The philosophy of yoga has been with me for as long as I can remember. I never knew it as yoga, I just knew there had to be a merging of science and religion that would express the essence of spirituality.

I knew I had a deeper purpose in this life, but I wasn’t sure where it would lead me. I fit in fairly well with society, attending parties and going to bars, yet I would often speak of my philosophy, linking spirituality with modern science, during social occasions.

At one of these social events, a friend told me, “You can’t talk about that in this society!” I explained that I believed mankind was evolving, and that we’re ready to explore our spiritual selves, or at least to become more aware of what we are. He became silent, and I thought I’d either got him thinking, or that he just wasn’t interested.

A couple of days later, my friend invited over to his place, where he brought out some books on yoga, including some books about the Ananda community. I was surprised, because I’d known him for years, and he was the last person I’d have ever thought would be interested in spirituality. This was a guy who always had a beer or a drug in his hand, who was overweight, and who never talked about much else besides work and partying.

I told my friend that this was great, that I was glad to see he had a spiritual interest even though he’d kept it so well hidden. He said that many years before, he’d been deeply on this path, but that his parents had pulled him away and sent him to an institution because they were afraid he was getting involved in a cult. When he got out he was disillusioned and lost, so he turned to a life of heavy drinking and drug abuse.

I saw him a couple of weeks later, and he’d started meditating again. He’d also started doing Hatha Yoga, and he lent me Swami Kriyananda’s autobiography, The Path. It was an early edition, and the Swami on the cover had long, long hair and a big smile. I thought, “I’m not interested in reading about the life of a hippie cult leader!” But then I thought, “Well, it might be interesting to find out what makes a cult leader’s mind tick.”

So I started to read the book, and I found I couldn’t put it down. It didn’t take long to see that Swami Kriyananda wasn’t a cult leader at all — in fact, he was a whole lot like me in his thinking and philosophy.

The Path reawakened many of my earliest childhood thoughts about life and spirit. And it introduced me to the great Paramhansa Yogananda. Through his book, Swami Kriyananda led me back to devotion to God. In it, I learned the science of religion, the purpose of meditation and prayer, and much more.

I learned, also, that Ananda wasn’t a hippie commune, but a community where people have every freedom to live their lives as they wish. The people work to earn a living, and many have their own businesses, not only in the community but also in neighboring communities. What they share in common is devotion to the spiritual pursuit. It’s a community where “Simple living and high thinking leads to the greatest happiness!” as Paramhansa Yogananda put it. This made perfect sense to me, for I could see the despair and hopelessness that people reaped from chasing material desires.

I told my friend how deeply I’d been moved by the book, and he asked if I’d like to hear Swami Kriyananda give a talk. I said “Sure,” but as we lived in Canada, I didn’t see how it would be possible. My friend said he meant taped talks. And as I listened, I could sense the sweet, calm, sincere, magnetic and beautiful peace in Swami’s voice. He recited pure wisdom and truth, and there truly seemed to be no ego in his message, only a pure ray of the divine essence of Yogananda’s teachings.

For me to make such a statement says a lot, because I had visited many churches and had never heard truth spoken in a way that was so pure and free of ego. My friend and I began collecting Kriyananda’s talks, and I soon began reading Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda. I was collecting and reading more of Swami’s books and listening to his music, and I was just amazed at how much this one man had accomplished in one life. Surely, no one could accomplish so much, with all the obstacles he’d had to face. The fact that he did, shows me that there must be a greater power at work through him.

Ananda has a guest retreat called The Expanding Light, which welcomes people of all faiths. While staying there, I met a wide variety of folks, from writers and stockbrokers who were taking time out for introspection, to seekers who were there for peace and meditation. I even met a minister of another church who was there for spiritual renewal. No one at Ananda ever tried to force their beliefs on me. Their lives spoke as an example of what yoga can do. I highly recommend a visit.

I still haven’t met or even seen Swami Kriyananda. In fact, the community was designed to function independent of his involvement. This is another example of the selfless service of Swami Kriyananda — that after devoting such a large part of his life to building a community, he never claimed it for himself. He did it only for God and Guru, so that their spirit might flourish in the members and visitors there.

If you’d like to know who Swami Kriyananda is, read his autobiography, The Path, and pay a visit to the community. I assure you, you will be glad you did.

—Gary Wojciechowski

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