In 1977 I was living in southern California in the town of Leucadia, right next to Encinitas, where Paramhansa Yogananda had his seaside hermitage
Though I had been looking for a spiritual path to follow I knew nothing of Swamis, or Yogananda or Eastern religions. I take no credit whatsoever for what ensued!
I was living in the area taking some classes at the University of California in San Diego as a non-matriculated student trying to figure out whether to pursue a degree in psychology or medicine. I was also a long distance runner at that time and frequently ran on what was called ‘Swami’s Beach’, just below the hermitage.
I started noticing what I felt were odd experiences during my runs. I often felt compelled to stop the run and rest there for a while. It had nothing to do with my physical body but more like a force grabbing me and commanding me to be still. One day, while stopping at that beach in the middle of a run, I felt this strong, clear inspiration: “Go to medical school, and it must be an Ivy League school.” The message was: you will practice in unusual ways in the future and you will need this credibility.
I ran home and told my husband, “I’m going to medical school and it has to be an Ivy League one.” I remember it like it was yesterday. Without a pause he said, “What do we do now?”
I applied at many schools and was accepted at Stanford and Yale, and wait-listed at Duke. We chose Stanford. No one seemed to notice that I hadn’t yet completed my Bachelor’s degree.
Just before I moved to Palo Alto to start medical school, my husband and I were in a bookstore in San Diego, and a stranger walked up to us as we were browsing and asked, “Did I hear you say you are moving to Palo Alto?” When we answered yes he said, VERY emphatically, “The very first thing you MUST do is go to the East-West Bookshop!” He told us right where it was and off he went.
We drove our rented U-Haul truck north, unpacked the truck one day, and went to East-West Bookstore in Menlo Park the next day.
I met Vasudeva that day and he handed me a copy of the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda. I read it and stepped onto the path of Kriya Yoga as a disciple of Yogananda.
Within a week I began my classes at Stanford University Medical School. My connection with Yogananda and the Ananda spiritual movement carried me through those four years with ease and joy, not words usually associated with med school.
Three weeks before graduation, the dean called me into his office because they could not find my college degree. When I told him that that I had no degree, that I had never finished college, he was incredulous. He was sure it was a huge mistake.
He then told me that they couldn’t give me an MD without a college degree. Hmmm … I told him they had a big problem because I was definitely graduating in three weeks. After some discussion, they gave me an honorary “Bachelor of Medical Science” degree — one that does not exist at Stanford — and graduated me as a Medical Doctor.
Astonishing as this story is, it was only the beginning of a life then filled with miracles that have come through the divine inspiration I feel through Paramhansa Yogananda. The impact on my life is beyond words … an extraordinary blessing, great good karma, a life filled with God’s grace. But not just for me.
Time and again this spiritual Master has been there guiding me through impossible moments in medicine, and in all of life. Bringing me answers that I could not have known, filling me with empathy and compassion in circumstances that might have been filled with angst were He not so present for me, guiding me to do the right thing, and to make the right choices that have literally saved lives in many moments.
Medical school was a remarkable experience for me. It was a practice in learning how to memorize a huge amount of data. I have always appreciated having that fund of knowledge, but I have also understood … known, that I could not truly help my patients simply by relying on that information alone. During my internship and residency, I always kept a note on my clipboard reminding me to pray and ask for guidance before I saw every patient.
Now, in my medical practice, I ask for guidance all the time – over and over. Before walking into a patient’s room, or while sitting with a patient, I’ll pray: “Master, I need to know what to say to this person, and how to say it so that they can hear it.”
Then often the words come, the diagnoses come, and miracles happen. The stories that have evolved through my work are precious. Here is just one tales of these divine gifts.
Something was terribly wrong
One day, after I had seen close to 30 patients, I stopped at the door of the treatment room before going in to see my last patient of the day. Inwardly I said, “Divine Mother, You have to guide me because I’m exhausted. I’m going to miss something important if You are not with me.”
Waiting in the room was a 92-year-old man, the father of one of the nuns who ran the hospital I worked in. She and her sister were with him. He was a gruff old man and announced to me right away, “I haven’t been to see a doctor in ten years at least. I never go to the doctor. I have a little back pain – just give me some medicine!”
When I asked him to tell me about his back pain, he replied with annoyance, “There’s nothing to tell you! I’ve just got back pain.” After pressing him for more details, he said that a very severe back pain had come on suddenly the night before. His daughter added, “It was so severe that it made him sick to his stomach.”
As I listened to this story, right away I got the feeling that something was terribly wrong. I said to him, “I’m going to leave the room. You’re going to get undressed, and I’m going to come back and examine you.” Muttering a few expletives, he refused to be examined, but fortunately his daughters were on my side.
I left the room. On the way back, before going in, I prayed, “Divine Mother, You diagnose this man. Something serious is going on here.”
During the exam, I found nothing except a little area of what we call “mottling” of his skin on his right side, which I assumed was due to the room being cold. But I still had this troubling feeling. So I said to him, “You are going to the emergency room. Would you like your daughters to drive you, or shall I call 911?”
After quite an argument, he let his daughters drive him to the emergency room. I called ahead to the emergency room doctor and said, “Something serious is going on with this man. It’s important that you see him the instant he arrives.”
The doctor in the emergency room knew exactly what that “mottling” meant, and quickly got him up to the operating room. The instant the surgeon opened his abdomen, his entire abdominal aorta burst open. Had this man stopped to go home, had we fought for another three minutes, he would have died.
The next day, my phone kept ringing. My doctor friends at the hospital called to say, “Great call! How did you remember this sign?” I said, “I didn’t remember anything.” I remember even now the feeling of deep humility and the love I felt for God.
I thought to myself, “How could I ever share this story?” From years of taking care of patients I knew that knowing all the facts and “signs” is important (I don’t want to miss a pneumonia, or an appendicitis), but most of the healing that’s happened in my practice has come through me. Everything important that I know about medicine, everything I have to give, comes from my having opened my heart to God.
Yogananda is my spiritual teacher, my guru. He guided me into medicine and he has been with me ever since. Jai Guru!
I’m thrilled to let you know that Ananda has a gift for you – an audiobook or e-book of the original Autobiography. I also invite you to share your story of awakening with the Autobiography in video or writing.
You may also enjoy watching The Spark, a documentary short film that reveals how Yogananda and his Autobiography ignited a spiritual revolution in the West.
Tyagi Shanti, a Lightbearer and longtime Ananda member, lives in the Ananda Palo Alto community. After practicing medicine for 25 years full-time, she now has a part-time medical practice specializing in “transformational medicine”, working with people as they move through major life transitions. She also teaches meditation, energy and healing, and “living wellness” at the Ananda Palo Alto Sangha.