Hear now, Arjuna, and I will speak to thee of that wisdom and vision beyond which, once it is known, nothing else will remain for thee to know.
—The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7
If Donald’s childhood revealed to him what would be his true aim in life, then his youth became, for him, an exciting adventure: a search for true and lasting principles. In June 1943 he graduated from Scarsdale High School. In the fall of that year he began his higher education at Haverford College, a Quaker institution of high repute on the “Main Line” from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Here, he encountered several kindred spirits with whom he was able to share his deepest thoughts and ideals. The loneliness and isolation that had so long burdened him were gone. They were now replaced by a resurgence of his own natural exuberance. He began to feel that this world might after all offer meaningful opportunities to him. Thinking about life became for him a joyous adventure, and he lost the pessimism he had felt formerly, contemplating of a world gone wrong. He chose English Literature as his major. Increasingly, however, his preoccupation became a search for meaning in life.
He began wondering what happens to one after death? Is it likely that things will change radically for either good or evil when human beings depart this earth? Is not man’s very life here a reflection of what he makes of himself, in his consciousness? Donald began to compose a long poem, the theme of which was life in the next world as a reflection of what human beings have made of themselves. He was dissatisfied with the intellectual aridity that results from seeking truths as mere facts: dry statistics that bear no relation to people’s own state of mind.
“I want to be objective,” he thought, “but I don’t want to spend my life in a limbo of abstraction. Objectivity is important, but it ought to lead to a serious commitment to some line of action.” He was deeply searching for something to which he could commit his life.
Increasingly he began to equate truth he was seeking with joy and inspiration. From some subtle level of awareness the realization suddenly dawned on him as he sat at his desk: “I’m going to be a teacher of spiritual truths!” Gradually his thought processes formed into what was to be his fundamental aim in life: to find God himself, and to help others to find Him.
Everything, he realized, depends on consciousness. Consciousness itself must be the universal reality of existence: It cannot be the mere product of brain activity. Man, by developing his own awareness in attunement with God as Universal Consciousness, is unlimited in his own potentials for achievement or accomplishment.
With these thoughts growing and developing in his mind, Kriyananda now embarked enthusiastically on a search for principles that would mold his life. The power of mind, he concluded, must indeed be infinite! All that is needed is to resist the “no”-saying tendency of normal, circumscribed ego-awareness.
By now, he’d already applied this principle successfully, up to a point. He’d learned Spanish fluently in a very short time in Mexico. He’d drawn needed income in unexpected ways, and had met the people he needed to help him in several endeavors. Success depends above all on success-consciousness. Luck itself, he decided, can be attracted by meeting it halfway instead of waiting for it passively. Success-consciousness means living and working in cooperation with universal forces. “If one can only learn to say ‘Yes!’ to life,” he concluded, “and make that affirmation with all the conviction of one’s being, his capacity for success can become limitless!”
He decided that if one can put himself completely in tune with whatever activity he wants to master, he can do it successfully. He demonstrated this principle in preparing for a final exam in Greek, for which he’d studied only minimally the whole semester. The night before the exam he affirmed with deep concentration, “I am a Greek!” Suddenly the Greek language came to him easily, as though to a native of the country who had not for some years been speaking his own language. As things turned out, he was one of only two students in the class who passed the exam that year.
Later he expressed his discovery in the following words: “Strong, positive affirmation of success is most effective when it is sensitively attuned to one’s goal, and protected from any thought of failure.” Thus Donald realized that, through will power, faith, and sensitive attunement one can accomplish virtually anything one sets his mind to.
Donald tested these principles many times — at first with the tentative exuberance of youth prior to meeting his Guru, then later over many years in service to him. Whenever he embarked on a new project, whether it were writing books, composing music, or founding communities, he found that by applying strong, positive energy in attunement with his goals he could overcome seemingly impossible challenges. Therefore he presents them today as universal principles, not as merely beautiful but poetic fancies.
Life itself became for him during his late adolescence an exciting study. Donald found himself increasingly dissatisfied with the shallowness of what he was learning in college. The answers he sought were from the book of life itself, not from the accumulated opinions of others. With only six months to go for graduation (from Brown University, now, to which he had transferred halfway through his collegiate education), Donald took a leave of absence. He was never to return.
In June of 1947, at the age of twenty-one, he decided to devote himself to seeking deeper-than-intellectual truths in the minefields of direct experience. Desirous also of developing some way to share with others the truths he was discovering, he decided to become a poet and playwright. With this end in mind, he decided also to study stagecraft. He joined a theatre company that had been recommended to him: the Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, South Carolina.
Donald remained in that environment for nearly a year, practicing acting, writing plays and poetry, and inwardly, with deepening intensity, continuing his search for truth. In his search he kept arriving at the conclusion that what he wanted, and what all men really wanted, was God. With increasingly pressing urgency, he returned again and again to the basic question: What IS God?
In Swami Kriyananda’s autobiography, The Path — One Man’s Quest on the Only Path There Is, he describes the turning point in his life: a moment when he found the answer to that question.
“One evening,“ he wrote, ”taking a long walk into the gathering night, I deeply pondered this problem.” He dismissed at once the popular notion of a venerable patriarch with flowing white beard, piercing eyes, and terrifying brow. How could billions of galaxies be presided over by an anthropomorphic figure? What about the alternatives proposed by more thoughtful people? A ‘Cosmic Ground of Being’ and other similar modern definitions — attempts, all, at intellectual respectability — are like bloodless statues; one certainly cannot imagine communing with or aspiring lovingly to oneness with such a being. No, God had to be a dynamic force, one that could transform man’s life. There would be no point, otherwise, in seeking inspiration from the heights of consciousness.
If God was a force, moreover, how could He be a blind force, like electricity? There would be no point, the young seeker thought, in calling such a force, God. In any case, the concept seemed self-contradictory; for whence came human intelligence?
“We all,” Donald continued, “know the signs of exceptional intelligence in man: the bright, alert expression in the eyes, the prompt responses, the general air of competence. What then of the universe, revealing as it does so many signs of an extraordinary intelligence? The intricate organization of stars, atoms, and creatures, the amazingly exact laws on which the cosmos operates — could a mindless force have created these? Impossible!
“If the wonders of creation are the outward signs of a conscious, intelligent Creator, then surely one of the most wonderful of such signs is intelligence itself. Indeed, if human and animal consciousness manifest the principle of intelligence, and if God, as Universal Intelligence, is that principle, then human intelligence is a manifestation, however imperfect, of God!”
Suddenly he felt very near to solving the problem, at least intellectually. For, surely, if it is God’s consciousness that man manifests, however imperfectly, then the Lord must express Himself through His creation. Mankind must be a part of Him!
“What a staggering concept!” he thought.
Then a further thought came to him: If we are His manifestations, might we not, by deepening our sensitivity, be able to manifest Him more perfectly?
This was a life-changing revelation. Almost dazed, Donald realized, further, that religion should be directed toward a deepening awareness of our relationship with God! He now understood at last that this was what he must do with his life: He would seek God.
With the thrilling certainty this new awareness brought him, a doubt arose in his mind: “I don’t know how to begin.” Confident in these new realizations, however, he proceeded to their natural conclusion: He would let God guide him in his quest. Somehow he would find the way — perhaps by becoming a hermit and seeking God in solitude.
That evening was a turning point in Swami Kriyananda’s life, one to which he has referred often in later years.
The pieces were quickly falling into place for a complete break with the past. In June 1948 his father was assigned by his company to a new post in Cairo, Egypt, heading up their oil exploration there. His mother remained temporarily at home to pack up their belongings, preparatory to joining her husband for a stay of years in Egypt.
Donald came to live with her in her temporary residence in White Plains, the town next to Scarsdale. At this time he found in his mother’s library a book called The Short World Bible. It contained excerpts from the different world religions. Now for the first time young Donald came upon the teachings of India. Slowly at first, then with mounting eagerness, he read truths from the Hindu scriptures. Amazingly, they echoed exactly the insights he’d achieved on that long walk into the falling night. God, he read, is an Infinite Consciousness! Man is a manifestation of that consciousness! Man’s highest duty is to deepen his attunement with that consciousness! Best of all, what Donald read contained specific advice for how to seek God.
Eagerly he began to drink the elixir of that wisdom in excerpts from the Bhagavad Gita. He loved the non-sectarian approach of this religion, and the invitation it offered to ask questions of truth as opposed to dogmatizing people. He loved also its emphasis on achieving a personal experience of God. The concept of finding perfection in the Self resonated deeply with the truths he’d perceived by sheer, concentrated thought.
Donald resolved to try to meditate every day, as the Bhagavad Gita advised. Though he knew nothing of meditation practices, he thought that the best course of action might be to go to some remote place in South America, where he’d be able to live cheaply as a hermit. He needed only, now, to earn and save money — perhaps at sea as a merchant marine — to finance these plans.
What he needed more than anything else was spiritual guidance. No one he’d ever met had seemed to him wise enough to give him the guidance he wanted.
In September 1948 he saw his mother off at the New York docks on her ocean voyage to Egypt. From the docks he went uptown. That very day he entered a bookstore on 5th Avenue — Doubleday-Doran, as it was called then. There, to his delight, he found a whole section of books on Indian philosophy.
He saw a book facing outward on a shelf; it caught his eye. The author’s photo on the cover drew him magnetically. Never in his life had Donald seen so much goodness, humility, and love in a human face. As his gaze rested on the book, the title seemed to stir a deep response in his own mind: Autobiography of a Yogi. The author’s name was Paramhansa Yogananda.
Donald didn’t buy that book at once. He needed further preparation. Instead, he bought a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, Hinduism’s best-known and best-loved Scripture.
Two days later, back in New York, he bought Autobiography of a Yogi. Just holding the book in his hand, the young man felt this yogi from India to be an old friend, someone who knew and understood him in a way no one else had ever done before. Back at the room he was renting in Scarsdale, he opened the book with almost breathless expectation. He was about to embark on the greatest adventure of his life.