Autobiography of a Yogi
by Paramahansa Yogananda
Original 1946 Edition
I Return to the West
"I have given many yoga lessons in India and America; but I must confess that, as a Hindu, I am unusually happy to be conducting a class for English students."
My London class members laughed appreciatively; no political turmoils ever disturbed our yoga peace.
India was now a hallowed memory. It is September, 1936; I am in England to fulfill a promise, given sixteen months earlier, to lecture again in London.
England, too, is receptive to the timeless yoga message. Reporters and newsreel cameramen swarmed over my quarters at Grosvenor House. The British National Council of the World Fellowship of Faiths organized a meeting on September 29th at Whitefield's Congregational Church where I addressed the audience on the weighty subject of "How Faith in Fellowship may Save Civilization." The eight o'clock lectures at Caxton Hall attracted such crowds that on two nights the overflow waited in Windsor House auditorium for my second talk at nine-thirty. Yoga classes during the following weeks grew so large that Mr. Wright was obliged to arrange a transfer to another hall.
The English tenacity has admirable expression in a spiritual relationship. The London yoga students loyally organized themselves, after my departure, into a Self-Realization Fellowship center, holding their meditation meetings weekly throughout the bitter war years.
Unforgettable weeks in England; days of sight-seeing in London, then over the beautiful countryside. Mr. Wright and I summoned the trusty Ford to visit the birthplaces and tombs of the great poets and heroes of British history.
Our little party sailed from Southampton for America in late October on the Bremen. The majestic Statue of Liberty in New York harbor brought a joyous emotional gulp not only to the throats of Miss Bletch and Mr. Wright, but to my own.
The Ford, a bit battered from struggles with ancient soils, was still puissant; it now took in its stride the transcontinental trip to California. In late 1936, lo! Mount Washington.
The year-end holidays are celebrated annually at the Los Angeles center with an eight-hour group meditation on December 24th (Spiritual Christmas), followed the next day by a banquet (Social Christmas). The festivities this year were augmented by the presence of dear friends and students from distant cities who had arrived to welcome home the three world travelers.
The Christmas Day feast included delicacies brought fifteen thousand miles for this glad occasion: gucchi mushrooms from Kashmir, canned rasagulla and mango pulp, papar biscuits, and an oil of the Indian keora flower which flavored our ice cream. The evening found us grouped around a huge sparkling Christmas tree, the near-by fireplace crackling with logs of aromatic cypress.
Gift-time! Presents from the earth's far corners—Palestine, Egypt, India, England, France, Italy. How laboriously had Mr. Wright counted the trunks at each foreign junction, that no pilfering hand receive the treasures intended for loved ones in America! Plaques of the sacred olive tree from the Holy Land, delicate laces and embroideries from Belgium and Holland, Persian carpets, finely woven Kashmiri shawls, everlastingly fragrant sandalwood trays from Mysore, Shiva "bull's eye" stones from Central Provinces, old Indian coins of dynasties long fled, bejeweled vases and cups, miniatures, tapestries, temple incense and perfumes, swadeshi cotton prints, lacquer work, Mysore ivory carvings, Persian slippers with their inquisitive long toe, quaint old illuminated manuscripts, velvets, brocades, Gandhi caps, potteries, tiles, brasswork, prayer rugs—booty of three continents!
One by one I distributed the gaily wrapped packages from the immense pile under the tree.
"Sister Gyanamata!" I handed a long box to the saintly American lady of sweet visage and deep realization who, during my absence, had been in charge at Mt. Washington. From the paper tissues she lifted a sari of golden Benares silk.
"Thank you, sir; it brings the pageant of India before my eyes."
"Mr. Dickinson!" The next parcel contained a gift which I had bought in a Calcutta bazaar. "Mr. Dickinson will like this," I had thought at the time. A dearly beloved disciple, Mr. Dickinson had been present at every Christmas festivity since the 1925 founding of Mt. Washington. At this eleventh annual celebration, he was standing before me, untying the ribbons of his square little package.
"The silver cup!" Struggling with emotion, he stared at the present, a tall drinking cup. He seated himself some distance away, apparently in a daze. I smiled at him affectionately before resuming my role as Santa Claus.
The ejaculatory evening closed with a prayer to the Giver of all gifts; then a group singing of Christmas carols.
Mr. Dickinson and I were chatting together sometime later.
"Sir," he said, "please let me thank you now for the silver cup. I could not find any words on Christmas night."
"I brought the gift especially for you."
"For forty-three years I have been waiting for that silver cup! It is a long story, one I have kept hidden within me." Mr. Dickinson looked at me shyly. "The beginning was dramatic: I was drowning. My older brother had playfully pushed me into a fifteen-foot pool in a small town in Nebraska. I was only five years old then. As I was about to sink for the second time under the water, a dazzling multicolored light appeared, filling all space. In the midst was the figure of a man with tranquil eyes and a reassuring smile. My body was sinking for the third time when one of my brother's companions bent a tall slender willow tree in such a low dip that I could grasp it with my desperate fingers. The boys lifted me to the bank and successfully gave me first-aid treatment.
"Twelve years later, a youth of seventeen, I visited Chicago with my mother. It was 1893; the great World Parliament of Religions was in session. Mother and I were walking down a main street, when again I saw the mighty flash of light. A few paces away, strolling leisurely along, was the same man I had seen years before in vision. He approached a large auditorium and vanished within the door.
"'Mother,' I cried, 'that was the man who appeared at the time I was drowning!'
"She and I hastened into the building; the man was seated on a lecture platform. We soon learned that he was Swami Vivekananda of India.1 After he had given a soul-stirring talk, I went forward to meet him. He smiled on me graciously, as though we were old friends. I was so young that I did not know how to give expression to my feelings, but in my heart I was hoping that he would offer to be my teacher. He read my thought.
"'No, my son, I am not your guru.' Vivekananda gazed with his beautiful, piercing eyes deep into my own. 'Your teacher will come later. He will give you a silver cup.' After a little pause, he added, smiling, 'He will pour out to you more blessings than you are now able to hold.'
"I left Chicago in a few days," Mr. Dickinson went on, "and never saw the great Vivekananda again. But every word he had uttered was indelibly written on my inmost consciousness. Years passed; no teacher appeared. One night in 1925 I prayed deeply that the Lord would send me my guru. A few hours later, I was awakened from sleep by soft strains of melody. A band of celestial beings, carrying flutes and other instruments, came before my view. After filling the air with glorious music, the angels slowly vanished.
"The next evening I attended, for the first time, one of your lectures here in Los Angeles, and knew then that my prayer had been granted."
We smiled at each other in silence.
"For eleven years now I have been your Kriya Yoga disciple," Mr. Dickinson continued. "Sometimes I wondered about the silver cup; I had almost persuaded myself that Vivekananda's words were only metaphorical. But on Christmas night, as you handed me the square box by the tree, I saw, for the third time in my life, the same dazzling flash of light. In another minute I was gazing on my guru's gift which Vivekananda had foreseen for me forty-three years earlier—a silver cup!"
1 The chief disciple of the Christlike master Sri Ramakrishna.
Continue to the Preface
Preface | Introduction