On March 7th, 1952, Paramhansa Yogananda consciously left his body before hundreds of people in a dramatic display of yogic mastery. We all know the memorable story in which he read his poem “My India,” expanding into the Infinite on the very last word, his untenanted body slumping to the floor to be left in a state of absolute incorruptibility to this very day. And at this sacred time each year, his devotees celebrate through honorary ceremonies and deep meditation to uplift their consciousness into the awareness of his divine presence.
When I first found these wonderful teachings, the year was 2004 and I was living with my parents in Ventura, California. Immediately I knew I had found what I’d been searching for my whole life. Having raised me as a Christian, my mother was a bit concerned when she began to see me engrossed in unfamiliar books like the Bhagavad Gita and Autobiography of a Yogi. And like so many seekers, the group of friends I was connected with began to see a distinct change coming over me that gradually removed me from their scope of interest.
It appeared to my family and friends that I was suffering from some sort of identity crisis. I would spend much of my time meditating, studying Yogananda’s Lessons, and doing all that I could to go deeper into this path.
I would keep a secret fold-up altar that I would pull out for meditation and put away when I was finished. One day my mom walked in on me meditating and exclaimed, “Oh! I’m so sorry!”
It was almost as if she had walked in on me doing one of the embarrassing things many youths are caught doing on their way into adulthood. I had a straight spine, my eyes closed, palms upturned, sitting Indian-style — and in an instant I relaxed my posture, opened my eyes, brought my hands down to my sides and unfolded my legs, attempting to hide what was really going on!
I said, “Oh, no problem mom…I was just, like, you know…really deep!” as if to somehow explain my situation. Awkward!
As March 7th, Yogananda’s Mahasamadhi Anniversary, drew closer that year, I planned to fast for three days and remain in silence from the 7th until the 9th, which is the day that Sri Yukteswar (Yogananda’s guru) left his body.
I had arranged to have this time off from work, explaining to my boss that I was honoring my guru’s passing. She was very understanding and gave me full consent.
I could not explain this to my family however, and things began to get a little weird. My mom thought I was in a depression because I wasn’t speaking or eating. My aunt came for a visit and I didn’t greet her verbally; only with a quiet smile. Observing me spending most of my time in my room sitting in the dark, my mother had seen enough. She made a phone call to my boss and asked, “Is he alright? Did he show any signs of depression or sadness at work recently?”
My boss replied, “Oh, no! He’s doing great! He’s just honoring Paramhansa Yogananda’s passing which happened on this date many years ago.”
“Ok…so he is grieving?” she thought.
When my mom saw me again, she offered her condolences on my “grieving process.”
Feeling misunderstood and annoyed, I broke my silence, exclaiming, “This is a joyful occasion and I am not grieving! I am trying to go deep in the divine blessings that come at this time each year because such a great soul left his body on this day!”
Then, I immediately had the thought, “When I am gone, only Love can take my place.”
This is what Yogananda said to the disciples shortly before his passing — and how very short I had come from manifesting the presence of Love in this moment. I was defeating the whole purpose of my seclusion!
I had a lot of thinking to do now because what started out as a sacred time of peace and silence had ended in exasperation and disharmony with my family.
First, when I plan to have another seclusion, it will be at a retreat center and not in a house full of people it might disturb.
Secondly, if someone questions my spiritual practices, I will respond only in love because that is what will transmit the presence of God to them — never in annoyance, and certainly never in a condescending way. It is curious how we can get so serious about our desire for spiritual progress and end up forgetting the simple virtues that bring us most swiftly to our home in God! Attachment, even when it is attachment to spiritual practices, is still attachment. And, as Sri Yukteswar so plainly puts it, “Attachment is blinding.”
As I continued on the path, there was no longer any question in my family’s point of view about whether my “new religion” was a good thing. They could see by the results in my life that it was certainly beneficial for me.
Over the next couple of years, I began to see that the ego stands like a stalwart guard to prevent us from entering the kingdom of God within and it can only be transcended through the love of God. The phrase, “only love can take my place,” then took on a double meaning. It meant to me that only love can take the ego’s place. Only love can take my place! Not only is it the most efficient way to bring the guru’s presence into daily life, it is also the quickest way to transcend my silly ego!
“Only love can take my place,” the master had said. What immortal words! We could meditate on this alone and reach the goal in this life, I am sure.
It is only in love that freedom is ours. Only love makes us one with God.