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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"In the early days of Mt. Washington, a visitor once inquired superciliously, 'What are the assets of this organization?'
"'None!' I replied, 'Only God.'"
Master was sitting with us in the basement, reminiscing about his early years in America. Toward the end of his life, in addition to counseling us, he spent many hours trying to make us feel a part of that long period of his life before most of us had come to him.
"My reply on that occasion was literally true, too," Master chuckled. "We hadn't any money! But it would be just as true today, when our work is financially strong. For our strength has always been God alone. We might lose everything, materially speaking, and in His love we would still possess all that really mattered.
"Years ago a rich man came here who thought to buy me with his wealth. Knowing we badly needed money just then, he tried in certain ways to get me to compromise my ideals. I refused. Finally he said, 'You'll starve because you didn't listen.' Leaving here, he talked against me to a rich acquaintance of his, a student of this work. And that was the man God chose to give us the help we needed!
"Another time, years later, we were facing another financial crisis: Mt. Washington was threatened with foreclosure. I went out into the desert and meditated all night long. 'Divine Mother,' I prayed, 'why did You give me this responsibility? I came here to the West to speak of You, not to worry about organizational problems! If You took everything away, it would mean nothing to me except only my freedom! Say the word, Mother, and I will walk out into the desert and never once look back!'
"At three o'clock in the morning came Her answer: 'I am your stocks and bonds. What more dost thou need than that thou hast Me? Dance of death and dance of lifeknow that these come from Me. My child, rejoice!'
"The next day a check came in the mail for the exact sum of money that we needed."
Master often said, "He is happiest who gives everything to God." He told an amusing story to illustrate his own preference for simple living, free of all ostentation.
"A wealthy student of mine wanted to buy me a new overcoat. Taking me into a well-known clothing store, he invited me to select any coat that I wanted. Seeing one that looked nice, I reached out for it. But then, seeing the price tag, I quickly withdrew my hand. It was a very expensive coat.
"'But I'd be happy to buy it for you,' my friend insisted. He added an expensive hat to match. I appreciated his kindness in giving me these gifts. But whenever I wore them, I felt uncomfortable. Expensive possessions are a responsibility.
"'Divine Mother,' I finally prayed, 'this coat is too good for me. Please take it away.'
"Soon afterwards I was scheduled to lecture in Trinity Auditorium. I sensed that the coat would be taken away from me that evening, so I emptied the pockets. After the lecture the coat was gone. What a relief!
"But then I spotted an omission. 'Divine Mother,' I prayed, 'You forgot to take the hat!'"
Master went on to tell us about someone he'd met long ago in New York. "This man told me, 'I can never forgive myself for taking thirty-five years to make my first million dollars.' 'You still are not satisfied?' I asked. 'No. I will not be satisfied until I have made forty million!' Well, before he could make those forty million and settle down to spending the rest of his life in unalloyed happiness, he suffered a complete nervous breakdown. Not long afterward, he died."
As I write these lines, less than a week has passed since the death of Howard Hughes, one of the richest men in the world. The radio carried his reply to a recent question, "Are you happy?" "No," answered the billionaire, "I can't say that I'm happy."
"You don't have to own a thing to enjoy it," Master told us. "To possess things is all right, provided your possessions don't possess you, but ownership often means only added worries. It is much better to own everything in God, and not to cling to anything with the ego."
Smiling, he continued, "Years ago I visited Radio City Music Hall in New York. Having paid the price of admission, I told myself, 'For the hour or so that I am here, this building is mine!' I walked about, enjoying this beautiful acquisition. After I had enjoyed as much of it as I cared to, I gave the building back to the management, with thanks, and walked out a free man!"
Master told us of a time when his non-attachment had been tested. "I was standing alone one evening on a dark street corner in New York, when three hold-up men came up from behind me, one of them pointing a gun.
"'Give us your money,' they demanded.
"'Here it is,' I said, not at all disturbed. 'But I want you to know that I am not giving it to you out of fear. I have such wealth in my heart that, by comparison, money means nothing to me.' They were so astonished! I then gazed at them with God's power. They burst into tears. Returning my money, they cried, 'We can't live this way anymore!' Then, overwhelmed by the experience, they ran away.
"On other occasions, too, I have changed the hearts of criminalsnot I, but God's power through me. One evening during the depression years I lectured to thousands at Carnegie Hall. I spoke out against the way certain rich people were taking advantage of the poor. I actually mentioned a few names. Afterwards, several people urged me, 'Please don't go home alone tonight.'
"'God is with me,' I replied. 'Whom have I to fear?'
"Alone I entered a dimly lighted part of the station, when a man came up brandishing a gun. 'Why did you talk against those people?' he demanded.
"'Why shouldn't I?' I replied. 'God is for the common man as much as for the rich. Both are His children. And He is not pleased when His rich children take advantage of His poor ones.'"
Listening to Master, we chuckled at this point in his story. How incongruous seemed this ingenuous explanation beside the man's threat of assassination!
Master continued: "Gazing steadily into the man's eyes, I said, 'Why do you live the way you do? You aren't happy. I demand that Satan come out of you, and that you change!'
"The man began to tremble. All of a sudden, dropping his gun, he fell to his knees before me. 'What have you done to me?' he cried. 'I was sent to kill you.'
"'You can never win,' I said. 'Pick up your gun and throw it away.' His life was completely transformed by that meeting."
Master told of a similar conversion after another Carnegie Hall lecture. "We had chanted 'O God Beautiful!' for over an hour. Three thousand people had joined me joyously in singing this chant. Many were in ecstasy. Afterwards, a man burst into my interview room. Flinging a revolver emotionally onto the desk, he cried, 'I ought to kill you for what you've done to me this evening! I can't go back to that way of life any more.'
"Such is the power of God's love!
"But there have been times," Master continued, "when His power flowed through me in other ways. I follow only His will. One evening in Chicago I visited a park. It was during the depression years, and Chicago, as you know, was notorious for its gangsters at the time. A policeman stopped me as I was about to enter the park, and warned me that it was unsafe there after dark. 'Even we are afraid to go in,' he said.
"Well, I went in anyway, and comfortably took a seat on a park bench. After some time a tough-looking man, much larger than I, stopped in front of me.
"'Gimme a dime!' he snarled.
"I reached into a pocket and gave him a dime.
"'Gimme a quarter!' I gave him a quarter.
"'Gimme fifty cents.' I gave him fifty cents.
"'Gimme a dollar.'
"By this time I could see that matters weren't going to improve. So, with the consciousness of God's power, I leapt to my feet and shouted:
"The man started to tremble like a leaf. 'I don't want your money!' he mumbled. Backing fearfully away, he kept on repeating, 'I don't want your money! I don't want your money!' Suddenly he turned and fled as though his life depended on it.
"I sat down peacefully once more, and watched the moonrise. Later, as I was leaving the park, the same policeman saw me and asked, 'What did you say to that man? I saw him with you, and didn't dare to interfere. He's a dangerous character!'
"'Oh,' I replied, 'we came to a little understanding.'"
Whether Master protected himself by love, or by sterner measures, depended on the guidance he received inwardly. Perhaps love was what he gave to persons of innate sensitivity who had succumbed to the influences of an evil environment, and sternness to those whose cruelty was self-generated, or who, though not insensitive to finer feelings, suppressed them deliberately. In this last connection he told us of a guest at Mt. Washington during the 1920s. The man's sister was a resident disciple there.
"I was sitting on my bed one morning, meditating," he said, "when God showed me this man coming upstairs to beat me up. He wanted to boast publicly of what he'd done, you see, so as to discredit this work.
"'Give it to him!' the voice said.
"Moments later the man appeared in the doorway. 'I know why you have come,' I said. 'You may not realize it, but I am very strong; I could easily best you in a fight if I wanted to. But I won't meet you on that level. Still, I warn you: Don't cross that threshold.'
"'Go on, prophet!' he replied contemptuously. 'What could you do?'
"'I've warned you. You'll be very sorry.'
"Ignoring my words, he stepped into the room. The instant he did so, he fell to the floor screaming, 'I'm on fire! I'm on fire!' Leaping up, then, he ran downstairs and out of the building. I followed quickly behind, and found him rolling about on the front lawn, still crying, 'I'm on fire! I'm on fire!' When I placed a hand on him he was all right, though still terrified of me. 'Don't touch me!' he cried. 'Don't come near me!' He sent his sister into the building for his belongings, and departed at once."
ere surprised to learn how physically powerful Master was. He was quite shortfive feet five or six inchesand, though well built, didn't impress one as being particularly strong. But his strength came primarily from his complete command over the energy in his body.
"In Symphony Hall in Boston," he told us, "I was lecturing once on the merits of the energization exercises, and mentioned the great physical strength one derives from them. I then threw out the challenge: 'Would anyone here like to try my strength?'
"Six tall, burly policemen jumped up onto the stage! The audience gasped. They were certain I'd fail the test.
"Well, I placed my back against the wall, facing them. Then I asked the men all together to push on my stomach as hard as they could. They did so. 'Is that the best you can do?' I demanded.
"'Yeah!' they grunted between clenched teeth.
"Suddenly I arched my back. All six of them went tumbling backwards into the orchestra pit!"
People who know only of Paramhansa Yogananda's extraordinary love and compassion, his sweetness, his childlike simplicity, are sometimes taken aback when they encounter his power. Few realize that power and divine love are opposite sides of the same coin. For divine love is no gentle sentiment, but the greatest force in the universe. It couldn't exist without power. Great saints would never use that power to suppress or coerce others, but power nevertheless is inextricably a part of what it means to be a saint. It took extraordinary power, for example, for Jesus Christ, alone in a crowd, to drive the money-changers from their tradition-sanctioned seats in the temple. Worldly people fear this power in the saints, and, fearing, persecute them. They don't realize that it is rooted in love, or that it threatens nothing but their delusions and ignorance-induced suffering.
Yogananda's power was not only a product of his divine awareness; his human personality, too, reflected past incarnations as a warrior and conquering hero. In Calcutta, in his youth, he was several times approached by people who wanted him to lead a revolution against the British. There was that in his very bearing which bespoke the intrepid leader.
Master could also be very outspoken when occasion demanded it. It simply wasn't in him to be insincere. One time, not able to beg off giving a speech after a high-society banquet to which he'd been dragged in New York City, he spoke what was in his heart. Sternly he upbraided his listeners for the shallowness of their lives. It wasn't condemnation. The indignation he showed rather, was on their behalf. Graphically he described their delusions to them, and exhorted them to stop wasting an entire incarnation in spiritual sloth. His hearers were stunned. Many wept.
Yet the experience, painful though it was for them, was also their good karma. For how many people get to hear what they need from a man of divine wisdom? Master himself once told Dr. Lewis, "No one's path has crossed mine in this life except for a reason."
Another story that shows how outspoken Master could be concerns a visit he once paid to a certain vegetarian organization. "I was invited to inspect their facilities," he told me. "They believed in raw foods, or, as they called them, 'unfired foods.' They took me around their kitchen, and then into the dining room, where they served me the worst meal I have ever eaten in my life. After this epicurean disaster, they asked me to address them!
"'Please,' I said, 'I'd rather not.'
"'Oh, but you must,' they insisted. 'Everyone is eager to hear you.'
"'You won't like what I have to say,' I warned. But they wouldn't take no for an answer. At last I stood up.
"'In the first place,' I said, 'I have never in my life tasted worse food. What makes you think there is virtue in preparing meals so unpalatably? Enjoyment of what one eats aids the digestion. But you all imagine that what you are eating is healthful. In no way is it. It is seriously lacking in nutritive balance.'
"Well, by this time they were all greatly agitated! 'You don't know what you are saying,' they shouted.
"'I urge you to take me seriously,' I replied, 'for unless you improve your diet, fifteen days from now one of you will die of malnutrition.'
"'You are cursing us!'
"'I'm doing nothing of the kind,' I said. 'You are cursing yourselves by your fanaticism!'
"Well, they wouldn't listen. Fifteen days later one of them died, and soon after that the organization disbanded."
Master usually accepted evil as a regrettable, but necessary, part of the cosmic drama. He fought it only in those who sought his spiritual aid. "The villain's role on the stage," he used to say, "is to get people to love the hero. Evil's role, similarly, in the drama of life is to spur people on to seek goodness." There were times, however, when he became an avenging angel, particularly when the lives of his own disciples, or of those dear to them, were affected.
The mother of one close disciple was afflicted with cancer of the breast. Finding a sanatorium that advertised a newly discovered, supposedly miraculous cancer cure, she entered it hopefully.
"All they gave their patients," Master told us, "was water! They took their money, fed them nothing, and simply waited for them to die. When I found out their scheme, I cried, 'Divine Mother, destroy that place!' Within a month the police came in and closed it. The leaders all went to prison."
Master went on to speak of that woman's subsequent death. "I contacted her in the astral world. When I came upon her, she was being led away by an angel, and was marveling at the beauty of the flowers in the field she was in. I called to her, but she didn't hear me. Again I called; this time she turned, but didn't recognize me. In the transition of death, you see, she had forgotten. But I touched her, and recognition came. 'I will never again forget you,' she promised. Then, opening her flowing robe, she showed me where the cancer had been. 'See?' she said, smiling. 'It is gone now!'
"Soon thereafter I saw her again, in the sunset."
Master explained to us that after the death of the physical body, the soul remains encased in a subtler body of energy, known as the "astral body." This body is the prototype for the physical body. The astral universe, similarly, forms the prototype for the grosser material universe. When a person dies, he lives on in an astral body, and may, if he is spiritually even slightly developed, inhabit an astral planet with vibrations harmonious to his own. His length of stay there is determined by his karma.
In one of the most inspiring chapters of Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda gives a lengthy description of the astral universe. It is composed, he tells us, of endlessly varied vibrations of energy. Compared to this physical world, the astral heavens are inexpressibly beautiful. Not everyone, however, goes to those heavens after death. As Jesus put it, "In my Father's house are many mansions." (87) Many souls are vibrationally attracted to less exalted, though still harmonious, spheres. Others, having created nothing but disharmony in their own lives on earth, are vibrationally drawn to astral hells. Materialistic people often are only dimly conscious of the astral world between earthly sojourns. People who developed good qualities while on earth, however, especially those who meditated and acquired a measure of soul-awareness, are attracted to higher astral worlds after death.
To Master, death was no "undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns." He told us he spent much time in the astral world. Thus, to him, it was no tragedy when people died. But at the same time he was too warmly human not to feel the reality of people's bereavement, or to offer loving sympathy to them in their grief. Indeed, he sometimes offered far more than sympathy: He actually brought loved ones back "from the grave."
One case involved a lady in Encinitas. Master told me the story:
"A real estate agent in Encinitas, hearing that I had healing power, came to me to request a healing for his wife, who had been ill for ninety days. I prayed, but God told me not to go to her bedside. Shortly thereafter, she died. Only then was I given the guidance to go to her.
"About thirty people were present in the room when I arrived. Her husband was weeping and shaking her, almost out of his mind with grief. He wouldn't accept the fact that she was already dead. I motioned him away.
"Putting one hand on the dead woman's forehead, and the other one under her head, I began invoking the divine power. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Suddenly her whole body began to tremble like a motor. After some time, a deep calmness stole over her. Her heartbeat and breathing returned. Slowly her eyes opened; they held a far-away expression, as though she had just returned from a long journey. She was completely healed."
Another episode concerned a man in Dakshineswar, a Calcutta suburb. I first heard the story from Master, and then again years later from Sri Tulsi Bose, a childhood friend of his, and a cousin of the man who had died. As Sri Bose told the story, it was because the man was his cousin that Master performed this miracle.
"I was passing the house," Master told us, "when I heard a loud outcry within. God told me to go inside. I found a man there stretched out on a bed. Five or ten minutes earlier the doctors had pronounced him dead. The family were all weeping and crying.
"I requested them to leave the room, then remained alone with the dead man for some time, praying. Breath returned to his body at last. His eyes opened. He was completely cured."
Master was equally at home on all levels of reality. To those who identified with this physical plane of existence and its sorrows, he was compassionate. In the astral world, where physical sufferings are unknown, he was like a sea captain, returning to port as often as he wished. But his own true affinity was with spheres far subtler than either of these: the timeless bliss of divine union. It was amazing to see how effortlessly he would enter samadhi. For most of us struggling devotees it took time even to touch the hem of superconsciousness. For him, the vastness of cosmic consciousness was only a breath away.
I remember someone asking his permission one evening to photograph him. "Just a moment," Master replied, "let me first go into samadhi." Two or three seconds later he said, "All right."
"I used sometimes to go to movies," Master told us, "to get away from the unceasing demands of the work. Sitting in the movie theater, I would enter samadhi. Later, if people asked me how I liked the movie, I replied, 'Very much!' I had been watching the cosmic 'movie,' with stars and planets whirling through space!"
No environment was wholly mundane to him. Everywhere he saw God. "Do you know where I wrote my poem 'Samadhi'?" he asked us one day. "It was on the New York subway! As I was writing, I rode back and forth from one end of the line to the other. No one asked for my ticket. In fact," he added with a twinkle, "no one saw me!"
Visitors sometimes boasted of their own high experiences in meditation. Boastfulness would make any discerning person skeptical; true experiences of God, after all, should make one humble. But Master could tell at a glance what level a person had reached in his spiritual development.
"People have a very distorted notion of what the path is all about," he said. "Visions and phenomena aren't important. What matters is complete self-offering to God. One must become absorbed in His love.
"I remember a man who came forward after a lecture in New York and claimed he could enter cosmic consciousness at will. Actually, what he meant was that he could travel astrally, but I saw right away that his experiences were imaginary. Still, I couldn't simply tell him that. He wouldn't have believed me. So I invited him up to my room, and there asked him to favor me by going into cosmic consciousness.
"Well, he sat there fidgeting, his eyelids flickering, his breath pumping awaysigns, all, of body-consciousness, not of cosmic consciousness! At last he could contain himself no longer.
"'Why don't you ask me where I am?'
"'Well,' I said, to humor him, 'where are you?'
"In rounded tones, as if hallooing from afar, he answered: 'On top of the dome of the Taj Mahal!'
"'There must be something the matter with your own dome!' I remarked. 'I see you sitting fully here, right in front of me.' He was utterly taken aback.
"I then made a suggestion. 'If you think you can travel all the way to the Taj Mahal, why not see if you can go to somewhere nearby, as a test of the validity of your experience?' I suggested that he project himself to the hotel dining room downstairs, and describe what he saw there. He agreed to the test. Going into 'cosmic consciousness' again, he described the dining room as he saw it. He actually believed in his visions, you see. What I wanted to do was demonstrate to him that they were the result of a vivid power of visualization. He described a number of things in the restaurant, including a big piano in the right-hand corner.
"I then described the scene as I saw it. 'In the right-hand corner,' I said, 'there are two women seated at a table.' We went at once downstairs, and found the room as I had described it, not as he had. At last he was convinced."
Master often told us stories of his boyhood in India. Years later I wrote and published several of these accounts in a small book titled Stories of Mukunda. Here is one that was omitted from that book; it didn't quite fit the mood of it.
"The first time I fed the poor in India," Master said, "I decided to feed two hundred people. I was just a boy. Everybody wondered how I planned to do it. Another boy, a friend of mine, objected, 'You haven't any money. Neither have I. There's just no way we can feed that many people.'
"'All I need,' I replied, 'is twenty rupees. And that money will come through you.'
"'Impossible!' he cried, shocked.
"'It will happen,' I assured him, 'but on one condition: that you take care not in any way to antagonize your mother today.'
"Later that day his mother told him to go to his rich aunt's house and deliver something. He was about to refuse, when he remembered my warning. Docility was hardly his usual attitude, but he went this time without a murmur, and delivered the package.
"When he arrived at his aunt's house, she began scolding him, 'Who is this boy you've been running around with?' Her reference was to me. Like many wealthy people, she tended to harbor suspicions of strangers. My friend grew angry. He was about to leave when she cried, 'Stop! I hear he is planning on doing some good. Take this money and use it.' She gave him twenty rupees.
"The word had already been making the rounds that we were planning to feed the poor. Those twenty rupees bought a sizable amount of rice and lentils. When the neighbors saw such tangible support for our plans, they became enthusiastic. Money began pouring in from all sides. People volunteered their services to help with cooking and serving. Instead of two hundred poor people, we fed two thousand!"
Talk turned one evening to the attributes of success. "Will power," Master told us, "is more important to success than knowledge, training, or even native ability. Some people, when you shake them, reply with a groan, 'Don't bother me; I'm sleeping.' Others wake up a little bit, but if you leave them alone for a few minutes they start dozing again. But some people are wide awake the moment you speak to them, and keep going without having to be stirred again. Those are the kind of people I like!
"When I first started on my own in the spiritual life, I settled in a little mud hut with two other boys. One of them was about my size: short and slight. The other was a big, stalwart fellow. One day I said to them, 'Let's lay a cement floor in the main room.'
"'Impossible!' protested the big fellow. 'We don't have the cement; we don't have the equipment; we don't have the know-how. For a technical job like this you need experience.'
"'If we make up our minds,' I replied, 'we can do it'
"'Wishful thinking!' he scoffed, walking away to show what he thought of the scheme.
"That day the other boy and I went around to the neighbors. Bit by bit we gathered donations of materials, and loans of equipment. Two men added careful instructions on how to mix and lay the cement. That whole night we stayed up, mixing and pouring. By the following morning the job was finished. Later on the big fellow returned to our hermitage.
"'Well,' I sighed, teasing him, 'I guess you were right.'
"'Aha,' he cried. 'You see? I told you so!'
"I then asked him please to fetch me something from the next room. He opened the door. And there was our new cement floor! We'd even colored it red. He was dumbfounded."
Master went on to emphasize that miracles become possible when man unites his will with God's will.
"Not many miles from our school in Ranchi, there was a high waterfall, above which was a rock ledge, dangerous to walk on. Sometimes I would take the boys across there.
"'Do you believe in God?' I would shout to them over the noise of the water.
"'Yes!' they all shouted back. And so, chanting God's name, we always crossed over in safety.
"One day, some years after I had come to America, another teacher in the school tried to lead a group of boys across there, repeating the words I had used. One boy slipped off the ledge and was drowned. It was because that teacher didn't have the power. Faith must be rooted in spiritual realization, otherwise it lacks vitality.
"And then, too," Master added, "one's motives must be pure. A few years ago two young boys in India decided that, because they believed in God, He would surely protect them no matter what they did. To prove their point they took a sword, and went out into a nearby forest. One of them kneeled; the other aimed a sweeping blow at his neck with the sword. Well, God didn't consider their presumption deserving of a miracle. The kneeling boy was killed instantly. Had their faith been pure, those children would have had the understanding not to behave so rashly. A person with pure motives doesn't try to coerce God. When you act in tune with Him, things always turn out well."
On another occasion Master was talking to us about the power of true faith. "One evening I had just returned to Mt. Washington when a sudden, violent wind struck the main building. It was an effect of the evil karma of the war. People little realize how greatly the very elements are affected by mass consciousness. I told one of the ladies living here to remove a shoe and strike the front porch with it three times, repeating certain words. She did as I said. On the third blow, the wind stopped instantly. In the newspaper the next day there was an item about the violent wind that had started in Los Angeles, then, minutes later, abated.
"The mind's potential," Master added, "is considerable, even without the addition of divine power. One day I was traveling in this country by train. It was a very hot summer day, and the train had no air conditioning. Everyone was suffering in the heat. I said to those who were with me, 'See what a little concentration can do. I will dwell on the idea of icebergs.'
"Minutes later I held out an arm for them to feel. It was cold."
Master often regaled us with amusing anecdotes of his beginnings in America. "Because of my robe and long hair, people sometimes thought I was a woman. Once, at a Boston flower exhibition, I wanted to find the men's room. A guard directed me to a certain door. Trustingly I went in. My goodness! Ladies to the left of me, ladies to the right of me, ladies everywhere! I rushed out, and once more approached the guard.
"'I want the men's room,' I insisted. Eyeing me suspiciously, he finally pointed to another door. This time as I entered a man cried out, 'Not in here, lady! Not in here!'
"In a basso profundo voice I answered, 'I know what I am doing!'
"Another time on a train the conductor kept walking up and down the aisle, eyeing me. Finally he could restrain his curiosity no longer. 'Is yo a man,' he asked, 'or is yo a woman?'
"'What do you theenk?(88) I demanded in a deep, booming tone.
"I used to wear a beard. On the ship coming over from India, a fellow passenger, a Muslim by the name of Rashid, persuaded me to shave it off. Americans, he insisted, might accept me if I had either long hair or a beard, but definitely not if I kept both. Since my master had expressed a wish that I keep my hair long, I decided to sacrifice the beard. Rashid volunteered his services as a barber. I placed myself trustingly in his hands. He lathered my face, then proceeded carefully to shave half of it. At that point he abandoned me! And I had no idea how to shave! I was left there until, sometime later, he returned laughing to complete the job.
"Rashid was a great prankster. But he was also very helpful to me when I began my first lecture tour. He got the halls, prepared the publicity, and acted as my secretary. Still, he did play pranks!
"But one evening I got the better of him. He was always avoiding his work, and running after girls. He didn't realize that I knew what he was doing. On this particular evening he'd promised to come in and work with me. When he didn't show up, I knew just where to find him. I went to a nearby park, and there he was, sitting on a bench with a new girl friend. (He certainly had a way with them!) I crept up stealthily from behind, and stood nearby, hidden by a bush. He put his arms around the girl, and was just about to kiss her. At that instant I called out in a loud, deep voice, 'Rasheeeed!' You should have seen him jump! He came into the office after that, and worked quite docilely!"
We laughed uproariously at Master's story, which was delivered with suitably droll gestures and facial expressions.
"But," he concluded, "Rashid more than made up for all his pranks, years later. He was living in India when I returned there in 1935. He prepared a huge public reception for me in Calcutta. I was deeply touched."
I myself got to meet Rashid in Calcutta in 1959. By that time he was much older, but even then it was easy to imagine him as the debonair prankster of his youth.
"When I first came to America," Master continued, "my father used to send me money. But I wanted to rely wholly on God, so I returned it. In the beginning God let me taste a little hardship, to test my faith in Him, but my faith was firm, and He never failed me."
Master continued his reminiscences of those years. "A student of this work in Boston told me he wanted to be a renunciate. I said to him, 'Your path is marriage.'
"'Oh, no!' he vowed, 'I'll never marry!' Well, a week later he met a beautiful girl and swore he was deeply in love with her!
"'She isn't the one for you,' I warned.
"'Oh, but she is!' he cried. 'She is my soul mate.'
"Well, it wasn't long after that that he returned shamefacedly. 'I want to be a renunciate,' he announced fervently once again. The girl had left him, after enjoying his money.
"'You have yet to meet the right one,' I said.
"Some time later, laughingly, he told me of a fat, quite unattractive-looking girl who had been taking an unwelcome interest in him.
"'Aha, I said, 'she sounds like the one!'
"'No Swami, no!' he cried, horrified. 'You were right before. Please don't be right this time!'
"'She sounds like the one for you.'
"It took him some time, but gradually he discovered what a good nature she had beneath her unglamorous exterior, and fell deeply in love with her. Eventually they were married.
"People are so often blinded by outward appearances," Master continued. "Marriage in this country is often a union between a pretty shade of lipstick and a smart-looking tie! They hear a little music, fall into a romantic mood, and end up pledging their lives away.
"I remember a couple who came to me in Phoenix and asked me to marry them 'immediately.' I told them, 'I must know the people I marry. I want to meditate on your request. Please come back tomorrow.' At this proposed delay, the man was furious. When they returned the next day, he pressed me, 'Is it all right?'
"'No,' I said.
"He was enraged once more. 'Let's get out of here, dear! We can get married by somebody else.'
"They were almost to the door when I called to them. 'Remember my words: You will never be happy together. You will find that out when it is too late. But please, I urge you, at least don't kill each other!'
"They were married elsewhere. Soon afterward they came to Mt. Washington just to show me how happy they were. I said nothing, but inside I thought, 'You don't know what is hidden under that lid!'
"Six months later they returned. This time they knelt humbly before me and confessed, 'We didn't realize how different our natures were. If you hadn't warned us, we would surely have ended up killing each other.' Under the influence of emotional intoxication, you see, they hadn't observed the explosive violence that was inherent in their relationship.
"People must learn to look behind the veil of superficial attraction. Without soul harmony there can be no true love."
Master saw every human experience, including that of marriage, primarily as an opportunity for inner development. Romantic notions of "wedded bliss" were, to him, purely and simply delusions. It wasn't that he denied the satisfactions of a harmonious marriage, but rather that he wanted devotees to see human experiences as stepping stones to the soul's only true state of being, in God. Thus, he recommended to people seeking marriage that they look first for spiritual compatibility in their mates, and only secondarily for mental, emotional, and physical compatibility. He saw marriage not only as a fulfillment, but, much more importantly, as an opportunity for learning essential spiritual lessons in selflessness, loyalty, kindness, respect, and trust. To devotees who, in the name of dispassion, considered it unnecessary to express these qualities outwardly towards their fellow creatures, he said, "Don't imagine that God will come to you if you behave unkindly to others. Until you know how to win human love, you will never be able to win God's love."
To Master, human experience was, in a sense, part of a process of divine healing. Man's supreme disease, he said, is spiritual ignorance. His own life was devoted to healing people on all levels, in keeping with his philosophy that religion should serve humanity's total needs: physical, emotional, and mental, as well as spiritual. Though the supreme "cure" he offered was divine bliss, he healed many that I knew, including myself, of various physical ailments.
One case of physical healing that stands out in my memory occurred years before I entered the work. Master told us the story:
"It was during the Chicago World's Fair, in 1933. Dr. Lewis telephoned me in Los Angeles to report that a friend of his had a blood clot on the heart, and was dying. Could I help him? I sat in meditation and prayed. Suddenly a great power went out from me, like an explosion. In that same instant the man, who had been in a coma, was healed. A nurse was in the room with himnot a spiritual woman at all. She testified later that she'd heard an explosion in the room, and seen a brilliant flash of light. The man at once sat up, completely recovered."
Master then spoke of the most important kind of healing: the dispelling of soul ignorance. "That is why we have these ashrams," he said, "for those who want to give their lives to God, to be healed of all suffering forevermore." He talked on about those earlier years at Mt. Washington.
Looking at us sweetly, he concluded, "How I wish you all had been with me then! So many years had to pass before you came."
(87) John 14:2.
Back in context.
(88) Master spoke English with a pronounced Bengali accent. I've emphasized his pronunciation here because it was part of the charm of the story.
Back in context.
Copyright 1996 J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), Trustee