The novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote in 1885 a short story called The Three Hermits. It is an old legend where three men of prayer walked on water in it.
Yogananda asks rhetorically: "How did the three saints walk on the water?" Before he gives his answer, we might benefit from learning that medieval, religious legends often sought to impress by miracles. Medieval European legendary creatures included basilisks, bicorns (monsters), Ethiopian flying horses (pegasuses), gold-digging ants, unicorns and winged unicorns figure. Also, there were headless men, like St Denis of Paris. After he was beheaded, he crossed Montmartre, guided by an angel, his head in his hands, to his burial ground, the legend tells. Near the end of the fifth century, a basilica was built where St. Denis lay buried.
Now, as a Yogananda might ask: "How could the saint walk about with his head in his hands?"
A grip, may not be all it takes.
"With the advent of the atomic bomb and the wonders of radar, the . . . word "impossible" is becoming less prominent in the scientific vocabulary.
"To tear the veil of maya is to pierce the secret of creation.
""The world illusion, maya, is individually called avidya, literally, "not-knowledge," ignorance, delusion.
"In the gigantic conceptions of Einstein, the velocity of light – 186,000 miles per second – dominates the whole Theory of Relativity.
"In a later development, his Unified Field Theory, the great physicist embodies in one mathematical formula the laws of gravitation and of electromagnetism. Reducing the cosmic structure to variations on a single law, Einstein reaches across the ages.
"The frank realisation that physical science is concerned with a world of shadows is one of the most significant advances," Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington writes.
"In his famous equation outlining the equivalence of mass and energy, Einstein proved that the energy in any particle of matter is equal to its mass or weight multiplied by the square of the velocity of light.
"'Fiat lux! And there was light.' God's first command to his ordered creation (Genesis 1:3) brought into being . . . the light.
"Optical images," Dr. L. T. Troland of Harvard tells us, "are . . . made up of minute dottings or stripplings far too small to be detected by the eye.
Two retold stories
"In 1915, shortly after Yogananda had entered the swami order, he closed two of his eyes in meditation. Then his consciousness was suddenly transferred to the body of a captain on a ship. The captain jumped into the water and reached the shore safely. But then a stray bullet hit his chest. Yogananda fell groaning to the ground. His whole body seemed paralysed.
He was about to sink into unconsciousness when he found myself seated in the lotus posture in his Gurpar Road room.
Hysterical tears poured forth among self-congratulations, but once again he found his consciousness transferred to the captain's dead body by the gory shore.
"Am I dead or alive?"
A voice: "Awake, my child, awake!"
As Yogananda finished writing this chapter, he sat on his bed in the [cross-legged] lotus posture. The room was dimly lit. He gazed at his arms and moved them back and forth. For a long time he experienced this in his own bedroom.
What is sacred may be sensible too.
Yogananda once visited the widow of Shyama Charan Devi Sharman Lahiri (also known as Lahiri Mahasaya and Lahiri Baba - 1828–95), and got her to tell of a few incidents with her husband. She led him upstairs to a room where she once was convinced that she was dreaming that her husband levited in the middle of the room, in dazzling light.
"'Woman,' he said, 'you are not dreaming . . . Penetrate your consciousness through the star."
"From that night on, Lahiri Mahasaya never slept."
Another time he said to her how he was: 'It is all nothing, do not you see?' Although a claimed nothing that speaks is hardly any "full nothing", for "Nothing comes from nothing." (Parmenides).
Yogananda thanked the widow for sharing with him. A time for sharing a lot: Which star to penetrate with one's consciousness? Where is it located? Besides, where was "nothing" located?
Practical handling: Yukteswar needed to meditate for composure - others too.
"My friend Rama and I were inseparable," Yukteswar once told. "He was shy and reclusive. I found inspiration in his ideal companionship."
"Rama suddently got Asiatic cholera. I hurried to Shyama Lahiri's home and sobbed out the story.
"'The doctors are seeing Rama. He willl be well.' My guru smiled jovially.
And he did!
Yukteswar finished the awesome story, adding: "Lahiri Mahasaya made a significant prediction: 'About fifty years after my passing,' he said, 'my life will be written because of a deep interest in yoga which the West will manifest.'
"My son Yogananda," Sri Yukteswar went on, "you must do your part in spreading that message, and in writing that sacred life."
Fifty years after that passing in 1895 was 1945, when Yogananda finished the first edition of the "Book of a yogi, written by Yogananda and some disciples." Some chapters in it are about Shyama Lahiri, but most are not.
Going on, but in vain
"Very scanty information about the life of Lahiri Mahasaya and his universal doctrine has ever appeared in print," states Yogananda, but much wrongly, for it shows up that direct disciples of Shyama Lahiri did not want Yogananda to get the many Lahiri books that existed; they did not trust such books to him. Shyama Lahiri wrote books, and got a score of commentaries published too. The Sanskrit Classics gives more details about it, apart from publishing English translations of them. You know what it means: You too might find it best ◦not to trust Yogananda much. He says something similar, he too:
Don't take my word for anything. . . . There will be as many interpretations . . . as there are listeners. . . . please remember. - Paramahansa Yogananda, in Dietz 1998, "Master's Teachings"
A guru went to the West and taught "Don't take my word for anything (Dietz 1998)," which can mean different things to different people.
Variations may be wise. What about varying "Oh, woe!" with "oy vey, oy vay, oy veh, oi vey, and oy"? (WP "Oy vey").
At the age of 23, in 1851, Shyama Lahiri became an accountant in the Military Engineering Department of the English government. He was promoted many times. As the offices of the Army Department were shifted, Lahiri Mahasaya was transferred to Gazipur, Mirjapur, Danapur, Naini Tal, Varanasi, and other localities.
In his thirty-third year Lahiri Mahasaya was initiated into kriya yoga - in the autumn of 1861.
"He who believes easily is easily deceived (American proverb)". The proverb is not necessarily true, for much depends on how fit a belief is. And much may in addition depend on how the statements are understood, interpreted, for example from being taken as concrete statements and to being regarded as figurate mentions. This is often resorted to for obscure Biblical passages, as some in Revelation.
Learn to abstain from filling your mind with artificial or more or less Yogananda-invented symbols the sooner the better, for the sake of a better fare than those who are taken in. Example: Yogananda writes:
The Mahavatar [Babaji] is in constant communion with Christ; together they send out vibrations of redemption, and have planned the spiritual technique of salvation for this age. The work of these two fully-illumined masters – one with the body, and one without it – is to inspire the nations to forsake suicidal wars, race hatreds, religious sectarianism, and the boomerang-evils of materialism. Babaji is well aware of the trend of modern times, especially of the influence and complexities of Western civilisation, and realises the necessity of spreading the self-liberations of yoga equally in the West and in the East.
The New Testament does not see eye to eye with the swami. A summary by the noted Bible scholar Geza Vermes may deflate the ballyhoo:
During his days of preaching, Jesus of Nazareth addressed only Jews, "the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 10:5; 15:24). His disciples were expressly instructed not to approach gentiles or Samaritans (Matthew 10:5). On the few occasions that Jesus ventured beyond the boundaries of his homeland, he never proclaimed his gospel to pagans, nor did his disciples do so during his lifetime. The mission of the 11 apostles to "all the nations" (Matthew 28:19) is a "post-Resurrection" idea. It appears to be of Pauline inspiration and is nowhere else found in the Gospels (apart from the spurious longer ending of Mark [Mark 16:15], which is missing from all the older manuscripts). Jesus' own perspective was exclusively Jewish; he was concerned only with Jews. (Vermes 2012).
Jesus reserve his teachings and salvation for Jews (Matthew 15:24; 10:5-8; Vermes 2012), but only depraved Jews: those of sound moral and spirit are not called by him: the healthy do not need him, he says (Mark 2:17; Matthew 9:12-13; 12.11). Jesus further puts his sheep on a path to perdition in that he teaches his sheep what is opposed to sound self-preservation. Thereby eyes, limbs, property, fit living-conditions and life itself soon enough are at risk (Matthew 5: 29-30; 39-42). Finally, marring losses come to those who call him 'Lord, Lord' without doing as he tells. (Luke 6:46)
But Yogananda goes on, and infirm ones put faith in him against what is taught in gospels
Yogananda: "Great prophets like Christ and Krishna . . . Other avatars, like Babaji . . . always veil themselves . . . and have the power to become invisible . . .
Ram Gopal related from his first meeting with Babaji.
"I sometimes left my isolated cave. One night I went to the secluded Dasasamedh bathing ghat. A huge stone slab near my feet rose gradually, revealing an underground cave. The sister of Babaji rose from the cave and into the air. She said she had asked her brother and Shyama Lahiri to come to her cave that night. Soon a nebulous light came floating over the Ganges, nearer and nearer till it appeared by the side of the woman and condensed itself into Lahiri Mahasaya.
Then came a circling mass of light through the sky. It descended swiftly. The flaming whirlpool became Babaji, who looked like a young Lahiri Mahasaya.
Babaji said, 'I am intending to shed my form and plunge into the infinite Current.'
His sister talked him out of it, and Babaji said solemnly. 'I will never leave my physical body." Then Babaji turned to Ram Gopal with a benign gesture.
"Fear not. You witness an immortal promise."
Actually, another majestic-looking wondrous Babaji promise, was broken because of a trifle. It is in the book, that too (Yogananda 1998:277-278).
What did you learn? It may help to put many Yogananda-given words into a sounder perspective than "Whether Babaji keeps the stay-in-my-body promise remains to be seen in step with the proverb 'Those who live on for long, may see.' All may not live long enough to see it. After the encounter with these three, Ram Gopal went to Lahiri Mahasaya's place. There his fellow disciples told him that Lahiri Mahasaya had not moved from his dais since early the preceding evening.
"My first meeting with Babaji took place in my thirty-third year," Lahiri Mahasaya said. In the autumn of 1861 he was transferred to Ranikhet in the Almora district of United Provinces, is situated at the foot of Nanda Devi, the highest Himalayan peak.
NOTE 1: Nanda Devi is the second highest mountain in India, and the highest one entirely within the country. (Kangchenjunga, which is higher, is on the border of India and Nepal) (WP "Nanda Devi").
Travelling by horse and buggy, he and a servant arrived in thirty days at the Himalayan site of Ranikhet. There he was able to spend many hours roaming in the hills. During a ramble one early afternoon, he climbed the Drongiri Mountain.
NOTE 2: Dunagiri (7,066 m) is one of the high peaks of the Chamoli District Himalayas in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. It lies at the northwest corner of a ring of peaks surrounding Nanda Devi (WP "Dunagiri").
There he reached a small clearing with caves around it. On one of the rocky ledges stood a smiling young man that looked like himself.
"It was I who called you," the other said. It showed up he spoke English, approached and struck Lahiri on the forehead.
Night fell on. Bitter winds whipped around him in the darkness, shrieking. But several hours passed swiftly. The sombre night was suddenly lit by a steady luminosity.
"'Can that be the sunrise?' he asked, but it was midnight. The light he saw was the glow of a golden palace, materialised so that Lahiri might enjoy it for a while.
It was a vast palace studded with countless jewels, and set in the middle of landscaped gardens. Resplendent gates were half-reddened by the glitter of rubies. Diamonds, pearls, sapphires, and emeralds of great size and lustre were imbedded in the decorative arches.
In a spacious reception hall were small groups of persons in a meditative posture.
A companion guide told him: "Babaji can summon the elemental atoms to combine and manifest themselves in any form. Babaji created this golden palace out of his mind and is holding its atoms together by his will for a while longer."
Lahiri: "I examined a graceful vase. Its handle was blazing with diamonds. I also passed my hand over the smooth room-walls, thick with glistening gold.
His companion led him through corridors and chambers into a big hall. In the centre stood a golden throne, encrusted with jewels shedding a dazzling medley of colours. On the throne was Babaji, sitting cross-legged.
"'Lahiri, receive your initiation into the kingdom of God through kriya yoga," said his look-alike.
Core kriya yoga or ujjayi - don't expect too much from it. Uh, that may seem like fit and fair counsel, but how much is too much?
In the early dawn Shyama had received the kriya methods and wandered around the palace, filled on all sides with treasures and priceless art objects. After a walk in the gardens, he went back into the palace.
"'Lahiri, you are hungry.' said Babaji on the throne, 'Close your eyes.'
When Lahiri opened them again, the palace and gardens were gone. Babaji, the people and he himself were sitting on the bare ground where the palace had been just a moment ago.
Babaji lifted an earthen vessel from the ground. 'Put your hand there and receive whatever food you desire.'
As soon as Lahiri touched the broad, empty bowl, it became heaped with hot butter-fried luchis, curry, and rare sweetmeats. He helped myself, noticing that the vessel was always full.
Lahiri sat that afternoon on a blanket. At one moment Babaji came by and passed his hand over his head. Lahiri entered bliss for seven days. On the eighth day he wanted to remain in the wilderness, but Babaji refused it. Lahiri was to serve as an example of a yogi-householder and guide millions encumbered by family ties and heavy worldly duties to see that the path of enlightenment and yogic attainments are not barred to the family man
- who first get struck and stroked into it. Lahiri was first struck and later stroked into his yogic attainments; he did not work his way up as an ideal example.
Then Lahiri asked to be allowed to communicate Kriya to all seekers, even though at first they cannot vow themselves to complete inner renunciation. He had to beg for kriya yoga to be set free from "rigorous safeguards that for ages had hidden Kriya from the world."
Babaji: "Give Kriya freely to all who humbly ask for help."
The next morning he was to leave, and Babaji said: "There is no separation for us, my beloved child. Wherever you are, whenever you call me, I shall be with you at once."
Sounds good? But wait, there is more:
Lahiri felt consoled by his "wondrous promise", and rich with God-wisdom. He soon came to Ranikhet, and from there he returned to Danapur. On the way he spent a few days with a Bengali family at Moradabad. A party of six friends gathered. He told them of his Himalaya experience and spoke without due thought. 'If I call him, my guru will appear right in this house . . . materialise from the ether."
Lahiri: "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. 'It is easy to believe when one sees; there is nothing then to deny.' Gravely he added, 'Let me go!'
Lahiri asked pardon, adding, "Please do not depart without bestowing a blessing on my friends. Unbelievers though they be.'
Babaji said, 'From now on, my son, I shall come when you need me, and not always when you call me.'
At this point he broke a recent, so-called wondrous promise - he subtracted a part from it. Beware of pacts that are handled like that; that is fair counsel. [More]
After Babaji had got something to eat, there was a sudden flash. But later Shyama Lahiri saw him again when he passed an ascetic at a Kumbha Mela at Allahabad. Babaji was there, kneeling in front of a matted-haired anchorite, washing his feet, and wanting to clean his cooking utensils.
Babaji: "By serving wise and ignorant sadhus, I am learning the greatest of virtues, pleasing to God above all others – humility."
We may let it sink in: Babaji said he was not humble enough. That was then.
A palace that lasts for as little as half a day or so, is not lasting. But at least it was not made of polluting plastic.
In some folktales there are implicit life lessons to decipher also. "All is not gold that glitters" has an addition: "All glittering gold does not last for long." It is one of the features of some palaces in fairy tales to disappear too. A golden palace that stands in place for more than a day, needs guards and other forms of protection besides upkeep. It costs!
A promise that is taken back the first time it is tried and found unwelcome, may have been at fault to begin with. "God made him do it," it is stated.
In fairy tales we find similar elements - food supplies that do not run out and lots of other very interesting stuff.
Some notesA muni is a monk who observes mauna, spiritual silence. [There are other meanings too.]
Dasgupta, Sailendra. 2006. Paramhansa Swami Yogananda: Life-portrait and Reminiscences. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.
Dietz, Mararet Bowen. 1998. Thank You, Master. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity.
Yogananda, Paramahansa. 1982. The Science of Religion. Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship.
Yogananda, Paramahansa. 1998. Autobiography of a Yogi. 13th ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF).
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