This year, 2020, marks the one hundredth anniversary of the launch of Paramhansa Yogananda’s world mission. The scope of his accomplishments in one lifetime was remarkable. Arriving in Boston in 1920, barely speaking English, he truly took America by storm. Within a few years of landing in the West, he was filling the largest auditoriums from coast to coast — from New York to Boston, from Kansas City to Salt Lake City, and from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
In January 1925, for example, he began a two-month lecture series in Los Angeles, filling the three-thousand-seat Philharmonic Auditorium to overflowing. For the many weeks of his lectures, people lined up around the block trying to hear this magnetic, charming, enlightening man from India.
And this was just the tip of the iceberg. The tens of thousands he initiated into Kriya Yoga; the greater number he taught to meditate; the uncounted healings and miracles he performed; the ongoing inspiration he left behind with his writings, especially Autobiography of a Yogi—all of these fill my heart with awe and wonder at what he was able to accomplish in the short thirty-two years of his mission.
Yet for me, thinking even about all of this doesn’t satisfy an inner longing to know him. In my heart I still call out, “I wish that I had met you. I wish I could have sat at your feet just one time and listened to the wisdom you shared. I wish that I had heard your uproarious laughter, overflowing with God’s joy. I wish I could have seen your smile even once, and felt the love flowing from your eyes.”
Whispers of consolation come to me from his own words: “To those who think me near, I will be near.” But how do we think him near, so that the longing to be in his presence is satisfied?
Swami Kriyananda suggested many ways. He told us to gaze at Yogananda’s image in photos, especially his eyes. Then, he said, try to hold the memory of his eyes with you throughout the day. Try to see them in the eyes of others, in the beauty of nature, and even in the suffering we see around us.
But Swamiji also related how Master corrected one of the disciples, who was always taking pictures of him and covering the walls of his room with them. “‘Why do you keep on taking photographs of this physical form?’ Master demanded of him one day. ‘What is it but flesh and bones? Get to know me in meditation if you want to know who I really am!’” So, yes, gaze into his eyes, but don’t stop at that. Try to feel reflected there his underlying consciousness — the infinite love, joy, and depth — and try to awaken it within yourself.
Swamiji suggested as well that we tune in to Yogananda’s outstanding characteristics and try to feel the consciousness behind them. Some that he mentioned are Master’s complete absence of ego; his deep, impersonal respect for everyone; his ability to understand others from within them and not, as most people do, from the outside; his delightful, impish sense of humor; and his completely positive attitude towards everyone and everything.
Pick one or a few of these qualities that especially resonate with you, and try in meditation to feel these aspects of him within yourself. Then let these qualities permeate your actions throughout the day, so that you feel it is Yoganandaji laughing through you at something amusing, or responding positively to some setback, or loving someone that others have rejected.
I wish I could say to you, “Yes, do all this. From my own experience I know that it works.” In truth, I am trying as hard as I can to feel my Guru’s living presence within me. But I can invite you to join me in the quest to draw him closer. With his grace, the day will come when we fully experience these words from one of his poems:
“With only mists of dreams between,
Someone beside me stood unseen—
And whispered to me, calm and clear:
‘Hello, playmate! I am here!’”
As Master arrives on the shores of our consciousness and transforms our countless restless thoughts, may we help launch the next hundred years of his mission.
In his love,
P.S. You might also enjoy this video message from Jyotish and me, in honor of Yogananda’s 100th anniversary.