In reading the recently released bio of Yogananda, written by Kriyananda, I was fascinated to read that Yogananda had said he was Saint Francis of Assisi in a former incarnation. In reading the biography of St. Francis, entitled “The Road To Assisi” by Paul Sabatier, I have found numerous connections with Hinduism, and concepts that Yogananda himself would later “preach” about. Sabatier talks about Francis’ initial merging into oneness with Christ, or entering into Christ Consciousness. The life of Francis is told as a meditative one but a profoundly active life as well, a life of karma yoga, for certain. The life of St. Francis, and the time in which he lived, seems to have been colored by a certain level of mysticism. St. Francis is even shown at one point worshiping, or giving thanks to the Sun, as the giver of all.
Writing of St. Francis’ spiritual forefathers, Sabatier tells of St. Nilo, who the author paints in a way that is eerily familiar to my Vaishnavite sensibilities. Sabatier says of St. Nilo, “living in desert places but suddenly emerging from them when his duties of maintaining the right called him elsewhere.” These words were strangely reminiscent of the verse in the Bhagavad-Gita where Krishna explains Vishnu incarnates when dharma is at its low point.
More striking is the philosophy of Joachim of Fiore, who tells the story of the history of humanity in such a way that parallels the Hindu Yugas. In Hinduism there are four Yugas: Kali, Dvapara, Treta, and Satya. Kali is the Dark Age, and Satya is the Golden Age, or age of enlightenment and the other two are steps in between. Joachim discusses only three eras, one mirroring the Kali, one the Satya, and one a combination of the Treta and Dvapara. He says: “The first saw the shining of the stars, the second sees the brightening of the dawn, The third will behold the glory of the day. The first produces nettles, the second gives roses, the third will be the age of lilies.” He also said that in the dark age, we were ruled under the Law of the Father, presumably because we were in critical need of guidance. He says in the second age we are directed by the Grace of the Son (could this be the age when Krishna, Buddha, and Christ all came to us?) and the third “the Spirit will reign and humanity will live in a plenitude of love.” Sounds like the Satya Yuga to me.
Of course the dates don’t necessarily match up. According to this scheme, the “Age of Lilies” was just about to open up around the time of Joachim, which was in the 12th century. Many cultures have a similar story of different stages humanity goes through, cyclical-like, though, and I think they were all on to something.