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 the Benares meeting with my guru. “You will come to me in four weeks!” Here I was, heart pounding, standing within his courtyard on quiet Rai Ghat Lane. I entered for the first time the hermitage where I was to spend the best part of the next ten years with India’s Jyanavatar, “incarnation of wisdom.”

  1. See chapter 25.

  2. The world-famous mausoleum.

  3. A dhoti-cloth is knotted around the waist and covers the legs.

  4. Brindaban, in the Muttra district of United Provinces, is the Hindu Jerusalem. Here Lord Krishna displayed his glories for the benefit of mankind.

  5. Hari; an endearing name by which Lord Krishna is known to his devotees.

  6. An Indian sweetmeat.

  7. A mythological gem with power to grant desires.

  8. Spiritual initiation; from the Sanskrit root diksh, to dedicate oneself.

Chapter: 12

Years in My Master’s Hermitage

Years in My Master’s Hermitage

You have come.” Sri Yukteswar greeted me from a tiger skin on the floor of a balconied sitting room. His voice was cold, his manner unemotional.

“Yes, dear Master, I am here to follow you.” Kneeling, I touched his feet.

“How can that be? You ignore my wishes.”

“No longer, Guruji! Your wish shall be my law!”

“That is better! Now I can assume responsibility for your life.”

“I willingly transfer the burden, Master.”

“My first request, then, is that you return home to your family. I want you to enter college in Calcutta. Your education should be continued.”

“Very well, sir.” I hid my consternation. Would importunate books pursue me down the years? First Father, now Sri Yukteswar!

“Someday you will go to the West. Its people will lend ears more receptive to India’s ancient wisdom if the strange Hindu teacher has a university degree.”

“You know best, Guruji.” My gloom departed. The reference to the West I found puzzling, remote; but my opportunity to please Master by obedience was vitally immediate.

“You will be near in Calcutta; come here whenever you find time.”

“Every day if possible, Master! Gratefully I accept your authority in every detail of my life—on one condition.”

“Yes?”

“That you promise to reveal God to me!”

An hour-long verbal tussle ensued. A master’s word cannot be falsified; it is not lightly given. The implications in the pledge open out vast metaphysical vistas. A guru must be on intimate terms indeed with the Creator before he can obligate Him to appear! I sensed Sri Yukteswar’s divine unity, and was determined, as his disciple, to press my advantage.

“You are of exacting disposition!” Then Master’s consent rang out with compassionate finality:

“Let your wish be my wish.”

Lifelong shadow lifted from my heart; the vague search, hither and yon, was over. I had found eternal shelter in a true guru.

“Come; I will show you the hermitage.” Master rose from his tiger mat. I glanced about me; my gaze fell with astonishment on a wall picture, garlanded with a spray of jasmine.

“Lahiri Mahasaya!”

“Yes, my divine guru.” Sri Yukteswar’s tone was reverently vibrant. “Greater he was, as man and yogi, than any other teacher whose life came within the range of my investigations.”

Silently I bowed before the familiar picture. Soul-homage sped to the peerless master who, blessing my infancy, had guided my steps to this hour.

Led by my guru, I strolled over the house and its grounds. Large, ancient and well-built, the hermitage was surrounded by a massive-pillared courtyard. Outer walls were moss-covered; pigeons fluttered over the flat gray roof, unceremoniously sharing the ashram quarters. A rear garden was pleasant with jackfruit, mango, and plantain trees. Balustraded balconies of upper rooms in the two-storied building faced the courtyard from three sides. A spacious ground-floor hall, with high ceiling supported by colonnades, was used, Master said, chiefly during the annual festivities of Durgapuja.1 A narrow stairway led to Sri Yukteswar’s sitting room, whose small balcony overlooked the street. The ashram was plainly furnished; everything was simple, clean, and utilitarian. Several Western styled chairs, benches, and tables were in evidence.

Master invited me to stay overnight. A supper of vegetable curry was served by two young disciples who were receiving hermitage training.

“Guruji, please tell me something of your life.” I was squatting on a straw mat near his tiger skin. The friendly stars were very close, it seemed, beyond the balcony.

“My family name was Priya Nath Karar. I was born 2 here in Serampore, where Father was a wealthy businessman. He left me this ancestral mansion, now my hermitage. My formal schooling was little; I found it slow and shallow. In early manhood, I undertook the responsibilities of a householder, and have one daughter, now married. My middle life was blessed with the guidance of Lahiri Mahasaya. After my wife died, I joined the Swami Order and received the new name of Sri Yukteswar Giri.3 Such are my simple annals.”

Master smiled at my eager face. Like all biographical sketches, his words had given the outward facts without revealing the inner man.

“Guruji, I would like to hear some stories of your childhood.”

“I will tell you a few—each one with a moral!” Sri Yukteswar’s eyes twinkled with his warning. “My mother once tried to frighten me with an appalling story of a ghost in a dark chamber. I went there immediately, and expressed my disappointment at having missed the ghost. Mother never told me another horror-tale. Moral: Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you.

“Another early memory is my wish for an ugly dog belonging to a neighbor. I kept my household in turmoil for weeks to get that dog. My ears were deaf to offers of pets with more prepossessing appearance. Moral: Attachment is blinding; it lends an imaginary halo of attractiveness to the object of desire.

“A third story concerns the plasticity of the youthful mind. I heard my mother remark occasionally: ‘A man who accepts a job under anyone is a slave.’ That impression became so indelibly fixed that even after my marriage I refused all positions. I met expenses by investing my family endowment in land. Moral: Good and positive suggestions should instruct the sensitive ears of children. Their early ideas long remain sharply etched.”

Master fell into tranquil silence. Around midnight he led me to a narrow cot. Sleep was sound and sweet the first night under my guru’s roof.

Sri Yukteswar chose the following morning to grant me his Kriya Yoga initiation. The technique I had already received from two disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya—Father and my tutor, Swami Kebalananda—but in Master’s presence I felt transforming power. At his touch, a great light broke upon my being, like glory of countless suns blazing together. A flood of ineffable bliss, overwhelming my heart to an innermost core, continued during the following day. It was late that afternoon before I could bring myself to leave the hermitage.

“You will return in thirty days.” As I reached my Calcutta home, the fulfillment of Master’s prediction entered with me. None of my relatives made the pointed remarks I had feared about the reappearance of the “soaring bird.”

I climbed to my little attic and bestowed affectionate glances, as though on a living presence. “You have witnessed my meditations, and the tears and storms of my sadhana. Now I have reached the harbor of my divine teacher.”

“Son, I am happy for us both.” Father and I sat together in the evening calm. “You have found your guru, as in miraculous fashion I once found my own. The holy hand of Lahiri Mahasaya is guarding our lives. Your master has proved no inaccessible Himalayan saint, but one near-by. My prayers have been answered: you have not in your search for God been permanently removed from my sight.”

Father was also pleased that my formal studies would be resumed; he made suitable arrangements. I was enrolled the following day at the Scottish Church College in Calcutta.

Happy months sped by. My readers have doubtless made the perspicacious surmise that I was little seen in the college classrooms. The Serampore hermitage held a lure too irresistible. Master accepted my ubiquitous presence without comment. To my relief, he seldom referred to the halls of learning. Though it was plain to all that I was never cut out for a scholar, I managed to attain minimum passing grades from time to time.

Daily life at the ashram flowed smoothly, infrequently varied. My guru awoke before dawn. Lying down, or sometimes sitting on the bed, he entered a state of samadhi.4 It was simplicity itself to discover when Master had awakened: abrupt halt of stupendous snores.5 A sigh or two; perhaps a bodily movement. Then a soundless state of breathlessness: he was in deep yogic joy.

Sri Yukteswar

My Master, Sri Yukteswar

A Disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya

Breakfast did not follow; first came a long walk by the Ganges. Those morning strolls with my guru—how real and vivid still! In the easy resurrection of memory, I often find myself by his side: the early sun is warming the river. His voice rings out, rich with the authenticity of wisdom.

A bath; then the midday meal. Its preparation, according to Master’s daily directions, had been the careful task of young disciples. My guru was a vegetarian. Before embracing monkhood, however, he had eaten eggs and fish. His advice to students was to follow any simple diet which proved suited to one’s constitution.

Master ate little; often rice, colored with turmeric or juice of beets or spinach and lightly sprinkled with buffalo ghee or melted butter. Another day he might have lentil-dhal or channa 6 curry with vegetables. For dessert, mangoes or oranges with rice pudding, or jackfruit juice.

Visitors appeared in the afternoons. A steady stream poured from the world into the hermitage tranquillity. Everyone found in Master an equal courtesy and kindness. To a man who has realized himself as a soul, not the body or the ego, the rest of humanity assumes a striking similarity of aspect.

The impartiality of saints is rooted in wisdom. Masters have escaped maya; its alternating faces of intellect and idiocy no longer cast an influential glance. Sri Yukteswar showed no special consideration to those who happened to be powerful or accomplished; neither did he slight others for their poverty or illiteracy. He would listen respectfully to words of truth from a child, and openly ignore a conceited pundit.

Eight o’clock was the supper hour, and sometimes found lingering guests. My guru would not excuse himself to eat alone; none left his ashram hungry or dissatisfied. Sri Yukteswar was never at a loss, never dismayed by unexpected visitors; scanty food would emerge a banquet under his resourceful direction. Yet he was economical; his modest funds went far. “Be comfortable within your purse,” he often said. “Extravagance will buy you discomfort.” Whether in the details of hermitage entertainment, or his building and repair work, or other practical concerns, Master manifested the originality of a creative spirit.

Quiet evening hours often brought one of my guru’s discourses, treasures against time. His every utterance was measured and chiseled by wisdom. A sublime self-assurance marked his mode of expression: it was unique. He spoke as none other in my experience ever spoke. His thoughts were weighed in a delicate balance of discrimination before he permitted them an outward garb. The essence of truth, all-pervasive with even a physiological aspect, came from him like a fragrant exudation of the soul. I was conscious always that I was in the presence of a living manifestation of God. The weight of his divinity automatically bowed my head before him.

If late guests detected that Sri Yukteswar was becoming engrossed with the Infinite, he quickly engaged them in conversation. He was incapable of striking a pose, or of flaunting his inner withdrawal. Always one with the Lord, he needed no separate time for communion. A self-realized master has already left behind the stepping stone of meditation. “The flower falls when the fruit appears.” But saints often cling to spiritual forms for the encouragement of disciples.

As midnight approached, my guru might fall into a doze with the naturalness of a child. There was no fuss about bedding. He often lay down, without even a pillow, on a narrow davenport which was the background for his customary tiger-skin seat.

A night-long philosophical discussion was not rare; any disciple could summon it by intensity of interest. I felt no tiredness then, no desire for sleep; Master’s living words were sufficient. “Oh, it is dawn! Let us walk by the Ganges.” So ended many of my periods of nocturnal edification.

My early months with Sri Yukteswar culminated in a useful lesson—“How to Outwit a Mosquito.” At home my family always used protective curtains at night. I was dismayed to discover that in the Serampore hermitage this prudent custom was honored in the breach. Yet the insects were in full residency; I was bitten from head to foot. My guru took pity on me.

“Buy yourself a curtain, and also one for me.” He laughed and added, “If you buy only one, for yourself, all mosquitoes will concentrate on me!”

I was more than thankful to comply. Every night that I spent in Serampore, my guru would ask me to arrange the bedtime curtains.

The mosquitoes one evening were especially virulent. But Master failed to issue his usual instructions. I listened nervously to the anticipatory hum of the insects. Getting into bed, I threw a propitiatory prayer in their general direction. A half hour later, I coughed pretentiously to attract my guru’s attention. I thought I would go mad with the bites and especially the singing drone as the mosquitoes celebrated bloodthirsty rites.

No responsive stir from Master; I approached him cautiously. He was not breathing. This was my first observation of him in the yogic trance; it filled me with fright.

“His heart must have failed!” I placed a mirror under his nose; no breath-vapor appeared. To make doubly certain, for minutes I closed his mouth and nostrils with my fingers. His body was cold and motionless. In a daze, I turned toward the door to summon help.

“So! A budding experimentalist! My poor nose!” Master’s voice was shaky with laughter. “Why don’t you go to bed? Is the whole world going to change for you? Change yourself: be rid of the mosquito consciousness.”

Meekly I returned to my bed. Not one insect ventured near. I realized that my guru had previously agreed to the curtains only to please me; he had no fear of mosquitoes. His yogic power was such that he either could will them not to bite, or could escape to an inner invulnerability.

“He was giving me a demonstration,” I thought. “That is the yogic state I must strive to attain.” A yogi must be able to pass into, and continue in, the superconsciousness, regardless of multitudinous distractions never absent from this earth. Whether in the buzz of insects or the pervasive glare of daylight, the testimony of the senses must be barred. Sound and sight come then indeed, but to worlds fairer than the banished Eden.7

The instructive mosquitoes served for another early lesson at the ashram. It was the gentle hour of dusk. My guru was matchlessly interpreting the ancient texts. At his feet, I was in perfect peace. A rude mosquito entered the idyl and competed for my attention. As it dug a poisonous hypodermic needle into my thigh, I automatically raised an avenging hand. Reprieve from impending execution! An opportune memory came to me of one of Patanjali’s yoga aphorisms—that on ahimsa (harmlessness).

“Why didn’t you finish the job?”

“Master! Do you advocate taking life?”

“No; but the deathblow already had been struck in your mind.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Patanjali’s meaning was the removal of desire to kill.” Sri Yukteswar had found my mental processes an open book. “This world is inconveniently arranged for a literal practice of ahimsa. Man may be compelled to exterminate harmful creatures. He is not under similar compulsion to feel anger or animosity. All forms of life have equal right to the air of maya. The saint who uncovers the secret of creation will be in harmony with its countless bewildering expressions. All men may approach that understanding who curb the inner passion for destruction.”

“Guruji, should one offer himself a sacrifice rather than kill a wild beast?”

“No; man’s body is precious. It has the highest evolutionary value because of unique brain and spinal centers. These enable the advanced devotee to fully grasp and express the loftiest aspects of divinity. No lower form is so equipped. It is true that one incurs the debt of a minor sin if he is forced to kill an animal or any living thing. But the Vedas teach that wanton loss of a human body is a serious transgression against the karmic law.”

I sighed in relief; scriptural reinforcement of one’s natural instincts is not always forthcoming.

It so happened that I never saw Master at close quarters with a leopard or a tiger. But a deadly cobra once confronted him, only to be conquered by my guru’s love. This variety of snake is much feared in India, where it causes more than five thousand deaths annually. The dangerous encounter took place at Puri, where Sri Yukteswar had a second hermitage, charmingly situated near the Bay of Bengal. Prafulla, a young disciple of later years, was with Master on this occasion.

“We were seated outdoors near the ashram,” Prafulla told me. “A cobra appeared near-by, a four-foot length of sheer terror. Its hood was angrily expanded as it raced toward us. My guru gave a welcoming chuckle, as though to a child. I was beside myself with consternation to see Master engage in a rhythmical clapping of hands.8 He was entertaining the dread visitor! I remained absolutely quiet, inwardly ejaculating what fervent prayers I could muster. The serpent, very close to my guru, was now motionless, seemingly magnetized by his caressing attitude. The frightful hood gradually contracted; the snake slithered between Master’s feet and disappeared into the bushes.

“Why my guru would move his hands, and why the cobra would not strike them, were inexplicable to me then,” Prafulla concluded. “I have since come to realize that my divine master is beyond fear of hurt from any living creature.”

One afternoon during my early months at the ashram, found Sri Yukteswar’s eyes fixed on me piercingly.

“You are too thin, Mukunda.”

His remark struck a sensitive point. That my sunken eyes and emaciated appearance were far from my liking was testified to by rows of tonics in my room at Calcutta. Nothing availed; chronic dyspepsia had pursued me since childhood. My despair reached an occasional zenith when I asked myself if it were worth-while to carry on this life with a body so unsound.

“Medicines have limitations; the creative life-force has none. Believe that: you shall be well and strong.”

Sri Yukteswar’s words aroused a conviction of personally-applicable truth which no other healer—and I had tried many!—had been able to summon within me.

Day by day, behold! I waxed. Two weeks after Master’s hidden blessing, I had accumulated the invigorating weight which eluded me in the past. My persistent stomach ailments vanished with a lifelong permanency. On later occasions I witnessed my guru’s instantaneous divine healings of persons suffering from ominous disease—tuberculosis, diabetes, epilepsy, or paralysis. Not one could have been more grateful for his cure than I was at sudden freedom from my cadaverous aspect.

“Years ago, I too was anxious to put on weight,” Sri Yukteswar told me. “During convalescence after a severe illness, I visited Lahiri Mahasaya in Benares.

“‘Sir, I have been very sick and lost many pounds.’

“‘I see, Yukteswar,9 you made yourself unwell, and now you think you are thin.’

“This reply was far from the one I had expected; my guru, however, added encouragingly:

“‘Let me see; I am sure you ought to feel better tomorrow.’

“Taking his words as a gesture of secret healing toward my receptive mind, I was not surprised the next morning at a welcome accession of strength. I sought out my master and exclaimed exultingly, ‘Sir, I feel much better today.’

“‘Indeed! Today you invigorate yourself.’

“‘No, master!’ I protested. ‘It was you who helped me; this is the first time in weeks that I have had any energy.’

“‘O yes! Your malady has been quite serious. Your body is frail yet; who can say how it will be tomorrow?’

“The thought of possible return of my weakness brought me a shudder of cold fear. The following morning I could hardly drag myself to Lahiri Mahasaya’s home.

“‘Sir, I am ailing again.’

“My guru’s glance was quizzical. ‘So! Once more you indispose yourself.’

“‘Gurudeva, I realize now that day by day you have been ridiculing me.’ My patience was exhausted. ‘I don’t understand why you disbelieve my truthful reports.’

“‘Really, it has been your thoughts that have made you feel alternately weak and strong.’ My master looked at me affectionately. ‘You have seen how your health has exactly followed your expectations. Thought is a force, even as electricity or gravitation. The human mind is a spark of the almighty consciousness of God. I could show you that whatever your powerful mind believes very intensely would instantly come to pass.’

“Knowing that Lahiri Mahasaya never spoke idly, I addressed him with great awe and gratitude: ‘Master, if I think I am well and have regained my former weight, shall that happen?’

“‘It is so, even at this moment.’ My guru spoke gravely, his gaze concentrated on my eyes.

“Lo! I felt an increase not alone of strength but of weight. Lahiri Mahasaya retreated into silence. After a few hours at his feet, I returned to my mother’s home, where I stayed during my visits to Benares.

“‘My son! What is the matter? Are you swelling with dropsy?’ Mother could hardly believe her eyes. My body was now of the same robust dimensions it had possessed before my illness.

“I weighed myself and found that in one day I had gained fifty pounds; they remained with me permanently. Friends and acquaintances who had seen my thin figure were aghast with wonderment. A number of them changed their mode of life and became disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya as a result of this miracle.

“My guru, awake in God, knew this world to be nothing but an objectivized dream of the Creator. Because he was completely aware of his unity with the Divine Dreamer, Lahiri Mahasaya could materialize or dematerialize or make any change he wished in the cosmic vision.10

Main building at the Mount Washington Estates

Main building at the Mount Washington Estates in Los Angeles, established in 1925 as American headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship

Self-Realization Church of All Religions, Hollywood, California.

Self-Realization Church of All Religions, Hollywood, California

“All creation is governed by law,” Sri Yukteswar concluded. “The ones which manifest in the outer universe, discoverable by scientists, are called natural laws. But there are subtler laws ruling the realms of consciousness which can be known only through the inner science of yoga. The hidden spiritual planes also have their natural and lawful principles of operation. It is not the physical scientist but the fully self-realized master who comprehends the true nature of matter. Thus Christ was able to restore the servant’s ear after it had been severed by one of the disciples.” 11

Sri Yukteswar was a peerless interpreter of the scriptures. Many of my happiest memories are centered in his discourses. But his jeweled thoughts were not cast into ashes of heedlessness or stupidity. One restless movement of my body, or my slight lapse into absent-mindedness, sufficed to put an abrupt period to Master’s exposition.

“You are not here.” Master interrupted himself one afternoon with this disclosure. As usual, he was keeping track of my attention with a devastating immediacy.

“Guruji!” My tone was a protest. “I have not stirred; my eyelids have not moved; I can repeat each word you have uttered!”

“Nevertheless you were not fully with me. Your objection forces me to remark that in your mental background you were creating three institutions. One was a sylvan retreat on a plain, another on a hilltop, a third by the ocean.”

Those vaguely formulated thoughts had indeed been present almost subconsciously. I glanced at him apologetically.

“What can I do with such a master, who penetrates my random musings?”

“You have given me that right. The subtle truths I am expounding cannot be grasped without your complete concentration. Unless necessary I do not invade the seclusion of others’ minds. Man has the natural privilege of roaming secretly among his thoughts. The unbidden Lord does not enter there; neither do I venture intrusion.”

“You are ever welcome, Master!”

“Your architectural dreams will materialize later. Now is the time for study!”

Thus incidentally my guru revealed in his simple way the coming of three great events in my life. Since early youth I had had enigmatic glimpses of three buildings, each in a different setting. In the exact sequence Sri Yukteswar had indicated, these visions took ultimate form. First came my founding of a boys’ yoga school on a Ranchi plain, then my American headquarters on a Los Angeles hilltop, finally a hermitage in southern California by the vast Pacific.

Master never arrogantly asserted: “I prophesy that such and such an event shall occur!” He would rather hint: “Don’t you think it may happen?” But his simple speech hid vatic power. There was no recanting; never did his slightly veiled words prove false.

Sri Yukteswar was reserved and matter-of-fact in demeanor. There was naught of the vague or daft visionary about him. His feet were firm on the earth, his head in the haven of heaven. Practical people aroused his admiration. “Saintliness is not dumbness! Divine perceptions are not incapacitating!” he would say. “The active expression of virtue gives rise to the keenest intelligence.”

In Master’s life I fully discovered the cleavage between spiritual realism and the obscure mysticism that spuriously passes as a counterpart. My guru was reluctant to discuss the superphysical realms. His only “marvelous” aura was one of perfect simplicity. In conversation he avoided startling references; in action he was freely expressive. Others talked of miracles but could manifest nothing; Sri Yukteswar seldom mentioned the subtle laws but secretly operated them at will.

“A man of realization does not perform any miracle until he receives an inward sanction,” Master explained. “God does not wish the secrets of His creation revealed promiscuously.12 Also, every individual in the world has inalienable right to his free will. A saint will not encroach upon that independence.”

The silence habitual to Sri Yukteswar was caused by his deep perceptions of the Infinite. No time remained for the interminable “revelations” that occupy the days of teachers without self-realization. “In shallow men the fish of little thoughts cause much commotion. In oceanic minds the whales of inspiration make hardly a ruffle.” This observation from the Hindu scriptures is not without discerning humor.

Because of my guru’s unspectacular guise, only a few of his contemporaries recognized him as a superman. The popular adage: “He is a fool that cannot conceal his wisdom,” could never be applied to Sri Yukteswar. Though born a mortal like all others, Master had achieved identity with the Ruler of time and space. In his life I perceived a godlike unity. He had not found any insuperable obstacle to mergence of human with Divine. No such barrier exists, I came to understand, save in man’s spiritual unadventurousness.

I always thrilled at the touch of Sri Yukteswar’s holy feet. Yogis teach that a disciple is spiritually magnetized by reverent contact with a master; a subtle current is generated. The devotee’s undesirable habit-mechanisms in the brain are often cauterized; the groove of his worldly tendencies beneficially disturbed. Momentarily at least he may find the secret veils of maya lifting, and glimpse the reality of bliss. My whole body responded with a liberating glow whenever I knelt in the Indian fashion before my guru.

“Even when Lahiri Mahasaya was silent,” Master told me, “or when he conversed on other than strictly religious topics, I discovered that nonetheless he had transmitted to me ineffable knowledge.”

Sri Yukteswar affected me similarly. If I entered the hermitage in a worried or indifferent frame of mind, my attitude imperceptibly changed. A healing calm descended at mere sight of my guru. Every day with him was a new experience in joy, peace, and wisdom. Never did I find him deluded or intoxicated with greed or emotion or anger or any human attachment.

“The darkness of maya is silently approaching. Let us hie homeward within.” With these words at dusk Master constantly reminded his disciples of their need for Kriya Yoga. A new student occasionally expressed doubts regarding his own worthiness to engage in yoga practice.

“Forget the past,” Sri Yukteswar would console him. “The vanished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.”

Master always had young chelas 13 in his hermitage. Their spiritual and intellectual education was his lifelong interest: even shortly before he passed on, he accepted for training two six-year-old boys and one youth of sixteen. He directed their minds and lives with that careful discipline in which the word “disciple” is etymologically rooted. The ashram residents loved and revered their guru; a slight clap of his hands sufficed to bring them eagerly to his side. When his mood was silent and withdrawn, no one ventured to speak; when his laugh rang jovially, children looked upon him as their own.

Master seldom asked others to render him a personal service, nor would he accept help from a student unless the willingness were sincere. My guru quietly washed his clothes if the disciples overlooked that privileged task. Sri Yukteswar wore the traditional ocher-colored swami robe; his laceless shoes, in accordance with yogi custom, were of tiger or deer skin.

Master spoke fluent English, French, Hindi, and Bengali; his Sanskrit was fair. He patiently instructed his young disciples by certain short cuts which he had ingeniously devised for the study of English and Sanskrit.

Master was cautious of his body, while withholding solicitous attachment. The Infinite, he pointed out, properly manifests through physical and mental soundness. He discountenanced any extremes. A disciple once started a long fast. My guru only laughed: “Why not throw the dog a bone?”

Sri Yukteswar’s health was excellent; I never saw him unwell.14 He permitted students to consult doctors if it seemed advisable. His purpose was to give respect to the worldly custom: “Physicians must carry on their work of healing through God’s laws as applied to matter.” But he extolled the superiority of mental therapy, and often repeated: “Wisdom is the greatest cleanser.”

“The body is a treacherous friend. Give it its due; no more,” he said. “Pain and pleasure are transitory; endure all dualities with calmness, while trying at the same time to remove their hold. Imagination is the door through which disease as well as healing enters. Disbelieve in the reality of sickness even when you are ill; an unrecognized visitor will flee!”

Master numbered many doctors among his disciples. “Those who have ferreted out the physical laws can easily investigate the science of the soul,” he told them. “A subtle spiritual mechanism is hidden just behind the bodily structure.” 15

Sri Yukteswar counseled his students to be living liaisons of Western and Eastern virtues. Himself an executive Occidental in outer habits, inwardly he was the spiritual Oriental. He praised the progressive, resourceful and hygienic habits of the West, and the religious ideals which give a centuried halo to the East.

Discipline had not been unknown to me: at home Father was strict, Ananta often severe. But Sri Yukteswar’s training cannot be described as other than drastic. A perfectionist, my guru was hypercritical of his disciples, whether in matters of moment or in the subtle nuances of behavior.

“Good manners without sincerity are like a beautiful dead lady,” he remarked on suitable occasion. “Straightforwardness without civility is like a surgeon’s knife, effective but unpleasant. Candor with courtesy is helpful and admirable.”

Master was apparently satisfied with my spiritual progress, for he seldom referred to it; in other matters my ears were no strangers to reproof. My chief offenses were absentmindedness, intermittent indulgence in sad moods, non-observance of certain rules of etiquette, and occasional unmethodical ways.

“Observe how the activities of your father Bhagabati are well-organized and balanced in every way,” my guru pointed out. The two disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya had met, soon after I began my pilgrimages to Serampore. Father and Sri Yukteswar admiringly evaluated the other’s worth. Both had built an inner life of spiritual granite, insoluble against the ages.

From transient teachers of my earlier life I had imbibed a few erroneous lessons. A chela, I was told, need not concern himself strenuously over worldly duties; when I had neglected or carelessly performed my tasks, I was not chastised. Human nature finds such instruction very easy of assimilation. Under Master’s unsparing rod, however, I soon recovered from the agreeable delusions of irresponsibility.

“Those who are too good for this world are adorning some other,” Sri Yukteswar remarked. “So long as you breathe the free air of earth, you are under obligation to render grateful service. He alone who has fully mastered the breathless state 16 is freed from cosmic imperatives. I will not fail to let you know when you have attained the final perfection.”

My guru could never be bribed, even by love. He showed no leniency to anyone who, like myself, willingly offered to be his disciple. Whether Master and I were surrounded by his students or by strangers, or were alone together, he always spoke plainly and upbraided sharply. No trifling lapse into shallowness or inconsistency escaped his rebuke. This flattening treatment was hard to endure, but my resolve was to allow Sri Yukteswar to iron out each of my psychological kinks. As he labored at this titanic transformation, I shook many times under the weight of his disciplinary hammer.

“If you don’t like my words, you are at liberty to leave at any time,” Master assured me. “I want nothing from you but your own improvement. Stay only if you feel benefited.”

For every humbling blow he dealt my vanity, for every tooth in my metaphorical jaw he knocked loose with stunning aim, I am grateful beyond any facility of expression. The hard core of human egotism is hardly to be dislodged except rudely. With its departure, the Divine finds at last an unobstructed channel. In vain It seeks to percolate through flinty hearts of selfishness.

Sri Yukteswar’s wisdom was so penetrating that, heedless of remarks, he often replied to one’s unspoken observation. “What a person imagines he hears, and what the speaker has really implied, may be poles apart,” he said. “Try to feel the thoughts behind the confusion of men’s verbiage.”

But divine insight is painful to worldly ears; Master was not popular with superficial students. The wise, always few in number, deeply revered him. I daresay Sri Yukteswar would have been the most sought-after guru in India had his words not been so candid and so censorious.

“I am hard on those who come for my training,” he admitted to me. “That is my way; take it or leave it. I will never compromise. But you will be much kinder to your disciples; that is your way. I try to purify only in the fires of severity, searing beyond the average toleration. The gentle approach of love is also transfiguring. The inflexible and the yielding methods are equally effective if applied with wisdom. You will go to foreign lands, where blunt assaults on the ego are not appreciated. A teacher could not spread India’s message in the West without an ample fund of accommodative patience and forbearance.” I refuse to state the amount of truth I later came to find in Master’s words!

Though Sri Yukteswar’s undissembling speech prevented a large following during his years on earth, nevertheless his living spirit manifests today over the world, through sincere students of his Kriya Yoga and other teachings. He has further dominion in men’s souls than ever Alexander dreamed of in the soil.

Father arrived one day to pay his respects to Sri Yukteswar. My parent expected, very likely, to hear some words in my praise. He was shocked to be given a long account of my imperfections. It was Master’s practice to recount simple, negligible shortcomings with an air of portentous gravity. Father rushed to see me. “From your guru’s remarks I thought to find you a complete wreck!” My parent was between tears and laughter.

The only cause of Sri Yukteswar’s displeasure at the time was that I had been trying, against his gentle hint, to convert a certain man to the spiritual path.

With indignant speed I sought out my guru. He received me with downcast eyes, as though conscious of guilt. It was the only time I ever saw the divine lion meek before me. The unique moment was savored to the full.

“Sir, why did you judge me so mercilessly before my astounded father? Was that just?”

“I will not do it again.” Master’s tone was apologetic.

Instantly I was disarmed. How readily the great man admitted his fault! Though he never again upset Father’s peace of mind, Master relentlessly continued to dissect me whenever and wherever he chose.

New disciples often joined Sri Yukteswar in exhaustive criticism of others. Wise like the guru! Models of flawless discrimination! But he who takes the offensive must not be defenseless. The same carping students fled precipitantly as soon as Master publicly unloosed in their direction a few shafts from his analytical quiver.

“Tender inner weaknesses, revolting at mild touches of censure, are like diseased parts of the body, recoiling before even delicate handling.” This was Sri Yukteswar’s amused comment on the flighty ones.

There are disciples who seek a guru made in their own image. Such students often complained that they did not understand Sri Yukteswar.

“Neither do you comprehend God!” I retorted on one occasion. “When a saint is clear to you, you will be one.” Among the trillion mysteries, breathing every second the inexplicable air, who may venture to ask that the fathomless nature of a master be instantly grasped?

Students came, and generally went. Those who craved a path of oily sympathy and comfortable recognitions did not find it at the hermitage. Master offered shelter and shepherding for the aeons, but many disciples miserly demanded ego-balm as well. They departed, preferring life’s countless humiliations before any humility. Master’s blazing rays, the open penetrating sunshine of his wisdom, were too powerful for their spiritual sickness. They sought some lesser teacher who, shading them with flattery, permitted the fitful sleep of ignorance.

During my early months with Master, I had experienced a sensitive fear of his reprimands. These were reserved, I soon saw, for disciples who had asked for his verbal vivisection. If any writhing student made a protest, Sri Yukteswar would become unoffendedly silent. His words were never wrathful, but impersonal with wisdom.

Master’s insight was not for the unprepared ears of casual visitors; he seldom remarked on their defects, even if conspicuous. But toward students who sought his counsel, Sri Yukteswar felt a serious responsibility. Brave indeed is the guru who undertakes to transform the crude ore of ego-permeated humanity! A saint’s courage roots in his compassion for the stumbling eyeless of this world.

When I had abandoned underlying resentment, I found a marked decrease in my chastisement. In a very subtle way, Master melted into comparative clemency. In time I demolished every wall of rationalization and subconscious reservation behind which the human personality generally shields itself.17 The reward was an effortless harmony with my guru. I discovered him then to be trusting, considerate, and silently loving. Undemonstrative, however, he bestowed no word of affection.

My own temperament is principally devotional. It was disconcerting at first to find that my guru, saturated with jnana but seemingly dry of bhakti,18 expressed himself only in terms of cold spiritual mathematics. But as I tuned myself to his nature, I discovered no diminution but rather increase in my devotional approach to God. A self-realized master is fully able to guide his various disciples along natural lines of their essential bias.

My relationship with Sri Yukteswar, somewhat inarticulate, nonetheless possessed all eloquence. Often I found his silent signature on my thoughts, rendering speech inutile. Quietly sitting beside him, I felt his bounty pouring peacefully over my being.

Sri Yukteswar’s impartial justice was notably demonstrated during the summer vacation of my first college year. I welcomed the opportunity to spend uninterrupted months at Serampore with my guru.

“You may be in charge of the hermitage.” Master was pleased over my enthusiastic arrival. “Your duties will be the reception of guests, and supervision of the work of the other disciples.”

Kumar, a young villager from east Bengal, was accepted a fortnight later for hermitage training. Remarkably intelligent, he quickly won Sri Yukteswar’s affection. For some unfathomable reason, Master was very lenient to the new resident.

“Mukunda, let Kumar assume your duties. Employ your own time in sweeping and cooking.” Master issued these instructions after the new boy had been with us for a month.

Exalted to leadership, Kumar exercised a petty household tyranny. In silent mutiny, the other disciples continued to seek me out for daily counsel.

“Mukunda is impossible! You made me supervisor, yet the others go to him and obey him.” Three weeks later Kumar was complaining to our guru. I overheard him from an adjoining room.

“That’s why I assigned him to the kitchen and you to the parlor.” Sri Yukteswar’s withering tones were new to Kumar. “In this way you have come to realize that a worthy leader has the desire to serve, and not to dominate. You wanted Mukunda’s position, but could not maintain it by merit. Return now to your earlier work as cook’s assistant.”

After this humbling incident, Master resumed toward Kumar a former attitude of unwonted indulgence. Who can solve the mystery of attraction? In Kumar our guru discovered a charming fount which did not spurt for the fellow disciples. Though the new boy was obviously Sri Yukteswar’s favorite, I felt no dismay. Personal idiosyncrasies, possessed even by masters, lend a rich complexity to the pattern of life. My nature is seldom commandeered by a detail; I was seeking from Sri Yukteswar a more inaccessible benefit than an outward praise.

Kumar spoke venomously to me one day without reason; I was deeply hurt.

“Your head is swelling to the bursting point!” I added a warning whose truth I felt intuitively: “Unless you mend your ways, someday you will be asked to leave this ashram.”

Laughing sarcastically, Kumar repeated my remark to our guru, who had just entered the room. Fully expecting to be scolded, I retired meekly to a corner.

“Maybe Mukunda is right.” Master’s reply to the boy came with unusual coldness. I escaped without castigation.

A year later, Kumar set out for a visit to his childhood home. He ignored the quiet disapproval of Sri Yukteswar, who never authoritatively controlled his disciples’ movements. On the boy’s return to Serampore in a few months, a change was unpleasantly apparent. Gone was the stately Kumar with serenely glowing face. Only an undistinguished peasant stood before us, one who had lately acquired a number of evil habits.

Master summoned me and brokenheartedly discussed the fact that the boy was now unsuited to the monastic hermitage life.

“Mukunda, I will leave it to you to instruct Kumar to leave the ashram tomorrow; I can’t do it!” Tears stood in Sri Yukteswar’s eyes, but he controlled himself quickly. “The boy would never have fallen to these depths had he listened to me and not gone away to mix with undesirable companions. He has rejected my protection; the callous world must be his guru still.”

Kumar’s departure brought me no elation; sadly I wondered how one with power to win a master’s love could ever respond to cheaper allures. Enjoyment of wine and sex are rooted in the natural man, and require no delicacies of perception for their appreciation. Sense wiles are comparable to the evergreen oleander, fragrant with its multicolored flowers: every part of the plant is poisonous. The land of healing lies within, radiant with that happiness blindly sought in a thousand misdirections.19

“Keen intelligence is two-edged,” Master once remarked in reference to Kumar’s brilliant mind. “It may be used constructively or destructively like a knife, either to cut the boil of ignorance, or to decapitate one’s self. Intelligence is rightly guided only after the mind has acknowledged the inescapability of spiritual law.”

My guru mixed freely with men and women disciples, treating all as his children. Perceiving their soul equality, he showed no distinction or partiality.

“In sleep, you do not know whether you are a man or a woman,” he said. “Just as a man, impersonating a woman, does not become one, so the soul, impersonating both man and woman, has no sex. The soul is the pure, changeless image of God.”

Sri Yukteswar never avoided or blamed women as objects of seduction. Men, he said, were also a temptation to women. I once inquired of my guru why a great ancient saint had called women “the door to hell.”

“A girl must have proved very troublesome to his peace of mind in his early life,” my guru answered causticly. “Otherwise he would have denounced, not woman, but some imperfection in his own self-control.”

If a visitor dared to relate a suggestive story in the hermitage, Master would maintain an unresponsive silence. “Do not allow yourself to be thrashed by the provoking whip of a beautiful face,” he told the disciples. “How can sense slaves enjoy the world? Its subtle flavors escape them while they grovel in primal mud. All nice discriminations are lost to the man of elemental lusts.”

Students seeking to escape from the dualistic maya delusion received from Sri Yukteswar patient and understanding counsel.

“Just as the purpose of eating is to satisfy hunger, not greed, so the sex instinct is designed for the propagation of the species according to natural law, never for the kindling of insatiable longings,” he said. “Destroy wrong desires now; otherwise they will follow you after the astral body is torn from its physical casing. Even when the flesh is weak, the mind should be constantly resistant. If temptation assails you with cruel force, overcome it by impersonal analysis and indomitable will. Every natural passion can be mastered.

“Conserve your powers. Be like the capacious ocean, absorbing within all the tributary rivers of the senses. Small yearnings are openings in the reservoir of your inner peace, permitting healing waters to be wasted in the desert soil of materialism. The forceful activating impulse of wrong desire is the greatest enemy to the happiness of man. Roam in the world as a lion of self-control; see that the frogs of weakness don’t kick you around.”

The devotee is finally freed from all instinctive compulsions. He transforms his need for human affection into aspiration for God alone, a love solitary because omnipresent.

Sri Yukteswar’s mother lived in the Rana Mahal district of Benares where I had first visited my guru. Gracious and kindly, she was yet a woman of very decided opinions. I stood on her balcony one day and watched mother and son talking together. In his quiet, sensible way, Master was trying to convince her about something. He was apparently unsuccessful, for she shook her head with great vigor.

“Nay, nay, my son, go away now! Your wise words are not for me! I am not your disciple!”

Sri Yukteswar backed away without further argument, like a scolded child. I was touched at his great respect for his mother even in her unreasonable moods. She saw him only as her little boy, not as a sage. There was a charm about the trifling incident; it supplied a sidelight on my guru’s unusual nature, inwardly humble and outwardly unbendable.

The monastic regulations do not allow a swami to retain connection with worldly ties after their formal severance. He cannot perform the ceremonial family rites which are obligatory on the householder. Yet Shankara, the ancient founder of the Swami Order, disregarded the injunctions. At the death of his beloved mother, he cremated her body with heavenly fire which he caused to spurt from his upraised hand.

Sri Yukteswar also ignored the restrictions, in a fashion less spectacular. When his mother passed on, he arranged the crematory services by the holy Ganges in Benares, and fed many Brahmins in conformance with age-old custom.

The shastric prohibitions were intended to help swamis overcome narrow identifications. Shankara and Sri Yukteswar had wholly merged their beings in the Impersonal Spirit; they needed no rescue by rule. Sometimes, too, a master purposely ignores a canon in order to uphold its principle as superior to and independent of form. Thus Jesus plucked ears of corn on the day of rest. To the inevitable critics he said: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” 20

Outside of the scriptures, seldom was a book honored by Sri Yukteswar’s perusal. Yet he was invariably acquainted with the latest scientific discoveries and other advancements of knowledge. A brilliant conversationalist, he enjoyed an exchange of views on countless topics with his guests. My guru’s ready wit and rollicking laugh enlivened every discussion. Often grave, Master was never gloomy. “To seek the Lord, one need not disfigure his face,” he would remark. “Remember that finding God will mean the funeral of all sorrows.”

Among the philosophers, professors, lawyers and scientists who came to the hermitage, a number arrived for their first visit with the expectation of meeting an orthodox religionist. A supercilious smile or a glance of amused tolerance occasionally betrayed that the newcomers anticipated nothing more than a few pious platitudes. Yet their reluctant departure would bring an expressed conviction that Sri Yukteswar had shown precise insight into their specialized fields.

My guru ordinarily was gentle and affable to guests; his welcome was given with charming cordiality. Yet inveterate egotists sometimes suffered an invigorating shock. They confronted in Master either a frigid indifference or a formidable opposition: ice or iron!

A noted chemist once crossed swords with Sri Yukteswar. The visitor would not admit the existence of God, inasmuch as science has devised no means of detecting Him.

“So you have inexplicably failed to isolate the Supreme Power in your test tubes!” Master’s gaze was stern. “I recommend an unheard-of experiment. Examine your thoughts unremittingly for twenty-four hours. Then wonder no longer at God’s absence.”

A celebrated pundit received a similar jolt. With ostentatious zeal, the scholar shook the ashram rafters with scriptural lore. Resounding passages poured from the Mahabharata, the Upanishads,21 the bhasyas 22 of Shankara.

“I am waiting to hear you.” Sri Yukteswar’s tone was inquiring, as though utter silence had reigned. The pundit was puzzled.

“Quotations there have been, in superabundance.” Master’s words convulsed me with mirth, as I squatted in my corner, at a respectful distance from the visitor. “But what original commentary can you supply, from the uniqueness of your particular life? What holy text have you absorbed and made your own? In what ways have these timeless truths renovated your nature? Are you content to be a hollow victrola, mechanically repeating the words of other men?”

“I give up!” The scholar’s chagrin was comical. “I have no inner realization.”

For the first time, perhaps, he understood that discerning placement of the comma does not atone for a spiritual coma.

“These bloodless pedants smell unduly of the lamp,” my guru remarked after the departure of the chastened one. “They prefer philosophy to be a gentle intellectual setting-up exercise. Their elevated thoughts are carefully unrelated either to the crudity of outward action or to any scourging inner discipline!”

Master stressed on other occasions the futility of mere book learning.

“Do not confuse understanding with a larger vocabulary,” he remarked. “Sacred writings are beneficial in stimulating desire for inward realization, if one stanza at a time is slowly assimilated. Continual intellectual study results in vanity and the false satisfaction of an undigested knowledge.”

Sri Yukteswar related one of his own experiences in scriptural edification. The scene was a forest hermitage in eastern Bengal, where he observed the procedure of a renowned teacher, Dabru Ballav. His method, at once simple and difficult, was common in ancient India.

Dabru Ballav had gathered his disciples around him in the sylvan solitudes. The holy Bhagavad Gita was open before them. Steadfastly they looked at one passage for half an hour, then closed their eyes. Another half hour slipped away. The master gave a brief comment. Motionless, they meditated again for an hour. Finally the guru spoke.

“Have you understood?”

“Yes, sir.” One in the group ventured this assertion.

“No; not fully. Seek the spiritual vitality that has given these words the power to rejuvenate India century after century.” Another hour disappeared in silence. The master dismissed the students, and turned to Sri Yukteswar.

“Do you know the Bhagavad Gita?”

“No, sir, not really; though my eyes and mind have run through its pages many times.”

“Thousands have replied to me differently!” The great sage smiled at Master in blessing. “If one busies himself with an outer display of scriptural wealth, what time is left for silent inward diving after the priceless pearls?”

Sri Yukteswar directed the study of his own disciples by the same intensive method of one-pointedness. “Wisdom is not assimilated with the eyes, but with the atoms,” he said. “When your conviction of a truth is not merely in your brain but in your being, you may diffidently vouch for its meaning.” He discouraged any tendency a student might have to construe book-knowledge as a necessary step to spiritual realization.

“The rishis wrote in one sentence profundities that commentating scholars busy themselves over for generations,” he remarked. “Endless literary controversy is for sluggard minds. What more liberating thought than ‘God is’—nay, ‘God’?”

But man does not easily return to simplicity. It is seldom “God” for him, but rather learned pomposities. His ego is pleased, that he can grasp such erudition.

Men who were pridefully conscious of high worldly position were likely, in Master’s presence, to add humility to their other possessions. A local magistrate once arrived for an interview at the seaside hermitage in Puri. The man, who held a reputation for ruthlessness, had it well within his power to oust us from the ashram. I cautioned my guru about the despotic possibilities. But he seated himself with an uncompromising air, and did not rise to greet the visitor. Slightly nervous, I squatted near the door. The man had to content himself with a wooden box; my guru did not request me to fetch a chair. There was no fulfillment of the magistrate’s obvious expectation that his importance would be ceremoniously acknowledged.

A metaphysical discussion ensued. The guest blundered through misinterpretations of the scriptures. As his accuracy sank, his ire rose.

“Do you know that I stood first in the M. A. examination?” Reason had forsaken him, but he could still shout.

“Mr. Magistrate, you forget that this is not your courtroom,” Master replied evenly. “From your childish remarks I would have surmised that your college career was unremarkable. A university degree, in any case, is not remotely related to Vedic realization. Saints are not produced in batches every semester like accountants.”

After a stunned silence, the visitor laughed heartily.

“This is my first encounter with a heavenly magistrate,” he said. Later he made a formal request, couched in the legal terms which were evidently part and parcel of his being, to be accepted as a “probationary” disciple.

My guru personally attended to the details connected with the management of his property. Unscrupulous persons on various occasions attempted to secure possession of Master’s ancestral land. With determination and even by instigating lawsuits, Sri Yukteswar outwitted every opponent. He underwent these painful experiences from a desire never to be a begging guru, or a burden on his disciples.

His financial independence was one reason why my alarmingly outspoken Master was innocent of the cunnings of diplomacy. Unlike those teachers who have to flatter their supporters, my guru was impervious to the influences, open or subtle, of others’ wealth. Never did I hear him ask or even hint for money for any purpose. His hermitage training was given free and freely to all disciples.

An insolent court deputy arrived one day at the Serampore ashram to serve Sri Yukteswar with a legal summons. A disciple named Kanai and myself were also present. The officer’s attitude toward Master was offensive.

“It will do you good to leave the shadows of your hermitage and breathe the honest air of a courtroom.” The deputy grinned contemptuously. I could not contain myself.

“Another word of your impudence and you will be on the floor!” I advanced threateningly.

“You wretch!” Kanai’s shout was simultaneous with my own. “Dare you bring your blasphemies into this sacred ashram?”

But Master stood protectingly in front of his abuser. “Don’t get excited over nothing. This man is only doing his rightful duty.”

The officer, dazed at his varying reception, respectfully offered a word of apology and sped away.

Amazing it was to find that a master with such a fiery will could be so calm within. He fitted the Vedic definition of a man of God: “Softer than the flower, where kindness is concerned; stronger than the thunder, where principles are at stake.”

There are always those in this world who, in Browning’s words, “endure no light, being themselves obscure.” An outsider occasionally berated Sri Yukteswar for an imaginary grievance. My imperturbable guru listened politely, analyzing himself to see if any shred of truth lay within the denunciation. These scenes would bring to my mind one of Master’s inimitable observations: “Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others!”

The unfailing composure of a saint is impressive beyond any sermon. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” 23

I often reflected that my majestic Master could easily have been an emperor or world-shaking warrior had his mind been centered on fame or worldly achievement. He had chosen instead to storm those inner citadels of wrath and egotism whose fall is the height of a man.

  1. “Worship of Durga.” This is the chief festival of the Bengali year and lasts for nine days around the end of September. Immediately following is the ten-day festival of Dashahara (“the One who removes ten sins”—three of body, three of mind, four of speech). Both pujas are sacred to Durga, literally “the Inaccessible,” an aspect of Divine Mother, Shakti, the female creative force personified.

  2. Sri Yukteswar was born on May 10, 1855.

  3. Yukteswar means “united to God.” Giri is a classificatory distinction of one of the ten ancient Swami branches. Sri means “holy”; it is not a name but a title of respect.

  4. Literally, “to direct together.” Samadhi is a superconscious state of ecstasy in which the yogi perceives the identity of soul and Spirit.

  5. Snoring, according to physiologists, is an indication of utter relaxation (to the oblivious practitioner, solely).

  6. Dhal is a thick soup made from split peas or other pulses. Channa is a cheese of fresh curdled milk, cut into squares and curried with potatoes.

  7. The omnipresent powers of a yogi, whereby he sees, hears, tastes, smells, and feels his oneness in creation without the use of sensory organs, have been described as follows in the Taittiriya Aranyaka: “The blind man pierced the pearl; the fingerless put a thread into it; the neckless wore it; and the tongueless praised it.”

  8. The cobra swiftly strikes at any moving object within its range. Complete immobility is usually one’s sole hope of safety.

  9. Lahiri Mahasaya actually said “Priya” (first or given name), not “Yukteswar” (monastic name, not received by my guru during Lahiri Mahasaya’s lifetime). (See above in this chapter.) “Yukteswar” is substituted here, and in a few other places in this book, in order to avoid the confusion, to reader, of two names.

  10. “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”—Mark 11:24. Masters who possess the Divine Vision are fully able to transfer their realizations to advanced disciples, as Lahiri Mahasaya did for Sri Yukteswar on this occasion.

  11. “And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear and healed him.”—Luke 22:50-51.

  12. “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”—Matthew 7:6.

  13. Disciples; from Sanskrit verb root, “to serve.”

  14. He was once ill in Kashmir, when I was absent from him. (See chapter 23.)

  15. A courageous medical man, Charles Robert Richet, awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology, wrote as follows: “Metaphysics is not yet officially a science, recognized as such. But it is going to be. . . . At Edinburgh, I was able to affirm before 100 physiologists that our five senses are not our only means of knowledge and that a fragment of reality sometimes reaches the intelligence in other ways. . . . Because a fact is rare is no reason that it does not exist. Because a study is difficult, is that a reason for not understanding it? . . . Those who have railed at metaphysics as an occult science will be as ashamed of themselves as those who railed at chemistry on the ground that pursuit of the philosopher’s stone was illusory. . . . In the matter of principles there are only those of Lavoisier, Claude Bernard, and Pasteur—the experimental everywhere and always. Greetings, then, to the new science which is going to change the orientation of human thought.”

  16. Samadhi: perfect union of the individualized soul with the Infinite Spirit.

  17. The subconsciously guided rationalizations of the mind are utterly different from the infallible guidance of truth which issues from the superconsciousness. Led by French scientists of the Sorbonne, Western thinkers are beginning to investigate the possibility of divine perception in man.

    “For the past twenty years, students of psychology, influenced by Freud, gave all their time to searching the subconscious realms,” Rabbi Israel H. Levinthal pointed out in 1929. “It is true that the subconscious reveals much of the mystery that can explain human actions, but not all of our actions. It can explain the abnormal, but not deeds that are above the normal. The latest psychology, sponsored by the French schools, has discovered a new region in man, which it terms the superconscious. In contrast to the subconscious which represents the submerged currents of our nature, it reveals the heights to which our nature can reach. Man represents a triple, not a double, personality; our conscious and subconscious being is crowned by a superconsciousness. Many years ago the English psychologist, F. W. H. Myers, suggested that ‘hidden in the deep of our being is a rubbish heap as well as a treasure house.’ In contrast to the psychology that centers all its researches on the subconscious in man’s nature, this new psychology of the superconscious focuses its attention upon the treasure-house, the region that alone can explain the great, unselfish, heroic deeds of men.”

  18. Jnana, wisdom, and bhakti, devotion: two of the main paths to God.

  19. “Man in his waking state puts forth innumerable efforts for experiencing sensual pleasures; when the entire group of sensory organs is fatigued, he forgets even the pleasure on hand and goes to sleep in order to enjoy rest in the soul, his own nature,” Shankara, the great Vedantist, has written. “Ultra-sensual bliss is thus extremely easy of attainment and is far superior to sense delights which always end in disgust.”

  20. Mark 2:27.

  21. The Upanishads or Vedanta (literally, “end of the Vedas”), occur in certain parts of the Vedas as essential summaries. The Upanishads furnish the doctrinal basis of the Hindu religion. They received the following tribute from Schopenhauer: “How entirely does the Upanishad breathe throughout the holy spirit of the Vedas! How is everyone who has become familiar with that incomparable book stirred by that spirit to the very depths of his soul! From every sentence deep, original, and sublime thoughts arise, and the whole is pervaded by a high and holy and earnest spirit. . . . The access to the Vedas by means of the Upanishads is in my eyes the greatest privilege this century may claim before all previous centuries.”

  22. Commentaries. Shankara peerlessly expounded the Upanishads.

  23. Proverbs 16:32.

Chapter: 13

The Sleepless Saint

The Sleepless Saint

Please permit me to go to the Himalayas. I hope in unbroken solitude to achieve continuous divine communion.”

I actually once addressed these ungrateful words to my Master. Seized by one of the unpredictable delusions which occasionally assail the devotee, I felt a growing impatience with hermitage duties and college studies. A feebly extenuating circumstance is that my proposal was made when I had been only six months with Sri Yukteswar. Not yet had I fully surveyed his towering stature.

“Many hillmen live in the Himalayas, yet possess no God-perception.” My guru’s answer came slowly and simply. “Wisdom is better sought from a man of realization than from an inert mountain.”

Ignoring Master’s plain hint that he, and not a hill, was my teacher, I repeated my plea. Sri Yukteswar vouchsafed no reply. I took his silence for consent, a precarious interpretation readily accepted at one’s convenience.

In my Calcutta home that evening, I busied myself with travel preparations. Tying a few articles inside a blanket, I remembered a similar bundle, surreptitiously dropped from my attic window a few years earlier. I wondered if this were to be another ill-starred flight toward the Himalayas. The first time my spiritual elation had been high; tonight conscience smote heavily at thought of leaving my guru.

The following morning I sought out Behari Pundit, my Sanskrit professor at Scottish Church College.

“Sir, you have told me of your friendship with a great disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya. Please give me his address.”

“You mean Ram Gopal Muzumdar. I call him the ‘sleepless saint.’ He is always awake in an ecstatic consciousness. His home is at Ranbajpur, near Tarakeswar.”

I thanked the pundit, and entrained immediately for Tarakeswar. I hoped to silence my misgivings by wringing a sanction from the “sleepless saint” to engage myself in lonely Himalayan meditation. Behari’s friend, I heard, had received illumination after many years of Kriya Yoga practice in isolated caves.

At Tarakeswar I approached a famous shrine. Hindus regard it with the same veneration that Catholics give to the Lourdes sanctuary in France. Innumerable healing miracles have occurred at Tarakeswar, including one for a member of my family.

“I sat in the temple there for a week,” my eldest aunt once told me. “Observing a complete fast, I prayed for the recovery of your Uncle Sarada from a chronic malady. On the seventh day I found a herb materialized in my hand! I made a brew from the leaves, and gave it to your uncle. His disease vanished at once, and has never reappeared.”

I entered the sacred Tarakeswar shrine; the altar contains nothing but a round stone. Its circumference, beginningless and endless, makes it aptly significant of the Infinite. Cosmic abstractions are not alien even to the humblest Indian peasant; he has been accused by Westerners, in fact, of living on abstractions!

My own mood at the moment was so austere that I felt disinclined to bow before the stone symbol. God should be sought, I reflected, only within the soul.

I left the temple without genuflection and walked briskly toward the outlying village of Ranbajpur. My appeal to a passer-by for guidance caused him to sink into long cogitation.

“When you come to a crossroad, turn right and keep going,” he finally pronounced oracularly.

Obeying the directions, I wended my way alongside the banks of a canal. Darkness fell; the outskirts of the jungle village were alive with winking fireflies and the howls of near-by jackals. The moonlight was too faint to supply any reassurance; I stumbled on for two hours.

Welcome clang of a cowbell! My repeated shouts eventually brought a peasant to my side.

“I am looking for Ram Gopal Babu.”

“No such person lives in our village.” The man’s tone was surly. “You are probably a lying detective.”

Hoping to allay suspicion in his politically troubled mind, I touchingly explained my predicament. He took me to his home and offered a hospitable welcome.

“Ranbajpur is far from here,” he remarked. “At the crossroad, you should have turned left, not right.”

My earlier informant, I thought sadly, was a distinct menace to travelers. After a relishable meal of coarse rice, lentil-dhal, and curry of potatoes with raw bananas, I retired to a small hut adjoining the courtyard. In the distance, villagers were singing to the loud accompaniment of mridangas 1 and cymbals. Sleep was inconsiderable that night; I prayed deeply to be directed to the secret yogi, Ram Gopal.

As the first streaks of dawn penetrated the fissures of my dark room, I set out for Ranbajpur. Crossing rough paddy fields, I trudged over sickled stumps of the prickly plant and mounds of dried clay. An occasionally-met peasant would inform me, invariably, that my destination was “only a krosha (two miles).” In six hours the sun traveled victoriously from horizon to meridian, but I began to feel that I would ever be distant from Ranbajpur by one krosha.

At midafternoon my world was still an endless paddy field. Heat pouring from the avoidless sky was bringing me to near-collapse. As a man approached at leisurely pace, I hardly dared utter my usual question, lest it summon the monotonous: “Just a krosha.

The stranger halted beside me. Short and slight, he was physically unimpressive save for an extraordinary pair of piercing dark eyes.

“I was planning to leave Ranbajpur, but your purpose was good, so I awaited you.” He shook his finger in my astounded face. “Aren’t you clever to think that, unannounced, you could pounce on me? That professor Behari had no right to give you my address.”

Considering that introduction of myself would be mere verbosity in the presence of this master, I stood speechless, somewhat hurt at my reception. His next remark was abruptly put.

“Tell me; where do you think God is?”

“Why, He is within me and everywhere.” I doubtless looked as bewildered as I felt.

“All-pervading, eh?” The saint chuckled. “Then why, young sir, did you fail to bow before the Infinite in the stone symbol at the Tarakeswar temple yesterday? 2 Your pride caused you the punishment of being misdirected by the passer-by who was not bothered by fine distinctions of left and right. Today, too, you have had a fairly uncomfortable time of it!”

I agreed wholeheartedly, wonder-struck that an omniscient eye hid within the unremarkable body before me. Healing strength emanated from the yogi; I was instantly refreshed in the scorching field.

“The devotee inclines to think his path to God is the only way,” he said. “Yoga, through which divinity is found within, is doubtless the highest road: so Lahiri Mahasaya has told us. But discovering the Lord within, we soon perceive Him without. Holy shrines at Tarakeswar and elsewhere are rightly venerated as nuclear centers of spiritual power.”

The saint’s censorious attitude vanished; his eyes became compassionately soft. He patted my shoulder.

“Young yogi, I see you are running away from your master. He has everything you need; you must return to him. Mountains cannot be your guru.” Ram Gopal was repeating the same thought which Sri Yukteswar had expressed at our last meeting.

“Masters are under no cosmic compulsion to limit their residence.” My companion glanced at me quizzically. “The Himalayas in India and Tibet have no monopoly on saints. What one does not trouble to find within will not be discovered by transporting the body hither and yon. As soon as the devotee is willing to go even to the ends of the earth for spiritual enlightenment, his guru appears near-by.”

I silently agreed, recalling my prayer in the Benares hermitage, followed by the meeting with Sri Yukteswar in a crowded lane.

“Are you able to have a little room where you can close the door and be alone?”

“Yes.” I reflected that this saint descended from the general to the particular with disconcerting speed.

“That is your cave.” The yogi bestowed on me a gaze of illumination which I have never forgotten. “That is your sacred mountain. That is where you will find the kingdom of God.”

His simple words instantaneously banished my lifelong obsession for the Himalayas. In a burning paddy field I awoke from the monticolous dreams of eternal snows.

“Young sir, your divine thirst is laudable. I feel great love for you.” Ram Gopal took my hand and led me to a quaint hamlet. The adobe houses were covered with coconut leaves and adorned with rustic entrances.

The saint seated me on the umbrageous bamboo platform of his small cottage. After giving me sweetened lime juice and a piece of rock candy, he entered his patio and assumed the lotus posture. In about four hours I opened my meditative eyes and saw that the moonlit figure of the yogi was still motionless. As I was sternly reminding my stomach that man does not live by bread alone, Ram Gopal approached me.

“I see you are famished; food will be ready soon.”

A fire was kindled under a clay oven on the patio; rice and dhal were quickly served on large banana leaves. My host courteously refused my aid in all cooking chores. “The guest is God,” a Hindu proverb, has commanded devout observance from time immemorial. In my later world travels, I was charmed to see that a similar respect for visitors is manifested in rural sections of many countries. The city dweller finds the keen edge of hospitality blunted by superabundance of strange faces.

The marts of men seemed remotely dim as I squatted by the yogi in the isolation of the tiny jungle village. The cottage room was mysterious with a mellow light. Ram Gopal arranged some torn blankets on the floor for my bed, and seated himself on a straw mat. Overwhelmed by his spiritual magnetism, I ventured a request.

“Sir, why don’t you grant me a samadhi?

“Dear one, I would be glad to convey the divine contact, but it is not my place to do so.” The saint looked at me with half-closed eyes. “Your master will bestow that experience shortly. Your body is not tuned just yet. As a small lamp cannot withstand excessive electrical voltage, so your nerves are unready for the cosmic current. If I gave you the infinite ecstasy right now, you would burn as if every cell were on fire.

“You are asking illumination from me,” the yogi continued musingly, “while I am wondering—inconsiderable as I am, and with the little meditation I have done—if I have succeeded in pleasing God, and what worth I may find in His eyes at the final reckoning.”

“Sir, have you not been singleheartedly seeking God for a long time?”

“I have not done much. Behari must have told you something of my life. For twenty years I occupied a secret grotto, meditating eighteen hours a day. Then I moved to a more inaccessible cave and remained there for twenty-five years, entering the yoga union for twenty hours daily. I did not need sleep, for I was ever with God. My body was more rested in the complete calmness of the superconsciousness than it could be by the partial peace of the ordinary subconscious state.

“The muscles relax during sleep, but the heart, lungs, and circulatory system are constantly at work; they get no rest. In superconsciousness, the internal organs remain in a state of suspended animation, electrified by the cosmic energy. By such means I have found it unnecessary to sleep for years. The time will come when you too will dispense with sleep.”

“My goodness, you have meditated for so long and yet are unsure of the Lord’s favor!” I gazed at him in astonishment. “Then what about us poor mortals?”

“Well, don’t you see, my dear boy, that God is Eternity Itself? To assume that one can fully know Him by forty-five years of meditation is rather a preposterous expectation. Babaji assures us, however, that even a little meditation saves one from the dire fear of death and after-death states. Do not fix your spiritual ideal on a small mountain, but hitch it to the star of unqualified divine attainment. If you work hard, you will get there.”

Enthralled by the prospect, I asked him for further enlightening words. He related a wondrous story of his first meeting with Lahiri Mahasaya’s guru, Babaji.3 Around midnight Ram Gopal fell into silence, and I lay down on my blankets. Closing my eyes, I saw flashes of lightning; the vast space within me was a chamber of molten light. I opened my eyes and observed the same dazzling radiance. The room became a part of that infinite vault which I beheld with interior vision.

“Why don’t you go to sleep?”

“Sir, how can I sleep in the presence of lightning, blazing whether my eyes are shut or open?”

“You are blessed to have this experience; the spiritual radiations are not easily seen.” The saint added a few words of affection.

At dawn Ram Gopal gave me rock candies and said I must depart. I felt such reluctance to bid him farewell that tears coursed down my cheeks.

“I will not let you go empty-handed.” The yogi spoke tenderly. “I will do something for you.”

He smiled and looked at me steadfastly. I stood rooted to the ground, peace rushing like a mighty flood through the gates of my eyes. I was instantaneously healed of a pain in my back, which had troubled me intermittently for years. Renewed, bathed in a sea of luminous joy, I wept no more. After touching the saint’s feet, I sauntered into the jungle, making my way through its tropical tangle until I reached Tarakeswar.

There I made a second pilgrimage to the famous shrine, and prostrated myself fully before the altar. The round stone enlarged before my inner vision until it became the cosmical spheres, ring within ring, zone after zone, all dowered with divinity.

I entrained happily an hour later for Calcutta. My travels ended, not in the lofty mountains, but in the Himalayan presence of my Master.

  1. Hand-played drums, used only for devotional music.

  2. One is reminded here of Dostoevski’s observation: “A man who bows down to nothing can never bear the burden of himself.”

  3. See Ram Gopal’s meeting with Babaji toward end of chapter 33.

Chapter: 14

An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness

Experience in Cosmic Consciousness

I am here, Guruji.” My shamefacedness spoke more eloquently for me.

“Let us go to the kitchen and find something to eat.” Sri Yukteswar’s manner was as natural as if hours and not days had separated us.

“Master, I must have disappointed you by my abrupt departure from my duties here; I thought you might be angry with me.”

“No, of course not! Wrath springs only from thwarted desires. I do not expect anything from others, so their actions cannot be in opposition to wishes of mine. I would not use you for my own ends; I am happy only in your own true happiness.”

“Sir, one hears of divine love in a vague way, but for the first time I am having a concrete example in your angelic self! In the world, even a father does not easily forgive his son if he leaves his parent’s business without warning. But you show not the slightest vexation, though you must have been put to great inconvenience by the many unfinished tasks I left behind.”

We looked into each other’s eyes, where tears were shining. A blissful wave engulfed me; I was conscious that the Lord, in the form of my guru, was expanding the small ardors of my heart into the incompressible reaches of cosmic love.

A few mornings later I made my way to Master’s empty sitting room. I planned to meditate, but my laudable purpose was unshared by disobedient thoughts. They scattered like birds before the hunter.

“Mukunda!” Sri Yukteswar’s voice sounded from a distant inner balcony.

I felt as rebellious as my thoughts. “Master always urges me to meditate,” I muttered to myself. “He should not disturb me when he knows why I came to his room.”

He summoned me again; I remained obstinately silent. The third time his tone held rebuke.

“Sir, I am meditating,” I shouted protestingly.

“I know how you are meditating,” my guru called out, “with your mind distributed like leaves in a storm! Come here to me.”

Snubbed and exposed, I made my way sadly to his side.

“Poor boy, the mountains couldn’t give what you wanted.” Master spoke caressively, comfortingly. His calm gaze was unfathomable. “Your heart’s desire shall be fulfilled.”

Sri Yukteswar seldom indulged in riddles; I was bewildered. He struck gently on my chest above the heart.

My body became immovably rooted; breath was drawn out of my lungs as if by some huge magnet. Soul and mind instantly lost their physical bondage, and streamed out like a fluid piercing light from my every pore. The flesh was as though dead, yet in my intense awareness I knew that never before had I been fully alive. My sense of identity was no longer narrowly confined to a body, but embraced the circumambient atoms. People on distant streets seemed to be moving gently over my own remote periphery. The roots of plants and trees appeared through a dim transparency of the soil; I discerned the inward flow of their sap.

The whole vicinity lay bare before me. My ordinary frontal vision was now changed to a vast spherical sight, simultaneously all-perceptive. Through the back of my head I saw men strolling far down Rai Ghat Road, and noticed also a white cow who was leisurely approaching. When she reached the space in front of the open ashram gate, I observed her with my two physical eyes. As she passed by, behind the brick wall, I saw her clearly still.

All objects within my panoramic gaze trembled and vibrated like quick motion pictures. My body, Master’s, the pillared courtyard, the furniture and floor, the trees and sunshine, occasionally became violently agitated, until all melted into a luminescent sea; even as sugar crystals, thrown into a glass of water, dissolve after being shaken. The unifying light alternated with materializations of form, the metamorphoses revealing the law of cause and effect in creation.

An oceanic joy broke upon calm endless shores of my soul. The Spirit of God, I realized, is exhaustless Bliss; His body is countless tissues of light. A swelling glory within me began to envelop towns, continents, the earth, solar and stellar systems, tenuous nebulae, and floating universes. The entire cosmos, gently luminous, like a city seen afar at night, glimmered within the infinitude of my being. The sharply etched global outlines faded somewhat at the farthest edges; there I could see a mellow radiance, ever-undiminished. It was indescribably subtle; the planetary pictures were formed of a grosser light.

The divine dispersion of rays poured from an Eternal Source, blazing into galaxies, transfigured with ineffable auras. Again and again I saw the creative beams condense into constellations, then resolve into sheets of transparent flame. By rhythmic reversion, sextillion worlds passed into diaphanous luster; fire became firmament.

I cognized the center of the empyrean as a point of intuitive perception in my heart. Irradiating splendor issued from my nucleus to every part of the universal structure. Blissful amrita, the nectar of immortality, pulsed through me with a quicksilverlike fluidity. The creative voice of God I heard resounding as Aum,1 the vibration of the Cosmic Motor.

Suddenly the breath returned to my lungs. With a disappointment almost unbearable, I realized that my infinite immensity was lost. Once more I was limited to the humiliating cage of a body, not easily accommodative to the Spirit. Like a prodigal child, I had run away from my macrocosmic home and imprisoned myself in a narrow microcosm.

My guru was standing motionless before me; I started to drop at his holy feet in gratitude for the experience in cosmic consciousness which I had long passionately sought. He held me upright, and spoke calmly, unpretentiously.

“You must not get overdrunk with ecstasy. Much work yet remains for you in the world. Come; let us sweep the balcony floor; then we shall walk by the Ganges.”

I fetched a broom; Master, I knew, was teaching me the secret of balanced living. The soul must stretch over the cosmogonic abysses, while the body performs its daily duties. When we set out later for a stroll, I was still entranced in unspeakable rapture. I saw our bodies as two astral pictures, moving over a road by the river whose essence was sheer light.

“It is the Spirit of God that actively sustains every form and force in the universe; yet He is transcendental and aloof in the blissful uncreated void beyond the worlds of vibratory phenomena,” 2 Master explained. “Saints who realize their divinity even while in the flesh know a similar twofold existence. Conscientiously engaging in earthly work, they yet remain immersed in an inward beatitude. The Lord has created all men from the limitless joy of His being. Though they are painfully cramped by the body, God nevertheless expects that souls made in His image shall ultimately rise above all sense identifications and reunite with Him.”

The cosmic vision left many permanent lessons. By daily stilling my thoughts, I could win release from the delusive conviction that my body was a mass of flesh and bones, traversing the hard soil of matter. The breath and the restless mind, I saw, were like storms which lashed the ocean of light into waves of material forms—earth, sky, human beings, animals, birds, trees. No perception of the Infinite as One Light could be had except by calming those storms. As often as I silenced the two natural tumults, I beheld the multitudinous waves of creation melt into one lucent sea, even as the waves of the ocean, their tempests subsiding, serenely dissolve into unity.

A master bestows the divine experience of cosmic consciousness when his disciple, by meditation, has strengthened his mind to a degree where the vast vistas would not overwhelm him. The experience can never be given through one’s mere intellectual willingness or open-mindedness. Only adequate enlargement by yoga practice and devotional bhakti can prepare the mind to absorb the liberating shock of omnipresence. It comes with a natural inevitability to the sincere devotee. His intense craving begins to pull at God with an irresistible force. The Lord, as the Cosmic Vision, is drawn by the seeker’s magnetic ardor into his range of consciousness.

I wrote, in my later years, the following poem, “Samadhi,” endeavoring to convey the glory of its cosmic state:

Vanished the veils of light and shade,
Lifted every vapor of sorrow,
Sailed away all dawns of fleeting joy,
Gone the dim sensory mirage.
Love, hate, health, disease, life, death,
Perished these false shadows on the screen of duality.
Waves of laughter, scyllas of sarcasm, melancholic whirlpools,
Melting in the vast sea of bliss.
The storm of maya stilled
By magic wand of intuition deep.
The universe, forgotten dream, subconsciously lurks,
Ready to invade my newly-wakened memory divine.
I live without the cosmic shadow,
But it is not, bereft of me;
As the sea exists without the waves,
But they breathe not without the sea.
Dreams, wakings, states of deep turia sleep,
Present, past, future, no more for me,
But ever-present, all-flowing I, I, everywhere.
Planets, stars, stardust, earth,
Volcanic bursts of doomsday cataclysms,
Creation’s molding furnace,
Glaciers of silent x-rays, burning electron floods,
Thoughts of all men, past, present, to come,
Every blade of grass, myself, mankind,
Each particle of universal dust,
Anger, greed, good, bad, salvation, lust,
I swallowed, transmuted all
Into a vast ocean of blood of my own one Being!
Smoldering joy, oft-puffed by meditation
Blinding my tearful eyes,
Burst into immortal flames of bliss,
Consumed my tears, my frame, my all.
Thou art I, I am Thou,
Knowing, Knower, Known, as One!
Tranquilled, unbroken thrill, eternally living, ever-new peace!
Enjoyable beyond imagination of expectancy, samadhi bliss!
Not an unconscious state
Or mental chloroform without wilful return,
Samadhi but extends my conscious realm
Beyond limits of the mortal frame
To farthest boundary of eternity
Where I, the Cosmic Sea,
Watch the little ego floating in Me.
The sparrow, each grain of sand, fall not without My sight.
All space floats like an iceberg in My mental sea.
Colossal Container, I, of all things made.
By deeper, longer, thirsty, guru-given meditation
Comes this celestial samadhi.
Mobile murmurs of atoms are heard,
The dark earth, mountains, vales, lo! molten liquid!
Flowing seas change into vapors of nebulae!
Aum blows upon vapors, opening wondrously their veils,
Oceans stand revealed, shining electrons,
Till, at last sound of the cosmic drum,
Vanish the grosser lights into eternal rays
Of all-pervading bliss.
From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy I melt.
Ocean of mind, I drink all creation’s waves.
Four veils of solid, liquid, vapor, light,
Lift aright.
Myself, in everything, enters the Great Myself.
Gone forever, fitful, flickering shadows of mortal memory.
Spotless is my mental sky, below, ahead, and high above.
Eternity and I, one united ray.
A tiny bubble of laughter, I
Am become the Sea of Mirth Itself.

Sri Yukteswar taught me how to summon the blessed experience at will, and also how to transmit it to others if their intuitive channels were developed. For months I entered the ecstatic union, comprehending why the Upanishads say God is rasa, “the most relishable.” One day, however, I took a problem to Master.

“I want to know, sir—when shall I find God?”

“You have found Him.”

“O no, sir, I don’t think so!”

My guru was smiling. “I am sure you aren’t expecting a venerable Personage, adorning a throne in some antiseptic corner of the cosmos! I see, however, that you are imagining that the possession of miraculous powers is knowledge of God. One might have the whole universe, and find the Lord elusive still! Spiritual advancement is not measured by one’s outward powers, but only by the depth of his bliss in meditation.

Ever-new Joy is God. He is inexhaustible; as you continue your meditations during the years, He will beguile you with an infinite ingenuity. Devotees like yourself who have found the way to God never dream of exchanging Him for any other happiness; He is seductive beyond thought of competition.

“How quickly we weary of earthly pleasures! Desire for material things is endless; man is never satisfied completely, and pursues one goal after another. The ‘something else’ he seeks is the Lord, who alone can grant lasting joy.

“Outward longings drive us from the Eden within; they offer false pleasures which only impersonate soul-happiness. The lost paradise is quickly regained through divine meditation. As God is unanticipatory Ever-Newness, we never tire of Him. Can we be surfeited with bliss, delightfully varied throughout eternity?”

“I understand now, sir, why saints call the Lord unfathomable. Even everlasting life could not suffice to appraise Him.”

“That is true; but He is also near and dear. After the mind has been cleared by Kriya Yoga of sensory obstacles, meditation furnishes a twofold proof of God. Ever-new joy is evidence of His existence, convincing to our very atoms. Also, in meditation one finds His instant guidance, His adequate response to every difficulty.”

“I see, Guruji; you have solved my problem.” I smiled gratefully. “I do realize now that I have found God, for whenever the joy of meditation has returned subconsciously during my active hours, I have been subtly directed to adopt the right course in everything, even details.”

“Human life is beset with sorrow until we know how to tune in with the Divine Will, whose ‘right course’ is often baffling to the egoistic intelligence. God bears the burden of the cosmos; He alone can give unerring counsel.”

  1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”—John 1:1.

  2. “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.”—John 5:22. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”—John 1:18. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”—John 14:12. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said to you.”—John 14:26.

    These Biblical words refer to the threefold nature of God as Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Sat, Tat, Aum in the Hindu scriptures). God the Father is the Absolute, Unmanifested, existing beyond vibratory creation. God the Son is the Christ Consciousness (Brahma or Kutastha Chaitanya) existing within vibratory creation; this Christ Consciousness is the “only begotten” or sole reflection of the Uncreated Infinite. Its outward manifestation or “witness” is Aum or Holy Ghost, the divine, creative, invisible power which structures all creation through vibration. Aum the blissful Comforter is heard in meditation and reveals to the devotee the ultimate Truth.

Chapter: 15

The Cauliflower Robbery

The Cauliflower Robbery

Master, a gift for you! These six huge cauliflowers were planted with my hands; I have watched over their growth with the tender care of a mother nursing her child.” I presented the basket of vegetables with a ceremonial flourish.

“Thank you!” Sri Yukteswar’s smile was warm with appreciation. “Please keep them in your room; I shall need them tomorrow for a special dinner.”

My guru’s seaside hermitage at Puri

My guru’s seaside hermitage at Puri

A steady stream of visitors poured from the world into the hermitage tranquillity. A number of learned men came with the expectation of meeting an orthodox religionist. A supercilious smile or a glance of amused tolerance occasionally betreayed that the newcomers anticipated nothing more than a few pious platitudes. Yet their reluctant departure would bring an expressed conviction that Sri Yukteswar had shown precise insight into their specialized fields of knowledge.

My guru always had young resident disciples in his hermitage. He directed their minds and lives with that careful discipline in which the word “disciple” is etymologically rooted.

I had just arrived in Puri 1 to spend my college summer vacation with my guru at his seaside hermitage. Built by Master and his disciples, the cheerful little two-storied retreat fronts on the Bay of Bengal.

I awoke early the following morning, refreshed by the salty sea breezes and the charm of my surroundings. Sri Yukteswar’s melodious voice was calling; I took a look at my cherished cauliflowers and stowed them neatly under my bed.

“Come, let us go to the beach.” Master led the way; several young disciples and myself followed in a scattered group. Our guru surveyed us in mild criticism.

“When our Western brothers walk, they usually take pride in unison. Now, please march in two rows; keep rhythmic step with one another.” Sri Yukteswar watched as we obeyed; he began to sing: “Boys go to and fro, in a pretty little row.” I could not but admire the ease with which Master was able to match the brisk pace of his young students.

“Halt!” My guru’s eyes sought mine. “Did you remember to lock the back door of the hermitage?”

“I think so, sir.”

Sri Yukteswar was silent for a few minutes, a half-suppressed smile on his lips. “No, you forgot,” he said finally. “Divine contemplation must not be made an excuse for material carelessness. You have neglected your duty in safeguarding the ashram; you must be punished.”

I thought he was obscurely joking when he added: “Your six cauliflowers will soon be only five.”

We turned around at Master’s orders and marched back until we were close to the hermitage.

“Rest awhile. Mukunda, look across the compound on our left; observe the road beyond. A certain man will arrive there presently; he will be the means of your chastisement.”

I concealed my vexation at these incomprehensible remarks. A peasant soon appeared on the road; he was dancing grotesquely and flinging his arms about with meaningless gestures. Almost paralyzed with curiosity, I glued my eyes on the hilarious spectacle. As the man reached a point in the road where he would vanish from our view, Sri Yukteswar said, “Now, he will return.”

The peasant at once changed his direction and made for the rear of the ashram. Crossing a sandy tract, he entered the building by the back door. I had left it unlocked, even as my guru had said. The man emerged shortly, holding one of my prized cauliflowers. He now strode along respectably, invested with the dignity of possession.

The unfolding farce, in which my role appeared to be that of bewildered victim, was not so disconcerting that I failed in indignant pursuit. I was halfway to the road when Master recalled me. He was shaking from head to foot with laughter.

“That poor crazy man has been longing for a cauliflower,” he explained between outbursts of mirth. “I thought it would be a good idea if he got one of yours, so ill-guarded!”

I dashed to my room, where I found that the thief, evidently one with a vegetable fixation, had left untouched my gold rings, watch, and money, all lying openly on the blanket. He had crawled instead under the bed where, completely hidden from casual sight, one of my cauliflowers had aroused his singlehearted desire.

I asked Sri Yukteswar that evening to explain the incident which had, I thought, a few baffling features.

My guru shook his head slowly. “You will understand it someday. Science will soon discover a few of these hidden laws.”

When the wonders of radio burst some years later on an astounded world, I remembered Master’s prediction. Age-old concepts of time and space were annihilated; no peasant’s home so narrow that London or Calcutta could not enter! The dullest intelligence enlarged before indisputable proof of one aspect of man’s omnipresence.

The “plot” of the cauliflower comedy can be best understood by a radio analogy. Sri Yukteswar was a perfect human radio. Thoughts are no more than very gentle vibrations moving in the ether. Just as a sensitized radio picks up a desired musical number out of thousands of other programs from every direction, so my guru had been able to catch the thought of the half-witted man who hankered for a cauliflower, out of the countless thoughts of broadcasting human wills in the world.2

By his powerful will, Master was also a human broadcasting station, and had successfully directed the peasant to reverse his steps and go to a certain room for a single cauliflower.

Intuition 3 is soul guidance, appearing naturally in man during those instants when his mind is calm. Nearly everyone has had the experience of an inexplicably correct “hunch,” or has transferred his thoughts effectively to another person.

The human mind, free from the static of restlessness, can perform through its antenna of intuition all the functions of complicated radio mechanisms—sending and receiving thoughts, and tuning out undesirable ones. As the power of a radio depends on the amount of electrical current it can utilize, so the human radio is energized according to the power of will possessed by each individual.

All thoughts vibrate eternally in the cosmos. By deep concentration, a master is able to detect the thoughts of any mind, living or dead. Thoughts are universally and not individually rooted; a truth cannot be created, but only perceived. The erroneous thoughts of man result from imperfections in his discernment. The goal of yoga science is to calm the mind, that without distortion it may mirror the divine vision in the universe.

Radio and television have brought the instantaneous sound and sight of remote persons to the firesides of millions: the first faint scientific intimations that man is an all-pervading spirit. Not a body confined to a point in space, but the vast soul, which the ego in most barbaric modes conspires in vain to cramp.

“Very strange, very wonderful, seemingly very improbable phenomena may yet appear which, when once established, will not astonish us more than we are now astonished at all that science has taught us during the last century,” Charles Robert Richet, Nobel Prizeman in physiology, has declared. “It is assumed that the phenomena which we now accept without surprise, do not excite our astonishment because they are understood. But this is not the case. If they do not surprise us it is not because they are understood, it is because they are familiar; for if that which is not understood ought to surprise us, we should be surprised at everything—the fall of a stone thrown into the air, the acorn which becomes an oak, mercury which expands when it is heated, iron attracted by a magnet, phosphorus which burns when it is rubbed. . . . The science of today is a light matter; the revolutions and evolutions which it will experience in a hundred thousand years will far exceed the most daring anticipations. The truths—those surprising, amazing, unforeseen truths—which our descendants will discover, are even now all around us, staring us in the eyes, so to speak, and yet we do not see them. But it is not enough to say that we do not see them; we do not wish to see them; for as soon as an unexpected and unfamiliar fact appears, we try to fit it into the framework of the commonplaces of acquired knowledge, and we are indignant that anyone should dare to experiment further.”

A humorous occurrence took place a few days after I had been so implausibly robbed of a cauliflower. A certain kerosene lamp could not be found. Having so lately witnessed my guru’s omniscient insight, I thought he would demonstrate that it was child’s play to locate the lamp.

Master perceived my expectation. With exaggerated gravity he questioned all ashram residents. A young disciple confessed that he had used the lamp to go to the well in the back yard.

Sri Yukteswar gave the solemn counsel: “Seek the lamp near the well.”

I rushed there; no lamp! Crestfallen, I returned to my guru. He was now laughing heartily, without compunction for my disillusionment.

“Too bad I couldn’t direct you to the vanished lamp; I am not a fortune teller!” With twinkling eyes, he added, “I am not even a satisfactory Sherlock Holmes!”

I realized that Master would never display his powers when challenged, or for a triviality.

Delightful weeks sped by. Sri Yukteswar was planning a religious procession. He asked me to lead the disciples over the town and beach of Puri. The festive day dawned as one of the hottest of the summer.

“Guruji, how can I take the barefooted students over the fiery sands?” I spoke despairingly.

“I will tell you a secret,” Master responded. “The Lord will send an umbrella of clouds; you all shall walk in comfort.”

I happily organized the procession; our group started from the ashram with a Sat-Sanga banner.4 Designed by Sri Yukteswar, it bore the symbol of the single 5 eye, the telescopic gaze of intuition.

No sooner had we left the hermitage than the part of the sky which was overhead became filled with clouds as though by magic. To the accompaniment of astonished ejaculations from all sides, a very light shower fell, cooling the city streets and the burning seashore. The soothing drops descended during the two hours of the parade. The exact instant at which our group returned to the ashram, the clouds and rain passed away tracelessly.

“You see how God feels for us,” Master replied after I had expressed my gratitude. “The Lord responds to all and works for all. Just as He sent rain at my plea, so He fulfills any sincere desire of the devotee. Seldom do men realize how often God heeds their prayers. He is not partial to a few, but listens to everyone who approaches Him trustingly. His children should ever have implicit faith in the loving-kindness of their Omnipresent Father.” 6

Sri Yukteswar sponsored four yearly festivals, at the equinoxes and solstices, when his students gathered from far and near. The winter solstice celebration was held in Serampore; the first one I attended left me with a permanent blessing.

The festivities started in the morning with a barefoot procession along the streets. The voices of a hundred students rang out with sweet religious songs; a few musicians played the flute and khol kartal (drums and cymbals). Enthusiastic townspeople strewed the path with flowers, glad to be summoned from prosaic tasks by our resounding praise of the Lord’s blessed name. The long tour ended in the courtyard of the hermitage. There we encircled our guru, while students on upper balconies showered us with marigold blossoms.

Many guests went upstairs to receive a pudding of channa and oranges. I made my way to a group of brother disciples who were serving today as cooks. Food for such large gatherings had to be cooked outdoors in huge cauldrons. The improvised wood-burning brick stoves were smoky and tear-provoking, but we laughed merrily at our work. Religious festivals in India are never considered troublesome; each one does his part, supplying money, rice, vegetables, or his personal services.

Master was soon in our midst, supervising the details of the feast. Busy every moment, he kept pace with the most energetic young student.

A sankirtan (group chanting), accompanied by the harmonium and hand-played Indian drums, was in progress on the second floor. Sri Yukteswar listened appreciatively; his musical sense was acutely perfect.

“They are off key!” Master left the cooks and joined the artists. The melody was heard again, this time correctly rendered.

In India, music as well as painting and the drama is considered a divine art. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva—the Eternal Trinity—were the first musicians. The Divine Dancer Shiva is scripturally represented as having worked out the infinite modes of rhythm in His cosmic dance of universal creation, preservation, and dissolution, while Brahma accentuated the time-beat with the clanging cymbals, and Vishnu sounded the holy mridanga or drum. Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, is always shown in Hindu art with a flute, on which he plays the enrapturing song that recalls to their true home the human souls wandering in maya-delusion. Saraswati, goddess of wisdom, is symbolized as performing on the vina, mother of all stringed instruments. The Sama Veda of India contains the world’s earliest writings on musical science.

The foundation stone of Hindu music is the ragas or fixed melodic scales. The six basic ragas branch out into 126 derivative raginis (wives) and putras (sons). Each raga has a minimum of five notes: a leading note (vadi or king), a secondary note (samavadi or prime minister), helping notes (anuvadi, attendants), and a dissonant note (vivadi, the enemy).

Each one of the six basic ragas has a natural correspondence with a certain hour of the day, season of the year, and a presiding deity who bestows a particular potency. Thus, (1) the Hindole Raga is heard only at dawn in the spring, to evoke the mood of universal love; (2) Deepaka Raga is played during the evening in summer, to arouse compassion; (3) Megha Raga is a melody for midday in the rainy season, to summon courage; (4) Bhairava Raga is played in the mornings of August, September, October, to achieve tranquillity; (5) Sri Raga is reserved for autumn twilights, to attain pure love; (6) Malkounsa Raga is heard at midnights in winter, for valor.

The ancient rishis discovered these laws of sound alliance between nature and man. Because nature is an objectification of Aum, the Primal Sound or Vibratory Word, man can obtain control over all natural manifestations through the use of certain mantras or chants.7 Historical documents tell of the remarkable powers possessed by Miyan Tan Sen, sixteenth century court musician for Akbar the Great. Commanded by the Emperor to sing a night raga while the sun was overhead, Tan Sen intoned a mantra which instantly caused the whole palace precincts to become enveloped in darkness.

Indian music divides the octave into 22 srutis or demi-semitones. These microtonal intervals permit fine shades of musical expression unattainable by the Western chromatic scale of 12 semitones. Each one of the seven basic notes of the octave is associated in Hindu mythology with a color, and the natural cry of a bird or beast—Do with green, and the peacock; Re with red, and the skylark; Mi with golden, and the goat; Fa with yellowish white, and the heron; Sol with black, and the nightingale; La with yellow, and the horse; Si with a combination of all colors, and the elephant.

Three scales—major, harmonic minor, melodic minor—are the only ones which Occidental music employs, but Indian music outlines 72 thatas or scales. The musician has a creative scope for endless improvisation around the fixed traditional melody or raga; he concentrates on the sentiment or definitive mood of the structural theme and then embroiders it to the limits of his own originality. The Hindu musician does not read set notes; he clothes anew at each playing the bare skeleton of the raga, often confining himself to a single melodic sequence, stressing by repetition all its subtle microtonal and rhythmic variations. Bach, among Western composers, had an understanding of the charm and power of repetitious sound slightly differentiated in a hundred complex ways.

Ancient Sanskrit literature describes 120 talas or time-measures. The traditional founder of Hindu music, Bharata, is said to have isolated 32 kinds of tala in the song of a lark. The origin of tala or rhythm is rooted in human movements—the double time of walking, and the triple time of respiration in sleep, when inhalation is twice the length of exhalation. India has always recognized the human voice as the most perfect instrument of sound. Hindu music therefore largely confines itself to the voice range of three octaves. For the same reason, melody (relation of successive notes) is stressed, rather than harmony (relation of simultaneous notes).

The deeper aim of the early rishi-musicians was to blend the singer with the Cosmic Song which can be heard through awakening of man’s occult spinal centers. Indian music is a subjective, spiritual, and individualistic art, aiming not at symphonic brilliance but at personal harmony with the Oversoul. The Sanskrit word for musician is bhagavathar, “he who sings the praises of God.” The sankirtans or musical gatherings are an effective form of yoga or spiritual discipline, necessitating deep concentration, intense absorption in the seed thought and sound. Because man himself is an expression of the Creative Word, sound has the most potent and immediate effect on him, offering a way to remembrance of his divine origin.

The sankirtan issuing from Sri Yukteswar’s second-story sitting room on the day of the festival was inspiring to the cooks amidst the steaming pots. My brother disciples and I joyously sang the refrains, beating time with our hands.

By sunset we had served our hundreds of visitors with khichuri (rice and lentils), vegetable curry, and rice pudding. We laid cotton blankets over the courtyard; soon the assemblage was squatting under the starry vault, quietly attentive to the wisdom pouring from Sri Yukteswar’s lips. His public speeches emphasized the value of Kriya Yoga, and a life of self-respect, calmness, determination, simple diet, and regular exercise.

A group of very young disciples then chanted a few sacred hymns; the meeting concluded with sankirtan. From ten o’clock until midnight, the ashram residents washed pots and pans, and cleared the courtyard. My guru called me to his side.

“I am pleased over your cheerful labors today and during the past week of preparations. I want you with me; you may sleep in my bed tonight.”

This was a privilege I had never thought would fall to my lot. We sat awhile in a state of intense divine tranquillity. Hardly ten minutes after we had gotten into bed, Master rose and began to dress.

“What is the matter, sir?” I felt a tinge of unreality in the unexpected joy of sleeping beside my guru.

“I think that a few students who missed their proper train connections will be here soon. Let us have some food ready.”

“Guruji, no one would come at one o’clock in the morning!”

“Stay in bed; you have been working very hard. But I am going to cook.”

At Sri Yukteswar’s resolute tone, I jumped up and followed him to the small daily-used kitchen adjacent to the second-floor inner balcony. Rice and dhal were soon boiling.

My guru smiled affectionately. “Tonight you have conquered fatigue and fear of hard work; you shall never be bothered by them in the future.”

As he uttered these words of lifelong blessing, footsteps sounded in the courtyard. I ran downstairs and admitted a group of students.

“Dear brother, how reluctant we are to disturb Master at this hour!” One man addressed me apologetically. “We made a mistake about train schedules, but felt we could not return home without a glimpse of our guru.”

“He has been expecting you and is even now preparing your food.”

Sri Yukteswar’s welcoming voice rang out; I led the astonished visitors to the kitchen. Master turned to me with twinkling eyes.

“Now that you have finished comparing notes, no doubt you are satisfied that our guests really did miss their train!”

I followed him to his bedroom a half hour later, realizing fully that I was about to sleep beside a godlike guru.

  1. Puri, about 310 miles south of Calcutta, is a famous pilgrimage city for devotees of Krishna; his worship is celebrated there with two immense annual festivals, Snanayatra and Rathayatra.

  2. The 1939 discovery of a radio microscope revealed a new world of hitherto unknown rays. “Man himself as well as all kinds of supposedly inert matter constantly emits the rays that this instrument ‘sees,’” reported the Associated Press. “Those who believe in telepathy, second sight, and clairvoyance, have in this announcement the first scientific proof of the existence of invisible rays which really travel from one person to another. The radio device actually is a radio frequency spectroscope. It does the same thing for cool, nonglowing matter that the spectroscope does when it discloses the kinds of atoms that make the stars. . . . The existence of such rays coming from man and all living things has been suspected by scientists for many years. Today is the first experimental proof of their existence. The discovery shows that every atom and every molecule in nature is a continuous radio broadcasting station. . . . Thus even after death the substance that was a man continues to send out its delicate rays. The wave lengths of these rays range from shorter than anything now used in broadcasting to the longest kind of radio waves. The jumble of these rays is almost inconceivable. There are millions of them. A single very large molecule may give off 1,000,000 different wave lengths at the same time. The longer wave lengths of this sort travel with the ease and speed of radio waves. . . . There is one amazing difference between the new radio rays and familiar rays like light. This is the prolonged time, amounting to thousands of years, which these radio waves will keep on emitting from undisturbed matter.”

  3. One hesitates to use “intuition”; Hitler has almost ruined the word along with more ambitious devastations. The Latin root meaning of intuition is “inner protection.” The Sanskrit word agama means intuitional knowledge born of direct soul-perception; hence certain ancient treatises by the rishis were called agamas.

  4. Sat is literally “being,” hence “essence; reality.” Sanga is “association.” Sri Yukteswar called his hermitage organization Sat-Sanga, “fellowship with truth.”

  5. “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”—Matthew 6:22. During deep meditation, the single or spiritual eye becomes visible within the central part of the forehead. This omniscient eye is variously referred to in scriptures as the third eye, the star of the East, the inner eye, the dove descending from heaven, the eye of Shiva, the eye of intuition, etc.

  6. “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see? . . . he that teacheth man knowledge, shall he not know?”—Psalm 94:9-10.

  7. Folklore of all peoples contains references to incantations with power over nature. The American Indians are well-known to have developed sound rituals for rain and wind. Tan Sen, the great Hindu musician, was able to quench fire by the power of his song. Charles Kellogg, the California naturalist, gave a demonstration of the effect of tonal vibration on fire in 1926 before a group of New York firemen. “Passing a bow, like an enlarged violin bow, swiftly across an aluminum tuning fork, he produced a screech like intense radio static. Instantly the yellow gas flame, two feet high, leaping inside a hollow glass tube, subsided to a height of six inches and became a sputtering blue flare. Another attempt with the bow, and another screech of vibration, extinguished it.”

Chapter: 16

Outwitting the Stars

Outwitting the Stars

Mukunda, why don’t you get an astrological armlet?”

“Should I, Master? I don’t believe in astrology.”

“It is never a question of belief; the only scientific attitude one can take on any subject is whether it is true. The law of gravitation worked as efficiently before Newton as after him. The cosmos would be fairly chaotic if its laws could not operate without the sanction of human belief.

“Charlatans have brought the stellar science to its present state of disrepute. Astrology is too vast, both mathematically 1 and philosophically, to be rightly grasped except by men of profound understanding. If ignoramuses misread the heavens, and see there a scrawl instead of a script, that is to be expected in this imperfect world. One should not dismiss the wisdom with the ‘wise.’

“All parts of creation are linked together and interchange their influences. The balanced rhythm of the universe is rooted in reciprocity,” my guru continued. “Man, in his human aspect, has to combat two sets of forces—first, the tumults within his being, caused by the admixture of earth, water, fire, air, and ethereal elements; second, the outer disintegrating powers of nature. So long as man struggles with his mortality, he is affected by the myriad mutations of heaven and earth.

“Astrology is the study of man’s response to planetary stimuli. The stars have no conscious benevolence or animosity; they merely send forth positive and negative radiations. Of themselves, these do not help or harm humanity, but offer a lawful channel for the outward operation of cause-effect equilibriums which each man has set into motion in the past.

“A child is born on that day and at that hour when the celestial rays are in mathematical harmony with his individual karma. His horoscope is a challenging portrait, revealing his unalterable past and its probable future results. But the natal chart can be rightly interpreted only by men of intuitive wisdom: these are few.

“The message boldly blazoned across the heavens at the moment of birth is not meant to emphasize fate—the result of past good and evil—but to arouse man’s will to escape from his universal thralldom. What he has done, he can undo. None other than himself was the instigator of the causes of whatever effects are now prevalent in his life. He can overcome any limitation, because he created it by his own actions in the first place, and because he has spiritual resources which are not subject to planetary pressure.

“Superstitious awe of astrology makes one an automaton, slavishly dependent on mechanical guidance. The wise man defeats his planets—which is to say, his past—by transferring his allegiance from the creation to the Creator. The more he realizes his unity with Spirit, the less he can be dominated by matter. The soul is ever-free; it is deathless because birthless. It cannot be regimented by stars.

“Man is a soul, and has a body. When he properly places his sense of identity, he leaves behind all compulsive patterns. So long as he remains confused in his ordinary state of spiritual amnesia, he will know the subtle fetters of environmental law.

“God is harmony; the devotee who attunes himself will never perform any action amiss. His activities will be correctly and naturally timed to accord with astrological law. After deep prayer and meditation he is in touch with his divine consciousness; there is no greater power than that inward protection.”

“Then, dear Master, why do you want me to wear an astrological bangle?” I ventured this question after a long silence, during which I had tried to assimilate Sri Yukteswar’s noble exposition.

“It is only when a traveler has reached his goal that he is justified in discarding his maps. During the journey, he takes advantage of any convenient short cut. The ancient rishis discovered many ways to curtail the period of man’s exile in delusion. There are certain mechanical features in the law of karma which can be skillfully adjusted by the fingers of wisdom.

“All human ills arise from some transgression of universal law. The scriptures point out that man must satisfy the laws of nature, while not discrediting the divine omnipotence. He should say: ‘Lord, I trust in Thee, and know Thou canst help me, but I too will do my best to undo any wrong I have done.’ By a number of means—by prayer, by will power, by yoga meditation, by consultation with saints, by use of astrological bangles—the adverse effects of past wrongs can be minimized or nullified.

“Just as a house can be fitted with a copper rod to absorb the shock of lightning, so the bodily temple can be benefited by various protective measures. Ages ago our yogis discovered that pure metals emit an astral light which is powerfully counteractive to negative pulls of the planets. Subtle electrical and magnetic radiations are constantly circulating in the universe; when a man’s body is being aided, he does not know it; when it is being disintegrated, he is still in ignorance. Can he do anything about it?

“This problem received attention from our rishis; they found helpful not only a combination of metals, but also of plants and—most effective of all—faultless jewels of not less than two carats. The preventive uses of astrology have seldom been seriously studied outside of India. One little-known fact is that the proper jewels, metals, or plant preparations are valueless unless the required weight is secured, and unless these remedial agents are worn next to the skin.”

“Sir, of course I shall take your advice and get a bangle. I am intrigued at the thought of outwitting a planet!”

“For general purposes I counsel the use of an armlet made of gold, silver, and copper. But for a specific purpose I want you to get one of silver and lead.” Sri Yukteswar added careful directions.

“Guruji, what ‘specific purpose’ do you mean?”

“The stars are about to take an unfriendly interest in you, Mukunda. Fear not; you shall be protected. In about a month your liver will cause you much trouble. The illness is scheduled to last for six months, but your use of an astrological armlet will shorten the period to twenty-four days.”

I sought out a jeweler the next day, and was soon wearing the bangle. My health was excellent; Master’s prediction slipped from my mind. He left Serampore to visit Benares. Thirty days after our conversation, I felt a sudden pain in the region of my liver. The following weeks were a nightmare of excruciating pain. Reluctant to disturb my guru, I thought I would bravely endure my trial alone.

But twenty-three days of torture weakened my resolution; I entrained for Benares. There Sri Yukteswar greeted me with unusual warmth, but gave me no opportunity to tell him my woes in private. Many devotees visited Master that day, just for a darshan.2 Ill and neglected, I sat in a corner. It was not until after the evening meal that all guests had departed. My guru summoned me to the octagonal balcony of the house.

“You must have come about your liver disorder.” Sri Yukteswar’s gaze was averted; he walked to and fro, occasionally intercepting the moonlight. “Let me see; you have been ailing for twenty-four days, haven’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Please do the stomach exercise I have taught you.”

“If you knew the extent of my suffering, Master, you would not ask me to exercise.” Nevertheless I made a feeble attempt to obey him.

“You say you have pain; I say you have none. How can such contradictions exist?” My guru looked at me inquiringly.

I was dazed and then overcome with joyful relief. No longer could I feel the continuous torment that had kept me nearly sleepless for weeks; at Sri Yukteswar’s words the agony vanished as though it had never been.

I started to kneel at his feet in gratitude, but he quickly prevented me.

“Don’t be childish. Get up and enjoy the beauty of the moon over the Ganges.” But Master’s eyes were twinkling happily as I stood in silence beside him. I understood by his attitude that he wanted me to feel that not he, but God, had been the Healer.

I wear even now the heavy silver and lead bangle, a memento of that day—long-past, ever-cherished—when I found anew that I was living with a personage indeed superhuman. On later occasions, when I brought my friends to Sri Yukteswar for healing, he invariably recommended jewels or the bangle, extolling their use as an act of astrological wisdom.

I had been prejudiced against astrology from my childhood, partly because I observed that many people are sequaciously attached to it, and partly because of a prediction made by our family astrologer: “You will marry three times, being twice a widower.” I brooded over the matter, feeling like a goat awaiting sacrifice before the temple of triple matrimony.

“You may as well be resigned to your fate,” my brother Ananta had remarked. “Your written horoscope has correctly stated that you would fly from home toward the Himalayas during your early years, but would be forcibly returned. The forecast of your marriages is also bound to be true.”

A clear intuition came to me one night that the prophecy was wholly false. I set fire to the horoscope scroll, placing the ashes in a paper bag on which I wrote: “Seeds of past karma cannot germinate if they are roasted in the divine fires of wisdom.” I put the bag in a conspicuous spot; Ananta immediately read my defiant comment.

“You cannot destroy truth as easily as you have burnt this paper scroll.” My brother laughed scornfully.

It is a fact that on three occasions before I reached manhood, my family tried to arrange my betrothal. Each time I refused to fall in with the plans,3 knowing that my love for God was more overwhelming than any astrological persuasion from the past.

“The deeper the self-realization of a man, the more he influences the whole universe by his subtle spiritual vibrations, and the less he himself is affected by the phenomenal flux.” These words of Master’s often returned inspiringly to my mind.

Occasionally I told astrologers to select my worst periods, according to planetary indications, and I would still accomplish whatever task I set myself. It is true that my success at such times has been accompanied by extraordinary difficulties. But my conviction has always been justified: faith in the divine protection, and the right use of man’s God-given will, are forces formidable beyond any the “inverted bowl” can muster.

The starry inscription at one’s birth, I came to understand, is not that man is a puppet of his past. Its message is rather a prod to pride; the very heavens seek to arouse man’s determination to be free from every limitation. God created each man as a soul, dowered with individuality, hence essential to the universal structure, whether in the temporary role of pillar or parasite. His freedom is final and immediate, if he so wills; it depends not on outer but inner victories.

Sri Yukteswar discovered the mathematical application of a 24,000-year equinoctial cycle to our present age.4 The cycle is divided into an Ascending Arc and a Descending Arc, each of 12,000 years. Within each Arc fall four Yugas or Ages, called Kali, Dwapara, Treta, and Satya, corresponding to the Greek ideas of Iron, Bronze, Silver, and Golden Ages.

My guru determined by various calculations that the last Kali Yuga or Iron Age, of the Ascending Arc, started about A.D. 500. The Iron Age, 1200 years in duration, is a span of materialism; it ended about A.D. 1700. That year ushered in Dwapara Yuga, a 2400-year period of electrical and atomic-energy developments, the age of telegraph, radio, airplanes, and other space-annihilators.

The 3600-year period of Treta Yuga will start in A.D. 4100; its age will be marked by common knowledge of telepathic communications and other time-annihilators. During the 4800 years of Satya Yuga, final age in an ascending arc, the intelligence of a man will be completely developed; he will work in harmony with the divine plan.

A descending arc of 12,000 years, starting with a descending Golden Age of 4800 years, then begins 5 for the world; man gradually sinks into ignorance. These cycles are the eternal rounds of maya, the contrasts and relativities of the phenomenal universe.6 Man, one by one, escapes from creation’s prison of duality as he awakens to consciousness of his inseverable divine unity with the Creator.

Master enlarged my understanding not only of astrology but of the world’s scriptures. Placing the holy texts on the spotless table of his mind, he was able to dissect them with the scalpel of intuitive reasoning, and to separate errors and interpolations of scholars from the truths as originally expressed by the prophets.

“Fix one’s vision on the end of the nose.” This inaccurate interpretation of a Bhagavad Gita stanza,7 widely accepted by Eastern pundits and Western translators, used to arouse Master’s droll criticism.

“The path of a yogi is singular enough as it is,” he remarked. “Why counsel him that he must also make himself cross-eyed? The true meaning of nasikagram is ‘origin of the nose, not ‘end of the nose.’ The nose begins at the point between the two eyebrows, the seat of spiritual vision.” 8

Because of one Sankhya 9 aphorism, “Iswar-ashidha,”—“A Lord of Creation cannot be deduced” or “God is not proved,” 10—many scholars call the whole philosophy atheistical.

“The verse is not nihilistic,” Sri Yukteswar explained. “It merely signifies that to the unenlightened man, dependent on his senses for all final judgments, proof of God must remain unknown and therefore non-existent. True Sankhya followers, with unshakable insight born of meditation, understand that the Lord is both existent and knowable.”

Master expounded the Christian Bible with a beautiful clarity. It was from my Hindu guru, unknown to the roll call of Christian membership, that I learned to perceive the deathless essence of the Bible, and to understand the truth in Christ’s assertion—surely the most thrillingly intransigent ever uttered: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” 11

The great masters of India mold their lives by the same godly ideals which animated Jesus; these men are his proclaimed kin: “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” 12 “If ye continue in my word,” Christ pointed out, “then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” 13 Freemen all, lords of themselves, the Yogi-Christs of India are part of the immortal fraternity: those who have attained a liberating knowledge of the One Father.

“The Adam and Eve story is incomprehensible to me!” I observed with considerable heat one day in my early struggles with the allegory. “Why did God punish not only the guilty pair, but also the innocent unborn generations?”

Master was more amused by my vehemence than my ignorance. “Genesis is deeply symbolic, and cannot be grasped by a literal interpretation,” he explained. “Its ‘tree of life’ is the human body. The spinal cord is like an upturned tree, with man’s hair as its roots, and afferent and efferent nerves as branches. The tree of the nervous system bears many enjoyable fruits, or sensations of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. In these, man may rightfully indulge; but he was forbidden the experience of sex, the ‘apple’ at the center of the bodily garden.14

“The ‘serpent’ represents the coiled-up spinal energy which stimulates the sex nerves. ‘Adam’ is reason, and ‘Eve’ is feeling. When the emotion or Eve-consciousness in any human being is overpowered by the sex impulse, his reason or Adam also succumbs.15

“God created the human species by materializing the bodies of man and woman through the force of His will; He endowed the new species with the power to create children in a similar ‘immaculate’ or divine manner.16 Because His manifestation in the individualized soul had hitherto been limited to animals, instinct-bound and lacking the potentialities of full reason, God made the first human bodies, symbolically called Adam and Eve. To these, for advantageous upward evolution, He transferred the souls or divine essence of two animals.17 In Adam or man, reason predominated; in Eve or woman, feeling was ascendant. Thus was expressed the duality or polarity which underlies the phenomenal worlds. Reason and feeling remain in a heaven of cooperative joy so long as the human mind is not tricked by the serpentine energy of animal propensities.

“The human body was therefore not solely a result of evolution from beasts, but was produced by an act of special creation by God. The animal forms were too crude to express full divinity; the human being was uniquely given a tremendous mental capacity—the ‘thousand-petaled lotus’ of the brain—as well as acutely awakened occult centers in the spine.

“God, or the Divine Consciousness present within the first created pair, counseled them to enjoy all human sensibilities, but not to put their concentration on touch sensations.18 These were banned in order to avoid the development of the sex organs, which would enmesh humanity in the inferior animal method of propagation. The warning not to revive subconsciously-present bestial memories was not heeded. Resuming the way of brute procreation, Adam and Eve fell from the state of heavenly joy natural to the original perfect man.

“Knowledge of ‘good and evil’ refers to the cosmic dualistic compulsion. Falling under the sway of maya through misuse of his feeling and reason, or Eve—and Adam—consciousness, man relinquishes his right to enter the heavenly garden of divine self-sufficiency.19 The personal responsibility of every human being is to restore his ‘parents’ or dual nature to a unified harmony or Eden.”

As Sri Yukteswar ended his discourse, I glanced with new respect at the pages of Genesis.

“Dear Master,” I said, “for the first time I feel a proper filial obligation toward Adam and Eve!”

  1. From astronomical references in ancient Hindu scriptures, scholars have been able to correctly ascertain the dates of the authors. The scientific knowledge of the rishis was very great; in the Kaushitaki Brahmana we find precise astronomical passages which show that in 3100 B.C. the Hindus were far advanced in astronomy, which had a practical value in determining the auspicious times for astrological ceremonies. In an article in East-West, February, 1934, the following summary is given of the Jyotish or body of Vedic astronomical treatises: “It contains the scientific lore which kept India at the forefront of all ancient nations and made her the mecca of seekers after knowledge. The very ancient Brahmagupta, one of the Jyotish works, is an astronomical treatise dealing with such matters as the heliocentric motion of the planetary bodies in our solar system, the obliquity of the ecliptic, the earth’s spherical form, the reflected light of the moon, the earth’s daily axial revolution, the presence of fixed stars in the Milky Way, the law of gravitation, and other scientific facts which did not dawn in the Western world until the time of Copernicus and Newton.”

    It is now well-known that the so-called “Arabic numerals,” without whose symbols advanced mathematics is difficult, came to Europe in the 9th century, via the Arabs, from India, where that system of notation had been anciently formulated. Further light on India’s vast scientific heritage will be found in Dr. P. C. Ray’s History of Hindu Chemistry, and in Dr. B. N. Seal’s Positive Sciences of the Ancient Hindus.

  2. The blessing which flows from the mere sight of a saint.

  3. One of the girls whom my family selected as a possible bride for me, afterwards married my cousin, Prabhas Chandra Ghose.

  4. A series of thirteen articles on the historical verification of Sri Yukteswar’s Yuga theory appeared in the magazine East-West (Los Angeles) from September, 1932, to September, 1933.

  5. In the year A.D. 12,500.

  6. The Hindu scriptures place the present world-age as occurring within the Kali Yuga of a much longer universal cycle than the simple 24,000-year equinoctial cycle with which Sri Yukteswar was concerned. The universal cycle of the scriptures is 4,300,560,000 years in extent, and measures out a Day of Creation or the length of life assigned to our planetary system in its present form. This vast figure given by the rishis is based on a relationship between the length of the solar year and a multiple of Pi (3.1416, the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle).

    The life span for a whole universe, according to the ancient seers, is 314,159,000,000,000 solar years, or “One Age of Brahma.”

    Scientists estimate the present age of the earth to be about two billion years, basing their conclusions on a study of lead pockets left as a result of radioactivity in rocks. The Hindu scriptures declare that an earth such as ours is dissolved for one of two reasons: the inhabitants as a whole become either completely good or completely evil. The world-mind thus generates a power which releases the captive atoms held together as an earth.

    Dire pronouncements are occasionally published regarding an imminent “end of the world.” The latest prediction of doom was given by Rev. Chas. G. Long of Pasadena, who publicly set the “Day of Judgment” for Sept. 21, 1945. United Press reporters asked my opinion; I explained that world cycles follow an orderly progression according to a divine plan. No earthly dissolution is in sight; two billion years of ascending and descending equinoctial cycles are yet in store for our planet in its present form. The figures given by the rishis for the various world ages deserve careful study in the West; the magazine Time (Dec. 17, 1945, p. 6) called them “reassuring statistics.”

  7. Chapter VI:13.

  8. “The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.”—Luke 11:34-35.

  9. One of the six systems of Hindu philosophy. Sankhya teaches final emancipation through knowledge of twenty-five principles, starting with prakriti or nature and ending with purusha or soul.

  10. Sankhya Aphorisms, I:92.

  11. Matthew 24:35.

  12. Matthew 12:50.

  13. John 8:31-32. St. John testified: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (even to them who are established in the Christ Consciousness).”—John 1:12.

  14. “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”—Genesis 3:2-3.

  15. “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. The woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”—Gen. 3:12-13.

  16. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.”—Gen. 1:27-28.

  17. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”—Gen. 2:7.

  18. “Now the serpent (sex force) was more subtil than any beast of the field” (any other sense of the body).—Gen. 3:1.

  19. “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.”—Gen. 2:8. “Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.”—Gen. 3:23. The divine man first made by God had his consciousness centered in the omnipotent single eye in the forehead (eastward). The all-creative powers of his will, focused at that spot, were lost to man when he began to “till the ground” of his physical nature.

Chapter: 17

Sasi and the Three Sapphires

Sasi and the Three Sapphires

Because you and my son think so highly of Swami Sri Yukteswar, I will take a look at him.” The tone of voice used by Dr. Narayan Chunder Roy implied that he was humoring the whim of half-wits. I concealed my indignation, in the best traditions of the proselyter.

My companion, a veterinary surgeon, was a confirmed agnostic. His young son Santosh had implored me to take an interest in his father. So far my invaluable aid had been a bit on the invisible side.

Dr. Roy accompanied me the following day to the Serampore hermitage. After Master had granted him a brief interview, marked for the most part by stoic silence on both sides, the visitor brusquely departed.

“Why bring a dead man to the ashram?” Sri Yukteswar looked at me inquiringly as soon as the door had closed on the Calcutta skeptic.

“Sir! The doctor is very much alive!”

“But in a short time he will be dead.”

I was shocked. “Sir, this will be a terrible blow to his son. Santosh yet hopes for time to change his father’s materialistic views. I beseech you, Master, to help the man.”

“Very well; for your sake.” My guru’s face was impassive. “The proud horse doctor is far gone in diabetes, although he does not know it. In fifteen days he will take to his bed. The physicians will give him up for lost; his natural time to leave this earth is six weeks from today. Due to your intercession, however, on that date he will recover. But there is one condition. You must get him to wear an astrological bangle; he will doubtless object as violently as one of his horses before an operation!” Master chuckled.

After a silence, during which I wondered how Santosh and I could best employ the arts of cajolery on the recalcitrant doctor, Sri Yukteswar made further disclosures.

“As soon as the man gets well, advise him not to eat meat. He will not heed this counsel, however, and in six months, just as he is feeling at his best, he will drop dead. Even that six-month extension of life is granted him only because of your plea.”

The following day I suggested to Santosh that he order an armlet at the jeweler’s. It was ready in a week, but Dr. Roy refused to put it on.

“I am in the best of health. You will never impress me with these astrological superstitions.” The doctor glanced at me belligerently.

I recalled with amusement that Master had justifiably compared the man to a balky horse. Another seven days passed; the doctor, suddenly ill, meekly consented to wear the bangle. Two weeks later the physician in attendance told me that his patient’s case was hopeless. He supplied harrowing details of the ravages inflicted by diabetes.

I shook my head. “My guru has said that, after a sickness lasting one month, Dr. Roy will be well.”

The physician stared at me incredulously. But he sought me out a fortnight later, with an apologetic air.

“Dr. Roy has made a complete recovery!” he exclaimed. “It is the most amazing case in my experience. Never before have I seen a dying man show such an inexplicable comeback. Your guru must indeed be a healing prophet!”

After one interview with Dr. Roy, during which I repeated Sri Yukteswar’s advice about a meatless diet, I did not see the man again for six months. He stopped for a chat one evening as I sat on the piazza of my family home on Gurpar Road.

“Tell your teacher that by eating meat frequently, I have wholly regained my strength. His unscientific ideas on diet have not influenced me.” It was true that Dr. Roy looked a picture of health.

But the next day Santosh came running to me from his home on the next block. “This morning Father dropped dead!”

This case was one of my strangest experiences with Master. He healed the rebellious veterinary surgeon in spite of his disbelief, and extended the man’s natural term on earth by six months, just because of my earnest supplication. Sri Yukteswar was boundless in his kindness when confronted by the urgent prayer of a devotee.

It was my proudest privilege to bring college friends to meet my guru. Many of them would lay aside—at least in the ashram!—their fashionable academic cloak of religious skepticism.

One of my friends, Sasi, spent a number of happy week ends in Serampore. Master became immensely fond of the boy, and lamented that his private life was wild and disorderly.

“Sasi, unless you reform, one year hence you will be dangerously ill.” Sri Yukteswar gazed at my friend with affectionate exasperation. “Mukunda is the witness: don’t say later that I didn’t warn you.”

Sasi laughed. “Master, I will leave it to you to interest a sweet charity of cosmos in my own sad case! My spirit is willing but my will is weak. You are my only savior on earth; I believe in nothing else.”

“At least you should wear a two-carat blue sapphire. It will help you.”

“I can’t afford one. Anyhow, dear guruji, if trouble comes, I fully believe you will protect me.”

“In a year you will bring three sapphires,” Sri Yukteswar replied cryptically. “They will be of no use then.”

Variations on this conversation took place regularly. “I can’t reform!” Sasi would say in comical despair. “And my trust in you, Master, is more precious to me than any stone!”

A year later I was visiting my guru at the Calcutta home of his disciple, Naren Babu. About ten o’clock in the morning, as Sri Yukteswar and I were sitting quietly in the second-floor parlor, I heard the front door open. Master straightened stiffly.

“It is that Sasi,” he remarked gravely. “The year is now up; both his lungs are gone. He has ignored my counsel; tell him I don’t want to see him.”

Half stunned by Sri Yukteswar’s sternness, I raced down the stairway. Sasi was ascending.

“O Mukunda! I do hope Master is here; I had a hunch he might be.”

“Yes, but he doesn’t wish to be disturbed.”

Sasi burst into tears and brushed past me. He threw himself at Sri Yukteswar’s feet, placing there three beautiful sapphires.

“Omniscient guru, the doctors say I have galloping tuberculosis! They give me no longer than three more months! I humbly implore your aid; I know you can heal me!”

“Isn’t it a bit late now to be worrying over your life? Depart with your jewels; their time of usefulness is past.” Master then sat sphinxlike in an unrelenting silence, punctuated by the boy’s sobs for mercy.

An intuitive conviction came to me that Sri Yukteswar was merely testing the depth of Sasi’s faith in the divine healing power. I was not surprised a tense hour later when Master turned a sympathetic gaze on my prostrate friend.

“Get up, Sasi; what a commotion you make in other people’s houses! Return your sapphires to the jeweler’s; they are an unnecessary expense now. But get an astrological bangle and wear it. Fear not; in a few weeks you shall be well.”

Sasi’s smile illumined his tear-marred face like sudden sun over a sodden landscape. “Beloved guru, shall I take the medicines prescribed by the doctors?”

Sri Yukteswar’s glance was longanimous. “Just as you wish—drink them or discard them; it does not matter. It is more possible for the sun and moon to interchange their positions than for you to die of tuberculosis.” He added abruptly, “Go now, before I change my mind!”

With an agitated bow, my friend hastily departed. I visited him several times during the next few weeks, and was aghast to find his condition increasingly worse.

“Sasi cannot last through the night.” These words from his physician, and the spectacle of my friend, now reduced almost to a skeleton, sent me posthaste to Serampore. My guru listened coldly to my tearful report.

“Why do you come here to bother me? You have already heard me assure Sasi of his recovery.”

I bowed before him in great awe, and retreated to the door. Sri Yukteswar said no parting word, but sank into silence, his unwinking eyes half-open, their vision fled to another world.

I returned at once to Sasi’s home in Calcutta. With astonishment I found my friend sitting up, drinking milk.

“O Mukunda! What a miracle! Four hours ago I felt Master’s presence in the room; my terrible symptoms immediately disappeared. I feel that through his grace I am entirely well.”

In a few weeks Sasi was stouter and in better health than ever before.1 But his singular reaction to his healing had an ungrateful tinge: he seldom visited Sri Yukteswar again! My friend told me one day that he so deeply regretted his previous mode of life that he was ashamed to face Master.

I could only conclude that Sasi’s illness had had the contrasting effect of stiffening his will and impairing his manners.

The first two years of my course at Scottish Church College were drawing to a close. My classroom attendance had been very spasmodic; what little studying I did was only to keep peace with my family. My two private tutors came regularly to my house; I was regularly absent: I can discern at least this one regularity in my scholastic career!

In India two successful years of college bring an Intermediate Arts diploma; the student may then look forward to another two years and his A.B. degree.

The Intermediate Arts final examinations loomed ominously ahead. I fled to Puri, where my guru was spending a few weeks. Vaguely hoping that he would sanction my nonappearance at the finals, I related my embarrassing unpreparedness.

But Master smiled consolingly. “You have wholeheartedly pursued your spiritual duties, and could not help neglecting your college work. Apply yourself diligently to your books for the next week: you shall get through your ordeal without failure.