Chapter Six: Was Yogananda the Last of the Gurus?

In this chapter I will present a few examples of fundamental changes that SRF has imposed over the years on Master’s message and mission.

a)  Yogananda often spoke of “Churchianity” as distinct from Christianity. Obviously, he didn’t want his message to become distorted by organizationalism. With me, even though he spoke frequently about the future of his work, he almost never spoke of the work in organizational terms. Obviously too, then, what mattered to him most was the mission itself, not the mechanics of its diffusion. I think that he saw my real work, also, as being outside the organization.

SRF has done its utmost to institutionalize both the Master and his teachings. It has done so, indeed, in the very spirit that Master excoriated in contrasting Christianity to “Churchianity.” SRF has become, since his passing, almost “more papal than the pope.” Practices that the Catholic Church eschewed centuries ago hold full—indeed, vigorous—sway among Yogananda’s own disciples.

b) SRF has declared that, with Yogananda no longer in the body, his written lessons have become the guru.[1] It is true that Yogananda said he himself was the last in our line of gurus. That statement must be understood, however, in context with other statements he himself made. For example:

1.  He told me personally, “No scripture can be the guru. If one challenges a scripture, the scripture itself can’t answer. But if a true man of God is challenged, he will be able to reply according to the questioner’s needs.” Not the Master’s teachings alone, then, but the vibrations of his consciousness are what constitute his gift to the world and above all to his disciples. To say, in contrast to that teaching, that his lessons are the guru—when in fact he, personally, didn’t even write them—: Well, what can one possibly say in reply?

2.  In John 1:12, the Holy Bible states: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” Jesus brought to earth the power to infuse a higher consciousness into those disciples who tuned in to his spirit. This is the function of the true guru; his job is to transmit to his disciples his own freedom from ego-consciousness.

3.  It is not enough, then, to receive the guru’s teachings only intellectually, even if one is blessed with considerable intellectual understanding. The guru’s bliss and wisdom must be absorbed into one’s very being. Only by such absorption can the guru’s higher awareness expand the disciple’s ego-limitation to expanded soul-consciousness. Indeed, only to the extent that one banishes the all-but-universal ego-hypnosis from his awareness can a person truly rise, spiritually. This freedom comes when the disciple willingly receives into himself a higher consciousness, from divine levels of awareness.

4.  It is for this reason, above all, that the truth-seeker is counseled to seek an enlightened guru. Otherwise, even the highest knowledge will be tainted with ego. It is the awareness of one’s own impotence to raise himself that rescues one from the delusion of clinging to ego-guidance and, by bringing a true guru into one’s life, takes one from discouragement to enlightenment.

In my own case, the realization of how difficult it was to bring even one virtue to perfection was what drove me finally, in desperation, to the conclusion, “I need help!” Yogananda then, by God’s will, entered my life. In meeting him, I was completely convinced that in him I had found someone who could give me the guidance and understanding I so badly needed.

5.  Many people resist the idea of needing a guru. When such persons challenge me, “Do I really need a guru?” I may answer, “You don’t need one at all! Just keep on being your own guru.”

In The Jewel in the Lotus, a stage play I once wrote, Romesh, a wealthy but comically materialistic merchant, shares this piece of “wisdom” (as he defines the term): “God is in money, too. Therefore, the more you have of money, the more you have of God. Simple!” I wrote that role to demonstrate the inadequacy of reasoning if it lacks intuitive understanding.

Those who sincerely seek enlightenment, however, never pose such a challenge. If they ask me sincerely, “Do I need a guru?” my reply to them is very different. “Can you lift yourself by your own bootstraps?” I ask. “Wisdom implies a heightened state of consciousness. A true guru will be able to lift you to that state. In the end, it is God’s grace alone that saves; the guru is a channel for that grace. God never acts except through instruments, whether they be angels, lower deities, or—in this case—enlightened human beings.”

These truths must be shared, however, only with those people who are willing to listen, not with those who love to argue.

c)  When Daya Mata went to India in 1958 (I was included in her party), she learned that followers of the Sikh religion accept their scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, as their guru. Daya seized eagerly on this fact to justify her claim that Master, too, had declared that the lessons would, after his passing, become the guru. The statement Master made to me personally on this point flatly contradicts this claim. Indeed, from his statement to me it is clear that he could never have told Daya anything even remotely similar. As for the Sikhs, I don’t know much about their religion, but I do know many Sikhs who also have personal gurus. From this fact I assume that sincere—as distinct from merely orthodox—spiritual seekers in Sikhism understand, and accept, that every true seeker needs a Self-realized guru. Indeed, living in India as they do, it seems to me unlikely that any of them would not be familiar with this true teaching.

As for Master’s own lessons, it may help the reader to know that Master told me—again, personally; I heard this with my own ears—that he himself had not even written the SRF lessons. They were compiled, he told me, and not always well compiled—for example, they contained quite a number of word-for-word repetitions—from articles he had written, and from lectures and classes he had given over the years.

d) Master made another important statement to me; this one he made personally, also. For all I know, I may be the only one to whom he ever made it. Nevertheless, I swear before God, my Guru, and every great master who ever lived that he did indeed make it. His statement was, “There must be at least one physical contact with the guru in the disciple’s present lifetime.”

This statement obviously meant that the guru has to be in his physical body for there to be that one, minimal contact. Master’s statement to me flies in the face of the belief, widely held in SRF and indeed founded on something Master actually did say, that he was the last of the gurus. What could he have meant in making this statement? I will try to explain.

e)  He once told me that for a person to become fully liberated, he must first free at least six others. (By “free,” Master obviously referred to a state of consciousness lower than final liberation; otherwise how could anyone ever attain that highest state? Each of those freed would, in turn, have had to free at least six others; and each of those six others would have to have freed. . . . Well, surely you get the picture!)

f)  Now that Master is no longer in the body, I find a plethora of actual or potential contradictions in SRF’s explanation of Master’s continued position in the work. What, one may ask—for those who have come to Master’s work since he left his body—are the chances, for those who follow him, of their finding God? They won’t have met Yogananda physically. How, then, if a physical meeting with the guru is essential, is the hapless seeker, by merely following his teachings, ever going to attain the goal? In short, how can any late-comer to his path even claim Master as his guru?

Please understand that I am not saying these claims are false or unrealistic. What I am saying is that, since Master is no longer in the body, his way of reaching people must be through human instruments. Everything God does on earth is accomplished through earthly instruments—even if it be only bees pollinating the flowers. Even direct visions of a great master can only inspire: they cannot actually save. Those who come to Yogananda now must accept that his power can also animate certain of his living disciples, and will continue to animate those who continue to come to his teachings, if they are themselves sufficiently in tune with him to guide others truly.

It cannot mean, of course, that everyone who follows him will be graced with the same power. We are not discussing, here, a line of officially ordained priests. But among his followers there will be some more qualified than others to teach in his name. It will be by their attunement with his particular ray of divine grace that they will continue to be able to bless others.

1.  There is a story I was told in 1960 by a great saint, Sri Rama Yogi, whom Master had met in India during his 1935–36 visit to the ashram of Ramana Maharshi. This man was the only fully liberated soul my Guru ever met, apart from his own line of gurus, and apart from two disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya: Swami Pranabananda (the saint with two bodies as he is described in Autobiography of a Yogi), and Ram Gopal Muzumdar (the sleepless saint). (I don’t include here Yogananda’s own disciples.) I asked Master about many of the other saints in Autobiography of a Yogi. In each case his answer was the same: “He had reached the stage of jivan mukta, but was not yet fully liberated.”

The only other fully liberated saint he’d encountered (though he hadn’t mentioned him in his autobiography) was Sri Rama Yogi.

The story told me by Sri Rama Yogi was about a saint called Namdev, who used every day in vision to see and speak with Krishna. To make a long (though delightful) story very short, I will say only that this saint once asked Krishna to liberate him from delusion. Krishna replied, “For liberation, you need a human guru.” Namdev answered, “But I see you in vision daily, Lord. Can’t You, Yourself, free me?” Krishna answered, “I can inspire you, Namdev, but for salvation it is My law that you must receive it through a human instrument.”

2.  Yogananda came on earth to bring people salvation. His mission was much more than to inspire, though even that would have been much. The salvation he brought, and even much of the inspiration his followers will need for attaining salvation, can be conveyed only through ongoing generations of sincere disciples whose discipleship to Master is cemented by an unbroken line of living instruments.

3.  The Bible, in John 4:2, states, “Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples.”

4.  And in Autobiography of a Yogi, Master’s sister Nalini is quoted as saying, “Your master has blessed our home, our entire family. . . . The presence of such a man is a sanctification on the whole of India. Dear brother, please tell Sri Yukteswarji that, through you, I humbly count myself as one of his Kriya Yoga disciples.”

In Nalini’s case, Master himself describes her as being unaware of how great he himself was. But Yogananda also makes it clear that it was not wrong for her to accept him as a channel for his own guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar.

5.  In this way also, lines of disciples will continue down through the ages, carrying the baton, so to speak, from generation to generation.

6.  Why, then, did Master say he was the last of the Gurus? He did so quite simply because he was the last in the line of avatars, or descended masters, whose God-given task it had been to found this particular ray of divine grace—this particular mission. Our line of gurus comprise the divine messengers sent to us, and to all mankind, in these times.

Therefore we keep their images on our altars. Normally, we don’t place any other photograph there. If, however, any individual feels inspired to put someone else’s image also on his own personal altar, Master himself permitted it.

There was a certain disciple who kept a photograph of Dr. Lewis on her private altar. When someone accused her of wrongdoing, she questioned the Master on this point. He reassured her, “It is fine for you to do so. Just keep it off to one side.”

7.  Some people claim that it is sufficient for them to go straight to Yogananda, seeking no intermediary to him. In my sixty-three years of discipleship (so far), I have not known this belief to produce a single convincing result. To me it is obvious that Master’s meaning was not, “I am the last of the gurus,” but rather, “I am the last in our line of founding gurus,” of which there are only five. Master’s statement that he was the last of the gurus cannot possibly have been meant to deny the possibility of any future guru within his work, if every sincere devotee needs a guru whom he has met personally in the flesh. Obviously, the Master can only have meant that he was the last of the gurus of this work, and not in the work—that is to say, the last guru his mission would ever produce.

8.  Yogananda, the last of our founding gurus, was (like his predecessors) an avatar. And what is an avatar? He—or she, presumably, though I’ve never actually heard of a female avatar—is a completely liberated soul who, out of extraordinary compassion, comes back to earth to save others. He thereby delays his own complete absorption in God.

An avatar is also something more: He comes with full divine power to liberate as many devotees as attune themselves with his consciousness.

Paramhansa Yogananda was sent to earth, as were also Jesus, Buddha and many other avatars throughout history, with the full blessing of God to save as many souls as came to him in purity, and to bring divine grace also, more broadly, to the whole world. The avatars are the founders of the great religions. Yogananda stated in his poem “God’s Boatman”:

Oh! I will come back again and again!

Crossing a million crags of suffering,

With bleeding feet, I will come,

If need be, a trillion times,

As long as I know that

One stray brother is left behind.

For mortal minds, such compassion is simply inconceivable.

Lesser saints—at least usually—are followers of an avatar; they also draw on his power. An avatar is greater, in a human sense, than even a completely liberated master, for he returns to human life with the complete and undiluted power of the Lord Himself. Even newly liberated saints have the power to free only a few others.

9.  When people speak of Christ’s suffering on the cross, they don’t realize how far above suffering an avatar like him really is. Yes, Jesus did suffer on the cross, but he suffered only in the sense of grieving for human ignorance, and for people’s perennial indifference to their own highest good: their reabsorption in absolute, divine bliss. “Father,” Jesus said, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

g)  When Sister Gyanamata died, Master remarked to a small group of us monks, “I saw her sink back into that watchful state”—in other words, into final liberation in God. This complete oneness with the Infinite comes only when one has attained final release from all past karmas.

1.  Master had already told me that to achieve perfect freedom one must first free at least six others. At this point, therefore, I wondered, “But how could she have achieved liberation, since she had no disciples?”

2.  Master caught my thought; his reply was important to my present argument. What he said then was, “She had disciples.”

Obviously, his meaning was that Sister had been acting as his channel for the salvation of certain others. One can only assume that, if Sister did so, then Rajarshi, and perhaps others, also, must have done so too, acting as his channels.

h) Peggy Deitz was a devoted disciple of Master’s who lived for some years at Mt. Washington. Master told her at one point in her life to live outside the monastery, and serve a larger public. This evidently was what she herself needed, for her own spiritual development.

One day he requested her to start giving Kriya initiation to others. Because she no longer lived at Mt. Washington, she asked him in astonishment, “What will the organization say?”

The Guru replied, “Are you following the organization? Or are you following me?”

i)   SRF claims that loyalty to the organization itself is essential for the devotee of this path. Obviously, Master, in the above case, was demanding loyalty not to SRF, but to himself as the Guru.

What SRF has done is change Master’s very definition of loyalty. Yogananda didn’t necessarily include, in that word, loyalty, loyalty to his organization. Neither, on the other hand, did he equate loyalty to him with loyalty to SRF. He often said, “Loyalty is the first law of God,” but the loyalty of which he spoke was a feeling of heartfelt dedication to God alone, above all. Such loyalty has little if anything to do with signing a membership pledge.

j)  It must also be in the rightness of things, that when SRF demands loyalty of its members, for it also to offer them loyalty in return. Instead, SRF, while demanding loyalty of others, gives none to them. I make this statement both from observation and from my own experience. For I myself was thrown out without even a hearing, though I had been serving the organization loyally for fourteen years. My own case, moreover, is far from unique. Many others have been treated somewhat similarly.

k) It may interest the reader to learn of a peculiar philosophy of Tara’s, which she once expressed to me after I myself had been elected to the Board of Directors. What she said was, “In an organization, no one except the members of the Board of Directors has a right even to think!” I find this blatant disregard for the individual’s free will simply an outrage to all spiritual law, and wholly in opposition to Master’s fundamental concept of Self-realization.

l)   Let me reiterate: A guru is an absolute necessity for finding God; the ego cannot lift itself out of the mire of delusion, any more than could Baron Münchhausen, in the satiric German fable that recounted his outrageous lies, have really lifted himself and his horse out of the mud by pulling upward on his own hair. This is why Shankaracharya, the great Master who lived many centuries ago in India, said that the greatest blessing in all the three worlds—the causal, the astral, and the physical universes—is the guidance of a true guru.

1.  Jesus Christ, on the Mount of Olives, as he gazed down upon the city of Jerusalem, cried out in agony: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The Jewish people have a collective need to recognize the need for an enlightened, and living, teacher.

2.  Man needs the company of other human beings for his own spiritual advancement. Satsanga, good company, is essential for spiritual advancement. The caste system of India was created in recognition of this truth. Members of the Shudra, or lowest, caste can rise most certainly by keeping company with people who belong by right to a higher caste, for people at the lowest level of advancement feel little, if any, incentive toward spiritual progress. Without higher influences, they have virtually no incentive at all.

Vaishyas—the next caste up—may feel some such incentive, but will be spurred upward more rapidly if they can have some contact with Kshatriyas, the next stage above them.

Thus, in every case, the company of those whose consciousness is higher than one’s own is extremely helpful. Yogananda condensed this thought into the simple dictum: “Environment is stronger than will power.”

3.  Yogananda also said that God first sends the seeker uplifting books; then inspiring teachers and other spiritually beneficial human instruments; then finally He leads one to one’s true guru.

The guru’s role, ordained by God, is to bring people to God. This is not a personal choice. As Master said to me the day I first met him, “I am seeing you only because Divine Mother told me to, not because you have come such a distance [I’d just come all the way to Los Angeles, non-stop, from New York].” In India there is a saying, “When the disciple is ready, the guru appears.” One doesn’t have to shop the length of the counter. If he calls deeply to God, the Lord Himself will show him where to place his next footstep.

4.  In my own case, it was God Himself, through Autobiography of a Yogi, who led me to Yogananda. I had never before even heard of the high teachings of yoga. Had my parents been nearby (God took them abroad to the distant land of Egypt), I might well not have had the courage to make such a sudden and complete change in my life.

5.  During my years as a minister in SRF after Master’s passing, I was told by Daya to bring people to Master through SRF, and then turn them over to the organization. She said I would then have no further responsibility in the matter.

I came to realize in time, however, that people need ongoing help. It isn’t enough simply to turn them over to an organization, or even to the guru. It was, I realized, important for me, or for someone equally interested in the students’ spiritual well-being, to maintain personal contact with them and continue to lead them upward on the path to God.

6.  One of SRF’s greatest mistakes has been to disclaim any spiritual responsibility for its members. Daya Mata used to tell people, “I do not presume to bless.” She would then stand before people, her palms folded in reverence, praying to Master to bless them. She didn’t realize that, in that very act, she was actually blessing them herself—acting, in other words, as the Master’s living channel of blessing.

7.  It is every true disciple’s duty to channel his guru’s power, understanding, and blessings to others to the best of his own ability. Before every lecture he gives, before any counsel he offers, before any work he does, he should pray, “Master, please guide me, help me, and bless me.” This point Daya Mata never understood or accepted. She viewed it as the bounden duty of every disciple to represent only the organization, and—I might add—only her will for it. Discipleship, in her eyes, was an outer thing. Utterly foreign to her understanding were the words in the Gospel of St. John: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.”

[1]SRF’s Board of Directors has also enunciated as its basic policy its belief that, now that they no longer have Yogananda’s direct guidance, they should always be guided by the single consideration, “What is best for the organization?”

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