Taking Up His Guru’s Banner: Organizing the Work
Pray this way to God: “Lord, I will reason, I will will, I will act, but guide Thou my reason, will, and activity to the right path in everything.”
After Paramhansa Yogananda’s passing, the question uppermost in Donald’s mind was, “How can we best please you?” The answer that came to him first was to follow the training the guru had given to all his disciples: to meditate deeply and regularly, to love and respect one another, and to cooperate harmoniously in the spread of his teachings.
The next question Swamiji asked his Guru was, “How can I, myself, best serve you?” The need of the hour was to consolidate the work. For several of the next years Donald developed many aspects of the work which, during the guru’s lifetime, had not needed to be organized because Paramhansa Yogananda himself had been a spiritual father to all who needed their questions answered.
Donald also continued to write down all that he could recall of what his Guru had said and done. The time came when he was able to answer almost any question about the spiritual path or about life in general from those recollections.
When Donald first arrived at Mt. Washington in 1948, it was the nuns who ran the main office and, indeed, virtually every aspect of the work. The monks had no area for which they, as a group, were responsible. Their jobs involved physical labor, mainly. Donald, meditating on the need for equality between the monks and nuns if the Master’s work was to develop in a balanced way, sought a solution to this problem.
The men, he realized, needed their own area in the work, one they could direct. He himself, because of his training as a writer, had been given office duties by the guru. The need in the work for manual laborers, however, had been too pressing: carpenters, builders, handymen in many fields. Somehow, owing to the rule which separated the monks and nuns, the monks found themselves having no part to play in running the work. “Walter” was virtually the only monk doing office work, which he did in his bedroom apart from the main building.
Contemplating this imbalance, he had an inspiration one day. The monks had also been given the job of ministering in the churches. They were the main contact persons for the general public. Why not give them, in addition, the direction of the Center Department, which already existed but was the responsibility of one of nuns?
At that time it had been mostly a clearinghouse of information that was passed on to the centers. If this responsibility were given to the monks, he thought, the nuns would continue directing the work as it affected the individual members, but the monks would be responsible for the members’ group activities. Thus, this division into equal but separate activities would ensure future equality between the monks and nuns.
Some of the nuns selfishly viewed Donald’s concern for equality as a bid for personal power. Their exclusive attitude was, for him, an early taste of the unreason he was to encounter more and more over his succeeding years with SRF. Was no one capable, he wondered, of seeing things impersonally? Equality was an obvious need in the work. There was simply nothing to be gained from trying to force the issue onto personal grounds.
Donald proposed this split of over-all responsibility to SRF’s new president, Rajarsi Janakananda. A yogi of high spiritual attainment, Rajarsi (James J. Lynn) was Paramhansa Yogananda’s most advanced disciple, and his chosen spiritual successor. He was also a successful, self-made businessman — indeed, a multi-millionaire — which he had become already before meeting his Guru. Yogananda had announced publicly, “I have passed my mantle to Rajarsi.” This is a tradition among great gurus; to “pass the mantle” means to transfer one’s power and consciousness to his spiritual successor. This transfer is a profound blessing, and one that is bestowed uniquely on only one chosen disciple.
Swami Kriyananda wrote later of this disciple, “After Master’s passing, Rajarsi Janakananda seemed almost to become Master. His eyes, by some subtle transformation, were Master’s eyes. So perfect was his attunement that our Guru’s very thoughts became his thoughts.”
With Rajarsi’s deep attunement with his Guru, coupled with a keen executive mentality, Rajarsi understood the importance of Donald’s expansive, creative thinking. He saw the merit in his new ideas for organizing the office, and said they should be implemented.
With Rajarsi’s approval, and with the somewhat reluctant consent of some of the nuns, Donald was given the position as head of the Center Department. In this capacity he went personally to Mexico in 1954, and in 1955 visited groups in America, Eastern Canada, and Europe. He initiated a policy of direct involvement with the centers as opposed to only sending mailings out to them. Later, in India, he continued this activity. Having seen at first hand how the SRF centers functioned throughout the world, he realized that the leaders needed more guidance in the best way to present their guru’s teachings effectively.
Thus, he developed a new system which included a set format for their weekly services. Remembering Master’s words, “Don’t make too many rules; it destroys the spirit,” Donald outlined a few, sensible rules for the centers with a view to allowing them still to act spontaneously, in a joyful spirit.
1955 was an important year in Donald’s life. He was initiated into the Swami Order, taking the name Swami Kriyananda, and he was appointed the main minister for the SRF Hollywood Church. Until that time he had been the visiting minister to three SRF churches. Now for the first time he was given charge of one church. In the Hollywood congregation he developed a Lay Disciple Order, organizing the members into a well-knit group, each of whom had specific areas of responsibility.
He felt it was important for members everywhere to realize that they, too, could serve the work and help in spreading it. Until this time, they had been the recipients, mainly, of services rendered to them. By giving them authority as Lay Disciples, Kriyananda sought to deepen their commitment to their Guru, and attunement with him.
In the years that followed the time of Paramhansa Yogananda’s passing, Swami Kriyananda gave a fresh approach to almost every aspect of the work, basing his activity on his guru’s statements to him and to the other disciples, and on his personal instructions to him. The monks, the correspondence department, the main office, the centers and meditation groups, and the Lay Disciple Order — all these were made more dynamic and effective. By meditating on his Guru, and seeking his inner guidance, Swamiji was able to tune in to “the blueprint” for the work, which the Master had said was “in the ether.”
Swamiji saw all his efforts primarily as a means of helping others. At the same time, he couldn’t help inwardly resisting the institutional mentality that he saw developing around him. Reflecting that Yogananda’s approach to spiritual work had been informal, and centered on the individuals’ needs for inner freedom in their search for God (Hence the name, “Self-Realization Fellowship”), Swamiji directed his organizational efforts toward helping people to help themselves.
Rajarsi, throughout his presidency, consistently approved Kriyananda’s suggestions for the development of the Master’s mission. It was gratifying to Swamiji to be able to work under such an expansive leader, one who understood and valued innovative ideas.
Unfortunately, after the guru’s mahasamadhi, Rajarsi began to have health problems, and was diagnosed finally as having a brain tumor. In February 1955, at the age of sixty-three, Yogananda’s most advanced disciple left his body. Rajarsi Janakananda’s passing, with his deep consciousness of oneness with the guru and his great gift for outward accomplishment, was a great loss not only to SRF, but to the world.
Rajarsi’s death also left a deep void in the lives of the guru’s disciples. Rajarsi had been a clear channel. One evening in 1954, two years after Yogananda’s mahasamadhi, Kriyananda was surprised to hear Rajarsi echo his Guru’s very words to him. Swamiji was kneeling before him for his blessing when Rajarsi said to him: “Master has a great work to do through you, Walter. And he will give you the strength to do it.” Over the coming years, indeed, only the Master’s strength made it possible for Swamiji to meet and overcome the enormous tests and obstacles he faced, and to accomplish the great work his Guru had foreseen.
1955 was also, as has been indicated, the year that Kriyananda took his sannyas vows. On August 20 he formally entered the stage of full monkhood in the Swami order. For his monastic name he selected one that had been given to him in meditation: “Kriyananda,” meaning “divine bliss through Kriya Yoga,” or, alternately, “bliss in action.” Thus he became Swami Kriyananda Giri. Giri is that branch of the Swami order to which Yogananda and his own guru before him belonged.
Swami Kriyananda inwardly pledged his life again, fervently, to serving God and his Guru. He prayed deeply to Yogananda to guide and inspire him in his search for God, and in his efforts to help others.
His days of organizing the work soon began to shift away from organizing, and toward the public service which Yogananda had said was his destined path.