Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Personal Reflections: My Teacher, Swami Kriyananda

This blog article is a follow up to the previous one about the life of Swami Kriyananda. I noted in a postscript to that one that it omitted any personal reflections and that I intended to do that subsequently. So, well, one could go on forever, but this is it for now.

I did share more personally in my Sunday Service talk (April 28; see Ustream.com search on AnandaSeattle). In that talk I also gave a report on my quick trip to Italy last week to attend the memorial service for Swami Kriyananda that was held at the Temple of Light at the Ananda Retreat Center and Community near Assisi, Italy.

You will hear from others who share their stories about Swami Kriyananda that their individual relationship was just that: individual. As I noted previously, a person such as Swamiji who lives from his own center relates appropriately and uniquely to each person and circumstance. So, too, therefore, must my own reflections admit to the limits of my own relationship with him.

My relationship with him began slowly. One could say that I was slow to warm up and cautious about accepting him as my spiritual teacher. When I arrived at Ananda Village in 1977 he was in India. Padma and I were forced to live in nearby Nevada City — a half hour away from the Ananda Village community because of the (now well known) forest fire in June 1976 that destroyed most of the homes. In addition, as there were fewer jobs, we started an accounting practice in the picturesque town and county seat of Nevada City. For these reasons I had fewer occasions in those first years to interact with Swamiji than I would have, perhaps, had I lived at the Village at that time. (We finally were able to move in the Village community in Fall of 1981 when a recently built house became available and we had sold my CPA practice in order to buy it.)

Despite my slowness, I would listen to cassette tapes of his voice (even before I ever met him) and, owing to the battery-operated inadequacies of on-site, outdoors recordings, his voice seemed very young, high pitched and way too fast, just short of Mickey Mouse and definitely not his real voice (which is rich, resonant, and deeply calm). The result was that I did not have the impression of a hoary, sage-like yogi. In short, he didn't fit my image of a yogi at all. To make it worse, he was American! Pawshaw, I say (having just been in India nearly a year traveling its length and breadth). Who ever heard of an American yogi? (Do you recall Walters' own response to the "Autobiography of a Yogi's" dedication to Luther Burbank, an "American saint!" Well, that was mine as well.)

The feeling of standoffishness seemed mutual, though perhaps he didn't wish to impose if I were not ready to engage. Besides, I wasn't really all that sure about the viability of this nearly-destroyed community with a lot of former hippies who had more enthusiasm than skills and more optimism than money. Yes, I was, if not skeptical, then watchful. Yet, I was there and powerfully drawn to the path of Kriya Yoga and to the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. Further, on a level that I could not consciously access at that time, I knew I was supposed to be there and that this off-beat collection of seeming misfits, which in a way included its Swami, held for me the promise of "immortality" (meaning spiritual fulfillment in this lifetime) that I sought! I also felt a calm and accepting presence and connection with Jyotish Novak, Swamiji's successor and the first person I met at Ananda Village when we came for a visit in May of 1977.

During those years I absorbed every word I heard from Swami: recorded or live, and mostly live, for he taught often at Ananda Village. In addition, Padma and I would occasionally go to Sacramento or San Francisco where he lectured publicly. So while his personality, which was strong and confident, even while soft and sensitive, did not draw from me a more personally interested response, I was very much drinking in his wisdom and vibration. In fact, many years later when I began teaching I discovered that out of my mouth, "so to speak," came words that surprised me but which I was able to trace to something he had written or said in a talk.

But it was the intensity and urgency with which he conducted his activities, his writings, music, travel, and projects that puzzled me. I didn't understand, really, what the fuss was all about. You'd think the whole world hung on his every action and that it would end if he didn't complete the next thing a day earlier. I still had many years of associating spirituality with a peaceful, laid-back image comfortably arranged so as to frequently chant, like Alfred E Neumann, my adolescent idol, "What? Me worry?"

Only gradually over the years did the intensity of energy needed for spiritual growth become a reality to me. Then, too, came the dawning of the awareness that Swamiji was the de facto successor to Paramhansa Yogananda's worldwide spiritual work. Kriyananda's intensity and creativity was a product of his divine attunement and in particular his attunement with Yogananda. This was his normal state of consciousness! Whew! This is what it is like to be around a saint?

His transparent self-honesty and self-questioning also struck me as self-absorbed until, as I matured, I realized that this was a gift to us of observing the process of spiritual introspection. It conveyed deeper spiritual teachings than mere abstract precepts with which I tended to remain content (and smug). It provided encouragement, too, because a devotee must confront self-doubt. It is part and parcel of the soul's halting emergence into the sunlight of God's presence which is both scorching and healing at the same time. His doubts were my doubts. His processes, my own. I just hadn't yet become aware of it and initially thought, "Gee, what's wrong with this guy. He doesn't seem to be very sure of himself."

As I took on more responsibilities in the financial and business realm of the tiny and struggling community, my contact with Swamiji increased. Still, I had yet to develop intuition as the normal frequency of consciousness on which to operate. Therefore, his responses, comments, and intentions remained hidden, for me, behind a veil of mystery. His close associates seemed to nod and bob and weave with his every utterance and that, too, was cause for holding back. The more those close to him seemed fawningly eager to do his bidding, the further back I would step. I was simply, at first, too insecure myself to distinguish blind following from intelligent and heartfelt enthusiasm. His closest were invariably highly intelligent, creative, and anything but “Yes men.” In my defense, my own temperament is deliberate and thoughtful. I tend to pull back from bursts of what might seem unthinking enthusiasm. Like some, what I commit to must be felt within myself before I give it my energy and enthusiasm.

When Swamiji would proclaim each and every book of his as the next "best seller" (when I knew perfectly well it would not be), it took me a long time to realize that he was no stranger to the facts. He simply preferred to remain open to Divine Mother's grace and boundless resourcefulness. And, he wanted to encourage and inspire us to always be positive, even in the face of so-called "facts." In fact, since a deliberating (“Hamlet complex”) temperament often dissolves into negativity, he once spontaneously offered me this personal counsel: "Don't be negative!"

I will skip ahead for the simple fact that Kriyananda's transparent self-honesty, wisdom, and devotion uplifted anyone who, on a deeper level, responded positively to him and who was basically in tune with all that he represents (viz., Yogananda's teachings and spirit). And when I say "in tune," I do not mean this in some narrow or sectarian way. Swamiji, like his guru before him, has friends all over the world and in every walk of life. Some have no outward affiliation with the work of Ananda or the teachings of Yogananda but feel Swamiji is their friend in whom they can trust. As so many others have attested, Swami Kriyananda was a citizen of the world and could relate appropriately to anyone. He made friends wherever he went.

Many a guest or family member (of an Ananda resident) found Swami's humor disarming. His charm and humor rendered him accessible and human. Spiritual teachers are all too often pompous, self-righteous and aloof. Swamiji was never any of these things. However, the first joke I recall him telling was a turn off to me: it seemed to be what we would now call "politically incorrect." I won't repeat the joke but it was about two Brahmins in India stuffing themselves at a free banquet to the point of retching. It left me puzzled and bemused. Now I occasionally tell the same joke with great hilarity!

During the Eighties he began the habit of publicly castigating accountants, usually doing so by telling a story about a businessman who fired his accountants because they couldn't really tell him anything useful for running his business. The story was that the businessman complained that the accountants were merely reporting the past.

Ananda was in a growth phase. We had started numerous small businesses and I was part of the management team. I was the Community's chief accountant and I had to sit there in the audience time and again and listen to this. Sometimes friends would commiserate with me but it always a case for discomfort, for I, at least, trusted he had a point to make and it was likely one I needed to hear (there weren’t any other real accountants around for miles). I didn't feel I was all that personally identified with my role, but perhaps I was and didn’t know it? There was, as I look back, a further point: he was helping me to become less reactive to the limiting perceptions of others and the limiting characteristics of any outward role in life. This would help prepare me for the leadership role I was to be given by him in later years.

I rarely sought his counsel for personal matters. I was not resistant to his counsel, but rather felt respectful of his time and did not want to presume upon his interest. I did, however, write to him for his approval for Padma and I to marry. After some twelve or more years doing the accounting at Ananda, I shared with him (on a trip to Italy; we were guests at a member's home in Rome, at the time) my feeling that it was time for a change. He took it under consideration but seemed to agree.

In that conversation, nor at any other time, did I describe to Swamiji my childhood experiences and my early life quiet, inner conviction that I would someday be committed to divine service and sharing. But it was to this calling that he was later to guide me and when it came I was ready, though at first I hesitated, for now with some years on the spiritual path I had gained an appreciation for what seems at times like the receding horizon line of perfection and for what, some days at least, seems the growing unworthiness of the aspirant.

Other times he would comment to me, like the time he passed me in the hallway and quipped, "You're very responsible." (Even I understood that this was not a compliment. God is the Doer!) On a few occasions his comments (intended for me) were delivered via others, including once or twice via Padma. Such deliveries were a cause for annoyance, to be sure. I think he was trying to toughen me up from touchiness around what others think. There were a few occasions when I thought he misjudged me for not having the facts. Gradually I learned that "facts are not a truth" and that occasionally circumstances would be used to make a point and the point was more important than the circumstances!

Accepting correction with equanimity and openness is one of the surest forms of testing one's spiritual progress and I can't say that during those years I had graduated.

Still, I wonder of what value are these commentaries and how little they must reveal of the depth and breadth of Kriyananda's wisdom and compassion? Among the lessons I learned are to be inwardly still in the presence of one's teacher and indeed any saintly person. This came naturally. I would sometimes go to his office with work related complaints or problems and by the time he had shared his latest piece of music or writing, the problem seemed so unimportant, if it had ever existed at all.

I found from him validation for another important teaching which came to me more naturally. Any advice one receives should be taken inside and validated by its intuitive resonance with one’s own deeper nature. In the presence of a God-realized guru, this resonance may already be very deep and even instantaneous, not requiring contemplation or deliberation. But from any other source, counsel from without should be tempered by intuitional validation.

I once observed Swamiji offering to one of our resident members the management of one of our key businesses. I happened to be standing nearby and was aghast, for I considered the man incompetent for the task and, besides, I knew the business to be in serious trouble. But the man had informed Swamiji that he was considering leaving the Community. The fellow had tried to start his own business but was, truthfully, not cut from the merchant cloth. In fact, he was a bit goofy (in my view, at least!). The business in question, already marginal, would surely be laid to rest by this man. Yet, out of loyalty to the higher principle of this man's spiritual welfare, Swamiji was willing to sacrifice the success of our struggling community business (a health food store and small cafe).

Well, I could go on endlessly. Books will be, and have been already, written attempting to chronicle the spiritual stature of this enigma of a man. His enigma is ours: we are both “human,” and “divine.” One more advanced in Self-realization exhibits a higher-than-logical spontaneity and wisdom not commonly encountered. Swami Kriyananda embodied the saying, quoted in Autobiography of a Yogi: "Softer than the flower where kindness is concerned, stronger than thunder where principles are at stake."


Nayaswami Hriman