Fearlessness

“Smile because you are fearless; smile because fear is ashamed to cause you apprehension and failure” –Paramhansa Yogananda

I’ve just about finished reading Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography, and one story stood out to me in particular. Yogananda was giving a talk in New York and he accused some very wealthy people of taking advantage of the poor. As he was walking home, someone came up behind him and put a gun to his back. The stranger said, “Why did you say such things against those people?” The Master explained that everyone is a child of God and God does not want one of His children to take advantage of the others. Yogananda gazed at him with spiritual power and the man fell to the ground and cried, “What are you doing to me? I can’t go back to my old ways!” He then ran away, terrified.

My first thought on reading this story was “Wow! I wish I could that!” Can you imagine being able to scare away dangerous criminals with just a look, not to mention teaching them a lesson at the same time? What a useful tool this would be! In my opinion, the reason Yogananda was able to stand up to the man was because he was completely fearless. He was so immersed in Bliss and the knowledge that he was immortal that nothing could shake him. That was what the other man saw in his eyes that so disarmed him. He thought he was in control because he had a gun, but Yogananda knew no gun could ever harm his soul.

When I was growing up, I took martial arts classes down the street from my house. After years of classes, I was finally able to test for my black belt. I was terrified I would forget everything and just freeze. I practiced daily, but my exhaustion came more from anxiety than from the exercises.

Finally, the big day came. I was panicked. However, as I sat there watching the others test, the fear slowly fell away. I thought, “I do this every day, why is today any different?” The only difference was that people were watching, which shouldn’t really make any difference. The only real obstacle keeping me from my black belt was fear, which was only in my mind. When the moment came, I performed just as I had in my living room, and I gratefully accepted my black belt.

When you can stand up to your fear knowing that you are an immortal child of God, then nothing can defeat you. Of course, Yogananda has great spiritual power and we may not all be able to take someone down with a look, but the principle is the same. There are many obstacles to overcome on the yogic path, or any path for that matter, but if we stand up to those obstacles without fear then we can find the strength to overcome them. The story about Yogananda confronting the accoster in Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography makes that abundantly clear.

The Yogi Behind the Autobiography

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.