After my separation from [Self-Realization Fellowship] SRF, I sought seclusion determinedly, but at every turn my dreams of becoming a hermit received a complete lack of support from the Universal Beneficence. Instead, I was thrust repeatedly toward public speaking.
I had met Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri, a devotee of the Indian saint, Sri Aurobindo and founder of the Cultural Integration Fellowship in San Francisco, through friends of my parents. He repeatedly urged me in the direction of public speaking and teaching. He said that from the first, he felt the inner guidance from my guru to do so.
In 1963, I was scheduled to leave for Mexico two days after Christmas to start (at last!) my life as a hermit. My plans were altered drastically when Dr. Chaudhuri, during his Sunday sermon, collapsed with a heart attack. When the news reached me, I knew I couldn’t possibly leave. There was no one to take his place at the ashram.
I moved into the ashram, and lived there for one year. It was January 1964. My life entered a new phase, altogether different from a hermit’s life but surely what God wanted of me now. Dr. Chaudhuri recovered from his heart attack, but asked me if I would remain teaching at the ashram and share the teaching load with him. Thus, I continued giving Sunday services bi-weekly, and at least some of the mid-week classes. Meanwhile, the time had come to find an apartment in San Francisco of my own.
I dive into the water
The apartment I found was located in a quiet area of the Richmond district of San Francisco. It had large, old-fashioned rooms with high ceilings, large closets, and an adequate kitchen. I turned the dining room into an office, and set up a desk there, made from a varnished plank set upon two nightstands with drawers.
Dr. Chaudhuri—always my human guardian angel during those difficult years—began urging me to teach Hatha Yoga, the physical branch of the meditative science of Raja Yoga. I prayed to Master with an open mind, and all at once realized how very much the postures could assist in teaching the meditation practices of Raja Yoga, especially to beginning meditators. I could feel him guiding my understanding now, as I went more deeply into each pose and tried to relate it to the meditative aspects of Raja Yoga.
Thus, I began teaching classes more widely in the San Francisco Bay Area. To meet expenses, I charged $25 for six evenings of weekly classes for those students who wanted both Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga, and $15 for those who took only one series. I would begin the evening with yoga postures, followed by a short break during which students could eat a light snack, if they’d brought one. Last came the Raja Yoga class.
These courses were popular from the beginning. By the time I finished this phase of my life and moved to Ananda, I was getting an average of 300 students a week and receiving enough income to purchase and begin construction at Ananda.
My firm policy was to refuse no one. If a person couldn’t afford to pay, I encouraged him or her to give back energy in some other way: for instance, by bringing cookies for the students during the break, or setting up chairs for the Raja Yoga class afterward. I knew that many other teachers—in Scientology and in Transcendental Meditation, for example—charged very much more for their instruction.
I was aware that some people would value less what I taught because the price was low. Indeed, I knew that some people would take advantage of my generosity. I wasn’t interested in their response. My concern was to remain faithful to my Guru and to my own conscience. I wanted to serve people without personal benefit to myself. At the same time, I knew people in our culture would take the classes seriously only if they paid something in return for them.
“New Age” movements
San Francisco was becoming increasingly the center of a whirlpool of energy that covered all of America, and indeed the world, embracing an extraordinary number of “New Age” movements. Perhaps this was why the Divine Mother placed me there.
San Francisco during the ‘sixties was the place where many national movements got their start, while others received their major impetus there: the New Age movement; the Hippie and the psychedelic movement; the Hare Krishna movement; the War Protest movement (centered across the Bay, in Berkeley); and the Commune and Back-to-the-Land movement. Ferlinghetti and the beatnik poets were already thriving in the North Beach district of the city. Zen Buddhism also had a major energy-center in the city.
I was never a part of any of these movements, however. The guidance I sought was within, not in popular opinions or acclaim. Even the fact that I started Ananda at that time, when the movement toward forming communes was at its height, was a coincidence. Ananda was simply the fulfillment of a dream I’d had since the age of fifteen.
Still, I was very much a part of the new wave of consciousness that flowed from San Francisco at that time. In time, I became a recognized part of the San Francisco “scene.” However, everything I did was from within: not in response to the social ferment around me, but guided by what I felt from my Guru.
In this sense, I was always an outsider, never “meshing gears” with those who gave the scene its accepted definition. Yet for all that, I was part of the scene: the odd man out who, in the midst of social ferment, held a steady course.
A new conformity
I was attracted, at first, to various forms of “New Age” thinking, which emphasized humanity’s limitless potentials. In time, however, I realized that the basis for most such thinking was essentially no different from “old-age” thinking: Both were founded on self-interest. Both, therefore, were contractive, not expansive. Even people with generous natures usually thought of themselves as the source, not as merely the agents, of any good they did.
Having rejected one set of values, they now accepted what others said their new outlook should be. They felt a need to belong, and were more comfortable with vague precepts than with clear thinking, which they associated with logical rigidity rather than with the crystal waters of intuitive perception.
“New Agers,” hippies, and most others affirmed a higher consciousness (often after taking psychedelic drugs). They declared that love is the only truth. I completely concurred. They believed, as I did, in human perfectibility. This was the generation of flower children. Yet in their very belief I detected, in time, the seeds of pride. Without the fine thread of guidance from a wise guru, I realized, no one can escape the labyrinth of ego-consciousness. This pride was present also, though less stridently, in the softer hippie generation.
“Flower children” and hippies
What the “flower children” emanated was a sort of woolly sentimentality. While declaring they loved everybody, they seemed unable to share this feeling except with those who, like them, were “high” on some hallucinatory drug. It was a passive, subjective “feeling” — drawing to itself while giving nothing in return. To please God wasn’t, with them, an issue. Like every “New Age” movement I’ve ever encountered, they showed no devotion and sought enlightenment without opening themselves to the light of God’s grace.
At first I was attracted by all the talk of love. Many of the words used seemed right. What I came in time to see and feel around them, however, was wrong. Fortunately, many of those who had been attracted, as I had, to the good side in this movement ended up leaving it, and joining Ananda, where the blessings and guidance of a true guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, are actively sought and experienced.
I was attracted also by the hippie attitude toward non-attachment. What they emphasized was freedom. Yet in time I realized that freedom, to them, meant independence from the way others saw and did things. If they grew beards or let their hair grow long or wore scruffy trousers or long dresses and almost-as-long bead necklaces, it was in conformity to what their own set were doing. Had they done otherwise, they would have been frowned upon by their peers even as society in general frowned upon them—and for no better reason.
The Hare Krishna movement
I was also, for a time, on the fringes of the Hare Krishna movement. This movement began in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, the heart of “hippiedom.” Swami Bhaktivedanta had been invited there from India, and I, nostalgic for the devotional Indian scene, used to attend his gatherings. We enjoyed speaking Bengali together, and I found inspiration in chanting with him the Maha Mantra, which had inspired me ever since I’d heard it sung every morning, years earlier, by a strolling band of devotees near Calcutta.
I confess the manner in which the young people around Bhaktivedanta chanted, bouncing their bodies about and stamping their feet like tribal warriors in a ritual dance, was too boisterous for my taste. It expressed none of the sweetness of devotion, but appeared rather to be a way of letting off emotional steam.
Yoga was “in”
The good side during those days, for me, was that yoga was “in,” and there were many who wanted to learn it. The hard edge of so much of what passes for yoga nowadays was less in evidence. People seemed relatively open to the deeper and more devotional aspects of this spiritual science.
I remember a lady who enrolled the second time around in my meditation course. “When I took these classes the first time,” she confided to me, “I was interested only in the yoga postures. I thought they’d make a good conversation piece for my weekly bridge club! But you know, this stuff’s serious! I want to learn more about it.”
And so, people came for a variety of reasons. More and more, however, they sought guidance in their inner life.
The communities movement
Communities were being attempted throughout America during the sixties. Most of them failed—mainly, I believe, because of that “missing ingredient”: God.
One thing that devotion to God accomplishes is that it opens the heart to love. Love is the first ingredient in a community’s success. Can there be spiritual love, however, without joy? Without both love and joy, surely judgment and intolerance must enter the scene, sooner or later. Judgment, whether of others or oneself, is discouraging, and keeps one from rising in inner freedom.
I remember a stern letter I received from someone to the effect that, if I wanted to relate to today’s youth, I must learn to appreciate their music. In fact, I felt no attunement with their music. Its heavy beat conveyed to me only this message: “Ah wanna get mine, an’ ah’m sure gonna get it!” I did make an effort to relate to others on another level, but I couldn’t accept their way of perceiving what they considered truth: “Wow, man, that blows my mind!”
I had no interest in “blowing people’s minds,” as the expression was in those days. Many people, perhaps for that very reason, accepted with a shrug what I said in lectures and in songs. They wanted something “deep”—that is to say, incomprehensible.
Such woolly-mindedness was rampant among those who dreamed of starting “New Age” communities. Somehow they thought the only thing necessary was a parcel of land, and bands of pot-smoking hippies floating on waves of “love” and wishful dreams. Apart from their lack of clarity, they had no devotion to God, nor dedication to a down-to-earth spiritual life.
The searchlight of clarity
What I sought, during the chaotic ‘sixties, was intuitive clarity. Many people, I realized, were seeking intuition but not clarity. Most of the people with whom I came in contact, because of their lack of clarity, decided it was simplest merely to claim insight, then clothe their utterances in abstract verbiage to stun others to silence.
“Life is a rainbow.”
“Oh, wow! that’s heavy, man!” (What did it matter if it meant anything?)
An almost universal denominator of thinking during the ‘sixties was a tendency deliberately to cloud one’s ideas in a sort of impressionistic haze. I thanked God for the blessing of a true master—not only for his simple, direct, and deeply insightful words, but for the attunement with his consciousness that I found myself developing, which helped me penetrate the dense ideational fogs around me with the searchlight of clarity. I did my best to make my ideas as simple, clear, and “realistic” as possible.
One result of my commitment to clarity was an invitation by a Christian radio station, KFAX, in San Francisco, to give a half-hour show weekly in order (as the station manager put it) to attract the younger generation. The show continued for more than five years. Not long after my first radio show in San Francisco, I also began one in Sacramento. Later, another radio station scheduled me in Pasadena. At this time, I was forced to sacrifice all three programs to concentrate on Ananda.