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Swami Kriyananda
1926 – 2013

Swami Kriyananda

A Brief Biography

There is a peace and quietness surrounding Swami Kriyananda that give a hint of his spiritual stature. Many times I listened to him speak, and have always come away feeling refreshed and energized. It is not only his lectures, teachings, and books that shed light on areas of darkness and confusion in people’s lives. Above all, it is the example of the man himself, the peace and calm that surround him, the spiritual power that emanates from him, pointing the way to each person’s own inner path to enlightenment.

—John Harricharan, Body, Mind, & Spirit magazine

In 1948 at the age of twenty-two, Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters) became a disciple of the Indian yoga master, Paramhansa Yogananda. At Yogananda’s request, Swami Kriyananda devoted his life to lecturing and writing, helping others to experience the living presence of God within. He taught on four continents in seven languages over the course of 65 years. His talks, his music, and his many books have touched the lives of millions. Swami Kriyananda took the ancient teachings of Raja Yoga and made them practical and immediately useful for people in every walk of life. His books and teachings on spiritualizing nearly every field of human endeavor include business life, leadership, education, the arts, community, and science. He wrote extensive commentaries on the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, both based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. He is known as the “father of the intentional communities movement,” which began in the United States in the late 1960s. Inspired by Yogananda’s dream of establishing spiritual communities, in 1968 he founded the first of what are now 10 Ananda communities worldwide. They provide a supportive environment of “simple living and high thinking” where over 1,000 full-time residents live, work, and worship together.

The time has come for people to live lives of even higher dedication than that which inspired monks and nuns of the past. It is time to direct our spiritual awareness also into matter, into everything we do: work, education, family life, friendship, communications with strangers, the way we build our homes — to all the most mundane, practical aspects of daily human life. People need to become God-centered from within, and from that center to see God everywhere, in everything.”

—Swami Kriyananda, Cities of Light

A monastic almost all of his adult life, Swami Kriyananda was a Swami of the Giri (Mountain) branch of the ancient Swami Order, as was his guru and his guru’s guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. He was the spiritual guide of Ananda Sangha Worldwide.

Founder of Ananda Fulfillment of Yogananda’s dream of spiritual communities

“This day marks the birth of a new era. My spoken words are registered in the ether, in the Spirit of God, and they shall move the West. “We must go on — not only those who are here, but thousands of youths must go North, South, East, and West to cover the earth with little colonies, demonstrating that simplicity of living plus high thinking leads to the greatest happiness!”

—Paramhansa Yogananda, Beverly Hills, California, July 1949

Since his youth, Kriyananda had dreamed of utopian communities. But few shared his enthusiasm, and he gradually put his dreams aside. He was surprised, then, to discover Yogananda speaking often about the need for ”World Brotherhood Colonies“ as places to foster spiritual attitudes and friendly cooperation. It was at a garden party on July 31, 1949 that Yogananda gave a talk quoted above that changed the course of Swami Kriyananda’s life. “Moved to his core” by the tremendous energy with which Yogananda made his pronouncement, Kriyananda later wrote: “Deeply, I vowed that day to do my utmost to make his words a reality.” The opportunity to do so came in 1967. With the help of a few friends and many miracles, Swami Kriyananda was able to purchase a small piece of land in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Nevada City, California. Thus was started a spiritual community, which is now known as Ananda Village. More than 200 people live in this intentional spiritual community dedicated to Yogananda’s ideals. A variety of Ananda-owned and private businesses form the economic backbone of the community. The Expanding Light retreat, Crystal Clarity Publishers, The Living Wisdom School, and a grocery store are among the activities on the rolling 900 acres in the rural Sierra foothills. Homes and gardens are well cared for, and there is a palpable feeling of harmony. Visitors are welcome year-round: (800) 346-5350. Other Ananda communities have developed over the years to include Ananda Palo Alto, Ananda Sacramento, Ananda Portland, Ananda Seattle, Ananda Los Angeles, Ananda Laurelwood (also a college), Ananda Assisi in Italy, and Ananda India near Delhi and Pune. Each community has a spiritual focus (a teaching center and temple) and a community (homes where members live).

Leadership

Swami Kriyananda’s example of inspired leadership was the reason for Ananda’s success. He uplifted and encouraged people through personal example, spiritual counseling, writing, lecturing, music, and prayer. He trained the current Ananda leaders in much the same way: free from egoic motivation, always placing the spiritual needs of others foremost in all decisions. He was a patient and sensitive teacher, allowing people to learn by experience, and never placing institutional needs ahead of the needs of an individual. “People are more important than things” is one of the foremost guiding principles of Ananda. And “Where there is adherence to dharma [right action], there is victory,” is another.

Final Years

Swami Kriyananda passed away on April 21, 2013 at his home in Assisi, Itay. He was 86 years old. You can see video and written tributes to him at: Swami Kriyananda Remembered. In the final years of Swami Kriyananda’s life he often traveled between Italy, India, and America, giving many lectures and spreading Master’s teachings around the world. He wrote several books, including Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography, Commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, The Time Tunnel, A Pilgrimage to Guadalupe, Love Perfected Life Divine, and others.

Honors and awards

  • 2012 International Book Award for Best New Spirituality Book for Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography With Personal Reflections & Reminiscences
  • 2012 Letter from the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles (Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa): “For over 50 years, Swami Kriyananda has shed a spiritual and reflective light into the world, across continents and into the lives of individuals. We thank him for his many accomplishments and for sharing the life and teachings of yogi Paramhansa Yogananda.”
  • Appointed to the Board of Vedanta Today (2009)
  • Recipient of the Eric Hoffer Award (self-help/spiritual books) and the USA Book News Award (spiritual category) for The New Path (2009)
  • Recipient of the Yoga nel mondo Award by the Milan and Rome Yoga Festival with this tribute: “To the Master Swami Kriyananda, enlightened representative of the yoga science and philosophy, and indefatigable supporter and major spokesman of the bridge between East and West” (May 2008)
  • Appointed Honorary Member of the International Yoga Confederation of New Delhi, and Honorary Member of the World Movement for Yoga (May 2008)
  • Recipient of the 1st Conacreis Award (National Coordination of the Ethical, Interior and Spiritual Centers) to honor Swami Kriyananda’s dedication to the building of spiritual communities worldwide (May 2008)
  • Beacon of Light Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the National Interfaith Council (2007)
  • Pioneer in Yoga Award, presented by the Los Angeles Yoga Fellowship in (2007)
  • Recipient of the Julius Caesar Medal in Rome in 2007. It represents the keys to the City, and is conferred as one of the greatest honors to heads of state.
  • Recipient of the Premio Ponte 2007 del Consorzio Per i Libri (Bridge Award of the Consortium for Books) for “affirming the principles of union between East and west, spreading throughout the world the ancient principles of Yoga and the spiritual teachings of the highest Indian tradition of Self-realization, making them practical and at the same available to people of every social level, and applicable in every area of daily life.” (2007)
  • Member of The Club of Budapest International. Other members include Mikhail Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. (2005)
  • Recipient of International Award for Goodness by Tara Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi. Previous recipients include the Dalai Lama. Milan, Italy (2004)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Unity in Yoga Conference, Snowmass, CO (1995)

Swami Kriyananda is a man of wisdom and compassion in action, truly one of the leading lights in the spiritual world today. His work and life of selfless service are an inspiration to us all.

—Lama Surya Das, author Awakening The Buddha Within

Articles, Books, and Music

Other Pages

Testimonies of Light

Stories of Swami Kriyananda by many friends. These stories share insight into who Swami Kriyananda is and what he has done to spread the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.
Video Biography of Swami Kriyananda
Swami Kriyananda Remembered

What Others Say About Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters)

J. Donald Walters is the kindest man I’ve ever met. Walters is a born, great teacher. His books are gentle masterpieces.

—Louise Hay, best selling author of You Can Heal Your Life


J. Donald Walters has been one of the most important Western exponents of yoga in the past 30 years.

—Dr. David Frawley, renowned authority on yoga and author of Ayurveda and the Mind and Gods, Sages, and Kings


J. Donald Walters is wise teacher whose words convey love and compassion. Read and listen, and allow your life to change.

—Larry Dossey, best selling author of Healing Words


As a witness to the very special day marked by the presence of a soul as extraordinary as Kriyananda, I can only say that it was a great privilege to have had this opportunity. And thank you to all of you for the perfect and harmonious organization.

—Ileana Albarelli

I feel I can recommend this man of love and his sparkling teachings without reservation.

—David Alan Ramsdale, Meditation Magazine


J. Donald Walters is perhaps the most respected non-Indian exponent of yoga in the world.

—Justine & Michael Toms, New Dimensions Foundation


Your openness, your undeviating devotion to life and service, and your joyous good humor express themselves in your book.it came to an end too soon!

—Ken Keyes, Jr. best selling author of Handbook to Higher Consciousness


J. Donald Walters has an ability to uncover countless unusual aspects of a subject, and to reveal them in an unexpected and original light. When he turns the spotlight of his concentration on any given subject, he leaves no aspect of it uncovered. What we have in J. Donald Walters, then, is an unusual and powerfully magnetic mind, and also one whose judgment is always fair. He is truly one of the great men of our time.

—Derek Bell, five-time Grammy Award-winning harpist of The Chieftains


Now I understand the meaning of [what I’d heard about Swami Kriyananda]. Direct contact with Swami has opened my heart as his books have opened my mind. He is a Being who I feel very, very close to my soul and who makes it tremble as when a young boy I would fall in love… I would like to see him again even just from afar because for my love it is enough just knowing that he exists. Thank you for the immense gift that you have given me. Forgive my simple words, but my intellect has gone to pieces…

—Giorgio Pisani, Theosophist