Excerpted from: Religion in the New Age: A Devotee’s Handbook, by Nayaswami Kriyananda 

The purpose of this essay is, above all, to address the question implied in the title, which concerns my Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, and his true mission in life. First it will be necessary for me, however, to lay a careful groundwork for my discussion, because most modern readers, even in India, have not the slightest idea what those ancient words, avatar and guru, really mean 

I must first, therefore, explain basic aspects of the spiritual path. I’ll try to keep what I write simple and lucid, as well as (I hope) enjoyable to read. At the same time, however, I must warn the unwary: We’ll be swimming in deep waters!

Avatar and guru are, as I said, words the ancient meanings of which have changed, and, in popular understanding, altered beyond all recognition from their original and lofty purpose. To my astonishment, I have found these corruptions, at least in newspapers, almost more rampant in India than in the West.

Guru, properly speaking, means spiritual teacher. In the popular parlance of our day it has come to be applied to almost anyone with some slight authority in any field. Thus, I can even imagine a Mafia hit man being described as the “guru” of his “hit-men-in-training”; or a seasoned spy being labeled the “guru” of the young men he is preparing to work in his field. To someone who lived, as I did, under a great spiritual master, one who fully deserved the label “guru” in its original and true sense, these corruptions are bizarre to the point of being laughable.

A true guru is one, above all, who knows God. He is the highest kind of saint, having consciously attained oneness with God in cosmic consciousness. This attainment means he is able to infuse into his receptive disciples his own spiritualized consciousness, and thereby to raise those who are spiritually ready to the same exalted state as his own. This subtle transfer of consciousness is the true meaning of that important passage concerning Jesus Christ in the Bible: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” (John 1:12)

The same debasement has occurred in the case of the word, avatar. In the popular mind, this word has — as nearly as I’ve been able to make out — come to mean a mere role that one plays in life, as in the words, “Joe Sleaze, the businessman, in his avatar of social activist,…” or, “Sally Pumpkin, the housewife, in her avatar of professional cook….”

In its original, true, and lofty meaning, the word avatar has an inspiring meaning. If it is considered a “role” at all, that role is purely a divine one. Avatar means a “descent of the Supreme Spirit into human form for the spiritual upliftment of mankind.” There are not many Hindus, even, who understand the word rightly. According to classical thought among orthodox Hindus, avatar refers to the several incarnations of the god Vishnu, usually (but not always) to his descents into human form. According to popular belief, these incarnations include Rama and Krishna, another one being predicted in the future: Kalki avatar.

Paramhansa Yogananda, however, whose mission it was to bring the original and true teachings of India into modern language and understanding, stated that Vishnu is only the human personification of one aspect of the Cosmic sound of AUM, the three letters of which signify the three distinct vibrations of the Cosmic Vibration: the creative (personified as Brahma), the preservative (personified as Vishnu), and the destructive or all-dissolving (personified as Shiva).

The true meaning of avatar, Yogananda explained, applies to the descent into human form of any fully liberated soul who is sent down by God for the upliftment of a whole society and the redemption of large numbers of earthly beings (a feat not possible for ordinary saints, even after they become fully enlightened).

The stages of spiritual freedom, as well as of sainthood, begin at the point of sincere commitment. Anyone who is deeply devoted to the spiritual search may rightly, whether he be married or single, be called a sadhu — the Indian word for “saint.” A sadhu can still fall from his lofty mission, but if he perseveres, dedicating himself wholeheartedly to the challenge of rising out of separative, ego-consciousness, he must ultimately realize the state of oneness with God. As Paramhansa Yogananda often put it, “A saint is a sinner who never gave up.”

Sadhus, however, are likely to encounter temptations that may never assail the worldly person. One such pitfall is spiritual pride. A worldly egotist’s pride is crushed relatively easily, and in many ways: by material failure, by being bested in anything that has fed his pride, by contempt from others, by social scandal: these are only examples, suggesting the worldly person’s fragility. The pride of a spiritual person, on the other hand, is founded on something more real. It is difficult for him to overcome it, therefore, and may take even lifetimes before he realizes the degree to which that pride has not only been self-limiting, but self-suffocating.

Self-giving devotion is his best way of escape from spiritual pride. And devotion dawns as one discovers the truth inherent in these words by Paramhansa Yogananda: “Evil is the absence of true joy.” One who nurses feelings of pride discovers at last that pride obliterates the consciousness of joy, even as thick fogs obscure the sun’s light.

There are many other psychological obstacles the sadhu must face. These include subtle doubts (whether intellectual or spiritual); fears (perhaps of the tests that lie ahead); cowardice (perhaps in confronting those tests); missing the real point of the spiritual path (which is the achievement of oneness with God); and self-involvement (which may seem to him superficially, if he tells himself he is only trying to “live in the Self,” a spiritual attitude, even though in fact his inward focus takes him contractively inward upon his ego).

Another pitfall — indeed, the greatest of them all — is by no means mental only, but in fact is the resistance offered by the cosmic Satanic force to any effort men make to escape the net of maya, or delusion. The more earnestly one tries to get out of maya, the more vigorous does Satan’s resistance become.

Anyone who questions the existence of Satan will do well to ponder these words of Yogananda’s: “I used to think Satan was only a mental concept. Now that I have found God, however, I join my testimony to that of all who have gone before: Satan is a conscious, cosmic force, working constantly to thwart human efforts to achieve salvation.” I have quoted these words variously in different contexts, as I am myself uncertain as to the exact words. (I read them in a transcript of one of his talks.) I am quite confident, however, as to their intrinsic meaning. An argument on this subject is also, I think, well made in my book, Revelations of Christ, in the chapter titled, “Does Satan exist?”

Satanic temptation always comes to sadhus at their points of special weakness: pride, sexual desire, ego-reaffirming longing for romance, a desire for money or fame, for vengeance, or for worldly power and prominence. Again, these are examples, merely. Delusion assumes many forms 

Satan also “kindly” sees to it that anyone who is wholeheartedly dedicated to serving God will have his full share of persecution. I don’t use that word, “kindly,” altogether in a sarcastic spirit, though I know it sounds that way. For my own experience of life, though perhaps slight, has taught me that my greatest spiritual growth has always been the outcome of what others no doubt assumed was, for me, the very bitter taste of persecution. In fact, after the first blow I received of anger, condemnation, and utter rejection on the part of those whom I had considered my own nearest and dearest, I took on a certain ballast. Realizing, even if belatedly, that persecution would be the “name of the game,” I resolved never again to let others’ treatment or opinions of me affect my inner peace.

I don’t at all mean to say I became battle-scarred, hardened, or numb. Such reactions are normal enough for the samsari, or worldly person, who bounces continually back and forth between one emotional extreme and the other. The sadhu is, indeed, hardly worthy of his calling if, knowing as he ought to know that he is on a path leading to eternal bliss, he doesn’t try to find in every outward experience at least a kernel of that bliss. My Guru often said, “Experiences are essentially neutral. They seem either happy or sad, according to the attitudes of the mind.”

My duty as I saw it, in the face of that first and (to me, for a time) overwhelming tragedy, was to discover in myself the right attitude with which I might rise above it. This attitude I found in the understanding that no one can ever rob us of our ability to give love. In loving others, moreover — as I had always found — lies our true happiness. Thus, I resolved — it was far more than a resolution — to love others unconditionally. My happiness, once I’d arrived at this decision, became unshakable; indeed, it became undiluted joy. Moreover, when I encountered people who actually manifested evil, I could still love God, and therefore love the God in them.

Temptation comes to the sadhu in many ways. Always its purpose, being of course Satanic, is to draw him back again toward involvement in worldliness. For though he tries his best to clamber out of the pit of delusion, that upward slope is slippery. He cannot get out by being merely willing to do so. Grace is the key, ultimately, to every soul’s salvation. Many of the temptations he faces ought, for worldly people or samsaris, to be placed in quotation marks, for these involvements are means also by which they may actually be helped to rise out of the delusion of ego-involvement. Romantic human love, for example, offers most human beings a valid means of expanding their sympathies and, thereby, of loosening the hold their egos have on them.

In fact, were it not digressing from the nub of our present discussion, I could, I think, make a good case for each of the so-called temptations I’ve listed above for the sadhu, and to show how each of them might prove a real spiritual help for many people who have not yet reached the point of spiritual commitment. The important thing to understand is that there is always, from whatever point one has reached on his own upward journey, a higher as well as a lower potential. For the true sadhu, anything that shrinks his consciousness inward upon his ego is, ultimately, anathema.

When my Guru said, “A saint is a sinner who never gave up,” he was referring to one who is not only saintly, but victoriously so. He once told me, “Remember, you won’t be safe until you’ve reached nirbikalpa samadhi.” Even the lower stage of samadhi, known as sabikalpa, in which the soul realizes its oneness with God, is only temporary inasmuch as, when one returns from that state of inward absorption to “normal,” outward consciousness, what he comes back to is his ego-consciousness. It is still possible for him therefore, even at this late stage, to be seized again through some slight loophole in his spiritual defenses. My Guru, in fact, told me of several cases of saints who had fallen spiritually after they’d attained the high state of sabikalpa.

Fortunately, one reaches the point on his spiritual journey when, after years of struggling, he finds himself sailing on relatively smooth waters. He is aware that Satan is still hovering “in the offing,” so to speak, but that eternal enemy of the soul stands by now, not actually helpless but perhaps a little discouraged. For the sadhu has become at last a “veteran of foreign wars” — the “foreign” aspect of those wars being the endless, niggling attractions toward outward desires and attachments — and is now firmly focused on attaining the highest goal of all: union with God. Such a person may justifiably be considered an “almost victorious saint,” for though he still needs to be careful, it is also true that nothing in this world exerts any special appeal for him anymore. In his heart he knows that God is pleased with him, and his only desire, now, is to merge back into oneness with the Beloved. People’s good opinion of him means nothing to him anymore other than, perhaps, the blessing of being able to serve them better through their openness to him. People’s bad opinion of him, on the other hand, and even their enmity and persecution of him, actually reinforce in him his natural feeling of friendship for all. The reasons this happens are twofold: first, it inspires him to analyze himself impersonally, in order to see whether he might not benefit from their criticism; and secondly, it strengthens in him a growing awareness of his kinship with all mankind in the fact that he sees everyone striving to reach what is basically the same goal in life: perfection in ultimate bliss.

If any obstacle remains for him, it is likely to be only the possible intrusion of complacency: a tendency to “fall asleep at the door.” Thus, he may find himself growingly content with being a merely sattwic, or virtuous, human being filled with good qualities but, alas, perhaps so comfortable in them that he becomes spiritually lazy. Spiritual laziness, unfortunately, is not without a certain affinity for tamasic laziness. This fact suggests how people continue for countless incarnations, spiritually rising and falling like waves on the ocean of life, until they finally develop the firm will never again to rest until they’ve attained union with God.

The best way out of the slough of complacency is always, like the wise virgins in Jesus Christ’s parable, to keep the lamp of devotion burning.

The “fully victorious saint” is one, finally, who is “freed while living”: a jivan mukta. Such a one has attained nirbikalpa samadhi and final victory over the supreme — indeed, the only — obstacle he ever had: his self-created burden of self-identity, ever separative, ever self-divisive from others, and ever forming a yawning chasm between himself and God. When a person at last attains this highest state, he can never fall again. Satan will of course, and often with renewed vigor, oppose him in all his efforts to do good in this world of duality (which is Satan’s own domain), and to serve others in God’s name.

A jivan mukta still has all his incarnations of past karma to work out. Only from his state of inner freedom can that karma be dissipated. He himself remains untouched by the karma. If, then, let us say, he had a past life as a ruthless pirate, his job as a jivan mukta is to review that lifetime, from his present state of freedom, and see that it was God alone, through his private ego-dream, who acted in that capacity. Thus alone can he release into the Infinite any hold he may still have on that past dream. All that will remain is the memory of ego-involvement in it, a memory that ties all his past lives together but that is no longer personal. That is to say, in omniscience he remembers everything that happened in that life, but he is no longer in any way bound or defined by the memory.

I once asked my Guru, “Why can’t the jivan mukta simply say, ‘I am free,’ and be free?” His answer surprised me: “He can, if he wants to. In that state, however, you don’t care. You are inwardly free anyway. Many saints use their need to work out that past karma as an excuse to come back and help their disciples.” A jivan mukta, you see, is already one with God. In the Divine, no question can exist of good, greater, and greatest. In Him, all souls are equal.

Once a jivan mukta finally becomes freed even from past karma, he is called a param mukta, a siddha (perfected being), or (in English) an “ascended master”: a supremely free soul. Very few liberated souls return from that state of complete absorption in perfect, absolute bliss. Having spent not only countless million incarnations wandering in delusion, but many incarnations afterward in seeking to get out of delusion, and finally, in the end, having found God, they feel their laurels — won through much suffering during both those phases of existence — have been well earned, and may now be savored to the full. Thus, liberated souls usually feel they have “done their bit.” They are content now at last to have escaped confinement in that long drama. Now, they are perfectly satisfied to rest through eternity in Satchidananda: ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss.

And this brings us finally to the true meaning of avatar. An avatar — in English, a “descended master” — is one whose concern for others is so deeply rooted that he deliberately postpones the perfect bliss of ultimate immersion in God, returning to manifested creation for the salvation of as many as are receptive to his message and blessing.

A jivan mukta must, my Guru told me, according to the divine will, liberate a certain number of disciples. I asked him, “How many?” “At least six,” was his reply.

Master told me of an event that had happened before his time, with which his father was personally acquainted. A maharaja in Bengal had ordered a lake on his property to be drained. Buried deep under the silt at the bottom of the lake, workers found three men seated in a yoga posture, their bodies in a state of perfect preservation. Engineers working at the site estimated, from the depth at which the three men were discovered under the silt, that they must have been there at least three centuries.

These outwardly lifeless forms didn’t respond to initial attempts at reviving them. Thereupon, the maharaja ordered more drastic measures to be applied. I don’t know the nature of those measures, but I seem to remember, from Master’s account, that they consisted of pushing hot coals into the soles of their feet.

At last, all three men returned to outward awareness. They were distressed at having their profound meditation so cruelly disturbed. “You will see the results of your sin,” they said, addressing the maharaja. “They will affect yourself and your entire family. We had almost reached complete liberation from all karma. Now we shall have to be reborn before we can attain that end.” The yogis thereupon left their bodies, and a short time later the maharaja and every member of his close family died.

My Guru, in telling this story, added an interesting footnote: “The Divine Mother didn’t want those men to achieve freedom for themselves alone. That was why they were found, brought back to outward awareness, and obliged therefore to reincarnate in new bodies.” (It was at this time, if my recollection is correct, that I asked my Guru how many one must free. He replied, as I’ve stated already, “At least six.”)

The above story has more than one fascinating facet. First, one wonders why — if it was Divine Mother’s will for the yogis to be revived — the Maharaja had to pay for the evident sin of reviving them. For it was not only his cruel manner of going about it that constituted his sin: it is also considered a sin to disturb anyone who is deeply immersed in meditation. In this case, however, I would say that the cruelty of method was the much greater sin.

The second intriguing aspect of the story is that all the Maharaja’s immediate family had to pay for his sin. Why? The decision to apply those hot coals (or whatever they were) was his alone. Do an individual’s actions have an effect on the karma of any group to which he belongs? Yes, but this effect is not so easy to explain.

We must begin with a statement made by Swami Sri Yukteswar, quoted in Autobiography of a Yogi: “Reason is rightly guided only when it accepts the inevitability of divine law.” What point can be served by challenging the rightness of any spiritual law? We have no choice but to adjust our understanding to the actual ways karma works.

Thus, the Bible quotes the Jews of Christ’s time — the “chief priests, and elders,” and “the multitudes,” as accepting the punishment (if such it had to be) for his crucifixion for all their people: “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). Not a pleasant thought; indeed, the mind naturally rejects it out of hand! And yet — who can say that the Jews have not, for these two thousand years since that terrible event, undergone many exceptional hardships? They have shown themselves an extraordinarily gifted people, and yet, still, they have suffered. Will that karma change in our lifetime? Everyone must surely hope so.

When we are born into any group — a family, a nation, a people; perhaps, indeed, onto a particular planet — we must accept participation in its karma to some degree. Our own actions will aid or pollute that karma to whatever degree those actions are outstanding. In the case of the maharaja in that story, the immediate group had to pay for the sin of that one (but centrally important) member. Such, indeed, is the law.

I mention this teaching because it has one very important ramification, pertinent to the subject of this paper. When the soul of a saint becomes fully liberated, seven generations of his family in both directions are freed to varying degrees also. “Such,” as Yogananda put it, “is the glory of the crop.” To what degree are those family members freed? Certainly not to the extent of becoming fully liberated themselves; for that degree of freedom, one must work hard! Every family member may, however, be granted a high level of realization, perhaps even freedom from the need for further earthly incarnations. At any rate, all of them will gain a sufficient store of good karma to be greatly blessed in their spiritual search, and stimulated toward that search if they have never yet set foot on the path. Moreover, although most jivan muktas have no children of their own, this great blessing reaches out into “collateral” branches: cousins, nieces, nephews, and the like.

As an interesting sidelight on this issue, Dr. Lewis, Yogananda’s first Kriya Yoga disciple in America, when the Guru first told him of this great blessing the family receives, quite naturally asked, “What about the disciples?”

“Oh, they come first,” the Guru replied. Indeed, a guru’s spiritual family is his strongest karmic bond. On the other hand, if he returns repeatedly to earth, it seems almost a surfeit of special grace for his direct disciples to receive that extraordinary blessing again and again over repeated incarnations. Also regarding the family of an avatar, though I am not able to speak with authority, I cannot but suspect that this supernal blessing applies particularly to the first incarnation in which a soul attains final liberation.

Is there objective evidence regarding the truth of the statements in these last paragraphs? If so, I am not aware of it. Inasmuch, however, as there is “no new thing under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9), I cannot but think that someone, somewhere, has done the necessary research and found for it supportive statistics. For myself, the best I can offer is my own general, perhaps more-or-less-poetic impressions.

A wave consists of many drops of water. Only when the sweep of movement over an ocean’s surface is able to raise enough water will it produce a wave of any great height. Similarly, though I am not in a position to offer statistics, I think we may safely state that groups of souls, whether nations or families within those nations, rise and fall en masse, as it were. Surely, then, one whose “wave of karma” is itself “on the rise,” so to speak, will be born into a family in which the general movement, too, is upward.

My impression — it is only that — of saintly souls is that their families generally are strong willed (even if not spiritually inclined), morally upright, blessed with success karma, and each of them in some particular way idealistic. Thus, their upward motion helps to give impetus to the saint’s own spiritually upward rise. They are participants in, and not merely the passive beneficiaries of, his own supernal blessings. (Otherwise one would have to say that the grace they receive from him seems, at least, to constitute a rent in the fabric of karmic law.)

Family members — descendants, in short — who come after that saint’s lofty attainment are both drawn to his family by their natural affinity with him, and help to ensure that his attainments be of practical, outward benefit to the world and not be only a tree that bears its fruit in the wilderness.

I have also observed those generations of disciples who came both before and after a great saint’s life. Surely those who came before helped to contribute to his ultimate sanctity — even if that “contribution” constituted only persecution! Those, on the other hand, who came after him seem to have been particularly blessed with wisdom, devotion, and spiritual insight.

An avatar — to return to the next stage of spiritual freedom — is one who retains what my Guru called the “desireless desire” to continue helping to liberate others. There is no bondage in that desire where he himself is concerned; it is only his deep love for suffering humanity that brings him back to earth.

People who make distinctions of quality between one avatar and another are speaking out of ignorance. In God, it is not possible for such relativities to exist. Thus, if Yogananda called Lahiri Mahasaya a yogavatar, Swami Sri Yukteswar a gyanavatar, and Babaji a mahavatar, he was referring to their outward roles, not to their inner realization.

To describe anyone, on the other hand, as a purnavatar (complete avatar) shows a misunderstanding, unless the description is meant more poetically than literally. The mistake lies in indicating that such an incarnation rarely contains in himself all the divine qualities. Since all of them are equal both in realization and in divine power — merely emphasizing, in their outward roles, some particular aspect of the divine in order to clarify their specific missions on earth — it would, according to my best understanding, be pointless to call any of them purna, or complete.

I once asked my Guru, in the context of the relativities of realization, “What about Mataji, the sister of Babaji? In your autobiography you state that she was ‘nearly as highly advanced as Babaji.'” Master replied, “That means she hadn’t yet reached complete freedom. But,” he added, “she must have reached it by now.” Not an altogether satisfactory answer, perhaps, but it shows that everyone, having once reached spiritual perfection, is as great as any other liberated master.

Rajarshi Janakananda, Yogananda’s most highly advanced disciple, reached full liberation in this lifetime. Rajarshi himself declared that Paramhansa Yogananda qualified for the further title, premavatar: “incarnation of divine love.” Certainly I would not presume to challenge his appellation. Yet I have asked myself, “Did Master himself fully endorse it?”

At Sister Gyanamata’s funeral, Master said, “Sister got there [attained liberation in God] through wisdom. I myself got there through bliss.”

On at least three occasions I was with the monks when he gave them an important piece of advice, and was alone with him on one other occasion when he said the same thing to me personally, to this effect: “It is better to seek God primarily for bliss, and only secondarily for His love, for in love there is the possibility of one’s feelings becoming too personal, rather than outwardly expansive to infinity.”

I’ve given more careful “credentials” for this advice, showing it as having been truly his, because when I mentioned it to Daya Mata she replied, “I never heard him say that” — as if implying that he could not have said it. Curiously, it seems that during his discussions with the monks he was more inclined to speak in terms that were spiritually impersonal.

I have mentioned on other occasions how Tara edited those words he addressed to me, “Wherever God is, there His saints come.” She changed them to read, “Wherever a devotee [italics mine] of God is, there His saints come.”

Years after he’d addressed to me those words I quoted above, “Evil is the absence of true joy,” Tara said to me she could make nothing of it, and therefore editorially changed his words to read, “Men turn to evil in the absence of true joy.” What she’d failed to understand was that his words addressed, not men’s reactions in the matter, but the nature of evil itself. To me, it was her version that lacked sense. It was too personal. For indeed, the farther one goes into evil the less he has of true joy. Master’s words explained specifically, therefore, what it is about evil that makes it evil: it obscures ever more completely the true bliss of the soul.

Tara showed this personal take also in her comment to me about my interest in the Bhrigu Samhita, a very ancient document that contains predictions about the future lives of individuals who would not live until centuries in the future relative to the time of its composition. What most interested me was that this document, if valid, contains proof of a level of greatness in ancient Indian culture that was far beyond anything remotely imagined by modern scholars of that culture. For one like myself whose job it is to present India’s ancient spiritual culture in its high state of advancement, and as consisting of far more than cows, cowherds, and pastoral scenes, the possibility that this ancient book of prophecies might be true was like stumbling upon a Rosetta stone. For someone, again, who wanted facts to support Sri Yukteswar’s view of history to the effect that mankind only descended from a much higher culture, that “Rosetta stone” seemed to be, in addition, a diamond mine.

Tara’s statement, “The ONLY reason for your interest in that book was that it said such glowing things about YOU!” left me utterly taken aback. I couldn’t plumb the depths of suspicion that must have given rise to such an explanation. And yet Tara, of all the women disciples, was perhaps one of the least personal in her outlook.

Consider what my discovery consisted of: two books of prophecy, in two different parts of north India. In the second one, it began with the words, “I have already given him a reading in my Yoga Valli.” This second one said I would be born in Romania and raised in America; that my father would name me James (my actual, though little-known, first name); that I would have two brothers, “but no living sister is possible, though one will die in his mother’s womb.” (I checked with my mother after my return to America, and she confirmed that she had in fact had a miscarriage.) This second reading said that my guru’s name would be Yogananda; that I would become well known in the world as a teacher of ashtanga yoga (I was relatively well known already). It gave me the fruits of my good karmas (former actions), and also those of my bad. It said nothing about my future that my Guru hadn’t told me already. It added, however, that I would return to my own country within two months (a prediction that proved to be correct), and that, upon my return, I would be “given a high position.” (In fact, shortly after my return I was made the vice president and was placed on the SRF board of directors.)

I did what I could to verify the antiquity of this old parchment, which was in any case said to be only a copy of the original. The best I could get was that it was “definitely not recent — much older than months, and written in a handwriting style not more recent than that of 150 years ago.”

To me, even now after some fifty years, this document contains much more than Sherlock Holmes’s customary statement about a case presenting “several points of interest.”

Well, my purpose here is not to discuss the (perhaps) turgid depths of feminine psychology, but simply to point out, as Master did, the possible pitfalls of devotion when it is directed too personally. For there are many kinds of love. In English we don’t even have an equivalent for Prem. Prem signifies infinite, divine love. It may be described as what Conscious, Absolute Bliss feels for its universal creation. Divine love is only an expression of Bliss. Bliss, on the other hand, is higher than love, since love implies some object to be loved.

Because the very concept of impersonal, divine love is quite beyond the average person’s capacity for understanding, added to the fact that the word prem doesn’t even exist in the English language, I wonder how widely the classification premavatar is, or even could be, understood. Adding that question to Master’s own words, and taking into account that the women disciples haven’t shown much understanding of, and still less appreciation for the deeper, more philosophical aspects of Master’s teachings, makes me wonder whether he, himself, would not have preferred the term, Blissavatar.

Why not the Sanskrit equivalent: Ananda? Simply because that word alone doesn’t do it. It should be Satchidanandavatar — hopelessly cumbersome to the modern ear. Ananda by itself carries rather the connotation of Joy, to which there is always contrasting sorrow or suffering. Only Divine Bliss is absolute. We can “cut to the chase” with it in English, so why not say, simply, Blissavatar?

Paramhansa Yogananda was certainly an incarnation, also, of divine love. I am not trying in any way to discount Rajarshi’s appellation. At the same time, I think it must be added that, to be an avatar at all, divine love must be the inspiration behind that descent. What else would cause a completely free soul to come back from absolute bliss to this “vale of tears”? Yet Sri Yukteswar, whom Master described as manifesting God’s love to him, was so distant in his outward expression of that love that, when I once said to Master, “I see deep divine love expressed in his eyes,” Master chuckled at what could only be described as a regretful memory. His words to me were, “There was no love in those eyes!” So, all right, I accept that, comparing the two, what Master manifested particularly was indeed divine love.

Yet, to me, Bliss remains his main self-definition, and helps one better to understand that aspect of his personality which could have given rise, in other lives, to Arjuna and William. 

I therefore offer this suggestion humbly and also somewhat hesitantly, as an appellation that covers what I might call the whole picture.

Why not think of him also, as I’ve suggested, as a Bliss-avatar?


(to essay, Why I Love My Guru)

This essay will be brief.

Yesterday, someone who had just read my essay on my love for my Guru suggested to me, “It would be wonderful if you would write further articles on each of Master’s outstanding qualities.”

I disagreed, replying, “Master was beyond all qualities. He was triguna rahitam, beyond all the three gunas, which is to say, the qualities, especially of human nature.” To describe as a quality even his friendship for us is, in the highest sense of the term, a misnomer, for his friendship for us is God’s love, which is only channeled through that human vehicle. Our love for Master himself must be not only for him personally, but above all for God through him.

One time Norman, a brother disciple, wrote Master a note saying, “When I see you, I see only Divine Mother.” Master, who was humility itself, might have disclaimed his unworthiness of any such comparison. Instead, he replied quietly, “Then behave accordingly.”

For this reason I asked that my letter be withdrawn from In Divine Friendship (a book of my letters) concerning a quality of Master’s: his enormous will power. I had described that as the foremost of his qualities in which, it seems to me, all of his disciples share. I withdrew that letter because I realized, later, that it wasn’t adequate. What true disciples share is something much deeper, and perhaps not even to be put into words: a subtle attunement with his special ray of the Divine Consciousness.

Several people have told me, or have written to say, that, as I feel toward Master, so they feel toward me. I had a dream last night which may help to clarify that thought. I won’t relate the dream itself, as it was personal, but I took it as a warning from Master to pass on to all of you.

The essential difference between attunement with Master and attunement with me is that Master lives eternally in cosmic consciousness, whereas I am still struggling to reach that state. What he channels to us is the Infinite Lord Himself. What I am able to channel to you is whatever I have succeeded so far in channeling of Master’s consciousness to yours. That I feel his bliss is a cause for my own deep gratitude. But I feel it is very important for everyone to realize that whatever I have to give anyone is not, and must never become, personal. To the extent that anyone takes it as such it can be binding not only for that person, but also, potentially, for me.

Therefore I plead with you — for my own sake quite as much as for yours: “See me only as a channel for our Guru.” I try my best to serve you in that capacity, and am grateful if, to any extent, I succeed in that effort. If, however, I seem to be for some of you — if only by default! — the best instrument you’ve met, please always remember for what, and for whom, this instrument lives. I have no other desire than to bring you closer to God by bringing you into deeper spiritual attunement with my Guru.

He is our actual channel to God.

Please never forget this important distinction. And please always remember it in your own dealings with others who come to Master through you, if they seek you out for inspiration and guidance.

Copyright 2008 Hansa Trust