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Stories About Yogananda’s Second American Disciple: Warren Vickerman

yogananda-warren vickermanTo someone who asked for more about Warren Vickerman, the second American to become a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda.

The very first person I had a conversation with at the Hollywood SRF Center was Annie Vickerman, the wife of Warren Vickerman (“Vickie”). She was taking care of the little octagonal bookstore. We became good friends and in later conversations she occasionally told me some things about him.

Warren meets Yogananda

A young man of deep introspection, Vickie came to realize that the breath is the foundation of the mind, and that the restless, uncontrolled breath is the great obstacle to deep spiritual perception. Though living in New York City, he somehow learned that a Swami Yogananda was living and teaching in Boston.

Intuitively feeling that the swami held the key to his dilemma, he managed to find his address and went, unannounced, to Boston. As he was walking up toward the house in which Yogananda was saying, the Master came out onto the porch. Stopping right where he was, Vickie asked: “Can you help me to get rid of the breath?” Yoganandaji smiled and said: “Come right on in!” And he did, and became his second disciple in America.

Two cooks and an outsider

Yoganandaji often stayed with the Vickermans in New York. Vickie was an excellent cook, so the two of them often spent hours in the kitchen cooking up Indian specialities and creating new ones. Whenever Annie (who could not cook at all) entered the precincts she was immediately shooed out and the door closed as the experts continued their culinary conquests.

Discerning the truth

Warren was serious about finding God and expected other yogis to be the same. Neither could he be fooled by talk. A man visited the Vickermans one day and Annie listened to him recite his spiritual experiences and insights to Vickie. Immensely impressed, when the man left Annie told Vickie: “That was remarkable, wasn’t it?”

“It was all lies, not a word of truth in it,” was Vickie’s brief retort. “How do you know?” asked a bewildered Annie. Sitting down, Vickie quietly said: “Because I was watching his heart chakra the whole time.” So much for that!

Little patience with nonsense

Vickie became a highly developed yogi, and for many years led the Self-Realization Fellowship center in New York City. This naturally entailed his meeting many seekers and often becoming their advisor. Much like Yogananda’s guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, Vickie had little patience with nonsense, earthly or psychic.

One day a woman came to him in great distress. “Oh! What shall I do? Every time I start to meditate I fly up astrally out of my body and hit my head on the ceiling!” Vickie looked at her with a glint in his eye and then said forcefully: “Lady, when you are in that state there is no ceiling!”

Saint John’s vision

One day Annie came across a modern language translation of the Bible. She read out to Vickie the part in Revelation about Saint John’s vision of Jesus standing in the midst of seven golden candlesticks (in the King James Version). The translators used the term “lampstands” which they felt modern people could relate to. Vickie’s comment was: “My God, it sounds like Saint John’s vision took place in Macy’s Department Store!”

Almond Joys and levitation

Vickie meditated nearly all night sitting on his twin bed. Annie would be in the other bed reading. Just before Vickie began to meditate, he would open the drawer in the table beside his bed and bring out a handful of Almond Joy candy bars that Annie loved. Tossing them over to her, he would say: “Here, enjoy yourself.”

And she did. Eating the Almond Joys, she watched as he went deeper and deeper into meditation, entering samadhi without breath or heartbeat and sometimes levitating off the bed. And that was how she fell asleep every night.

Hollywood carpet

Vickie owned a carpet company that made very high quality carpet, so he donated and had carpet installed throughout the Mount Washington headquarters and the Hollywood Church. It was a deep blue color and still in use when I lived next door to the church in 1961 and 1962.

A little about Annie

Now, even though you did not ask, let me tell you about Annie herself whom I have always admired greatly.

Annie was born into the topmost stratum of New York City society known as the Four Hundred. Famous people whom even I had heard about or seen on television were her close friends. Her best friends were Wanda and Wally Toscanini, the daughters of Arturo Toscanini the great conductor. Three to four nights of every week she would have dinner with the Toscanini family, and it was always spaghetti, at the demand of the Maestro.

The Four Hundred and the One

In 1924, Swami Yogananda came to New York and spoke in Carnegie Hall. Annie went to hear him and became his faithful disciple. The life of the Four Hundred was the only life Annie knew, but when many of the Four Hundred derided and denounced the Swami, Annie cut nearly all her social ties and made his disciples her only close friends.

After Vickie’s death she moved to Hollywood and lived just around the corner from the SRF Center. She single-handedly managed the bookstore and often filled in as cashier in the cafe Yoganandaji had created. In later years she lived in Encinitas near the hermitage.

Truly it can be said of Annie: God and Guru were her life.

Epilogue:

In my first conversation with Annie, which took place in the bookstore, she told me something that I now pass on to you, as it is from the Master himself.

More than once when talking with Vickie and Annie, Master Yogananda told them: “In three generations you won’t even know I came to this country.” When they asked him what, then, was the use of his coming here, he replied: “I have planted the seed and it will grow. My work will go on, even if sometimes my name will not even be mentioned.”

(Swami Kriyananda wrote that the Master often said to those at Mount Washington: “When I am gone you all will change everything.” In a letter to Rajasi, regarding himself and the organization after his departure from this world, he wrote: “They will go their way and I will go mine.”)

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