It was nearly sixty years ago that I had the great blessing of meeting my Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. You all know the story—how I read Autobiography of a Yogi in New York and took virtually the next bus across the country to meet him. The first words I said to him were, “I want to be your disciple.”
A deep desire to help others
One thing I haven’t talked about much, however, is that I had a two-fold desire in going to meet him. First, of course, I wanted to be his disciple, because I knew that no efforts on my part could free my heart and mind from the obstacles that kept me from finding God.
The other reason was that I had always wanted to find joy not just for myself but to share with others. It was only after meeting him that I was able to fulfill this deep desire. I wanted everybody in the world to know him and the deep teachings he presents in Autobiography of a Yogi.
Weeping by the wayside
During my teenage years World War II was raging. At that time I thought, “Mankind doesn’t understand why we’re here on this planet. We’re wandering in darkness and confusion without any idea of the real meaning of life.”
When I found my Guru, I found what that meaning was. It was stated long ago in India by Swami Shankaracharya: The goal of life is satchidananda—ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss.
Everyone in the world is seeking this unalloyed happiness. They think to find it in money, or power, or pleasure, and all the things of this world, but eventually all of this turns to dust. Man becomes disappointed again and again and ends up weeping by the wayside, wondering, “Where can I find happiness?”
“I was liberated many lives ago.”
Over the years, I’ve meditated on my Guru’s words and also on his least gesture, because even there I could find deep teachings. He sometimes said to us, “I was liberated many lives ago.” I am now convinced that he and our line of gurus, all of whom are avatars, have come back to this planet again and again to help lift humanity out of the mud of delusion.
Once I asked him about the roles he said these masters had played in past incarnations. “Can they play such roles and still be in nirbikalpa samadhi?” I asked. “What is their state of consciousness?” His answer was interesting: “ No matter what part a master plays, he never loses the consciousness of inner freedom.”
The masters come again and again
These great souls come into the world again and again and play certain roles as instruments for God. Lahiri Mahasaya took on the role of businessman, householder, and father before he met Babaji. Swami Sri Yukteswar also had family responsibilities before he met his guru—he had been married and had a daughter.
Yogananda, in a sense, was born a monk. Even as a child he was wrapped in God. Nonetheless, he still had to go through the challenges of misunderstanding relatives and all the other struggles that everyone has to face. The masters play these roles to help us understand that we, too, can achieve the divine goal. It’s open to all of us.
In everything yet not in anything
Yogananda was a real “paramhansa,” one who is able to swim in the ocean of delusion, and yet be untouched by it. He was equally at home in divine consciousness and in the world. His perfection was totally natural, without any pretense.
When he was with us, he would sometimes laugh uproariously and with so much delight in life and humorous situations that tears would stream down our cheeks. I remember a poem he quoted with great glee: “Her teeth are like stars. They come out at night.” How he laughed at these things! He was human and enjoyed these little amusements. Yet in his presence, you could feel that it was divine joy alone that filled his consciousness.
I never saw him less than absolutely perfect, anchored in the Infinite. Even when he was laughing, you could look into his eyes and see that he was completely untouched. He could grieve over people’s sorrows, and still be untouched. Like Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, he was in everything and not in anything, in everyone and not in anyone.
Proud of my intellectuality
Whenever I was with him, I felt that I was in the presence of God Himself. Once he was talking with some of the monks about a very mundane task that needed to be done—filling the potholes in the road. I didn’t have that job to do, so I just sat there and tried to tune in to his consciousness. Suddenly I felt overwhelmed by joy.
I lived with him very closely for three and a half years until he left his body. The wonderful thing was that in living with him, I felt myself gradually changing. When I first came to him my problem was that I was much too intellectual, and, I have to admit, proud of my intellectuality—of how much reading and thinking I had done. It was stupid to be proud of this, but then we’re all stupid about something. Still I didn’t want to be that way—I wanted devotion.
Yogananda kept telling me, “Develop devotion.” It was a mammoth task to transform my whole state of consciousness, but with a lot of chanting and meditating, I began to feel a difference. After a time I heard that he had said of me, “Look how I have changed Walter.”
Then I realized, yes, I had done the work, but it was his power and grace that had changed me. We have to do the work—they’re not going to do it for us. But if we try our best, the divine power of God and the guru is there.
The beginning of a new era
This weekend marks a very important time in the history of this work. The publishing of Yogananda’s explanation of the Bhagavad Gita in terms that people today can relate to and understand, marks the beginning of a new era. Through this little beginning that we have initiated in India, millions of lives will be changed, and I invite all you to be a part of this drama. The most important thing that any of us can do is to serve as instruments of the divine ray that God has sent into this world at this time.
The tendency of man is to say, “Oh, yes, I hope it happens.” But God wants people to say, “I will help make it happen.” From the moment that I read Yogananda’s Autobiography, I had an urgent desire to share anything I gained with everyone, and he treated me accordingly. I don’t think that I had any special spiritual gifts, but with my whole heart I wanted to show people the way out of suffering.
We can bring great light into the world
I urge all of you to be a part of this, because we can change the world. As few and insignificant as we are, we can bring great light into this world if we are willing to be instruments for the light. If we just stand by passively and let the show go on, it does goes on—and we keep coming back again and again.
If you are willing to serve as instruments for this cause, God will use you and He will bless you. In difficult times such as we’re living in today, God will give you very special blessings if you are willing to act as channels for His love. There is a great need for that love in the world today; the world is in great trouble right now because that love is lacking.
The meaning of his life
If we open our hearts to God, He can do much through us. This was the example of that great soul, Paramhansa Yogananda, who went to America from India when he was in his twenties. The year was 1920, and it’s amazing what he accomplished in that lifetime.
Yet there were many things he couldn’t finish, so he had to leave them to us to complete. Only as we’re willing to help make that great vision happen can it enter the world and change it.
I plead with you – become a warrior of the light now. That is what Yogananda wants of us and that ultimately is the meaning of his life.