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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The Bhagavad Gita
"A new Scripture has been born!" Master spoke ecstatically. His commentary on the Bhagavad Gita had been finished. In three months of unbroken dictation he had completed 1,500 pages. "I told Miss Taylor the pages numbered that many, but she carefully counted them to make sure I was right!"
Master and I were walking around the compound of his retreat. Having finished his manuscript, he had summoned me at last to help him with suggestions for the preliminary editing.
"A new Scripture has been born!" he repeated. "Millions will find God through this book. Not just thousands. Millions! I know. I have seen it."
My first task, now that I'd been brought out of seclusion, was to read the entire manuscript through and get an over-all feeling for it. I found the experience almost overwhelming. Never before had I read anything so deep, and at the same time so beautiful and uplifting. To think that only recently I had been questioning Master's wisdom! I kicked myself mentally for being such a chump. His book was filled with the deepest wisdom I had ever encountered. Unlike most philosophical works, moreover, it was fresh and alive, each page a sparkling rill of original insights. With the sure touch of a master teacher, profound truths were lightened occasionally with graceful humor, or with charming and instructive stories, or highlighted with brief touches of new, sometimes startling information. (I was intrigued to learn, for example, that advanced yogis sometimes reincarnate in several bodies at once, the more quickly to work out their past karma.) Best of all, the truths expressed in the book were constantly clarified, as Master himself said exultingly, with "illustration after illustration."
"I understand now," he told me, "why my master never let me read other Gita interpretations. Had I done so, my mind might have been influenced by the opinions they expressed. But this book came entirely from God. It is not philosophy, the mere love of wisdom: It is wisdom. To make sure I didn't write it to any degree from a level of opinion, I tuned in with Byasa's (66) consciousness before beginning my dictation. Everything I said was what he himself intended.
"There have been many other Gita commentaries," Master continued, "including several famous ones. But none have been so all-rounded in their approach as this one. Swami Shankara's, for example, deep though it was, was limited by the one-sided emphasis he placed on the purely spiritual nature of reality. Scriptures should deal with reality on every level. They should be helpful physically and mentally, not only spiritually, for these are levels that people have to contend with, and it is for ordinary people, not saints, that the Scriptures are written."
Again Master said, smiling blissfully, "A new Scripture has been born!
"It was God's will," he concluded, "that the Gita be fully explained only now. This was a main part of the mission with which Babaji commissioned me."
The Bhagavad Gita consists of a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, during which Sri Krishna relates deep, divine truths to his closest disciple. What, I thought, could be more fitting than for the task of interpreting this Scripture to be left to Arjuna himself, in a later incarnation? or for Sri Krishna, in his present form, to have commissioned the undertaking?
My three months of seclusion were over; there now followed two months of concentrated work with Master at his place. I spent many hours in his company, and much time also poring over his manuscript with Mrs. Nealey, an elderly ladynot a disciple, but a devotee and a trained editorwhom Master had invited to Twenty-Nine Palms to help with the editing.
"I don't like to have you working with her," he told me one day, "but just now the work demands it. While you are with her, though, never look into her eyes. That is where the attraction starts."
"Sir!" I remonstrated. "She's an old woman. How could there possibly be any attraction?"
"It makes no difference; that magnetism holds true for all ages." Master paused a moment, then added, "Already she feels a little attached to younot in a bad way, and only very slightlylike a mother for her son. I don't want you to worry about it, but remember, that magnetism is subtle, so be careful."
It puzzled me at first why Master would want anyone to edit his writings for him. They were so manifestly inspired, andwell, I thought, didn't divine inspiration imply perfection on every level? Not necessarily, it seemed. Inspiration, Master explained, lies primarily in the vibrations and the ideas expressed.
Logical sentence structure, I gradually realized, like good plumbing, belongs to this physical plane of existence. It is a tool, merely, of thought and communication. Cerebration is slow and ponderous compared to the soul's transcendent intuitions. Many times it has happened that an important scientific discovery appeared full blown in the mind of its discoverer, only to require years of plodding work for him to present that intuitive insight clearly and convincingly to others.
Great masters usually submit to the laws governing this material universe, which they respect as a part of God's creation. But matter represents inertia, the tamasic(67) quality in Nature. To saints whose consciousness has transcended matter, the material way of working must appear slow and cumbersome indeed. As Master told us, he preferred to work on a level of vibrations. ("That is how books are written in the astral world." (68)) In addition to this natural predilection for functioning on non-material levels of reality, great masters often deliberately leave to their disciples the task of translating their teachings onto the material plane, in order that they, too, may grow spiritually. As Master once said to me, "By helping me with editing, you yourself evolve." Master could cope easily and efficiently with mundane problems, including those of grammar and literary style, when he had a mind to. As he once told me, "I did edit one book myself: Whispers from Eternity." And this I considered not only one of his finest works, but one of the loveliest books of poetry ever written.(69) In editing his Gita commentaries, however, Master invited our suggestions, and seemed content to pursue much of his work on the basis of them.
On most days, after working on his manuscript, he would sit back and converse with me informally. Occasionally Mrs. Nealey would remain in the room with us and join the discussion. As usual, Master's teaching on these occasions often took the form of illustrative stories.
"God rarely wants miracles to be displayed publicly," he told us one day. He went on to relate the story of Sadhu Haridas, a famous miracle-worker in India in the Eighteenth Century, who, Master said, "remained buried underground for forty days. Afterwards, when his body was exhumed, a group of French physicians examined him, and pronounced him dead. Thereupon, to their amazement, he 'came back to life'!
"One day Sadhu Haridas was seated in a small rowboat with a missionary, who was trying to convert him to Christianity. 'Why should I follow your Jesus Christ?' demanded Haridas. 'What did he do that I couldn't do?'
"'The powers he displayed were divine,' retorted the missionary. Glancing at the water surrounding them, he continued, 'He could walk on water.'
"'Is that so special?' scoffed Haridas. Leaping out of the boat, he walked on the water ahead of it. Wherever he went, the boat followed him. The missionary, of course, was left speechless!
"But the maharaja of that state was a great soul. Seeing Sadhu Haridas from afar one day, he said, 'There is something about that man that I don't like.' His courtiers remonstrated, 'But he is a great saint. Look what he has done.' The maharaja replied, 'All the same, there is something about him I don't like.' He sensed that in concentrating on miracles Sadhu Haridas was forgetting God.
"And he was right. Not long afterwards, Haridas forsook his spiritual practices, married, and resumed a worldly life. Finally he saw his error and returned to his disciples. 'I am back,' he announced, simply.
"Years later he declared, 'I have done many wrong things, but now the Beloved is calling me.' Entering samadhi, he attained eternal freedom."
"Sir," Mrs. Nealey inquired, puzzled, "how did he rise again so quickly? When one falls from a high spiritual state, isn't the karmic punishment far greater than for a fallen neophyte?"
Master shook his head. "M-mmm. God is no tyrant. If one who is accustomed to drinking nectar takes to eating stale cheese, he soon grows dissatisfied with the change. He then throws the cheese away and cries for nectar again. God won't refuse him, if he realizes his mistake and longs sincerely once again for God's love.
"But you see," Master continued, "one shouldn't display spiritual powers publicly. Not many years ago there was a yogi in India who used to demonstrate before large gatherings an ability to swallow deadly poisons without suffering any ill effect. One day he forgot to prepare his mind in advance, and the poison began to take its toll. As he lay dying, he confessed, 'I know this is my punishment for displaying those powers before others.'
"A master may reveal more divine power, however, to his disciples." Master went on to speak of his guru, and of the miracles Sri Yukteswar had occasionally displayed.
"There was a loose tile on the roof of his ashram in Puri," Master recalled with a smile. "I wanted to fix it, because I was afraid it might fall down and hurt somebody. But my master showed not the slightest concern. 'Don't worry about it,' he told me nonchalantly. 'As long as I am alive, it will remain up there.' It stayed up there until the very day of his death, some twenty years later. On that day it fell down!"
One day we discussed the strictness of Sri Yukteswar's discipline in the training of his disciples. "He didn't want disciples," Master remarked. "Few could take his penetrating insight into their weaknessesan insight which he never hesitated to reveal! But because I remained loyal to him, I found God. By converting me, he converted thousands."
"Master," I inquired, "might Sri Yukteswar's strictness have been due to his foreknowledge that he wouldn't be returning to this material plane of existence? Was it not that most of his real disciples were free already, and he was simply being careful not to assume responsibility for any new ones?"
"That's right," Master replied. "He had a few stragglers this time, that's all."
On other occasions Master told us that he himself had in fact attained liberation "many incarnations ago."
"Sir," I asked him one day, "how long have I been your disciple?"
"Well, it has been a long time, that's all I will say."
"But does it always take so long?"
"Oh, yes," Master replied. "Worldly desires take them away many times, until they learn their material lessons in this school of life."
In his Gita commentary, however, Master stresses that once the devotee sincerely longs for freedom it is only a matter of time before that desire is fulfilled. Compared to the vast number of incarnations that the soul wanders in delusion before it turns back toward its source in Infinity, the sincere longing for liberation is hardly a step away from freedom itself.
Talk turned one afternoon to Sri Yukteswar's book, The Holy Science. "I find much of it abstruse," I confessed.
"Do you?" Mrs. Nealey appeared surprised. "Why, I found it very easy to understand!"
Minutes later she left the room. Smilingly Master commented, "Even I, when I read that book, have to stop in places and think!"
Conversation turned occasionally to the ways of masters. "People always want miracles from them," Master remarked. "They don't see that in a master's humility lies his greatest 'miracle.'" He added, "The actions of true masters, though not easily understood by worldly people, are always wisdom-guided, never whimsical.
"A few years ago one so-called 'master' in India was planning to visit this country. He wrote asking me if he might visit Mt. Washington on his way to some religious congress in the Midwest. Well, we prepared an elaborate banquet for him and fifteen of his disciples. We were actually awaiting his arrival when a telegram came from Honolulu. He had traveled all that distance, then suddenly received the 'inspiration' to turn around and go home again." Master chuckled. "No master would behave that way!"
He went on to discuss a number of other prominent religious figures, some of them truly great, others perhaps less edifying than instructive in the examples they set.
"I met a great saint on my trip to India in 1935," Master said. "He is still alive. His name is Yogi Ramiah. He is a disciple of Ramana Maharshi, and a fully liberated soul. We walked hand in hand around the grounds at Ramanashram, drunk with God. Oh! If I had spent another half hour in his company, I could never have brought myself to leave India again!"
(In 1960 I myself spent four days with Yogi Ramiahor Sri Rama Yogi, as he was then known. The visit marked a high point in my spiritual life.)
Master then spoke of his work in India, particularly of his Ranchi school.
"The trouble with training schoolboys," he said, "is that most of them, when they grow up, return to a worldly life. It does good in the long run, for society needs the uplifting influence of spiritual education, but when a great work like this is being started, it needs workers. From this standpoint, what we have here in America is much better. The people who come to us for training want to devote their entire lives to God. In this way these teachings can be spread more easily."
From time to time he talked of one or another of the disciples, always with a view to instructing me, through their examples, in the right attitudes of discipleshipnot only for my sake, but to help me in teaching others.
"I was disciplining ," Master said one afternoon, referring to one of the monks, "and a certain lady took pity on him. She felt I was being too hard on him. The young man, touched by her sympathy, was beginning to feel a little sorry for himself. But then I told him, 'You know, there is a saying in India: She who loves you more than your own mother is a witch! I am your mother. Wouldn't I know what was best for my own child?' After that he was all right."
Referring to that same lady, who was also a disciple, Master continued, "She has always been very obliging by nature; she would agree with almost anyone on practically any matter, simply out of good will. One day I said to her, 'If someone were to come up to you and say, "Yesterday I saw Yogananda dead drunk, staggering down Main Street," you would look wide-eyed and reply, "Is that so?" I know you wouldn't believe it. But don't you see that you must be courageous in your convictions? To "stand up" for what you believe in is a sign of loyalty.'"
Another day, referring again to the need for courage in one's convictions, Master said, "My earthly father, out of a touch of jealous attachment to me, attempted to criticize Master (Sri Yukteswar) to me one day for something trivial he had heard about him. I turned and faced him. 'Of all things!' I cried. 'The physical birth you gave me is something, but the spiritual birth my guru has given me is infinitely more precious! If ever I hear you say one more word against him, I shall disown you as my father!' After that he always spoke of Master very respectfully."
Referring to the need for attunement with the Guru, Master said one day, "Look at , and then look at Saint Lynn. I asked both of them to come and visit our colonies whenever they could, to maintain that spiritual contact. Saint Lynn has come out every opportunity he could get, and spent hours in meditation on the lawn in Encinitas. But never came. He could easily have done so had he wanted to. He thinks he can get there by himself. But he will find out. He is spiritually advanced, but he is bogging down. He knows there is something the matter, but doesn't know what it is. Attunement with Guru, you see, must be on all levels."
Smiling, Master then discussed a certain student whose attunement with him, I gathered, had never been deep on any level. "Whenever I say anything to her, a few days pass, and then back comes a letter, pages long, explaining in how many ways I have misjudged her!"
Other monks came out on weekends, and sometimes for longer visits. To a group of us one day Master told of an amusing occurrence during his months of dictation. Jerry had taken a notion to cover the roof of Master's house with concrete. It was an outrageous idea, but Jerry, over Master's objections, had insisted that such a roof would endure forever. "I then told him to finish the job right away," Master continued, "but Jerry said, 'It will be all right. I know what I am doing.'" Master was laughing. "First he put tar paper down on the roof. Then he nailed chicken wire over it. At this point the roof was a complete sieve: Hundreds of nails were sticking through it. 'Hurry up!' I urged. But Jerry saw no reason to rush things.
"Well, presently a huge storm came. Pans were put out frantically in every room. Water was dripping everywhere. The house was like a shower bath!
"But there were two rooms in which no water fell: the dictation room, and my bedroom. The roof was as much a sieve over these two as over the rest of the house, but Divine Mother didn't want my work to be interrupted. Only at the very end of the storm one drop fell into a bucket in the dictation room, and another one on to my bare stomach in the bedroom while I lay relaxing on the bed. That was Divine Mother's way of playing a little joke on me!"
Jerry, who was present, said, "I'm sorry I'm so stubborn, Sir."
"Well, that's all right," Master spoke consolingly. "I attract stubborn people!"
"He has great love," Master said later of Jerry. "That is what changes people."
Looking at Henry one day, Master told us, "Henry dug the cesspool near this house. He kept digging, digging all day long without ever stopping to see how far he had gone. By evening, to his surprise, he found he had dug a deep hole. That," Master went on approvingly, "is the way to seek Godcontinuously digging, digging, without looking to see how far one has come. Then suddenly one day he will see: 'I am there!'"
One weekend Mrs. Harriet Grove, the leader of our center in Gardena, California, came out uninvited with James Coller to see Master. Not knowing where his retreat was, she found it by pure intuition. ("Turn left here," she told James, who was driving. "Turn right there." Then suddenly: "Stop! This is it." And so it proved to be.)
"This is the afternoon," Master told her, "that I usually go out for a ride in the car. But I knew you were coming, so I stayed home."
"Master," James said that weekend, "I have such great longing for God. Why should He take so long in coming?"
"Ah!" Master replied with a blissful smile, "that is what makes it all the sweeter when He does come! Such is His romance with the devotee."
"Sir," Debi said, anxious for a taste of such longing, "give me the grace of devotion."
"You are saying, 'Give me the money, so I can buy what I want.' But I say, No, first you have to earn the money. Then I will give it to you so you can buy what you want."
In the evenings, Master exercised by walking slowly around his retreat compound. Generally he asked me to accompany him. He was so much withdrawn from body-consciousness on those occasions that he sometimes had to lean on my arm for support. He would pause and sway back and forth, as if about to fall.
"I am in so many bodies," Master remarked once, returning slowly to body-consciousness, "it is difficult for me to remember which body I am supposed to keep moving."
Boone visited Twenty-Nine Palms for a short time. Accompanying Master and me one evening on our walk, he asked many questions concerning spiritual matters.
"You shouldn't talk to me when I am in this state," Master said. The deepest wisdom, he was implying, is beyond words; it must be experienced in silent, divine communion. But when he did speak, his words those days were filled with such wisdom as has rarely found expression in books. At such times he would remind me, "Write down my words. I don't often speak from this level of impersonal wisdom." More and more, from this time onward, he was to speak not as a humble devotee of God, but as one whose consciousness was saturated with the ultimate realization, "Aham Brahm asmiI am Spirit!"
One evening, Master was doing energization exercises by the garage with Boone and me. Boone asked him about a certain saint who had appeared to him once in Encinitas. "Who was he, Master?"
"I don't know whom you're referring to," Master replied.
"It was out in the back garden, Sir."
"Well, so many have come there," Master said. "I often see them. Some have passed on; others are still on this earth."
"How wonderful, Sir!" I exclaimed.
"Wherever God is," Master replied, "there His saints come." He paused a minute or two while he did a few exercises. Then he added:
"Yesterday I wanted to know about the life of Sri Ramakrishna. I was meditating on my bed, and he materialized right beside me. We sat side by side, holding hands, for a long time."
"Did he tell you about his life?" I inquired.
"Well, in the interchange of vibration I got the whole picture."
One evening Master was walking around his compound with Boone and me. He was holding onto Boone's arm for support. After awhile he stopped.
"Hot!" he remarked, switching from Boone's arm to mine.
Boone at this time was going through a period of temptations that, alas, were to take him off the path.
During this time also, Master gave me much personal advice.
"Your life is to be one of intense activity," he told me one evening, "and meditation. Your work is lecturing and writing."
"But Sir," I protested, "you yourself have written so much already. How can more writing possibly be needed?"
"How can you say that?" My question surprised him. "Much yet remains to be written!"
Some months later I addressed him further on this subject. "Master," I said, "Mrs. Nealey has suggested to me that I write a book explaining how I was drawn onto the pathsomewhat like Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain. It might help many people, she says. Would you like me to write it?"
"Not yet," Master replied. As we discussed the idea further, he implied that he wanted me to write such a book someday.
"You have a great work to do," he emphasized one afternoon as we were taking a short walk on his retreat grounds. "You must be conscious of how your words and actions affect others." He was trying to get me to combine childlike simplicity with the dignity of one who is centered in the inner Selfa difficult combination it seemed to me at the time. My inclination was to speak boldly of my failings, and to present myself as having few virtuesall in the name of humility. This behavior, Master implied, was neither dignified nor necessary for the development of humility. To achieve perfection, one must dwell on the thought of perfection, while recognizing it as God's gift, not as one's own accomplishment. Master set out to correct this flaw in me.
"Sir," I asked him one day, "would you prefer that the other monks call me Walter?" They had been calling me Don.
"They should call you Reverend Walter." In dismay (we monks never addressed any of our own ministers as "Reverend"), I tried hastily to change the subject, but Master persisted: "It is not that one disciple is better than another, but in an army there have to be captains as well as privates. You must accept respect from others as proper to your position."
This was, I confess, one piece of advice that I found difficult to accept.
One day I was sitting in Master's dictation room, waiting while he worked on a few pages of his Gita manuscript. While he wrote, his whole mind gravely focused on the task at hand, I gazed at him and thought gratefully how wonderful it was to be his disciple. When he finished his work, he asked me to help him to his feet. Rising, he held my hands for a moment and gazed with joy into my eyes.
"Just a bulge of the ocean!" he said, softly.
In his Gita commentaries he had compared God to the ocean, and individual souls to its innumerable waves. "God is the Sole Reality manifesting through all beings," he said. I could see from his loving remark that he wanted my love to expand to embrace the Ocean of Spirit, of which his body was but a tiny expression.
(66) The ancient author of the Bhagavad Gita.
Back in context.
(68) The universe in which souls find themselves after physical death. The astral is the second stage of manifestation outward from Spirit. In the order of cosmic creation, first comes the causal, or ideational universe representing sattwa guna. At this stage of manifestation all things exist as ideas. The next phase is the astral, representing rajo guna. At this stage, primordial ideas have become clothed in energy. In the third phase, the physical energy takes on the appearance of solid substance. That this is an appearance, merely, has been demonstrated by modern physics in its discovery that matter is energy.
Shapes and colors exist in the astral world, as they do in the physical. There are planets, fields, lakes, mountains, and people. But all things there are seen as varied manifestations of light.
Back in context.
(69) I am referring to the 1929 and 1949 editions.
Back in context.
Copyright 1996 J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), Trustee