Autobiography of a Yogi
by Paramahansa Yogananda
Original 1946 Edition
Materializing a Palace in the Himalaya
"Babaji's first meeting with Lahiri Mahasaya is an enthralling story, and one of the few which gives us a detailed glimpse of the deathless guru."
These words were Swami Kebalananda's preamble to a wondrous tale. The first time he recounted it I was literally spellbound. On many other occasions I coaxed my gentle Sanskrit tutor to repeat the story, which was later told me in substantially the same words by Sri Yukteswar. Both these Lahiri Mahasaya disciples had heard the awesome tale direct from the lips of their guru.
"My first meeting with Babaji took place in my thirty-third year," Lahiri Mahasaya had said. "In the autumn of 1861 I was stationed in Danapur as a government accountant in the Military Engineering Department. One morning the office manager summoned me.
"'Lahiri,' he said, 'a telegram has just come from our main office. You are to be transferred to Ranikhet, where an army post1 is now being established.'
"With one servant, I set out on the 500-mile trip. Traveling by horse and buggy, we arrived in thirty days at the Himalayan site of Ranikhet.2
"My office duties were not onerous; I was able to spend many hours roaming in the magnificent hills. A rumor reached me that great saints blessed the region with their presence; I felt a strong desire to see them. During a ramble one early afternoon, I was astounded to hear a distant voice calling my name. I continued my vigorous upward climb on Drongiri Mountain. A slight uneasiness beset me at the thought that I might not be able to retrace my steps before darkness had descended over the jungle.
"I finally reached a small clearing whose sides were dotted with caves. On one of the rocky ledges stood a smiling young man, extending his hand in welcome. I noticed with astonishment that, except for his copper-colored hair, he bore a remarkable resemblance to myself.
"'Lahiri, you have come!' The saint addressed me affectionately in Hindi. 'Rest here in this cave. It was I who called you.'
"I entered a neat little grotto which contained several woolen blankets and a few kamandulus (begging bowls).
"'Lahiri, do you remember that seat?' The yogi pointed to a folded blanket in one corner.
"'No, sir.' Somewhat dazed at the strangeness of my adventure, I added, 'I must leave now, before nightfall. I have business in the morning at my office.'
"The mysterious saint replied in English, 'The office was brought for you, and not you for the office.'
"I was dumbfounded that this forest ascetic should not only speak English but also paraphrase the words of Christ.3
"'I see my telegram took effect.' The yogi's remark was incomprehensible to me; I inquired his meaning.
"'I refer to the telegram that summoned you to these isolated parts. It was I who silently suggested to the mind of your superior officer that you be transferred to Ranikhet. When one feels his unity with mankind, all minds become transmitting stations through which he can work at will.' He added gently, 'Lahiri, surely this cave seems familiar to you?'
"As I maintained a bewildered silence, the saint approached and struck me gently on the forehead. At his magnetic touch, a wondrous current swept through my brain, releasing the sweet seed-memories of my previous life.
"'I remember!' My voice was half-choked with joyous sobs. 'You are my guru Babaji, who has belonged to me always! Scenes of the past arise vividly in my mind; here in this cave I spent many years of my last incarnation!' As ineffable recollections overwhelmed me, I tearfully embraced my master's feet.
"'For more than three decades I have waited for you here—waited for you to return to me!' Babaji's voice rang with celestial love. 'You slipped away and vanished into the tumultuous waves of the life beyond death. The magic wand of your karma touched you, and you were gone! Though you lost sight of me, never did I lose sight of you! I pursued you over the luminescent astral sea where the glorious angels sail. Through gloom, storm, upheaval, and light I followed you, like a mother bird guarding her young. As you lived out your human term of womb-life, and emerged a babe, my eye was ever on you. When you covered your tiny form in the lotus posture under the Nadia sands in your childhood, I was invisibly present! Patiently, month after month, year after year, I have watched over you, waiting for this perfect day. Now you are with me! Lo, here is your cave, loved of yore! I have kept it ever clean and ready for you. Here is your hallowed asana-blanket, where you daily sat to fill your expanding heart with God! Behold there your bowl, from which you often drank the nectar prepared by me! See how I have kept the brass cup brightly polished, that you might drink again therefrom! My own, do you now understand?'
"'My guru, what can I say?' I murmured brokenly. 'Where has one ever heard of such deathless love?' I gazed long and ecstatically on my eternal treasure, my guru in life and death.
"'Lahiri, you need purification. Drink the oil in this bowl and lie down by the river.' Babaji's practical wisdom, I reflected with a quick, reminiscent smile, was ever to the fore.
"I obeyed his directions. Though the icy Himalayan night was descending, a comforting warmth, an inner radiation, began to pulsate in every cell of my body. I marveled. Was the unknown oil endued with a cosmical heat?
"Bitter winds whipped around me in the darkness, shrieking a fierce challenge. The chill wavelets of the Gogash River lapped now and then over my body, outstretched on the rocky bank. Tigers howled near-by, but my heart was free of fear; the radiant force newly generated within me conveyed an assurance of unassailable protection. Several hours passed swiftly; faded memories of another life wove themselves into the present brilliant pattern of reunion with my divine guru.
"My solitary musings were interrupted by the sound of approaching footsteps. In the darkness, a man's hand gently helped me to my feet, and gave me some dry clothing.
"'Come, brother,' my companion said. 'The master awaits you.'
"He led the way through the forest. The somber night was suddenly lit by a steady luminosity in the distance.
"'Can that be the sunrise?' I inquired. 'Surely the whole night has not passed?'
"'The hour is midnight.' My guide laughed softly. 'Yonder light is the glow of a golden palace, materialized here tonight by the peerless Babaji. In the dim past, you once expressed a desire to enjoy the beauties of a palace. Our master is now satisfying your wish, thus freeing you from the bonds of karma.'4 He added, 'The magnificent palace will be the scene of your initiation tonight into Kriya Yoga. All your brothers here join in a paean of welcome, rejoicing at the end of your long exile. Behold!'
"A vast palace of dazzling gold stood before us. Studded with countless jewels, and set amidst landscaped gardens, it presented a spectacle of unparalleled grandeur. Saints of angelic countenance were stationed by resplendent gates, half-reddened by the glitter of rubies. Diamonds, pearls, sapphires, and emeralds of great size and luster were imbedded in the decorative arches.
"I followed my companion into a spacious reception hall. The odor of incense and of roses wafted through the air; dim lamps shed a multicolored glow. Small groups of devotees, some fair, some dark-skinned, chanted musically, or sat in the meditative posture, immersed in an inner peace. A vibrant joy pervaded the atmosphere.
"'Feast your eyes; enjoy the artistic splendors of this palace, for it has been brought into being solely in your honor.' My guide smiled sympathetically as I uttered a few ejaculations of wonderment.
"'Brother,' I said, 'the beauty of this structure surpasses the bounds of human imagination. Please tell me the mystery of its origin.'
"'I will gladly enlighten you.' My companion's dark eyes sparkled with wisdom. 'In reality there is nothing inexplicable about this materialization. The whole cosmos is a materialized thought of the Creator. This heavy, earthly clod, floating in space, is a dream of God. He made all things out of His consciousness, even as man in his dream consciousness reproduces and vivifies a creation with its creatures.
"'God first created the earth as an idea. Then He quickened it; energy atoms came into being. He coordinated the atoms into this solid sphere. All its molecules are held together by the will of God. When He withdraws His will, the earth again will disintegrate into energy. Energy will dissolve into consciousness; the earth-idea will disappear from objectivity.
"'The substance of a dream is held in materialization by the subconscious thought of the dreamer. When that cohesive thought is withdrawn in wakefulness, the dream and its elements dissolve. A man closes his eyes and erects a dream-creation which, on awakening, he effortlessly dematerializes. He follows the divine archetypal pattern. Similarly, when he awakens in cosmic consciousness, he will effortlessly dematerialize the illusions of the cosmic dream.
"'Being one with the infinite all-accomplishing Will, Babaji can summon the elemental atoms to combine and manifest themselves in any form. This golden palace, instantaneously created, is real, even as this earth is real. Babaji created this palatial mansion out of his mind and is holding its atoms together by the power of his will, even as God created this earth and is maintaining it intact.' He added, 'When this structure has served its purpose, Babaji will dematerialize it.'
"As I remained silent in awe, my guide made a sweeping gesture. 'This shimmering palace, superbly embellished with jewels, has not been built by human effort or with laboriously mined gold and gems. It stands solidly, a monumental challenge to man. 5 Whoever realizes himself as a son of God, even as Babaji has done, can reach any goal by the infinite powers hidden within him. A common stone locks within itself the secret of stupendous atomic energy;6 even so, a mortal is yet a powerhouse of divinity.'
"The sage picked up from a near-by table a graceful vase whose handle was blazing with diamonds. 'Our great guru created this palace by solidifying myriads of free cosmic rays,' he went on. 'Touch this vase and its diamonds; they will satisfy all the tests of sensory experience.'
"I examined the vase, and passed my hand over the smooth room-walls, thick with glistening gold. Each of the jewels scattered lavishly about was worthy of a king's collection. Deep satisfaction spread over my mind. A submerged desire, hidden in my subconsciousness from lives now gone, seemed simultaneously gratified and extinguished.
"My stately companion led me through ornate arches and corridors into a series of chambers richly furnished in the style of an emperor's palace. We entered an immense hall. In the center stood a golden throne, encrusted with jewels shedding a dazzling medley of colors. There, in lotus posture, sat the supreme Babaji. I knelt on the shining floor at his feet.
"'Lahiri, are you still feasting on your dream desires for a golden palace?' My guru's eyes were twinkling like his own sapphires. 'Wake! All your earthly thirsts are about to be quenched forever.' He murmured some mystic words of blessing. 'My son, arise. Receive your initiation into the kingdom of God through Kriya Yoga.'
"Babaji stretched out his hand; a homa (sacrificial) fire appeared, surrounded by fruits and flowers. I received the liberating yogic technique before this flaming altar.
"The rites were completed in the early dawn. I felt no need for sleep in my ecstatic state, and wandered around the palace, filled on all sides with treasures and priceless objets d'art. Descending to the gorgeous gardens, I noticed, near-by, the same caves and barren mountain ledges which yesterday had boasted no adjacency to palace or flowered terrace.
"Reentering the palace, fabulously glistening in the cold Himalayan sunlight, I sought the presence of my master. He was still enthroned, surrounded by many quiet disciples.
"'Lahiri, you are hungry.' Babaji added, 'Close your eyes.'
"When I reopened them, the enchanting palace and its picturesque gardens had disappeared. My own body and the forms of Babaji and the cluster of chelas were all now seated on the bare ground at the exact site of the vanished palace, not far from the sunlit entrances of the rocky grottos. I recalled that my guide had remarked that the palace would be dematerialized, its captive atoms released into the thought-essence from which it had sprung. Although stunned, I looked trustingly at my guru. I knew not what to expect next on this day of miracles.
"'The purpose for which the palace was created has now been served,' Babaji explained. He lifted an earthen vessel from the ground. 'Put your hand there and receive whatever food you desire.'
"As soon as I touched the broad, empty bowl, it became heaped with hot butter-fried luchis, curry, and rare sweetmeats. I helped myself, observing that the vessel was ever-filled. At the end of my meal I looked around for water. My guru pointed to the bowl before me. Lo! the food had vanished; in its place was water, clear as from a mountain stream.
"'Few mortals know that the kingdom of God includes the kingdom of mundane fulfillments,' Babaji observed. 'The divine realm extends to the earthly, but the latter, being illusory, cannot include the essence of reality.'
"'Beloved guru, last night you demonstrated for me the link of beauty in heaven and earth!' I smiled at memories of the vanished palace; surely no simple yogi had ever received initiation into the august mysteries of Spirit amidst surroundings of more impressive luxury! I gazed tranquilly at the stark contrast of the present scene. The gaunt ground, the skyey roof, the caves offering primitive shelter—all seemed a gracious natural setting for the seraphic saints around me.
"I sat that afternoon on my blanket, hallowed by associations of past-life realizations. My divine guru approached and passed his hand over my head. I entered the nirbikalpa samadhi state, remaining unbrokenly in its bliss for seven days. Crossing the successive strata of self-knowledge, I penetrated the deathless realms of reality. All delusive limitations dropped away; my soul was fully established on the eternal altar of the Cosmic Spirit. On the eighth day I fell at my guru's feet and implored him to keep me always near him in this sacred wilderness.
"'My son,' Babaji said, embracing me, 'your role in this incarnation must be played on an outward stage. Prenatally blessed by many lives of lonely meditation, you must now mingle in the world of men.
"'A deep purpose underlay the fact that you did not meet me this time until you were already a married man, with modest business responsibilities. You must put aside your thoughts of joining our secret band in the Himalayas; your life lies in the crowded marts, serving as an example of the ideal yogi-householder.
"'The cries of many bewildered worldly men and women have not fallen unheard on the ears of the Great Ones,' he went on. 'You have been chosen to bring spiritual solace through Kriya Yoga to numerous earnest seekers. The millions who are encumbered by family ties and heavy worldly duties will take new heart from you, a householder like themselves. You must guide them to see that the highest yogic attainments are not barred to the family man. Even in the world, the yogi who faithfully discharges his responsibilities, without personal motive or attachment, treads the sure path of enlightenment.
"'No necessity compels you to leave the world, for inwardly you have already sundered its every karmic tie. Not of this world, you must yet be in it. Many years still remain during which you must conscientiously fulfill your family, business, civic, and spiritual duties. A sweet new breath of divine hope will penetrate the arid hearts of worldly men. From your balanced life, they will understand that liberation is dependent on inner, rather than outer, renunciations.'
"How remote seemed my family, the office, the world, as I listened to my guru in the high Himalayan solitudes. Yet adamantine truth rang in his words; I submissively agreed to leave this blessed haven of peace. Babaji instructed me in the ancient rigid rules which govern the transmission of the yogic art from guru to disciple.
"'Bestow the Kriya key only on qualified chelas,' Babaji said. 'He who vows to sacrifice all in the quest of the Divine is fit to unravel the final mysteries of life through the science of meditation.'
"'Angelic guru, as you have already favored mankind by resurrecting the lost Kriya art, will you not increase that benefit by relaxing the strict requirements for discipleship?' I gazed beseechingly at Babaji. 'I pray that you permit me to communicate Kriya to all seekers, even though at first they cannot vow themselves to complete inner renunciation. The tortured men and women of the world, pursued by the threefold suffering,7 need special encouragement. They may never attempt the road to freedom if Kriya initiation be withheld from them.'
"'Be it so. The divine wish has been expressed through you.' With these simple words, the merciful guru banished the rigorous safeguards that for ages had hidden Kriya from the world. 'Give Kriya freely to all who humbly ask for help.'
"After a silence, Babaji added, 'Repeat to each of your disciples this majestic promise from the Bhagavad Gita: "Swalpamasya dharmasya, trayata mahato bhoyat"—"Even a little bit of the practice of this religion will save you from dire fears and colossal sufferings."'8
"As I knelt the next morning at my guru's feet for his farewell blessing, he sensed my deep reluctance to leave him.
"'There is no separation for us, my beloved child.' He touched my shoulder affectionately. 'Wherever you are, whenever you call me, I shall be with you instantly.'
"Consoled by his wondrous promise, and rich with the newly found gold of God-wisdom, I wended my way down the mountain. At the office I was welcomed by my fellow employees, who for ten days had thought me lost in the Himalayan jungles. A letter soon arrived from the head office.
"'Lahiri should return to the Danapur9 office,' it read. 'His transfer to Ranikhet occurred by error. Another man should have been sent to assume the Ranikhet duties.'
"I smiled, reflecting on the hidden crosscurrents in the events which had led me to this furthermost spot of India.
"Before returning to Danapur, I spent a few days with a Bengali family at Moradabad. A party of six friends gathered to greet me. As I turned the conversation to spiritual subjects, my host observed gloomily:
"'Oh, in these days India is destitute of saints!'
"'Babu,' I protested warmly, 'of course there are still great masters in this land!'
"In a mood of exalted fervor, I felt impelled to relate my miraculous experiences in the Himalayas. The little company was politely incredulous.
"'Lahiri,' one man said soothingly, 'your mind has been under a strain in those rarefied mountain airs. This is some daydream you have recounted.'
"Burning with the enthusiasm of truth, I spoke without due thought. 'If I call him, my guru will appear right in this house.'
"Interest gleamed in every eye; it was no wonder that the group was eager to behold a saint materialized in such a strange way. Half-reluctantly, I asked for a quiet room and two new woolen blankets.
"'The master will materialize from the ether,' I said. 'Remain silently outside the door; I shall soon call you.'
"I sank into the meditative state, humbly summoning my guru. The darkened room soon filled with a dim aural moonlight; the luminous figure of Babaji emerged.
"'Lahiri, do you call me for a trifle?' The master's gaze was stern. 'Truth is for earnest seekers, not for those of idle curiosity. It is easy to believe when one sees; there is nothing then to deny. Supersensual truth is deserved and discovered by those who overcome their natural materialistic skepticism.' He added gravely, 'Let me go!'
"I fell entreatingly at his feet. 'Holy guru, I realize my serious error; I humbly ask pardon. It was to create faith in these spiritually blinded minds that I ventured to call you. Because you have graciously appeared at my prayer, please do not depart without bestowing a blessing on my friends. Unbelievers though they be, at least they were willing to investigate the truth of my strange assertions.'
"'Very well; I will stay awhile. I do not wish your word discredited before your friends.' Babaji's face had softened, but he added gently, 'Henceforth, my son, I shall come when you need me, and not always when you call me.10 '
"Tense silence reigned in the little group when I opened the door. As if mistrusting their senses, my friends stared at the lustrous figure on the blanket seat.
"'This is mass-hypnotism!' One man laughed blatantly. 'No one could possibly have entered this room without our knowledge!'
"Babaji advanced smilingly and motioned to each one to touch the warm, solid flesh of his body. Doubts dispelled, my friends prostrated themselves on the floor in awed repentance.
"'Let halua11 be prepared.' Babaji made this request, I knew, to further assure the group of his physical reality. While the porridge was boiling, the divine guru chatted affably. Great was the metamorphosis of these doubting Thomases into devout St. Pauls. After we had eaten, Babaji blessed each of us in turn. There was a sudden flash; we witnessed the instantaneous dechemicalization of the electronic elements of Babaji's body into a spreading vaporous light. The God-tuned will power of the master had loosened its grasp of the ether atoms held together as his body; forthwith the trillions of tiny lifetronic sparks faded into the infinite reservoir.
"'With my own eyes I have seen the conqueror of death.' Maitra,12 one of the group, spoke reverently. His face was transfigured with the joy of his recent awakening. 'The supreme guru played with time and space, as a child plays with bubbles. I have beheld one with the keys of heaven and earth.'
"I soon returned to Danapur. Firmly anchored in the Spirit, again I assumed the manifold business and family obligations of a householder."
Lahiri Mahasaya also related to Swami Kebalananda and Sri Yukteswar the story of another meeting with Babaji, under circumstances which recalled the guru's promise: "I shall come whenever you need me."
"The scene was a Kumbha Mela at Allahabad," Lahiri Mahasaya told his disciples. "I had gone there during a short vacation from my office duties. As I wandered amidst the throng of monks and sadhus who had come from great distances to attend the holy festival, I noticed an ash-smeared ascetic who was holding a begging bowl. The thought arose in my mind that the man was hypocritical, wearing the outward symbols of renunciation without a corresponding inward grace.
"No sooner had I passed the ascetic than my astounded eye fell on Babaji. He was kneeling in front of a matted-haired anchorite.
"'Guruji!' I hastened to his side. 'Sir, what are you doing here?'
"'I am washing the feet of this renunciate, and then I shall clean his cooking utensils.' Babaji smiled at me like a little child; I knew he was intimating that he wanted me to criticize no one, but to see the Lord as residing equally in all body-temples, whether of superior or inferior men. The great guru added, 'By serving wise and ignorant sadhus, I am learning the greatest of virtues, pleasing to God above all others—humility.'"
1 Now a military sanatorium. By 1861 the British Government had already established certain telegraphic communciations.
2 Ranikhet, in the Almora district of United Provinces, is situated at the foot of Nanda Devi, the highest Himalayan peak (25,661 feet) in British India.
3 "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath."-Mark 2:27.
4 The karmic law requires that every human wish find ultimate fulfillment. Desire is thus the chain which binds man to the reincarnational wheel.
5 "What is a miracle?-'Tis a reproach,
'Tis an implicit satire on mankind."
-Edward Young, in Night Thoughts.
6 The theory of the atomic structure of matter was expounded in the ancient Indian Vaisesika and Nyaya treatises. "There are vast worlds all placed away within the hollows of each atom, multifarious as the motes in a sunbeam." -Yoga Vasishtha.
7 Physical, mental, and spiritual suffering; manifested, respectively, in disease, in psychological inadequacies or "complexes," and in soul-ignorance.
8 Chapter II:40.
9 A town near Benares.
10 In the path to the Infinite, even illumined masters like Lahiri Mahasaya may suffer from an excess of zeal, and be subject to discipline. In the Bhagavad Gita, we read many passages where the divine guru Krishna gives chastisement to the prince of devotees, Arjuna.
11 A porridge made of cream of wheat fried in butter, and boiled with milk.
12 The man, Maitra, to whom Lahiri Mahasaya is here referring, afterward became highly advanced in self-realization. I met Maitra shortly after my graduation from high school; he visited the Mahamandal hermitage in Benares while I was a resident. He told me then of Babaji's materialization before the group in Moradabad. "As a result of the miracle," Maitra explained to me, "I became a lifelong disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya."
Continue to the Preface
Preface | Introduction