Throughout the years, I have been humbled and awed by the guidance and encouragement I have received from my beloved Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. Sometimes the guidance comes through dreams, sometimes in an intuitive flash, and once through the voice of a human channel. What I have come to realize is that regardless of how the guidance comes, the stronger my attunement to Yogananda, the more readily his inspiration flows.
An example of this occurred several years ago when I received a very specific message in the most surprising way. As sometimes happens with divine inspiration, it took me more than six months to recognize the enormity of the message and blessing I received that day.
An invitation to a satsang
In the spring of 2010, I was invited to dinner and satsang at the house of friends who are long-time devotees of a contemporary Indian guru. The Indian master had traveled to America with his family to visit his granddaughter and had accepted an invitation for sight-seeing in Newport, Rhode Island, followed by dinner at my friends’ home. My friends, although not devotees of Yogananda, revere and respect his teachings and have attended various events at our Ananda Rhode Island center. They invited three other leaders from our center who also accepted their invitation.
Before leaving home that evening, I meditated and asked Yogananda for his blessing. I wanted to be sure that, by sitting in the presence of someone else’s guru, I was not violating the loyalty I had pledged to him. When the four of us arrived at my friends’ home, we were taken to the meditation room of our hosts, where their guru was seated in lotus posture. I immediately recognized the saintly nature of the man who sat before us; the deep stillness and peace he emanated were palpable.
As the master spoke, I kept Yogananda in my heart and his image at my spiritual eye while silently whispering, “Aum Guru.” The holy man knew that the four visitors who sat before him were disciples of Yogananda, and he began his talk by stressing the importance of the guru-disciple relationship and allegiance to one’s guru. He said that the guru is the disciple’s closest and dearest friend.
A personal message
The master said many other things during his thirty-minute talk, but what I remember most clearly was his statement that hard times were coming in the future, something Swami Kriyananda had also mentioned. He said that although hard times were coming, he saw all of New England and Rhode Island surrounded in divine light. Then, earnestly and with great solemnity, he said that “as devotees of Guru Yogananda, you are all blessed and protected.” He then smiled and cocked his head and playfully said, “Even your pets are protected.” Turning to me and gazing directly into my eyes, he said, “Even your little dog is protected.”
Though both stunned and amused by his statement, I felt that Yogananda was speaking to me through the channel who sat before me. At that time, I had a 13-year-old Jack Russell Terrier named Henry, whom I adored. As anyone who has loved an animal can understand, he was my first baby. He was eight weeks old when he came into my life, and was the main recipient of my maternal love and affection before my daughter was born eight years later.
After the satsang, my Ananda gurubhais, who all knew and loved my little dog, commented on the mention of Henry, and how blessed he must be! I had often joked that Henry was living his last life in the animal kingdom. Each night he would go upstairs, sit before my altar on the meditation rug, and wait for me to come to sadhana. On nights when I was tired and tempted to go straight to bed, his soulful stare from this vantage point would summon me to meditate! However, as the months went by, the memory of the Indian guru’s personal message began to fade until I scarcely gave it another thought.
“There’s a dog in our yard.”
In January of 2011, I was in the kitchen one morning, making breakfast for my daughter, who was then five years old. I heard her say, “Mommy, look. There’s a dog in our yard.” I turned and saw a very large dog running around in our back yard. He was wearing a collar with tags, and the leash attached to his collar dragged on the ground behind him. We live in a rural setting; our closest neighbors are about a quarter mile down the road. Assuming the dog belonged to one of the families in the general vicinity, I told my daughter that I was going to go out, tie him to our fence, and call the number on his tag.
As I put my hand on the lever of the French door which leads to our back deck, I heard a very clear and strong voice in my head say, “Don’t open the door.” Unfortunately, my comprehension of the message came a nanosecond too late to prevent me from pushing the door open. As I did, Henry raced past me and ran down the stairs barking. I knew in an instant that Henry was going to be attacked, but I could not get down the stairs quickly enough to prevent what happened next.
To my utter horror, I watched helplessly as the ninety-five pound intruder picked up my fifteen-pound dog by the back and began to maul him. I had to kick, hit and scream at the dog to get him to release Henry from his jaws. When the stray did let go, I grabbed his leash to restrain him, at which point he began to resist so violently that he yanked me back and forth all over the yard, and eventually shook himself out of his collar. I stood in disbelief holding his leash and empty collar as he went after my little terrier a second time. This time he rolled Henry over on his back and tore into his abdomen. By the grace of God, I somehow managed to pry open the large dog’s jaws, which were locked on Henry, and so to release him.
As my dog lay seemingly lifeless in a pool of blood on the ground, the magnitude of what had happened began to sink in. Just then, the owners of the stray dog pulled into my driveway and jumped out of their car in a frantic whirlwind of apology and panic to restrain him. His owner had been walking him when he broke loose to chase a woodchuck or fox. By the time the dog made it to our house, he was in a mad frenzy to tear apart any quarry that breathed.
A race to save a life
I scooped up Henry, holding his abdomen in place with my hands, put him in a crate and rushed in to get my daughter, who was hiding behind a chair crying. We raced to an emergency animal hospital twenty minutes from our house. My husband was out of town on business, and when I called to tell him what had happened, he called the animal hospital to alert them of the situation, and a medical team awaited our arrival. When we arrived, I was afraid to look at Henry, but miraculously, he was still breathing faintly.
As I approached the counter, a very concerned looking vet technician asked if I had recently had a tetanus shot. Between the chaos and horror of the dog attack and the adrenaline-fueled drive to the vet, I had not realized that I had been bitten on my left thumb and was bleeding profusely. The vet cleaned, sterilized, and wrapped my thumb while another group of vet technicians took Henry in for emergency surgery. As I turned to leave, I went into shock and passed out in the waiting room of the veterinary hospital. I woke up with paramedics hovering over me: my daughter and I were in an ambulance going to the hospital. After several hours of observation in the emergency room, I was allowed to go home.
Just before I passed out, I was told that because of Henry’s advanced age, and the seriousness of his injuries, it was probable that he would not survive the night. When I arrived back home, I sent out a request for healing prayers to our meditation group. Morning came, and the report was good. Against all odds, Henry had made it through surgery. Luckily the bites to his abdomen had missed his internal organs by a millimeter. Although he would be in critical condition for several more days, he was expected to survive.
Shaken to the core
The next day, I was confined to bed, unable to move because of whiplash and minor spinal injuries I had sustained in trying to restrain such a large and powerful animal. The bite to my thumb had penetrated my nail and damaged a nerve. The pain was almost unbearable: a constant ache originated at the tip of my thumb and reverberated through my entire body. The doctor said it would be weeks before I regained feeling and could use my thumb.
I am embarrassed to admit that as I lay in bed the morning after the dog attack, it seemed as if all of my spiritual training had been of no avail. I had thought I was prepared to “stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds,” as Yogananda taught, but the security of my own little world had been shattered, and I was shaken to the core. The dog’s attack was the most terrifying and violent thing that had ever happened in my life, and the fact that it happened in my own backyard left me feeling extremely vulnerable. I began to sink into a state of self-pity: “Why me?” “What did I do to deserve this?”
Within an instant of entertaining that thought, I heard again the message delivered to me through my friends’ guru, a little more than six months before: “As devotees of Guru Yogananda, you are all blessed and protected. Even your pets are protected. Even your little dog is protected.”
Gratitude, love, and devotion
In that moment I felt Yogananda’s loving presence and I understood that he had been watching over Henry and me during every moment of this traumatic event. I was overwhelmed with emotion and immediately began to pray to Yogananda, offering deep gratitude, love and devotion. I realized that my Guru had wanted me to know ahead of time that he would be there to guide and protect me during this difficult karmic event.
I don’t know what my karma was or Henry’s. Perhaps I was supposed to be attacked by the dog, and Henry took the brunt of it instead. Perhaps Henry was supposed to die that day, but instead went on to live four more years to a ripe old age. I believe that as Yogananda promised to do for all his disciples, he mitigated not only my karma but also that of my pet.
What I learned through this remarkable event was that when we keep our attunement to Guru strong and constant, he will communicate what he wants us to know through any available channel. Yogananda came to me through a human channel in order to deliver the most important message of all: “as devotees of Guru Yogananda, you are all blessed and protected.”