“The guru helps us by giving us extra strength,” Swamiji writes, “by reaching down and lending us a hand up, but still we have the hard job of climbing that mountain to reach the heights.” For the devotee, the need for self-effort is inescapable. In a boyhood vision, Yogananda looked up from a dusty, crowded, chaotic marketplace, a place of worry, desire, and discouragement, to see a high mountain peak, and thereon a transcendently beautiful garden, tranquil and serene. Daunted, at first, at the thought of undertaking so difficult a climb, he disciplined himself with stern resolve: “It may be too high to ascend with a single leap, but at least I can put one foot in front of the other!”
Kriyananda has told us of the desperate impasse once faced by a mountaineering brother disciple. At a certain point in his climb one day, the mountain face sloped outward at such a steep angle that his every attempt at ascent ended in a fall backward onto the ledge below. Undaunted, unable either to ascend or to return the way he had come, he determined to die trying if need be, rather than give up and let starvation and exposure overtake him. After many tries and many falls, suddenly he felt a force, like a giant hand, holding him to the rock face, supporting him until he reached a slope that he could manage with normal mountaineering skills. Angels, Swamiji explains, come in response to great courage; they act as agents of divine grace—God’s hand reaching down to help those who give their all, that they may make the final ascent.
We watched, with awe and profound respect, a documentary film, taken by the mountaineers themselves, of their attempts to scale the “Shark’s Fin,” the hitherto unclimbable central peak of Mt. Meru in the Himalayas. With no Sherpas, no support team to cushion their journey, the three had to carry with them everything they needed. The first attempt found them trapped in a blizzard, surviving suspended in midair in a fabric cocoon, watching helplessly as their supplies were exhausted. Though forced to return, they never doubted they would try again.
Only months before their planned departure for a second attempt, the youngest and least experienced of the three lost control during a downhill ski run, plummeted off a cliff, and landed on top of his head with such violent impact that the skull was fractured, two cervical vertebrae broken, a third severely dislocated, and half the blood supply to the brain cut off. No one thought this one would climb any more mountains. Even beyond the catastrophic damage to his spine and the serious weakening of his whole body during extended hospitalization, there loomed the high risk that the physical stress of another climb combined with the high altitude would precipitate a stroke.
Steadily, determinedly, with one-pointed focus, the young man fought his way back to strength and agility, undergoing torturous physical therapy while maintaining a rigorous and exhausting exercise schedule. In the background, the two older mountaineers, though they saw all too clearly that climbing with someone so damaged would endanger the expedition, nonetheless set aside their concerns in respect for their young friend’s wholehearted commitment to making the ascent.
Partway up their second attempt, the youngest began to move slowly and erratically, showing signs of the stroke they had feared. Collapsed on his back, his face calm and unruffled, he rested, gathered his forces, then—against any expectation—rose and started up again. He felt a force moving through his being, giving strength and confidence, carrying him forward. Surely the same divine support that had come to the aid of Swamiji’s brother disciple here reached down and lifted up this courageous soul, and gave him the power to complete the impossible ascent.
Spiritual mountains come in all sizes, each one Divine Mother’s perfect gift, perfect opportunity for the soul who must make the climb. “You must never lose courage,” Master writes. “Be cut to pieces, but never give up. . . .”In all seasons and weather, working his way up and down the steep slopes of Ananda’s forested land, we see the purposeful figure of a friend and fellow disciple. His body battered by a lifetime of brutally hard work in the redwood forests—spinal and cervical fractures, one of which so cut off the life force from one arm that it hangs all but useless, one knee so eaten up with arthritis that only by treading very carefully can he stay upright and keep the pain within bearable limits—still he will not surrender. His inner commitment is to serve Master and Swamiji by caring for the land that their blessing has made holy. And so we see him uprooting invasive shrubs, trimming the slopes, gathering windfall tree branches, all the while glowing with the happiness of service, smiling joyfully, kindness shining from his eyes as he continues his endless task—endless, as Master might say, until one day he reaches endlessness in God. Those who keep faith to the end will make it to the mountaintop; will enter—like the boy Mukunda in his vision—the blissful garden there; will find God and Guru waiting, with open arms, smiling in divine welcome.
In divine friendship,