Spreading Yogananda’s Teachings Throughout the World: The Joys and the Challenges
May Thy love shine forever on the sanctuary of my devotion, and may I be able to awaken Thy Love in all hearts.
God’s grace flows through whatever channel man opens to Him. As Swami Kriyananda’s work shifted more toward lecturing and teaching, he prayed for guidance on how to accomplish his Guru’s wishes. Inspiration and ideas began to flood his mind for how to present Yogananda’s teachings more effectively.
As Swamiji began thus to direct his energy, his lectures began to have a greater-than-ever spiritual impact on others. People described his talks as having changed their lives, as having banished some long-standing doubt, and as having awakened in them a belief in God and love for Him — all these for the first time.
After Kriyananda’s lecture tours and Kriya Initiations in the SRF centers in America and Europe in 1955-58, devotees from many countries expressed the depth of their appreciation:
“Since the meeting with Sri Kriyananda in Paris, we have all been in a state of great inner joy,” wrote one member. Another wrote, “I felt immensely blessed by the presence of Sri Kriyananda in London. His eyes were filled with eternal love and peace.” From Italy, a devotee wrote, “These were wonderful, unforgettable days with Sri Kriyananda. We have seen a living example of Self-realization.”
Swamiji’s highest priority as a teacher was to try to hear the unspoken questions in people’s minds, and answer them. Before giving a lecture, he always meditated and inwardly asked his Guru to help him understand what this particular audience needed to hear. Frequently, people told him afterwards that they had felt while listening that he was speaking to them alone, answering their special needs.
“My goal in teaching,” Kriyananda has often said, “is to awaken in people their own sense of the divine truth.” He always places people’s personal needs ahead of any institutional consideration, believing that spiritual teaching should not be done with any hidden sectarian motive. Frequently he tells his audiences, “I don’t want to convert you to anything but your own highest Self.”
Wherever he lectured, large numbers were attracted; they felt his attunement with his Guru, his inspiration, and his openness to their own realities. Soon he became SRF’s most magnetic and inspiring teacher, sharing Yogananda’s teachings with thousands of devotees worldwide.
After Rajarsi’s passing in 1955, the SRF Board of Directors elected Daya (Faye Wright) to the presidency. Daya had come to Yogananda at the age of seventeen, after attending a lecture of his in Salt Lake City with her mother. In 1931 she joined her Guru’s ashram as a nun, and continued thereafter to live at Mt. Washington.
Faye and a few of the other nuns had loyally supported the Master for many years; he owed them a debt of gratitude. Few, alas, especially in those early years, really understood what a priceless gift he had brought to the West. Toward the end of his life, he appointed Faye and her sister, Virginia, to the SRF Board of Directors. In 1954, Faye took the name Sister Daya. Virginia took the name Sister Mataji, which was changed later to Sister Ananda. The title, “Sister” was changed to “Mata” in 1959, after their visit to India. Yogananda had given his chief woman disciple the name, Sister Gyanamata. In India, however, people rightly felt that Daya, as the president, deserved the greater dignity of a “mata,” or mother.
Yogananda never trained Faye to teach or to serve publicly. Her work, rather, was in the main office. In time, she was given the duty of running the office. Faye (Daya) thus defined her presidency in terms of establishing a strongly centralized organization, run primarily by monastics. Centralization, by her definition, was to have a devastating effect on Kriyananda’s own attempts to serve his Guru. For Daya took SRF increasingly in the direction of centralizing it as an institution, and making its needs her first priority. Thus, every decision had to be referred to the top, with little delegation of authority.
During Rajarsi’s presidency, he understood the vital role of such delegation. Daya, however, saw no need for this way of working, and tried to direct everything personally, herself. Kriyananda’s efforts to convince her of the importance of giving others responsibility for certain spheres of activity was received by Daya with resistance. She believed it was her job to “hold the reins” of every aspect of the work. She often said to Kriyananda, “Master told me to keep the reins in my hands.”
“He didn’t, however,” Swamiji remarked years later, “tell her also to be the horse!”
Gradually, she began to dismiss most of Kriyananda’s suggestions as “impractical.” She also could not accept that their Guru had ever told Kriyananda anything of significance for the guidance of the work. In response to Kriyananda’s statement that the Master had told him, “You have a great work to do,” she replied, “Yes, we all have a great work to do.”
Swamiji was nevertheless zealous to get the things done that Paramhansa Yogananda had repeatedly told him to do, and was afire with ideas for fulfilling his Guru’s mission. It sometimes surprised him that Yogananda had given him directions that he’d apparently withheld from others. Daya felt that, because she hadn’t heard those instructions from her Guru personally, he couldn’t have given them.
For example, Yogananda had insisted several times to Swamiji that after his passing the monks must live in a separate colony from the nuns. It seemed natural that he should have said this to Kriyananda, who was in charge of the monks. However, because their Guru hadn’t given this instruction to Daya herself and to her supporters, they, and no doubt she also, took Swamiji’s insistence on separating the two groups as an “attempt to get the men out from under Daya’s control.” This hadn’t been at all his intention.
Daya’s disregard for much that his Guru had repeatedly and insistently said to him presented Kriyananda with a dilemma: Must he actually choose between the instructions he’d received from his Guru and the wishes of his superiors — of Daya, in particular?
Unlike Kriyananda’s experience with Rajarsi, who had supported his suggestions, Daya’s response to most of the new ideas Kriyananda proposed became, as I’ve said, “It’s just not practical!” Even when he asked her when they thought they’d adopt their Guru’s plans for starting world brotherhood colonies, her reply was, “Frankly, I’m not interested.”
Because Swamiji knew how fervently Yogananda had always spoken about “world brotherhood colonies,” and because such colonies had also been his own lifelong interest, he dreamed of someday founding such a community. Meanwhile, he began to feel a sense of urgency in spreading his Guru’s mission rather than merely trying to keep it under control. Increasingly he found his enthusiasm for sharing the Master’s teachings being viewed with alarm from above. At a certain point he once even wrote to Daya from India, “I guess I’m going to have to resign myself to living with ulcers!” His ideas for building the work were coming more and more under a cloud of disapproval. (“Why,” the nuns kept asking themselves, “must he keep coming up with ideas? Can’t he just wait to be told what to do?”)
Swamiji knew what Yogananda had told him to do, and felt also that he knew what was needed if the teachings were to spread. Yet he discovered, increasingly, that spreading them was not his superiors’ priority. He tried to reconcile the differences, both in his own mind and in the work generally, between his view and that of the others directing the work. Gradually he began to wonder if these differences were even reconcilable.
The Master had consciously chosen to call his work “Self-Realization Fellowship,” placing the emphasis on the individual’s search for God rather than on the organization. For Daya and others around her, however, the organization itself held supreme importance. Years later, in 1990, Kriyananda was to say to Daya, “When Master said, ‘Self-realization will be the religion of the future,’ he cannot have been referring to Self-Realization Fellowship, Inc.”
“That’s — your opinion,” was Daya’s dismissive reply. Evidently Yogananda’s work was, to her, a sort of all-inclusive, over-arching Roman Catholic Church. To Kriyananda, this premise was unthinkable, knowing with complete certainty that his Guru’s approach was individual not institutional.
Once, years earlier, the Master had told a disciple, Peggy Dietz, who was not a monastic — to give Kriya Yoga Initiation to those who she felt to be ready for it. Hesitatingly she had asked him, “What will the organization say?” He replied strongly, “Whom are you following: me? or the organization?”
Paramhansa Yogananda had stated publicly that he’d passed his spiritual mantle on to Rajarsi Janakananda. Later on, however, after Daya had been president for several years, SRF claimed that the Master had also passed his mantle on to Daya Mata. Yogananda, during his lifetime, never said anything of the sort. Nor is there anything in spiritual tradition that suggests that a saint may pass his mantle on to more than one disciple. The fact is that Yogananda never even designated Daya as the future president. It was the SRF Board of Directors who elected her to that position, after first considering two other possible choices.
Once at a gathering of monks, the Master had spoken to them of the spiritual stature of several of his advanced disciples. “First in realization,” he said, “is St. Lynn (Rajarsi Janakananda), then Mr. Black, and then Sister Gyanamata.” Several of the men there wondered where Daya fit into this picture, since she was in charge of the main office at Mt. Washington. Yogananda, catching their thoughts, commented, “Faye? Well — she still has her life to live.”
Daya, during her fifty-year presidency, has developed SRF according to her own lights, and not always according to the clearly stated will of the Master. An example of this fact was her reply to Kriyananda on the subject of “world brotherhood colonies” (“Frankly, I’m not interested”). The fruits of centralized control are rarely found to be openness and acceptance of the ideas of others. Rather, centralization can hardly fail to produce rigidity, judgmental attitudes, and intolerance of other opinions than one’s own.
Historically a parallel situation may be seen between SRF under Daya’s presidency and the early days of the Christian Church. Not long after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, a considerable group came into being that was not organized under any Church; they were called “Gnostics,” or “those who know.” The Gnostics concentrated on achieving inner Self-realization. Many of them lived in small communities of dedicated worshipers.
As Christianity became crystallized into a church, however, the church, in its increasing strength as an institution, fought against the concept of a personal search for God. The leaders felt that it would not be possible to guide people if they could not also control them. Thus, the Gnostics were persecuted, and, ultimately, they and the communities in which many lived were destroyed.
What is notable also in Christian history is the fact that, again and again through the ages, it took inspired individuals like St. Francis of Assisi, rather than councils of cardinals, to renew the spiritual vitality of the church.
One of Yogananda’s close disciples in SRF, Meera Mata, once remarked to Swamiji, “I’ve always felt that Master’s mission would spread from the outside.” Against a background of growing institutionalism, Kriyananda continued to look for creative ways to share his Guru’s vibrant inspiration and teachings with people everywhere.
Now a new horizon was about to open up for him — to spread Yogananda’s mission in India. On a number of occasions Yogananda had intimated to “Walter” that he would be serving in India. The Master had also, as we’ve said, planned for three years in a row — in 1950, 1951, and 1952 — to take “Walter” and a few others with him to India. He had told Kriyananda that he wanted him to travel around the country, giving lectures and preparing people for his own visits to their areas. Circumstances, unfortunately — including finally the Master’s earthly passing in 1952 — had intervened: Each year the plans had had to be cancelled. Finally, in 1958, Kriyananda had his first opportunity to visit the land of his own spiritual heritage.
On his voyage to India, Swamiji visited the SRF centers in Auckland, New Zealand and in Sydney, Australia. In each country, crowds of six or seven hundred people enthusiastically heard him lecture. During these visits Kriyananda made an interesting discovery: As long as the center leaders had thought of him only as a “representative from Mt. Washington,” but not in his own capacity as a lecturer, they had been hesitant to promote his public appearances widely. It was only when they found what an excellent speaker he was that they hastened to organize public lectures for him: renting halls, arranging for media interviews, and printing publicity.
It became clear to Swamiji that, if he was to attract a wide audience, he must become known in his own right as a speaker. To be promoted only as a representative from a distant, little known organization would draw few to come hear him. This discovery — he thought wryly — though obvious enough in itself, was not likely to be acclaimed highly by the nuns who worked “behind the scenes” at Mt. Washington!
Kriyananda met Daya, Ananda Mata, and Sister Revati (an elderly nun) in Indonesia, and in September 1958 arrived on the Indian sub-continent in their company. Swamiji was immediately struck by India’s deep spiritual vibrations, perceptible from the moment he landed. He felt a strong affinity with the Indian people, for their natural love for spiritual values and for God. He empathized with their reverence for living saints as the true custodians of religion (as opposed to the authority of priests in other religions). The beautiful devotional chanting he heard in India also found a deep resonance in his heart. (Perhaps it was an echo of the haunting gypsy melodies he’d enjoyed as a child in Rumania.)
On their arrival, Daya and her party, including Swamiji, lived in a small ashram in the town of Baranagore, outside Calcutta. Here he had the opportunity to learn more about Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS), which had its headquarters at that time in Dakshineswar (also outside Calcutta), on the banks of the Ganges.
YSS was the Indian affiliate of SRF in America. The Americans found the organization disappointingly low-keyed, however. It saddened all of them to see how little known their Guru was in his own country. Even today, when Yogananda’s autobiography is fairly widely known, he is considered by many readers to have been a sweet, spiritually minded young man whose good fortune it was to meet some of the India’s great saints.
It seemed that even among the Indian disciples Yogananda’s teachings were given secondary place to the more traditional Hindu rituals. Swami Kriyananda had a keen desire to make his Guru’s teachings, fresh and “scientific” as they were — known to people everywhere. Yogananda’s true spiritual stature, and his world-transforming mission, could, Swamiji knew, change the face of India in two generations.
Swami Kriyananda lived in India for three and a half years, much of which time he spent teaching and lecturing throughout the northern part of the country. During his first year, however, his main job didn’t involve public speaking, but was to serve Daya. His lecture tour began after Daya and the other nuns returned to America, nearly a year later.
Swamiji understood intuitively that the best way to reach Indians was on a heart level. Those who attended his lectures and classes embraced him as their own. He taught spontaneously, with wit, kindly warmth, and great charm. The people were also delighted with his fresh, scientific approach to the ancient scriptures, which had inspired his Guru’s teachings.
Remembering his Guru’s words to him that he would be able to learn Bengali “very easily,” he applied himself to doing so, and soon was fluent enough to sing devotional bhajans in Bengali. Accompanying himself on the harmonium or tamboura, Swamiji became widely known and sought after for his inspiring singing in his Guru’s native tongue.
Eventually, thousands attended his lectures, especially when he came to the north of India. In Simla, Patiala, and New Delhi there was “unprecedented” attendance at his talks, with overflow crowds wherever he went. The Indians enthusiastically responded to Swamiji’s presentation of Yogananda’s fresh “take” on the ancient teachings, as he showed that yoga is practical in daily life, and fully compatible with life in the modern scientific world.
In New Delhi, the first lecture he gave was to a crowd of two thousand. Almost everyone who attended it came also to his follow-up classes in meditation and Kriya Yoga. Eventually, Kriyananda became widely known in northern India as “the American Yogi.”
Here are a few excerpts from letters that Swamiji wrote to his brother and sister disciples in the fall of 1959, describing his two-month lecture tour in the north of India: “On Friday, Nov. 20th , I proceeded [from Simla] to Patiala. Soon I found myself launched on an intensive program of lectures and classes. I spoke on November 22nd on ‘India’s Teaching — A Hope for the Atomic Age’ at a spacious Central Public Library Hall, which was packed to capacity; a large number of people had to be turned away owing to lack of room.
“Apart from public lectures and classes, I gave talks before the students and staffs of Mahindra College, the Government Basic Training College, the Physical Education College, Yadavindra Public School, and the State College of Education; and before local high schools. I paid two visits to Gita Mandir; one to the Rotary Club; and several to private gatherings held in devotees’ homes. At the request of Brahmo Samaj members, I spoke [to them] on ‘The Inner Meanings of the Bhagavad Gita.’
“At Mahindra College after my talk, several of the professors told me that never before in the history of the college had so much interest been aroused by a speaker. The thrilling beauty of Master’s teachings inspires not only wise men and scholars but all other types of persons. I am never surprised when people show interest in his work — only when they fail to respond.
“Response to the teachings in Patiala was, I am told, on a scale unprecedented for that city. Hundreds enrolled for the YSS classes. The first class, at which a maximum of 150 persons had been expected, was held in a hall large enough to accommodate 200 people. More than 500 came. They were standing on porches, down the stairway, and even on the roof! The following evening we moved to a more spacious hall in the public library.
“Two Kriya Yoga initiations followed the classes. One was given with Hindi translation for the sake of devotees who could not understand English.
“The first public lectures and classes in Delhi were held in a large shamiana (tent) in Main Vinay Nagar. About 2000 people attended these lectures on ‘The Law of Success’ and ‘Raja Yoga — The Science of Religion.’ Students in the ensuing yoga class numbered over 1700. It was thrilling to me to see so much interest shown in Guruji’s wonderful teachings.
“It has been a wonderful two and a half months. But if there was any success attached to this tour, it was not in any way my success. Master’s blessings, and the blessings of God, accounted for every good that resulted from the trip.”
Seeing the tremendous public response, Swamiji now began to feel the inspiration to reach people through writing as well. At first he was unsure of the direction he should take. The more he thought about it, however, the more he saw that Yogananda’s teachings were like the hub of a wheel. Swamiji realized that he could write about the myriad applications of meditation in daily life, which were like many spokes radiating outward from that central hub.
In time, the idea for another future book formed in his mind. One of the great evils of our times, Kriyananda believed, was the spread of nihilism, cynicism, and a loss of spiritual faith. The popular philosophies of the day held that moral and spiritual values are only relative, and that no higher absolute truth exists beyond man’s own self-created reality. Swamiji longed to help people to find an honest basis for spiritual faith. It was to take more than ten years of research and writing for Crises in Modern Thought (later renamed, Out of the Labyrinth — For Those Who Want to Believe, But Can’t) to be published. He could never have written it, however, while he was in SRF.
During the nearly four years that he spent in India, Kriyananda did more than lecture and teach. He also spent much time in organizational work. He reorganized Yogananda’s written lessons, which were sent out bi-weekly from the Indian YSS headquarters. His purpose in reorganizing them was to reach and hold the interest of many more people in the meditation techniques and basic teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. During this time he also wrote a set of rules and guidelines for the monastic order.
Some of his happiest memories of the time he spent in India were his frequent opportunities to visit some of India’s great living saints. Among these were Sri Rama Yogi, a highly advanced disciple of Ramana Maharshi; Sanyal Mahasaya, the last living disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya; Neemkaroli Baba; Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh; his Holiness, Bharati Krishna Tirtha, the Shankaracharya of Gowardhan Math in Puri; His Holiness the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram; and the well-known woman saint, Ananda Moyi Ma.
Kriyananda spent considerable time with Ananda Moyi Ma, the “Joy-Permeated Mother” whom Yogananda described with great love in his autobiography. Swamiji wrote regarding her, “Memories of weeks passed in her sacred company are among the most precious of my life.” This great woman saint expressed a special affection for Swamiji, saying to him one time, “Many come before this body, but none attract me as you have.” To Kriyananda, she was a living embodiment of the Divine Mother.
After a deeply inspiring four-week seclusion in the Himalayas in a cave near “Vashistha Guha” on the River Ganges, Swamiji returned to Calcutta. The man in charge of YSS at this time was Binay N. Dubey. Dubey was the founder-director of Niramoy, a well-known hospital in West Bengal. Yogananda himself had told Daya, regarding the work in India, “Indians will organize themselves.” She was greatly impressed with Dubey’s administrative mentality. He gave primary importance, as did she, to institutions and to the institutional point of view.
Dubey looked upon Swamiji’s lecture campaigns as possessing far less importance than the work of directing everything from headquarters. He tried to get Kriyananda to take responsibility for running the main office. Swamiji knew what Yogananda had told him to do. His guru had said nothing to him about running an office. The conflict for Kriyananda between institutionalism and service to others was coming clearly into focus.
“Binay,” he objected, “if I accept the job you are proposing, it will take me another twenty years to see the light of day again!”
“Quite right,” was the matter-of-fact reply. To Binay Dubey,organizing was the only way to “build the work.”
In New Delhi Swamiji had met a young man who, after reading Autobiography of a Yogi, had gone to the YSS headquarters in Dakshineswar to devote his life to God. The young man had been so disillusioned by the lack of inspiration he encountered there that he had come to doubt for a time whether life itself held any meaning for him.
“Binay,” Kriyananda said later to Dubey, “I can’t possibly send people here until we have something better to offer them!”
“Doesn’t matter, Brother,” was the reply. “When they leave, others will come.” To Kriyananda, it was unthinkable to use people for the organization’s development. Yet he learned, in time, that Dubey’s attitude was viewed with favor at Mt. Washington.
He began to feel stifled by the commitment he found in YSS to the status quo, and by the prevailing indifference there to the needs of the individual. It would be impossible, he realized, especially because he was regarded as only a youth, to transform the old energy he’d encountered. It would be a waste of energy even to try. Thus, he decided that the best hope for the future would be to do something new elsewhere, where the energy was fresh and open. New Delhi seemed to him the best choice for developing such a vortex of positive energy. An idea began to take shape in his mind: Why not build an ashram in New Delhi? Here, where a vision for modern India was emerging, he could join hands with people in the north who had expressed a desire to help him build the work. At YSS’s headquarters, their enthusiasm would be suffocated.
In April 1960, Kriyananda was recalled to America, where he remained for six months. Several important events happened subsequent to his arrival. During his return, indeed, while he was still in Japan, he received notice by cablegram that Dr. Lewis, Yogananda’s first Kriya Yoga disciple in America, had died. Dr. Lewis had been the first vice president of SRF, and a member of the Board of Directors. Soon after Kriyananda’s arrival in America on May 7, he was unanimously elected to fill both those positions.
Swamiji soon confided in Daya Mata his hopes of building afresh in New Delhi. She agreed that this was worth a try, and encouraged him to work in this direction as well as to continue to lecture and teach in India. In fact, he spent a great deal of time in America discussing this concept with her. Daya had herself seen the work languishing in West Bengal and Bihar. She agreed that a new vision was needed. Uncharacteristically, therefore, she gave him her support. “It is an idea worth pursuing,” she told him. “Stay in touch with Dubey,” she then added. “Work with him.”
Swamiji, now, thinking he had Daya’s support for his new ashram idea as well as a vote of confidence from the SRF Board, was ready to return to India to try to manifest a visionary work for his Guru: what became known later as the Delhi project.