“In the early days of Mt. Washington, a visitor once inquired of me superciliously, ‘What are the assets of this organization?’
“‘None!’ I replied unhesitatingly, ‘Only God.’”
Master was sitting with us downstairs, reminiscing about his early years in America. Toward the end of his life, in addition to counseling us, he spent many hours trying to make us feel a part of that long period of his life before most of us had come to him.
“My reply on that occasion was literally true, too,” Master chuckled. “We hadn’t any money! But it would be just as true today, when our work is financially solvent. For our strength has always been God alone. We might lose everything, materially speaking, but in His love we would still possess all that really mattered.
“Years ago a rich man came here who thought to buy me with his wealth. Knowing we were badly in need of money just then, he tried in certain ways to get me to compromise my ideals. I refused. Finally he said, ‘You’ll starve because you didn’t listen.’ Leaving here, he talked against me to a rich acquaintance of his, a student of this work. And that was the man whom God chose to give us the help we needed!
“Another time, years later, we were facing another financial crisis: Mt. Washington was threatened with foreclosure. I went out into the desert and meditated all night. ‘Divine Mother,’ I prayed, ‘why did You give me this responsibility? I came to the West to speak of You, not to worry about organizational problems! If You took everything away, it would mean nothing to me but my freedom! Say the word, Mother, and I will walk out into the desert and never once look back!’
“At three o’clock in the morning came Her answer: ‘I am your stocks and bonds. What more dost thou need than that thou hast Me? Dance of death and dance of life — know that these come from Me. My child, rejoice!’
“The next day a check came in the mail for the exact amount of money that we needed.”
Master often said, “He is happiest who gives everything to God.” He told us an amusing story to illustrate his own preference for simple living, free of all ostentation.
“A wealthy student of mine wanted to buy me a new overcoat. Taking me into a well-known clothing store, he invited me to select any coat I wanted. Seeing one that looked nice, I reached out to touch it. But then, seeing the price tag, I quickly withdrew my hand. The coat was very expensive.
“‘But I’d be happy to buy it for you,’ my friend insisted. He added an expensive hat to match. I appreciated his kindness in giving me these gifts. But whenever I wore them, I felt uncomfortable. Expensive possessions are a responsibility.
“‘Divine Mother,’ I finally prayed, ‘this coat is too good for me. Please take it away.’
“Soon afterwards I was scheduled to lecture at Trinity Auditorium. I sensed that the coat would be taken away from me that evening, so I emptied the pockets. After the lecture the coat was gone. What a relief!
“But then I spotted an omission. ‘Divine Mother,’ I prayed, ‘You forgot to take the hat!’”
Master went on to tell us about someone he’d met long ago in New York. “This man told me, ‘I can never forgive myself for taking thirty-five years to make my first million dollars.’ ‘You still are not satisfied?’ I asked. ‘No. I will not be satisfied until I have made forty million!’ Well, before he could make those forty million and settle down to a life of unalloyed happiness, he suffered a complete nervous breakdown. Not long afterward, he died.”
When I first wrote these lines, less than a week had passed since the death of Howard Hughes, one of the richest men in the world. The radio carried his reply to a question, “Are you happy?” “No,” the billionaire had answered thinly. “I can’t say that I’m happy.”
“You don’t have to own a thing to enjoy it,” Master told us. “To possess things is all right, provided your possessions don’t possess you, but ownership often means only added worries. It is much better to own everything in God, and cling to nothing with your ego.”
Smiling, he continued, “Years ago I visited Radio City Music Hall in New York. Having paid the price of admission, I told myself, ‘While I am here, this building is mine!’ I walked about, enjoying my beautiful acquisition. When I had enjoyed it as much as I cared to, I gave the building back to the management with thanks, and walked out a free man!”
Master told us of a time when his non-attachment had been tested. “I was standing alone one evening on a dark street corner in New York, when three holdup men came up from behind me; one of them pointed a gun.
“‘Give us your money,’ they demanded.
“‘Here it is,’ I said, not at all disturbed. ‘But I want you to know that I am not giving it to you out of fear. I have wealth in my heart that makes money, by comparison, mean nothing to me.’ They were so astonished! Then, as I gazed at them with God’s power, they burst into tears. Returning my money, they cried, ‘We can’t live this way anymore!’ At this point, overwhelmed by the experience, they ran away.
“On other occasions, too, I have changed the hearts of criminals — not I, but God’s power through me. One evening during the depression years I lectured to thousands at Carnegie Hall. I spoke out against the way certain rich people were taking advantage of the poor. I actually mentioned a few names. Afterwards, several people urged me, ‘Please don’t go home alone tonight.’
“‘God is with me,’ I replied. ‘Whom have I to fear?’
“Walking by myself, I entered a dimly lighted part of the station. Just then a man came up behind me brandishing a gun. ‘Why did you talk against those people?’ he demanded.
“‘They deserved it,’ I replied. ‘God is for the common man as much as for the rich. Both are His children. And He is not pleased when His rich children take advantage of His poor ones.’”
Listening to Master, we chuckled at this point in his story. How incongruous, his ingenuous explanation beside the man’s threat of assassination!
Master continued: “Gazing steadily into the man’s eyes, I said, ‘Why do you live the way you do? You aren’t happy. I demand that Satan come out of you, and that you change!’
“The man began to tremble. All of a sudden, dropping his gun, he fell to his knees before me. ‘What have you done to me?’ he cried. ‘I was sent to kill you.’
“‘You can never win,’ I said. ‘Pick up your gun and throw it away.’ His life was completely transformed by that meeting.”
Master told of a similar conversion after another Carnegie Hall lecture. “We had chanted ‘O God Beautiful!’ for over an hour. Three thousand people had joined me joyfully in singing this chant. Many were in ecstasy. Afterwards, a man burst into my interview room. Flinging a revolver emotionally onto the desk, he cried, ‘I ought to kill you for what you’ve done to me this evening! I can’t go back to that way of life anymore.’
“Such is the power of God’s love!
“But there have been times,” Master continued, “when His power flowed through me in other ways. I follow only His will. One evening in Chicago I visited a park. It was during the depression years, and Chicago, as you know, was notorious at the time for its gangsters. A policeman stopped me as I was about to enter the park, and warned me that it wasn’t safe there after dark. ‘Even we are afraid to go in,’ he said.
“Well, I went in anyway, and took a seat comfortably on a park bench. After some time, a tough-looking man, much larger than I, stopped in front of me.
“‘Gimme a dime!’ he snarled.
“I reached into a pocket and gave him a dime.
“‘Gimme a quarter!’ I gave him a quarter.
“‘Gimme fifty cents.’ I gave him fifty cents.
“‘Gimme a dollar.’
“By now, seeing that matters obviously weren’t going to improve, I leapt to my feet and, with God’s power, shouted:
“The man began to tremble like a leaf. ‘I don’t want your money!’ he mumbled. Backing fearfully away, he repeated, ‘I don’t want your money! I don’t want your money!’ Suddenly he turned and fled as though his life depended on it.
“I sat down peacefully once more and watched the moonrise. Later, as I was leaving the park, the same policeman as before saw me and asked, ‘What did you say to that man? I saw him with you, and didn’t dare to interfere. I know him for a dangerous character!’
“‘Oh,’ I replied, ‘we came to a little understanding.’”
Whether Master protected himself by love, or by sterner measures, depended on the guidance he received inwardly. Perhaps love was what he gave to persons of innate sensitivity who had succumbed to the influences of an evil environment, and sternness to those whose cruelty was self-generated, or who, though not insensitive to finer feelings, suppressed them deliberately. In this last connection he told us of a guest at Mt. Washington during the 1920s. The man’s sister was a resident disciple there. She was, in fact, Florina Darling: Durga Mata.
“I was sitting on my bed one morning, meditating,” he said, “when God showed me this man coming up the stairs to give me a beating. The man was planning, you see, to boast publicly of what he had done, so as to discredit this work.
“‘Give it to him!’ the voice said.
“Moments later the man appeared in my doorway. Opening my eyes, I said to him, ‘I know why you’ve come. You may not realize it, but I am very strong; I could easily best you in a fight if I wanted to. But I won’t meet you on that level. Still, I warn you: Don’t cross that threshold.’
“‘Go on, prophet!’ he sneered contemptuously. ‘What could you do?’
“‘I’ve warned you. You’ll be sorry.’
“Ignoring my words, he stepped into the room. The instant he did so, he fell to the floor screaming, ‘I’m on fire! I’m on fire!’ Leaping up, he ran downstairs and out of the building. I followed quickly behind, and found him rolling about on the front lawn, still crying out, ‘I’m on fire! I’m on fire!’ When I placed a hand on him he became calm, though he was still terrified of me. ‘Don’t touch me!’ he cried. ‘Don’t come near me!’ He sent his sister into the building for his belongings, and departed at once.”
Many were surprised to learn how physically powerful Master was. He was quite short — five feet five or six inches — and, though well built, didn’t impress one as being particularly strong. But his strength came primarily from his complete command over the energy in his body.
“In Symphony Hall in Boston,” he told us, “I was lecturing once on the merits of the energization exercises, and mentioned the great physical strength one derives from them. I then threw out the challenge: ‘Would anyone here like to try my strength?’
“Six tall, burly policemen jumped up onto the stage! The audience gasped, certain that I’d fail this test.
“Well, facing those policemen, I placed my back against the wall. Then I asked the men to push on my stomach all together, as hard as they could. They did so. ‘Is that the best you can do?’ I demanded.
“‘Yeah!’ they grunted, clenching their teeth.
“Suddenly I arched my back. All six of them went tumbling back into the orchestra pit!”
People who knew only of Paramhansa Yogananda’s extraordinary love and compassion, his sweetness, and his childlike simplicity, were sometimes taken aback when they encountered his power. Few realize that power and divine love are opposite sides of the same coin. Indeed, divine love is no gentle sentiment, but the greatest force in the universe. Such love could not exist without power. Great saints would never use their power to suppress or coerce others, but power is, nevertheless, inextricably a part of what it means to be a saint. It took extraordinary power, for example, for Jesus Christ, alone in a crowd, to drive the money-changers from their tradition-sanctioned places in the temple. Worldly people fear this power in the saints, and, fearing it, persecute them. They don’t realize that a saint’s power is rooted in love, or that it threatens nothing but people’s delusions and ignorance-induced suffering.
Yogananda’s power was not only a product of his divine awareness; his human personality, too, reflected past incarnations as a warrior and conquering hero. In Calcutta, in his youth, he was approached more than once by people who wanted him to lead a revolution against the British. There was something in his very bearing that bespoke the intrepid warrior.
He told us more than once that in a former life he had been William the Conqueror. Educated as I had been during my early years in the English educational system, I had always thought of William as one of history’s great villains. On learning that that supposed “villain” was my own Guru, I made it a point, needless to say, to study several biographies of William in order to get a broader picture of what he’d really been like.
I found that William the Conqueror was indeed, in every way, a great man. Morally, in an age of widespread profligacy, he was chaste and self-controlled. Spiritually he was deeply religious, and never (so I read) missed a day of mass in his life. He was noble, generous, and forgiving.
He lived, however, in an age when conquest could be accomplished only by a very strong will. He told us he had been given a divine commission, which I have since come to understand was to bring England out of the Scandinavian sphere and under the influence of Roman Christianity. During his lifetime, William promoted the recovery of old monasteries and generally gave great support to the church, endorsing also the concept of chastity for the clergy. William and Archbishop Lanfranc, together, unified the church, and reorganized it from the ground up.
Quite as important in the context of those times, they connected the church administratively, canonically, and liturgically with Rome. His closest friends were spiritual men like Abbot Lanfranc (who in this life, Yogananda stated, was Swami Sri Yukteswar) and Saint Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury. William’s occasionally harsh behavior was forced on him by necessity, and never sprang from personal anger (though, consistent with my observation of Master himself on occasion, William’s demeanor sometimes appeared very fierce).
I asked Master once (I was thinking of his lifetime as William): “Sir, is an avatar [a divine incarnation] always aware of his oneness with God’s omnipresence?”
“He never loses his consciousness of inner freedom,” Master replied.
William’s life, when studied in this light, gains new luster and meaning.
The British historian, E.A. Freeman, wrote in his biography, William the Conqueror: “[What we English are today] has largely come of the fact that there was a moment our national destiny might be said to hang on the will of a single man, and that was William [the Conqueror].”
Earlier, Freeman stated: “The Norman conquest… has no exact parallel in history… largely owing to the character and position of the man who wrought it. The history of England for the last eight hundred years has largely come of the personal character of [that] single man.”
Harold Godwineson, on the other hand, though romanticized by those Englishmen who cannot bear the thought that their country was ever justly conquered, was not a noble character at all. He was, moreover, at least half Danish, not pure Anglo-Saxon as many believe; he has erroneously been reported to be the son of a sister of King Canute, but was (if it matters) not of royal birth at all.
England itself was by no means so Anglo-Saxon as relatively recent writers, including Sir Walter Scott, imagined. The north, according to recent DNA testing of old bones, was heavily Scandinavian, and the east came under what was called Danelaw, and must have been more Danish than Anglo-Saxon.
It was William who united the constantly warring earldoms into one kingdom. His legacy, moreover, which bound every native to primary loyalty to his king, saved England the fate of medieval Europe, which saw constant baronial conflicts.
Some months after Master’s passing, an inspiration came to me: I suddenly realized that I had been his youngest son, Henry, who later was crowned as Henry I. I had always known with an inner certainty that I had been a king in the past — not that it mattered to me in the present. Leadership had always come to me naturally, however, and in no way caused me to feel important because of it. Rather, I saw it as a means of rendering service to others — of encouraging, and perhaps guiding, them toward their own fulfillment.
I now went to the Los Angeles public library and read up on facts about Henry that were too detailed to appear in a book intended for the general public. It surprised me to see how many parallels there were, even in little matters, between Henry’s life and my own.
Henry had been born late enough in William’s life to be in a position, after a relatively brief hiatus, to carry on William’s mission. The last thirty-three years of Henry’s life were years of exceptional peace and prosperity in England. Though he is considered the “least-known” of all English kings, the reason for his obscurity is that he simply worked quietly to establish his father’s mission. Albeit known in his lifetime as the most powerful king in Western Europe, he never expressed an interest in enlarging his dominions. All he ever did was conquer back territory that had been lost by his older brothers’ ineptitude. The promises he made in his Coronation Charter, though I’ve read derisive statements to the effect that “of course” he didn’t honor them, were honored by him as much as the circumstances permitted. That charter became the basis of the future Magna Carta.
William’s first two sons were an embarrassment to his memory. He bequeathed Robert, his oldest, the dukedom of Normandy, knowing that he could not give him the crown of England because of his traitorous nature. (Even as William was lying on his deathbed, Robert, with the aid of the king of France, was staging a rebellion against him.) William Rufus, the second son, was loyal to their father in his fashion, but gave no evidence of understanding William’s mission, and dedicated himself wholly to his own power, position, and glory. Perhaps a hiatus in William’s mission was necessary for his true spiritual heir, Henry, to develop a deep understanding of it.
A number of specific people in Master’s present life had, he said, been with him in that life. Faye (Daya) told me she had been his daughter Agatha. He had sent her to Spain, she said, to marry the heir to the throne, but she had been so desirous of dedicating her life to God that, when her ship arrived in port, she was found in her cabin on her knees, dead.
“Ever since then,” she confided to me, “I’ve had trouble with my knees.” I’ve reflected since then: If indeed Master was not only her father, but her guru, why would dying on her knees in prayer have resulted ever since in pain in her knees? Whatever we do to accomplish God’s will for us results in blessings for ourselves. Might it not be, then, that she had important lessons to learn in leadership, which she rejected?
I’ve related earlier that Master told us he was also Arjuna, the disciple of Krishna (who in this life is Babaji). It is interesting to contemplate that both Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, and Yogananda in Autobiography of a Yogi, expressed themselves with amazement at the divine teachings, as if they themselves were only spiritual neophytes. Both men, however, were already great masters. According to ancient Indian tradition, Arjuna and Krishna had been two great ancient sages, Nara and Narayan.
An interesting story is related about Nara. Satan, to tempt him, materialized before him a beautiful womanly form. Nara promptly materialized a hundred more such forms, and indicated no interest in any of them.
An interesting sidelight on all this is that both Arjuna and William were said to possess bows that only they had the strength to string.
Master said he had also been a leader in Spain, whose mission had been to drive the Moors out of that country, after the Moors had gained a foothold in the Christian West. He didn’t tell us who that person was, however.
As an amusing aside, I came upon him one day when he was sitting in the car with Sr. Cuaron from Mexico. Evidently Sr. Cuaron had mentioned something to him about my speaking Spanish, for Master looked at me with a big smile and said, “Cual es su nombre? (What is your name?)” I, smiling also, answered, “Mi nombre es Donald Walters.”
One night, the nuns on his floor heard a loud metallic clanking from Master’s quarters. The next day he told them that a soldier who had served under him in a former life (perhaps in Spain) had materialized before him and asked for spiritual freedom. How many strange stories one encounters on the spiritual path. I have told hardly a tithe of them.
Master, like William, could be very outspoken when occasion demanded it. It simply wasn’t in his nature to be insincere. One time, unable to beg off giving a speech after a high-society banquet, to which he’d been dragged in New York City, he spoke what was in his heart. Sternly he upbraided his listeners for the shallowness of their lives. He didn’t condemn them; the indignation he expressed, rather, was on their behalf. Graphically he described to them their delusions, and exhorted them to stop wasting another entire incarnation in spiritual sloth. His hearers were stunned. Many wept.
Yet the experience, painful for them though it was, also came to them because of their good karma. For how many people get a chance to hear what they need from a man of true wisdom? Master himself once told Dr. Lewis, “No one’s path has crossed mine in this life except for a reason.”
Another story that shows how outspoken Master could be concerns a visit he once paid to a certain vegetarian organization. “I was invited to inspect their facilities,” he told me. “They believed in raw foods, or, as they called them, ‘unfired foods.’ They took me around their kitchen, and then into the dining room, where they served me the worst meal I have ever eaten in my life. After this epicurean disaster, they asked me to address them!
“I tried to decline.
“‘Oh, but you must speak to us,’ they insisted. ‘Everyone is eager to hear you.’
“‘You won’t like what I have to say,’ I warned. Well, they wouldn’t take no for an answer, so at last I stood up.
“‘In the first place,’ I said, ‘I have never in my life tasted worse food. What makes you think there is virtue in preparing meals that are so unpalatable? Enjoyment of what one eats is an aid to the digestion. But you all imagine that what you are eating is healthful. In no way is it so. It is seriously lacking in nutritive balance.’
“Well, by this time they were all greatly agitated! ‘You don’t know what you are saying,’ they shouted.
“‘I urge you to take me seriously,’ I replied, ‘for unless you improve your diet, in fifteen days one of you will die of malnutrition.’
“‘You are cursing us!’
“‘I’m doing nothing of the kind,’ I said. ‘You are cursing yourselves by your fanaticism!’
“Well, they wouldn’t listen. Fifteen days later one of them died, and soon afterward the whole organization disbanded.”
Master usually accepted evil as a regrettable but necessary aspect of the cosmic drama. He fought it especially in people who sought his spiritual aid. “The villain’s role on the stage,” he used to say, “is to get people to love the hero. Evil’s part in the drama of life is, similarly, to spur people on to seek goodness.” There were times, however, when he became an avenging angel, particularly when the lives of his own disciples, or of those dear to them, were affected.
The mother of a close disciple was afflicted with cancer of the breast. Finding a sanatorium that advertised a newly discovered and supposedly miraculous cancer cure, she entered it hopefully.
“All that they gave their patients,” Master told us, “was water! They took their money, fed them nothing, and simply waited for them to die. When I found out about their scheme, I cried, ‘Divine Mother, destroy that place!’ Within a month the police came in and closed it. The leaders were all sent to prison.”
Master went on to speak of that woman’s subsequent death. “I contacted her in the astral world. When I came upon her, she was being led away by an angel, and was marveling at the beauty of the flowers in a field they were crossing. I called to her, but she didn’t hear me. Again I called; this time she turned, but at first she didn’t recognize me. In the transition of death, you see, she had forgotten. But I touched her, and recognition came. ‘I will never again forget you,’ she promised. Then, opening her flowing robe, she showed me where the cancer had been. ‘See?’ she said, smiling. ‘It is gone now!’
“Soon thereafter I saw her again, in the sunset.”
Master explained to us that after the death of the physical body, the soul remains encased in a subtler body of energy, known as the “astral body.” This body is the prototype for the physical body. The astral universe, similarly, forms the prototype for the grosser material universe. When a person dies, he lives on in an astral body, and may, if he is spiritually even slightly developed, inhabit an astral planet with vibrations harmonious to his own. His length of stay there is determined by his karma, and by the strength of his material desires.
In one of the most inspiring chapters of Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda gives a lengthy description of the astral universe. It is composed, he tells us, of endlessly varied vibrations of light-energy. Compared to this physical world, the astral heavens are inexpressibly beautiful. Not everyone, however, goes to those higher heavens after death. As Jesus put it, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”(1)
Many souls are vibrationally attracted to less exalted, though still harmonious, spheres. Others, having created nothing but disharmony in their own earth-lives, are vibrationally drawn to astral hells. Materialistic people often are only dimly conscious of the astral world between earthly sojourns. People who developed good qualities while on earth, however, especially those who meditated and acquired a measure of soul-awareness, are attracted after death to higher astral worlds.
To Master, death was no “undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns.” He told us he spent much of his time in the astral world. Thus, to him, death itself was no tragedy. At the same time, however, he was too warmly human not to feel the reality of people’s bereavement, or to offer loving sympathy to them in their grief. Indeed, he sometimes offered far more than sympathy: He actually brought loved ones back “from the grave.”
One case involved a lady in Encinitas. Master told me the story:
“A real estate agent in Encinitas, hearing that I had healing power, came to me and requested a healing for his wife, who had been ill for ninety days. I prayed, but God told me not to go to her bedside. Shortly thereafter, she died. Only then was I given the guidance to go there.
“About thirty people were in the room when I arrived. Her husband was weeping and shaking her, almost out of his mind with grief. He wouldn’t accept the fact that she was already dead. I motioned him away.
“Putting one hand on the dead woman’s forehead, and the other one under her head, I began to invoke the divine power. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Suddenly her whole body began to vibrate like a motor. After some time, a deep calmness stole over her. Her heartbeat and breathing returned. Slowly her eyes opened; they held a far-away expression, as though she had just returned from a long journey. She was completely healed.”
Another episode concerned a man in Serampore (Sri Ram Pur), a Calcutta suburb. I first heard the story from Master, and then again years later from Sri Tulsi Bose, a childhood friend of his, and a cousin of the man who had died. As Tulsi told me the story, it was because the man was Tulsi’s cousin that Master performed this miracle.
“I was passing the house,” Master told us, “when I heard a loud outcry within. God told me to go inside. I found a man there stretched out on a bed. Five or ten minutes earlier the doctors had pronounced him dead. The family were all weeping and crying.
“I requested them to leave the room, and remained alone with the dead man for some time, praying. Breath returned to his body at last. His eyes opened. He was fully alive again.”
Master was equally at home on all levels of reality. To those who identified with this physical plane of existence and its sorrows, he was compassionate. In the astral world, where physical sufferings are unknown, he was like a sea captain, returning to port as often as he wished. But his own true affinity was with spheres far subtler than either of these: the timeless bliss of divine union. It was amazing to see how effortlessly he entered samadhi. For most of us struggling devotees it took time even to touch the hem of superconsciousness. For him, the vastness of cosmic consciousness was always only a breath away.
I remember someone asking his permission one evening to take his photograph. “Just a moment,” Master replied, “let me first go into samadhi.” After two or three seconds, he said, “All right.”
“I used sometimes to go to movies,” Master told us, “to get away from the unceasing demands of the work. Sitting in the movie theater, I would enter samadhi. Later, if people asked me how I liked the movie, I replied, ‘Very much!’ I had been watching the cosmic ‘movie,’ with stars and planets whirling through space!”
No environment was wholly mundane to him. Everywhere he saw God. “Do you know where I wrote my poem ‘Samadhi’?” he asked us one day. “It was on the New York subway! As I was writing, I rode back and forth from one end of the line to the other. No one asked for my ticket. In fact,” he added with a twinkle in his eyes, “no one even saw me!”
Visitors sometimes boasted of their own high experiences in meditation. Boastfulness would make any discerning person skeptical; true experiences of God, after all, should make one humble. But Master could tell at a glance what level a person had reached in his spiritual development.
“People have a very distorted notion of what the spiritual path is all about,” he said. “Visions and phenomena aren’t important. What matters is complete self-offering to God. One must be absorbed in His love.
“I remember a man who came forward after a lecture in New York and claimed that he could enter cosmic consciousness at will. Actually, what he meant was that he could travel astrally, but I saw right away that his experiences were imaginary. Still, I couldn’t simply tell him so; he wouldn’t have believed me. So I invited him up to my room. There I asked him to favor me by going into cosmic consciousness.
“Well, he sat there fidgeting, eyelids flickering, breath heaving — signs, all, of body-consciousness, not of cosmic consciousness! At last he could contain himself no longer.
“‘Why don’t you ask me where I am?’
“‘Well,’ I said, to humor him, ‘where are you?’
“In rounded tones, as if hallooing from a distance, he replied: ‘On top of the dome of the Taj Mahal!’
“‘There must be something the matter with your own dome!’ I remarked. ‘I see you sitting fully here, right in front of me.’ He was utterly taken aback.
“I then made a suggestion. ‘If you think you can travel all the way to the Taj Mahal in India, why not see if you can go somewhere nearby, to test the validity of your experience?’ I suggested that he project himself to the hotel dining room downstairs, and describe what he saw there. He agreed to the test. Going into ‘cosmic consciousness’ again, he described the dining room as he saw it. He actually believed in his visions, you see. What I wanted to do was demonstrate to him that they were the products of a vivid power of visualization. He described a number of things in the restaurant, including a group of people seated in a corner farther from the door.
“I then described the scene as I saw it. ‘In the right-hand corner,’ I said, ‘there are two women seated at a table by the door.’ I described a few more things as they were at the moment. We went downstairs at once, and found the room as I had described it, not as he had. At last he was convinced.”
Master often told us stories of his boyhood in India. Years later I wrote and published several of these accounts in a booklet named Stories of Mukunda. Here is one that was omitted from that book, as it didn’t quite fit the mood of it.
“The first time I fed the poor in India,” Master said, “I decided to feed two hundred people. I was just a boy. Everybody wondered how I planned to do it. Another boy, a friend of mine, objected, ‘You haven’t any money. Neither have I. There’s just no way we can feed that many people.’
“‘All I need,’ I replied, ‘is twenty rupees. And that money will come through you.’
“‘Impossible!’ he cried.
“‘It will happen,’ I assured him, ‘but on one condition: that you take care in no way to antagonize your mother today.’
“Later that day his mother told him to go to his rich aunt’s home and deliver something. He was about to refuse, offering some excuse, when he remembered my warning. Docility was hardly his normal attitude, but this time he went without a murmur, and delivered the package.
“When he arrived at his aunt’s house, she began scolding him, ‘Who is this boy you’ve been running around with?’ Her reference was to me. Like many wealthy people, she tended to harbor suspicions of strangers. My friend grew angry. He was about to leave when she cried, ‘Stop! I hear he is planning on doing some good. Take this money and use it.’ She gave him twenty rupees.
“The word had already been making the rounds that we were planning to feed the poor. Those twenty rupees bought a sizable amount of rice and lentils. When the neighbors saw this tangible support for our plans, they became enthusiastic. Money came pouring in from all sides. People volunteered their services to help with cooking and serving. Instead of two hundred poor people that day, we fed two thousand!”
Talk turned one evening to the attributes of success. “Will power,” Master told us, “is more important to success than knowledge, training, or even native ability. Some people, when you shake them, reply with a groan, ‘Don’t bother me; I’m sleeping.’ Others wake up a little bit, then if you leave them alone for a few minutes they start dozing again. But some people, the moment you speak to them, are wide awake, and keep on going without having to be prodded again. Those are the kind of people I like!
“When I first started on my own in the spiritual life, I settled in a little mud hut with two other boys. One of them was about my size: short and slight. The other was a big, stalwart fellow. One day I said to them, ‘Let’s lay a cement floor in the main room.’
“‘Impossible!’ protested the big fellow. ‘We don’t have the cement; we don’t have the equipment; we don’t have the know-how; we don’t have the money. For a technical job like this you need experience.’
“‘If we make up our minds,’ I replied, ‘we can do it.’
“‘Wishful thinking!’ he scoffed, and walked away to show what he thought of the scheme.
“That day the other boy and I went around to the neighbors. Bit by bit we gathered donations of materials, and loans of equipment. Two men added careful instructions on how to mix and lay the cement. That whole night we stayed up, mixing and pouring. By the following morning the job was finished. The big fellow returned later to our little hermitage.
“‘Well,’ I sighed, teasing him, ‘I guess you were right.’
“‘Aha,’ he cried. ‘You see? I told you so!’
“I then asked him please to fetch me something from the next room. He opened the door. And there was our new cement floor! We’d even colored it red. He was dumbfounded.”
Master went on to emphasize that miracles are possible when man’s will is united to God’s will.
“Not many miles from our school in Ranchi, there was a high waterfall, above which loomed a rock ledge, dangerous to walk upon. Sometimes I would take the boys across there.
“‘Do you believe in God?’ I shouted to them over the noise of the water.
“‘Yes!’ they would all shout back. And so, chanting God’s name, we always crossed over in safety.
“One day, several years after I had gone to America, another teacher in the school tried to lead a group of boys across there, repeating the words I had used. One of the boys slipped off the ledge and was drowned. It was because that teacher didn’t have inner power. Faith must be rooted in spiritual realization, you see, otherwise it lacks vitality.
“And then, too,” Master added, “one’s motives must be pure. A few years ago two young boys in India decided that, because they believed in God, He would surely protect them no matter what they did. To prove their point they took a sword, and went out into a nearby forest. One of them kneeled; the other aimed a sweeping blow at his neck with the sword. Well, God didn’t consider their presumption deserving of a miracle. The kneeling boy was killed instantly. Had their faith been pure, those children would have had the understanding not to behave so rashly in the first place. A person with pure motives doesn’t try to coerce God. When you act in tune with Him, things always turn out well.”
On another occasion Master was talking to us about the power of true faith. “One evening I had just returned to Mt. Washington when a sudden, violent wind struck the main building. It was an effect from the evil karma of World War II. People little realize how greatly the very elements are affected by mass consciousness. I told Miss Darling to remove one of her shoes and use it to strike the front porch three times, repeating certain words. She did as I’d said. On the third blow, the wind stopped instantly. In the newspaper the next day there was an item about the violent wind that had started up in Los Angeles, and then, minutes later, abated.
“The mind’s potential,” Master added, “is considerable, even without the addition of divine power. One day I was traveling in this country by train. It was a very hot summer day, and the train had no air conditioning. Everyone was suffering in the heat. I said to those who were with me, ‘See what a little concentration can do. I will meditate on the thought of icebergs.’
“Minutes later, I held out an arm for them to feel. It was ice cold.”
Master often regaled us with amusing anecdotes of his beginnings in America. “Because of my robe and long hair, people sometimes thought I was a woman. Once, at a Boston flower exhibition, I wanted to find the men’s room. A guard directed me to a certain door. Trustingly I went in. My goodness! Ladies to the left of me, ladies to the right of me, ladies everywhere! I rushed out, and once more approached the guard.
“‘I want the men’s room,’ I insisted. Eyeing me suspiciously, he finally pointed to another door. This time as I entered a man cried out, ‘Not in here, lady! Not in here!’
“In a deep bass voice I answered, ‘I know what I am doing!’
“Another time on a train the black conductor kept walking up and down the aisle, eyeing me. Finally he could restrain his curiosity no longer. ‘Is yo a man,’ he asked, ‘or is yo a woman?’
“‘What do you theenk?’(2) I demanded in a deep, booming tone.
“I used to wear a beard. On the ship coming over from India, a fellow passenger, a Muslim by the name of Rashid, persuaded me to shave it off. Americans, he insisted, might accept me if I had either long hair or a beard, but definitely not if I kept both. Since my master had expressed a wish that I keep my hair long, I decided to sacrifice the beard. Rashid volunteered his services as a barber. I placed myself trustingly in his hands. He lathered my face, then proceeded carefully to shave off one half of it. At that point, he walked off, abandoning me! And I had no notion of how to shave! I was stranded until, after some hours, he returned, laughing, to complete the job.
“Rashid was a great prankster. But he was also very helpful to me when I began my first lecture tour. He got the halls, prepared the publicity, and acted as my secretary. Still, he did play pranks!
“One evening, however, I got the better of him. He was always avoiding his work, and running after girls. He didn’t realize that I knew what he was doing. On this particular evening he’d promised to come in and work with me. When he didn’t show up, I knew just where to find him. I went to a nearby park, and there he was, sitting on a bench with a new girl. (He certainly had a way with them!) I crept up stealthily from behind and stood nearby, hidden by a bush. He put his arms around the girl, and was just about to kiss her, when I cried out in a deep, loud voice, ‘Rasheeeed!’ You should have seen him jump! He came regularly into the office after that, and worked quite docilely!”
We all laughed uproariously at Master’s story, which was delivered with suitably droll gestures and expressions.
“But,” he concluded, “Rashid, years later, more than made up for all his pranks. He was living in India when I returned there in 1935. He prepared a huge public reception for me in Calcutta, complete with banners and a procession through the streets. I was deeply touched.”
I myself got to meet Rashid in Calcutta in 1959. By that time he was much older, but even then it was easy to imagine him as the debonair prankster of his youth.
“When I first came to America,” Master continued, “my father sent me money. But I wanted to rely wholly on God, so I returned it. In the beginning, God let me taste a little hardship to test my faith in Him, but my faith was firm, and He never failed me.”
Master continued his reminiscences of those years. “A student of this work in Boston told me he wanted to be a renunciate. I said to him, ‘Your path is marriage.’
“‘Oh, no!’ he vowed, ‘I’ll never marry!’ Well, a week later he met a beautiful girl and swore to me that he was deeply in love with her!
“‘She isn’t the one for you,’ I warned him.
“‘Oh, but she is!’ he cried. ‘She is my soul mate.’
“Well, it wasn’t long after that that he returned shamefacedly. ‘I want to be a renunciate,’ he announced fervently once again. The girl had left him, having enjoyed spending his money.
“‘You have yet to meet the right one,’ I said.
“Some time later he told me laughingly of a fat, quite unattractive-looking girl who had been showing an unwelcome interest in him.
“‘Aha,’ I said, ‘this sounds like the right one!’
“‘No Swami, no!’ he cried, horrified. ‘You were right before. Please don’t be right this time!’
“‘She sounds like the right one for you.’
“It took him some time, but gradually he discovered what a good nature the girl had beneath her unglamorous exterior, and fell deeply in love with her. Eventually they were married.
“People are so often blinded by outward appearances,” Master continued. “Marriage in this country is often a union between a pretty shade of lipstick and a smart-looking bow tie! They hear a little music, fall into a romantic mood, and end up pledging their lives away.
“I remember a couple who came to me in Phoenix and asked me to marry them ‘immediately.’ I replied, ‘I must know the people I marry. I want to meditate on your request. Please come back tomorrow.’ At this proposed delay, the man was furious. When they returned the next day, he pressed me, ‘Is it all right?’
“‘No,’ I said.
“He was enraged once again. ‘Let’s get out of here, dear! We can get married by somebody else.’
“They’d almost reached the door when I called out to them. ‘Remember my words: You will never be happy together. You will find that out when it is too late. But please, I urge you, at least don’t kill each other!’
“They were married elsewhere. Soon afterward they came to Mt. Washington just to show me how happy they were. I said nothing, but inside I thought, ‘You don’t know what is hidden under that lid!’
“Six months later they returned. This time they knelt humbly before me and confessed, ‘We didn’t realize how different our natures were. If you hadn’t warned us, we would surely have ended up killing each other.’ Under the influence of emotional intoxication, you see, they hadn’t observed the explosive violence lurking behind their smiles and kisses.
“People must learn to look behind the veil of superficial attraction. Without soul harmony there cannot be true love.”
Master saw every human experience, including that of marriage, primarily as an opportunity for inner, spiritual development. Romantic notions of “wedded bliss” were, to him, simply and purely delusions. It wasn’t that he denied the satisfactions of a harmonious marriage, but rather that he wanted devotees to see all human experiences as steppingstones to the soul’s only true fulfillment, in God. Thus, he recommended to people who sought marriage that they first look for spiritual compatibility in their mates, and only secondarily for mental, emotional, and physical compatibility. He saw marriage not only as a fulfillment, but, much more importantly, as an opportunity for learning essential spiritual lessons in selflessness, loyalty, kindness, respect, and trust.
To devotees who, in the name of dispassion, considered it unnecessary to express these qualities outwardly towards their fellow creatures, he said, “Don’t imagine that God will come to you if you behave unkindly to others. Until you know how to win human love, you will never win God’s love.”
To Master, human experience was, in a sense, part of a process of divine healing. Man’s supreme disease, he said, is spiritual ignorance. Master’s own life was devoted to healing people on all levels, in keeping with his philosophy that religion should serve humanity’s total needs: physical, emotional, and mental, as well as spiritual. Though the supreme “cure” he offered was divine bliss, he healed many whom I knew, including myself, of various physical ailments.
One case of physical healing that stands out in my mind occurred years before I entered the work. Master told us the story:
“It was during the Chicago World’s Fair, in 1933. Dr. Lewis telephoned me in Los Angeles to report that a friend of his had a blood clot on the heart and was dying. Could I help him? I sat in meditation and prayed. Suddenly a great power went out from me, like an explosion. At that same instant the man, who had been in a coma, was healed and sat up, fully conscious. A nurse was in the same room at the time — not a spiritual woman at all. She testified later that she’d heard an explosion in the room, and had seen a brilliant flash of light. The man recovered completely.”
Master then spoke of the most important kind of healing: the dispelling of soul ignorance. “That is why we have these ashrams,” he said, “for those who want to give their lives to God, to be healed of all suffering forevermore.” He talked on about those earlier years at Mt. Washington.
Looking at us sweetly, he concluded, “How I wish you all had been with me then! So many years had to pass before you came.”
- John 14:2.
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- Master spoke English with a pronounced Bengali accent. I’ve emphasized his pronunciation here because it was part of the charm of the story.
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