Forty years ago, when I first met Asha at Ananda Village, I felt immediately that here was a wise sister I could go to for guidance. From early on, Asha worked closely with Swami Kriyananda—helping him with his correspondence, with the stream of devotees seeking his help on the path, and with his writing (typing out manuscripts again and again as Kriyananda edited and rewrote.)
She was much involved even in the daily running of Crystal Hermitage (then known simply as “Swami’s dome”)—cooking and serving guests. She would meet daily with Kriyananda to keep him abreast of community affairs and individual challenges faced by residents and members of Ananda’s far-flung spiritual family.
Someone I could always approach
A superb communicator, approachable, wise, non-judgmental, Asha was often the first senior disciple I would turn to for clarity about the spiritual life, as well as about personal struggles. Always a true divine friend and scrupulously self-honest, Asha was for me a connecting link to Kriyananda himself. She related to us always with kindness, humility, and the sense that we were fellow devotees helping one another toward better attunement with the Divine.
All these years later, I find myself in much the same relationship with Asha, though now through her writings and recordings of her talks. For many months this year, a group of Ananda monks have met regularly for satsang and discussion of the principles and practice of renunciation, a discussion based on a handbook written by Kriyananda for his fellow monks in his early years with Paramhansa Yogananda.
In addition to our reading, we listen to recordings of a year-long series of talks given by Asha—“Spiritual Warrior”—in which she goes through Kriyananda’s handbook for renunciates point by point, clarifying and illustrating with priceless stories and lessons from her own years with Kriyananda.
A vast storehouse of helpful information
Always herself a true disciple, Asha has faithfully meditated on her decades-long experience with Kriyananda. The result is a vast storehouse of spiritually helpful material — successes, failures, lessons learned, and lessons still being learned. In response to questions intuited or directly asked, Asha shares her (always growing) attunement with Kriyananda and Yogananda with those who come seeking to draw closer to the Light.
Often over the years, when a question has arisen about Yogananda’s teachings or Kriyananda’s writings, I have heard someone say, “Let’s ask Asha.” And so when her new book—Ask Asha—appeared in my mailbox, my first thought was, “of course, that’s what we’ve been doing all along.”
Clarity, wisdom, and compassion
The letters themselves—each one an answer to a specific call for help—are masterpieces of clarity, wisdom, and compassion. Hers is a beautiful mind, and the reader experiences an expanding universe of understanding growing from one central seed thought into a flowering tree, one that ultimately bears fruit not only of comprehension but also of inspiration and motivation to do something real about the challenges we all face. Her writing is always graceful, often entrancing—one emerges feeling understood, cleansed, and committed to useful spiritual action.
Paramhansa Yogananda often said that he prayed especially to God as Mother, for the “mother is closer than the father.” In reading Asha’s expression of Yogananda’s and Kriyananda’s wisdom, one feels enveloped in the compassionate heart of the Divine Mother.
At the same time, she never waters down the teachings, is consistently firm and unyielding where spiritual principle is at stake — yet one feels from her writing that the end result of all our struggles must be good, joyful, and freeing. Even as she never wavers in showing the heroism required of the spiritual seeker, so also does she show her profound faith that God Himself is always there, reaching down to lift up that seeker, His own child, to show him or her the way through whatever comes.
A wide variety of subjects:
The subjects of the letters are as varied as the challenges faced by devotees everywhere:
1) Personal dilemmas such as losing a pet and feeling guilty about it or giving up a baby for adoption.
2) Relationship problems such as unfaithfulness, death of a spouse, sex, divorce, inharmony with parents, children, loved ones.
3) Questions about meditation and such as experiences of fear or drifting into sleep.
4) Cosmic questions such as how the soul evolves and when does that evolution actually begin; why is there suffering, what are the astral worlds like, and even, do dark aliens interbreed with earthlings (!)
5) Questions about religion and spirituality, how the guru helps the disciple, spiritual ego, cults.
Whatever her subject, Asha is careful never to speak beyond her own experience, to take her readers on the journey she herself has travelled, then to leave them knowing, as she herself so poignantly knows, that Yogananda and Kriyananda are always there to help them the rest of the way. She is fearless in tackling whatever question comes to her.
Kriyananda urged her, from the early years, to help others through giving spiritual counsel. I was particularly touched by her response to a question that any spiritual teacher and counselor must be able to face honestly and dharmically: “Will you be my guru?” She begins her response with a simple “no”—explaining that for all her sincerity and many years on the path she has not the level of Self-realization that qualifies someone to act in the role of guru. Then she balances the “no” with an emphatic “yes” to the writer’s underlying question: “Will you help me in my quest to know God?” Asha continues in this way:
I have received from Swamiji so much inspiration and guidance, it is both my privilege and responsibility to pass on to you (and anyone who will listen) as much as I can. Whatever you receive of spiritual benefit through me, is in direct proportion to how much I have gotten myself out of the way.
All credit goes to Swamiji, who is the center of my spiritual life, and to the great masters of this line. You and I are gurubhais—sister disciples—walking the path together, trying with all our hearts to be pure instruments of God. In that capacity, I am happy to help, and ask in return that you help me, as all in this spiritual family help one another.
The help that we the readers receive through these wonderful letters is not only for our own growth toward God, but that we might help all in our orbit likewise grow toward their own Self-realization.