by Kamala Silva
There are crossroads in life which change the entire direction of travel. This was the hour of seeing my Guru. His precepts were to highlight my journey upon a way that led heart and thoughts Godward.
On the evening of January 13, 1925—eventful date—the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles was full to its 3000 capacity. The lines of people had queued around the building for great distances waiting for the doors to open; by 7 p.m. there was no more seating space for the hundreds who were still there. This was repeated each evening for many weeks. All had gathered to hear a certain emissary from India. From that land where Sages have been nurtured, we were to know one of her most illumined.
Swami Yogananda came upon the platform, his orange robe identifying him with an ancient order of renunciates. My spontaneous first impression was youthfully expressed in my diary. “His smile is like the sunshine of a soul.” It was joyous and conveyed a warmth that seemed to envelop everyone.
How did I happen to be present? My Mother saw the billboards with his picture. Her interest was based on respect for the teachings of India, and she was “seeking truth.” I went with her and attended all of his lectures and a series of beginning, advanced, and super-advanced classes, which were filled with hundreds of enthusiastic students. In response to a request for volunteers, I served as an usher at the classes and lectures.
Was I seeking? Not knowingly, but when I saw him I thought, “Now I have found one who can answer any question I may ever want to ask.” School study brought forth academic answers, but they lacked a depth—a dimension I sensed should be there. In church I had received Christian teachings without a Rosetta stone to translate them into Realization. In Swami Yogananda I found this wisdom.
Swami’s lectures were preceded by organ playing, and the “Song of India” often prefaced his appearance. Before his talks he would read a poem, sometimes from his book Songs of the Soul. His powerful declaration, proclaiming the soul’s continuing survival through aeons of time, is imprinted in my memory.
He had a fund of enthralling and unforgettable stories, each conveying a spiritual precept. Many were garnered from his own experiences; some he had brought from India.
One night he mentioned that in his childhood he was extremely thin and that his present weight had come as a true blessing of healing from his Guru. He was well aware that saintliness in the Western world is usually associated with thinness, even to a point of emaciation. With his keen enjoyment of humor, he explained that in India it is desirable to be pleasingly plump, because a thin teacher is a walking advertisement of his scarcity of pupils!
On another evening, someone asked about his age. Spontaneous guesses ranged from sixteen years to several hundred. But he replied, with a smile, “I never tell my age.” This left the question still open to speculation. No one, then, fully grasped that he did not measure life solely by his brief residence in the body, for spirit is ageless.
He welcomed everyone, after one lecture, to come and touch his arms, which he caused to vibrate with energy in the manner of an electric power machine. This was a recharging of the body through will and life-force—a beneficial way of exercise which he taught in his classes.
There were several physicians taking his courses. On one occasion he asked if any doctors were present who would like to observe control of heartbeat. They were very interested and went up. With one on each side of him, touching his pulse at each wrist, they reported different counts at the left and the right. Then he caused all pulse to cease entirely, as well as breath. They could detect neither.
One night Swami invited all of the men of the Los Angeles Police Force who were present at the doors of the Auditorium to come forward to see if several would be able to push him off balance, or move him from the place he stood. A number of them responded and were surprised to find their greater weight was of no avail in their efforts to dislodge him.
I was to learn that such demonstrations were rarely given by him, for he sought to bring others to God through love for the Heavenly Father and not by display of phenomenal powers.
On the first evening we heard him speak, he talked about the Super-conscious mind, which he described as the spiritual mind. He called the sub-conscious mind an imitator which imprints and records all of our actions, thoughts, and experiences.
He spoke nearly every night, for many weeks, and his words possessed an oratory of a kind to rouse the listener from spiritual slumber. For those who tended to regard his personality, he said, “Do not think of Yogananda but of Him Who sent me.” He also said, “Do not accept blindly what I say; practice and prove for yourselves from your own experience.”
There were prayer services which included affirmations for mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Everyone participated and Swami’s prayers and powerful vibrations reinforced our own. After one of the meetings I wrote, “I went to the healing service today, and at the last of the prayers a wonderful Wave came down and filled the room. It was a sensation like a great blessing.”
References to his classes appear in my diary notes. A few are included here.
January 21. I practiced the exercises this morning. They make me feel strong and healthy. Swami spoke about “Using Cosmic Consciousness in Daily Life.” This means being in touch with love, courage, tolerance, sympathy, and wisdom.
January 28. Tonight was a revelation to us, as we are learning to know God, and hear Him through Cosmic Sound. Swami knows the laws to contact God, and how happy we are to learn them.
January 30. Our lessons, and all Swami tells us, are of great value. He speaks from an inner fount of wisdom. Tonight ended this first course and I have enough to keep busy for the rest of my life.
February 13. In meditation today the most wonderful realization came over me—a great love for God, my Father, Whom I feel near me.
After only one month I felt this close, personal feeling for God, which I never before had experienced in this way. It confirmed that the meditation techniques enable one to draw close to God. Swami said, “One must know God to love Him. Then His Peace will come into your hearts.”
On March 8th Swami told of his plans for the purchase of Mt. Washington Hotel building and premises to be used for the Yogoda work.(*2) This site was located in one of the residential areas of Los Angeles and, when finding this place which he had seen in earlier vision, he was especially pleased it was named after America’s great Pioneer of Freedom.
Mt. Washington was acquired and became the permanent Yogoda (SRF) Headquarters. The grounds include many acres upon a hilltop; and from the building one looks upon rolling hills, and the distant sparkling lights of the city. The first meeting, held there, was on Easter—a Sunrise Service. Swami talked of Jesus, and of realizing the Consciousness of Christ in our hearts.
In the late spring and summer Swami spoke in various cities in California, including San Francisco. He had lectured there the previous year, and now again met with great responsiveness. He also traveled up the coast to fill return engagements in the states of Oregon and Washington. He had many students in Portland and Seattle awaiting him. In Spokane also, throughout his September visit, he found audiences nightly overflowing the capacity of the large lecture hall. In October he returned to Los Angeles to speak again at the Philharmonic Auditorium. I wrote in my diary, “My great teacher, Swami Yogananda, is back. He spoke on Yogoda, and the ways the Masters of India have achieved God-Realization.”
We always brought friends with us to all of his lectures. Our enthusiasm was boundless. Mother and I were drawn by his great wisdom, serenity, and radiant spiritual force that one could feel. As I absorbed his teachings, I had not felt the added need to go to him for a personal interview as did many of the students.
However, we were now going to be away, so I wished to speak with him. It was nine months since I had first attended his lectures in January, and this evening of October 13th would be my first conversation with him.
After his lecture I went backstage and saw him standing near the wings. I observed his gentle dignity and the reserve that was always natural with him. This teacher was revered in my mind and heart in a way that I could not describe, but I later learned that this is the feeling of a disciple for the Guru.
I went up to him and he greeted me. We talked for a little while, and he told me he was also leaving very soon to speak in other states.(*3) With him was the newly arrived teacher for Mt. Washington and he introduced us. Swami said to come and see him again before we left.
His lecture on that evening had been a beautiful talk on living the life of Christ, Krishna, Buddha. He said that Christ came when love was needed, that Buddha brought spiritual determination, and Krishna emphasized wisdom-guided activity. His enlightening lecture, the next evening, was on “Quickening Human Evolution,” and he described the help given through certain yoga techniques.
I received a blessing from my Guru on the following night. Swami spoke about his own great teacher, Sri Yukteswar. After the lecture I went to see him. He welcomed me; and during our talk he said, “Always keep your dignity and remember your power of thought and will.” As I was leaving I asked his blessing. He placed his hand on my head and prayed. At first, I felt inner stillness; then a sacred joy filled me as my spirit was lifted into an immense peacefulness.
*1 A title conferred upon him by his own Guru some years later and thereafter
used in place of “Swami.”
*2 Yogoda designated his teachings—a name that was later changed to Self-
Realization Fellowship. In India the original name of Yogoda Sat-Sanga
continues to be used. In translation this means “that which imparts union
(of the individual soul with God) through fellowship with truth.”
*3 His lectures for the following months were scheduled for Chicago,
Rochester, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and New York at Carnegie Hall.