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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"To those who think me near, I will be near."
How often since Paramhansa Yogananda's lips were sealed in death have we, his disciples, experienced the fulfillment of that deathless promise. Truly, his was not death at all, but mahasamadhi, "the great samadhi"a perfected yogi's final, conscious merging in the Infinite.
One of the first proofs we received of our guru's victory over death came from Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, in Glendale, California, where the casket that contained his body was kept unsealed for twenty days pending the arrival of two disciples from India. On May 15th of that year Mr. Harry T. Rowe, Forest Lawn's Mortuary Director, sent Self-Realization Fellowship a notarized letter:
"The absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramhansa Yogananda offers the most extraordinary case in our experience. . . . No physical disintegration was visible. . . . This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one. . . . The appearance of Yogananda on March 27th, just before the bronze cover of the casket was put into position, was the same as it had been on March 7th. He looked on March 27th as fresh and as unravaged by decay as he had looked on the night of his death."
The casket was closed after twenty days, when word came that the two Indian disciples would be unable to make the journey. Later one of them reported that Master, after his mahasamadhi, had appeared to him in his physical form and embraced him lovingly.
Norman had a similar experience. "I was lying in bed one night," he told me, "when the door suddenly flew open. Master walked in, just as plain and as solid as I see you now. He gave me a few strong words of advice, then left. The door, which he never touched, closed behind him."
Daya Mata tells of how Master appeared to her in his physical formyears, I believe, after his mahasamadhiwhen once she faced a serious decision in the work. "I touched his feet," she says. "They were as solid as my own. Though he said nothing, I understood his meaning as clearly as though he'd spoken."
I have told earlier the story of Master's appearance also, and warning, to Professor Novicky in Prague, Czechoslovakia, when a communist informer tried to get him to betray his interest in yoga.
Most of us were, for a time, grief-stricken at Master's passing. But Mrs. Royston told me of going one day with a few of the nuns to his crypt at Forest Lawn. "The others were standing in front of the crypt," she said, "weeping. But I didn't at all feel we'd lost him. I called to him silently. Suddenly I knew he was standing beside me. I felt rather than saw him, but I heard him quite distinctly. 'I'm not in there!' he exclaimed. It seemed to surprise him that disciples, schooled in his teachings, should be devoting so much attention to his mere body!"
One disciple, disconsolate for weeks after Master's passing, received a telephone call one day from Rajarsi Janakananda in Encinitas.
"I didn't realize you were suffering," he told her, gently. "Master appeared to me last night and asked me to comfort you. He said to tell you that you must be happy; he is always with you."
Disciples naturally felt hesitant to report such experiences, uniquely precious as they were. Master warned that to talk of deep blessings might dissipate them. That a few devotees have shared these experiences with others must be attributed to their special generosity, but it would not surprise me if Master had visited many others.
I myself have not, to date, been blessed with Master's physical manifestation since his mahasamadhi, but increasingly through the years he has made his presence known to me. Often, after praying to him, I have received clear answers to difficult problems. Many times, too, guidance has come from him in my work; inspiration in teaching and counseling others; strength in meeting difficult tests; consolation and understanding during periods of sorrow; sudden healing in times of illness; and, above all, increasing inner joy while meditating on him.
Master's blessings and protection have become a reality for many also who never knew him, physically. A recent example springs to mind: a lady in northern California who had studied with me, and who subsequently accepted Master as her guru. Unfortunately, her husband, as sometimes happens, became intensely jealous of her new interests. One evening, when they were out for a drive, he began berating her angrily.
"It was a miserable ride," she later confided to me. "After Jim had been shouting at me for some time, he began insulting Master. This, I felt, was just too much. 'Master,' I prayed, 'make him be still!'
"Suddenly: complete silence! For the rest of that ridein fact, for the rest of the eveningJim behaved toward me with unusual respect, but he uttered not another word!"
During the weeks following Master's passing, the thought uppermost in our minds was, "How, from now on, can we please him best?" None of us, I'm sure, doubted that he was fully conscious of us, and as capable of helping us spiritually as ever. Paramount in our thoughts were his general commandments to us, to meditate deeply and regularly, to love and respect one another, and to cooperate harmoniously in spreading his teachings. For those of us to whom he had added other, more personal instructions, it became more important than ever to meditate on them, and apply them.
For years thereafter I continued to write down everything I could recall his saying, both to me and to others. Reliving each scene again and again in my mind, I drew from it what lessons I could for my own, and others', spiritual development. The time came when people rarely asked me a question about his teachings, or about life and truth in general, that I wasn't able to answer instantly from something he himself had said or done. The more I pondered his life and teachings, the more I marveled to see how perfectly they responded to the needs of this age. Only the Cosmic Dramatist Himself, it seemed to me, could have designed such a role. In his teachings Yogananda had touched on every important aspect of modern lifefrom marriage, friendship, and human relations in general to secrets of fulfillment and success, schooling, business practices, artistic expression, politics, economics, formal religion, science, health and hygiene, diet: the entire gamutand had shown how to spiritualize each aspect and make it a stepping stone to cosmic awareness. His was by no means a one-sided teaching, directed only toward inspiring people to meditate and pray. He himself often said that religious teaching should help man on all levels: physical, mental, and spiritual. While never sacrificing his own vision of the highest Truth, he also addressed himself to where people actually were in their personal development, with a view to helping them move forward from their present state toward life's divine and ultimate goal.
I had come to Master with a keen longing not only to find God myself, but to help others to resolve their spiritual doubts, and thereby to feel inspired to seek Him. For people feel impelled to serve others according to the ways in which they themselves erred in the past, and suffered, and learned from their suffering important lessons. Those, in other words, whose desire is to help others to find good health suffered in their own health in the past, and learned the importance of living in accordance with physical laws. Those whose desire is to help others on a mental level suffered mentally in the past. Those who feel a desire to work for the prevention of crime quite possibly erred against society's laws in the past. And in my case, Master told me, my greatest past error was doubt. This explains why, in the present life, I have always longed to help others to resolve doubt, and acquire faith.
It was towards the fulfillment of this deep-seated desire that Master directed all my own training. "No more moods, now," he said, "otherwise, how will you be able to help people?" Even when I balked at teaching publicly, he insisted that this was my calling. "You'd better learn to like it," he replied. "That is what you will have to do."
By contrast, he spoke little to me about organizing the work, except where the monks were concerned, and actually seemed willing at one point to consider my replacement in that job, when, because I was experiencing temporary ill health, I suggested to him that he give it to someone else. But he never showed such willingness with respect to my occasional pleas not to be left in the ministry. The only consolation he threw me, when one day I expressed fear of the delusions attendant upon a public life, was to promise me solemnly, "You will never fall because of ego."
The energy at Mt. Washington after his mahasamadhi, however, was centered mainly in organizing his work. "After I am gone," he had told the disciples, "you all must work very hard to organize the work. Otherwise you won't be able to handle the thousands who will be coming to you." For some years I joined this trend, partly just because it was the trend, and partly because, whatever my actual karmic duties in this life, I discovered in myself a certain flair for organizing. My deepest interest remained what it had always been: to help people. But I considered myself insufficiently trained, as yet, to offer writing and lecturing as a serious service to others, and told myself that if for now I could help coordinate various functions of our work, those who joined the work later would be better served. Thus it befell that, from a background of almost fervent opposition to institutionalism, I found myself, in the present institutional context, almost as fervently devoted to developing Self-Realization Fellowship as an instrument of divine service.
Shortly after Master's mahasamadhi, I spent two weeks in seclusion at Twenty-Nine Palms. There I prayed deeply to Master to direct me in my service to him. Should I, I asked him, concentrate right away on writing and lecturing? "Not yet," was the reply as I understood it. But what, then, was I to do? I felt too much enthusiasm for serving him to sit quietly on the sidelines, preparing myself for writing and lecturing as my eventual work.
And then it was that, indirectly, the answer came. Accompanying me on this retreat was Andrew Selz, a brother monk. Toward the end of our stay there, we began discussing the need in the Mt. Washington office for simplifying the procedures, particularly with a view to serving our members better. An office job we shared was letter writing. Our special concern, therefore, was to shorten the time it took for letters to reach the letter-writers' desks. Ideas for streamlining procedures soon began flooding our minds. In the very inspiration we felt I recognized Master's answer to my prayer those two weeks for guidance. Soon Andy and I were formulating plans for reorganizing the entire office.
On our return to Mt. Washington, we proposed the changes we had worked out. There were a few old-timers who objected, perhaps not surprisingly, but Rajarsi Janakananda, our new president, gave us his stamp of approval. Soon Andy and I were deep in reorganization. The task, which I had expected would take about two weeks, took a year and a half! By the end of this long time I was thoroughly inured to the idea of organizing. I completed my organization of the monks, then went on to organize the SRF centers, the center department, the churches, and the lay-disciple order.
My center activities came about as an extension of my work of organizing the monks. Something Master had often told me was that he wanted the monks and nuns to live in separate communities after his death. My concern, when contemplating the mechanics of such a separation, was to ensure an equable division of responsibility for the work in the years to come. Meditating on this problem, and trying to tune in to the "blueprint" for the work, which, Master told us, was "in the ether," I received what I believed was the right solution: to place membership activities under the nuns, who ran the main office at Mt. Washington; and center and church activities under the monks, whom Master had designated particularly for the ministry. I proposed also that the centers be made less the "fiefdoms" of individual leaders by designating two speakers instead of one at Sunday services, and by naming them "service leaders," rather than, as they had been known until then, "center leaders." For the services themselves, I suggested the inclusion of a story from Autobiography of a Yogi, and a sermon outline which the first service leader might use as a basis for his talk, with proposed, but not obligatory, readings from Master's books. The purpose of all these suggestions was to make sure our centers were truly representative of Master's work. Realizing, however, that there were also many members who preferred to meet informally, I recommended a new designation as well: informal Meditation Groups. These groups would be at liberty to adopt as little, or as much, of our center program as they chose. Our interest would be to serve and inspire them, not to direct.
These proposals also were agreed to by Rajarsi Janakananda and the Board. The job of implementing the proposals was given to me.
From this point, a natural next step for me was the development of a lay-disciple order in the churches. By this time, I had become generally regarded as Self-Realization Fellowship's "compleat organizer." Considering my own deep-seated aversion to institutionalism, it was ironic. But the logic of our position demanded these steps. I consoled myself that this aversion of mine, which I think most of the disciples shared, constituted at least a natural safeguard against organizing excesses. My own motives remained unchanged: I saw these activities not as ends in themselves, but as means to uplifting people, starved as they were for inner joy. The logic of our position, as I say, dictated the need for uniformity in certain of the aspects of our work, but I saw no particular virtue in uniformity itself. The whole point, where center activities were concerned, was simply to ensure that our centers didn't misrepresent us. It was a fine line to walk. Too many rules would engage people's attention too much outwardly, and cause them to lose sight of what Master's teachings were all about: personal, inner, spiritual development. "Don't make too many rules," Master had told me, "or you'll destroy the spirit." It was important to balance even the need for rules that were sensible in themselves against the equally great need, in the centers, for a certain spontaneity and joy. The alternative would be a preoccupation with externals, and the attendant evils of such preoccupation: gossip, suspicion, and the desire for personal power.
I say these things partly because almost everyone at one time or another finds himself caught between an institution's need for uniformity, and his own need for inward development. People on either side of this issue would do well to recognize the inherent validity of the other side, for only by such recognition can a necessary balance be achieved, avoiding the twin pitfalls of ossification and chaos.
As a matter of fact, I myself was forced, finally, to concede that, while it is important for the workers in any organization to defer to the organization's directives, it is not a sound policy to try to ensure such deference by discouraging leadership ability in the organization's representatives. I tried for some years to establish safeguards against what I viewed as individual "fiefdoms," only to recognize at last that in every successful center there was always someone whose spirit it reflected, someone on the scene, someone, usually, acting in a capacity of leadership. To discourage such personal influence in the name of down-grading "personality," as the communists do in their monolithic system, was, I discovered, simply to fly in the face of reality. I observed, for instance, our center in Oakland, California, which, when Kamala was its minister, was perhaps the most spiritually inspiring of all our centers, filled with a spirit of devotion, humility, and love. But in 1956 poor health forced Kamala to resign from all center activities. She invited me to develop the center along our new organizational lines. I did so with full enthusiasm, viewing this as a test case. Despite my best efforts, however, I was forced at last to admit that the real spirit of the center was no longer there. Leadership, I gradually came to realize, is vital to the success of any group. Like every other human quality, of course, it has its pitfalls. A leader might, for example, feel tempted to assert his independence by disobeying the parent body he serves. But this is simply a risk that must be takenboth by him, and by the parent body. A tree must drop many seeds to produce a few saplings. As Jesus put it, "Many are called, but few are chosen." Yogananda never shielded his disciples from the tests they needed for their own spiritual growth. Though many center leaders failed him, he continued to recognize and foster leadership as that rare human quality, the willingness to bear responsibility, without which no venture can truly succeed. Where a person shows promise of doing well, more actual, positive control may be exercised over him by encouraging him to do his best than by discouraging him from doing his worst.
But Master, shortly before his mahasamadhi, gave us the ultimate secret of spiritual organizing. Daya Mata had asked him, sadly, "Master, when you are gone, what can ever replace you?"
"When I am gone," he replied, smiling tenderly, "only love can take my place."
Copyright 1996 J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), Trustee