"Please permit me to go to the Himalayas. I hope in unbroken solitude to achieve continuous divine communion."
I actually once addressed these ungrateful words to my Master. Seized by one of the unpredictable delusions which occasionally assail the devotee, I felt a growing impatience with hermitage duties and college studies. A feebly extenuating circumstance is that my proposal was made when I had been only six months with Sri Yukteswar. Not yet had I fully surveyed his towering stature.
"Many hillmen live in the Himalayas, yet possess no God-perception." My guru's answer came slowly and simply. "Wisdom is better sought from a man of realization than from an inert mountain."
Ignoring Master's plain hint that he, and not a hill, was my teacher, I repeated my plea. Sri Yukteswar vouchsafed no reply. I took his silence for consent, a precarious interpretation readily accepted at one's convenience.
In my Calcutta home that evening, I busied myself with travel preparations. Tying a few articles inside a blanket, I remembered a similar bundle, surreptitiously dropped from my attic window a few years earlier. I wondered if this were to be another ill-starred flight toward the Himalayas. The first time my spiritual elation had been high; tonight conscience smote heavily at thought of leaving my guru.
The following morning I sought out Behari Pundit, my Sanskrit professor at Scottish Church College.
"Sir, you have told me of your friendship with a great disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya. Please give me his address."
"You mean Ram Gopal Muzumdar. I call him the 'sleepless saint.' He is always awake in an ecstatic consciousness. His home is at Ranbajpur, near Tarakeswar."
I thanked the pundit, and entrained immediately for Tarakeswar. I hoped to silence my misgivings by wringing a sanction from the "sleepless saint" to engage myself in lonely Himalayan meditation. Behari's friend, I heard, had received illumination after many years of Kriya Yoga practice in isolated caves.
At Tarakeswar I approached a famous shrine. Hindus regard it with the same veneration that Catholics give to the Lourdes sanctuary in France. Innumerable healing miracles have occurred at Tarakeswar, including one for a member of my family.
"I sat in the temple there for a week," my eldest aunt once told me. "Observing a complete fast, I prayed for the recovery of your Uncle Sarada from a chronic malady. On the seventh day I found a herb materialized in my hand! I made a brew from the leaves, and gave it to your uncle. His disease vanished at once, and has never reappeared."
I entered the sacred Tarakeswar shrine; the altar contains nothing but a round stone. Its circumference, beginningless and endless, makes it aptly significant of the Infinite. Cosmic abstractions are not alien even to the humblest Indian peasant; he has been accused by Westerners, in fact, of living on abstractions!
My own mood at the moment was so austere that I felt disinclined to bow before the stone symbol. God should be sought, I reflected, only within the soul.
I left the temple without genuflection and walked briskly toward the outlying village of Ranbajpur. My appeal to a passer-by for guidance caused him to sink into long cogitation.
"When you come to a crossroad, turn right and keep going," he finally pronounced oracularly.
Obeying the directions, I wended my way alongside the banks of a canal. Darkness fell; the outskirts of the jungle village were alive with winking fireflies and the howls of near-by jackals. The moonlight was too faint to supply any reassurance; I stumbled on for two hours.
Welcome clang of a cowbell! My repeated shouts eventually brought a peasant to my side.
"I am looking for Ram Gopal Babu."
"No such person lives in our village." The man's tone was surly. "You are probably a lying detective."
Hoping to allay suspicion in his politically troubled mind, I touchingly explained my predicament. He took me to his home and offered a hospitable welcome.
"Ranbajpur is far from here," he remarked. "At the crossroad, you should have turned left, not right."
My earlier informant, I thought sadly, was a distinct menace to travelers. After a relishable meal of coarse rice, lentil-dhal, and curry of potatoes with raw bananas, I retired to a small hut adjoining the courtyard. In the distance, villagers were singing to the loud accompaniment of mridangas 1 and cymbals. Sleep was inconsiderable that night; I prayed deeply to be directed to the secret yogi, Ram Gopal.
As the first streaks of dawn penetrated the fissures of my dark room, I set out for Ranbajpur. Crossing rough paddy fields, I trudged over sickled stumps of the prickly plant and mounds of dried clay. An occasionally-met peasant would inform me, invariably, that my destination was "only a krosha (two miles)." In six hours the sun traveled victoriously from horizon to meridian, but I began to feel that I would ever be distant from Ranbajpur by one krosha.
At midafternoon my world was still an endless paddy field. Heat pouring from the avoidless sky was bringing me to near-collapse. As a man approached at leisurely pace, I hardly dared utter my usual question, lest it summon the monotonous: "Just a krosha."
The stranger halted beside me. Short and slight, he was physically unimpressive save for an extraordinary pair of piercing dark eyes.
"I was planning to leave Ranbajpur, but your purpose was good, so I awaited you." He shook his finger in my astounded face. "Aren't you clever to think that, unannounced, you could pounce on me? That professor Behari had no right to give you my address."
Considering that introduction of myself would be mere verbosity in the presence of this master, I stood speechless, somewhat hurt at my reception. His next remark was abruptly put.
"Tell me; where do you think God is?"
"Why, He is within me and everywhere." I doubtless looked as bewildered as I felt.
"All-pervading, eh?" The saint chuckled. "Then why, young sir, did you fail to bow before the Infinite in the stone symbol at the Tarakeswar temple yesterday?2 Your pride caused you the punishment of being misdirected by the passer-by who was not bothered by fine distinctions of left and right. Today, too, you have had a fairly uncomfortable time of it!"
I agreed wholeheartedly, wonder-struck that an omniscient eye hid within the unremarkable body before me. Healing strength emanated from the yogi; I was instantly refreshed in the scorching field.
"The devotee inclines to think his path to God is the only way," he said. "Yoga, through which divinity is found within, is doubtless the highest road: so Lahiri Mahasaya has told us. But discovering the Lord within, we soon perceive Him without. Holy shrines at Tarakeswar and elsewhere are rightly venerated as nuclear centers of spiritual power."
The saint's censorious attitude vanished; his eyes became compassionately soft. He patted my shoulder.
"Young yogi, I see you are running away from your master. He has everything you need; you must return to him. Mountains cannot be your guru." Ram Gopal was repeating the same thought which Sri Yukteswar had expressed at our last meeting.
"Masters are under no cosmic compulsion to limit their residence." My companion glanced at me quizzically. "The Himalayas in India and Tibet have no monopoly on saints. What one does not trouble to find within will not be discovered by transporting the body hither and yon. As soon as the devotee is willing to go even to the ends of the earth for spiritual enlightenment, his guru appears near-by."
I silently agreed, recalling my prayer in the Benares hermitage, followed by the meeting with Sri Yukteswar in a crowded lane.
"Are you able to have a little room where you can close the door and be alone?"
"Yes." I reflected that this saint descended from the general to the particular with disconcerting speed.
"That is your cave." The yogi bestowed on me a gaze of illumination which I have never forgotten. "That is your sacred mountain. That is where you will find the kingdom of God."
His simple words instantaneously banished my lifelong obsession for the Himalayas. In a burning paddy field I awoke from the monticolous dreams of eternal snows.
"Young sir, your divine thirst is laudable. I feel great love for you." Ram Gopal took my hand and led me to a quaint hamlet. The adobe houses were covered with coconut leaves and adorned with rustic entrances.
The saint seated me on the umbrageous bamboo platform of his small cottage. After giving me sweetened lime juice and a piece of rock candy, he entered his patio and assumed the lotus posture. In about four hours I opened my meditative eyes and saw that the moonlit figure of the yogi was still motionless. As I was sternly reminding my stomach that man does not live by bread alone, Ram Gopal approached me.
"I see you are famished; food will be ready soon."
A fire was kindled under a clay oven on the patio; rice and dhal were quickly served on large banana leaves. My host courteously refused my aid in all cooking chores. "The guest is God," a Hindu proverb, has commanded devout observance from time immemorial. In my later world travels, I was charmed to see that a similar respect for visitors is manifested in rural sections of many countries. The city dweller finds the keen edge of hospitality blunted by superabundance of strange faces.
The marts of men seemed remotely dim as I squatted by the yogi in the isolation of the tiny jungle village. The cottage room was mysterious with a mellow light. Ram Gopal arranged some torn blankets on the floor for my bed, and seated himself on a straw mat. Overwhelmed by his spiritual magnetism, I ventured a request.
"Sir, why don't you grant me a samadhi?"
"Dear one, I would be glad to convey the divine contact, but it is not my place to do so." The saint looked at me with half-closed eyes. "Your master will bestow that experience shortly. Your body is not tuned just yet. As a small lamp cannot withstand excessive electrical voltage, so your nerves are unready for the cosmic current. If I gave you the infinite ecstasy right now, you would burn as if every cell were on fire.
"You are asking illumination from me," the yogi continued musingly, "while I am wonderinginconsiderable as I am, and with the little meditation I have doneif I have succeeded in pleasing God, and what worth I may find in His eyes at the final reckoning."
"Sir, have you not been singleheartedly seeking God for a long time?"
"I have not done much. Behari must have told you something of my life. For twenty years I occupied a secret grotto, meditating eighteen hours a day. Then I moved to a more inaccessible cave and remained there for twenty-five years, entering the yoga union for twenty hours daily. I did not need sleep, for I was ever with God. My body was more rested in the complete calmness of the superconsciousness than it could be by the partial peace of the ordinary subconscious state.
"The muscles relax during sleep, but the heart, lungs, and circulatory system are constantly at work; they get no rest. In superconsciousness, the internal organs remain in a state of suspended animation, electrified by the cosmic energy. By such means I have found it unnecessary to sleep for years. The time will come when you too will dispense with sleep."
"My goodness, you have meditated for so long and yet are unsure of the Lord's favor!" I gazed at him in astonishment. "Then what about us poor mortals?"
"Well, don't you see, my dear boy, that God is Eternity Itself? To assume that one can fully know Him by forty-five years of meditation is rather a preposterous expectation. Babaji assures us, however, that even a little meditation saves one from the dire fear of death and after-death states. Do not fix your spiritual ideal on a small mountain, but hitch it to the star of unqualified divine attainment. If you work hard, you will get there."
Enthralled by the prospect, I asked him for further enlightening words. He related a wondrous story of his first meeting with Lahiri Mahasaya's guru, Babaji.3 Around midnight Ram Gopal fell into silence, and I lay down on my blankets. Closing my eyes, I saw flashes of lightning; the vast space within me was a chamber of molten light. I opened my eyes and observed the same dazzling radiance. The room became a part of that infinite vault which I beheld with interior vision.
"Why don't you go to sleep?"
"Sir, how can I sleep in the presence of lightning, blazing whether my eyes are shut or open?"
"You are blessed to have this experience; the spiritual radiations are not easily seen." The saint added a few words of affection.
At dawn Ram Gopal gave me rock candies and said I must depart. I felt such reluctance to bid him farewell that tears coursed down my cheeks.
"I will not let you go empty-handed." The yogi spoke tenderly. "I will do something for you."
He smiled and looked at me steadfastly. I stood rooted to the ground, peace rushing like a mighty flood through the gates of my eyes. I was instantaneously healed of a pain in my back, which had troubled me intermittently for years. Renewed, bathed in a sea of luminous joy, I wept no more. After touching the saint's feet, I sauntered into the jungle, making my way through its tropical tangle until I reached Tarakeswar.
There I made a second pilgrimage to the famous shrine, and prostrated myself fully before the altar. The round stone enlarged before my inner vision until it became the cosmical spheres, ring within ring, zone after zone, all dowered with divinity.
I entrained happily an hour later for Calcutta. My travels ended, not in the lofty mountains, but in the Himalayan presence of my Master.
2: One is reminded here of Dostoevski's observation: "A man who bows down to nothing can never bear the burden of himself."
3: See pp. 310-313.