The idea behind this chapter was to describe the glorious passing of four great disciples of Yogananda: Rajarsi Janakananda, Sister Gyanamata, Oliver Black, and Dr. Lewis. But the lines expanded to tell quite a bit about their lives, becoming almost tiny biographies.
Rajarsi Janakananda (James Jesse Lynn, 1892-1955, born in Archibald, Louisiana) was Yogananda’s foremost disciple and successor, to whom he “passed his mantle,” as he said.
Yogananda and Rajarsi incarnated practically at the same time – Rajarsi was just 7 months older. Yogananda actually spoke of them having “twin karma.”
Rajarsi, or “St. Lynn,” had been a disciple for many lifetimes. Yogananda once wrote to him: “You are the Hindu yogi of the Himalayas sent as an American Prince Maharaj Yogi, to light the lamp of Yogoda in the groping hearts of our Western brothers.”
In another letter he told Rajarsi lovingly: “You are my Vivekananda.” And: “I recognize your many changing faces of the past. How often in the gloom of incarnations, I have meditated with you. Such love and divine friendship, such golden cords that tied our souls in the past.”
Rajarsi, talking about Yogananda, said: “A master is one who is an angel of God, and in our beloved Swamiji we have one who is the very embodiment of love, unselfishness, possessed with Divine Joy.”
The love between Guru and disciple is love on its highest and purest level. Such was the relationship between these two God-filled souls. In Yogananda’s letters to Rajarsi one can get a glimpse of their blissful inner soul-union. “You and me are one light in two bodies,” Yogananda once said.
Rajarsi Janakananda had been raised in a poor family, but worked his way up to become a self-made millionaire. But he was different from most millionaires: he, a high yogi, was following his karmic mission to put Yogananda’s work on a stable financial foundation.
Rajarsi met Yogananda in Kansas in January 1932. He thus appeared just in perfect time, when a huge mortgage for Mt. Washington had to be paid, at a time when the whole of America was struggling financially. Rajarsi, as Yogananda declared, “saved the work.”
So restless was Rajarsi that he couldn’t sit still for a moment, and was fidgeting about all the time. (Isn’t it amazing how the surface of our personalities can totally disguise our true nature?) At their meeting, however, Rajarsi saw a blue light around Yogananda, filling the whole stage. He got totally absorbed, sat straight, and became perfectly motionless, perceiving a deep inner stillness. His old karma surfaced. From then on he was ever immersed in God. Within only five years Rajarsi attained samadhi. There is a beautiful samadhi-picture of him in 1937, printed in the Autobiography of a Yogi.
Rajarsi was a tough businessman, but in truth his nature was tender. When, as a child, a play became too rough, he withdrew, and when someone got hurt, he cried with him. He actually wore long hair up to the age of six- that old yogi!- and was a natural leader. When one hears his voice in a recording, it sounds amazingly soft and sweet.
Rajarsi was a man of few words, but when he spoke, they were to the point. Nothing escaped his sharp awareness. In his later years, when he wasn’t doing business, he practically talked exclusively about God, Guru, and mediation.
Rajarsi meditated a lot, and cosmically. Once Yogananda was walking with another disciple on the grounds in Encinitas, when he saw Rajarsi meditating there. Pulling the disciple aside, Yogananda whispered, “You have no idea what great blessings are drawn to the work every time one of its followers goes as deep in meditation as Rajarsi does.”
Rajarsi continued to live in Kansas, with his (pretty dreadful) wife Frieda, who in 1954 heard about Rajarsi’s million dollar gift to SRF, and “raised the roof” with anger. There he lead a meditation group. Whenever he could, he came to visit his Master, Yogananda. It was always a most special occasion. Yogananda took greatest pain to prepare Mt. Washington for his “beloved Nr.1,” working hard with the other disciples to make everything as beautiful and spotless as possible. Rajarsi tried to come for each Christmas, too. As a Christmas gift, he often gave large sums of money to Yogananda. In general, he helped Yogananda to resolve many precarious financial situations, including with his school in India.
When Yogananda returned to India in 1935/36 (the trip was, of course, sponsored by Rajarsi), Rajarsi secretly built for him the beautiful Encinitas hermitage, where Yogananda later wrote the greater part of his Autobiography. Yogananda actually stayed there most of his time from 1937 on (which was painful for many disciples who now saw him much less), because at Mt. Washington he simply couldn’t find the quiet he needed for his writings.
In time Rajarsi’s business stabilized, and he was able to spend more time with Yogananda. In 1946 finally a serious illness made Rajarsi come to stay at the Encinitas hermitage for many months. Thereafter, he returned often, remaining for months at a time.
Rajarsi never occupied an official position in SRF, except as a meditation group leader. In August 1951, however, Yogananda bestowed “sannyas” on him, giving him the orange robe, and announced that he would become the second SRF president.
In 1951, upon Yogananda’s request, Rajarsi bought for health reasons a farm house in the desert, in Borrego Springs. He later went to live there, experiencing many visions of Yogananda, who had passed away in March 1952.
Rajarsi’s health, unfortunately, got worse. He developed a brain tumor, and was first operated in August 1952. His days, however, were blissfully filled with one vision after the other of Yogananda. Rajarsi said that at one point he actually died, but that Yogananda brought him back into his body.
Rajarsi at that time made SRF the beneficiary of his life insurance, and also gave stocks worth of a million dollar to SRF. Altogether “SRF will have from three, four, yes, even six million in its assets to its credit.” He was happy. His mission on earth was fulfilled.
In January1954, Swami Atmanada (leader in YSS) and Prokash Ghose (future SRF vice president, cousin of Yogananda), the two disciples who wanted to come to see Yogananda’s body when he had had passed on (which is why the casket wasn’t closed for three weeks, and why the miracle of his incorrupt body was revealed to the world), finally came to America. Atmananda then took his Swami vows from Rajarsi (he had before been made a Swami by a letter from Yogananda).
Later, in Aril 1954, Rajarsi had his second operation. A third one followed in October. All that time he was divinely united with Yogananda, in many blissful visions.
About his moment of passing:
His last day finally came. It was February 20, 1955. Daya Mata, Mrinalini Mata, Sailasuta Mata, and Durga Mata were with him. Durga Ma held his hand in hers to the end. Rajarsi, the illumined yogi, merged into the light. Even outwardly, a white light began to surrounded his head. The light kept getting brighter and brighter around it. Then his breath vanished. Yogananda’s “little prince” was in Eternity. As Yogananda had told him: “The Infinite Kingdom in yours!”
Sister Gyanamata (Edith Anne Ruth D’Evelyn Bissett, 1869-1951, born in Woodbridge, Canada) first met Yogananda personally in 1925, in her own home in Seattle, where, incidentally, she had already hosted Rabindranath Tagore.
Just imagine the scene: the distinguished wife of a well-respected professor (the Bissetts had, for example, a famous private library with one of the largest collection in the world of texts about Lincoln), keenly intelligent, having read the works of the world’s greatest thinkers, a mature woman of 56 years meets a 32 year young “Hindu swami in the ochre robe of renunciation.” Physically, she could have been his mother. But such considerations were too superficial for her deep inner insight: she saw a Christ-like being in front of her, and vowed her heart, mind and soul to him. In her devotion, she kept orange flowers on the floor where her guru had stood. A perfect symbol of her life of complete devotion to him.
After that first meeting, alas, for five long years she didn’t see Yogananda again. But she wrote him letters constantly. “She is an old devotee of incarnations,” Yogananda wrote.
Her health, however, was not good at all. She had a heart attack and other serious physical illnesses. In 1930 doctors actually said they had not much hope for her surviving, and told her that they could not help her anymore. The Bissetts in that year went to live in La Jolla, not far from Yogananda’s headquarters in Los Angeles. Whenever Yogananda returned from his travels, Gyanamata came to visit him. Being the Master he was, Yogananda healed her of her fatal sickness. Her faith in him was measureless.
In 1932 she finally came to live in Mount Washington, after her husband had died. Yogananda said about him: “He was a great man of God. Few people knew that.” Without sign of disease, he had foretold his death three month before. That was the year Gyanamata too was “scheduled” to pass on, but Yogananda, as he said, “begged God” for her life, and with His grace kept her in the body for 20 more years. She was of inestimable value to him, even though outwardly she was not able to do very much.
After arriving at Mt. Washington, Yogananda immediately made Gyanamata a Sister (in 1932, while Durga Mata writes it was in 1931). Yogananda’s monastic order had then just started, with Daya Mata’s arrival in November 1931.
In 1933 Yogananda placed her in charge of his headquarters, whenever he wasn’t there. She succeeded Dhirananda, who had left, and Nerode, who was now traveling and teaching. Yogananda was relieved that Gyanamata was now there. She was reliable, he knew.
In 1935 Yogananda incorporated his society under the name Self-Realization Fellowship Church, with himself being the president, and Sister Gyanamata the vice-president. In that same year Yogananda left for India. While gone, Gyanamata was in charge of Mt. Washington, whom Yogananda therefore called the “Guardian angel of Mt. Washington.”
After Yogananda returned to California in Nov. 1936, he received the Encinitas hermitage as a gift from Rajarsi. Gyanamata moved there, being in charge of it. Here she lived from then on, as did Yogananda for much of his time. And here she finally left her body in 1951, aged 82.
The divine love story between Yogananda and Rajarsi could maybe only be matched by the story of Divine Love with “Sister.” While Yogananda walked hand in hand with Rajarsi, he of course couldn’t do that with Gyanamata. With her, the communion of love was purely inside. She always stood up when he entered the room, in silent inner contact with him. “She and I never talk, but we always understand each other,” Yogananda said. They wrote each other “thought letters.”
Amazingly, and revealingly, he once wrote: “She is a goddess. She and I are one.”
When Gyanamata died, Yogananda cried out, “Sister darling!” Many tears filled his eyes. His human side in him was missing her “terribly,” whom he called the “Queen of wisdom.” “But she will be back.”
At her Memorial Service Yogananda told people that “this is no funeral service for Sister, it is an expression of my love for her who lived so perfectly.” Gyanamata had suffered tremendously, year after year. Her suffering however, was not for herself, as Yogananda explained, but “for the sins of others who became saintly through her life.” She was “going through the terrible karma of others.” Gyanamata actually had disciples, as Yogananda once said. Blessed ones! She had achieved Nirbikalpa Samadhi already in her former life, and ranked as high as the greatest saints of Christianity. She had the same characteristics as Teresa of Avila, Yogananda wrote.
Gyanamata, by the way, was not the only disciple taking on the karma of others. In Durga Mata’s book we read that Yogananda explained that Rajarsi suffered for the karma of others, and that she (Durga) too was taking the karma of others.
Now about Gyanamata’s glorious passing:
It was November 17, 1951. In her last moments, Sister Gyanamata was radiant. She had an illumined smile on her face, and exclaimed her last words: “Such joy, such joy, too much joy!” She took a few very long (Kriya) breaths, then her breath stopped, and she was gone. Yogananda arrived soon afterwards. “Touch her feet,” he said to those present. They were cold. “Now touch the top of her head.” The head was very hot, as if on fire. It was a sign, Yogananda explained, that she had left in a state of “Mukti,” final liberation. “Your seat God has kept for you in heaven.” She had arrived!
Oliver Black (1893-1989) is not a very well-known disciple, even though Yogananda described him as second in Self-realization, right after Rajarsi. Third was Gyanamata. He was thus in extremely lofty company: we are speaking of a saint of highest stature. That must be the reason why he, as a family man and founder of his own spiritual community, was listed until his death in 1989 amongst official SRF ministers authorized to give Kriya initiation.
Oliver Black was born in Grover Hill, Ohio, in 1893, the same year Yogananda was born, who was only 8 months older. As Rajarsi, Oliver Black was a self-made man, a millionaire industrialist selling automobile parts in Detroit. He was an energetic and highly talented person, who started on a very small scale: in his garage, with an investment of only $500. By the time Oliver Black retired from his business in 1952, it was valued $35 million dollars a year.
He and his wife Ethel had two children: a son Robert, who was killed while a pilot in World War II, and a daughter Phylis. His wife died in 1970.
Oliver Black met Yogananda in 1931 at a private party. It was instantaneous recognition: “I instantly recognized him for the spiritual giant he was.” Oliver’s life of discipleship began that day, and bore wonderful fruit: “He changed the whole direction of my life.”
It must have been a deeply fulfilling time for Yogananda: he met Rajarsi, Oliver Black, Daya Mata all in that same period, a time when Gyanamata moved to Mt Washington… all these shining stars in his spiritual heaven.
Oliver Black described his inner state at that time in colorful words: “When I first met him (at 38 years) I was afraid to get half a mile away from a drug store. I was a regular hypochondriac. Took pills for laxatives, aspirins for headaches, and probably would have taken tranquilizers if they’d had them. I was a victim of inner pressures too, like all of my colleagues. Besides running a successful company, I studied and taught a small philosophy class. We were trying to find an answer to man’s existence.”
The outward search for truth was now over. “Yogananda taught where to find it. You might say he handed me a blueprint, and I’ve been following it ever since.”
However, the change Oliver Black made was not as big as Yogananda would have liked. His dharma was different than Rajarsi’s: for many years Yogananda encouraged Oliver Black to withdraw from his business, and start teaching other truth-seekers. “Yogananda kept telling me to get out of business, but I just wouldn’t listen.”
True, Oliver Black was the leader of the SRF center in Detroit, but his guru had much greater plans for him. In May 1951, he wrote him: “With your organizational power you can do something much greater, much more lasting, much easier, and much more secure than present-day business organizations in which one works to pay taxes, ruining his health and happiness. Detroit, being in the center of the United States, has a great opportunity to draw true seekers, both from the East and West. I would like nothing better than for you to establish a sub-headquarters there.”
In August, 1951,Yogananda gave Oliver Black in a ceremony the spiritual title of “Yogacharya,” together with Rev. Bernard Cole and about five others. That was also the time when Yogananda gave Rajarsi his sannyas vows, the orange robe, and his monastic name. There is a photo which shows that ceremony (Bhaktananda is seen on it too). Researchers can find it on the internet.
After his last meeting with Oliver Black, Yogananda lovingly remarked, “Did you see God in his eyes?”
Yogananda passed on soon after that, in March 1952. It was a year of dramatic change for Oliver Black. Yogananda had repeatedly told him that if he did not leave his business willingly, something would happen to force him into the spiritual direction. And so it happened. In 1952, through a hostile stock-market takeover, Oliver Black lost most of what he had built up with so much effort, and most of his wealth. He still remained a moderately wealthy man, though. But now he retired from his business…finally!
A new phase started in his life: he created a Yoga school (Yogacharya Oliver Black’s Self-realization yoga), in which he taught Yoga asanas, and trained other teachers- again with huge success.
In 1966, his weekly Sunday meditation and lecture services were attended by 200-300 people! His hatha yoga teachers were reaching thousands of students! And his yearly “Festival of Yoga” in Detroit was attended by over 3000 seekers. His was the most successful yoga and meditation activity in the United States at that time!
Oliver Black’s main focus, of course, was teaching meditation, and the deeper aspects of yoga. He initiated all of his yoga teachers in the highest techniques of meditation. But for some reason, in the early 70ies his success began to fade.
By 1971, he had sold off all his properties except for a beautiful, forested 800-acre land near Gaylord, Michigan, which became his full-time yoga retreat, called “Song of the Morning Ranch.” There he lived and taught, together with Bob Raymor, another direct disciple of Yogananda. The retreat still functions today, though Yogananda’s Kriya message seems not very central there anymore.
Oliver Black was known for his luminous face, his infectious laughter, his divine love and friendship. He uncannily knew people’s thoughts, and many a miracle is told from his life. He lived up to 96 years- ever remaining young, healthy and active.
His passing was beautiful. It happened on September 16, 1989. He died as only an advanced yogi can. Throughout his last day, he went into meditation. Then came the time for his final exit: he arranged himself in the lotus posture, and sat quietly. His gaze was turned upward, fixing the point between the eyebrows. His soul at that moment left the body gloriously. The body gently fell backward, remaining in the perfect lotus pose, while his soul was streaming upwards. Oliver Black had consciously entered the realm of Bliss.
Another highly advanced soul, very close to Yogananda, was Dr. Lewis (1893-1960, Boston). Yogananda wrote him: “Let only God consciousness reign between us; let the everlasting spiritual tie be stronger than ever.” Their meeting in this life was a renewed friendship in God. And it will go on in the next, as Yogananda once told Dr. Lewis: “We have lived a good life together. It seems only yesterday that we met. In a little while we shall be separated, but soon we’ll be together again.”
Dr. Lewis came down to the material plane in March 1893, just two months after Yogananda. It was about the same time when also Rajarsi and Oliver Black incarnated. Those four men came down as a group of friends, it seems.
A birthday sidelight: Yogananda for many years avoided celebrating his birthday, and kept the date a secret – until 1939, when his younger brother Bishnu came to visit him from India. From Bishnu the disciples finally learned of Yogananda’s birthday date, and his birthday was celebrated for the first time in the West. But, alas, Yogananda didn’t reveal the year of his birth! Thus his birthday cake used to be decorated with only one candle, which he blew out while having his wish (“I still have a little strength of breath. I must take care I don’t blow the cake away!”). Through the years it became a tradition at Yogananda’s birthday gatherings that Dr. Lewis would try to cajole his Guru into revealing his age, but Yogananda always refused. “My age is infinite!”
Dr. Lewis was a married man, with a wife, Mildred, and two children: Bradford and Brenda. Their family lived in Boston, where Dr. Lewis was a dentist and had his practice.
After Yogananda arrived in America, in Boston, on September 19,1920, he soon met Alice Haysey (Sister Yogamata), who invited her friend Mildred Lewis to come and meet him at their community church. After meeting him, Mrs. Lewis wanted her husband to meet Yogananda too. Dr. Lewis did, on Christmas Eve, 1920. “What is that ‘single eye’ the Bible speaks of?” It was a question which had haunted Dr. Lewis for a long time. “Can you show it to me?” Yogananda on the spot showed him the heavenly glory of the spiritual eye and the 1000-petal lotus. Dr. Lewis was ecstatic. He became the first American Kriyaban, and Yogananda’s friend for a lifetime. But he almost got into deep trouble with Mildred (go read in “Treasures Against Time”).
Yogananda writes in his Autobiography that he lived in Boston “in humble circumstances,” while trying to start his mission. Dr. Lewis at times invited Yogananda to stay in his home in Boston.
When Yogananda in 1923 left for his lecture “campaign,” he asked Dr. Lewis to remain in Boston, to lead the meditation group there, and to raise money to support his tours.
Throughout the years, Yogananda and Dr. Lewis remained in contact, outwardly and inwardly. Dr. Lewis later came “twice annually from Boston to Encinitas.” In 1929 Yogananda returned to Boston to give a lecture there. In 1942 he returned there again, with Swami Premananda. he recounts in the Autobiography: “Sir,” Dr. Lewis said to me, smiling, “during your early years in America you stayed in this city in a single room, without bath. I wanted you to know that Boston possesses some luxurious apartments!”
In 1945, Yogananda asked Mr. and Mrs. Lewis to move to Encinitas.
For Dr. Lewis life now changed significantly. A time of increased spiritual responsibility began: he lectured at the Encinitas and San Diego temples (later also in Hollywood), giving up to 7 lectures a week. He also was put in charge of the Encinitas Colony (probably Gyanamata’s health didn’t allow her to do the job anymore.) In addition, he was in charge of the monks’ training in Encinitas. Yogananda also authorized him to give Kriya Initiations, which he did until his passing. To get rest, he spent one day a week in silence, in Rajarsi’s Borrego house in the desert.
When Yogananda passed away in 1952, Rajarsi became the SRF president, and Dr. Lewis the vice-president, remaining in that position until his passing. (Swami Kriyananda in 1960 was elected to follow him. The president by then was Daya Mata. After Kriyananda, Tara Mata was made vice-president, then Mrinalini Mata.) Dr. Lewis remained throughout very active in his ministry.
His passing was truly spectacular. It was April 13th, 1960. Dr Lewis was in hospital. In the evening he took a short nap. When he awoke he told Mildred, “I want to sit up straight.” She arranged the pillows at his back, and he assumed the lotus pose.
She recounts: “His hands were upturned, his eyes closed. I sat beside the bed, thinking that I too would meditate. I was aroused in two or three minutes by a tremendous sound. It resembled the suction sound of a huge pump, or the breath sound of a giant Kriya. With the sound came a great flash of spiritual white light, whose brilliance might be compared to that given forth by a million electric light bulbs. Doctor’s blue eyes opened; piercing flashes of blue light came from them. Then they were locked at the Christ center in the forehead. His head lowered somewhat, but his body remained erect. For an instant, the face of Swami Sri Yukteswarji appeared, enveloping Doctor’s face.”
In that moment, in lotus posture, with a straight spine, with a tremendous Kriya sound, the flash of a white light, looking into the spiritual eye, and with the divine presence of Sri Yukteswar, Dr. Lewis made his glorious exit from this world stage.
There can hardly be a better proof for Yogananda’s promise: “For those who stay in tune to the end I, or one of the other masters, will be there to usher them into the divine kingdom.”