“FATHER, IF I PROMISE to return home without coercion, may I take a sight-seeing trip to Benares?”
My keen love of travel was seldom hindered by Father. He permitted me, even as a mere boy, to visit many cities and pilgrimage spots. Usually one or more of my friends accompanied me; we would travel comfortably on first-class passes provided by Father. His position as a railroad official was fully satisfactory to the nomads in the family.
Father promised to give my request due consideration. The next day he summoned me and held out a round-trip pass from Bareilly to Benares, a number of rupee notes, and two letters.
“I have a business matter to propose to a Benares friend, Kedar Nath Babu. Unfortunately I have lost his address. But I believe you will be able to get this letter to him through our common friend, Swami Pranabananda. The swami, my brother disciple, has attained an exalted spiritual stature. You will benefit by his company; this second note will serve as your introduction.”
Father’s eyes twinkled as he added, “Mind, no more flights from home!”
I set forth with the zest of my twelve years (though time has never dimmed my delight in new scenes and strange faces). Reaching Benares, I proceeded immediately to the swami’s residence. The front door was open; I made my way to a long, hall-like room on the second floor. A rather stout man, wearing only a loincloth, was seated in lotus posture on a slightly raised platform. His head and unwrinkled face were clean-shaven; a beatific smile played about his lips. To dispel my thought that I had intruded, he greeted me as an old friend.
“Baba anand (bliss to my dear one).” His welcome was given heartily in a childlike voice. I knelt and touched his feet.
“Are you Swami Pranabananda?”
He nodded. “Are you Bhagabati’s son?” His words were out before I had had time to get Father’s letter from my pocket. In astonishment, I handed him the note of introduction, which now seemed superfluous.
“Of course I will locate Kedar Nath Babu for you.” The saint again surprised me by his clairvoyance. He glanced at the letter, and made a few affectionate references to my parent.
“You know, I am enjoying two pensions. One is by the recommendation of your father, for whom I once worked in the railroad office. The other is by the recommendation of my Heavenly Father, for whom I have conscientiously finished my earthly duties in life.”
I found this remark very obscure. “What kind of pension, sir, do you receive from the Heavenly Father? Does He drop money in your lap?”
He laughed. “I mean a pension of fathomless peace—a reward for many years of deep meditation. I never crave money now. My few material needs are amply provided for. Later you will understand the significance of a second pension.”
Abruptly terminating our conversation, the saint became gravely motionless. A sphinxlike air enveloped him. At first his eyes sparkled, as if observing something of interest, then grew dull. I felt abashed at his pauciloquy; he had not yet told me how I could meet Father’s friend. A trifle restlessly, I looked about me in the bare room, empty except for us two. My idle gaze took in his wooden sandals, lying under the platform seat.
“Little sir,1 don’t get worried. The man you wish to see will be with you in half an hour.” The yogi was reading my mind—a feat not too difficult at the moment!
Again he fell into inscrutable silence. My watch informed me that thirty minutes had elapsed.
The swami aroused himself. “I think Kedar Nath Babu is nearing the door.”
I heard somebody coming up the stairs. An amazed incomprehension arose suddenly; my thoughts raced in confusion: “How is it possible that Father’s friend has been summoned to this place without the help of a messenger? The swami has spoken to no one but myself since my arrival!”
Abruptly I quitted the room and descended the steps. Halfway down I met a thin, fair-skinned man of medium height. He appeared to be in a hurry.
“Are you Kedar Nath Babu?” Excitement colored my voice.
“Yes. Are you not Bhagabati’s son who has been waiting here to meet me?” He smiled in friendly fashion.
“Sir, how do you happen to come here?” I felt baffled resentment over his inexplicable presence.
“Everything is mysterious today! Less than an hour ago I had just finished my bath in the Ganges when Swami Pranabananda approached me. I have no idea how he knew I was there at that time.
“‘Bhagabati’s son is waiting for you in my apartment,’ he said. ‘Will you come with me?’ I gladly agreed. As we proceeded hand in hand, the swami in his wooden sandals was strangely able to outpace me, though I wore these stout walking shoes.
“‘How long will it take you to reach my place?’ Pranabanandaji suddenly halted to ask me this question.
“‘About half an hour.’
“‘I have something else to do at present.’ He gave me an enigmatical glance. ‘I must leave you behind. You can join me in my house, where Bhagabati’s son and I will be awaiting you.’
“Before I could remonstrate, he dashed swiftly past me and disappeared in the crowd. I walked here as fast as possible.”
This explanation only increased my bewilderment. I inquired how long he had known the swami.
“We met a few times last year, but not recently. I was very glad to see him again today at the bathing ghat.”
“I cannot believe my ears! Am I losing my mind? Did you meet him in a vision, or did you actually see him, touch his hand, and hear the sound of his feet?”
“I don’t know what you’re driving at!” He flushed angrily. “I am not lying to you. Can’t you understand that only through the swami could I have known you were waiting at this place for me?”
“Why, that man, Swami Pranabananda, has not left my sight a moment since I first came about an hour ago.” I blurted out the whole story.
His eyes opened widely. “Are we living in this material age, or are we dreaming? I never expected to witness such a miracle in my life! I thought this swami was just an ordinary man, and now I find he can materialize an extra body and work through it!” Together we entered the saint’s room.
“Look, those are the very sandals he was wearing at the ghat,” Kedar Nath Babu whispered. “He was clad only in a loincloth, just as I see him now.”
As the visitor bowed before him, the saint turned to me with a quizzical smile.
“Why are you stupefied at all this? The subtle unity of the phenomenal world is not hidden from true yogis. I instantly see and converse with my disciples in distant Calcutta. They can similarly transcend at will every obstacle of gross matter.”
It was probably in an effort to stir spiritual ardor in my young breast that the swami had condescended to tell me of his powers of astral radio and television.2 But instead of enthusiasm, I experienced only an awe-stricken fear. Inasmuch as I was destined to undertake my divine search through one particular guru—Sri Yukteswar, whom I had not yet met—I felt no inclination to accept Pranabananda as my teacher. I glanced at him doubtfully, wondering if it were he or his counterpart before me.
The master sought to banish my disquietude by bestowing a soul-awakening gaze, and by some inspiring words about his guru.
“Lahiri Mahasaya was the greatest yogi I ever knew. He was Divinity Itself in the form of flesh.”
If a disciple, I reflected, could materialize an extra fleshly form at will, what miracles indeed could be barred to his master?
“I will tell you how priceless is a guru’s help. I used to meditate with another disciple for eight hours every night. We had to work at the railroad office during the day. Finding difficulty in carrying on my clerical duties, I desired to devote my whole time to God. For eight years I persevered, meditating half the night. I had wonderful results; tremendous spiritual perceptions illumined my mind. But a little veil always remained between me and the Infinite. Even with super-human earnestness, I found the final irrevocable union to be denied me. One evening I paid a visit to Lahiri Mahasaya and pleaded for his divine intercession. My importunities continued during the entire night.
“‘Angelic Guru, my spiritual anguish is such that I can no longer bear my life without meeting the Great Beloved face to face!’
“‘What can I do? You must meditate more profoundly.’
“‘I am appealing to Thee, O God my Master! I see Thee materialized before me in a physical body; bless me that I may perceive Thee in Thine infinite form!’
“Lahiri Mahasaya extended his hand in a benign gesture. ‘You may go now and meditate. I have interceded for you with Brahma.’3
“Immeasurably uplifted, I returned to my home. In meditation that night, the burning Goal of my life was achieved. Now I ceaselessly enjoy the spiritual pension. Never from that day has the Blissful Creator remained hidden from my eyes behind any screen of delusion.”
Pranabananda’s face was suffused with divine light. The peace of another world entered my heart; all fear had fled. The saint made a further confidence.
“Some months later I returned to Lahiri Mahasaya and tried to thank him for his bestowal of the infinite gift. Then I mentioned another matter.
“‘Divine Guru, I can no longer work in the office. Please release me. Brahma keeps me continuously intoxicated.’
“‘Apply for a pension from your company.’
“‘What reason shall I give, so early in my service?’
“‘Say what you feel.’
“The next day I made my application. The doctor inquired the grounds for my premature request.
“‘At work, I find an overpowering sensation rising in my spine.4 It permeates my whole body, unfitting me for the performance of my duties.’
“Without further questioning the physician recommended me highly for a pension, which I soon received. I know the divine will of Lahiri Mahasaya worked through the doctor and the railroad officials, including your father. Automatically they obeyed the great guru’s spiritual direction, and freed me for a life of unbroken communion with the Beloved.”5
After this extraordinary revelation, Swami Pranabananda retired into one of his long silences. As I was taking leave, touching his feet reverently, he gave me his blessing:
“Your life belongs to the path of renunciation and yoga. I shall see you again, with your father, later on.” The years brought fulfillment to both these predictions.6
Kedar Nath Babu walked by my side in the gathering darkness. I delivered Father’s letter, which my companion read under a street lamp.
“Your father suggests that I take a position in the Calcutta office of his railroad company. How pleasant to look forward to at least one of the pensions that Swami Pranabananda enjoys! But it is impossible; I cannot leave Benares. Alas, two bodies are not yet for me!”
- Choto Mahasaya is the term by which a number of Indian saints addressed me. It translates “little sir.”
- In its own way, physical science is affirming the validity of laws discovered by yogis through mental science. For example, a demonstration that man has televisional powers was given on Nov. 26, 1934 at the Royal University of Rome. “Dr. Giuseppe Calligaris, professor of neuro-psychology, pressed certain points of a subject’s body and the subject responded with minute descriptions of other persons and objects on the opposite side of a wall. Dr. Calligaris told the other professors that if certain areas on the skin are agitated, the subject is given super-sensorial impressions enabling him to see objects that he could not otherwise perceive. To enable his subject to discern things on the other side of a wall, Professor Calligaris pressed on a spot to the right of the thorax for fifteen minutes. Dr. Calligaris said that if other spots of the body were agitated, the subjects could see objects at any distance, regardless of whether they had ever before seen those objects.”
- God in His aspect of Creator; from Sanskrit root brih, to expand. When Emerson’s poem Brahma appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1857, most the readers were bewildered. Emerson chuckled. “Tell them,” he said, “to say ‘Jehovah’ instead of ‘Brahma’ and they will not feel any perplexity.”
- In deep meditation, the first experience of Spirit is on the altar of the spine, and then in the brain. The torrential bliss is overwhelming, but the yogi learns to control its outward manifestations.
- After his retirement, Pranabananda wrote one of the most profound commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, available in Bengali and Hindi.
- See chapter 27.