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Swami Kriyananda’s Birthday Celebration in Assisi, Italy
June 5th, 2009
Editor’s note: Swami Kriyananda is visiting Ananda Europa at the time of writing. This is an account of his 83rd birthday celebration at Ananda’s center in Assisi, Italy on May 30-31. It is written by Asha Praver, spiritual director of Ananda Palo Alto, who traveled to Assisi to join the festivities.
“I feel so much bliss, I cannot contain it.”
– Swami Kriyananda, birthday celebration 2009
About 200 guests, in addition to 100 residents and friends from the nearby area, gathered to be with Swami Kriyananda for his birthday celebration.
The majority, of course, is from Italy, but devotees came also from Russia, Croatia, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Finland, Switzerland, America, and probably a few other places too.
At the end of Autobiography of a Yogi Paramhansa Yogananda speaks of the small communities he envisioned as “World Brotherhood Colonies.” In America, that name for our communities is uplifting, but more theoretical than actual (although Ananda Village includes residents from several countries).
Here, however, that principle is active every day. World War II is now half a century behind us, but skirmishes took place in the very hills around us. You can find bullet holes in local buildings. Conflicts are ongoing in many parts of the world. But here, all these many cultures and countries are united, just as Yogananda urged us to be, by the knowledge that we are children of the One Divine Father.
The community here is situated on a country road that runs along a ridge, winding through rolling hills. The view in all directions is breathtakingly beautiful. Layer after layer of soft green hills and darker green trees and shrubs.
It has been mostly warm, with occasional clouds and most recently rain. One or two of the sunsets have been astrally beautiful. After Swami Kriyananda’s Saturday talk, the sun was partially obscured by clouds, but rays of luminous, multicolored light streamed from behind the clouds down to the green hills.
The main building, a former hotel and restaurant that’s still called Il Refugio (The Refuge), is located right on the road. Just behind it, out of sight from the road, nestled in a shallow bowl among the green hills, is the Temple of Light, dome shaped (like the hills behind it) but covered in deep blue tiles. The design has been replicated now in our community in Seattle, Washington.
There is a driveway—more often a walkway—from the road to the Temple. It is pavement off the road, then changes to cobblestones, goes up the small hill, then curves downward again leading right to the beautiful arched doorway of the Temple.
The area around the cobblestone, the downward curved part, is beautifully landscaped, with a wide green lawn on one side, a stone patio on the other, and flowering plants all along the way. At this time of year, especially, everything is in bloom.
Swami Kriyananda’s talk was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. He arrived here several days earlier, but the journey from India was hard on his body, and he spent most of these past few days resting; so this talk was the first time most people would see him. In eager anticipation, many gathered along that walkway to greet him.
With the help of a cane, and leaning on a devotee’s arm, Swami Kriyananda began to make his way slowly down the cobblestone walkway. Both sides of the path were lined with devotees. He greeted many people by name, reaching out to touch one or another on the cheek, or the head, or the hand. Again and again he said, “It is such a joy to see you, to be here with all of you.”
Walking behind him was like being in an astral paradise. The physical setting was exquisite: flowers, green hills, and the blue dome sparkling in the sunshine. But that beauty was as nothing compared to the faces of the devotees. The country of Italy has created many saints. It is easy to see why. There is a depth and refinement to the devotion here that was offered now in full measure to Swami Kriyananda in gratitude for all he has done to bring them to Yogananda and to God.
Swami Kriyananda has often said that he has had only two desires in life: to know God and to help others also to know Him. Waves of bliss flowed from him, and waves of blissful gratitude flowed to him, as he moved slowly through that corridor of angels.
Finally we reached the Temple, which was also crowded with devotees, another corridor of angels as he walked down the center aisle to the beautifully carved tapestry-covered chair, waiting for him on the dais.
There was music: the choir sang perfectly. Then Swami Kriyananda did his rendition of “Life Flows On Like a River.” His voice has become much deeper, and he delights in singing this bass solo, reveling in the lowest notes.
Listen to it here: 11-life-flows-on-like-a-river.mp3
Everyone laughed delightedly both at the beauty of the song and Swami Kriyananda’s obvious pleasure in singing it for them. He sang in English, but had prepared an Italian translation of the song, which he read beforehand. Swami Kriyananda speaks fluent Italian and communicates mostly in that language when he is in Assisi.
For those who didn’t understand Italian, individual headsets were provided, where one could hear a simultaneous translation in either English or German, depending on which channel one tuned into.
Swami Kriyananda is a brilliant speaker, and over these many decades has educated several generations in Yogananda’s teachings of Self-realization, both through his writings and his talks.
He has had to introduce people to concepts they have never heard before, or, when he is in India, bring to them a new understanding of their own ancient tradition. In many ways, that phase of his life is now over.
Even when it was his responsibility to teach us the principles of Self-realization, I often felt when sitting in the audience listening to him speak, even about a very subtle or complex subject, that what he was really conveying to us was vibration. As the vibration passed through him—for he acts only as a channel for Yogananda—he attached words to it so we would be able to receive it. But the words were just a medium for the attunement to God and Gurus.
Now, on this occasion, in the heart-oriented country of Italy, in the divine land of Assisi, so deeply blessed by the devotional presence of St. Francis, there was little need to clothe that vibration in complex ideas. All the complexity of God’s creation, as Swami Kriyananda said when we were in Gurgaon, emanates from a child-like simplicity.
Swami Kriyananda lives now in the heart of that simplicity, and is able to convey it to us.
The heart of his talk, as it was in Gurgaon, India, was about meeting Yogananda, reading the Autobiography of a Yogi, finding his life changed completely, then going on to become a disciple. How, miraculously, his father was in Egypt and his mother was on a ship on her way to join him. All obstacles had been removed. Yogananda was able to guide him to the book and then into his divine presence.
[Editor's note: Asha refers to a talk by Swami Kriyananda at his birthday celebration in Ananda's center in Gurgaon, India.]
Listen to it here: MP3 download, 16mb.
Swami Kriyananda has been a disciple for over 60 years now. He was a young man when he first knelt at Yogananda’s feet and received initiation. Now he is 83, and has given every ounce of his energy to fulfilling the divine commission his guru gave him.
It may seem to us that much time has passed; many people listening to him weren’t even born when Swami Kriyananda began his life of discipleship. But for Swami Kriyananda, there is no time. The awareness of Yogananda’s presence takes place in a realm of superconsciousness where time does not exist.
Swami Kriyananda spoke of what Yogananda said in his poem God’s Boatman, that he “would return again and again, a trillion times if need be, as long as one stray brother was left behind.” Swami Kriyananda was moved to tears as he contemplated the depth of compassion and love that Yogananda brings to us, and many of us wept with him.
Everything about this lifetime for Swami Kriyananda is defined by his discipleship. He weeps easily, his heart is so tender. Many times on Saturday, he was so overcome, that he struggled to speak, his voice became a whisper, or stopped altogether.
“I feel so much bliss,” Swami Kriyananda has said, “I cannot contain it. But what else do I have to give except bliss?”
After the talk was done, Swami Kriyananda made the same journey through the corridor of angels, stopped often by devotees wanting to greet him, to present their children to him, to offer him gifts, and, above all, to express their love and gratitude.
There is a wonderful movie about Padre Pio titled Padre Pio: Miracle Man. For those of you who don’t know, Padre Pio was an Italian Catholic priest, who received the stigmata when he was a young monk and bore those wounds on his body for 50 years. He died in 1968, so his life is well-known and well-documented. He is a great saint.
This film was made in Italy. It is a dramatization of his life, superbly crafted, well acted, with beautiful music and photography. The DVD is available on the Internet with English subtitles.
Swami Kriyananda has seen the movie several times, but asked to see it again on Saturday night so a few of us watched it with him. It begins at the end of Padre Pio’s life, perhaps even the last day of his life, and tells the story through flashbacks.
The actor who plays Padre Pio, Sergio Castellitto, is superb. He beautifully conveys the paradox of great physical impairment and enormous spiritual power coexisting side-by-side in the same form. This is a theme we are living now with Swami Kriyananda so you can imagine how poignant it was to watch that film with him sitting next to us.
On Sunday, Swami Kriyananda came at the beginning of the Service. It was raining, and most of the 300 people were already inside the Temple. Everyone rose in reverent silence to greet him.
The Temple was not built to hold that many, so people were standing and sitting everywhere. It was the largest crowd, they said afterward, that had ever assembled there. There was chanting and beautiful choir music, and much laughter and celebration.
Even though I don’t speak Italian, if I concentrate, I can usually understand much of what Swami Kriyananda says, largely because I have heard him speak so often, that if I catch the theme, I can follow it. On Sunday, I walked in with him and ended up sitting on the floor right in front because there was no other place to be.
He spoke of the simplicity of God and the joy of childlike devotion and life as bliss. But I have to confess that I kept forgetting to listen to the words; I was so inspired by the vibration. He laughed often and people laughed joyously with him.
A few days earlier, Swami Kriyananda said, “I find it amazing that people find so much in life to be bitter about, when life itself is nothing but bliss.” He repeated this theme again in his talk on Sunday.
After speaking, Swami Kriyananda left and others carried on with the Festival of Light.
An hour later, Swami Kriyananda returned for a festive birthday dinner. The Il Refugio dining room can only hold about half of the people who were there, so tables were set up in a glass gazebo outside. People were crowded in everywhere.
Nothing dampened the joyous mood, however. Again, many people came up to Swami Kriyananda’s table to greet him, offer gratitude, love, and sometimes gifts. For formal occasions, Swami Kriyananda wears the traditional monk ocher, but for this event he wore an indigo blue silk shirt. The table was strewn with yellow roses. So the color of his clothes, the roses, and his own aura of golden light made his table a living expression of the colors of the Spiritual Eye.
The lunch ended with the presentation of a large cake beautifully decorated with strawberries and cream. “Happy Birthday” was sung in Italian and English, and then Swami Kriyananda blew out the candles.
He told the story of Yogananda’s last birthday. When the cake with lighted candles was presented to Yogananda, his disciple Dr. Lewis asked the Guru if he had enough breath to blow out the candles. Yogananda replied, “I only have to be careful not to blow away the whole cake as well!”
Later in the afternoon, Swami Shankarananda from Rishikesh, India, came for a visit with Swami Kriyananda.
Since he was expelled from Self-Realization Fellowship in 1962, Swami Kriyananda has lived without the company of fellow monks or swamis. It has been one of the tapasyas (sacrifices) of his life. So it is always moving to see Swami Kriyananda in the company of his “peers,” i.e., others who have embraced the life of sannyas (renunciation) as he has.
Swami Shankarananda is a disciple of a disciple of Sri Yukteswar, Yogananda’s Guru, and has built a Temple of Kriya Yoga in Rishikesh.
It was a short visit, and conversation was mostly about India and ways in which the message of Kriya Yoga and Self-realization can be brought to the world.
In addition to the two public talks Swami Kriyananda gave, so many people came to greet him personally. To each one he gave his full attention and energy. Now he is ready to rest. For the next few days there are no public events. His house here is isolated and quiet. From every window you see either gardens and flowers, or the rolling green hills stretching out to the horizon.
In mid-June is the launch of Swami Kriyananda’s latest book, Religion in the New Age, which will be held in Rome. Then the next day, there is a performance of The Peace Treaty (editor’s note: a play written by Swami Kriyananda and performed by Ananda artists) in Italian. After that – on to Ananda Village in California, for the 40th anniversary of World Brotherhood Communities. We hope to see many of you there!