On the ship that had brought Paramhansa Yogananda to America, The City of Sparta, there had been a young Muslim by the name of Rashid. Rashid it was who got the Master well known as a lecturer. He planned posters to which Yogananda objected (to him, they seemed fulsome), but they served their purpose. Yogananda became well known. In fact, he became, in time, quite possibly the best-known lecturer in America. And he became also a favorite among New York high society.
On one occasion Yogananda attended a formal high society banquet. About fifty people were present. As he sat in this company, he kept thinking, “What a waste of a good incarnation. These people have everything, yet they are simply throwing away this opportunity to improve their karma! Don’t they realize what a good fortune it is even to incarnate in a human body?”
Later, the bejeweled hostess approached him.
“Swami,” she said with a smile. “I’m sure our New York elite would just love to hear a few words from you.”
“Forgive me,” he replied, “but I really have nothing to say that anyone here would want to hear.”
“Oh, please just say anything, Swami. You’re a wonderful speaker. All my guests would be delighted to hear you.”
To himself, Yogananda thought, “I will not be a social lapdog!”
Reluctantly then, he stood up, walked to the head of the table, and turned with a calm but fierce expression to face them.
“You call yourselves ‘high society,’” he said. “What makes you that? ‘High’ ought to imply a heightened state of consciousness. Is your consciousness high? Is it in any way uplifted? At least half of you are drunk. Your interests in life are shallow. If by ‘high’ you mean that your ponds are so shallow that the bottom of them is almost at the surface, then I agree with you! But from your conversation here this evening I have the impression that all any of you think about is money, profit, flattery, and chasing after one another’s wives.
“Being in ‘high’ society ought to give you a sense of responsibility to those below you in the social scale. You should set them an example. You might act nobly, and stoop down to help them. Instead, what do you do? If you stoop at all, it is to empty their pockets of any pittance they may still have left. Shame on all of you! I hoped in coming here this evening at least to find people of culture. Instead, what I find is so many pigs at the trough, swilling, munching, and gulping as though life offered nothing higher to that supposedly noble creature, man, than whitewash for his sepulcher. No wonder Jesus Christ said, ‘Let the dead bury their dead!’”
Many of the banquet guests were in tears. All of them looked shocked almost out of their senses. One woman exclaimed to him, “What a terrible picture you’ve painted of us! And the worst of it is, it’s all true!”
The hostess was at first grim with rejection. “Can I thank you for this unfeeling indictment?”
Gazing around her, she saw in many eyes an expression of deep remorse. Then she continued, more humbly, “I am sorry. . . . All of us. . . . Well, we do our best. You have chastened us, but (she broke down) God forgive us all!”
Yogananda said inwardly to himself, “Satan! How often has he tried to win me. This time it was with the offer of social prestige!”