By Paramahansa Yogananda
Autobography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda is a true spiritual classic of our times. In the book, the author, an accomplished yogi himself, writes about his mystical experiences in the association of other evolved masters.
Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters), one of Yogananda’s foremost disciples, has now published a reprint of the book in its original 1946 edition.
In the following excerpt from ‘The Law of Miracles’, a chapter in the book, Yogananda explains the miracles performed by realised yogis from the standpoint of modern western science. Drawing on his flawless knowledge of quantum physics and Einstein’s theories, he demonstrates how the true nature of the material world is ‘mind-stuff’, maya. This ‘illusion’ then readily lends itself to alteration or rearrangement by a liberated being, whose consciousness is one with it.
The great novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote a delightful story, The Three Hermits. His friend Nicholas Roerich has summarised the tale, as follows:
“On an island there lived three old hermits. They were so simple that the only prayer they chanted was: ‘We are three; Thou art Three—have mercy on us!’ Great miracles were manifested during this naive prayer.
“The local bishop came to hear about the three hermits and their inadmissible prayer, and decided to visit them in order to teach them the canonical invocations. He arrived on the island, told the hermits that their heavenly petition was undignified, and taught them many of the customary prayers. The bishop then left on a boat. He saw a radiant light from far. As it approached, he discerned the three hermits, who were holding hands and running upon the waves in an effort to overtake the vessel.
“‘We have forgotten the prayers you taught us,’ they cried as they reached the bishop, ‘and have hastened to ask you to repeat them.’ The awed bishop shook his head.
“‘Dear ones,’ he replied humbly, ‘continue to live with your old prayer!’”
How did the three saints walk on the water? How did Christ resurrect his crucified body? How did Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswar perform their miracles?
Modern science has, as yet, no answer; though with the advent of the atomic bomb and the wonders of radar,
the scope of the world-mind has been abruptly enlarged. The word ‘impossible’ is becoming less prominent in the scientific vocabulary.
The ancient Vedic scriptures declare that the physical world operates under one fundamental law of maya, the principle of relativity and duality. God, the Sole Life, is an Absolute Unity; He cannot appear as the separate and diverse manifestations of a creation except under a false or unreal veil. That cosmic illusion is maya. Every great scientific discovery of modern times has served as a confirmation of this simple pronouncement of the rishis.
Newton’s Law of Motion is a law of maya: “To every action there is always an equal and contrary reaction; the mutual actions of any two bodies are always equal and oppositely directed.” Action and reaction are thus exactly equal. “To have a single force is impossible. There must be, and always is, a pair of forces equal and opposite.”
Fundamental natural activities all betray their mayic origin. Electricity, for example, is a phenomenon of repulsion and attraction; its electrons and protons are electrical opposites. Similarly, the atom or final particle of matter is, like the earth itself, a magnet with positive and negative poles. The entire phenomenal world is under the inexorable sway of polarity; no law of physics, chemistry, or any other science is ever found free from inherent opposite or contrasted principles.
Physical science, then, cannot formulate laws outside of maya, the very texture and structure of creation. Nature herself is maya; in her own domain, she is eternal and inexhaustible; future scientists can do no more than probe one aspect after another of her varied infinitude. Science thus remains in a perpetual flux, unable to reach finality. The majestic manifestations of gravitation and electricity have become known, but what gravitation and electricity are, no mortal knows.
To surmount maya was the task assigned to the human race by the millennial prophets. To rise above the duality of creation and perceive the unity of the Creator was conceived as man’s highest goal.
The world illusion, maya, is individually called avidya, literally, ‘not-knowledge,’ ignorance, delusion. Maya or avidya can never be destroyed through intellectual conviction or analysis, but solely through attaining the interior state of nirbikalpa samadhi. The Old Testament prophets, and seers of all lands and ages, spoke from that state of consciousness. Ezekiel says (43:1-2): “Afterwards he brought me to the gate, even the gate that looketh toward the east: and, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and his voice was like a noise of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory.”
Among the trillion mysteries of the cosmos, the most phenomenal is light. Unlike sound-waves, whose transmission requires air or other material media, light-waves pass freely through the vacuum of interstellar space. Even the hypothetical ether, held as the interplanetary medium of light in the undulatory theory, can be discarded on the Einsteinian grounds that the geometrical properties of space render the theory of ether unnecessary.
In the gigantic conceptions of Einstein, the velocity of light dominates the whole Theory of Relativity. He proves mathematically that the velocity of light is so far as man’s finite mind is concerned, the only constant in a universe of unstayable flux. On the sole absolute of light-velocity, depend all human standards of time and space. Not abstractly eternal as considered earlier, time and space are relative and finite factors, deriving their measurement validity only in reference to the yardstick of light-velocity. In joining space as a dimensional relativity, time has surrendered age-old claims to a changeless value. Time is now stripped to its rightful nature—a simple essence of ambiguity! With a few equational strokes of his pen, Einstein has banished from the cosmos every fixed reality except that of light.
Created by maya
In a later development, his Unified Field Theory, the great physicist embodies in one mathematical formula the laws of gravitation and of electromagnetism. Reducing the cosmical structure to variations on a single law, Einstein reaches across the ages to the rishis who proclaimed a sole texture of creation—that of a protean maya.
On the epochal Theory of Relativity have arisen the mathematical possibilities of exploring the ultimate atom. Great scientists are now boldly asserting not only that the atom is energy rather than matter, but that atomic energy is essentially mind-stuff.
With the recent discovery of the electron microscope, came definite proof of the light-essence of atoms and of the inescapable duality of nature.
“The stream of knowledge,” Sir James Jeans writes in The Mysterious Universe, “is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.” Twentieth-century science is thus sounding like a page from the hoary Vedas.
From science, let man learn the philosophic truth that there is no material universe; its warp and woof is maya. Its mirages of reality break down under analysis. As the reassuring props of a physical cosmos crash beneath him, man dimly perceives his idolatrous reliance, his past transgression of the divine command: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”
The release of the atomic energies is brought about through the annihilation of the material particles. Therefore, the ‘death’ of matter has been the ‘birth’ of an Atomic Age.
Light-velocity is a mathematical standard or constant because no material body, whose mass increases with its velocity, can ever attain the velocity of light. Stated another way: only a material body whose mass is infinite could equal the velocity of light. This conception brings us to the law of miracles.
The masters who are able to materialise and dematerialise their bodies or any other object, and move with the velocity of light, and utilise the creative light-rays in bringing instant visibility into any physical manifestation, have fulfilled the necessary Einsteinian condition: their mass is infinite.
The consciousness of a perfected yogi is effortlessly identified, not with a narrow body, but with the universal structure. Gravitation, whether the ‘force’ of Newton or the Einsteinian ‘manifestation of inertia,’ is powerless to compel a master to exhibit the property of ‘weight’ which is the distinguishing gravitational condition of all material objects. He who knows himself as the omnipresent Spirit is subject no longer to the rigidities of a body in time and space. Their imprisoning ‘rings-pass-not’ has yielded to the solvent: “I am He.”
“Fiat lux! And there was light.” God’s first command to His ordered creation (Genesis 1:3) brought into being the only atomic reality: light. On the beams of this immaterial medium occur all divine manifestations. Devotees of every age testify to the appearance of God as flame and light.
Mass of light
A yogi who through perfect meditation has merged his consciousness with the Creator perceives the cosmical essence as light; to him there is no difference between the light rays composing water and the light rays composing land. Free from matter-consciousness, free from the three dimensions of space and the fourth dimension of time, a master transfers his body of light with equal ease over the light rays of earth, water, fire or air. Long concentration on the liberating spiritual eye has enabled the yogi to destroy all delusions concerning matter and its gravitational weight; thenceforth he sees the universe as an essentially undifferentiated mass of light.
In man’s dream-consciousness, where he has loosened his clutch on the egoistic limitations that daily hem him round in his sleep, the omnipotence of his mind has a nightly demonstration. Lo! There in the dream stand the long-dead friends, the remotest continents, the resurrected scenes of his childhood. With that free and unconditioned consciousness, known to all men in the phenomena of dreams, the God-tuned master has forged a never-severed link. Innocent of all personal motives, and employing the creative will bestowed on him by the Creator, a yogi rearranges the light atoms of the universe to satisfy any sincere prayer of a devotee. Man and creation made for this purpose: that he should rise up as master of maya, knowing his dominion over the cosmos.
In 1915, shortly after I had entered the Swami Order, I witnessed a vision of violent contrasts. In it the relativity of human consciousness was vividly established; I clearly perceived the unity of the Eternal Light behind the painful dualities of maya. The vision descended on me as I sat one morning in my little attic room in Father’s Gurpar Road home. For months World War I had been raging in Europe; I reflected sadly on the vast toll of death.
As I closed my eyes in meditation, my consciousness was suddenly transferred to the body of a captain in command of a battleship. The thunder of guns split the air as shots were exchanged between shore batteries and the ship’s cannons. A huge shell hit the powder magazine and tore my ship asunder. I jumped into the water, together with the few sailors who had survived the explosion.
Heart pounding, I reached the shore safely. But alas! A stray bullet ended its furious flight in my chest. I fell groaning to the ground. My whole body was paralysed, yet I was aware of possessing it as one is conscious of a leg gone to sleep.
“At last the mysterious footstep of Death has caught up with me,” I thought. With a final sigh, I was about to sink into unconsciousness when lo! I found myself seated in the lotus posture in my Gurpar Road room.
Hysterical tears poured forth as I joyfully stroked and pinched my regained possession—a body free from any bullet hole in the breast. I rocked to and fro, inhaling and exhaling to assure myself that I was alive. Amidst these self-congratulations, again I found my consciousness transferred to the captain’s dead body by the gory shore. Utter confusion of mind came upon me.
“Lord,” I prayed, “am I dead or alive?”
A dazzling play of light filled the whole horizon. A soft rumbling vibration formed itself into words:
“What has life or death to do with Light? In the image of My Light I have made you. The relativities of life and death belong to the cosmic dream. Behold your dreamless being! Awake, my child, awake!”
As steps in man’s awakening, the Lord inspires scientists to discover, at the right time and place, the secrets of His creation. Many modern discoveries help men to apprehend the cosmos as a varied expression of one power—light, guided by divine intelligence. The wonders of the motion picture, of radio, of television, of radar, of the photo-electric cell—the all-seeing ‘electric eye’, of atomic energies, are all based on the electromagnetic phenomenon of light.
The motion picture art can portray any miracle. From the impressive visual standpoint, no marvel is barred to trick photography. A man’s transparent astral body can be seen rising from his gross physical form, he can walk on the water, resurrect the dead, reverse the natural sequence of developments, and play havoc with time and space. Assembling the light images as he pleases, the photographer achieves optical wonders which a true master produces with actual light rays.
The lifelike images of the motion picture illustrate many truths concerning creation. The Cosmic Director has written His own plays, and assembled the tremendous casts for the pageant of the centuries. From the dark booth of eternity, He pours His creative beam through the films of successive ages, and the pictures are thrown on the screen of space. Just as the motion-picture images appear to be real, but are only combinations of light and shade, so is the universal variety a delusive seeming. The planetary spheres, with their countless forms of life, are naught but figures in a cosmic motion picture, temporarily true to five sense perceptions as the scenes are cast on the screen of man’s consciousness by the infinite creative beam….
One day I entered a motion picture house to view a newsreel of the European battlefields. World War I was still being waged in the West; the newsreel recorded the carnage with such realism that I left the theatre with a troubled heart.
“Lord,” I prayed, “why dost Thou permit such suffering?”
To my intense surprise, an instant answer came in the form of a vision of the actual European battlefields. The horror of the struggle filled with the dead and dying, far surpassed in ferocity any representation of the newsreel.
“Look intently!” A gentle voice spoke to my inner consciousness. “You will see that these scenes now being enacted in France are nothing but a play of chiaroscuro. They are the cosmic motion picture, as real and as unreal as the theatre newsreel you have just seen—a play within a play.”
My heart was still not comforted. The divine voice went on: “Creation is light and shadow both, else no picture is possible. The good and evil of maya must ever alternate in supremacy. If joy were ceaseless here in this world, would man ever seek another? Without suffering he scarcely cares to recall that he has forsaken his eternal home. Pain is a prod to remembrance. The way of escape is through wisdom! The tragedy of death is unreal; those who shudder at it are like an ignorant actor who dies of fright on the stage when nothing more is fired at him than a blank cartridge. My sons are the children of light; they will not sleep forever in delusion.”…
As I finished writing this chapter, I sat on my bed in the lotus posture. My room was dimly lit by two shaded lamps. Lifting my gaze, I noticed that the ceiling was dotted with small mustard-coloured lights, scintillating and quivering with a radiumlike lustre. Myriads of pencilled rays, like sheets of rain, gathered into a transparent shaft and poured silently upon me.
At once my physical body lost its grossness and became metamorphosed into astral texture. I felt a floating sensation as, barely touching the bed, the weightless body shifted slightly and alternately to left and right. I looked around the room; the furniture and walls were as usual, but the little mass of light had so multiplied that the ceiling was invisible. I was wonder-struck.
“This is the cosmic motion picture mechanism.” A voice spoke as though from within the light. “Shedding its beam on the white screen of your bed sheets, it is producing the picture of your body. Behold, your form is nothing but light!”
I gazed at my arms and moved them back and forth, yet could not feel their weight. An ecstatic joy overwhelmed me. This cosmic stem of light, blossoming as my body, seemed a divine replica of the light beams streaming out of the projection booth in a cinema house and manifesting as pictures on the screen.
For a long time I experienced this motion picture of my body in the dimly lighted theatre of my own bedroom. Despite the many visions I have had, none was ever more singular. As my illusion of a solid body was completely dissipated, and my realisation deepened that the essence of all objects is light, I looked up to the throbbing stream of lifetrons and spoke entreatingly.
“Divine Light, please withdraw this, my humble bodily picture, into Thyself, even as Elijah was drawn up to heaven by a flame.”
This prayer was evidently startling; the beam disappeared. My body resumed its normal weight and sank on the bed; the swarm of dazzling ceiling lights flickered and vanished. My time to leave this earth had apparently not arrived.
“Besides,” I thought philosophically, “the prophet Elijah might well be displeased at my presumption!”
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