“You have come.” Sri Yukteswar greeted me from a tiger skin on the floor of a balconied sitting room. His voice was cold, his manner unemotional.
“Yes, dear Master, I am here to follow you.” Kneeling, I touched his feet.
“How can that be? You ignore my wishes.”
“No longer, Guruji! Your wish shall be my law!”
“That is better! Now I can assume responsibility for your life.”
“I willingly transfer the burden, Master.”
“My first request, then, is that you return home to your family. I want you to enter college in Calcutta. Your education should be continued.”
“Very well, sir.” I hid my consternation. Would importunate books pursue me down the years? First Father, now Sri Yukteswar!
“Someday you will go to the West. Its people will lend ears more receptive to India’s ancient wisdom if the strange Hindu teacher has a university degree.”
“You know best, Guruji.” My gloom departed. The reference to the West I found puzzling, remote; but my opportunity to please Master by obedience was vitally immediate.
“You will be near in Calcutta; come here whenever you find time.”
“Every day if possible, Master! Gratefully I accept your authority in every detail of my life-on one condition.”
“That you promise to reveal God to me!”
An hour-long verbal tussle ensued. A master’s word cannot be falsified; it is not lightly given. The implications in the pledge open out vast metaphysical vistas. A guru must be on intimate terms indeed with the Creator before he can obligate Him to appear! I sensed Sri Yukteswar’s divine unity, and was determined, as his disciple, to press my advantage.
“You are of exacting disposition!” Then Master’s consent rang out with compassionate finality:
“Let your wish be my wish.”
Lifelong shadow lifted from my heart; the vague search, hither and yon, was over. I had found eternal shelter in a true guru.
“Come; I will show you the hermitage.” Master rose from his tiger mat. I glanced about me; my gaze fell with astonishment on a wall picture, garlanded with a spray of jasmine.
“Yes, my divine guru.” Sri Yukteswar’s tone was reverently vibrant. “Greater he was, as man and yogi, than any other teacher whose life came within the range of my investigations.”
Silently I bowed before the familiar picture. Soul-homage sped to the peerless master who, blessing my infancy, had guided my steps to this hour.
Led by my guru, I strolled over the house and its grounds. Large, ancient and well-built, the hermitage was surrounded by a massive-pillared courtyard. Outer walls were moss-covered; pigeons fluttered over the flat gray roof, unceremoniously sharing the ashram quarters. A rear garden was pleasant with jackfruit, mango, and plantain trees. Balustraded balconies of upper rooms in the two-storied building faced the courtyard from three sides. A spacious ground-floor hall, with high ceiling supported by colonnades, was used, Master said, chiefly during the annual festivities of DURGAPUJA. A narrow stairway led to Sri Yukteswar’s sitting room, whose small balcony overlooked the street. The ashram was plainly furnished; everything was simple, clean, and utilitarian. Several Western styled chairs, benches, and tables were in evidence.
Master invited me to stay overnight. A supper of vegetable curry was served by two young disciples who were receiving hermitage training.
“Guruji, please tell me something of your life.” I was squatting on a straw mat near his tiger skin. The friendly stars were very close, it seemed, beyond the balcony.
“My family name was Priya Nath Karar. I was born here in Serampore, where Father was a wealthy businessman. He left me this ancestral mansion, now my hermitage. My formal schooling was little; I found it slow and shallow. In early manhood, I undertook the responsibilities of a householder, and have one daughter, now married. My middle life was blessed with the guidance of Lahiri Mahasaya. After my wife died, I joined the Swami Order and received the new name of Sri Yukteswar Giri. Such are my simple annals.”
Master smiled at my eager face. Like all biographical sketches, his words had given the outward facts without revealing the inner man.
“Guruji, I would like to hear some stories of your childhood.”
“I will tell you a few-each one with a moral!” Sri Yukteswar’s eyes twinkled with his warning. “My mother once tried to frighten me with an appalling story of a ghost in a dark chamber. I went there immediately, and expressed my disappointment at having missed the ghost. Mother never told me another horror-tale. Moral: Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you.
“Another early memory is my wish for an ugly dog belonging to a neighbor. I kept my household in turmoil for weeks to get that dog. My ears were deaf to offers of pets with more prepossessing appearance. Moral: Attachment is blinding; it lends an imaginary halo of attractiveness to the object of desire.
“A third story concerns the plasticity of the youthful mind. I heard my mother remark occasionally: ‘A man who accepts a job under anyone is a slave.’ That impression became so indelibly fixed that even after my marriage I refused all positions. I met expenses by investing my family endowment in land. Moral: Good and positive suggestions should instruct the sensitive ears of children. Their early ideas long remain sharply etched.”
Master fell into tranquil silence. Around midnight he led me to a narrow cot. Sleep was sound and sweet the first night under my guru’s roof.
Sri Yukteswar chose the following morning to grant me his KRIYA YOGA initiation. The technique I had already received from two disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya-Father and my tutor, Swami Kebalananda-but in Master’s presence I felt transforming power. At his touch, a great light broke upon my being, like glory of countless suns blazing together. A flood of ineffable bliss, overwhelming my heart to an innermost core, continued during the following day. It was late that afternoon before I could bring myself to leave the hermitage.
“You will return in thirty days.” As I reached my Calcutta home, the fulfillment of Master’s prediction entered with me. None of my relatives made the pointed remarks I had feared about the reappearance of the “soaring bird.”
I climbed to my little attic and bestowed affectionate glances, as though on a living presence. “You have witnessed my meditations, and the tears and storms of my SADHANA. Now I have reached the harbor of my divine teacher.”
“Son, I am happy for us both.” Father and I sat together in the evening calm. “You have found your guru, as in miraculous fashion I once found my own. The holy hand of Lahiri Mahasaya is guarding our lives. Your master has proved no inaccessible Himalayan saint, but one near-by. My prayers have been answered: you have not in your search for God been permanently removed from my sight.”
Father was also pleased that my formal studies would be resumed; he made suitable arrangements. I was enrolled the following day at the Scottish Church College in Calcutta.
Happy months sped by. My readers have doubtless made the perspicacious surmise that I was little seen in the college classrooms. The Serampore hermitage held a lure too irresistible. Master accepted my ubiquitous presence without comment. To my relief, he seldom referred to the halls of learning. Though it was plain to all that I was never cut out for a scholar, I managed to attain minimum passing grades from time to time.
Daily life at the ashram flowed smoothly, infrequently varied. My guru awoke before dawn. Lying down, or sometimes sitting on the bed, he entered a state of SAMADHI. It was simplicity itself to discover when Master had awakened: abrupt halt of stupendous snores. A sigh or two; perhaps a bodily movement. Then a soundless state of breathlessness: he was in deep yogic joy.
Breakfast did not follow; first came a long walk by the Ganges. Those morning strolls with my guru-how real and vivid still! In the easy resurrection of memory, I often find myself by his side: the early sun is warming the river. His voice rings out, rich with the authenticity of wisdom.
A bath; then the midday meal. Its preparation, according to Master’s daily directions, had been the careful task of young disciples. My guru was a vegetarian. Before embracing monkhood, however, he had eaten eggs and fish. His advice to students was to follow any simple diet which proved suited to one’s constitution.
Master ate little; often rice, colored with turmeric or juice of beets or spinach and lightly sprinkled with buffalo GHEE or melted butter. Another day he might have lentil-DHAL or CHANNA curry with vegetables. For dessert, mangoes or oranges with rice pudding, or jackfruit juice.
Visitors appeared in the afternoons. A steady stream poured from the world into the hermitage tranquillity. Everyone found in Master an equal courtesy and kindness. To a man who has realized himself as a soul, not the body or the ego, the rest of humanity assumes a striking similarity of aspect.
The impartiality of saints is rooted in wisdom. Masters have escaped MAYA; its alternating faces of intellect and idiocy no longer cast an influential glance. Sri Yukteswar showed no special consideration to those who happened to be powerful or accomplished; neither did he slight others for their poverty or illiteracy. He would listen respectfully to words of truth from a child, and openly ignore a conceited pundit.
Eight o’clock was the supper hour, and sometimes found lingering guests. My guru would not excuse himself to eat alone; none left his ashram hungry or dissatisfied. Sri Yukteswar was never at a loss, never dismayed by unexpected visitors; scanty food would emerge a banquet under his resourceful direction. Yet he was economical; his modest funds went far. “Be comfortable within your purse,” he often said. “Extravagance will buy you discomfort.” Whether in the details of hermitage entertainment, or his building and repair work, or other practical concerns, Master manifested the originality of a creative spirit.
Quiet evening hours often brought one of my guru’s discourses, treasures against time. His every utterance was measured and chiseled by wisdom. A sublime self-assurance marked his mode of expression: it was unique. He spoke as none other in my experience ever spoke. His thoughts were weighed in a delicate balance of discrimination before he permitted them an outward garb. The essence of truth, all-pervasive with even a physiological aspect, came from him like a fragrant exudation of the soul. I was conscious always that I was in the presence of a living manifestation of God. The weight of his divinity automatically bowed my head before him.
If late guests detected that Sri Yukteswar was becoming engrossed with the Infinite, he quickly engaged them in conversation. He was incapable of striking a pose, or of flaunting his inner withdrawal. Always one with the Lord, he needed no separate time for communion. A self-realized master has already left behind the stepping stone of meditation. “The flower falls when the fruit appears.” But saints often cling to spiritual forms for the encouragement of disciples.
As midnight approached, my guru might fall into a doze with the naturalness of a child. There was no fuss about bedding. He often lay down, without even a pillow, on a narrow davenport which was the background for his customary tiger-skin seat.
A night-long philosophical discussion was not rare; any disciple could summon it by intensity of interest. I felt no tiredness then, no desire for sleep; Master’s living words were sufficient. “Oh, it is dawn! Let us walk by the Ganges.” So ended many of my periods of nocturnal edification.
My early months with Sri Yukteswar culminated in a useful lesson-“How to Outwit a Mosquito.” At home my family always used protective curtains at night. I was dismayed to discover that in the Serampore hermitage this prudent custom was honored in the breach. Yet the insects were in full residency; I was bitten from head to foot. My guru took pity on me.
“Buy yourself a curtain, and also one for me.” He laughed and added, “If you buy only one, for yourself, all mosquitoes will concentrate on me!”
I was more than thankful to comply. Every night that I spent in Serampore, my guru would ask me to arrange the bedtime curtains.
The mosquitoes one evening were especially virulent. But Master failed to issue his usual instructions. I listened nervously to the anticipatory hum of the insects. Getting into bed, I threw a propitiatory prayer in their general direction. A half hour later, I coughed pretentiously to attract my guru’s attention. I thought I would go mad with the bites and especially the singing drone as the mosquitoes celebrated bloodthirsty rites.
No responsive stir from Master; I approached him cautiously. He was not breathing. This was my first observation of him in the yogic trance; it filled me with fright.
“His heart must have failed!” I placed a mirror under his nose; no breath-vapor appeared. To make doubly certain, for minutes I closed his mouth and nostrils with my fingers. His body was cold and motionless. In a daze, I turned toward the door to summon help.
“So! A budding experimentalist! My poor nose!” Master’s voice was shaky with laughter. “Why don’t you go to bed? Is the whole world going to change for you? Change yourself: be rid of the mosquito consciousness.”
Meekly I returned to my bed. Not one insect ventured near. I realized that my guru had previously agreed to the curtains only to please me; he had no fear of mosquitoes. His yogic power was such that he either could will them not to bite, or could escape to an inner invulnerability.
“He was giving me a demonstration,” I thought. “That is the yogic state I must strive to attain.” A yogi must be able to pass into, and continue in, the superconsciousness, regardless of multitudinous distractions never absent from this earth. Whether in the buzz of insects or the pervasive glare of daylight, the testimony of the senses must be barred. Sound and sight come then indeed, but to worlds fairer than the banished Eden.
The instructive mosquitoes served for another early lesson at the ashram. It was the gentle hour of dusk. My guru was matchlessly interpreting the ancient texts. At his feet, I was in perfect peace. A rude mosquito entered the idyl and competed for my attention. As it dug a poisonous hypodermic needle into my thigh, I automatically raised an avenging hand. Reprieve from impending execution! An opportune memory came to me of one of Patanjali’s yoga aphorisms-that on AHIMSA (harmlessness).
“Why didn’t you finish the job?”
“Master! Do you advocate taking life?”
“No; but the deathblow already had been struck in your mind.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Patanjali’s meaning was the removal of DESIRE to kill.” Sri Yukteswar had found my mental processes an open book. “This world is inconveniently arranged for a literal practice of AHIMSA. Man may be compelled to exterminate harmful creatures. He is not under similar compulsion to feel anger or animosity. All forms of life have equal right to the air of MAYA. The saint who uncovers the secret of creation will be in harmony with its countless bewildering expressions. All men may approach that understanding who curb the inner passion for destruction.”
“Guruji, should one offer himself a sacrifice rather than kill a wild beast?”
“No; man’s body is precious. It has the highest evolutionary value because of unique brain and spinal centers. These enable the advanced devotee to fully grasp and express the loftiest aspects of divinity. No lower form is so equipped. It is true that one incurs the debt of a minor sin if he is forced to kill an animal or any living thing. But the VEDAS teach that wanton loss of a human body is a serious transgression against the karmic law.”
I sighed in relief; scriptural reinforcement of one’s natural instincts is not always forthcoming.
It so happened that I never saw Master at close quarters with a leopard or a tiger. But a deadly cobra once confronted him, only to be conquered by my guru’s love. This variety of snake is much feared in India, where it causes more than five thousand deaths annually. The dangerous encounter took place at Puri, where Sri Yukteswar had a second hermitage, charmingly situated near the Bay of Bengal. Prafulla, a young disciple of later years, was with Master on this occasion.
“We were seated outdoors near the ashram,” Prafulla told me. “A cobra appeared near-by, a four-foot length of sheer terror. Its hood was angrily expanded as it raced toward us. My guru gave a welcoming chuckle, as though to a child. I was beside myself with consternation to see Master engage in a rhythmical clapping of hands. He was entertaining the dread visitor! I remained absolutely quiet, inwardly ejaculating what fervent prayers I could muster. The serpent, very close to my guru, was now motionless, seemingly magnetized by his caressing attitude. The frightful hood gradually contracted; the snake slithered between Master’s feet and disappeared into the bushes.
“Why my guru would move his hands, and why the cobra would not strike them, were inexplicable to me then,” Prafulla concluded. “I have since come to realize that my divine master is beyond fear of hurt from any living creature.”
One afternoon during my early months at the ashram, found Sri Yukteswar’s eyes fixed on me piercingly.
“You are too thin, Mukunda.”
His remark struck a sensitive point. That my sunken eyes and emaciated appearance were far from my liking was testified to by rows of tonics in my room at Calcutta. Nothing availed; chronic dyspepsia had pursued me since childhood. My despair reached an occasional zenith when I asked myself if it were worth-while to carry on this life with a body so unsound.
“Medicines have limitations; the creative life-force has none.
Believe that: you shall be well and strong.”
Sri Yukteswar’s words aroused a conviction of personally-applicable truth which no other healer-and I had tried many!-had been able to summon within me.
Day by day, behold! I waxed. Two weeks after Master’s hidden blessing, I had accumulated the invigorating weight which eluded me in the past. My persistent stomach ailments vanished with a lifelong permanency. On later occasions I witnessed my guru’s instantaneous divine healings of persons suffering from ominous disease-tuberculosis, diabetes, epilepsy, or paralysis. Not one could have been more grateful for his cure than I was at sudden freedom from my cadaverous aspect.
“Years ago, I too was anxious to put on weight,” Sri Yukteswar told me. “During convalescence after a severe illness, I visited Lahiri Mahasaya in Benares.
“’Sir, I have been very sick and lost many pounds.’
“’I see, Yukteswar, you made yourself unwell, and now you think you are thin.’
“This reply was far from the one I had expected; my guru, however, added encouragingly:
“’Let me see; I am sure you ought to feel better tomorrow.’
“Taking his words as a gesture of secret healing toward my receptive mind, I was not surprised the next morning at a welcome accession of strength. I sought out my master and exclaimed exultingly, ‘Sir, I feel much better today.’
“’Indeed! Today you invigorate yourself.’
“’No, master!’ I protested. ‘It was you who helped me; this is the first time in weeks that I have had any energy.’
“’O yes! Your malady has been quite serious. Your body is frail yet; who can say how it will be tomorrow?’
“The thought of possible return of my weakness brought me a shudder of cold fear. The following morning I could hardly drag myself to Lahiri Mahasaya’s home.
“’Sir, I am ailing again.’
“My guru’s glance was quizzical. ‘So! Once more you indispose yourself.’
“’Gurudeva, I realize now that day by day you have been ridiculing me.’ My patience was exhausted. ‘I don’t understand why you disbelieve my truthful reports.’
“’Really, it has been your thoughts that have made you feel alternately weak and strong.’ My master looked at me affectionately. ‘You have seen how your health has exactly followed your expectations. Thought is a force, even as electricity or gravitation. The human mind is a spark of the almighty consciousness of God. I could show you that whatever your powerful mind believes very intensely would instantly come to pass.’
“Knowing that Lahiri Mahasaya never spoke idly, I addressed him with great awe and gratitude: ‘Master, if I think I am well and have regained my former weight, shall that happen?’
“’It is so, even at this moment.’ My guru spoke gravely, his gaze concentrated on my eyes.
“Lo! I felt an increase not alone of strength but of weight. Lahiri Mahasaya retreated into silence. After a few hours at his feet, I returned to my mother’s home, where I stayed during my visits to Benares.
“’My son! What is the matter? Are you swelling with dropsy?’ Mother could hardly believe her eyes. My body was now of the same robust dimensions it had possessed before my illness.
“I weighed myself and found that in one day I had gained fifty pounds; they remained with me permanently. Friends and acquaintances who had seen my thin figure were aghast with wonderment. A number of them changed their mode of life and became disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya as a result of this miracle.
“My guru, awake in God, knew this world to be nothing but an objectivized dream of the Creator. Because he was completely aware of his unity with the Divine Dreamer, Lahiri Mahasaya could materialize or dematerialize or make any change he wished in the cosmic vision.
“All creation is governed by law,” Sri Yukteswar concluded. “The ones which manifest in the outer universe, discoverable by scientists, are called natural laws. But there are subtler laws ruling the realms of consciousness which can be known only through the inner science of yoga. The hidden spiritual planes also have their natural and lawful principles of operation. It is not the physical scientist but the fully self-realized master who comprehends the true nature of matter. Thus Christ was able to restore the servant’s ear after it had been severed by one of the disciples.”
Sri Yukteswar was a peerless interpreter of the scriptures. Many of my happiest memories are centered in his discourses. But his jeweled thoughts were not cast into ashes of heedlessness or stupidity. One restless movement of my body, or my slight lapse into absent-mindedness, sufficed to put an abrupt period to Master’s exposition.
“You are not here.” Master interrupted himself one afternoon with this disclosure. As usual, he was keeping track of my attention with a devastating immediacy.
“Guruji!” My tone was a protest. “I have not stirred; my eyelids have not moved; I can repeat each word you have uttered!”
“Nevertheless you were not fully with me. Your objection forces me to remark that in your mental background you were creating three institutions. One was a sylvan retreat on a plain, another on a hilltop, a third by the ocean.”
Those vaguely formulated thoughts had indeed been present almost subconsciously. I glanced at him apologetically.
“What can I do with such a master, who penetrates my random musings?”
“You have given me that right. The subtle truths I am expounding cannot be grasped without your complete concentration. Unless necessary I do not invade the seclusion of others’ minds. Man has the natural privilege of roaming secretly among his thoughts. The unbidden Lord does not enter there; neither do I venture intrusion.”
“You are ever welcome, Master!”
“Your architectural dreams will materialize later. Now is the time for study!”
Thus incidentally my guru revealed in his simple way the coming of three great events in my life. Since early youth I had had enigmatic glimpses of three buildings, each in a different setting. In the exact sequence Sri Yukteswar had indicated, these visions took ultimate form. First came my founding of a boys’ yoga school on a Ranchi plain, then my American headquarters on a Los Angeles hilltop, finally a hermitage in southern California by the vast Pacific.
Master never arrogantly asserted: “I prophesy that such and such an event shall occur!” He would rather hint: “Don’t you think it may happen?” But his simple speech hid vatic power. There was no recanting; never did his slightly veiled words prove false.
Sri Yukteswar was reserved and matter-of-fact in demeanor. There was naught of the vague or daft visionary about him. His feet were firm on the earth, his head in the haven of heaven. Practical people aroused his admiration. “Saintliness is not dumbness! Divine perceptions are not incapacitating!” he would say. “The active expression of virtue gives rise to the keenest intelligence.”
In Master’s life I fully discovered the cleavage between spiritual realism and the obscure mysticism that spuriously passes as a counterpart. My guru was reluctant to discuss the superphysical realms. His only “marvelous” aura was one of perfect simplicity. In conversation he avoided startling references; in action he was freely expressive. Others talked of miracles but could manifest nothing; Sri Yukteswar seldom mentioned the subtle laws but secretly operated them at will.
“A man of realization does not perform any miracle until he receives an inward sanction,” Master explained. “God does not wish the secrets of His creation revealed promiscuously. Also, every individual in the world has inalienable right to his free will. A saint will not encroach upon that independence.”
The silence habitual to Sri Yukteswar was caused by his deep perceptions of the Infinite. No time remained for the interminable “revelations” that occupy the days of teachers without self-realization. “In shallow men the fish of little thoughts cause much commotion.
In oceanic minds the whales of inspiration make hardly a ruffle.” This observation from the Hindu scriptures is not without discerning humor.
Because of my guru’s unspectacular guise, only a few of his contemporaries recognized him as a superman. The popular adage: “He is a fool that cannot conceal his wisdom,” could never be applied to Sri Yukteswar. Though born a mortal like all others, Master had achieved identity with the Ruler of time and space. In his life I perceived a godlike unity. He had not found any insuperable obstacle to mergence of human with Divine. No such barrier exists, I came to understand, save in man’s spiritual unadventurousness.
I always thrilled at the touch of Sri Yukteswar’s holy feet. Yogis teach that a disciple is spiritually magnetized by reverent contact with a master; a subtle current is generated. The devotee’s undesirable habit-mechanisms in the brain are often cauterized; the groove of his worldly tendencies beneficially disturbed. Momentarily at least he may find the secret veils of MAYA lifting, and glimpse the reality of bliss. My whole body responded with a liberating glow whenever I knelt in the Indian fashion before my guru.
“Even when Lahiri Mahasaya was silent,” Master told me, “or when he conversed on other than strictly religious topics, I discovered that nonetheless he had transmitted to me ineffable knowledge.”
Sri Yukteswar affected me similarly. If I entered the hermitage in a worried or indifferent frame of mind, my attitude imperceptibly changed. A healing calm descended at mere sight of my guru. Every day with him was a new experience in joy, peace, and wisdom. Never did I find him deluded or intoxicated with greed or emotion or anger or any human attachment.
“The darkness of MAYA is silently approaching. Let us hie homeward within.” With these words at dusk Master constantly reminded his disciples of their need for KRIYA YOGA. A new student occasionally expressed doubts regarding his own worthiness to engage in yoga practice.
“Forget the past,” Sri Yukteswar would console him. “The vanished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.”
Master always had young CHELAS in his hermitage. Their spiritual and intellectual education was his lifelong interest: even shortly before he passed on, he accepted for training two six-year-old boys and one youth of sixteen. He directed their minds and lives with that careful discipline in which the word “disciple” is etymologically rooted. The ashram residents loved and revered their guru; a slight clap of his hands sufficed to bring them eagerly to his side. When his mood was silent and withdrawn, no one ventured to speak; when his laugh rang jovially, children looked upon him as their own.
Master seldom asked others to render him a personal service, nor would he accept help from a student unless the willingness were sincere. My guru quietly washed his clothes if the disciples overlooked that privileged task. Sri Yukteswar wore the traditional ocher-colored swami robe; his laceless shoes, in accordance with yogi custom, were of tiger or deer skin.
Master spoke fluent English, French, Hindi, and Bengali; his Sanskrit was fair. He patiently instructed his young disciples by certain short cuts which he had ingeniously devised for the study of English and Sanskrit.
Master was cautious of his body, while withholding solicitous attachment. The Infinite, he pointed out, properly manifests through physical and mental soundness. He discountenanced any extremes. A disciple once started a long fast. My guru only laughed: “Why not throw the dog a bone?”
Sri Yukteswar’s health was excellent; I never saw him unwell. He permitted students to consult doctors if it seemed advisable. His purpose was to give respect to the worldly custom:
“Physicians must carry on their work of healing through God’s laws as applied to matter.” But he extolled the superiority of mental therapy, and often repeated: “Wisdom is the greatest cleanser.”
“The body is a treacherous friend. Give it its due; no more,” he said. “Pain and pleasure are transitory; endure all dualities with calmness, while trying at the same time to remove their hold. Imagination is the door through which disease as well as healing enters. Disbelieve in the reality of sickness even when you are ill; an unrecognized visitor will flee!”
Master numbered many doctors among his disciples. “Those who have ferreted out the physical laws can easily investigate the science of the soul,” he told them. “A subtle spiritual mechanism is hidden just behind the bodily structure.”
Sri Yukteswar counseled his students to be living liaisons of Western and Eastern virtues. Himself an executive Occidental in outer habits, inwardly he was the spiritual Oriental. He praised the progressive, resourceful and hygienic habits of the West, and the religious ideals which give a centuried halo to the East.
Discipline had not been unknown to me: at home Father was strict, Ananta often severe. But Sri Yukteswar’s training cannot be described as other than drastic. A perfectionist, my guru was hypercritical of his disciples, whether in matters of moment or in the subtle nuances of behavior.
“Good manners without sincerity are like a beautiful dead lady,” he remarked on suitable occasion. “Straightforwardness without civility is like a surgeon’s knife, effective but unpleasant. Candor with courtesy is helpful and admirable.”
Master was apparently satisfied with my spiritual progress, for he seldom referred to it; in other matters my ears were no strangers to reproof. My chief offenses were absentmindedness, intermittent indulgence in sad moods, non-observance of certain rules of etiquette, and occasional unmethodical ways.
“Observe how the activities of your father Bhagabati are well-organized and balanced in every way,” my guru pointed out. The two disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya had met, soon after I began my pilgrimages to Serampore. Father and Sri Yukteswar admiringly evaluated the other’s worth. Both had built an inner life of spiritual granite, insoluble against the ages.
From transient teachers of my earlier life I had imbibed a few erroneous lessons. A CHELA, I was told, need not concern himself strenuously over worldly duties; when I had neglected or carelessly performed my tasks, I was not chastised. Human nature finds such instruction very easy of assimilation. Under Master’s unsparing rod, however, I soon recovered from the agreeable delusions of irresponsibility.
“Those who are too good for this world are adorning some other,” Sri Yukteswar remarked. “So long as you breathe the free air of earth, you are under obligation to render grateful service. He alone who has fully mastered the breathless state is freed from cosmic imperatives. I will not fail to let you know when you have attained the final perfection.”
My guru could never be bribed, even by love. He showed no leniency to anyone who, like myself, willingly offered to be his disciple. Whether Master and I were surrounded by his students or by strangers, or were alone together, he always spoke plainly and upbraided sharply. No trifling lapse into shallowness or inconsistency escaped his rebuke. This flattening treatment was hard to endure, but my resolve was to allow Sri Yukteswar to iron out each of my psychological kinks. As he labored at this titanic transformation, I shook many times under the weight of his disciplinary hammer.
“If you don’t like my words, you are at liberty to leave at any time,” Master assured me. “I want nothing from you but your own improvement. Stay only if you feel benefited.”
For every humbling blow he dealt my vanity, for every tooth in my metaphorical jaw he knocked loose with stunning aim, I am grateful beyond any facility of expression. The hard core of human egotism is hardly to be dislodged except rudely. With its departure, the Divine finds at last an unobstructed channel. In vain It seeks to percolate through flinty hearts of selfishness.
Sri Yukteswar’s wisdom was so penetrating that, heedless of remarks, he often replied to one’s unspoken observation. “What a person imagines he hears, and what the speaker has really implied, may be poles apart,” he said. “Try to feel the thoughts behind the confusion of men’s verbiage.”
But divine insight is painful to worldly ears; Master was not popular with superficial students. The wise, always few in number, deeply revered him. I daresay Sri Yukteswar would have been the most soughtafter guru in India had his words not been so candid and so censorious.
“I am hard on those who come for my training,” he admitted to me. “That is my way; take it or leave it. I will never compromise. But you will be much kinder to your disciples; that is your way. I try to purify only in the fires of severity, searing beyond the average toleration. The gentle approach of love is also transfiguring. The inflexible and the yielding methods are equally effective if applied with wisdom. You will go to foreign lands, where blunt assaults on the ego are not appreciated. A teacher could not spread India’s message in the West without an ample fund of accommodative patience and forbearance.” I refuse to state the amount of truth I later came to find in Master’s words!
Though Sri Yukteswar’s undissembling speech prevented a large following during his years on earth, nevertheless his living spirit manifests today over the world, through sincere students of his KRIYA YOGA and other teachings. He has further dominion in men’s souls than ever Alexander dreamed of in the soil.
Father arrived one day to pay his respects to Sri Yukteswar. My parent expected, very likely, to hear some words in my praise. He was shocked to be given a long account of my imperfections. It was Master’s practice to recount simple, negligible shortcomings with an air of portentous gravity. Father rushed to see me. “From your guru’s remarks I thought to find you a complete wreck!” My parent was between tears and laughter.
The only cause of Sri Yukteswar’s displeasure at the time was that I had been trying, against his gentle hint, to convert a certain man to the spiritual path.
With indignant speed I sought out my guru. He received me with downcast eyes, as though conscious of guilt. It was the only time I ever saw the divine lion meek before me. The unique moment was savored to the full.
“Sir, why did you judge me so mercilessly before my astounded father? Was that just?”
“I will not do it again.” Master’s tone was apologetic.
Instantly I was disarmed. How readily the great man admitted his fault! Though he never again upset Father’s peace of mind, Master relentlessly continued to dissect me whenever and wherever he chose.
New disciples often joined Sri Yukteswar in exhaustive criticism of others. Wise like the guru! Models of flawless discrimination! But he who takes the offensive must not be defenseless. The same carping students fled precipitantly as soon as Master publicly unloosed in their direction a few shafts from his analytical quiver.
“Tender inner weaknesses, revolting at mild touches of censure, are like diseased parts of the body, recoiling before even delicate handling.” This was Sri Yukteswar’s amused comment on the flighty ones.
There are disciples who seek a guru made in their own image. Such students often complained that they did not understand Sri Yukteswar.
“Neither do you comprehend God!” I retorted on one occasion. “When a saint is clear to you, you will be one.” Among the trillion mysteries, breathing every second the inexplicable air, who may venture to ask that the fathomless nature of a master be instantly grasped?
Students came, and generally went. Those who craved a path of oily sympathy and comfortable recognitions did not find it at the hermitage. Master offered shelter and shepherding for the aeons, but many disciples miserly demanded ego-balm as well. They departed, preferring life’s countless humiliations before any humility. Master’s blazing rays, the open penetrating sunshine of his wisdom, were too powerful for their spiritual sickness. They sought some lesser teacher who, shading them with flattery, permitted the fitful sleep of ignorance.
During my early months with Master, I had experienced a sensitive fear of his reprimands. These were reserved, I soon saw, for disciples who had asked for his verbal vivisection. If any writhing student made a protest, Sri Yukteswar would become unoffendedly silent. His words were never wrathful, but impersonal with wisdom.
Master’s insight was not for the unprepared ears of casual visitors; he seldom remarked on their defects, even if conspicuous. But toward students who sought his counsel, Sri Yukteswar felt a serious responsibility. Brave indeed is the guru who undertakes to transform the crude ore of ego-permeated humanity! A saint’s courage roots in his compassion for the stumbling eyeless of this world.
When I had abandoned underlying resentment, I found a marked decrease in my chastisement. In a very subtle way, Master melted into comparative clemency. In time I demolished every wall of rationalization and subconscious reservation behind which the human personality generally shields itself. The reward was an effortless harmony with my guru. I discovered him then to be trusting, considerate, and silently loving. Undemonstrative, however, he bestowed no word of affection.
My own temperament is principally devotional. It was disconcerting at first to find that my guru, saturated with JNANA but seemingly dry of BHAKTI, expressed himself only in terms of cold spiritual mathematics. But as I tuned myself to his nature, I discovered no diminution but rather increase in my devotional approach to God. A self-realized master is fully able to guide his various disciples along natural lines of their essential bias.
My relationship with Sri Yukteswar, somewhat inarticulate, nonetheless possessed all eloquence. Often I found his silent signature on my thoughts, rendering speech inutile. Quietly sitting beside him, I felt his bounty pouring peacefully over my being.
Sri Yukteswar’s impartial justice was notably demonstrated during the summer vacation of my first college year. I welcomed the opportunity to spend uninterrupted months at Serampore with my guru.
“You may be in charge of the hermitage.” Master was pleased over my enthusiastic arrival. “Your duties will be the reception of guests, and supervision of the work of the other disciples.”
Kumar, a young villager from east Bengal, was accepted a fortnight later for hermitage training. Remarkably intelligent, he quickly won Sri Yukteswar’s affection. For some unfathomable reason, Master was very lenient to the new resident.
“Mukunda, let Kumar assume your duties. Employ your own time in sweeping and cooking.” Master issued these instructions after the new boy had been with us for a month.
Exalted to leadership, Kumar exercised a petty household tyranny. In silent mutiny, the other disciples continued to seek me out for daily counsel.
“Mukunda is impossible! You made me supervisor, yet the others go to him and obey him.” Three weeks later Kumar was complaining to our guru. I overheard him from an adjoining room.
“That’s why I assigned him to the kitchen and you to the parlor.” Sri Yukteswar’s withering tones were new to Kumar. “In this way you have come to realize that a worthy leader has the desire to serve, and not to dominate. You wanted Mukunda’s position, but could not maintain it by merit. Return now to your earlier work as cook’s assistant.”
After this humbling incident, Master resumed toward Kumar a former attitude of unwonted indulgence. Who can solve the mystery of attraction? In Kumar our guru discovered a charming fount which did not spurt for the fellow disciples. Though the new boy was obviously Sri Yukteswar’s favorite, I felt no dismay. Personal idiosyncrasies, possessed even by masters, lend a rich complexity to the pattern of life. My nature is seldom commandeered by a detail;
I was seeking from Sri Yukteswar a more inaccessible benefit than an outward praise.
Kumar spoke venomously to me one day without reason; I was deeply hurt.
“Your head is swelling to the bursting point!” I added a warning whose truth I felt intuitively: “Unless you mend your ways, someday you will be asked to leave this ashram.”
Laughing sarcastically, Kumar repeated my remark to our guru, who had just entered the room. Fully expecting to be scolded, I retired meekly to a corner.
“Maybe Mukunda is right.” Master’s reply to the boy came with unusual coldness. I escaped without castigation.
A year later, Kumar set out for a visit to his childhood home. He ignored the quiet disapproval of Sri Yukteswar, who never authoritatively controlled his disciples’ movements. On the boy’s return to Serampore in a few months, a change was unpleasantly apparent. Gone was the stately Kumar with serenely glowing face. Only an undistinguished peasant stood before us, one who had lately acquired a number of evil habits.
Master summoned me and brokenheartedly discussed the fact that the boy was now unsuited to the monastic hermitage life.
“Mukunda, I will leave it to you to instruct Kumar to leave the ashram tomorrow; I can’t do it!” Tears stood in Sri Yukteswar’s eyes, but he controlled himself quickly. “The boy would never have fallen to these depths had he listened to me and not gone away to mix with undesirable companions. He has rejected my protection; the callous world must be his guru still.”
Kumar’s departure brought me no elation; sadly I wondered how one with power to win a master’s love could ever respond to cheaper allures. Enjoyment of wine and sex are rooted in the natural man, and require no delicacies of perception for their appreciation.
Sense wiles are comparable to the evergreen oleander, fragrant withits multicolored flowers: every part of the plant is poisonous. The land of healing lies within, radiant with that happiness blindly sought in a thousand misdirections.
“Keen intelligence is two-edged,” Master once remarked in reference to Kumar’s brilliant mind. “It may be used constructively or destructively like a knife, either to cut the boil of ignorance, or to decapitate one’s self. Intelligence is rightly guided only after the mind has acknowledged the inescapability of spiritual law.”
My guru mixed freely with men and women disciples, treating all as his children. Perceiving their soul equality, he showed no distinction or partiality.
“In sleep, you do not know whether you are a man or a woman,” he said. “Just as a man, impersonating a woman, does not become one, so the soul, impersonating both man and woman, has no sex. The soul is the pure, changeless image of God.”
Sri Yukteswar never avoided or blamed women as objects of seduction. Men, he said, were also a temptation to women. I once inquired of my guru why a great ancient saint had called women “the door to hell.”
“A girl must have proved very troublesome to his peace of mind in his early life,” my guru answered causticly. “Otherwise he would have denounced, not woman, but some imperfection in his own self-control.”
If a visitor dared to relate a suggestive story in the hermitage, Master would maintain an unresponsive silence. “Do not allow yourself to be thrashed by the provoking whip of a beautiful face,” he told the disciples. “How can sense slaves enjoy the world? Its subtle flavors escape them while they grovel in primal mud. All nice discriminations are lost to the man of elemental lusts.”
Students seeking to escape from the dualistic MAYA delusion received from Sri Yukteswar patient and understanding counsel.
“Just as the purpose of eating is to satisfy hunger, not greed, so the sex instinct is designed for the propagation of the species according to natural law, never for the kindling of insatiable longings,” he said. “Destroy wrong desires now; otherwise they will follow you after the astral body is torn from its physical casing. Even when the flesh is weak, the mind should be constantly resistant. If temptation assails you with cruel force, overcome it by impersonal analysis and indomitable will. Every natural passion can be mastered.
“Conserve your powers. Be like the capacious ocean, absorbing within all the tributary rivers of the senses. Small yearnings are openings in the reservoir of your inner peace, permitting healing waters to be wasted in the desert soil of materialism. The forceful activating impulse of wrong desire is the greatest enemy to the happiness of man. Roam in the world as a lion of self-control; see that the frogs of weakness don’t kick you around.”
The devotee is finally freed from all instinctive compulsions. He transforms his need for human affection into aspiration for God alone, a love solitary because omnipresent.
Sri Yukteswar’s mother lived in the Rana Mahal district of Benares where I had first visited my guru. Gracious and kindly, she was yet a woman of very decided opinions. I stood on her balcony one day and watched mother and son talking together. In his quiet, sensible way, Master was trying to convince her about something. He was apparently unsuccessful, for she shook her head with great vigor.
“Nay, nay, my son, go away now! Your wise words are not for me! I am not your disciple!”
Sri Yukteswar backed away without further argument, like a scolded child. I was touched at his great respect for his mother even in her unreasonable moods. She saw him only as her little boy, not as a sage. There was a charm about the trifling incident; it supplied a sidelight on my guru’s unusual nature, inwardly humble and outwardly unbendable.
The monastic regulations do not allow a swami to retain connection with worldly ties after their formal severance. He cannot perform the ceremonial family rites which are obligatory on the householder. Yet Shankara, the ancient founder of the Swami Order, disregarded the injunctions. At the death of his beloved mother, he cremated her body with heavenly fire which he caused to spurt from his upraised hand.
Sri Yukteswar also ignored the restrictions, in a fashion less spectacular. When his mother passed on, he arranged the crematory services by the holy Ganges in Benares, and fed many Brahmins in conformance with age-old custom.
The SHASTRIC prohibitions were intended to help swamis overcome narrow identifications. Shankara and Sri Yukteswar had wholly merged their beings in the Impersonal Spirit; they needed no rescue by rule. Sometimes, too, a master purposely ignores a canon in order to uphold its principle as superior to and independent of form. Thus
Jesus plucked ears of corn on the day of rest. To the inevitable critics he said: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”
Outside of the scriptures, seldom was a book honored by Sri Yukteswar’s perusal. Yet he was invariably acquainted with the latest scientific discoveries and other advancements of knowledge. A brilliant conversationalist, he enjoyed an exchange of views on countless topics with his guests. My guru’s ready wit and rollicking laugh enlivened every discussion. Often grave, Master was never gloomy. “To seek the Lord, one need not disfigure his face,” he would remark. “Remember that finding God will mean the funeral of all sorrows.”
Among the philosophers, professors, lawyers and scientists who came to the hermitage, a number arrived for their first visit with the expectation of meeting an orthodox religionist. A supercilious smile or a glance of amused tolerance occasionally betrayed that the newcomers anticipated nothing more than a few pious platitudes. Yet their reluctant departure would bring an expressed conviction that Sri Yukteswar had shown precise insight into their specialized fields.
My guru ordinarily was gentle and affable to guests; his welcome was given with charming cordiality. Yet inveterate egotists sometimes suffered an invigorating shock. They confronted in Master either a frigid indifference or a formidable opposition: ice or iron!
A noted chemist once crossed swords with Sri Yukteswar. The visitor would not admit the existence of God, inasmuch as science has devised no means of detecting Him.
“So you have inexplicably failed to isolate the Supreme Power in your test tubes!” Master’s gaze was stern. “I recommend an unheard-of experiment. Examine your thoughts unremittingly for twenty-four hours. Then wonder no longer at God’s absence.”
A celebrated pundit received a similar jolt. With ostentatious zeal, the scholar shook the ashram rafters with scriptural lore. Resounding passages poured from the MAHABHARATA, the UPANISHADS, the BHASYAS of Shankara.
“I am waiting to hear you.” Sri Yukteswar’s tone was inquiring, as though utter silence had reigned. The pundit was puzzled.
“Quotations there have been, in superabundance.” Master’s words convulsed me with mirth, as I squatted in my corner, at a respectful distance from the visitor. “But what original commentary can you supply, from the uniqueness of your particular life? What holy text have you absorbed and made your own? In what ways have these timeless truths renovated your nature? Are you content to be a hollow victrola, mechanically repeating the words of other men?”
“I give up!” The scholar’s chagrin was comical. “I have no inner realization.”
For the first time, perhaps, he understood that discerning placement of the comma does not atone for a spiritual coma.
“These bloodless pedants smell unduly of the lamp,” my guru remarked after the departure of the chastened one. “They prefer philosophy to be a gentle intellectual setting-up exercise. Their elevated thoughts are carefully unrelated either to the crudity of outward action or to any scourging inner discipline!”
Master stressed on other occasions the futility of mere book learning.
“Do not confuse understanding with a larger vocabulary,” he remarked. “Sacred writings are beneficial in stimulating desire for inward realization, if one stanza at a time is slowly assimilated. Continual intellectual study results in vanity and the false satisfaction of an undigested knowledge.”
Sri Yukteswar related one of his own experiences in scriptural edification. The scene was a forest hermitage in eastern Bengal, where he observed the procedure of a renowned teacher, Dabru Ballav. His method, at once simple and difficult, was common in ancient India.
Dabru Ballav had gathered his disciples around him in the sylvan solitudes. The holy BHAGAVAD GITA was open before them. Steadfastly they looked at one passage for half an hour, then closed their eyes. Another half hour slipped away. The master gave a brief comment. Motionless, they meditated again for an hour. Finally the guru spoke.
“Have you understood?”
“Yes, sir.” One in the group ventured this assertion.
“No; not fully. Seek the spiritual vitality that has given these words the power to rejuvenate India century after century.” Another hour disappeared in silence. The master dismissed the students, and turned to Sri Yukteswar.
“Do you know the BHAGAVAD GITA?”
“No, sir, not really; though my eyes and mind have run through its pages many times.”
“Thousands have replied to me differently!” The great sage smiled at Master in blessing. “If one busies himself with an outer display of scriptural wealth, what time is left for silent inward diving after the priceless pearls?”
Sri Yukteswar directed the study of his own disciples by the same intensive method of one-pointedness. “Wisdom is not assimilated with the eyes, but with the atoms,” he said. “When your conviction of a truth is not merely in your brain but in your being, you may diffidently vouch for its meaning.” He discouraged any tendency a student might have to construe book-knowledge as a necessary step to spiritual realization.
“The RISHIS wrote in one sentence profundities that commentating scholars busy themselves over for generations,” he remarked. “Endless literary controversy is for sluggard minds. What more liberating thought than ‘God is’-nay, ‘God’?”
But man does not easily return to simplicity. It is seldom “God” for him, but rather learned pomposities. His ego is pleased, that he can grasp such erudition.
Men who were pridefully conscious of high worldly position were likely, in Master’s presence, to add humility to their other possessions. A local magistrate once arrived for an interview at the seaside hermitage in Puri. The man, who held a reputation for ruthlessness, had it well within his power to oust us from the ashram. I cautioned my guru about the despotic possibilities. But he seated himself with an uncompromising air, and did not rise to greet the visitor. Slightly nervous, I squatted near the door. The man had to content himself with a wooden box; my guru did not request me to fetch a chair. There was no fulfillment of the magistrate’s obvious expectation that his importance would be ceremoniously acknowledged.
A metaphysical discussion ensued. The guest blundered through misinterpretations of the scriptures. As his accuracy sank, his ire rose.
“Do you know that I stood first in the M. A. examination?” Reason had forsaken him, but he could still shout.
“Mr. Magistrate, you forget that this is not your courtroom,” Master replied evenly. “From your childish remarks I would have surmised that your college career was unremarkable. A university degree, in any case, is not remotely related to Vedic realization. Saints are not produced in batches every semester like accountants.”
After a stunned silence, the visitor laughed heartily.
“This is my first encounter with a heavenly magistrate,” he said. Later he made a formal request, couched in the legal terms which were evidently part and parcel of his being, to be accepted as a “probationary” disciple.
My guru personally attended to the details connected with the management of his property. Unscrupulous persons on various occasions attempted to secure possession of Master’s ancestral land. With determination and even by instigating lawsuits, Sri Yukteswar outwitted every opponent. He underwent these painful experiences from a desire never to be a begging guru, or a burden on his disciples.
His financial independence was one reason why my alarmingly outspoken Master was innocent of the cunnings of diplomacy. Unlike those teachers who have to flatter their supporters, my guru was impervious to the influences, open or subtle, of others’ wealth. Never did I hear him ask or even hint for money for any purpose.
His hermitage training was given free and freely to all disciples.
An insolent court deputy arrived one day at the Serampore ashram to serve Sri Yukteswar with a legal summons. A disciple named Kanai and myself were also present. The officer’s attitude toward Master was offensive.
“It will do you good to leave the shadows of your hermitage and breathe the honest air of a courtroom.” The deputy grinned contemptuously. I could not contain myself.
“Another word of your impudence and you will be on the floor!” I advanced threateningly.
“You wretch!” Kanai’s shout was simultaneous with my own. “Dare you bring your blasphemies into this sacred ashram?”
But Master stood protectingly in front of his abuser. “Don’t get excited over nothing. This man is only doing his rightful duty.”
The officer, dazed at his varying reception, respectfully offered a word of apology and sped away.
Amazing it was to find that a master with such a fiery will could be so calm within. He fitted the Vedic definition of a man of God:
“Softer than the flower, where kindness is concerned; stronger than the thunder, where principles are at stake.”
There are always those in this world who, in Browning’s words, “endure no light, being themselves obscure.” An outsider occasionally berated Sri Yukteswar for an imaginary grievance. My imperturbable guru listened politely, analyzing himself to see if any shred of truth lay within the denunciation. These scenes would bring to my mind one of Master’s inimitable observations: “Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others!”
The unfailing composure of a saint is impressive beyond any sermon.
“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that
ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”
I often reflected that my majestic Master could easily have been an emperor or world-shaking warrior had his mind been centered on fame or worldly achievement. He had chosen instead to storm those inner citadels of wrath and egotism whose fall is the height of a man.