Years in My Master's Hermitage (excerpt)
"You have come." Sri Yukteswar greeted me from a tiger skin on the floor of a balconied sitting room. His voice was cold, his manner unemotional.
"Yes, dear Master, I am here to follow you." Kneeling, I touched his feet.
"How can that be? You ignore my wishes."
"No longer, Guruji! Your wish shall be my law!"
"That is better! Now I can assume responsibility for your life."
"I willingly transfer the burden, Master."
"My first request, then, is that you return home to your family. I want you to enter college in Calcutta. Your education should be continued."
"Very well, sir." I hid my consternation. Would importunate books pursue me down the years? First Father, now Sri Yukteswar!
"Someday you will go to the West. Its people will lend ears more receptive to India's ancient wisdom if the strange Hindu teacher has a university degree."
"You know best, Guruji." My gloom departed. The reference to the West I found puzzling, remote; but my opportunity to please Master by obedience was vitally immediate.
"You will be near in Calcutta; come here whenever you find time."
"Every day if possible, Master! Gratefully I accept your authority in every detail of my life-on one condition."
"That you promise to reveal God to me!"
An hour-long verbal tussle ensued. A master's word cannot be falsified; it is not lightly given. The implications in the pledge open out vast metaphysical vistas. A guru must be on intimate terms indeed with the Creator before he can obligate Him to appear! I sensed Sri Yukteswar's divine unity, and was determined, as his disciple, to press my advantage.
"You are of exacting disposition!" Then Master's consent rang out with compassionate finality:
"Let your wish be my wish."
Lifelong shadow lifted from my heart; the vague search, hither and yon, was over. I had found eternal shelter in a true guru.
"Come; I will show you the hermitage." Master rose from his tiger mat. I glanced about me; my gaze fell with astonishment on a wall picture, garlanded with a spray of jasmine.
"Yes, my divine guru." Sri Yukteswar's tone was reverently vibrant. "Greater he was, as man and yogi, than any other teacher whose life came within the range of my investigations."
Silently I bowed before the familiar picture. Soul-homage sped to the peerless master who, blessing my infancy, had guided my steps to this hour.
Led by my guru, I strolled over the house and its grounds. Large, ancient and well-built, the hermitage was surrounded by a massive-pillared courtyard. Outer walls were moss-covered; pigeons fluttered over the flat gray roof, unceremoniously sharing the ashram quarters. A rear garden was pleasant with jackfruit, mango, and plantain trees. Balustraded balconies of upper rooms in the two-storied building faced the courtyard from three sides. A spacious ground-floor hall, with high ceiling supported by colonnades, was used, Master said, chiefly during the annual festivities of Durgapuja. A narrow stairway led to Sri Yukteswar's sitting room, whose small balcony overlooked the street. The ashram was plainly furnished; everything was simple, clean, and utilitarian. Several Western styled chairs, benches, and tables were in evidence.
Master invited me to stay overnight. A supper of vegetable curry was served by two young disciples who were receiving hermitage training.
"Guruji, please tell me something of your life." I was squatting on a straw mat near his tiger skin. The friendly stars were very close, it seemed, beyond the balcony.
"My family name was Priya Nath Karar. I was born here in Serampore, where Father was a wealthy businessman. He left me this ancestral mansion, now my hermitage. My formal schooling was little; I found it slow and shallow. In early manhood, I undertook the responsibilities of a householder, and have one daughter, now married. My middle life was blessed with the guidance of Lahiri Mahasaya. After my wife died, I joined the Swami Order and received the new name of Sri Yukteswar Giri. Such are my simple annals."
Master smiled at my eager face. Like all biographical sketches, his words had given the outward facts without revealing the inner man.
"Guruji, I would like to hear some stories of your childhood."
"I will tell you a few-each one with a moral!" Sri Yukteswar's eyes twinkled with his warning. "My mother once tried to frighten me with an appalling story of a ghost in a dark chamber. I went there immediately, and expressed my disappointment at having missed the ghost. Mother never told me another horror-tale. Moral: Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you.
"Another early memory is my wish for an ugly dog belonging to a neighbor. I kept my household in turmoil for weeks to get that dog. My ears were deaf to offers of pets with more prepossessing appearance. Moral: Attachment is blinding; it lends an imaginary halo of attractiveness to the object of desire.
"A third story concerns the plasticity of the youthful mind. I heard my mother remark occasionally: 'A man who accepts a job under anyone is a slave.' That impression became so indelibly fixed that even after my marriage I refused all positions. I met expenses by investing my family endowment in land. Moral: Good and positive suggestions should instruct the sensitive ears of children. Their early ideas long remain sharply etched."
Master fell into tranquil silence. Around midnight he led me to a narrow cot. Sleep was sound and sweet the first night under my guru's roof.
Sri Yukteswar chose the following morning to grant me his Kriya Yoga initiation. The technique I had already received from two disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya-Father and my tutor, Swami Kebalananda-but in Master's presence I felt transforming power. At his touch, a great light broke upon my being, like glory of countless suns blazing together. A flood of ineffable bliss, overwhelming my heart to an innermost core, continued during the following day. It was late that afternoon before I could bring myself to leave the hermitage.
"You will return in thirty days." As I reached my Calcutta home, the fulfillment of Master's prediction entered with me. None of my relatives made the pointed remarks I had feared about the reappearance of the "soaring bird."
I climbed to my little attic and bestowed affectionate glances, as though on a living presence. "You have witnessed my meditations, and the tears and storms of my sadhana. Now I have reached the harbor of my divine teacher."
"Son, I am happy for us both." Father and I sat together in the evening calm. "You have found your guru, as in miraculous fashion I once found my own. The holy hand of Lahiri Mahasaya is guarding our lives. Your master has proved no inaccessible Himalayan saint, but one near-by. My prayers have been answered: you have not in your search for God been permanently removed from my sight."
Father was also pleased that my formal studies would be resumed; he made suitable arrangements. I was enrolled the following day at the Scottish Church College in Calcutta.
Happy months sped by. My readers have doubtless made the perspicacious surmise that I was little seen in the college classrooms. The Serampore hermitage held a lure too irresistible. Master accepted my ubiquitous presence without comment. To my relief, he seldom referred to the halls of learning. Though it was plain to all that I was never cut out for a scholar, I managed to attain minimum passing grades from time to time.
Daily life at the ashram flowed smoothly, infrequently varied. My guru awoke before dawn. Lying down, or sometimes sitting on the bed, he entered a state of samadhi. It was simplicity itself to discover when Master had awakened: abrupt halt of stupendous snores. A sigh or two; perhaps a bodily movement. Then a soundless state of breathlessness: he was in deep yogic joy.
Breakfast did not follow; first came a long walk by the Ganges. Those morning strolls with my guru-how real and vivid still! In the easy resurrection of memory, I often find myself by his side: the early sun is warming the river. His voice rings out, rich with the authenticity of wisdom.
A bath; then the midday meal. Its preparation, according to Master's daily directions, had been the careful task of young disciples. My guru was a vegetarian. Before embracing monkhood, however, he had eaten eggs and fish. His advice to students was to follow any simple diet which proved suited to one's constitution.
Master ate little; often rice, colored with turmeric or juice of beets or spinach and lightly sprinkled with buffalo ghee or melted butter. Another day he might have lentil-dhal or channa curry with vegetables. For dessert, mangoes or oranges with rice pudding, or jackfruit juice.
Visitors appeared in the afternoons. A steady stream poured from the world into the hermitage tranquillity. Everyone found in Master an equal courtesy and kindness. To a man who has realized himself as a soul, not the body or the ego, the rest of humanity assumes a striking similarity of aspect.
The impartiality of saints is rooted in wisdom. Masters have escaped maya; its alternating faces of intellect and idiocy no longer cast an influential glance. Sri Yukteswar showed no special consideration to those who happened to be powerful or accomplished; neither did he slight others for their poverty or illiteracy. He would listen respectfully to words of truth from a child, and openly ignore a conceited pundit.
Eight o'clock was the supper hour, and sometimes found lingering guests. My guru would not excuse himself to eat alone; none left his ashram hungry or dissatisfied. Sri Yukteswar was never at a loss, never dismayed by unexpected visitors; scanty food would emerge a banquet under his resourceful direction. Yet he was economical; his modest funds went far. "Be comfortable within your purse," he often said. "Extravagance will buy you discomfort." Whether in the details of hermitage entertainment, or his building and repair work, or other practical concerns, Master manifested the originality of a creative spirit.
Quiet evening hours often brought one of my guru's discourses, treasures against time. His every utterance was measured and chiseled by wisdom. A sublime self-assurance marked his mode of expression: it was unique. He spoke as none other in my experience ever spoke. His thoughts were weighed in a delicate balance of discrimination before he permitted them an outward garb. The essence of truth, all-pervasive with even a physiological aspect, came from him like a fragrant exudation of the soul. I was conscious always that I was in the presence of a living manifestation of God. The weight of his divinity automatically bowed my head before him.