mass agricultural development is not speeded by fuller use of your marvelous mechanisms. Would it not be easily possible to employ some of them in quick laboratory experiments to indicate the influence of various types of fertilizers on plant growth?”

“You are right. Countless uses of Bose instruments will be made by future generations. The scientist seldom knows contemporaneous reward; it is enough to possess the joy of creative service.”

With expressions of unreserved gratitude to the indefatigable sage, I took my leave. “Can the astonishing fertility of his genius ever be exhausted?” I thought.

No diminution came with the years. Inventing an intricate instrument, the “Resonant Cardiograph,” Bose then pursued extensive researches on innumerable Indian plants. An enormous unsuspected pharmacopoeia of useful drugs was revealed. The cardiograph is constructed with an unerring accuracy by which a one-hundredth part of a second is indicated on a graph. Resonant records measure infinitesimal pulsations in plant, animal and human structure. The great botanist predicted that use of his cardiograph will lead to vivisection on plants instead of animals.

“Side by side recordings of the effects of a medicine given simultaneously to a plant and an animal have shown astounding unanimity in result,” he pointed out. “Everything in man has been foreshadowed in the plant. Experimentation on vegetation will contribute to lessening of human suffering.”

Years later Bose’s pioneer plant findings were substantiated by other scientists. Work done in 1938 at Columbia University was reported by The New York Times as follows:

It has been determined within the past few years that when the nerves transmit messages between the brain and other parts of the body, tiny electrical impulses are being generated. These impulses have been measured by delicate galvanometers and magnified millions of times by modern amplifying apparatus. Until now no satisfactory method had been found to study the passages of the impulses along the nerve fibers in living animals or man because of the great speed with which these impulses travel.

Drs. K. S. Cole and H. J. Curtis reported having discovered that the long single cells of the fresh-water plant nitella, used frequently in goldfish bowls, are virtually identical with those of single nerve fibers. Furthermore, they found that nitella fibers, on being excited, propagate electrical waves that are similar in every way, except velocity, to those of the nerve fibers in animals and man. The electrical nerve impulses in the plant were found to be much slower than those in animals. This discovery was therefore seized upon by the Columbia workers as a means for taking slow motion pictures of the passage of the electrical impulses in nerves.

The nitella plant thus may become a sort of Rosetta stone for deciphering the closely guarded secrets close to the very borderland of mind and matter.

The poet Rabindranath Tagore was a stalwart friend of India’s idealistic scientist. To him, the sweet Bengali singer addressed the following lines:6

O Hermit, call thou in the authentic words
Of that old hymn called Sama; “Rise! Awake!”
Call to the man who boasts his shastric lore
From vain pedantic wranglings profitless,
Call to that foolish braggart to come forth
Out on the face of nature, this broad earth,
Send forth this call unto thy scholar band;
Together round thy sacrifice of fire
Let them all gather. So may our India,
Our ancient land unto herself return
O once again return to steadfast work,
To duty and devotion, to her trance
Of earnest meditation; let her sit
Once more unruffled, greedless, strifeless, pure,
O once again upon her lofty seat
And platform, teacher of all lands.
  1. “All science is transcendental or else passes away. Botany is now acquiring the right theory—the avatars of Brahma will presently be the textbooks of natural history.”—Emerson.

  2. From the Latin root, crescere, to increase. For his crescograph and other inventions, Bose was knighted in 1917.

  3. The lotus flower is an ancient divine symbol in India; its unfolding petals suggest the expansion of the soul; the growth of its pure beauty from the mud of its origin holds a benign spiritual promise.

  4. “At present, only the sheerest accident brings India into the purview of the American college student. Eight universities (Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Pennsylvania, Chicago, and California) have chairs of Indology or Sanskrit, but India is virtually unrepresented in departments of history, philosophy, fine arts, political science, sociology, or any of the other departments of intellectual experience in which, as we have seen, India has made great contributions. . . . We believe, consequently, that no department of study, particularly in the humanities, in any major university can be fully equipped without a properly trained specialist in the Indic phases of its discipline. We believe, too, that every college which aims to prepare its graduates for intelligent work in the world which is to be theirs to live in, must have on its staff a scholar competent in the civilization of India.”—Extracts from an article by Professor W. Norman Brown of the University of Pennsylvania which appeared in the May, 1939, issue of the Bulletin of the American Council of Learned Societies, 907 15th St., Washington, D. C., 25¢ copy. This issue (#28) contains over 100 pages of a “Basic Bibliography for Indic Studies.”

  5. The atomic structure of matter was well-known to the ancient Hindus. One of the six systems of Indian philosophy is Vaisesika, from the Sanskrit root visesas, “atomic individuality.” One of the foremost Vaisesika expounders was Aulukya, also called Kanada, “the atom-eater,” born about 2800 years ago.

    In an article in East-West, April, 1934, a summary of Vaisesika scientific knowledge was given as follows: “Though the modern ‘atomic theory’ is generally considered a new advance of science, it was brilliantly expounded long ago by Kanada, ‘the atom-eater.’ The Sanskrit anus can be properly translated as ‘atom’ in the latter’s literal Greek sense of ‘uncut’ or indivisible. Other scientific expositions of Vaisesika treatises of the B.C. era include (1) the movement of needles toward magnets, (2) the circulation of water in plants, (3) akash or ether, inert and structureless, as a basis for transmitting subtle forces, (4) the solar fire as the cause of all other forms of heat, (5) heat as the cause of molecular change, (6) the law of gravitation as caused by the quality that inheres in earth-atoms to give them their attractive power or downward pull, (7) the kinetic nature of all energy; causation as always rooted in an expenditure of energy or a redistribution of motion, (8) universal dissolution through the disintegration of atoms, (9) the radiation of heat and light rays, infinitely small particles, darting forth in all directions with inconceivable speed (the modern ‘cosmic rays’ theory), (10) the relativity of time and space.

    Vaisesika assigned the origin of the world to atoms, eternal in their nature, i.e., their ultimate peculiarities. These atoms were regarded as possessing an incessant vibratory motion. . . . The recent discovery that an atom is a miniature solar system would be no news to the old Vaisesika philosophers, who also reduced time to its furthest mathematical concept by describing the smallest unit of time (kala) as the period taken by an atom to traverse its own unit of space.”

  6. Translated from the Bengali of Rabindranath Tagore, by Manmohan Ghosh, in Viswa-Bharati.

Chapter: 9

The Blissful Devotee and His Cosmic Romance

Master Mahasaya, the Blissful Devotee

Little sir, please be seated. I am talking to my Divine Mother.”

Silently I had entered the room in great awe. The angelic appearance of Master Mahasaya fairly dazzled me. With silky white beard and large lustrous eyes, he seemed an incarnation of purity. His upraised chin and folded hands apprized me that my first visit had disturbed him in the midst of his devotions.

His simple words of greeting produced the most violent effect my nature had so far experienced. The bitter separation of my mother’s death I had thought the measure of all anguish. Now an agony at separation from my Divine Mother was an indescribable torture of the spirit. I fell moaning to the floor.

“Little sir, quiet yourself!” The saint was sympathetically distressed.

Abandoned in some oceanic desolation, I clutched his feet as the sole raft of my rescue.

“Holy sir, thy intercession! Ask Divine Mother if I find any favor in Her sight!”

This promise is one not easily bestowed; the master was constrained to silence.

Beyond reach of doubt, I was convinced that Master Mahasaya was in intimate converse with the Universal Mother. It was deep humiliation to realize that my eyes were blind to Her who even at this moment was perceptible to the faultless gaze of the saint. Shamelessly gripping his feet, deaf to his gentle remonstrances, I besought him again and again for his intervening grace.

“I will make your plea to the Beloved.” The master’s capitulation came with a slow, compassionate smile.

What power in those few words, that my being should know release from its stormy exile?

“Sir, remember your pledge! I shall return soon for Her message!” Joyful anticipation rang in my voice that only a moment ago had been sobbing in sorrow.

Descending the long stairway, I was overwhelmed by memories. This house at 50 Amherst Street, now the residence of Master Mahasaya, had once been my family home, scene of my mother’s death. Here my human heart had broken for the vanished mother; and here today my spirit had been as though crucified by absence of the Divine Mother. Hallowed walls, silent witness of my grievous hurts and final healing!

My steps were eager as I returned to my Gurpar Road home. Seeking the seclusion of my small attic, I remained in meditation until ten o’clock. The darkness of the warm Indian night was suddenly lit with a wondrous vision.

Haloed in splendor, the Divine Mother stood before me. Her face, tenderly smiling, was beauty itself.

“Always have I loved thee! Ever shall I love thee!”

The celestial tones still ringing in the air, She disappeared.

The sun on the following morning had hardly risen to an angle of decorum when I paid my second visit to Master Mahasaya. Climbing the staircase in the house of poignant memories, I reached his fourth-floor room. The knob of the closed door was wrapped around with a cloth; a hint, I felt, that the saint desired privacy. As I stood irresolutely on the landing, the door was opened by the master’s welcoming hand. I knelt at his holy feet. In a playful mood, I wore a solemn mask over my face, hiding the divine elation.

“Sir, I have come—very early, I confess!—for your message. Did the Beloved Mother say anything about me?”

“Mischievous little sir!”

Not another remark would he make. Apparently my assumed gravity was unimpressive.

“Why so mysterious, so evasive? Do saints never speak plainly?” Perhaps I was a little provoked.

“Must you test me?” His calm eyes were full of understanding. “Could I add a single word this morning to the assurance you received last night at ten o’clock from the Beautiful Mother Herself?”

Master Mahasaya possessed control over the flood-gates of my soul: again I plunged prostrate at his feet. But this time my tears welled from a bliss, and not a pain, past bearing.

“Think you that your devotion did not touch the Infinite Mercy? The Motherhood of God, that you have worshiped in forms both human and divine, could never fail to answer your forsaken cry.”

Two brothers of Therese Neumann

Two brothers of Therese Neumann

I stand with them in Konnersreuth, Bavaria

Master Mahasaya

Master Mahasaya

Ever engrossed in his blissful cosmic romance.


Who was this simple saint, whose least request to the Universal Spirit met with sweet acquiescence? His role in the world was humble, as befitted the greatest man of humility I ever knew. In this Amherst Street house, Master Mahasaya 1 conducted a small high school for boys. No words of chastisement passed his lips; no rule and ferule maintained his discipline. Higher mathematics indeed were taught in these modest classrooms, and a chemistry of love absent from the textbooks. He spread his wisdom by spiritual contagion rather than impermeable precept. Consumed by an unsophisticated passion for the Divine Mother, the saint no more demanded the outward forms of respect than a child.

“I am not your guru; he shall come a little later,” he told me. “Through his guidance, your experiences of the Divine in terms of love and devotion shall be translated into his terms of fathomless wisdom.”

Every late afternoon, I betook myself to Amherst Street. I sought Master Mahasaya’s divine cup, so full that its drops daily overflowed on my being. Never before had I bowed in utter reverence; now I felt it an immeasurable privilege even to tread the same ground which Master Mahasaya sanctified.

“Sir, please wear this champak garland I have fashioned especially for you.” I arrived one evening, holding my chain of flowers. But shyly he drew away, repeatedly refusing the honor. Perceiving my hurt, he finally smiled consent.

“Since we are both devotees of the Mother, you may put the garland on this bodily temple, as offering to Her who dwells within.” His vast nature lacked space in which any egotistical consideration could gain foothold.

“Let us go tomorrow to the Dakshineswar Temple, forever hallowed by my guru.” Master Mahasaya was a disciple of a Christlike master, Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa.

The four-mile journey on the following morning was taken by boat on the Ganges. We entered the nine-domed Temple of Kali, where the figures of the Divine Mother and Shiva rest on a burnished silver lotus, its thousand petals meticulously chiseled. Master Mahasaya beamed in enchantment. He was engaged in his inexhaustible romance with the Beloved. As he chanted Her name, my enraptured heart seemed shattered into a thousand pieces.

We strolled later through the sacred precincts, halting in a tamarisk grove. The manna characteristically exuded by this tree was symbolic of the heavenly food Master Mahasaya was bestowing. His divine invocations continued. I sat rigidly motionless on the grass amid the pink feathery tamarisk flowers. Temporarily absent from the body, I soared in a supernal visit.

This was the first of many pilgrimages to Dakshineswar with the holy teacher. From him I learned the sweetness of God in the aspect of Mother, or Divine Mercy. The childlike saint found little appeal in the Father aspect, or Divine Justice. Stern, exacting, mathematical judgment was alien to his gentle nature.

“He can serve as an earthly prototype for the very angels of heaven!” I thought fondly, watching him one day at his prayers. Without a breath of censure or criticism, he surveyed the world with eyes long familiar with the Primal Purity. His body, mind, speech, and actions were effortlessly harmonized with his soul’s simplicity.

“My Master told me so.” Shrinking from personal assertion, the saint ended any sage counsel with this invariable tribute. So deep was his identity with Sri Ramakrishna that Master Mahasaya no longer considered his thoughts as his own.

Hand in hand, the saint and I walked one evening on the block of his school. My joy was dimmed by the arrival of a conceited acquaintance who burdened us with a lengthy discourse.

“I see this man doesn’t please you.” The saint’s whisper to me was unheard by the egotist, spellbound by his own monologue. “I have spoken to Divine Mother about it; She realizes our sad predicament. As soon as we get to yonder red house, She has promised to remind him of more urgent business.”

My eyes were glued to the site of salvation. Reaching its red gate, the man unaccountably turned and departed, neither finishing his sentence nor saying good-by. The assaulted air was comforted with peace.

Another day found me walking alone near the Howrah railway station. I stood for a moment by a temple, silently criticizing a small group of men with drum and cymbals who were violently reciting a chant.

“How undevotionally they use the Lord’s divine name in mechanical repetition,” I reflected. My gaze was astonished by the rapid approach of Master Mahasaya. “Sir, how come you here?”

The saint, ignoring my question, answered my thought. “Isn’t it true, little sir, that the Beloved’s name sounds sweet from all lips, ignorant or wise?” He passed his arm around me affectionately; I found myself carried on his magic carpet to the Merciful Presence.

“Would you like to see some bioscopes?” This question one afternoon from Master Mahasaya was mystifying; the term was then used in India to signify motion pictures. I agreed, glad to be in his company in any circumstances. A brisk walk brought us to the garden fronting Calcutta University. My companion indicated a bench near the goldighi or pond.

“Let us sit here for a few minutes. My Master always asked me to meditate whenever I saw an expanse of water. Here its placidity reminds us of the vast calmness of God. As all things can be reflected in water, so the whole universe is mirrored in the lake of the Cosmic Mind. So my gurudeva often said.”

Soon we entered a university hall where a lecture was in progress. It proved abysmally dull, though varied occasionally by lantern slide illustrations, equally uninteresting.

“So this is the kind of bioscope the master wanted me to see!” My thought was impatient, yet I would not hurt the saint by revealing boredom in my face. But he leaned toward me confidentially.

“I see, little sir, that you don’t like this bioscope. I have mentioned it to Divine Mother; She is in full sympathy with us both. She tells me that the electric lights will now go out, and won’t be relit until we have a chance to leave the room.”

As his whisper ended, the hall was plunged into darkness. The professor’s strident voice was stilled in astonishment, then remarked, “The electrical system of this hall appears to be defective.” By this time, Master Mahasaya and I were safely across the threshold. Glancing back from the corridor, I saw that the scene of our martyrdom had again become illuminated.

“Little sir, you were disappointed in that bioscope,2 but I think you will like a different one.” The saint and I were standing on the sidewalk in front of the university building. He gently slapped my chest over the heart.

A transforming silence ensued. Just as the modern “talkies” become inaudible motion pictures when the sound apparatus goes out of order, so the Divine Hand, by some strange miracle, stifled the earthly bustle. The pedestrians as well as the passing trolley cars, automobiles, bullock carts, and iron-wheeled hackney carriages were all in noiseless transit. As though possessing an omnipresent eye, I beheld the scenes which were behind me, and to each side, as easily as those in front. The whole spectacle of activity in that small section of Calcutta passed before me without a sound. Like a glow of fire dimly seen beneath a thin coat of ashes, a mellow luminescence permeated the panoramic view.

My own body seemed nothing more than one of the many shadows, though it was motionless, while the others flitted mutely to and fro. Several boys, friends of mine, approached and passed on; though they had looked directly at me, it was without recognition.

The unique pantomime brought me an inexpressible ecstasy. I drank deep from some blissful fount. Suddenly my chest received another soft blow from Master Mahasaya. The pandemonium of the world burst upon my unwilling ears. I staggered, as though harshly awakened from a gossamer dream. The transcendental wine removed beyond my reach.

“Little sir, I see you found the second bioscope to your liking.” The saint was smiling; I started to drop in gratitude on the ground before him. “You can’t do that to me now; you know God is in your temple also! I won’t let Divine Mother touch my feet through your hands!”

If anyone observed the unpretentious master and myself as we walked away from the crowded pavement, the onlooker surely suspected us of intoxication. I felt that the falling shades of evening were sympathetically drunk with God. When darkness recovered from its nightly swoon, I faced the new morning bereft of my ecstatic mood. But ever enshrined in memory is the seraphic son of Divine Mother—Master Mahasaya!

Trying with poor words to do justice to his benignity, I wonder if Master Mahasaya, and others among the deep-visioned saints whose paths crossed mine, knew that years later, in a Western land, I would be writing about their lives as divine devotees. Their foreknowledge would not surprise me nor, I hope, my readers, who have come thus far with me.

  1. These are respectful titles by which he was customarily addressed. His name was Mahendra Nath Gupta; he signed his literary works simply “M.”

  2. The Oxford English Dictionary gives, as rare, this definition of bioscope: A view of life; that which gives such a view.

    Master Mahasaya’s choice of a word was, then, peculiarly justified.

Chapter: 10

I Meet my Master, Sri Yukteswar

I Meet My Master, Sri Yukteswar

Faith in God can produce any miracle except one—passing an examination without study.” Distastefully I closed the book I had picked up in an idle moment.

“The writer’s exception shows his complete lack of faith,” I thought. “Poor chap, he has great respect for the midnight oil!”

My promise to Father had been that I would complete my high school studies. I cannot pretend to diligence. The passing months found me less frequently in the classroom than in secluded spots along the Calcutta bathing ghats. The adjoining crematory grounds, especially gruesome at night, are considered highly attractive by the yogi. He who would find the Deathless Essence must not be dismayed by a few unadorned skulls. Human inadequacy becomes clear in the gloomy abode of miscellaneous bones. My midnight vigils were thus of a different nature from the scholar’s.

The week of final examinations at the Hindu High School was fast approaching. This interrogatory period, like the sepulchral haunts, inspires a well-known terror. My mind was nevertheless at peace. Braving the ghouls, I was exhuming a knowledge not found in lecture halls. But it lacked the art of Swami Pranabananda, who easily appeared in two places at one time. My educational dilemma was plainly a matter for the Infinite Ingenuity. This was my reasoning, though to many it seems illogic. The devotee’s irrationality springs from a thousand inexplicable demonstrations of God’s instancy in trouble.

“Hello, Mukunda! I catch hardly a glimpse of you these days!” A classmate accosted me one afternoon on Gurpar Road.

“Hello, Nantu! My invisibility at school has actually placed me there in a decidedly awkward position.” I unburdened myself under his friendly gaze.

Nantu, who was a brilliant student, laughed heartily; my predicament was not without a comic aspect.

“You are utterly unprepared for the finals! I suppose it is up to me to help you!”

The simple words conveyed divine promise to my ears; with alacrity I visited my friend’s home. He kindly outlined the solutions to various problems he considered likely to be set by the instructors.

“These questions are the bait which will catch many trusting boys in the examination trap. Remember my answers, and you will escape without injury.”

The night was far gone when I departed. Bursting with unseasoned erudition, I devoutly prayed it would remain for the next few critical days. Nantu had coached me in my various subjects but, under press of time, had forgotten my course in Sanskrit. Fervently I reminded God of the oversight.

I set out on a short walk the next morning, assimilating my new knowledge to the rhythm of swinging footsteps. As I took a short cut through the weeds of a corner lot, my eye fell on a few loose printed sheets. A triumphant pounce proved them to be Sanskrit verse. I sought out a pundit for aid in my stumbling interpretation. His rich voice filled the air with the edgeless, honeyed beauty of the ancient tongue.1

“These exceptional stanzas cannot possibly be of aid in your Sanskrit test.” The scholar dismissed them skeptically.

But familiarity with that particular poem enabled me on the following day to pass the Sanskrit examination. Through the discerning help Nantu had given, I also attained the minimum grade for success in all my other subjects.

Father was pleased that I had kept my word and concluded my secondary school course. My gratitude sped to the Lord, whose sole guidance I perceived in my visit to Nantu and my walk by the unhabitual route of the debris-filled lot. Playfully He had given a dual expression to His timely design for my rescue.

I came across the discarded book whose author had denied God precedence in the examination halls. I could not restrain a chuckle at my own silent comment:

“It would only add to this fellow’s confusion, if I were to tell him that divine meditation among the cadavers is a short cut to a high school diploma!”

In my new dignity, I was now openly planning to leave home. Together with a young friend, Jitendra Mazumdar,2 I decided to join a Mahamandal hermitage in Benares, and receive its spiritual discipline.

A desolation fell over me one morning at thought of separation from my family. Since Mother’s death, my affection had grown especially tender for my two younger brothers, Sananda and Bishnu. I rushed to my retreat, the little attic which had witnessed so many scenes in my turbulent sadhana.3 After a two-hour flood of tears, I felt singularly transformed, as by some alchemical cleanser. All attachment 4 disappeared; my resolution to seek God as the Friend of friends set like granite within me. I quickly completed my travel preparations.

“I make one last plea.” Father was distressed as I stood before him for final blessing. “Do not forsake me and your grieving brothers and sisters.”

“Revered Father, how can I tell my love for you! But even greater is my love for the Heavenly Father, who has given me the gift of a perfect father on earth. Let me go, that I someday return with a more divine understanding.”

With reluctant parental consent, I set out to join Jitendra, already in Benares at the hermitage. On my arrival the young head swami, Dyananda, greeted me cordially. Tall and thin, of thoughtful mien, he impressed me favorably. His fair face had a Buddhalike composure.

I was pleased that my new home possessed an attic, where I managed to spend the dawn and morning hours. The ashram members, knowing little of meditation practices, thought I should employ my whole time in organizational duties. They gave me praise for my afternoon work in their office.

“Don’t try to catch God so soon!” This ridicule from a fellow resident accompanied one of my early departures toward the attic. I went to Dyananda, busy in his small sanctum overlooking the Ganges.

“Swamiji,5 I don’t understand what is required of me here. I am seeking direct perception of God. Without Him, I cannot be satisfied with affiliation or creed or performance of good works.”

The orange-robed ecclesiastic gave me an affectionate pat. Staging a mock rebuke, he admonished a few near-by disciples. “Don’t bother Mukunda. He will learn our ways.”

I politely concealed my doubt. The students left the room, not overly bent with their chastisement. Dyananda had further words for me.

“Mukunda, I see your father is regularly sending you money. Please return it to him; you require none here. A second injunction for your discipline concerns food. Even when you feel hunger, don’t mention it.”

Whether famishment gleamed in my eye, I knew not. That I was hungry, I knew only too well. The invariable hour for the first hermitage meal was twelve noon. I had been accustomed in my own home to a large breakfast at nine o’clock.

The three-hour gap became daily more interminable. Gone were the Calcutta years when I could rebuke the cook for a ten-minute delay. Now I tried to control my appetite; one day I undertook a twenty-four hour fast. With double zest I awaited the following midday.

“Dyanandaji’s train is late; we are not going to eat until he arrives.” Jitendra brought me this devastating news. As gesture of welcome to the swami, who had been absent for two weeks, many delicacies were in readiness. An appetizing aroma filled the air. Nothing else offering, what else could be swallowed except pride over yesterday’s achievement of a fast?

“Lord hasten the train!” The Heavenly Provider, I thought, was hardly included in the interdiction with which Dyananda had silenced me. Divine Attention was elsewhere, however; the plodding clock covered the hours. Darkness was descending as our leader entered the door. My greeting was one of unfeigned joy.

“Dyanandaji will bathe and meditate before we can serve food.” Jitendra approached me again as a bird of ill omen.

I was in near-collapse. My young stomach, new to deprivation, protested with gnawing vigor. Pictures I had seen of famine victims passed wraithlike before me.

“The next Benares death from starvation is due at once in this hermitage,” I thought. Impending doom averted at nine o’clock. Ambrosial summons! In memory that meal is vivid as one of life’s perfect hours.

Intense absorption yet permitted me to observe that Dyananda ate absent-mindedly. He was apparently above my gross pleasures.

“Swamiji, weren’t you hungry?” Happily surfeited, I was alone with the leader in his study.

“O yes! I have spent the last four days without food or drink. I never eat on trains, filled with the heterogenous vibrations of worldly people. Strictly I observe the shastric 6 rules for monks of my particular order.

“Certain problems of our organizational work lie on my mind. Tonight at home I neglected my dinner. What’s the hurry? Tomorrow I’ll make it a point to have a proper meal.” He laughed merrily.

Shame spread within me like a suffocation. But the past day of my torture was not easily forgotten; I ventured a further remark.

“Swamiji, I am puzzled. Following your instruction, suppose I never asked for food, and nobody gives me any. I should starve to death.”

“Die then!” This alarming counsel split the air. “Die if you must Mukunda! Never admit that you live by the power of food and not by the power of God! He who has created every form of nourishment, He who has bestowed appetite, will certainly see that His devotee is sustained! Do not imagine that rice maintains you, or that money or men support you! Could they aid if the Lord withdraws your life-breath? They are His indirect instruments merely. Is it by any skill of yours that food digests in your stomach? Use the sword of your discrimination, Mukunda! Cut through the chains of agency and perceive the Single Cause!”

I found his incisive words entering some deep marrow. Gone was an age-old delusion by which bodily imperatives outwit the soul. There and then I tasted the Spirit’s all-sufficiency. In how many strange cities, in my later life of ceaseless travel, did occasion arise to prove the serviceability of this lesson in a Benares hermitage!

The sole treasure which had accompanied me from Calcutta was the sadhu’s silver amulet bequeathed to me by Mother. Guarding it for years, I now had it carefully hidden in my ashram room. To renew my joy in the talismanic testimony, one morning I opened the locked box. The sealed covering untouched, lo! the amulet was gone. Mournfully I tore open its envelope and made unmistakably sure. It had vanished, in accordance with the sadhu’s prediction, into the ether whence he had summoned it.

My relationship with Dyananda’s followers grew steadily worse. The household was alienated, hurt by my determined aloofness. My strict adherence to meditation on the very Ideal for which I had left home and all worldly ambitions called forth shallow criticism on all sides.

Torn by spiritual anguish, I entered the attic one dawn, resolved to pray until answer was vouchsafed.

“Merciful Mother of the Universe, teach me Thyself through visions, or through a guru sent by Thee!”

The passing hours found my sobbing pleas without response. Suddenly I felt lifted as though bodily to a sphere uncircumscribed.

“Thy Master cometh today!” A divine womanly voice came from everywhere and nowhere.

This supernal experience was pierced by a shout from a definite locale. A young priest nicknamed Habu was calling me from the downstairs kitchen.

“Mukunda, enough of meditation! You are needed for an errand.”

Another day I might have replied impatiently; now I wiped my tear-swollen face and meekly obeyed the summons. Together Habu and I set out for a distant market place in the Bengali section of Benares. The ungentle Indian sun was not yet at zenith as we made our purchases in the bazaars. We pushed our way through the colorful medley of housewives, guides, priests, simply-clad widows, dignified Brahmins, and the ubiquitous holy bulls. Passing an inconspicuous lane, I turned my head and surveyed the narrow length.

A Christlike man in the ocher robes of a swami stood motionless at the end of the road. Instantly and anciently familiar he seemed; my gaze fed hungrily for a trice. Then doubt assailed me.

“You are confusing this wandering monk with someone known to you,” I thought. “Dreamer, walk on.”

After ten minutes, I felt heavy numbness in my feet. As though turned to stone, they were unable to carry me farther. Laboriously I turned around; my feet regained normalcy. I faced the opposite direction; again the curious weight oppressed me.

“The saint is magnetically drawing me to him!” With this thought, I heaped my parcels into the arms of Habu. He had been observing my erratic footwork with amazement, and now burst into laughter.

“What ails you? Are you crazy?”

My tumultuous emotion prevented any retort; I sped silently away.

Retracing my steps as though wing-shod, I reached the narrow lane. My quick glance revealed the quiet figure, steadily gazing in my direction. A few eager steps and I was at his feet.

“Gurudeva!” 7 The divine face was none other than he of my thousand visions. These halcyon eyes, in leonine head with pointed beard and flowing locks, had oft peered through gloom of my nocturnal reveries, holding a promise I had not fully understood.

“O my own, you have come to me!” My guru uttered the words again and again in Bengali, his voice tremulous with joy. “How many years I have waited for you!”

We entered a oneness of silence; words seemed the rankest superfluities. Eloquence flowed in soundless chant from heart of master to disciple. With an antenna of irrefragable insight I sensed that my guru knew God, and would lead me to Him. The obscuration of this life disappeared in a fragile dawn of prenatal memories. Dramatic time! Past, present, and future are its cycling scenes. This was not the first sun to find me at these holy feet!

My hand in his, my guru led me to his temporary residence in the Rana Mahal section of the city. His athletic figure moved with firm tread. Tall, erect, about fifty-five at this time, he was active and vigorous as a young man. His dark eyes were large, beautiful with plumbless wisdom. Slightly curly hair softened a face of striking power. Strength mingled subtly with gentleness.

As we made our way to the stone balcony of a house overlooking the Ganges, he said affectionately:

“I will give you my hermitages and all I possess.”

“Sir, I come for wisdom and God-contact. Those are your treasure-troves I am after!”

The swift Indian twilight had dropped its half-curtain before my master spoke again. His eyes held unfathomable tenderness.

“I give you my unconditional love.”

Precious words! A quarter-century elapsed before I had another auricular proof of his love. His lips were strange to ardor; silence became his oceanic heart.

“Will you give me the same unconditional love?” He gazed at me with childlike trust.

“I will love you eternally, Gurudeva!”

“Ordinary love is selfish, darkly rooted in desires and satisfactions. Divine love is without condition, without boundary, without change. The flux of the human heart is gone forever at the transfixing touch of pure love.” He added humbly, “If ever you find me falling from a state of God-realization, please promise to put my head on your lap and help to bring me back to the Cosmic Beloved we both worship.”

He rose then in the gathering darkness and guided me to an inner room. As we ate mangoes and almond sweetmeats, he unobtrusively wove into his conversation an intimate knowledge of my nature. I was awe-struck at the grandeur of his wisdom, exquisitely blended with an innate humility.

“Do not grieve for your amulet. It has served its purpose.” Like a divine mirror, my guru apparently had caught a reflection of my whole life.

“The living reality of your presence, Master, is joy beyond any symbol.”

“It is time for a change, inasmuch as you are unhappily situated in the hermitage.”

I had made no references to my life; they now seemed superfluous! By his natural, unemphatic manner, I understood that he wished no astonished ejaculations at his clairvoyance.

“You should go back to Calcutta. Why exclude relatives from your love of humanity?”

His suggestion dismayed me. My family was predicting my return, though I had been unresponsive to many pleas by letter. “Let the young bird fly in the metaphysical skies,” Ananta had remarked. “His wings will tire in the heavy atmosphere. We shall yet see him swoop toward home, fold his pinions, and humbly rest in our family nest.” This discouraging simile fresh in my mind, I was determined to do no “swooping” in the direction of Calcutta.

“Sir, I am not returning home. But I will follow you anywhere. Please give me your address, and your name.”

“Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. My chief hermitage is in Serampore, on Rai Ghat Lane. I am visiting my mother here for only a few days.”

I wondered at God’s intricate play with His devotees. Serampore is but twelve miles from Calcutta, yet in those regions I had never caught a glimpse of my guru. We had had to travel for our meeting to the ancient city of Kasi (Benares), hallowed by memories of Lahiri Mahasaya. Here too the feet of Buddha, Shankaracharya and other Yogi-Christs had blessed the soil.

“You will come to me in four weeks.” For the first time, Sri Yukteswar’s voice was stern. “Now I have told my eternal affection, and have shown my happiness at finding you—that is why you disregard my request. The next time we meet, you will have to reawaken my interest: I won’t accept you as a disciple easily. There must be complete surrender by obedience to my strict training.”

I remained obstinately silent. My guru easily penetrated my difficulty.

“Do you think your relatives will laugh at you?”

“I will not return.”

“You will return in thirty days.”

“Never.” Bowing reverently at his feet, I departed without lightening the controversial tension. As I made my way in the midnight darkness, I wondered why the miraculous meeting had ended on an inharmonious note. The dual scales of maya, that balance every joy with a grief! My young heart was not yet malleable to the transforming fingers of my guru.

The next morning I noticed increased hostility in the attitude of the hermitage members. My days became spiked with invariable rudeness. In three weeks, Dyananda left the ashram to attend a conference in Bombay; pandemonium broke over my hapless head.

“Mukunda is a parasite, accepting hermitage hospitality without making proper return.” Overhearing this remark, I regretted for the first time that I had obeyed the request to send back my money to Father. With heavy heart, I sought out my sole friend, Jitendra.

“I am leaving. Please convey my respectful regrets to Dyanandaji when he returns.”

“I will leave also! My attempts to meditate here meet with no more favor than your own.” Jitendra spoke with determination.

“I have met a Christlike saint. Let us visit him in Serampore.”

And so the “bird” prepared to “swoop” perilously close to Calcutta!

  1. Sanskrita, polished; complete. Sanskrit is the eldest sister of all Indo-European tongues. Its alphabetical script is Devanagari, literally “divine abode.” “Who knows my grammar knows God!” Panini, great philologist of ancient India, paid this tribute to the mathematical and psychological perfection in Sanskrit. He who would track language to its lair must indeed end as omniscient.

  2. He was not Jatinda (Jotin Ghosh), who will be remembered for his timely aversion to tigers!

  3. Path or preliminary road to God.

  4. Hindu scriptures teach that family attachment is delusive if it prevents the devotee from seeking the Giver of all boons, including the one of loving relatives, not to mention life itself. Jesus similarly taught: “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?” (Matthew 12:48.)

  5. Ji is a customary respectful suffix, particularly used in direct address; thus “swamiji,” “guruji,” “Sri Yukteswarji,” “paramhansaji.”

  6. Pertaining to the shastras, literally, “sacred books,” comprising four classes of scripture: the shruti, smriti, purana, and tantra. These comprehensive treatises cover every aspect of religious and social life, and the fields of law, medicine, architecture, art, etc. The shrutis are the “directly heard” or “revealed” scriptures, the Vedas. The smritis or “remembered” lore was finally written down in a remote past as the world’s longest epic poems, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Puranas are literally “ancient” allegories; tantras literally mean “rites” or “rituals”; these treatises convey profound truths under a veil of detailed symbolism.

  7. “Divine teacher,” the customary Sanskrit term for one’s spiritual preceptor. I have rendered it in English as simply “Master.”

Chapter: 11

Two Penniless Boys in Brindaban

Two Penniless Boys in Brindaban

It would serve you right if Father disinherited you, Mukunda! How foolishly you are throwing away your life!” An elder-brother sermon was assaulting my ears.

Jitendra and I, fresh from the train (a figure of speech merely; we were covered with dust), had just arrived at the home of Ananta, recently transferred from Calcutta to the ancient city of Agra. Brother was a supervising accountant for the Bengal-Nagpur Railway.

“You well know, Ananta, I seek my inheritance from the Heavenly Father.”

“Money first; God can come later! Who knows? Life may be too long.”

“God first; money is His slave! Who can tell? Life may be too short.”

My retort was summoned by the exigencies of the moment, and held no presentiment. Yet the leaves of time unfolded to early finality for Ananta; a few years later 1 he entered the land where bank notes avail neither first nor last.

“Wisdom from the hermitage, I suppose! But I see you have left Benares.” Ananta’s eyes gleamed with satisfaction; he yet hoped to secure my pinions in the family nest.

“My sojourn in Benares was not in vain! I found there everything my heart had been longing for! You may be sure it was not your pundit or his son!”

Ananta joined me in reminiscent laughter; he had had to admit that the Benares “clairvoyant” he selected was a shortsighted one.

“What are your plans, my wandering brother?”

“Jitendra persuaded me to Agra. We shall view the beauties of the Taj Mahal 2 here,” I explained. “Then we are going to my newly-found guru, who has a hermitage in Serampore.”

Ananta hospitably arranged for our comfort. Several times during the evening I noticed his eyes fixed on me reflectively.

“I know that look!” I thought. “A plot is brewing!”

The denouement took place during our early breakfast.

“So you feel quite independent of Father’s wealth.” Ananta’s gaze was innocent as he resumed the barbs of yesterday’s conversation.

“I am conscious of my dependence on God.”

“Words are cheap! Life has shielded you thus far! What a plight if you were forced to look to the Invisible Hand for your food and shelter! You would soon be begging on the streets!”

“Never! I would not put faith in passers-by rather than God! He can devise for His devotee a thousand resources besides the begging-bowl!”

“More rhetoric! Suppose I suggest that your vaunted philosophy be put to a test in this tangible world?”

“I would agree! Do you confine God to a speculative world?”

“We shall see; today you shall have opportunity either to enlarge or to confirm my own views!” Ananta paused for a dramatic moment; then spoke slowly and seriously.

“I propose that I send you and your fellow disciple Jitendra this morning to the near-by city of Brindaban. You must not take a single rupee; you must not beg, either for food or money; you must not reveal your predicament to anyone; you must not go without your meals; and you must not be stranded in Brindaban. If you return to my bungalow here before twelve o’clock tonight, without having broken any rule of the test, I shall be the most astonished man in Agra!”

“I accept the challenge.” No hesitation was in my words or in my heart. Grateful memories flashed of the Instant Beneficence: my healing of deadly cholera through appeal to Lahiri Mahasaya’s picture; the playful gift of the two kites on the Lahore roof with Uma; the opportune amulet amidst my discouragement; the decisive message through the unknown Benares sadhu outside the compound of the pundit’s home; the vision of Divine Mother and Her majestic words of love; Her swift heed through Master Mahasaya to my trifling embarrassments; the last-minute guidance which materialized my high school diploma; and the ultimate boon, my living Master from the mist of lifelong dreams. Never could I admit my “philosophy” unequal to any tussle on the world’s harsh proving ground!

“Your willingness does you credit. I’ll escort you to the train at once.” Ananta turned to the openmouthed Jitendra. “You must go along as a witness and, very likely, a fellow victim!”

A half hour later Jitendra and I were in possession of one-way tickets for our impromptu trip. We submitted, in a secluded corner of the station, to a search of our persons. Ananta was quickly satisfied that we were carrying no hidden hoard; our simple dhotis 3 concealed nothing more than was necessary.

As faith invaded the serious realms of finance, my friend spoke protestingly. “Ananta, give me one or two rupees as a safeguard. Then I can telegraph you in case of misfortune.”

“Jitendra!” My ejaculation was sharply reproachful. “I will not proceed with the test if you take any money as final security.”

“There is something reassuring about the clink of coins.” Jitendra said no more as I regarded him sternly.

“Mukunda, I am not heartless.” A hint of humility had crept into Ananta’s voice. It may be that his conscience was smiting him; perhaps for sending two insolvent boys to a strange city; perhaps for his own religious skepticism. “If by any chance or grace you pass successfully through the Brindaban ordeal, I shall ask you to initiate me as your disciple.”

This promise had a certain irregularity, in keeping with the unconventional occasion. The eldest brother in an Indian family seldom bows before his juniors; he receives respect and obedience second only to a father. But no time remained for my comment; our train was at point of departure.

Jitendra maintained a lugubrious silence as our train covered the miles. Finally he bestirred himself; leaning over, he pinched me painfully at an awkward spot.

“I see no sign that God is going to supply our next meal!”

“Be quiet, doubting Thomas; the Lord is working with us.”

“Can you also arrange that He hurry? Already I am famished merely at the prospect before us. I left Benares to view the Taj’s mausoleum, not to enter my own!”

“Cheer up, Jitendra! Are we not to have our first glimpse of the sacred wonders of Brindaban? 4 I am in deep joy at thought of treading the ground hallowed by feet of Lord Krishna.”

Friends

(Left to right) Jitendra Mazumdar, my companion on the “penniless test” at Brindaban; Lalit-da, my cousin; Swami Kebelananda (“Shastri Mahasaya”), my saintly Sanskrit tutor; myself, as a high school youth

Ananda Moyi Ma
One of the caves occupied by Babaji

Ananda Moyi Ma, the Bengali “Joy-Permeated Mother.”

One of the caves occupied by Babaji in the Drongiri Mountains near Ranikhet in the Himalayas. A grandson of Lahiri Mahasaya, Ananda Mohan Lahiri (second from right, in white), and three other devotees are visiting the sacred spot.

The door of our compartment opened; two men seated themselves. The next train stop would be the last.

“Young lads, do you have friends in Brindaban?” The stranger opposite me was taking a surprising interest.

“None of your business!” Rudely I averted my gaze.

“You are probably flying away from your families under the enchantment of the Stealer of Hearts.5 I am of devotional temperament myself. I will make it my positive duty to see that you receive food, and shelter from this overpowering heat.”

“No, sir, let us alone. You are very kind; but you are mistaken in judging us to be truants from home.”

No further conversation ensued; the train came to a halt. As Jitendra and I descended to the platform, our chance companions linked arms with us and summoned a horse cab.

We alit before a stately hermitage, set amidst the evergreen trees of well-kept grounds. Our benefactors were evidently known here; a smiling lad led us without comment to a parlor. We were soon joined by an elderly woman of dignified bearing.

“Gauri Ma, the princes could not come.” One of the men addressed the ashram hostess. “At the last moment their plans went awry; they send deep regrets. But we have brought two other guests. As soon as we met on the train, I felt drawn to them as devotees of Lord Krishna.”

“Good-by, young friends.” Our two acquaintances walked to the door. “We shall meet again, if God be willing.”

“You are welcome here.” Gauri Ma smiled in motherly fashion on her two unexpected charges. “You could not have come on a better day. I was expecting two royal patrons of this hermitage. What a shame if my cooking had found none to appreciate it!”

These appetizing words had disastrous effect on Jitendra: he burst into tears. The “prospect” he had feared in Brindaban was turning out as royal entertainment; his sudden mental adjustment proved too much for him. Our hostess looked at him with curiosity, but without remark; perhaps she was familiar with adolescent quirks.

Lunch was announced; Gauri Ma led the way to a dining patio, spicy with savory odors. She vanished into an adjoining kitchen.

I had been premeditating this moment. Selecting the appropriate spot on Jitendra’s anatomy, I administered a pinch as resounding as the one he had given me on the train.

“Doubting Thomas, the Lord works—in a hurry, too!”

The hostess reentered with a punkha. She steadily fanned us in the Oriental fashion as we squatted on ornate blanket-seats. Ashram disciples passed to and fro with some thirty courses. Rather than “meal,” the description can only be “sumptuous repast.” Since arriving on this planet, Jitendra and I had never before tasted such delicacies.

“Dishes fit for princes indeed, Honored Mother! What your royal patrons could have found more urgent than attending this banquet, I cannot imagine! You have given us a memory for a lifetime!”

Silenced as we were by Ananta’s requirement, we could not explain to the gracious lady that our thanks held a double significance. Our sincerity at least was patent. We departed with her blessing and an attractive invitation to revisit the hermitage.

The heat outdoors was merciless. My friend and I made for the shelter of a lordly cadamba tree at the ashram gate. Sharp words followed; once again Jitendra was beset with misgivings.

“A fine mess you have got me into! Our luncheon was only accidental good fortune! How can we see the sights of this city, without a single pice between us? And how on earth are you going to take me back to Ananta’s?”

“You forget God quickly, now that your stomach is filled.” My words, not bitter, were accusatory. How short is human memory for divine favors! No man lives who has not seen certain of his prayers granted.

“I am not likely to forget my folly in venturing out with a madcap like you!”

“Be quiet, Jitendra! The same Lord who fed us will show us Brindaban, and return us to Agra.”

A slight young man of pleasing countenance approached at rapid pace. Halting under our tree, he bowed before me.

“Dear friend, you and your companion must be strangers here. Permit me to be your host and guide.”

It is scarcely possible for an Indian to pale, but Jitendra’s face was suddenly sickly. I politely declined the offer.

“You are surely not banishing me?” The stranger’s alarm would have been comic in any other circumstances.

“Why not?”

“You are my guru.” His eyes sought mine trustfully. “During my midday devotions, the blessed Lord Krishna appeared in a vision. He showed me two forsaken figures under this very tree. One face was yours, my master! Often have I seen it in meditation! What joy if you accept my humble services!”

“I too am glad you have found me. Neither God nor man has forsaken us!” Though I was motionless, smiling at the eager face before me, an inward obeisance cast me at the Divine Feet.

“Dear friends, will you not honor my home for a visit?”

“You are kind; but the plan is unfeasible. Already we are guests of my brother in Agra.”

“At least give me memories of touring Brindaban with you.”

I gladly consented. The young man, who said his name was Pratap Chatterji, hailed a horse carriage. We visited Madanamohana Temple and other Krishna shrines. Night descended while we were at our temple devotions.

“Excuse me while I get sandesh.” 6 Pratap entered a shop near the railroad station. Jitendra and I sauntered along the wide street, crowded now in the comparative coolness. Our friend was absent for some time, but finally returned with gifts of many sweetmeats.

“Please allow me to gain this religious merit.” Pratap smiled pleadingly as he held out a bundle of rupee notes and two tickets, just purchased, to Agra.

The reverence of my acceptance was for the Invisible Hand. Scoffed at by Ananta, had Its bounty not far exceeded necessity?

We sought out a secluded spot near the station.

“Pratap, I will instruct you in the Kriya of Lahiri Mahasaya, the greatest yogi of modern times. His technique will be your guru.”

The initiation was concluded in a half hour. “Kriya is your chintamani,” 7 I told the new student. “The technique, which as you see is simple, embodies the art of quickening man’s spiritual evolution. Hindu scriptures teach that the incarnating ego requires a million years to obtain liberation from maya. This natural period is greatly shortened through Kriya Yoga. Just as Jagadis Chandra Bose has demonstrated that plant growth can be accelerated far beyond its normal rate, so man’s psychological development can be also speeded by an inner science. Be faithful in your practice; you will approach the Guru of all gurus.”

“I am transported to find this yogic key, long sought!” Pratap spoke thoughtfully. “Its unshackling effect on my sensory bonds will free me for higher spheres. The vision today of Lord Krishna could only mean my highest good.”

We sat awhile in silent understanding, then walked slowly to the station. Joy was within me as I boarded the train, but this was Jitendra’s day for tears. My affectionate farewell to Pratap had been punctuated by stifled sobs from both my companions. The journey once more found Jitendra in a welter of grief. Not for himself this time, but against himself.

“How shallow my trust! My heart has been stone! Never in future shall I doubt God’s protection!”

Midnight was approaching. The two “Cinderellas,” sent forth penniless, entered Ananta’s bedroom. His face, as he had promised, was a study in astonishment. Silently I showered the table with rupees.

“Jitendra, the truth!” Ananta’s tone was jocular. “Has not this youngster been staging a holdup?”

But as the tale was unfolded, my brother turned sober, then solemn.

“The law of demand and supply reaches into subtler realms than I had supposed.” Ananta spoke with a spiritual enthusiasm never before noticeable. “I understand for the first time your indifference to the vaults and vulgar accumulations of the world.”

Late as it was, my brother insisted that he receive diksha 8 into Kriya Yoga. The “guru” Mukunda had to shoulder the responsibility of two unsought disciples in one day.

Breakfast the following morning was eaten in a harmony absent the day before. I smiled at Jitendra.

“You shall not be cheated of the Taj. Let us view it before starting for Serampore.”

Bidding farewell to Ananta, my friend and I were soon before the glory of Agra, the Taj Mahal. White marble dazzling in the sun, it stands a vision of pure symmetry. The perfect setting is dark cypress, glossy lawn, and tranquil lagoon. The interior is exquisite with lacelike carvings inlaid with semiprecious stones. Delicate wreaths and scrolls emerge intricately from marbles, brown and violet. Illumination from the dome falls on the cenotaphs of Emperor Shah-Jahan and Mumtaz Mahall, queen of his realm and his heart.

Enough of sight-seeing! I was longing for my guru. Jitendra and I were shortly traveling south by train toward Bengal.

“Mukunda, I have not seen my family in months. I have changed my mind; perhaps later I shall visit your master in Serampore.”

My friend, who may mildly be described as vacillating in temperament, left me in Calcutta. By local train I soon reached Serampore, twelve miles to the north.

A throb of wonderment stole over me as I realized that twenty-eight days had elapsed since