The Reverend Yogacharya David R. Hickenbottom
A Biographical Sketch
“The characteristic features of Indian culture have long been a search for ultimate verities and the concomitant disciple-guru relationship.”
These are the words of Paramhansa Yogananda as he begins his narrative in his spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi. To seek a guru and ultimate truth in the modern Western world may be rare, but it is my story.
Coming into This World
It is not unusual for a yogi to have early memories or have them come spontaneously when in deepened meditation. My earliest memories come from being in the womb of my mother. One day as I was thinking about God I felt a powerful force come over me and I spontaneously curled up in a fetal position. As I lay in a tight ball I had the experience of being in my mother’s dark womb, I could hear her heart beating loudly. I was warm, comfortable and it was soothing to be there. I enjoyed the experience and was content to be where I was. On the frontiers of my consciousness I was aware that I would eventually be born into the world. I was not looking forward to this and preferred to stay where I was. I knew my coming life would have great challenges, and my mother’s womb was a comfort in the knowledge.
At another time I had a spontaneous memory of my pre-birth life. I was with my astral family on an exceptionally beautiful astral planet. My parents were wonderfully wise, loving, joyful and light-filled beings and I loved them with all my heart. I knew I was coming to the earth for an incarnation and I knew it would be difficult. These wise beings assured me that I would be helped by someone who was tremendous during this life. While having this vision I knew they were speaking of my Guru, Mother Hamilton.
However, my meeting with Mother was not to occur for some time yet and while I was yet in the womb I was not enthusiastic to come out! Later my mother told me I had been born breach; the doctor was up to his elbows getting me turned. I had a funny image of having braced myself from coming out against the doctors encouragement! However, as Providence rightly deemed, out I came.
I spent many years thinking I had been born into a family that was quite alien in nature to who I was; thinking that perhaps some grave mistake had been made. It was not until I had the memories of my previous astral family awakened that I realized that I was unconsciously comparing my worldly family with the astral family from which I had recently come. It was a difficult and lonely time for many years. Yet, I enjoyed the support of my family, had friends and an active imagination.
I spent much time in my imaginary world, thinking of wars and combat, strategies and inspiring the troops. Other times my house was transformed into a space ship that flew throughout the galaxy.
There were other experiences I recognized as not imaginary. Many
times as I was in my quiet room I would hear a tremendous roaring,
like the ocean but louder; it sounded so loud and so powerful that
it strained my head to listen to it. Somehow I knew not to say
anything about this to anyone; it was profound, and something to be
kept to myself. Also there were times of lying on the grass on a
warm summer’s day looking up at the passing clouds. At times I was
fascinated to watch the small shooting particles flash in front of
my eyes, moving with speed barely imaginable. As these flying
particles multiplied the sky would seem to shrink and felt
dramatically closer, or I would grow and become a part of it. I
loved these moments on a summer’s day.
I went to Sunday school at the Methodist Church. I remember hearing stories of Jesus. I felt a wonderful attraction for this Master from Galilee. I wanted to walk with this man of God, talk with him, and find the answers my heart yearned to know. Yet, there was no one I found in my current life that matched this description of a great spiritual master.
I Reject My Traditional Church
When I was twelve years (in this body) I became conscious of what
the church said about those who were not Christians: all people who
had not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior would be sentenced to
eternal damnation! I thought of all the people who lived in China,
India and Africa who had never even heard of Jesus, much less all
those who were raised with another religion and had heard of Jesus
but had not converted; what of all these people? To be sentenced to
eternal suffering and damnation! Well, this did not sound like even
a very good plan, much less a perfect plan. I left the church and
never went back. I could not believe in such a deity.
Into the Darkness
I sought to place my faith in science for some time. I had always loved science, reading such books as Isaac Asimov’s descriptions of subatomic particles, my naturalist Boy Scout leader was a walking encyclopedia as we explored nature’s laboratory in the forests. Yet, for the most important answers of why things were the way they were and how to be happy I was referred down the hall to the philosophy department.
I was lost and feeling more out of touch with what would make me
happy than ever. I participated in normal activities in school. I
did well in sports, which my father encouraged, I was a mediocre
student with teachers writing to my parents that I should have high
grades, but I did not feel motivated. I was fast falling into a
chasm when alcohol and drugs entered the scene. And, I also fell in
love for the first time. I was seeking to find love, joy,
fulfillment and I was coming up empty on all counts. I did not see
anyone in my life that I wanted to emulate, there seemed to be
An Experience with God
Finally it came to a head when I was nineteen years old. I remember sitting under the stars on a warm summer’s night, it was around midnight. The stars were spread like a carpet of tiny lights above; my heart felt like it was physically breaking right down the middle. I felt a crushing weight pressing down on me and I was breaking under the strain. It was all too much for me and I made a spontaneous prayer in my agony, Oh God, I don’t know if you exist, but if you do, if I have never needed you before, I need you now. Help me! Amazingly, with that prayer came an instant relief. I felt that a thousand pounds of weight came off of me in that moment. The tremendous pain in my heart was soothed. I was aware that in a split second, the agony I had been feeling was gone.
Immediately after this unseen help came to my aid my mind began
to reason, Well, since I prayed to God, my mind imagined getting
some help, and I felt relief as a result, it was my mind, not
anything else that helped me. Coming on the heels of this thought
some gnosis, a knowing, came to me and said, No, it was more than
the mind, I connected with something wonderful and powerful and
definitely beyond me. This was the beginning of my long road back.
The World Is More Than It Seems
When I was eighteen I was introduced to books by Carlos Casteneda and T. Lobsang Rampa. When I first read a reasonable explanation of reincarnation I knew that this was the truth, everything inside told me so. I was fascinated by the idea that there were realities that held a promise of leading me from the darkness I was in to a light of new and wonderful possibilities. I was told by a friend that certain hallucinogenic drugs could open the doorway to higher possibilities; the books by Carlos Casteneda supported this idea. Music that I listened to by the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd also let me know that there were others who were concerned with looking beyond the surface of things to discover something hidden.
On one of my travels I was given a hallucinogenic drug, and without knowing it at the time, but would soon realize, it was mixed with other toxins to heighten its effect. As I lay on a remote beach, alone, I was doubled up in stomach cramps, aware that I was passing out. I thought I had been poisoned, which was true, and that I was going to die. I was rather detached and thought to myself, Well, this will be interesting; I will have an astral trip when I am dead. When I became conscious sometime later I was having many vivid hallucinations throughout the rest of the night. After a very long night the promise of a new day came as the sun began to rise. I sat on a log looking at the red-orange ball on the horizon slowly taking shape just above the mist covered vale in front of me. Suddenly a thought insertion came into my mind with tremendous force. It did not come in words, but as a complete thought in a moment. It inasmuch said, Drugs are like keys that open doors of the mind. Through meditation yogis open all of those doors, and many others that are much greater, with complete safety. I quit the use of hallucinogenic drugs that very moment.
The same person who gave me that drug also told me the name of a
book that she said I must read. I said I needed to write it down,
as the drugs I took did not help in the memory department. She said,
“No, if you are meant to remember it, you will.” For months I tried
to remember the name of the book without success. Finally, one
morning a hitchhiker who had stayed overnight on the couch said, “Of
course, you have read Be Here Now.” I jumped from the chair and I
said, “That’s it, that’s it, that is the name of the book I have
been trying to remember!” I ordered the book and read it through
many times. The thing that stood out to me was the author’s meeting
with his guru, Neem Karoli Baba; one of India’s great spiritual
masters. I thought to myself, That is what I need, I need someone
who has been the Way, someone who can guide me.
I Meet My Guru
Over the next several months I went to see a number of yogis and even to a sťance looking for the one who could guide me. Those months I spent in inner agony and they felt like years; no one I met fit the bill, so I looked on. Little did I realize at the time how rare it is to meet a fully realized Being. One day a friend who had gone to many of these gatherings with me said, “Charley knows a woman who is really great. She is like a mother, a grandmother, something like that. We are all going to go, you should come too.” Well, this “grandmother” description did not appeal to me, and I said no. But she insisted several times and eventually I said yes.
On a Wednesday evening in the month of March, 1974, we all piled into a car and drove to a nice home in North Seattle. When I walked in I saw many shoes in the back, so I took my shoes and socks off and went in. Most of the people were seated on chairs and couches, a few on the floor. I sat in lotus posture on the floor right up in front. Finally Mother Hamilton came in with a swish, spotted my bare feet and asked me to go and put on my socks. As I rather embarrassedly walked to the back of the room to get my socks Mother explained that there are those who come to steal the power of the Guru and that is why she asked me to put on my socks. I was busy thinking to myself, If she is in touch with some universal power, why is she worried about losing some to others. Years later I came to understand more about these complex issues.
When I returned to my spot Mother began to speak with such spiritual power that I felt as if my long hair was being blown straight back. She spoke of God, of Self-realization, Christ Consciousness and renunciation. Many of the concepts were foreign to me, but I recognized that this was someone who spoke with authority and wisdom. After the talk Mother gave each one of us a hug. As I stood in line waiting, getting one person closer to Mother my heart was beating so hard I could feel it loudly thumping in my chest. After I hugged Mother I remember little until I found myself sitting in the back seat of the car I had come in. The others in the car were good naturedly speaking about Mother’s talk and someone suggested we start our renunciation by stopping at Baskin and Robbins for an ice cream cone! As I heard them talk and laugh I felt that I was a thousand miles away from them, as if I were peering from a great distance through a telescope. It was then I was aware that something very powerful had just occurred. What that was I could not put to words, however in that moment I resolved to get to the bottom of whatever that experience was. It has been over thirty years since that day, and I have yet to get to the bottom of it! Just when I think I have come to the end of something, the bottom of the current universe opens up and reveals a much larger universe, a universe that is more remarkable than anything I would have suspected before that moment. Such is the adventure into God-consciousness.
Each time I would come to hear Mother speak I would wonder if I would feel the same power of God, and each time it proved itself true. One day Mother mentioned a book, Autobiography of a Yogi. I asked someone in line after the talk about this book. He was astonished, “Why, that is what brought most of us here!” I bought a copy and was spellbound as I turned from one page to another. Before meeting Mother I kept feeling that I was missing something that should be the centerpiece of my search, even when I had no name for it. Through Mother and Master (Mother’s Guru Paramhansa Yogananda and author of Autobiography of a Yogi), I learned a deeper meaning for the word God. Before meeting Mother I would be looking for the nearest exit if someone started speaking about God, but when Mother used the word I knew there was a new and enlarged meaning. God-realization through Mother and then Master became something that was not only attractive to me, but was the missing something that I had been yearning for all these years.
When Mother offered Kriya Initiation that spring (for the first time in seven years) I was more than ready to make that commitment, without really knowing what I was committing to! The night of initiation was a night to remember. With Kriya I felt I had the means for making spiritual progress, something I could take with me anywhere. Also Mother initiated us to the chant of Ram Nam, Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram (meaning victory to God, victory to God), giving this chant as a means to keep our minds on God at all times. With these simple techniques I was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. These were freely given gifts for my sadhana (spiritual practice) that had unlimited potential to give me realization. Oh what blessings came with meeting Mother and receiving initiation!
A master craftsman will make a difficult task look simple and doable, so it was with Mother. She was a true spiritual master. Mother effortlessly exuded God’s power, bliss and wisdom, and, she made each one of us feel that we could experience the same. A guru was not a familiar word to me up to that point in my life. Yet, I came to realize that when I was a boy and I recalled hearing the stories of Jesus and my great desire to walk and talk with him, that my pre-natal memories were awakened for being with a spiritually realized being, a guru.
A guru is a living embodiment of divine realization. When an
aspirant is ready for the final mile for getting realization a guru
comes to that one in order to provide the means and is a powerful
conduit of Grace that alone enables an aspirant to rise above human
limitations. A guru plays the roles of a teacher, mentor, mother,
father, friend, beloved, even a child. The guru is the example, for
he, or she, has realized his oneness with the Infinite
Consciousness. The guru teaches the means for purifying the body and
mind so that the individual devotee becomes a fit instrument for
Universal Consciousness. The guru is whatever God makes him to be in
order to lift fit disciples to the same level of consciousness that
he himself has achieved. It is the most sacred, rare and lovely
relationship that one may have in life. How I made contact with one
of the greatest Masters this world has ever seen is a great mystery
to me. Every day I thank the heavens for this greatest of gifts, a
sense of gratitude that does not diminish with time, but only grows
Years of Sadhana
When I came to Mother I was a definitely a diamond in the rough, not even a diamond but more a lump of coal hoping one day to shine with light like a brightly lit diamond! An inner pain brought me to the path, most unwillingly. And this inner pain kept me on the path when I would have gladly wandered away back into the world.
Mother, like a sculptor, went to work chipping off the rough edges that obscured the inner image of God that was waiting to manifest. Unusual for the day, she hugged everyone after service. Through that hug a universal love flowed and an upliftment into higher consciousness always came.
One day after a hug she looked at me and shook her finger, “No smoking and no drinking!” These were part of my Kriya vows, but I was not yet following these rules (I still occasionally drank beer and smoked marijuana); rules that were meant to help me advance. I quickly agreed and set off with new purpose. Soon I slipped back into old ways; how cleverly the ego works to keep us bound. A few months later after another talk by Mother, she said to me the same words. The ego was wiggling on the hook like a worm on the end of the fishermen’s hook. Looking for any leverage I asked, “But what if my father offers me a drink on New Years?” Now this was quite laughable, because that would be far from any real reason to keep up with bad habits, I can only explain that I thought this father-son scenario might have some leverage with Mother! She looked deeply into me without compromise and said, “You can have sociability or you can have Christ Consciousness, you choose!” She moved me on out the door.
One night a friend offered me a beer, which I took. Without even drinking the whole bottle I woke up the next morning with a very bad hangover. Later I was offered some marijuana, the most difficult thing for me to give up. As I took a drag I was keenly aware of the effect of the drug as it entered my lungs, travelled into my lower spine and worked its way upward. The feeling was that this drug was putting my nervous system to sleep, and worse, it felt like poison to my subtle nervous system; my Kriya practice was making me more sensitive and aware. I had the very definite feeling that this was poison coming into my system and I felt repulsed. That was the last drink and the last smoke I ever had. However I had to fight the occasional but very strong craving for marijuana for a couple of years. Also, I would have flashbacks from the hallucinogenics I took. I would spontaneous hallucinate, seeing and hearing things that were not really there. Over time these symptoms disappeared as my system cleaned itself from these effects; a dangerous path finally averted due to Guru’s Grace.
I had not realized at the time that what I was introducing into my body with these drugs would have such effects. A yogi once described drugs as likened to taking off in a powerful rocket, without any idea of where you were going to land! I came to the conclusion that the promise of happiness and even of realization through the use of drugs was a lie, a dead end that took me nowhere, and like a spider’s web it was entangling and sticky to get out of once entered into. Unfortunately there are those who are much more crippled than I became, some who are crippled or scared for life and some who died. These powerful drugs taken to get high have been a plague unleashed on this world, a plague through self choice. One of the greatest things Mother did for me was to stand firm for my commitment to eliminate all alcohol and non-prescription drugs from my system.
One night I was part of a group of devotees eating dinner with Mother in a crowded restaurant. Mother had this power in which she could envelope another person in a private conversation even when many other people were nearby. There were a few times I tried to eavesdrop when sitting near Mother while she was speaking to someone else in this way; I found it impossible to make out what she was saying even though she was within easy distance. Well, this night was my turn for such an experience from the inside. Mother turned to me and looked me straight in the eyes, it felt as if we were surrounded by an invisible wall and that we were the only two in the room. Mother asked, “Why don’t you love me completely?” Well, I immediately knew exactly what she was going for. I told Mother about the separation from my first love, it had been very painful, and the grief had lasted for quite a while. I realized in that moment that I was guarding my heart. Mother said, “If you do not love God completely, then you cannot have full realization.” This landed in me like an exploding bombshell. For the next few weeks I wrestled with the problem of opening my heart completely. Finally, I came to the conclusion that complete realization is all that I really wanted; if I opened my heart and if it were to break again, then I would have to take that risk. I surrendered myself at the altar of Divine Love.
Mother worked with many disciples regarding their appearance; how they dressed, for women use of makeup etc. For Mother the outer appearance was a reflection of the inner beauty coming from God. Since graduating from high school I was more on the counter culture end of things. At the time I had long hair and beard, I worked in an antique store and overalls were our uniform. Once, just before another Kriya Ceremony Mother pushed up on my long beard and said, “Why don’t you trim your beard up and make it look nice.” Unknown to me Mother had asked another Kriyaban (a Kriya Yoga initiate) to do the same thing. He had complainingly said to another, “Well, David has not trimmed his beard!” The next service not only had I trimmed my beard but I had also cut my hair. Well, his use of me as an excuse for not obeying his Guru was shorn away! So the next service he came with a trimmed beard and cut hair as well (such is the play of God!).
One day Mother was arriving at the airport and some devotees went to the airport to welcome Mother on her arrival. I drove to the airport directly from work, complete in my overalls. Mother took one look at me and said, “I never want to see you in those overalls ever again!” She wanted our dress to reflect the innate inner beauty of the Divine Light.
Mother could be very direct, clear and strong when disciplining disciples. I watched her work with a wide variety of people, meeting them exactly where they were at and giving them what was perfect for each occasion. If someone challenged Mother she would most often come back very strong. Once I was at Mother’s home for a small pre-Christmas party in which Mother served cookies, tea and coffee. Mother took me on a tour of the back rooms of her apartment; this was the first time I had been to her home. When we were in one of the back rooms Mother told me how she had made a mistake in her checkbook; to her delight the mistake was in her favor.
When we returned to the main group a devotee was taking pictures and Mother said to him, “Make every picture perfect!” I asked Mother to reconcile the idea she had made a mistake in her checkbook with her instructions to this disciple for perfection. Mother leveled her gaze at me and spoke powerfully for several minutes about having respect for my Guru and that what she asked of anyone was perfect for that one. This was very embarrassing for me and I was taken aback at Mother’s vehemence. However, the lessons I have derived from this incident have continued to teach me on deeper and deeper levels. Whenever I interacted with Mother, whether she was giving a formal talk or a more social time, Mother was spiritually working with me and everyone in the room, every moment. The teaching she gave me about her checkbook in the back room was perfect for me, and the teaching she was giving to picture taking disciple to strive for perfection was exactly right for him! My error was in not recognizing these basic facts and interfering with the work Mother was doing with the other disciple.
Also, when Mother spoke to me in front of the group as she did,
it brought up a pattern I had had with my father. My father would
soundly berate me in private or in front of others with impunity.
This harsh treatment had left psychological scars and I had yet to
resolve them at the time. When Mother spoke to me in front of others
she never lost sight of the fact that she was seeing God in me and
was seeking to bring me into that Light. The love that came with
this made me feel safe, even when I was uncomfortable! So, she was
also healing me of emotional scars from the past at the same time
she was teaching me about respect for the guru; so many things being
done on so many levels. Like a skillful surgeon, she was making
quick work of a painful condition.
Mother Ordains Me
On one occasion I said to Mother that I would like to serve her in any way I could; I felt it come from a deep place in my Soul. Mother asked me teach our Sunday school children. Sunday School took place at the same time as Mother’s service did on Sunday, so this took some surrendering on my part to do this, as I felt that Mother’s bi-weekly talks were my spiritual life-line.
I very much enjoyed being with the children. Our format began with an opening prayer and offering, we continued with hatha yoga exercises, a story with a craft project, and we ended with a closing prayer. The children would then proceed upstairs where they would get a hug from Mother, something they always treasured. After a couple of years of conducting Sunday school class Mother asked me to greet devotees as they came in the door for service. This was something new to the service, I dressed in a suit as Mother wished, a long way from the overalls of yore!
Now my personality was of such a nature that I would have preferred to stay in the background of things, silently serving Mother. So, of course, Mother then asked if I would give a talk in her stead when she was gone. Mother had other lay ministers giving talks but I never hankered after the position! Now Mother was asking me; there was no answer but an affirmative as I had made my commitment to her, to serve her in any way she thought she could use me.
Mother instructed me in the same way Master had instructed her to give talks: come up with a title, have some stories (everybody likes stories) and then turn it all over to God and let Him speak through me. Of course, Mother was an impossible act to follow. I knew that when people came to service they came to hear Mother; there was a natural feeling of let down when she was not there. Also there was the fact that I was shy; to stand before a group and speak extemporaneously for 40-45 minutes is not an easy thing to do, even for experienced speakers.
I did the best I could, feeling nervous, but then something else; I also felt a powerful flow of energy, thoughts and a flow of words that came spontaneously. Some of the talk was of my planning, but other thoughts and words flowed through me at times. This flow clearly came from an intelligent Source, greater than my own. As I continued to give talks intermittently whenever Mother asked, I could feel the flow of higher thoughts and words more consistently and powerfully. It became a thing of wonder and pleasure, as well as occasional nerves, to give the talks and hear what would come through me during the talks. I also found that between talks an inner dialogue opened up with this higher intelligence, God would sometimes give me ideas or complete talks through my mind. I learned that even if He gave me a complete inner talk just hours before my scheduled talk, that when I got up to speak the talk I gave would be completely different than the earlier sermon He had inwardly given me.
In fact the lessons with surrender are too numerous to mention in regards to Mother asking me to talk. Surrendering to Mother’s request to give talks, going from the back to the front of the room, surrendering to the flow of God’s thoughts and words while in front of a group of discriminating listeners were just some of the important lessons I have continued to learn. Not only this, but Mother asked me to speak from my own experience. Now I had never spoken to anyone about my deepest inner experiences except to Mother, and now she was asking me to say aloud in front of others my most sacred experiences. Mother had always cautioned against talking to others about spiritual experiences. There are many dangers in doing so: it can rob you of the power of these experiences, others may deride you, and the ego can get puffed up. Well, to cast my sacred experiences to the winds proved to be another place of surrender to my Guru! Not easy, this.
It was March of 1984, just ten years after meeting Mother when she ordained me as a minister of God. She brought forward the idea one Sunday morning before she was to give a talk. I was humbled by the honor. I was pleased to serve Mother anyway she deemed fit, yet this was another point of surrender. I grew up attending the Methodist Church; the word minister had certain connotations in my mind that did not fit with how I thought of myself. I looked up minister in the dictionary and one of the meanings was to serve, in fact the original Latin meant servant. Well, I thought to myself, I can serve, I can serve Mother, serve Truth, be a servant of God and to serve the God that is within all people— that I can do! I found a way to be a minister.
One Sunday morning Mother said, “Today I am going to make you a
minister,” and she did! I had thought that I would invite my family
and friends to the ceremony, but no time for that now, in all
simplicity Mother asked me to love and serve God and make Him the
cornerstone of my life. She asked me to vow, “To make no
organization, to not advertise and to not charge for anything I did
as a minister in order to keep the teachings pure;” I readily
Back in the fall of 1976 I sat in a meditation group when a sudden intensity came in my body. My attention was powerfully drawn to my spine and brain. Then to my amazement I felt and inwardly heard a snap at the base of my spine. A powerful surge of energy shot up my spine to the base of the skull then crossed through the brain to a point in my forehead. Then a tremendous feeling of heat formed at a point on my forehead; my whole attention was nailed to this point. It was very powerful, uncomfortable and awe inspiring all at the same time. I had heard Mother speak of such experiences on her own way to realization, now I felt blessed to have this experience come to me. This experience lasted for perhaps five or ten minutes before it began to subside (time is very difficult to measure in such cases). This was the beginning of an inner transformation that was to last for many years.
This movement in the spine and brain were to become a regular feature in my life, not always so powerful, thank goodness or I would not have been able to function in the world at all. Even so, spiritual forces and the pursuant unfolding provided a great challenge to have this intensity in the spine and brain that magnetically drew me into its own world. Yet, the rest of the world expected me to participate in its realm with my full attention. Balancing these two worlds was a great blessing and a challenge all at the same time.
I worked in blue collar jobs until I damaged soft tissue around
my fifth lumbar. It was then that I returned to finish the last year
of my bachelor’s degree in psychology. After I received my degree I
worked as a counselor to people with chronic mental illness.
Previously I had married a devotee of Mother’s and with the marriage
came an eleven year old step son. Later, after a friend passed away,
we adopted her fifteen year old daughter as her mother had
requested. So I had a growing family, a professional life as a
counselor, I also volunteered as a community mediator, and had
ongoing spiritual kundalini experiences as well; it was a busy life
and very challenging time.
Mother’s Second Crucifixion
In the 1982 Mother broke both of her knees, had a heart attack and then suffered a series of strokes. In addition to all of that she had a severe case of shingles in the face and head. Mother went from outwardly the most powerful, dynamic and engaging personality I have ever known to someone who was at times an invalid, mentally confused and disoriented. Amazingly Mother continued with her sole focus of serving God and serving all devotees. Knowing my own personality at the time, I know that if I was in Mother’s condition I would have wanted to give up. She never did. With a powerful will developed over a lifetime of struggle she strove to fully recover and to continue to serve one and all!
Once I sat behind Mother as she was giving a talk. She stood at the podium and when I opened my eyes I saw that she was swaying back and forth. Then she started to collapse, she was having a stroke. I moved toward her in time to swoop her up in my arms, I carried her to the car of her daughter, Billie, and Billie immediately drove her to a nearby hospital. We finished the service with prayers for Mother’s health and recovery.
After all of this Mother never recovered her former outward
power, however, to a remarkable degree she was able to recover the
use of her body, her memory and cognitive intelligence; she never
lost her focus on God and her desire to serve Him to her last
During the years of Mother’s illness I took an increasingly larger role as a minister. Giving talks and counseling individuals were the largest part of my service. I continued to go through powerful inner experiences and worked to balance a more than busy life besides. Most of my life had been filled with work. I started work for my father when I was fourteen years old, after school in the spring and fulltime through the summer (where 60+ hours a week was common). Through the years I worked many long hours, days and/or nights. Except for the year when I had injured my back and was only going to university, it was common to have a job that had much overtime or I worked a couple of jobs at a time. The spiritual experiences I was going through alone could qualify as a fulltime job, but of course I had many other responsibilities as well.
Throughout history many yogis and aspirants for realization retired from the householder’s life in order to go through such experiences. However, with Lahiri Mahasaya the way was shown where complete realization could be attained while fulfilling family responsibilities; carrying on the day to day activities that go with such a commitment. This spiritual master had inspired new hope for modern mankind, a pattern of being in the world but not of it. Mother Hamilton, a modern western woman was my model, and with it she paved the way for all sincere aspirants living in a busy home, raising children, working to support a family, and following her Guru with love and loyalty. I strove for the balance she daily gave proof of, yet I often came up short of her perfect example. In the striving and falling short I learned, and I went on to strive some more. It is not about being perfect, rather it is striving for perfection and learning from experience.
One Sunday morning Mother said, “Today, I am going to give you the title of Yogacharya.” This came as an unexpected singular honor that took my breath away. Master had made Mother a Yogacharya, one of six in his world-wide organization and the only woman; now Mother was directed to hand down that same title to me. With this, she added, she would be passing down her spiritual mantle to me as well. It came as a deep Mystery, with inner potency and meaning that continues to unveil itself to me with passing years. Far from feeling I deserved such an accolade, I felt deeply humbled and prayed that I would acquit myself to whatever capacity God would give to me.
The title Yogacharya means teacher or master of yoga; yoga: the science of God-realization. When Mother ordained me with the title in front of the group she said, “David has gone through almost all the experiences that I went through.” Never had I asked for Mother about my state of realization, but with her comment came the confirmation that she was closely tracking my experiences and showed more faith in me than I would have in myself at the time!
I met with Mother regularly and we spoke of casual subjects as
well as how she wanted me to continue the Work. It was the Work that
Jesus and Babaji had set into motion, handed down through a
Guru-disciple lineage that continued from Master, to Mother and now
to me. In no way did I feel I came even close to measuring up to the
lofty heights this lineage represented, however, as I had committed
myself to serve in whatever capacity Mother wanted, it would have
been the height of arrogance to recuse myself from this duty. I knew
Mother saw much deeper into me and my soul’s journey than I ever
could. Once again I surrendered to Mother’s will in the matter and
to the best of my ability put my shoulder to the wheel of this great
Work begun so long ago.
Passing of the Mantle
From the mid 1980s on Mother’s overall health gradually improved. She continued to talk of plans for her work. However there would be setbacks at times, and Mother was in and out of the hospital several times. At one point the doctor told Mother’s children he did not expect her to last more than the day. Gary, Mother’s son, said to the doctor, “You don’t know my mother!” And indeed Mother went on to live many more years. The end of 1990 Mother celebrated one more Christmas and her birthday (both happily coincided on the same day) and she brought in the New Year with us with our traditional New Year’s Meditation. She went into the hospital toward the end of the month. On January 31, 1991 Mother entered Mahasamadhi, a yoginis conscious exit from the body.
It is interesting to note that many who had started to stay away during Mother’s long illness came to her funeral. I gave the services, barely holding on to my voice at times. There is simply no way to do justice to a life during a service of this type, how much more it seemed to fall short of the full picture for Mother’s life. A guru-disciple relationship is so many things, but I can easily say that without Mother my life would have been an empty chamber of unfulfilled dreams. With her, the keys to the kingdom of heaven were handed to me; now the responsibility was with me to fulfill that promise. And Mother held the keys out to so many, so many who were called; some who heeded the call at the time and those with loyalty and perseverance who continue to heed the call to this day.
Once I said to Mother that when she left the body she should take
all of us with her. “But,” she said, “who will carry on the work if
we all leave at the same time.” A realized Master has a body, but
she knows she is not her body. Once, after I visited Mother after
she had had a serious stroke. I went home to meditate, upset by the
state of health of my beloved Guru. After a long time in meditation
my inner vision was illumined by Mother. In this enthralling vision
Mother was filled with light, in fact light was radiating out from
her in every direction as far as I could see. Mother then said
through thought, Do you not know, I am in my light body? My grief
for her physical condition left me as I beheld her in such
magnificent perfection. I knew Mother was not her physical body, and
while I had compassion for what she went through as a human being, I
never again limited who she was to the condition of her body.
The Unexpected Twists of Fate
Now Mother was gone from the body, and it was my task to find her universal Presence beyond the physical realm. However, there was much for me to go through that would take me on unexpected and thorny ways.
In 1992 I made the decision to embark upon getting my masters
degree in counseling. Simultaneously I was getting an inner
prompting to separate from my wife. I resisted this idea, not
believing it was what I should be doing. This tug of war went on for
some time. Finally, after much resistance and testing of this
unexpected and unwelcome spirit, I made the move for separation. My
wife then initiated divorce proceedings, and since I could make no
promises of what was to come, the divorce went through.
The Dark Night of the Soul
At this time I took a leave from ministerial duties as I felt I was in no condition to help others; for, I was entering a dark night of the soul. Mother described this dark night coming at a time when the aspirant has almost continuous communion with God, then all sense of connection disappears. This was my case, and it was to last for two years. Meanwhile I was working full-time, going to school full-time, working part-time in an internship, and experiencing a deep emptiness inside that had no solution, but to go on.
Never did I doubt God or the path I was on; what I keenly knew were my own errors, all the ways I lacked the spiritual qualities I knew that I should have, and most of all how familiar God had been to me before, and now with the curtain drawn, how helpless I felt to get that inner Presence back. There was no joy for me and I struggled just to get through the day.
At one point I thought to take an extension in my master’s
degree, then I noticed how half of the students in the class before
me did not complete the program in the two years, and how difficult
it was for them to stay focused on completion when the classes were
over for them. So I decided to just do it. I ended up completing the
program on time, and amazingly graduated as a top student!
A Glimmer of Light Becomes a Blaze
One night I had a vision. I was walking along a path in the desert. This desert was so beautiful, green and lush with flowers like springtime. The path I walked on was spongy feeling and the air smelled delicious. I felt God. Oh, it had been so long! Like parched ground receiving fresh water I soaked up the feeling of God. As I looked behind me, from where I had come, the land was charred black, the ground hard, cracked and broken from earthquakes, the air black with soot; I knew the dark, ugly landscape I looked upon was a true representation of what I had been experiencing. When I saw it I let out a cry of anguish of all that I had been holding in for so long! A prayer came, Oh Lord of the Infinite, I have missed you so much. Please never leave me again.
For the next six months I gradually emerged from the darkened gloom into a new Light. I had completed my master’s degree and went on to a work in my chosen field, which was very satisfying. One day I received a call from some Kriyabans in Canada who were asking me to help clarify their Kriya practice. Then an invitation to come and speak; there were many thirsty souls awaiting my visit. For so long I had felt I was the last one to help others, now the Light came to me at the same time as the expressed need of others. God’s ways are perfect and mysterious!
In 1997 while on a trip to San Diego I went to a kirtan at Prem
and Sheila’s home (grandson of Papa Ramdas). I meditated as I
listened to the music. A powerful thought came as a revelation: I
should leave my work as a counselor and work full-time as a
minister! Well, I had never really considered doing any such thing
before. I continued to test this spirit again and again, always it
came up the same, yes, I should do this. Since I was to not charge
for anything I did as a minister there was the question of where I
would live, and with what, but no matter, God would have to take
care of all of that! So I gave notice to my work, which I loved, and
set off on a new phase of my life.
Pilgrimage to India
And God did arrange for everything, beautifully. Peter Schultz built an apartment for me on his property, aspirants made donations to support the work that met my needs, and an offer from Phyllis Victory came to sponsor me on a pilgrimage to India. Mother had been to India three times in her life—most famously when she and her husband sold all they had and went in 1957-8 to Anandashram. Swami Ramdas had invited Mother to come to Anandashram and it was there that Mother underwent the first phase of her mystical crucifixion. A few years after I met Mother I said to her, “Mother, I have been thinking of going to India”. She smiled sweetly at me and asked, “When your Guru is right here?” The thought had never come back to me till now Phyllis made the arrangements.
For two months I travelled with Phyllis, Larry and Cate Koler and
Swami Vishwananda (a disciple of Anandamayi Ma who Larry had met on
a previous trip to India). The pilgrimage took me to all four
corners of India to various pilgrimage sites and saints. After two
months of strenuous travel I then remained for the next four months
at Anandashram with Swami Satchidananda for deeper spiritual
practice. Swami Satchidananda is a wonderful God-man. He is a direct
disciple of Swami Ramdas and Mother Krishnabai and is quiet,
unassuming and gentle in speech and manners. Quite different in
outward expression than my Guru, Swamiji stole my heart and became
my second spiritual Mother. I felt it a blessing and a rare
privilege to be in his presence. A tremendous spiritual powerhouse,
Swamiji has been an indispensible help in my realization.
Into the Silence
On my return to America I continued a busy schedule of travel to work with various aspirants. Now, and after many years of fully scheduled days, I had time to simply go with the powerful stream up my spine into higher realms of consciousness. No longer was I daily crucified on the cross of vertically upward spiritual power meeting the horizontal daily demands of worldly activity. I was now free to sail into the mystical sea of consciousness without limit.
One day out of my mouth came the idea that I should spend a year in silence and solitude; again it was an unsolicited idea that came unbidden from some unknown depth. Never before had I considered such an idea, I don’t even think I had spent even a day in silence except when there were no others about.
I found the perfect place to spend the year—Cloud Mountain Retreat Center. This retreat center was created by David Branscom, a meditation practitioner who found great inspiration from Paramhansa Yogananda. David said he was thrilled to have someone come who was connected with Master’s lineage. David was looking for a long term silent retreatant when I called, as he had just recently completed the construction of a secluded cabin for a silent yogi; God’s perfect timing!
From September 9, 2000 to September 9, 2001 I was in silence and
seclusion. I did come to Seattle for a couple of special occasions,
and devotees came to Cloud Mountain once a month for chanting and
silent meditation. During this time of silence I became established
in an inner state of stillness that has never left me.
From Solitude Back Into the World
Toward the end of my year of solitude an inner direction came to me that was yet another surprise. The inner direction was for me to marry Carla, a devoted aspirant who had given sincere service for the last several years to the Work. I realized that this was an important decision, one I did not take lightly as it affected many people, even the Work itself.
I tested this inner prompting, turning it all over to the will of God; it always came to me as true. But this was not enough. I wrote to Larry Koler, one of Mother’s other ministers. He wrote back that he was highly in favor of the idea. I then wrote to Swami Satchidananda. I told him of the inner prompting and that I wanted to act only in accordance with God’s will and for the highest good of all. I told Swamiji that if the direction was not coming from the will of God I would drop the matter right there and then. Swamiji wrote back and said that the notion came as a surprise to him, however he felt it was God’s will. I inwardly felt Mother’s blessing on this, yet there was still something that held me back.
I knew the sticking point was that I needed Master’s permission.
Master was a monk, and to a large degree he had promoted the idea of
being a monk; not for everyone but the ideal was definitely held out
by him with the highest regard. Was I letting him down by not
leading the life of a monk? I turned my attention to getting his
direction. I prayed deeply to him to illumine my mind. Finally
Master replied so clearly as to remove all of my doubts. The great
Master inwardly replied that it was true that his life was oriented
toward being a monk; that had been necessary for the great work that
God had for him in bringing these teachings to the West, and he
needed others who could dedicate themselves in this manner as well.
However, he also needed householder yogis who could demonstrate that
living a married life was not a bar to the highest realization.
Lahiri Mahasaya had come to demonstrate this in India, the West also
needed examples. Master sanctioned this marriage so there could be
such an example for all to see. With this blessing I felt the way
open for me to follow this inner injunction.
Pilgrimage and Spiritual Experiences
On December 15, 2001, Carla and I were married by the Reverend Larry Koler in a lovely ceremony that came from Mother, which was based on the ceremony Master created. We then went on a pilgrimage to India. Carla began experiences in the kundalini rising and the mystical crucifixion while at Anandashram. These were powerful experiences and she needed care 24 hours a day. Swamiji was most solicitous, providing a refrigerator with juices and even moved Carla to an air conditioned unit in the ashram to help cool the heat created by the kundalini, these accommodations were rare at the ashram! After a few months at the Ashram we continued our pilgrimage on to Babaji’s Cave. This was the site of Lahiri Mahasaya’s initiation. What powerful vibrations came to us in that cave! Large granite rocks create insulation from the world’s vibrational storms, and within came a feeling of eternity extending into a dimensionless reality of profound experience. Oh what blessings come from such a spiritual powerhouse. We are so blessed by those masters who have preceded us; they have left their footprints of uplifting spiritual blessings to help us on our way!
Upon returning to America there has been more travelling, teaching and working in the ensuing years. Divine Providence arranged for us to purchase a home north of Seattle, in the small town of Mt. Vernon; away from the frantic vibrations of a large city and central to Meditation Centers in the U.S. and Canada. God has seen to it that these two travelling nomads would in reality become householders, complete with a house!
In the Work these days I am frequently indrawn. Carla and I travel to different Centers, bee hives with the honey of God-realization at its center.
The infinite compassion of the Divine seeks to bring Home all His wayward children. Through this Master lineage He has freely given the very highest means for making that journey of realization. God and the Masters have decreed this Work out of love and compassion for those who desire nothing less than the highest realization. Far too often we are unmindful of the underlying Reality that gives real peace, joy and wisdom for all; no matter a person’s circumstance. Jesus and Babaji are the headwaters of this Work, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar, Master and Mother bless it, and it will shine in this world as long as there are sincere seekers who desire spiritual transformation.
In 2007 we took another pilgrimage to Anandashram with some devotees. Blessings continued to come to wandering pilgrims at this holy site established by Papa Ramdas over 70 years ago. Swami Satchidananda is the most highly realized Being I have met since Mother. His radiance pours out to one and all; he serves in compelling humility and is saturated with divinity. Realized Beings such as Swamiji help to balance this world from the negative tendencies that have kept it bound to ignorance. We are blessed to have such a living Master in the world today. His body has suffered from the work he has undertaken. He has had heart problems and strokes. However it is most notable with what patience, strength and courage he endures the suffering of the body.
Having returned from that pilgrimage and the blessings we received there, we continue on with our work here. Each day is a wonder to be a part of; I stand as a most willing participant in His lila (play). I continue to serve God and Gurus in whatever capacity He gives to me. My greatest joy is in seeing the spiritual evolution of aspirants everywhere gain strength, power and bliss.
This spiritual evolution is the greatest hope for a strained
world that it too often filled with conflict, intolerance and
separation. Only through individuals gaining their realization of
this spiritual Reality will this world come to know its full glory
of the Light of the Infinite Divine. May we all put our shoulders to
the wheel of this great Work: the upliftment and spiritual evolution
of the individual soul and of this beautifully created world.
 Autobiography of a Yogi; Paramhansa Yogananda. Pg 1.