In the month of June, one of Master’s disciples, Dr. J. H. Clark, an SRF member and a medical doctor, came to Calcutta. He stayed at the YSS ashram in Baranagore. One day he asked Swamiji if he knew of anyone who could lead him on a tour of holy places in India. Swamiji knew that I’d traveled around the country and that I’d had some experience of hiking in the mountains, so he asked me to accompany our guest. I enthusiastically agreed.
A few days later, we set off on our tour that was to last thirty-five days. Our first stop was the city of Benares,1 said to be the oldest still-inhabited city in the world. Anandamoyee Ma, the world-famous woman saint whom Yogananda describes reverently in Autobiography of a Yogi, had one of her ashrams there. My first meeting with her was at this ashram. I immediately understood why Master had described her as the “Joy-Permeated Mother.” She and he had great soul-love for one another. She referred to him as “Baba,” her common appellation for men, but one that seemed to have special meaning in his case.
We stayed there for four days, and were able to visit her twice a day. Each time she blessed us. I was captivated by her and by her transparent love for God. On many occasions she would go into samadhi (ecstasy) before us, sometimes for only half an hour, sometimes for hours at a time. In her divine love she was like a magnet. This, I felt, must have been what Master was like!
Anandamoyee Ma never stayed long at any of her ashrams, moving about to give more of her devotees a chance to be with her as much as possible. A strange fact I noted was that she never ate with her own hand. Her close women disciples would feed her, like a child.
As we were leaving, she asked us to return as often as we could. My heart was full to overflowing. After that first encounter I never let a year go by without visiting her at least once or twice. It wasn’t long before she would know immediately when I had come, and would call out to me, “Come up here! Sit beside me.” We were very close, and I treasure every moment that I was able to absorb myself in her vibrations.
One time she asked me to chant for her. I sang the well-known mahamantra, or “great mantra,” Haré Krishna, haré Krishna, Krishna Krishna, haré, haré! Haré Ram, haré Ram, Ram Ram, haré, haré! She loved to sing this chant with me, and thereafter often sang it with her disciples.
Whenever I recall those times, tears come to my eyes in loving gratitude for all that she taught me: surrender to the Infinite, non-attachment, inner peace, devotion to God and Guru. Her face, divinely beautiful, would be wreathed in smiles and surrounded by an aura of heavenly light and grace. She seemed to me not to belong to this world. At times, though looking directly at us, she was obviously far away, mentally. Although physically sitting before us, inwardly she was soaring to the heights of divine consciousness.
A devotee of Ma’s has written, “The central theme of Her teaching, in endless variations, was: The supreme calling of every human being is to aspire to Self-realization. All other obligations are secondary. Only actions that kindle man’s divine nature are worthy of the name of action. She often told us, ‘In whatever circumstances you may find yourself placed, tell yourself: ”It is all right; this is necessary for me. It is His way of drawing me to His feet, so let me be content.“ By Him alone should your heart be possessed. Your sorrow, your pain, your agony is indeed my own sorrow. This body [it was in this fashion that Ma referred to herself] understands everything.’”
As I wanted to know everything I could of her saintly life, I once asked her, “When did you find God?”
She replied, “When I was six years old, and living with my father, mother, brother, and sister in my native village near Dacca [a city in what is now Bangladesh], we all went to the festivities in celebration of the goddess Durga [the festivities are called Durgapuja].2 I was seated on the ground, watching people as they came forward to honor Durga. Suddenly I saw a moon forming upon the face of Durga’s image. It approached me very slowly, then entered my heart. I lost outward consciousness for ten or fifteen minutes. It wasn’t until my brother and sister got up to leave that, seeing me seated without motion, they shook me and said ‘It’s time to go home!’ Only then did I come out of that trance. At that point I beheld the light leave me and return to the Durga murti (image).”
Hearing this story, I was thrilled in my heart. “Was that your first samadhi?” I asked Ma. She laughed and answered, “I do not know.”
We left Benares the next morning for Delhi, and then Ranikhet, this time traveling by train. After a long 12-hour ride, we finally arrived at the secluded inn where we were to stay. It was owned by a very nice English lady, Mrs. Clark (not related to the man I was travelling with). She had been married to a British military major. After his death she bought this house, including many acres surrounding it, as a means of providing herself with a steady income. She loved it here in the lonely hill station of Ranikhet, overlooking as it did the snow-capped Himalaya mountains, despite the fact that the area was frequented by tigers and other wild animals. She had four large, woolly shepherd dogs to keep her company and also to protect her. She was able to serve many pilgrims on their travels to and from various ashrams and mountain retreats. This was the perfect spot for us, for Dr. Clark was a deep meditator, and sought solitude much of the time. The primitive aspects of the inn pleased him. As he said often to me, “No electricity: no harm!”
Dr. Clark was a simple person, and a very good devotee. His heart was always full of love. Many days we meditated together, and he would share with me spiritual blessings and insights he had received. He told me, “Master would say, ‘Call God: He is always nearby’” As long as my body lives, I will never forget the blessings of our friendship, and will feel his love.
One afternoon Mrs. Clark invited us for tea. She addressed the doctor: “Being a Catholic, why do you follow an Indian Guru? Do you consider him above Christ?” Dr. Clark replied, “I do not see any barrier between my Guru and Jesus Christ. Rather, I have come to know who Christ was through Master.” She then asked me if I believed in Christ. “Of course!” I said. “Jesus Christ had perfect Self-realization. I love him as I love my Guru.”
From the inn we visited Babaji’s cave, higher up near the Gogash River on Drona Giri mountain where, in 1861, Lahiri Mahasaya recognized his guru, Babaji, from former lives. It was here that Babaji initiated Lahiri Mahasaya into the sacred Kriya Yoga technique in a golden palace which, as we read in Autobiography of a Yogi, Babaji materialized for him. We also visited the ancient Drona Giri Temple, dedicated to Ma Kali,3 and meditated there for hours. The mountain was named after Dronacharya, the famed teacher of the Pandavas and Kauravas in the Mahabharata. (This holy epic contains the best-loved scripture in India, the Bhagavad Gita.) It was here that Drona established his kingdom. How uplifting it was to be where Babaji once lived, and where Lahiri Mahasaya, meeting him again in this lifetime, received initiation into Kriya Yoga!
A beautiful saint, a muni or “silent sage,” lived there also. We felt great blessings emanating from him as we sat in his presence. We also enjoyed our quiet time together during what proved to be a good four-hours’ walk there from Mrs. Clark’s.
The next day we left her inn for Delhi, from which point we proceeded to the hill town of Simla, where we remained for six days. Since Yoganandaji and Sri Yukteswar had made a pilgrimage here, Dr. Clark, desirous of following in their footsteps, wanted also to visit here. He also wanted to meditate in the Hanuman Mandir high on Jaku Hill.
Along the way to this temple, many monkeys (Hanuman is known as the “monkey god”) came out and greeted us, chattering away. They were well-behaved monkeys, however! Dr. Clark had bought bananas, sweets, and nuts for them, and as we entered the area the monkeys stretched out their hands for their treat. Fortunately, we were well provided!
Soon we returned to Calcutta4 for a week to visit Master’s boyhood home at 4 Garpar Road, and my own home as well. We had a meal with Tulsi Bose and his family, and with Atmanandaji. Afterwards we visited the Kali Temple in Dakshineswar, and two other temples: Belur Math, founded by Swami Vivekananda (chief disciple of Ramakrishna), and the Tarakeshwar Shiva Temple, at which, as in Lourdes, France, many people have been miraculously healed of their illnesses: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
After a week in Calcutta, Dr. Clark returned to America. His visit had been a blessing for us all, but especially for me, who had been able to spend so much time with him alone.
- “Varanasi,” as it is now called. This holiest city of the Hindus lies in the state of Uttar Pradesh, standing on the West bank of the River Ganges. For over 5,000 years pilgrims have come here. Holy to all Hindus, it is especially so to Shaivites, who worship God in the form of Shiva. Hindus deeply believe that all who die here achieve liberation. It was in Benares, so Paramhansa Yogananda said, that Babaji met Swami Shankaracharya many centuries ago, and initiated him into Kriya Yoga-a thrilling story, but, alas! not one for this book.
- Durgapuja is one of the principal festivals in Bengal. Durga represents shakti, or energy, and is believed to help mankind to develop non-attachment to the material world.
- Kali is a symbol of God in the aspect of eternal Mother Nature, and is an aspect of Durga. Master, as a child, worshiped Her, crying out to Her from his heart to reveal Herself-as, finally, She did with infinite sweetness and love. Kali was also the special object of adoration for Sri Ramakrishna.
- At that time, Calcutta was not devastated as it now is by pollution, over-crowding, and unbelievable numbers of automobiles. It was, in general, a wonderful city, and provided a good life for its inhabitants.