Chapter 18: A Mohammedan Wonder-Worker
“Years ago, right in this very room you now occupy, a Mohammedan wonder-worker performed four miracles before me!”
Sri Yukteswar made this surprising statement during his first visit to my new quarters. Immediately after entering Serampore College, I had taken a room in a near-by boardinghouse, called Panthi. It was an old-fashioned brick mansion, fronting the Ganges.
“It is a long story.” My guru smiled reminiscently. “The name of the fakir1
was Afzal Khan. He had acquired his extraordinary powers through a chance encounter with a Hindu yogi.
“‘Son, I am thirsty; fetch me some water.’ A dust-covered sannyasi made this request of Afzal one day during his early boyhood in a small village of eastern Bengal.
“‘Master, I am a Mohammedan. How could you, a Hindu, accept a drink from my hands?’
“‘Your truthfulness pleases me, my child. I do not observe the ostracizing rules of ungodly sectarianism. Go; bring me water quickly.’
“Afzal’s reverent obedience was rewarded by a loving glance from the yogi.
“‘You possess good karma from former lives,’ he observed solemnly. ‘I am going to teach you a certain yoga method which will give you command over one of the invisible realms. The great powers that will be yours should be exercised for worthy ends; never employ them selfishly! I perceive, alas! that you have brought over from the past some seeds of destructive tendencies. Do not allow them to sprout by watering them with fresh evil actions. The complexity of your previous karma is such that you must use this life to reconcile your yogic accomplishments with the highest humanitarian goals.’
“After instructing the amazed boy in a complicated technique, the master vanished.
“Afzal faithfully followed his yoga exercise for twenty years. His miraculous feats began to attract widespread attention. It seems that he was always accompanied by a disembodied spirit whom he called ‘Hazrat.’ This invisible entity was able to fulfill the fakir’s slightest wish.
“Ignoring his master’s warning, Afzal began to misuse his powers. Whatever object he touched and then replaced would soon disappear without a trace. This disconcerting eventuality usually made the Mohammedan an objectionable guest!
“He visited large jewelry stores in Calcutta from time to time, representing himself as a possible purchaser. Any jewel he handled would vanish shortly after he had left the shop.
“Afzal was often surrounded by several hundred students, attracted by the hope of learning his secrets. The fakir occasionally invited them to travel with him. At the railway station he would manage to touch a roll of tickets. These he would return to the clerk, remarking: ‘I have changed my mind, and won’t buy them now.’ But when he boarded the train with his retinue, Afzal would be in possession of the required tickets. 2
“These exploits created an indignant uproar; Bengali jewelers and ticket-sellers were succumbing to nervous breakdowns! The police who sought to arrest Afzal found themselves helpless; the fakir could remove incriminating evidence merely by saying: ‘Hazrat, take this away.'”
Sri Yukteswar rose from his seat and walked to the balcony of my room which overlooked the Ganges. I followed him, eager to hear more of the baffling Mohammedan Raffles.
“This Panthi house formerly belonged to a friend of mine. He became acquainted with Afzal and asked him here. My friend also invited about twenty neighbors, including myself. I was only a youth then, and felt a lively curiosity about the notorious fakir.” Master laughed. “I took the precaution of not wearing anything valuable! Afzal looked me over inquisitively, then remarked:
“‘You have powerful hands. Go downstairs to the garden; get a smooth stone and write your name on it with chalk; then throw the stone as far as possible into the Ganges.’
“I obeyed. As soon as the stone had vanished under distant waves, the Mohammedan addressed me again:
“‘Fill a pot with Ganges water near the front of this house.’
“After I had returned with a vessel of water, the fakir cried, ‘Hazrat, put the stone in the pot!’
one of my friends in the room, was wearing a heavy antique gold watch and chain. The fakir examined them with ominous admiration. Soon they were missing!
“‘Afzal, please return my prized heirloom!’ Babu was nearly in tears.
“The Mohammedan was stoically silent for awhile, then said, ‘You have five hundred rupees in an iron safe. Bring them to me, and I will tell you where to locate your timepiece.’
“The distraught Babu left immediately for his home. He came back shortly and handed Afzal the required sum.
“‘Go to the little bridge near your house,’ the fakir instructed Babu. ‘Call on Hazrat to give you the watch and chain.’
“Babu rushed away. On his return, he was wearing a smile of relief and no jewelry whatever.
“‘When I commanded Hazrat as directed,’ he announced, ‘my watch came tumbling down from the air into my right hand! You may be sure I locked the heirloom in my safe before rejoining the group here!’
“Babu’s friends, witnesses of the comicotragedy of the ransom for a watch, were staring with resentment at Afzal. He now spoke placatingly.
“‘Please name any drink you want; Hazrat will produce it.’
“A number asked for milk, others for fruit juices. I was not too much shocked when the unnerved Babu requested whisky! The Mohammedan gave an order; the obliging Hazrat sent sealed containers sailing down the air and thudding to the floor. Each man found his desired beverage.
“The promise of the fourth spectacular feat of the day was doubtless gratifying to our host: Afzal offered to supply an instantaneous lunch!
“‘Let us order the most expensive dishes,’ Babu suggested gloomily. ‘I want an elaborate meal for my five hundred rupees! Everything should be served on gold plates!’
“As soon as each man had expressed his preferences, the fakir addressed himself to the inexhaustible Hazrat. A great rattle ensued; gold platters filled with intricately-prepared curries, hot luchis, and many out-of-season fruits, landed from nowhere at our feet. All the food was delicious. After feasting for an hour, we started to leave the room. A tremendous noise, as though dishes were being piled up, caused us to turn around. Lo! there was no sign of the glittering plates or the remnants of the meal.”
“Guruji,” I interrupted, “if Afzal could easily secure such things as gold dishes, why did he covet the property of others?”
“The fakir was not highly developed spiritually,” Sri Yukteswar explained. “His mastery of a certain yoga technique gave him access to an astral plane where any desire is immediately materialized. Through the agency of an astral being, Hazrat, the Mohammedan could summon the atoms of any object from etheric energy by an act of powerful will. But such astrally-produced objects are structurally evanescent; they cannot be long retained. Afzal still yearned for worldly wealth which, though more hardly earned, has a more dependable durability.”
I laughed. “It too sometimes vanishes most unaccountably!”
“Afzal was not a man of God-realization,” Master went on. “Miracles of a permanent and beneficial nature are performed by true saints because they have attuned themselves to the omnipotent Creator. Afzal was merely an ordinary man with an extraordinary power of penetrating a subtle realm not usually entered by mortals until death.”
“I understand now, Guruji. The after-world appears to have some charming features.”
Master agreed. “I never saw Afzal after that day, but a few years later Babu came to my home to show me a newspaper account of the Mohammedan’s public confession. From it I learned the facts I have just told you about Afzal’s early initiation from a Hindu guru.”
The gist of the latter part of the published document, as recalled by Sri Yukteswar, was as follows: “I, Afzal Khan, am writing these words as an act of penance and as a warning to those who seek the possession of miraculous powers. For years I have been misusing the wondrous abilities imparted to me through the grace of God and my master. I became drunk with egotism, feeling that I was beyond the ordinary laws of morality. My day of reckoning finally arrived.
“Recently I met an old man on a road outside Calcutta. He limped along painfully, carrying a shining object which looked like gold. I addressed him with greed in my heart.
“‘I am Afzal Khan, the great fakir. What have you there?’
“‘This ball of gold is my sole material wealth; it can be of no interest to a fakir. I implore you, sir, to heal my limp.’
“I touched the ball and walked away without reply. The old man hobbled after me. He soon raised an outcry: ‘My gold is gone!’
“As I paid no attention, he suddenly spoke in a stentorian voice that issued oddly from his frail body:
“‘Do you not recognize me?’
“I stood speechless, aghast at the belated discovery that this unimpressive old cripple was none other than the great saint who, long, long ago, had initiated me into yoga. He straightened himself; his body instantly became strong and youthful.
“‘So!’ My guru’s glance was fiery. ‘I see with my own eyes that you use your powers, not to help suffering humanity, but to prey on it like a common thief! I withdraw your occult gifts; Hazrat is now freed from you. No longer shall you be a terror in Bengal!’
“I called on Hazrat in anguished tones; for the first time, he did not appear to my inner sight. But some dark veil suddenly lifted within me; I saw clearly the blasphemy of my life.
“‘My guru, I thank you for coming to banish my long delusion.’ I was sobbing at his feet. ‘I promise to forsake my worldly ambitions. I will retire to the mountains for lonely meditation on God, hoping to atone for my evil past.’
“My master regarded me with silent compassion. ‘I feel your sincerity,’ he said finally. ‘Because of your earlier years of strict obedience, and because of your present repentance, I will grant you one boon. Your other powers are now gone, but whenever food and clothing are needed, you may still call successfully on Hazrat to supply them. Devote yourself wholeheartedly to divine understanding in the mountain solitudes.’
“My guru then vanished; I was left to my tears and reflections. Farewell, world! I go to seek the forgiveness of the Cosmic Beloved.”
1 A Moslem yogi; from the Arabic faqir, poor; originally applied to dervishes under a vow of poverty.
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2 My father later told me that his company, the Bengal-Nagpur Railway, had been one of the firms victimized by Afzal Khan.
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3 I do not recall the name of Sri Yukteswar’s friend, and must refer to him simply as “Babu” (Mister).
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