He Sets a New Course
I have made Thee polestar of my life.
Though my sea is dark, and my stars are gone,
Still I see the path through Thy mercy.
—Chant by Paramhansa Yogananda
After his dismissal, Swami Kriyananda returned to his parents’ home in Atherton, California. He spent days there lying on his bed, praying for death, or for some ray of hope or inner direction. From a heart numb with grief he prayed to his Guru again and again for guidance. No guidance came.
SRF had been, for him, the only meaningful thing in his life. He could not imagine any other course now. The one thought that came to him was to be a hermit. Though he was to visit several monasteries, he was unable, and felt no inner prompting, to pursue a different path from that of his guru.
SRF’s treatment of him had deeply shaken his faith in himself and, indeed, in his Guru’s love for him. Swamiji knew that the one constant in his life had been his love for God and Guru. Now, he felt deserted by them. Tara had ordered him never again to speak in Yogananda’s name, nor to spread his teachings, nor serve him in the slightest way — not even by distributing his books, which at one point he offered to do. Were he to obey her directives, his life would be bereft of all meaning.
Yet his Guru’s grace, albeit hidden, was still with him. Swamiji later wrote: “Throughout this period, which was certainly the bleakest of my life, abandoned as I felt by God and man, I experienced on some deep level within me a subtle joy that never left me.”
From that dim awareness of inner joy, Yogananda’s words kept echoing in his mind: “Your work is lecturing and writing.” Although he was vouchsafed no specific answers, a course did soon open up for him, in an unexpected way.
During the late summer and autumn of 1962, Swamiji continued to live with his parents. One evening, they invited him to join them at a dinner party at the home of the Watson Defty’s, neighbors of theirs. Not interested in socializing, Kriyananda at first declined to go. Then, however, the thought came to him strongly: “Go!”
Among the dinner guests present that evening were an Indian couple from Calcutta, Dr. Haridas and Mrs. Bina Chaudhuri. At that first meeting, Kriyananda felt immediately attracted by their simple dignity, sweetness, and intelligence. He began to converse with them in Bengali. He and they instantly felt a deep rapport with one another.
“But where did you learn to speak Bengali so fluently?” they demanded. Swamiji told them about his life in India, and introduced himself by his monastic name.
“Kriyananda!” they cried. “Why, we’ve heard your recordings of Yogananda’s chants. What a beautiful voice you have! Oh, please, you must come and sing at our ashram for an event we are having on October 7. It will be a Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Service.” Dr. Chaudhuri, as it turned out, was the founder and spiritual director of a well-regarded religious work in San Francisco, the Cultural Integration Fellowship.
“I’m very sorry,” Swamiji replied, “but I’m not doing any public speaking these days.”
“But this isn’t a lecture. We’re only asking you to sing. Please come!” they pleaded.
With Tara’s wrathful words still ringing in his ears, and fearing to displease his Guru by doing anything public, Kriyananda refused. Dr. Chaudhuri, however, wouldn’t take no for an answer. He phoned Swamiji again and again.
Later he told Swamiji, “I felt guided to insist. Inwardly I was certain that it was God’s will for you to get back into the activity for which your Guru had trained you.”
With Dr. Chaudhuri’s constant entreaties, Kriyananda finally began to think that perhaps this was the guidance he’d been seeking. He agreed to sing.
On October 7, 1962, at the Gandhi Memorial service, Swamiji ventured forth for the first time since his dismissal at the end of July, and sang the Bengali bhajan (devotional chant), Gokula Chandra (“Moon of Gokula”). The audience was deeply inspired by the song and also by the way he sang it. They warmly expressed their appreciation.
For the first time in over two months, Kriyananda again felt his Guru’s blessings in his heart. The ship of his life was beginning to veer toward its destined course. Over the next few years the Chaudhuris became guardian angels to Swamiji, offering him direction and loyal friendship at a time when he very much needed both of these.
After the Gandhi Memorial Service, two people — one from the Indian Students’ League at the University of California at Davis, and the other from the Unitarian Church of San Francisco — invited him to lecture. Again he declined. And again, they insisted.
Swamiji prayed to his Guru for guidance, “Master, could this be your will?” Very hesitantly he finally accepted. Twice again, to his amazement, he felt his Guru’s blessings in his heart.
The self-doubt created by SRF’s condemnation of him still haunted him; he wondered if, really, he had anything of value to offer to anyone. “Miserable as I am,” he thought, “what have I to share with anyone but my pain?” Yet, incredible as it seemed to him, what people told him they derived from his lectures above all was a sense of joy!
For most of his adult life Kriyananda had been a monk, living in a monastery. Finding himself now completely on his own, Swamiji had for the first time in many years to think about supporting himself financially. He was now asked to give classes. Might these be justified at least as a means of providing him with a little badly needed income?
Dr. Chaudhuri asked him to lecture in his ashram, stating, “I really feel this is the kind of work your Guru wants you to do.” This time, Kriyananda did not resist. This good friend persuaded him also to give a series of classes in Raja Yoga at the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco, with which the Chaudhuris were affiliated.
The urge to be a hermit continued to pull at Kriyananda. During this time, at first refusing all offers, he spent six months in a Roman Catholic Retreat, New Camaldoli, near Big Sur, California. Here he did research on the book he’d been inspired to write earlier while still living in India, Out of the Labyrinth to show the underlying fallacies in the materialistic philosophy of modern times. In the autumn of 1963, Dr. Chaudhuri arranged for him to take a three-month seclusion in the guesthouse of some friends in Sedona, Arizona, where he continued to research this book.
At the end of his seclusion, Swamiji returned to his parents’ home for the Christmas holidays. He planned afterwards to travel to Mexico, to seek a place for quiet retreat where he could meditate and continue his work on Labyrinth. God, however, had other plans for him.
One day, soon after Christmas Kriyananda received the shocking news that Dr. Chaudhuri, his dear friend and supporter, had suddenly collapsed from a heart attack while giving his Sunday worship Service. Knowing that there was no one to take Dr. Chaudhuri’s place, Swamiji abandoned his plans to travel and phoned Mrs. Chaudhuri, offering his help.
“Would you like me to fill in for Haridas’s classes and services until he recovers?” he asked.
“Oh, thank God!” she exclaimed. “I was afraid to ask you, knowing you were so keen on leaving. But — do you really think you could do it?”
In January 1964, Kriyananda began to follow a new course for his life. The conviction grew in his heart that Yogananda did, after all, want him to serve by lecturing and writing. He moved into the ashram, where he lived for one year giving weekly Sunday worship Services and mid-week classes. In return, he received room and board at the ashram and a percentage of the donations for his talks. The rest of the week he was free to continue research on his book at the San Francisco public library. These activities took up much of the year.
In 1964 another unexpected vista opened up for him, showing him a new way he could spread Yogananda’s teachings — through music. In the summer of that year, Swamiji spent a week vacationing at Yosemite National Park in California. On the last day of his visit, he noticed two young men seated on the handrail of a bridge, playing a guitar and singing.
Kriyananda as a young man had often been urged to take up singing as a career. In college he had taken voice lessons, and his singing teacher had encouraged him strongly to take up singing as a profession. An old woman, of seventy-five years when he knew her, she announced to him one day, “I’m living for only one thing: to see you become a great singer!” On that day in Yosemite, feeling in the mood to sing, Swamiji asked the young men if they would like for him to sing for them.
“By all means!” they replied. (It had been something of a struggle for them even to carry a tune!) The only song he could think of, apart from devotional chants or Western classical songs, was an old American favorite, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” He sang it now. The young men were delighted.
“Could you come sing for a gathering we’re having tonight?” they pleaded with him. “It’s just for a few friends.”
He accepted. At the party he sang once again, well, what else? That same song from his very limited popular repertoire, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”! Everyone enjoyed it so greatly that they pleaded with him to sing more. He thought it safest, however, simply to refuse. (What other songs did he know, after all? He could think of only one from his college days: “Roll Out the Barrel.” Not quite his style, now!)
The next day on his drive home the thought came to him, “What a wonderful thing it would be to share with others by singing!” Alas, what had he to sing? Very few popular songs have truly meaningful lyrics.
Suddenly the idea popped into his mind: “I wonder if I could write my own songs that express truths that my Guru taught?” In an instant a lovely melody, complete with lyrics, sprang “fully dressed” and effortlessly into his mind.
From piano training as a child he knew musical notation. Stopping at a milk shake stand now, he wrote this song down on a paper napkin. On his return to San Francisco, Swamiji taught himself how to play the guitar, studying from a book. Songs began coming to him unbidden, each with a meaningful message and an uplifting melody.
Soon he started singing one or two of them at Sunday Worship Service at the ashram, in order to enhance his message thereby. Before long, invitations began pouring in, requesting him to give concerts. He called his music “Philosophy in Song” because it presented spiritual philosophy “painlessly,” in a way to which everyone could relate.
In 1965 he recorded the first of his many albums. He called it Say ‘Yes’ To Life! Since then, Kriyananda has written over 400 pieces of music, which have brought joy and inspiration to many thousands. New students frequently say that it was his music that first brought them onto Yogananda’s path.
Here are the lyrics of one of the first songs he wrote. It is called, What Is Love?
What is love? Is it only ours?
Or does love whisper in the flowers?
Surely we, children of this world,
Could not love by our own powers.
What is joy? Is it just a dream?
Or does joy laugh in every stream?
Are the clouds mindless after all?
Or is joy all Nature’s theme?
“God is dead”—so men say:
Can’t they see all life’s His play?
Not a church binds Him as its own;
Not a creed makes Him fully known.
Foolish we, if we limit Him:
Every atom is His throne!
After Dr. Chaudhuri had recovered from his heart attack, he asked Swamiji to continue sharing the pulpit and the teaching load with him. Swamiji agreed, and for some years thereafter gave bi-weekly Sunday Services, as well as some of the mid-week classes.
Yogananda had often asked Swamiji, as I wrote earlier, to demonstrate the postures for his guests. His young disciple had, in fact, become known as an “expert” in them. Though his Guru had never actually taught him the postures, it was as if the Master had communicated to him a certain awareness on the subject. Swamiji wrote later that he could feel his Guru’s guidance behind his understanding of the poses. The system that came to him now was, in time, to become widely known as Ananda Yoga. It is one of the main branches of Hatha Yoga now being taught in America.
Soon Kriyananda began teaching Hatha and Raja Yoga extensively around the San Francisco Bay Area. His classes were popular from the beginning. Within a short time he was teaching an average of 300 students a week in various venues of Northern California.
He also began to publish a few books, the first of which was a small book of aphorisms called, Yours — The Universe! (out of print in 2008). Next, he published Ananda Yoga for Higher Awareness; and then there was a small book he’d written years earlier about an ancient book of prophecies that he’d encountered in India, called The Book of Bhrigu (out of print in 2008). Once more he was beginning to feel a flow of energy and inspiration in the service he rendered his Guru.
His dismissal from organizational involvement in SRF proved by no means the tragedy it had first appeared to be. It was a release, rather, which enabled him to pursue creative activity according to the instructions he’d been given by his Guru. Through Yogananda’s guidance inwardly, and with the encouragement of sincere friends, Kriyananda set a new course for his life which allowed him to continue serving his Guru through teaching, writing, and music.
He was beginning to regain confidence in his Guru’s inner guidance. Gradually with the income from his classes and books, he developed a fledgling spiritual work. Now his thoughts began returning to the “great work” of which his Guru had several times spoken to him. Though recognizing that the challenges would be great, Swamiji still clung to the Master’s vision of world brotherhood colonies. He knew that this was part of the commission Yogananda had given him. He vowed again that, with God and Guru’s grace, he would start such a community. He would call it, Ananda.