The first time I beheld Paramahansa Yogananda, he was speaking before a vast, enraptured audience in Salt Lake City. The year was 1931. As I stood at the back of the crowded auditorium, I became transfixed, unaware of anything around me except the speaker and his words. My whole being was absorbed in the wisdom and divine love that were pouring into my soul and flooding my heart and mind. I could only think, “This man loves God as I have always longed to love Him. He knows God. Him I shall follow.” And from that moment, I did.
As I felt the transfiguring power of his words on my own life during those early days with Paramahansaji, there arose within me a feeling of the urgent need to preserve his words for all the world, for all time. It became my sacred and joyous privilege, during the many years I was with Paramahansa Yogananda, to record his lectures and classes, and also many informal talks and words of personal counsel — truly a vast treasurehouse of wondrous wisdom and God-love.
As Gurudeva spoke, the rush of his inspiration was often reflected in the swiftness of his speech; he might speak without pause for minutes at a time, and continue for an hour. While his hearers sat enthralled, my pen was flying! As I took down his words in shorthand, it was as though a special grace had descended, instantly translating the Guru’s voice into the shorthand characters on the page. Their transcription has been a blessed task that continues to this day. Even after such a long time some of my notes are more than forty years old when I start to transcribe them, they are miraculously fresh in my mind, as though they had been recorded yesterday. I can even hear inwardly the inflections of Gurudeva’s voice in each particular phrase.
The Master seldom made even the slightest preparation for his lectures; if he prepared anything at all, it might consist of a factual note or two, hastily jotted down. Very often, while riding in the car on the way to the temple, he would casually ask one of us: “What is my subject today?” He would put his mind on it, and then give the lecture extemporaneously from an inner reservoir of divine inspiration.
The subjects for Gurudeva’s sermons at the temples were set and announced in advance. But sometimes his mind was working in an entirely different vein when he began to speak. Regardless of the “subject for today,” the Master would voice the truths engrossing his consciousness at that moment, pouring forth priceless wisdom in a steady stream from the abundance of his own spiritual experience and intuitive perception. Nearly always, at the close of such a service, a number of people would come forward to thank him for having enlightened them on a problem that had been troubling them, or perhaps for having explained some philosophical concept in which they were particularly interested.
Sometimes, while he was lecturing, the Guru’s consciousness would be so uplifted that he would momentarily forget the audience and converse directly with God; his whole being would be overflowing with divine joy and intoxicating love. In these high states of consciousness, his mind completely at one with the Divine Consciousness, he inwardly perceived Truth, and described what he saw. On occasion, God appeared to him as the Divine Mother, or in some other aspect; or one of our great Gurus, or other saints, would manifest in vision before him. At such times, even the audience would feel deeply the special blessing bestowed on all present. During such a visitation of Saint Francis of Assisi, whom Gurudeva deeply loved, the Master was inspired to compose the beautiful poem, “God! God! God!”
The Bhagavad Gita describes an enlightened master in these words: “The Self shines forth like a sun in those who have banished ignorance by wisdom” (V:16). One might have been overawed by Paramahansa Yogananda’s spiritual radiance, were it not for his warmth and naturalness, and a quiet humility, which put everyone instantly at ease. Each person in the audience felt that Gurudeva’s talk was addressed to him personally. Not the least of the Master’s endearing qualities was his understanding sense of humor. By some choice phrase, gesture, or facial expression he would bring forth an appreciative response of hearty laughter at just the right moment to drive home a point, or to relax his listeners after long and intense concentration on a particularly deep subject.
In one of the discourses in Man’s Eternal Quest, the first volume in this series, Paramahansaji says: “The one purpose of Self-Realization Fellowship is to teach the individual the way to personal contact with God.” Humankind’s truest hope lies in those who take the time to find the tremendous love and understanding awaiting discovery in the presence of God in our souls, directing its flow therefrom as a healing balm toward all the members of our world family.
How tangibly those blessings radiated from the person of my revered Guru. In public, even strangers on the street would be irresistibly drawn to respectfully inquire: “Who is he? Who is that man?” In his presence during periods of deep meditation, we saw him completely enraptured in communion with the Divine. The whole room would be filled with an aura of God’s love. Paramahansaji had attained the highest goal of life’s journey; his example and words now illumine the path for millions worldwide.
One cannot convey in the pages of a book the uniqueness and universality of Paramahansa Yogananda’s vivid, loving personality. But it is my humble hope, in giving this brief background, to afford a personal glimpse that will enrich the reader’s enjoyment and appreciation of the talks presented in this book.
To have seen my Gurudeva in divine communion; to have heard the profound truths and devotional outpourings of his soul; to have recorded them for the ages; and now to share them with all what joy is mine! May the Master’s sublime words open wider the doors to unshakable faith in God, to deeper love for that One who is our beloved Father, Mother, and Eternal Friend.