“A new scripture has been born! Millions will find God through this work. Not just thousands—millions! I have seen it! I know!”
“These words,” Swami Kriyananda writes, “Paramhansa Yogananda “exclaimed to me again and again with ecstatic exhilaration and joy” when he had completed his commentaries on The Bhagavad Gita. The Master’s blissful words planted a sacred seed in Kriyananda, a seed that matured over the decades as Kriyananda matured in his discipleship, at last to bear fruit in his reverent editing of Yogananda’s original words. This fruit, a book to accompany the devotee forward on his pilgrimage to the divine goal, is The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda, as Remembered by his disciple, Swami Kriyananda.
The perfection of attunement
The book was profoundly important to Kriyananda, so integral was it to his sense of the mission with which Yogananda had entrusted him. Kriyananda had assumed that ten years would be required for such an undertaking, and feared that he would not live long enough to complete the writing. By the Guru’s grace, and by the perfection of Kriyananda’s attunement, two months sufficed. Two months, interestingly, is also the length of time Yogananda had Kriyananda (then the 23-year old “Walter”) help him with the editing of his Bhagavad Gita commentaries.
In October of 2005, 55 years later, Kriyananda had Jyotish and Devi Novak, whom he had appointed spiritual directors of Ananda Sangha, with him in India while he edited what Yogananda had written. The project, Kriyananda said, “though it held paramount importance for me, also frightened me, both because of its magnitude and because of its supreme importance.” He found that having Jyotish and Devi with him during the writing helped to ground him in people’s actual needs and realities.
Kriyananda’s loving editing comes as a culmination to a lifetime of discipleship—a lifetime in which he steadfastly kept the channel open so that what flowed through was Yogananda’s wisdom and vibration. “I feel,” Kriyananda told Jyotish and Devi, “as though Master were working as I write—not only through me, but with me.” Kriyananda’s memory is phenomenal—particularly for anything Yogananda ever said or did in his presence: “I can recall vividly the days I spent in Master’s company, reading his entire manuscript, and helping him with other editing.” There is a grace in such a memory—the Guru’s blessing that the disciple may perfectly channel his teachings and his consciousness.
A source of hope, courage, and practical advice
In the early 1970s, many of us at Ananda Village were allowed access to Kriyananda’s complete set of the magazines containing Yogananda’s Bhagavad Gita commentaries. Everything Yogananda wrote seemed to speak directly to my own inner struggles on the path, and to offer hope, courage, and practical advice on how to go forward. In those early days at Ananda, though the membership process was in many ways quite informal, where Yogananda’s teachings were concerned, we were utterly focused and devoted. Through our satsang and study, we felt ourselves transported onto the inner battlefield of Kurukshetra, there absorbing Krishna’s immortal words to Arjuna on the true nature of the spiritual life.
Those with Swami during his months of writing were uplifted by his radiant joy as he worked tirelessly, often late into the night, only to begin again well before dawn the next day. “I am filled with such bliss as I write,” he told those with him in India, “it is hard to think of anything else! I feel the deep delight my Guru takes in this work.” To Jyotish and Devi, he said also, “Master’s thoughts poured effortlessly into my mind.”
“Byasa wrote this scripture through me”
Paramhansa Yogananda’s own guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, had told him not to read other commentaries. To Swami Kriyananda, Yogananda explained the reason: Sri Yukteswar “didn’t want my mind influenced by human opinions. Instead, what he wanted, and what I did, was tune in to Beda Byasa, the author of the Gita. It was Byasa himself who wrote this great scripture through me.”
Kriyananda gives us a description of Yogananda’s superconscious way of writing his commentaries: “Before dictating, Paramhansa Yogananda would turn his eyes up to the spiritual eye in the forehead then, speaking slowly to give his secretary, Dorothy Taylor, the time she needed to type out what he was saying. He spoke as the guidance came to him from within.” When the work was completed, Yogananda exclaimed, “This book came entirely from God. It is not philosophy (the mere love of wisdom): It is wisdom.”
The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita leads the reader through the entire scripture, verse by verse, with Kriyananda’s lucid and inspired renderings of Yogananda’s original commentaries. The sincere seeker, whatever his natural inclination, will find in The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita the essential teaching he needs to follow the path to God. That central teaching, Yogananda explained, is all-inclusive; it unites all paths “even as subsidiary streams unite in a larger river.”