For three years in a row-1950, 1951, and 1952-Master planned to go to India. Each time his plans were canceled, the last time by his physical death. The plan every year was for me to go with him. He wanted me, as I understood it, to travel around the country ahead of him, lecturing and preparing people for his arrival.
Daya Mata went to India in 1958 to fulfill his primary reasons for going. Ananda Mata and Sister Revati accompanied her. I met them in Indonesia, and completed the journey in their company.
Before their departure from the States, I flew to Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia. The plan was for me to give lectures in Auckland and Sydney. This was my first voyage westward from America.
Hawaii was a one-day stopover, only. I got to see the island of Oahu, thanks to a cousin of one of the monks. The cousin took the day off from work to show me around. In Fiji I planned a two-week rest, much needed after months of intense activity in Los Angeles prior to my extended stay in India. (I had long been under the impression Master wanted me to develop his work in India, though he never actually said as much.)
Shortly after my arrival in Fiji, however, my vacation plans met a snag. Some 380,000 Indians lived on the main island, Viti Levu. Swamis seldom if ever came there. In Nadi (pronounced Nandi) I found myself in great demand. Before I knew it I found myself addressing 700 people in a large auditorium. Soon, seeking my hoped-for break from activity, I went to the little town of Navua. There also, however, the news of my arrival in Fiji had somehow preceded me. Again I was sought out. In Suva, the main city of the island, a lecture program was set up for me. It was difficult to plead my need for rest, with so many people hungry for spiritual teachings. For me this proved also a golden opportunity to get a taste of Indian culture before actually landing in India.
From Fiji I flew to Auckland, New Zealand, where an SRF center thrived under the leadership of Reginald Howan. Here, and again later in Sydney, I was introduced to an aspect of my future work with the public that I hadn’t anticipated, and that I didn’t know how I’d explain to Mt. Washington.
I was the first person from the Mother Center ever to travel “down under.” Mr. Howan, delighted that I was coming, was yet in a quandary as to how much to publicize my visit. On the one hand, he naturally wanted as many people as possible to hear me. On the other hand, a doubt arose in his mind: Was I a good enough speaker to address general audiences? I was a monk, accustomed to a fairly sheltered life. What if I showed no aptitude for lecturing to worldly people unfamiliar with the very word yoga? If I proved inept as a public speaker, to invite a large crowd might even be disastrous for the work he was trying so conscientiously to build there.
He compromised. A large reception was held, at which I got to smile, be garlanded with flowers, say a few words of appreciation, and participate in a delicious banquet. Subsequent gatherings were all planned for center members and friends. I was to be in New Zealand two weeks. Mr. Howan had rounded out my program with a tour of the island, a Kriya Yoga initiation for those ready for it, and informal chats with him, his wife, and other members.
After my first lecture, however, everyone regretted they hadn’t planned anything public after the reception. A great flurry of activity ensued: advertising, the hiring of a large hall, press and radio interviews. Six hundred people attended the lecture, which proved a great success.
For the first time I discovered that, in order to attract large audiences, I needed to become known as a personality, or at least as a good speaker. It was insufficient to be known as the representative of a large organization. How, I wondered, to convince the people at Mt. Washington of this need for self-promotion, when they all did their best to remain behind the scenes? Master, after all, had not told them his plans for me. Could it be that he, too, didn’t expect them to understand? To them, such publicity was anathema. Nor was I myself interested in it for any reason other than my desire to reach out to as many people as possible with Master’s teachings.
The situation arose again in Sydney, Australia, the next stop on my journey. Constantin Tenukest, our center leader there, was even more fearful of harmful publicity than Mr. Howan had been. Convinced, however, after hearing me, he too went to the effort of hiring a hall and promoting a public lecture for me. Six hundred and fifty people came.
It also helps, I discovered, to present the evening as an event. The fact that I had come all the way from America was undoubtedly an attraction: My presence was news!
Thus, I learned that the most effective way of drawing an audience was not only to highlight the speaker’s name, but to present him as interestingly as possible. What would my fellow disciples at Mt. Washington do with this information, once it was presented to them? Should I even tell them? In a wish to be as effective in my public speaking as possible, and not wanting them to curb my effectiveness because of their own lack of experience, I decided to say nothing, but to let things work themselves out in their own time. Even to raise the issue, I feared, would condemn me in their eyes as wanting publicity.
I met the others in Djakarta, whence we flew to the island of Bali for two weeks of rest-at last! In Bali I had many adventures that I’d enjoy relating, but, having selected a single thread out of the complex tapestry of my life, I must pursue its course faithfully. Those adventures were diverting, but would be a diversion from this account.
From Bali we traveled to Bangkok, whence I also took a side trip alone to Angkor Wat. Our next stop was Rangoon, Burma. And then, at last, Calcutta, where we arrived late in a September evening in the midst of a heavy monsoon rain.
A large group were waiting to greet us at Dum Dum airport. I had told Master in 1950 at his desert retreat, “I think it would be easy for me to learn Bengali.”
“Very easy!” he’d replied, then pointed to his eyes: “Chokh,” he said; to his nose: “Nat”; his mouth: “Mukh”; his ear: “Kan”: his hand: “Hath.” I never forgot this little lesson, though I found no time for further study until shortly before my departure for India, when I acquired a simple Bengali primer. Now I addressed myself proudly to Swami Brahmananda: “Ami mangso khai na” (I don’t eat meat). Appreciation for this brave effort got me off on the right foot.
I soon found, however, that, mainly because most of the people we met spoke fluent English, I had little opportunity to practice Bengali, or, later on, Hindi. Years later, in Italy, I became relatively fluent in Italian in a matter of a few weeks. During four years in India, however, my knowledge of Bengali and Hindi remained comparable to the status of a relative newcomer to America, who can make his wishes somewhat known, but who wouldn’t dream of giving a lecture in English.
Our home, during that first year in India (Daya Mata and the others returned to America after one year), was an ashram in Baranagar, a little town outside Calcutta. The grounds were large-perhaps three to five acres-and separated from surrounding factories and a tannery by a high wall. The ambient noise didn’t intrude too much, therefore, and the vibrations in the ashram were peaceful and inspiring.