I have lived during a period when began, and participated in, the early stages of a noteworthy religious development. I had thought of titling this book The Story of a Third-Generation Disciple. That is my situation. Sri Ramakrishna lived from 1836 to 1886. Millions of people now consider him an avatar — an incarnation of God of the same order as Jesus or Sri Krishna or Gautama Buddha — a savior for his age. The influence of Sri Ramakrishna expressed itself through his several disciples. The most famous of these was Swami Vivekananda. Another was Swami Brahmananda. My guru, Swami Prabhavananda, was a disciple of Swami Brahmananda; I may thus consider myself to be a spiritual great-grandson of Sri Ramakrishna. I have met many other spiritual descendants of Sri Ramakrishna and of Sri Ramakrishna's wife, Sri Sarada Devi — disciples of direct disciples of the former and direct disciples of the latter — together with disciples of their disciples, often of western origin.
I find thus that I occupy a strategic position in relation to the early manifestation of the Ramakrishna movement. What I saw, what I learned, what I experienced ought not be lost in the trackless wastes of receding time. Nor the effect of these contacts on one who experienced them. I have hoped that The Making of a Devotee, although hardly a typical work of piety, might possess enough edifying value to make its publication worth while.
I have had to use a great many "I's" throughout this narrative. But I believe it to be not so much the "I" of a self-important autobiographer which speaks, but that of a bemused observer and entranced witness. It is the "I" of an experiencer caught up in events which seemed so significant that he became convinced that it would be an error not to take the bold step of offering to publish what he had written.
In September, 1992, I reviewed the manuscript of The Making of a Devotee. A month or two before, I had asked Swami Gahanananda, the General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, who was visiting European Vedanta centers, what the attitude of the Order would be to a work of autobiography written by one of its sannyasin members. The Swami replied that the work should be reviewed at the Order's Headquarters before publication, and if published should be considered as being the property of the Order. And that the author should remain in the background, the graces experienced by the autobiographer occupying primary importance. And that the book, if considered acceptable, should be published by an official branch of the Order (not a commercial publisher as I had thought perhaps preferable) so as to avoid any idea that the work was brought out clandestinely.
I agree perfectly with the stipulations of the General Secretary. But the book I have authored cannot conform to them in entirety. The autobiographer (the Devotee of the title) is very much in the forefront; indeed it is the transformation of the author from a worldly know-it-all to devotee which constitutes the theme and substance of the work. There may be problems, hence, in acceptance of The Making of a Devotee for publication.
So I have concluded that — barring a miraculous insistence from the Order that the book be published during my lifetime — the proper procedure is to leave the finished manuscript among my effects and let posthumous judgment prevail. My death will guarantee that the proviso of the General Secretary that the autobiographer should occupy a background position will in that case certainly be met.