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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"You might like to know something of the history of our Hollywood church," Master remarked to me one day, "now that you are lecturing there regularly."
"Naturally, Sir," I replied, "I'm eager to learn everything I can about our work."
"We built the church during the war. New construction wasn't allowed at that time, but we were able to build legally anyway. We bought an old church, and had it moved onto our property. The building was a mere shell," Master chuckled. "How the neighbors howled! But we fixed it upstuccoing the walls, fixing the roof, painting everything beautifully, and putting in valuable stained-glass windows. Finally the building looked completely new." Master paused reminiscently.
"Finding those windows was a real blessing from God. I wanted stained glass, but everyone insisted, 'You can't get that. There's a war on!' Still, I knew we would get it.
"One morning God showed me in a vision where our windows were sitting, just waiting for us, in an old junk store. I went there. 'I'm sorry,' the owner said, 'we have no stained glass here.' But I knew better.
"'Just look once,' I pleaded.
"'I told you,' he said, losing patience, 'we haven't any!' Growling, he stalked away.
"I went over to an assistant standing nearby, and asked him if he knew of any stained glass in the place.
"'Boss say no,' he replied, his body stooped with lifelong reluctance. 'Muss be no.'
"'Here are five dollars,' I told him. 'I'll give them to you if you take me where I want to go.' At this he agreed. Together we went out into the backyard. There, gathering dust against a far wall, was an assortment of old doors and whatnot. But no sign of any stained-glass windows.
"'You see?' the man said, lifting his head in an attitude of vindication. 'Boss say no. Muss be no!'
"'Just pull those things away,' I requested. 'Let's have a look at what's behind them.'
"'Boss say . . .' he began a third time. Then he remembered those five dollars. Willingness may not have been his strong point, but finally, groaning and moaning, he moved everything out into the yard. And there at last, right up against the wall, were our stained-glass windows!
"In the condition they were in they looked like nothing but junk. The glass panes were in place, but all were hanging loosely, and covered with filth. The owner let me have the lot of them for next to nothing. But we fixed them up carefully. Miss Darling(46) saved us thousands of dollars by framing and gold-leafing them herself. And nowwell, you can see how beautiful they are. I've been told they are valuable."
"One would never suspect the church of having such a grey past!" I remarked, smiling. It looked like a charming jewel now, immaculate in its white, blue, and gold colors. Set well back from the road, it was fronted by a pleasant garden. Unquestionably it had become an asset to the neighborhood.
Master continued, "The church carpet came from God, also." This carpet, a soothing, dark blue, covered the entire floor of the church. I had long admired it. Master went on to explain, "I had wanted a beautiful carpet, because I think that if theaters can be designed beautifully to remind one of the beauties of this world, then God's places should be designed even more beautifully to remind one that He is the Source of all beauty. My wish was for a rich blue carpet like the one we used to have in our Encinitas temple. I sent people scouting everywhere. But no one found anything like it.
"I myself then telephoned the company that had sold us that first carpet. 'Oh, I'm sorry,' a voice said, 'the man you bought that one from went out of business.'
"'Who is this speaking?' I inquired. It proved to be that man's former business partner. He was just about to hang up, when he paused.
"'Say' he exclaimed, 'I've just remembered that we still have a piece of that very carpet you bought left in our warehouse. How much did you say you needed?'
"'A hundred and one yards,' I replied.
"He went and measured his remnant. It came to exactly one hundred and two yards!
"I have often said," Master concluded, "that out of the loss of our Encinitas temple came two more templesthis one in Hollywood, and our church in San Diego. Just the other day a visitor remarked to me, 'What a pity you lost your Encinitas temple!' I answered, 'It was the best thing that ever happened to me!' You see, it forced me to come out more into the world with these teachings. And look, even the carpet in our new church came out of that very carpet for the old one!"
By June 1949 I was conducting midweek services more or less regularly in the Hollywood church. Soon thereafter I also gave occasional Sunday services, both there and in San Diego.
A problem for any new speaker is how to avoid feeling nervous in front of an audience. My own problem was accentuated by the fact that I was so young, and looked even younger. The average age of my listeners was about forty. I could count on their knowing a great deal more about most things than I did.
Abie George, a disciple in Hollywood of whom we were all particularly fond, suggested a solution. Deeply devoted ("a beautiful soul," Master called him), Abie also had a colorful sense of humor, and a most unusual way of expressing it. "It's very simple," he explained with mock earnestness. "No, hey, I mean it," he persisted, laughingly forestalling my anticipated objections, "it really is simple. All as you gotta do is picture to yourself alla them there people in fronta you as a buncha cabbage heads. That's all! Just say to yourself, 'You uns out there are nothin' but a buncha cabbage heads!' Like that." I thanked him, dubiously.
James Coller, the minister of our church in Phoenix, offered another suggestion. "I was so nervous when I first started lecturing," he said, "that Master suggested I take a hot bath before my talks, to relax. One evening I was supposed to give an introductory lecture to a series of public classes. The announced subject was 'What Yoga Can Do for You.'
"Well, I took a long, hot bath beforehand! Too long," James added, chuckling, "and too hot. It sapped all my energy. I arrived for that lecture so limp I felt more like a steam-heated towel than a human being! After five minutes of speaking I found I'd covered everything could think of to say on the subject. It was probably the shortest lecture those people had ever attended!
"Next, Horace took up a collection. He's spastic, you know. After my five-minute lecture on what yoga can do for you, my only assistant went staggering from row to row with the collection plate, clutching at the backs of chairs for support."
This story, told with much laughter on James part, left us holding our sides in merriment. It hadn't seemed quite so funny to his audience, however. They got up and left without a word. Fortunately, the episode had a more gratifying sequel. One man, after leaving the room, returned, moved by James's obvious goodness and sincerity. This man later became a devoted follower of Master's work.
"Well, anyway," James concluded, addressing me, "you might try soaking yourself in hot water before your lectures." His story, I confessed, had left me somewhat less than reassured.
The solution I myself found to the problem of nervousness was to imagine the worst audience response possible, and accept itin short, to be willing to appear a fool. "It is all God's dream anyway," I would remind myself before a lecture, "so what does it matter whether people accept me or reject me?"
Indifference to the fruits of my efforts proved a solution to the problem of nervousness, but it didn't help me in the far more important matter of communicating with my listeners. For, in telling myself it was all a dream,(47) I ended up not really caring whether I spoke well or not.
Only gradually did I become a conscientious speaker, as the awareness grew in me that the people I was speaking to were manifestations of God, and as I understood that it was through them, rather than by merely surviving the personal ordeal of appearing before them, that I was being asked to serve Him. Thus I was cured also of a temptation that is common to public speakers, to be satisfied if they can make their points convincing to themselves. For in seeing God manifested in the forms of my listeners, and in realizing that what I had to say was a service to Him through them, it became important to me to express myself in a way that would reach Him through them.
At first I used to pray before every lecture, "Lord, inspire me to say what You want said." Later I learned to ask Him also, "Help me sense what this particular audience needs to hear through me." Often, sensing needs different from those I had come prepared to speak about, I would give a completely different talk from the one I'd intended. Indeed, I learned in time to prepare minimally, if at all, for my lectures, for I found that an open mind enabled me to respond more sensitively to the unvoiced needs of my listeners. The results of this approach proved gratifying. Many people began thanking me after my lectures for answering their specific questions, or for dealing with problems that had been weighing on their minds. I always shared with them the real secret of my success: "God is the Doer." For it was in this thought above all that Master trained us. (48)
When I was first learning to lecture, Master gave me the following words of advice: "Before lecturing, meditate deeply. Then, holding that meditative calmness, think about what you intend to say. Write down your ideas. Include one or two funny stories; people are more receptive when they can enjoy a good laugh. Then finish with a story from the SRF lessons. After that, put the subject out of your mind. While speaking, keep mentally before you the salient points of your outline, but above all ask the Spirit to flow through you. In that way you will draw your inspiration from that inner Source, and will not speak from ego."
Most important of all to Master was the question of our attunement while lecturing, that we might share with our listeners not only our ideas, but our vibrations. Late one Thursday afternoon he spied Dr. Lewis out on the grounds in Encinitas, enjoying a stroll.
"Doctor," he called out, "aren't you giving the service this evening?"
"Yes, Sir," Dr. Lewis called back.
"Then what are you doing roaming about? You should be meditating!"
In time, I reached the point where I could actually feel a power flowing from my attunement with Master, and filling any room in which I might be lecturing. If anything I said touched my listeners, the credit was due to this power far more than to any words I uttered.
During Master's early years in the West, thousands came to his public lectures. But the churches he built were small, sweet in their simplicity. Smallness, he felt, was more conducive to worship; it permitted a sense of inwardness, of closeness to God. Master told us of a visit he had once paid to a large, well-known cathedral in the American Midwest. "I was admiring it," he said, "when I heard God's voice saying, 'Would you rather have all this, without Me? Or'here a vision appeared in which I saw myself seated on the ground under a tree, a handful of disciples gathered about me'this, with Me?'
"'Lord,' I prayed, 'only where Thou art do I want to be!'"
The Master often remarked that an emphasis on large, expensive places of worship, and on crowds of worshipers, necessitates too much concentration on money, and too little on humble, inward communion with God. "The church system has to be revised," he told us. "Outward pomp must be replaced by simplicity, and huge cathedrals by small temples where sincere devotees gather for meditation. The well-educated minister of a large, modern congregation may lecture eloquently, but if he never meditates, and has no inward realization of God's presence, what is the use of his eloquence? His D.D. degree in this case stands for nothing but 'Doctor of Delusion'!
"If I went to a restaurant that had a good name, but couldn't get any food there, what good would that place do me? I'd come away as hungry as I had entered. So what is the use of a famous church, if it is spiritually dead? What is the good of a hive without honey?"
He then told us, "You are on the eve of a great change. You will see the entire church movement undergoing a revolution. Churches will become places where real souls will go to commune with God."
Sometimes, with great merriment, he paraphrased a story from the novel Heavenly Discourse, by Charles E. Wood. His version of the tale went something like this: "When Billy Sunday, the famous evangelist, died and went to heaven, St. Peter wouldn't let him enter the Pearly Gates, but demanded, 'What did you do on earth to deserve admission here?' 'Why,' Billy Sunday protested, 'what about all those thousands I sent up here from my revival meetings?' 'You may have sent them,' retorted St. Peter, 'but they never arrived!'"
"In Milwaukee," Master told us, "I was once taken to a church where a choir sang especially for me. Afterwards one of the singers asked me, 'How did you like our singing?'
"'It was all right,' I said.
"'You mean you didn't like it?'
"'I didn't say that,' I replied. 'But please don't press me further.' Well, he kept insisting, so at last I explained, 'As far as technique went, you were perfect. But you weren't thinking of the One for whom that sacred music was written. You were thinking of pleasing me. Next time you sing devotional music, think of God; don't sing to impress others.'"
Master's own services were rich with inspiration. They conveyed none of the orphaned feeling that one encounters in many churches, of a God living distantly in some unimaginable heaven, or of a Jesus Christ who left no more vital testimony to his continuing reality than the printed words in the Bible. In Master's presence, divine truths came thrillingly alive, made vibrant with the immediacy of his own God-realization.
"You are a good salesman!" an American businessman exclaimed once after one of his lectures. "That," Master replied, "is because I have sold myself on the truths I teach!"
Some of my most impressive memories of Master are of his public lectures. While they lacked the sweet intimacy of talks with the disciples at Mt. Washington, they rang with the spirit of a mission destined, he told us, to bring spiritual regeneration to the world.
I remember especially how stirred I was by a talk he gave at a garden party in Beverly Hills on July 31, 1949. Never had I imagined that the power of human speech could be so great; it was the most stirring lecture I have ever heard.
"This day," he thundered, punctuating every word, "marks the birth of a new era. My spoken words are registered in the ether, in the Spirit of God, and they shall move the West. . . . Self-Realization has come to unite all religions. . . . We must go onnot only those who are here, but thousands of youths must go North, South, East and West to cover the earth with little colonies, demonstrating that simplicity of living plus high thinking lead to the greatest happiness!"(49) I was moved to my core. It would not have surprised me had the heavens opened up and a host of angels come streaming out, eyes ablaze, to do his bidding. Deeply I vowed that day to do my utmost to make his words a reality.
Often during the years I was with Master he exhorted his audiences on the subject of this cherished dream of his: "world brotherhood colonies," or spiritual cooperative communitiesnot monasteries, merely, but places where people in every stage of life could devote themselves to living the divine life.
"Environment is stronger than will power," he told us. He saw "world brotherhood colonies" as environments that would foster spiritual attitudes: humility, trust, devotion, respect for others, friendly cooperation. For worldly people, too, who dream of a better way of life, small cooperative communities offer the best hope of demonstrating to society at large that mankind is capable of achieving heights that are so scornfully repudiated in this age of spiritual underachievers. Such communities would be places where cooperative attitudes were emphasized, rather than social and political "rights" and the present social and business norms of cut-throat competition.
"Gather together, those of you who share high ideals," Yogananda told his audiences. "Pool your resources. Buy land out in the country. A simple life will bring you inner freedom. Harmony with nature will bring you a happiness known to few city dwellers. In the company of other truth seekers it will be easier for you to meditate and think of God.
"What is the need for all the luxuries people surround themselves with? Most of what they have they are paying for on the installment plan. Their debts are a source of unending worry to them. Even people whose luxuries have been paid for are not free; attachment makes them slaves. They consider themselves freer for their possessions, and don't see how their possessions in turn possess them!"
He added: "The day will come when this colony idea will spread through the world like wildfire."
In the over-all plan for his work, Paramhansa Yogananda saw individual students first receiving the SRF lessons, and practicing Kriya Yoga in their own homes; then, in time, forming spiritual centers where they could meet once or twice weekly for group study and meditation. In areas where there was enough interest to warrant it, he wanted SRF churches, perhaps with full- or part-time ministers. And where there were enough sincere devotees to justify it, his dream was that they would buy land and live together, serving God, and sharing the spiritual life together on a full-time basis.
As I mentioned in Chapter 17, Master had wanted to start a model world brotherhood colony in Encinitas. He felt so deeply the importance of this communitarian dream that for some years it formed the nucleus of all his plans for the work. Indeed, ruler of his own mental processes though he was, even he on one occasion became caught up in a whirlwind of enthusiasm for this project. He told a congregation one Sunday morning, "I got so involved in thinking about world brotherhood colonies last night that my mind got away from me. But," he added, "I chanted a little, and it came back."
Another measure of his interest may be seen in the fact that the first edition of Autobiography of a Yogi ended with a ringing report of his hopes for founding such a colony. "Brotherhood," he wrote in that edition, quoting a discussion he had had with Dr. Lewis in Encinitas, "is an ideal better understood by example than precept! A small harmonious group here may inspire other ideal communities over the earth." He concluded, "Far into the night my dear friendthe first Kriya Yogi in Americadiscussed with me the need for world colonies founded on a spiritual basis."
Alas, he encountered an obstacle that has stood in the way of every spiritual reform since the days of Buddha: human nature. Marriage has always tended to be something of a closed corporation. The economic depression of the 1930s had had the effect on a generation of Americans of heightening this tendency by increasing their desire for worldly security. "Us four and no more" was the way Yogananda described their attitude. America wasn't yet ready for world brotherhood colonies.
A further difficulty lay in the fact that the core of his work already was his monastic disciples. It was they who set the tone for all the colonies. Householders couldn't match their spirit of self-abnegation and service. Families were crowded out of the communal garden, so to speak, by the more exuberant growth of the plants of renunciation. But Yogananda was too near the end of his mission to fulfill his "world brotherhood colony" dream elsewhere.
"Encinitas is gone!" he lamented toward the end of his life. It was not that the ashram was lost. What he meant was that his plans for founding a world brotherhood colony on those sacred grounds would not be fulfilledat least not during his lifetime. He stopped accepting families into the ashrams, all of which he turned now into full-fledged monasteries. For in his renunciate disciples he found that spirit of selfless dedication which his mission needed for its ultimate success.
Nevertheless, the idea of world brotherhood colonies remained important to him. It was, as he had put it during that speech in Beverly Hills, "in the ether, in the Spirit of God." Kamala Silva, in her autobiography, The Flawless Mirror,(50) reports that as late as five months before he left his body he spoke to her glowingly of this dream of his. Master knew that, eventually, the dream must be fulfilled.
But even with regard to so basic a part of his mission as world brotherhood colonies, Master was completely without anxiety. He never saw the world as most people see it. To him, it was all God's playendless shadows and light in a divine motion picture.
I remember the evening that he recorded some of his chants for public release. Partway through that recording session I had to leave to give a class in Hollywood Church. When I returned, I found Master standing outside on the lawn, listening to one of the chants being played back to him: "What lightning flash glimmers in Thy face, Mother! Seeing Thee I am thrilled through and through." Again and again he had the recording repeated. Presently he began almost to dance, swaying to and fro ecstatically, his arms outstretched sidewise and waving to the rhythm of the music. He was blissfully engrossed in the beauty of Divine Mother, whom he perceived as wondrous Light spreading out to infinity. I was deeply moved.
Afterwards, as he was taking leave of our little group, he said quietly, "I see all of you as images of light. Everythingthese trees, bushes, the grass you are standing onall are made of that light. You have no idea how beautiful everything is!"
(46) Now Durga Mata.
Back in context.
(47) The Hindu teaching that life is a dream is intended to inspire non-attachment, not irresponsibility. Even in a dream, after all, it is preferable to dream wisely. In the cosmic dream-delusion, man must act willingly as an instrument of God, the Divine Dreamer, before he can win the right to eternal wakefulness in Him.
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(48) "Take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the spirit of your Father which speaketh in you." (Matthew 10:19,20)
Back in context.
(49) Self-Realization Magazine, November-December, 1949, p. 36.
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(50) p. 183. This beautiful book may be purchased by writing Kamala at Post Office Box 11017, Piedmont Station, Oakland, California 94611.
Back in context.
Copyright 1996 J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), Trustee