Book Review: In Divine Friendship,
Letters of Counsel and Reflection from Swami Kriyananda
In Divine Friendship is a book to read slowly and meditatively. For of course these letters are addressed not only to individual seekers, asking help with individual questions and tests, but universally to all sincere seekers in need of answers to their deeper concerns. We who read Kriyananda’s letters, if we read humbly and receptively, can find answers to our own unasked questions, or can bring our deeper concerns into the light, and in doing so, strengthen our inner magnetism to attract the guidance we are ready for.
At the heart of his advice
As I worked my way through the book, the thread that I found most moving was that of the book’s title: “divine friendship.” Underlying each letter is Kriyananda’s friendship in God for those he addresses. The same divine friendship is at the heart of any advice he gives. Here, for example, is his response to a call for help in dealing with a judgmental attitude – judgment of others or of oneself, avowedly one of the most pernicious tests for the devotee. Kriyananda’s suggestion:
Try to develop a God’s eye view of things – to see others as divine sparks that are trying to merge back into the Infinite Fire, instead of leaping out of the fire as many sparks do. Then there will be no sense of judgment, but only an acceptance of them as they are, and of seeing them, with love, as they might be. Love them as a divine friend, and do what you can, even if only mentally, to help them to know who they really are: expressions, like yourself, of the Infinite Lord.
The more deeply we read, the more we relax in Kriyananda’s presence. He is our divine friend, and we are – and can become ever more perfectly – his as well. Kriyananda writes of his own role:
I am only my Guru’s instrument. His power is much greater than mine, though I am aware that through me people have come closer to him…. I am your friend. What I aspire to be is a channel for the only true Friend any of us will ever have: God alone. I see each of you, too, as channels above all for my Infinite Friend.
A reciprocal relationship is the essence of divine friendship, however. “Toward God Himself,” he writes, “there is the beginning of a right relationship when we offer ourselves back to Him lovingly, and when we don’t seek merely to receive passively.”
Profound compassion and intuitive understanding
A profound compassion and intuitive understanding inform Kriyananda’s writing. Over a lifetime of discipleship he has perfected the ability to open a clear channel with his readers—one that allows his Guru’s teachings to flow through with grace and power.
The letters grouped under “Marriage and Renunciation” penetrate to the divine center of what are commonly called “relationships” – the longing for romance that is really the soul’s longing for union with God. In these letters we see reflected not only the ideal but the down-to-earth, day-to-day experience of Ananda community members trying to live up to the ideal. It is the ultimately hopeful story of fellow seekers doing their best to work with the powerful sex energy.
Not for the faint of heart are the letters gathered under the heading “Strong Medicine.” But the devotee who sincerely welcomes God’s disciplining guidance will find here a healthy dose! With a shock of recognition, I could feel Kriyananda’s suggestions to someone else addressing my own inner questions. The recipients of those letters know they are not being judged, but encouraged by one who sees in their divine potential the ability to make the effort to rise from darkness into God’s light and joy.
Infusing Kriyananda’s writing there is always the sense that however difficult or great the test, however discouraging the failure, there will always be another day, another chance to grow into divine friendship with others, and into true divine union with God.
Misunderstanding, betrayal, and heartbreak
The practice of friendship in God comes through perhaps most touchingly in letters showing Kriyananda’s response to attacks and vilification from those whom he has given his friendship. How to be a divine friend in the face of betrayal, especially when the betrayal has continued for years and shows no signs of ending?
“There are two kinds of love,” Kriyananda writes:
The first is given in response to love received. It is conditioned by what it receives. The other is a commitment. As Shakespeare wrote, “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”…Love that comes with commitment is one’s own to give. It doesn’t depend on anyone else’s attitude or behavior.”
Through misunderstanding, betrayal, and heartbreak, Kriyananda has held firm to the principle and the reality of divine friendship. He has never blinded himself to the darkness pressing in on him through the lawsuits and other attacks, but has always maintained, even in the midst of the fray, an attitude of respect and divine friendship to everyone involved.
Letters have also come in response to great shared trials such as 9/11. In that dark time, Kriyananda’s letters projected his spirit into the midst of those who looked to him for support and guidance, to share his own inner response so that they too might find the inner strength to remain anchored in God and Guru and to “stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds.”
And into the hands of many devotees facing their approaching death have come letters of comfort and joy. In many of these letters, Kriyananda brings such light that we can feel the reality of the ancient scriptural saying, “even a moment in the company of a saint can be a raft over the ocean of delusion.”
The central message
The concluding section, “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God,” leaves the reader with Kriyananda’s central message—the essential life stance of the devotee: “In the last analysis, no one can know when God will come. The less we focus on ourselves, and lose ourselves, instead, in the thought of Him, the more we find that we have Him already, and that we have had Him always.”