I’ve known Swami Kriyananda for almost 25 years. Not once in all that time has he manifested the tell-tale signs of an ordinary, worldly teacher: Not once has he flattered my ego. Not once has he used me. Not once has he imposed his will.
His teaching is unique in my experience. He’s been gentle as a dove in allowing me the freedom of choice to accept or reject his guidance. In fact, he’s never given me a single suggestion, unless I asked for his advice first. I believe the strongest guidance he ever gave me was when I asked him how I could develop more love for God. He said, very simply, “You should chant.” Recalling my previous failed attempts at chanting, I baulked. “But, sir, I don’t think I’m by nature a chanter.” “Well, you should!” he said.
And there the matter stood. When I at last took up singing Paramhansa Yogananda’s devotional songs to God, I began to feel my heart open to the flow of divine love that I had vainly sought in arid channels of loveless mental prayer and brute will power.
None of this is to say that Swami’s teachings consisted always of sweetness and light, that they fulfilled a fairyland dream of a spiritual teacher who walked down temple paths with his students, imparting loving, beautiful words in hushed tones redolent of incense and candles. (Shades of Kwai Chang Kane!)
My happiness, in fact, was measured by what I allowed Swami Kriyananda to take from me. To the extent that I accepted his unspoken spiritual discipline, I grew in happiness. Spiritual growth, Yogananda said, isn’t a question of absorbing mere words, but of learning truth with every atom of one’s soul. That kind of change doesn’t come easily. Living at Ananda Village seemed, at times, like hard spiritual warfare: a daily battle against one’s desire for ease, for coddling of the ego, to get one’s own way. How far would I have come, in this present moment, if I had accepted Swami’s transforming discipline with greater courage and faith?
My deepest perception of Swami Kriyananda isn’t of a laughing, noble, warm and loving man who greets people after a Sunday service, concert, or lecture. It’s of a silent spiritual presence, inexpressibly larger than one man’s small body, that lives far more “on the other side,” with God and guru, than in this world — a “man” who finds in Yoganandaji’s all-sufficing joy the love that lesser teachers crave and cultivate in ordinary mortal ways, playing to people’s smiles and flattery. I’ve come to understand that it’s his stern detachment from self that enables him to step out of the way and transmit God’s love and guidance to others.
I caught a glimpse of that inner side when, under a strong emotional impulse, I searched all over Ananda’s guest retreat after a Sunday service for Swami Kriyananda, wanting to thank him for his guidance over the years. The Expanding Light isn’t a big place, but I simply could not find him. Finally, just as I was about to give up in dejection, I saw him standing alone in the temple foyer. As I approached, I noticed an uncanny look about him. There was — and I don’t know a better way to put it — “nobody home.” He had fled to the inner home, detaching his consciousness from the external body, which stood before me as an empty shell. How much more eloquently than words, this experience expressed the truth he intended to convey: “Don’t thank me! Thank the God who guides us all and is our common Father.”