Writing Swami Kriyananda’s Website
September 10, 2009
In 2005 I was asked to create the Swami Kriyananda website as part of my work with Ananda’s outreach ministry. It will probably remain one of the best writing projects I’ll ever work on, though I continue to write for 60 years or more.
Particularly amusing — and also indicative of Ananda’s good character in the way it serves its members, rather than expecting to be served by them — was that at that time, I was one of the few people at Ananda Village who had never met Swami Kriyananda in person! I was also the youngest person in Ananda’s outreach ministry, and there, the only one who had never met Swamiji in person.
If that wasn’t enough, I was also almost completely untried as a writer. But somehow, owing to my job with websites and the fact that my job commitments were flexible (I was able to set aside of lot of time to tackle a specific project), I had this opportunity.
2005 was also my first year as a monk; during that time I usually spent Saturdays in silence and partial seclusion.
My Saturday routine, after being given this assignment, soon changed to this: after a long morning meditation, I would return to my bungalow and write as much as I could in an uplifted state of consciousness, filling in the details of an outline proposed by Dave Warner. In the afternoon I usually took a walk. I might do some editing, or read something of Swamiji’s, before meditating again in the evening.
Devi Novak, one of the founding members of Ananda and a close friend of Swamiji’s, helped with the editing and made suggestions for the writing. Her biography of him, Faith is My Armor, was the primary guide for me in determining how to treat Swamiji’s life.
One section of Swamiji’s life that I was leaving out was the period of time when Ananda was attacked with dual lawsuits (you can read more about it in The Lawsuits, and the Fight for Freedom). Strangely — I don’t know why — my experience mirrors the one Devi describes in writing her book.
In an interview in Clarity Magazine, she said,
I had collected a lot of information on the lawsuit, but when it came time to write about it, I decided not to discuss it in depth.
Interestingly, Swamiji called around that time and asked, “How are you going to deal with the lawsuit?”
I said, “So much has been written about it already that I’ll only touch on it lightly – two or three pages.”
He replied, “Oh, okay.”
That night I woke up at 3 o’clock in the morning, and I saw how to do the entire chapter on the lawsuit.… I later refined it, but the entire chapter came in that flow of energy.
I knew quite a lot about the lawsuits, but was hoping I could skirt by without needing to address them in depth — “Maybe just two or three paragraphs,” I thought. Then Devi asked me if I was going to write about them. Suddenly, remembering her story above, I said, “They need to be dealt with!”
Thinking on it later, I realized, “Of course you have to deal with those lawsuits in telling Swamiji’s story.” It is a story with an incredible, beautiful conclusion of triumph. Even the title for Devi’s book is a quote from Swamiji about that period of time. (She had told him she didn’t think she could go through what he had gone through, and he replied, with conviction, “I didn’t know that I had the strength, but faith is my armor.”) However, as Swamiji had done for her, Devi gave me the choice whether or not to address them.
The real bulk of the writing was done during a four-day seclusion at Ananda’s Meditation Retreat. (I recalled Devi saying that she had needed to go into seclusion to write sections of Faith is My Armor.) These several days remain my treasured gift to Swami Kriyananda — which it was my blessing and honor to give.
During the seclusion, I would wake up, meditate longer than usual, eat breakfast, and spend the morning writing new sections of the site. In the afternoon I would edit. Then I meditated again as evening fell, and after dinner read or listened to a talk of Swami Kriyananda’s.
Writing took longer than I imagined it would — so many hours for so few pages! I tried to deeply understand the meaning in the words and be conscientious in writing. Especially important, I tried to tune in to the consciousness of Swami Kriyananda, and even tried to feel that he was writing it. How successful I was in this, I can’t say. But by making the attempt, I felt that insights came which wouldn’t have otherwise.
Truth told, I did feel, particularly during that seclusion, that I had a lot of help in writing the site. Certainly I prayed to God and to Yogananda to be guided in what I was doing.
Once the writing was done, Jyotish and Devi Novak, Spiritual Directors of Ananda Worldwide, contributed to the editing, as well as Maria Warner, who manages Ananda.org and the other websites of Ananda’s worldwide outreach ministry.
And at this point we come to a fascinating part of the story.
They edited so little.
It isn’t that the writing was perfect. Far from it! I read through it all more than a year later on my own and found a number of mistakes. But Jyotish, Devi, and Maria were demonstrating two principles which I’ve seen applied so often at Ananda:
- A willingness to really let others go ahead and make mistakes, if it will help them learn
- Guiding a person when they are receptive, but not to the point where that person might become dependant upon their guidance
As I look back on one of the old edited copies of the site (we printed everything out before editing), I see that many of the suggested changes have spiritual lessons behind them.
These are a few:
- In the sentence, “Many times his Guru told Kriyananda, ‘You have a great work to do,’ — or perhaps, ‘You must do such and such, because you have a great work to do,’” she crossed off “or perhaps,” and suggested “and also” in its place, because the latter expresses greater conviction. Literarily, I think both ways work, but for me, this change provided a useful lesson.
- Devi changed “lead a Sunday Service” to “conduct a Sunday Service,” shifting the personal emphasis on the importance of the minister to a more impersonal emphasis on the Service itself.
- In place of “Given thousands of lectures all over the world,” Devi suggested “Given thousands of lectures based on his Guru’s teachings.” This edit clarifies what is really important: not just reaching large numbers of people, but reaching them with something of value, something that is in tune with what Yogananda brought.
In this first round of editing, when you would expect the most changes, there were rarely more than a couple of suggestions per page.
Considering that Devi had recently finished a 250-page book on the same subject, one which she considered incredibly important (she described herself as feeling “inadequate” to the “magnitude” of the work — of needing to do justice to such a great soul like Swamiji), I find the willingness to give me this degree of freedom doubly-amazing.
Today, almost 1,000 monthly visitors come to www.swamikriyananda.org, and there have been nearly 50,000 visits to the site since it was first launched. A special newsletter, which has its goal as keeping people up to date on Swami Kriyananda’s new projects, talks, and public services, has close to 500 subscribers. (Since we’ve never advertised the newsletter, this seems like a reasonable number. If you want to sign up, you can do so on the home page of the website.) Of course, I’m very grateful to have played a part in its creation.
The greatest honor, though, came about a year ago, when Swami Kriyananda finally read the site himself (he’s not much of a web surfer! I think someone printed it for him). I was told that, reading it, he exclaimed, “Who wrote this? This is excellent!”
When I first heard that, I thought, “Oh my gosh, I must be a good writer,” but something in his choice of words made me pause. I remembered the seclusion, and how I had tried to tune into what he and Yogananda wanted to write through me. Anything that was inspired, therefore, I couldn’t claim as my own.
Like the painter who paints a beautiful sunset, and cannot claim credit for the scene, the quality of the canvas, or the brilliant hues of the paint, I was drawing material from sources that others had put together, using an outline suggested by a friend, and helped by others’ editing.
Besides, it was Swami Kriyananda who had lived the drama in the first place, and had made his life worth writing about — a life which he, in turn, gives all the credit for to God. My only work was in adapting his story for the web, which in comparison was nothing at all!
“Of course it’s good,” I realized, laughing to myself. “He wrote it!”
- The Life Story of Swami Kriyananda, the central piece of www.swamikriyananda.org
- Faith Is My Armor: The Life of Swami Kriyananda — Devi’s book, highly recommended for those wanting to learn more about this great man of God. You can even read it for free online!
- The interview with Devi about how and why she wrote the biography of Swami Kriyananda