I was in my early teens when I spent a summer vacation with an aunt and uncle in the suburbs of Winterthur, one of the larger cities in Switzerland. My uncle was a musician, a member of a symphony orchestra. He too was on vacation, which he spent working in his large garden. I helped him. Since they didn’t have any children, my uncle took a great interest in me, and during the garden work there were long “talking sessions.” My uncle, I found, was deeply interested in Eastern philosophy, and I listened with rapt attention to his discourses on karma, reincarnation, the astral and causal planes, and particularly on saints — masters who had attained illumination.
He told me of Buddha and how he had reached this blessed state, and other saints, which kindled in me a deep desire to follow their example. I remember how I used to walk around repeating inwardly again and again: illumination, illumination. Even though I didn’t understand the full meaning of the word, of course, I knew that it was something far greater than what ordinary man had, no matter how accomplished he might be in his material or artistic career. I asked my uncle how one could achieve that state, but the only thing he could say was that one has to meditate. But how, he didn’t know. He said that one has to have a guru who could teach everything. When I expressed my great desire to meet one, he just shook his head and smiled. “My poor boy, there are no gurus in Switzerland!”
So I began to pray for a guru. My yearning for a master was so great that, after I had returned to my hometown, I used to go to the train station, waiting for hours, in the hope that “he” would come. But nothing happened.
After I finished my schooling, I worked in my father’s business for two frustrating years. By then, I had given up my interest in Hindu philosophy, since it seemed hopeless that I could find a guru. I embarked on a career in art, and after three years I was invited to go to the United States to study with Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect.
During my first week in America, I visited an uncle who had emigrated to this country in the 1920s. During a conversation he mentioned Hindu philosophy. When I told him that I had been interested in this subject years earlier, his face lit up and he took me to his private study and showed me Autobiography of a Yogi. Pointing to Paramahansa Yogananda’s picture on the cover, he asked: “Have you ever heard of him?” When I said no, he replied, “Greatest man I ever saw. He is a true master!”
“You have seen him?” I cried in utter surprise. “Where is he — not in America!?”
“Yes, he lives in Los Angeles.” Then he told me how he had attended a series of lectures and classes given by Paramahansaji soon after he had come to this country. To think of it, all these years when I had been longing for a guru, my uncle had known a master and his teachings!
I hungrily read the book. That was the first miracle. I was so fascinated that I didn’t even notice that this in itself was a miracle — I didn’t know enough English to read a book in that language. Frank Lloyd Wright too had written an autobiography, but I had tried in vain to read the first couple of pages. It took me a whole additional year of learning English before I was able to read that book. Yet I had been able to read Autobiography of a Yogi from cover to cover.
I knew in my heart that I had found what I wanted, and made up my mind to study the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda and find God.
Brother in Calcutta, India, 1980’s
It was some months later, after I had learned more English, that I was able to make a trip to Los Angeles, hoping to see the Master. As I entered the grounds of the Mother Center, I felt an overwhelming peace, like nothing I had ever experienced anywhere before. I knew I stood on holy ground.
Sunday morning I attended Paramahansaji’s morning service at the Hollywood Temple. It was the first time I would see him face to face. It was an unforgettable experience. After the service, the Master sat on a chair and most of the congregation went up to greet him. I can’t express in words how I felt as I stood in line. Finally when I stood before him, he took my hand in his and I looked into those deep luminous tender eyes. No word was spoken. But I felt an indescribable joy coming into me through his hand and eyes.
I left the temple and walked in a daze along Sunset Boulevard. I was so intoxicated with joy that I couldn’t walk straight. I tottered like a drunkard. Not only that, but I couldn’t contain my joy within, and kept laughing out loud. People on the sidewalk turned and stared; and those walking toward me moved off to the side, shaking their heads in disgust over what they assumed was public drunkenness on Sunday morning. I didn’t care. I had never been so happy in my life.
Not long after this experience, I entered the Self-Realization Fellowship ashram as a monk.
Watch Bro. A. describing his experience with Yogananda: