“Guruji, I am glad to find you alone this morning.” I (Paramhansa Yogananda) had just arrived at the Serampore hermitage, carrying a fragrant burden of fruit and roses. Sri Yukteswar glanced at me meekly.
“What is your question?” Master looked about the room as though he were seeking escape.
“Guruji, I came to you as a high-school youth; now I am a grown man, even with a gray hair or two. Though you have showered me with silent affection from the first hour to this, do you realize that once only, on the day of meeting, have you ever said, ‘I love you’?” I looked at him pleadingly.
Master lowered his gaze. “Yogananda, must I bring out into the cold realms of speech the warm sentiments best guarded by the wordless heart?”
“Guruji, I know you love me, but my mortal ears ache to hear you say so.”
“Be it as you wish. During my married life I often yearned for a son, to train in the yogic path. But when you came into my life, I was content; in you I have found my son.” Two clear teardrops stood in Sri Yukteswar’s eyes. “Yogananda, I love you always.”
“Your answer is my passport to heaven.” I felt a weight lift from my heart, dissolved forever at his words. Often had I wondered at his silence. Realizing that he was unemotional and self-contained, yet sometimes I feared I had been unsuccessful in fully satisfying him. His was a strange nature, never utterly to be known; a nature deep and still, unfathomable to the outer world, whose values he had long transcended.
A few days later, when I spoke before a huge audience at Albert Hall in Calcutta, Sri Yukteswar consented to sit beside me on the platform, with the Maharaja of Santosh and the Mayor of Calcutta. Though Master made no remark to me, I glanced at him from time to time during my address, and thought I detected a pleased twinkle in his eyes.
Then came a talk before the alumni of Serampore College. As I gazed upon my old classmates, and as they gazed on their own “Mad Monk,” tears of joy showed unashamedly. My silver-tongued professor of philosophy, Dr. Ghoshal, came forward to greet me, all our past misunderstandings dissolved by the alchemist Time.
A Winter Solstice Festival was celebrated at the end of December in the Serampore hermitage. As always, Sri Yukteswar’s disciples gathered from far and near. Devotional sankirtans, solos in the nectar-sweet voice of Kristo-da, a feast served by young disciples, Master’s profoundly moving discourse under the stars in the thronged courtyard of the ashram — memories, memories! Joyous festivals of years long past! Tonight, however, there was to be a new feature.
“Yogananda, please address the assemblage — in English.” Master’s eyes were twinkling as he made this doubly unusual request; was he thinking of the shipboard predicament that had preceded my first lecture in English? I told the story to my audience of brother disciples, ending with a fervent tribute to our guru.
“His omnipresent guidance was with me not alone on the ocean steamer,” I concluded, “but daily throughout my fifteen years in the vast and hospitable land of America.”
After the guests had departed, Sri Yukteswar called me to the same bedroom where — once only, after a festival of my early years — I had been permitted to sleep on his wooden bed. Tonight my guru was sitting there quietly, a semicircle of disciples at his feet. He smiled as I quickly entered the room.
“Yogananda, are you leaving now for Calcutta? Please return here tomorrow. I have certain things to tell you.”
The next afternoon, with a few simple words of blessing, Sri Yukteswar bestowed on me the further monastic title of Paramhansa.
“It now formally supersedes your former title of swami,” he said as I knelt before him. With a silent chuckle I thought of the struggle which my American students would undergo over the pronunciation of Paramhansaji.
“My task on earth is now finished; you must carry on.” Master spoke quietly, his eyes calm and gentle. My heart was palpitating in fear.
“Please send someone to take charge of our ashram at Puri,” Sri Yukteswar went on. “I leave everything in your hands. You will be able to successfully sail the boat of your life and that of the organization to the divine shores.”
In tears, I was embracing his feet; he rose and blessed me endearingly.
The following day I summoned from Ranchi a disciple, Swami Sebananda, and sent him to Puri to assume the hermitage duties. Later my guru discussed with me the legal details of settling his estate; he was anxious to prevent the possibility of litigation by relatives, after his death, for possession of his two hermitages and other properties, which he wished to be deeded over solely for charitable purposes.
“Arrangements were recently made for Master to visit Kidderpore, but he failed to go.” Amulaya Babu, a brother disciple, made this remark to me one afternoon; I felt a cold wave of premonition. To my pressing inquiries, Sri Yukteswar only replied, “I shall go to Kidderpore no more.” For a moment, Master trembled like a frightened child.
(“Attachment to bodily residence, springing up of its own nature [i.e., arising from immemorial roots, past experiences of death],” Patanjali wrote, “is present in slight degree even in great saints.” In some of his discourses on death, my guru had been wont to add: “Just as a long-caged bird hesitates to leave its accustomed home when the door is opened.”)
“Guruji,” I entreated him with a sob, “don’t say that! Never utter those words to me!”
Sri Yukteswar’s face relaxed in a peaceful smile. Though nearing his eighty-first birthday, he looked well and strong.
Basking day by day in the sunshine of my guru’s love, unspoken but keenly felt, I banished from my conscious mind the various hints he had given of his approaching passing.
“Sir, the Kumbha Mela is convening this month at Allahabad.” I showed Master the mela dates in a Bengali almanac.
“Do you really want to go?”
Not sensing Sri Yukteswar’s reluctance to have me leave him, I went on, “Once you beheld the blessed sight of Babaji at an Allahabad kumbha. Perhaps this time I shall be fortunate enough to see him.”
“I do not think you will meet him there.” My guru then fell into silence, not wishing to obstruct my plans.
When I set out for Allahabad the following day with a small group, Master blessed me quietly in his usual manner. Apparently I was remaining oblivious to implications in Sri Yukteswar’s attitude because the Lord wished to spare me the experience of being forced, helplessly, to witness my guru’s passing…
A few days [after the Kumbha Mela], our little group reached Calcutta. Eager to see Sri Yukteswar, I was disappointed to hear that he had left Serampore and was now in Puri, about three hundred miles to the south.
“Come to Puri ashram at once.” This telegram was sent on March 8th by a brother disciple to Atul Chandra Roy Chowdhry, one of Master’s chelas in Calcutta. News of the message reached my ears; anguished at its implications, I dropped to my knees and implored God that my guru’s life be spared. As I was about to leave Father’s home for the train, a divine voice spoke within.
“Do not go to Puri tonight. Thy prayer cannot he granted.”
“Lord,” I said, grief-stricken, “Thou dost not wish to engage with me in a ‘tug of war’ at Puri, where Thou wilt have to deny my incessant prayers for Master’s life. Must he, then, depart for higher duties at Thy behest?”
In obedience to the inward command, I did not leave that night for Puri. The following evening I set out for the train; on the way, at seven o’clock, a black astral cloud suddenly covered the sky. Later, while the train roared toward Puri, a vision of Sri Yukteswar appeared before me. He was sitting, very grave of countenance, with a light on each side.
“Is it all over?” I lifted my arms beseechingly.
He nodded, then slowly vanished.
As I stood on the Puri train platform the following morning, still hoping against hope, an unknown man approached me.
“Have you heard that your Master is gone?” He left me without another word; I never discovered who he was nor how he had known where to find me.
Stunned, I swayed against the platform wall, realizing that in diverse ways my guru was trying to convey to me the devastating news. Seething with rebellion, my soul was like a volcano. By the time I reached the Puri hermitage I was nearing collapse. The inner voice was tenderly repeating: “Collect yourself. Be calm.”
I entered the ashram room where Master’s body, unimaginably lifelike, was sitting in the lotus posture — a picture of health and loveliness. A short time before his passing, my guru had been slightly ill with fever, but before the day of his ascension into the Infinite, his body had become completely well. No matter how often I looked at his dear form I could not realize that its life had departed. His skin was smooth and soft; in his face was a beatific expression of tranquillity. He had consciously relinquished his body at the hour of mystic summoning.
“The Lion of Bengal is gone!” I cried in a daze.
I conducted the solemn rites on March 10th. Sri Yukteswar was buried with the ancient rituals of the swamis in the garden of his Puri ashram. His disciples later arrived from far and near to honor their guru at a vernal equinox memorial service. The Amrita Bazar Patrika, leading newspaper of Calcutta, carried his picture and the following report:
The death Bhandara ceremony for Srimat Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri Maharaj, aged 81, took place at Puri on March 21. Many disciples came down to Puri for the rites.
One of the greatest expounders of the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Maharaj was a great disciple of Yogiraj Sri Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya of Benares. Swami Maharaj was the founder of several Yogoda Sat-Sanga (Self-Realization Fellowship) centers in India, and was the great inspiration behind the yoga movement which was carried to the West by Swami Yogananda, his principal disciple. It was Sri Yukteswarji’s prophetic powers and deep realization that inspired Swami Yogananda to cross the oceans and spread in America the message of the masters of India.
His interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita and other scriptures testify to the depth of Sri Yukteswarji’s command of the philosophy, both Eastern and Western, and remain as an eye-opener for the unity between Orient and Occident. As he believed in the unity of all religious faiths, Sri Yukteswar Maharaj established Sadhu Sabha (Society of Saints) with the cooperation of leaders of various sects and faiths, for the inculcation of a scientific spirit in religion. At the time of his demise he nominated Swami Yogananda his successor as the president of Sadhu Sabha.
India is really poorer today by the passing of such a great man. May all fortunate enough to have come near him inculcate in themselves the true spirit of India’s culture and sadhana which was personified in him.
I returned to Calcutta. Not trusting myself as yet to go to the Serampore hermitage with its sacred memories, I summoned Prafulla, Sri Yukteswar’s little disciple in Serampore, and made arrangements for him to enter the Ranchi school.
“The morning you left for the Allahabad mela,” Prafulla told me, “Master dropped heavily on the davenport.
“‘Yogananda is gone!’ he cried. ‘Yogananda is gone!’ He added cryptically, ‘I shall have to tell him some other way.’ He sat then for hours in silence.”
My days were filled with lectures, classes, interviews, and reunions with old friends. Beneath a hollow smile and a life of ceaseless activity, a stream of black brooding polluted the inner river of bliss which for so many years had meandered under the sands of all my perceptions.
“Where has that divine sage gone?” I cried silently from the depths of a tormented spirit.
No answer came.
“It is best that Master has completed his union with the Cosmic Beloved,” my mind assured me. “He is eternally glowing in the dominion of deathlessness.”
“Never again may you see him in the old Serampore mansion,” my heart lamented. “No longer may you bring your friends to meet him, or proudly say: ‘Behold, there sits India’s Jnanavatar!’”