Autobiography of a Yogi
(Original 1946 Edition)
by Paramhansa Yogananda
I Meet My Master, Sri Yukteswar
"Faith in God can produce any miracle except one-passing an examination without study." Distastefully I closed the book I had picked up in an idle moment.
"The writer's exception shows his complete lack of faith," I thought. "Poor chap, he has great respect for the midnight oil!"
My promise to Father had been that I would complete my high school studies. I cannot pretend to diligence. The passing months found me less frequently in the classroom than in secluded spots along the Calcutta bathing ghats. The adjoining crematory grounds, especially gruesome at night, are considered highly attractive by the yogi. He who would find the Deathless Essence must not be dismayed by a few unadorned skulls. Human inadequacy becomes clear in the gloomy abode of miscellaneous bones. My midnight vigils were thus of a different nature from the scholar's.
The week of final examinations at the Hindu High School was fast approaching. This interrogatory period, like the sepulchral haunts, inspires a well-known terror. My mind was nevertheless at peace. Braving the ghouls, I was exhuming a knowledge not found in lecture halls. But it lacked the art of Swami Pranabananda, who easily appeared in two places at one time. My educational dilemma was plainly a matter for the Infinite Ingenuity. This was my reasoning, though to many it seems illogic. The devotee's irrationality springs from a thousand inexplicable demonstrations of God's instancy in trouble.
"Hello, Mukunda! I catch hardly a glimpse of you these days!" A classmate accosted me one afternoon on Gurpar Road.
"Hello, Nantu! My invisibility at school has actually placed me there in a decidedly awkward position." I unburdened myself under his friendly gaze.
Nantu, who was a brilliant student, laughed heartily; my predicament was not without a comic aspect.
"You are utterly unprepared for the finals! I suppose it is up to me to help you!"
The simple words conveyed divine promise to my ears; with alacrity I visited my friend's home. He kindly outlined the solutions to various problems he considered likely to be set by the instructors.
"These questions are the bait which will catch many trusting boys in the examination trap. Remember my answers, and you will escape without injury."
The night was far gone when I departed. Bursting with unseasoned erudition, I devoutly prayed it would remain for the next few critical days. Nantu had coached me in my various subjects but, under press of time, had forgotten my course in Sanskrit. Fervently I reminded God of the oversight.
I set out on a short walk the next morning, assimilating my new knowledge to the rhythm of swinging footsteps. As I took a short cut through the weeds of a corner lot, my eye fell on a few loose printed sheets. A triumphant pounce proved them to be Sanskrit verse. I sought out a pundit for aid in my stumbling interpretation. His rich voice filled the air with the edgeless, honeyed beauty of the ancient tongue.1
"These exceptional stanzas cannot possibly be of aid in your Sanskrit test." The scholar dismissed them skeptically.
But familiarity with that particular poem enabled me on the following day to pass the Sanskrit examination. Through the discerning help Nantu had given, I also attained the minimum grade for success in all my other subjects.
Father was pleased that I had kept my word and concluded my secondary school course. My gratitude sped to the Lord, whose sole guidance I perceived in my visit to Nantu and my walk by the unhabitual route of the debris-filled lot. Playfully He had given a dual expression to His timely design for my rescue.
I came across the discarded book whose author had denied God precedence in the examination halls. I could not restrain a chuckle at my own silent comment:
"It would only add to this fellow's confusion, if I were to tell him that divine meditation among the cadavers is a short cut to a high school diploma!"
In my new dignity, I was now openly planning to leave home. Together with a young friend, Jitendra Mazumdar,2 I decided to join a Mahamandal hermitage in Benares, and receive its spiritual discipline.
A desolation fell over me one morning at thought of separation from my family. Since Mother's death, my affection had grown especially tender for my two younger brothers, Sananda and Bishnu. I rushed to my retreat, the little attic which had witnessed so many scenes in my turbulent sadhana.3 After a two-hour flood of tears, I felt singularly transformed, as by some alchemical cleanser. All attachment4 disappeared; my resolution to seek God as the Friend of friends set like granite within me. I quickly completed my travel preparations.
"I make one last plea." Father was distressed as I stood before him for final blessing. "Do not forsake me and your grieving brothers and sisters."
"Revered Father, how can I tell my love for you! But even greater is my love for the Heavenly Father, who has given me the gift of a perfect father on earth. Let me go, that I someday return with a more divine understanding."
With reluctant parental consent, I set out to join Jitendra, already in Benares at the hermitage. On my arrival the young head swami, Dyananda, greeted me cordially. Tall and thin, of thoughtful mien, he impressed me favorably. His fair face had a Buddhalike composure.
I was pleased that my new home possessed an attic, where I managed to spend the dawn and morning hours. The ashram members, knowing little of meditation practices, thought I should employ my whole time in organizational duties. They gave me praise for my afternoon work in their office.
"Don't try to catch God so soon!" This ridicule from a fellow resident accompanied one of my early departures toward the attic. I went to Dyananda, busy in his small sanctum overlooking the Ganges.
"Swamiji,5 I don't understand what is required of me here. I am seeking direct perception of God. Without Him, I cannot be satisfied with affiliation or creed or performance of good works."
The orange-robed ecclesiastic gave me an affectionate pat. Staging a mock rebuke, he admonished a few near-by disciples. "Don't bother Mukunda. He will learn our ways."
I politely concealed my doubt. The students left the room, not overly bent with their chastisement. Dyananda had further words for me.
"Mukunda, I see your father is regularly sending you money. Please return it to him; you require none here. A second injunction for your discipline concerns food. Even when you feel hunger, don't mention it."
Whether famishment gleamed in my eye, I knew not. That I was hungry, I knew only too well. The invariable hour for the first hermitage meal was twelve noon. I had been accustomed in my own home to a large breakfast at nine o'clock.
The three-hour gap became daily more interminable. Gone were the Calcutta years when I could rebuke the cook for a ten-minute delay. Now I tried to control my appetite; one day I undertook a twenty-four hour fast. With double zest I awaited the following midday.
"Dyanandaji's train is late; we are not going to eat until he arrives." Jitendra brought me this devastating news. As gesture of welcome to the swami, who had been absent for two weeks, many delicacies were in readiness. An appetizing aroma filled the air. Nothing else offering, what else could be swallowed except pride over yesterday's achievement of a fast?
"Lord hasten the train!" The Heavenly Provider, I thought, was hardly included in the interdiction with which Dyananda had silenced me. Divine Attention was elsewhere, however; the plodding clock covered the hours. Darkness was descending as our leader entered the door. My greeting was one of unfeigned joy.
"Dyanandaji will bathe and meditate before we can serve food." Jitendra approached me again as a bird of ill omen.
I was in near-collapse. My young stomach, new to deprivation, protested with gnawing vigor. Pictures I had seen of famine victims passed wraithlike before me.
"The next Benares death from starvation is due at once in this hermitage," I thought. Impending doom averted at nine o'clock. Ambrosial summons! In memory that meal is vivid as one of life's perfect hours.
Intense absorption yet permitted me to observe that Dyananda ate absent-mindedly. He was apparently above my gross pleasures.
"Swamiji, weren't you hungry?" Happily surfeited, I was alone with the leader in his study.
"O yes! I have spent the last four days without food or drink. I never eat on trains, filled with the heterogenous vibrations of worldly people. Strictly I observe the shastric6 rules for monks of my particular order.