Meetings with Sri Yukteswar
Excerpts From Letters of C. Richard Wright
Inner Culture, May 1936
No doubt, you are quite puzzled, perplexed, and annoyed at my apparently greedy silence regarding Swami Sri Yukteswarji; and in one sense I don’t blame you. But in another sense I believe you would not blame me, for this is the reason. I felt this way: far be it from me to attempt to describe one so great and saintly with my limited understanding and superficial glances. I could write reams and reams perhaps about his appearance and the outward aspect of the man, but would I be doing justice to the Saint within? So I waited and waited, hoping to glean more and more of the Saint, the true Swami Sri Yukteswarji.
On every visit we made to his humble Ashrama out in Serampore, just 15 miles outside of Calcutta, I tried and tried to penetrate the Bengali conversation between the two Swamijis, for English is null and void when they are together, although Swamiji Maharaj (as called by others) can and sometimes does speak English, although every time I’ve been present every precious moment is devoted to an exchange of expressions and not wasted on merely passing the time of day. I’ve felt so privileged and elated at just being present in their company, that to utter a word or question in English would have been sacrilegious. But to a certain extent, much less than desired, I’ve had a chance to taste the saintliness of this Great One, in his jovial smile and twinkling eyes.
One quality I have discerned in his merry, serious conversation, is a decided positiveness in his statements—the mark of a wise man, who knows he knows, because he knows God. And so it is, anything I could write would only be based upon the limited external impressions and perception, and not upon the true basis of the saint-his spiritual glory. So, if I’m forgiven for my inaptitude and inability to do the inner man or saint justice, I shall begin my tale (from my notes) on a certain day back in September, as a matter of fact on the 30th.
On this day we left Calcutta, filled with the highest anticipation and full of the great joy that we had been experiencing in the receptions here and there. Our journey to Serampore, just 15 miles out among the villages outside of Calcutta, led us over very picturesque roads crowded with heedless pedestrians or rag-clad natives and most insolent and inert “hump-shouldered” cows and dogs. One common scene that is always of fascination is the water buffaloes with their huge bulkiness, climaxed by a crown of flesh and bone on their shoulders, “worn so,” or created so, by the heavy poles stretching across their necks in the form of a yoke, for centuries and centuries; at least, one would be led to believe that this physiological characteristic had been formed from the constant burden they had to bear over so many centuries, and yet they appear docilely vicious in their huge black, scarcely-haired hides, with long horns swooping and dipping back toward their shoulders, so meek and so fierce, in appearance only, however. It is not uncommon to see herds of them standing majestically in ponds of mud or dirty water out in the villages.
Well, enough of the cows, or at least of the way I described them, so on we went through the conglomerated, congested, and “un-white-winged” villages, and entering Serampore we passed by the queer shops and motley mass of humanity, turned to the right, and proceeded past the adobe, tile-roofed and thatched-roof huts or hovels, past the favorite eating haunt (a shop) of Swamiji during his school days at the college in Serampore, and suddenly turned to the right again down a narrow, walled lane, then a sudden left turn and there before us towered the humble, but in-spiring two-story Ashrama of Swami Sri Yukteswarji, with a Spanish-style verandah on the upper floor or balcony, and the most impressive thing about it was its humble solitude. In grave humbleness I strode behind Swami ji into the courtyard or patio within the Ashrama walls, and likewise the inner portion of the upper story was lined on three sides by a verandah. We proceeded up some old stone steps, hearts pounding, up steps no doubt trod by myriads of Truth-drinkers; up through this crumbling, but sacredly humble abode we continued, the tension growing keener and keener, when suddenly, without ostentation or fore-preparation, there before us near the head of the stairs of this quaint verandah, appeared the Great One, Swami Sri Yukteswarji, standing in his noble pose of great wisdom. He has a decidedly sloping forehead, indicative of a lofty vision and sincerity of purpose, a decided purpose, and God-Wisdom.
Then my heart heaved and swelled as I felt myself blessed by the privilege of being in his sublime presence. Tears nearly blurred my eager sight when Swamiji dropped to his knees, and with bowed head offered his Soul’s gratitude and greeting, touching his feet, and then his own head in humble obeisance to his Guru; he arose and was embraced on both sides of the bosom. It was like the joyous greeting of father and prodigal son, but in this case, triumphant son; no words passed, but the most intense feeling was expressed in the silent words of the heart.
How their eyes sparkled and fired with the warmth of renewed Soul-union! A most tender feeling surged throughout this humble patio; even the sun seemed to elude the clouds to add his blaze of glory to the sublime occasion. Then my humbleness waxed high, and on bended knee and dropped head, I added my Soul’s love and thanks for all I’ve thrilled to and hope to thrill to; touching his feet, calloused by Time and Sacrifice, and receiving his blessings by touching my own head after rising, I stood to face two beautiful, deep eyes, sparkling with joy and wisdom, and introspectively smouldering; the brown iris of his eyes glistened in a ring of ethereal blue.
We were then taken into his sitting room, the whole side of which opened to the outer verandah or balcony, first seen from down below, shoes were removed, and as he braced himself against his very simple bed, sitting on a straw mattress on the cement floor, we all circled ourselves about him, (Swamiji near his feet) and with pillows to lean on or ease our positions on the straw mat. With a quick, cursory glance, I noted this rather dilapidated room, suggestive of the owner’s nonattachment to material comfort or objects, a room with fading white walls and fading stripes of blue plaster, with an old picture of Lahiri Mahasaya, at one end of the room, garlanded in simple devotion, and an old picture of Swamiji (Yogananda) as he arrived in Boston with the other religious representatives; another old picture of Swami Sri Yukteswarji that appeared in an old issue of East-West Magazine, and through the doors opening out onto the outside verandah I could see plantain (banana) and cocoanut palm trees towering over the roof of the Ashrama in peaceful protection; I saw a strange occurence of modernity and antiquity, namely, a huge, cut-glass, electric chandelier, covered with cobwebs through disuse, and a “Singer sewing machine” calender: all in all, a quiet, trim room breathing peace and calmness supreme, rustic but pleasant, plain but comfortable.
Swami Sri Yukteswarji seems overjoyed, though his predominance of wisdom hinders his flow of feeling, at least outwardly, as well as I can discern from the Bengali conversation. He is of a large, athletic stature, hardened by the trials and sacrifices of renunciation, with majestic and divine poise at all times—a sloping forehead as if seeking the heavens, a divine look or countenance, with a large, homely nose, with which he apparently amuses himself by flipping and wiggling it with his fingers in idle moments, like a child; powerful sepia eyes haloed by an ethereal blue hazy ring; clad in simple dress—the common “Dhuti” and a shirt called “Punjabi” (similar to our woolen under-shirts with buttons), both once dyed a strong ochre color, but now only a faded orange shade. He has quite a jovial and rollicking laugh deep in his chest, causing him to shake and quiver throughout his body—very cheerful and sincere. Great wisdom and strength of purpose and determination are very apparent, although I spent every visit in stupid amazement, not knowing the language; his face and stature denote sublime power; he moves with a firm tread and erect posture; hands and fingers also appear powerful. It is interesting to note that he has to merely clap his hands together and ere finishing he is served or attended by some small disciple; incidentally, I am very much attracted by one of his disciples, a thin lad with long black hair to his shoulders and a most penetrating pair of black sparkling eyes, and a heavenly smile through pearly teeth; his eyes twinkle, as the corners of his mouth rise, like the stars and the crescent moon appearing at twilight.
Swami Sri Yukteswarji’s joy seems quite intense at the return of his “product,” and he seems to be somewhat inquisitive about “the product’s product.” Swamiji presented him with some gifts, as is the custom when the disciple goes to his master; they were received with appreciation and joy, for he seemed quite proud to show them to all visitors. Sri Yukteswarji’s thinning hair is parted in the middle, begins a silver, and changes to streaks of silvery-gold and silvery-gray and silvery-black, ending in ringlets or curls at his shoulders; his beard and moustache also are scant or thinned out, but it enhances his character as deep and light at the same time. Pigeons are sharing our quarters in the Ashrama up in the eaves, under the red tile roof.
Next on the program; We were thrilled by sitting down to a larder as guests of Sri Yukteswarji, good, tasty, simple, and plain, all “vegetable and rice” combinations. Sri Yukteswarji was pleased at my grasping onto India’s customs, as “finger-eating,” for example. It all seems like a fairy dream, and any expression of gratitude or emotion on my part would appear coarse in the atmosphere of such divine blessings.
Well, after several hours of Bengali and the exchange of warmth, we bade adieu with a pronam, “saluted” at his feet, or rather, paid obeisance at his feet, and departed with an everlasting memory of a truly divine greeting and meeting and feeding. My only regret was my ignorance of the language, which isolated me from the inner man, the Saint, but I felt, and shall carry that feeling, as my divine blessing.