By Nandini Sarkar
A seeker recounts her journey on the path of discipleship to Paramahansa Yogananda from open-hearted seeking, and love for the master to a steadfast devotion that asks no questions
As a young child, I often had the eerie feeling of being watched over by someone I could not see. It made me feel special, but I did not have the maturity or the interest to explore further. But there would always be questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Who made God? I could also never relate to my name – I felt I was not Nandini, but someone else. I had read The Life of Sri Ramakrishna, and wanted very much to have a thriving relationship with God, like he had. I started praying to Thakur for a path that would take me to self-realisation with lightning speed. I was very impatient and did not want to wait lifetimes for enlightenment. Surely, enlightenment was our birthright, ours for the asking!
In my school leaving year, a beloved teacher at school, Mrs Ganzu, gifted me Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. Great read, I thought and put the autobiography aside. An inner urge literally pushed me into a second reading of the book and I remember thinking – “Yes! Exactly what I wanted – the airplane route to God!”
Paramahansa Yogananda de-mystified religion and broke it down to everyday living. In appearance he was androgynous: his face shone with the sweet tenderness of a mother, and his powerful voice resonated in the minds of his listeners, awakening many from a lifelong stupor. When he addressed gatherings, he would come bounding on the stage, demanding of his listeners: “Are we awake and ready?” He refused to address inattentive gatherings, and such was his spiritual charisma, that audiences would always shout back: “Awake and ready!”
I gave up an 18-year-old addiction after reading his lecture, Developing dynamic will. Such was his power to root out deeply embedded habits in people. Paramahansaji would sometimes challenge a team from his audience to a show of strength and often a group of strong young men pulling at him found themselves unable to dislodge him from his seat, much to their surprise.
Yoganandaji was the first master to address questions that concern us in our everyday battles. How can we balance spiritual interests with worldly living? How should we choose our marriage partner? Business partner? Job? Vocation? Rear children? Attain samadhi? His answers, which he left behind for posterity in the form of self-study lessons and books, are powerful. His unique interpretations, direct and hard hitting, and tantalising wit are a revelation for the seeker, gingerly stepping out into the unknown. In Yoganandaji’s way, there is no esoteric thought or astral flight to daze the novice. He taught us to plant our feet firmly on the ground and our head among the stars.
Pioneer of peace
Many of Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings, propagated in the 1920s and 1930s, are now being taught at various New Age schools. The power of visualisation to crystalise dreams, the power of affirmation to heal, the power of dynamic will, the efficacy of energisation exercises, balanced diet, were all path-breaking ideas that he taught at the beginning of the 20th century. Paramahansaji introduced seekers to God – he taught them to “talk” to God using the Om technique.
He taught people to live longer and look younger, giving rest to their vital organs, using the Hong Sau technique. Christians said that his interpretation of the Bible brought them back to the Church. He interpreted the Bhagavad Gita in a manner that makes it a handbook for everyday living. According to Paramahansaji, when we go to sleep, we do not know whether we are men or women. Just as we can conjure entire worlds in our dreams, so too, this world is a powerful dream play of a brilliant director – God – being beamed on a screen of light.
One of the most remarkable instances of a life transformed by Yoganandaji was that of the western seeker, James Lynn. The head of a vast business empire, this American businessman could never sit still, he was so nervous, and he led an unhappy personal life. From Paramahansaji, he learnt to balance the temporal with the spiritual. His business grew from strength to strength and he attained samadhi too!
While not having the audacity to compare myself with James Lynn, I can truthfully say that I was inspired to start my own consulting business in 2001 and I consider Paramahansa Yogananda to be my company’s guardian angel. I started with a capital of only Rs 50,000 and 10 years down the line, to my own surprise, I am still in business, and we have a pan-India footprint. I feel he is involved in every part of my business. The business leads we get, the employees we have attracted and retained, the unexpected help we get from different quarters, the disasters that have stared at us in the face every now and then and the way we have emerged unscathed, are inexplicable.
Recently, a colleague of mine, who is not a devotee, was helped. His wife had suffered three miscarriages. I took him to Yoganandaji’s Garpar Road home in Kolkata and we both meditated in the attic where Paramahansaji had received the vision of the Divine Mother. I reminded Master of the help that Lahiri Mahasay had given Abhoya and hoped he would help my colleague too. It delights me to report that my colleague and his wife are now the proud parents of a beautiful baby daughter. Since then both have started kriya practice. I admire the masters for their consistent helpfulness. They seem to really care. Yoganandaji, in fact, said that he would keep coming back till the last soul had safely reached the shore.
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