In the fall of 2000, after seriously evaluating my life options, I was at a loss. None of the directions I could think of taking seemed all that satisfying.
A spiritual interest had grown in me, starting in high school, fanned by the movie Ghandi and books by Ram Dass such as Be Here Now. Now, one year after dropping out of college, I didn’t know what to do. I needed help.
Who had the answers? Who might really know what I should do with my life? Well, if God exists, surely He knows, I thought. So I asked God to send me a guide — a guru. And because I thought He might take too long otherwise I gave Him a deadline of one week.
Soon afterwards I re-discovered Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. The book had been in my family from before my birth: my mother gave it to my father, who later took initiation into Kriya Yoga and practiced Yogananda’s meditation techniques for a decade.
At the time I didn’t make a connection between my request for a guru and reading the book. Only years later did I look back and think, “That’s interesting.”
Inspired by the autobiography, I tried to meditate but encountered too many challenges to continue. I gave up. Only years later, in April, 2003, did the desire to make spiritual progress return. I awoke one morning with a strong impulse to try again. But I needed help.
Searching online, I found Ananda, and connected with Nayaswami Hriman in Seattle. I started taking classes with Ananda, and Hriman offered to meet with me every week.
Each week I used to write down all the philosophical questions I could think of to ask Hriman. When we actually talked, however, I’d find myself thinking, “Oh, that’s not so important as I thought,” and there were a lot of questions I left discarded on the floor of his office, apartment, or in the community chapel — figuratively, I mean.
At first I was embarrassed for taking so much of his time. Later, I realized, given the significance of the yogic teachings, I’d be a fool for not learning as much as I could.
In all these meetings, Hriman never once asked if I wanted to become a disciple of Yogananda. He wasn’t trying to convert me, just to serve.
I was avidly reading everything I could about the spiritual path, though, and from the autobiography of Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Yogananda and Ananda’s founder, I learned that making a formal connection with a guru — a guide to the Infinite — was considered essential.
I’d also read that the guru-disciple relationship was eternal. By all accounts, then, I already had a guru. But how could I know if it was Yogananda, or someone else?
At the time it seemed unfair for the universe to ask me, a spiritual newbie, to make such an important decision. But, I see more clearly now, it can’t be anyone else’s. Discipleship is a declaration of willingness to follow a particular path to God, whatever it takes.
The commitment I wanted to make was for life, and I never considered that I might ever change paths. It’s like wondering, in a romantic relationship, “Is he the one? Is she the one?” You want to know before you make The Big Decision. And this was a big decision, too, probably bigger. I needed to know what was right. I had to know.
The only thing I could think of was to pray. I prayed, and prayed. I wanted a clear sign, or words from the heavens, or maybe a vision — some unmistakable clarity that this was the right path. These things happen, don’t they?
But what I received instead was the simple feeling that this was my path and that Paramhansa Yogananda was my guru. And that was enough.
I took discipleship initiation on January 11, 2004. I could call him my guru now, I realized! I could call him “Master,” just like Swami Kriyananda and others did! I knew that term didn’t imply servitude on my part, but only referred to his complete self-mastery.
Ananda, too, felt like my spiritual home, and I’ve been a part of Ananda communities these last 10 years.
Not long afterwards, Ananda’s East-West Bookstore in Seattle organized a public lecture for Ram Dass, the yogi who had done so much to inspire the start of my search. After the talk, I went up to him and thanked him sincerely for his impact on my life. What happened after this was rather startling.
He didn’t say anything. After a moment, I turned to go, but instead he grabbed my hand and we looked into each other’s eyes. I felt the presence of Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda emanating to me from his heart. What is my guru doing in Ram Dass!?, I wondered. His guru is Neem Karoli Baba! Murmuring thanks, I left, weeping with emotion.
Years later, I continue to learn what it means to be a disciple and who my guru really is. He’s not a person, I see now, but still personal: an eternal, omnipresent channel of my own Higher Self, and a dear friend and guide.
Though the past is fading slowly into the mists of time, the choices I made back then still shape my life today. Finally I had found a real direction.