Selection from Yogananda's Indian Diaries:
That night we were due at a Hari Krishna
kirtan at the factory (wait till that happens in America, boy!) in
Rishra, a town a few miles away. A car would be arriving at the ashram
soon to take us there. So once again we had to wrap ourselves in the
guerra robes we had worn to the other factory the week before.
Upon arrival at the factory compound, Baba,
with Jiten and we Americans all in tow, went to the homes of a few
devotees who lived there to say hello and salute the household deities.
After the rounds had been made, we walked over to the kirtan compound, a
small square area with a temporary tent in the middle, where 200 or 300
people had gathered. The chanting was already in full chorus as Baba
arrived and was greeted by the managers of the event. We removed our
sandals, Baba prostrated on the ground to the image of Radha Govinda in
the temple. A large group of people immediately gathered behind him and
then everyone began to promenade around the temple, enthusiastically
chanting the Hari Krishna mantra. Looking straight ahead, Baba took
short marching steps in time with the music and appeared to be in a
transport of rapture. I was amazed. Then one of the most unearthly
scenes I have ever witnessed began.
Baba was immediately possessed by the force of so many people chanting together. Raising his arms, he sang Krishna’s name loudly. In a few moments the expression of his godly personality was rising to a crescendo, and the air was charged with its overwhelming presence. It was as if a nuclear bomb of God-consciousness was blowing up right in front of me, to see Baba pouring forth his torrent of contagious devotion. Startling, vivid expressions of entrancement crossed his face as he held his arms high and led the kirtan, inspiring the crowd to louder and faster chanting. I looked into those magnificent eyes, trying desperately to understand the storm of divine passion that was raging behind them, but all I could do was stand in awe, feebly mumbling the words of the mantra and trying to retain the poise I was rapidly losing. "The very kirtan of Chaitanya himself! Lord of the Angels! Christ in His highest glory!" – flash after flash of reaction to the intensity of the scene before me tumbled through my mind like every-mounting trumpet fanfare. Never in my entire life had I beheld anything like this.
Baba took a pair of cymbals in hand and danced opposite the mridingam (double ended drum) player. He strode forwards and back quickly, first stepping to bend far forward, slamming the kartols together with the outstretched arms, then straightening up and leaning back, bellowing "Hari Bol" ("Say Hari) at the top of his lungs. Every motion was perfect. It was the eternal movement of all nature before me, grace and power dancing together at their highest exaltation. The people were electrified and responded with increasingly fervent singing and clapping of hands.
Leading everyone around the temple again and chanting loudly, Baba started to stagger. Just as a rising musical pitch becomes inaudible at a certain point to the ear, I sensed that the rising tide of Baba consciousness would soon leave him senseless to the outer world. I stood behind him, and a minute later he fell back into my arms, completely limp save his upraised hands which still clutched the kartols. He was in deep samadhi.
Shouting over the din, I told Bill to help me lift him. With some others we managed to carry him over to a low wooden platform just outside of the compound and lay him down there. A huge crowd gathered immediately to watch us. I bent down next to him and loudly chanted, "Hari Om" into his right ear in an attempt to revive him, as Bill, Mike Madhu and Charlene looked on in amazement. Much to our relief, after about 5 minutes, during which his pulse was low but breathing normal, Baba came around. He sat up and crossed his legs in the lotus position appearing as though he was very drunk. He didn’t say anything, nor did he seem aware of the throng that was watching him in awe. Everything must have appeared to him as an ocean of consciousness at that moment. Seeing a small scrap of paper lying in front of him, he picked it up, looked at it intently and chanted, "Om". To secure it’s benediction he placed it on top of his head of awhile, and then stiffed it inside his shirt next to his heart. Was not this piece of trash the all-pervading One itself, and he not it’s humble devotee?
Coming back down from the trance a little, he looked at me and said, "Ganja Ganja!" (Indian cigarette). In order to keep his mind from skyrocketing back into trance, he needed some trifling involvement with the physical plane, such as a bidi. I hastily provided him with one and some matches, but he couldn’t strike the match alight correctly, repeatedly hitting the top of the matchbook instead. After having finally lit his bidi, he took a puff, looked at me again and said, "Ganja," with a tone of great amusement, and broke out laughing. Baba managed to remain collected long enough to get a few drags on his cigarette, but the momentum of his ecstasy was still moving and he was again carried away with it.
Holding his clenched fists next to his chest, he flapped his arms against his sides and hopped up and down with his legs still in the lotus position, laughing exuberantly. At this I again started to chant, "Hari Om" and upon hearing it, he looked at me and calmed down. However, no sooner did I stop chanting than did he start hopping and flapping again. We went through this routine two or three times, and then he finally settled down and began gazing at the moon, which had just risen and was nearly full.
Closing his eyes, he began to meditate. His body started to tremble, as the Kundalini made it’s way up towards the highest chakra in the brain. He hunched up his shoulders to make his back straigten as the force of the tremors increased and remained like this for about five minutes. Later on we learned that he had experienced Nirvakalpa Samadhi at the time. Any suggestion of the Divine, it seemed, would tend to draw his mind into trance. Before that nght, he had, on a few occasions, given me instructions on the Kundalini, and when he had done so, he displayed the same symptoms of the rise of Kundalini that I now saw. He would tremble, sitting erect with shoulders held high and look at me, eyes opened wide and displaying great feeling. Before tonight he had managed to restrain himself, but now, overwhelmed by the name of God, he lost himself in the bliss of the Formless, while a multitude looked on.
All of a sudden, Baba came to. Back in the normal state of awareness, he was listening to the kirtan, and softly singing along. He would gaze at each of us in turn, smiling sweetly and chanting gently. Somebody brought tea for us and after finishing it, Baba led us back into the compound for another round of kirtan.
He was no less restrained than before, except that this time he didn’t swoon. Dancing to and fro in tandem with the mridringang player, he exuded the same leonine grace. Through endless choruses of "Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hari, Hari, Hari Rama, Hari Rama, Rama, Rama, Hari, Hari," he whirled and cavorted, immersed in the pulsing rhythm of the kirtan. There was no self-consciousness or ostentation in his movements. In them was the perfection of mandalas and fugues. Time, however, was running out for those of us still aware of its demands, and Bill and I knew that Jaya Ma was home waiting for her Lord and sons to return.
Bill moved to a position just in front of Baba, raised his arms, and while singing the kirtan, slowly started to back Baba out of the compound. Soon Baba realized his intention, and prepared to leave. He stood in front of the diety in the temple on one leg in silent communion with it, while Bill, Mike and myself scattered flowers over his head. Then Baba made his prostrations and we all went home.
It was Holi Din, the Festival of Colors. On this day, determined by the full moon, figurines of Radha and Govinda, seated in a swing, are worshipped in India. People throw brightly colored dyes over one another, and clay images are borne through the streets with great eclat. This day is further sanctified by the birth of Sri Chaitanya, the 16th century prophet of bhakti yoga and Hare Krishna chanting, who is popularly believed to be an Incarnation of God. Indeed, even Sri Ramakrishna remarked that he had been Sri Chaitanya in a former birth. Today, then, I was to receive formal initiation into the deep and serious relationship of disciple and guru with Baba, who had become the focal point of my life. I need not reiterate the story of all the tears shed for this day. It’s enough to say that my joy was boundless at having lived to see it.
We woke up at 7:30 and attended Baba’s morning puja in the Kali Temple. After a period of meditation, I felt a hand on my head, and opened my eyes to see Baba standing on one leg, bestowing his benediction. He then told me to eat sparingly that day so that the body would be sensitive to spiritual currents. I told that it was my mother’s birthday, and he told me to keep the fact in mind (when I got Back to America my Mom informed me that I was one off-her birthday was the day before).
After breakfast, a bizarre scene unfolded. We were sitting in the temple with Madhu, who was leading a kirtan. Outside, the Holi Din festivities were in full swing, with drums sounding loudly and scores of people running about throwing the dye over each other. Suddenly, Madhu keeled over and slumped onto the floor, evidently in a trance.
He lay there for a few seconds before any of us got over to him, then sat up suddenly for a few seconds, evidently shaking his head from side to side, waving his arms and legs and laughing maniacally. Then he fell back, lying limply on the floor. Baba, hearing the emotion, came in and assessed the situation immediately. He kneeled next to him, and chanting "Hari Om" into his ear, quickly revived him. Madhu got up, showing signs of having had a superconscious experience, and was soon reoriented. Baba then instructed him to sit quietly and refrain from further chanting, and left.
We asked Madhu what had happened and got the following account:
First, he felt protection of diety-
"under cobra’s hood."
"At first I saw blue light, as an ecstatic feeling prevailed. There was no consciousness of the body. Then came two points of white light against a field of darkness, which seemed to me to be eyes of Kali. After that, I experienced a sense of Sri Ramakrishna’s presence."
When told about the physical convulsion he’d had, he was surprised, saying that he’d only seen the light. He then remained sitting quietly, and I left to take Bill’s guitar out of the temple, afraid that it might get damaged if the excitement started up again.
And it did. Shortly after I returned to take a seat and begin chanting with Mike, Madhu again went wild. This time, however, he tried to get up, laughing hysterically, only to be restrained with some effort by Mike. I ran to the patio, and shouted to Baba to come in, and he hastily complied. Embracing Madhu, who was already being forcefully restrained from moving by Mike, Baba again attempted to bring him back, displaying great emotion. Madhu was in a state of bhava samadhi, and Baba himself, as we were later to learn, was slowly becoming ecstatic in sympathetic resonance with him.
Charlene and Jaya Ma came into the temple to see what the fuss was all about. Jaya Ma just stood there impassively, fanning Baba and Madhu as their minds blasted off into the angelic realms, and it seemed that this sort of thing must have been commonplace for her. But Charlene was distraught, for this state was rare for her husband, and this was the first time she’d seen it. I called over to her to tell her that everything was under control, even if it looked like anything but that, and that Baba would calm things down soon enough. She didn’t seem very consoled, but nevertheless kept a grip on herself.
Soon Madhu quieted down, still feeling the high mood but kneeling peacefully. Baba, now lying on the floor with his head on Madhu’s lap, was then the one absorbed in bhava samadhi. Shaking with the ascension of the spiritual current, he wept aloud, moaning "Ramakrishna Pahimam, Ramakrishna Rakshaman"( Ramakrishna, Lord; Ramakrishna, Savior) in a rhythmic chant. In that state of intoxication, the fact of his attitude of complete surrender to Ramakrishna, the same surrender Chaitanya had for Krishna—who was none other than himself in a former Incarnation, was revealed.
(Here I mused: Come to the earth to spread not only the meditation on the Formless but, also, the worship of God with Form; the avatar’s challenge lies in the fact that, while he himself is the highest expression of God with Form, his mission is to exemplify the godly qualities of humility and egolessness necessary for spiritual enlightenment. Therefore, he cannot tout the fact of his identity before one and all nor accept worship indiscreetly. Those people who claim to be avatars, seeking publicity and followers, can be recognized as fools by their very claims. Indeed, Sri Ramakrishna remarked in the course of his life, "This time it is in secret." So to fulfill his mission, the avatar points to former Incarnations as being worthiest of adoration, never equating himself with them openly.)
Baba’s samadhi eventually came to an end, Madhu was collected, eyes shining with the residual effect of his ecstasy, and everybody’s nerves loosened up. Later, we all took our seats outside the west door of the Kali Temple, and Baba informed me that after my initiation I was to experience bhava samadhi within six months. I was happy to hear about that, but wondered how long it would take. The talk drifted on to other things, and somewhere along the course of it, I told Madhu that I thought that Baba even resembled Ramakrishna physically. Baba asked in a sweet tone what I had said, and Madhu told him. His reaction was vehement. He stood up and forcefully said again what he already told us several times since we had arrived-"Ami hote chi na, tumi hao, Bhagavan"
(I don't want to be, let you alone exist, God).
I had made the mistake of verbalizing an understanding that, for my part, should have been left unsaid, and I was taking my medicine for it.
"Me?" Baba demanded, and mimicked spitting, as if on himself, for emphasis.
I had disturbed him with my insinuation, and I felt stupid. But, nonetheless, it was a wonderful demonstration of Baba's instant humility and renunciation of self.
Just then somebody came up and handed me a book as we were sitting there. Baba wanted to see it, so I gave it to him. He became very excited saying "thank you, God" as he came across a photo of Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi the in book, and held it before me. The book was a commemorative volume about Sister Nivedita, the famous disciple of Vivekananda, and it struck me as doubly significant because Baba had told Charlene the night before that she had been Sister Nivedita in her previous life, so that she might be more informed about the implications of that. I had told Charlene that I would try to get a book about Nivedita for her to read, and now such a book was being placed in my very hands. Charlene was pleased to see the book arrive, and took it off to read.
Baba went into the temple to do his noon puja, and asked the Mother for permission to initiate us. The flowers fell in consent, and Baba's apprentice in the priestly duties of Kali worship, a Brahmin by name Guru, brought them out to us and told us that the Mother had given permission for our dikka.
Presently, the preparations for the initiation ceremony commenced. Bill, Mike, Madhu and I entered the temple. Mike, impressed by what he had seen last night and today, had decided to go ahead with receiving dikka, much to everyone's delight. Madhu would translate, and Guru would assist in the rites. In the center of the floor, Guru was preparing a square brick platform, about 18 inches long on each side and few inches high, on which the homa fire, the final part of the ritual, would be burned. As we took our seats in front of the brick burner, and Bill, and Mike and I wrapped ourselves in the ochre shawls we wore for meditation, I had a tremendous realization.
I had had a dream some months before I left for India of Bill, myself and a third unknown person wearing ochre shawls and sitting in a room in front of a small, square and slightly raised brown object on the floor with Baba sitting on the other side of it facing us. When I woke up, I thought that I had dreamed of my initiation, and felt thankfully elated. Now, as I watch Guru cover the bricks of the burner platform on which the homa was to be built with sand, I realized that it had been the brown object which I had seen in my dream and that the entire dream had come true with startling accuracy. It was a case of genuine precognition, a blessing bestowed upon me by Baba to give me the faith I so badly needed during those final, desperate months preceding my arrival in India.
Guru drew an eight-petal lotus in the sand with a stick, then took different colored dyes and colored in the lotus petals with blue, yellow, red, and black. Meanwhile, Baba prepared the small, woolen mats on which Mike and I were henceforth to practice meditation by drawing a red triangle with a dot in the center on one side of each mat. The triangle represented the Muladhara Chakra, which is the lowest energy center in the subtle body where the kundalini Sakti dwells. Baba instructed us to use them whenever we sat for spiritual practice, as power had been invested in them.
To begin the ceremony, Baba sat facing the deity and meditated for a short period. I also sat erect and closed my eyes, as the spiritual atmosphere was starting to intensify, and I wanted to receive initiation in the best possible frame of mind. Then Baba placed a flower on the image of Kali, and asked her if I would have Jyoti Darshan (vision of light) and Atma Drishti (self-realization). I watched the flower fall in assent, with a feeling of deep wonder. "Very well then! So be it!" I thought as Guru handed me the flower to be treasured as a keepsake of the event. Next, Baba asked the Mother, by the same means, if Mike would develop a deep Prema. Again, the flower fell in assent. Guru recorded the answers in a book.
The puja to Mother being complete, Baba turned to face us. He spoke to Madhu who translated: "Do you accept Baba as your guru?" Mike and I said "yes" in turn.
Then, "if you had $100,000, would you give it to Baba"? I replied in the affirmative and Mike, after some deliberation, did likewise. It should be mentioned, though, that it was really an allegorical question Baba tested disciples with, and that a large sum of money was not at all the subject of the question. One hundred thousand dollars really meant one's all in all, the attitude of complete surrender to the guru, whom Baba enjoined us to look upon as God himself.
Baba left his seat in front of the Mother and stood before me. He held his two fists in front of me and asked me to pick one. Which hand has the M&Ms flashed through my mind, and I chose the right. Baba opened the hand to reveal a slip of paper with "OM" written on it.
I was asked to place my hands on the floor so that Baba might place his feet on top of them. This accomplished, Baba looked at me steadfastly while Madhu told me to put my tongue out. I did so, and Baba wrote a mantra on my tongue with his finger. He straightened up, still standing on my hands, and gazed intently in my eyes.
Then he placed his hands on my hand. "Look at your guru," I was instructed by Bill. Time stopped, arrested by the power of Baba's fiercely penetrating eyes as they poured forth thier blessing into the inmost recesses of my soul. At his request, then, I recited two Sanskrit chants:
His gaze became softer, the eyelids lowering slightly, and I knew his mind was ascending to the state of union with the deity that lived within his body. Stepping over to my right side, he cupped his hands to his mouth and whispered the mantra of initiation into my ear. This was the Guru Mantra, the Sanskrit syllables most suited to the disciple's vibration, and its therapeutic effect would be instrumental in bringing about higher states of consciousness.
Next came Mike's turn, and the procedure was repeated for him, Baba standing on his hands and whispering the mantra, etc.
The homa fire was now built upon the burner, and soon it was blazing strongly. After Baba would repeat a Sanskrit verse, we would take a ladle full of ghee (clarified butter), pour it into the fire, and chant "Swaha!" and offer some nuts and seeds to the fire. I didn't understand the meaning of the verses, but the spiritual mood was so palpable at the time that it didn't matter. After many verses, oblations, and choruses of "Swaha!" the ceremony was complete, and Mike and I were bound to our guru for all time.
Baba then gave us various instructions for the practice of meditation, and told us about various spiritual experiences we could expect, but, concerning them, we were enjoined to secrecy. An old yogic maxim advises, "Yoga practiced in secret flowers, but when revealed, loses its strength." Baba told me in verification of this, that if visions or other kinds of yogic states were disclosed to others, the force behind them would be lost, and a setback in meditation would be suffered. Even in the Bible, Christ instructs his disciples to practice prayer in secrecy.
As well as having been initiated into discipleship with Baba, he told us then that we were now Brahmins of the Narayana Gutra subcast, "Before now, you couldn't chant the Gayatri mantra, but now you may," he said. "And you have the right to chant the Gayatri mantra." Frankly, I didn't see the relevance of the new status accorded me, nor could I agree with the idea that the Gayatri manta, a beautiful chant in praise of the sun, was the exclusive property of the Brahmin caste. But feeling that there may be a significance to Baba's pronouncement that could only be grasped with time, as well as having the conviction that the entire issue of caste was rather peripheral to the job of finding God, I let it ride.
The dikka ceremony was now complete, and henceforth Baba considered us as having been reborn on that day. Later on during my stay at the ashram, he would tell me, "You're only one month, or you're only two months old," to explain how spiritual growth takes time.
(At some point during the ceremony-my notes are unclear here-he also showed a rock that he said contained the image of Kali. "Do you see it ?" he asked us.
We went outside the temple, we pranamed Baba, and as I touched my head to his feet, he was talking to Madhu about me, mentioning the names of Trailanga Swami, a famous sage of Benares and Tota Puri, Sri Ramakrishna's Vedatic Guru. I asked Madhu if Baba had said I was Trailanga Swami in my previous birth, and Baba, told of my question, said, "No, Tota Puri. Before he came as a guru, now he has come as a disciple. All of Sri Ramakrishna's devotees have been born in America."
It figured. The traits of Tota Puri, namely, tall, thin physique, an intolerance for Bhakti philosophy (later outgrown) and absorption in non-dualistic meditation could still be discerned. Basically, what happened to Tota Puri is this: Before meeting Sri Ramakrishna, the ascetic monk had practiced meditation for 40 years, and finally could enter the state of nirvikalpa samadhi. But, although the non-dual state was accessible to him, his ego was not yet fully destroyed.
Some pride and intolerance towards devotional forms of sadhana remained. Coming to Dakshineswar and meeting the Master, he became entranced with Sri Ramakrishna's wonderful personality and stayed 11 months, teaching him Vedantic philosophy and listening to the Master's point of view. But his ego did arise on a few occasions, once when he ridiculed the master for clapping his hands and doing bhajan, and again, when he was ready to strike a man who had come to light his pipe from Tota's sacred Dhuni fire. Ramakrishna corrected him on both occasions, and Tota acknowledged his error. After the vision of Kali, which he had after attempting to drown himself (he'd had dysentery and finally decided to give up his body), he understood everything, as the Master put it years later, and left Dakshineswar for good. Why Tota had to incarnate as Yogananda was a mystery that I was not to understand until after Baba's second American visit. Later on, when Roberta went to visit Baba in India, he affirmed to her that I was Tota Puri.
He told us Madhu's past had also been revealed. Baba had informed him that he was the Incarnation of Valmiki, who composed the Ramayana and is considered the Shakespeare of Sanskrit verse, and later on, Tukaram, the Marathi poet-saint. That Tukaram was Valmiki's Incarnation is a fact currently unknown, I believe, but concerning these sages and Madhu, I don't have enough information to draw any enlightening parallels. Suffice it to say that it was starting to get rather surreal around the ashram that afternoon, with all these illustrious characters from the past running around disguised as bound souls with earthly problems.
After the initiation was over, I had a conversation with Madhu on the north porch of the Kali Temple during which some more facts came to light. Briefly discussing the question of who had been who at Ananda Ashram. Madhu wanted to know about Bill's past life. Letting out a monumental secret, I confided to him that he had been Swami Vivekananda in his previous birth, Baba having told him so directly. Madhu had had some inkling of this through a dream he had had in America in which Mataji pointed out the fact to him. In another dream, he had also seen Baba. Madhu related how Baba had looked at his palm and said, "I don't understand why you are not a sannyasi. You have the sign of a sannyasi on your palm." Madhu then showed me the said mark, two lines on either side of the heart line joined it where it rises, forming a trident. I found the same mark on my own palm as well.
Madhu then told me that he had been talking with Baba earlier that day during which Baba had declared that our initiation was of a very high order, owing to five events which he saw as signs indicative of this. The first two "signs" had taken place the night before when Baba had experienced 1) bhava samadhi during kirtan and 2) nirvikalpa samadhi while seated in the lotus position. The next three signs had taken place earlier in the day when 3) Madhu had bhava samadhi twice (During the second trance, he had a vision of Sri Ramakrishna entering Baba's body.), 4) Baba also had bhava samadhi, and 5) When the Nivedita commemorative book containing Ramakrishna's photo was brought to the ashram. Baba had given initiation to hundreds of people locally, mostly householders unfit by their living circumstances for intensive sadhana. Because we, on the hand, were young, single men with very few worldly responsibilities, we could dedicate our lives towards enlightenment, first of ourselves, then of others. Thus the Mother, acting through Baba, made our initiation an intense infusion of inspiration into our souls.
That night, after our usual evening meditation, as we crossed the courtyard to begin our usual perambulation of the Kali Temple, Baba pointed at the full moon, which had just begun to rise. By gazing at the full moon, he instructed us, one can develop prema, love of God. Only when the moon is full, he noted, is it's light free from the influence of the gunas (Tama Guna--inertia, Raja Guna—restlessness, and Sattva-Guna—virtue and equipoise).
A few nights earlier he had shown us how two colors, blue and red, where visible on either side of the waxing moon, these represented Tamas and Rajas, the white of the moon itself being Sattva. Now, these colors could not be seen in support of his statement. Ramakrishna had told Vivekananda of this practice, and they had spent many nights together watching the full moon, he added. The sun, however, should not be gazed at because it always emits Tama Guna, and can harm the eyes, Baba warned. After saluting the Mother in the Temple and finishing our meal, we gathered for some kirtan outside of Baba's room, and happily sang the praises of God for a while.
Then a conversation started, most of which I couldn't follow. Baba suddenly looked at me, and spoke to Madhu, who relayed question. "When Baba was in samadhi last night, why did you chant 'Hari Om' into his ear?" "Because in the 'Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita (R.K. Gospel)' and 'Sri Ramakrishna Lila Prasanga (The Great Master),' it is written that when the Master was in samadhi 'Hari Om' would be chanted into his ear to revive him," I replied.
Baba understood my English directly and responded enthusiastically. "One Kathamrita," he said, referring to the "Gospel of R.K.," then glanced at Mike, seated next to him, and slapped him on the knee exuberantly saying, "One Rakhal."
He had just revealed Mike's true identity as Swami Brahmananda, the "spiritual son" of Sri Ramakrishna, proclaimed by Sri Ramakrishna as an ishwarkoti, or eternal companion of the avatar, who, in the avatar's company, incarnates again and again to teach humanity. Rakhal was, according to the Master, an intimate friend of Sri Krishna during his pastoral days as cowherd in Vrindaban. The particulars of Brahmananda's life are well documented, and he is generally regarded as having been second only to Vivekananda in his spirituality and efforts to help mankind. Similarly, that day at the dikka ceremony, Baba had said that Nityananda was a "little Premananda." President of the Ramakrishna Order from 1897 to 1922 (his mahasamadhi), Brahmananda exemplified a life of realization to many devotees, both householding and monastic. And here he was again, along for the ride with the Avatar, in the person of our dear brother, Mike D'Angelo.
The discussion broke up, and unsure of just whose identity, in which cycle born, or in whose body so sleepy, I crawled into bed and slept soundly.
III. Good Friday
It was Good Friday, and the intensity of feeling at the ashram generated by the events of Holi Din still lingered. Before breakfast, Bill told Baba that the spirit of the day for him was one of mourning and, therefore, he would like to fast that day. Baba tenderly suggested that it was not necessary for him to fast. "There's no need of it today. If you don't eat anything today, I will feel sad. You can at least take one piece of fruit," he explained.
However, Bill was obstinate. "But on this day Christ died," he objected. "My grief will not permit me to eat."
Baba's expression became emphatic. "Christ is not dead!" he asserted, trying to correct the misimpression of his beloved disciple.
Bill, visibly disappointed at being overridden, accepted Baba's decision silently, and joined us for breakfast.
Here it would be helpful to mention how Ramakrishna and Baba looked upon Jesus Christ. Sri Ramakrishna had the vision of Christ merging into his own body during his sadhana period, but the Master's most important reference to him that was recorded by M., author of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, is conspicuously absent in Swami Nikhilananda translation. However, in Swami Abedananda's (who broke off from the R.K. Order to start his own organization) abridged edition of this original English translation, the following statement, spoken by the Master on his deathbed at the Cossipore garden house, can be found: "He who was Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Chaitanya is now in this body as Sri Ramakrishna." Sri Ramakrishna was all the avatars.
Did Nikhilananda delete the reference deliberately in order to make his translation more acceptable to the Western intelligentsia, many of whom had been born Christian, to whom he catered during his years at the New York Ramakrishna Center? Perhaps so. But anyway, although many people may not know it, Sri Ramakrishna definitively stated that he was Christ during his lifetime.
Baba had told us a few days before Good Friday that he hadn't read the Bible or otherwise studied Christianity at all, but that he had seen the whole scene of the Crucifixion and understood the truth of Christ's identity in a dream. Stretching his arms out to represent the Crucifixion, Baba said "Yesuchristo" (as Christ is called in Bengali), tilted his head to the side, and looked up as if to God. His conviction about Christ, as he told me, was that he was a Yugavatar, the principal Incarnation of the previous era in civilization, just as he felt Sri Ramakrishna to be the primary avatar of the present age.
After breakfast, Bill set up an altar for a special puja he intended to do. The principal object of worship was a large-framed picture of a monk taking Christ off the cross. Only one hand is free, and the Lord is looking down at the monk with compassion. Three carved wooden crosses, with leather thongs for wearing, and our names in Bengali attached to them on pieces of paper that Mike and Bill had made for the day's worship, adorned the altar, along with a Bengali Bible we had borrowed from a convent in Chandernagore. Various other articles of worship were also there.
As soon as Baba saw the altar, he came over and stood before it, holding his arms out in the Crucifix position he'd shown us the other day. His eyes were open wide, gazing at the altar. He was standing with the left big toe over the right, perhaps suggesting which foot had been nailed over the other when Christ hung on the cross. His body trembled with the upsurge of spiritual emotion, and all I could think was that Christ himself was standing before me. Jaya came out of the temple and gazed at Baba while leaning against the wall. She, too, was absorbed in watching him and looked as holy and pure to me as the Blessed Virgin must have felt while hearing the angels recite the Magnificat. The intensity of Baba's eyes as they stared at Christ's picture cannot be exaggerated. His mind was totally concentrated on Christ, and in that burning gaze was the suggestion of a limitless consciousness.
Baba stood thus for a seemingly endless period, and then lowered his arms and asked Joya Ma to bring some sandesh from the temple. Kneeling in front of the altar, he offered the sweets to the image, and then cupping his hands in supplication, wept for the grace of Christ. Then, seeming as though the grace had been received, he placed his hands on top of his head as if to anoint himself with it. He remained kneeling before the altar in prayer for a moment, then went into the temple to do his morning puja to the Mother.
Bill took his seat before the altar to commence this puja, and stayed absorbed in japa and kirtan for about an hour. Baba, having finished his devotions, came back to the altar, picked up the crosses and read the name tags attached to them. Holding mine in one hand and Bill's and Mike's in the other, he again assumed the Crucifix pose, and stood transfixed in meditation.
Then he turned to face me, and I knelt before him. Looking at me fixedly, he placed the cross around my neck and put his hand on my head. Bill and Mike were, likewise, invested with their crosses, then Baba silently walked off.
Bill and Debu, a local man about 25 years old whom we had befriended, had prepared a taped reading in Bengali from the Gospel of John, where Christ becomes totally candid about himself at the Last Supper. As intended, we played it for Baba, who was resting in his room, and he appreciated it immensely. When it was over, Baba showed us the forms of the avatars. Starting with Christ, he took off his robe, and taking a long towel, tied it tightly about his loins to show us that was all Christ had worn at some point. Then he again demonstrated Christ on the cross.
Picking up the robe he'd laid aside, he put it on himself, apron style, tied at the back of the neck with the back exposed. Raising his arms over his head, he said, "Chaitanya." Then he rearranged his robe so that it tied over his left shoulder only, raising his right hand and lowering his left. "Ramakrishna," he announced, displaying the form of the Master of Dakshineswar. After this cryptic exposition, he lay down for his afternoon nap. Bill remained to fan him, and I left the room.
As well as displaying the forms of the avatars, Baba had twice shown me the face of Kali, leering ghoulishly. Of all the unusual expressions I saw on Baba's face, this one was by far the most striking, and to my mind, alone was proof of his union with Her.
We learned from Madhu that Baba has said of himself that he has four forms, namely, that of a child, a madman, a Baul (religious mendicants, neither Hindu nor Muslim, who roam about Bengal singing the name of God), and a Rishi (sage). Baba's state was always changing. One never knew what to expect next, but sometimes I could see how Baba's statement about the four forms was true. When discussing yoga and philosophy, he was cogent and sober, like a sage, but a large group of people doing kirtan inevitably brought out the Baul side, as we'd seen two nights before. Around women, in general, and Jaya Ma, especially, he behaved like a sweet child (but never childishly). And, as for the madman form, he often acted mad, but as the Spanish philosopher Igaset put it, "
"Those who dance are thought mad by those who don't hear the music."
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