1993 Thresholds interview

A Life Surrendered to God

Born in the state of Ohio in 1931, Roy Eugene Davis was inspired at an early age to know a relationship with the Divine and to devote his life to serving others. He is a personal disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda and was ordained by him in 1952. Mr. Davis is currently the spiritual director of the Center for Spiritual Awareness, incorporating the Kriya Yoga meditation methods learned from his Guru.
The Center for Spiritual Awareness has its international headquarters in northeast Georgia and meditation centers in several North American communities. Its services include the publication of books, Truth Journal magazine, correspondence lessons, and tapes. Mr. Davis has authored many books, some published in five languages. He is a world-traveled teacher with a practical message of hope and faith.
Roy Eugene Davis teaches committed disciples and also reaches out to serve people whose focus is on secular life. He believes that great transformation takes place when one devotes even one hour a day to spiritual practices, such as meditation, reading scripture and inspirational works, and cultivating virtues through right thinking. During a recent visit to Dallas, he spoke with Thresholds interviewer Kathleen Rainbow.

Thresholds: At what age did your awareness of desiring to serve God begin?

Davis: In my early, early teens, probably around eleven, twelve, thirteen. I used to go to church with my parents in Ohio, a small country church, it was a fundamentalist approach. The vitality of the spiritual message moved me and I began to feel a call to minister in some way. And then in middle high school, on my own, I began to go to the public library and got books on world religion and psychology and explored more broadly. Then when I was in tenth grade, I read a book on Yoga and that seemed to me to be a rational approach to Self-understanding and Self-actualization and then I read Yogananda’s book Autobiography of a Yogi when I was eighteen. That was the highlight, I believe, of my reading and I resolved then to go to California and study with him, which I did in 1949.

Thresholds: What appealed to you about the teachings of Yoga?

Davis: It was something sensible. I didn’t have to rely on someone else’s word. I could take it on faith, that if I take the teachings I could apply them and test them to see whether they worked or not. So that’s what appealed to me.

Thresholds: I believe that you started practicing mental discipline when you were quite young, as far as learning about yoga and practicing?

Davis: Yes. On my own from books, I learned Hatha Yoga first, and then endeavored to meditate by following the written guidelines without too much success. Even as a teenager I had an active prayer life, and in some sense some awareness of a presence that I couldn’t define that seemed to be around me all the time, that was benevolent.

Thresholds: How did you identify that in your younger years?

Davis: Why, I assumed it was some aspect of God.

Thresholds: What was it that attracted you to Paramahansa Yogananda?

Davis: I think it was his devotion to God, and his real love for people; that was the strongest thing. And then when I met him I saw that personified. He was very warm and caring, a very strong person, more like a strong, quiet father. He was strict with discipline, but it was gentle guidance that he gave and of course he set the example too.

Thresholds: How did he teach discipline?

Davis: Mainly by giving us the guidelines and referring us to reading certain basic books and then constantly reminding us what was the best for us and what was not good for us, more or less keeping an eye on us. If he saw someone with difficulties, he would talk with them privately, counsel with them and encourage them. He always said he was non-sectarian and he told people, if you are a devout Christian, Muslim, or Jew or Hindu, or Buddhist, it doesn’t matter. You can adhere to your preferred religious tradition, your cultural modes, but practice the inner way, practice the inside way.

Thresholds: In your book, you mentioned that Paramahansa Yogananda said he went through the souls of each of his disciples daily?

Davis: What I meant was he tuned into them telepathically and spiritually so he could know what was going on in their minds. He knew what was within you, even your behavior sometimes, just by thinking about you. He would do that every day, he kept his attunement with us, so we were always in his consciousness. He always loved us and thought about us and he used to say, “I keep my radio tuned in to you.” In fact, he used to tell me, whenever I would see him and depart to go back to Phoenix, “Stay in tune with me. When you’re like that, I can help you, but when you’re not in tune, if you become restless or distracted, it’s like putting static in the radio and I can’t work with you effectively.” You do that like you do if you’re in love with someone, or if you have a friend, it doesn’t take any effort to think of that person, and with loving thoughts you can almost feel their presence all the time.

Thresholds: You have mentioned a sense of having known Paramahansa Yogananda before. What are your thoughts on predestination? Was it something that was “meant to be” this lifetime?

Davis: I think so. I don’t think I could have missed him this lifetime. I saw the ad for his book in a health magazine and I ordered the book by mail, read the book and felt an instant rapport. About six months after I was with him, he told me that I had been with him before and I have come back to renew the relationship to represent those teaching traditions.
The last three or four years of his life, many young men and women came and he used to say, “These are my saints, pure-minded, intelligent, well-mannered young people.” They were my extended spiritual family. He said they were coming together toward the end just before he left. That was part of his mission, to work with certain souls who were being born at the same time and same time cycle. He said that before he left India, he had a vision of hundreds of Americans that he would work with in the years to come and in those years he recognized them.

Thresholds: How many true disciples did he have?

Davis: Probably several hundred. Of course there were hundreds of thousands of people with whom he had a teacher/student relationship. But, the percentage of committed disciples was small, by the time he passed there were probably one hundred and fifty resident renunciates at headquarters and the inner circle of disciples who became the members of the Board of Directors. They were very close to him. But he had lots of disciples out in the field -- business men and women, professional people, people in their own secular activities who were really good disciples. They maintained their meditation practices and lived a good, noble life. He liked that, because he taught that the ideal was for everyone, in every level and every place in society, to live a God-centered life, if they made the choice.

Thresholds: So he believed that you could balance being successful in the physical world with being devoted to God?

Davis: Oh sure, and have a family and attend your community responsibilities and enjoy life without getting carried away by the senses, or losing your way. He emphasized that.

Thresholds: I think maybe that’s one of the greatest gifts that he brought to the West. His teachings aided many people to be able to see how they could continue with the kind of lives they already had and add spirituality to that.

Davis: Right. He emphasized one’s daily spiritual practice of meditation. He always said that surely if people will ground themselves in daily meditation, meditating the right way, that they will experience inner unfoldment that will keep them stable, then they are not likely to get off the track. If they attend to that first that’s the important thing.
Lahiri Mahasaya, second in my guru line from Babaji, was married before he met Babaji. He and his wife had five children after that and he maintained his activities; he had a job with British government until his retirement. So he attended to all of his family and social and business duties and still was a spiritually advanced yogi, a Self-realized yogi. But he was disciplined. He would come home at night, spend the eight hours of the night all by himself in his room, and receiving disciples and students for training in that way. So he was sort of a secret yogi.
Not everyone can be a renunciated monk; what will become of civilization if everyone became reclusive and cloistered? It’s not practical for everyone.

Thresholds: Why did you want to become a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda?

Davis: Because I wanted to be more spiritually awake. I wanted to become God-realized and more functional and so he accepted me right off. I hitchhiked out to California and met him and he allowed me to stay. He allowed me to stay and then after about three months of probationary residence, he sent me over to Arizona to work there because there was a small branch center in Arizona. That’s where I spent most of my time with the exception of every two months I would go back to California and spend a few days with him at one of the retreats. So I didn’t have a group training. I was on my own, except for my relationship with him, which I liked because I like aloneness, I still do. I didn’t need the support of other people around me.
Then after about two years, he ordained me to teach, which doesn’t mean that I was qualified to teach everything at that time. I was still not quite twenty-one years of age, but he ordained me so quick because he knew he was going to be leaving his body the next year and he wanted to get that taken care of. After he passed, I was assigned to be the minister at the Phoenix center. Still not skilled in social graces or communication ability, but I could focus on the basics, I could lead meditation and represent the teachings and then just learn by doing. When he ordained ministers in the early days, he was looking for commitment to the spiritual path and devotion to God, and one’s depth and steadfastness and spiritual practices. He wanted that to be the foundation. He used to say that you could teach anyone the words from a training manual or a book, but they don’t have the spirit.
He was always strong on sharing the spirit and so that’s why back in the late 40’s and early 50’s, so many of the ministers that he ordained were all very young. They were pure-minded and pure-hearted and we used to say they hadn’t been spoiled by the world yet. And he could depend on them to maintain the purity of the teaching. So that’s how I began and it was a marvelous beginning. I was there almost four years and then I decided I’d leave after he passed. A year and a half after he passed I decided I would leave the cloistered environment. I had for eighteen years grown up on a farm, had four years as a monk and I thought, “Well, I don’t know anything about the secular world, relationships, and getting along there.” So I decided to leave.

Thresholds: Did you think that at that time it was important for your spiritual development?

Davis: I saw that it was just the right move to make and I wasn’t running away from that life, because I have always maintained my practices. So I wasn’t rejecting the teaching or the practices at all. I talked to the Vice President who is now the President, Daya Mata, and she said, “God is everywhere, you don’t have to live here to have a relationship with God.” I supported myself and maintained my responsibility for my own welfare. I think that was a good idea. I was drafted into the army right after I left, and spent two years in the medical service in the army which was not a bad way of facing secular life, to learn how to get along. I prayed about what to do with my life after the army, because my heart was still with the guru line. With my starting out pay from the army, about $300, I rented a lecture hall and bought ads in the paper and lectured and taught classes.
I did that for awhile and began to travel as the guest teacher for groups all over the country. I did that through the late 50’s and early 60’s, and got experienced, and did a lot of radio and television talk shows and learned to write and get published and handle money, get along with people and improve my communication skills. And so the work just grew. Then in early 1970 I was invited by a small organization in North Georgia to be on the board and be their spiritual director. After four years I became the President of the Center for Spiritual Awareness. We began developing property, so now we have eleven acres there, five guest houses and a big meeting hall and library, children’s school house and offices. We’ve continued publishing our magazine, “Truth Journal,” which is one of the longest running, consistently published metaphysical magazines in the country after about twenty-seven years now.
Part of me has the dream and I act on it as Yogananda did, but part of me is still an evangelist, I like to get the word out to as many people as possible. Not to persuade or convert, but simply to say, “Look at it. You might find it helpful.” Yogananda used to call it the “Quantity” work, which is our service, which is necessary. But, I’m also more and more focused on what you call the “Quality” work, looking for serious, serious devotees. I like to work with both.

Thresholds: Do you feel that what you’re doing now is in alignment with what Yogananda saw?

Davis: Oh, yes. I teach the same emphasis. The Vedic teachings that Yogananda taught, the basic principles, the basic truths of God and the universe are accessible to anyone, but the meditation techniques that I teach, I learned from him and the emphasis on devotion and steadfastness and sense of purpose, this was reinforced by him.

Thresholds: In his book Yogananda mentions many different saints who had different mystical powers and experiences. What was his perspective on these visions and mystical experiences?

Davis: As long as we are subject to or dependent upon those perceptions to give us satisfaction, then we are not anchored in realization of ourselves and relationship with God completely. We still have a need for dependence or support or enjoyment, something other than ourselves. So he always said, and this is taught in the Yoga Scriptures too, no matter what you perceive or experience, if you commune with God, and you experience bliss and expansion of consciousness and visions of the saints, marvelous, if they are legitimate and not hallucinations. However, you ought to ask what is beyond that, is there anything more?

Thresholds: And is that what you would describe as enlightenment -- what is beyond that?

Davis: When you get to the ultimate, what is beyond that? You get a clear comprehension of what reality is, what consciousness is, and the unmanifest aspect, in the God manifesting aspect, in the primal nature manifesting aspect, cosmic mind manifesting aspect and so on. So you see the whole pattern around them, for what it is, to see it all. This is what we have referred to as total spiritual enlightenment. It is written in Buddhism too, as the revelation that Buddha had when he was thereafter acknowledged as the “Buddha” or “the Enlightened One.” Where suddenly he saw everything as it is, and before that there were areas of his consciousness that were clouded, darkened, dulled and he was subject to visions, and temptations and inner conflicts and confusion and so forth. But when he saw everything for what it was, then that was it. So this is why I emphasize moving toward that.

Thresholds: Could you tell me a little bit more about the meditation techniques that you teach?

Davis: We teach an approach that meets the needs of almost everyone. If a person is brand new, we teach them how to meditate, to relax and become internalized and experience some emotional peace and peace of mind. This can be done through prayer, through mantra, through simply inward turning and surrendering to the process that naturally begins if we sit quietly long enough. And then we teach a little more advanced techniques like contemplating inner light and sound, and what is called the Kriya Praniyama technique of directing the vital forces through the chakras along with the breathing process. Then we’ll do supplemental processes that support that. These are preliminary and preparatory practices, because once you get internalized, then you put them off to one side and you allow the spontaneous unfoldments that occur simply to happen.
The big problem with many people who start, who are interested in meditating, is that they don’t know how to relax the body and calm the mind. It is a constant struggle for them to subdue their emotions or at least quiet their emotions. We get their awareness removed from their memories and thoughts. The techniques effectively get us through those levels, so that we can get into a clear space and so that our superconscious awareness can unfold.

Thresholds: Yesterday you mentioned certain numbered steps that you teach and practice so that somebody can reach those levels. What are they?

Davis: Oh, I think I was enumerating the eight-fold path in Yoga according to the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. The first two have to do with preparation. The first step has to do with relationships with others and the world, which includes cultivating harmlessness, truthfulness, honesty, conservation -- right use of our vital forces and having a right relationship with things and people and relationship without grasping, without holding on, being possessive. And then the second step includes the more intentional disciplines of purity of body, cleanliness of body for health reasons, and purity of motive and pure thinking, constructive thinking. And then cultivation of inner contentment regardless of the temporary circumstances, whether they be supportive or challenging, so that we don’t get swept away by circumstances. Then engaging in necessary self-examination, self-discipline in order to clear away any of the psychological conflicts that might be a problem that we have to handle.
And then study of what is called lower knowledge or secular knowledge so that we can function effectively in the world. Many people do get their education so that they can live more effectively. But also higher knowledge or metaphysics to inquire what is God, what is cosmic mind, how are the universes manifested, what is my relationship with God, why am I here, what is the purpose of it all? These things should be examined, inquired into. And always with the inner understanding that there is this one reality, we call it God, which is everywhere present and which supports the universe and which really is our larger, real nature. We want to cultivate an increasing awareness of that, so that we are working in cooperation with its inclinations and then experiencing more of its reality until we wake up to realize that there isn’t any difference between Its reality and ours, that it is only that one life that exists, that we are simply expressions of it.
Then the formal practice of meditation begins, which is a third stage which is simply posture in meditation position. The Bhagavad Gita echoes the teachings of the other Yoga Scriptures and text as to the recommended posture for meditation, the one that is comfortable and pleasant, that’s simple enough, so that you’re not uncomfortable and your concentration is not going to be distracted once you get into meditation. Then balancing the body’s life forces, or Pranas, so that the body can be relaxed, and body processes can function as they are designed to function and also brain wave activity becomes coherent.
Then you become internalized. And then, that’s the next stage, we can concentrate effectively upon our chosen object of concentration. Then study of concentration becomes what we call meditation. When we continue that, it results in the peak experience or insight if we’re contemplating some aspect of reality for the purpose of discovery and acquiring knowledge. We may even have an experience of union or oneness with whatever we are contemplating, whether it is light or sound or bliss or love.
So, we can tell where we are at every stage of our unfoldment. We can tell how we are doing. We know when we’re practicing meditation, when we live our lives, how our lives are going, whether they’re going well or not. We know whether we’re relaxed, whether the meditation is progressing smoothly or whether it is not. So here’s where our meditation techniques come in. Our techniques can give us something to do to help us clear the mental field and keep our attention focused. But there are some people who are quite naturally spontaneous meditators. They don’t have any problem at all with just sitting and opening to the Infinite and they experience this beautiful calmness and peace and transcendental awareness that just naturally unfolds.

Thresholds: Why do you think that it is easier for some people naturally?

Davis: I don’t know. Some people are maybe just more Self-possessed to begin with and are able to simply renounce or let go of, remove their awareness from distractions. They are able to put their attention where they want to. They are more in command of their attention and will than others.

Thresholds: How has meditation aided you personally, Roy, in developing your relationship with God?

Davis: By allowing to experience what mediation provides, that is calmness of body and mind and experience of my beingness as a soul or a unit of God-awareness. So you have the realization of what you are. And also, one of the great benefits of deep meditation is that after awhile you become more discerning and your intellect becomes more refined, and while you can still enjoy relationships and enjoy experience, you are not obsessive or compulsive about it; you don’t have these needs that must be satisfied. You are not caught up or frantic in relationships.

Thresholds: What is the function of a Guru?

Davis: The word “Guru” is from Sanskrit. The two syllables mean “Gu” -- heaviness or darkness and “ru” -- light. So “Guru” really means that light that removes darkness. In the Yoga teachings we say the light of God is the true guru that dispels the illusion from the mind of the devotee. But in relationship, the word “Guru” also means teacher. In India, it is common to hear people refer to their music teacher, their school teacher as their “Guru” -- Guruji says this or Guruji says that, and they’re referring to Guru in a secular teaching relationship.
On a spiritual path, the word is “Sakguru.” “Sak” means Truth or Truth revealer. The Truth revealer is the one who is self-reliant or enlightened, at least has sufficiently awakened to know what’s what and is willing to play the role of the counselor and supporter and teacher and more than that, a transmitter of the spiritual force. That’s the role of a Guru. And in the true relationship there is no manipulation involved. The Guru always invites the disciple to improve their understanding, to practice, to grow spiritually and the only desire of a true Guru for the disciple is their awakening, their enlightenment. Whenever you see, as you see it sometime, excessive promotion of a Guru as being the highest and only one in the planet for the redemption of mankind, or you see those who play the role of Gurus manipulating the disciples, you know that they have got a problem.

Thresholds: Would you consider yourself a “Guru”?

Davis: Yes. I play the role of a Guru for some people. People frequently will come and after they have studied here for awhile and have been initiated, they will say, “Will you be my Guru?” We talk about it and if I think their intent is sincere, I start by saying, “Well, first let’s have a relationship. I will be your spiritual friend and I’ll work with you and you feel free to communicate with me and ask me any questions or call me if you have any needs. I’ll represent this Guru line, I’ll stand in for the Guru line and be a person you can talk with and communicate with.”

Thresholds: What desires or aspirations do you have for humanity or what do you see as the future of humanity?

Davis: I see a continuing awakening trend. I believe that we are in an awakening phase, civilization is on an ascending course. Maybe in the next one hundred years, most of the barriers will be dissolved and people will learn to get along with each other and we are moving in that direction. Many of the things that Yogananda taught, and the Fillmores of Unity taught decades ago, are now accepted by the mainstream -- vegetarianism and positive thinking. He focused on spirit/body and body/mind relationship and the importance of understanding that and the healing process. All of this is coming out now and being researched and more and more accepted. Evolution is accelerating the spiritual awakening of people on the planet. So I see that and I’m glad to be a participant in that process.•
©1993 Vol. 12 No. 3

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