“Divine Mother once said to me, ‘Those to whom I give too much, I do not give Myself.’”

Master was explaining to us the difference between joyful acceptance of divine favors, vouchsafed by God as a sign of His love, and a desire for the favors themselves.

“Seek God for Himself,” he told us, “not for any gift that He might give you.” Unlike many proponents of spiritual “new thought” who equate progress with the ability to “manifest” increasing material abundance, Paramhansa Yogananda taught us that the true test of spirituality is indifference to everything except God’s love. To the sincere devotee, he said, God’s lesser gifts are meaningful in one sense only: as demonstrations of His love.

A touching episode, illustrative of this teaching, occurred two or three years after I entered the work. Master, in his travels between Los Angeles and Encinitas, sometimes stopped in the little town of Laguna Beach, at a Scottish tea shop where shortbread was a specialty. One day, going there for this delicacy, he sent Virginia Wright (later, Ananda Mata) in. She returned to report that the last batch had been sold.

Surprised, Master prayed, “Divine Mother, how come?” It wasn’t that he was disappointed. Accustomed, rather, to receiving divine guidance in even the slightest details of his life, he wondered whether there might not be some lesson intended in this unexpected denial. All at once, he saw a shaft of light shine down upon the little shop. Moments later, the door opened and the proprietress came out.

“Wait! Wait!” she called. Hastening over to the car with a little package in her hand, she said, “I was saving this order for a local customer. But I want you to have it. I can make more for him.”

Master had had no real desire for the shortbread. What touched him deeply about this episode was the divine love it exemplified. The more inconsequential the need to which God responds, the greater, in a sense, the proof of His love. Divine intervention in times of serious need might be attributed to other reasons — perhaps to the wish to see some important work finished. But what motive, save love alone, could there possibly be for intervention in such trivial matters?

Years later, I had a similar demonstration — equally trivial, but showing me that God’s love extends even to ordinary devotees. My parents were living in France, relatively near Switzerland. During my school days in Switzerland, I had developed a liking for Swiss chocolate, and had bought it whenever I could. I kept intending to ask my parents to send me some, but the desire was so trivial that I kept on forgetting. One year, a week before my birthday, the thought came to me, “Too bad! Divine Mother, it would have been nice to have some Swiss chocolate for that special day.” I dismissed the thought as quite unimportant, and forgot it. I had addressed the thought, however, to Divine Mother. What was my surprise, the very day before my birthday, to receive a box of Swiss chocolate from a congregation member in Hollywood. She had happened to see some of it in a local shop (I hadn’t known that it was imported) and, though she didn’t know it was my birthday, and didn’t know my tastes in the matter, she had thought to send me some. I shared it gratefully with my brother monks. My gratitude went chiefly to the Divine Mother.

To Master, all gifts short of divine love itself came under the general heading “lesser gifts.” To make religion a matter of “manifesting” an endless succession of worldly goods would be, he implied, to make a religion of materialism. And while he said that we had a right, as children of the Infinite, to God’s infinite abundance, he reminded us that this birthright could be fully claimed only in cosmic consciousness.

The sincere devotee prefers rather to “manifest” a simple life, and seeks of this world’s goods only as many as he needs to sustain him in his spiritual search. If God gives him more than that, he employs it for the welfare of others. And all that he owns he considers God’s property altogether, to be returned joyously at a moment’s notice to its true Owner.

Even for worldly people, simple living is an important key to happiness. Across the road from Master’s retreat at Twenty-Nine Palms there lived a man in a small one-room cabin, by himself. He had no garden, and few modern conveniences indoors. Yet his happiness was a pleasure to observe. He had no debts to burden him. There were no unnecessary chores to pilfer away his precious hours of freedom. Again and again he contentedly played a recording, audible over the nearby countryside, of a popular song that expressed his perfect contentment with life: “I’ve Got My Home in Twenty-Nine Palms.”

Master, gazing toward this man’s place one day, remarked, “He is like a king in his palace! Such is the joy of simple living.”

Master used to say, “Whenever I see somebody who needs something of mine more than I do, I give it away.”

“A few years ago,” he told us, “I had a fine musical instrument, an esraj from India. I loved to play devotional music on it. But a visitor one day admired it. Unhesitatingly I gave it to him. Years later someone asked me, ‘Weren’t you just a little sorry to lose it?’ ‘Never for a moment!’ I replied. Sharing one’s happiness with others only expands one’s own happiness.”

Master kept only enough money personally to finance his trips to the different ashrams. Even this amount he often gave away. So strong, indeed, was his urge to share with others that he sometimes gave away more than he had. I remember him once asking me to lend him five dollars, so that he might give that money to someone else. When traveling, too, he liked to go simply. He would take with him for his meals only a few nuts, dates, and raisins in a clear plastic box. Generally he ate in the car, to avoid what he termed the “heterogeneous vibrations” of restaurants.

He enjoyed cooking for others, and was also an excellent cook. “It is a form of service,” he told me, simply. After preparing an especially tasty dish for us one day, he explained, “I always know just how much spicing to add: I can taste it in the spiritual eye. I never have to sample the food with my tongue.” The inimitable ingredient in his cooking, of course, was his vibrations; after eating it, one always felt spiritually uplifted. Although he sometimes fed us sumptuously, however, I noticed that he himself generally ate very little.

He displayed the same indifference to all outward enjoyments. It wasn’t apathy; enthusiasm for all aspects of life was a hallmark of his nature. It was clear, however, that he enjoyed things not for their own sake, but because they manifested in various ways the one, infinite Beloved. Often, as he was expressing joy outwardly, I would note in the still depths of his gaze a fathomless detachment.

I once experienced this detachment in a matter that seemed, to me, pressingly important. It was in the summer of 1950. For months I had been looking forward eagerly to our trip to India. Master had said we would be leaving only if and when God gave him the definite guidance to go, but all I heard in his statement was the “when” of it, not the “if.” In July, finally, he announced that it was God’s will that we not make the voyage that year.

“Will we be going another time, Master?” I asked.

“That is in God’s hands,” he replied indifferently. “I am not inquisitive about these things. What He wants, I do.”

Not inquisitive — about a trip to India? Mentally I tightened my belt of expectations, telling myself that it was all the same to me, too. I wasn’t completely successful, I’m afraid.

On August 20 of that year Master dedicated the SRF Lake Shrine. The impressive public event was attended by some 1500 people. The guests of honor were California’s Lieutenant Governor, Goodwin J. Knight, and his wife. Present also were many civic dignitaries and other people of worldly prominence. I was impressed to see with what ease, respect, and complete inner freedom Master could mix with all sorts of people: great and humble, famous, and obscure. He gave to each of them his full and loving attention, yet never defined himself in terms of what others expected of him, nor in terms of what he gave to them. He was simply and entirely what he always was: a divine mirror to everyone he encountered, completely devoid of any “complexes” of his own.

After the opening, Master occasionally sponsored evening concerts in the open-air temple by the lake. Large crowds attended, attracted by a series of well-known concert artists and by the beautiful, starlit setting. To Master the concerts were a service to others, based on the fact that divine inspiration often reaches people through the medium of music. Above all, however, he saw these events as a means of drawing people to the spiritual path. For until inspiration becomes rooted in actual God-contact, it is, he reminded us, ever fleeting and uncertain.

One evening he sat chatting with a few of us after a concert. Reflecting on the numbers of visitors who attended these events for merely temporary inspiration, he remarked, “Outsiders come, and see only the surface. Not understanding what this place has to offer them, they go away again. Those who are our own, however, see beneath the surface. They never leave.”

He was referring, I knew, not only to the casual public, but also to his disciples, not all of whom were discerning enough to recognize the priceless gifts he had to bestow on them.

Not long after the opening of the Lake Shrine, Chuck Jacot, a monk there, was trying to repair a pump that sent water up a little hill, at the top of which stood a statue of Jesus Christ with his hands outheld in blessing. From a point below the statue, water was meant to descend in a graceful cascade. Chuck, a trained plumber, couldn’t get the pump to work.

Finally he hit on a spiritual solution; at least, he hoped it would be a solution. Recalling a passage in Autobiography of a Yogi that says, “Whenever anyone utters with reverence the name of Babaji, that devotee attracts an instant spiritual blessing,” Chuck sat down and called mentally to that great master. Suddenly, to his awe and amazement, Babaji appeared before him in vision, blessed him, and offered him priceless spiritual counsel. Later, when Chuck returned to outward consciousness, he found the pump functioning smoothly, and the water flowing again.

“Logically, that pump just couldn’t work,” he told us. “It hadn’t even been primed!”

“I asked Babaji to give Chuck that experience,” Master told us later.

Many others have acted upon those words of promise in Autobiography of a Yogi, and have received extraordinary blessings.

Pedro Gonzales Milan, who later became our center leader in Mérida, Yucatán (in Mexico), told me of the first time he had read the Autobiography. When he came to the above passage, he put the book down, moved to his depths. “If these words be true,” he thought, “I must prove them so! Babaji, heed the cry of my heart: Come to me!

“Instantly,” he told me, “the room was filled with a glorious light and my heart, with bliss.”

I, too, have experienced Babaji’s blessings on occasions when I have prayed to him. In 1960, on my second visit to India, I wanted to find a place of seclusion for a few days before returning to Calcutta to resume my activities in our society there. I had no idea where to go, however. Part of my difficulty was that Indians often found a Western swami a novelty. Villagers, especially, would sometimes gather in scores outside any house I stayed at. They waited for hours, if need be, for me to come out.

I was staying in a hotel in Madras at this time, having entered India from Ceylon to the south. One morning I prayed to Babaji, “Please help me to find a quiet, secluded place to stay in.”

After meditation that morning I went down and ate breakfast in the hotel dining room. A man seated at the table next to mine introduced himself to me. “I have a house,” he informed me without any preliminaries, “in a secluded section of the little town of Kodaicanal. I would be honored if you would use it for meditation. I shall be away from there for the next few weeks; no one will bother you. It occurred to me that, since Kodaicanal is in the mountains, its cool climate might be congenial to you. Westerners often go there to escape the heat of the plains.”

I took advantage of his offer. The place proved ideal in every respect.

Sometime after the Lake Shrine opening, I attended a concert with Master in another outdoor setting: the famous Hollywood Bowl. Vladimir Rosing, an old friend and student of his, was conducting Johann Strauss’s comic operetta, Die Fledermaus.

A minister from one of our other ashrams wanted to impress Master with his talent for leadership. This evening, his way of doing so was to order me about.

“Master needs a blanket, Don. Would you please fetch him one?” Or, “Don, be so good as to get Master a glass of water.”

I obeyed him eagerly, aware that the real prize in the spiritual life is the opportunity for service, especially to one’s guru. It delighted me further when Master, to see if I could be drawn into a competitive attitude, pretended to accept my offerings with a slight sneer of condescension — as though receiving ministration from one of obviously inferior leadership ability. It was quite enough for me that I felt Master’s smile in my heart.

After the concert I glimpsed a touching side of his nature. Miss Lancaster (later, Sister Sailasuta), one of the women disciples, had been invited to come along. She had sat separately from us, but joined us on the way out and remarked amusedly on the operetta’s worldly theme. Certainly Master would not have attended Die Fledermaus on its merits alone; if anything, I imagine he’d have told all of us to give it a miss. But the conductor in this case was a friend of his. Therefore, with solemn loyalty, he replied to Miss Lancaster, “It was a good show.”

After the Lake Shrine opening we concentrated on completing India Center, a large new building on our church grounds in Hollywood. Well, hardly a new building, exactly. Master, pursuing the strategy he had followed in building the church behind it, had bought a large, very old, and very dilapidated structure in some dying neighborhood, and had had it moved, shaking and creaking, onto the church grounds. His obvious purpose was to circumvent some of the cumbersome building code restrictions that applied only to new construction. And so, once again, the neighbors had to put up with an unsightly relic of (one hoped!) better days. And, once again, their dismay turned to pride as we transformed this relic into a beautiful, new-looking hall.

“We,” I say? Well, perhaps that pronoun is a euphemism. My own contribution had little to do with the building’s ultimate beauty. I dug the ditches, shoveled sand into the cement mixer, and did miscellaneous little jobs that, it was generally understood, would later be conveniently hidden by coats of plaster.

“I’ve sure learned a lot on this job!” I exclaimed one day to Andy Anderson, our foreman, as the project neared completion. Andy gazed at me for a moment in stunned silence. Obviously wanting to be charitable, he simply couldn’t think of anything to say.

During the months while Andy supervised our work at India Center, he developed a deep love for Master. Master, in return, was touched by Andy’s devotion, and by his simple, kindly nature. As Christmas 1950 approached, Andy took pains to buy his guru an appropriate gift. During our luncheon break one day he made a special journey to Mt. Washington and, with great trepidation, went up to the third floor. Placing his gift by Master’s door, he fled.

“Oh,” he cried, upon his return to India Center, “what a fool I am! I forgot to put my name on that package. Now Master will never know who gave it to him!”

Just then the telephone rang. It was Master asking to speak with Andy. Andy returned a few minutes later, beaming from ear to ear.

“Master just wanted to thank me for my present!”

Andy, like many in the construction trade, rather liked his beer. Sometimes, in fact, he came to work a little “under the influence.” One day Master asked him to construct a concrete driveway at Mt. Washington.

“Heavy trucks drive up here,” Master explained, “with paper for the print shop. How thick do you suggest we make the driveway to bear all that weight?”

After a few moments’ thought, Andy replied, “Four inches would be quite enough, Master.”

“Make it six,” Master said with a sweet smile.

Andy was about to object, when he saw Master’s smile. “All right, Sir.” He gulped, swallowing his professional knowledge.

I wondered at the time why two extra inches of concrete should have inspired Master to request them so sweetly. Later I understood. For when the day came for pouring the concrete, it was obvious from the look in Andy’s eyes that he was a little tipsy. Not fully conscious of what he was doing, he sprayed too much water on the new driveway, diluting the mixture. If it hadn’t been for those extra inches, the cement would have cracked. Master, out of loving respect for Andy, wouldn’t allow anyone to replace him. Indeed, it was to compensate for this problem, which he’d foreseen, that he’d requested those extra two inches of concrete. The sweetness of his smile had been due to his compassion for Andy.

India Center was formally opened to the public on April 8, 1951. “The first cultural center of its kind in America,” the press called it. A large hall downstairs was dedicated as a “meeting place for men of goodwill of all nations.” Upstairs, a public restaurant served delicious vegetarian meals, for which the recipes were Master’s own creations. Over the years, both meeting hall and restaurant were to become famous.

India Center (the new name for the property in Hollywood) and the SRF Lake Shrine were, in a sense, Master’s parting outward gifts to the world. There was another gift, infinitely more precious to us, his disciples, which he bestowed on us during the last two years of his life.

Great masters have the power to assume onto their own bodies the karma of others, much as a strong man might generously take onto his own body blows that were intended for a weaker person. Masters can sustain a considerable number of such karmic “blows” without themselves suffering any noticeable ill effect. Occasionally, however — especially toward the end of their lives, in order to help their disciples through years of spiritual effort without the Guru’s physical presence — they assume large amounts of karma. At such times their own bodies may suffer temporarily.

It was such a gift that Master now bestowed on us. His legs became affected. The result was that, for a time, he couldn’t walk. It was primarily an “astral disease,” he explained to us, and described a frightening array of demonic entities that were wreaking havoc on his body, especially on his astral body, though the physical body took some of the punishment also.

“I held my mind down to the body during the worst period,” he told us, “because I wanted to experience pain as others do.”

Faye, with profound sympathy, cried out one day, “Why does Divine Mother treat you like this?”

“Don’t you dare criticize Divine Mother!” Master scolded. Personal likes and dislikes formed no part of his nature. His only will was to do what God wanted.

Even at the height of his illness, he could still walk when he had to, though sometimes with divine assistance. In August 1951, he was scheduled to speak before a large convocation of members on the former tennis courts at Mt. Washington. Unwilling to publicize his condition, which he viewed as a sacred offering to his disciples for their spiritual growth, he determined to walk when the time came. The car took him as far as the edge of the courts. Someone opened the door, and Master used his own hands to lift his legs and place his feet on the ground. “Instantly, a brilliant light surrounded my body,” he told us later. “I was able to walk with ease.” We saw him go up onto the lecture platform, stand through his long lecture, then walk back unaided to the car. “Once back in the car,” he told us, “my legs became helpless again.” (Someone later told me, “As he ‘walked,’ I noticed his feet weren’t touching the ground.”)

“Carry my body,” Master laughed one day as we bore him up a flight of stairs, “and I’ll carry your souls!”

Another time he remarked smiling, “This body is not everything. Some people have feet, but can’t walk all over!”

Gradually his condition improved. One afternoon I was helping him into his car. “You are getting better, Sir,” I exclaimed thankfully.

“Who is getting better?” Master’s tone was impersonal.

“I meant your body, Sir.”

“What’s the difference? The wave protruding from the ocean bosom is still a part of the ocean. This is God’s body. If He wants to make it well, all right. If He wants to keep it unwell, all right. It is best to remain impartial. If you have health and are attached to it, you will always be afraid of losing it. And if you are attached to good health and become ill, you will always be grieving for the good you have lost.

“Man’s greatest trouble is egoism, the consciousness of individuality. He takes everything that happens to him as affecting him, personally. Why be affected? You are not this body. You are He! Everything is Spirit.”

As Master’s condition improved, he began to spend more time again with the monks. One day he was conversing with a group of us on the front porch at Mt. Washington when a woman student, Miss Lois Carpenter, passed by us on her way into the building. In one hand she carried a paper bag; evidently it contained something she’d just purchased. Seeing Master, but not wanting to intrude on his discussion with us, she saluted him silently while proceeding toward the door. Master stopped her.

“What have you in that bag?”

“A few dates, Master, for you. I was going to place them by your door.”

“Thank you very much. I shall be glad to accept them here.”

Master, taking the fruits, passed them out among us. “I had been wanting to give you all something,” he explained. “As soon as I saw her with that bag, I knew my wish had been fulfilled.”

Early one rather mild autumn evening he was seated in his car, chatting with a few of us before going out for a drive. He was explaining some philosophical point, when, midway through his explanation, he paused and inquired, “Isn’t it rather hot today?”

We hesitated, knowing that he had it in mind to give us money for ice cream. He looked at us expectantly. At last I said, smiling, “Well, it was hot, Sir, but by now it has cooled off.”

“Too bad!” Master laughed playfully. “You’ve cheated yourselves out of some refreshments!” He returned to his discourse. Several more minutes passed, then he paused again.

“You’re sure it isn’t a bit warm this evening?”

“Well,” we replied laughing, “it is if you say so, Sir!”

Decisively he concluded, “I can’t keep money and I won’t! Here, take these dollars for ice cream. I like having money only so that I can give it away.”

I still have the three one-dollar bills he gave us on another evening for ice cream. I replaced them with other dollar bills of my own, and kept the gift he had touched.

One evening he spoke briefly of his recent illness. To our expressions of deep sympathy he said unconcernedly, “It was nothing! When the wisdom dinner from the plate of life has been eaten, it no longer matters whether you keep the plate, or break it and throw it away.”

On another occasion he remarked, “I forget myself so much these days that I have to ask others if I’ve eaten!”

“Man was put here on earth to seek God,” he reminded us one evening. “That is the only reason for his existence. Friends, job, material interests: All these, by themselves, mean nothing.”

“Sir,” one of the monks inquired, “is it wrong to ask God for material things?”

“It is all right, if you need them,” Master replied. “But you should always say, ‘Give me this or that, provided it is all right with You.’ Many of the things people want end up harming them when they get them. Leave it to God to decide what you ought to have.”

On the subject of prayer, he told us, “God answers all prayers, but restless prayers He answers only a little bit. If you tried giving away something that didn’t belong to you, your ‘generosity’ wouldn’t mean much, would it? So it is when you try to give your mind to God: You should first own it, yourself. Gain control over your thoughts; give Him your full attention when you pray. You will see, when you pray in that way, that He answers marvelously!”

Whatever Master’s topic of conversation — whether some aspect of the spiritual path, or some perfectly ordinary task that he wanted done — if one “listened” sensitively enough one always felt a subtle power emanating from him. If one took this awareness within, one felt blessed with a heightened sense of inner joy and freedom. Sometimes in Master’s company, and again years later in India in the ashrams of saints, I observed disciples who were so fascinated by their guru’s gestures, words, and facial expressions that they neglected to commune with his magnetizing influence within themselves. Master saw even his own personality quite impersonally, as necessary, simply, to functioning in this physical world.

“Before taking a physical body,” he once told me, “I see the personality I am to assume, and feel slightly uncomfortable with it. It is like having to don a heavy overcoat on a hot day. I soon get used to it, but inwardly I never forget that this personality is not my true Self.”

At the same time, Master never sanctioned an irresponsible denial of mundane realities. “You should combine idealism with practicality,” he once told me. In down-to-earth matters he himself was completely practical. He taught us the importance of meeting every reality on its own level. One minute he might be instructing us in some fine point of meditation, and the next telling us how to keep our rooms tidy. (“Put everything away as soon as you finish with it.”)

When he invited guests to lunch, he often had me serve them. After the meal I would demonstrate the yoga postures, then sit in the room while he conversed. Usually, I would write down his remarks. If sometimes I found it difficult to keep up with him, he would notice, and speak more slowly. Occasionally, after the guests had departed, he would keep me with him to discuss my work, particularly as it related to the public, or to correct something I might have said in a private conversation at church, or in a lecture. On one such occasion I expressed astonishment at his complete awareness of things I’d said and done when he was not physically with me.

“I know every thought you think,” he once assured me calmly.

Two visitors to Mt. Washington who got to meet Master were, on separate occasions, my mother and my cousin Bet. Mother he received graciously in his upstairs sitting room. Before their meeting I had asked him to give her a special blessing. He’d agreed to do so, but in a manner so separated from our present discussion that I wasn’t sure whether my request had really registered with him. What was my gratification, at the end of his interview with her, when he held her hand outside the door, and prayed out loud to God and our line of gurus for the blessing I’d solicited. I’ve no idea what Mother thought of this unexpected parting, but I touched Master’s feet with tears of gratitude, convinced that his blessing could not fail. (Nor, indeed, did it. Years later, she asked me to teach her meditation.)

Bet I introduced to Master as he was leaving for a drive one afternoon. From his remarks about her later, it was clear that she had made an excellent impression on him.

“Would she make a good yogi, Master?”

“Oh, yes.”

In addition to lecturing in the churches, and to organizing the monks, I wrote letters for Master.

“Sir,” I said to him one day, “what letters we are getting from Germany. Such sincerity and devotion! Letter after letter pleads for Kriya Yoga initiation.”

“They have been hurt,” Master replied with quiet sympathy, “that’s why. All those wars and troubles! Kriya is what they need, not bombs.”

“How wonderful it would be to send Henry there, with his knowledge of German.”

“Well, maybe I will send you there someday.”

Recalling his intention of sending me to India, I replied, “I thought you had other plans for me, Sir. But of course I’ll go wherever you send me. I’m familiar with Europe, certainly, having grown up there.”

“There is a great work to be done there.”

Years later, I founded a work in Italy, with subsidiary meditation groups in other countries including Germany.

“Is this work a new religion?” I asked him one day at his desert retreat.

“It is a new expression,” he corrected me.

Truth is one: Sanaatan Dharma as it is known in India—“the Eternal Religion.” The great religions of the world are branches, all, on that one tree.

Sectarianism is divisive. “The one Ocean has become all its waves,” Master once told me when I questioned him about his own role in the religious evolution of this planet. “You should look to the Ocean, not to the little waves protruding on its bosom.”


Chapter 37: The Guru’s Reminiscences