I Dive into the Water
Dr. Chaudhuri recovered from his heart attack, but asked me if I wouldn’t remain teaching at the Cultural Integration Fellowship ashram and share the load of teaching with him. Thus, I continued giving Sunday services bi-weekly, and (if memory serves) at least some of the mid-week classes. Meanwhile, it seemed to me the time had come to find an apartment of my own.
Several others lived in the ashram on the second floor, as I did. They were good people, but I’d come to realize that living so near them involved me in ways that detracted from the energy I needed for my work on the book. Moreover, the residents weren’t deeply involved in the spiritual life. The friendship we shared was of a social kind, primarily. I began scanning the newspaper ads for a place more suitable to my needs.
Almost at once I found one that attracted me: “Spacious five-room apartment, quiet, rose garden.” The address was 220 16th Avenue, in what is known as the Richmond district of San Francisco. The apartment, when I visited it, proved charming, spacious indeed, quiet (as announced), with a beautiful rose garden just outside my back window. I wouldn’t be able to use the garden, but at least I’d be able to enjoy the view.
The rent was higher than I could afford, but if God approved my choice He would somehow manage to make up the difference; I was unworried. The place was ideal.
I mentioned it to my parents. Dad, suspecting I wasn’t earning enough to meet the rent, told me, “Your mother and I would like to have a place in the city where we could sometimes spend the night after an evening at the theater or the opera. What would you say to our sharing the apartment, and the cost? We’d pay half the rent, leaving the other half to you.”
Whatever my father gave to one of us three boys, he gave in equivalent form to the other two. In giving me the car, for example, he’d given the others the money it had cost him to buy it. In the matter of this apartment, then, the easiest way to smooth his conscience was to make the apartment half theirs, rather than giving me enough money to make it all mine. I understood, and accepted gratefully. Actually, during the four years I lived there I think they slept in the apartment only one night.
The apartment had large, old-fashioned rooms with high ceilings, large closets, and an adequate kitchen. I turned the dining room into an office, and set up a desk there, made from a varnished plank set upon two nightstands with drawers. The days of home computers were nearly two decades in the future. My practice was to write longhand, then transfer that material to the typewriter.
I was invited to give additional weekly classes at a home in San Mateo, down the Peninsula from San Francisco. Those who attended-nine or twelve people every week-were for the most part middle-aged or elderly. I was helped financially in return, by donations left in a basket by the door. This amount averaged about nine dollars-helpful, certainly, in my present circumstances, though hardly a “windfall.”
What I noticed, however, was that none of those who attended seemed deeply interested in the teaching they received from me. I was sharing teachings, I reflected, that ought to revolutionize their lives. Instead, they’d come placidly, listen placidly, and go home placidly, placidly commenting, “What a nice young man.” For someone who longed to share the teachings with others, this fell short of being entirely satisfying.
A difficulty in teaching at the ashram was that I didn’t feel that it was in the fitness of things to emphasize my own Guru and his teachings. Thus, my problem was similar, in a way, to what I’d encountered at New Camaldoli. I was, above all, Yogananda’s disciple; I couldn’t be satisfied with only teaching universal truths, though I was pleased to share these, too, as the basis for everything I practiced and believed. Outside the ashram, however, I could teach my Guru’s teachings openly and specifically. I felt increasingly drawn to doing so.
Dr. Chaudhuri-always my human guardian angel during those difficult years-began urging me to teach Hatha Yoga, the physical branch of the meditative science of Raja Yoga. He knew I’d posed for the yoga postures for several years in Self-Realization Magazine. It occurred to him that I ought to include this knowledge in what I taught now-if not at the ashram, then in classes elsewhere. As a matter of fact, my Guru had often had me demonstrate the yoga postures for his guests, later serving them lunch. (Afterward, we’d sit together privately while he discussed various subjects with me, or give me personal spiritual counsel.)
The articles in Self-Realization Magazine, however, had never impressed me very favorably, first because they took an approach to the subject that was not spiritual, but physical. The writer, Rev. Bernard, one of SRF’s ministers, emphasized how this posture helped by pressing on a certain gland, and how that one stretched the vertebrae and increased circulation-that sort of thing. I’d never voiced any objection, but I couldn’t help feeling that, inasmuch as Hatha Yoga is the physical branch of the meditative yoga science, Bernard was missing the real point.
Later on, another of the monks was given the job of writing those articles. Bernard Tesnière, a medical doctor from France, took his lead from Rev. Bernard in emphasizing the medical aspect. Fortunately, he took, in addition, my suggestion of giving the articles a more spiritual slant. Particularly, he included affirmations to suggest the mental, and to some extent the spiritual, influence of each posture. I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the way he handled the subject, either, but at least it was a step in what I considered the right direction.
Tesnière and I had a falling out (from his side, not from mine) during the time of my first troubles with Tara, my last year in India. I don’t suppose he knew what I was going through, though he may have heard I was in official disfavor. It was interesting to me, however, to observe how, when the tides of karma flow strongly in any direction, everything else in one’s life seems to flow in the same direction. Thus, several people without SRF connections found cause for outrage, during that period, at some of the simplest things I said or did. Whatever it was, I seemed to meet with disapproval from someone. I decided there was nothing I could do about it; I must simply wait for the storm to blow over. Thus, I got on the wrong side of Tesnière also-sadly, from my point of view, for he was a friend. (After my dismissal, of course, all my fellow monks vanished from my life in fear for their own salvation. They probably thought that if something like this could happen to their head monk, who among them was safe?)
Dr. Chaudhuri seems to have been forever pushing me in the right direction. And I seem to have been forever resisting his loving efforts. I’ve mentioned his insistence on my getting back into lecturing. I’ve also mentioned his pushing me in the direction of singing, which he did with their invitation to me to sing at the Gandhi function in October, 1962. When I recorded the first album of my songs, Say “Yes” to Life! in 1965, he kindly wrote the following praise for the back-liner of the jacket: “Kriyananda has a voice that enthralls, and a vision that ennobles.” I had resisted his prompting that I begin lecturing again. As for music, it was years before I could really believe it was a service to Master to write it. And now I resisted Dr. Chaudhuri’s repeated urging that I teach Hatha Yoga. He was right again, of course. (How often I’ve thanked God for the friendship he and Bina extended me!)
Fortunately, my “No” is rarely absolute. Usually, people’s suggestions remain with me while I ponder them. If, after I’ve thought about them, they seem good, my “No” becomes a “Well, let’s see”; then, finally, a “Yes.” I say this because my reputed stubbornness in SRF was one of the points Daya Mata raised against me at the time of my dismissal. At the time I thought, “Look at all the people who say Yes to her, then do nothing. I, at least-once I’ve weighed a suggestion and can put energy behind it-have always carried it through to completion.” My purpose at this point in the book, however, is not to “beat a dead horse,” but only to say that, at Ananda, I have always made it a point to look at what people actually do, not merely at what they say. As the well-known saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Anyway, in the matter of teaching the yoga postures, I prayed to Master with an open mind, and all at once realized how very much the postures could assist in teaching the meditation practices of Raja Yoga, especially to beginning meditators.
How many times in my life guidance has come from my Guru, even as it came to the disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya (his guru’s guru), and to the disciples of his own guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. Yogananda wrote in Autobiography of a Yogi that Lahiri Mahasaya guided his disciples in the writing of commentaries on the scriptures. “Please expound the holy stanzas as the meaning occurs to you,” he would tell a disciple. “I will guide your thoughts, that the right interpretation be uttered.” Yogananda continued, “In this way, many of Lahiri Mahasaya’s perceptions came to be recorded, with voluminous commentaries, by various students.”
Thus, too, what I have taught and written in my life has been, very often, the inspiration of my Guru. I claim no credit for it. In the present case, he had often had me demonstrate the yoga postures for his guests. Though he never actually taught me the postures, it was as if he communicated a certain awareness of them as I practiced them. I could feel him guiding my understanding now, as I went more deeply into each pose and tried to relate it to the meditative aspects of Raja Yoga. This guidance grew steadily clearer. No book that I know of explains the postures in this way, but the system that came to me is completely in harmony with the ancient teachings and with the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. It has come to be known as “Ananda Yoga.”
This system is generally recognized as a main branch of Hatha Yoga teaching in America. It helps not only those who seek physical well-being, but has been used also by psychiatrists and others in helping people to achieve mental equilibrium. Above all, it has helped those seeking assistance in their meditations. Many thousands have benefited from “Ananda Yoga.” I must again underscore, however, that it is my Guru’s system, not my own. Everything in it is derived either verbally or by inner inspiration from his guidance.
My own interest in this system was, as I’ve implied, for its usefulness to the teaching of meditation. I wanted to devote more energy now to teaching my Guru’s practical yoga science, and not only to sharing his philosophy. Dr. Chaudhuri, seeing my hesitation, which was due to SRF’s insistence that those teachings were their monopoly, insisted, “This is what you received from your Guru. It would be wrong not to share it with others.” He was right.
Thus, I began teaching classes more widely in the San Francisco Bay Area. To meet expenses, I charged $25 for six evenings of weekly classes for those students who wanted both Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga, and $15 for those who took only one series. I would begin the evening with yoga postures, followed by a short break during which students could eat a light snack, if they’d brought one. Last came the Raja Yoga class.
These courses were popular from the beginning. By the time I finished this phase of my life and moved to Ananda, I was getting an average of 300 students a week and receiving enough income to purchase and begin construction at Ananda.
My firm policy was to refuse no one. If a person couldn’t afford to pay, I encouraged him or her to give back energy in some other way: for instance, by bringing cookies for the students during the break, or setting up chairs for the Raja Yoga class afterward. I knew that many other teachers-in Scientology and in Transcendental Meditation, for example-charged very much more for their instruction, none of which could be compared to Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings for depth, clarity, and practicality. They ignored the need for devotion altogether and followed the “New Agey” trend of emphasizing egoic omnipotence, to the virtual exclusion of Infinite Consciousness. No consideration, however, induced me to raise the price. I knew, for instance, that if I charged more certain students would place a higher value on what I taught, but I didn’t want lack of money to be a hindrance for others. Moreover, I wasn’t seeking rich students; my goal was to help all. I was aware that some people would value less what I taught because the price was low. Indeed, I knew (and had it demonstrated to me, subsequently) that some people would take advantage of my generosity. I wasn’t interested in their response. My concern was to remain faithful to my Guru and to my own conscience. I wanted to serve people without personal benefit to myself. At the same time, I knew people in our culture would take the classes seriously only if they paid something in return for them.
In time, I became a recognized part of the San Francisco “scene.” For San Francisco during the ‘sixties was the place where many national movements got their start, while others received their major impetus there: the New Age movement; the Hippie and the psychedelic movement; the Hare Krishna movement; the War Protest movement (centered across the Bay, in Berkeley); the Commune and Back-to-the-Land movement. Ferlinghetti and the beatnik poets were already thriving in the North Beach district of the city. Zen Buddhism had a major, perhaps even its main, energy-center in the city. San Francisco was, and was becoming increasingly so, the center of a whirlpool of energy that covered all of America, and indeed the world, embracing an extraordinary number of “New Age” movements. Perhaps this was why the Divine Mother placed me there.
I was never a part of any of these movements, however. The guidance I sought was within, not in popular opinions or acclaim. Still, I was very much a part of the new wave of consciousness that flowed from San Francisco at that time. Even the fact that I started Ananda at that time, when the movement toward forming communes was at its height, was a sublime coincidence. Ananda was simply the fulfillment of a dream I’d had since the age of fifteen.
Everything I did at this time was from within: not in response to the social ferment around me, but guided by what I felt from my Guru. In this sense, I was always an outsider, never “meshing gears” with those who gave the scene its accepted definition. Yet for all that, I was part of the scene: the odd man out who, in the midst of social ferment, held a steady course.
Interestingly, many of the waves generated during those times have subsided and disappeared, but Ananda, and the teachings I absorbed from my Guru and was sharing with others have continued unchanged, calm, ever-increasingly influential in the lives of many thousands.