The Story Of Paramahamsa Yogananda: Finding The Guru


Yogananda as a high school student. Painting by his younger brother

From a young age Mukunda felt a relentless pressure to make spiritual progress. From early days he showed clear signs of a deep spiritual intuition and his family was aware of the prophecy that he was destined to make a bigger impact on the world stage.

Yet there was deep skepticism. Mukunda’s family was well off and the traditional path to deep spirituality lay in initiation as a monk by giving it up all. Though Mukunda was eager to jump in with both feet and renounce the world, his family was extremely reluctant to allow him to do so. The life of an ascetic monk, in India, is extremely difficult and the family was not yet willing to cast Mukunda away into the deep end of the pool. This is the second part on a series of posts covering the life of the world famous yogi: Paramahamsa Yogananda. The first part was about some incidents in Mukunda’s life as a child. Yogananda was the name given to Mukunda after he was initiated into monkhood. Since in this part of the narrative he is still not a monk we will refer to him by the name given to him by his parents: Mukunda.

Mukunda’s restlessness to make deeper spiritual progress drove him. He attempted to run away from home, when he was 11, but his adventure was short lived and he was tracked down and escorted back. Once again, when he was 13, he attempted to run away. Again he was tracked down and his eldest brother, Ananta, went to get him back. On the way back Ananta and Mukunda stopped in Benaras to meet a renowned saint. Ananta hoped that this renowned saint would be able to give Mukunda some guidance on how he could make spiritual progress. Once they were in his presence Ananta addressed the saint, “Your holiness, kindly bless us, I have also bought my brother to receive your blessing and guidance.”

The saint looked at Mukunda and addressed him directly, “Young man! Are you seeking the Divine? Your search is at the end: I am God!”

Mukunda’s face registered shock when he heard the saint’s words.

Seeing this, the saint chastised him, “I see that you don’t recognize me!” He fumed. “You are still blinded by delusion!”

Mukunda was not deterred. He calmly responded, “Respected soul, never say that you are God!”

After a brief argument Mukunda stood up and started to leave the room. Ananta as also rose to follow him.

The saint was shaken from this exchange. Before Mukunda could reach the door, the saint rushed towards Mukunda and stood in front of him. “Young sir,” he cried. “Though you are much younger than me, I bow before you! You have freed me today from my great delusion!”

“Oh Saint!” Mukunda replied, “you truly have a great heart, for otherwise you could not have admitted your weakness in front of your disciples. No man can ever say ‘I am God’. The wave on the Ocean cannot say, ‘I am the Ocean.’ It can only say, ‘The Ocean has become the wave.’ God is the ocean of light out of which have come waves of human forms. Can a man contain the Infinite Ocean in the finite wave of his bodily form?”

Many years after this exchange, it was reported that the saint who had lost his way, regained his bearings and become a truly great saint.

After he returned, Mukunda and his father reached an agreement. Mukunda would no longer attempt to run away from home and would finish his high school. In return he would be allowed to become a monk when he graduated form high school. In addition his father got him a tutor, Shastri Mahasaya (also later known as Swami Kebalananda), who had a spiritual bent. Unknown to the rest of the family when tutor and student were supposed to be studying, they were instead spending long hours together in rapt meditation! Swami Kebalananda in his own right was a very advanced saint and when Mukunda’s father later learnt about his spiritual accomplishments he was embarrassed and asked the saint’s pardon as he felt he had not shown him respect that he deserved given his high spiritual status.

One December night it was quite chilly and Mukunda returned home with all his upper garments missing. When questioned he replied that he had come across an old man who was shivering in the cold. He gave all his upper garments to him. Hearing this his father scolded him, “You should have at least kept your undershirt on. What if you catch cold?” But Mukunda was not deterred and unapologetic. Finally his father relented, “Okay you did well. But now at least run to your room and put your clothes on!”

Finally the day arrived in 1909, when Mukunda was 16, he graduated from high school. He had kept his side of the bargain and there would be no stopping him now. His family reluctantly allowed him to become a renunciate and move to a hermitage in Benaras. Though Mukunda had longed for this, and he looked forward to spending long hours in meditation, the life in the hermitage was not what he expected. Instead of being allowed to meditate to his heart’s content, he was saddled with duties related to running the hermitage.

One morning, as he was meditating alone in his room, he heard a female voice, “The master comes today!”

Shortly thereafter he was called to accompany one of the priest to the market to make some purchases. Their errand took them to the front of a small lane at whose far end stood a noble looking sage. The saint had an erect stature and long and curly hair. His pointed beard framed his strong face. When Mukunda saw him he felt that he had seen him before. He felt an urge to stop and talk to him, but since he and his companion were hurrying to get back to the hermitage, he continued walking. After some time as he walked away from the saint, he realized that his legs were getting heavy and it was becoming impossible for him to continue! It now became apparent to him that the saint was magnetically drawing him towards himself. Mukunda dumped the parcels he was carrying into the hands of his astonished companion and ran towards the saint. As he rushed forward he realized that he had found his Guru! When Mukunda reached the saint he fell to his feet. His head swirled with joy and he felt as if time had come to a stand still with the past, present, and future all merged into one moment. In his autobiography Mukunda confessed that at this point he realized that he had been associated with this man for many lifetimes before. “This was not the first sun to find me at these holy feet!” He wrote in his autobiography.

The name of the saint was Sri Yukteswar. He took Mukunda by his hands and led him to a house nearby. “O my own, you have come to me! How many years I have waited for you!” He told Mukunda with tears in his eyes.

As they settled down, Sri Yukteswar told Mukunda, “I will give you my ashrams and all I possess!” A remarkable thing to say to somebody whom you have met just moments before!

But this is not what Mukunda was looking for. He replied, “I desire only God. No other wealth has any meaning for me!”

Soon after this pleasant exchange a dispute arose between the two. Sri Yukteswar asked Mukunda to leave the hermitage and return to his home in Calcutta and join college. Mukunda was reluctant to give up his hard won freedom so easily. He had longed to be free of all burdens and spend long hours in divine communion at the feet of his guru. Instead he was being asked to give up on this dream and rejoin his family and commence his studies once more!

In spite of his reluctance, Sri Yukteswar, told Mukunda that he had to obey his orders and prophesized that within 30 days he would return back to his home. Soon circumstances conspired so that Mukunda found himself back in his home and soon he had joined college as per his Guru’s wish. His Guru knew that Mukunda was destined to play a bigger role on the world stage and wanted to make sure that he was properly educated in western style so that he would be better equipped to convey his ideas to the western world.

This is the second part on the series of posts on the life of Paramahamsa Yogananda. You can find the first part here. The story continues: Cosmic Consciousness

You may also like: Yogananda And The Fawn

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