Life with a Master Taken from Talks by Swami Kriyananda
How Yogananda Trained His Disciples
I first came upon Autobiography of a Yogi in a New York bookstore in September 1948. I bought it, read it non-stop in three days, then took the next bus to California to meet Yogananda. Of all the people I’ve met, and God knows I’ve met many tens of thousands, none has inspired me so much as Master. Before reading that book, I didn’t even know what a master was, nor had I ever heard the word “guru.”
I had always held the opinion that I wouldn’t follow anyone in my life, but only follow my own inner light. When I read that book, however, I felt that here was somebody who could help me find what I was looking for. After meeting Master, I knew he was the one person of all I had ever met, or could even imagine meeting, that I would be willing to follow.
Living with him, I came to see what spiritual greatness was, at least to the extent I was capable of understanding it at that time. Sometimes he didn’t meet my expectations of greatness; sometimes I had to think through things that he would say or do. Each time I did, however, I discovered he was greater, not lesser, than my expectations. I was shocked very soon after coming to him, because I had assumed a master was always grave and never laughed, and that everything he said was like an oracle.
I had been with him for about a month when he took some of us to the desert retreat at Twenty- Nine Palms. He called me into his room one evening, brought out a little paper bag, and then he turned out the lights. I heard a crinkling sound and a little bit of chuckling, and then suddenly I saw sparks flying across the room. He had one of those little pistols that shoot blue sparks. Next he turned on the lights and had another pistol which shot something up in the air. It became a little parachute and floated slowly down. I was stunned. He asked me, “How do you like them?” Feeling rather embarrassed, I replied, “They’re fine, sir.” Then he looked at me penetratingly, and said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of God.” I was deeply moved by this incident.
The Guru Teaches in Varying Ways
So many times Yogananda would be in a playful mood, and yet the playing itself would be a kind of lesson. The way he taught was often indirect, as though through the back door. At the time you might only suspect that he was giving you a lesson, but somehow years later you would look back and see clearly what he had in mind. He also had an enormous sense of humor and fun. It wasn’t as if everything had to be some kind of cosmic lesson. He was the most unpretentious, humble person I ever met.
He never thought to accept anybody’s devotion to himself, but always directed it toward God. There were so many levels to his consciousness. I’ve never met a master or a saint, what to speak of an ordinary human being, who was so balanced. Some saints will be great in their love, or compassion, or wisdom, but he was great in everything. When he was in the bhav, or attitude, of wisdom, he was like a Himalayan yogi in a cave. Then everything he said was a pearl of such profundity that it was thrilling. Yet a moment later he could be laughing and playing like a child. Once some of the children were meditating when they began to feel something hitting them on the back of the head. It turned out that Master was shooting spitballs at them. He roared with laughter, yet one moment later he could be totally detached.
He had absolute control over himself from one moment to the next. I even noticed that in the midst of his laughter, you could look into his eyes, and it would be like looking into an ocean, completely untouched. His laughter was just a little ripple on the surface of his mind, for he was beyond everything. Sometimes it was a little awkward to be around him, because in a way it wasn’t like being with a human being at all. I always had the feeling that God himself was present. Even when he was playing or laughing or talking about digging a ditch, one couldn’t help feeling his divinity.
Omniscience of the Guru
Occasionally when he was speaking, little thoughts would run through our minds relating to what he was saying. At that moment he would look at us as if he knew exactly what we were thinking. Other times, while in the midst of a group, if you thought something that showed a right attitude, he would look at you, smile, and then go on talking to other people. Even in big crowds, he would notice our little thoughts. If he would say something that was especially meaningful to you, he’d look at you at that instant, smile, then continue with his talk. He had such a marvelous consciousness that was really in tune with everybody just as if he was in them, because he was in them. He told us sometimes,
“I know every single thought that every one of you is thinking.” What an incredible claim! Yet he proved it again and again. Yogananda once said to me, “I have plans for you.” I knew that he meant that he wanted to send me to India because he had been talking about going there. I was very pleased because going to India was naturally very exciting to me. Suddenly, after I had left him that day, the thought occurred to me that if I went to India, I wouldn’t be near him anymore. I fell into a dark mood of rejection, thinking that I wasn’t a good enough disciple to be kept with him, that he was just getting rid of the overflow. I was in a black mood for a couple of days, but finally shook it off by thinking, “He’ll only do what’s good for me.
If he wants me to go, it’s because that’s what I need, not because he wants to get rid of me.” Soon I felt much better. When I saw him again, I was feeling fine. I had told no one about this mood, and when I had seen him last I was feeling perfectly happy. As soon as he saw me, he said, “No more moods now. How will you be able to help others?” He knew what I had been going through. Again and again he proved this to us. Sometimes he proved it in rather funny ways. One of the disciples wasn’t able to follow the rules very well. He worked at the church in Phoenix, and was coming back to Encinitas to see Master. Late one night, as he was driving on the highway, he got hungry, and stopped at a restaurant to eat.
It was the only one open, and all they had were hamburgers. Master taught us not to eat meat, especially not beef. He thought to himself, “He won’t know,” and had a couple of hamburgers. He went happily on to Encinitas, and when he arrived, spoke to Master on the phone. Master didn’t make a big thing of his insight, but at the end of the conversation, he said, “Oh, by the way, when you’re on the highway late at night, and the only place to eat has nothing but hamburgers, better not eat.” Divine Protection for the Disciple So many times Yogananda’s disciples found themselves divinely protected in ways that were amazing.
This same disciple, much as he bent the rules, had great love for Master. On another occasion he was driving along and picked up a hitchhiker, though Master had told us not to do so. The hitchhiker was sitting in back as they were driving along, when suddenly the disciple heard Master’s voice say, “He has a knife!” He looked around and sure enough the hitchhiker was poised with a knife about to attack him. The disciple said strongly, “Put that knife down.” Tremblingly, the man lowered the knife, and jumped out of the car. Once another disciple was going down the very steep Mt. Washington hill in a large flat- bed truck.
Just as he was about to make the turn, he put his foot on the brake, and his foot went all the way to the floor. There was no resistance to it at all. The brakes had failed. To go right down that slope would have meant death because he would have gone over a steep embankment. Inwardly he asked, “Master, is this what you want?” Immediately the truck came to a stop. Dr. Lewis had an experience of Master’s divine protection once when he was going to a center meeting in Massachusetts. His car skidded on an icy patch just as he was approaching a bridge. Ordinarily he would have slid off the bridge into the freezing water, but he said it felt as though there was a hand on the hood of the car pushing it to a stop. Miracles happened around Master all the time, but somehow they never seemed particularly important because he didn’t want to draw attention to them. He never dwelt on them, because they were not the essence of our life with him.
Another thing I found in living with Master was that people would sometimes say, “Well, I don’t think he really knew about this particular area. After all he didn’t have this kind of experience; or after all he was an Indian, and we’re Americans.” I heard it several times from disciples, and every time it was on that point that the disciple fell into delusion and suffered for many years because of it. I remember a disciple who had met some other spiritual teacher who claimed that he could shut his eyes in meditation on one mountain top, and when he opened them he would be on another peak. I don’t think that anybody ever saw him do it, but he made the claim, and this was enough for this disciple. She decided that anybody with all these powers must be great. So she went to Master and said, “I have found another guru that I want to follow.” She was not a close disciple, otherwise the bond would have been on a deeper level. He said to her, “Very well then, I withdraw my ray.” She had been a shining person, but when she came back a year later, the light in her eyes was gone. She hadn’t found anything.
Though Master’s love was the infinite love of God, he couldn’t impose himself on anyone. An Expression of Compassion to All His divine love continually reached out to others. A lovely story that another disciple told me about Master took place once when they were out for a drive. As they were traveling along, Master suddenly said, “Stop the car,” and went into a little store. To everyone’s amazement he busily went about buying all sorts of useless junk. Finally he brought all his selections up to the counter and gave them to the woman there. She totaled the whole thing up, and he paid for it. As soon as she took his money, she burst out crying and said, “I very, very badly need exactly this sum of money to pay my rent today. My child is in the hospital, the store was about to be closed, and I didn’t know where I was going to get the money.
Now God has sent you here to buy these things so that I could have just what I needed.” Such universal compassion that can tune into the sorrow of all people gives us a glimpse of the divine. He used to walk up and down in front of the bars in Los Angeles, just to send his vibrations to those people and lift them out of their suffering. I know what that power is. I remember once, when I was very new, being out at Twenty-Nine Palms with him. I was lying in my sleeping bag on the floor one night, when all of a sudden I woke up. I felt that God himself was in the room. It was such a powerful vibration that I couldn’t even sleep and immediately I began meditating. I looked over and saw one of the other disciples was meditating as well.
Then I looked out of the window, and there was Master walking back and forth outside. He was there simply in order to give us his blessings, and to help us to overcome the darkness in ourselves. God Helping God I often think to myself with great regret how little I understood him when I was with him. As I grow older and come to appreciate things I had taken for granted, to see his greatness in ways I had overlooked, I wish I had the chance to re-live my years with him. I wish I had a chance to be a better disciple during his lifetime. Yet, I also realize that twenty years from now I’ll probably say the same thing about my present state. Until we attain the state of divine union, our ignorance is really unfathomable. The best thing we can do is to just forget ourselves. We’re not important. What we want to do is get away from the delusion of being separate from one another. We should try to be the servants of all, and yet understand that it’s just God serving God.
I remember an especially sweet episode in our life with Master. He was about to go out, when he stopped some of the monks and said to us, “It’s a hot day, isn’t it?” We knew what he meant was that he wanted to give us money to buy ice cream. We didn’t want to impose on him, so we said, “It’s not very hot, sir.” He looked at us so sweetly and said, “Are you sure it’s not very hot? Perhaps a little bit hot?” Finally we conceded, “Well, sir, if you say so.” Then he said, “I can’t keep money and I won’t. Here’s some money for ice cream.” He gave us each a dollar, but I used my own money and, to this day, I still have the dollar he gave me. There was a time when he was having a great deal of difficulty with his legs from taking on the karma of others. He couldn’t walk, so we were helping him into the car. Lovingly he said, “You are all so kind to me with your many attentions.” We protested, “But sir, it’s you who are kind to us!”
He smiled at us, then replied, “God is helping God. That’s His drama.” He never accepted the thought that he was in a position that merited any special consideration. It was all God serving God. He was really the servant of all. He never wanted anything except to give and to serve. He also saw himself as the friend of everyone – the truest friend that I have ever seen. In spite of all his responsibilities, if he said he would do something for someone, it was always done, no matter how small the request.
Once, my mother was coming for a visit, and I asked him if it would be possible for him to see her. I was reluctant to ask because I knew how busy he was, but he said, “Yes, of course.” I also asked, “Would you please pray that she come onto this path?” He agreed. It was quite a while before she actually did come, and I thought that he’d probably have forgotten my request with so many other things on his mind. After her visit with him, however, just as she was about to leave, he took hold of her hand and prayed aloud with great intensity that her soul be brought onto this path. I was deeply moved that he would do that for me, that he would remember. It showed me something of his greatness that he could give so much attention to all the requests brought to him. I think part of his greatness was that he could be so totally conscious in little ways, in small attentions, small considerations. He could be so true as a human being, so loyal, and so concerned for the welfare of others. He was the friend of all, so much that you knew that no one you’d ever met was such a friend as he.
He said, “When I am gone, only love can take my place.” It’s that love that resides in the hearts of his devotees. As people become more in tune with him, become better disciples, you can see his love and consciousness growing in their eyes. In a way, it’s as if Master was incarnate in all his disciples here. To Please Him – Serve All Love and joy are the qualities that manifested most strongly in Yogananda’s life. This is what we feel in our attunement with one another – the bond of God loving God, of God serving God. Our gratitude and fulfillment come in the opportunity to be of service to God in one another. Master showed us the way in this.
I think that of all the things about him – his great wisdom, his miraculous powers, his samadhi – the thing that touches me the most is the sweetness of his humility. There is such inspiration in those things he did for others that are small and unimportant in an outward way, but are, finally, the sum of greatness. Let us be thankful that we have the life and inspiration of such a master to draw from. He lives with us now. He is in our hearts. He’s as much with us today as he was then. All we have to do is to attune ourselves with him, to feel his guidance, to feel his blessings. Again and again since his passing he has shown how very near and very dear he really is.