As I write these words it’s March 7, the 65th anniversary of Paramhansa Yogananda’s mahasamadhi (conscious exit from the body). He left this earth in a dramatic fashion. At a banquet in Los Angeles in honor of the visiting Indian ambassador, after a short and very sweet talk, the great master recited his poem, “My India.” As he read the final lines, his body slipped to the floor, and his soul departed for higher realms. He had predicted the time of his passing and had said that he wanted to die “with his boots on” serving, as he always had, as a teacher and model to all receptive seekers. [Listen to Swami Kriyananda tell the story of Yogananda’s passing.]
A great master’s acts are never without intention, especially such a significant one. Let us look at “My India,” not as just a lovely poem, but as his final words of advice to us. The last touching sentences are:
Hail, Thou mother of religions, lotus, scenic beauties, and great sages!
Thy doors are open wide to welcome
God’s true sons from every corner of the earth,
Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves, and men dream God.
I am hallowed; my body touched that sod!
The essence of the poem is the essence of his entire mission: The Purpose of Life is to Know God. The poem begins:
Not where the musk of happiness blows,
Not in lands where darkness and fears never tread,
Not in homes where unceasing smiles reign,
Nor in Heaven nor prosperous lands
Would I be born.
If once more I must assume a mortal garb,
A thousand famines may wrack my body,
Waste my flesh, and leave me prostrate,
Yet would I be born again in Hindustan.
A million thieves of disease
May steal my flesh,
And clouds of fate
Send scalding showers of searing sorrow—
Yet would I prefer in India to reappear!
. . .
Because it was there I first learned
To love God, and all things beautiful.
Birth and rebirth may seem far off, but each evening’s sleep is like a little death, as we shed awareness of this body and ego. And each morning is a little rebirth, as we awake yet again from the forgotten worlds of slumber. Before we sleep, let us resolve to be reborn in the morning in the state of consciousness where God is foremost. And when we awaken in the morning, let our first thought be, “Let this day, above all else, be dedicated ‘to love God, and all things beautiful.’”
Paramhansa Yogananda begins Autobiography of a Yogi, his spiritual classic, with these words: “The characteristic features of Indian culture have long been a search for ultimate verities and the concomitant disciple-guru relationship.” This, above all else, is India’s gift to the world. If we live in that consciousness, we, too, can say at the end of life, “I am hallowed; my body touched that sod!”
In deepest appreciation,