BROTHER BHAKTANANDA entered the ashrams of Paramahansa Yogananda in 1939; for sixty-six years he was known for his exemplary life of simplicity and his devotion and dedicated service to Guru and God.
Master’s spiritual training was different than any other saint. When Brother heard Master give advice to others, he would always ask himself if he also could benefit by the advice. In his early 20’s Brother was floundering…he decided that [Yogananda] knew what he was talking about and went to sign up to be a monk. When he got to Mother Center he told them he’d like to become a monk and he was told he needed to become a member first! Well, he persisted and got a meeting with Master and told him his desire. Master told him to wait a week and come back. After a week, the same thing happened, the same conversation. This went on a few more times before Master told him it was okay. He settled in at the Mother Center and was very happy.
One day Master invited Brother and another monk to the beach. They arrived to see a long stretch of beach with nothing else around – nowhere to sit. Brother was thinking to himself that he didn’t want to sit in the sand in his suit. But then Brother looked again, and a meditation bench had mysteriously appeared on the beach. The three of them sat down on the bench to meditate. After a few minutes, out of corner of his eye Brother noticed Master very slowly reach into his robe pocket, as if trying to hide his action, and Brother could see that he had a little bottle of Kriya oil. Master put some in his mouth, and then very slowly put it back under his robe, as if to conceal it from Brother. Then Brother realized that up until then he didn’t think he needed to use Kriya oil. Later as they were leaving the beach Brother turned back to look, and there was no bench there anymore.
On the drive home, Master had them stop into a little café. Master walked into the café but he didn’t invite the monks in – he left them waiting outside. Pretty soon they could see Master inside the café, enjoying an egg sandwich. Brother was hungry and his mouth started to water. When Master was done eating, they all got back in the car and drove home. Brother knew this was a test. Master was testing their reaction to see if they would be critical or upset. What would they think? What would be their reaction? Would they be angry? Would they leave the ashram? Master always taught by example. Faults are obstacles to God. Master would use tests to bring them out. He knew all our faults, and wanted us to know what they were so we could correct them.
Brother told another story: “One day I was told, ‘Master wants to see you in the study.'” He was sitting at his desk, the drawer was open, and he was looking at a pair of glasses. He was looking through them, trying them on, much like an actor, admiring himself. He said, “How do I look in glasses?” I answered, “Quite well, Sir.” Then I realized I had always held a prejudice against people who wore glasses; I felt that if they followed the right diet they would not need glasses. This was how Master helped me to eliminate this prejudice.”
One time Master wrote to Brother and asked him if he would help with construction of Hollywood Temple. Brother said, “I liked where I was, and so believe it or not, I wrote back to Master and said that I preferred to stay at Mother Center.” Then Master called for him, and when Brother walked into the room, there was Master standing there with his hair all sticking out and looking real fierce! Master bellowed, “You don’t want to work at Hollywood Temple???” To which Brother quickly replied, “Yes Sir, I’ll go to Hollywood Temple.” It wasn’t until later that Brother remembered that when he was younger he wanted to build homes. He had that karma, and Master helped him to work out that karma. This was the way that Master trained his disciples.
For a time, Brother wasn’t doing the Energization Exercises. He thought that he didn’t need to because he was working hard physically at Mother Center, tending the grounds. One day he was outside mowing the lawn and he looked up and saw Master on his porch, exercising. Day after day, Brother would be outside working on the grounds and he would see Master on the porch doing his Energization Exercises. Finally one day Master called out to him, “Michael, look! I’m exercising.” Finally Brother got the message. Master often taught by example.
One time there were two new monks in the main hall at Mother Center talking to Master. Brother came along and stood on the side at a slight distance from them. He could hear the men talking about science. Brother had an idea that he wanted to share with the group, but as he was about to speak Master gave him a ‘serious look’, which meant that he didn’t want Brother to talk. Several times during the course of the conversation Brother would almost start to say something, but each time Master would give him that ‘serious look’ and so Brother would remain silent. Then the next day the exact same scenario happened again. The same monks were talking to Master in the same exact spot, and there was Brother wanting to say something and Master giving him the ‘serious look’. Later Master told Brother, “Each must go his own way.” Brother came to understand what Master meant. Those two monks were intellectual. Brother was more devotional by nature. The lesson – Master wanted Brother to remain quiet and practice the presence rather than engage in conversation – to talk as little as possible and only when necessary. Master set up two identical meetings. Two identical meetings were necessary to make a deep impression on Brother. (Brother commented that no one but a guru could have made this arrangement happen twice, but Master did it because it required two times for Brother to understand the lesson.)
Over the years, Brother would often come to Master with a work problem and Master would give him an answer. After ten years, one day Brother asked Master about a work problem but Master turned his back on him. This happened again a second time. Then one day Master was talking to a group of monks and he said, “Take your problems to God.” Then Brother understood why Master did that. It was because he wouldn’t always be with us in the body and did not want his disciples to depend on him being in the body, but to develop that inner attunement with him.
One time Master was walking with two disciples down the street in Encinitas. They passed several shops. Suddenly Master stopped and went back two doors, then went inside. The establishment was a toy store. Master began playing with the toys, taking one after another off the shelf – many of them were wind-up toys – and having delight in playing with them on the floor. Over and over he exclaimed, “American ingenuity! American ingenuity!” The disciples did not know what to make of this – they felt a little embarrassed and were picking up the toys and replacing them when Master was finished with them. The owner of the store was watching them, sometimes smiling and sometimes looking sad. Then Master started driving around the store in a little toy automobile. After a while, he looked at the owner of the store and then he took out his wallet and gave the man $250. The disciples were amazed because $250 was a lot of money back then. The owner said, “This is quite a surprise because the rent is due. It is $250 and if I didn’t somehow find the money, I would have to close the shop tomorrow.” The disciples realized that Master had sensed the vibrations of despair when he had passed the shop and had returned to help him.
There was a monk who was a very good speaker – he served at Hollywood Temple. In addition to speaking, Master gave him other work to do as well, but the monk spent all of his time preparing his talks and neglecting his other work. One day he showed Master the papers he had written – showing him all his wonderful ideas for the services – but Master showed no interest. Then he said, “You did not come here to lecture. You came here to seek God.” Brother said this is a lesson for all of us. We didn’t come here to this path for material things or for any other reason than to seek God.
At Hollywood Temple there is a new display of some of Master’s letters to Brother Bhaktananda and other interesting items. There is a set of beautiful cuff links and a matching lapel pin that Master gave to Brother one Christmas. The story goes that Brother did not initially understand why Master would give him a present that was far too fancy for a monk to wear with an ochre robe! But then Brother remembered from his youth that he had always admired the kind of fancy jewelry men wore in those days, and he realized Master was fulfilling an old karmic desire.
An interesting tidbit – Master said that blue, white, and gold are the highest colors in the astral world.
from the SRF Devotee Newsletter