Swami Kriyananda is one of the most respectful people I know. I say “one of the most” instead of “the most,” because so many at Ananda have taken after his example.
One instance of his reticence to interfere with other people springs to mind. Years ago I visited Italy, and while there, met a young woman. We became close. After returning from Europe, I debated pursuing a long-term commitment with her. Swamiji had met her, and I was curious as to what he thought, so I mentioned it to him. He was open to my asking, but declined to offer any opinion as to what I should do. Promising to think it over, he left me to sort out my feelings.
I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say that I plagued Swami over the next few weeks. I chided myself for harassing the poor man, but I felt this was important. I had always found his take on things to be deeply thoughtful and full of concern for others’ well being, so I was determined to discover what he thought.
Finally, a few months after I first asked him about it, he gave me feedback. And the way he did so was indicative of his spirit. In the most gentle and unimposing way, he said that he thought “it might not be a good idea” to go ahead with plans for a relationship. In the same calm and soothing manner, he went on to say that it was his impression that the differences between the Italian girl and myself were too great.
Even in the moment, I appreciated the way Swami had rendered his assessment, for his words were hard to take. Yet, since I respected his point of view, I decided to consider it.
As I did so, I had to admit that all the time I was planning to return to Europe, another part of my mind saw how out of joint that idea was. There was not only the divergence in language and culture, our views of future lifestyles differed. Swami’s idea was not new to my consciousness. All he had done was to highlight it in my mind.
When I first met the young woman, she was a spiritual seeker. That yearning, which was the cornerstone of our connection, was not with her as it was with me, the theme of a lifetime. Although an interest in God will always be a part of her, the stronger pull was for more mundane, worldly goals.
I wrestled with the dilemma. Swami had taken time to answer my question, and I took a while to decide if he was right.
In time, I decided that Swami’s take was right for me. I had moved on anyway and was resettled in America. In my letters to the young woman, I gently couched our relationship in the context of a good friendship. In that spirit, I still think of her today.
Years afterward, a friend told me he had run into the woman. Her spiritual fervor had diminished to a more casual interest, and she was moving toward her other goals. My friend and I shook our heads as we considered the inevitable conflict that would have resulted from our continued connection.
Swamiji has taught me a lot over the years about respect for each individual’s needs. I owe him a great deal. His kind and gentle influence has saved me from pain on many levels. And his example of unswerving respect has taught me a better way to relate to other people, and to myself.