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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His Last Days
Oh, I will come again and again!
Raindrops fall to earth, play their countless separate dramas, then rise, to fall again in endlessly repeated cycles. Similar is the tale of each soul. Through unnumbered cycles of return we refine our understanding, till we become convinced to our very depths that the fulfillment we are seeking is ours alreadyin the bliss of our own being!
Crossing a million crags of suffering,
With bleeding feet, I will come
If need be, a trillion times
So long as I know
One stray brother is left behind.
from "God's Boatman"
by Paramhansa Yogananda
Why should it take so long to make such a simple discovery? Why is it so difficult to realize that earthly pleasures are but reflections of our inner joy? Alas, in a house of mirrors one is less inclined to introspect. The reflections are too fascinating! If one gives thought to oneself, it may be only for the sake of changing those reflections. With human life, similarly, the reflections of our inner joy that we perceive in outward fulfillments are simply too tantalizing! Many lifetimes pass, usually, ere we realize that our fascination has been with mere images, and that we have been living in an unreal world.
Normally, when a soul achieves final emancipation, ending its long cycle of incarnations, its joy in victory is so overwhelming that it feels no desire to return to this earthly dungeon. Even the spiritual hunger of other seekers can't suffice to lure it back. For such a soul feelsjustifiably, surelythat after untold millions of years in bondage it has a right to claim its hard-won reward of eternal bliss. Only a few extraordinary souls, having once earned their freedom, postpone the perfect enjoyment of it to return to this dark plane and lead other struggling mortals out of delusion into light. Of such rare souls Paramhansa Yogananda is a shining example. Indeed, even among those few it must be the exception who promises to come back "if need be, a trillion times." Yogananda's compassion simply staggers the imagination.
Devotees sometimes ask, "Do souls that have been born on this earth keep reincarnating here?" Master's reply, when once I posed this question to him, was, "No, there are innumerable planets to go to." He added, "If they returned always to the same one, they might find out too quickly!" Divine perception, in other words, must be earned. It is not the "plot" of this cosmic drama for wisdom to be thrust upon man uninvited; he must employ the sword of discrimination himself. The house of mirrors must lose its fascination for him because he has seen through its tricks, and not merely because, by constant repetition, the reflections have ceased to interest him.
In one respect, however, the soul does tend toward a long repetition of outward associations: in its relationships with other souls.
An example may help here. In the nebulous gasses of infinite space, the atoms drift about at great distancesthe average is several milesfrom one another: much too far for their gravitational fields to attract one another. But if two atoms happen to drift together, their combined field makes it easier for them to attract a third. For three it is still easier to attract a fourth. Thus, an occasional ball of matter may keep on growing, until its gravitational field at last encompasses a radius of many millions of miles. At some point in this process a mighty implosion will occur, as nebulous gasses from vast distances get sucked inward. The gravitational force of this huge mass becomes so great that changes occur within the structure of the atoms themselves: A shining star is born.
The soul, similarly, in its gradual progress toward divine wisdom, develops the "gravitational" power by which it attracts and holds the understanding it needs for enlightenment, until at last, in the firmament of living beings, it becomes a veritable "star."
In the same way, too, the soul develops the gravitational power to form meaningful and lasting relationships with other souls. Gradually, in its outer life, it and others who are spiritually compatible with it form great families of souls that return to earth, or to other planets, to work out their salvation, not only inwardly on themselves, but through interaction with one another. For divine emancipation it is necessary to spiritualize one's relations with the objective world, and with other human beings, as well as with God.
The stronger the family, spiritually speaking, the greater its attractive pull on new souls that may still be wandering about, searching for an identity of their own. A family evolves as its individual members evolve. It too, becomes a "star" in the firmament of humanity, once it begins to produce great souls of Self-realization.
As spiritual "stars," such great families become powerful for the general upliftment of mankind. Like stars, too, they then draw "planets" of less-evolved families into their beneficial auras, vitalizing them with rays of divine truth. Such families are like mighty nations. To them is given the real task of guiding the human racenot in the way governments do, by ordinances, but by subtler, spiritual influence.
Yogananda's is one such spiritual family. His forms part of a greater spiritual "nation" in which Jesus Christ and Sri Krishna (in this age, Babaji) are also leaders. Yogananda, like William the Conqueror at Hastings, came to America to establish a beachheadnot, in this case, of worldly conquest, but of divine communion. Many have been born and are being born in the West to assist him in his mission. Many others are being attracted to it for the first time by the radiant magnetic influence, the spiritual "gravitational field," it has created.
During the last year and a half of Master's life, long-time disciples gathered around him, as though somehow aware that his end was approaching. Some who, for a variety of reasons, had not seen him for years, visited him now. Others who hadn't met him yet, but whose destiny it was to meet him in this life, came, as if hurrying to get in before it was too late.
Recalling Master's panoramic vision in 1920 of all his destined disciples in America, I asked him in June 1950, "Have you already met most of those you saw in your vision at Ranchi?"
"Practically all," he replied. "I am waiting for only a few more to come."
Among close disciples who visited him during his last year were Seor Cuaron from Mexico, Mr. Black from Detroit, Michigan, and Kamala Silva from Oakland, California.
After Mr. Black's departure, Master remarked to me with loving reminiscence, "Did you see God in his eyes?"
Of Kamala he said to us one day, "Look at that girl. For twenty-seven years she has been in this work. She is very near freedom. After she had been with me a long time, living here at Mt. Washington, I told her she should marry.
"'Oh, no, Master,' she said, 'I don't want to.' But I urged her to, and promised her she would be safe. It was a little past karma she had to work out. I picked out her husband myself.(89) What a wonderful soul he isa true sannyasi, just like one of you all!"
Seor Cuaron came in 1950, then again in 1951. I first met him moments after someone had delivered a huge suitcase of shapeless dimensions onto the carpet by the door of the front lobby. I was smiling at the sight of this amorphous bag, when a voice somewhere above me announced, "That's mine." I looked up, and there, in human form, was the bag's exact counterpart! There was nothing to smile at, however, except lovingly, in Seor Cuaron's spiritual nature. I soon discovered that he had a heart as large as his body.
Master had great love for him. "I lost touch with you for a few incarnations," he told him, "but I shall never lose touch again." Thereafter, from time to time, Seor Cuaron lovingly reminded him of his promise. "Never again," Master reassured him.
Mme. Galli-Curci, the famed opera singer, settled near Encinitas. "Has she advanced far spiritually?" I once asked Master, who sometimes discussed with me the spiritual states of the disciples. "She is soaring in God!" he replied blissfully.
Arthur Cometer, who had accompanied Master on his lecture tour across the country in 1924, and inspected Mt. Washington the first time with Master in 1925, visited also during this period. Master spoke of him with warm appreciation.
At about this time also, Jesse Anderson, an elderly disciple in San Jose, California, gave Master a picture of Sri Yukteswar that he had stitched in colored yarn. Retired from work now, and living on a small income, Mr. Anderson had financed the purchase of the yarn by gathering walnuts from the ground on the roadside, and selling them.
Master was deeply touched by the gift. He had it hung in the hallway at the top of the staircase outside his quarters. Frequently, when passing this picture, he would pause silently, placing his palms together in solemn salute to his great guru. Master's reverence for Sri Yukteswar was all the more touching because he himself had long ago outgrown the status of a disciple.
There is a saying, "No man is great in the eyes of his own valet." In the case of saints this saying is falsified, for it is those who know them best, their own close disciples, who regard them the most highly. Sri Yukteswar's nature was stern; he had not been an easy guru to follow. Many a would-be disciple, seeing only his surface personality, had fled at the first crack of his whip of discipline. But Master had seen the divine consciousness behind the mask.
"One day," he told us, "a group of disciples got fed up with the strictness of his training, and decided to leave him. 'Come,' they said to me, 'we'll follow you. He is too severe for us.'
"'You go if you like,' I said sternly. 'I stay here with my guru!'"
In Master's case, too, I observed that those disciples who knew him best were invariably those who held him in the highest esteem.
One such disciple was Sister Gyanamata. Much older than he, the dignified widow of a university professor, and a person who seldom praised anybody, she yet displayed a respect for Master so undeviating, so humble, so profound that the worldly person, visiting the ashram for the first time, might have supposed her the merest neophyte.
In Master's presence, so I was told, she always remained standing.
"I was once in the main room of the Encinitas hermitage with Sister and a few others," said Eugene Benvau, a brother disciple, "when Master entered. Sister, though an old woman, stood up immediately with the rest of us. Master never glanced at her, nor did he say a word. Walking over to the window, he gazed out at the ocean. Sister wasn't looking at him, either. But after awhile I noticed both of them smiling quietlya sort of inward smile. Several minutes later Master left the room, having addressed not a word to anyone. But I had a strong feeling that he and Sister had been in silent communication with each other.
"I have only to hold a thought about Sister," Master told us, "and the next day a letter comes from her." A number of her letters to Master, and to fellow disciples about her relationship with Master, appeared in the book God Alone.(89a)
"Dear Children," she once wrote to some of the younger nuns, "Yesterday you put the question, 'What is the last word in discipleship? What would be the distinguishing mark of the perfect disciple?'
"You know that I am always quiet when in the presence of the Master. This is not a pose, intended to win his approval, nor is it altogether because I know this to be the proper way to behave. It is because I have an inner feeling of stillness. I seem to be listening intently. So his words sink into my mind and heart to be pondered upon, sometimes for years. Because of this, I often get the answer to a mental question in his very words."
She went on to describe how the answer to her sister-disciples' question had come to her this time, too, in Master's words. A lady student, to whom he had given a red rose to be worn during a special ceremony, had protested, "But I don't want a red rose. I want a pink one." Master had answered, "What I give, you take."
"Here is my answer," Sister concluded. "The quick, or at least open, mind. The willing hands and feetthese, brought to perfection, would be the last word, the distinguishing mark, the very perfection of discipleship."
Someone once told her of having had a vision of her as she was in some past incarnation. Sister later wrote Master, ending her letter with the words, "Whatever, whoever I have been in the past, in thisthe most important incarnation of allI am Gyanamata, the work of your hands. Please pray for me that I may stand firm and unshaken to the end. With reverence, gratitude, devotion, and lovebut not enough. Oh, not enough!"
Ah, what unutterable sweetness! Tears well into my eyes as I type these words. Small wonder, I think, when I recall how Master, paying tribute to her at her funeral, cried out in divine love, "Darling Sister!"
Sister Gyanamata died November 17, 1951, at the age of eighty-two. "I have searched her life," Master said, "and found not a single sin, not even of thought."
For the past twenty years Sister had suffered physically. She had borne her burden of ill health heroically, as a priceless gift from God and Guru. Master, speaking about her to a group of us shortly before the funeral, said, "One day as I visited Sister's room I could hear her heart from as far away as the door, wheezing and making terrible sounds. It was barely pumping. Seeing me, she said, 'I don't ask you to heal me. All I ask is your blessing.' What faith she had! It saved her instantaneously from death. I made a covenant then with God for her life; I knew she would not go until I prayed for her release.
"Another time," Master continued, "she and Mrs. Maley were sitting on the porch at Encinitas, when a voice they both heard plainly said, 'Tell Paramhansaji I am taking you.' She told me about it afterwards. I replied, 'The next time he talks to you, tell him it isn't true. I have made a covenant with God for your life. He won't break His word.'
"A few days later she and Mrs. Maley were sitting on the porch again, when they heard the same voice, 'I am going to take you soon.' Sister answered, 'Paramhansaji says it isn't true.' The voice fell silent.
"A little while later her doctor, whom I'd never met, came by on his regular visit. As he was leaving I went to intercept him. 'Tell me, Doctor,' I said, 'how do you find Sister?'
"'Oh, all right,' he replied.
"'But tell me,' I said, 'isn't there something you don't understand about her case?'
"'Well, it is a little confusing,' he admitted.
"'Don't you think,' I suggested, 'that her trouble might be malnutrition? How would it be to have her placed under observation?'
"'By Jove, perhaps you're right!' he exclaimed. They took her to the hospital, and there discovered that she hadn't enough nourishment left in her body to keep her alive another twenty-four hours. She'd been having sores on her lip, and had been taking nothing but teano other nourishment of any kind. They fed her again, and she recovered. But that was what the voice on the porch had meant."
Sister's life was spared repeatedly At last, after twenty years, Master gave her her release. "Such joy!" she cried with her last breath. "Too much joy! Too much joy!"
"I saw her sink into the watchful state of Spirit, beyond creation," Master said later. Sister's reward for years of perfect surrender to Guru's will was final liberation.
"She attained God through wisdom," Master said. "My path has been through joy."
On his return to Mt. Washington, Master spent some time discussing Sister with a group of us. He mentioned again her attainment of complete liberation. The recollection passed through my mind of what he had told me at Twenty-Nine Palms, that the soul must free others before it can itself receive final freedom. Catching my thought, Master said, "She had disciples."
"In all the years I have known her," Daya Mata told me during Sister's final hours, "I have never once heard her say anything unkind about anyone." What a beautiful tribute! I reflected that it said much about Daya Mata, too, that she had singled out this one quality for special praise. Kindness was the hallmark of her own personality.
We all felt, with Sister's passing, that the time was fast approaching when Master, too, would leave this world. Master himself hinted as much. To Dr. Lewis he remarked one day, "We have lived a good life together. It seems only yesterday that we met. In a little while we shall be separated, but soon we'll be together again."
His next life on earth, Master told us, would be spent in the Himalayas. Having devoted so much of his present life to public service, he planned to remain for many years of that incarnation in deep seclusion. "In my later years," he told us, "I will gather about me those who are close to me now." To most of his close women disciples he said, "You will come as men in that life." Only to Mrs. Brown, as far as I know, did he say that she would come again as a woman. Two hundred years would elapse, he told us, before his next incarnation.
During his last months, especially, he found his greatest earthly joy in those disciples who had lived up to his divine expectations of them. Often he praised Saint Lynn, Sister Gyanamata, Daya Mata, Mrs. Brown, and others. Of Merna Brown (Mrinalini Mata) he said, "She has wonderful karma! You will see what she will do for the work." She had been a saint, he told us, in more than one of her past lives. Of Corinne Forshee (Mukti Mata) he exclaimed to me once, "She is a wonderful soul!" Of Virginia Wright (Ananda Mata) he never spoke in my hearing, but it was clear from the way he treated her that she had pleased him very deeply. Another disciple who had, I know, pleased him greatly was Jane Brush (Sahaja Mata). In my years of work with her in the editorial department I never saw her anything but cheerful, even-tempered, and kind.
Master showed himself much pleased also with Henry's spirit. Henry (Brother Anandamoy) had one trouble after another. First he broke a rib; next he had a rash of some sort which made his life miserable; then he broke another rib. Minor misfortunes seemed to haunt him. One day, when he found himself afflicted anew with something, Master said to him, "Always more troubles, isn't it so? But that's good! You have lots of work to do, that's why you get them. God wants to make you strong. We produce more than D.D.s here. Our ministers win their spirituality in the fires of testing."
To Oliver Rogers (Brother Devananda) he remarked one day, "You have clear sailing!"
Mr. Rogers told us of an amusing occurrence in his recent work for Master. Master, as I've said earlier, gave great emphasis to the importance of positive thinking. It was his own positiveness that was partly responsible for his extraordinary productivity. By visualizing clearly the things he wanted to accomplish, he succeeded where few could have done so. Sometimes, however, his mental projections were so clear to him that their subsequent manifestation on this material plane may have struck him as a mere signature to a finished painting.
"Master asked me to paint a room," Mr. Rogers said. "One or two days later, before I'd even had time to buy the paint, I found Master in the room, conversing with Saint Lynn, both of them in a state of ecstasy. Seeing me, Master began praising me to Saint Lynn, ending with the remark, in a tone of childlike wonder, 'And he painted this whole room all by himself!' Saint Lynn looked at the unpainted walls, the ceiling, then at me. We smiled at each other, but said nothing."
Before coming to Mt. Washington, Mr. Rogers had been a professional house painter. "In heaven," Master told him, "you will be creating beautiful astral flowers by simply wishing for them."
"Sir," I said to Master one day, "after you are gone, will you be as near to us as you are now?"
"To those who think me near," he replied, "I will be near."
His last months passed quickly. Far too quickly, for in our hearts we knew that the end was approaching.
"It will be very soon, I feel," Daya Mata remarked to me one day in her office.
"But surely," I protested, "Master will return once more to India first." He was planning to go again that year, and had mentioned to me how sad the Indian disciples were that he had missed going there the last two years.
"Do you think so?" Gazing at me deeply, she said nothing more. Her presentiment, however, proved accurate.
One day Master visited an antique shop to purchase a few canes. In whatever he did, he assumed the consciousness appropriate to that activity. Now, therefore, since he was conducting business, he bargained carefully. But once the transaction was over he ceased playing the role of the conscientious buyer saving money for his monastery. Gazing about him, he noticed marks of poverty in the shop. Sympathetically, then, he gave the owner much more money than he'd saved by bargaining with him.
"You are a gentleman, Sir!" exclaimed the man, deeply touched. To show his appreciation, he gave Master a particularly fine antique umbrella.
When Master returned home, he sighed, "What a poor-looking floor that man had in his shop! I think I'll buy him a new carpet."
How perfectly he manifested in his life the truth that, to the man of Christ Consciousness, all men are brothers.
The last issue of Self-Realization Magazine to come out during Master's lifetime contained an article titled "The Final Experience." It was the last in a series of Master's commentaries on the New Testament Gospels that had been running continuously for twenty years. In this issue Master expanded on the words: "And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost." (90) Surely the perfect timeliness of this article was more than a coincidence. It appeared in the March 1952 issue. Master passed away on March 7, 1952.
As a further interesting note, the writing of the account in these pages about Master's passing has coincided closely with the season of Christ's passing. Yesterday was Good Friday, 1976.
Several days before the end, another disciple posed Master a question similar to the one I'd asked him two years earlier: "Have all your disciples of this life come to you yet, Sir?"
"I am waiting for two or three more to come," Master replied.
In that week two more disciples arrived: Leland Standing (now Brother Mokshananda) and Mme. Erba-Tissot, a well-known and highly successful lawyer from Switzerland who, not long afterwards, gave up her profession to organize centers for Master's work in Europe. There was, I believe, one other who came at this time, but if so I don't recall who it was.
We had been impressed by Leland's spirit from months of correspondence with him. Master had written him at last, suggesting that he come live at Mt. Washington. Leland met Master shortly after arriving there. "You have good spirit," Master told him. "Remember, loyalty is the greatest thing."
Master had been staying at his Twenty-Nine Palms retreat. He returned to Mt. Washington on March 2nd to meet His excellency, Binay R. Sen, India's recently appointed Ambassador to the United States. On the evening of his return, he embraced each of us lovingly, and blessed us. To some he gave words of personal help, to others, encouragement to be stable in their efforts, to still others the advice to meditate more. Afterwards I got to see him briefly upstairs, alone.
Many times over the past three and a half years Master had scolded me, mostly for my slowness in understanding him perfectly, sometimes for not weighing in advance the possible consequences of my words. I knew that he often said, "I scold only those who listen, not those who don't," but in my heart there lingered a certain hurt. Try as I would, I couldn't rationalize it away. For some months I had been hungering for a few words of approval from him.
Now, alone with me, he gazed into my eyes with deep love and understanding, and said, "You have pleased me very much. I want you to know that." What a burden lifted from my heart at these few, simple words!
On Tuesday, March 4th, the Ambassador and his party visited Mt. Washington. I served Master and his guests in his upstairs interview room. During their visit Mr. Ahuja, India's Consul-General in San Francisco, remarked to Master, "Ambassadors may come, and ambassadors may go. You, Paramhansaji, are India's real Ambassador to America."
Thursday evening, March 6th, Master returned from a ride in the car. He asked Clifford Frederick, who was driving, to take him behind Mt. Washington, to Rome Drive. There, gazing at the main building, he remarked quietly, "It looks like a castle, doesn't it?"
The monks had just finished their group practice of the energization exercises when Master's car entered the driveway. As we gathered around him, he touched each of us in blessing. He then spoke at length about some of the delusions devotees encounter on the path.
"Don't waste your time," he said. "No one can give you the desire for God. That is something you must cultivate yourself.
"Don't sleep a great deal. Sleep is the unconscious way of contacting God. Meditation is a state beyond sleepsuperconsciousness, as opposed to subconsciousness.
"Don't spend too much time joking. I myself like to laugh, but I have my sense of humor under control. When I am serious, nobody can tempt me to laugh. Be happy and cheerful withingrave, but ever cheerful. Why waste your spiritual perceptions in useless words? When you have filled the bucket of your consciousness with the milk of peace, keep it that way; don't drive holes in it with joking and idle speech.
"Don't waste time on distractionsreading all the time and so on. If reading is instructive, of course it is good. But I tell people, 'If you read one hour, then write two hours, think three hours, and meditate all the time.' No matter how much this organization keeps me busy, I never forego my daily tryst with God."
In the basement, minutes later, Master saw a box of green coconuts that had just arrived from Abie George's brother in Florida. "Back at the car Divine Mother was trying to tell me these coconuts had come, but I didn't listenI was talking too much!" Master, laughing delightedly, opened a coconut and drank from it. But his enjoyment seemed to me for some reason tinged with unreality. I looked into his eyes, and saw them deep, still, utterly untouched by what he was doing. In retrospect it seems like the heartiness of one who knew he was bidding us goodbye, but didn't want us to know he was doing so.
Catching my glance, he became all at once almost grave.
"I have a big day tomorrow," he said. Walking toward the elevator, he paused at the door, then repeated, "I have a big day tomorrow. Wish me luck."
The following day, March 7th, he came downstairs to go out. He was scheduled to attend a banquet that evening at the Biltmore Hotel in honor of the Indian Ambassador. "Imagine!" he said, "I've taken a room at the Biltmore. That's where I first started in this city!"
Then again he repeated, "Wish me luck."
Master had asked me to attend the banquet with Dick Haymes, the popular singer and movie actor. Dick had recently become a disciple, and had taken Kriya initiation from me.
Years ago Master had said, "When I leave this earth, I want to go speaking of my America and my India." And in a song about India that he had written, to the tune of the popular song "My California," he paraphrased the ending of that popular version with the words, "I know when I die, in joy I will sigh for my sunny, grand old India!" Once, too, in a lecture he had stated, "A heart attack is the easiest way to die. That is how I choose to die." This evening, all these predictions were to prove true.
Master was scheduled to speak after the banquet. His brief talk was so sweet, so almost tender, that I think everyone present felt embraced in the gossamer net of his love. Warmly he spoke of India and America, and of their respective contributions to world peace and true human progress. He talked of their future cooperation. Finally he read his beautiful poem, "My India."
Throughout his speech I was busy recording his words, keeping my eyes on my notebook. He came to the last lines of the poem:
Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves and men dream God.
I am hallowed; my body touched that sod!
"Sod" became a long-drawn sigh. Suddenly from all sides of the room there was a shriek. I looked up.
"What is it?" I demanded of Dick Haymes, seated beside me. "What happened?"
"Master fainted," he replied.
Oh, no, Master! You wouldn't faint. You've left us. You've left us! The forgotten playwright in me cried silently, This is too perfect a way for you to go for it to mean anything else! I hastened to where Master lay. A look of bliss was on his face. Virginia Wright was stooped over him, trying desperately to revive him. Mr. Ahuja, the Consul-General, came over to me and put an arm around my shoulders to comfort me. ( Never, dear friend, will I forget that sweet act of kindness!)
They brought Master's body to Mt. Washington and placed it lovingly on his bed. One by one we went in, weeping, and knelt by his bedside.
"Mother!" cried Joseph. "Oh, Mother!" Indeed, Master had been a mother to us allah, and how much more than a mother! Miss Lancaster glanced at me in anguish.
"How many thousands of years it took," marveled an older disciple, gazing upon him in quiet awe, "to produce such a perfect face!"
Later on, after we'd left the room, Daya Mata remained alone with Master's body. As she gazed at him, a tear formed on his left eyelid, and slowly trickled down his cheek. Lovingly she caught it with her handkerchief.
In death, as in life, he was telling his beloved disciple, and through her the rest of us, "I love you always, through endless cycles of time, unconditionally, without any desire except for your happiness, forever, in God!"
(89) Her husband, Edward Silva, was a school teacher in Oakland, California.
Back in context.
(89a) Self-Realization Fellowship, 1984.
Back in context.
(90) Luke 23:46.
Back in context.
Copyright 1996 J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), Trustee