Paramhansa Yogananda said that of the eight qualities of God, he himself particularly expressed three: wisdom, love, and joy. Swami Kriyananda, being Yogananda’s disciple, expressed those same three qualities with energy, magnetism, creativity, and beauty.
The first day that I met Kriyananda, I along with several others accompanied him to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco for a picnic. While there, he talked about his life with Yogananda, told a few stories, and sang some of Yogananda’s chants. Because we were eating, he spoke about the different qualities of food: bananas were for humility, cherries were for joy, and so on. In the short time we were in Golden Gate Park he gave me an entirely new way of looking at life, and I soon became his life-long student.
At that time, he was giving a series of hatha and raja yoga classes in San Francisco that ran one night a week for six weeks. The only way I could continue a relationship with him was to take that same series every time he gave it. Each time, I experienced an incredible flow of wisdom from Kriyananda. But even more important than his wisdom was his love, friendship, and deep desire to help everyone.
Every lecture was filled with the love of God. It didn’t matter what the subject was; the lectures served as a carrier wave of love. To everyone he met and especially to those who were open to him, he gave lasting friendship. And to those who expressed even a little love to him, he gave back an ocean of love. The power of his love magnetized people to the spiritual path, and above all, inspired them to develop their own relationship with God.
Starting with the first time I met him, Kriyananda always expressed great joy. Earlier in his life, he expressed that joy as great energy and enthusiasm. When I began helping him with his classes, he would walk down the streets in San Francisco dressed in his orange swami robes, and I would carry the harmonium and kind of run behind him. At first I enjoyed being behind him because it gave me a chance to distance myself a bit — I was a little embarrassed by how freely he expressed his enthusiasm. But very soon, I didn’t want there to be any distance between us.
The highest octave of joy is bliss, which was Kriyananda’s state of consciousness in these last years. Many times he would say privately, “I feel so much bliss I can hardly stand it.” Now, as I look back, what I most remember about Kriyananda was his completely free offering of that bliss to everyone whose life he touched.
When Jyotish and I were in India with Kriyananda in January and February 2013, we videoed an interview in which we asked him what he felt were his most important qualities. He replied, “Dedication, devotion, compassion, kindness, and a complete lack of self-importance.”
When you look at all he’s accomplished, that lack of self-importance is really the key, because if he had been attached to what he was doing, he would have given up in exhaustion or rested on his laurels long ago. It was because of his complete lack of self-importance that he was able to understand thousands of people from different cultures and religious backgrounds, and to help them in the ways they needed to move forward spiritually.
Many years ago, following a Kriya initiation in which Kriyananda had blessed each of us, a few of us remained in the temple with him. Quietly he told us that the initiation had been a unique experience for him, because as each of us came up to be blessed, he could feel the particular path each us of would take to find God. Kriyananda saw how we could find God, and he was leading us there. And that’s all he worked for – to help people in the ways they needed.
During the early years of Ananda, Spiritual Renewal Week was held at the Meditation Retreat, and Kriyananda led everything: all the morning classes and evening programs, the Kriya initiation, and Sunday service. One year, he gave a concert in the lower meadow at the Retreat, and we all sat around a campfire while he played the guitar and sang.
It was a beautiful summer night and the stars were out in full glory. One of the songs he sang was “Who Is Sylvia?” As Kriyananda sang that song, we were enveloped in a wave of dignity, nobility, and beauty. It was as though a shaft of light came down from heaven and blessed all of us there. Kriyananda had opened a window onto a realm of higher consciousness that we were not yet able to find on our own.
Two years ago, during the summer of 2011, Jyotish and I were walking with Kriyananda around the lower garden of Crystal Hermitage. We would often take that walk with him so that he could get exercise.
At one point, as we were walking in silence, Kriyananda stopped and said, “Oh, that’s what he meant.” He then explained: “I remember a moment with Master when he said something to Jerry, one of the monks. But he [Master] looked at me, and now I understand what that glance meant.” The event he referred to had happened sixty years before, but he lived in constant awareness of all his moments with his Guru.
Over the years, we would sometimes tell Kriyananda jokes to make him laugh, and though the jokes were often very silly, he would laugh wholeheartedly. As I look back, I can see that Kriyananda, in his childlike simplicity and openness, was showing us how to be friends with God. If we put God on a high pedestal, and think, “Oh great Lord, I’m not worthy to be near you,” then we distance ourselves from God.
Many of us who live at Ananda Village were present several years ago when Kriyananda invited everyone who lived in the community to Crystal Hermitage on different evenings for a barbeque. When dinner was over, amidst much laughter, Kriyananda would read a P.G. Wodehouse story and afterwards, he would answer questions. In the gaiety of those occasions, Kriyananda was again showing us that God is our friend, and that we can be ourselves with Him.
Now that Kriyananda is no longer in the body, I look back on the precious moments we shared with him in small groups or in large gatherings, when he’d read a P.G. Wodehouse story or a chapter from the book he was writing. And I see these times as some of the greatest joys of our lives together.