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I Go to America
"America! Surely these people are Americans!" This was my
thought as a panoramic vision of Western faces passed before my inward
in meditation, I was sitting behind some dusty boxes in the storeroom
of the Ranchi school. A private spot was difficult to find during
those busy years with the youngsters!
The vision continued; a vast multitude,1 gazing at me
intently, swept actorlike across the stage of consciousness.
door opened; as usual, one of the young lads had discovered my hiding
place. "Come here,
Bimal," I cried gaily. "I have news for you: the Lord
is calling me to America!" "To America?"
The boy echoed my words in a tone that implied I had said "to
I am going forth to discover America, like Columbus. He thought
he had found India; surely there is a karmic link between those
scampered away; soon the whole school was informed by the two-legged
newspaper.2 I summoned the bewildered faculty and gave the school into its charge.
you will keep Lahiri Mahasaya's yoga ideals of education ever to
the fore," I said. "I shall write you frequently; God
willing, someday I shall be back." Tears stood
in my eyes as I cast a last look at the little boys and the sunny
acres of Ranchi. A definite epoch in my life had now closed, I knew;
henceforth I would dwell in far lands. I entrained for Calcutta
a few hours after my vision. The following day I received an invitation
to serve as the delegate from India to an International Congress
of Religious Liberals in America. It was to convene that year in
Boston, under the auspices of the American Unitarian Association. My head in a
whirl, I sought out Sri Yukteswar in Serampore. "Guruji,
I have just been invited to address a religious congress in America.
Shall I go?" "All doors
are open for you," Master replied simply. "It is now or
never." "But, sir,"
I said in dismay, "what do I know about public speaking? Seldom
have I given a lecture, and never in English."
or no English, your words on yoga shall be heard in the West."
laughed. "Well, dear guruji, I hardly think the Americans will
learn Bengali! Please bless me with a push over the hurdles of the
When I broke
the news of my plans to Father, he was utterly taken aback. To him
America seemed incredibly remote; he feared he might never see me
again. "How can
you go?" he asked sternly. "Who will finance you?"
As he had affectionately borne the expenses of my education and
whole life, he doubtless hoped that his question would bring my
project to an embarrassing halt. "The Lord
will surely finance me." As I made this reply, I thought of
the similar one I had given long ago to my brother Ananta in Agra.
Without very much guile, I added, "Father, perhaps God will
put it into your mind to help me." "No, never!"
He glanced at me piteously. I was astounded,
therefore, when Father handed me, the following day, a check made
out for a large amount.
give you this money," he said, "not in my capacity as
a father, but as a faithful disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya. Go then
to that far Western land; spread there the creedless teachings of Kriya Yoga."
I was immensely
touched at the selfless spirit in which Father had been able to
quickly put aside his personal desires. The just realization had
come to him during the preceding night that no ordinary desire for
foreign travel was motivating my voyage. "Perhaps
we shall not meet again in this life." Father, who was sixty-seven
at this time, spoke sadly. An intuitive
conviction prompted me to reply, "Surely the Lord will bring
us together once more." As I went about
my preparations to leave Master and my native land for the unknown
shores of America, I experienced not a little trepidation. I had
heard many stories about the materialistic Western atmosphere, one
very different from the spiritual background of India, pervaded
with the centuried aura of saints. "An Oriental teacher who
will dare the Western airs," I thought, "must be hardy
beyond the trials of any Himalayan cold!" One early morning
I began to pray, with an adamant determination to continue, to even
die praying, until I heard the voice of God. I wanted His blessing
and assurance that I would not lose myself in the fogs of modern
utilitarianism. My heart was set to go to America, but even more
strongly was it resolved to hear the solace of divine permission. I prayed and
prayed, muffling my sobs. No answer came. My silent petition increased
in excruciating crescendo until, at noon, I had reached a zenith;
my brain could no longer withstand the pressure of my agonies. If
I cried once more with an increased depth of my inner passion, I
felt as though my brain would split. At that moment there came a
knock outside the vestibule adjoining the Gurpar Road room in which
I was sitting. Opening the door, I saw a young man in the scanty
garb of a renunciate. He came in, closed the door behind him and,
refusing my request to sit down, indicated with a gesture that he
wished to talk to me while standing. "He must
be Babaji!" I thought, dazed, because the man before me had
the features of a younger Lahiri Mahasaya. He answered
my thought. "Yes, I am Babaji." He spoke melodiously in
Hindi. "Our Heavenly Father has heard your prayer. He commands
me to tell you: Follow the behests of your guru and go to America.
Fear not; you will be protected."
a vibrant pause, Babaji addressed me again. "You are the one
I have chosen to spread the message of Kriya Yoga in the
West. Long ago I met your guru Yukteswar at a Kumbha Mela; I told him then I would send you to him for training."
I was speechless,
choked with devotional awe at his presence, and deeply touched to
hear from his own lips that he had guided me to Sri Yukteswar. I
lay prostrate before the deathless guru. He graciously lifted me
from the floor. Telling me many things about my life, he then gave
me some personal instruction, and uttered a few secret prophecies.
Yoga, the scientific technique of God-realization," he
finally said with solemnity, "will ultimately spread in all
lands, and aid in harmonizing the nations through man's personal,
transcendental perception of the Infinite Father."
With a gaze
of majestic power, the master electrified me by a glimpse of his
cosmic consciousness. In a short while he started toward the door. "Do not
try to follow me," he said. "You will not be able to do
Babaji, don't go away!" I cried repeatedly. "Take me with
you!" Looking back,
he replied, "Not now. Some other time." Overcome by
emotion, I disregarded his warning. As I tried to pursue him, I
discovered that my feet were firmly rooted to the floor. From the
door, Babaji gave me a last affectionate glance. He raised his hand
by way of benediction and walked away, my eyes fixed on him longingly. After a few
minutes my feet were free. I sat down and went into a deep meditation,
unceasingly thanking God not only for answering my prayer but for
blessing me by a meeting with Babaji. My whole body seemed sanctified
through the touch of the ancient, ever-youthful master. Long had
it been my burning desire to behold him. Until now, I
have never recounted to anyone this story of my meeting with Babaji.
Holding it as the most sacred of my human experiences, I have hidden
it in my heart. But the thought occurred to me that readers of this
autobiography may be more inclined to believe in the reality of
the secluded Babaji and his world interests if I relate that I saw
him with my own eyes. I have helped an artist to draw a true picture
of the great Yogi-Christ of modern India; it appears in this book. The eve of my
departure for the United States found me in Sri Yukteswar's holy
you were born a Hindu, and don't be an American. Take the best of
them both," Master said in his calm way of wisdom. "Be
your true self, a child of God. Seek and incorporate into your being
the best qualities of all your brothers, scattered over the earth
in various races." Then he blessed
me: "All those who come to you with faith, seeking God, will
be helped. As you look at them, the spiritual current emanating
from your eyes will enter into their brains and change their material
habits, making them more God-conscious." He went on,
"Your lot to attract sincere souls is very good. Everywhere
you go, even in a wilderness, you will find friends." Both of his
blessings have been amply demonstrated. I came alone to America,
into a wilderness without a single friend, but there I found thousands
ready to receive the time-tested soul-teachings.
I left India in August, 1920, on The City of Sparta, the
first passenger boat sailing for America after the close of World
War I. I had been able to book passage only after the removal, in
ways fairly miraculous, of many "red-tape" difficulties
concerned with the granting of my passport.
During the two-months'
voyage a fellow passenger found out that I was the Indian delegate
to the Boston congress. "Swami
Yogananda," he said, with the first of many quaint pronunciations
by which I was later to hear my name spoken by the Americans, "please
favor the passengers with a lecture next Thursday night. I think
we would all benefit by a talk on 'The Battle of Life and How to
Fight It.'" Alas! I had
to fight the battle of my own life, I discovered on Wednesday. Desperately
trying to organize my ideas into a lecture in English, I finally
abandoned all preparations; my thoughts, like a wild colt eyeing
a saddle, refused any cooperation with the laws of English grammar.
Fully trusting in Master's past assurances, however, I appeared
before my Thursday audience in the saloon of the steamer. No eloquence
rose to my lips; speechlessly I stood before the assemblage. After
an endurance contest lasting ten minutes, the audience realized
my predicament and began to laugh. The situation
was not funny to me at the moment; indignantly I sent a silent prayer
"You can! Speak!" His voice sounded instantly within my consciousness.
fell at once into a friendly relation with the English language.
Forty-five minutes later the audience was still attentive. The talk
won me a number of invitations to lecture later before various groups
in America. I never could
remember, afterward, a word that I had spoken. By discreet inquiry
I learned from a number of passengers: "You gave an inspiring
lecture in stirring and correct English." At this delightful
news I humbly thanked my guru for his timely help, realizing anew
that he was ever with me, setting at naught all barriers of time
and space. Once in awhile,
during the remainder of the ocean trip, I experienced a few apprehensive
twinges about the coming English-lecture ordeal at the Boston congress.
I prayed, "please let my inspiration be Thyself, and not again
the laughter-bombs of the audience!"
City of Sparta docked near Boston in late September. On the
sixth of October I addressed the congress with my maiden speech
in America. It was well received; I sighed in relief. The magnanimous
secretary of the American Unitarian Association wrote the following
comment in a published account 4 of the congress
Yogananda, delegate from the Brahmacharya Ashram of Ranchi, India,
brought the greetings of his Association to the Congress. In fluent
English and a forcible delivery he gave an address of a philosophical
character on 'The Science of Religion,' which has been printed in
pamphlet form for a wider distribution. Religion, he maintained,
is universal and it is one. We cannot possibly universalize particular
customs and convictions, but the common element in religion can
be universalized, and we can ask all alike to follow and obey it."
to Father's generous check, I was able to remain in America after
the congress was over. Four happy years were spent in humble circumstances
in Boston. I gave public lectures, taught classes, and wrote a book
of poems, Songs of the Soul, with a preface by Dr. Frederick
B. Robinson, president of the College of the City of New York. 5
Starting a transcontinental
tour in the summer of 1924, I spoke before thousands in the principal
cities, ending my western trip with a vacation in the beautiful
Alaskan north. With the help
of large-hearted students, by the end of 1925 I had established
an American headquarters on the Mount Washington Estates in Los
Angeles. The building is the one I had seen years before in my vision
at Kashmir. I hastened to send Sri Yukteswar pictures of these distant
American activities. He replied with a postcard in Bengali, which
I here translate: 11th August,
1926 Child of my
heart, O Yogananda! Seeing the photos
of your school and students, what joy comes in my life I cannot
express in words. I am melting in joy to see your yoga students
of different cities. Beholding your methods in chant affirmations,
healing vibrations, and divine healing prayers, I cannot refrain
from thanking you from my heart. Seeing the gate, the winding hilly
way upward, and the beautiful scenery spread out beneath the Mount
Washington Estates, I yearn to behold it all with my own eyes. Everything here
is going on well. Through the grace of God, may you ever be in bliss.
sped by. I lectured in every part of my new land, and addressed
hundreds of clubs, colleges, churches, and groups of every denomination.
Tens of thousands of Americans received yoga initiation. To them
all I dedicated a new book of prayer thoughts in 1929 --- Whispers
From Eternity, with a preface by Amelita Galli-Curci.6 I give here,
from the book, a poem entitled "God! God! God!", composed
one night as I stood on a lecture platform:
the depths of slumber,
As I ascend the spiral stairway of wakefulness,
God! God! God! Thou
art the food, and when I break my fast
Of nightly separation from Thee,
I taste Thee, and mentally say:
God! God! God! No matter where I go, the spotlight of my mind
Ever keeps turning on Thee;
And in the battle din of activity
My silent war cry is ever: God! God! God! When
boisterous storms of trials shriek,
And when worries howl at me,
I drown their clamor, loudly chanting:
God! God! God! When
my mind weaves dreams
With threads of memories,
Then on that magic cloth I find embossed:
God! God! God! Every
night, in time of deepest sleep,
My peace dreams and calls, Joy! Joy! Joy!
And my joy comes singing evermore:
God! God! God! In
waking, eating, working, dreaming, sleeping,
Serving, meditating, chanting, divinely loving,
My soul constantly hums, unheard by any:
God! God! God!
Sometimes --- usually
on the first of the month when the bills rolled in for upkeep of
the Mount Washington and other Self-Realization Fellowship centers! --- I
thought longingly of the simple peace of India. But daily I saw
a widening understanding between West and East; my soul rejoiced. I have found
the great heart of America expressed in the wondrous lines by Emma
Lazarus, carved at the base of the Statue of Liberty,
of Exiles": From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Many of those faces I have since seen in the West, and instantly
recognized. Back to text
Swami Premananda, now the leader of the Self-Realization Church
of All Religions in Washington, D.C., was one of the students at
the Ranchi school at the time I left there for America. (He was
then Brahmachari Jotin.)
Back to text
Sri Yukteswar and I ordinarily conversed in Bengali.
Back to text
New Pilgrimages of the Spirit (Boston: Beacon Press, 1921).
Back to text
Dr. and Mrs. Robinson visited India in 1939, and were honored guests
at the Ranchi school.
Back to text
Mme. Galli-Curci and her husband, Homer Samuels, the pianist, have
been Kriya Yoga students for twenty years. The inspiring story of
the famous prima donna's years of music has been recently published
(Galli-Curci's Life of Song, by C. E. LeMassena, Paebar Co., New
Back to text
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