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My Parents and Early Life
features of Indian culture have long been a search for ultimate
verities and the concomitant disciple-guru1 relationship.
My own path led me to a Christlike sage whose beautiful life was
chiseled for the ages. He was one of the great masters who are India's
sole remaining wealth. Emerging in every generation, they have bulwarked
their land against the fate of Babylon and Egypt.
find my earliest memories covering the anachronistic features of
a previous incarnation. Clear recollections came to me of a distant
life, a yogi2 amidst the Himalayan
snows. These glimpses of the past, by some dimensionless link, also
afforded me a glimpse of the future.
humiliations of infancy are not banished from my mind. I was resentfully
conscious of not being able to walk or express myself freely. Prayerful
surges arose within me as I realized my bodily impotence. My strong
emotional life took silent form as words in many languages. Among
the inward confusion of tongues, my ear gradually accustomed itself
to the circumambient Bengali syllables of my people. The beguiling
scope of an infant's mind! adultly considered limited to toys and
ferment and my unresponsive body brought me to many obstinate crying-spells.
I recall the general family bewilderment at my distress. Happier
memories, too, crowd in on me: my mother's caresses, and my first
attempts at lisping phrase and toddling step. These early triumphs,
usually forgotten quickly, are yet a natural basis of self-confidence.
memories are not unique. Many yogis are known to have retained their
self-consciousness without interruption by the dramatic transition
to and from "life" and "death." If man be solely
a body, its loss indeed places the final period to identity. But
if prophets down the millenniums spake with truth, man is essentially
of incorporeal nature. The persistent core of human egoity is only
temporarily allied with sense perception.
clear memories of infancy are not extremely rare. During travels
in numerous lands, I have listened to early recollections from the
lips of veracious men and women.
was born in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and passed
my first eight years at Gorakhpur. This was my birthplace in the United Provinces of northeastern India. We were
eight children: four boys and four girls. I, Mukunda Lal Ghosh3 , was the second
son and the fourth child.
and Mother were Bengalis, of the Kshatriya caste.4 Both were blessed with saintly nature. Their mutual love, tranquil
and dignified, never expressed itself frivolously. A perfect parental
harmony was the calm center for the revolving tumult of eight young
Charan Ghosh, was kind, grave, at times stern. Loving him dearly,
we children yet observed a certain reverential distance. An outstanding
mathematician and logician, he was guided principally by his intellect.
But Mother was a queen of hearts, and taught us only through love.
After her death, Father displayed more of his inner
tenderness. I noticed then that his gaze often metamorphosed into
Mother's presence we tasted our earliest bitter-sweet acquaintance
with the scriptures. Tales from the Mahabharata and Ramayana 5 were resourcefully
summoned to meet the exigencies of discipline. Instruction and chastisement
went hand in hand.
A daily gesture
of respect to Father was given by Mother's dressing us carefully
in the afternoons to welcome him home from the office. His position
was similar to that of a vice-president, in the Bengal-Nagpur Railway,
one of India's large companies. His work involved traveling, and
our family lived in several cities during my childhood.
an open hand toward the needy. Father was also kindly disposed,
but his respect for law and order extended to the budget. One fortnight
Mother spent, in feeding the poor, more than Father's monthly income.
ask, please, is to keep your charities within a reasonable limit."
Even a gentle rebuke from her husband was grievous to Mother. She
ordered a hackney carriage, not hinting to the children at any disagreement.
I am going away to my mother's home." Ancient ultimatum!
We broke into
astounded lamentations. Our maternal uncle arrived opportunely;
he whispered to Father some sage counsel, garnered no doubt from
the ages. After Father had made a few conciliatory remarks, Mother
happily dismissed the cab. Thus ended the only trouble I ever noticed
between my parents. But I recall a characteristic discussion.
give me ten rupees for a hapless woman who has just arrived at the
house." Mother's smile had its own persuasion.
rupees? One is enough." Father added a justification: "When
my father and grandparents died suddenly, I had my first taste of
poverty. My only breakfast, before walking miles to my school, was
a small banana. Later, at the university, I was in such need that
I applied to a wealthy judge for aid of one rupee per month. He
declined, remarking that even a rupee is important."
you recall the denial of that rupee!" Mother's heart had an
instant logic. "Do you want this woman also to remember painfully
your refusal of ten rupees which she needs urgently?"
With the immemorial gesture of vanquished husbands, he opened his
wallet. "Here is a ten-rupee note. Give it to her with my good
to first say "No" to any new proposal. His attitude toward
the strange woman who so readily enlisted Mother's sympathy was
an example of his customary caution. Aversion to instant acceptance --- typical
of the French mind in the West --- is really only honoring the principle
of "due reflection." I always found Father reasonable
and evenly balanced in his judgments. If I could bolster up my numerous
requests with one or two good arguments, he invariably put the coveted
goal within my reach, whether it were a vacation trip or a new motorcycle.
was a strict disciplinarian to his children in their early years,
but his attitude toward himself was truly Spartan. He never visited
the theater, for instance, but sought his recreation in various
spiritual practices and in reading the Bhagavad Gita.6 Shunning all luxuries, he would cling to one old pair of shoes until
they were useless. His sons bought automobiles after they came into
popular use, but Father was always content with the trolley car
for his daily ride to the office. The accumulation of money for
the sake of power was alien to his nature. Once, after organizing
the Calcutta Urban Bank, he refused to benefit himself by holding
any of its shares. He had simply wished to perform a civic duty
in his spare time.
after Father had retired on a pension, an English accountant arrived
to examine the books of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway Company. The amazed
investigator discovered that Father had never applied for overdue
the work of three men!" the accountant told the company. "He
has rupees 125,000 (about $41,250.) owing to him as back compensation."
The officials presented Father with a check for this amount. He
thought so little about it that he overlooked any mention to the
family. Much later he was questioned by my youngest brother Bishnu,
who noticed the large deposit on a bank statement.
elated by material profit?" Father replied. "The one who
pursues a goal of evenmindedness is neither jubilant with gain nor
depressed by loss. He knows that man arrives penniless in this world,
and departs without a single rupee."
Early in their
married life, my parents became disciples of a great master, Lahiri
Mahasaya of Benares. This contact strengthened Father's naturally
ascetical temperament. Mother made a remarkable
admission to my eldest sister Roma: "Your father and myself
live together as man and wife only once a year, for the purpose
of having children."
Father first met Lahiri Mahasaya through Abinash Babu,7 an employee in the Gorakhpur office of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway.
Abinash instructed my young ears with engrossing tales of many Indian
saints. He invariably concluded with a tribute to the superior glories
of his own guru.
ever hear of the extraordinary circumstances under which your father
became a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya?"
It was on a
lazy summer afternoon, as Abinash and I sat together in the compound
of my home, that he put this intriguing question. I shook my head
with a smile of anticipation.
ago, before you were born, I asked my superior officer --- your father --- to
give me a week's leave from my Gorakhpur duties in order to visit
my guru in Benares. Your father ridiculed my plan.
going to become a religious fanatic?' he inquired. 'Concentrate
on your office work if you want to forge ahead.'
walking home along a woodland path that day, I met your father in
a palanquin. He dismissed his servants and conveyance, and fell
into step beside me. Seeking to console me, he pointed out the advantages
of striving for worldly success. But I heard him listlessly. My
heart was repeating: 'Lahiri Mahasaya! I cannot live without
path took us to the edge of a tranquil field, where the rays of
the late afternoon sun were still crowning the tall ripple of the
wild grass. We paused in admiration. There in the field, only a
few yards from us, the form of my great guru suddenly appeared!8
you are too hard on your employee!' His voice was resonant in our
astounded ears. He vanished as mysteriously as he had come. On my
knees I was exclaiming, 'Lahiri Mahasaya! Lahiri Mahasaya!' Your
father was motionless with stupefaction for a few moments.
not only do I give you leave, but I give myself leave
to start for Benares tomorrow. I must know this great Lahiri Mahasaya,
who is able to materialize himself at will in order to intercede
for you! I will take my wife and ask this master to initiate us
in his spiritual path. Will you guide us to him?'
Joy filled me at the miraculous answer to my prayer, and the quick,
favorable turn of events.
evening your parents and I entrained for Benares. We took a horse
cart the following day, and then had to walk through narrow lanes
to my guru's secluded home. Entering his little parlor, we bowed
before the master, enlocked in his habitual lotus posture. He blinked
his piercing eyes and leveled them on your father.
you are too hard on your employee!' His words were the
same as those he had used two days before in the Gorakhpur field.
He added, 'I am glad that you have allowed Abinash to visit me,
and that you and your wife have accompanied him.'
their joy, he initiated your parents in the spiritual practice of Kriya Yoga.9 Your father and
I, as brother disciples, have been close friends since the memorable
day of the vision. Lahiri Mahasaya took a definite interest in your
own birth. Your life shall surely be linked with his own: the master's
blessing never fails."
left this world shortly after I had entered it. His picture, in
an ornate frame, always graced our family altar in the various cities
to which Father was transferred by his office. Many a morning and
evening found Mother and me meditating before an improvised shrine,
offering flowers dipped in fragrant sandalwood paste. With frankincense
and myrrh as well as our united devotions, we honored the divinity
which had found full expression in Lahiri Mahasaya.
picture had a surpassing influence over my life. As I grew, the
thought of the master grew with me. In meditation I would often
see his photographic image emerge from its small frame and, taking
a living form, sit before me. When I attempted to touch the feet
of his luminous body, it would change and again become the picture.
As childhood slipped into boyhood, I found Lahiri Mahasaya transformed
in my mind from a little image, cribbed in a frame, to a living,
enlightening presence. I frequently prayed to him in moments of
trial or confusion, finding within me his solacing direction. At
first I grieved because he was no longer physically living. As I
began to discover his secret omnipresence, I lamented no more. He
had often written to those of his disciples who were over-anxious
to see him: "Why come to view my bones and flesh, when I am
ever within range of your kutastha (spiritual sight)?"
I was blessed
about the age of eight with a wonderful healing through the photograph
of Lahiri Mahasaya. This experience gave intensification to my love.
While at our family estate in Ichapur, Bengal, I was stricken with
Asiatic cholera. My life was despaired of; the doctors could do
nothing. At my bedside, Mother frantically motioned me to look at
Lahiri Mahasaya's picture on the wall above my head.
him mentally!" She knew I was too feeble even to lift my hands
in salutation. "If you really show your devotion and inwardly
kneel before him, your life will be spared!"
I gazed at his
photograph and saw there a blinding light, enveloping my body and
the entire room. My nausea and other uncontrollable symptoms disappeared;
I was well. At once I felt strong enough to bend over and touch
Mother's feet in appreciation of her immeasurable faith in her guru.
Mother pressed her head repeatedly against the little picture.
Master, I thank thee that thy light hath healed my son!"
I realized that
she too had witnessed the luminous blaze through which I had instantly
recovered from a usually fatal disease.
One of my most
precious possessions is that same photograph. Given to Father by
Lahiri Mahasaya himself, it carries a holy vibration. The picture
had a miraculous origin. I heard the story from Father's brother
disciple, Kali Kumar Roy.
It appears that
the master had an aversion to being photographed. Over his protest,
a group picture was once taken of him and a cluster of devotees,
including Kali Kumar Roy. It was an amazed photographer who discovered
that the plate which had clear images of all the disciples, revealed
nothing more than a blank space in the center where he had reasonably
expected to find the outlines of Lahiri Mahasaya. The phenomenon
was widely discussed.
A certain student
and expert photographer, Ganga Dhar Babu, boasted that the fugitive
figure would not escape him. The next morning, as the guru sat in
lotus posture on a wooden bench with a screen behind him, Ganga
Dhar Babu arrived with his equipment. Taking every precaution for
success, he greedily exposed twelve plates. On each one he soon
found the imprint of the wooden bench and screen, but once again
the master's form was missing.
With tears and
shattered pride, Ganga Dhar Babu sought out his guru. It was many
hours before Lahiri Mahasaya broke his silence with a pregnant comment:
Spirit. Can your camera reflect the omnipresent Invisible?"
it cannot! But, Holy Sir, I lovingly desire a picture of the bodily
temple where alone, to my narrow vision, that Spirit appears fully
then, tomorrow morning. I will pose for you."
Again the photographer
focused his camera. This time the sacred figure, not cloaked with
mysterious imperceptibility, was sharp on the plate. The master
never posed for another picture; at least, I have seen none.
is reproduced in this book. Lahiri Mahasaya's fair features, of
a universal cast, hardly suggest to what race he belonged. His intense
joy of God-communion is slightly revealed in a somewhat enigmatic
smile. His eyes, half open to denote a nominal direction on the
outer world, are half closed also. Completely oblivious to the poor
lures of the earth, he was fully awake at all times to the spiritual
problems of seekers who approached for his bounty.
my healing through the potency of the guru's picture, I had an influential
spiritual vision. Sitting on my bed one morning, I fell into a deep
behind the darkness of closed eyes?" This probing thought came
powerfully into my mind. An immense flash of light at once manifested
to my inward gaze. Divine shapes of saints, sitting in meditation
posture in mountain caves, formed like miniature cinema pictures
on the large screen of radiance within my forehead.
you?" I spoke aloud.
the Himalayan yogis." The celestial response is difficult to
describe; my heart was thrilled.
I long to go to the Himalayas and become like you!" The vision
vanished, but the silvery beams expanded in ever-widening circles
this wondrous glow?"
am Iswara.10 I am Light."
The voice was as murmuring clouds.
to be one with Thee!"
Out of the slow
dwindling of my divine ecstasy, I salvaged a permanent legacy of
inspiration to seek God. "He is eternal, ever-new Joy!"
This memory persisted long after the day of rapture.
early recollection is outstanding; and literally so, for I bear
the scar to this day. My elder sister Uma and I were seated in the
early morning under a neem tree in our Gorakhpur compound.
She was helping me with a Bengali primer, what time I could spare
my gaze from the near-by parrots eating ripe margosa fruit. Uma
complained of a boil on her leg, and fetched a jar of ointment.
I smeared a bit of the salve on my forearm.
you use medicine on a healthy arm?"
Sis, I feel I am going to have a boil tomorrow. I am testing your
ointment on the spot where the boil will appear."
call me a liar until you see what happens in the morning."
Indignation filled me.
Uma was unimpressed,
and thrice repeated her taunt. An adamant resolution sounded in
my voice as I made slow reply.
the power of will in me, I say that tomorrow I shall have a fairly
large boil in this exact place on my arm; and your boil shall
swell to twice its present size!"
me with a stalwart boil on the indicated spot; the dimensions of
Uma's boil had doubled. With a shriek, my sister rushed to Mother.
"Mukunda has become a necromancer!" Gravely, Mother instructed
me never to use the power of words for doing harm. I have always
remembered her counsel, and followed it.
My boil was
surgically treated. A noticeable scar, left by the doctor's incision,
is present today. On my right forearm is a constant reminder of
the power in man's sheer word.
simple and apparently harmless phrases to Uma, spoken with deep
concentration, had possessed sufficient hidden force to explode
like bombs and produce definite, though injurious, effects. I understood,
later, that the explosive vibratory power in speech could
be wisely directed to free one's life from difficulties, and thus
operate without scar or rebuke.11
family moved to Lahore in the Punjab. There I acquired a picture
of the Divine Mother in the form of the Goddess Kali.12 It sanctified a small informal shrine on the balcony of our home.
An unequivocal conviction came over me that fulfillment would crown
any of my prayers uttered in that sacred spot. Standing there with
Uma one day, I watched two kites flying over the roofs of the buildings
on the opposite side of the very narrow lane.
you so quiet?" Uma pushed me playfully.
"I am just
thinking how wonderful it is that Divine Mother gives me whatever
She would give you those two kites!" My sister laughed derisively.
I began silent prayers for their possession.
played in India with kites whose strings are covered with glue and
ground glass. Each player attempts to sever the string of his opponent.
A freed kite sails over the roofs; there is great fun in catching
it. Inasmuch as Uma and I were on the balcony, it seemed impossible
that any loosed kite could come into our hands; its string would
naturally dangle over the roofs.
across the lane began their match. One string was cut; immediately
the kite floated in my direction. It was stationary for a moment,
through sudden abatement of breeze, which sufficed to firmly entangle
the string with a cactus plant on top of the opposite house. A perfect
loop was formed for my seizure. I handed the prize to Uma.
just an extraordinary accident, and not an answer to your prayer.
If the other kite comes to you, then I shall believe." Sister's
dark eyes conveyed more amazement than her words.
my prayers with a crescendo intensity. A forcible tug by the other
player resulted in the abrupt loss of his kite. It headed toward
me, dancing in the wind. My helpful assistant, the cactus plant,
again secured the kite string in the necessary loop by which I could
grasp it. I presented my second trophy to Uma.
Divine Mother listens to you! This is all too uncanny for me!"
Sister bolted away like a frightened fawn.
1 Spiritual teacher; from Sanskrit root gur, to raise, to uplift.
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Spiritual teacher; from Sanskrit root gur, to raise, to uplift.
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My name was changed to Yogananda when I entered the ancient monastic
Swami Order in 1914. My guru bestowed the religious title of Paramhansa
on me in 1935 (see chapters 24 and 42).
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Traditionally, the second caste of warriors and rulers.
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These ancient epics are the hoard of India's history, mythology,
and philosophy. An "Everyman's Library" volume, Ramayana
and Mahabharata, is a condensation in English verse by Romesh Dutt
(New York: E. P. Dutton).
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This noble Sanskrit poem, which occurs as part of the Mahabharata
epic, is the Hindu Bible. The most poetical English translation
is Edwin Arnold's The Song Celestial (Philadelphia: David McKay,
75ø). One of the best translations with detailed commentary
is Sri Aurobindo's Message of the Gita (Jupiter Press, 16 Semudoss
St., Madras, India, $3.50).
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Babu (Mister) is placed in Bengali names at the end.
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The phenomenal powers possessed by great masters are explained in
chapter 30, "The Law of Miracles."
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A yogic technique whereby the sensory tumult is stilled, permitting
man to achieve an ever-increasing identity with cosmic consciousness.
(See p. 243.)
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A Sanskrit name for God as Ruler of the universe; from the root
is, to rule. There are 108 names for God in the Hindu scriptures,
each one carrying a different shade of philosophical meaning.
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The infinite potencies of sound derive from the Creative Word, Aum,
the cosmic vibratory power behind all atomic energies. Any word
spoken with clear realization and deep concentration has a materializing
value. Loud or silent repetition of inspiring words has been found
effective in Coueism and similar systems of psychotherapy; the secret
lies in the stepping-up of the mind's vibratory rate. The poet Tennyson
has left us, in his Memoirs, an account of his repetitious device
for passing beyond the conscious mind into superconsciousness:
"A kind of waking trance-this for lack of a better word-I have
frequently had, quite up from boyhood, when I have been all alone,"
Tennyson wrote. "This has come upon me through repeating my
own name to myself silently, till all at once, as it were out of
the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, individuality
itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and
this not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the surest,
utterly beyond words-where death was an almost laughable impossibility-the
loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction, but the
only true life." He wrote further: "It is no nebulous
ecstasy, but a state of transcendent wonder, associated with absolute
clearness of mind."
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Kali is a symbol of God in the aspect of eternal Mother Nature.
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