To those who think me near, I will be near. —Paramhansa Yogananda
Donald Walters was with his Guru at Mt. Washington during Paramhansa Yogananda’s last days before his mahasamadhi on March 7, 1952. On March 2, while they were alone together in the Master’s study, Yoganandaji gazed into his disciple’s eyes with deep love and said to him, “You have pleased me very much. I want you to know that.”
These few, simple words were etched in the disciple’s heart, filling him with lasting joy and gratitude. He knew he’d always done his best, but how little had that best seemed to him! That his Guru was pleased even with that little was a great comfort to him. Often — this was his chief karmic weakness — he had doubted his own worthiness.
On March 4, Paramhansa Yogananda hosted the Indian Ambassador, B.R. Sen, his wife, and the Consul General Mr. Ahuja, at Mt. Washington prior to a public function in their honor in Los Angeles. As often happened, Donald served the Master and his guests in the upstairs interview room.
On March 6, the Master returned to Mt. Washington after a visit to the Lake Shrine. The monks gathered eagerly around him. He touched each of them in blessing, then gave them some advice on the right spiritual attitudes and habits of a devotee. At last he said to all of them, “I have a big day tomorrow. Wish me luck.”
On March 7, Yoganandaji left the ashram for the last time and was driven to the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, where a large banquet for the Ambassador had been scheduled. Again he addressed the monks who had gathered to greet him: “Wish me luck.”
Kriyananda writes in The Path of his Guru’s last moments before leaving his body: “Master was scheduled to speak after the banquet. His brief talk was so sweet, so almost tender, that I think everyone present felt embraced in the gossamer net of his love. Warmly he spoke of India and America. Finally he read his beautiful poem, ‘My India.’ He came to the last lines of the poem:
‘Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves and men dream God, I am hallowed; my body touched that sod!’
“The word ‘sod’ became a long-drawn sigh, and the Master, slipping to the floor, consciously left his body.”
Donald understood intuitively what had just happened, and withdrew deeply into himself. Inwardly he chanted to his Guru. Then he made his way to where his Guru’s body lay. He found the great master with an expression of divine bliss on his face. The Master’s body was brought back to Mt. Washington and placed lovingly on his bed. Each disciple went in and knelt by his bedside. Many wept.
God had sent Paramhansa Yogananda to the world in answer to a universal call for spiritual guidance and upliftment. Like the great divine warrior that he was, Yogananda had taken America by storm, bringing the message of Kriya Yoga and spreading spiritual truths in a way not like anything that had ever been done before.
Nearly fifty years after Paramhansa Yogananda’s mahasamadhi, during a lecture Swami Kriyananda was giving in 1999, someone asked him, “How did you feel when Yogananda left his body?”
Swamiji replied: “There is inevitably, and rightly so, a human element in one’s devotion to the guru. We’re human beings, and can’t just say in the Vedantic way, ‘All is Brahma.’ It was a deep pain to lose my Guru. Over time, however, I came to understand that he hadn’t in fact left me at all. In a way, I found he was with me more than ever.
“While he was living, there was always the delusion that, although I could feel him in my heart, his body was over there — perhaps sitting in the next room. It is hard to separate the Master’s body from his over-arching consciousness. When he left the body it was easier to keep his presence wholly in my heart.
“Once I asked him, ‘Will you be just as much with us after you leave your body as you are now?’ His answer was, ‘To those who think me near, I will be near.’
“I’m happy to be here to carry on his work now. It’s my blessing, and (I hope) my salvation. In a sense I still live in those days with Master — not in a spirit of nostalgia, but feeling him with me, guiding me in everything I do. I’m always reflecting on what he said, what he did, how he said it, how he did it, and on the subtle nuances of every movement. Those memories have molded my life. In these ways I’ve understood how to serve him. My main guideline has always been to ask myself, ‘What would my Guru say or do?’”
Often it happens that only towards the end of a great master’s life do those who are destined to carry on his mission come to him. Now was the time for Swami Kriyananda, who had come to Yogananda in the last three and a half years of the guru’s life, to take up the work the Master had commissioned him to do (“And you mustn’t disappoint me!”) and spread the message of Kriya Yoga throughout the world.