Autobiography of a Yogi
by Paramahansa Yogananda
Original 1946 Edition
A "Perfume Saint" Displays His Wonders
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
I did not have this wisdom of Solomon to comfort me; I gazed searchingly about me, on any excursion from home, for the face of my destined guru. But my path did not cross his own until after the completion of my high school studies.
Two years elapsed between my flight with Amar toward the Himalayas, and the great day of Sri Yukteswar's arrival into my life. During that interim I met a number of sages—the "Perfume Saint," the "Tiger Swami," Nagendra Nath Bhaduri, Master Mahasaya, and the famous Bengali scientist, Jagadis Chandra Bose.
My encounter with the "Perfume Saint" had two preambles, one harmonious and the other humorous.
"God is simple. Everything else is complex. Do not seek absolute values in the relative world of nature."
These philosophical finalities gently entered my ear as I stood silently before a temple image of Kali. Turning, I confronted a tall man whose garb, or lack of it, revealed him a wandering sadhu.
"You have indeed penetrated the bewilderment of my thoughts!" I smiled gratefully. "The confusion of benign and terrible aspects in nature, as symbolized by Kali1, has puzzled wiser heads than mine!"
"Few there be who solve her mystery! Good and evil is the challenging riddle which life places sphinxlike before every intelligence. Attempting no solution, most men pay forfeit with their lives, penalty now even as in the days of Thebes. Here and there, a towering lonely figure never cries defeat. From the maya2 of duality he plucks the cleaveless truth of unity."
"You speak with conviction, sir."
"I have long exercised an honest introspection, the exquisitely painful approach to wisdom. Self-scrutiny, relentless observance of one's thoughts, is a stark and shattering experience. It pulverizes the stoutest ego. But true self-analysis mathematically operates to produce seers. The way of 'self-expression,' individual acknowledgments, results in egotists, sure of the right to their private interpretations of God and the universe."
"Truth humbly retires, no doubt, before such arrogant originality." I was enjoying the discussion.
"Man can understand no eternal verity until he has freed himself from pretensions. The human mind, bared to a centuried slime, is teeming with repulsive life of countless world-delusions. Struggles of the battlefields pale into insignificance here, when man first contends with inward enemies! No mortal foes these, to be overcome by harrowing array of might! Omnipresent, unresting, pursuing man even in sleep, subtly equipped with a miasmic weapon, these soldiers of ignorant lusts seek to slay us all. Thoughtless is the man who buries his ideals, surrendering to the common fate. Can he seem other than impotent, wooden, ignominious?"
"Respected Sir, have you no sympathy for the bewildered masses?"
The sage was silent for a moment, then answered obliquely.
"To love both the invisible God, Repository of All Virtues, and visible man, apparently possessed of none, is often baffling! But ingenuity is equal to the maze. Inner research soon exposes a unity in all human minds—the stalwart kinship of selfish motive. In one sense at least, the brotherhood of man stands revealed. An aghast humility follows this leveling discovery. It ripens into compassion for one's fellows, blind to the healing potencies of the soul awaiting exploration."
"The saints of every age, sir, have felt like yourself for the sorrows of the world."
"Only the shallow man loses responsiveness to the woes of others' lives, as he sinks into narrow suffering of his own." The sadhu's austere face was noticeably softened. "The one who practices a scalpel self-dissection will know an expansion of universal pity. Release is given him from the deafening demands of his ego. The love of God flowers on such soil. The creature finally turns to his Creator, if for no other reason than to ask in anguish: 'Why, Lord, why?' By ignoble whips of pain, man is driven at last into the Infinite Presence, whose beauty alone should lure him."
The sage and I were present in Calcutta's Kalighat Temple, whither I had gone to view its famed magnificence. With a sweeping gesture, my chance companion dismissed the ornate dignity.
"Bricks and mortar sing us no audible tune; the heart opens only to the human chant of being."
We strolled to the inviting sunshine at the entrance, where throngs of devotees were passing to and fro.
"You are young." The sage surveyed me thoughtfully. "India too is young. The ancient rishis 3 laid down ineradicable patterns of spiritual living. Their hoary dictums suffice for this day and land. Not outmoded, not unsophisticated against the guiles of materialism, the disciplinary precepts mold India still. By millenniums—more than embarrassed scholars care to compute!—the skeptic Time has validated Vedic worth. Take it for your heritage."
As I was reverently bidding farewell to the eloquent sadhu, he revealed a clairvoyant perception:
"After you leave here today, an unusual experience will come your way."
I quitted the temple precincts and wandered along aimlessly. Turning a corner, I ran into an old acquaintance—one of those long-winded fellows whose conversational powers ignore time and embrace eternity.
"I will let you go in a very short while, if you will tell me all that has happened during the six years of our separation."
"What a paradox! I must leave you now."
But he held me by the hand, forcing out tidbits of information. He was like a ravenous wolf, I thought in amusement; the longer I spoke, the more hungrily he sniffed for news. Inwardly I petitioned the Goddess Kali to devise a graceful means of escape.
My companion left me abruptly. I sighed with relief and doubled my pace, dreading any relapse into the garrulous fever. Hearing rapid footsteps behind me, I quickened my speed. I dared not look back. But with a bound, the youth rejoined me, jovially clasping my shoulder.
"I forgot to tell you of Gandha Baba (Perfume Saint), who is gracing yonder house." He pointed to a dwelling a few yards distant. "Do meet him; he is interesting. You may have an unusual experience. Good-by," and he actually left me.
The similarly worded prediction of the sadhu at Kalighat Temple flashed to my mind. Definitely intrigued, I entered the house and was ushered into a commodious parlor. A crowd of people were sitting, Orient-wise, here and there on a thick orange-colored carpet. An awed whisper reached my ear:
"Behold Gandha Baba on the leopard skin. He can give the natural perfume of any flower to a scentless one, or revive a wilted blossom, or make a person's skin exude delightful fragrance."
I looked directly at the saint; his quick gaze rested on mine. He was plump and bearded, with dark skin and large, gleaming eyes.
"Son, I am glad to see you. Say what you want. Would you like some perfume?"
"What for?" I thought his remark rather childish.
"To experience the miraculous way of enjoying perfumes."
"Harnessing God to make odors?"
"What of it? God makes perfume anyway."
"Yes, but He fashions frail bottles of petals for fresh use and discard. Can you materialize flowers?"
"I materialize perfumes, little friend."
"Then scent factories will go out of business."
"I will permit them to keep their trade! My own purpose is to demonstrate the power of God."
"Sir, is it necessary to prove God? Isn't He performing miracles in everything, everywhere?"
"Yes, but we too should manifest some of His infinite creative variety."
"How long did it take to master your art?"
"For manufacturing scents by astral means! It seems, my honored saint, you have been wasting a dozen years for fragrances which you can obtain with a few rupees from a florist's shop."
"Perfumes fade with flowers."
"Perfumes fade with death. Why should I desire that which pleases the body only?"
"Mr. Philosopher, you please my mind. Now, stretch forth your right hand." He made a gesture of blessing.
I was a few feet away from Gandha Baba; no one else was near enough to contact my body. I extended my hand, which the yogi did not touch.
"What perfume do you want?"
"Be it so."
To my great surprise, the charming fragrance of rose was wafted strongly from the center of my palm. I smilingly took a large white scentless flower from a near-by vase.
"Can this odorless blossom be permeated with jasmine?"
"Be it so."
A jasmine fragrance instantly shot from the petals. I thanked the wonder-worker and seated myself by one of his students. He informed me that Gandha Baba, whose proper name was Vishudhananda, had learned many astonishing yoga secrets from a master in Tibet. The Tibetan yogi, I was assured, had attained the age of over a thousand years.
"His disciple Gandha Baba does not always perform his perfume-feats in the simple verbal manner you have just witnessed." The student spoke with obvious pride in his master. "His procedure differs widely, to accord with diversity in temperaments. He is marvelous! Many members of the Calcutta intelligentsia are among his followers."
I inwardly resolved not to add myself to their number. A guru too literally "marvelous" was not to my liking. With polite thanks to Gandha Baba, I departed. Sauntering home, I reflected on the three varied encounters the day had brought forth.
My sister Uma met me as I entered our Gurpar Road door.
"You are getting quite stylish, using perfumes!"
Without a word, I motioned her to smell my hand.
"What an attractive rose fragrance! It is unusually strong!"
Thinking it was "strongly unusual," I silently placed the astrally scented blossom under her nostrils.
"Oh, I love jasmine!" She seized the flower. A ludicrous bafflement passed over her face as she repeatedly sniffed the odor of jasmine from a type of flower she well knew to be scentless. Her reactions disarmed my suspicion that Gandha Baba had induced an auto-suggestive state whereby I alone could detect the fragrances.
Later I heard from a friend, Alakananda, that the "Perfume Saint" had a power which I wish were possessed by the starving millions of Asia and, today, of Europe as well.
"I was present with a hundred other guests at Gandha Baba's home in Burdwan," Alakananda told me. "It was a gala occasion. Because the yogi was reputed to have the power of extracting objects out of thin air, I laughingly requested him to materialize some out-of-season tangerines. Immediately the luchis4 which were present on all the banana-leaf plates became puffed up. Each of the bread-envelopes proved to contain a peeled tangerine. I bit into my own with some trepidation, but found it delicious."
Years later I understood by inner realization how Gandha Baba accomplished his materializations. The method, alas! is beyond the reach of the world's hungry hordes.
The different sensory stimuli to which man reacts—tactual, visual, gustatory, auditory, and olfactory—are produced by vibratory variations in electrons and protons. The vibrations in turn are regulated by "lifetrons," subtle life forces or finer-than-atomic energies intelligently charged with the five distinctive sensory idea-substances.
Gandha Baba, tuning himself with the cosmic force by certain yogic practices, was able to guide the lifetrons to rearrange their vibratory structure and objectivize the desired result. His perfume, fruit and other miracles were actual materializations of mundane vibrations, and not inner sensations hypnotically produced.5
Performances of miracles such as shown by the "Perfume Saint" are spectacular but spiritually useless. Having little purpose beyond entertainment, they are digressions from a serious search for God.
Hypnotism has been used by physicians in minor operations as a sort of psychical chloroform for persons who might be endangered by an anesthetic. But a hypnotic state is harmful to those often subjected to it; a negative psychological effect ensues which in time deranges the brain cells. Hypnotism is trespass into the territory of another's consciousness. Its temporary phenomena have nothing in common with the miracles performed by men of divine realization. Awake in God, true saints effect changes in this dream-world by means of a will harmoniously attuned to the Creative Cosmic Dreamer.
Ostentatious display of unusual powers are decried by masters. The Persian mystic, Abu Said, once laughed at certain fakirs who were proud of their miraculous powers over water, air, and space.
"A frog is also at home in the water!" Abu Said pointed out in gentle scorn. "The crow and the vulture easily fly in the air; the Devil is simultaneously present in the East and in the West! A true man is he who dwells in righteousness among his fellow men, who buys and sells, yet is never for a single instant forgetful of God!" On another occasion the great Persian teacher gave his views on the religious life thus: "To lay aside what you have in your head (selfish desires and ambitions); to freely bestow what you have in your hand; and never to flinch from the blows of adversity!"
Neither the impartial sage at Kalighat Temple nor the Tibetan-trained yogi had satisfied my yearning for a guru. My heart needed no tutor for its recognitions, and cried its own "Bravos!" the more resoundingly because unoften summoned from silence. When I finally met my master, he taught me by sublimity of example alone the measure of a true man.
1 Kali represents the eternal principle in nature. She is traditionally pictured as a four-armed woman, standing on the form of the God Shiva or the Infinite, because nature or the phenomenal world is rooted in the Noumenon. The four arms symbolize cardinal attributes, two beneficent, two destructive, indicating the essential duality of matter or creation.
2 Cosmic illusion; literally, "the measurer." Maya is the magical power in creation by which limitations and divisions are apparently present in the Immeasurable and Inseparable.
Emerson wrote the following poem, to which he gave the title of Maya:
Illusion works impenetrable,
Weaving webs innumerable,
Her gay pictures never fail,
Crowd each other, veil on veil,
Charmer who will be believed
By man who thirsts to be deceived.
3 The rishis, literally "seers," were the authors of the Vedas in an indeterminable antiquity.
4 Flat, round Indian bread.
5 Laymen scarcely realize the vast strides of twentieth-century science. Transmutation of metals and other alchemical dreams are seeing fulfillment every day in centers of scientific research over the world. The eminent French chemist, M. Georges Claude, performed "miracles" at Fontainebleau in 1928 before a scientific assemblage through his chemical knowledge of oxygen transformations. His "magician's wand" was simple oxygen, bubbling in a tube on a table. The scientist "turned a handful of sand into precious stones, iron into a state resembling melted chocolate and, after depriving flowers of their tints, turned them into the consistency of glass.
"M. Claude explained how the sea could be turned by oxygen transformations into many millions of pounds of horsepower; how water which boils is not necessarily burning; how little mounds of sand, by a single whiff of the oxygen blowpipe, could be changed into sapphires, rubies, and topazes; and he predicted the time when it will be possible for men to walk on the bottom of the ocean minus the diver's equipment. Finally the scientist amazed his onlookers by turning their faces black by taking the red out of the sun's rays."
This noted French scientist has produced liquid air by an expansion method in which he has been able to separate the various gases of the air, and has discovered various means of mechanical utilization of differences of temperature in sea water.
Continue to the Preface
Preface | Introduction