At Paramhansa Yogananda’s Mt. Washington headquarters, reincarnation was normal to our way of thinking. We took it quite in stride if ever Master [Paramhansa Yogananda] told us, as he sometimes did, about our own or someone else’s past lives.

Master revealed to us that he himself had been Krishna’s closest friend and disciple, Arjuna. (“Prince of devotees,” the Bhagavad Gita calls him.) We found it easy to believe that he had been that mighty warrior, for Master’s incredible will power, his innate gift for leadership, and his enormous physical strength (when he chose to exert it), all pointed to someone with the tendencies of a mighty, conquering hero.

Divine power is rooted in love

People who knew only of Paramhansa Yogananda’s extraordinary love and compassion, his sweetness, and his childlike simplicity were sometimes taken aback when they encountered his power. Few realize that power and divine love are opposite sides of the same coin.

Indeed, divine love is no gentle sentiment, but the greatest force in the universe. Such love could not exist without power. Great saints would never use their power to suppress or coerce others, but power is, nevertheless, inextricably a part of what it means to be a saint. It took extraordinary power, for example, for Jesus Christ, alone in a crowd, to drive the money-changers from their tradition-sanctioned places in the temple.

Worldly people fear this power in the saints, and, fearing it, persecute them. They don’t realize that a saint’s power is rooted in love, or that it threatens nothing but people’s delusions and ignorance-induced suffering.

Yogananda’s power was not only a product of his divine awareness; his human personality, too, reflected past incarnations as a warrior and conquering hero. In Calcutta, in his youth, he was approached more than once by people who wanted him to lead a revolution against the British. There was something in his very bearing that bespoke the intrepid warrior.

William: noble, generous, forgiving

He told us more than once that in a former life he had been William the Conqueror. Educated as I had been during my early years in the English educational system, I had always thought of William as one of history’s great villains. On learning that that supposed “villain” was my own Guru, I made it a point, needless to say, to study several biographies of William in order to get a broader picture of what he’d really been like.

I found that William the Conqueror was indeed, in every way, a great man. Morally, in an age of widespread profligacy, he was chaste and self-controlled. Spiritually he was deeply religious, and never (so I read) missed a day of mass in his life. He was noble, generous, and forgiving.

A divine commission

He lived, however, in an age when conquest could be accomplished only by a very strong will. He told us he had been given a divine commission, which I have since come to understand was to bring England out of the Scandinavian sphere and under the influence of Roman Christianity.

During his lifetime, William promoted the recovery of old monasteries and generally gave great support to the church, endorsing also the concept of chastity for the clergy. William and Archbishop Lanfranc, together, unified the church, and reorganized it from the ground up.

Quite as important in the context of those times, they connected the church administratively and liturgically with Rome. His closest friends were spiritual men like Archbishop Lanfranc (who in this life, Yogananda stated, was Swami Sri Yukteswar) and Saint Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury.

“The will of a single man”

William’s occasionally harsh behavior was forced on him by necessity, and never sprang from personal anger (though, consistent with my observation of Master himself on occasion, William’s demeanor sometimes appeared very fierce). I asked Master once (I was thinking of his lifetime as William): “Sir, is an avatar [a divine incarnation] always aware of his oneness with God’s omnipresence?” “He never loses his consciousness of inner freedom,” Master replied.

William’s life, when studied in this light, gains new luster and meaning. The British historian, E.A. Freeman, wrote in his biography, William the Conqueror: “[What we English are today] has largely come of the fact that there was a moment our national destiny might be said to hang on the will of a single man, and that was William [the Conqueror].”

Earlier, Freeman stated: “The Norman conquest has no exact parallel in history largely owing to the character and position of the man who wrought it. The history of England for the last eight hundred years has largely come of the personal character of [that] single man.”

William’s legacy: a united kingdom

England itself was by no means so Anglo-Saxon as relatively recent writers, including Sir Walter Scott, imagined. The north, according to recent DNA testing of old bones, was heavily Scandinavian, and the east came under what was called Danelaw, and must have been more Danish than Anglo-Saxon.

It was William who united the constantly warring earldoms into one kingdom. His legacy, moreover, which bound every native to primary loyalty to his king, saved England the fate of medieval Europe, which saw constant baronial conflicts.

England’s government dates back to the conquest by William, who brought England to a level of security, stability, and legal organization that made it possible for it to survive the death of medieval society and continue on into the modern age. England is the oldest continuous government in the world, the second being the United States.

Swami Kriyananda: William’s youngest son

Some months after Master’s passing, an inspiration came to me: I suddenly realized that I had been his youngest son, Henry, who later was crowned as Henry I. I had always known with an inner certainty that I had been a king in the past—not that it mattered to me in the present. Leadership had always come to me naturally, however, and in no way caused me to feel important because of it.

I now went to the Los Angeles public library and read up on facts about Henry that were too detailed to appear in a book intended for the general public. It surprised me to see how many parallels there were, even in little matters, between Henry’s life and my own.

Henry had been born late enough in William’s life to be in a position, after a relatively brief hiatus, to carry on William’s mission. The last thirty-three years of Henry’s life were years of exceptional peace and prosperity in England.

The most powerful king in Western Europe

Though Henry I is considered the “least-known” of all English kings, the reason for his obscurity is that he simply worked quietly to establish his father’s mission. Albeit known in his lifetime as the most powerful king in Western Europe, he never expressed an interest in enlarging his dominions.

All he ever did was conquer back territory that had been lost by his older brothers’ ineptitude. His Coronation Charter became the basis of the future Magna Carta.

An embarrassment to his memory

William’s first two sons were an embarrassment to his memory. He bequeathed Robert, his oldest, the dukedom of Normandy, knowing that he could not give him the crown of England because of his traitorous nature. (Even as William was lying on his deathbed, Robert, with the aid of the king of France, was staging a rebellion against him.)

William Rufus, the second son, was loyal to their father in his fashion, but gave no evidence of understanding William’s mission, and dedicated himself wholly to his own power, position, and glory. Perhaps a hiatus in William’s mission was necessary for his true spiritual heir, Henry, to develop a deep understanding of it.

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A different kind of conquest

Yogananda, like William the Conqueror at Hastings, came to America to establish a beachhead—not, in this case, of worldly conquest, but of divine communion.

Like William the Conqueror, Yogananda was divinely ordained to play a very difficult role. He came to a whole new continent where he was completely unknown and opposed by many. He needed an indomitable spirit of conquest to be able to bring God’s message to the world for this new age of energy, the age of Dwapara Yuga.

Yogananda’s mission was to change world consciousness. The model he established on all levels of life has been so all- encompassing that I believe he will one day be called, “The Avatar of Dwapara Yuga.”

Yogananda’s spiritual family

Many have been born and are being born in the West to assist Yogananda in his mission. Many others are being attracted to it for the first time by the radiant magnetic influence, the spiritual “gravitational field,” it has created.

Yogananda’s spiritual family forms part of a greater spiritual “nation” of which Jesus Christ and Sri Krishna (in this age, Babaji) are also leaders. Such families are like mighty nations. To them is given the real task of guiding the human race—not in the way governments do, by official ordinances, but by subtler, spiritual influence.

This article first appeared in print in Summer 2009: “Paramhansa Yogananda as William the Conqueror*,” Swami Kriyananda, Clarity Magazine.

*Excerpted from The New Path — Chapters: “Reincarnation,” “The Guru’s Reminiscences,” and “A New Way of Life.”  (Supplemental excerpts from The Light of Superconsciousness, Crystal Clarity Publishers; and a March 2007 talk in India.)

For a related article, see below: William the Conqueror: Laying the Foundation for an Age of Energy, by Catherine Van Houten.


  1. Anyone who loves history will enjoy this account of Yogananda as William the Conqueror, and for me spiritual history is the most fascinating.

  2. Such a Beautiful story!…absolutely fascinating, as is EVERYTHING connected with Paramhansa Yoganandji and Swami Kriyananda.

  3. Gurus are my favorite and I still seek more and more.

  4. after reading this story i feel even more closer to my guruji

  5. Wow, Very interesting to know this information about swami paramahansa Yoganandaji. I never heard these before. Anyhow we are not supposed to compare the great gurus with their past lives because I think they are too advanced(in latest incarnation) to compare with any former lives.

  6. It’s really fascinating story.Its great spiritual experience.

    With devotion


  7. It is very fascinating story that Yogananda was Arjuna in one of his incarnation and William the conquerer in another. I want to know more about Yogananda’s other incarnations and his prophecies.

  8. I love it. Yoganandaji being William the conqueror is a new story for me.

  9. Wow! Swami Kriyananda, You were King Henry I. Wow. Having followed Guru Dev for 35 years I haven’t read any of your writings before. Where did you come from? Why are you here?

  10. i have always admired Arjuna. was that my master Himself… Wow

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      Dear Rajana, Yogananda said that he would be reborn in 200 years. That is, approximately, the year 2152.

  11. Such a nice piece of history. Are we the disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda were part of his life in previous janma?.

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