Swami Kriyananda’s Final Years With His Guru
Out of My love for them, I, the Divine within them, set alight in them the radiant lamp of wisdom, thereby dispelling the darkness of their ignorance.
—The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 10
In January 1950, Paramhansa Yogananda announced to his disciples that he would be taking a period of seclusion at Twenty-Nine Palms to complete the writing and editing of his Bhagavad Gita commentaries. He asked “Walter” to come also. To everyone’s surprise, perhaps, the guru, addressing him and a few others, said, “I asked Divine Mother whom I should take with me to help me with editing, and your face appeared, Walter. I asked Her twice more just to make sure, and each time, your face appeared. That’s why I am taking you.”
After arriving at Twenty-Nine Palms, Donald went to live in the monks’ retreat, five miles down the road from the Master’s residence. At first he went over to the Master’s retreat daily to listen while he gave dictation on the Bhagavad Gita. Then his Guru instructed him to remain at the monks’ quarters, there to begin snipping out his scripture commentaries from old SRF magazines in order to facilitate the work of editing them.
After three months of steady dictation, Paramhansa Yogananda completed his Bhagavad Gita commentaries, producing an interpretation of this great scripture that is deeper than any that have ever been done before. He was filled with divine joy at the completion of this monumental work. Prophetically he said to Walter, “It was God’s will that the Gita be fully explained only now. Millions will find God through this book. A new scripture has been born. I have seen it. I know!”
Now at Twenty-Nine Palms Donald began two months of concentrated work in his Guru’s company, going daily to the Master’s retreat. There, he had the opportunity to read and work on the newly finished manuscript of the Master’s Bhagavad Gita commentaries. These pages contained the most thrillingly profound spiritual teachings he’d ever read.
Every day, Donald spent hours with his Guru as they worked on editing the manuscript. Yogananda invited the disciple’s suggestions, many of which he incorporated into the book.
His Guru said to him, “By helping me with editing, you yourself will evolve. I predict, Walter, that you will make a good editor someday.” In the nearly sixty years of Swami Kriyananda’s discipleship, he has written and edited more than eighty books, all of them based on what he received and understood of the Master’s teachings.
It was during this time at the desert that Yoganandaji told him, “Your life is to be one of lecturing, editing, and writing. It will be one of intense activity, and meditation.” When the disciple protested that the Master himself, surely, had already written all that was needed, his guru answered, “Don’t say that! Much more is needed.”
One day, years later, Donald asked his Guru, “Someone suggested that I write a book explaining how I was drawn to the path. Would you like me to do that?”
“Not yet,” answered the Master. Donald took his meaning to be, “Later.” Some twenty-six years later, in fact, in 1976, Kriyananda finished the first draft of his autobiography, The Path — One Man’s Quest on the Only Path There Is, telling of his life and training under his Guru.
Often in the stillness of the desert evenings, they would take quiet walks together. The Master was so withdrawn from body-consciousness at this time that he would sometimes lean on Donald’s arm for support. They walked in silence, primarily, but when the Master did speak his words were filled with a wisdom rarely to be found in any book. “Write down my words,” Yogananda instructed him again. “I don’t often speak from this level of impersonal wisdom.”
During their time together at Twenty-Nine Palms, Yoganandaji gave much personal instruction to his disciple regarding “Walter’s” own future, and referred also to the future directions of the work. The Master talked to him at length, in addition, about many of the other disciples, doing so perhaps to give him a deeper understanding of the right attitudes of discipleship, as well as to show him how he himself should guide others.
“You have a great work to do,” his Guru kept telling him, “and you must be conscious of how your words and actions affect others.” Yoganandaji was instilling in his disciple an understanding of how to combine simple inner humility with the dignity of centeredness in the Self.
Another topic the guru and disciple sometimes discussed, though not during those days at Twenty-Nine Palms, was Donald’s organization of the monks. During the early stages of his leadership, many of the men resisted his attempts to bring structure to their monastic way of life. Understanding their reluctance to follow him at his young age, he told them, “I don’t ask for your obedience. All I ask for is your cooperation. Moreover, I pledge you my cooperation in return.” The more Donald put himself in a position of loyalty and service to those who were under him, the more he won their support, gradually, in return.
“Would you prefer that the other monks call me ‘Walter’?” Donald asked his Guru one day. (He was accustomed to their calling him ‘Don'; only the Master addressed him as ‘Walter.’)
“They should call you Reverend Walter,” was the Guru’s reply. “It is not that one disciple is better than another, but in an army there have to be captains as well as privates. You must accept respect from others as proper to your position.” This wasn’t at all the answer “Walter” had expected or wanted! Hastily he changed the subject. He has confessed, since then, that it was years before he could bring himself to accept deference from others. Even now, when people in India touch his feet in the universal gesture of respect for spiritual figures, Swami Kriyananda often says to them, “I feel it is you who are blessing me.”
To help the monastics to gain a better understanding of their way of life, Donald gave a series of classes on the right attitudes of discipleship. In order to help others to give the same classes in later years, he wrote extensive notes, which have been used in SRF classes since then by both the monks and the nuns. Indeed, his notes ended up, years later, being attributed to one of the senior nuns. Yoganandaji was pleased with Donald’s work with the monks, and often encouraged him in it.
In his position as head monk, Donald also had the duty of accepting new men into the monastery. Knowing how desperately he himself had longed to be accepted as a disciple, he was sometimes, out of compassion for them, too lenient about accepting newcomers. Some he accepted were obviously not ready to make a strong spiritual commitment.
“I’m going to have to give you intuition!” exclaimed the Master to him one day, after Donald had made a particularly glaring error of judgment. In fact, Kriyananda says, his intuition in these matters did increase significantly from that moment on. He came in time to be able to discern, often at a glance, whether or not someone was ready to be accepted into the monastery.
After their time together in the desert, Yoganandaji asked Donald to help him in answering some of his personal correspondence. Donald said to his Guru one day, “Sir, what wonderful letters we’ve been getting from Germany! They express such devotion!”
The Master replied quietly, “That’s because they’ve suffered. They need Kriya Yoga, not bombs!” He paused, then added, “Maybe I will send you there someday.”
“Certainly, Sir, if you wish it,” his disciple replied promptly, “though I’ve always thought you had other plans for me.” He had believed his Guru intended to send him to India. “I do know Europe,” he added, “having been born and raised there.”
Yogananda replied simply, “There is a great work to be done there.”
Years later, Swami Kriyananda fulfilled this commission from his Guru. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was invited repeatedly to lecture in his guru’s name in Europe. In 1984 he founded an international spiritual community in the north of Italy, near Como. It ended up being located outside Assisi, Italy, and today includes members from many — more than ten — different countries. A dynamic community and retreat center for disseminating Yogananda’s teachings, Ananda Assisi is the only one of its kind in Europe.
All of Yoganandaji’s guidance of him from the young disciple’s earliest days, had been directed toward spreading the work by helping others, rather than by organizing or working within the organization. In fact, Donald had always felt an inner resistance to organizational activity. Yogananda himself preferred a spontaneous, intuitive flow when he worked with others spiritually. He was opposed to the excessive rules and regulations so often produced by organizations.
“Don’t make too many rules,” the Master told him. “It destroys the spirit.” Throughout Kriyananda’s later work of creating spiritual communities worldwide, he has followed this direction from his Guru. The guiding principle he himself has instilled in the Ananda communities is never to put the needs of the organization ahead of those of even one member.
He has created two basic guidelines also: “People are more important than things,” and, “Where there is adherence to truth and right action, there alone is victory.”
One day in May 1950, while they were walking together at Twenty-Nine Palms, the Master said to his disciple with deep earnestness, “Apart from St. Lynn (Rajarsi Janakananda), every man has disappointed me.” With intensity then, he added, “And you MUSTN’T disappoint me!” What did he mean? The Master had many good, spiritual men disciples. What Donald understood from these words was that the Master’s disappointment was not in their lack of personal dedication, but in the fact that none of them had taken seriously the need to spread their guru’s mission.
Young Donald doubted his own ability — indeed, self-doubt often plagued him — but he vowed inwardly at least to do his best. “What Master’s work meant to me,“ Kriyananda has said, ”was its power to uplift mankind, and not only me, as one, individual disciple. Why, I thought, limit these teachings to a few? To me, Master was for the world!” He had always understood Paramhansa Yogananda’s mission in its broadest terms as intended for world upliftment. Its purpose transcended organizational, cultural, and religious affiliation of any kind.
Once, indeed, he asked the Master, “Is this work a new religion?”
“It is a new expression,” the Master replied with emphasis. Often he would state, “We are not a sect.”
One evening out at the desert Donald asked Yogananda, “Will I find God in this life?”
“Yes,” the Guru replied. “But don’t think about it.” There ensued a brief pause, after which the Master continued, “After many lifetimes, everything has balanced out now.”
Why must his disciple not dwell on this wonderful promise? Because he still had a lot of work to do in this life. Yogananda, in training this disciple, placed highest priority on his service to others.
During these blessed years of training at his guru’s feet, and later while writing, editing, lecturing, working with others, and spreading the teachings of his guru as a devoted disciple, “Walter” realized more and more the scope of his guru’s universal mission. Toward the end of his life, Yogananda told one of the monks, “If Walter had only come sooner, we would have reached millions!”
In 1952, Yoganandaji was preparing to end his mission on earth. By then “Walter,” his devoted disciple, had developed the attunement, the focus, and the vision to spread his guru’s teachings to the world. One day Walter said to his Guru, “How will I know your will, Sir, after you are gone?”
“You already know my will,” the guru replied, “at least in the important things.”