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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A Divine Test
In a vision when he was a boy, Paramhansa Yogananda saw himself standing in the marketplace of a town in the foothills of the Himalayas. The day was hot, and the dusty marketplace was crowded with squalid stalls, harassed shoppers, and whining beggars. Dogs ran everywhere. Monkeys stole down from the rooftops to snatch at food in the stalls. Donkeys brayed complainingly. People were bustling to and fro, laden with purchases, their brows furrowed with anxiety and desire.
No one looked happy.
But now and again some member of that milling throng paused before the entranced boy, and gazed high into the distance behind him. After a time, into each gazer's eyes, came a look of intense wistfulness. Then, with a deep sigh, he muttered, "Oh, but it's much too high for me." Lowering his eyes, he returned to the milling throng.
After this sequence had repeated itself several times, Yogananda turned to see what it was behind him that held such a strong appeal for these people. And there towering above the town he beheld a lofty mountain, verdant, serene; the absolute contrast it seemed to everything in this dusty hubbub of festering ambitions. At the mountaintop there was a large garden, inexpressibly beautiful. Its lawns were green-gold, its flowers many-hued. The boy yearned to climb up the mountain and enter that heavenly garden.
But as he reflected on the difficulty of the climb, in his mind the same words formed themselves: "It's much too high for me!" Then, weighing these words, he rejected them scornfully. "It may be too high for me to reach the top in a single leap," he thought, "but at least I can put one foot in front of the other!" Even to fail in the attempt would, he decided, be infinitely preferable to continued existence in this hot, dusty showcase of human misery.
Step by step he set out, filled with determination. Ultimately he reached the mountaintop, and entered the beautiful garden.
For Master this vision symbolized a common predicament of everyone with high ideals. Indeed, all men I imagine must fret at least sometimes at the restrictions their bodies place upon them, at the constant demand of those bodies for sustenance and protection. Man longs instinctively for a life free from competition and worry, free from hatred and violence. Few, alas, even suspect that such a state can be foundnot outwardly, but within their own selves, on high pinnacles of spiritual achievement. And of those who do suspect, most turn away with the sigh, "But it's much too high for me!" How very few, alas, take up the path in earnest! "Out of a thousand," Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, "one seeks Me."
Yet the path is not really so difficult, if one will but take it one step at a time. As Jesus put it, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."(64) And as Paramhansa Yogananda often told us, "A saint is a sinner who never gave up."
The spiritual path requires courage, and dedication, and the absolute conviction that God alone will satisfy the soul's yearning for true happiness. Those who take up the path for what Yogananda called its glamour, expecting only blissful visions and a soft, mossy trail strewn with rose blossoms of divine consolation, become discouraged when they find how often God neglects the moss and roses in favor of thorns. But for those who cling to their purpose with devotion, taking the path calmly one day at a time, no test is ever too great. Obstructions then are seen to be blessings, for they give one the strength he needs to reach the heights.
I got an opportunity to learn something about spiritual obstructions during the early months of 1950. My period of testing began with weeks of exceptional inspiration. Encouraged, as it were, by a short, comparatively easy stretch on the journey, I had been running forward with eager expectations, only to be brought up with a jolt at the foot of a cliff.
For some time after the Christmas holidays, my meditations were blissful. I recall telling Jean Haupt one day, "If for the rest of my life I never get anything more, spiritually, than this, I shall be content." Dangerous words! God doesn't allow His devotees to enjoy for very long the luxury of over-confidence.
After a month or so of increasing inner joy, subtle delusions began to enter my mind. First came pride, in the feeling that this joy separated me from othersnot, I believe, in the sense of making me think myself better than they, but in the equally false sense of holding me aloof from outward interests, however innocent. This state of consciousness masqueraded as wisdom, but in fact was born of my spiritual inexperience. For the devotee should learn to see God outside himself as well as insideoutside especially in wholesome activities and in beautiful things. The world we live in is God's world, after all. To reject it is, in a sense, to reject Him. Pride follows such rejection, and with pride, the temptation to take personal credit for whatever inspirations one feels.
Even as I congratulated myself on my growing inner freedom, I felt increasingly uneasy over my spiritual condition. I could see there was something seriously the matter with me, and that I was not responding as I ought to the blessings I'd been receiving. But where had I erred? My discrimination wasn't developed enough to supply the answer.
It took time for me to realize that I'd been grasping at my blessings too eagerly, as though it were I who had attracted them by my efforts alone. I had been flying by my own strength, forgetful that, to soar high, the devotee must allow himself to be lifted on the breezes of God's grace.
From pride there developed increasing tension in my spiritual efforts. And then, realizing that what I needed was to become more humble, more inwardly receptive, I began trying too urgently, too almost presumptuously, to offer myself up to God's will. I grasped at His guidance, as I had been grasping at joy.
"What do You want of me, Lord?" I prayed. "I'll do anything for You!" I tried imagining the demands He might make of me, then pictured myself following them to the last letter. In my over-anxiety His imagined demands gradually multiplied, until their sheer number defied comprehension. "Don't sit here. Don't go there. Don't eat this. Don't say that." I fell a prey to what the Roman Catholics call "scrupulosity." No longer could I feel joy in my self-offering. Scarcely even comprehending that I was playing this drama entirely in my own mind, I began to look upon God as almost a tyrant: His demands seemed so hopelessly unreasonable! I failed to reflect that He'd never actually made any of them!
"Walter is so confused!" Master exclaimed one afternoon to Mrs. Brown. Several more times that day he shook his head wonderingly. "Walter is so confused!" Then, as if to reassure himself, he added, "Buthe will get there."
At about this time, Master went for seclusion to Twenty-Nine Palms to complete his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. He took me with him. "I asked Divine Mother whom I should take," he told me, "and your face, Walter, kept popping up." Weeks in Master's company would, I hoped, banish the turmoil that had been building up within me.
It was wonderful to listen to him as he worked on his writings. The ease with which inspiration came to him was extraordinary. He would simply look up into the spiritual eye, then speak with hardly a pause, while his secretary, Dorothy Taylor, raced to keep up with him on the typewriter. The deepest insights poured from his lips effortlessly.
I got to spend several days at Master's place, listening to him dictate. But after that he instructed me to stay at the monks' retreat and go through the old SRF magazines, clipping out his Gita commentaries and "editing" them.
Editing? I knew this particular assignment had already been given to another, senior disciple. "How carefully do you want me to edit, Sir?"
"Just edit," he replied vaguely, gazing reflectively out the window. Then with greater immediacy he added, "Work like lightning. There is no time to be wasted. But"here he gazed at me sternly"don't change a word."
Edit, like lightning, and not change a word? To my spiritual confusion was now added the problem that I hadn't the remotest idea what he wanted of me in my work.
Master instructed me to remain in seclusion and devote myself "with all possible speed" to my job of "editing." Since I'd gone to the desert with high hopes of spending every day with him, it was particularly distressing now to find myself left completely alone. Unaccustomed to complete solitude, I felt abandoned utterly. Intense moods began to assail me. At times I fell into bleak despair, actually sinking onto the bed and staring helplessly at the ceiling. Every evening I told myself, "This simply can't go on another day!" But it did go on, day after day, for three long months. Each day seemed worse than the day before it.
It was as though two opposing forces were battling each other within me. Bravely I tried to give strength to the good side, by meditating several hours daily, but the very effort of meditation only deepened my sense of hopelessness. During the daylight hours I tried losing myself in work. My despair, however, at not even knowing what I was supposed to be doing made such absorption difficult. This "editing" job seemed like the labors of Sisyphus.
Master once told an audience, "I used to think Satan was only a human invention, but now I know, and add my testimony to that of others who lived before me, that Satan is a reality. He is a universal, conscious force whose sole aim is to keep all beings bound to the wheel of delusion." What I felt now was that God and Satan, warring inside me, were beating me up in their efforts to get at one another! It was not that I had the slightest wish to return to a worldly life. That desire, with God's grace, has never for a moment entered my heart since I first set foot on the spiritual path. What was happening, rather, was that, while I longed for inner peace, I found myself unaccountably terrified of going deep in meditation, where alone true peace can be found.
The reader may see in my psychological ferment at that time ample explanation for my feelings of helplessness, without this additional plea that forces greater than myself were belaboring me. The rational mind, dependent as it is on sensory evidence, would always prefer to reach its conclusions without the intrusion of supra-sensory causes, which it considers super-natural, which is to say, unreal. Moreover, it is a notorious weakness of irrational minds to leap eagerly to supernatural explanations for predicaments that they would otherwise be obliged to accept as their own responsibility. Nonetheless, this much is surely truethat every mental state reflects broader realities of consciousness. Our merriment, for example, demonstrates the already existing potential for merriment of the human race; our very consciousness, the potential for consciousness in the universe. Living beings manifest consciousness, even as a light bulb manifests energy. Consciousness is a cosmic fact. Man only tunes in to, and expresses, limited aspects of it. His thoughts are never solitary cries flung into a cosmic void. Like birds, rather, riding on a high wind, they are supported and further influenced by whatever stream of consciousness they enter. Depending on which aspects of cosmic reality man himself tunes in to, he is drawn downward or upward on the scale of spiritual evolutiondown toward matter, by what is known as the satanic force, or up toward infinity, by God's love.
There are beings, both in this world and the next, that act more or less consciously as agents of these divine and satanic forces. Angels, we call those in the first group, and demons, those in the second.
A year or so before the period I am describing, I had an experience with one in the latter group. The episode sounds almost like a page out of some medieval romance.
I was new on the path, and naively eager for whatever information I could gather regarding it. Boone informed me one day that, according to Master, the stories of possession in the Bible were factual. He went on to describe a strange experience he himself had once had with a demonic entity that had tried to possess him. Intrigued rather than frightened, I decided that it would be interesting to test the truth of Boone's claim myself.
One night, not long afterward, I dreamed that I was at a party. The thought suddenly came to me with striking certainty, "It's time for me to go meet a disembodied spirit." I left my friends and passed through an empty, well-lit room toward an open door on the far side of it. I can still see clearly in my mind's eye the bare floor boards and walls, the shining bulb dangling from the ceiling. The next room was dark; here, I knew, I was to meet the disincarnate entity. Momentarily I was afraid, and reached out to switch on the light. "Don't be a coward," I scolded myself. "How will you learn what this is all about if you can't even face it?" And so, leaving the room in darkness, I stood in the center of it and cried, "Come!"
Now comes the "gothic" part of the story. The following day Jean Haupt told me that he had been awakened at about this time of the night by a loud, ferocious pounding on his door.
"Wh-what is it?" he quailed.
A deep, rough voice loudly demanded, "Who's in there?"
"Jean Haupt." By now he was thoroughly frightened.
"I don't want you. I want Don Walters!" Whoever or whatever it was stormed noisily out of the main building.
It must have been shortly thereafter that my own strange experience began.
"Come!" I cried. As I did so, the floor beneath me began to heave like the waves on a lake. An instant later I felt myself being drawn up out of my body, and through the window into a sort of mist. A peculiar aspect of Aum, not at all pleasant, resounded loudly all around me. Evidently this was not to be a spiritually uplifting experience! Discrimination, however, was not my strong point that night.
"How interesting!" I thought, going along with events to see where they'd lead.
Presently some powerful force seemed to pit itself against me, as though determined to rob me of consciousness. At this point I struggled to resist, but the other will was strong; I wasn't at all sure I would win. I therefore decided to play it safe.
"Master!" I cried, urgently.
Instantly the experience ended. The sound ceased. Back once more in my body, I sat up in bed, fully awake.
Later that day I asked Master if that had been a true experience.
"Yes, it was. Such things happen sometimes on the path." He added, "Don't be afraid of them."
How, I thought, could one be afraid after such a demonstration of my guru's omniscient protection?
The worst of my ordeal at Twenty-Nine Palms, however, was that while it lasted I wasn't even able to call on Master with my accustomed faith in him. Suddenly, without any conscious intention on my part, I found myself plunged into violent doubts. It wasn't that I doubted Master's goodness, or his spiritual greatness, or even my commitment to him as my guru. But the thought suddenly forced itself upon me insidiously: "He lacks wisdom." It was an idea over which I had no control. If Master had told me, "The sun is shining in Los Angeles," this doubting serpent inside me would have sneered, "I'll bet it's raining!" There was no question of my entertaining these doubts. I would have done anything to be rid of them. They made me utterly miserable.
They began with the commentaries I was supposed to be editing. I found them in bad shape. I didn't realize it at the time, but Master's practice during the early years of his mission had been simply to write an article, then turn it over to his editors and printers and never glance at it again. Even I, who knew no Sanskrit, could see plainly in their inconsistencies that the Sanskrit names as printed showed a woeful lack of familiarity with that language. I didn't realize that the editors had simply not been conscientious enough to catch blatant typographical errorsthat in fact they'd added not a few eccentricities of their own.
Worse still, in his commentaries Master would sometimes write, "This means so and so," then turn aroundalmost, to my mind, as though correcting himselfand say, "But on the other hand, it also means. . ." and go on to suggest an interpretation whichagain, to my way of thinkingbore little relation to the first one. "Can't he make up his mind?" I marveled. "How is it possible for the same passage to have both meanings?"
It was only gradually, over years, that I came to appreciate the subtlety of this way of thinking. I also learned that this kind of Scriptural commentary is traditional in India. Indeed, I see now that it is a far more sophisticated approach, philosophically speaking, than ours, with our preference for limiting every truth to one definition of itas though a definition and the truth it represents were one and the same thing. Reality has many dimensions. The more central a truth, indeed, the more clear its relation to the entire wheel of experience.
My dilemma of doubt illustrates more or less typically the problem of every devotee. Before he can attain divine freedom, he must weed out every obstructing tendency that he has carried over from the past. Mere intellectual affirmation of victory is not enough: He must also face his delusions in stern hand-to-hand combat. Each seeker has his own special, self-created combination of delusions to overcome. But overcome them he must, if he is to advance on the path.
"You are doubting now," Master told me one day, "because you doubted in the past." (Out of shame, incidentally, I hadn't consulted him about my dilemma. But he'd known what was on my mind.)
In time I realized that one of the reasons Master wanted me to teach others was that, having entertained doubts myself in past lives, and having already, to a great extent, conquered them in this one, I needed to reinforce my growing faith by expressing it outwardly, and by helping others to resolve their doubts. By helping them to find faith, I would also pay off my own karmic debt for ever having doubted God myself.
When I had been at the monks' retreat about a month, Master summoned Henry from Mt. Washington to work on certain projects at his retreat. Henry commuted from our place daily. After some time, Jerry Torgerson came out and stayed with us also. Jerry, too, of course, worked at Master's place. Later, others came out on weekends. They, too, workedwhere else?at Master's place. It provided additional anguish for me to see these crowds going over to be with Master, while I labored alone, hopelessly, over my incomprehensible task of editing. But Master insisted that I stick to it.
"How much have you edited?" he wrote me in a note that Henry brought back one day. "Thorough but fast editing is necessary or nothing will be done. Time is scant."
Henry's presence was a great blessing for me. During the weeks we spent together out there we became fast friends, our mutual attunement developing until it often happened that one of us only thought something, and the other spoke it. What rare good fortune, I reflected, to find even one such friend in a lifetime.
As it turned out, the other monks didn't get to spend much time with Master either, since their work was out of doors, and he stayed mostly indoors, deeply concentrated on finishing his commentaries. Nor was he indifferent to my welfare. Rather he tried in various ways to reassure me. But it was his way never to intrude on our free will to the point where it would mean fighting our important battles for us. That would have deprived us of the opportunity to develop our own strength.
So the weeks passed. In April Mother and Dad visited Mt. Washington. Dad was being posted from Egypt to Bordeaux, France, where eventually he made an important oil discovery at Parentis. Master permitted me to go and receive them. "But you must return after four days," he wrote me, "after seeing your parentsdesignated by your real Parent, God." Then, referring to his commentaries, he added, "Only three chapters left. Soon we will get together."
My father, happy as he was to see me, was far from supportive of my new way of life. He shuddered to see my beard, deplored my abandonment of a promising writing career, and rejected my spiritual beliefs altogether. One day he said, "If I were to get the opinions of a few doctors on this teaching of yours about energizing the body by will power, would you accept their verdict?" It wasn't as though he were proposing to consult any of the numerous physicians who were already members of our work. Probably he didn't dream such an animal existed.
"Dad," I remonstrated, "doctors aren't omniscient!"
I attended the morning service with Mother and Dad at Hollywood Church that Sunday. The day before I had asked Rev. Bernard, who was scheduled to speak, "Do you think you might give a really scientific talk, to impress my father?" "Sure," he'd replied, confidently. Any correspondence, however, between Bernard's approach to science and Dad's was purely coincidental. Dad came away from church that day convinced that Bernard had taken complete leave of his senses, a judgment that probably, by extension, included the whole lot of us.
It might be conjectured that my parents' visit, coming as it did during my severe trial of faith, made the trial harder than ever for me. But in fact, their coming helped me to overcome it. For despite our philosophical differences, my parents and I loved one another deeply. The reality of this underlying bond helped me to see that love is a far better response than reason to that kind of doubt which is quick to condemn, but slow to investigate.
My parents were pleased, in the end, to see me happy in my new calling. Reflecting on my confusion and unhappiness during college and after it, Mother wrote Master a few weeks later to thank him for all the good he'd done me.
During my brief visit to Mt. Washington, I found that others of the monks, too, had been passing through inner trials. On my return to Twenty-Nine Palms I said to Master, "Sir, Jean is a little discouraged. Someone told him that, according to Sri Ramakrishna, grace is only a sport of God. He takes this to mean that a person could meditate for years and get nowhere, while God might reveal Himself to any drunkard, if He took a mere notion to."
"Ramakrishna would never have said that!" Master looked almost shocked. "That is what happens when people without realization try to interpret the saints' sayings. God is not a creature of whims! Of course, it may look like sport sometimes, to people who can't see the causal influences of past karma. But why would God go against His own law? He responds according to it. Tell Haupt I said this is a misunderstanding on his part."
"I will, Sir." I paused. "Master, won't you talk with him? He seems to be having a hard time lately."
"Well," Master answered quietly, "Satan is testing the organization. Haupt is not the only one."
"Is that what the trouble has been!"
"Yes." Sadly, Master continued, "Quite a few heads will fall."
"Will it go on for very long, Master?"
"Quite some time." After a pause, he went on, "It all started when that boy, Jan, left Encinitas. Then Smith left. Quite a few more heads will roll." Jan, the nine-year-old who had received a vision of Jesus, had left the work with his mother several months later. Rev. Smith had been the minister of our Long Beach chapel.
It would seem that, in the lives of great world teachers, a sort of housecleaning takes place toward the end of their missions. In this way their work is assured of being carried on as purely as possible after they leave this earth. Jesus Christ told his disciples, "The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life," and again, "The man who eats my body and drinks my blood shares my life, and I share his." He didn't trouble to explain that his words had a purely metaphorical significance. It was almost as if he were inviting people's misunderstanding, to find out who among his disciples were really in tune with him. The Bible goes on to say, "Many of his disciples, when they heard him say these things, commented, 'This is a hard teaching indeed; who could accept it?'" Their general reaction is reported next: "From that time many of his disciples withdrew, and walked no more with him." (65) But the closest disciples of Jesus were in tune with him on an intuitive level. Nothing that he said outwardly could disturb the sublime certitude of that inner knowledge. Their intuitive understanding demonstrated their fitness to promulgate his message after he left his body.
In the struggle to edit Master's articles, it turned out that there was enough in them to correct even without changing their wording. Most of the mistakes were simply typographical errors, or the brainchildren of some editor with a quaint fetish for capitals. But these literary outcastes were so numerous that I could see no practical way of preparing the text for publication without first typing out all the articles afresh, double-spacing for surgery. Master, however, must not have realized in what very bad shape they were. When I suggested to him that I type them out, he said it would take too long.
When finally I submitted the fruits of my labors to the editorial department, however, having cluttered the margins with as many as six proofreading corrections to a line, it was obvious that my copy would be impossible to work from. The older disciple to whom Master had given the real responsibility for editing ordered that my work be thrown out altogether, and the whole job typed out, double spaced, from a fresh set of magazines. It was, as I had known all along, the only feasible thing to do.
One afternoon I overheard Master scolding Miss Taylor for not using my work. "If you gave me a million dollars," he cried, "I wouldn't go through what he did to get this job done! Not if you gave me a million dollars!"
That afternoon the senior editor happened to meet me in Master's garden. "My," she exclaimed, "that certainly was a lot of work you did!" Turning to go indoors, she added off-handedly, as if to the air, "Not that it did any good!"
Later that day, Master tried to comfort me for her seemingly unfeeling remark.
"But Sir," I pleaded, "she's quite right! It wouldn't have been possible for her to work from my copy."
"You are defending her!" Master's face expressed amazement. "But you did good work. All those capitals! They'd have made us a laughingstock."
I was touched by his anxiety to comfort me. But for me, the important thing was that I knew now, more deeply than ever before, that I belonged to him, and that the outward ups and downs of the path didn't really matter so long as I felt his love in my heart. Perhaps, I reflected, he had been keeping me at Twenty-Nine Palms only to help me face important defects in myself, and not for the sake of his book at all. At any rate I knew that my months of agony had matured me. Now, I felt grateful for them.
Several days later, before a group of the monks, Master looked at me kindly and said, "Walter was on his high horse. Now he is coming our way."
(64) Matthew 6:34.
Back in context.
(65) John 6:5466. Paramhansa Yogananda explained that Jesus, in speaking of his body and blood, was referring to the omnipresent, eternal Spirit with which his consciousness was identified. By "body" he meant all vibratory creation, the Holy Ghost, or Aum, which the devotee must absorb into himself ("eat") until he feels inwardly identified with it. Christ's "blood" is the all-pervading Christ Consciousness, which, like blood which sustains the physical body, is the true "life" and sustenance of all creation. The meditating devotee must advance from oneness with Aum to oneness with Christ Consciousness, and thence to oneness with God the Father beyond creation. I asked Master once, "What stage must a person attain to become a true master?" He replied, "One becomes a master when he attains Christ Consciousness."
Back in context.
Copyright 1996 J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), Trustee