Autobiography of a YogiParamhansa Yogananda
Original First Edition, Copyright 1946,
by Paramhansa Yogananda
First Online Edition
The Cauliflower Robbery
"Master, a gift for you! These six huge cauliflowers were planted with my hands; I have watched over their growth with the tender care of a mother nursing her child." I presented the basket of vegetables with a ceremonial flourish.
"Thank you!" Sri Yukteswar's smile was warm with appreciation. "Please keep them in your room; I shall need them tomorrow for a special dinner."
I had just arrived in Puri1to spend my college summer vacation with my guru at his seaside hermitage. Built by Master and his disciples, the cheerful little two-storied retreat fronts on the Bay of Bengal.
I awoke early the following morning, refreshed by the salty sea breezes and the charm of my surroundings. Sri Yukteswar's melodious voice was calling; I took a look at my cherished cauliflowers and stowed them neatly under my bed.
"Come, let us go to the beach." Master led the way; several young disciples and myself followed in a scattered group. Our guru surveyed us in mild criticism.
"When our Western brothers walk, they usually take pride in unison. Now, please march in two rows; keep rhythmic step with one another." Sri Yukteswar watched as we obeyed; he began to sing: "Boys go to and fro, in a pretty little row." I could not but admire the ease with which Master was able to match the brisk pace of his young students.
"Halt!" My guru's eyes sought mine. "Did you remember to lock the back door of the hermitage?"
"I think so, sir."
Sri Yukteswar was silent for a few minutes, a half-suppressed smile on his lips. "No, you forgot," he said finally. "Divine contemplation must not be made an excuse for material carelessness. You have neglected your duty in safeguarding the ashram; you must be punished."
I thought he was obscurely joking when he added: "Your six cauliflowers will soon be only five."
We turned around at Master's orders and marched back until we were close to the hermitage.
"Rest awhile. Mukunda, look across the compound on our left; observe the road beyond. A certain man will arrive there presently; he will be the means of your chastisement."
I concealed my vexation at these incomprehensible remarks. A peasant soon appeared on the road; he was dancing grotesquely and flinging his arms about with meaningless gestures. Almost paralyzed with curiosity, I glued my eyes on the hilarious spectacle. As the man reached a point in the road where he would vanish from our view, Sri Yukteswar said, "Now, he will return."
The peasant at once changed his direction and made for the rear of the ashram. Crossing a sandy tract, he entered the building by the back door. I had left it unlocked, even as my guru had said. The man emerged shortly, holding one of my prized cauliflowers. He now strode along respectably, invested with the dignity of possession.
The unfolding farce, in which my role appeared to be that of bewildered victim, was not so disconcerting that I failed in indignant pursuit. I was halfway to the road when Master recalled me. He was shaking from head to foot with laughter.
"That poor crazy man has been longing for a cauliflower," he explained between outbursts of mirth. "I thought it would be a good idea if he got one of yours, so ill-guarded!"
I dashed to my room, where I found that the thief, evidently one with a vegetable fixation, had left untouched my gold rings, watch, and money, all lying openly on the blanket. He had crawled instead under the bed where, completely hidden from casual sight, one of my cauliflowers had aroused his singlehearted desire.
I asked Sri Yukteswar that evening to explain the incident which had, I thought, a few baffling features.
My guru shook his head slowly. "You will understand it someday. Science will soon discover a few of these hidden laws."
When the wonders of radio burst some years later on an astounded world, I remembered Master's prediction. Age-old concepts of time and space were annihilated; no peasant's home so narrow that London or Calcutta could not enter! The dullest intelligence enlarged before indisputable proof of one aspect of man's omnipresence.
The "plot" of the cauliflower comedy can be best understood by a radio analogy. Sri Yukteswar was a perfect human radio. Thoughts are no more than very gentle vibrations moving in the ether. Just as a sensitized radio picks up a desired musical number out of thousands of other programs from every direction, so my guru had been able to catch the thought of the half-witted man who hankered for a cauliflower, out of the countless thoughts of broadcasting human wills in the world.2
Intuition3is soul guidance, appearing naturally in man during those instants when his mind is calm. Nearly everyone has had the experience of an inexplicably correct "hunch," or has transferred his thoughts effectively to another person.
The human mind, free from the static of restlessness, can perform through its antenna of intuition all the functions of complicated radio mechanismssending and receiving thoughts, and tuning out undesirable ones. As the power of a radio depends on the amount of electrical current it can utilize, so the human radio is energized according to the power of will possessed by each individual.
All thoughts vibrate eternally in the cosmos. By deep concentration, a master is able to detect the thoughts of any mind, living or dead. Thoughts are universally and not individually rooted; a truth cannot be created, but only perceived. The erroneous thoughts of man result from imperfections in his discernment. The goal of yoga science is to calm the mind, that without distortion it may mirror the divine vision in the universe.
Radio and television have brought the instantaneous sound and sight of remote persons to the firesides of millions: the first faint scientific intimations that man is an all-pervading spirit. Not a body confined to a point in space, but the vast soul, which the ego in most barbaric modes conspires in vain to cramp.
"Very strange, very wonderful, seemingly very improbable phenomena may yet appear which, when once established, will not astonish us more than we are now astonished at all that science has taught us during the last century," Charles Robert Richet, Nobel Prizeman in physiology, has declared. "It is assumed that the phenomena which we now accept without surprise, do not excite our astonishment because they are understood. But this is not the case. If they do not surprise us it is not because they are understood, it is because they are familiar; for if that which is not understood ought to surprise us, we should be surprised at everythingthe fall of a stone thrown into the air, the acorn which becomes an oak, mercury which expands when it is heated, iron attracted by a magnet, phosphorus which burns when it is rubbed. . . . The science of today is a light matter; the revolutions and evolutions which it will experience in a hundred thousand years will far exceed the most daring anticipations. The truthsthose surprising, amazing, unforeseen truthswhich our descendants will discover, are even now all around us, staring us in the eyes, so to speak, and yet we do not see them. But it is not enough to say that we do not see them; we do not wish to see them; for as soon as an unexpected and unfamiliar fact appears, we try to fit it into the framework of the commonplaces of acquired knowledge, and we are indignant that anyone should dare to experiment further."
A humorous occurrence took place a few days after I had been so implausibly robbed of a cauliflower. A certain kerosene lamp could not be found. Having so lately witnessed my guru's omniscient insight, I thought he would demonstrate that it was child's play to locate the lamp.
Master perceived my expectation. With exaggerated gravity he questioned all ashram residents. A young disciple confessed that he had used the lamp to go to the well in the back yard.
Sri Yukteswar gave the solemn counsel: "Seek the lamp near the well."
I rushed there; no lamp! Crestfallen, I returned to my guru. He was now laughing heartily, without compunction for my disillusionment.
"Too bad I couldn't direct you to the vanished lamp; I am not a fortune teller!" With twinkling eyes, he added, "I am not even a satisfactory Sherlock Holmes!"
I realized that Master would never display his powers when challenged, or for a triviality.
Delightful weeks sped by. Sri Yukteswar was planning a religious procession. He asked me to lead the disciples over the town and beach of Puri. The festive day dawned as one of the hottest of the summer.
"Guruji, how can I take the barefooted students over the fiery sands?" I spoke despairingly.
No sooner had we left the hermitage than the part of the sky which was overhead became filled with clouds as though by magic. To the accompaniment of astonished ejaculations from all sides, a very light shower fell, cooling the city streets and the burning seashore. The soothing drops descended during the two hours of the parade. The exact instant at which our group returned to the ashram, the clouds and rain passed away tracelessly.
"You see how God feels for us," Master replied after I had expressed my gratitude. "The Lord responds to all and works for all. Just as He sent rain at my plea, so He fulfills any sincere desire of the devotee. Seldom do men realize how often God heeds their prayers. He is not partial to a few, but listens to everyone who approaches Him trustingly. His children should ever have implicit faith in the loving-kindness of their Omnipresent Father."6
Sri Yukteswar sponsored four yearly festivals, at the equinoxes and solstices, when his students gathered from far and near. The winter solstice celebration was held in Serampore; the first one I attended left me with a permanent blessing.
The festivities started in the morning with a barefoot procession along the streets. The voices of a hundred students rang out with sweet religious songs; a few musicians played the flute and khol kartal (drums and cymbals). Enthusiastic townspeople strewed the path with flowers, glad to be summoned from prosaic tasks by our resounding praise of the Lord's blessed name. The long tour ended in the courtyard of the hermitage. There we encircled our guru, while students on upper balconies showered us with marigold blossoms.
Many guests went upstairs to receive a pudding of channa and oranges. I made my way to a group of brother disciples who were serving today as cooks. Food for such large gatherings had to be cooked outdoors in huge cauldrons. The improvised wood-burning brick stoves were smoky and tear-provoking, but we laughed merrily at our work. Religious festivals in India are never considered troublesome; each one does his part, supplying money, rice, vegetables, or his personal services.
Master was soon in our midst, supervising the details of the feast. Busy every moment, he kept pace with the most energetic young student.
A sankirtan (group chanting), accompanied by the harmonium and hand-played Indian drums, was in progress on the second floor. Sri Yukteswar listened appreciatively; his musical sense was acutely perfect.
"They are off key!" Master left the cooks and joined the artists. The melody was heard again, this time correctly rendered.
In India, music as well as painting and the drama is considered a divine art. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shivathe Eternal Trinitywere the first musicians. The Divine Dancer Shiva is scripturally represented as having worked out the infinite modes of rhythm in His cosmic dance of universal creation, preservation, and dissolution, while Brahma accentuated the time-beat with the clanging cymbals, and Vishnu sounded the holy mridanga or drum. Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, is always shown in Hindu art with a flute, on which he plays the enrapturing song that recalls to their true home the human souls wandering in maya-delusion. Saraswati, goddess of wisdom, is symbolized as performing on the vina, mother of all stringed instruments. The Sama Veda of India contains the world's earliest writings on musical science.
The foundation stone of Hindu music is the ragas or fixed melodic scales. The six basic ragas branch out into 126 derivative raginis (wives) and putras (sons). Each raga has a minimum of five notes: a leading note (vadi or king), a secondary note (samavadi or prime minister), helping notes (anuvadi, attendants), and a dissonant note (vivadi, the enemy).
Each one of the six basic ragas has a natural correspondence with a certain hour of the day, season of the year, and a presiding deity who bestows a particular potency. Thus, (1) the Hindole Raga is heard only at dawn in the spring, to evoke the mood of universal love; (2) Deepaka Raga is played during the evening in summer, to arouse compassion; (3) Megha Raga is a melody for midday in the rainy season, to summon courage; (4) Bhairava Raga is played in the mornings of August, September, October, to achieve tranquillity; (5) Sri Raga is reserved for autumn twilights, to attain pure love; (6) Malkounsa Raga is heard at midnights in winter, for valor.
The ancient rishis discovered these laws of sound alliance between nature and man. Because nature is an objectification of Aum, the Primal Sound or Vibratory Word, man can obtain control over all natural manifestations through the use of certain mantras or chants. 7Historical documents tell of the remarkable powers possessed by Miyan Tan Sen, sixteenth century court musician for Akbar the Great. Commanded by the Emperor to sing a night raga while the sun was overhead, Tan Sen intoned a mantra which instantly caused the whole palace precincts to become enveloped in darkness.
Indian music divides the octave into 22 srutis or demi-semitones. These microtonal intervals permit fine shades of musical expression unattainable by the Western chromatic scale of 12 semitones. Each one of the seven basic notes of the octave is associated in Hindu mythology with a color, and the natural cry of a bird or beast Do with green, and the peacock; Re with red, and the skylark; Mi with golden, and the goat; Fa with yellowish white, and the heron; Sol with black, and the nightingale; La with yellow, and the horse; Si with a combination of all colors, and the elephant.
Three scalesmajor, harmonic minor, melodic minorare the only ones which Occidental music employs, but Indian music outlines 72 thatas or scales. The musician has a creative scope for endless improvisation around the fixed traditional melody or raga; he concentrates on the sentiment or definitive mood of the structural theme and then embroiders it to the limits of his own originality. The Hindu musician does not read set notes; he clothes anew at each playing the bare skeleton of the raga, often confining himself to a single melodic sequence, stressing by repetition all its subtle microtonal and rhythmic variations. Bach, among Western composers, had an understanding of the charm and power of repetitious sound slightly differentiated in a hundred complex ways.
Ancient Sanskrit literature describes 120 talas or time-measures. The traditional founder of Hindu music, Bharata, is said to have isolated 32 kinds of tala in the song of a lark. The origin of tala or rhythm is rooted in human movementsthe double time of walking, and the triple time of respiration in sleep, when inhalation is twice the length of exhalation. India has always recognized the human voice as the most perfect instrument of sound. Hindu music therefore largely confines itself to the voice range of three octaves. For the same reason, melody (relation of successive notes) is stressed, rather than harmony (relation of simultaneous notes).
The deeper aim of the early rishi-musicians was to blend the singer with the Cosmic Song which can be heard through awakening of man's occult spinal centers. Indian music is a subjective, spiritual, and individualistic art, aiming not at symphonic brilliance but at personal harmony with the Oversoul. The Sanskrit word for musician is bhagavathar, "he who sings the praises of God." The sankirtans or musical gatherings are an effective form of yoga or spiritual discipline, necessitating deep concentration, intense absorption in the seed thought and sound. Because man himself is an expression of the Creative Word, sound has the most potent and immediate effect on him, offering a way to remembrance of his divine origin.
The sankirtan issuing from Sri Yukteswar's second-story sitting room on the day of the festival was inspiring to the cooks amidst the steaming pots. My brother disciples and I joyously sang the refrains, beating time with our hands.
By sunset we had served our hundreds of visitors with khichuri (rice and lentils), vegetable curry, and rice pudding. We laid cotton blankets over the courtyard; soon the assemblage was squatting under the starry vault, quietly attentive to the wisdom pouring from Sri Yukteswar's lips. His public speeches emphasized the value of Kriya Yoga, and a life of self-respect, calmness, determination, simple diet, and regular exercise.
A group of very young disciples then chanted a few sacred hymns; the meeting concluded with sankirtan. From ten o'clock until midnight, the ashram residents washed pots and pans, and cleared the courtyard. My guru called me to his side.
"I am pleased over your cheerful labors today and during the past week of preparations. I want you with me; you may sleep in my bed tonight."
This was a privilege I had never thought would fall to my lot. We sat awhile in a state of intense divine tranquillity. Hardly ten minutes after we had gotten into bed, Master rose and began to dress.
"What is the matter, sir?" I felt a tinge of unreality in the unexpected joy of sleeping beside my guru.
"I think that a few students who missed their proper train connections will be here soon. Let us have some food ready."
"Guruji, no one would come at one o'clock in the morning!"
"Stay in bed; you have been working very hard. But I am going to cook."
At Sri Yukteswar's resolute tone, I jumped up and followed him to the small daily-used kitchen adjacent to the second-floor inner balcony. Rice and dhal were soon boiling.
My guru smiled affectionately. "Tonight you have conquered fatigue and fear of hard work; you shall never be bothered by them in the future."
As he uttered these words of lifelong blessing, footsteps sounded in the courtyard. I ran downstairs and admitted a group of students.
"Dear brother, how reluctant we are to disturb Master at this hour!" One man addressed me apologetically. "We made a mistake about train schedules, but felt we could not return home without a glimpse of our guru."
"He has been expecting you and is even now preparing your food."
Sri Yukteswar's welcoming voice rang out; I led the astonished visitors to the kitchen. Master turned to me with twinkling eyes.
"Now that you have finished comparing notes, no doubt you are satisfied that our guests really did miss their train!"
I followed him to his bedroom a half hour later, realizing fully that I was about to sleep beside a godlike guru.
Puri, about 310 miles south of Calcutta, is a famous pilgrimage
city for devotees of Krishna; his worship is celebrated there with
two immense annual festivals, Snanayatra and Rathayatra.
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The 1939 discovery of a radio microscope revealed a new world of
hitherto unknown rays. "Man himself as well as all kinds of
supposedly inert matter constantly emits the rays that this instrument
'sees,'" reported the Associated Press. "Those who believe
in telepathy, second sight, and clairvoyance, have in this announcement
the first scientific proof of the existence of invisible rays which
really travel from one person to another. The radio device actually
is a radio frequency spectroscope. It does the same thing for cool,
nonglowing matter that the spectroscope does when it discloses the
kinds of atoms that make the stars. . . . The existence of such
rays coming from man and all living things has been suspected by
scientists for many years. Today is the first experimental proof
of their existence. The discovery shows that every atom and every
molecule in nature is a continuous radio broadcasting station. .
. . Thus even after death the substance that was a man continues
to send out its delicate rays. The wave lengths of these rays range
from shorter than anything now used in broadcasting to the longest
kind of radio waves. The jumble of these rays is almost inconceivable.
There are millions of them. A single very large molecule may give
off 1,000,000 different wave lengths at the same time. The longer
wave lengths of this sort travel with the ease and speed of radio
waves. . . . There is one amazing difference between the new radio
rays and familiar rays like light. This is the prolonged time, amounting
to thousands of years, which these radio waves will keep on emitting
from undisturbed matter."
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One hesitates to use "intuition"; Hitler has almost ruined
the word along with more ambitious devastations. The Latin root
meaning of intuition is "inner protection." The Sanskrit
word agama means intuitional knowledge born of direct soul-perception;
hence certain ancient treatises by the rishis were called agamas.
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Sat is literally "being," hence "essence; reality."
Sanga is "association." Sri Yukteswar called his hermitage
organization Sat-Sanga, "fellowship with truth."
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"If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be
full of light."-Matthew 6:22. During deep meditation, the single
or spiritual eye becomes visible within the central part of the
forehead. This omniscient eye is variously referred to in scriptures
as the third eye, the star of the East, the inner eye, the dove
descending from heaven, the eye of Shiva, the eye of intuition,
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"He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed
the eye, shall he not see? . . . he that teacheth man knowledge,
shall he not know?"-Psalm 94:9-10.
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Folklore of all peoples contains references to incantations with
power over nature. The American Indians are well-known to have developed
sound rituals for rain and wind. Tan Sen, the great Hindu musician,
was able to quench fire by the power of his song. Charles Kellogg,
the California naturalist, gave a demonstration of the effect of
tonal vibration on fire in 1926 before a group of New York firemen.
"Passing a bow, like an enlarged violin bow, swiftly across
an aluminum tuning fork, he produced a screech like intense radio
static. Instantly the yellow gas flame, two feet high, leaping inside
a hollow glass tube, subsided to a height of six inches and became
a sputtering blue flare. Another attempt with the bow, and another
screech of vibration, extinguished it."
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