Saturday, May 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Swami Kriyananda

These past few days Ananda members, students, community residents, and friends from all over the world have gathered at Ananda Village in California to celebrate Swami Kriyananda's 85th birthday. As I write, Padma is one of a panel of speakers there paying honor and tribute to Ananda's founder, spiritual counselor, friend, and guide to thousands from around the world.

Name and fame have not been his life's goal, nor is outer acclaim any measure of success by all but the most fleeting measures. We honor Swamiji (SK) for his personal dedication to God and his guru first, and only secondly for his accomplishments. For the latter we are grateful because those accomplishments have been the medium that has inspired, taught, and involved all who honor him today. But those would have been hollow and not sufficiently magnetic to have transformed so many souls were it not for the deeper, more intangible power of his personal effort blessed by divine grace.

Swamiji's search for meaning and truth has been one that has surveyed the entire landscape of human striving. It has not been a narrow and desparate grasping for well-worn dogmas at hand. As with many fellow truthseekers it involved turning away from the past and the orthodox creed of his upbringing.

He tells the story of his "conversion" walking late one night at the beach in Charleston, South Carolina, after he had left college (for good :) ). Politics, arts, orthodox religion, social-isms of every stripe: none of these have the power to transform human consciousness. His thoughts and ruminations intensified as he walked. He HAD to know. At every dead end he found that G-word: God. At last he could avoid God no longer. But who is this? A bearded man on a throne in some antiseptic corner of distant space? One ready to toss each of us into the burning pits for eternity for our missteps or failure to join the right faith? Surely the vast expanse of space shown to us by science is adequate to suggest that the creator of this universe must be vaster still?

God MUST be conscious, SK reasoned. Indeed, consciousness ITSELF! Ok, vast, yes. Infinite, well, certainly. But whence comes this I-ness in each little, otherwise insignificant human? Whence comes the obvious consciousness of even the lowliest worm who, when prodded, recoils in response? If God is the creator of all things and is consciousness itself, then all must have been created from His consciousness. Thus consciousness must be at least latent in all things.

In this way each of us partakes in some small measure in God's consciousness. As SK wrote in his autobiography, THE NEW PATH, "We exist, because He exists." Surely we must have the capacity (perhaps the opportunity, the duty, even) to manifest Him more or less perfectly and to deepen our awareness of God at the center of our being. He wrote: "What a staggering concept!"

SK's conscious spiritual journey from this point unfolded rapidly and descended quickly to a practical application when, having discovered Paramhansa Yogananda's story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," he took the first bus to California to meet the great spiritual teacher there. The first words he uttered to Yogananda (PY) were, "I want to be your disciple." But even a week or two before he had never heard of a guru, nor yet a thousand other terms, concepts and phenomenon he encountered in the modern scripture which is PY's autobiography.

The thesis of PY's life teachings are summarized in but a few words and phrases. The first comes to us from ancient times from the adi (first) Swami Shankyacharya who defined God as "Satchidananda." PY loosely translates this as "ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss." It is bliss that all are seeking, whether ignorantly or wisely.
The second pithy summary of PY's teachings comes to us in many forms down through ages, no less than from the Old Testament and Jesus Christ: "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, and strength; and, love Thy neighbor AS Thyself." In more modern language, PY used the term Self-realization as the goal of union with God (the product of our devotion and His grace). "Love thy neighbor" is summarized in the term "fellowship," service to God through our fellow man. This universal teaching takes now the form of the art and science of meditation as the basis for right action in daily life.

To return, now, to Swamiji's life, it is these high ideals that have inspired SK's life and service. These ideals are universal and available to all men and women, without discrimination. The practice of yoga-meditation, especially kriya yoga, has been brought to the West and to the world as the practical instrument of soul awakening in individual hearts.

For while Ananda is a church, our teachings are broad and universal, even if, for those dedicated to the work of Ananda, we are also disciples of PY. We see no contradiction in our personal devotion to God through the Self-realization line of gurus and the universality of these teachings. Only the actual technique of kriya yoga is reserved for those who recognize that this technique is a divine gift channeled thorugh this line of masters. Grateful recognition of that gift and conscious attunement with the masters of this line are what unlock the power of kriya yoga to accelerate our path to liberation.

SK's writings, with rare exception, are to be read by anyone, regardless of faith or spiritual path. Some of his books (on leadership and education, for example), make no reference whatsoever to his spiritual lineage. As his guru before him, SK's vision is far ranging in both time and space and are for everyone. Inspiration, once aroused, can guide us to the next steps. No one, least of all SK, intends that his writings, music, and communities are only for the "faithful."

This juxtaposition of universality with a specific focus is new to religion. It provides for those who serve the work of Ananda a necessary and inspiring dynamic tension lest our dedication become narrow and self-enclosed. It also offers an example in all walks of life in understanding how to be loyal while yet avoiding narrowness. In marriage, business, health, politics, and family life, this example of BOTH-AND has the potential for the expansion of consciousness necessary to convert competition into cooperation, and conflict into harmony.

On this theme, therefore, we are grateful for both the universality of Swamiji's consciousness and the personal wisdom, friendship, and true divine love he has offered to everyone he meets. He remains in service even against the challenges of old-age and ill-health. It is the fountain spray of divine bliss that rewards his apparent self-sacrifice.

Happy Birthday, dear friend,

Nayaswami Hriman