Chapter 38 - Luther Burbank -- A Saint Amidst the Roses
"The secret of improved plant breeding, apart from scientific knowledge, is love." Luther Burbank uttered
this wisdom as I walked beside him in his Santa Rosa garden. We halted near a bed of edible cacti.
"While I was conducting experiments to make 'spineless' cacti," he continued, "I often talked to the
plants to create a vibration of love. 'You have nothing to fear,' I would tell them. 'You don't need your
defensive thorns. I will protect you.' Gradually the useful plant of the desert emerged in a thornless
I was charmed at this miracle. "Please, dear Luther, give me a few cacti leaves to plant in my garden at
A workman standing near-by started to strip off some leaves; Burbank prevented him.
"I myself will pluck them for the swami." He handed me three leaves, which later I planted, rejoicing as
they grew to huge estate.
The great horticulturist told me that his first notable triumph was the large potato, now known by his
name. With the indefatigability of genius, he went on to present the world with hundreds of crossed
improvements on naturehis new Burbank varieties of tomato, corn, squash, cherries, plums, nectarines,
berries, poppies, lilies, roses.
I focused my camera as Luther led me before the famous walnut tree by which he had proved that natural
evolution can be telescopically hastened.
"In only sixteen years," he said, "this walnut tree reached a state of abundant nut production to which an
unaided nature would have brought the tree in twice that time."
Burbank's little adopted daughter came romping with her dog into the garden.
"She is my human plant." Luther waved to her affectionately. "I see humanity now as one vast plant,
needing for its highest fulfillments only love, the natural blessings of the great outdoors, and intelligent
crossing and selection. In the span of my own lifetime I have observed such wondrous progress in plant
evolution that I look forward optimistically to a healthy, happy world as soon as its children are taught the
principles of simple and rational living. We must return to nature and nature's God."
"Luther, you would delight in my Ranchi school, with its outdoor classes, and atmosphere of joy and
My words touched the chord closest to Burbank's heartchild education. He plied me with questions, interest
gleaming from his deep, serene eyes.
"Swamiji," he said finally, "schools like yours are the only hope of a future
millennium. I am in revolt against the educational systems of our time, severed from nature and stifling of
all individuality. I am with you heart and soul in your practical ideals of education."
As I was taking leave of the gentle sage, he autographed a small volume and presented it to me.1
"Here is my book on The Training of the Human Plant,"2 he said. "New types of training are
neededfearless experiments. At times the most daring trials have succeeded in bringing out the best in fruits
and flowers. Educational innovations for children should likewise become more numerous, more courageous."
I read his little book that night with intense interest. His eye envisioning a glorious future for the
race, he wrote: "The most stubborn living thing in this world, the most difficult to swerve, is a plant once
fixed in certain habits. . . . Remember that this plant has preserved its individuality all through the ages;
perhaps it is one which can be traced backward through eons of time in the very rocks themselves, never
having varied to any great extent in all these vast periods. Do you suppose, after all these ages of
repetition, the plant does not become possessed of a will, if you so choose to call it, of unparalleled
tenacity? Indeed, there are plants, like certain of the palms, so persistent that no human power has yet been
able to change them. The human will is a weak thing beside the will of a plant. But see how this whole
plant's lifelong stubbornness is broken simply by blending a new life with it, making, by crossing, a
complete and powerful change in its life. Then when the break comes, fix it by these generations of patient
supervision and selection, and the new plant sets out upon its new way never again to return to the old, its
tenacious will broken and changed at last.
"When it comes to so sensitive and pliable a thing as the nature of a child, the problem becomes vastly
Magnetically drawn to this great American, I visited him again and again. One morning I arrived at the
same time as the postman, who deposited in Burbank's study about a thousand letters. Horticulturists wrote
him from all parts of the world.
"Swamiji, your presence is just the excuse I need to get out into the garden," Luther said gaily. He
opened a large desk-drawer containing hundreds of travel folders.
"See," he said, "this is how I do my traveling. Tied down by my plants and correspondence, I satisfy my
desire for foreign lands by a glance now and then at these pictures."
My car was standing before his gate; Luther and I drove along the streets of the little town, its gardens
bright with his own varieties of Santa Rosa, Peachblow, and Burbank roses.
"My friend Henry Ford and I both believe in the ancient theory of reincarnation," Luther told me. "It
sheds light on aspects of life otherwise inexplicable. Memory is not a test of truth; just because man fails
to remember his past lives does not prove he never had them. Memory is blank concerning his womb-life and
infancy, too; but he probably passed through them!" He chuckled.
The great scientist had received Kriya initiation during one of my earlier visits. "I practice the
technique devoutly, Swamiji," he said. After many thoughtful questions to me about various aspects of yoga,
Luther remarked slowly:
"The East indeed possesses immense hoards of knowledge which the West has scarcely begun to explore."
Intimate communion with nature, who unlocked to him many of her jealously guarded secrets, had given
Burbank a boundless spiritual reverence.
"Sometimes I feel very close to the Infinite Power," he confided shyly. His sensitive, beautifully modeled
face lit with his memories. "Then I have been able to heal sick persons around me, as well as many ailing
He told me of his mother, a sincere Christian. "Many times after her death," Luther said, "I have been
blessed by her appearance in visions; she has spoken to me."
We drove back reluctantly toward his home and those waiting thousand letters.
"Luther," I remarked, "next month I am starting a magazine to present the truth-offerings of East and
West. Please help me decide on a good name for the journal."
We discussed titles for awhile, and finally agreed on East-West. After we had reentered his study,
Burbank gave me an article he had written on "Science and Civilization."
SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA
December 22, 1924
I have examined the Yogoda system of Swami Yogananda and in my opinion it is ideal for training and
harmonizing man's physical, mental, and spiritual natures. Swami's aim is to establish "How-to-Live" schools
throughout the world, wherein education will not confine itself to intellectual development alone, but also
training of the body, will, and feelings.
Through the Yogoda system of physical, mental, and spiritual unfoldment by simple and scientific methods
of concentration and meditation, most of the complex problems of life may be solved, and peace and good-will
come upon earth. The Swami's idea of right education is plain commonsense, free from all mysticism and
non-praciticality; otherwise it would not have my approval.
I am glad to have this opportunity of heartily joining with the Swami in his appeal for international
schools on the art of living which, if established, will come as near to bringing the millennium as anything
with which I am acquainted.
"This will go in the first issue of East-West," I said gratefully.
As our friendship grew deeper, I called Burbank my "American saint." "Behold a man," I quoted, "in whom
there is no guile!" His heart was fathomlessly deep, long acquainted with humility, patience, sacrifice. His
little home amidst the roses was austerely simple; he knew the worthlessness of luxury, the joy of few
possessions. The modesty with which he wore his scientific fame repeatedly reminded me of the trees that bend
low with the burden of ripening fruits; it is the barren tree that lifts its head high in an empty boast.
I was in New York when, in 1926, my dear friend passed away. In tears I thought, "Oh, I would gladly walk
all the way from here to Santa Rosa for one more glimpse of him!" Locking myself away from secretaries and
visitors, I spent the next twenty-four hours in seclusion.
The following day I conducted a Vedic memorial rite around a large picture of Luther. A group of my
American students, garbed in Hindu ceremonial clothes, chanted the ancient hymns as an offering was made of
flowers, water, and firesymbols of the bodily elements and their release in the Infinite Source.
Though the form of Burbank lies in Santa Rosa under a Lebanon cedar that he planted years ago in his
garden, his soul is enshrined for me in every wide-eyed flower that blooms by the wayside. Withdrawn for a
time into the spacious spirit of nature, is that not Luther whispering in her winds, walking her dawns?
His name has now passed into the heritage of common speech. Listing "burbank" as a transitive verb,
Webster's New International Dictionary defines it: "To cross or graft (a plant). Hence, figuratively, to
improve (anything, as a process or institution) by selecting good features and rejecting bad, or by adding
"Beloved Burbank," I cried after reading the definition, "your very name is now a synonym for
Chapter1 - My Parents and Early Life
Chapter2 - My Mother's Death and the Mystic Amulet
Chapter3 - The Saint With Two Bodies
Chapter4 - My Interrupted Flight Toward the Himalayas
Chapter5 - A "Perfume Saint" Displays His Wonders
Chapter6 - The Tiger Swami
Chapter7 - The Levitating Saint
Chapter8 - India's Great Scientist, J.C. Bose
Chapter9 - The Blissful Devotee and His Cosmic Romance
Chapter10 - I Meet My Master, Sri Yukteswar
Chapter11 - Two Penniless Boys in Brindaban
Chapter12 - Years in My Master's Hermitage
Chapter13 - The Sleepless Saint
Chapter14 - An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness
Chapter15 - The Cauliflower Robbery
Chapter16 - Outwitting the Stars
Chapter17 - Sasi and the Three Sapphires
Chapter18 - A Mohammedan Wonder-Worker
Chapter19 - My Master, in Calcutta, Appears in Serampore
Chapter20 - We Do Not Visit Kashmir
Chapter21 - We Visit Kashmir
Chapter22 - The Heart of a Stone Image
Chapter23 - I Receive My University Degree
Chapter24 - I Become a Monk of the Swami Order
Chapter25 - Brother Ananta and Sister Nalini
Chapter26 - The Science of Kriya Yoga
Chapter27 - Founding a Yoga School in Ranchi
Chapter28 - Kashi, Reborn and Rediscovered
Chapter29 - Rabindranath Tagore and I Compare Schools
Chapter30 - The Law of Miracles
Chapter31 - An Interview with the Sacred Mother
Chapter32 - Rama is Raised From the Dead
Chapter33 - Babaji, the Yogi-Christ of Modern India
Chapter34 - Materializing a Palace in the Himalaya
Chapter35 - The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya
Chapter36 - Babaji's Interest in the West
Chapter37 - I Go to America
Chapter38 - Luther Burbank -- A Saint Amidst the Roses
Chapter39 - Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist
Chapter40 - I Return to India
Chapter41 - An Idyll in South India
Chapter42 - Last Days With My Guru
Chapter43 - The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar
Chapter44 - With Mahatma Gandhi in Wardha
Chapter45 - The Bengali "Joy-Permeated" Mother
Chapter46 - The Woman Yogi Who Never Eats
Chapter47 - I Return to the West
Chapter48 - At Encinitas in California
Chapter49 - The Years - 1940 - 1951