“Three times I have been blessed by the sight of the deathless guru. Our first meeting was in Allahabad at a Kumbha Mela (a religious festival).”
“I was not a swami at the time I met Babaji,” Sri Yukteswar went on. “But I had already received Kriya initiation from Lahiri Mahasaya. He encouraged me to attend the mela which was convening in January, 1894 at Allahabad. It was my first experience of a kumbha; I felt slightly dazed by the clamor and surge of the crowd. In my searching gazes around I saw no illumined face of a master. Passing a bridge on the bank of the Ganges, I noticed an acquaintance standing near-by, his begging bowl extended.
“‘Oh, this fair is nothing but a chaos of noise and beggars,’ I thought in disillusionment. ‘I wonder if Western scientists, patiently enlarging the realms of knowledge for the practical good of mankind, are not more pleasing to God than these idlers who profess religion but concentrate on alms.’
“My smouldering reflections on social reform were interrupted by the voice of a tall sannyasi who halted before me.
“‘Sir,’ he said, ‘a saint is calling you.’
“‘Who is he?’
“‘Come and see for yourself.’
“Hesitantly following this laconic advice, I soon found myself near a tree whose branches were sheltering a guru with an attractive group of disciples. The master, a bright unusual figure, with sparkling dark eyes, rose at my approach and embraced me.
“‘Welcome, Swamiji,’ he said affectionately.
“‘Sir,’ I replied emphatically, ‘I am not a swami.’
“‘Those on whom I am divinely directed to bestow the title of “swami” never cast it off.’ The saint addressed me simply, but deep conviction of truth rang in his words; I was engulfed in an instant wave of spiritual blessing. Smiling at my sudden elevation into the ancient monastic order, I bowed at the feet of the obviously great and angelic being in human form who had thus honored me.
“Babaji — for it was indeed he — motioned me to a seat near him under the tree. He was strong and young, and looked like Lahiri Mahasaya; yet the resemblance did not strike me, even though I had often heard of the extraordinary similarities in the appearance of the two masters. Babaji possesses a power by which he can prevent any specific thought from arising in a person’s mind. Evidently the great guru wished me to be perfectly natural in his presence, not overawed by knowledge of his identity.
“‘What do you think of the Kumbha Mela?’
“‘I was greatly disappointed, sir.’ I added hastily, ‘Up until the time I met you. Somehow saints and this commotion don’t seem to belong together.’
“‘Child,’ the master said, though apparently I was nearly twice his own age, ‘for the faults of the many, judge not the whole. Everything on earth is of mixed character, like a mingling of sand and sugar. Be like the wise ant which seizes only the sugar, and leaves the sand untouched. Though many sadhus here still wander in delusion, yet the mela is blessed by a few men of God-realization.’
“In view of my own meeting with this exalted master, I quickly agreed with his observation.
“‘Sir,’ I commented, ‘I have been thinking of the scientific men of the West, greater by far in intelligence than most people congregated here, living in distant Europe and America, professing different creeds, and ignorant of the real values of such melas as the present one. They are the men who could benefit greatly by meetings with India’s masters. But, although high in intellectual attainments, many Westerners are wedded to rank materialism. Others, famous in science and philosophy, do not recognize the essential unity in religion. Their creeds serve as insurmountable barriers that threaten to separate them from us forever.’
“‘I saw that you are interested in the West, as well as the East.’ Babaji’s face beamed with approval. ‘I felt the pangs of your heart, broad enough for all men, whether Oriental or Occidental. That is why I summoned you here.
“‘East and West must establish a golden middle path of activity and spirituality combined,’ he continued. ‘India has much to learn from the West in material development; in return, India can teach the universal methods by which the West will be able to base its religious beliefs on the unshakable foundations of yogic science.
“‘You, Swamiji, have a part to play in the coming harmonious exchange between Orient and Occident. Some years hence I shall send you a disciple whom you can train for yoga dissemination in the West. The vibrations there of many spiritually seeking souls come floodlike to me. I perceive potential saints in America and Europe, waiting to be awakened.’”
At this point in his story, Sri Yukteswar turned his gaze fully on mine (Paramahansa Yogananda’s).
“My son,” he said, smiling in the moonlight, “you are the disciple that, years ago, Babaji promised to send me.”
I was happy to learn that Babaji had directed my steps to Sri Yukteswar, yet it was hard for me to visualize myself in the remote West, away from my beloved guru and the simple hermitage peace.
“Babaji then spoke of the Bhagavad Gita,” Sri Yukteswar went on. “To my astonishment, he indicated by a few words of praise that he was aware of the fact that I had written interpretations on various Gita chapters.
“‘At my request, Swamiji, please undertake another task,’ the great master said. ‘Will you not write a short book on the underlying basic unity between the Christian and Hindu scriptures? Show by parallel references that the inspired sons of God have spoken the same truths, now obscured by men’s sectarian differences.’
“‘Maharaj,’ I answered diffidently, ‘what a command! Shall I be able to fulfill it?’
“Babaji laughed softly. ‘My son, why do you doubt?’ he said reassuringly. ‘Indeed, Whose work is all this, and Who is the Doer of all actions? Whatever the Lord has made me say is bound to materialize as truth.’
“I deemed myself empowered by the blessings of the saint, and agreed to write the book. Feeling reluctantly that the parting-hour had arrived, I rose from my leafy seat.
“‘Do you know Lahiri?’ the master inquired. ‘He is a great soul, isn’t he? Tell him of our meeting.’ He then gave me a message for Lahiri Mahasaya.
“After I had bowed humbly in farewell, the saint smiled benignly. ‘When your book is finished, I shall pay you a visit,’ he promised. ‘Good-by for the present.’
“I left Allahabad the following day and entrained for Benares. Reaching my guru’s home, I poured out the story of the wonderful saint at the Kumbha Mela.
“‘Oh, didn’t you recognize him?’ Lahiri Mahasaya’s eyes were dancing with laughter. ‘I see you couldn’t, for he prevented you. He is my incomparable guru, the celestial Babaji!’
“‘Babaji!’ I repeated, awestruck. ‘The Yogi-Christ Babaji! The invisible-visible savior Babaji! Oh, if I could just recall the past and be once more in his presence, to show my devotion at his lotus feet!’
“‘Never mind,’ Lahiri Mahasaya said consolingly. ‘He has promised to see you again.’
…“I soon left Benares, and set to work in Serampore on the scriptural writings requested by Babaji,” Sri Yukteswar continued… “The morning after I had concluded my literary efforts, I went to the Rai Ghat here to bathe in the Ganges… There, under the shade of the banyan, and surrounded by a few disciples, sat the great Babaji!
“‘Greetings, Swamiji!’ The beautiful voice of the master rang out to assure me I was not dreaming. ‘I see you have successfully completed your book. As I promised, I am here to thank you.’
“With a fast-beating heart, I prostrated myself fully at his feet. ‘Param-guruji,’ I said imploringly, ‘will you and your chelas not honor my near-by home with your presence?’
“The supreme guru smilingly declined. ‘No, child,’ he said, ‘we are people who like the shelter of trees; this spot is quite comfortable.’
“‘Please tarry awhile, Master.’ I gazed entreatingly at him. ‘I shall be back at once with some special sweetmeats.’
“When I returned in a few minutes with a dish of delicacies, lo! the lordly banyan no longer sheltered the celestial troupe. I searched all around the ghat, but in my heart I knew the little band had already fled on etheric wings.
“I was deeply hurt. ‘Even if we meet again, I would not care to talk to him,’ I assured myself. ‘He was unkind to leave me so suddenly.’ This was a wrath of love, of course, and nothing more.
“A few months later I visited Lahiri Mahasaya in Benares. As I entered his little parlor, my guru smiled in greeting.
“‘Welcome, Yukteswar,’ he said. ‘Did you just meet Babaji at the threshold of my room?’
“‘Why, no,’ I answered in surprise.
“‘Come here.’ Lahiri Mahasaya touched me gently on the forehead; at once I beheld, near the door, the form of Babaji, blooming like a perfect lotus.
“I remembered my old hurt, and did not bow. Lahiri Mahasaya looked at me in astonishment.
“The divine guru gazed at me with fathomless eyes. ‘You are annoyed with me.’
“‘Sir, why shouldn’t I be?’ I answered. ‘Out of the air you came with your magic group, and into the thin air you vanished.’
“‘I told you I would see you, but didn’t say how long I would remain.’ Babaji laughed softly. ‘You were full of excitement. I assure you that I was fairly extinguished in the ether by the gust of your restlessness.’
“I was instantly satisfied by this unflattering explanation. I knelt at his feet; the supreme guru patted me kindly on the shoulder.
“‘Child, you must meditate more,’ he said. ‘Your gaze is not yet faultless — you could not see me hiding behind the sunlight.’ With these words in the voice of a celestial flute, Babaji disappeared into the hidden radiance.