An Old Yogi

Ben H. Swett
London, England
4 January 1964

An Air Force friend had retired in London, and several people asked me to get his address while I was there. His name was John Young -- and there are an awful lot of people by that name in the London phone directory. I gave up trying to find him, but I noticed a one-word entry that intrigued me -- Yogi -- so I dialed the number.

The very English lady who answered the phone said she was the housekeeper, the master was very old, and he no longer accepted students. On the spur of the moment, I asked if he would consent to an evaluation. She said, "I'll see."

While I was still wondering where the word "evaluation" came from, she was back: "He will. Be here promptly at four." A very prim and proper housekeeper.

I took the subway to the station nearest the address, which was way out in the north of London, got lost a few times in the twisting streets of an old residential area, and arrived promptly at four. It was a small white house with a blue door.

The English housekeeper looked just exactly as I knew she would. She ushered me into the parlor, gestured toward the sofa, and left me alone with a large gray cat. The cat opened one eye, decided I was harmless, and went back to sleep.

A man came into the room like a thousand-watt light-bulb into a dark cellar. One part of my sense of vision told me this was a little old, dried-up, East Indian man, somewhere between 80 and 100 years old -- and some other kind of vision informed me that he was radiating so much light the chairs were casting shadows. I guess I just stood there and stared at him.

The cat got up, stretched, and dug her claws into the rug. He looked at her. She said "Murrt" and went out of the room -- whereupon I opened our conversation by asking, "What did you say to the cat?"

He smiled: "I said to her, `Do not destroy, we will feed you.'"

"Oh," I said, feeling rather a bit of a fool.

He quickly put me at ease: "How may I serve you?"

"If you would, please evaluate my present position and indicate my next step."

He smiled again, nodded, and waved toward a chair. "Of course," he said. Then, without preamble, he asked, "Are you a seeker of truth?"

"Yes."

"And what is truth?"

"I don't know. If I did, I wouldn't be seeking it."

Another benevolent smile: "To be sure. But what do you conceive the truth to be?"

"I think the truth is that which is so whether anyone knows it or not, and whether anyone likes it or not."

"Ah ... yes ... that is indeed the nature of truth. Are you also a servant of God?"

"Is there a difference?"

"Perhaps."

"Well, then ... yes ... I believe I am a servant of God."

"And what do you conceive your god to be?"

That stopped me for a moment, but I was trying to be absolutely honest with this man. I could gain nothing from an evaluation of what I thought I was supposed to believe, so I said what I actually believe: "I can't say. I find that I cannot define `god' because to define is to limit -- and that makes God too small. All I can do is to guess that God must be All ... all that has ever been, all that is, and all that can ever be ..."

A smile: "This we call `Brahm' -- the One. What do you experience in meditation?"

He was moving awfully fast. I noticed that he didn't even bother to ask whether I practiced meditation. Nevertheless, I tried to stay with him: "Sometimes, when it's good, there is a single point of light -- like a fat star -- that comes and stays. Just that ... but I feel it's the best I've attained."

"Yes. Yes, it is good. The signs are different for different people, but that is good. So then, your next step is to stop thinking."

If he had hit me with a wet fish, I could not have been more surprised or shocked. He saw my reaction: "No ... no ... not all the time. Only in the meditation. There you must stop thinking."

"But ... how? How can anyone stop thinking?"

He shook his head. "It cannot be explained. It is something you do. You must recognize it by experience."

"And then what? What does it accomplish?"

"Ah ... no. That is your next step." He stood up, and it was obvious the evaluation was over. As he escorted me to the door and stepped outside with me, he said he was pleased I had come, although he no longer went about preaching and teaching, and no longer took full-time students, but spent his time in meditation. He said, "I am without purpose."

I misunderstood. I thought he meant he felt useless. "Oh, no," I said, "Not you!"-- and I unconsciously pointed my finger at him. He spread his hands ... as if baring his chest to the imaginary bullet from the imaginary gun represented by my finger. I was ashamed. I lowered my hand and my head.

"Go in peace," he said ... and I felt as though I were bathed in sunlight. It almost blinded me. When my eyes cleared, he was gone and the blue door was closed.

I found my way back to the subway, caught the next train, and sat there in a state of euphoria. I was so full of glowing joy that I missed my stop and rode all the way out to "Elephant and Castle" at the south end of the London subway system. It was almost midnight before I got back to my room, and I was still in a dreamy reverie all the next day.

It was only later that I realized I didn't know his name. The next time I was in London, I looked in the directory, but the one-word entry -- Yogi -- was not there.