My (Paramhanda Yogananda’s) early months with Sri Yukteswar culminated in a useful lesson — ”How to Outwit a Mosquito.” At home my family always used protective curtains at night. I was dismayed to discover that in the Serampore hermitage this prudent custom was honored in the breach. Yet the insects were in full residency; I was bitten from head to foot. My guru took pity on me.
“Buy yourself a curtain, and also one for me.” He laughed and added, “If you buy only one, for yourself, all mosquitoes will concentrate on me!”
I was more than thankful to comply. Every night that I spent in Serampore, my guru would ask me to arrange the bedtime curtains.
The mosquitoes one evening were especially virulent. But Master failed to issue his usual instructions. I listened nervously to the anticipatory hum of the insects. Getting into bed, I threw a propitiatory prayer in their general direction. A half hour later, I coughed pretentiously to attract my guru’s attention. I thought I would go mad with the bites and especially the singing drone as the mosquitoes celebrated bloodthirsty rites.
No responsive stir from Master; I approached him cautiously. He was not breathing. This was my first observation of him in the yogic trance; it filled me with fright.
“His heart must have failed!” I placed a mirror under his nose; no breath-vapor appeared. To make doubly certain, for minutes I closed his mouth and nostrils with my fingers. His body was cold and motionless. In a daze, I turned toward the door to summon help.
“So! A budding experimentalist! My poor nose!” Master’s voice was shaky with laughter. “Why don’t you go to bed? Is the whole world going to change for you? Change yourself: be rid of the mosquito consciousness.”
Meekly I returned to my bed. Not one insect ventured near. I realized that my guru had previously agreed to the curtains only to please me; he had no fear of mosquitoes. His yogic power was such that he either could will them not to bite, or could escape to an inner invulnerability.
“He was giving me a demonstration,” I thought. “That is the yogic state I must strive to attain.” A yogi must be able to pass into, and continue in, the superconsciousness, regardless of multitudinous distractions never absent from this earth. Whether in the buzz of insects or the pervasive glare of daylight, the testimony of the senses must be barred. Sound and sight come then indeed, but to worlds fairer than the banished Eden.
The instructive mosquitoes served for another early lesson at the ashram. It was the gentle hour of dusk. My guru was matchlessly interpreting the ancient texts. At his feet, I was in perfect peace. A rude mosquito entered the idyl and competed for my attention. As it dug a poisonous hypodermic needle into my thigh, I automatically raised an avenging hand. Reprieve from impending execution! An opportune memory came to me of one of Patanjali’s yoga aphorisms — that on ahimsa (harmlessness).
“Why didn’t you finish the job?”
“Master! Do you advocate taking life?”
“No; but the deathblow already had been struck in your mind.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Patanjali’s meaning was the removal of desire to kill.” Sri Yukteswar had found my mental processes an open book. “This world is inconveniently arranged for a literal practice of ahimsa. Man may be compelled to exterminate harmful creatures. He is not under similar compulsion to feel anger or animosity. All forms of life have equal right to the air of maya.
“The saint who uncovers the secret of creation will be in harmony with its countless bewildering expressions. All men may approach that understanding who curb the inner passion for destruction.”
“Guruji, should one offer himself a sacrifice rather than kill a wild beast?”
“No; man’s body is precious. It has the highest evolutionary value because of unique brain and spinal centers. These enable the advanced devotee to fully grasp and express the loftiest aspects of divinity. No lower form is so equipped.
It is true that one incurs the debt of a minor sin if he is forced to kill an animal or any living thing. But the Vedas teach that wanton loss of a human body is a serious transgression against the karmic law.”