The Trial by Fire that Forged One of the Most Successful Cooperative Communities in the World Today
by Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters)
Chapter 1: Yogananda's Mission to the West
Jesus told his Pharisee critics, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Every divinely ordained institution is created for the welfare of mankind, and not for the sake of controlling anyone.
Babaji made a similar statement to Lahiri Mahasaya on the occasion of their first meeting. In response to Lahiri's thought that he ought to leave, since he had a duty to fulfill to his office, Babaji said, "The office was brought for you, and not you for the office."
Masters rarely create institutions. When they do so, it is as a means of serving people. Their aim is to inspire, not to control. Usually, they let their disciples bother with such things as founding institutions. Their mission is to promulgate truth and light in a world filled with the darkness of ignorance. It was one mark of Master's greatness that, in addition to spreading truth and light, he also sacrificed himself greatly to bring about the formation of an organization. For a master of his stature, the cost must have been considerable. It went against everything that came most naturally to him.
How often he sighed in longing for the unburdened life: wandering freely by the Ganges, teaching beneath a tree to those who wanted to listen, singing with devotion to the Divine Mother in the enraptured company of a small band of true devotees. Not once, but many times, he spoke of leaving everything behind and just roaming with God. "Divine Mother," he cried, "I will leave this work and never once look back!" But, he said later, "Divine Mother disciplined me. I had to return and finish the work She had given me."
How did those disciples feel who lived with him? Surely they shared his sentiments, expressed often and with so much feeling. They themselves would have greatly preferred a simple monastic life of devotion to God, serving the guru and meditating. Often we give ourselves the more determinedly to an uncongenial duty, as if to demonstrate our heartfelt willingness to do God's will, not our own.
For not one of them came to Master with organizationalism written sternly upon their brows. Few people realize what it took to live with our guruthe courage, the strength of will, the devotion, the willingness resolutely to set self aside in joyful, unresisting service. Master never demanded anything of his disciples that he hadn't found them willing and eager to give. Hundredsindeed, many thousandscame to him. Few out of all that multitude had that extra bit of good karma to dedicate themselves unhesitatingly to the cause he had brought.
Nor did he make that dedication easy for anyone. He tested them to see if they truly had the fire of divine devotion that burned so brightly in his own heart. You, who know him mainly through his books, cannot easily imagine the challenge he hurled at the world by the sheer fervor of his own dedication. He was loving, yessweet, kind, thoughtful, patient, endlessly forgiving and forbearingall those things, in short, that every reader feels on reading his Autobiography of a Yogi. And yet, where principles were concerned he was unbending.
People often took his sternness in such matters for judgment of them in their weaknesses. What they could not cope with was the awareness they developed, in his presence, of their own weaknesses. He was kindness itself in his efforts to bring them out of those weaknesses, but if they lacked the courage to face themselves and huddled fearfully, instead, at the bottom of Mount Carmel, clutching to their bosoms weaknesses they hadn't even perceived previously as such, his very kindness sometimes looked to them like cruelty. Often, alas for their own welfare, they ended up hating him for having tried to free them of their shackles.
It was common for such failed devotees to claim in self-justification that the qualities he was encouraging them to correct weren't shackles at all. "See how free we are!" they cried. "We're perfectly normal human beings." Thus, more determined than ever to please the world and satisfy their own egoistic desires, they remained lost in spiritual blindness for at least the rest of this lifetime.
Look at the matter in a broader perspective. For those whose karma it is to be yogis in this incarnation, to have been born an American in the Twentieth Century is an extraordinary spiritual opportunity, but it is also one fraught with spiritual peril. Those who make the most of this opportunity will gain, spiritually, out of all proportion to other lives they lived in mountain caves and in ashrams in India.
I asked Master soon after I first met him, "Have I been a yogi before this lifetime?"
"Many times," he replied. "You would have to have been, even to live here"that is to say, at Mt. Washington.
I also said to him once at his desert retreat, "I have always wanted to live alone like this." He replied:
"That's because you've done it before. Most of those who are with me have lived alone many times in the past."
These statements mean that not I only, but hundreds who demonstrated their spiritual sincerity to the extent of dedicating their lives to his cause had been yogis "many times in the past." He said that even to be drawn to the path of Kriya Yoga, which countless thousands were during his lifetime and have been in the decades since then, indicates the karma of one who has been a dedicated yogi in former lives.
We see the present scenethe spiritual laziness of some, the moods of others, the worldly desires and attachments of still othersand we think, perhaps, "That's not much of a devotee!" (Shame on us if we judge anyone!) But we don't see the incarnations of hard climbing that it has taken them to get even where they are now. How many people are there in the world with even a fraction of the good karma it takes to be consciously on the spiritual path?
I remember when I had been at Mt. Washington several months. In sudden rebellion one evening against the constant call to service and meditation, I lay down stubbornly on my bed and spent a couple of blissful hours with a volume of Shakespeare's plays. I simply needed a break.
Master, recognizing the rebelliousness of human nature, encouraged occasional diversions. He encouraged me, too, to be less extreme, and more relaxed, in my zeal. As he told me once, "The mind is like a donkey. If you keep on forcing it, it will stand still and refuse to budge another step no matter how hard you beat it. The thing to do, then, is let it stand awhile. Finally, it will start walking again of its own accord."
But can you imagine the vast majority of people in the worldI don't mean the average worldly person; I'm speaking of fundamentally idealistic, good people. Are they interested in meditating at all?
"What?" you've probably heard them say. "Close my eyes and sit there like a statue, doing nothingthinking of nothing? I can just see myself!"
Norman once said to Master, "I don't think I have very good karma, Master.
"Remember this," Master answered with great firmness, "it takes very, very, VERY good karma even to want to know God!"
Alas, people don't always want others to be firm even in their own defense. I remember a company at Ananda that was obviously headed for bankruptcy. I invited the staff to my home and, purely out of a desire to help them, suggested ways they might yet save their enterprise from collapse. All that the staff derived from the meeting was the conviction that I had "called them on the carpet." It was as though they wanted to fail. And, of course, that disaster wasn't long in coming.
Yogananda's Mission to the West
Why did Master come to the West?
Well of course, God sent him, but why?
It was in answer to a universal need. It was time for the world to achieve balance between material and spiritual prosperity. Master was born, he told us, in response to a heart-felt desire on the part of countless WesternersAmericans, especiallyfor a practical approach to spirituality, one that would match the practicality they'd achieved in their material lives. Yankee ingenuity and modern science had awakened in them an awareness of the need for methods and techniques that would help them demonstrate the practicality of the Scriptures also.
By the same token, Master said, people in India were becoming aware of the practical benefits of modern life, and had begun to want to balance spiritual faith and inner peace with material efficiency. Many souls were therefore being drawn from America to take birth in India, to help the Indian people learn the divine law as it is expressed in the material world.
Many Indian souls, similarly, were being born here in the West to help bring about greater spiritual awareness.
In addition to this mass interchange, dictated by world karma, there was also the fact that Master himself was sent here to help in this process of spiritual awakening in the West. He may quite justly be called the avatar (divine savior) for this Dwapara Yuga. Equally justly may he be called the guru and savior of America, and of countless souls whom destiny may not even call to his particular path.
Many thousands of those who came to him during his lifetime were drawn either to be with him personally, or to encounter him and thus benefit from the great outpouring of spiritual force that he brought with him. He once told Dr. Lewis, "No one's path has crossed mine in this life without a reason."
Perhaps a majority of these people had spent many incarnations in India. They were not accustomed to the intense demands that would be placed upon them in the materialistic West. Spiritually speaking, they were like fish out of water. Though drawn here by their spiritual karma, they yet found themselves out of their natural element, gasping and confused in the fierce sunlight of excessive matter-consciousness.
It was tantamount, in many ways, to an invading army on foreign soil. On D-Day at Normandy Beach many soldiers had to die for the invasion to succeed. Or, if you'd prefer a gentler image, think how many snowflakes fall with the first snowfall, only to melt before the ground grows cool enough to receive them.
I remember Master saying, after Norman left his life of renunciation at Mt. Washington, "This is the first time in many lifetimes that delusion has caught Norman."
I believe that those who tried to follow the path in this life, but failed, will receive many blessings for even having tried. The Bhagavad Gita offers the same reassurance to all failed yogis. How much more must the divine compassion extend to fallen aspirants in this lifetime of so many extraordinary spiritual challenges?
Even those who turned against Master deserve at least our understanding, for they surely have God's. I do not mean we should sympathize with them to the extent of seeking them out and consoling them (or trying to convert them). Their negative influence might prove injurious to the devotional magnetism we're working to cultivate. Usually, a brief "there but for the grace of God" will suffice. But we are all fellow warriors in the war against delusion. Let us remember always that our foe is delusion itself, and not those unfortunate souls who, to their own lasting grief, succumb to its lures. Our task, if we love God, is if possible to help the casualties by mentally sending them our blessings, and by praying for them as we pray for all souls.
Consider, too, that Master's self-styled enemies were at least focused, in their hatred, on a Being of Light whose very divinity could yet redeem them. Is that not preferable to focusing all one's attention on those who, steeped in delusion, could only draw one's mind down into deeper darkness? Ravana, it is said, the supreme foe of Lord Rama, achieved salvation at the end of his life through his hatred for Rama. The very fixity of his concentration on that source of universal salvation freed him, in the end, from hatred itself.
Living with Master produced many spiritual casualties. Many came; few remained. Many more would have remained steadfast on the path, I fancy, had they been drawn to it in India, where the soil is rich with the millennial blessings of God-known rishis. But as the stakes during Master's time were high, so also were the rewards. Those who remained loyal drew to themselves enormous blessings.
As Master himself said during the Kriya Initiation at Mt. Washington in December, 1949: "Of those present, there will be a few siddhas [souls fully liberated from all delusion], and quite a few jivan muktas [souls that have achieved liberation from further egoic involvement in maya, though still retaining vestiges of karmas from past lives]."
Seen in this perspective, it must be realized that to have remained loyal to Master and to his path, especially during the early days before his work was truly established, singled the devotee out as a spiritual hero of epic stature.
In reading the life of Durga Mata, for example, one is struck by her extraordinary energy, faith, and devotion. Master, speaking to me about her, said, "When I first met her I said to her, 'You have come.'" He had been waiting for her, as he waited patiently for many others to come. Often he spoke to us monks about Durga Mata's amazing energy in her devotional service to his cause.
It is easy to see things in a broad perspective from a distance. But how must it have looked to those faithful few who remained with Master while so many, year after year, abandoned Mt. Washington and returned to the worldly life? I know something about those days not only through what I've heard from the older disciples and through what I've read, but also through my own experience living at Mt. Washington during his later years. Yet even my knowledge must pale in comparison to the reality.
For here was this spiritual giant, whose greatness was not even recognized by most peopleto most of them a "good" man, or a spiritual teacher like many others, only more eloquent and dynamic than others they'd heard. (One of his detractors, another spiritual teacher, actually remarked once, "Oh, yes, I know Yogananda. He's a very goodcook.") Think of the steady exodus of people who he had hoped would help him to establish his work. How must it have looked to those few souls who remained loyal to him, and to his way of life, themselves defying the lures of a materialistic culture and the terrible depression that then gripped America? (For a time, Master and his disciples kept body and soul together only by growing tomatoes on the arid hillside below the headquarters at Mt. Washington.) There weren't hundreds of devotees living there then. The blessed Master had only a tiny handful.
The devotees coming and going at that time represented little but froth to those few who remained steadfast. The two constants in their lives were Master, and Mt. Washingtonthe SRF organization he was trying with so much hardship to hold together.
Centralization vs. Outreach
Nowadays it is relatively easy to see the need to reach out to a spiritually starving public. In those days however, the very people most eager to reach out in this way were also those most ready to forsake him. His worst self-styled enemies were those who, on his behalf, were sent out to lecture and give classes. These false representatives grew to envy him his success with the public. In their zeal for personal recognition, they forsook him. Some of them betrayed him.
The "in" people at Mt. Washington (if I may use this expression without appearing frivolous) came gradually to be, not the teachers (most of whom were men), but the humble workers behind the scenes (women, usually), and those especially who worked in the office, handling the correspondence and sending out the weekly lessons.
The heart of Master's work was not at its ever-changing periphery, but at its changeless core. Even the people living and working at Mt. Washington were not the true heart of the work. Most of these, too, varied from year to year. What remained was Mt. Washington itself.
The loyalty of those "in" people became increasingly focused on Mt. Washington, and on the organization it represented. That, naturally, became their definition of what Master's work was all about.
I will never forget the day a brush fire threatened the headquarters at Mt. Washington. Daya Mata was out on the hillside with the rest of us, fighting the flames. What impressed me about her on that occasion was the extraordinary fierceness in her expression as she fought to put out the flames. Like a mother bear she seemed to me, defending her cubs even before the threat to her own life. I myself was determined, too, to do what I could in the building's defense, but I didn't experience that defensive fierceness Daya displayed. For I hadn't lived through the years of opposition and betrayal to her guru that she'd experienced.
Her loyalty and dedication were centered in Master, in Mt. Washington, and in the life she had known there with him. She said recently in reference to her many years with Master, "I live in those days." Even in her presidency I cannot imagine that he wanted from her anything different. The attitude those years engendered in her was a focus on his organization, primarily, rather than on those who were spiritually starved for the understanding and inner peace that Master's teachings could give them. Even in her efforts to develop the work, her primary interest has always been, quite naturally, in the growth of the organization itself: in its function as an instrument for good, rather than on the recipients of that good.
Could Master have wanted more from Daya Mata? Surely not. To have done so would have been to want her to depart from her own training, experience, and inner nature. His very duty to her, as her guru, was to guide her along her own line of natural development.
I see now that I have been wrong in trying to persuade Daya Mata to direct her energies differently.
The Need for Outreach
On the other hand, does this mean that the organization was Master's ideal for the work? Could he have wanted the organization to be defined so much by its outward form? Surely not, if his work was meant, as he said it was, to bring millions to God.
Could he have wanted his organization to become a powerful institutiona second Roman Catholic Church, let us say? That, indeed, is another story. The entire emphasis of his life and teaching was centered in helping people. To him, the organization was a means, only, to that end. He had, in other words, a further wish for the work than its power as an institution.
Even God-realized masters must work with what God gives them. As Master himself said once to Dr. Lewis (his first Kriya Yoga disciple in America), "Remember, Doctor, no matter what you or I do, this work will follow a certain pattern, ordained by God."
Based on what seems to me self-evident, and supported by the training and instructions Master gave me personally, I have looked upon SRF as a missionary work intended to guide and help humanity. When I say that I have been wrong in trying to persuade Daya Mata to embrace a more expansive path, I do not at all mean that an expansive path is not needed. That, I am convinced, is the direction in which the work must develop. It is a good thing, no doubt, that Daya Mata is focused on the organization itself. That is the charge our Guru gave her. But there is also a need for concentration on the broader purpose behind his work. For his very reason for starting an organization was to reach out with his message to spiritually suffering humanity.