Master was to speak one Sunday morning at Hollywood Church, when Sue and Bud Clewell, my relatives in Westwood Village, came to visit me. After the service, Master graciously invited the three of us to join him for lunch.
A small group of us were served on the stage behind the closed curtains, there being no room in the church large enough to accommodate us. This afternoon was my first opportunity to observe Master in the role of host. I found it a charming experience. His total lack of affectation, delightful wit, gentle courtesy, and warm, kindly laughter which included everyone in his joy would, I think, have enchanted any audience.
Among those present were Dr. and Mrs. Lewis. A lady who had recently become a member, glancing at them, inquired, “Master, Dr. Lewis was your first disciple in this country, wasn’t he?”
Master’s response was unexpectedly reserved. “That’s what they say,” he replied quietly. His tone of voice, even more than his words, made such a marked contrast to the affability he had been displaying that the lady seemed taken aback. Noticing her surprise, Master explained more kindly, “I never speak of people as my disciples. God is the Guru: They are His disciples.”
To Master, discipleship was too sacred a subject to be treated lightly even in casual conversation.
Later, Sue and Bud confessed they had found Master charming. “But,” Sue then challenged me a little belligerently, “why do you have to call him ‘Master’?” Warming to her subject, she continued, “This is a free country! Americans aren’t slaves. And anyway, no one has a right to be called the master of any other human being!”
“Sue,” I remonstrated, “it isn’t our freedom we’ve given him. It’s our bondage! I’ve never known anyone so respectful of the freedoms of others as Yogananda is. We call him ‘Master’ in the sense of teacher. He is a true master of the practices in which we ourselves are struggling to excel. You might say that he is our teacher in the art of achieving true freedom.”
“True freedom! How can you say that? You can vote, can’t you? You can travel anywhere you want to, can’t you? Isn’t our American way of life proof enough that you’re free already?”
“Is it?” I smiled. “Think how bound people are by their attachments and desires. They want a thousand things, most of which they’ll never get, in the belief that, through them, they’ll find happiness. In conditioning their happiness by material objects, they enslave themselves! Happiness isn’t things, Sue. It’s a state of mind.”
Sue pondered my words a few moments. “Well,” she concluded, unwilling to surrender her point completely, “I still think I’ll be happier when we can afford a new sofa!”
(Poor Sue, were you happier? In the years after that, I wish I could say that I ever saw happiness in your eyes.)
Sue’s objection to our loving appellation for our Guru was by no means unusual. Perhaps if a master were to appear on the stage of life like some Nietzschean Zarathustra, making grand pronouncements on obscure themes that no one in his right mind would ever think on his own, people, mistaking bewilderment for awe, might cry, “Ah, here indeed is a master!” But masters usually live more or less prosaically. They get born in mangers. They teach familiar truths in simple ways. One might say they almost flaunt their ordinariness. Human nature doesn’t take kindly to greatness in mere people. And it is in their perfect humanity that masters most truly reveal their greatness, not in their rejection of all that it means to be a human being.
In this ideal they are both a challenge to us and a reproach. Most people don’t want challenges. Still less do they want reproaches. One who isn’t willing to face the need for self-transformation cannot view gladly the accomplished fact of such transformation in others. “I’m as good as anyone else,” is the common declaration. A true statement it would be, too, if it referred to the eternal, divine image within them. But people who talk like that are not thinking of their souls. Who, in his egoic humanity, can say honestly, “I’m as virtuous as anyone else, as intelligent, as artistic, as wise, as gifted a businessman, as good a leader”? The over-emphasized egalitarianism of our age blinds people to the single most obvious fact of human nature — its vast variety. Belief in complete outward equality is a kind of democratic myth, a preference for pleasing sentiments over the clear vision of reality that comes from winning hard struggles on the battlefield of life. Only when we have banished from our consciousness the delusions that keep us bound to this phenomenal world can we know ourselves truly equal, in God, to the very angels.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”1 People rarely see that the greatness of God’s ways, as expressed through the lives of His awakened sons, lies in a transcendent view of mundane realities, and not in a rigid denial of those realities. From the thought, “Nothing is divine,” man must grow to the realization, “Everything is divine.”
Our “bondage” to Master was a bond purely of love. He, far more than we, appreciated the sacredness of this relationship, and treated it with the deepest dignity and respect. Where love was missing on a disciple’s part, however, the bond broke, or was never formed. And then even disciples were known to lose sight of what it meant to call their guru “Master.”
“I didn’t come here,” they complained, “to pour cement!” No? Why, then, did you come?
“Why, to meditate, of course, to attain samadhi.”
And did you imagine that samadhi would come in any other way than by attunement with your guru?
“Well, no. After all that’s why I came here. But what has attunement got to do with pouring cement? It’s in my meditations that I need his help.”
O blind ones, can’t you see that self-transformation is a total process? that what the Master gives us spiritually must be perceived on every level of our being? that no real difference exists between God in the form of cement and God in the form of blissful visions? God is equally present in everything!
Rare, alas, is that disciple who feels no inner resistance, born of ego-consciousness, to complete acceptance of his guru. “I want to express my own creativity!” is a complaint frequently thought, less frequently expressed. Or, “I know Master has the greatest thing of all to give me, but I have something worthwhile to give him, too. I’m a good organizer!” O foolish devotee, don’t you see that man has nothing to express that he can truly call his own? that his ideas, his opinions, his so-called “inspirations”—all these reflect only currents of consciousness, available equally to everyone? Only by attunement to God’s will can we fully express ourselves. Everything else is borrowed. And yet, the Divine has a unique song to sing through each of us. It isn’t that we shouldn’t try to be creative. Indeed, unless we exert ourselves to act, God cannot act through us. (The whole of the Bhagavad Gita is an exhortation to selfless activity.) But we must learn to listen, to accept, to absorb: herein lies the true and deepest secret of creativity.
For disciples, the surest way to express themselves creatively is to attune themselves to their guru’s consciousness and to his wishes for them. His entire task is to speed his disciples on the path of self-unfoldment. Are you a good organizer? Then seek inwardly, from your guru, the inspiration needed for any organizational work you do. If you say, “This, at least, is something I know better than he,” you close the door to the infinite source of all true inspiration within yourself, which he has been so painstakingly prising open for you.
It is folly in any case, and a sure invitation to vainglory, to dwell on the thought that the guru’s understanding is imperfect even in trivial matters. For therein lies the seed of pride; it begins with the thought, “Wise as he is — look! In this particular matter I am wiser than he!”
As a matter of fact, our own Master often demonstrated an undreamed-of proficiency in subjects that were far outside the realm of his own human experience. For example, though he had never studied medicine, Master won the respect of many doctors for his familiarity with the esoterica of their profession.
In India once, not satisfied with the work of a certain well-known artist whom he had commissioned to do a portrait of Lahiri Mahasaya, he painted a better portrait of that master himself. And this was his first attempt at painting!
The wife of Señor Cuaron, our center leader in Mexico City, told me in Spanish when I visited them in 1954, “I once had a private interview with Master. I knew he spoke no Spanish, and as you can see, I don’t speak English. Yet we conversed for an hour, and I understood him perfectly.” My own assumption has always been that, for that one hour, he spoke with her in Spanish.
There were times when I myself felt that Master had erred in some matter, or had not sufficiently grasped some point. There was even a time, as you will see in a later chapter, when my questioning took the form of more serious doubts. But always I found, in time, that it was he who was right. His actions, unusual though they sometimes were and not always reasonable in appearance, were based on sure intuitions that, incredibly, always worked out for the best. Whenever his plans went awry, it was, I think, because of our own want of attunement in carrying them out.
A small example may suffice. Brought up as I had been to the importance of esthetic values, I was mildly disappointed by the Gothic arches on our church altars, which, I was told, Master had designed himself. To my eyes they looked somewhat stark and uninspired, though by no means offensively so. One day, however, I got to see his original sketch: It was exquisite. The subtle oriental sweep of his arches had been missed altogether by the carpenters.
Had we listened more sensitively to the subtle nuances of his guidance, and not run about—“like chickens with their heads cut off” as he himself put it — trying so frenziedly to do his will, nor tried so reasonably to obstruct it, I almost think we could have changed the world. Certainly we would all have radically transformed ourselves.
Now that Master had, reluctantly, abandoned his dream of founding a world brotherhood colony in Encinitas, and had turned his mind to organizing the existing communities along more strictly monastic lines, the thought was in the air: “Organize!” I don’t recall that Master himself said much about organizing at this time. At least, he never did so in my presence. Anyway, for whatever reason, many disciples got caught up in this thought.
There were several monks who, instead of saying merely, “Now we must organize,” waxed critical of the fact that things hadn’t been organized long before. New as I was in the work, I looked up to these men as my superiors on the path. It didn’t occur to me that they were actually being negative. When they referred darkly to the ways in which things were, according to them, being mismanaged, my reaction was to feel distress that Master should have been so badly served by the “mismanagers.”
Master’s way was, if possible, to let the disciples play out their fantasies, and learn from them. I was never really brought fully into the present picture, but one day Boone came charging into my room and announced grandly, “Master has appointed a committee. He wants you and me to be on it.”
“A committee? What does he want us to do?”
“We’re to organize the work,” Boone replied, straightening up self-importantly.
“What aspects of it?”
“All aspects of it — everything!” Boone swept an arm outward in an expansive gesture.
“Well,” I said dubiously, “if Master says so. But I don’t really know much about the work. I can’t imagine how he expects me to help organize it!”
“Oh, you won’t have to do much. Just lend a hand whenever we ask for it.”
It turned out I didn’t really have to do anything. For some weeks various members of the committee met by twos and threes, informally, to discuss everything they felt needed changing. There was much talk, some complaining, and little action. Gradually, complaints assumed the dominant role. The main office, Boone informed me indignantly, was obstructing the committee’s work, and thereby, of course, Master’s will. I felt incompetent to offer positive suggestions, but shared my fellow members’ indignation. It amazed me that disciples should so stubbornly refuse to cooperate with their guru’s wishes.
One day Boone dashed into my room in a burst of anger. “Miss Sahly completely refuses to obey the committee’s latest directive!”
Why, this was unthinkable! I rose to my feet. “We must go speak to her!” Together we strode over to the main office. I told Miss Sahly (later, Shraddha Mata) that in refusing to cooperate with the committee she was disobeying Master, that the matter in question was a committee decision, and that, for the welfare of the work, she must absolutely accept it.
“You young hotheads!” Master cried when he learned about the episode. “What do you mean by bursting in there and shouting like that?” He proceeded to give me, particularly, the best tongue-lashing I ever heard him give anyone.
I was aghast. I had pictured myself bravely striking blows in his cause, only to find myself fighting on the wrong side! Miss Sahly, it turned out, was a highly respected disciple of many years’ standing, and a member of the board of directors. Master, moreover, had never told her, nor anyone else, that our committee had any special powers. (Nor, I suddenly realized, had I ever heard from him directly that we had any!)
Running out of things to say about our office invasion, but finding himself still in fine voice, Master started in on the committee itself. He called it “do-nothing, negative, a complete farce.” Most of the monks, including the other committee members, were present. Master’s entire tirade, however, was directed at me.
But Master, I thought, I took hardly any part in the committee’s activities! Outwardly, however, I said nothing; after all, I was at least nominally a committee member. But I couldn’t help feeling a little resentment at what I considered my undeserved humiliation. Later, I reflected that my reaction only proved all the more my need for correction.
“Sir,” I pleaded earnestly that evening, “please scold me more often.”
“I understand.” He looked at me keenly. “But what you need is more devotion.”
It was true. In heeding the negative criticisms of my older brother disciples I had fallen — from what had seemed to me good motives — into judgmental attitudes, forever inimical to love.
Soon thereafter I approached Master. “I’m sorry, Sir,” I said.
“That’s the way!” Master smiled lovingly. From then on the incident was closed between us.
Master always discouraged negativity, even in a good cause. A couple of years later a certain man tried by trickery to hurt the work in one of our churches. Mr. Jacot, a loyal and devoted member, uncovered the man’s scheme and denounced him publicly. Master expressed his gratitude to Mr. Jacot afterward for having saved us in a perilous situation. After thanking him, however, Master gently scolded him for the means he had employed. “It is not good,” he said, “regardless of one’s intentions, to create wrong vibrations through anger and harsh words. The good that you have accomplished would have been greater had you employed peaceful means.”
Negativity, from whatever motive, creates its own momentum. Unfortunately Mr. Jacot failed, even after Master’s admonishment, to see the need for curbing righteous anger in defense of a good cause. Thus he gradually developed a judgmental attitude that ultimately took him out of the work.
On another occasion, perhaps a year after our committee episode, I was invited by a certain Masonic lodge (to which one of our members belonged) to appear in a tableau that was to be presented on the occasion of their installation of officers. What caused them to invite me was that they wanted a tableau of Christ at Gethsemane, and I was perhaps the only one around in those days with a beard. Anyway, they asked me to play that part. (All I had to do was look up in silence occasionally, and sigh!)
Master told me to go. The affair went smoothly enough until the time came for the installation ceremony itself. And then smoldering rivalries burst into flame. Half the lodge members walked out in angry protest. The ceremony ended in emotional ashes.
Master commented the next day that he’d heard I looked convincingly Christlike.
“I’d rather be like Christ than look like him, Sir,” I said.
“That will come,” he replied casually. He saw all of us in terms of our spiritual potential.
“How did it go?” Master then inquired of me.
“Not too well,” I replied.
“It was a fiasco, wasn’t it?”
“Completely, Sir, I’m afraid!”
“Well,” he concluded, “don’t say anything about it.”
His wish that I say nothing at first surprised, and then impressed me. It surprised me because, no matter what I might say, the Masons would never get wind of my remarks. Nor did their internal problems at all affect us. But then I realized, and I was impressed by the fact, that what Master was warning me about was the power of negativity itself.
“Avoid speaking negative things,” he said to us one evening. “Why look at the drains, when there is beauty all around? You could take me into the most perfect room in the world, and still I would be able, if I wanted to, to find faults in it. But why should I want to? Why not enjoy its beauty?”
Again he told us, “Don’t speak of the faults of the organization. If I wanted to list them, I could start now and never stop! But if we concentrate on the bad side, we lose sight of the good. Doctors say that millions of terrible germs pass through our bodies. But because we aren’t aware of them they are far less likely to affect us than if we sensed their presence, and worried about it. So should it be here. For there is a great deal of good in this organization. But when we look at the negative side long enough, we ourselves take on negative qualities. When we concentrate on the good, we take on goodness.”
It was several days after the committee episode that I first met Daya Mata (then Faye Wright). I had entered the main office after working-hours to deliver something. A youthful-looking woman of radiant countenance entered the room, her firm step suggestive of boundless energy. I had no idea who she was, but sensed in her a closeness to Master. Seeing me, she paused, then addressed me pleasantly.
“You’re Donald, aren’t you? I’m Faye. I’ve heard about you.” She smiled. “My, that was quite a stir you boys created with that committee of yours!”
I felt acutely embarrassed. As far as I was concerned, that committee was a dead issue. But she, not knowing how I stood on the matter, decided to help me understand it better. As we conversed, I found myself thinking, “So this is an example of those disciples who were supposed to be ‘obstructing’ Master’s wishes. I’d a thousand times rather be like her than like any of those complainers!” Her calm self-possession, kindliness, and transparent devotion to Master impressed me deeply. From now on, I resolved, I would take her as my model in the ideal spirit of discipleship that I was striving to develop.
“We must learn to give up self-will if we want to please Master. And that,” she added significantly, “is what we are trying to do.”
Simple teaching, simply expressed! But it rang true. What, I thought, reflecting on her words, was the use of building this, of organizing that, of doing even the most laudable work, if Master was not pleased? For his job was to express God’s will for each of us. To please him was, quite simply, to please God.
Let others do the important, outward things, I decided. For me only one thing would matter from now on: to do Master’s will, to please him. I was immeasurably grateful to this senior disciple for her advice.
Ironically, it was very soon afterward — almost as if in response to my determination to court obscurity — that Master singled me out for responsibility. He put me in charge of the monks at Mt. Washington. By this time I had been with him one year — not long enough surely, I thought, for such a heavy responsibility. “He’s testing me,” I decided. But he must have meant the appointment seriously, for I held this position for the remainder of my years at Mt. Washington.
Several weeks passed. Then one day I was standing with Herbert Freed, one of the ministers, outside the entrance to the basement. We were talking with Master, who was on the point of going out for a drive. Herbert was to leave that afternoon to become the minister of our church in Phoenix, Arizona, and Master was giving him last-minute instructions. After a pause, Master said quietly:
“You have a great work to do.”
Turning to Herbert, I smiled my felicitations.
“It is you I’m talking to, Walter,” Master corrected me. He said no more on the subject; moments later his car drove away. To what sort of work had he been referring?
Thereafter, in one context or another, he often repeated this prediction. “You must do so-and-so, Walter,” he would say, “because you have a great work to do.” Or, “You have a great work to do, therefore. …” Two years after Master’s mahasamadhi, Rajarshi Janakananda, his chief disciple, was blessing a group of us one evening in Encinitas. He paused when I came up to him, then said softly, “Master has a great work to do through you, Walter. And he will give you the strength to do it.” I was struck by how softly he had spoken — as if not wanting the others to hear him. Was it a secret? And if so, why? Master, too, I had noticed, chose moments when we were alone to speak to me of my life’s work.
What was this “great work” to which both of them referred? Neither Master nor Rajarshi ever told me. But Master’s words were, in their cumulative effect at least, the most insistent he ever addressed to me. They returned often to my mind through the ensuing years, demanding comprehension. Clearly, I reflected, they had been meant as a command, not as a compliment. They seemed intended to invest me with a sense of personal responsibility for some aspect of his mission, and also, perhaps, to inspire me to take that responsibility seriously.
Clearly, too, in the context of his remarks on several of those occasions, mine was to be a public work, one in which I would have to stand, perhaps independently, on my own feet, and one therefore perhaps not closely connected with the institution’s activities.
Instinctively I feared such responsibility. I wanted to be in tune with Master, and not to dance the wild jig of outward success and acclaim, fraught as it is with temptations. We are here, Faye had said, to please Master. Couldn’t I, I prayed, just please him from the background — the safe ground — where no lure of outward importance could intrude?
“I don’t want to do a great work!” I wrote to Rajarshi the day after he had spoken those words to me. “I just want to serve Master unnoticed.” (Rajarshi’s reply was to come and bless me again, smiling quietly.)
But when, one time, I resisted Master’s efforts to draw me into teaching activities, his response was brusque.
“Living for God,” he told me sternly, “is martyrdom!”