Norman entered the dining room one day at lunchtime looking stunned.
“This morning,” he announced shakily, “I was driving the big flat-bed truck down Mt. Washington. As I came to the steepest part of that hill, I stepped on the brake to slow down for the hairpin turn at the bottom, but my foot went right to the floor! I pumped frantically; nothing happened. By this time the truck was going so fast I couldn’t shift to a lower gear. In moments I knew I’d be hurtling to my death over the edge of that steep embankment. Desperately I prayed to Master: ‘Is this what you want?’
“Suddenly the truck slowed to a complete stop! The brakes still weren’t working, but I was able to park safely in gear and curb the front wheel.
“What a blessing,” Norman concluded, “to have a God-realized master for a guru!”
As disciples of a great yogi, we often found that we had only to call Master mentally for misfortune to be speedily averted.
A year before Norman’s miraculous escape, Jerry Torgerson, another disciple, hitchhiked into Los Angeles. This mode of travel went against Master’s advice, but Jerry, like many other young Americans, had been practically raised on hitchhiking; he needed more than Master’s casual proscription, evidently, to change his habits.
“Three guys picked me up,” he told us. “We were riding along, when suddenly — how, I couldn’t say — I knew they were criminals. ‘I want to get out right here,’ I told them. But they wouldn’t stop. After some distance we left the main road, and drove through open countryside to a secluded house. One of the men got out; the other two stayed with me in the car. I didn’t know what they had in mind, but I can tell you I was plenty scared. I started praying to Master for help.
“Well, the first guy went and knocked at the front door. No answer. He went around the house, knocking and calling at every door and window. Still no answer. By this time the two men in the car were getting worried. ‘Let’s get outa here!’ they called out nervously. The first fellow came back, as nervous as they were. We all drove back to the main road, and there they let me out. The moment I’d slammed the door behind me, they rushed off at high speed.
“I never did find out what they’d had in mind, but I had the strong impression that they were planning to use me in a crime.
“I said nothing to anyone about all this. After church the following Sunday, I went up to Master for his blessing. The moment he saw me, he scolded, ‘You see, Jerry? I told you not to hitchhike! I had to close the ears of everyone in that house so no one would hear that man when he called to them.’”
Some months later, Joe Carbone and Henry Schaufelberger (now Brothers Bimalananda and Anandamoy) were plastering the lotus tower that forms the archway entrance to the SRF church grounds in Hollywood. Joe was mixing and carrying the plaster. Henry, at a height of about twenty feet, was troweling it onto the wall. The ladder Joe was using was set at a steep angle. On one climb, as he reached up to grasp the top rung, he missed it. The heavy hod of plaster on his shoulder began pulling him backward; now he was unable to grasp the rung with either hand. A twenty-foot drop, with all that weight on his shoulder, might very well have killed him. Realizing that it was too late to save himself, Joe thought urgently of Master and chanted out loud, “Om!”
Both men later testified as to what happened next. As Joe was chanting, some invisible force pushed him slowly back upright. A moment later he was able to grasp the rung again. Gasping with relief, he completed his climb.
Andy Anderson, the foreman on this job, was a professional carpenter and builder who had been hired from outside to oversee our work. He knew nothing of our philosophy, and often chuckled at the thought of working with “all these yogis!” But there was no doubt in his voice when he told me of how he had witnessed an uncanny instance of protection:
“Why you guys don’t all get killed on this job beats me. You just aren’t careful enough. I was standing right over there one day, when someone on a scaffold dropped a long two-by-four — without even looking below him! Another of you yogis was standing underneath, for all I could tell not even minding his own business! The two-by-four struck the ground at such an angle that it couldn’t possibly have missed him in falling over. It might’ve killed him.
“‘Look out!’ I hollered. Just then that two-by-four — leaning in his direction, mind you — stood back upright and, so help me, fell over in the opposite direction! I know I wasn’t just seeing things.”
Andy ended up by becoming a lay disciple himself.
James Coller told us of another hitchhiking incident, one in which he and another monk gave a man a lift. The two monks were in the front seat. “When we picked this man up,” James said, “there was no room for him in front, so he sat in the back. Some minutes later, as we were driving along, I suddenly heard a voice in my inner ear: ‘Look out! He has a knife!’ I turned around quickly. The man was leaning forward, a fiendish expression on his face. His hand was upraised, holding a knife; he was on the very point of striking the boy beside me, who was gazing ahead unsuspectingly.
“‘Put that knife down!’ I commanded sternly. The man was so astonished that he obeyed me. I stopped the car, and he got out without a word.”
In the sixty years, now, that I have been on this path, I cannot recall to mind a single instance where a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda has failed to find protection in time of real need. Considering the length of time involved, and the thousands of disciples I have known during this period, this is quite an amazing record.
The most striking of these cases occurred among those who had placed their lives unreservedly in the Guru’s care. Dr. Lewis told of an episode similar to Norman’s, when, on a cold winter night in Massachusetts, he had been out driving to a meditation meeting. With him were two fellow disciples, Mrs. Laura Elliott and Mrs. Alice Hasey (Sister Yogmata). Suddenly, as they approached a narrow bridge, they found their way blocked by another car that had skidded sidewise across the icy road. A crash seemed inevitable.
“At that moment,” Dr. Lewis said, “we felt as if a giant hand were being pressed down on the hood of the car. We slowed instantly to a stop, our car still safely on the road.”
Señor J. M. Cuaron, the leader of the SRF center in Mexico City, related the following incident to me.
“I was badly in need of a job, but for a long time could find no work anywhere. Then one day an excellent offer came from a company in Matamoros. Taking that job would mean moving away from Mexico City; I therefore wrote Master to request his permission to put the SRF center in someone else’s charge. My letter was, to me, a mere formality; I was sure Master would congratulate me on my good luck. Imagine my surprise, then, when he replied by telegram: ‘No. Absolutely not. Under no circumstances whatever accept that job.’ I admit I was a bit upset. But even so, I obeyed him.
“One month later the news came out in the papers: The company that had offered me that job was exposed for fraud. Its officers, including the man who had taken the post I’d been offered, were sent to prison. He hadn’t been aware of the firm’s dishonesty, just as I would not have been. Because of the position he held, however, he was imprisoned with the rest. It was only by Master’s grace that I was spared that calamity!”
Tests there must be in life, of course. They come especially on the spiritual path, for if devotees are to escape the coils of maya (delusion), they must learn the lessons they need to develop in wisdom. Master didn’t shrink from giving us whatever lessons we needed, to grow. For example, although on that occasion he saved Señor Cuaron from ignominious arrest, he never helped him to find the employment he so badly wanted. Señor Cuaron in fact had enough money to live on simply, as became a world-renouncing yogi. Master evidently saw no good reason to help him return to his former levels of opulence.
But our tests were always blessings; outright misfortune Master spared us. And where a test was not required for a disciple’s spiritual growth, Master often removed it from his path altogether.
I remember how he “de-jinxed” a student (not a close disciple) who was having trouble earning money. It was Jean Haupt’s brother, Richard. Not long after Master’s intercession, the man became quite well-to-do.
In 1955 I went to Switzerland on a lecture tour. There I met a lady from Czechoslovakia who told me a story concerning Professor Novicky, the late leader of a small SRF group in Prague.
“One day,” she said, “after Yogananda’s passing, a stranger came to Professor Novicky and requested instruction in yoga. The professor didn’t know what to do. Normally he kept his spiritual activities a secret so as not to expose himself to persecution. If this man was a genuine seeker, the professor would want to help him. But if he was a communist government spy, any admission of interest in yoga might result in a prison sentence for him. Our friend prayed for guidance. Suddenly, standing behind that self-proclaimed ‘devotee,’ Paramhansa Yogananda appeared. Slowly the Master shook his head, then vanished. Professor Novicky told the man he had come to the wrong place for information. Sometime later, he learned that the man was indeed a government spy.
“I am free to tell this story now,” my informant continued, “for the good professor died recently, of natural causes.”
On January 5, 1959, my own life was spared in a remarkable manner. The incident took place in India. I was preparing for a religious gathering in Dakshineswar, outside Calcutta, for which event Daya Mata was to be the principal speaker. Part of my task was to set up the loud-speaker equipment. With both hands I grasped the microphone boom to move it. Suddenly 230 volts of electricity shot through my body, lifting me right off the ground. Involuntarily I cried out. Such high voltage tightens the muscles, making it impossible to release anything one is holding. Unable as I’d have been to let go of the metal boom, I would have been killed instantly. Just at that moment, inexplicably, the fuse blew. The function was delayed half an hour till another fuse was located, but my life was spared. The only ill effect I suffered was a slight tremor of the heart that lasted two or three days.
Other occasions there have been. One was at the men’s retreat at Twenty-Nine Palms. I was out walking one day, when all of a sudden a flock of crows began circling around me. I thought, “This surely is a bad omen.” Two days later I unmade my bed — I had been sleeping out on the patio — preparatory to leaving. Between the sheets I found a squashed black widow spider — the sting of which is often fatal.
Death must, of course, come to everyone sooner or later. But I have been struck by its beauty and dignity when it has visited disciples of this path.
A member of our Hollywood church congregation died of a stroke. His wife later told me, “In his final moments, my husband whispered to me lovingly, ‘Don’t feel badly, dear. I am so happy! And I see a bright, bright light all around me.’”
Another church member, who had known the Master since his early years in America, exclaimed at the end of her life, “Swamiji is here!” Her face was radiant; it wore a blissful smile.
And Sister Gyanamata’s last words were, “Such joy! Too much joy! Oh, too much joy!”
Disciples who have died of cancer or other painful diseases have left their bodies peacefully, with a smile on their lips.
People often point to the sufferings of humanity as proof either that God doesn’t exist, or that He doesn’t care for His human children. Paramhansa Yogananda’s answer to that charge was that people don’t care enough about God to tune in to His help. Indeed, by their indifference they create the very problems which, later, they lay accusingly at His door. If, in daylight, a person moves about a room with closed eyes, he may bump against a piece of furniture and hurt himself. By closing one’s eyes to light, one creates his own darkness. By closing one’s heart to love, one creates his own fear, hatred, or apathy. By closing one’s soul to joy, one creates his own misery.
In case after case I have seen fulfilled Yogananda’s promise that faithful devotees of his path would be protected. “For those who stay in tune to the end,” he added, “I, or one of the other masters, will be there to usher them into the divine kingdom.” Truly, the words of the great Swami Shankaracharya have found justification in Paramhansa Yogananda’s life: “No known comparison exists in the three worlds for a true guru.”
It is perhaps the greatest sign of God’s aid to His devotees that, when the soul yearns deeply for Him, He sends to that soul the supreme blessing of a God-awakened master to guide it along the highway to Infinity.