Paramhansa Yogananda said that, to be liberated, a disciple must have at least one physical contact with his guru. Where does that leave all of you who never met Yogananda while he was in a body?

I had an opportunity to ask Yogananda to clarify this point. We had been talking about the young man, Pratap Chatterji, whom he met during the adventure described in Autobiography of a Yogi in the chapter, “Two Penniless Boys in Brindaban.”  Pratap was blessed with a vision of Krishna who showed him Yogananda’s face and said, “This is your guru.” Yogananda accepted Chatterji as his disciple, and initiated him at the railroad station in Brindaban.

I asked Yogananda, “Has Pratap kept in contact with you over the years?” He replied, “He has kept in touch inwardly.” From his answer, I understood that the contact with the guru doesn’t have to be outward, but can be received inwardly if the disciple is sufficiently in tune.

A living instrument is necessary

It’s not enough, however, to say that you’ve had contact with your guru several lifetimes ago.  The guru’s touch needs to be transmitted through a living instrument. This is illustrated by the story of the great Indian saint, Namdev. Although Krishna had appeared to Namdev in vision many times, still Krishna told him that he needed a guru for final liberation.

Namdev protested, “But, Krishna, I commune with you, the Lord of the universe. Why do I need a guru?” Krishna replied, “Namdev, this is my law. Everything in this world has to be done through instruments. You need a living guru.” Namdev said, “Then, Lord, at least show me where to find my guru.”

So Krishna directed him to an enlightened sage, and Namdev was liberated through his guidance. Namdev’s guru, though far less evolved than Krishna, was still necessary for Namdev’s salvation.

Disciples transmit the guru’s power

Yogananda also told us that he is the last in this line of gurus. Again, if this is true, does that leave all of you out in the cold? Should you run off to India looking for a living guru? No. Yogananda said, “Those who fall by the wayside, my devotees will pick up.” The guru’s living touch can be transmitted by his disciples. Disciples who follow in our line will continue to bring these teachings to others in a living way.

Yogananda gave me the duty of giving Kriya initiation in his name when he was still alive. The guru’s living touch can be transmitted through his disciples even while his body remains on earth. In the Bible we see that Jesus initiated others through his disciples. It’s still his power, but it’s living; it’s like a baton that’s been passed on but energized by the guru’s touch.

I’ve lived these teachings for fifty-four years now, and I’ve seen that those who’ve had contact with living disciples of a great master have a much greater degree of attunement than those who receive his teachings only through books. There is a living transfer of power through contact with one who has known the guru.

Yogananda can also work through you

Does this mean that I’m your guru because I’m a direct disciple? No, it doesn’t.  Yogananda is still the power behind it all. God is the guru, but He works through Yogananda, through this line of gurus, and through the disciples who have received that power from these gurus.

I remember once Yogananda said to Rajarsi, “Never forget where your power comes from.” With a childlike smile, Rajarsi replied, “I won’t, Sir. It comes from you.”

Yogananda can work through me, yes, but he can also work through others of you. I don’t work through you—Yogananda does. Yogananda is the source of the power. But there is still the need for that living touch which he empowered me to give people during his lifetime. That is how Yogananda worked; that is how Jesus worked; and that’s how God works.

To really make spiritual progress, the disciple needs that living touch coupled with an understanding of where that touch comes from. The more you think it comes from a person, the less spiritual progress you’ll make. Understanding that Yogananda, and ultimately God, are the source of the power keeps people from focusing on a person. It helps them understand that what they’re receiving is a divine power.

Yogananda didn’t accept people’s devotion to himself personally. He said, “God is the guru.” Yogananda was empowered by God to bring a whole new wave, a whole new ray of divine consciousness into the world. We must look to this ray if we are to perpetuate this message in such a way as to keep it vibrant, vital, alive.

Finally we must understand that the source is not just Yogananda, but Sri Yukteswar, Lahiri Mahasaya, Babaji, and Jesus Christ—they’re all in this together. If we see all of them as the real power, then we can gain the most and understand the great revelation that they’ve given to the world at this time.

No dilution of Yogananda’s power

If we were to follow the tradition as it is often carried out in India, when Yogananda dies, one of his direct disciples would become the guru. When that particular disciple dies, several of his disciples would become gurus. When they die, several hundreds of others would become gurus, and so on.

Meanwhile what happens over time? There is a gradual dilution of Yogananda’s original power. This isn’t a small thing, when you’re dealing with a great master like Yogananda who came with tremendous power. I believe that he is the avatar for Dwapara Yuga.

We can get the false impression that this was the first life in which Yogananda found God, but our line of gurus has been coming around for a long time. Yogananda said that in a former lifetime Lahiri Mahasaya was King Janaka, one of the great sages of ancient India. Babaji was Krishna. Yogananda also said that Babaji, Lahiri, and Sri Yukteswar were the three wise men.

The power of an avatar

There is a great difference between an ordinary master and an avatar such as Yogananda. A master still must free himself from this body but an avatar is already free. A master can free maybe six people, maybe a few more. An avatar has the power to bring thousands, perhaps millions, to God.

In Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda’s mother brought him as a babe in arms to Lahiri Mahasaya for his blessing. When Lahiri saw him, he said, “Little mother, thy son will be a yogi. As a spiritual engine, he will bring many souls to God’s kingdom.”

What does an engine do? It draws many cars of people behind it. Lahiri meant that Yogananda had the kind of power that would distinguish him as an avatar. These are esoteric statements that you won’t catch with a casual reading, but if you look for subtler meaning, you’ll see what a powerful statement this is.

When you have a great avatar like Yogananda, it doesn’t behoove little disciples like me to set ourselves up in his position. We get our power from that source, and that source alone can bring true spiritual transformation into this world. Otherwise, we can do a good thing, but it won’t be expressing anywhere near the full potential.

In sharing these teachings, if we mistakenly refer back to ourselves, and don’t remember where the true source of spiritual power comes from, the magnetism of this ray will diminish. It was Jesus and Babaji who started this work—it’s their power coming through our line of gurus that gives it spiritual authority.

From a talk at Ananda Village, August 19, 2002


  1. “He comes to us secretly to bring the honey of our devotion”

    “Oh! I will come back again and again !”

    Even before we have known him and when we do not expect,
    regardless of any circumstances, he can come in our mind
    and touch us with his own hand…

  2. I do not see where Yogananda says the Guru must be living.

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