“Awake and ready, sir!” That was the answer our guru (spiritual teacher), Paramhansa Yogananda, of the Self-Realization Fellowship(1) expected to hear when he asked, “How are you?” I trust I am “awake and ready” right now as I write these words in answer to the endless times I have been asked, “What led you to yoga?” and “What was it like to know Yoganandaji in person?” (The suffix “ji” in Hindi denotes respect.)
I was born February 1, 1914 in Pasadena, California to C. Winthrop and Helen M. (formerly Gilman) Bowen. As a child, I well remember being aware of how pleased I was to be “loaned” to these very special parents, whose deep love I felt immediately. Much later, in the 1950s, I would learn from scientists, some connected with the Menninger Institute, that they not uncommonly receive letters from people throughout the world about such childhood memories. These memories date back to before birth, and involve metaphysical experiences that are similar to mine. This naturally baffles the average scientist, who searches for the truth from without, while the metaphysician searches from within.
Among other of my memories was the belief that one does not get hurt unless he or she breaks a spiritual law. However, in my immaturity I failed to grasp why I would stumble and fall when learning to walk. Had I trespassed spiritual law? All in all, with the exception of my father’s tragic and fatal accident in 1929, I was blessed to have a very good childhood with my sister, Frances(2), who arrived several years after my birth.
I entered the first grade of a small parochial school, where I first heard about sin. Although Yoganandaji would later extol both my parents for their spirituality, our family rarely attended church. So why was I sent to this parochial school? It was because of its proximity to our home. I was immediately shocked by the teacher, who informed us it was sinful for a woman to wear sleeves short enough to expose her elbows, to use cosmetics, to wear high heels, or to do her hair in puffs (a cylindrical roll of hair popular at the time). It was a sin for anyone to indulge in alcohol, to utter a swear word or to attend the theatre. No wonder Lincoln was shot, I thought!
Consequently I had a lot of anxiety, knowing that the parents I adored might go to hell. I prayed constantly for their salvation, unknown to them. By nature my faith in God, whom I thought of as all-pervading spirit, was unlimited. Then one memorable afternoon my mother arrived shortly before the end of the school day. She was wearing a sleeveless dress, high heels, rouge and puffs in her hair. She happily said to the teacher, “Please excuse me, I came early to get Peg because we are going out to dinner and to the theatre.” The teacher was speechless, having gone into shock. However she did manage a suggestion of a nod as mother and I walked out.
After the theatre, my father asked, “Would you enjoy a root beer?” I replied, “No, thank you, Daddy.” I was worried about the root beer being alcohol. He asked if I felt ill. I told him I was fine. Never did I mention about sinning, because I did not want to hurt my parents’ feelings. Fortunately we soon moved from this area to our property in Orange County to develop our orchards of oranges and avocados. I entered the Placentia Union Grammar School and never again had to hear of sin from a school teacher.
While still in primary grades I often would find a place to hide, sit in the lotus posture (a traditional meditation pose) or cross-legged and search within for what I called the real Peggy. I thought that if I could remain absolutely still, God would reveal Himself and His wisdom. Then there need be no more unanswered questions. At the very least, I surely would receive guidance. However, after a few minutes of absence, my mother would start calling me, to which I dutifully responded.
At school I sensed that a few of the children, one way or another, had some problems about which I could do nothing. This worried me considerably, but I soon learned that I could acquire peace of mind by turning my attention to God. At night, by nature I would concentrate on my heart center(3), the area located in the spine within the region of the heart, until I slipped into conscious sleep. I concentrated so intensely that I remained inwardly awake, while my tired body drifted into sleep. Consequently I witnessed the process of energies returning from the skin area to near the spine where they were grabbed by the spine’s magnetic power.
Next I was aware of an all powerful pull, like a gargantuan magnet, just above my head, that drew upward in catapult fashion all the subtle energies, including the kundalini (in Hindu metaphysics, the coiled serpent power located in the first chakra at the base of the spine). The movement of the energies up the spine was accompanied by a roar of AUM(4), the cosmic vibratory power behind all atomic energies.
As a youngster I used to make a game of seeing how close I could come to the spine without its grabbing my energies. I could retreat at a certain point if I cared to, but once in the spine I could not because the strongest energy was the pull from the magnet, as I termed it, above my head.
This energy, kundalini, lit my spine so that it looked to my inner gaze like a tree of colored lightning running up the trunk and into its branches. I particularly remember the rose-colored light that emanated from the heart center. However, it was rare that I saw color in the spine. Nearly always the energy appeared colorless, the color of lightning.
I observed a silver chord of light from where I concentrated (the heart center) dart through the top of my head (the sahasrara chakra or thousand-petaled lotus). It rarely passed through the spiritual eye (the ajna chakra, or Christ center, located at the point between the eyebrows).(5) At this time I experienced darkness for a very few seconds or less, which did not bother me one iota. Then I saw my subtle body of light, no longer hindered by my physical form. I had been launched into the astral world, the subtle sphere of the Lord’s creation, a universe of light and color.(6) I immediately liked it and felt very much at home, enjoying its peace and ethereal beauty, and especially its divine love. I certainly liked being so much more quick, alert and aware than in the physical body. It is easier to concentrate the mind when in the astral body than when in the physical body. My light (astral) body was free to travel instantly to whatever my thought projected toward — or just to wander and observe.
At first I frequently visited places in this earthly sphere. For instance, once I encountered a friendly satyr in our stand of eucalyptus near the orange grove. In spite of his twinkling eyes, I left in a hurry and never again ran across him. On another occasion I was shown a tunnel leading down into the earth. I felt I was to enter, that there was something for me to learn. As I reached the end of the tunnel and turned for my upward climb (which I did not relish, although I felt secure), I took but a few steps then realized I could not progress. It seemed I was on a small plateau unable to reach the next level. Fortunately I did not panic. Instead, after viewing my dilemma, I caught on that I would be stranded there until I quit thinking of the jam I was in, and turned my mind from the problem to concentrating on God. By following through with this concentration, I was released to walk a few more steps to the next plateau, only to find the same predicament. I experienced numerous situations like this as I climbed toward the light, until I finally grasped the lesson: Don’t energize the problem. “Let go and let God.”
After many trips I realized that declaring, “Let this trip be yours, God,” was indeed rewarding. For example, I would find myself in the presence of highly developed souls, teachers in the light who were in a position to direct me and did so. In such a situation the devotee is not only blessed, but sent in turn to help others, by sharing what light he or she can.
I feel that every one of us is being called by spiritual guides. All we need to do is be aware of this, and turn our attention to the spiritual path. Continually love the Lord and the Heavens will open. At the same time there must be right action — study, work and sharing.
Experiencing the astral, though I surely welcomed it, was not the oneness with spirit which I sought, because there remained duality. As an example, when one hears the AUM, fine; but there is still duality: the listener and the AUM. When the AUM becomes tremendously loud and powerful, to the point of appearing to break the sound barrier, it then quietly absorbs one. Then he or she is not conscious of hearing it, but only of being it. Thus, oneness. The same is true with the light: It is more than splendid to see it, but even greater to merge with it.
A salient point I learned from the astral plane, one that I could see for myself through these experiences, was that there is no such thing as death — only the changing of the garb. With the dismissal of the physical body, the light (astral) body lives on.
Nay, but as when one layeth
His worn-out robes away,
And, taking new ones, sayeth,
“These will I wear to-day!”
So putteth by the spirit
Lightly its garb of flesh,
And passeth to inherit
A residence afresh.
Sir Edwin Arnold(7)
Later I would hear Yoganandaji say he did not recommend that one seek phenomena, but that if such experiences come to one naturally, there is a purpose. For instance, when the 1960s rolled around and I was middle-aged, many young people with whom I was acquainted turned to yoga in an attempt to kick the drug habit. Quite a few of them, as well as scientists carrying out experiments with hallucinogenic drugs in Mexico (where this was not illegal), met with me. I could not have contributed as effectively to the conversations that ensued had I not been in a position to draw upon my out-of-body experiences.
The inner life was natural and real to me, and exceedingly stepped up in comparison to life on this plane. When one is asleep and in the subconscious mind experiencing a nightmare, it is real at the time. Likewise, when one’s consciousness experiences a much higher realm, earth consciousness appears to be a dream. Master said, “If you hit your head against a brick wall in a dream, your head hurts until you awake from the dream.”
What bothered me about living on two planes of reality was that I felt nobody would understand it. I thought I had better keep still about it and I did, assuring myself that as long as I got along okay on the earth plane, I was not too abnormal. However, I felt the constant desire and pressure to comprehend truth. “Knowing Truth, thy heart no more will ache with error, for the Truth shall show all things subdued to thee, as though to Me.”(8) Thus, the continual inward search where I was most aware, where thought manifests immediately. After returning once from a vivid, very much alive astral trip, I purposely stuck myself with a pin to see if I was actually here (I was!).
I shall not dwell more on the astral world, because I prefer to write about blessed Yoganandaji. Besides, astral projection is not important. Yogananda asked that I remain centered in the body when the consciousness expands beyond its confines, saying “What makes you think you always can return after an astral trip?”
I said, “Well, I always have returned. What difference would it really make?”
He answered, “A considerable difference, because the longer one can extend his or her life of service here, the more growth he or she can attain. Also, should you not return it would be detrimental to the reputation of SRF.” I kidded him about this last remark, which afforded us a good laugh.
Seriously I told Paramhansaji I would make every effort to remain centered in my body. He said he definitely would help me to do so. The following two nights, although I earnestly tried to remain with my body, the magnetic pull above my head was stronger than I could manage. However, with Paramhansa lending the support of his great power, I was able to get myself under control. No longer did the problem confront me.
That which is essential is loving God with all one’s heart, mind and soul. Am I a good example of how one should live? Not particularly, but I certainly am trying, because God is my love, my all, my everything.
I Meet My Guru
When I was but a young adult, I was desperate for an understanding of the metaphysical experiences I had undergone. I realized I was in dire need of direction, but I had declared for years that I wanted no person to come between God and me. So, of course, nobody did, until one great day when I was meandering alone among the hills above our home. I was pleading for divine guidance when my intuition responded, “You have been dictating to the Lord.” What a shock of awakening!
Immediately I bowed my head, apologized and spoke into the ether, “I gladly will accept as a teacher whom You send to me.” I rejoiced, gave thanks and scampered home.
Wandering into my bedroom I nonchalantly picked up a small scrap of paper from the floor, wadded it and tossed it into a wastebasket. Then the light dawned. I practically dove for that scrap of paper, unfolded it and read, “Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda.” How did it get there? Who knows? I knew intuitively that answers were at hand.
I bought the book and delved into it, only to be interrupted by a phone call from a close friend. She invited me to visit her in San Diego that weekend. She had heard someone (she could not recall his name) lecture there, and she felt I must meet him. With Yogananda’s book foremost on my mind, I thanked her but said I could not possibly accept her invitation for that particular weekend. She was extremely sorry — then remembered, “Oh, the speaker’s name is something like Param… Paramhansa Yogananda.”
“Ye gods!” I shouted. “I’ll be down right away.” Off I sped to what would become the turning point in my life.
The subsequent day we attended the Self-Realization Church of All Religions to hear Yogananda speak. It was my privilege to witness his aura of light, his intelligence and bottomless depth of understanding. He revealed his devotion to God, blessed Jesus Christ and the great gurus — including Sri Yukteswarji, his beloved spiritual teacher. I was aware of a divine power and love permeating all.
As we filed out of church, he asked if I would remain a few minutes, which I happily did. It was during this time that he invited me to live at Self-Realization Fellowship Headquarters and to share in the work, saying that he could teach me things performed by the yogis of India, such as consciously leaving and returning to the body. I said, “Thank you, but I am acquainted already with that practice. I’m attempting to remain in the body.” He then rolled his eyes upward to the Christ center, after which he said, “Every word you tell me is the truth.” (Imagine anyone ever attempting to fool him!) We conversed for a while, then he said, “You already are experiencing yoga, such as meditating and hearing the AUM (sound of cosmic creative vibration), but you require direction.”
I answered, “You are 100% correct.” I thanked him for our visit and inquired, “May I have time to think over your generous invitation?”
He said I could, but that delaying might be tantamount to forfeiting the opportunity. Not understanding at that time the true nature of a guru-disciple relationship, (a relationship of unconditional love) I simply said, “If I am to go, God will hold open the invitation.”
Yogananda set a time for me to visit him in Los Angeles at his headquarters. The night before the appointment I became ill, apparently with the flu. My mother said she would cancel the appointment the first thing in the morning. However, right before falling asleep I saw Yogananda in the astral form. He stood a few feet from my bed and a little above the floor. Aloud he blessed me. I was spiritually elated, awed and grateful for the caring attention. In the morning I dressed, ate breakfast and kept my appointment.
It would be a week before my mother would exclaim, “Peg, remember the night before you visited Paramhansa Yogananda? You were very ill.”
“Yes, now that you remind me!” I responded. Obviously, the illness had vanished. Even its memory had temporarily escaped us.
The memorable first visit to Self-Realization Fellowship left me astounded — in an excellent way. Yogananda’s dynamic presence permeated the atmosphere everywhere there. I had arrived with many questions about the path of self-realization; but my inquiries naturally gave way to the Master(9) of the ashram, who busily showed me photographs of his family. Did I not think his brother looked like Cary Grant? “If I look hard enough, I guess I can see a resemblance,” I answered. Later I would comprehend the enormity of merely being in the presence of so great a soul.
When I retired that night at Self-Realization Fellowship, I pleaded for guidance. “Please send me a sign. Get the message through my skull as to whether or not I’m to move in here.” Fortunately my answer came, as light went on a rampage, permeating me and the entire room. I appeared like lightning to my open eyes. I felt assured I was on the right path. Then I was thrust out of my body astrally and landed in Yoganandaji’s apartment; but upon realizing I had entered without having been invited, I returned immediately to my own room. The following day I apologized to Yoganandaji. He said, “there was absolutely nothing improper about your dropping in.” I thanked him and also said that I was happy and grateful to accept his invitation to live and work at Mt. Washington.
Living at Self-Realization Fellowship, on the beautiful grounds of Mt. Washington, afforded us devotees the privilege of many private as well as group sessions with Master.(10) What a joy to be summoned by him! Naturally, his guidance to us varied depending on the manner in which we each could best serve God. He said that whatever one can do best is the manner in which he or she can serve most successfully. The line of work is not important as long as it provides a channel for God’s expression. Although we are created alike, being made in God’s image, every soul has been blessed with a spark of individuality that should be developed. Like gold nuggets, we require refining and polishing before our light can shine through.
He emphasized that meditation is essential. “Be still, and know that I am God.”(11) The mind, when stilled by concentration at the Christ center, reflects clearly the divine light, just as a calm lake can reveal a perfect reflection of the moon. Choppy water distorts.
Though Master did not hesitate to express himself freely, he usually did so with warmth, understanding and humor. I remember how shocked I was once when I heard him sound off to a devotee. Master read my mind and informed me, “I never lose my temper. It’s just that I have a fiery personality.” Master explained to me later that he communicated in whatever manner would most impress that particular devotee.
Attending church to hear Master was, of course, always a highlight. My mother said he was the first person who ever made any sense to her on the subject of religion. On her initial visit to hear him lecture, she received his blessing not only in words but in results. A charge of energy entered her hands and permeated her entire being, thus strengthening her. She said that spiritually, mentally and physically she felt boosted.
Most people responded positively to Master’s blessings. However, there were a few whose egos came to the fore. One woman who emphasized her greatness said, “Master, I am really pure. I haven’t had one bite of meat in decades.” (Yogananda advised devotees to follow a vegetarian diet; vegetarian food was always served at Self-Realization Fellowship.)
He allowed her to ramble a bit, then turned to me and said, “I wish you would slip her a ham sandwich. It might do her some good.” Master did not want people to make a fetish over what they ate. Once, a man at church was bragging about how much carrot juice he drank daily. Master said to him, “All that will accomplish is to keep you here on this plane a little longer.”
My assignments at the ashram included some secretarial work and meeting many of Yoganandaji’s guests as they arrived in Los Angeles to be escorted to Mt. Washington. In addition, I drove Master to and from the Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades during its development. This was indeed a privilege, though a little disconcerting, because he wanted me to drive ahead of all the other cars. I went as fast as I dared — and through the grace of God we encountered no problems. Why he liked fast driving I don’t know, unless he felt that as long as we did not run into trouble, why loiter in uninteresting traffic?
How blessed I am to have spent as much time as I did with him. After all, I did not meet him until 1949, three years before he entered mahasamadhi (a yogi’s final conscious exit from the body).
Yogananda was a prominent figure, very active and much sought after. I remember that whenever the press arrived, they would ask me about his outstanding qualities. Often, before I could reply, the reporters would exclaim about his great love, which they actually felt, and about his high humor. He had the ability to reach all types of people in God’s “menagerie,” as he sometimes called this world. Often he chuckled over various of his devotees looking like members of the animal kingdom. He claimed that my eyes look like those of a raccoon. Consequently, he now and then addressed me as “Raccoonita.”
His joy spread to occasional pranks. Once he called my attention to a spot on the ceiling above the table where he and Rajarsi (James J. Lynn, second president of SRF) had recently had lunch. Then Master started laughing so hard that I could scarcely understand his words. The story finally came out: After they sat down at the table, Master asked Rajarsi to look out the window at a bird. Master had previously concealed a toy water gun on his person, and while Rajarsi was looking out the window, he shot the water gun at the spot on the ceiling, from where the water dropped onto Rajarsi’s bald head. Rajarsi was puzzled, but said nothing, Master played innocent. The second time the stunt was pulled, Rajarsi caught on that Master was at play.
Master also appreciated stories from others. For instance, during World War II I worked at Vultee Aircraft. Once, I mentioned to Master that after I made my first solo flight, I told by boss, “Oh, I’ll be able to take you flying.”
My boss responded, “What do you have against me?” This answer so amused Master that he included it among the numerous tales he occasionally had me retell as a respite from his intense workload.
Increasingly Master put me to work contacting people. My purpose was not necessarily to bring them in as members, he said, but to expose them to yoga should they be interested — especially artists and scientists, of whom I would encounter many. He very much appreciated the creativity of artists, and he wholeheartedly admired the uncovering of truth to which scientists are dedicated. Master said it is only a matter of time before science and yoga will meet. Having both realized the truth from their different approaches, science and yoga will be in agreement.
Master informed me I would be traveling a lot and that doors would open for me. He requested that I paint and/or write, as a means of meeting the public, saying, “I don’t ask you to start meditation centers or colonies, others will accomplish those matters. I do ask you to meditate and mix with the public.” I explained that I am not particularly interested in socializing, to which he responded, “Well, can’t you do it to please God and guru?”
I answered, “When you put it that way, indeed yes.”
He told me to feel free to give Kriya (an advanced meditation practice) or any other part of his teachings to whomever I thought I should. Truth is free.
I exploded, “Master, I can’t do that. Your office would have a fit!”
He said, “You divine nincompoop, whom are your following, the office or me?”
“I might make a mistake,” I added.
“No, you won’t. I’ll work through you — and always keep in touch with Faye (Sri Daya Mata). By the way, I’ve told her that whenever she requires a break from her heavy workload she should call on you. The two of you might take in a movie.” This pleased me because of my very high regard for her.
“The main thing is to meditate and follow the divine wave. No matter where you are I’ll always be your guru. I’ve tested you well. You won’t be leaving this path.” (I wonder what the test was.)
“How strict do you want me to be when socializing? For instance, with meat and drink?” I inquired.
“Apply discretion, of course. Handle all situations with grace. Whatever you do, please do not ever embarrass your host or hostess.”
One of the neighbors at Mt. Washington graciously invited us at SRF to her neighborhood Christmas Party one year. Daya said that Master would like several of us to attend. Daya, with her many responsibilities, could not go, but she sent a small group, including my mother, who was visiting, to the event. We were greeted warmly and offered alcoholic drinks, which we turned down flat (understandably so). There followed a dead silence. The host, obviously embarrassed, felt he had made a faux pas of the year. From the rear of the group I said, “We deeply appreciate your hospitality and hope you will excuse our being on the waterwagon.” He relaxed, smiled and said, “Oh, of course.”
Next we were served delicate sandwiches which we accepted, only to discover they were of meat. What to do? Some were slipped to my mother, who ate them to be polite. I nibbled on one. The rest were surreptitiously put in a nearby wastebasket. I made it a point to be merry and mingle with the guests. Then we departed.
During one of my visits with Master, I mentioned that I never ceased to be thrilled over healings. I was deeply touched that Daya Mata was healed from an illness the first time she attended one of his lectures.
He said, “It was before a large audience that I told her she would heal right away. So it was either that or leave town!”
Yogananda often reminded us that God is the doer, in healings as in all things. We are but the channels through which God acts in this world. “Naught of myself I do!” Thus will he think — who holds the truth of truths.(12)
I remember Master once telling me a young man, a drug addict, who had just spent several hours with him. Master purposely kept him past the time at which he would require his next dose (I do not know of which drug). Finally the man exclaimed, “Sir, please excuse me, but I must leave immediately in order to get my drug!”
Master said, “I understand, but I promise you it will not be necessary, because I have the drug on hand.”
The young man was astounded. When he started to shake, Master produced the tablet and the man gratefully swallowed it. Shortly he settled down, saying he felt fine. Master later said the man did not realize the “drug” had been concocted from a piece of dough and a few drops of ink. After the fake tables had been allowed to dry, they passed for the real thing. I can hear
Master’s laughter now; he was utterly delighted. The young man soon recovered from his drug addiction.
Yogananda’s capacity seemed to have no confines. He could answer all metaphysical questions, as well as those pertaining to most other subjects. Seeing people’s previous lives enabled him to better guide devotees, and to place them in that work where they could best serve. He told me that I had studied his teachings in the past. I had been born into ruling families — not as a ruler, but as a communicator among the ruling families. (God only knows what I was at other times!)
He unconditionally loved everyone. Whether or not he agreed with them was beside the point. He never lost sight of his own words, “Awaken God’s love in the hearts of others.” Master emphasized the joy of divine love, and how essential it is. Spiritually love others through thick and thin. Impart so much of this divine love that the hearts of others respond. We can do it. God’s love — pure, spiritual, divine — is in all of us, as we are made in His image. However, it is our responsibility to tune in and to share. Thus we help awaken others, whose hearts will then be aglow to take the spiritual path to Him, to serve and to rejoice.
Master’s All-Embracing Consciousness
Master thought highly of my parents. Although my father had long passed on (May 30, 1929) before I met Master, he knew him through meditation. Master informed me that he invariably meditated on devotees to pick up their backgrounds, and thus know them better. He could answer all metaphysical questions, as well as those pertaining to other subjects, such as education. Master’s good friend, Luther Burbank, prominent American Horticulturist, freely questioned him regarding various methods of teaching. This was a subject dear to both of their hearts. They were in favor of children experiencing nature and not being stifled out of their individuality. It is no wonder that Burbank was highly interested in Master’s school in Ranchi, India (Yogoda Sat-Sanga).
Often I was one of the devotees attending Master after church when he met with small groups of people from many walks of life. He was knowledgeable and at ease with the various subjects that presented themselves in these discussions — religion, architecture, travel, literature, economics, politics, etc.
I remember his riding out with me to our orange and avocado groves. How he enjoyed the fruit my mother shared with him! Especially he liked the Queens, a super-large variety of avocado, and he wanted to purchase a tree. However, my mother said that would not be necessary; he could have all the fruit he could use.
In driving with Master we would sometimes stop along the way, descend from the car and do yoga exercises. At first I felt self-conscious about performing before gawkers, but as to many things in life, I adapted. Occasionally, we would stop to lunch at a drive-in. While being served, Master sometimes would inquire of the waitress, “May I ask what church you attend?” Whatever church it was, he invariably said, “Fine, stick with it.”
He felt one should attend the church of his or her own choosing. He taught from the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, saying that all spiritual paths lead to the same one God. Unity can be found in diversity. Do that which inspires, expands, raises the consciousness — be it attending church, a walk in the woods, performing a good deed, whatever. Everyone is on the spiritual path whether or not he or she is aware of it. Even an alcoholic or a drug addict, who temporarily is on a problematic detour, is seeking peace of mind, hearts’ desires — all to be found in God, one’s higher Self, the soul. “The kingdom of God is within you.”(13) “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”(14) “Seekers of union with the Lord find him dwelling in their own hearts.…”(15)
We know that Paramhansa Yogananda respects all religions. What is it that is unique about his teachings? What did he introduce to the West that captivated thousands of people when he spoke at the International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston in 1920, representing India? And later, when large crowds came to hear him at Carnegie Hall and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium? The answer is the magnetic power of his dynamic joy, and the promise he held out to everyone that he, too, could experience these things in his own life. It was his mission to bring to the West the science of Kriya Yoga. This meditation technique, when practiced regularly, actually quiets the mind so that one can “be still, and know that I am God.”(16) As a result of these practices, one hears the AUM, sees the spiritual eye, and realizes the higher realms of consciousness.
The teachings of Yogananda are studied worldwide. At his Centennial Celebration in 1993 hosted by SRF in Los Angeles, 6,000 devotees met to honor him. Lectures were presented in five languages. Ananda World Brotherhood Village, in Nevada City, California, hosted many hundreds of devotees from around the world during Yogananda’s centennial year. Programs there, too, were presented in several languages. Celebrations were held at various meditation centers throughout the world.
Master said, “Don’t take my word for anything. Apply the techniques and find out for yourselves. Don’t get hung up on words. There will be as many interpretations of my lectures as there are listeners. And please remember that although I am touched by your love, God is the real guru. Worship Him.”
One of Yogananda’s major contributions to the science of yoga, and a cornerstone of his teachings, was his “energization exercises.” With practice, one learns how consciously to control and direct the body’s life force (prana), and even to draw and direct energy from the cosmic source beyond one’s body. These marvelous exercises bring vital energy to all body parts, help focus energy and develop concentration.
Yogananda also taught the asanas (yoga postures), but he didn’t emphasize them. He explained that they were of lesser importance, and in fact not necessary, for those whose goal was union with God. Nevertheless, he said they offered wonderful benefits. I witnessed these when I taught yoga at an orphanage (Salvation Army Home for Children) and at the Mexican-American Cultural Institute, both in Guadalajara, Mexico. The children from the orphanage, lively as Mexican jumping beans, readily took to the asanas — even put on an exhibition at the Guadalajara Hilton Hotel. They had a great time showing off to an enthralled audience. They gained substantially from their practice of the asanas, strengthening themselves both physically and mentally.
Sin and Spiritual Progress
People ask about sin. I once asked Master, “What is your definition of sin?” He answered, “Sin is ignorance.” [Not, “Ignorance is sin.”] If you fall down, pick yourself up and go on.” In the Bible, John says “Go, and sin no more.”(17)
Is sin not the hurting of others, which in turn harms the self, the very temple that should be kept clean to serve as a channel for God’s expression on earth? What is hell but separation from God? Although the spiritual path has obstacles to surmount, it is the overcoming of them that helps to expand the consciousness so that one can behold the truth: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”(18) Yogananda expressed the importance of expansion for spiritual growth, saying, “The best cup in the world cannot hold a quart of anything.”
Although karma (action; cause and effect) plays its role, Master said not to dwell on our unfavorable karma, the result of past mistakes, but to set our sights high. Right action now will create good karma. In fact, Master said, “When you realize yourself as a child of God, what karma have you? God has no karma. And you have none, when you know you are His child.”(19) He often said to me, “Remember that nothing is too lofty in God.”
A frequent topic presented to Yogananda was that of progressing spiritually. He made it clear that one should develop in a balanced, threefold manner: spiritually, mentally and physically. He taught us to balance activity with meditation. “He who beholds inaction in action, and action in inaction, is wise among men.”(20) He advised devotees to keep good company and share good vibrations, “for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I.…”(21) One should reach toward those who require help. Service to God through His children is surely a holy act, not to be confused with attaining the fruits of action for personal gain. For where there is personal motive, that which one does or even thinks, positive or negative, sooner or later returns to meet him head on; if not in this lifetime, then in a future incarnation. Consequently, so long as our actions are touched by personal motive (which, for most of us, is most of the time!), it is wise to concentrate on what one wants to manifest, rather than focus energy on what one does not want.
Master emphasized that one must let go of the personal ego, and identify with what one actually is: the soul. Thus will one be in touch with the divine, with God, who cannot be limited. He is spirit, love, joy, compassion. He can be and do whatever He chooses: reveal Himself as Jesus Christ, Divine Mother, companion, whatever. The devotee draws God to himself expressed in the most beloved, or often prayed to form.
Now and then I am asked what about Master means the most to me. How can I answer this? His endless facets equal a divine oneness: The depth and effectiveness of his teachings, including Kriya and other meditation techniques; the love and compassion he emanates; his stress on balanced living and service; his limitless devotion to God, Jesus Christ, the great gurus, saints and sages of all religions. To give a short answer to this questions: “His presence.”
Ever since I first came to Yogananda, whenever I pray directly to him I receive an answer in one form or another, usually intuitively, but occasionally verbally. Often the answer comes through an unexpected channel, such as “feeling” I have been blessed… followed by things working out. Yes, the Lord works in strange ways. I, personally (and many others too), get the best results by loving. When we are divinely loving, and emanating that divine love, we are taken care of.
Often I am confronted with this question: Does one miss out by not having a guru in the physical form on this plane? No, one need not miss out at all. Through right action, meditation, prayer and the power of spiritual love, the devotee will draw the guru’s response, from whatever he is. In this manner will the devotee experience the guru’s presence, realize peace of mind, and merge with Christ consciousness… and the glory of God.
Letters From Master
January 12, 1952
Dear Mrs. Bowen and Peggy,
Thank you so much for the choice avocados you so kindly sent me for Christmas. Also I want to thank you for the lovely St. Francis statue. You know him to be one of my favorites don’t you? I appreciate both gifts very deeply and the good thoughts which prompted the giving.
My greatest wish for you is that God’s loving presence may permeate your consciousness now and during the days to come in this new year 1952, bringing with it the feelings of joy and bliss.
Very sincerely yours,Paramhansa YoganandaContinuation, in Master’s handwriting, on front and back:
Dear Mother and Daughter,
You two are most wonderful among my richest gifts of all-time friends and followers of SRF. I never can forget you, Mrs. Bowen, your self-sacrifice at allowing your very good daughter to be with us and plodding along carrying on your big responsibility. I feel more happy that Peggy is with you helping you in your trials though we all deeply miss her.
That you both ever remember me by your very kind gifts you two seem to be always near my spirit.
Anything I can do for you both please don’t hesitate to ask.
I deeply appreciated the soulful notes from you both more than I can write.
True souls like you two—like divine wine because better as time goes on.
I miss you both—but very happy though you both are far away yet are very near my spirit.
With very best wishes that New Year fulfill your needed hopes—I remain
Very sincerely yours,
P.S. I am finishing revising Genesis. So glad Peggy is such a good soul-minister of Self-Realization.
February 25, 1952
Was so happy to receive your letter of January 21st and I was touched by your words.
I am still at the desert where my days and nights are spent with God and working on the new book. It is coming along very well and I hope will be ready for the publishers before too long. The Bhagavad Gita is being printed now and after I have checked it over again, it will be ready for the public. I am sure that you will like the latest book on Genesis, as the interpretation given to me by God has never before been presented.
I am so glad that you are being faithful to your meditations. Practice Kriya regularly and sit long afterward, giving God your deeper and deeper devotion each day.
Please give your mother my very deepest blessings. I was deeply touched by her kind letter to me and also your letter of that time. I thought I had written on my last letter to you that I had received them. Again, thank you both for your kindness to me and for the delicious avocados you have sent me. I have enjoyed their flavor very much.
Though I am drowned in work here, yet I often send my blessings to you and your mother. Please keep in contact with Faye at Headquarters, and come to see us there whenever you can.
*Your letter was nicest bearing you and your good mother’s soulful message. I have missed seeing your ever joyous God-bliss-filled countenances. My blessings are ever though letters I write once in awhile. Let me always hear from you and about your mother. How is your sister?
With boundless blessings as ever.
Very sincerely,P. Yogananda* This paragraph was handwritten by Master.
- In 1920 Yogananda founded Self-Realization Fellowship, 3880 San Rafael Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90065. SRF is also called the Mother Center, or SRF Headquarters.
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- Mrs. Thomas B. Root of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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- Kriyananda [J. Donald Walters], 14 Steps to Higher Awareness (Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, Publishers, 1989) p.495: diagram of chakras.
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- Paramhansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1946), p.13.
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- ”If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” (Matthew 6:22)
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- Paramhansa Yogananda, The Divine Romance (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1986), p.451.
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- Sir Edwin Arnold, trans. The Song Celestial (Bhagavad-Gita) (Philadelphia: David McKay Company, 1949), chap II, p.10.
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- Ibid., chap. IV, p. 27.
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- “Master” is the title of honor given to those who are masters of yoga. I told Yogananda at first that I did not know if I could call him Master. He assured me that the title signified, not our slavery, but that he was master of himself. Soon I learned he had well earned the title.
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- The teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda can be obtained from the following direct disciples:Sri Daya Mata, President/Spiritual Director
3880 San Rafael Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90065-3298
Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters), Founder/Spiritual Director
Ananda World Brotherhood Village
14618 Tyler Foote Road
Nevada City, CA 95959
Roy Eugene Davis, Spiritual Director
Center for Spiritual Awareness
Box 7, Lake Rabun Road
Lakemont, Georgia 30552
J. Robert Raymer, President/Spiritual Director
Golden Lotus, Inc., Song of the Morning Ranch
9607 E. Sturgeon Valley Road
Vanderbilt, MI 49795-9742
- Psalms 46:10.
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- Sir Edwin Arnold, Song Celestial, chap. V, p. 30.
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- Luke 17:21.
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- Matthew 6:33.
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- Bhagavad Gita, 15:11.
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- Psalms 46:10.
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- John 8:11.
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- John 8:32.
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- Paramhansa Yogananda, Where There Is Light (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1988), p. 15.
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- Bhagavad Gita, IV:18.
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- Matthew 18:20.
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