Only Love Can Take My Place

Fifty-nine years ago today, on March 7, 1952, Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, experienced mahasamadhi: the act of consciously and intentionally leaving one’s body at the time of death. The experience could not have been better scripted in terms of event, people and timing. I still marvel about the perfection of it all. Here is an account of Yogananda’s final hours from the book, Finding the Joy WIthin You by Sri Daya Mata, one of his foremost disciples who would later serve as president of Self-Realization Fellowship, the worldwide spiritual organization founded by Yogananda in 1920, for fifty-five years.

Paramahansa Yogananda in 1926 (Courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, California)

Near the end of Gurudeva’s life, he was preparing to receive the Indian ambassador, Dr. Binary R. Sen (who was to come the foollowing morning to visit Guruji at our Self-Realziation headquarters). Guruji called the disciples into the ashram kitchen and said, “Today we will prepare curries and Indian sweetmeats for the ambassador.” We cooked all day long, and Guruji was in a state of great joy.

Late that evening, he called me to him and said, “Come, let us take a walk.” The ashram is a large three-story building. As we walked down the third-floor hall, he paused in front of a picture of his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswarji. He gazed at the picture for a long time, eyes unblinking. And then very quietly he turned to me and said: “Do you realize that it is just a matter of hours and I will be gone from this earth?” Tears flooded my eyes. Intuitively, I knew that what he said was to come to pass. A short time earlier, when he spoke to me of leaving his body, I had cried to him, “Master, you are the diamond in the ring of our hearts, and of your society. How can we carry on without you?” With such sweet love and compassion, his eyes like soft pools of divine bliss, he answered, “When I am gone, only love can take my place. Be so drunk with the love of God that you will know nothing but God; and give that love to all.”

On the final day, he was to speak at a banquet for the ambassador in downtown Los Angeles. We who served him arose in the early dawn and went to his door to see if we could do anything for him. As we entered, he was sitting very quietly in the chair in which he frequently meditated and was often in ecstasy. When he didn’t want us to talk, he would put his finger to his lips, meaning, “I am in silence.” The moment he did that, I saw the withdrawal of his soul, that he was gradually severing each of the hidden ties that bind the soul to the body. Sorrow filled my heart, and yet strength too, because I knew that no matter what happened, through my devotion to him, my Guru would never leave my heart.

All day long he remained in that interiorized state. Toward evening, we went with him to the large hotel where the banquet was to be held. Arriving early, Guruji waited in a little room upstairs, quietly meditating. We disciples sat around him on the floor. After some time, he gazed at each of us in turn. I remember thinking, as he looked at me, “My beloved Guru is giving me a farewell darshan [the blessing bestowed by the sight of a God-realized being]. Then he went down to the banquet hall.

There was a large audience, which included city, state, and Government of India officials. I was sitting some distance from the speakers’ table, but my mind and gaze never left the blessed Guru’s face. Finally, the time came for him to speak. Gurudeva was the last to do so before Ambassador Sen was to address the gathering. As Guruji rose from his chair, my heart skipped a beat and I thought, “Oh, this is that moment!”

When he began speaking, with such love for God, the whole audience was like one person; no one stirred. They were transfixed by the tremendous force of love that he was pouring from his heart upon all of them. Many lives were changed that night—including some who later entered the ashram as monastics and many others who became members of the society—because of that divine experience. His last words [from his poem, “My India”] were of the India he loved so much: “Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves, and men dream God—I am hallowed; my body touched that sod.”

As he uttered these words, he lifted his eyes to the Kutastha center [or Chirst Center, the point between the eyebrows], and his body slumped to the floor. In an instant—our feet seemed not to touch the ground—two of us disciples were by his side. Thinking that he might have gone into samadhi [an enlightened state of consciousness], we softly chanted Aum in his right ear. (Over the years he had told us that when he went into ecstasy, if after some time his consciousness did not return we could bring him out of that state by chanting “Aum” in his right ear.) As I was chanting, a miraculous experience took place. I do not know how to describe it to you, but as I knelt over my blessed Guru, I could see that his soul was leaving the body; and then a tremendous force entered my being. I say “tremendous” because it was an overwhelming blissful force of love, peace, and understanding. I remember thinking, “What is this?” My consciousness was lifted up in such a way that I could feel no sorrow, I could shed no tears; and it has been so from that day to this, because I know beyond any doubt that he is truly with me.

In August 2011, during the annual Self-Realization Fellowship World Convocation, I had the privilege of visiting the Biltmore Hotel and standing in the very spot where Yogananda experienced his mahasamadhi. That location, which was part of a ballroom in 1952, is now part of the hotel lobby.

Click here to view all my posts about Paramahansa Yogananda and Self-Realization Fellowship.

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6 Responses to “Only Love Can Take My Place”

  1. Dona Koshowany Says:

    Hi Phil
    Thanks for sharing this remarkable story.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’re very welcome, Dona. He was a remarkable man.

  3. Rick Carlton Says:

    Thanks Phil, stilled myself and read this wonderful story as soon as I received it this morning. We are blessed! Jai Guru!

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Indeed we are, Rick! Nice to see you in Encinitas Sunday and I hope to see you and Suzanne again soon!

  5. Barbara Simila Says:

    Oh, what a beautiful read. Fills my heart with Love for all of Creation. Thank you for sharing this story.

  6. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Barbara, the pleasure is all mine. I’m glad you were touched.

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