Walking with William of Normandy

A Paramhansa Yogananda Pilgrimage Guide
by Richard Salva

Every year, followers of Paramhansa Yogananda—author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi—travel to India to mediate where that great master of yoga and other gurus of his lineage lived.

Yet there are similar pilgrimage spots in France that are seldom visited by yogis. These sites—blessed by Yogananda and by Yogananda's guru, Sri Yuketeswar—are located in Normandy. In fact, just a two-hour's train ride from Paris, one can find wonderful pilgrimage sites brimming with spiritual blessings.

I know. Years ago, my wife Laura and I included a week in Normandy as part of a trip to France. That week was the highlight of our trip. So much so that, two years later, we paid another visit.

The first time we went, we didn't know what to expect. Yogananda said that in a past life he had been the great Norman duke and British king, William the Conqueror, who lived in the eleventh century. Yogananda also said that his guru, Sri Yukteswar, had been Lanfranc—William's priest, counselor, and colleague.

(In addition, Swami Kriyananda, Yogananda's direct disciple, is convinced he was William's son, Henry I, in a past life. Historical evidence lends proof to this idea—see Catherine Kairavi's excellent book, Two Souls: Four Lives—The Lives and Former Lives of Paramhansa Yogananda and his disciple, Swami Kriyananda.)

Laura and I wondered what our experience in Normandy would be like. Although we both felt a deep connection with Yogananda and his spiritual path, there was no guarantee we had lived in Normandy with William. Would these places mean that much to us? We pondered this question, never reflecting that most Yogananda followers who visit India probably hadn't lived with him there either. Nonetheless, they go there to feel the uplifting vibrations.

Similarly, it made sense that Yogananda's blessings would linger in places he had lived in any of his lifetimes, and that Yogananda devotees would feel those vibrations.

Kamala Silva was a direct disciple of Yogananda. In her book, The Flawless Mirror, Kamala wrote that Yogananda had told her "of the divine magnetic qualities of saintly lives, and of the holy places that can strongly influence those who are responsive." (The Flawless Mirror, p. 69)

Later, in that same book, Kamala described the powerful energy field that surrounded Yogananda. "I felt as if the sun's radiance was lighting the whole area. . . . How can one describe this spiritual force?" (Ibid, pp. 79-80)

In his autobiography, The New Path, Swami Kriyananda (another highly advanced, direct disciple) tells the story of Yogananda wading into the water at the recently purchased Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades, California, and saying, "I am sending the divine light all through this lake." Later on, he informed the group of monk disciples that were with him, "This is holy water now. Whoever comes here in future will receive a divine blessing." (The New Path, p. 324)

Receptive souls who have visited places where Yogananda had lived or frequented (his family home in Calcutta, India; and Mt. Washington, Lake Shrine, Encinitas Ashram, Hollywood Church, etc., in California) have felt his powerful spiritual energy.

And yet, as I said, Laura and I were unsure what we would feel in Normandy. Probably, as some had suggested, a trip there would be more of a history lesson than anything else. What was our surprise, then, to feel a flood of spiritual blessings at these Normandy sites—to experience the same "spiritual force" Kamala described.

In our experience, these places may be compared in spiritual power with the most inspiring sites we have visited: Assisi, Lourdes, and Yogananda's shrines in California. The blessings were so transforming that we could have imagined ourselves in the Holy Land, or in one of the most sacred sites of India. And we became convinced that others who are open, and especially students of Yogananda's path of Self-realization, would also feel these Norman blessings.

As I wrote in my travel diary:

Our pilgrimage to Normandy was an extraordinary experience, filled with deep inspiration. We walked where William had walked. We meditated in a church where Sri Yukteswar had served as the abbot. And we gazed at castle walls built under the direction of Swami Kriyananda as Henry I.
We felt powerful, uplifting vibrations where virtually no one had prayed or meditated before. Places where, for centuries, the residents had no idea of their sanctity. Yet the spiritual vibrations in those places were very real.

Laura and I will never forget our Normandy pilgrimage. It was the sort of trip that changes lives.

If you feel a spiritual connection with Paramhansa Yogananda, I heartily recommend a visit to Normandy. If your experience is anything like ours, you will be more than glad you went...

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