[Sri Yukteswar’s Serampore hermitage was] large, ancient and well-built, the hermitage was surrounded by a massive-pillared courtyard. Outer walls were moss-covered; pigeons fluttered over the flat gray roof, unceremoniously sharing the ashram quarters. A rear garden was pleasant with jackfruit, mango, and plantain trees.
Balustraded balconies of upper rooms in the two-storied building faced the courtyard from three sides. A spacious ground-floor hall, with high ceiling supported by colonnades, was used, Master (Sri Yukteswar) said, chiefly during the annual festivities of Durgapuja. A narrow stairway led to Sri Yukteswar’s sitting room, whose small balcony overlooked the street.
The ashram was plainly furnished; everything was simple, clean, and utilitarian. Several Western styled chairs, benches, and tables were in evidence.
Daily life at the ashram flowed smoothly, infrequently varied. My (Paramhansa Yogananda’s) guru awoke before dawn. Lying down, or sometimes sitting on the bed, he entered a state of samadhi. It was simplicity itself to discover when Master had awakened: abrupt halt of stupendous snores. A sigh or two; perhaps a bodily movement. Then a soundless state of breathlessness: he was in deep yogic joy.
Breakfast did not follow; first came a long walk by the Ganges. Those morning strolls with my guru — how real and vivid still! In the easy resurrection of memory, I often find myself by his side: the early sun is warming the river. His voice rings out, rich with the authenticity of wisdom.
A bath; then the midday meal. Its preparation, according to Master’s daily directions, had been the careful task of young disciples. My guru was a vegetarian. Before embracing monkhood, however, he had eaten eggs and fish. His advice to students was to follow any simple diet which proved suited to one’s constitution.
Master ate little; often rice, colored with turmeric or juice of beets or spinach and lightly sprinkled with buffalo ghee or melted butter. Another day he might have lentil-dhal or channa curry with vegetables. For dessert, mangoes or oranges with rice pudding, or jackfruit juice.
Visitors appeared in the afternoons. A steady stream poured from the world into the hermitage tranquillity. Everyone found in Master an equal courtesy and kindness. To a man who has realized himself as a soul, not the body or the ego, the rest of humanity assumes a striking similarity of aspect.
The impartiality of saints is rooted in wisdom. Masters have escaped maya; its alternating faces of intellect and idiocy no longer cast an influential glance. Sri Yukteswar showed no special consideration to those who happened to be powerful or accomplished; neither did he slight others for their poverty or illiteracy. He would listen respectfully to words of truth from a child, and openly ignore a conceited pundit.
Eight o’clock was the supper hour, and sometimes found lingering guests. My guru would not excuse himself to eat alone; none left his ashram hungry or dissatisfied. Sri Yukteswar was never at a loss, never dismayed by unexpected visitors; scanty food would emerge a banquet under his resourceful direction.
Yet he was economical; his modest funds went far. “Be comfortable within your purse,” he often said. “Extravagance will buy you discomfort.” Whether in the details of hermitage entertainment, or his building and repair work, or other practical concerns, Master manifested the originality of a creative spirit.
Quiet evening hours often brought one of my guru’s discourses, treasures against time. His every utterance was measured and chiseled by wisdom. A sublime self-assurance marked his mode of expression: it was unique. He spoke as none other in my experience ever spoke.
His thoughts were weighed in a delicate balance of discrimination before he permitted them an outward garb. The essence of truth, all-pervasive with even a physiological aspect, came from him like a fragrant exudation of the soul.
I was conscious always that I was in the presence of a living manifestation of God. The weight of his divinity automatically bowed my head before him.
If late guests detected that Sri Yukteswar was becoming engrossed with the Infinite, he quickly engaged them in conversation. He was incapable of striking a pose, or of flaunting his inner withdrawal. Always one with the Lord, he needed no separate time for communion. A self-realized master has already left behind the stepping stone of meditation. “The flower falls when the fruit appears.” But saints often cling to spiritual forms for the encouragement of disciples.
As midnight approached, my guru might fall into a doze with the naturalness of a child. There was no fuss about bedding. He often lay down, without even a pillow, on a narrow davenport which was the background for his customary tiger-skin seat.
A night-long philosophical discussion was not rare; any disciple could summon it by intensity of interest. I felt no tiredness then, no desire for sleep; Master’s living words were sufficient.
“Oh, it is dawn! Let us walk by the Ganges.”
So ended many of my periods of nocturnal edification.