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,1 was the second son and the fourth child.
Father and Mother were Bengalis, of the Kshatriya caste.2 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 3 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.
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.4 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.”
- 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).
- Traditionally, the second caste of warriors and rulers.
- 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).
- 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).