We recently honored, with a celebratory satsang, the 75th anniversary of the publication of Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. I was asked to speak about one of my favorite chapters in that amazing book, “An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness.”
For me, as for so many others I have met, the Autobiography changed my life. I had been searching my entire life for meaning, and for an understanding of the possibilities of awareness. My college studies in psychology didn’t answer my questions, nor did science in general, nor, for me at least, did religion. I despaired of finding answers until someone suggested I read Yogananda’s great work. It is no exaggeration to say that reading the book, and that chapter in particular, not only changed my life but shaped my entire future.
As I was preparing for my talk, I did something most of us rarely do: I not only read that chapter but studied it, thought about it, and meditated on it. I was amazed at the insights that flowed and the depth of teaching that is contained there. Those few pages really summarize the whole of spiritual evolution. One of the most important points was how life-changing it was for Yogananda to feel his guru’s unconditional love.
The chapter begins with Yogananda returning shamefacedly after having left the ashram to search for God in the Himalayas. Sri Yukteswar accepted him back, not with rebuke, but with the unconditional love of the guru for his beloved disciple. “A blissful wave engulfed me,” Yogananda wrote. “I was conscious that the Lord, in the form of my guru, was expanding the small ardors of my heart into the incompressible reaches of cosmic love.”
That expanded heart prepared him for the experience of cosmic consciousness that would come a few days later. As I read the chapter a new understanding came to me of the steps needed to experience samadhi.
First, there must be a deep, lifelong yearning for union with God. Even as a young boy, Yogananda sought out saints and spiritual experiences.
Next, there must be the intense practice of meditation and other spiritual techniques. As Yogananda has explained, this prepares our nervous system for the tremendous flow of energy that comes with Self-realization. If we aren’t prepared, that power would burn our nerves and brain.
Then, most importantly, our hearts need to expand to hold at least a tiny cup of the infinite vastness of Divine Love.
It is amusing and confusing to see how the actual experience came to Mukunda (Yogananda’s boyhood name). One assumes that such a state comes as the culmination of a long, ever-deepening meditation, as it did for the Buddha. But not for Yogananda:
A few mornings later I made my way to Master’s empty sitting room. I planned to meditate, but my laudable purpose was unshared by disobedient thoughts. They scattered like birds before the hunter.
“Mukunda!” Sri Yukteswar’s voice sounded from a distant inner balcony.
I felt as rebellious as my thoughts. “Master always urges me to meditate,” I muttered to myself. “He should not disturb me when he knows why I came to his room.” He summoned me again; I remained obstinately silent. The third time his tone held rebuke.
“I know how you are meditating,” my guru called out, “with your mind distributed like leaves in a storm! Come here to me.”
[Yogananda made his way, again shamefacedly, to his guru.] “Poor boy, the mountains couldn’t give what you wanted. . . . Your heart’s desire shall be fulfilled.” . . .
He struck gently on my chest above the heart.
And then there followed the experience in cosmic consciousness that fulfilled his life’s longing, changed mine, and started a worldwide spiritual revolution.
This chapter is very comforting. Like Yogananda returning shamefacedly to his guru, many struggle with the feeling that they have disappointed God—that our meditations are not deep enough, or that we have not done adequate service. But the Lord, as Sri Yukteswar demonstrated, has nothing but unconditional love for us. When we can accept that, the small ardors of our heart will begin to expand into the incompressible reaches of cosmic love.
With love and joy,
P.S. You can watch my longer talk on this chapter here.
You might also enjoy this PDF printout of the Steps Needed to Experience Samadhi. Click on the image below to open and print.
Listen to the weekly commentary for this blog, with special behind-the-inspiration stories and answers to common spiritual questions. Subscribe to the podcast or download the audio recording by right-clicking here. Or listen to it here (3:50):
Download the audio recording of this week’s blog by right-clicking here. Or listen to it here (6:42):