Autobiography of a Yogi

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"A surprise, sir! During your absence abroad we have had this Encinitas hermitage built; it is a 'welcome-home' gift!" Sister Gyanamata smilingly led me through a gate and up a tree-shaded walk.

I saw a building jutting out like a great white ocean liner toward the blue brine. First speechlessly, then with "Oh's!" and "Ah's!", finally with man's insufficient vocabulary of joy and gratitude, I examined the ashramsixteen unusually large rooms, each one charmingly appointed.

The stately central hall, with immense ceiling-high windows, looks out on a united altar of grass, ocean, skya symphony in emerald, opal, sapphire. A mantle over the hall's huge fireplace holds the framed likeness of Lahiri Mahasaya, smiling his blessing over this far Pacific heaven.

Directly below the hall, built into the very bluff, two solitary meditation caves confront the infinities of sky and sea. Verandahs, sun-bathing nooks, acres of orchard, a eucalypti grove, flagstone paths leading through roses and lilies to quiet arbors, a long flight of stairs ending on an isolated beach and the vast waters! Was dream ever more concrete?

"May the good and heroic and bountiful souls of the saints come here," reads "A Prayer for a Dwelling," from the Zend-Avesta, fastened on one of the hermitage doors, "and may they go hand in hand with us, giving the healing virtues of their blessed gifts as widespread as the earth, as far-flung as the rivers, as high-reaching as the sun, for the furtherance of better men, for the increase of abundance and glory.

"May obedience conquer disobedience within this house; may peace triumph here over discord; free-hearted giving over avarice, truthful speech over deceit, reverence over contempt. That our minds be delighted, and our souls uplifted, let our bodies be glorified as well; and O Light Divine, may we see Thee, and may we, approaching, come round about Thee, and attain unto Thine entire companionship!"

This Self-Realization Fellowship ashram had been made possible through the generosity of a few American disciples, American businessmen of endless responsibilities who yet find time daily for their Kriya Yoga. Not a word of the hermitage construction had been allowed to reach me during my stay in India and Europe. Astonishment, delight!

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During my earlier years in America I had combed the coast of California in quest of a small site for a seaside ashram; whenever I had found a suitable location, some obstacle had invariably arisen to thwart me. Gazing now over the broad acres of Encinitas,1 humbly I saw the effortless fulfillment of Sri Yukteswar's long-ago prophecy: "a hermitage by the ocean."

A few months later, Easter of 1937, I conducted on the smooth lawns at Encinitas the first of many Sunrise Services. Like the magi of old, several hundred students gazed in devotional awe at the daily miracle, the early solar fire rite in the eastern sky. To the west lay the inexhaustible Pacific, booming its solemn praise; in the distance, a tiny white sailing boat, and the lonely flight of a seagull. "Christ, thou art risen!" Not alone with the vernal sun, but in the eternal dawn of Spirit!

Many happy months sped by; in the peace of perfect beauty I was able to complete at the hermitage a long-projected work, Cosmic Chants. I set to English words and Western musical notation about forty songs, some original, others my adaptations of ancient melodies. Included were the Shankara chant, "No Birth, No Death"; two favorites of Sri Yukteswar's: "Wake, Yet Wake, O my Saint!" and "Desire, my Great Enemy"; the hoary Sanskrit "Hymn to Brahma"; old Bengali songs, "What Lightning Flash!" and "They Have Heard Thy Name"; Tagore's "Who is in my Temple?"; and a number of my compositions: "I Will be Thine Always," "In the Land Beyond my Dreams," "Come Out of the Silent Sky," "Listen to my Soul Call," "In the Temple of Silence," and "Thou Art my Life."

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For a preface to the songbook I recounted my first outstanding experience with the receptivity of Westerners to the quaintly devotional airs of the East. The occasion had been a public lecture; the time, April 18, 1926; the place, Carnegie Hall in New York.

"Mr. Hunsicker," I had confided to an American student, "I am planning to ask the audience to sing an ancient Hindu chant, 'O God Beautiful!'"

"Sir," Mr. Hunsicker had protested, "these Oriental songs are alien to American understanding. What a shame if the lecture were to be marred by a commentary of overripe tomatoes!"

I had laughingly disagreed. "Music is a universal language. Americans will not fail to feel the soul-aspiration in this lofty chant."2

During the lecture Mr. Hunsicker had sat behind me on the platform, probably fearing for my safety. His doubts were groundless; not only had there been an absence of unwelcome vegetables, but for one hour and twenty-five minutes the strains of "O God Beautiful!" had sounded uninterruptedly from three thousand throats. Blas no longer, dear New Yorkers; your hearts had soared out in a simple paean of rejoicing! Divine healings had taken place that evening among the devotees chanting with love the Lord's blessed name.

The secluded life of a literary minstrel was not my role for long. Soon I was dividing every fortnight between Los Angeles and Encinitas. Sunday services, classes, lectures before clubs and colleges, interviews with students, ceaseless streams of correspondence, articles for East-West, direction of activities in India and numerous small centers in American cities. Much time was given, also, to the arrangement of Kriya and other Self-Realization Fellowship teachings into a series of studies for the distant yoga seekers whose zeal recognized no limitation of space.

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Joyous dedication of a Self-Realization Church of All Religions took place in 1938 at Washington, D.C. Set amidst landscaped grounds, the stately church stands in a section of the city aptly called "Friendship Heights." The Washington leader is Swami Premananda, educated at the Ranchi school and Calcutta University. I had summoned him in 1928 to assume leadership of the Washington Self-Realization Fellowship center.

"Premananda," I told him during a visit to his new temple, "this Eastern headquarters is a memorial in stone to your tireless devotion. Here in the nation's capital you have held aloft the light of Lahiri Mahasaya's ideals."

Premananda accompanied me from Washington for a brief visit to the Self-Realization Fellowship center in Boston. What joy to see again the Kriya Yoga band who had remained steadfast since 1920! The Boston leader, Dr. M. W. Lewis, lodged my companion and myself in a modern, artistically decorated suite.

"Sir," Dr. Lewis said to me, smiling, "during your early years in America you stayed in this city in a single room, without bath. I wanted you to know that Boston possesses some luxurious apartments!"

The shadows of approaching carnage were lengthening over the world; already the acute ear might hear the frightful drums of war. During interviews with thousands in California, and through a world-wide correspondence, I found that men and women were deeply searching their hearts; the tragic outer insecurity had emphasized need for the Eternal Anchorage.

1: A small town on Coast Highway 101, Encinitas is 100 miles south of Los Angeles, and 25 miles north of San Diego.
2: I translate here the words of Guru Nanak's song:
O God beautiful! O God beautiful!
In the forest, Thou art green,
In the mountain, Thou art high,
In the river, Thou art restless,
In the ocean, Thou art grave!
To the serviceful, Thou art service,
To the lover, Thou art love,
To the sorrowful, Thou art sympathy,
To the yogi, Thou art bliss!
O God beautiful! O God beautiful!
At Thy feet, O I do bow!