Autobiography of a Yogi
by Paramahansa Yogananda
Original 1946 Edition
Brother Ananta and Sister Nalini
"Ananta cannot live; the sands of his karma for this life have run out."
These inexorable words reached my inner consciousness as I sat one morning in deep meditation. Shortly after I had entered the Swami Order, I paid a visit to my birthplace, Gorakhpur, as a guest of my elder brother Ananta. A sudden illness confined him to his bed; I nursed him lovingly.
The solemn inward pronouncement filled me with grief. I felt that I could not bear to remain longer in Gorakhpur, only to see my brother removed before my helpless gaze. Amidst uncomprehending criticism from my relatives, I left India on the first available boat. It cruised along Burma and the China Sea to Japan. I disembarked at Kobe, where I spent only a few days. My heart was too heavy for sightseeing.
On the return trip to India, the boat touched at Shanghai. There Dr. Misra, the ship's physician, guided me to several curio shops, where I selected various presents for Sri Yukteswar and my family and friends. For Ananta I purchased a large carved bamboo piece. No sooner had the Chinese salesman handed me the bamboo souvenir than I dropped it on the floor, crying out, "I have bought this for my dear dead brother!"
A clear realization had swept over me that his soul was just being freed in the Infinite. The souvenir was sharply and symbolically cracked by its fall; amidst sobs, I wrote on the bamboo surface: "For my beloved Ananta, now gone."
My companion, the doctor, was observing these proceedings with a sardonic smile.
"Save your tears," he remarked. "Why shed them until you are sure he is dead?"
When our boat reached Calcutta, Dr. Misra again accompanied me. My youngest brother Bishnu was waiting to greet me at the dock.
"I know Ananta has departed this life," I said to Bishnu, before he had had time to speak. "Please tell me, and the doctor here, when Ananta died."
Bishnu named the date, which was the very day that I had bought the souvenirs in Shanghai.
"Look here!" Dr. Misra ejaculated. "Don't let any word of this get around! The professors will be adding a year's study of mental telepathy to the medical course, which is already long enough!"
Father embraced me warmly as I entered our Gurpar Road home. "You have come," he said tenderly. Two large tears dropped from his eyes. Ordinarily undemonstrative, he had never before shown me these signs of affection. Outwardly the grave father, inwardly he possessed the melting heart of a mother. In all his dealings with the family, his dual parental role was distinctly manifest.
Soon after Ananta's passing, my younger sister Nalini was brought back from death's door by a divine healing. Before relating the story, I will refer to a few phases of her earlier life.
The childhood relationship between Nalini and myself had not been of the happiest nature. I was very thin; she was thinner still. Through an unconscious motive or "complex" which psychiatrists will have no difficulty in identifying, I often used to tease my sister about her cadaverous appearance. Her retorts were equally permeated with the callous frankness of extreme youth. Sometimes Mother intervened, ending the childish quarrels, temporarily, by a gentle box on my ear, as the elder ear.
Time passed; Nalini was betrothed to a young Calcutta physician, Panchanon Bose. He received a generous dowry from Father, presumably (as I remarked to Sister) to compensate the bridegroom-to-be for his fate in allying himself with a human bean-pole.
Elaborate marriage rites were celebrated in due time. On the wedding night, I joined the large and jovial group of relatives in the living room of our Calcutta home. The bridegroom was leaning on an immense gold-brocaded pillow, with Nalini at his side. A gorgeous purple silk sari1 could not, alas, wholly hide her angularity. I sheltered myself behind the pillow of my new brother-in-law and grinned at him in friendly fashion. He had never seen Nalini until the day of the nuptial ceremony, when he finally learned what he was getting in the matrimonial lottery.
Feeling my sympathy, Dr. Bose pointed unobtrusively to Nalini, and whispered in my ear, "Say, what's this?"
"Why, Doctor," I replied, "it is a skeleton for your observation!"
Convulsed with mirth, my brother-in-law and I were hard put to it to maintain the proper decorum before our assembled relatives.
As the years went on, Dr. Bose endeared himself to our family, who called on him whenever illness arose. He and I became fast friends, often joking together, usually with Nalini as our target.
"It is a medical curiosity," my brother-in-law remarked to me one day. "I have tried everything on your lean sister—cod liver oil, butter, malt, honey, fish, meat, eggs, tonics. Still she fails to bulge even one-hundredth of an inch." We both chuckled.
A few days later I visited the Bose home. My errand there took only a few minutes; I was leaving, unnoticed, I thought, by Nalini. As I reached the front door, I heard her voice, cordial but commanding.
"Brother, come here. You are not going to give me the slip this time. I want to talk to you."
I mounted the stairs to her room. To my surprise, she was in tears.
"Dear brother," she said, "let us bury the old hatchet. I see that your feet are now firmly set on the spiritual path. I want to become like you in every way." She added hopefully, "You are now robust in appearance; can you help me? My husband does not come near me, and I love him so dearly! But still more I want to progress in God-realization, even if I must remain thin 2 and unattractive."
My heart was deeply touched at her plea. Our new friendship steadily progressed; one day she asked to become my disciple.
"Train me in any way you like. I put my trust in God instead of tonics." She gathered together an armful of medicines and poured them down the roof drain.
As a test of her faith, I asked her to omit from her diet all fish, meat, and eggs.
After several months, during which Nalini had strictly followed the various rules I had outlined, and had adhered to her vegetarian diet in spite of numerous difficulties, I paid her a visit.
"Sis, you have been conscientiously observing the spiritual injunctions; your reward is near." I smiled mischievously. "How plump do you want to be—as fat as our aunt who hasn't seen her feet in years?"
"No! But I long to be as stout as you are."
I replied solemnly. "By the grace of God, as I have spoken truth always, I speak truly now.3 Through the divine blessings, your body shall verily change from today; in one month it shall have the same weight as mine."
These words from my heart found fulfillment. In thirty days, Nalini's weight equalled mine. The new roundness gave her beauty; her husband fell deeply in love. Their marriage, begun so inauspiciously, turned out to be ideally happy.
On my return from Japan, I learned that during my absence Nalini had been stricken with typhoid fever. I rushed to her home, and was aghast to find her reduced to a mere skeleton. She was in a coma.
"Before her mind became confused by illness," my brother-in-law told me, "she often said: 'If brother Mukunda were here, I would not be faring thus.'" He added despairingly, "The other doctors and myself see no hope. Blood dysentery has set in, after her long bout with typhoid."
I began to move heaven and earth with my prayers. Engaging an Anglo-Indian nurse, who gave me full cooperation, I applied to my sister various yoga techniques of healing. The blood dysentery disappeared.
But Dr. Bose shook his head mournfully. "She simply has no more blood left to shed."
"She will recover," I replied stoutly. "In seven days her fever will be gone."
A week later I was thrilled to see Nalini open her eyes and gaze at me with loving recognition. From that day her recovery was swift. Although she regained her usual weight, she bore one sad scar of her nearly fatal illness: her legs were paralyzed. Indian and English specialists pronounced her a hopeless cripple.
The incessant war for her life which I had waged by prayer had exhausted me. I went to Serampore to ask Sri Yukteswar's help. His eyes expressed deep sympathy as I told him of Nalini's plight.
"Your sister's legs will be normal at the end of one month." He added, "Let her wear, next to her skin, a band with an unperforated two-carat pearl, held on by a clasp."
I prostrated myself at his feet with joyful relief.
"Sir, you are a master; your word of her recovery is enough But if you insist I shall immediately get her a pearl."
My guru nodded. "Yes, do that." He went on to correctly describe the physical and mental characteristics of Nalini, whom he had never seen.
"Sir," I inquired, "is this an astrological analysis? You do not know her birth day or hour."
Sri Yukteswar smiled. "There is a deeper astrology, not dependent on the testimony of calendars and clocks. Each man is a part of the Creator, or Cosmic Man; he has a heavenly body as well as one of earth. The human eye sees the physical form, but the inward eye penetrates more profoundly, even to the universal pattern of which each man is an integral and individual part."
I returned to Calcutta and purchased a pearl for Nalini. A month later, her paralyzed legs were completely healed.
Sister asked me to convey her heartfelt gratitude to my guru. He listened to her message in silence. But as I was taking my leave, he made a pregnant comment.
"Your sister has been told by many doctors that she can never bear children. Assure her that in a few years she will give birth to two daughters."
Some years later, to Nalini's joy, she bore a girl, followed in a few years by another daughter.
"Your master has blessed our home, our entire family," my sister said. "The presence of such a man is a sanctification on the whole of India. Dear brother, please tell Sri Yukteswarji that, through you, I humbly count myself as one of his Kriya Yoga disciples."
1 The gracefully draped dress of Indian women.
2 Because most persons in India are thin, reasonable plumpness is considered very desirable.
3 The Hindu scriptures declare that those who habitually speak the truth will develop the power of materializing their words. What commands they utter from the heart will come true in life.
Continue to the Preface
Preface | Introduction