The Path: One Man's Quest On the Only Path There Is
by Swami Kriyananda
(J. Donald Walters)
Direct Disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda
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On January 5th, the disciples gathered at Mt. Washington to celebrate Paramhansa Yogananda's birthday. As the function began, we went up to him individually and knelt for his blessing. After a banquet, later, he spoke of his longing to see an awakening of divine love throughout the world. In a more personal vein he continued:
"I never dreamt, during my first years of teaching in this country, that such a fellow-feeling in God's love would be possible here. It exists only because you have lived up to the ideals that I have cherished, and which I lived for in the company of my great guru."
Friendship in God, surely, was the key to our relationship with him. It implied no easy-going relationship, such as worldly people enjoy with one another, but rather demanded of us the utmost. The friendship our guru extended to us was to our souls. To reciprocate in kind meant to strive ever to meet him on that divine level. Those who clung to the desire for ego-gratification could not coax from him a compromise in the pure quality of his friendship for us. If a disciple flattered him, Master would gaze at him quietly as if to say, "I will not desecrate the love I bear you by accepting this level of communication." Always he held out to us the highest ideal to which each of us might aspire. Such perfect love imposes the most demanding of all disciplines, for it asks nothing less of the disciple, ultimately, than the total gift of himself to God.
I used to pray to Master, "Teach me to love you as you love me." Chatting with a group of us one day in the main office, he looked at me penetratingly and said, "How can the little cup expect to hold the whole ocean of love? First it has to expand and become as big as the ocean!"
The Indian Scriptures state that when the soul releases its hold on egoism, it merges into the ocean of Spirit and becomes one with it. While most of us loved Master from varying degrees of ego-consciousness, his love for us was without limit, cosmic. To ordinary human beings, such love is inconceivable. "I killed Yogananda long ago," he said. "No one dwells in this temple now but God." His love for us was God's love, manifested through his human form.
"Whenever I look at you," Norman once wrote Master in a note, "I see only the Divine Mother."
"Then behave accordingly," Master replied calmly when next they met. This was no modest disclaimer, but only an impersonal acceptance of things as they were. Yogananda was the humblest man I ever knew, yet it was humility only in the sense that there was no ego in him at all, not in the sense that his manner was self-deprecating. Indeed, when someone once praised him for his humility, I recall his simple answer: "How can there be humility, when there is no consciousness of ego?" In essence, our relationship with him was not only a friendship in God, but with God, whose love alone permeated him. Always, with firm resolution, he turned toward the Divine all the love that we gave him. Whenever we touched his feet, in the manner customary among Indian disciples to their guru, he held his right hand reverently at his forehead, extending the fingers upward, to indicate that he directed our devotion to God. And if ever our affection for him displayed the slightest attachment, he would become distant and reserved until we had understood that it was God's love alone that he extended to us.
Daya Mata tells a story dating back to when she was a teenager, and new on the path. At first, in her association with Master, he had treated her lovingly, like a daughter. But once her feet were planted firmly on the path, he prepared to teach her the superior merits of impersonal love. To her now, feeling for him as she did the affection of a devoted daughter, he seemed all at once distant, even stern.
One evening in Encinitas, he addressed her with what seemed unusual aloofness. She went out onto the bluff behind the hermitage, and prayed deeply for understanding. At last she reached a firm resolution. "Divine Mother," she vowed, "from now on I will love only Thee. In beholding him, I will see Thee alone."
Suddenly she felt as though a great weight had been lifted from her. Later she went indoors and knelt before Master for his blessing, as she always did before retiring for the night. This time he greeted her gently with the words, "Very good!"
From then on he showed himself once more affectionate toward her. But now their relationship was on a far deeper level, for the disciple saw him now in that impersonal light in which he beheld himself.
For us who came years later, it was an inspiration to see between Daya Mata and Master a friendship truly divine. Such, too, was the friendship that he extended to each of us, though few, alas, ever came to appreciate so fully the extraordinary sensitivity of his gift. Each of us struggled in his own way to reconcile the apparent contradiction between this kindest, most considerate of friends, as he so often showed himself to be, and one who was willing on the other hand to subject us to painful lessons. For though we knew the lessons were for our good, too often it was a good that awaited us beyond the limits of our present understanding. Yet in fact the contradiction lay in ourselves: between the petty demands of our egos for comfort and reassurance, and our souls' uncompromising call to inner perfection. Master himself was completely self-integrated. Living in the impersonal Spirit made him in no way indifferent to human pain. Both levels, the human and the divine, were to him parts of a single realitythe human merely its limited, outward manifestation.
He once told us, "I prefer to work with love. I just wilt when I have to work in other ways." I myself noted, whenever he scolded me, the deep regret in his eyes at my lack of understanding, which had made his reprimand necessary. But he reassured us, "I scold only those who listen. I won't scold those who don't." It wasn't that he couldn't relate to us on a human level. Rather it was that, for those who wanted the most precious gift of all that he had to bestowthe knowledge of Godhe knew he had to destroy all our attachments to ego.
With other peopleand with us, too, when he chose to relax his disciplinehe was, I think, as charming, warm-hearted, and utterly delightful a human being as ever lived. In the truest and best sense of the word he was a noble man. Because his self-integration was flawless, divine perfection reflected itself even in his casual behavior. To some, also, he showed complete approval and acceptance: to those who were able to relate to him purely in God.
To hear him talk informally with such disciples was deeply inspiring. I think what struck me most about his relationship with them was its quiet dignity, its foundation in the deepest mutual respect. When they laughed together, it was as though they shared some deep, inner joy, of which laughter was but a fleeting, outward expression, and by no means a necessary one. Manifestly, their deepest communion together was in silence.
The more I attuned myself to Master, the more deeply I came to appreciate the transcendent beauty of this inner friendship. It was a communion that needed no outward proximity to confirm it. Blessed with it, one even rejoiced when others endeavored to set themselves higher than oneself in the Guru's esteem. For one knew that egoic approval had nothing to do with that attunement.
In some ways it was, I think, his utter respect for others that impressed me about Master the most deeply. It always amazed me that one whose wisdom and power inspired so much awe in others could be at the same time so humbly respectful to every one. I had always considered respect to be something one gave only where it was due. And in a sense, of course, Master gave it in that spirit, too, but in his case it meant showing the deepest respect to all, because he saw them all as God's children. As Master said once to Dr. Lewis, his first disciple in America, "Remember, God loves you just as much as He loves me. He is our common Father."
Sometime during my second year at Mt. Washington a man came from India with a letter of introduction to Master. He asked permission to stay in the ashram two or three days. To everyone's inconvenience, those "two or three days" extended to many weeks. Soon after his arrival he sent Master a complaining note. The food, it seemed, was too Western for his tastes; would Paramhansaji kindly rectify the matter? Master quietly arranged for Indian-style food to be sent to him from his own kitchen.
I once saw Master chat with a group of Indians after a public performance in Pasadena. One man in the group was, as the saying goes, "feeling no pain." Affecting great familiarity in his drunkenness, he threw an arm around Master's shoulders and shouted playfully, as though the two of them were old drinking buddies. Debi, who was standing nearby, made some disparaging remark in Bengali.
"Don't," Master replied, shaking his head a little sternly. In his eyes this man, regardless of his temporary condition, deserved the respect due to a child of God.
A certain religious teacher in Los Angeles, a woman of considerable worldly means, once helped the Master's work financially, and behaved consequently as if she owned him. Master, as unbuyable a person as ever lived, continued to act only as God guided him from within. Gradually the woman developed toward him a sense of possessive jealousy, and on several occasions spoke venomously to him, and hurled such insults as would have made any ordinary man her enemy. But Master remained unalterably calm and respectful toward her. Never sharp in his replies, ever kind, he was like a fruit tree in bloom which, when an axe is laid to its roots, showers its attacker with sweet-smelling blossoms. The lady gradually developed the highest regard for him. She praised him to others, and often took her friends and students to visit his centers. All her anger and jealousy were converted into ungrudging esteem.
In Ranchi, India, I was told a touching story dating back to Master's return there in 1935. It seems an anniversary banquet was planned at his school. Someone was needed to preside over the function and give it official standing. The name of Gurudas Bannerji, a prominent judge, was recommended. Widely esteemed, this man was, as everyone agreed, the best possible choice. Master went to invite him.
What was his surprise, then, when the judge coldly refused to come. He knew all about India's so-called "holy men," he said; he was looking at a typical example of them right before him. They were insincere, after people's money, a drain on the community. He had no time to speak for their worthless causes.
Master, though astonished at this reception, remained unruffled. As he often told us, "Praise cannot make me any better, nor blame any worse. I am what I am before my conscience and God." After hearing the judge out he replied in a friendly tone, "Well, perhaps you'll reconsider. We should be greatly honored if you would come."
The principal of a local school agreed to preside in the judge's stead. When everyone had assembled that evening for the banquet, and the affair was about to begin, a car drove up. Out stepped the caustic judge. Because Gurudas Bannerji was such a prominent figure in those parts, the school principal readily offered up his own place to him.
Following the banquet, there were several preliminary reports. One dealt with the school's growth, and the number of students who had gone on after graduation to become monks and religious teachers. "If the present trend continues," the report read, "soon all of India will be full of our teachers spreading the ancient wisdom of our land."
It then came the judge's turn to speak. Rising, he said: "Today is one of the happiest days of my life. This morning your Swami Yogananda came to visit me. I felt great joy when I beheld him, but I decided to test him to see whether he was really as good a man as he looked. I addressed him as rudely as I knew how. Yet he remained so calm, and answered me so kindly, that I tell you in all sincerity he passed my test better than I would have dreamed possible. And I will tell you something more: Never mind the numbers of your graduates who are becoming monks. India has many monks. But if you can produce even one such man as this, not your school only, nor only our city, but our whole country will be glorified!"
One of my brother disciples, acting under the spell of a violent delusion, once wrote Master a long letter filled with scathing criticism for what he imagined to be Master's faults. The letter announced his intention of leaving the ashram immediately. He must have seen his error, subsequently, for he remained. One day, shortly after writing that letter, he was standing with a group of us when Master came downstairs. Seeing him, Master remarked, "You should take up writing. That was the best letter Satan ever wrote me." Master's voice, free of all resentment, held a note of genuine admiration.
But his humility didn't prevent him from giving a strong reply, sometimes, if he felt one might prove helpful. An orthodox minister once, incensed at the presence of a genuine "heathen" in this our most Christian land, and especially perturbed because the Master wouldn't endorse certain of his more narrow dogmas, shouted at him, "You will go to hell!"
Master, seeing the anger that was etched at that moment on the man's face, replied amiably, "Well I may get there by and by, but you are there already!"
Wonderful as Master's quality of universal respect was, it might be supposed that it entailed at least one disadvantage: an inability to see the funny side of what is often called the human comedy. The supposition would be unwarranted. The truth is, I have never known anyone with a keener sense of the ridiculous. Master's capacity for merriment, as we see from the foregoing story, was lively enough to remain undaunted even when faced with what might be termed the "ultimate denunciation." Under similar circumstances, most people would have been reduced to humorless indignation.
In the case of that fanatical minister, Master had a lesson to impart to him. But he never made fun of others if he thought it might inflict unnecessary pain on them. Herein, indeed, lay a fundamental difference between his sense of humor and most people's.
For that performance at Pasadena, which I mentioned earlier, our presumptuous guest from India had somehow managed to seize star billing as a Hindu dancer. As far as I know the only actual "dancing" he'd ever done was in the boxing ring, where he'd managed to achieve some sort of fame. But his large physique was impressive. When he announced that he intended to dance, it was taken by all that he meant business.
His performance that evening portrayed a deer being stalked by a hunter. Playing both roles himself, he alternately lumbered through his representation of the deer as it gamboled playfully about in forest glades, and stalked ferociously through tall grasses as the hunter. Presently it became evident that he wasn't keeping step with the music. This realization finally dawned on him, also, and only one explanation would do: Obviously, the orchestra wasn't following him. Indignantly instructing the players to cease and desist, he strode down to the footlights and apologized to the audience for their lack of musicianship.
"They aren't professionals," he explained solemnly. Thereafter, whenever his "playful gamboling" took him past where they sat, ranged against the back of the stage, he would wave his hands and exhort them in a fierce undertone to play better.
Master and I, seated together, were in paroxysms of mirth. Tears streamed down our cheeks, though we managed fairly well to keep from laughing aloud. "Don't!" squeaked Master unsteadily when I let slip a muffled guffaw.
Well, the hunter finally got his deer, but this wasn't the end by any means. The poor creature then had to be portrayed writhing about the stage in incredible agonies. After many minutes it sighed its last. There followed a little scattered applauseless, I'm sure, from a desire to congratulate the artist than as an expression of relief. But our relief was premature: The hunter was still alive! Leaping up now in this role, he flung the deer over his shoulders and began a sort of victory cakewalk. Already we knew he had no sense of timing. Now it appeared he also lacked a sense of time. At any rate, his performance gave every evidence of being planned to embrace eternity. Through tears of laughter, finally, we saw one of the musicians glance offstage and make a lowering motion with his hand. The curtain began to fall. The hunter, poised in yet another victory stance, saw it coming. Angrily he turned. The last we saw of him was his legs from the knees downward, striding purposefully off toward stage right to give the hapless stagehand a piece of his mind.
Master had laughed as heartily this evening as I ever saw him laugh. Yet he showed no inclination, afterward, to discomfit his guest. Such indeed is the nature of pure joy; though good-humored, it is always kindly. When the man complained later that evening of how he had been mistreated, Master's mood was gentle. Consolingly he said, "I understand." And he did, too. He understood all aspects of the matter. He could feel the man's indignation, and sympathize with it on its own level, though he knew it was founded on a delusion.
But then, it was his sympathy for all of us, in our multifarious delusions, that inspired his lifelong labor of teaching, counseling, and self-sacrifice on our behalf.
One day, in Chicago, a drunken stranger staggered up to Master and embraced him affectionately.
"Hello there, Jeshush Chrisht!"
Master smiled. Then, to give the man a taste of the infinitely better "spirits" he himself enjoyed, he looked deeply into the man's eyes.
"Shay," the fellow cried thickly, "whad're you drink'n'?"
"It has a lot of kick in it!" Master replied, his eyes twinkling. The man was sobered by this glance. "I left him wondering what had happened!" Master told us later.
It is particularly interesting that this man should have addressed Master as Jesus Christ, since the Master's olive-colored skin, black hair, and brown eyes didn't at all correspond to the popular, Nordic image of a blue-eyed, blond Jesus. Master, moreover, kept no beard.
A woman whom I once met at an SRF center meeting in New York described a similar reaction to that man's. "I bought a painting," she told me, "in a dusty old second-hand store. It was a portrait, but I didn't know who the subject was; I just knew his eyes inspired me. I used to think of him as Jesus Christ. Placing the painting on my mantelpiece, I prayed daily in front of it. Years later I came upon Autobiography of a Yogi. The moment I saw Master's photograph, I recognized him as the very man in that painting!"
Another woman, a member of our Hollywood congregation, told me, "I used to pray deeply to God to draw me closer to Him. One day I had a vision of someone I'd never seen before. A voice said, 'Christ is coming!' Shortly thereafter, a friend brought me to this church for the first time. Master was conducting the service. The moment I saw him, I said to my friend, 'Why, that's the very face I saw in my vision!'"
Another member of our Hollywood church told me, "Years before I knew anything about Master, my husband and I happened to catch a glimpse of him through a restaurant window. 'Look at that man!' I exclaimed. 'He must be the most spiritual human being I've ever seen!' Years later I met Master, and knew him immediately for that very man."
Even as a boy, the Master's magnetism was extraordinary. Dr. Nagendra Nath Das, a Calcutta physician and lifelong friend, visited Mt. Washington in July 1950. He told us, "Wherever Paramhansaji went, even as a boy, he attracted people. His father, a high railway official, often gave us travel passes. No matter where we traveled, within minutes after we'd got down from the train a group of boys would have gathered about us."
Part of the basis for Master's amazing charisma was the fact that, seeing his infinite Beloved in all human beings, he also awakened in them an inchoate faith in their own goodness. With the impersonality of true greatness, he never accepted the thought from others that he was essentially any different from them.
Bernard, upon whom Master had been urging some difficult undertaking, remonstrated one day, "Well, Sir, you can do it. You're a master."
"And what do you think made me a master?" the Guru demanded. "It was by doing! Don't cling to the thought of weakness if your desire is to become strong."
"There was a devotee," Master once told us, "who was sitting before the image of his guru, chanting and tossing flowers onto it as an expression of his devotion. His concentration became so deep that, suddenly, he beheld the whole universe contained within himself. 'Oh!' he cried, 'I have been putting flowers on another's image, and now I see that I, untouched by this body, am the Sustainer of the universe. I bow to myself!' And he began throwing the flowers onto his own head.
"Oh! when Master [Sri Yukteswar] told me that story I was so thrilled I went into samadhi.(38) That devotee wasn't speaking from ego. Rather he was rejoicing in the death of his ego."
This was the relationship that Master sought ever to establish with us: a relationship wherein we realized with our entire being that we, too, were That.
Leo Cocks, one of the young monks, for some time made a practice of taking photographs of Master every opportunity he could. The walls of his room ended up being almost papered with them.
"Why do you keep on taking photographs of this physical form?" Master demanded of him one day. "What is it but flesh and bones? Get to know me in meditation if you want to know who I really am!"
And once, when we were serving him, he remarked, "You all are so kind to me with your many attentions." Karle Frost, one of the disciples present, exclaimed, "Oh, no, Master. It is you who are kind to us!"
"God is helping God," Master replied with a sweet smile. "That is the nature of His cosmic drama."
The closer we drew to him spiritually, the less he sought to teach us by words. "I prefer to speak with the eyes," he once told me. He never wanted to impose his instruction on us from without. His method of teaching, rather, was to help us to dig wells of intuitive insight within ourselves. The closer we felt to him, the closer we came to knowing our own, true, Self: the God within.
(38) Samadhi (cosmic consciousness) is the state of infinite awareness that comes to the yogi once the hypnosis of ego has been broken. Christian saints have sometimes described this state as "mystical marriage," for in it the soul merges into God and becomes one with Him.
Back in context.
Copyright 1996 J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), Trustee