With Personal Reflections & Reminiscenses
by Swami Kriyananda
Why a biography of Paramhansa Yogananda, when he himself wrote a world-famous account of his own life in the book, Autobiography of a Yogi? The answer is, quite simply, that he wrote his book in a spirit of such humility that the reader could only intuit the author's spiritual greatness from his perfect attitude toward every life situation. I myself read Autobiography of a Yogi in 1948, and was so overwhelmed by that perfection that I took the next bus across the country: New York to Los Angeles. I had already been seeking God almost desperately. The first words I addressed to Yogananda when we met were, "I want to be your disciple." He accepted me at that very meeting, and I was blessed to live with him as a close disciple for the last three and a half years of his life.
Will this book be a hagiography (the biography of a saint, often expressed in idealizing or idolizing terms)? That depends. I will spare no pains to share with you the very real greatness that I beheld in my guru. But if, to you, hagiography implies a work of fulsome praise, filled with glowing adjectives and numerous legends that might more properly be assigned to the category of myth, then this work will definitely not be such. I will share with you what I know, what I heard from the Master's own lips (yes, he was indeed a spiritual master, and he himself would never use that word lightly), what I myself experienced, and what I sincerely believe because I heard it from others who were close to him, and whose words were, in my opinion, believable.
The advantage of this book is that it will be written from firsthand knowledge. I am not a historian. No doubt real historians will get into the act someday, as the world-impact of Yogananda's life becomes increasingly known to the world. This book will lack the historian's perspective, but it will be much more intimate than anything he could offer.
My sincere opinion is that Yogananda's life will have a major impact on the world-that, indeed, it will change the very course of history. I hope by the end of my account to have convinced you that I have at least sound cause for this belief.
I will not repeat here stories that appear in Autobiography of a Yogi, though I may refer to some of them. I omit them because the charm with which Yogananda tells them deserves to stand alone: To retell them would be to do him an injustice. There are many other stories, however, that never found their way into his book-stories about himself that he would not tell publicly because he couldn't, and simply wouldn't, speak glowingly about himself. Indeed, although his book was an autobiography, it was in some ways almost more about other people than about himself. His book, too, is mostly a book of reminiscences about others.
The purpose of this book, then, is to tell you how Yogananda was perceived by others, and especially by me. I want to show you that Paramhansa Yogananda's life was much more than that of a humble devotee who had had the good luck to meet many great saints, and to "stumble," so to speak, onto the highest levels of realization. The truth is, not every devotee, on entering the spiritual path, can expect to be blessed with anything like such lofty spiritual experiences!
Yogananda was a towering giant among saints-one of those few who come from age to age, having been sent by God with the divine mission of guiding mankind out of the fogs of delusion into the clear light of divine understanding. In the best-known Indian scripture, the Bhagavad Gita ("The Lord's Song"), the statement appears, "O Bharata (Arjuna)! Whenever virtue (dharma, or right action) declines and vice (adharma, or wrong action) is in the ascendant, I (the Supreme Lord) incarnate Myself on earth (as an avatar, or divine incarnation). Appearing from age to age in visible form, I come to destroy evil, and to reestablish virtue." (IV:7,8) I might add that this is not the first time that this great soul, whom we know as Paramhansa Yogananda, appeared on earth.
Often and often he told us, "I killed Yogananda many lifetimes ago. No one dwells in this temple now but God." And the incredible depth of his compassion for suffering mankind is evident in these lines from a poem he wrote, named, "God's Boatman":
"Oh! I will come back again and again!
Crossing a million crags of suffering
With bleeding feet, I will come
If need be, a trillion times,
As long as I know that
One stray brother is left behind."
That compassion is what I saw in his eyes every time I gazed into them deeply. It was no mere sentiment. It was the expression of his soul, as he reached out with yearning to help everyone who came to him with a desire to be lifted toward final liberation in God.