Autobiography of a Yogi
by Paramahansa Yogananda
Original 1946 Edition
An Interview with the Sacred Mother
"Reverend Mother, I was baptized in infancy by your prophet-husband. He was the guru of my parents and of my own guru Sri Yukteswarji. Will you therefore give me the privilege of hearing a few incidents in your sacred life?"
I was addressing Srimati Kashi Moni, the life-companion of Lahiri Mahasaya. Finding myself in Benares for a short period, I was fulfilling a long-felt desire to visit the venerable lady. She received me graciously at the old Lahiri homestead in the Garudeswar Mohulla section of Benares. Although aged, she was blooming like a lotus, silently emanating a spiritual fragrance. She was of medium build, with a slender neck and fair skin. Large, lustrous eyes softened her motherly face.
"Son, you are welcome here. Come upstairs."
Kashi Moni led the way to a very small room where, for a time, she had lived with her husband. I felt honored to witness the shrine in which the peerless master had condescended to play the human drama of matrimony. The gentle lady motioned me to a pillow seat by her side.
"It was years before I came to realize the divine stature of my husband," she began. "One night, in this very room, I had a vivid dream. Glorious angels floated in unimaginable grace above me. So realistic was the sight that I awoke at once; the room was strangely enveloped in dazzling light.
"My husband, in lotus posture, was levitated in the center of the room, surrounded by angels who were worshiping him with the supplicating dignity of palm-folded hands. Astonished beyond measure, I was convinced that I was still dreaming.
"'Woman,' Lahiri Mahasaya said, 'you are not dreaming. Forsake your sleep forever and forever.' As he slowly descended to the floor, I prostrated myself at his feet.
"'Master,' I cried, 'again and again I bow before you! Will you pardon me for having considered you as my husband? I die with shame to realize that I have remained asleep in ignorance by the side of one who is divinely awakened. From this night, you are no longer my husband, but my guru. Will you accept my insignificant self as your disciple?'1
"The master touched me gently. 'Sacred soul, arise. You are accepted.' He motioned toward the angels. 'Please bow in turn to each of these holy saints.'
"When I had finished my humble genuflections, the angelic voices sounded together, like a chorus from an ancient scripture.
"'Consort of the Divine One, thou art blessed. We salute thee.' They bowed at my feet and lo! their refulgent forms vanished. The room darkened.
"My guru asked me to receive initiation into Kriya Yoga.
"'Of course,' I responded. 'I am sorry not to have had its blessing earlier in my life.'
"'The time was not ripe.' Lahiri Mahasaya smiled consolingly. 'Much of your karma I have silently helped you to work out. Now you are willing and ready.'
"He touched my forehead. Masses of whirling light appeared; the radiance gradually formed itself into the opal-blue spiritual eye, ringed in gold and centered with a white pentagonal star.
"'Penetrate your consciousness through the star into the kingdom of the Infinite.' My guru's voice had a new note, soft like distant music.
"Vision after vision broke as oceanic surf on the shores of my soul. The panoramic spheres finally melted in a sea of bliss. I lost myself in ever-surging blessedness. When I returned hours later to awareness of this world, the master gave me the technique of Kriya Yoga.
"From that night on, Lahiri Mahasaya never slept in my room again. Nor, thereafter, did he ever sleep. He remained in the front room downstairs, in the company of his disciples both by day and by night."
The illustrious lady fell into silence. Realizing the uniqueness of her relationship with the sublime yogi, I finally ventured to ask for further reminiscences.
"Son, you are greedy. Nevertheless you shall have one more story." She smiled shyly. "I will confess a sin which I committed against my guru-husband. Some months after my initiation, I began to feel forlorn and neglected. One morning Lahiri Mahasaya entered this little room to fetch an article; I quickly followed him. Overcome by violent delusion, I addressed him scathingly.
"'You spend all your time with the disciples. What about your responsibilities for your wife and children? I regret that you do not interest yourself in providing more money for the family.'
"The master glanced at me for a moment, then lo! he was gone. Awed and frightened, I heard a voice resounding from every part of the room:
"'It is all nothing, don't you see? How could a nothing like me produce riches for you?'
"'Guruji,' I cried, 'I implore pardon a million times! My sinful eyes can see you no more; please appear in your sacred form.'
"'I am here.' This reply came from above me. I looked up and saw the master materialize in the air, his head touching the ceiling. His eyes were like blinding flames. Beside myself with fear, I lay sobbing at his feet after he had quietly descended to the floor.
"'Woman,' he said, 'seek divine wealth, not the paltry tinsel of earth. After acquiring inward treasure, you will find that outward supply is always forthcoming.' He added, 'One of my spiritual sons will make provision for you.'
"My guru's words naturally came true; a disciple did leave a considerable sum for our family."
I thanked Kashi Moni for sharing with me her wondrous experiences.2 On the following day I returned to her home and enjoyed several hours of philosophical discussion with Tincouri and Ducouri Lahiri. These two saintly sons of India's great yogi followed closely in his ideal footsteps. Both men were fair, tall, stalwart, and heavily bearded, with soft voices and an old-fashioned charm of manner.
His wife was not the only woman disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya; there were hundreds of others, including my mother. A woman chela once asked the guru for his photograph. He handed her a print, remarking, "If you deem it a protection, then it is so; otherwise it is only a picture."
A few days later this woman and Lahiri Mahasaya's daughter-in-law happened to be studying the Bhagavad Gita at a table behind which hung the guru's photograph. An electrical storm broke out with great fury.
"Lahiri Mahasaya, protect us!" The women bowed before the picture. Lightning struck the book which they had been reading, but the two devotees were unhurt.
"I felt as though a sheet of ice had been placed around me to ward off the scorching heat," the chela explained.
Lahiri Mahasaya performed two miracles in connection with a woman disciple, Abhoya. She and her husband, a Calcutta lawyer, started one day for Benares to visit the guru. Their carriage was delayed by heavy traffic; they reached the Howrah main station only to hear the Benares train whistling for departure.
Abhoya, near the ticket office, stood quietly.
"Lahiri Mahasaya, I beseech thee to stop the train!" she silently prayed. "I cannot suffer the pangs of delay in waiting another day to see thee."
The wheels of the snorting train continued to move round and round, but there was no onward progress. The engineer and passengers descended to the platform to view the phenomenon. An English railroad guard approached Abhoya and her husband. Contrary to all precedent, he volunteered his services.
"Babu," he said, "give me the money. I will buy your tickets while you get aboard."
As soon as the couple was seated and had received the tickets, the train slowly moved forward. In panic, the engineer and passengers clambered again to their places, knowing neither how the train started, nor why it had stopped in the first place.
Arriving at the home of Lahiri Mahasaya in Benares, Abhoya silently prostrated herself before the master, and tried to touch his feet.
"Compose yourself, Abhoya," he remarked. "How you love to bother me! As if you could not have come here by the next train!"
Abhoya visited Lahiri Mahasaya on another memorable occasion. This time she wanted his intercession, not with a train, but with the stork.
"I pray you to bless me that my ninth child may live," she said. "Eight babies have been born to me; all died soon after birth."
The master smiled sympathetically. "Your coming child will live. Please follow my instructions carefully. The baby, a girl, will be born at night. See that the oil lamp is kept burning until dawn. Do not fall asleep and thus allow the light to become extinguished."
Abhoya's child was a daughter, born at night, exactly as foreseen by the omniscient guru. The mother instructed her nurse to keep the lamp filled with oil. Both women kept the urgent vigil far into the early morning hours, but finally fell asleep. The lamp oil was almost gone; the light flickered feebly.
The bedroom door unlatched and flew open with a violent sound. The startled women awoke. Their astonished eyes beheld the form of Lahiri Mahasaya.
"Abhoya, behold, the light is almost gone!" He pointed to the lamp, which the nurse hastened to refill. As soon as it burned again brightly, the master vanished. The door closed; the latch was affixed without visible agency.
Abhoya's ninth child survived; in 1935, when I made inquiry, she was still living.
One of Lahiri Mahasaya's disciples, the venerable Kali Kumar Roy, related to me many fascinating details of his life with the master.
"I was often a guest at his Benares home for weeks at a time," Roy told me. "I observed that many saintly figures, danda3 swamis, arrived in the quiet of night to sit at the guru's feet. Sometimes they would engage in discussion of meditational and philosophical points. At dawn the exalted guests would depart. I found during my visits that Lahiri Mahasaya did not once lie down to sleep.
"During an early period of my association with the master, I had to contend with the opposition of my employer," Roy went on. "He was steeped in materialism.
"'I don't want religious fanatics on my staff,' he would sneer. 'If I ever meet your charlatan guru, I shall give him some words to remember.'
"This alarming threat failed to interrupt my regular program; I spent nearly every evening in my guru's presence. One night my employer followed me and rushed rudely into the parlor. He was doubtless fully bent on uttering the pulverizing remarks he had promised. No sooner had the man seated himself than Lahiri Mahasaya addressed the little group of about twelve disciples.
"'Would you all like to see a picture?'
"When we nodded, he asked us to darken the room. 'Sit behind one another in a circle,' he said, 'and place your hands over the eyes of the man in front of you.'
"I was not surprised to see that my employer also was following, albeit unwillingly, the master's directions. In a few minutes Lahiri Mahasaya asked us what we were seeing.
"'Sir,' I replied, 'a beautiful woman appears. She wears a red-bordered sari, and stands near an elephant-ear plant.' All the other disciples gave the same description. The master turned to my employer. 'Do you recognize that woman?'
"'Yes.' The man was evidently struggling with emotions new to his nature. 'I have been foolishly spending my money on her, though I have a good wife. I am ashamed of the motives which brought me here. Will you forgive me, and receive me as a disciple?'
"'If you lead a good moral life for six months, I shall accept you.' The master enigmatically added, 'Otherwise I won't have to initiate you.'
"For three months my employer refrained from temptation; then he resumed his former relationship with the woman. Two months later he died. Thus I came to understand my guru's veiled prophecy about the improbability of the man's initiation."
Lahiri Mahasaya had a very famous friend, Swami Trailanga, who was reputed to be over three hundred years old. The two yogis often sat together in meditation. Trailanga's fame is so widespread that few Hindus would deny the possibility of truth in any story of his astounding miracles. If Christ returned to earth and walked the streets of New York, displaying his divine powers, it would cause the same excitement that was created by Trailanga decades ago as he passed through the crowded lanes of Benares.
On many occasions the swami was seen to drink, with no ill effect, the most deadly poisons. Thousands of people, including a few who are still living, have seen Trailanga floating on the Ganges. For days together he would sit on top of the water, or remain hidden for very long periods under the waves. A common sight at the Benares bathing ghats was the swami's motionless body on the blistering stone slabs, wholly exposed to the merciless Indian sun. By these feats Trailanga sought to teach men that a yogi's life does not depend upon oxygen or ordinary conditions and precautions. Whether he were above water or under it, and whether or not his body lay exposed to the fierce solar rays, the master proved that he lived by divine consciousness: death could not touch him.
The yogi was great not only spiritually, but physically. His weight exceeded three hundred pounds: a pound for each year of his life! As he ate very seldom, the mystery is increased. A master, however, easily ignores all usual rules of health, when he desires to do so for some special reason, often a subtle one known only to himself. Great saints who have awakened from the cosmic mayic dream and realized this world as an idea in the Divine Mind, can do as they wish with the body, knowing it to be only a manipulatable form of condensed or frozen energy. Though physical scientists now understand that matter is nothing but congealed energy, fully-illumined masters have long passed from theory to practice in the field of matter-control.
Trailanga always remained completely nude. The harassed police of Benares came to regard him as a baffling problem child. The natural swami, like the early Adam in the garden of Eden, was utterly unconscious of his nakedness. The police were quite conscious of it, however, and unceremoniously committed him to jail. General embarrassment ensued; the enormous body of Trailanga was soon seen, in its usual entirety, on the prison roof. His cell, still securely locked, offered no clue to his mode of escape.
The discouraged officers of the law once more performed their duty. This time a guard was posted before the swami's cell. Might again retired before right. Trailanga was soon observed in his nonchalant stroll over the roof. Justice is blind; the outwitted police decided to follow her example.
The great yogi preserved a habitual silence.4 In spite of his round face and huge, barrel-like stomach, Trailanga ate only occasionally. After weeks without food, he would break his fast with potfuls of clabbered milk offered to him by devotees. A skeptic once determined to expose Trailanga as a charlatan. A large bucket of calcium-lime mixture, used in whitewashing walls, was placed before the swami.
"Master," the materialist said, in mock reverence, "I have brought you some clabbered milk. Please drink it."
Trailanga unhesitatingly drained, to the last drop, the containerful of burning lime. In a few minutes the evildoer fell to the ground in agony.
"Help, swami, help!" he cried. "I am on fire! Forgive my wicked test!"
The great yogi broke his habitual silence. "Scoffer," he said, "you did not realize when you offered me poison that my life is one with your own. Except for my knowledge that God is present in my stomach, as in every atom of creation, the lime would have killed me. Now that you know the divine meaning of boomerang, never again play tricks on anyone."
The well-purged sinner, healed by Trailanga's words, slunk feebly away.
The reversal of pain was not due to any volition of the master, but came about through unerring application of the law of justice which upholds creation's farthest swinging orb. Men of God-realization like Trailanga allow the divine law to operate instantaneously; they have banished forever all thwarting crosscurrents of ego.
The automatic adjustments of righteousness, often paid in an unexpected coin as in the case of Trailanga and his would be murderer, assuage our hasty indignance at human injustice. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."5 What need for man's brief resources? the universe duly conspires for retribution. Dull minds discredit the possibility of divine justice, love, omniscience, immortality. "Airy scriptural conjectures!" This insensitive viewpoint, aweless before the cosmic spectacle, arouses a train of events which brings its own awakening.
The omnipotence of spiritual law was referred to by Christ on the occasion of his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. As the disciples and the multitude shouted for joy, and cried, "Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest," certain Pharisees complained of the undignified spectacle. "Master," they protested, "rebuke thy disciples."
"I tell you," Jesus replied, "that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out."6
In this reprimand to the Pharisees, Christ was pointing out that divine justice is no figurative abstraction, and that a man of peace, though his tongue be torn from its roots, will yet find his speech and his defense in the bedrock of creation, the universal order itself.
"Think you," Jesus was saying, "to silence men of peace? As well may you hope to throttle the voice of God, whose very stones sing His glory and His omnipresence. Will you demand that men not celebrate in honor of the peace in heaven, but should only gather together in multitudes to shout for war on earth? Then make your preparations, O Pharisees, to overtopple the foundations of the world; for it is not gentle men alone, but stones or earth, and water and fire and air that will rise up against you, to bear witness of His ordered harmony."
The grace of the Christlike yogi, Trailanga, was once bestowed on my sajo mama (maternal uncle). One morning Uncle saw the master surrounded by a crowd of devotees at a Benares ghat. He managed to edge his way close to Trailanga, whose feet he touched humbly. Uncle was astonished to find himself instantly freed from a painful chronic disease. 7
The only known living disciple of the great yogi is a woman, Shankari Mai Jiew. Daughter of one of Trailanga's disciples, she received the swami's training from her early childhood. She lived for forty years in a series of lonely Himalayan caves near Badrinath, Kedarnath, Amarnath, and Pasupatinath. The brahmacharini (woman ascetic), born in 1826, is now well over the century mark. Not aged in appearance, however, she has retained her black hair, sparkling teeth, and amazing energy. She comes out of her seclusion every few years to attend the periodical melas or religious fairs.
This woman saint often visited Lahiri Mahasaya. She has related that one day, in the Barackpur section near Calcutta, while she was sitting by Lahiri Mahasaya's side, his great guru Babaji quietly entered the room and held converse with them both.
On one occasion her master Trailanga, forsaking his usual silence, honored Lahiri Mahasaya very pointedly in public. A Benares disciple objected.
"Sir," he said, "why do you, a swami and a renunciate, show such respect to a householder?"
"My son," Trailanga replied, "Lahiri Mahasaya is like a divine kitten, remaining wherever the Cosmic Mother has placed him. While dutifully playing the part of a worldly man, he has received that perfect self-realization for which I have renounced even my loincloth!"
1 One is reminded here of Milton's line: "He for God only, she for God in him."
2 The venerable mother passed on at Benares in 1930.
3 Staff, symbolizing the spinal cord, carried ritually by certain orders of monks.
4 He was a muni, a monk who observes mauna, spiritual silence. The Sanskrit root muni is akin to Greek monos, "alone, single," from which are derived the English words monk, monism, etc.
5 Romans 12:19.
6 Luke 19:37-40.
7 The lives of Trailanga and other great masters remind us of Jesus' words: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name (the Christ consciousness) they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."-Mark 16:17-18.
Continue to the Preface
Preface | Introduction