Saturday, April 27, 2013

Reflections upon a life: Swami Kriyananda, 1926-2013

On Sunday morning, April 21, near Assisi, Italy at his home, Swami Kriyananda breathed his last upon this earth. Born May 19, 1926 as James Donald Walters of American parents living in Romania, Swamiji  was born and died in Europe. In his dignity and habits, he was a European. In his soul, he was, as it were, a rishi clothed in the garb of a yogi from India; and in his love of life, of people, his vitality and creativity, he was just as truly an American. He was of an older more dignified and noble time and yet he was younger, an Atlantean who delighted in the latest technologies of our advancing and ascending age.

The more one lives centered in the soul, in the Self, the more one's life becomes a crystal, reflecting truth in an infinity of rays of color, shape and form. Personal and appropriate with those whom he conversed and served, and yet impersonal reflecting not his likes and dislikes but the truth that we are each children of the same Light.

I was privileged to represent members and friends of Ananda in the greater Seattle area at the memorial service for Swamiji held in the Temple of Light at the Ananda Center near Assisi, Italy (home of St. Francis of long ago). This Service took place on Wednesday, April 24. A video recording of that service can be found on YouTube at

Because I had leave for Italy right away I could not attend our own Service held in our Meditation Temple in Bothell on Monday evening, April 22. You can a video recording of that Service at    Search on AnandaSeattle.

Swami Kriyananda was a direct disciple of the now famous yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda, whose life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, has become a spiritual classic in our time. Swamiji spent the same amount of time with his guru as the disciples of Christ spent with Jesus (about three plus years). Yogananda, despite being in a relatively withdrawn phase of the last years of his life, nonetheless permitted young "Walters" to "hang out with him" and ply him with questions. Yogananda shared many stories from his "barnstorming" years travelling across America giving lectures and classes to thousands. Yogananda, like Vivekananda decades before, became quite a sensation and sought-after speaker in American intellectual and liberal social circles.

After Yogananda's death in 1952, the young monk, who in 1955 took the spiritual name Kriyananda, rose rapidly in his guru's organization (Self-Realization Fellowship, aka SRF) as its foremost public representative. He traveled widely in America, Europe and India. As his zeal for sharing his guru's teachings grew and took on more expansive forms, the senior disciples of SRF became alarmed and, perhaps drawing on the example of male teachers groomed by Yogananda decades earlier who later betrayed Yogananda, finally decided in 1961 to dismiss Swami Kriyananda from SRF's membership and nip in the bud what they could only imagined was an ambitious ego instead of a dedicated disciple bent on spreading his guru's message of Self-realization.

As difficult emotionally as his dismissal was curt and unexpected, it did make possible the founding of Ananda in 1968. Only by separation from SRF (which he himself would never have sought) could Swamiji be free to establish intentional spiritual communities ("world brotherhood colonies" as Yogananda called them) and author some 150 books on a wide range of subjects inspired by Yogananda's teachings and spirit.

Despite persecution from SRF long after his dismissal, Kriyananda always espoused, even to the extent of his will and last testament, that Ananda remain open to work cooperatively with and be respectful always of his guru's own work.

Swami Kriyananda leaves behind a worldwide network of communities, retreat centers, meditation and yoga centers, meditation groups and a host of related activities and organizations, including schools for children, a new genre of music, and an entire liturgy of ceremonies inspired by the nonsectarian precepts of Sanaatan Dharma, the essence of Vedanta and India's sacred revelation from ancient times.

Perhaps more importantly, Swamiji's legacy is the bouquet of souls who, with his tender and wisdom-guided nurturing, have flowered in his care. Some have done so directly from his hand; many more have done so through his example, his writings, his music, and the fellowship of souls who are his spiritual children serving the work of a great guru, Paramhansa Yogananda.

Such disciples will nurture other souls making the real work of God through the Self-realization lineage (which culminated in Paramhansa Yogananda) impervious to the assaults of time and the inevitable rise and fall of the fortunes of organizations.

For some sixty-five years of discipleship, Swamiji has traveled this earth writing and lecturing and founding communities. He has done so despite opposition from other fellow gurubhais and despite the burden of a physical body that rebelled against his employment of that vehicle in intense and unceasing divine service. He had three hip operations (one had to be re-done), a pace-maker, suffered from diabetes, had a bout with colon cancer, became increasing hard of hearing (making public life very difficult ) and had a medical chart that left doctors across the globe in awe.

His will power, considerable though it was, was never directed against others. It served him only his discipleship sharing Yogananda's work. In fact, and in retrospect, Swami Kriyananda became the one disciple more than any other direct disciple, who has publicly served Yogananda's mission and thus has earned the self-evident role of Yogananda's principle heir in public service.

For all of his prolific and concentrated effort, Swami Kriyananda maintained personal friendships with hundreds if not thousands. His correspondence (which in recent years morphed into email, and thus, as for everyone else, multiplied exponentially) would have, for most people, been a full-time job. His writings ebbed and flowed but never ceased. During especially creative periods, it took more time for those to whom he would send by email his manuscript drafts for review, than it did for him to write them. Or, so it seemed!

His last book was a re-write of one of his first books: Communities: How to Start Them and Why.

He no doubt overstayed the welcome that "Brother Donkey" (the physical body) offered and by guru's grace remained to see the first of three movies finished. "Finding Happiness" is about the work of Ananda and will be released to theaters in the Fall of 2013. "The Answer" is a movie about Kriyananda's life and a third movie will be about the life of Yogananda.

The work of Ananda has spread to include north, central and south America; Europe and India.

One of the questions young Walter asked his guru was "Will I find God in this lifetime?" The great guru responded, "Yes, but at the end of life, for death will be your final sacrifice."

While the bodies of most swamis are cremated according to custom, a decision has been made to bury Swami Kriyananda's body at his home, the Crystal Hermitage, located at Ananda World Brotherhood Village, near Nevada City, CA. On the grounds of the surpassingly lovely Crystal Hermitage overlooking the north fork of the Yuba River, will his body be buried and atop the grave will be a shrine which tentatively may be termed "Moksha Mandir" in honor of Yogananda's promise of freedom ("moksha" refers to the soul's freedom in God).

A formal memorial will take place in May at Ananda Village (May 18-19). Kriyananda's body is being shipped from Italy back to the U.S. on Monday, April 29.

A great yogi in India was asked by Kriyananda why it was this yogi had no disciples or outer spiritual work. His reply was "God has done what He wanted with this body." Thus it is that the degree of approval or disapproval of the world means little to the sincere lover of God. To do the will of God is the soul's only interest. It matters not, therefore, what name or fame has come, or has been withheld, from the life of Swami Kriyananda, nor yet also, to Ananda, the work he founded in the name of his guru.

Though those close to him would no doubt easily imagine that Swami Kriyananda, free soul or otherwise, will return to help those in need in some future incarnation. But such matters are left to God. Swamiji will be greatly missed but has more than earned his freedom laurels and rest. Those who have known him personally and those many who will know him through others and through the legacy of his work and vibration in generations to come, are deeply grateful.

Adieu great soul, until we find our rest in God alone!

Eternally grateful,

Nayaswami Hriman aka Swami Hrimananda!

P.S. If I have omitted personal reflections or stories of my life and relationship with Kriyananda it is because I deem it not the right time, place, or venue. Perhaps in some other way I might share such experiences.