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Path: One Man's Quest On the Only Path There Is
by J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda)
Mt. Washington Estates
Washington, in the Highland Park district of Los Angeles, rises above that
vast city like some guardian angel. Located not far from downtown, the mountain
yet stands remote behind its succession of foothills. At the mountaintop
the sound of traffic through the busy streets below is hushed to a quiet
hum. Here in this tranquil spot, the problems of mankind appear more susceptible
of harmonious solution. Though in the world, it seems a place not wholly
of the world.
It is atop Mt. Washington, at 3880 San Rafael Avenue, that the determined visitor, after braving the steep, winding access road, arrives at the international headquarters of Self-Realization Fellowship.
At the turn of the Twentieth Century, Mt. Washington Estates, as this property is also known, was a fashionable hotel. Wealthy people desirous of escaping the strain and bustle of city life went there to relax, or to attend gala social events. Tournaments were held on the tennis courts; banquets and colorful balls in the spacious lobby. Guests were brought to the hotel by cable car up the steep mountainside from Marmion Way, a thousand feet below, where connection was made with a railroad from downtown Los Angeles.
The "city of angels" was much smaller then: some 100,000 inhabitants. In time, the increasing popularity of the automobile, and the city's inexorable engulfment of its surrounding orchards and farmland, induced Mt. Washington's fashionable clientele to seek their recreation farther afield. Mt. Washington Estates fell on hard times. The hotel closed its doors at last. Weeds began growing out of widening cracks on the once famous tennis courts. The hotel, like an indigent but still-proud aristocrat, continued to survey the world with resolute condescension from its twelve-acre domain. Its lofty mood, however, became increasingly difficult for it to sustain as, with the passing years, paint began peeling off the walls of the main building, the grounds lost their carefully tailored elegance, and on every side there appeared unmistakable signs of neglect. Alas, to such universal indifference are all brought who too pridefully oppose Time's all-leveling scythe. The busy world paid court to Mt. Washington no longer.
Unlike most once-fashionable resorts, however, pathetic in their memories of a heyday forever vanished, Mt. Washington's erstwhile glory was but the prelude to a far more glorious role.
Around the turn of the century, at the time when Mt. Washington had attained the height of its popularity as a resort, there was a young boy in India who, during periods of ecstatic meditation, caught glimpses of a mysterious mountaintop monastery in a distant land. The message conveyed by his enigmatic visions concerned the mission that, he knew, he was meant someday to fulfill. Mukunda Lal Ghosh, later known to the world as Paramhansa Yogananda, was the son of a senior executive in the Bengal-Nagpur Railway; as such, he faced the prospect of wealth and high worldly position when he grew up. But it was not this world that attracted him. From earliest childhood he had longed for God as intensely as others long for human love, or for worldly recognition. Mukunda's favorite pastime was visiting saints. "Choto Mahasaya" they often called him"Little Sir," or, literally, "Little Great-Minded One." Treating him not as a child, but as their spiritual equal, many posed him deep questions, or sought his advice on spiritual matters.
Clearly this was no ordinary child, though in his autobiography Yogananda presents himself so unassumingly that the reader, unfamiliar with the intense preparation required for high yogic attainments, might draw the conclusion that anyone similarly placed might have had the young yogi's spiritual experiences.
Soon after graduation from high school, Mukunda met his guru,(18) the great Swami Sri Yukteswar of Serampore, Bengal. At the feet of this great master he attained, in the amazingly short space of six months, the high state of samadhi,(19) or unconditioned oneness with God. His guru kept him in the ashram(20) another nine and a half years, while he trained him for his mission of yoga dissemination in the West. "The West," Sri Yukteswar explained, "is high in material attainments, but lacking in spiritual understanding. It is God's will that you play a role in teaching mankind the value of balancing the material with an inner, spiritual life."
In 1917, Mukunda, now a monk with the name Swami Yogananda,(21) took the first outward step toward the fulfillment of his mission by founding a small school for boys in the village of Dihika, Bengal. In 1918 the Maharaja of Kasimbazar graciously gave him permission to transfer this fast-growing school to the Kasimbazar palace in Ranchi, Bihar. Here the school flourished. An institution offering education in the divine art of living along with the standard curriculum made an instant appeal to parents and children alike. In the first year, enrollment applications reached two thousandfar more than the existing facilities could absorb. By the end of two years, the young yogi-headmaster's educational theories were already beginning to have a serious impact on other educators.
Dear as Yogananda's Ranchi school was to him, however, there was another, broader mission for which the Lord was even now preparing him. In 1920 the youthful yogi was meditating one day when he had a vision: Thousands of Americans passed before him, gazing at him intently. It was, he knew, a divine message. The time had come for him to begin his lifework in the West.
The very next day he received an invitation to speak as India's delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals, being held that year in Boston, Massachusetts, under the auspices of the American Unitarian Association. "All doors are open for you," Sri Yukteswar told him, when he applied to his guru for instruction. "Your words on yoga shall be heard in the West." Thus commanded, he accepted the invitation.
In America he found many people hungry for India's spiritual teachings, and for the liberating techniques of yoga. Accordingly he stayed on in Boston, where for three years he taught and lectured. Gradually he accustomed himself to the American culture, and studied how he might reach past his listeners' preconceptions to their very hearts.
In 1923 he began a series of lectures and classes in major American cities. His success everywhere was extraordinary. Crowds flocked to him in unprecedented numbers, sometimes queuing up for blocks to get in. Unlike most other teachers from India, he never tried to impose his own country's cultural modes on Americans, but sought rather to show Americans how to spiritualize their own culture. Dynamically, and with contagious joy, he set out to persuade minds steeped in the virtues of "down-to-earth practicality" that the most practical course of all is to seek God.
His magnetism was irresistible. On January 25, 1927, in Washington, D.C., after a lecture attended by 5,000 people, the Washington Post reported, "The Swami has broken all records for sustained interest." For some time a famous photographer kept a life-size photograph of the Master on the street outside his shop. President Calvin Coolidge received Yogananda at the White House. On April 18, 1926, in New York's famous Carnegie Hall, the Master held a crowd of three thousand spellbound for an hour and a half, repeating with him the simple chant "O God Beautiful!" which he had translated from the original Hindi of Guru Nanak. That night many in his audience found themselves transported into a state of divine ecstasy.
In 1924 Swami Yogananda toured westward across the continent. As he taught and lectured, countless thousands found their lives transformednot by his words alone, but by his magnetic love, and the sheer radiance of his inner joy.
Louise Royston, an elderly disciple who first met him during those early years, described him to me as a man so alive with divine joy that he sometimes actually came running out onto the lecture platform, his long hair streaming out behind him, his orange robe flapping about his body as if with kindred enthusiasm.
"How is everyone?" he would cry.
"Awake and ready!" came the eager response, in which he led them.
"How feels everyone?"
Again the shout: "Awake and ready!"
Only in such a charged atmosphere was he willing to talk about God, Whom he described as the most dynamic, joy-inspiring reality in the universe. Dry, theoretical lectures were not for him. He had not come to America to philosophize, but to awaken in people an ardent love for God, an urgent longing to know Him. The forceful, inspiring personality of this teacher from India utterly captivated his audiences.
Louise Royston told me a charming little story from Yogananda's 1927 visit to Washington, D.C. There Mme. Amelita Galli-Curci, the world-renowned prima donna, became his disciple. At this time Galli-Curci had reached the pinnacle of her own extraordinary fame. One evening, while singing before a packed concert hall, she spotted her guru seated in the balcony. Interrupting the performance, she pulled out a handkerchief and waved it eagerly in his direction. The Swami in his turn rose and waved back at her. The audience, finally, seeing whose presence it was that had interrupted the proceedings, broke into enthusiastic cheers and applause, sustaining the acclamation for several minutes.
One reason for the almost overwhelming response the Master received everywhere was that, unlike most public speakers, he never looked upon his audiences as nameless crowds even when they numbered many thousands. He was amazingly sensitive to each listener as an individual. Often he would address himself to the specific needs of a single member of his audience. I myself sometimes had the experience of finding him, during the course of a public lecture, addressing briefly some private difficulty of my own. When I thanked him mentally, he would glance smilingly at me before continuing his discourse.
Mr. Oliver Rogers (later, Brother Devananda), an older man who entered Mt. Washington as a monk a year or two after me, told the Master once in my presence:
"I heard you lecture twenty-five years ago at Symphony Hall, in Boston. Through the years since then I often wondered where you were. I suppose it was my karma that I had to seek God first in other ways, but the compelling inspiration behind my search was always that evening with you in Symphony Hall.
"It was strange, too," Mr. Rogers continued reflectively. "That huge hall was completely packed, yet through your entire lecture you kept your eyes fixed on me!"
"I remember," replied the Master quietly.
Above all, during every public lecture Swami Yogananda sought souls who were spiritually ready to devote their lives to God. As he often put it, "I prefer a soul to a crowd, though I love crowds of souls."
During his transcontinental tour in 1924, many would have been thrilled for Swami Yogananda to make his home in their cities. But to every such invitation he replied, "My soul calls me to Los Angeles." Years later, a guest at Mt. Washington asked him, "Which do you consider the most spiritual place in America?" "I have always considered Los Angeles the Benares(22) of America," the Master replied.
To Los Angeles he came. People flocked to his lectures in unprecedented numbers even for that city, noted as it is for its fascination with matters spiritual. Weeks passed in unceasing public service. And then he informed his delighted students that he planned to establish his headquarters there.
Numerous properties were shown him. None, however, corresponded to the visions he had received in India. He continued his search.
In January 1925 he was out driving one day with two or three students, including Arthur Cometer, a young man who, with Ralph, another student, had chauffeured the Master across America. They drove up winding Mt. Washington Drive. As they passed Mt. Washington Estates the Master cried out, "Stop the car!"
"You can't go in there," his companions protested. "That's private property!"
But Yogananda wasn't to be dissuaded. He entered the spacious grounds, and strolled about them in silence. At last, holding onto the railing above the tennis courts, he exclaimed quietly, "This place feels like home!"
As it turned out, the property had recently been put up for sale; there were others already who wanted to buy it. But Yogananda knew it was destined to be his. So certain was he, in fact, that he invited all his students in southern California to a dedication ceremony on the still-unpurchased land. During a speech that day he informed them, "This place is yours."
The price of the property was $65,000. The Master was on the very point of signing the purchase agreement when his hand froze into immobility. "God held my hand from signing," he told me years later, "because He wanted me to have the property for less money." A few days afterwards another real estate agent was found who agreed to negotiate terms. The seller consented to come down to $45,000, provided that the sum be paid in full at the time of purchase, and that that date be set no later than three months from the day Yogananda signed the agreement. The price, though excellent, represented a lot of money, particularly in those days, when the dollar had a much higher value than it does today. When Yogananda's students learned that he had been given only three months to raise the entire sum, their interest waned noticeably. One lady exclaimed in dismay, "Why, it would take you twenty years to raise that much money!"
"Twenty years," replied the Master, "for those who think twenty years. Twenty months for those who think twenty months. And three months for those who think three months!"
He acquired the money in three months. The story of how he did so illustrates wonderfully the power of faith.
There was a student of the Swami's, a Mrs. Ross Clark, whose husband some months previously had contracted double pneumonia. The man's doctors had said he couldn't live. "Oh yes he will live," declared the Master when Mrs. Clark turned to him for help. Going to her husband's bedside, he had sat there and prayed deeply. The man was cured. Thus it was that when Mrs. Clark learned of the Master's dilemma, she told him, "You saved my husband's life. I want to help you. Would you accept a loan of $25,000 without interest for three years?" Would he!
"Other money," he told me, "began pouring in from our centers around the country. Soon we had another $15,000, making $40,000 in all. But the final purchase date was approaching, and we still lacked $5,000 of the total price. I wrote Mrs. Clark again to see if she could help us with this amount. Regretfully she answered, 'I've done all I can.' I thanked her once more for the enormous help she had already given. But where was that help going to come from?
"At last just one day remained! The situation was desperate. If we didn't get those five thousand dollars by noon the next day, we would forfeit our option."
Master chuckled, "I think Divine Mother likes to keep my life interesting!
"I happened to be staying in the home of someone who was rich, but insincere. He could easily have helped us had he been so inclined, but he made no move to do so. I was battling with God, 'How do You plan to give me that money before noon tomorrow?'
"'Everything will be all right,' said my host soothingly.
"'Why do you say that?' I demanded. I knew the money would come, but God needs human instruments, and this man had shown no intention of serving in that capacity. He left the room.
"Just then a gust of wind (23) turned my face toward the telephone. There I saw the face of Miss Trask, a lady who had come to me twice for interviews. A voice said, 'Call her.' I did so at once, and explained my predicament to her.
"After a pause she said, 'Somebody just the other day returned a loan I made him years ago. I never expected to get it back. It was for $5,000! Yes, you may have it.'
"Silently I offered a prayer of thanks. 'Please,' I urged her, 'be at Mt. Washington Estates tomorrow before noon.'
"She promised to come. But by noon the next day she hadn't yet arrived! Several prospective buyers were waiting like wolves. One was telling everyone he planned to turn the place into a movie school. But the seller announced, 'We will wait the rest of the day.'
"Minutes later Miss Trask arrived. The drama was over. We paid the full purchase price, and Mt. Washington was ours!"
Thus was founded the international headquarters of Self-Realization Fellowship, the institution through which Paramhansa Yogananda disseminated his yoga teachings throughout the world.
When I came to the Master in 1948, Mt. Washington Estates was a monastery. At first, however, he had planned to make it a "how-to-live" school similar to his well-known institution in India. For his hopes for spiritualizing the West rested on all-round education for the young. But soon he realized that his educational dreams were premature for this country. First, the grown-ups would have to be converted to his ideals; only then would there be properly trained teachers, and enough parents willing to send their children to his schools. Soon, therefore, Mt. Washington became a residential center for adults desirous of devoting their lives to God.
In 1925, though many Americans derived inspiration from Yogananda's message, relatively few were ready to give their entire lives to the spiritual search. Even in India, so Lord Krishna stated in the Bhagavad Gita, "Out of a thousand, one seeks Me; and out of a thousand who seek, one fully knows Me."(24) Swami Shankaracharya once remarked, "Childhood is busy with playthings; youth is busy with romance and family; old age is busy with sickness and worries: Where is the man who is busy with God?" Here, in the materialistic West, few indeed were willing to spare the time for deep meditation. By ones they came. Many left; few remained. Yogananda might have compromised his high standards and made it easier for many more to stay, but he never did so. Still, by ones they did come, and among these were a growing number of deeply seeking souls. Slowly a monastic order developed, and in time achieved such a high spiritual caliber as I have seen nowhere else, not even in India.
For some years Swami Yogananda continued to tour the country, lecturing, teaching, and drawing to his work a gradually growing band of dedicated disciples. At last he felt guided by God to end these spiritual "campaigns," as he called them, and return to Mt. Washington to devote his time to training the souls he had sent there.
There began now for him and his little band a period of severe testing. During his previous years of public teaching, all the money he had sent home, it turned out, had been spent, and not always wisely. No doubt those in charge had imagined the supply would never run out. To replenish their depleted bank account the Master might have gone out campaigning again, but he felt that God wanted him at Mt. Washington now, and he obeyed the summons unflinchingly. He and his little group planted tomatoes on the hillside. For months their diet consisted of raw tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, fried tomatoes, baked tomatoes, tomato soup. With a little culinary imagination, they found, even this drastically limited fare could be pleasantly varied.
With the passing years, more and more students around the country realized that what the Master had given them was far more than an adjunct to the church teachings they had grown up with: It was a complete spiritual path in itself. He always encouraged his students to remain loyal to their own churches, if they so desired. But increasing numbers of them, as they practiced his teachings, began to feel that his work was all the church they needed. Thus his work developed, not by missionary tactics of conversion, but by his students' own, personal experience of the efficacy of his teachings. More and more, those whose worldly responsibilities prevented them from entering his monastery began uniting together in their own towns to form Self-Realization Fellowship centers. Lessons were compiled at Mt. Washington from his teachings and writings, (25) and sent to devoted students around the country, eventually reaching students throughout the world. By 1935 the work was firmly established and flourishing.
This was the year that Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, summoned him back to India. The now-famous disciple spent a year there traveling about, addressing large audiences.
A visitor to Sri Yukteswar's Serampore ashram one day compared Swami Yogananda to a certain other swami, well known in India. The great Guru, though rarely one to bestow even the mildest praise, replied now with quiet pride, "Yogananda is much greater."
During that year Sri Yukteswar bestowed on his beloved disciple the highest of India's spiritual titles, Paramhansa.(26) It was hoped by many Indians that Yogananda would remain in India now. But God was already calling him inwardly back to America. His guru's death was a further, outward, sign that God was releasing him to go. Accordingly, in 1936, he returned to Mt. Washington. And now a new phase of his mission began.
In conjunction with his early visions of Mt. Washington, Yogananda had always seen two other buildings. The first was the main hall of his Ranchi school. The other had yet to be found. It was a beautiful hermitage somewhere by the sea.
Several times, while driving down the California coast to San Diego, he had felt attracted to a certain spot in the little town of Encinitas. Each time he had received the inner prompting: "Wait. Not yet." Obedient to the divine guidance, he had never pursued the matter further. But after his return from India a surprise awaited him. On the very spot that had attracted him on those drives, Mr. James J. Lynn, a wealthy disciple and highly advanced spiritually, had purchased and built the hermitage of his visions! Here it was that Paramhansaji,(27) as many people now began calling him, spent most of his time over the next several years writing books, including his spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi.
His days now were an idyll of divine tranquillity. After years of traveling, of spiritual "campaigning," and of courageously meeting a never-ending series of challenges to his mission, he was able to enjoy for a time some of the fruits of his labors. The challenges he met now were in the more congenial realm of spiritual ideas.
In order to share this idyll with devoted students, he constructed in 1938 a small, beautiful place of worship on the grounds in Encinitas. "The Golden Lotus Temple," he named this building. Situated not far from the main hermitage, it overlooked the Pacific Ocean. Here the Master led group meditations, with the ocean to remind them of the vastness of Spirit, and shared with devotees some of the deep inspirations that were pouring daily through his pen. The Golden Lotus Temple attracted widespread public interest. Visitors sometimes compared it to the Taj Mahal. One person said of it, "It is like seeing paradise without dying!"
But the Master's idyll didn't last long. In 1939 World War II started in Europe. Its disruptive vibrations could not but affect the tranquillity of a work as attuned as Yogananda's was to serving the needs of mankind everywhere. In 1942, not long after America's entry into the war, The Golden Lotus Temple slipped into the sea. Its foundations had been undermined by soil erosion, caused by water seepage from the road outside the hermitage property. The loss of this famous structure received front-page Associated Press coverage in hundreds of newspapers across the nation. To Paramhansaji, however, the loss was not a tragedy, but a sign of God's will. The time had come for the next stage in his mission.
God's true lovers on earth seem to attract more than their share of trials. Perhaps the reason is so that the rest of us can learn from their example that adversity, if met with divine faith, proves invariably a blessing in the end. Hardship is but a shortcuttunneled, so to speak, through mountains so as the more quickly to reach the fertile meadows beyond them. Paramhansaji declared that out of the destruction of his Golden Lotus Temple many other places of worship would come. To him, then, its loss meant that the time had come to expand his work, and to reach out more actively to others through the medium of his organization, which by this time was firmly established.
Within a year and two months of the loss of the Encinitas temple, two new places of worship were established. The first was in Hollywood, at 4860 Sunset Boulevard, dedicated in August 1942. The second was in San Diego, at 3072 First Avenue, dedicated in September 1943. The Master now began lecturing in these churches on alternate Sundays.
This increase in his public activities attracted an ever-larger number of lay disciples to the churches, in addition to those coming to live as renunciates at his Mt. Washington and Encinitas ashrams. It was now that an old dream, one that he had often described in lectures and in magazine articles, began to take definite shape.
One of the primary aims of his work had been, as he put it, "to spread a spirit of brotherhood among all people, and to aid in establishing, in many countries, self-sustaining colonies for plain living and high thinking." It was to the establishment of such a "world brotherhood colony," as he called it, that he now turned most of his energies.
The problem to which he addressed himself was similar to that which had first inspired his interest in child education. "Environment," he used to say, "is stronger than will power." The environment in which a child lives determines to a great extent his attitudes and behavior after he grows up. The environment an adult lives in, similarly, can make all the difference between success and failure in his efforts to transform old, unwanted habits. Paramhansaji urged people to live in harmonious environments, if possible. For single persons with a deep desire for God, he often suggested the monastic life. But although for students with worldly commitments he recommended regular attendance at Self-Realization Fellowship church or center services, he was sadly aware of the obstacle these people faced. Most modern environments, alas, even when outwardly harmonious, are not spiritually uplifting.
The solution he arrived at was to provide places in which all devotees, whether married or single, could live among divine influences: places where family, friends, job, and general environment all would conduce to spiritual developmentin short, a spiritual village, or "world brotherhood colony." In the early 1940s he set himself to found one such community.
Encinitas was the site he chose for this project. Here he began accepting families. In lecture after lecture in the churches he urged people to combine their meditative efforts with the simpler, freer life-style of a spiritual community.
A number of the projects that he undertook during his lifetime might be considered guidelines for the future, in as much as their fulfillment depended on the preparedness of society as a whole, and not only on his own far-seeing vision and vigorous power of will. Society was not yet ready for them. Thus, although he dreamed of founding "how-to-live" schools in America, and actually tried to start one in 1925 at Mt. Washington, America simply wasn't spiritually developed enough yet to permit the fulfillment of his dream.
Everything he did, however, seems to have been done for a good reason. Indeed, what better way to indicate his wishes for the work in years, or even in generations, to come than to make a serious attempt to carry those wishes out during his own lifetime? Great men cannot hope to materialize all the inspirations of their genius during the short time allotted to them on earth. But how much clearer a demonstration of their intentions, for those who follow in their footsteps, if they can start something tangible, however inchoately, instead of merely talking about it. Such was Yogananda's "how-to-live" school at Mt. Washington. Such also was a Yoga University that he founded there in 1941, with a California State charter, only to bow later to public indifference. Such, too, was his "world brotherhood colony" in Encinitas.
For it was not possible for him to complete this project during his lifetime. America simply wasn't ready for it. The fact that he dropped it, however, cannot be viewed as a change of heart in view of the lifelong importance he attached to it. Rather, the practical demonstration of his interest must have been intended to inspire others to take up the plan later, when the fulfillment of it would be possible.
In 1946 his best-known book, Autobiography of a Yogi, was published. Its appearance marked the beginning of the last chapter of his life: the completion of his major literary works, and the arrival of a veritable flood of new disciples.
In the summer of 1948 he experienced a supreme state of ecstasy. God, in the form of the Divine Mother of the Universe, showed him the secrets of cosmic creation. It was as though, in lifting these last veils, She wanted to prepare him for his own departure from this stage of material appearances. "I sent you a few bad ones in the beginning," She told him during that ecstasy, "to test your love for Me. But now I am sending you angels. Whoever smites them, I shall smite." Indeed, it was within this periodfrom approximately 1946 onwardsthat the majority of his destined disciples came. We may suppose that God had wanted his life during his earlier years to stand out more brilliantly than it might have, had all his energies been devoted to the personal training of hordes of followers. In the life of the great Sri Ramakrishna, too, most of the disciples came during the last years of that master's life. At any rate, now, in the closing chapters of Paramhansa Yogananda's life, a swelling throng of dedicated souls arrived. They helped to ensure the continuance of his work after his departure from this earth.
Within this period of time, too, he acquired several new properties: a retreat in the desert at Twenty-Nine Palms, California, where he went for periods of seclusion to work on completing his writings; a new church in Long Beach, California, and another one in Phoenix, Arizona; and a lake and temple in Pacific Palisades, California. He also developed the already-existing church property in Hollywood, adding an auditorium and an excellent vegetarian restaurant.
The lake and temple in Pacific Palisades were dedicated by him in 1950. This was his last and most beautiful center. The SRF Lake Shrine, as he called it, forms a natural bowl of steep hillside around a charming jewel of a lake. It contains a church, an outdoor temple, little shrines to each of the major religions of the world, and beautiful flower gardens. The Lake Shrine is enjoyed by many thousands of visitors every year.
Increasingly, during these last years of his life, he spent his time working on his writings. One of the major assignments that his guru had given him was to demonstrate the intrinsic compatibility of the Indian Scriptures, particularly the Bhagavad Gita, with the Old and New Testaments. At Twenty-Nine Palms he wrote commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, Genesis, and Revelation. (The teachings of Revelation he said, are "pure yoga.") He had already completed detailed commentaries on the four Gospels of the Bible.
It was on March 7, 1952, that he left his body. It had been an incredibly fruitful life. By the time it ended, SRF centers flourished in many countries. Yogananda's disciples around the world numbered many tens of thousands. He had opened the West to India's teachings in a way that no other teacher has ever succeeded in doing. This was the first time that a great master from India had spent the greater part of his life in the West. It is largely as a result of his teaching and radiant personal example that there has been, in recent decades, such widespread and growing interest in India's spiritual teachings.
The headquarters for this vast movement was Mt. Washington Estates. Here it was that my own life of discipleship began.
Spiritual teacher. The word guru is often applied, broadly, to any venerated
teacher. On the spiritual path, however, it refers to the sadguru or true
teacherthat enlightened sage who has been commissioned by god to
lead the spiritual fit seeker out of darkness, and into the experience
of Supreme Truth. While the seeker may have many lesser teachers, it is
written that he have only one such divinely appointed guru.
Samadhi (cosmic consciousness) is the state of infinite awareness that
comes to the yogi once the hypnosis of ego has been broken. Christian
saints have sometimes described this state as "mystical marriage,"
for in it the soul merges into God and becomes one with Him.
A place of retirement form worldly life for the purpose of pursuing spiritual
Swami: literally, lordthat is to say, one who has achieved mastery
of himself. Swami is the title commonly given to sannyasis (renunciates),
in affirmation of the truth that he alone is a true ruler in this world
who is the ruler of himself. Renunciates, for the same reason, are often
called Maharaj (Great King).
Benares, or Varanasi as it is now officially named, is the holiest city
of the Hindus. Thousands of years oldindeed, quite possibly the
oldest continuously inhabited city in the worldVaranasi possesses
an aura of timelessness and world detachment. Numerous ashrams and temples
are found here. Devout pilgrims from all over India come to bathe in the
sacred river Ganges. The aged and the infirm flock here, convinced that
to die in Benares is a guarantee of salvation. Indeed their faith is founded,
albeit symbolically, on a divine truth. For Hindus that take their mythology
literally consider Benares the earthly abode of God in the form of Sri
Viswanath, "Lord of the Universe." And truly, one who lives
and dies in the inner abode of God, which is to say in his consciousness,
is assured salvation.
As I understood this story from Master, this was a spiritual, not a physical,
manifestation. Wind is one of the manifestations of Aum, the Holy Ghost.
We find a reference to it in The Acts of the Apostles: "And when
the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in
one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing
mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. . .
. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:1,2,4) The
visions that St. Bernadette Soubirous received of the Virgin Mary, also,
at Lourdes, were preceded by a gust of wind. Others couldn't feel it.
The Bhagavad Gita VII:3.
Louise Royston, the disciple mentioned earlier in this chapter, was chiefly
responsible for this labor of love.
Literally, "Supreme Swan." The swan has been since ancient times
a symbol of divine enlightenment. The reason is threefold. First, like
the swan, which is equally at home on land and on water, the enlightened
yogi is at home both in this world and in the ocean of Spirit. Second,
the swan is believed to have the ability, when sipping a mixture of milk
and water, to swallow only the milk; presumably what it does is curdle
it. Similarly, the hansa, or enlightened yogi, discriminates clearly between
the "milk" of divine reality and the "water" of delusion.
Third, hansa (swan) in Sanskrit means also han sa ("I am He"):
words expressive of the blissful realization of a true master. Supreme
among such "hansas" is the parama (supreme) hansa . Already
liberated, the paramahansa no longer needs to combat earthly delusions
with the sword of discrimination, for he sees the Divine at all times
Ji is a suffix commonly added to names in India as a mark of respect.