The Story Of Paramahamsa Yogananda: Journey West

Paramahamsa Yogananda

Paramahamsa Yogananda

The big moment was here. This was the moment he had been preparing for all his life. A few months ago he had received an invitation to speak at the International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston. His Guru had blessed his journey from India to US, and his father had agreed to finance it. The First World War had just ended and with this the shipping lane between India and the US was about to be reopened. In spite of the excitement of undertaking this journey to the US, Swami Yogananda, had some grave doubts. He had never lectured in English before and he was not sure how he would be received. He knew nobody in the US and he was just 27 years old.

Swami Yogananda decided to sit and meditate and hoped to get God’s blessings and assurances on the wisdom of undertaking this journey to the West. As hours passed in meditation, Swami Yogananda got no word from God. No indication that he was on the right track. As his desperation grew he began to meditate so deeply that he felt his head was about to split. Still there was no Divine Signal on the merit or demerit of undertaking this journey. Finally he heard a knock on his door. When he opened the door he was wonderstruck to see the great Yogi Babaji standing in front of him. “Our Heavenly Father has heard your prayer. He commands me to tell you: Follow the directions of your guru and go to America. Fear not; you will be protected.” Soon Swami Yogananda found himself on the City Of Sparta, the first passenger ship to go to America from India after the end of the First World War.

During the two-month voyage to America, fellow passengers soon learnt about Swami Yogananda and invited him to speak. However Swami Yogananda was so nervous about giving a lecture in English that in spite of several attempts he could not organize his thoughts or prepare a speech. Finally abandoning all efforts to be ready with a prepared speech he decided to speak extempore and showed up in front of his audience. Unfortunately he remained dumbstruck and no words came to his lips. For ten agonizing minutes he stood silent in front of his audience till finally some people in the audience began to laugh. Swami Yogananda began to pray to his Guru for help and he heard two words in his head in the voice of his Guru: “You Can!” This was enough to spur him on and he began speaking. He has no recollection of what he said that day but he spoke without stopping for 45 minutes and his speech was so inspiring that many in the audience invited him to speak at various locations in the US. Never again he would be nervous about speaking in front of an audience in English.

There was another miracle that had happened many years earlier that made the journey of Swami Yogananda to the West possible. Many years earlier Swami Yogananda’s father, Bhagabati Gosh, had retired from government service. Subsequently an English auditor came to India to audit the books. (These were still colonial days of the British Raj). What he discovered was that Bhagabati Gosh had not claimed his bonus, raise, and vacation that was due to him for the span of his entire service. In a move that was simply unprecedented and miraculous he awarded Bhagabati Gosh a sum of 125,000 Rupees in back pay. This was a huge some of money in those days and in terms of today’s dollars this was probably equivalent to half a million dollars! It was this money that financed Swami Yoganand’s journey and sustained him in the west. From 1920 to 1930 Bhagabati Gosh sent his son, Swami Yogananda, a sum of Rupees 400 every month. Probably equal to 2000 dollars in terms of today’s money. Swami Yogananda had many wealthy disciples in the West and many were prepared to write large checks. But most such wealthy donors sought to exercise control over him in return of the money and Swami Yogananda was not prepared to compromise on this and refused such donations. This is why the money that his father sent him and the money he collected from small donors and speaking fees was instrumental in allowing him to remain independent and remain free from any undue influence.

In the 1930s the great depression hit the US economy and money became increasingly harder to come by. However Swami Yogananda acquired a truly sincere devotee, James Lynn, who was also very rich. He was willing to give his money unconditionally. Soon James Lynn took on most of the burden of financing Swami Yogananda’s activities during the great depression and there was no need for the money to be sent from India by Swami Yogananda’s family. James Lynn later become a completely self-realized master himself and took over running the organization that Swami Yogananda had created after his passing.

In late 1936 Swami Yogananda collected his disciples on Christmas day and began handing out gifts to them. When Mr. E. E. Dickenson opened his present he was struck with emotion. The only words he could utter were, “The silver cup!” Later he approached Swami Yogananda to explain his emotional reaction. “For forty-three years I have been waiting for this silver cup! It is a long story, one that I have kept hidden within me,” Mr. Dickenson told Swami Yogananda. The beginning of the story happened when Mr. Dickenson was five year old and his older brother playfully pushed him into a small pool. Unable to swim he began to drown and it was then that he saw dazzling multicolored light fill all space. He saw a man appear in the light and gave him a reassuring smile. Just then he was able to surface and grab on to a branch of a tree that was lowered to help him. He was then pulled out and revived.

Twelve years later, at the age of seventeen he and his mom visited Chicago. The World Parliament of Religions was in session, and he and his mom were strolling down the main street. Suddenly he saw the same man he had seen in his vision while he was drowning. Before he could react the man entered the auditorium and disappeared in the crowd.

Mr. Dickenson pulled his mother along and they went to the auditorium only to find the man to be seated on the Podium. Later they learnt that this man was the great Swami Vivekananda and he was the featured speaker on that day. After his speech Mr. Dickenson rushed to meet him. He was greeted kindly, as though they were old friends. But being a young child and overcome by emotions Mr. Dickenson was unable to express himself. He was ready to accept Swami Vivekananda as his guru and follow him. But Swami Vivekananda read his thoughts and told him, “No my son, I am not your guru. Your guru will come later and he will give you a silver cup.” They soon parted company and Mr. Dickenson never saw Swami Vivekananda again.

In 1925 Mr. Dickenson had another vision that the following day he would meet his guru. The next day he attended a lecture and was enraptured by the speaker, Swami Yogananda. Since then he accepted him as his guru. But secretly he waited for the confirmation in the form of a silver cup that Swami Vivekananda had prophesized. For eleven years he had waited and finally that Christmas the prophecy was fulfilled. The two greatest yoga masters ever to have visited the West were linked together by Mr. Dickenson and the story of this remarkable silver cup.

Swami Vivekananda was perhaps the first realized master from India to visit the US. On the other hand Swami Yogananda was the first realized master from India who lived in the US for an extended period in the US and who passed away in the US. You can find the story of Swami Vivekananda here. The story of Swami Yogananda begins here. The story continues next week: The Guru Departs.

Related Posts:
The Prophecy
Finding The Guru
Cosmic Consciousness

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