By Parveen Chopra
Loved by Paramahansa Yogananda, spurned by his guru's organisation, Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters) has continued to teach in his master's name, has written hugely popular books and founded successful spiritual communities. He has come to India to start a community
Autobiography of a Yogi is the story of a young Indian's intense search for God. It describes a number of saints that he met on his journey, including his great guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. It also describes, more clearly than any other mystical work I have ever read, the author's own experiences with God, including the highest one possible, samadhi, or mystical union. In chapter after chapter I found moving testimony to God's living reality, not only in the abstraction of infinity, but in the hearts and lives of actual human beings. I read of how Yogananda's prayers even for little things had been answered, and of how, by placing himself unreservedly in God's hands, his unanticipated needs had always been met. I read of intense love for God such as I myself yearned to possess; of a relationship with the Lord more intimate, more dear than I had dared to imagine possible.
This is how Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters) comments on Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, the most popular and influential work of mystical writing besides religious scriptures. The moving passage is from Kriyananda's The Path: Autobiography of a Western Yogi.
But that came later. So inspired was he by Yogananda's book that the moment he finished reading it, the 22-year-old American took the first bus to go to Yogananda's hermitage near Hollywood, 3000 miles away.
The rest is history, as they say, but not quite. He was instantly accepted as a disciple, rose to become the director of the Self Realization Fellowship (SRF) centres around the world, and first vice-president of SRF.
The story takes a twist here. On his visits to India, Kriyananda was attracting crowds of several thousand to his lectures. In 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru promised him some prime land in Lutyen's Delhi to build a park-like centre for inter-religious cooperation and harmony. But instead of a pat on the back, Kriyananda was slapped with sack orders by the SRF board.
The rest is a heroic tale of guts and glory. He felt dejected and betrayed but later, he was to call what happened auspicious, not in sarcasm, but for a deeper reason. Indeed, everything God gives us is auspicious, if we will only wait long enough, with faith, for the final outcome. The results of that episode so tragic for me at first, personally were most fortunate. I ended up being free to continue serving my guru according to my own inner guidance.
He still teaches practical spirituality. Says he: The basic teaching is the same: know self to know God. Talking about the misapprehension that Kriya Yoga, as taught by SRF, is a secret practice, he says that the initial period of study before you get the initiation is to prepare you.
Reminiscing about his master, Kriyananda says: He was a captivating personality, yet he was simple. He had no likes or dislikes, and treated all equally. He loved people for what they were. Yet there was an impersonality about him.
Now 78, Kriyananda has written 79 books, composed over 400 works of music, which have won international awards. All told, his books have sold three millions copies, translated into 27 languages. Though some of the notes he took during his time with Yogananda were incorporated in The Path, there were lots more, which he has published as Conversations with Yogananda, released recently in India.
Kriyananda's equally important contribution to promoting spirituality in the world is the founding of seven communities in the USA and Europe. They are called Ananda Sangha, based on Yogananda's ideal for world brotherhood colonies, to live together and to live for God. Most communes founded in the heady 1960s have foundered down the years, but the autonomous Ananda Sanghas are stable and successful, with about a thousand people living there. The first one of these is in Nevada City in California.
Inwardly guided, Kriyananda has returned to India to found a community in the country, and to hold talks, satsangs and meditation classes. In his love for India, this is a life's dream fulfilled for him.
Contact: Ananda Sangha India, Ph: (0124) 5059550 ext. 22, 9899267698
Website: www: anandaindia.org.
Is man important in the scheme of things? a visiting professor asked.
Man is important in one sense only, the Master replied. He was made in the image of God: That is his importance. He is not important for his body, ego, or personality. His constant affirmation of ego-consciousness is the source of all his problems.
On one occasion, the Master told us, Man was given ego-consciousness to inspire him to seek God. That is the only reason for his existence. Job, friends, personal interests: these things, by themselves, mean nothing.
Paramahansa Yogananda did not see marriage as being necessarily made in heaven, even when it had been blessed in a church. To him, the sanctity of marriage depends on the degree of a person's spiritual awareness.
The following story was one he told about Amelita Galli-Curci, the famous Italian opera singer, who was also his devoted student. It illustrates the importance of soul union, as opposed to merely institutional or legal sanction. This inner union was, to him, the true meaning of the ceremonial phrase in the marriage service, Whom God hath joined together
Mme. Galli-Curci, the Master said, was married first to a drunkard who, when he drank to excess, used to beat her. One day, he raised a chair to strike her. She looked him straight in the eye, with calm inner strength. Then she turned away, and walked out of his life forever.
Years later, she married Homer Samuels, her accompanist. Theirs was a true soul-union.
Divorce, the Master felt, is not necessarily in conflict with spiritual law, or with the teachings of Jesus Christ. If marriage obstructs a person's spiritual development, it may be his spiritual duty to leave it. As the Indian scriptures teach: If a lower duty conflicts with a higher one, it ceases to be a duty.
Concerning Mme. Galli-Curci, again, I once asked the Master: How is she faring, spirituality?
She is soaring in God, he replied blissfully.
A visitor, the Master told us, asked me yesterday, Who made God? Many ask that question. That is because they live in the realm of causation. Everything, to their way of thinking, must have a cause since that is how everything happens in this world. God, however, is the supreme cause. He has no need of being caused, or created. He is the very cause of causation. The truth is, nothing is really created anyway! The spirit simply manifests the universe. Ultimately, nothing causes anything, for nothing, in actuality, is even happening!
The Master was, at various times, either lenient or severe in his training. Since the goal of the spiritual life is the perfection of bliss in God, he didn't want us to develop a grim attitude. Always remain in the Self, he counselled me one day. Come down, as necessary, to eat or talk a little bit; then withdraw into the Self again.
At the same time, I recall asking him, when I was new on the path, to bless me that I overcome my liking for good food. With an indulgent smile he replied: There is so little outwardly that you, as a yogi, can legitimately enjoy that you might as well enjoy what you eat!
When ecstasy comes, he added, everything goes.
What he counselled us to do was ever-increasingly to develop inner non-attachment. Be even-minded and cheerful, he would say to us, adding, What comes of itself, let it come. That advice embraced both the happy and the sorrowful experiences of life. Refer every joy and even pleasure back to the joy of the inner Self, he said, and let every sorrow remind you that your home is not here, in the world of sensory experiences, but in the eternal joy of the soul.
The Master's reactions were always appropriate, never motivated by personal feeling. Once, when he was still relatively young, he was late for a lecture and set off at a run to keep his appointment. Someone urged him, Now, dont be nervous.
One can run nervously, the Master replied, or one can run calmly, but not to run when one has to is to be lazy!
My master (Sri Yukteswar) once asked me, Do you love people? I answered, No, I love only God.
That isnt enough, he replied.
Later he asked me again, Do you love people?
I smiled blissfully this time, and said, Don't ask me. He could see that my love, now, was too broad to be spoken about. This time, therefore, he only smiled.
(I is Yogananda in this anecdote)
During his first years in Boston, the Master studied the American ways of doing things, worked on becoming fluent in English, and gave classes to a few students. Doctor Lewis would sometimes talk with me about that period. The people were slightly disappointed, he said,in the Masters explanations, which to them seemed too `down-to-earth. They wanted something more exotic! A few of them once complained to him, Couldnt you go a little deeper into the Indian teachings? For his next class, accordingly, the Master delved into some of the philosophic subtleties of the ancient teachings. Soon, the students were all asleep!
Yogi Khagen was from India, and was the Masters disciple. Motivated by the common failing, envy, he eventually turned against his Guru. He continued to teach, however, and was lecturing one evening in Phoenix, Arizona, when, out of the blue, he asked, Is anyone here a member of Self-Realization Fellowship? Several of those present stood up, expecting to hear words of appreciation for the Master and his work. Instead, what they got was a tirade against the Master and his organisation. Deeply offended, several of them telephoned the Master that evening in Los Angeles and reported this outrage.
Thank you for telling me, the Master said. I will take care of the matter. Thus, he relieved them, graciously, of any further responsibility in the situation.
Next, he telephoned Yogi Khagen. What he said to him, however, was not at all what anyone expected.
God bless you, he said, for the good that you are doing. I bless you; our gurus bless you. He said nothing about the episode of the previous evening.
Always, when facing negativity, his way was if possible to emphasise something positive.
Excerpted from Conversations with Yogananda, by Swami Kriyananda, Crystal Clarity Publishers, 450 pages, Rs 350
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