At Ananda Assisi, eight years ago — on April 21, 2013 — Swami Kriyananda left his body. It isn’t easy to understand in depth the blessings he brought to us by his mere presence. It is often difficult to understand the true essence of those who are so familiar to us, those we live with, and those we feel we know so well. Swamiji was a disciple of an avatar, living right among us.
Bear also in mind that Yogananda was not understood by most people. It is said that the entrance door to Mt. Washington where he lived, was like a revolving door, with people coming and going all the time. Possibly even less was Swami Kriyananda understood. The human mind gets so easily distracted by surface appearances and can be misled by misperceptions of personality. The lucky ones are able to look beyond and behind these appearances.
When contemplating God’s great blessings on our planet Earth, it is easy for us to first consider the distant past. Perhaps we think of Jesus and his apostles. Perhaps we think of Krishna and the Pandavas arrayed around him. Perhaps we think of the Buddha with his first extraordinary followers. Yogananda with his disciples was no less.
Swami Kriyananda’s life was an intense offering of discipleship. He never wanted to be called Master.
He wished to offer an inspiring example of what it means to be a true discipleInstead, he wished to offer an inspiring example of what it means to be a true disciple. In fact, his nearly lifelong devotion to Yogananda was 100 percent and nothing less. He gave the last drop of his blood in service to his Guru.
Yogananda knew about his attitude. In fact, just eight months after they met, the Master gave him permission to bestow the sacred initiation into Kriya Yoga. This was an unprecedented gesture. At the same time after only eight months, the Guru asked him to teach — that is, to officially transmit his enlightened teachings of Self-realization. Soon the Master appointed the Kriyananda head of the monks even though he was still very young — younger than many of the other disciples.
In time, Swami Kriyananda was appointed Vice President of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), Yogananda’s organization. He was a central figure among the disciples. Yogananda several times told him, “You have a great work to do.” Yogananda’s successor, Rajarshi Janakananda, confirmed this assignment to him, “Master has a great work to do through you, and he will give you the strength to do it.”
Spiritual communities will be the way of the future.Paramhansa YoganandaThis great work was the building of spiritual communities. Ananda is a place where work, meditation, spiritual living, family, fun, and all aspects of life are dedicated to Self-realization. According to Yogananda, it will be the way of life of the future.
Swami Kriyananda was remarkably balanced in his outlook on things. He founded communities, an organization, wrote books and music, and yet he considered organizations (including Ananda) “a necessary evil.” They are “necessary” because they create a spiritual environment that protects the devotee. So why are they a “necessary evil”? Because organizations can easily shift our attention to external things:
- the role one plays in the organization
- the group dynamics to which one must adapt
- the importance that is given to the organization rather than to the individual
- the need to have as leaders people who are skillful organizers, evidenced in some religious denominations but who are not necessarily the most spiritual
- a spiritual organization may sometimes perform non-dharmic (incorrect) acts because it feels justified since it serves a divine cause, perceiving the end justifies the means
In order to escape these traps, Swami Kriyananda left us many centrally important teachings. Here are some of them:
- People are more important than things.
- Where there is dharma, there is victory.
- Too many rules destroy the spirit.
- Only the saints are the true guardians of religion.
- Dare to be different, dare to be free.
- At Ananda, we encourage eccentricity.
Easily, in many spiritual organizations, there develops among the members the need to behave in a holy way in order to be accepted — using standard words, pre-packaged gestures, and swarm or flock behavior.
Following Kriyanada’s example, this is not so at Ananda! He himself recounts that when he was in SRF, he was pretty much a free spirit, almost rebellious:
Brother Premamoy used to say to me, half in appreciation and half in criticism, ‘You’re eccentric!’ I asked him to explain himself. He replied, ‘I don’t mean you’re crazy. What I mean is, you aren’t centered in anyone’s expectations of you. For instance, you don’t hold as sacred, necessarily, the things others consider solemn and important. When the nuns wanted a new designation for themselves, in order to get away from the word nun, you couldn’t resist suggesting – jokingly, I know – that they consider the designation, renunciettes, or – with a more Indian sound – monkinis. That’s what I mean: You aren’t always reverent enough, and at times when others think it proper to be serious.’
Swami was committed to the personal well-being of each and every individual as a spiritual leader. On one memorable occasion, he was asked to define his role as Spiritual Director at Ananda. Swami Kriyananda’s unusual answer deserves deep reflection:
To protect the rights of the individual. Sometimes, in the exigencies of an institution, decisions are made that aren’t in the best interests of individuals. When I see that happening, I step in.
Swami was a father to all of us, guiding, inspiring, and protecting us. He is our link to Yogananda. He was a most elevated, wise, and fun-loving soul.
His human form is now gone but his free, creative, and colorful spirit, immersed in God, continues to stick around. Little by little, people will understand who Swami Kriyananda really was.
Yogananda told him that at the end of his life he would find God. The ancient Book of Bhrigu, which contains authentic prophecies, states that this was his last life and that he would attain moksha, liberation.
Make no mistake – Kriyanada’s life in many ways was tough on the physical plane, but if the result is liberation… let the hardships come!
May we walk in his footsteps, being ever free inside. Jai Guru!