Sister Shanti’s First Encounter with Autobiography of a Yogi
The remarkable story of how Sister Shanti first encountered Paramahansa Yogananda and his teachings was recounted by her in the Winter 1996 issue of Self-Realization magazine
It was 1952, and I was employed as secretary to the assistant manager at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles: a fascinating job in an elite setting where I met a number of world-renowned personalities. But little did I know the impact upon my life the sound of one name would make when spoken in my ear.
On March 6, the secretary of a motion picture producer called the hotel and asked that a message be delivered to Paramahansa Yogananda. The moment I heard that name, a huge “gong-bell” rang in my chest; my head swam, joy welled up in my heart and mind, and I couldn’t even walk straight as I made my way to the reservations desk to arrange for the message delivery. I was told that no one of that name was registered at the hotel, although the Indian Ambassador and his retinue were currently in residence. All the way back to my office the name kept revolving in my consciousness and I became more and more filled with love and joy. After a short time the motion picture producer called and asked, “What name did my secretary give you?” I told him “Paramahansa Yogananda” and he exclaimed, “That’s what I thought I heard him say! That’s not the name I gave him. He doesn’t know why he said that!”
The rest of that day I remained in a strange state of inner awareness and experienced a deep sense of connectedness to that name. Then came March 7, the fateful day of Paramahansa Yogananda’s mahasamadhi. I read about it in the paper and felt that I had lost my best friend. It was devastating! It seemed my life was suddenly over. I kept thinking, I’ve missed him! I’ve waited all my life for him and I missed him! But I didn’t really know what I meant because I wasn’t looking for a teacher or a path. Even so, in the depths of my consciousness I knew it to be true, that I had missed the most important person in my existence.
From that moment on my well-ordered, rather glamorous life* no longer suited me. I abruptly canceled important plans, stopped seeing people I knew and started seeking through books. It never occurred to me to see if Paramahansa Yogananda had ever written a book; I simply felt that he was gone and I had missed him. After reading four metaphysically oriented volumes which did not satisfy the depth of my need, I was again searching through the same row of books in the Hollywood Public Library with my mother, who had caught some of the fire that was burning within me. After almost passing the first section, which I felt I had already thoroughly perused, a book fell off the top shelf, hit me on the head, and bounced onto the floor. My mother picked it up and gasped as she turned it toward me — Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. There before me was the name my heart was reaching for, and the face with eyes that penetrated to the soul!
I read it at night and she read it while I was at work. “Reading” is perhaps inadequate to describe the way we engrossed ourselves in the experience of entering the world of Truth. The origin of life, discipleship, the dispensation of Kriya Yoga — all were made clear in Autobiography of a Yogi.
We attended a service at the Hollywood Temple, which overwhelmed me with the same “presence” that had been so dynamic the morning I first heard the Guru’s name spoken on the telephone. After the service Meera Mata was very gracious in receiving us and after a few moments suggested that I go to Mt. Washington Mother Center and meet her daughter, Mrinalini Mata. We did go and learned about the monastic order, and I was “captured” for the third time — first by Paramahansa Yogananda, second by Autobiography of a Yogi, and now, by the ideal of a life of renunciation devoted to God alone.
After recounting the story about the effect upon me of hearing Paramahansaji’s name on March 6, I learned he had been at the hotel on that morning attending a breakfast for the Ambassador from India, His Excellency Binay R. Sen. That breakfast took place in the room next to my office. The Master was sitting just on the other side of the wall from my desk at the time I received the call and heard his name.
The Guru is calling all of “his own” through his tremendous Autobiography. Some of us just take a little too long to respond and have to be hit over the head, as did I! But how blessed is each one of the millions who hears his “voice” and answers his clarion call.