I recently ended a spiritual pilgrimage to places written of in Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda. This pilgrimage was to physical places, yes, yet it reflected a pilgrimage happening deep within.
As we ventured to the Himalayas; the cave of Mahavatar Babaji; the seaside hermitage of Swami Sri Yukteswar, in Puri; the boyhood home of my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda; and Benares ashrams of great saints like Sri Anandamayi Ma and Trailanga Swami, the spiritual life deepened for me.
Before flying from America, I heard many times the words, “This pilgrimage will change your life.” With this in mind, I was looking forward to how this might manifest. I mulled over the question: What does “change your life” really mean? Would I have an experience? Some kind of profound inner realization? Or would I notice the subtle, but lasting spiritual vibrations in my being?
Though I don’t have an explicit understanding of any one change, there are three ways that my spiritual life tangibly deepened:
1) Deeper Love for God and Guru.
As we made our pilgrimage, we read aloud the chapters in Autobiography of a Yogi which corresponded with the person or place we were going to visit. Of great inspiration to me were those places and chapters which symbolized the eternal bond of love between guru and disciple.* Love such as this, unfathomable though it is to the mind, permeated the soil of these holy places.
In Meditation, I attempted to open my heart and tune in to that love. Then, with all of the energy I could muster, offered myself to my guru.
*Vivid examples of this love occur in the chapter about Babaji and Lahiri Mahasaya (Chapter: Materializing a Palace in the Himalayas), and again with Swami Sri Yukteswar and Paramhansa Yogananda (Chapter: I Meet My Master, Sri Yukteswar).
2) New-found faith born of experience. Inwardly, I wished to make real the saints and places in Autobiography of a Yogi. Meeting living relatives of Yogananda, visiting the shrine of Sri Yukteswar, where he consciously left the body, seeing the same eyes of Kali that Yogananda saw in Dakshineshwar, and feeling the devotion for India that he so poignantly describes in his poem, My India, did just that! No longer abstract, these now came alive.
I had always believed in these places, but now I had faith in them by direct experience. Our time spent meditating in these spots made time and space null. The presence of the masters was tangible as ever, and the love expressed by my guru’s living family through their stories, photos, and relics abounded, leaving no room for doubt.
3) Gratitude for My Spiritual Family
As a part of Ananda, I had never visited my Ananda family in India. Having concepts of my Indian gurubais, the work they were serving there, and the beauty of the Pune retreat; it was yet incomparable to actually being there. Greeted by Ananda devotees throughout our travels left us feeling at home everywhere we went.
I renewed long-lost friendships of lifetimes past and felt deep bonds–grounded in love for God– reawakened. The significance of this will last years into the future, as we continue to serve together all over the world, helpmates through all life’s sorrow and joy.
I am deeply grateful for this pilgrimage in India, and for all those who made the journey possible. It has changed my life, and the significance of this will continue to unravel for years to come.