How should we relate to spiritual authority?
I’ve always considered Swami Kriyananda to be Paramhansa Yogananda’s chosen messenger.
Master told Swamiji that he would not be merely a teacher, but that he would have spiritual responsibility for people. And an essential part of our relationship with him involves understanding how to relate to his spiritual authority.
I like to think of the spiritual realm as a kingdom, where the king appoints a prince to be in charge of a certain province. The fact that the prince isn’t the king doesn’t give him any less authority to rule in the king’s name. Nor are his subjects more in tune with the king when they ignore the prince.
In the subset of Yogananda’s spiritual family that is Ananda, Swami is the one whom Yogananda gave the responsibility of speaking for him. If we relate to Swami with that kind of respect, it facilitates the flow of dynamic spiritual energy between us. But if we refuse to hear Swami as Yogananda’s representative, thinking “I don’t know who you are, I only know I love Yogananda,” the system breaks down, and our spiritual progress is weakened.
In a Catholic monastery, each monk’s superior becomes the voice of Christ for him. Of course, the Church pushed the concept too far, when it insisted that the superior can demand blind obedience.
Many people don’t understand how to relate to spiritual authority. Often, they think they have to relate to the teacher mindlessly, like the monks in a Catholic monastery, and that they can’t think and evaluate for themselves.
It’s very important to remember that God can reach you more effectively if you’re sincere about wanting to be reached. If you act from faith and devotion, from common sense and discrimination, then the people whom God has given spiritual authority in your life will be empowered to help you, through your faith and humility.
Any relationship works better if you’re respectful, and if you’re attentive and trying to tune in. This is especially true in the relationship of the teacher and student, where we’re trying to let ourselves be guided.
Sister Gyanamata, who gave us the most extraordinary example of a disciple, shared many wonderful instructions from her life with Paramhansa Yogananda. She said, “You can say anything you want to the guru, as long as you speak with detachment and respect.”
I’ve given Gyanamata’s words a lot of thought. And of course they’re true about our relationship with the guru, but they’re also true in our relationships with the other people in our lives.
You can say pretty much anything you want to anyone, as long as you speak with detachment and respect. It’s when you’re not detached and respectful that things start to go awry. As long as you’re impersonal, bringing forth your ideas with sincerity, and being respectful of the person you’re talking to, not sneering and putting him down, that communication can flow.
Many years ago, Swamiji told me, “You don’t express what you really feel, but you’re not fooling me.”
I had been working hard on holding the right attitude – too hard, in fact, so hard that I wasn’t allowing myself to have my own feelings and think my own thoughts.
Swami has always said that he much prefers an honest argument over a mindless “yes.” A mindless yes is not a yes; it’s a firecracker waiting to go off. An honest argument is the process of coming to the truth you’re looking for.
Years ago, just after Swami published one of his books, a woman kept calling me with incredibly convoluted, niggling objections to what he’d said in the book, paragraph by paragraph.
She was a bright woman, and I couldn’t understand her objections. Finally, I got so tired of talking to her that I said, “What are you doing?”
She said, “If Swami isn’t wrong, then I have to listen to him.”
I said, “Oh, I get it. Okay, we’re talking about fear. We can have a real conversation about fear.”
She had been exhausting us with her attempts to discredit him, so that she wouldn’t have to face the real issue, which was that he might be right and she’d have to accept his spiritual authority.
I’ve always treated Swami as if he were Master, because I consider him to be Master’s representative, and he’s always spoken to me in that way. I’ve always felt that what he said to me carried that level of authority. He’s been, and continues to be, an extraordinary channel of Master’s for us all. But God can only inspire us to the extent that we’re receptive. If you’re praying, and you sincerely want to hear the answer to your prayer, then the truth can come into your mind.
I’ve had the experience of people asking me for advice, and I found I couldn’t think of anything to say. And I realized the person didn’t actually want me to say anything, because they were afraid of what I might say, and as a result I drew a blank.
Several times, I asked Swami for advice in such a way that we both knew I wasn’t going to be able to follow whatever advice he gave me. At those times his answer was always, “I have nothing to say.”
People say to me, “I like coming to church, and I like what you say, but I don’t connect with Kriyananda.” And I tell them, “You’re connected with nothing but Kriyananda. You just don’t know it yet. You have called it as you see it, but you don’t yet understand the source of the power.
“Everything that you experience through Ananda is created by Swami Kriyananda. Everything that I’m saying comes from Swami. Rarely do I give you an idea of my own. So if you like any word that I say, you really like Kriyananda without realizing it. I encourage you to go beyond me to the source, to Swami and through him to Yogananda, because you might as well climb the highest mountain.”
Swami Kriyananda wasn’t fully liberated until the end of his life, but he was highly attuned with Yogananda. He was, and continues to be, a pure channel for Yogananda’s energy.
In Master’s Joy,