It was in the fall of 1966 that I found Autobiography of a Yogi, although in truth I think it found me. It was a time of great transition in my life. I had graduated from college and moved to San Francisco a few months earlier, and was just starting out as an independent adult. I was looking for a direction, having felt that my major in college, psychology, was simply not capable of answering the questions I had long been asking. I was interested in awareness, in the scope of human consciousness, and in happiness. More schooling was not going to give me what I was seeking. And yet, where was I to turn? I had long abandoned religion, at least the formalized “Churchianity” I was given in my youth.
“Doctor, please help me. I think that I’m really sick,” the worried patient said. “My body hurts all over: when I touch my arm, it hurts; when I touch my chest, it hurts; when I touch my head, it hurts.”
This morning Devi and I spoke with someone who was feeling overwhelmed and a little guilty because he couldn’t keep up with all the “should do’s” on the spiritual path. I doubt if there is a devotee alive who hasn’t had these same thoughts. On the one hand, there are hundreds of techniques, habits, and attitudes that could be helpful. On the other hand, we have to face the reality of living in this world with multiple responsibilities and limited time.
The troubled young man knelt amidst the crumbling ruins of the chapel and prayed. A few years earlier he had been a carefree youth who enjoyed partying with his friends. Then a war came, and he joined the army looking for adventure. Captured in one of the battles, he was held prisoner for a year and suffered from recurring high fevers.
September 12th is the anniversary of the day in 1948 when Swami Kriyananda first met Paramhansa Yogananda. Those of us who are members of Ananda consider this day as our collective “Spiritual Birthday.” Devi and I are in Italy and will celebrate this sacred occasion by giving a talk to several hundred people at a Yoga Festival in Rome.
“Can the practice of yoga help me in daily life?” New students, looking for practical solutions to their problems, often ask this question.
Nearly thirty years ago a member of Ananda, Dr. Peter Van Houten, started a medical clinic, which has grown over the years to now serve over 5,000 people. People coming to the clinic often hope for a quick fix, a shot or pill to make them well or at least ease their symptoms. The clinic is in a relatively poor rural area and many of the patients smoke, drink, and use drugs. Dr. Peter knows that he will see these same patients again. And again. And again.
“Will I ever leave the spiritual path?” a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda once asked him. “How could you?” the Master replied. “Everyone in the world is on the spiritual path.”
A yogi told me this story: “I was walking in the jungle with a companion when I tripped and accidentally gashed my leg very badly. Although we knew it would be dangerous to stay the night, I was unable to walk, and the situation looked bad. My companion, who had been trained as a healer, raised his hands and slowly began to turn in a circle. After some time he went to a tree, picked some leaves, and made a poultice. As soon as he applied it the bleeding stopped, and we were able to continue. He explained that he was unfamiliar with the herbs in that area and was asking the plants for help. The tree had offered its leaves and, if needed, would also have transferred its life-force to me.” The yogi (Swami Gyanananda) concluded by showing me a faint scar that looked as if it were many years old, although only two weeks had passed.
“Would any of you like to join me on a camping trip to Mt. Shasta?” With his characteristic enthusiasm and joy, Swami Kriyananda extended this invitation to a small group of us one morning. Swamiji had been asked to give a talk in nearby Shasta City and decided to combine this with a short vacation.