How Can an Anthill Describe a Mountain? — First Days of Writing The Path: My Life with Paramhansa Yogananda

Swami Kriyananda edits The Path at a chapter reading for the Ananda Village residents, 1976. Click image to enlarge.

After Master died, Swamiji wrote down every conversation, story, and experience he could remember that he hadn’t already recorded. He also wrote down the recollections of others. For years he meditated on the meaning of each word and story. “Much was conveyed,” Swamiji said, “by subtle nuance, Master’s tone of voice, or the look in his eyes.”

Swamiji thought his own story, how a more or less typical Westerner came to be the disciple of a great Guru, might also be helpful to people. Master had encouraged him to write that story, too. Eventually, Swamiji decided to combine them into an autobiography of his search for truth and the fulfillment he found in Master.

He began writing in 1971, but stopped when he realized, “I haven’t grown enough yet.” Two years later he started again, wrote two chapters, then felt, “Not yet.” For a year and a half, he meditated and prayed for guidance. Now he began to write again.

I was working as his secretary and also had a day job at Pubble (Ananda Publications), which was really working for Swamiji, too, as he was our only author and closely supervised the business. I received my salary directly from him: $50 a month in cash from his own wallet.

As a courtesy to Swamiji, I was exempt from community fees. I lived in a small trailer, cheap to begin with, now long since paid for. I had no car, no insurance of any kind. My only expenses were food, propane for heat, kerosene for light. Money went farther in those days, and I didn’t find it difficult to be comfortable within my purse, as Master’s Guru, Sri Yukteswar, recommended. When I did fall short, I was always taken care of. I felt wealthy beyond the dreams of kings.

Ayodhya, where Swamiji, I, and most of the monks and nuns lived, was about a mile from Pubble, as the devotee walks, over the hill and through the woods. Communication then was by telephone or postal service, neither of which connected directly to Swamiji’s house. If you wanted him to know something you had to walk over the hill and tell him. Every weekday in the late afternoon, and occasionally on Saturday, Seva and I, and sometimes a few others, would bring Swamiji news, mail, and messages.

The day he started working again on his autobiography, I found him sitting on the floor of his office amidst hundreds of pieces of paper of various sizes arranged carefully in stacks. Each was a note about Master, some handwritten, some typed. Swamiji had spent the day sorting and organizing them. He greeted me, but remained where he was on the floor.

With a look of utter dismay, he said, “How am I ever going to turn all of this into a book about Master?”

Later he said, “I can’t convey to you the kind of fear that came over me when I faced the enormity of the responsibility. How can the anthill describe Mount Everest? But it was a duty from Master that I had to fulfill.”

Too much depended on Swamiji for him to drop out completely. But as much as possible, he spent his days in seclusion working on his autobiography. He went over every sentence scores of times. He would put the typed pages on a clipboard, move from his desk to a comfortable chair nearby, then write by hand whatever changes were needed. If he made even one change on a page, it had to be retyped and reviewed again before he could be sure that page was done.

He was the only one who could do the writing and editing, but I thought I could do the retyping for him. He was reluctant, though, to turn it over to me. Retyping often turned into more editing. And his handwriting, suffice to say, was not easy to decipher. What if I missed important changes?

I pointed out that, as his secretary, I had learned to interpret his scrawl, as he called it. I promised to double check every page to be sure nothing was missed. About editing as he typed, the net result might still be a gain. He agreed to try it. Gradually he saw that I could be trusted, and began to save the retyping for me.

His entire house was one large dome, divided into office, sitting room, and sleeping loft by partitions that stopped far short of the high ceiling. He was out of sight in his office, but every sound could be heard; the dome was like an acoustic shell. Seva and I always came in quietly so as not to break his train of thought. Sometimes he stopped work immediately. If he went on typing, we waited silently until he was done.

He didn’t always greet our arrival with the phrase, “To what do I owe this great honor?” but that spirit was always there. I was never the secretary who comes to type his manuscript. I was his friend—a cup of tea, some relaxing conversation. Only afterward did we get down to business.

Even the requests he made were proffered first as hints, respecting my freedom to offer or refuse. Our afternoon visits regularly extended through dinner, sometimes late into the night, so I never made any other plans. Serving Swamiji was not my first priority, it was my only priority, and he knew it. Still, he never presumed.

People speak grandly of having no expectations but it is a hard ideal to live up to. Habit takes over. “You are my husband, wife, child, secretary—therefore….” Even unspoken, expectation is there.

God’s joy is ever-new. Yesterday may hint at what today will bring, but it can never define it. Swamiji’s delighted surprise at our showing up—once again—at the appointed hour, was no affectation. He encouraged us in his own practice: “Every night, give back to God your little part of His creation.” When morning comes, whatever comes with it, is His gift to you, not yours by right. (Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer, 1974, pp. 74-76)

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.