One of Yogananda’s last acquisitions was the purchase of a place where he could be completely undisturbed by telephone calls, requests for interviews, and all the demands people make of a public figure. This place was his desert retreat at Twenty-Nine Palms. There was his retreat, and the monks’ retreat was located five miles down the same road.
At the monks’ retreat, I received from him a valuable teaching on ahimsa (harmlessness). He had said that it is better to keep forms of life under control that threaten human life. “Human beings are more highly evolved than the lower animals,” he said. “Their lives are more precious. Therefore, when you see a rattlesnake, for example, near where you live, it is better to kill it than to endanger human lives.”
“Sir,” I asked him, “what about flies? They aren’t a threat to human life. They’re just a nuisance.”
“Nevertheless,” he replied, “in those countries where flies are allowed to proliferate, many people die from illnesses that are incurred because of the existence of those flies.”
One day I found a snake just outside the back door of our monks’ retreat. I felt very badly in doing so, but, remembering Master’s words, I killed it with a spade, and told him what I’d done the next time he visited me there.
He said nothing. After a few minutes, however, he remarked casually, “Do you know, the women disciples are so ignorant in these matters that they actually killed a garter snake the other day, thinking it was a rattlesnake!”
I was horrified. Suddenly I realized that what I had killed had not been a rattlesnake, but a harmless garter snake also! I confessed my blunder to him.
“That’s all right,” he reassured me. Obviously, he’d known what I had done. “Don’t feel badly about it.” Evidently, he thought it would be worse for me to blame myself than simply to drop the matter.
Then, to underscore the fact that God wouldn’t hold my little sin against me, he had me bring a pot of water to the boil, and led me out into the “garden” (if one can call that sandy waste a garden!) and had me pour the hot water into an ants’ nest, killing I don’t know how many of the poor little creatures. This he did to erase from my heart any feeling of self-blame. For he used to tell us that the greatest of sins is to call oneself a sinner.
One time—not at the desert—he described God as “eating” people. As he made that remark, he made the appropriate gesture with his right hand, as if placing food in his mouth. Death, in other words, is no great thing. It happens to every living being and is simply a part of life. What’s wrong is the wish to destroy life.