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Ted Beck-one of the early disciples
Early Years With Paramahansa Yogananda

Extracts from a letter written by Mr. Theodore Beck to Sri Sri Daya Mata on March 7, 1969 -- published in the Yogoda Magazine, October-December 1970, pp. 23-30.

My dear Reverend Mother:

It was a Sunday afternoon in late October 1920 in Boston. A stranger approached me on the street. He introduced himself as Mr. Auclair, and told me he had seen me before at many metaphysical gatherings. Mr. Auclair explained that he had been looking for the right kind of spiritual teacher and hoped that I could give him some suggestions. “Well,” I answered, “I am in the same boat! I too have been seeking a satisfactory teacher, and have not yet succeded.”

Mr. Auclair then asked me if I knew something about Swami Yogananda, the Hindu delegate from India to the International Congress of Religious Liberals then convening in Boston. He remarked that possibly the man was just another “snake charmer.”

“Until we have some proof,” I replied, “I would not pass judgment. In my way of thinking, India would not send an inferior person to this convention to represent such a large spiritual nation. When Swami Vivekananda visited the United States in 1896, he proved to be a man of high spiritual knowledge, and I think we can expect the same of Swami Yogananda. Tonight he will give his first public lecture, and I am going to attend it.”

The lecture was to be given at 30 Huntington Avenue, in Jordan Hall, a meeting place that accommodates two hundred and twenty-five persons. I seated myself in the back. When seven o’clock came, the ochre-robed Swami Yogananda entered the room, took his place on the rostrum, and greeted the audience. He introduced himself as a man who had come to fulfill a mission: to guide others in a comparative study of Christian and Hindu religion and to show their correlation. “The Christian Bible says to seek the truth and the truth will make you free,” he said, “and the Hindu scriptures declare that realization gives proof of truth, and that truth alone will deliver you from the bondage of ignorance.

“My intention,” the Swami went on, “is to start private classes for those who are eager to learn more about the scriptures and the process of spiritual training. For that purpose I have rented a room in this building for seven o’clock on Wednesday evening. The first class will be free. After that there will be a nominal fee of one or two dollars a month, depending on the number of students, to cover the expense of advertisements and rent. For myself I expect nothing. During the first half-hour of each class I will interpret the Hindu scriptures; the second half-hour will be devoted to the Christian Bible. We will then compare the two and have a period during which i will answer questions from the students."

When the public lecture was over, Swami Yogananda stood near the door as the people were leaving. Some stopped to ask him questions. When the time came for me to pass by him, I bowed. Perhaps one of his assistants had mentioned my name to the Swami, for he said to me, “Mr. Beck, you are welcome to come to the Wednesday class.” I answered that I would be there.

About fifty or sixty persons came to the class. It was announced that future classes would be held in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ward B. Hasey in West Somerville. Being in the suburbs, the location was not convenient for the Boston public. The first class in West Somerville, by my recollection, was attended chiefly by curiosity seekers and self-appointed spiritual authorities. There were possibly only four sincer seekers of divine knowledge: Dr. M. W. Lewis and his wife Mildred, Mr. Auclair, Mrs. Alice T. Hasey, to whom Swamiji later gave the name of Sister Yogmata, and myself. The classes in West Somerville were continued for about one year, and the number of members grew to not more than twenty.

The following year the classes were held in Boston at Jordan Hall, where Swamiji also lectured on Sundays, and class attendance began to increase. However, on one occasion the entire audience consisted of two persons: I was one and other was Mr. Auclair. This is how it came about.

I had been out on strike with other construction company workers for seventeen weeks, staying in a camp where I had been offered shelter by a man for whom I had done a favor some months before. I had had only enough money to carry me for two or three months, but I missed not a one of Swamiji’s classes. The topic of each Sunday lecture or weekday class was advertised in the newspapers. The subject that week was an interesting one, but I didn’t have the railroad and bus fare to take me to the hall in Boston.

That day I was out digging for clams when a man came along looking for some. I sold him what I had collected and then had enough money to trainfare to Boston. My “customer” offered to drive me to the railroad station so that I could reach the city on time. I arrived with three hours to spare, and walked to Jordan Hall to save carfare. I reached the classroom quite early, about two hours ahead of the lecture. It was hot and muggy, and on the horizon I noticed a streak of dark clouds. About one hour later I thought I heard distant thunder; an electrical storm was drawing near. Mr. Auclair arrived, and because of the oncoming storm we wondered if the lecture might be canceled. Finally the downpour began, and no others showed up for the class. Swamiji arrived at seven o’clock sharp, and when he noticed that we two were the only ones present, he said: “The faithful have come. Even if there is only one student left, I will preach!”

He picked up the Bhagavad-Gita and, looking at me, he said: “I can teach you this book in three years. In that time, through intellect and perception, you can understand the fundamentals of its teachings. Or I can teach you this book in twelve years. In that time, if you follow religious training, you will have many proofs of the truth. Or I can teach you this book in one hundred years; and what I would teach you then, THAT I have experienced and realized.”

The storm grew intense. I glanced through the windows; there were no lights to be seen. The whole of Boston was without electricity. Swamiji began the prayer that always preceded the meetings. Usually it lasted an average of two minutes; but this night Swamiji continued to pray silently for a long time. I had my eyes closed, but after a while I opened them. There was a glow in the room and it was growing stronger. I looked at the Master. His facial features had disappeared in a shining light of extremely intense colors, which lit up the whole room. Then the electric lights came on. The sacred experience was over.

In 1922 Swamiji established an ashram at Hardy’s Pond, nine miles west of Boston, near Waltham, Massachusetts. Although situated in beautiful natural surroundings, ideal for meditation, the ashram was too far away from Boston, with the result that only the few students who had cars could go there. While visiting this ashram I personally witnessed the following incident.

An old woman, crippled with rheumatism, begged the Master to help her. He took her to the shrine and asked her to pray in her own way. He offered his prayers also. After a few minutes, he asked her how she felt. She started to reach for her crutches to test the effect of the prayer. The Master told her that she did not need the crutches. She got up and walked without any help. Her swollen hands were in good enough condition for her to peel the potatoes for our lunch shortly afterward.

Swamiji later sold the Waltham ashram, and in 1924 left the east cost to travel across the country giving lectures throughout the United States. When he returned to Boston in 1928, he told us: “I have found a place in Los Angeles, on Mount Washington. The moment I saw it, I felt it was our home.”

The classes in Boston grew in size, but we knew we were going to lose him. He could no longer belong to our little meditation group only; he had to establish the headquarters of Self-Realization Fellowship where he had been divinely guided to do so, where he could best serve all. We had to adjust ourselves to the fact that our Master would soon leave Boston for his new quarters in California.

He gave one more public lecture, at Symphony Hall, which holds twenty-five hundred persons. All the standing room was filled as well. During a demonstration of the power of will, he amazed us by moving his arm back and forth so rapidly that we could see only a blur.

Toward the end of his lecture, a woman from the audience made her way to the speaker’s platform and asked permission to address the audience. As nearly as I can recall, she said: “Friends, there are a number of persons present here who will testify that what I am about to say is truth. I was paralyzed, confined to bed, for over ten years. All the lower parts of my body were useless. After one prayer with this great man, I walked from my bed, without using a crutch or a cane. Today you saw me come up on this platform unaided.”

And now I come to the sad part. After the last gathering, our divine Master asked me to follow him to California. How much I wanted to do so! But I said: “Before you came to Boston, I met a man whose health was so poor, he had no strength; he could speak only a few words at a time. I took pity on him and provided the services of my own medical doctor, besides paying all other expenses. Three years have passed and still he is unable to earn a living. I cannot desert this man.”

Thus it happened that I declined the invitation of my Master to follow him. It was the worst mistake I ever made. I had said to Swamiji, hopefully, “When I am free I will try to be with you in California.” But it never came to pass.

In conclusion I ask you to accept this yellow card bearing a little Christmas message, given to me by Swami Yogananda. It has been with me nearly half a century, and since my time is nearly up,* it needs a new home. It is spiritually as well historically significant, for it was handled by my Master’s holy fingers.

May I never again make such an error as when I denied myself that opportunity to be with my great gurudeva. As his divine representative, Sri Daya Mata, I beg you, offer a prayer for me. Allow me to be your humble devotee.

Brookline, Massachusetts

* Ted Beck passed away on August 16, 1969, just five months after writing the forgoing letter to Sri Sri Daya Mata. (Editor’s Note)

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