The Path: One Man's Quest On the Only Path There Is
by Swami Kriyananda
(J. Donald Walters)
Direct Disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda
Purchase a copy of 'The Path'
True Teaching Is Individual
One sometimes hears the lament, "There are too many denominations in Christendom." Yet I dare say that even if there were only one, there would still be as many different forms of Christianity as there are Christians. For every man's understanding is conditioned by his own special experiences, his aspirations, his outlook on lifein short, by what he is. He might recite the Nicene Creed in church every Sunday, yet attach meanings to it that would surprise some of his fellow worshipers. In reciting the Lord's Prayer, children have been heard to say, "Give us this day our jelly bread," and, "Lead us not into Penn Station." We smile at their innocence. But are we so sure that we ourselves really know all that is intended in the Lord's Prayer, or in the Credo?
The same problem confronts us in our efforts to understand one another. Even the people to whom we feel closest remain closed books to us on certain levels of their being. What, then, of a God-realized master? Is it worthwhile even trying to comprehend his vast nature?
Whenever fellow disciples spoke to me of trying to "understand" Master, I would marvel. It struck me as rather like trying to understand the universe! But the task that Infinity has placed squarely in our laps is, "Understand thyselfknow thyself." To study the life of a master with the purpose, not of understanding him, but of obtaining deeper insight into one's own true nature, into one's own potential for divine unfoldment: This is wise use of the faculty of discrimination.
Master himself was, to each one of us, like a flawless mirror. He held up to our inner gaze, not his opinions of us, but the subtle reactions of our own higher natures. His perfect self-transcendence never ceased to amaze me. In another person's company he actually, in a sense, became that person. I don't mean that in our company he assumed our weaknesses, our pettiness, our moods of anger or despondency. What he showed us, rather, was the silent watcher deep within our own selves.
An amazing feature of my own relationship with him was that I could never clearly remember what he looked like. I needed a photograph to bring his image clearly to mind. Even among photographs of him, I have never seen any two alike. When he is shown posing with someone else, in some subtle way he actually looks like that person. Shown with Seor Portes Gil, the President of Mexico, he looks like Seor Gil. Posed with Amelita Galli-Curci, the great opera singer, he looks strangely like her. Photographed with Goodwin J. Knight, Lieutenant Governor of California, he appears almost to be Mr. Knight's alter ego. (45) Standing with any disciple, he seems to become that disciple. One wonders how a single face could display such a wide variety of expressions. But of course it was not his face that changed, but the consciousness behind it. Master went a step beyond seeing the god in each of us: He became that god, in order that we might see our own divine potential for ourselves, and understand better how the Lord wanted to express Himself through our lives.
Ah, Master! If only I had comprehended as clearly then as I do now the magnificence of your gift to us! But I suppose, had I done so, by this time I would be making the same lament. For evolution never ceases, until at last it embraces eternity.
In his training of us Master's teaching was individual also. It was not that he altered his basic teachings to suit our personal needs. It was his emphasis rather that varied. To some he stressed attitudes of service; to others, deep inwardness. To one he emphasized the need for greater joy; to another, for less levity. His emphasis was to a great extent too subtle to be phrased in words. He conveyed it by some intonation of the voice, by the expression in his eyes, by a tilt of the head. What he said to one person he might never say to anyone else. In a very real sense he was, to each of us, our very own, personal, divine friend.
In our work, one might have expected him to honor that basic principle of every well-run institution: "Make the best use of individual talent." But to Master this practice would have meant using his disciples. His true concern, always, was for our spiritual needs. Sometimes he would actually take us away from some important assignmentone, perhaps, for which no one else could be foundsimply to help us spiritually. Sometimes, too, he placed people in positions for which they weren't qualified, with a view to prompting them, in their struggle to meet his expectations, to develop needed spiritual qualities. At other times he gave us work we dislikednot particularly because we would be good for that work (I recall a job of carpentry that he put me on once: For every time my hammer hit the nail, there must have been nine others that it missed), but because the work would be good for us. Perhaps it was that we needed to learn some spiritual qualityfor example, to overcome unwillingness.
Sometimes he would not place people in positions for which they were eminently qualified, simply because they no longer needed those particular experiences to grow spiritually. One might have thought, for instance, that he would have called upon all his most advanced disciples to help him in the ministry. In fact he did say that he appointed as ministers only those who in former lives had developed the requisite spiritual qualifications. But along with those qualifications was the still-more-pressing question of what we ourselves needed, to grow. Speaking to me once of Rajarsi Janakananda, his most highly advanced disciple, he said, "He was leading a center in Kansas City years ago, but I asked him to give it up. Service in that capacity was no longer necessary for his spiritual development."
Sister Gyanamata, his most advanced woman disciple, and a person of deep wisdom, could have rendered enormous assistance by giving lectures, teaching classes, and writing articles for the SRF magazine. But Master never asked her to serve in any such role. That kind of work simply wasn't necessary for her spiritual growth. In fact, I once tried to get her, along with several other advanced disciples, to write articles for Self-Realization Magazine. My effort was in response to Master's request that I try to make this bimonthly publication more attractive and helpful to the general reader, with "short, practical articles," as he put it, "on the techniques and principles of right livingarticles designed to help people on all levels: physically, mentally, and spiritually." I was trying to enlist as many as possible in this cause, and naturally thought that, the more spiritually developed the writer, the better the article would be. But to my surprise, neither Sister Gyanamata nor any of the others I hoped most to hear from responded to my appeal. Indeed, this was my first confrontation with the truth that a master's training is individual. My first, instinctive response ("Don't they want to do Master's will?") conflicted with my awareness that they must know a great deal more about his will than I did. I was forced at last to conclude that, while Master wanted the magazine improved, he didn't necessarily want every hand on deck to improve it. It was not only a question of what he wanted, but of whom he wanted it from.
My own deep-seated desire had always been to share joy with others. Having suffered spiritually myself, I felt deeply the spiritual sufferings of others, and longed to do all I could to help assuage their sufferings. Master responded to this deep inner longing of mine, and trained me from the beginning for public service.
In January 1949 he put me into office work, answering letters. I typed them in my room, since at that time there was no separate office for the monks. At first my letters tended to be too long.
"I once knew a lady novelist," Master told me one day, by way of advice, "who ended her letters, 'If I'd had more time, this letter would have been shorter.'" He corrected me at other times, too, on the best ways of presenting our teachings to others.
Not long after he'd made me a letter writer, he asked me to study the complete set of the SRF lessons. His stated reason for doing so amused me: "I want your suggestions for their improvement." His real purpose, I knew, was to get me to study the lessons as deeply as possible.
Soon thereafter he also made me the official examiner. This job meant reviewing and grading students' answers to the tests which, in those days, were sent out at the end of each step of the lessons.
By these means Master sought to give me a thorough grounding in his teachings.
In March 1949 he asked me to write articles for our bimonthly magazine. I began writing under the pen name Robert Ford. My first endeavor, "You Can Change Your Personality," was featured in the May-June issue of that year.
One evening Master sent for two or three of us, and talked at length about his work in India. A strong intuition awakened within me that Master would someday send me to that country. Eagerly I jotted down everything he said. A few days later I saw him standing upstairs on his private porch.
"I have plans for you, Walter," he remarked with a quiet smile.
Certain as to his meaning, I was delighted. But after I'd left him, the thought came, "To go to India would mean leaving Master!" The enormity of this threatened loss threw me into a deep depression. "Master is my India!" I cried silently. "What could I possibly find there that I haven't already, right here?"
Gradually my mood left me. As I grew calmer, I reflected that Master surely would want nothing of me but what was spiritually for my best. Two days later I saw him again. By this time I had banished my depression.
"No more moods, now," Master said gently when we met. "Otherwise, how will you be able to help people?"
Every year for the next three years he made plans to go to India, and to take me with him. Each time the trip was postponed. It was his death, finally, that canceled it the third time. But I did get sent to India eventually, in 1958, and there spent the better part of four years.
Sometime in February or March 1949, Master instructed me to stand outside the Hollywood church after the Sunday morning services, and shake hands with people as they left. In his lessons he states that people exchange magnetism when shaking hands. Thus, what Master wanted me to do was not merely greet people, but act as his channel of blessings to others. The first time I tried it, I felt so drained of energy I actually became dizzy. I suppose what happened was that people unconsciously drew from me, in the consciousness that I was serving as Master's representative.
"Master," I said later, "I don't believe I'm ready for this job." I explained what had occurred.
"That is because you are thinking of yourself," he replied. "Think of God, and you will find His energy flowing through you."
His suggestion worked. By holding to the thought of God, I discovered that I felt actually more uplifted after shaking hands with the congregation than beforehand.
"When this 'I' shall die," Master wrote once, in a rhymed couplet, "then shall I know who am I."
One of my office jobs was to send weekly advertisements to the newspapers to announce which minister would be speaking at which church the next Sunday, and what his sermon topic would be. Master had been lecturing fortnightly in our San Diego church, alternating weekly between there and Hollywood. Of recent months, however, he had taken to going to San Diego only occasionally. The church members there, ever anxious to see him, were instructed to check the church page of the San Diego Union every Saturday. Whenever Master came, the church was full to overflowing.
One week in May I was instructed to send in the announcement that Master would appear there the following Sunday. It had been at least two months since the last time. I smiled to think how delighted the congregation would be.
Saturday morning Bernard came to my room with horrifying news. "Master can't go to San Diego after all. He wants you to speak in his stead."
"Me! But . . . but I've never lectured before in my life!"
"He also wants you," Bernard continued with appalling detachment, "to give a Kriya Yoga initiation afterwards."
"What! Why, I've only attended one initiation!"
"Two," Bernard corrected me. "Master also initiated you last October at Twenty-Nine Palmsremember?"
"All right, two. What difference does that make? I meanwell, of course I'll obey him, but. . . . Oh, those poor people!"
"You'll only have to initiate one of them," Bernard consoled me. "Here's money for the bus. You'd better leave immediately."
In Encinitas, several hours later, Rev. Michael (now Brother Bhaktananda) reviewed for me the outlines of the Kriya initiation ceremony. I worked hard on my sermon, also. With a sinking heart I drove down to San Diego the next morning. In a little room behind the church I prayed desperately for help and guidance. As the time for the service approached, I went and sat in a chair in the center of the stage, as was the custom in those days. Through the closed curtains I could distinctly hear the murmurs of a large and eagerly waiting crowd.
The dreaded moment arrived. I stood up. The curtains parted. My worse fears were realized: The church was completely packed. People were standing in the aisles. Others craned their necks to peer in through the windows. I could feel their shock as an almost physical wave. Instead of their long-awaited guru, here facing them was an unknown and rather lost-looking boy of twenty-two, asking them if they werestill?awake and ready. I felt so sorry for them in their disappointment that I forgot the awkwardness of my own position. If everyone there had walked out, I would have understood. But regular meditation, I supposed, had made them gracious. No one left.
The Kriya initiation that afternoon frightened me even more than the service had. Michelle Evans, the lady I initiated, looked as terrified as I wasinfected, as she later admitted, by my own fear. But Master's blessings, powerfully felt, soon dispelled all anxiety. The ceremony went smoothly. I returned to Mt. Washington that afternoon bowed, perhaps, but unbloodied.
Later, Master received compliments on my lecture. "Most of all," he reported, pleased, "they liked your humility." I reflected that, under the circumstances, humility had been virtually unavoidable!
From this time onward, Master had me lecture regularly in the San Diego and Hollywood churches. He referred to me publicly as "Reverend Walter," though the actual formalities of ordination weren't completed until a year later.
"Your desire to be happy," he often told us, "must include others' happiness." I had always known in my heart that I would be called upon someday to serve others through teaching and lecturing. But whether out of the humility that Master sometimes praised in me, or from darker motives of unwillingness, it was, I'm afraid, not a few years before I could bring myself to believe that my lectures really did anyone any good.
Master, however, made it clear that he expected me to take this responsibility seriously. "Sir," I once pleaded with him, "I don't want to be a lecturer!"
"You'd better learn to like it," he replied pleasantly. "That is what you will have to do."
(45) These three photographs may be seen in two publications of Self-Realization Fellowship: the Golden Anniversary booklet, and Paramhansa Yogananda, in Memoriam (p. 81).
Back in context.
Copyright 1996 J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), Trustee