In Vienna, 19th district, in a simple house on Suttingergasse, only a bright, insignificant door separates me from him. It is a door like thousands of others, but this time things are different. This is not an interview, but an opportunity. That is what they, his disciples, have tried to explain to me. And they respectfully told me about his gaze, which supposedly goes directly to the hidden most corner of human secrets.
If he really can read thoughts, will he know that I have already made up my mind about the stories that are told about him? I notice a thin layer of sweat on my skin, probably due to the heat. “Stay cool,” I think. “Open the door and stand in front of him.”
I am in the presence of the first Indian master I have ever personally met. His room is very simple, full of flowers. He is sitting calmly on the edge of his bed, back straight, his radiance outdoing the beauty of all the flowers gathered around him. He looks divine. Before I am able to make my half-hearted, preprogrammed bow, Hariharanandaji is tightly holding my hand in his hand. A thrilling divine sensation courses through my body. As we sit down, there is less than half a meter’s distance between our eyes.
I stare at him. He is only looking at me, but it seems as if a spotlight is shining on me. Now, I am really feeling hot, but it is inside of me. The eight questions that I have prepared are melting into a single question in my head, but even that one is lost in space, like the smoke wafting from an incense stick.
The master is smiling at me. His smile is wonderful — old and young at the same time, wise and somehow eternal. Also, his face: totally different from the weather-beaten masks that one sees in the tramways. Suddenly, I am ashamed about half of my prejudices — and therefore I hold on even more to the other half of them. In contrast, he is completely open, simply present. So much present that I am able to relax. And during all of this time not even two minutes have elapsed. Good thing I wrote down my questions on a small piece of paper.
Life does not need any notes. It creates events that one easily dismisses as mere coincidences, without seeing the connection behind it all. Years ago, I had read the book Autobiography of a Yogi, a classic about the Eastern path to God. The author is a certain Paramahamsa Yogananda, who himself is a master and indirect predecessor of Hariharanandaji. I had heard about Hariharanandaji from a friend who had spontaneously invited me to Hariharanandaji’s 90th birthday celebration in the Haus der Begegnung in Vienna–Floridsdorf. About two hundred of Hariharanandaji’s disciples had come from all over the world, mostly dressed in white, sitting in yoga posture, with Indian songs on their lips. All were waiting for the arrival of the master. As someone blew the conch shell, the tension was rising. So was my curiosity. Then he entered, he with his long, gray hair, thick glasses, and waving dress. After some songs to honor him, Paramahamsa Hariharananda personally took the microphone.
The talk of a master is called satsang. He spoke in English. He told about the path to the inner Self and thereby about the journey to God. In the middle of his discourse, he drew our attention to the suppleness of his skin which, due to the rejuvenating effect of Kriya Yoga, was still as soft as butter. He spoke frankly, unencumbered by any conventions, with the words of someone who has broken through the dogmatic seriousness of religions based on rites and church-bell sounds. He repeatedly quoted Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and other enlightened masters, and thereby highlighted the necessity to fill one’s life with good company. I soon realized that the main point was to see the direct path from A to B, concerning spiritual matters. The question was: How is it possible for me to come to the big source? According to the lecture, only with the help of discipline, meditation — and a true guru.
First Rise and Fall
The word “guru” comes from Sanskrit and simply means “signpost pointing to the light.” But it is a much misused concept. There are many self-styled gurus who abuse their title. They demand blind surrender from their members — along with their credit card number — and, in extreme cases, their life. Then there are the others, the minority, masters with a single, unequivocal message: “People, follow the message of your own heart. Do your work in this world, but at the same time feel that God loves you. With every breath.” Those were approximately the last words spoken by Hariharanandaji during that evening. Applause, tears, joy. A pleasant vibration was in the hall. At exactly 10 p.m. he finished — and this is a man who gets up every morning at 4 a.m. In spite of his age, he works like a cosmic horse. He has been coming to Vienna for four years, his favorite ashram in Europe.
I found my shoes outside, among all the others, and drove home. I felt touched. But, barely a day later, this nice feeling had receded and doubts had taken over the rudder of my mind. However, the journalist in me had the solution: a private appointment with him, to remove the conflict between head and heart. The rest was ground research: this man was born 1907 near Calcutta. Already a monk since his youth, he had been traveling around the world since 1974 to found ashrams and to teach the authentic Kriya Yoga meditation techniques whose roots are lost in antiquity.
My first question was, "What is God?"
“God,” the old man with the young eyes explained, “is all-pervading, omniscient, omnipotent. He is in every human being. Having made the whole universe, creating man and woman, He entered into His creation. He is hiding in the entire body of all beings, and in the whole universe. Everything is God. All human beings are born for God-realization, because they are rational beings. Animals cannot realize God.”
"If so, why don't all human beings have the desire to realize Him?"
“In each human body there are three bodies: the gross body, full of illusion, delusion, and error; the astral body, characterized by knowledge, consciousness, superconsciousness, and cosmic consciousness; and beyond is the causal body, our wisdom, the cause of everything, which exists in the fontanel at the crown of the head. Wisdom cannot be realized by the five sense organs, it can only be perceived by the atom point in the fontanel. God is inhaling — this is why the gross body is alive. Breath is our life, and life is our soul, which remains in the space between the pituitary gland and the fontanel. That is wisdom. The gross body is full of allurements, and people are generally very attached to them. Good. But we have to realize that without the causal body, the Supreme Almighty Father Who is hiding in the fontanel (brain) of every human being, the gross body is useless.”
“Then what are you teaching?”
“I am teaching that work is worship, kri and ya. Every human being does five types of work in his life, corresponding to the five energy centers distributed along the spine (known as chakras), and these five types of work are activated by the breath. Breath is inhaled from the top of the head, in the fontanel. You earn money (first center) by the breath. You enjoy yourself sexually (second center) by the breath. Without breath you have no appetite (third center). Food is God, and it is grown by God's breath, the air, and the five gross elements. Food will give you extreme diversity, negative qualities, but if you control your food, it will give you God-realization. In your heart center (fourth center) you express sweetness, kindness, and lovingness, as well as anger, pride, cruelty, and so on. In your throat center (fifth center), religion is activated by the breath.”
"What is religion?"
“The Sanskrit word for religion is dharma, which means ‘that which holds together the life of human beings, animals, insects, plants, and trees.’ That is breath. The knowledge and control of that breath is religion. If an ordinary person comes to a realized master, he will learn how to control the breath. Breath control is self-control. Breath-mastery is self-mastery, and the breathlessness stage is the deathlessness stage.”
"What type of breath control?"
“There are fifty types of breaths, corresponding to fifty types of propensities. Forty-nine breaths are for material enjoyment, and the remaining one feeble breath is for God-realization. The Bhagavad Gita (5:27) explains how one is to take a short inhalation through the nose and feel that the exhalation is not coming out of the nostrils. In the Bible (John 3:6), Jesus said, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh’ meaning that sex prevails in this material world. And in John (8:23), ‘Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.’ ‘Above’ means the cerebral cortex in general, and the pituitary gland and fontanel in particular. Our whole life-force is hidden there. If you fix your attention in the fontanel, take a very feeble breath, and magnetize your spine according to the Kriya Yoga technique, your breath will become very faint, and you will feel pulsation, God-movement sensation, flowing from the fontanel and pervading the whole body and the whole world. You will see divine light in the whole body, the seven divine fires in the seven centers of the body, and you will hear divine sounds from deep within you. The feeble breath is inhaled by the supreme almighty Father. You will get real love for God. There are many religions and spiritual paths in the world. That is good. But all people should receive the scientific Kriya Yoga technique to gain calmness and thereby practice their own religion more efficiently.”
"Why do you say that?"
“Because Kriya Yoga is the foundation of all religions, the common highway of all religions. It will give extreme calmness, and calmness is godliness. In your every disposition, you are to love your breath. Breath is the principle thing of the body. Be careful of too many distractions. Waste time with none but God, then time will not be wasted. Your whole life will become religion, your whole being will be a living scripture.”
"So what is meditation? What is prayer? Is there a difference between the two?"
“In the scriptures, it is said that meditation means to go beyond mind, thought, body sense, and worldly sense. That means that you have nothing — no sense of the body or of the world. This is godhood. So you are able to remain calmly active and actively calm. Prayer does not mean to speak highly of God, but to humbly feel the presence of God. When you feel the living presence of God as pulsation, sound, and light, you humbly pray ‘O Lord, Thou art in my whole system. I humbly pray to Thee, please give me godhood, save my hands and legs, protect my relatives and family. You are the Savior.’ That is real prayer, and that prayer will reach God. Until and unless you are in the cosmic conscious stage, at the door of wisdom, your meditation and prayer are useless.”
"And how does one reach that cosmic conscious stage?"
“Only through practice, practice, and practice. The medical student follows his professor and keeps practicing and practicing until one day he becomes a doctor. Simply mentally say, ‘You, You, and You’ when you see the fog-white light, milk-white light. That is your meditation; that is your divinity. Every spiritual practice is good, but Kriya Yoga gives the truth of liberation.”
I ask him if it actually makes any sense to embark on a spiritual path here in the West, or is it only possible on a mountaintop? He laughs. "The mountain," he says quietly and again points to the top of his head, "is here." Inner Silence.
He himself has never had a wife, nor sex, or a television, in his whole long life. One can have all these things, but one must not forget the way back home, "home to God." Meditation is possible for everyone. Male and female.
"One moment," I ask, "why are there hardly any female teachers or gurus?"
His answer is simple: “God is kind. He endowed men and women with different instincts. Man is strong, brave, hardy, and enduring. He can sit under a tree the whole day and night. He has no fear. He is content with whatever food he receives. But God made woman timid, weak, kind, and loving. (However, here in the West, females can say no, no, no! Here they have the same qualities as males.) So, a female cannot sit alone under a tree the whole night and meditate on God. Many males may gather around her, which will cause fear or uneasiness in her mind. That is the difference, and because it is the nature of the woman to spread love all over the world anyway.”
I nod and feel that I am still trying to resist him. Resist him? Or the feeling that is arising in me? This particular feeling is so rare, lost in childhood memories; it seems to be within reach only when you are in love with someone: this sort of euphoric feeling that turns every moment into a treasure trove. My eyes again find his eyes. He seems to understand me and the drama of all human beings who are dominated by their logic and mind, but would like so much to feel life pure and directly. His look seems to say: “Everything is okay, nothing is yet lost.” “God,” he urgently says a few seconds later, “is not in books. One can feel Him and see.”
The Journey Home
His gaze concentrates on a place between my eyes. He can, I hear his warm voice say, see the light that is around my head. Suddenly I seem to be beyond time and space. I have neither doubts nor sorrows. On the contrary, I feel sheltered, as if a bright, insignificant door in me, which I have passed by thousands of times, has suddenly opened a little. At the end of this long moment, my mind returns to the stage to tell me: “This moment was reality, never forget this!”
A quarter of an hour later, I am back again on the streets of Vienna, aimless, slightly euphoric, as if coming back from a journey that was totally different. Suddenly, this one idea comes up again, which had disappeared like incense smoke at the beginning: that he would explain God to me. I had the answer now, without the old Indian having wasted many words on it. It makes a world of difference when one meets a master who knows, or who can indicate in which direction the seeker should go. But, that is what signposts are for.
– Based on an interview originally published in the September 1997 issue of the Wienerin (a magazine from Vienna, Austria), translated and edited for clarity in English.