The young man had been inwardly struggling for many years, until he’d finally reached a point of despair. “Does life have any meaning? Can truth and lasting happiness really be found?” These questions haunted his waking and sleeping hours. In desperation he decided to join the merchant marine, hoping in travel to escape his mental torment.
While waiting in New York City for a ship with an available berth, he went into a bookstore and found a section on Indian philosophy. Always intently looking for answers, he thought that perhaps he’d find them there. At this point in our story, the young man (yes, it was Swami Kriyananda) first saw Autobiography of a Yogi, and the ripples that shaped his destiny started to flow.
Paramhansa Yogananda’s photo on the cover seemed strangely familiar, and affected him greatly. “Never had I seen any face radiate back to me so much goodness, humility, and love,” he later wrote. Observing, however, that the book was dedicated “to the memory of Luther Burbank, an American saint,” he thought, “An American saint? How preposterous!” He put the Autobiography back on the shelf. Instead he bought a slim volume of the Bhagavad Gita. But the ripples of his spiritual awakening had already begun to spread.
The Bhagavad Gita inspired him. Still, young Donald Walters (as he was known then) remained intent on going to sea. Soon he returned to New York to continue his search for a ship with an open berth. In spite of his intentions, the beautiful face of the yoga master on the cover of the Autobiography kept calling him, and, try as he might, he couldn’t put it out of his mind.
Walking in the vicinity of the bookstore where he’d first seen the book, he felt an actual power propelling him toward the store. At first amazed, and then with growing excitement in the thought that some unseen force of destiny was guiding him, he bought the Autobiography. “And then,” he wrote subsequently, “began the most thrilling literary adventure of my life.”
For three days Walters barely ate or slept, but read the book without stopping. “Autobiography of a Yogi remains the greatest book I have ever read,” Swami Kriyananda writes in his own autobiography, The New Path. “One perusal of it was enough to change my whole life. From that time on, my break with the past was complete. I resolved in the smallest detail to follow Paramhansa Yogananda’s teaching.”
The ripples of awakening were gathering momentum, but more was yet to come. Taking the next bus from New York to California, where the Master lived, Kriyananda traveled three thousand miles over the next four days and nights to find the man who he now knew was his guru. Finally, on September 12, 1948, Swamiji stood before Yogananda.
“I want to be your disciple!” were the words that welled up irresistibly from his heart. After some discussion, during which Yogananda was no doubt intuitively reading the young man’s consciousness, the Master replied, “You have good karma. You may join us.”
Yogananda had his new disciple kneel, and with great spiritual power bestowed his blessing. “Incredibly, from that moment on,” Swamiji later wrote, “my consciousness in some all-penetrating manner was transformed.”
Simultaneously at that moment a great pulse of blessing must have gone out into the world, creating a ripple of spiritual awakening that would touch receptive souls everywhere. If this were not true, I wouldn’t be writing this blog today, and you wouldn’t be reading it.
For on that far-off day seventy-two years ago, I was a one-year-old infant, living two thousand miles away in the American Midwest. That ripple must have reached me, for after reading Autobiography of a Yogi twenty years later, I, too, made the long trip to California, to study at the feet of Swami Kriyananda, Yoganandaji’s direct disciple. My life, too, has never been the same from the moment that book came into my life. I began learning discipleship from a great disciple.
Now the ripples of divine awakening are reaching your life and far beyond. Set in motion in that bookstore long ago, these waves will continue to flow to distant shores beyond imagining. Thank you, dear Swamiji, for being a carrier wave for so many souls, and for bringing us closer to the great ocean of Spirit. May the blessings of that first day when you knelt before Master in discipleship flow outward forever, bringing light, hope, and awakening to souls everywhere.
P.S. You might enjoy this video tribute to Swami Kriyananda, “A Life in God.”