Out of the Labyrinth
by Swami Kriyananda

In June 1962, Swami Kriyananda read an article written by the head of MIT’s philosophy department. The professor, claiming to give an overview of the fundamental trends of present day thought, stated  that thoughtful people everywhere were concluding from the discoveries of modern, materialistic science “that life is meaningless, and that the universe is wholly irrational and without purpose.”

Kriyananda took the depressing conclusions of this article as a spiritual challenge. His response, taking ten years of study, was Out of the Labyrinth, a book he felt “inspired to write specifically in fulfillment of my Guru’s command to me that I share his teachings through the written word. It was the first book I wrote with a real sense of mission, in the specific hope that it would change how people thought.”

Yogananda’s teachings: life has meaning

Schooled in the teachings of his Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, Kriyananda did not see a rationale for a philosophy of meaninglessness in the findings of modern science. He found no fault in the facts discovered by scientists, but rather in the limited, materially-based interpretation of these facts.

The same facts could equally well be interpreted expansively, in line with the ancient spiritual wisdom of India, especially as propounded by Paramhansa Yogananda: “It was clear to me that my Guru’s explanation of the yoga and Vedanta teachings provided the strongest reason for seeing meaning everywhere.  Armed with this vision, and realizing the depth of general misunderstanding on the subject, I decided that I had a spiritual duty to show the way out of these woods, through which so many people wandered in bewilderment.”

In the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, Theseus, who was sent into the labyrinth to do battle with the Minotaur, finds his way out again by following Ariadne’s thread—a ball of yarn which he unwound to mark his passage in. Kriyananda has used this Greek myth as a metaphor for the guidance of the guru, or of inner intuitive wisdom. For me, as for so many others during their years of intellectual and moral searching, there was no Ariadne’s thread leading to true understanding and to moral and spiritual clarity.

A calm center of clarity and awareness

I think that every thoughtful reader of Out of the Labyrinth will find memories awakening of his own struggles to grasp the meaning of life. Dr. Jay Casbon, PhD and Dean of the Graduate School, Lewis and Clark College, comments that had Out of the Labyrinth been available during his teaching career, he would have made it required reading. Dr. Casbon’s students, like those of every recent generation, struggled with the very problems addressed by Out of the Labyrinth, what Kriyananda calls “the loss of focus on the familiar ethical and spiritual guidelines: truth, honor, and justice.”

As a student, standing at the threshold of adult life one was (and still is) inundated with doctrines that call all the simple, traditional values into question. With no strong center of clarity and spiritual awareness, the student’s mind moves from philosophy to philosophy, with no real way to perceive the underlying truth. Out of the Labyrinth provides a calm center from which to see, study, and evaluate the hodgepodge of ideas that characterize much of higher education.

Thrillingly hopeful conclusions

What is particularly impressive in Kriyananda’s approach is that he treats the main currents of modern thought—however much he may ultimately disagree with them—with respect. His discussion of these currents of thought ultimately ends in thrillingly hopeful conclusions. To cite one example: his study of the law of relativity shows conclusively that relativity’s movement away from absolute values does not mean that values don’t exist.

In his inspiring conclusion, Kriyananda describes the meaning of life as “continuous development of the heart’s feelings toward joyous, ever-conscious experience: perpetual self-transcendence, unending self-expansion—until, in the words of Paramhansa Yogananda, “you achieve endlessness.”

One Comment

  1. I recall Swami Kriyananda asking me, soon after I joined Ananda, if I had read Out of the Labyrinth. I muttered with embarrassment, “Uh…no…”

    He then proceeded to amplify my shame. “It’s my most important book,” he said.

    Since then, I’ve read “Labyrinth” six times, and I’ve found endless applications for the ideas it contains. They provide clarity and meaning even for such humble areas of my life as work, sports, and relationships.

    How I wish I had had this book as an undergrad and graduate student at Stanford. In the 1960s a group of like-minded students in varying degrees gave up on the standard curriculum. We spent hours looking for meaning in outside reading and discussing our findings. Some followed the paths of art, psychology, and literature. Two of us were interested in Indian philosophy. (My friend Jack Burns became a monk and disciple of Swami Rama.)

    I urgently encourage young people still in college or recently departed from academe to read this book. It will change your ideas and your life.

    As part of an Ananda-funded project, I created a website dedicated to Out of the Labyrinth. It’s called “Swami Kriyananda on the Meaning of Life.” See http://www.kriyananda-meaningoflife.com.

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