Over the years, I’ve been struck by the way Swami Kriyananda accepts people as they are. I’ve also observed that he helps people learn to accept themselves, so that they can be natural in their relationship with God. Several stories come to mind.
I was working in the publications department in 1976, when Swami called and asked us to come over and discuss some ideas for marketing his books. Hiking the two miles to his house, I felt tense — it would be my first meeting with Swami, and I was imagining the tremendous purity of thought and perfection of behavior that would be expected in his presence.
When we arrived at Swami’s, we found him playing an album of comic songs by Tom Lehrer. The current selection was “The Vatican Rag”. It was playing very loudly, and Swami was laughing his head off and repeating snatches of the words:
First you get down on your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!
Do whatever steps you want, if
You have cleared them with the Pontiff.
Everybody say his own Kyrie eleison,
Doin’ the Vatican Rag…
I realized that he’d put on this little show to help me relax, and that somehow he’d known how much I enjoy wacky humor.
At an informal get-together at Swami Kriyananda’s, I began to feel deeply out of tune. In Swami’s presence, my worst thoughts ballooned gigantically. My desperate efforts to push them away only made them loom larger.
Swami stood at the door saying goodby as we left, and he patted me gently on the shoulder and looked quietly into my eyes — as if to say “I can’t fight your tests for you, but I’m on your side.”
That night, I meditated and prayed for hours. I would gladly have jumped right out of my skin, it was so painful. The next morning, after hours of praying and meditating, understanding finally came.
I saw myself walking into Swami’s, expecting to be treated considerately, expecting that others would think well of me, expecting to be part of “the in crowd,” expecting to show myself in the best possible spiritual light. Suddenly, I was laughing and laughing. “What a clown!” I gasped—“Look at that funny fellow, so tiny and insignificant. Oh boy, he’s trying to act like such a big shot!” I had shrunk to my true dimensions in God’s eyes, and the experience was a profoundly liberating.
One afternoon, I was taking pictures at the Ananda elementary school, when Swami stopped by. He was laughing and talking with us, and at one point a child placed a musical instrument on the table and began banging on it, making a hideous sound. I started to shush him, but Swami said in his strong, clear voice, “No — let him play!” He listened attentively to the “performance,” then smiled and said, “Very good!”
I was struck by his kindly appreciation for a child’s awkward creativity, especially in view of his own lofty artistic standards. (I recall him remarking after he’d attended a performance by the local symphony orchestra, “It sounded like the barroom scene from ‘Star Wars’!”)
Perhaps 150 people were gathered in Swami’s living room, waiting for him to begin a satsang. Asha Praver, who served as his secretary, was ill. She was resting in a small bedroom with a window that looked out onto the living room, and Swami called out, “How are you feeling, Asha?” There was a long pause, then, “Kind of lousy!” came the reply. Swami made a sympathetic comment, then began the satsang. There was no hint of judgment — no “You should rise above it! Disease, life, death — all a dream!” Swami always respected people’s realities, at their own level.
In January, Swami would announce the spiritual “theme” for the year — a spiritual quality that we should all cultivate. That year, the theme was “being real” — a quality in which he often held up Asha as an example.
Swami was talking informally with some members of the Crystal Clarity staff, when someone mentioned that Sally (a pseudonym) had run up a big phone bill while promoting his books. Swami said, mock-seriously, “I’m gonna have to talk to that girl!” When Sally arrived, Swami “bawled her out” in a way that sounded far more like a blessing. His voice reverberating with kindness, he said, good-humoredly, “Sally — please!”
I arrived at Swami’s house early for a meeting, and he asked me to come in and sit while he finished talking with someone else.
A man from the neighborhood was denouncing Ananda, angrily and contemptuously listing all the things he felt were wrong with the community. Throughout, Swami’s responses were calm and cordial. Meanwhile, I fumed — I could have strangled the man! When he finally left, Swami sighed mildly and said, without the slightest hint of judgment or rancor, his voice resonating with acceptance and complete centeredness, “Well, that ____ certainly can be a pill.”
I was working at “Pubble”–the Ananda publications building– on a hot summer day in 1976 or 1977, when Swami stopped by. He asked if we would photograph a picture of Yogananda on a special background, for a slide show that he was giving. After locating paper that was the color he wanted, we all trooped outside to take the pictures.
I was limp from the heat, dripping with perspiration and feeling not terribly focused. Swami looked on from a junky old broken-down couch that sat under the Pubble porch (unthinkable nowadays!), while I began taking the pictures. As I squinted through the lens, pausing to wipe the sweat from my forehead, the thought came: “Swami’s a photographer, and he’s a lot more focused than I am. I’ll ask if he wants to take the pictures.” Without a second’s hesitation, Swami said, “Sure!” and jumped up from the couch.
Swami knelt on the ground, and as he bent over and began taking pictures, I noticed that he was sweating profusely, and that his hands as he held the camera were shaking. I thought, “Uuhh-oohh, big mistake.” The lesson I drew from this is that you don’t have to impress God to win His love. All He asks of us is our willingness.