I’m currently reading Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography, a new book about Yogananda written by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Yogananda. As I sit on my bed and read of all these touching, dramatic, and humorous stories of Yogananda’s early years and interactions with so many different personalities, I reflect on my own relationship with him as my guru– as many of us do who were born long after he left his body. He’s never physically sat in front of me, looked into my eyes and said, “Will you always love me as I love you?” as he did to Dr. Lewis, his first disciple in America. Does this mean that our relationship is only one sided, that however much love I feel for him, he no longer exists and cannot return my love except in my own imagination?
Not at all! His love is very real and I feel it every day. Just because our interactions all take place inside of me, it does not make them imaginary, as I’m sure anyone who has lost a loved one can attest. The physical presence of my guru may be gone, but the real Guru, even when he had a body, could only be truly experienced in the heart. The word “guru” literally means “dispeller of darkness”. Can a true dispeller of darkness be taken by darkness? Not likely! The true guru is that place inside ourselves that gives us direction and encouragement. He’s the one who’s with us no matter where we go or what we do. It does help though, to have a physical form to relate to, since we ourselves are in a physical form, but it is certainly not the only way he can communicate with us.
Bearing this in mind, I’d like to share the story of how I came to know that Yogananda was my guru. About a year and a half ago, I visited a place called The Expanding Light, which is in Ananda Village, a spiritual community founded by Swami Kriyananda. I had read Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda’s beloved book, but it perplexed me. The world that Yogananda described just didn’t seem to fit into my own vision of reality. When I went to Ananda, I learned more about him and his teachings, but still I never considered that I would ever dedicate my life to him.
Two weeks after I got back, my friend sent me a quotation by a famous swami in India that said something like, “Before you can find your guru, you must first serve your parents. It is most important to serve your mother, then your father, then your guru will appear and you can serve him.” Then the idea suddenly popped into my mind: “I know! I’ll make my parents some Pad Thai!” It may sound ridiculous now, but at the time it seemed perfectly logical to me that this was the best way to get my guru to reveal himself to me. I went right to the store, got everything I needed, and set to work. While I prepared the food I listened to Autobiography of a Yogi audiobook.
Suddenly I felt this great energy filling my heart. I ran over to a picture of Yogananda that I had on my altar and knelt in front of it. I stared at his picture as it all suddenly became clear to me that this was my guru. Soon after this, I took the vow of discipleship and it has only gotten better since then. This story goes on much longer, but my point is that a disciple’s relationship with the guru is not dependent on the guru’s physical form. The real relationship with him is in the heart.
This is what impresses me so much about this new book that Swami Kriyananda has written. Swami tells many wonderful stories, and with them, draws the reader into the drama of Yogananda’s life, while at the same time never letting the reader forget that Yogananda was never himself captivated by the drama. Swami makes it clear that Yogananda knew, at every moment, he was fully free and unaffected by any of his life’s circumstances. By contrast, in Yogananda’s own book Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda writes as if he were a humble seeker of God who has been fortunate enough to encounter so many great saints, while never mentioning that he is much greater than most of them. Swami tells the stories that Yogananda left out, the stories that really show him to be a true yoga Master.