One night about eleven o’clock, as I (Paramahansa Yogananda) was putting on my shoes in preparation for the ride to the boardinghouse, Master (Sri Yukteswar) questioned me gravely.
“When do your A.B. examinations start?”
“Five days hence, sir.”
“I hope you are in readiness for them.”
Transfixed with alarm, I held one shoe in the air. “Sir,” I protested, “you know how my days have been passed with you rather than with the professors. How can I enact a farce by appearing for those difficult finals?”
Sri Yukteswar’s eyes were turned piercingly on mine. “You must appear.” His tone was coldly peremptory. “We should not give cause for your father and other relatives to criticize your preference for ashram life. Just promise me that you will be present for the examinations; answer them the best way you can.”
Uncontrollable tears were coursing down my face. I felt that Master’s command was unreasonable, and that his interest was, to say the least, belated.
“I will appear if you wish it,” I said amidst sobs. “But no time remains for proper preparation.” Under my breath I muttered, “I will fill up the sheets with your teachings in answer to the questions!”
When I entered the hermitage the following day at my usual hour, I presented my bouquet with a certain mournful solemnity. Sri Yukteswar laughed at my woebegone air.
“Mukunda, has the Lord ever failed you, at an examination or elsewhere?”
“No, sir,” I responded warmly. Grateful memories came in a revivifying flood.
“Not laziness but burning zeal for God has prevented you from seeking college honors,” my guru said kindly. After a silence, he quoted, “‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.’”
For the thousandth time, I felt my burdens lifted in Master’s presence. When we had finished our early lunch, he suggested that I return to the Panthi.
“Does your friend, Romesh Chandra Dutt, still live in your boardinghouse?”
“Get in touch with him; the Lord will inspire him to help you with the examinations.”
“Very well, sir; but Romesh is unusually busy. He is the honor man in our class, and carries a heavier course than the others.”
Master waved aside my objections. “Romesh will find time for you. Now go.”
I bicycled back to the Panthi. The first person I met in the boardinghouse compound was the scholarly Romesh. As though his days were quite free, he obligingly agreed to my diffident request.
“Of course; I am at your service.” He spent several hours of that afternoon and of succeeding days in coaching me in my various subjects.
“I believe many questions in English literature will be centered in the route of Childe Harold,” he told me. “We must get an atlas at once.”
I hastened to the home of my Uncle Sarada and borrowed an atlas. Romesh marked the European map at the places visited by Byron’s romantic traveler.
A few classmates had gathered around to listen to the tutoring. “Romesh is advising you wrongly,” one of them commented to me at the end of a session. “Usually only fifty per cent of the questions are about the books; the other half will involve the authors’ lives.”
When I sat for the examination in English literature the following day, my first glance at the questions caused tears of gratitude to pour forth, wetting my paper. The classroom monitor came to my desk and made a sympathetic inquiry.
“My guru foretold that Romesh would help me,” I explained. “Look; the very questions dictated to me by Romesh are here on the examination sheet! Fortunately for me, there are very few questions this year on English authors, whose lives are wrapped in deep mystery so far as I am concerned!”
My boardinghouse was in an uproar when I returned. The boys who had been ridiculing Romesh’s method of coaching looked at me in awe, almost deafening me with congratulations. During the week of the examinations, I spent many hours with Romesh, who formulated questions that he thought were likely to be set by the professors. Day by day, Romesh’s questions appeared in almost the same form on the examination sheets.
The news was widely circulated in the college that something resembling a miracle was occurring, and that success seemed probable for the absent-minded “Mad Monk.” I made no attempt to hide the facts of the case. The local professors were powerless to alter the questions, which had been arranged by Calcutta University.
Thinking over the examination in English literature, I realized one morning that I had made a serious error. One section of the questions had been divided into two parts of A or B, and C or D. Instead of answering one question from each part, I had carelessly answered both questions in Group I, and had failed to consider anything in Group II. The best mark I could score in that paper would be 33, three less than the passing mark of 36. I rushed to Master and poured out my troubles.
“Sir, I have made an unpardonable blunder. I don’t deserve the divine blessings through Romesh; I am quite unworthy.”
“Cheer up, Mukunda.” Sri Yukteswar’s tones were light and unconcerned. He pointed to the blue vault of the heavens. “It is more possible for the sun and moon to interchange their positions in space than it is for you to fail in getting your degree!”
I left the hermitage in a more tranquil mood, though it seemed mathematically inconceivable that I could pass. I looked once or twice apprehensively into the sky; the Lord of Day appeared to be securely anchored in his customary orbit!
As I reached the Panthi, I overheard a classmate’s remark: “I have just learned that this year, for the first time, the required passing mark in English literature has been lowered.”
I entered the boy’s room with such speed that he looked up in alarm. I questioned him eagerly.
“Long-haired monk,” he said laughingly, “why this sudden interest in scholastic matters? Why cry in the eleventh hour? But it is true that the passing mark has just been lowered to 33 points.”
A few joyous leaps took me into my own room, where I sank to my knees and praised the mathematical perfections of my Divine Father.
Every day I thrilled with the consciousness of a spiritual presence that I clearly felt to be guiding me through Romesh. A significant incident occurred in connection with the examination in Bengali. Romesh, who had touched little on that subject, called me back one morning as I was leaving the boardinghouse on my way to the examination hall.
“There is Romesh shouting for you,” a classmate said to me impatiently. “Don’t return; we shall be late at the hall.”
Ignoring the advice, I ran back to the house.
“The Bengali examination is usually easily passed by our Bengali boys,” Romesh told me. “But I have just had a hunch that this year the professors have planned to massacre the students by asking questions from our ancient literature.” My friend then briefly outlined two stories from the life of Vidyasagar, a renowned philanthropist.
I thanked Romesh and quickly bicycled to the college hall. The examination sheet in Bengali proved to contain two parts. The first instruction was: “Write two instances of the charities of Vidyasagar.” As I transferred to the paper the lore that I had so recently acquired, I whispered a few words of thanksgiving that I had heeded Romesh’s last-minute summons. Had I been ignorant of Vidyasagar’s benefactions to mankind (including ultimately myself), I could not have passed the Bengali examination. Failing in one subject, I would have been forced to stand examination anew in all subjects the following year. Such a prospect was understandably abhorrent.
The second instruction on the sheet read: “Write an essay in Bengali on the life of the man who has most inspired you.” Gentle reader, I need not inform you what man I chose for my theme. As I covered page after page with praise of my guru, I smiled to realize that my muttered prediction was coming true: “I will fill up the sheets with your teachings!”
I had not felt inclined to question Romesh about my course in philosophy. Trusting my long training under Sri Yukteswar, I safely disregarded the textbook explanations. The highest mark given to any of my papers was the one in philosophy. My score in all other subjects was just barely within the passing mark.
It is a pleasure to record that my unselfish friend Romesh received his own degree cum laude.
Father was wreathed in smiles at my graduation. “I hardly thought you would pass, Mukunda,” he confessed. “You spend so much time with your guru.” Master had indeed correctly detected the unspoken criticism of my father.
For years I had been uncertain that I would ever see the day when an A.B. would follow my name. I seldom use the title without reflecting that it was a divine gift, conferred on me for reasons somewhat obscure. Occasionally I hear college men remark that very little of their crammed knowledge remained with them after graduation. That admission consoles me a bit for my undoubted academic deficiencies.
On the day I received my degree from Calcutta University, I knelt at my guru’s feet and thanked him for all the blessings flowing from his life into mine.
“Get up, Mukunda,” he said indulgently. “The Lord simply found it more convenient to make you a graduate than to rearrange the sun and moon!”