My First Year in India
That first year I devoted much of my time to helping Daya Mata in her mission in India. She had gone there to familiarize herself with the work in that country, to regularize it if necessary, and to help the Yogoda Satsanga Society members (YSS is the Indian affiliate of SRF) to know their new president. I accompanied her in most of her public appearances, where I was often asked to sing an Indian bhajan (devotional song) or two at the start, to set a spiritual atmosphere. Daya Mata herself was not accustomed to giving lectures, but she easily won people’s hearts and made Master real for them by her simple presence.
I ran numerous errands for her in Calcutta, sat in on many meetings, and did whatever I could to make her stay in India easier for her. For gradually, as time went on, things grew increasingly difficult. The problem was with the workers themselves. None of SRF’s Indian representatives appeared to have any idea that Master’s birth had brought an earth-revitalizing message. To them, SRF/YSS was another ashram, merely, in a nation rife with thousands of ashrams. His teachings, in their opinion, were true, but perhaps a little over-Americanized for Indian tastes. They considered us, certainly, too American to understand or even fully to appreciate the ancient ways of India. To bring us “up to snuff,” they treated us to many traditional worship ceremonies- pujas, yagyas (yajnas), impossibly dull dissertations on the Bhagavad Gita, and Sanskrit readings, followed by clumsy English translations of other shastras (scriptures)-and then, of course, explanations of numerous local customs and the deep reasons for each.
At first we entered wholeheartedly into everything. We felt humble devotion as we prostrated ourselves, then meditated, in various temples and places of pilgrimage. We visited Tarakeshwar and listened entranced to stories of miraculous healings that had taken place there. (Daya Mata herself experienced a healing the day of our visit.) We visited the beautiful Jain temple in Calcutta. Daya and the others visited Benares (I was not with them this time), and the home of Lahiri Mahasaya. Together we visited the home of Ram Proshad, the famous Kali devotee of the Eighteenth Century, composer of still-popular devotional songs to the Divine Mother. We visited the Kali temple in Dakshineswar, where the great master Sri Ramakrishna had lived, worshiped, and found God. We visited Belur Math, founded by Ramakrishna’s disciples. We visited Sri Yukteswar’s ashram site in Serampore, and his seaside ashram in Puri. We visited Master’s school at Ranchi, of course. The list of places we saw and of saints we visited is endless. To all of us, the time spent in these ways was deeply inspiring.
Gradually, however, we also began to observe that, in the midst of all the pujas, yagyas, and dissertations on the Gita, Master and his teachings were being given a back seat. Where was the emphasis, among his own devotees, on Kriya Yoga? Where, the attempt to show his mission as special? Every effort, rather, seemed directed toward presenting it as being firmly rooted in a tradition too ancient ever to be challenged. As for his organization, our leaders there considered it a matter for gratitude, certainly, that SRF was able to support its Indian branch financially. Thus, the Indian representatives weren’t obliged to devote excessive worry to raising the money themselves to support the work. What SRF’s assistance also accomplished for them, however, was lull them to sleep as far as any zeal for the work was concerned.
The Indian mentality is not much inspired, in any case, by organizations. The Ramakrishna Mission, established about a century ago by Swami Vivekananda, has convinced people by its work of founding schools that organizations can, in fact, do good work, but as far as inspiration went, this had to be sought from saints individually, or within oneself in meditation. Daya Mata won people’s hearts not nearly so much in her capacity as president as by the fact that they saw in her a person with deep devotion to God. Her monastic title, when we first went to India, was Sister. Indians, however, found it more inspiring to think of her as mother. Accordingly, after her return to America in 1959, she persuaded the Board of Directors to approve a change in her title from Sister to Mata (Mother).
The longer we stayed in India, the more clearly we realized that we didn’t really have an organized work there. Oh, true, our Indian office sent out printed lessons to students in various parts of the country-but not to very many students. Indeed, the student enrollment was negligible. As for any outreach on Daya’s part, it slowly became apparent to us that she was being carefully hemmed in as though to prevent her from having any major impact on matters there. With loving smiles, nods of appreciation for her saintly example, and numerous functions given in her honor, her efforts to change and re-energize the work were nevertheless given the soft-pillow treatment: the vigorous punch that lands only to be gently absorbed, its impact neutralized by a feather stuffing of silent opposition.
As our mounting displeasure began to be apparent to others, attempts were made to fix the blame for whatever wasn’t right on other people-never on anyone present at the time, of course. We-Daya Mata especially-were subjected to endless hours of gossip and accusations. Unfortunately, many of those accusations appeared to be not without merit.
The time actually came when certain officials in the work conspired to get us sent out of the country. The police arrived one day at the Baranagar ashram with a notice to the effect that if we didn’t leave India within ten days we would be deported. We had by this time, fortunately, made a few influential friends, who were able to get the order rescinded.
Our first year in India, begun with so much joy and inspiration, became increasingly sad for all of us.
“What will happen to the work here?” Daya wondered aloud in anguish one day not long before her departure.
Sister Revati, who was with us, raised her chin in an expression of staunch faith. “Master’s here,” she declared. “Master will protect it!”
“Master,” I couldn’t help retorting, “has been here for the past forty years, and what has he done?” I knew there was no point in expecting him to act except through the agency of willing disciples. God Himself accomplishes His will in this world through human channels; He even sends His awakened sons on earth to redeem sleeping souls.
The story of our first year in India is primarily Daya Mata’s to relate, or ours to relate about her. The thread I have selected for the present account, however, is that of my own role in serving Master’s work. My frequent trips to Calcutta on Daya Mata’s behalf, my support role during her many visits and pilgrimages, were, I hope, useful to her, but they add only minor twists to the thread I’ve selected for these pages.
Singing Bengali Songs
One aspect of my presence at Daya’s public appearances did, I found, win me a measure of public attention also: namely, the devotional songs I was asked to sing. Much to my surprise, my notoriety began preceding me wherever we went. The first thing our hosts did, when we arrived, was bring out a harmonium and request me to sing. I was happy in this way to bring people a greater appreciation for what Master had accomplished in America. It offended me, however, if anybody gave me credit that was withheld from Master.
This happened during a visit to the south of India. It was after a short stay in Madras, where we had a small center. I then proceeded on to a well-known ashram to the south.
This was the first time an SRF representative had gone there, and I had announced my arrival well in advance, writing in my official capacity as director of the SRF Center Department.
The advance notice made no impact.
“Have you heard of Paramhansa Yogananda?” I inquired as I was being led to the office to be registered as a guest.
“Oh, yes,” was the indifferent reply. “But … there are so many nowadays.”
I was given a space in their most primitive guest house. My sleeping section was divided off from other sleepers by a simple sheet of canvas, open at the top and at the bottom. For myself I didn’t mind, but I couldn’t help thinking this was no way to show appreciation to Paramhansa Yogananda for the great work he did on India’s behalf in the West.
I asked if I might receive a tour of their extensive property. No car was available, I was told. And that was that.
The following day a Calcutta devotee arrived who had been working on a project for them. A car was immediately placed at his disposal for a tour of the property. This devotee happened to be a friend of mine. He asked me to join him. Of course, they had to consent.
After the tour, which was provided gratis for him, they asked me for ten rupees to cover my part of the tour.
My Calcutta friend afterward exclaimed, “Why, haven’t you heard of Swami Kriyananda? He’s a wonderful singer. You must take this opportunity to hear him sing Bengali bhajans.”
A gathering was convened. I sang a few songs. Later, at a scheduled satsanga, a few people observed me seated in deep meditation, and were well impressed. Quite unexpectedly I found myself greeted on all sides with great warmth and affection. The receptionist (the man whose reception had been so casual the day before) invited me to meet their general secretary. This gentleman, I had been informed previously, was too busy to see me. He received me now, standing-as a hint to me, I felt, to keep my visit as brief as possible.
This sudden recognition given to me personally, when no one had paid me any heed as a disciple of one of the great gurus of our times, was, to me, doubly offensive. Wordlessly the next day I paid my bill, and left by the first bus for Madras.
Resistance to Lectures in Bengal
Knowing that Master had planned for me to lecture in India, Daya Mata urged me to set up lectures during the little time I had available. By the local Indians, however, I was generally discouraged, either overtly or by their patent lack of enthusiasm. I remember one of our Indian directors devoting an hour one late afternoon to trying to assure me that I was quite untrained to speak before the spiritually sophisticated audiences of Bengal.
Finally a Bengali friend did arrange a lecture for me at the Maha Bodhi Hall in Calcutta. The lecture was well attended, and well received. No further doors opened for me as a speaker, however. Kriyananda wasn’t, after all, what was happening that year. It was Daya Mata’s time, quite properly. Moreover, my own appearance was against me. I looked younger than my thirty-two years, and even thirty-two was too young to impress most of my listeners, who were far older than I. Age, to a degree not appreciated by most Americans (citizens as we are of a young culture), receives primary respect in the most ancient of all lands: India.
Redoing the Lessons
The main work I was able to accomplish that first year had to do with the Lessons. These were in lamentable shape-so poorly printed, for one thing, that many of them were barely legible. They also cried out to be presented in such a way that the Indian public, unaccustomed to receiving lessons of any description by mail, could be convinced that it was worth their trouble to study them.
While I was on the central committee in America, I had argued repeatedly that the lessons lacked universal appeal. I had made a study of this matter, and had found that a majority of our students dropped out by the end of the first year. In another such study I learned that, out of those who remained faithful longer than a year, those who had read Autobiography of a Yogi were several times more likely to continue their studies than those who had come to us through magazine advertisements. I therefore recommended that we concentrate our advertising on promotion of the Autobiography. In time, this policy-my recommendation was approved-notably improved the statistics on student-perseverance.
Nevertheless, I kept pleading with the committee that it was the lessons themselves that needed revising. “We’ll never get this show on the road,” I kept insisting, “until the lessons are redone.”
Master had informed me that he hadn’t organized the lessons himself. Nor was it the actual teachings that needed revising: It was their presentation. They had been arranged in their present format by a devoted disciple of Master’s who, though a wonderful soul, had had no experience with the public or, for that matter, with teaching others. Louise Royston couldn’t realize what presentation would be the most effective in terms of reaching people’s actual understanding, satisfying their immediate needs, holding their interest, and answering their latent doubts before those doubts even arose.
Lacking experience, her approach was based on another theory altogether. It was designed to keep the student associated with SRF for as many years as possible. Her reasoning, sound enough in itself, was that in this way the student would gain the most, spiritually-not from the lessons, only, but from the added benefits of pilgrimage to Master’s colonies, advice by correspondence, and, above all, by inner attunement with the line of gurus. Her reasoning was, as I say, sound. The problem was only that by the end of the second year we had almost no students left.
By now I’d had nine years of experience working with the public. I asked myself, What is the student really interested in when he subscribes to the lessons? His chief interest, obviously, lies in receiving a course on yoga. Presumably he is eager to learn this new science. And he wants to feel that this particular course is giving him more than he could ever receive through reading a book.
What the present course did, instead, was start the student off on side issues. It eased him into the water gently by stressing such matters as loyalty to the work-with which, so far, he was hardly acquainted. Miss Royston had decided that the beginner would then be inspired by a beautiful lesson Master had written on the subject of friendship.
Next, pursuing her policy of dragging the lessons out, she had stretched to several weeks lessons on techniques that Master had been accustomed to teaching in a single evening. Each lesson was short, padded with repetitions, and contained as little information as she felt she could get away with presenting at a time, all with the thought of giving the student time to digest what he was receiving.
Again, deciding that it would be a good idea to include an inspiring and instructive story with each lesson, but finding that the available stories were fewer in number than the lessons, Miss Royston stretched the stories, too, over as many lessons as it took to make the number of both equal.
Looking at the matter from the new student’s standpoint, eager as he probably was for information, I couldn’t help feeling that he’d rather receive his instruction “hot and heavy,” at first particularly. As for the stories, he’d rather complete them in a single lesson-particularly one of the simpler stories such as “Big Frog, Little Frog.” (To keep the student wondering for a week or longer whether those frogs make it out of that bucket of milk struck me as trying his patience unnecessarily.) Even if condensing a story into a single lesson meant that the student wouldn’t receive a story with each lesson, I felt he’d greatly prefer to know what the story was all about, and not be held in unbearable suspense for weeks in a row.
My reasoning also was, as I said, that the beginning yoga student wanted his information “hot and heavy.” Fill the early lessons with teaching, I thought, including as much material as possible about any one technique in a single lesson. After a year of such intensive study, the student would no doubt be relieved to relax a little, having so much material already to absorb. A year, I considered, would be enough time for tightly packed teaching. After that would be the time to stretch things out a little.
My outline wouldn’t necessitate reducing the number of lessons. The whole course could remain the same in length. Nothing need be disturbed, therefore, in any existing office procedure.
I knew that Master had given to Sister Mrinalini the job of rewriting the Lessons. Until the completion of her job, however, it seemed to me that a revised presentation would keep more students faithful to the path. Perhaps, I thought, if I did this revision in India, Mt. Washington might like it well enough also to incorporate it in the lessons they sent out-at any rate, until Sister Mrinalini’s course made its debut. Thus, I thought enthusiastically, our lessons could begin to hold students at last, and our student membership to grow in number instead of remaining more or less constant over the years.
Armed with my ideas for this project, I presented them to Daya Mata for her opinion. She liked them, and told me to proceed with the plan.
Having no office to work in, I did all the work in my bedroom. For one year the floor of my room was covered with piles of paper as I arranged and re-arranged the lessons to correspond to my ideas. At the end of that year, I was well satisfied.
There followed another task: typing everything out. For this work I hired inexpensive outside help, limiting my own part to careful proofreading and correction. It thrilled me to think that here we finally had a product that Indian students would appreciate for its clarity, its conciseness, and its practicality.
Unfortunately, a year and a half later, when I fell out of favor with SRF, it was decided that my work on the Lessons should be scrapped. The Indian lessons, it was felt, should be brought into line with the lessons being put out by Mt. Washington-“in case,” Daya Mata explained, “students should ever move to India and want to continue their lessons without change or interruption.”
My concern at all times was the spiritual needs of the devotees. I accepted the official decision without demur, but it was painful to me to see those needs being subordinated to bureaucratic considerations.
During our first year in India a man began attending our meetings whom Daya Mata came gradually to look upon as the fulfillment of Master’s prediction to her concerning the work there. “The people in India,” he had told her, “will organize the work themselves.” We had met no one among our Indian representatives at that time who could be counted on to fulfill that prediction. This man, however, appeared to have the necessary ability, if only he could be interested in serving Master’s work.
Binay N. Dubey was his name. He was the founder/president of a large hospital in Bengal called Niramoy. He was a “pukka” (perfect) organization man, being uninterested in reaching people through lectures and other direct outreach, but competent to organize a smoothly running office and keep it functioning efficiently. Daya Mata considered organizational efficiency the paramount need of our present work in India. For that purpose, among the Indians we’d met, Binay-da, as we called him (the da means “older brother”), stood alone.
Binay Dubey began to follow us about from place to place. Often he admitted to me quite frankly that he had no personal commitment to our work, but that he found inspiration in Daya Mata’s company. In time, as her influence on him grew, he came to feel drawn toward a broader commitment.
Binay-da spent much time in visiting other saints. Being independently affluent, he had few personal responsibilities, though he may still have been running Niramoy from a distance; this I don’t know. Thus, he could devote himself to seeking satsanga (good company). More and more, the satsanga he sought was the company of Daya Mata.
Binay-da and I were friends, too. We spent many hours together. His devotion I found attractive. “Binay” means “humble”; in many ways, the name fitted him admirably. In other ways, however, he was very proud. He wasn’t an easy man to understand.
Often he said to me, “You all from America are mere children compared to these people. You don’t even imagine the tricks they can use to take advantage of you. They may praise you lavishly, convincing you of their sincerity, yet all the while the people around them will know they are simply poking fun at you.” He made this remark, and similar statements, so frequently that I began to think, “If simplicity, devotion, and kindness are not enough to touch people’s hearts, I would rather be laughed at and have done with it! God is the only one I’m trying to please. What do the opinions and the superficiality of human beings matter?”
Kamal-da, a man prominent in the movement started by devotees of Ananda Moyi Ma, remarked to me years later, “I was well impressed by Binay-da at first. But I came in time to realize that he is too much of a politician. Since then, I have kept my distance from him.”
Other Indians whom I respect have reported to me other traits in Binay-da that, if true, are not worthy of applause. These friends insist that he justified himself with the explanation that such behavior is normal for his own land-owner class, the zemindars. It isn’t normal for a yogi, however. In Binay’s defense, I would add that these people may have had personal motives in speaking against him. In their defense, on the other hand, I must say also that he’d given them good reason, as we shall see, for their antipathy.
So again, as I’ve already stated, Binay-da was not an easy person to understand. And I must repeat that, speaking personally, I liked him, though in time I found in him also a tendency to be so condemning of others that at last I avoided his company as much as possible. Still, I did like him! And he, for his part, claimed to see something in me that inspired him second only to Daya Mata.
His influence on Daya reinforced her own conviction that the heart of Master’s mission in India, no differently from in the West, was the institution itself. I will not say this was an error on her part, though it went quite against the priorities I myself saw for the work and the directions Master had given me, personally. Still, Daya Mata was the president; it was her job to be right in such matters.
Master, meanwhile, was pulling me forcefully in another direction-the one at which he had hinted in his discussions with me from almost the beginning of my association with him.
Somehow, I had always been under the impression-mistaken, it would now seem-that Master wanted me to remain in India and build his work there. He spoke to me several times of his wishes for the Indian work-by no means so much, I’m sure, as he did to Daya Mata. Perhaps, in his talks with me, he was thinking of the work I myself would be doing much later in America.
About his school in Ranchi, for example, he told me:
“Most of the boys, after graduating from our school, went on to live in the world. As far as spreading this message was concerned, they were a loss to us. What we have now in America is much better. People come to us when they are grown up and know what they want to do with their lives. Someday it will again be possible for us to concentrate on developing schools, but that time is not now.”
After the start of my troubles with SRF, Tara Mata wrote to the directors, “My common sense tells me that we should do what Master himself wanted: develop his Ranchi school.” Binay-da followed up on this suggestion by announcing to me, “The Indian government has a program for helping schools. They will match whatever funds we put up. In this way, we will be able to grow twice as quickly.”
I was in enough hot water by this time already, and therefore refrained from arguing the point. Inwardly, however, I thought, “If the government gives us even a single rupee, its accountability to the public will oblige it to control the entire enterprise.” So it happened, in fact. Spiritual teaching received less and less emphasis in our Ranchi school until it was virtually eliminated.
Nearly twenty years later, one of the SRF/YSS monks in India confessed to me that the only spiritual education the children were receiving at that time was outside the classroom. The instruction was given to those few youngsters who expressed personal interest. “But,” my informant then hastened to assure me, “we hope someday to get back to Master’s ideal of an all-rounded education, including instruction in his yoga techniques and meditation.”
Well, if nothing else, Master was pointing my own mind toward adult education. I have developed schools since then at Ananda. These came into being, however, within the larger context of an already-thriving adult community.
Office Management versus Outreach
Part of my problem in India stemmed from my belief, which as I’ve said may have been mistaken, that Master wanted me to develop his work in that country. Binay-da’s plan for me was that I devote myself to the position of office manager. I’d had the necessary experience, it was true, but my own inner direction was growing stronger and stronger to do what Master wanted of me. I knew he didn’t want me doing office work anymore.
“Binay-da,” I protested, “were I to take on that job, it would be another twenty years before I saw the light of day again!”
“Quite right,” he replied matter-of-factly.
India herself had been drawing my heart in another direction altogether. Master had told me to lecture, not to be an office worker. Daya Mata herself agreed with me on this point, and encouraged me to travel around the country, giving lectures and classes. I suspect she also felt that my absence would give Binay-da more freedom to develop the work at its center. (My recognized enthusiasm for new projects may well have suggested to her that it would be easier for him to work quietly in his own way, without “interference” from me.) But certainly she also saw merit in having someone out “in the field,” bringing in new members. Binay himself saw no real need for me to travel. He wanted me on hand in the office, while he directed my activities from his home in Calcutta. This was part of his ongoing resistance to getting too much involved in the work, personally.
I did not take easily to being directed by him. Though older than I, he was not only new in the work but not yet even committed to it. Even while traveling with us, he had applied for acceptance by other ashrams, and at one time expressed interest also in following Ananda Moyi Ma, to whom Master in his autobiography devotes an inspiring chapter.
Ananda Moyi Ma
I myself spent many inspiring days in the company of this great woman saint. I experienced no diminution of loyalty in being with her. I did, however, find my natural predilection, which was a disinclination for the institutional outlook, receiving support from her own disinterest in organizations. Referring to the work her own disciples had built in her name, she often remarked to them, “It is your organization.” When they tried to read to her from their society’s magazine, she often laughed gaily and said, “It’s your magazine. Why bother me with it?”
I referred once in conversation with her to “my kriya yoga”-my intention being to differentiate between Lahiri Mahasaya’s technique and the many other types of kriya yoga that are practiced in India. Her correction was instantaneous: “No, my kriya yoga!” I smiled appreciatively at her emphasis on the universality of the ancient teachings.
Ma once visited the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Later, in the magazine published by that ashram, it was reported that their Mother Meera had gazed at Ananda Moyi Ma with so much spiritual power that Ananda Moyi Ma had been forced to look away. Ma’s devotees were naturally outraged at this slight. But Ma herself only laughed. “Isn’t it true,” she asked, “that if their mother had been the first to look away, you’d all be saying it was because she was not able to endure the power of my gaze?” She then went on to explain that the reason she’d looked away was simply that she had noticed that one of her devotees hadn’t been given a place to sit. She was concerned on his behalf.
I loved her spirit of universality. It was something to which my own nature aspired, particularly in contrast to our own increasingly rigid definition of Master’s work as an institution. Universality, I felt, was the right way to reach people: not to talk organization to them, but to appeal to the truth of their own being.
Ananda Moyi Ma showed a special affection for me. Among her devotees I came to be known as her “chhoto chele” (little child). Once she told me, “Many come before this body,”-she rarely used the personal pronoun in reference to herself-“but none attract me as you do.” Once she said to me also, “You can ask anyone here: People have been with this body twenty and more years, but no one has received the depth of explanations you have.”
She was reported once to have stated, out of my presence, “Kriyananda is like a honey bee. Here is a lotus resting on a large leaf. Many frogs are in the pond, croaking loudly. Kriyananda swooped down, took a sip of the nectar, and away he flew.”
I was able to have with Ananda Moyi Ma the outer relationship I would have loved to have with my Guru. At the time I came to him, however, I was too young and new on the path not to feel always a profound awe before him. With Ma I could be completely natural, like a child. I used to address her as “tumi,” the familiar form of “you.” Most, I imagine (though I don’t know), addressed her as “apni,” the form of respect properly used when addressing an elder, especially one who is deeply revered. To me, Ananda Moyi Ma was like my own spiritual mother. I felt no conflict between my love for her and my one-pointed devotion to Master. Master was completely my own. Nothing and no one could have diluted my loyalty and love for him.
In fact, one day-sensing, perhaps, the test I would soon undergo with SRF-Ma said to me, “What would you say if I asked you to stay here?” Immediately I replied, “Well my answer would of course be, No.” To her, however, organizations meant nothing at all.
When news reached her, some time later, of my dismissal by SRF, I am told she strode back and forth as if greatly angered. Years, and much suffering, later she told me, her expression warm with compassion, “If you had asked to be allowed to come and stay here, you would have been made welcome.” God and my guru, however, so arranged matters that for ten years I was denied a visa to return to India. By the end of ten years, I had already founded Ananda and was committed to carrying on this work I had begun in Master’s name.
Master couldn’t have got me out of his organization except violently. I was completely loyal to it, and so committed in my heart to helping it to grow in any way I could, that I would never under any circumstances have left it of my own volition.
It is clear now, however, that his wish for me was that I serve him independently of his organization.