Mukunda, the future world famous yogi Paramahamsa Yogananda, returned home and joined a college in Calcutta. His Guru resided in a town nearby called Serampore and Mukunda found it irresistible to be away from his Guru. He would often cut classes and spend days with his guru, Sri Yukteswar. The story of his early life is covered in an earlier post here. The story of his life in high school till he finds his guru is found here.
His guru was not a gentle teacher. He relentlessly went after Mukunda, attacking his bad habits and making sure that his ego was in check. Modern day gurus can hardly employ such methods but Sri Yukteswar was not out to win a popularity contest. He had a task to do. He wanted to make sure that his disciple made spiritual progress and also be ready to face the rigors of his destined stay away from home in the West.
Mukunda bore the brunt of the assault willingly, humbly deferring to his Guru. He clearly understood the spiritual worthiness of his great teacher and was happy to be learning from such a spiritual stalwart. Soon he was initiated into Kriya Yoga. Although he had been initiated twice before, once by his father and again by his tutor Shastri Mahasaya (also later known as Swami Kebalananda), the initiation by his guru immediately put him in a special place. In his autobiography he states, “A great light broke upon my being, like the glory of countless suns blazing together. A flood of ineffable bliss overwhelmed my heart and inner core.”
Staying with his guru also meant learning to deal with the mosquitoes. Once when he was listening to a discourse from his guru, a rude little mosquito began to disturb Mukunda. When the mosquito sat on his thighs he instinctively raised his hands to strike it. A thought then entered his mind that he should stick to the principle of ahimsa or non-violence and spare the mosquito. He hesitated and Sri Yukteswar watched this. “Why don’t you finish the job?” He asked Mukunda.
“Are you advocating that I take a life?” Mukunda inquired surprised at his guru’s words.
“No, I am not,” replied Sri Yukteswar. “But in your mind you have already done the deed of killing the mosquito. Killing the mosquito or sparing it now does not make that much of a difference.”
“I do not understand,” Mukunda responded.
“The principal of ahimsa, is more to do with the removal of the desire to kill,” Sri Yukteswar replied. “The world is inconveniently arranged for a literal practice of ahimsa. Man may be compelled to exterminate harmful creatures. But he is not under any compulsion to feel anger or animosity towards them.”
This was a deep lesson for Mukunda. He learnt that Ahimsa was more to do with the removal of the internal passion for destruction and violence and less to do with the actual physical act itself. By sparing the mosquito but entertaining the thought of killing it, he had committed the violence anyway and was in violation of the principal of ahimsa.
Mukunda spent increasing number of hours isolated in his room or his attic where he meditated. His family grew accustomed to his eccentric behavior and left him alone. At times he would be meditating for as long as 24 to 48 hours at a stretch.
One day, during the summer vacation, while the family was sitting around for lunch, Mukunda emerged from one of his prolonged meditation and joined the family. He had been meditating for two days and seemed withdrawn and silent. He ate his food absentmindedly but his younger brother who was observing him closely noticed the twinkle of mischief in his eyes. It was as if he was planning something fun. Even though he was a deeply spiritual being, he was not yet 20 and not averse to having some mischievous fun.
Suddenly he fell backwards unconscious. Family members were shocked. Soon he was laid down on the floor and attempts were made to revive him. Since he showed no sign of recovering somebody started to look for his pulse. No pulse was detected nor there was any sign of a heartbeat! Alarmed at this sudden development, family members rushed out in a panic and fetched a doctor who lived in the vicinity. Some relatives began moaning in despair, “It all the fault of all this Yoga he is doing! Surely it cannot be good for his health and now see what has happened!”
When the doctor arrived he asked that Mukunda be laid on a bed. He examined Mukunda carefully and after finding no sign of life he shook his head sadly and left.
A pall of despair hung in the air. Some elders began to wail in grief. Jhima who was the maid of the family and after the passing of Mukunda’s mother had played more of a role of mother to him came to his side. She took his lifeless form in her arms and began to cry. “O dear God please don’t take Mukunda away. He is such a good boy! I promise I will not scold him or say anything harsh to him ever again! Oh God, please bring him back!” Nobody had seen Jhima cry in this way before. She was inconsolable as tears flew freely.
Then suddenly without warning Mukunda sat upright. He was shaking with laughter. “So Jhima you will never scold me again? Is that a promise?” He said.
Because of old age Jhima carried a cane. Infuriated, she raised her cane as if to strike Mukunda, “You naughty boy! You think you can fool me? I knew it was some kind of foolish prank of yours! Just wait till I get my hands on you. I will show you what it means to trouble an old lady!”
Peels of laughter soon replace what was moments ago a very gloomy scene. Even as he played a prank Mukunda had demonstrated that he had reached such a state in his yoga practice that he had full control over his breath and heartbeat.
After completing two years of his college studies, Mukunda fell ill, and had to skip a year to recover his health. When he recovered he felt no desire to continue with his studies. He went to his guru with a request to drop out. “I want to spend more time with you,” He told Sri Yukteswar.
“Very well then. Join the college in Serampore,” replied his guru.
Mukunda was puzzled. The college in Serampore was an intermediate degree college and did not provide classes for the last two years of studies that Mukunda needed. But Mukunda by now knew better than argue with his guru. Shortly later he went to the college and found to his surprise that the college had now become a fully accredited college and he would be able to study there. Somehow his guru had foreseen the change that was going to take place in this college.
Mukunda was happy. He shifted to Serampore. He could now spend increasing amount of time with his guru and make rapid spiritual progress. But he had still not attained the higher spiritual state that he so desired. He was restless to reach there and sometimes doubts assailed that maybe he should be learning from a guru who lived and practiced in the Himalayas in some cave rather than here in a busy town. He even took leave from his guru once and went into the Himalayas in search of a renowned yogi he had heard of. But the yogi sent him back with the words, “The Himalayas in India or Tibet have no monopoly on saints. What you cannot find within, you will not find by transporting your body to the Himalayas. If you have a room where you can meditate alone in silence then that is your cave. Look no further.”
When Mukunda returned he was now cured of his lifelong thirst to mediate in a cave in the Himalayas. He resumed his meditation under the guidance of his guru. Shortly thereafter Sri Yukteswar called him into his presence. When Mukunda sat next to him in silent meditation, Sri Yukteswar gently struck him above his heart. This gentle transfer of energy transformed Mukunda and for the first time he experienced cosmic consciousness and divine bliss of the highest order. In his autobiography he describes his experience in detail. The most remarkable words of his experience: “The Spirit of God is exhaustless bliss!”
Soon he found his breath returned to his lungs and his communion with the Divine ended. When he opened his eyes he found Sri Yukteswar standing next to him. He immediately bowed before his guru to thank him for having given him this experience. Sri Yukteswar stood him up and told him, “You must not get over drunk with ecstasy. Much work needs to be done. Come, let us sweep the balcony floor and then we will walk by the Ganges.”
Again the master was teaching a subtle lesson. The soul may easily leap over the cosmos and dance in the glory of a divine communion but the body has to yet to perform its duties, however menial they may be.
Soon Mukunda graduated successfully from college and fulfilled his guru’s wishes. Though his family wished that he get married and take up a job, Mukunda resisted. To put an end to the pressure from his family he requested his guru that he initiate him as a monk. Though Sri Yukteswar never took such requests easily, in Mukunda, he found a worthy candidate and he acquiesced. Normally the guru names his disciple and gives him or her a monastic name. However in this case Sri Yukteswar allowed Mukunda to choose his own name in a rare honor. “Yogananda” was Mukunda’s choice and after a simple ceremony Mukunda became a monk who from now on would go by the name: Swami Yogananda. He was 22 years old and already an advanced yogi. Somehow this penniless yogi in a remote corner of the world would take the world by storm in the days to come. His remarkable story will continue next week.