Swami Kriyananda (www.swamikriyananda.org) lived with and was personally trained and commissioned by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now classic story: "Autobiography of a Yogi").
While Swami Kriyananda ("Swamiji") never made any claims as to his own spiritual stature or progress, saying only that his goal was to be a good disciple, there's no question objectively speaking that among direct disciples (those who knew and were trained by Yogananda, their guru), Swamiji has done the most publicly to share his guru's teachings. I recount his one hundred fifty books and hundreds (thousands?) of lectures, videos, and interviews given around the world in a lifetime of travel but no matter. The record stands on its own. No other direct disciple, regardless of spiritual stature, has done more. This isn't the proud boast it might seem. I mention it for the purpose of making the points I share below.
During his life, others commented that Swamiji seemed to be Yogananda's "St. Paul." This means that Swamiji was the one to put Yogananda on the world map, so to speak. Swamiji wasn't particularly fond of this comparison but I think he had to admit it made a point.
But my point is different from the validity of the comparison. It's close enough to count for my purposes. And what, then, is that purpose?
Each of us must have our blinding moment of faith, "coming to Jesus" as some Christians might say. St. Paul's moment is famous: on the road to Damascus to persecute more Christians a blinding light struck Paul down from his horse. He remained blind for days until a (nervous) Christian (Barnabas?) came to Paul to heal Paul's blindness and to instruct him in the teachings of Jesus. Paul's was a conversion perhaps like no other.
You and I don't usually have such a dramatic wake-up call. To complete my analogy let me say that I think Swami Kriyananda's moment of faith took a very different form. In 1962 he was summarily dismissed from the board of directors of Yogananda's organization, Self-Realization Fellowship and ordered to leave the monastic order. While this is hardly a blinding vision with the voice of Yogananda, it certainly threw him off the horse of his service to Yogananda's organization. By throwing him out, Swamiji had to learn to stand on his own two feet. It was the beginning of "the great work" that Yogananda privately told him that he, Swamiji, had to do in this lifetime. Had he remained in SRF, little, if anything, of what Swamiji was to accomplish during the rest of his long and fruitful life would have been allowed.
The effect, then, was no different than Paul's blinding light. It changed his life of discipleship in a big and public way.
But what about you and me? I write this in anticipation of sharing some remarks in celebration of Swamiji's birth in 1926 (1926-2013). When Swamiji objected to a comment Yogananda made regarding Swamiji's service to God, Yogananda replied curtly, "Living for God is martyrdom." Didn't Jesus Christ promise such persecution to his devotees?
Indeed, Swami Kriyananda would later endure even greater humiliation in later years in a long and sordid lawsuit behind which SRF was a hidden player. He did so with calm equanimity, refusing to hold back any facts that were demanded of him, and refusing to hate or condemn his detractors. This was, in effect, his version of crucifixion and he accepted it with calmness and faith. Subsequent to those years of trial, Swamiji emerged resurrected in bliss and fired with just as much creative zeal for his guru's work until his very last days. Like St. Paul, Swamiji endured his share of hardships and trials in his ministry.
But, again, what about you and me? Do we, instead, seek merely to have our "cake and eat it too?" Does the balanced life of meditation and service promise a life free from spiritual tests and hardships? Throughout the history of religion, it has been oft-promised that a virtuous life will result in a prosperous and successful life. The so-called Protestant Ethic is one example of this teaching which always exists in some form or another in all religions. This is so because it has some truth to it. But good karma is still just karma. Like a bank account, you can't take it with you because good karma will eventually be eroded by the natural flow of opposites in the world of duality.
Thus it must then be acknowledged and stated that each of us will have our St. Paul or Swami Kriyananda moments. These moments test our mettle; our faith; our trust in God. I've seen that in the latter stages of life, unfulfilled desires and unresolved issues, have a way of returning like "chickens to roost" before death's final exam.
These might not count in the same way as St. Paul's epiphany or Swami Kriyananda's ouster, but one way or another, if we are sincere in our spiritual aspirations, karma, or if you prefer, Divine Mother, will give us an opportunity to work things out. While in the big picture of cosmic consciousness, the reality is BOTH-AND, in the small picture of our karmic unfoldment, it tends to be EITHER-OR. We have temptations and tests and are faced with making spiritually important decisions.
In my personal life, I did not have an early-life encounter with falling off a horse, so to speak. My path unfolded naturally, and, indeed, even comfortably in a smooth arc of progressing from one stage to the next. Instead, I find, however, that now I must confront the price of this spiritually comfortable life. Perhaps I just needed a lifetime to prepare for this; maybe I had the good karma of a steady trajectory towards God. But now I feel acutely the need to prepare for my own final exam and I am intent upon doing so.
My point is this: we each have our moments of truth when the soul confronts the ego with a choice. You could say that happens every day because, of course, it does. But I'm speaking of those special moments on the road to Damascus--when you think you are just plodding along heedless of what is about to take place, spiritually.
As in the story of the foolish virgins in the New Testament or Yogananda's story of a similar nature in his autobiography, or Jesus asking the disciples to remain awake while he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, the spiritual life is one that requires us to be "awake and ready."
Daily meditation, periodic retreats and seclusion, quality time with a spiritual friend, and the company of high-minded souls will draw the grace of God and guru so that bit by bit we can welcome our tests with faith and gratitude. Our tests, to us, are as big as the big tests of St. Paul and Swami Kriyananda. No one will likely read about our tests in the future but to us they are "sufficient unto the day." Swami Kriyananda showed us the courage of living for God and accepting what comes of its own (as Yogananda put it) with faith, equanimity and, yes, even gratitude (for the opportunity to move towards soul freedom).
Happy 97th birthday, Swamiji!