Chapter 48: At Encinitas in California
“A surprise, sir! During your absence abroad we have had this Encinitas hermitage built; it is a ‘welcome-home’ gift!” Sister Gyanamata smilingly led me through a gate and up a tree-shaded walk.
I saw a building jutting out like a great white ocean liner toward the blue brine. First speechlessly, then with “Oh’s!” and “Ah’s!”, finally with man’s insufficient vocabulary of joy and gratitude, I examined the ashrams sixteen unusually large rooms, each one charmingly appointed.
The stately central hall, with immense ceiling-high windows, looks out on a united altar of grass, ocean, sky—a symphony in emerald, opal, sapphire. A mantle over the hall’s huge fireplace holds the framed likeness of Lahiri Mahasaya, smiling his blessing over this far Pacific heaven.
Directly below the hall, built into the very bluff, two solitary meditation caves confront the infinities of sky and sea. Verandahs, sun-bathing nooks, acres of orchard, a eucalypti grove, flagstone paths leading through roses and lilies to quiet arbors, a long flight of stairs ending on an isolated beach and the vast waters! Was dream ever more concrete?
“May the good and heroic and bountiful souls of the saints come here,” reads “A Prayer for a Dwelling,” from the Zend-Avesta, fastened on one of the hermitage doors, “and may they go hand in hand with us, giving the healing virtues of their blessed gifts as widespread as the earth, as far-flung as the rivers, as high-reaching as the sun, for the furtherance of better men, for the increase of abundance and glory.
“May obedience conquer disobedience within this house; may peace triumph here over discord; free-hearted giving over avarice, truthful speech over deceit, reverence over contempt. That our minds be delighted, and our souls uplifted, let our bodies be glorified as well; and O Light Divine, may we see Thee, and may we, approaching, come round about Thee, and attain unto Thine entire companionship!”
This Self-Realization Fellowship ashram had been made possible through the generosity of a few American disciples, American businessmen of endless responsibilities who yet find time daily for their Kriya Yoga. Not a word of the hermitage construction had been allowed to reach me during my stay in India and Europe. Astonishment, delight!
During my earlier years in America I had combed the coast of California in quest of a small site for a seaside ashram; whenever I had found a suitable location, some obstacle had invariably arisen to thwart me. Gazing now over the broad acres of Encinitas,1 humbly I saw the effortless fulfillment of Sri Yukteswar’s long-ago prophecy: “a hermitage by the ocean.”
A few months later, Easter of 1937, I conducted on the smooth lawns at Encinitas the first of many Sunrise Services. Like the magi of old, several hundred students gazed in devotional awe at the daily miracle, the early solar fire rite in the eastern sky. To the west lay the inexhaustible Pacific, booming its solemn praise; in the distance, a tiny white sailing boat, and the lonely flight of a seagull. “Christ, thou art risen!” Not alone with the vernal sun, but in the eternal dawn of Spirit!
Many happy months sped by; in the peace of perfect beauty I was able to complete at the hermitage a long-projected work, Cosmic Chants. I set to English words and Western musical notation about forty songs, some original, others my adaptations of ancient melodies. Included were the Shankara chant, “No Birth, No Death”; two favorites of Sri Yukteswar’s: “Wake, Yet Wake, O my Saint!” and “Desire, my Great Enemy”; the hoary Sanskrit “Hymn to Brahma”; old Bengali songs, “What Lightning Flash!” and “They Have Heard Thy Name”; Tagore’s “Who is in my Temple?”; and a number of my compositions: “I Will be Thine Always,” “In the Land Beyond my Dreams,” “Come Out of the Silent Sky,” “Listen to my Soul Call,” “In the Temple of Silence,” and “Thou Art my Life.”
For a preface to the songbook I recounted my first outstanding experience with the receptivity of Westerners to the quaintly devotional airs of the East. The occasion had been a public lecture; the time, April 18, 1926; the place, Carnegie Hall in New York.
“Mr. Hunsicker,” I had confided to an American student, “I am planning to ask the audience to sing an ancient Hindu chant, ‘O God Beautiful!'”
“Sir,” Mr. Hunsicker had protested, “these Oriental songs are alien to American understanding. What a shame if the lecture were to be marred by a commentary of overripe tomatoes!”
I had laughingly disagreed. “Music is a universal language. Americans will not fail to feel the soul-aspiration in this lofty chant.”2
During the lecture Mr. Hunsicker had sat behind me on the platform, probably fearing for my safety. His doubts were groundless; not only had there been an absence of unwelcome vegetables, but for one hour and twenty-five minutes the strains of “O God Beautiful!” had sounded uninterruptedly from three thousand throats. Blasé no longer, dear New Yorkers; your hearts had soared out in a simple paean of rejoicing! Divine healings had taken place that evening among the devotees chanting with love the Lord’s blessed name.
The secluded life of a literary minstrel was not my role for long. Soon I was dividing every fortnight between Los Angeles and Encinitas. Sunday services, classes, lectures before clubs and colleges, interviews with students, ceaseless streams of correspondence, articles for East-West, direction of activities in India and numerous small centers in American cities. Much time was given, also, to the arrangement of Kriya and other Self-Realization Fellowship teachings into a series of studies for the distant yoga seekers whose zeal recognized no limitation of space.
Joyous dedication of a Self-Realization Church of All Religions took place in 1938 at Washington, D.C. Set amidst landscaped grounds, the stately church stands in a section of the city aptly called “Friendship Heights.” The Washington leader is Swami Premananda, educated at the Ranchi school and Calcutta University. I had summoned him in 1928 to assume leadership of the Washington Self-Realization Fellowship center.
“Premananda,” I told him during a visit to his new temple, “this Eastern headquarters is a memorial in stone to your tireless devotion. Here in the nation’s capital you have held aloft the light of Lahiri Mahasaya’s ideals.”
Premananda accompanied me from Washington for a brief visit to the Self-Realization Fellowship center in Boston. What joy to see again the Kriya Yoga band who had remained steadfast since 1920! The Boston leader, Dr. M. W. Lewis, lodged my companion and myself in a modern, artistically decorated suite.
“Sir,” Dr. Lewis said to me, smiling, “during your early years in America you stayed in this city in a single room, without bath. I wanted you to know that Boston possesses some luxurious apartments!”
The shadows of approaching carnage were lengthening over the world; already the acute ear might hear the frightful drums of war. During interviews with thousands in California, and through a world-wide correspondence, I found that men and women were deeply searching their hearts; the tragic outer insecurity had emphasized need for the Eternal Anchorage.
“We have indeed learned the value of meditation,” the leader of the London Self-Realization Fellowship center wrote me in 1941, “and know that nothing can disturb our inner peace. In the last few weeks during the meetings we have heard air-raid warnings and listened to the explosion of delayed-action bombs, but our students still gather and thoroughly enjoy our beautiful service.”
Another letter reached me from war-torn England just before America entered the conflict. In nobly pathetic words, Dr. L. Cranmer Byng, noted editor of The Wisdom of the East Series, wrote:
“When I read East-West I realized how far apart we seemed to be, apparently living in two different worlds. Beauty, order, calm, and peace come to me from Los Angeles, sailing into port as a vessel laden with the blessings and comfort of the Holy Grail to a beleaguered city.
“I see as in a dream your palm tree grove, and the temple at Encinitas with its ocean stretches and mountain views, and above all its fellowship of spiritually minded men and women, a community comprehended in unity, absorbed in creative work, and replenished in contemplation. It is the world of my own vision, in the making of which I hoped to bear my little part, and now . . .
“Perhaps in the body I shall never reach your golden shores nor worship in your temple. But it is something and more, to have had the vision and know that in the midst of war there is still a peace that abides in your harbors and among your hills. Greetings to all the Fellowship from a common soldier, written on the watchtower waiting for the dawn.”
The war years brought a spiritual awakening among men whose diversions had never before included a study of the New Testament. One sweet distillment from the bitter herbs of war! To satisfy a growing need, an inspiring little Self-Realization Church of All Religions was built and dedicated in 1942 at Hollywood. The site faces Olive Hill and the distant Los Angeles Planetarium. The church, finished in blue, white, and gold, is reflected amidst the water hyacinths in a large pool. The gardens are gay with flowers, a few startled stone deer, a stained-glass pergola, and a quaint wishing well. Thrown in with the pennies and the kaleidoscopic wishes of man has been many a pure aspiration for the sole treasure of Spirit! A universal benignity flows from small niches with statues of Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswar, and of Krishna, Buddha, Confucius, St. Francis, and a beautiful mother-of-pearl reproduction of Christ at the Last Supper.
Another Self-Realization Church of All Religions was founded in 1943 at San Diego. A quiet hilltop temple, it stands in a sloping valley of eucalypti, overlooking sparkling San Diego Bay.
Sitting one evening in this tranquil haven, I was pouring out my heart in song. Under my fingers was the sweet-toned organ of the church, on my lips the yearning plaint of an ancient Bengali devotee who had searched for eternal solace:
In this world, Mother, none can love me;
In this world they do not know love divine.
Where is there pure loving love?
Where is there truly loving Thee?
There my heart longs to be.
My companion in the chapel, Dr. Lloyd Kennell, the San Diego center leader, was smiling a little at the words of the song.
“Tell me truly, Paramhansaji, has it been worth it?” He gazed at me with an earnest sincerity. I understood his laconic question: “Have you been happy in America? What about the disillusionments, the heartaches, the center leaders who could not lead, the students who could not be taught?”
“Blessed is the man whom the Lord doth test, Doctor! He has remembered now and then to put a burden on me!” I thought, then, of all the faithful ones, of the love and devotion and understanding that lay in the heart of America. With slow emphasis I went on, “But my answer is: Yes, a thousand times yes! It has been worth-while; it has been a constant inspiration, more than ever I dreamed, to see West and East brought closer in the only lasting bond, the spiritual!”
Silently I added a prayer: “May Babaji and Sri Yukteswarji feel that I have done my part, not disappointing the high hope in which they sent me forth.”
I turned again to the organ; this time my song was tinged with a martial valor:
The grinding wheel of Time doth mar
Full many a life of moon and star
And many a brightly smiling morn
But still my soul is marching on!
Darkness, death, and failures vied;
To block my path they fiercely tried;
My fight with jealous Nature’s strong
But still my soul is marching on!
New Year’s week of 1945 found me at work in my Encinitas study, revising the manuscript of this book.
“Paramhansaji, please come outdoors.” Dr. Lewis, on a visit from Boston, smiled at me pleadingly from outside my window. Soon we were strolling in the sunshine. My companion pointed to new towers in process of construction along the edge of the Fellowship property adjoining the coast highway.
“Sir, I see many improvements here since my last visit.” Dr. Lewis comes twice annually from Boston to Encinitas.
“Yes, Doctor, a project I have long considered is beginning to take definite form. In these beautiful surroundings I have started a miniature world colony. Brotherhood is an ideal better understood by example than precept! A small harmonious group here may inspire other ideal communities over the earth.”
“A splendid idea, sir! The colony will surely be a success if everyone sincerely does his part!”
“‘World’ is a large term, but man must enlarge his allegiance, considering himself in the light of a world citizen,” I continued. “A person who truly feels: ‘The world is my homeland; it is my America, my India, my Philippines, my England, my Africa,’ will never lack scope for a useful and happy life. His natural local pride will know limitless expansion; he will be in touch with creative universal currents.”
Dr. Lewis and I halted above the lotus pool near the hermitage. Below us lay the illimitable Pacific.
“These same waters break equally on the coasts of West and East, in California and China.” My companion threw a little stone into the first of the oceanic seventy million square miles. “Encinitas is a symbolic spot for a world colony.”
“That is true, Doctor. We shall arrange here for many conferences and Congresses of Religion, inviting delegates from all lands. Flags of the nations will hang in our halls. Diminutive temples will be built over the grounds, dedicated to the world’s principal religions.
“As soon as possible,” I went on, “I plan to open a Yoga Institute here. The blessed role of Kriya Yoga in the West has hardly more than just begun. May all men come to know that there is a definite, scientific technique of self-realization for the overcoming of all human misery!”
Far into the night my dear friend—the first Kriya Yogi in America—discussed with me the need for world colonies founded on a spiritual basis. The ills attributed to an anthropomorphic abstraction called “society” may be laid more realistically at the door of Everyman. Utopia must spring in the private bosom before it can flower in civic virtue. Man is a soul, not an institution; his inner reforms alone can lend permanence to outer ones. By stress on spiritual values, self-realization, a colony exemplifying world brotherhood is empowered to send inspiring vibrations far beyond its locale.
August 15, 1945, close of Global War II! End of a world; dawn of an enigmatic Atomic Age! The hermitage residents gathered in the main hall for a prayer of thanksgiving. “Heavenly Father, may never it be again! Thy children go henceforth as brothers!”
Gone was the tension of war years; our spirits purred in the sun of peace. I gazed happily at each of my American comrades.
“Lord,” I thought gratefully, “Thou hast given this monk a large family!”
1. A small town on Coast Highway 101, Encinitas is 100 miles south of Los Angeles, and 25 miles north of San Diego.
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2. I translate here the words of Guru Nanak’s song:
O God beautiful! O God beautiful!
In the forest, Thou art green,
In the mountain, Thou art high,
In the river, Thou art restless,
In the ocean, Thou art grave!
To the serviceful, Thou art service,
To the lover, Thou art love,
To the sorrowful, Thou art sympathy,
To the yogi, Thou art bliss!
O God beautiful! O God beautiful!
At Thy feet, O I do bow!